The Practices of the Pharisees
Unlike the Sadducees who were chosen almost exclusively from among the
aristocracy, the Pharisees were mainly members of the middle class. They were
like the businessmen merchants and the tradesmen of their day. This might
account for the large number of Talmudic references dealing with the intricacies
The Pharisees were deeply concerned with following after the law and had thus
separated themselves from the great mass of the populace (the so called "people
of the land" Heb. "am ha-aretz") by their strict adherence to the
minutia of their legal tradition.
The average Pharisee had no formal education in the interpretation of the law
and accordingly had resorted to the professional scholar, the scribe (of which
class the majority were Pharisees), in legal matters.
The vast majority of the Pharisees were laymen, yet a small number of the
Pharisees were also Priests and Levites, who had committed to the Pharisaic
ideals in order to help make pure more of the common people.
The Pharisees, like the Essenes, were very separated and had organized
themselves into distinct and closed communities. The "haburah," (community)
referred to in the Talmudic materials was most likely a Pharisaic community, and
the "haber," (companion) was a member of the community, a Pharisee.
Apparently several of these "holy communities" existed within Jerusalem, where
they could be seen by the masses and thus made their influence much more
effective. Admission into these communities was strictly regulated. A candidate
must first agree to a vow of obedience to all of the detailed legislation of the
Pharisaic tradition including: tithing, ceremonial laws and dietary purity. He
then entered a period of probation (one month to one year) during which he was
carefully observed with respect to his vow of obedience. Successful completion
of this probation entitled the candidate to full membership in the community.
Each community was under the leadership of a scribe, who served as the
professional authority in the interpretation of the law and other less important
officers. All members were carefully scrutinized, criticized when they fell
short and highly praised when they observed accurately.
There were regularly scheduled meetings for worship (usually on the eve of the
Sabbath). They studied the Torah and had community meals. Most likely the
pseudepigraphon known as the Psalms of Solomon was used liturgically in their
The synagogue was also a place for the Pharisees to show their piety. Pharisaism
influenced a large number of the masses, many of whom inclined toward the views
of the Pharisees without taking upon themselves full membership in the
It is amazing how close the closed communities of the Pharisees were to the
Essene separatist groups, known today particularly from the Damascus Document,
and also, to a lesser extent, known through the Qumran Manual of Discipline. The
Pharisees and the Essenes no doubt had much in common, in goals and
methodologies as well as in the common environment that constituted the
motivating force of both movements.
The Pharisees - Jewish
Leaders in the New Testament.
"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.
"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
� 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
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
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
Jesus and the Pharisees
The Paradox of the Pharisees