Quotes from Ancient Sources about the Pharisees
Josephus [37-ca 100 CE]
||Three Jewish Sects
||For among Judeans there are three forms of philosophy.
Now Pharisees are one sect, Sadducees another,
but in fact the third, called Essenes, seems to be the most reverential discipline.
|--- Josephus, Jewish War 2.119
||Argument over Oral Torah
||For now I wish only to explain that the Pharisees transmit to
the people some rules in line with the fathers, which were not
written in the laws of Moses. And because of this, the line of the
Sadducees reject these things. They say that it is necessary to
hold those rules that have been written but it is not (necessary) to
observe what is (only) from the fathers' tradition. And, as a
consequence, controversies and great disagreements have occurred between
||The Sadducees persuade only the well-to-do and have no popular
following. But the Pharisees have the masses as allies.
|-- Josephus, Antiquities 12.297-298
||Principles & Popularity of Pharisees
||The Pharisees live thriftily, giving in to no luxury.
For they follow what the Word* (of God) in its authority
determines and transmits as good. They believe that to keep what (God)
wished to counsel is worth fighting for.
||Out of respect, they defer to those advanced in years. Nor are they
so bold as to stand in opposition to what (the elders) have proposed.
||While claiming that everything is affected by destiny, they
do not deprive human will of power in these things. For it
occurred to God to make a combination and to admit to his counsel the
will of men---with its virtue and its vice. Their belief is that there
is an undying power in souls and that, under the ground, there is an
accounting to reward and punish those who were righteous or
unrighteous in (this) life. Eternal punishment is offered to the latter,
but re-creation in a new life to the former.
||Because of these ideas, (the Pharisees) are the most persuasive
among the citizens. And all the sacrifice and prayer offered to God
happens to be according to their exegesis (of scripture). In this way,
those who live in the cities have witnessed to their virtue in
devoting themselves to all the best in their words and way of life.
|--- Josephus, Antiquities 18.12-15
||[or "reason", Greek: logos]
||Sadducees differ from Pharisees
||Now the Sadducees, the second party, deny destiny
altogether and place God beyond doing or seeing anything bad. They say
that good and bad are dependent on human choice; and one may
allow each of these according to one's own decision.
||They deny the soul's permanence as well as rewards and punishments
in the underworld.
||Now the Pharisees love one another and practice consensus
in their community. But the Sadducees behave rather
aggressively even towards each other. And they are as harsh in
debates among themselves as with others.
|--- Josephus, Jewish War 2.164-166
Rabbinic Writings about the Pharisees
||Rabbinic Lament over Sadducean Brutality
||Abba Saul ben Betnith and Abba Jose ben Johanan of Jerusalem*
-- "Woe to me from the house of Boethus! woe to me from their rods!"
-- "Woe to me from the house of Qadros!** woe to me from their pens!"
-- "Woe to me from the house of Elhanan!*** woe to me from their house of whispers!"
-- "Woe to me from the house of Elisha! woe to me from their pens!"
-- "Woe to me from the house of Ismael ben Phiabi!
For they are high priests and their sons, treasurers and their sons-in-law (temple) officers!"
"And their servants come and beat us up with staves!"
|--- Tosefta, Menachoth 13.21
||Mistaken attribution. Jose b. Johanan was an early Pharisaic leader
[z1 ; ca. 150 BCE] but this lament refers to high priests from
the time of Herod into the 1st c. CE. Saul is unknown.
||Qadros = Kantheros
||Elchanan = cHanan I (in Greek: Ananus or Annas)
||Tradition of the Elders
||Moses received the Torah from Sinai and committed it to Joshua, and
Joshua to the elders and the elders to the prophets; and the prophets
committed it to the men of the Great Congregation. These said three
"Be deliberate in judgment";
"Raise up many disciples"; and
"Make a hedge for the Torah."
|--- Mishna, Aboth Aboth 1.1
||Standards for Disciples
||"And raise up many disciples":
The school of Shammai says:
--"Do not teach a man unless he is wise and meek and the son of wealthy parents!"
The school of Hillel says:
--"Teach every man! For there were many sinners in Israel who were led to study Torah, from whom came righteous and pious and worthy men."
|--- Babylonian Talmud (supplement) Aboth de R. Nathan A 3
||Hillel justifies Oral Tradition
||Our rabbis taught:
It happened that a certain foreigner came to Shammai and said to him:
--"How many Torahs are there for you?"
He told him:
--"Two! A written Torah and an oral Torah."
He said to him:
--"I will trust you on the written but I will not trust you on the oral. I will be a proselyte providing you teach me (only) the written Torah."
(Shammai) rebuked him and drove him out in anger.
(The foreigner) came before Hillel who made him a proselyte. The first day (Hillel) told him:
--"Aleph, Beth, Gimel, Daleth [= ABCD]"
The next day he turned them around for him.
(The disciple) said to (Hillel):
--"But yesterday you did not tell me like this!"
(Hillel) told him:
--"Did you not then trust what I said? Trust me likewise [in this]!"
|--- Babylonian Talmud, Shabbath 31a
||The Yoke of Torah
||Rabbi Nechonia ben HaQanah said:
--"He who takes the yoke of Torah on himself shall have lifted from him the yoke of kingdom and the yoke of the world's way. But he who takes the yoke of Torah off himself shall find laid on himself the yoke of kingship and the yoke of the world's way."
|--- Mishna, Aboth 3.5
||Deviants from Torah Rejected
||Rabbi Eleazar of Modi'im said:
--"He who profanes holy things and spurns the set times, he who exposes his colleague in public, he who voids the covenant of our father Abraham, he who discovers parts of the Torah contradicting halakah, he has not share in the world to come, even if he has a grasp of Torah and good deeds."
|--- Mishna, Aboth 3.12
||Saying & Doing
||(Rabbi Joshua (ben cHanania) says:
-- "He who repeats [shanah] and does not practice ['amel]
is like [mashal] a man who sows and does not harvest.
He who learns Torah and forgets
is like a woman who bears (a child) and buries (it)."
|--- Tosefta, Parah 4.7
||Torah & Propagation
||(Rabbi Simeon) ben 'Azzai says:
-- "He who does not engage in reproduction and propagation rises up against scripture and diminishes the Image (of God). For it says:
-- 'For in the image of God he made man" (Gen 1:6) and
-- 'be fruitful and multiply!' (Gen 1:7)."
Rabbi Eleazar (ben 'Atzariah) said to him:
-- "Fine words when they come from the mouth of one who does them!
A man may interpret well and perform well;
ben 'Azzai interprets well, but he does not perform well!"
(Rabbi Simeon) ben 'Azzai said to him:
-- "What am I to do? My soul thirsts for Torah!
And the preservation of the world is in the hands of others!"
|--- Tosefta, Yebamoth 8.7
||Seven Types of Pharisees
||There are seven (types of) Pharisees [perushim]:
-- (a) the superficial Pharisee [sheikmi; lit: "shoulders"];
-- (b) the critical Pharisee [nikphi; lit: "knocking"];
-- (c) the calculating Pharisee [qitzai; lit: "cutting"];
-- (d) the persistent Pharisee [dukai; lit: "pounding"];
-- (e) the Pharisee for whom existence is work;
-- (f) the Pharisee concerned with his (own) strengths; and
-- (g) the Pharisee inclination or the Pharisee from fear."
|--- Babylonian Talmud (supplement), Aboth de R. Nathan
|[NOTE: This list is found with some variation in the Palestinian
Talmud (Berakoth 9.7) and the Babylonian Talmud (Sota
22b). The first six were traditionally considered the "plagues" of the
Pharisees, i.e., false followers. Though well-established by tradition,
the nicknames were obscure enough in rabbinic circles that Palestinian
and Babylonian amoraim had to devise varying explanations. The
original meaning of many of the nicknames is beyond proof. The
translations presented here at points differs from traditional
|King [Alexander] Jannai said to his wife [Salome Alexandra]:
-- "Do not be afraid of the Pharisees or the non-Pharisees [i.e., Sadducees]
but of th wildcats who mimic the Pharisees.
For their deeds are like the deeds of Zimri [cf. Num 25:14]*
but they seek the reward of Phineas [Num 25:11]."*
|--- Babylonian Talmud, Sota 22b
||Zimri: a Simeonite who had illicit relations with a Moabite
woman & submitted to the rites of Ba'al Peor. His deeds violated
Phineas: son of Moses' brother, Aaron. By slaying Zimri he ended the slaughter of Israelites. He was rewarded for his zeal for Torah by succeeding his father as high-priest
Name "Pharisee" is from a Greek word (pharisaios) taken from the Heb/Aramaic "Perisha" meaning "Separated one." In the time of Jesus the Pharisees were one of the three chief Jewish sects, the others were the Sadducees and the Essenes. Of the three, the Pharisees were the most separated from the ways of the foreign influences that were invading Judaism, and from the ways of the common Jewish people in the land.