The Traditions of the Pharisees
The big question was: How authoritative is the oral law? The Pharisees accepted
the oral law along with the Torah, and it was believed to be equally inspired
and authoritative, and all of the explanatory and supplementary material
produced by, and contained within were the oral tradition. This material began
to emerge during the Babylonian Captivity that was brought upon the Jewish
people. The Captivity was explained as divine punishment for the neglect of the
law, and many during this period earnestly turned to the law.
Josephus said several times that the Pharisees were "experts in the
interpretation of the Law" (Josephus, Life, 38). Of the various sects the
Pharisees were regarded as "the most accurate interpreters of the laws"
(Josephus, War II. viii. 14) and also were known for their austerity of life
(Josephus, Antiq. XIII. i. 3). Josephus further specifies that it was exactly
this obsession with "regulations handed down by former generations and not
recorded in the Laws of Moses" (Josephus, Antiq. XIII. x. 6) that
constituted the breach between the Pharisees and the Sadducees.
The careful observance of ritual purity (e.g., Mark 7:l ff.).Frequent fastings (Matt 9:14).
Distinctions in oaths (23:16ff.).(And More..)
The scrupulous details of the minutia of the law are easily seen in the Mishnah. This encyclopedia of Pharisaic legalism instructs the reader with incredible detail concerning every conceivable area of conduct. To be honest it would be an injustice for me to try to describe it and it would probably take someone three lifetimes just to begin to understand it. My program "Jewish Literature in the Time of Christ" goes into more details about the Mishnah and other writings of the rabbis.
The legal material of the Mishnah is described as Halacha (literally "walking"), that which prescribes, as contrasted with the other basic type of material in oral tradition (esp. in the Gemaras and Midrash) known as Haggadah, or that which edifies and instructs.
Under the direction of their scribes, the Pharisees tended to multiply Halacha. This concern for every jot and tittle of performance might give the impression that the Pharisees were excessively rigid and intolerant. It is interesting to note that in their interpretation of the written Torah they often were more liberal than the literalist Sadducees.
There was often disagreement among them concerning the oral law. In the last decades of the 1st cent. B.C. there sprang up two rival schools of interpretation among the Pharisees. The one, led by Shammai, was very stringent and unbendingly conservative; the other, led by Hillel, was very liberal and willing to "reconcile" the laws with the actual situations of everyday life.
The Mishnah records this rivalry between the two schools often to illustrate truth. In fact, in the New Testament it seems that when the Pharisees brought difficult questions to Jesus they were relating to the disputes between these two schools of interpretation (e.g., divorce, Matt 19:3 ff.). It is also interesting that many Jewish scholars have compared Jesus with Hillel in such a way that Jesus could be regarded as a disciple of Hillel. When Jesus answered the question posed by the Pharisees concerning divorce (Matt 19:9) He apparently agreed with Shammai against Hillel. Hillel made a statement similar to Jesus' summary of the law. It is kind of a negative formulation of the Golden Rule: "What you would not have done to thyself do not to another; that is the whole law, the rest is commentary" (BT Shabbath 31 a).
Before the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. it seems that the harsher attitude of the followers of Shammai tended to prevail among the Pharisees, but after the catastrophe the meek attitude of the followers of Hillel had won out. The division among the Pharisees had come to an end.
Although the oral law of the Pharisees and its "microscopic precepts" was condemned by Jesus as a "burden" that is impossible for men to carry, the work is quite impressive. This is true not only of the scope, the complexity of structure, and the inventiveness (not to say genius) of its exegesis, but also as a monumental expression of concern for preservation and righteousness.
The bottom line is that the most significant issues in the Law were lost in the trivial details of Pharisaic tradition. Any system that is governed by rules will ultimately fail. Only in the New Testament and in the teachings of Christ do we see that it is "the mercy of God which leads us unto repentance."
The Pharisees - Jewish Leaders in the New Testament.
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.
The Pharisee "There was probably no town or village inhabited by Jews which had not its Pharisees, although they would, of course, gather in preference about Jerusalem with its Temple, and what, perhaps would have been even dearer to the heart of a genuine Pharisee--its four hundred and eighty synagogues, its Sanhedrims (great and small), and its schools of study. There could be no difficulty in recognising such an one. Walking behind him, the chances were, he would soon halt to say his prescribed prayers. If the fixed time for them had come, he would stop short in the middle of the road, perhaps say one section of them, move on, again say another part, and so on, till, whatever else might be doubted, there could be no question of the conspicuousness of his devotions in market-place or corners of streets. There he would stand, as taught by the traditional law, would draw his feet well together, compose his body and clothes, and bend so low "that every vertebra in his back would stand out separate," or, at least, till "the skin over his heart would fall into folds" (Ber. 28 b). The workman would drop his tools, the burden-bearer his load; if a man had already one foot in the stirrup, he would withdraw it. The hour had come, and nothing could be suffered to interrupt or disturb him. The very salutation of a king, it was said, must remain unreturned; nay, the twisting of a serpent around one's heel must remain unheeded." – Alfred Edersheim
Origin and History The sect of Pharisees is thought to have originated in the 3rd century B.C., in days preceding the Maccabean wars, when under Greek domination and the Greek effort to Hellenize the Jews, there was a strong tendency among the Jews to accept Greek culture with its pagan religious customs. The rise of the Pharisees was a reaction and protest against this tendency among their fellow kinsmen. Their aim was to preserve their national integrity and strict conformity to Mosaic law. They later developed into self-righteous and hypocritical formalists. Later they were among those who had condemned Jesus to death.
How fearfully the prophecy of destruction that Jesus had foretold was fulfilled! In a few brief years the Roman legions of the Emperor Titus utterly destroyed the city and its glorious Temple. Over a million Jews perished in the siege in a few days, and a hundred thousand more were taken away in captivity.
Without its marvelous Temple, the Jewish religion was forced to take on a new character, and after the final Jewish rebellion (132 A.D.) all hope of rebuilding the Temple was lost, and the work of these rabbis took a different direction.
The Mishnah, compiled by the Patriarch Judah (200 A.D.), which is the final work of these rabbis, began a final work in the history of Jewish scholarship. It is a monument of Pharisaic scholarship and a testimony to the final triumph of Pharisaism, which now is compiled into the Talmud which has become synonymous with Judaism.
Jesus and the Pharisees
The Pharisees were the most numerous and influential of the religious sects of Jesus’ day. The were strict legalists. They stood for the rigid observance of the letter and forms of the Law, and also for the Traditions. There were some good men among them, no doubt, but for the most part they were known for their covetousness, self-righteousness and hypocrisy.
Scribes were copyists of the Scriptures and because of their minute acquaintance with the Law they became recognized authorities. They were sometimes called "lawyers." Scribes and Pharisees were the religious leaders of the nation.
The incredible influence of the Pharisees among the masses cannot be mistaken. The were the most honored in Judaism at the time of Christ. When Christ won the favor of the people.
"But the great crowd of people went on hearing Him gladly."
The Words spoken by Jesus in Matt 23 constitute the most bitter denunciation that ever fell from His lips. The enemies of Jesus could not answer Him a word, nor did anyone ever again dare to ask Him anything. The Pharisees were unrepentant, hypocritical, and more determined than ever to seek His destruction. In His final public discourse in the Temple, it was fitting that He should warn His disciples against the hypocrisy of these corrupt and wicked men. Even while He denounced their spiritual blindness, ritualism, and wickedness, He wept over Jerusalem, and ended His discourse with a lamentation, addressed to the beloved but doomed city which had sinned away its day of opportunity.
The Paradox of the Pharisees
The Story of the Bible