The Pharisees were a major Jewish sect from the 2d century BC to the 2d century AD. The seeds of Pharisaism were planted during the Babylonian Captivity (587 - 536 BC), and a clearly defined party emerged during the revolt of the Maccabees (167 - 165 BC) against the Seleucid rulers of Syria - Palestine. The origin of the name Pharisees is uncertain; one suggestion renders it as "those separated," meaning separation from impurity and defilement. The name first appeared during the reign of John Hyrcanus (135 - 105 BC), whom the Pharisees opposed because of his assumption of both the royal and high - priestly titles and because of the general secularism of the court.
The Pharisees' chief rival sect was the Sadducees. Whereas the Sadducees were drawn mainly from the conservative and aristocratic priestly class, the Pharisees tended to be middle class and open to religious innovation. In the interpretation of the law the Pharisees differed from the Sadducees in their use of oral legal tradition to supplement the Torah, although their interpretations, once given, were scrupulously adhered to. Pharisaic emphasis on divine providence led to a marked fatalism, and they adopted a belief in resurrection and an elaborate angelology, all of which was rejected by the Sadducees. The struggle for power between the two groups led to rancor and, in some cases, violence.
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The Pharisees held the Jews together after the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. The sect continued into the 2d century, working on the redaction of the Talmud and looking for the restoration of Israel through divine intervention.
I Abrahams, Studies in Pharisees and the Gospels (1917 - 24); A Finkel, The Pharisees and the Teacher of Nazareth (1964); L Finkelstein, The Pharisees: The Sociological Background of Their Faith (1962); D S Russell, Between the Testaments (1960).
The Pharisees were an important Jewish group which flourished in Palestine from the late second century B.C. to the late first century A.D.
It should be noted, however, that even the use of the explicit sources is problematical. Most of the NT is written from a point of view that is antagonistic to the tenets of Pharisaism. The rabbinic traditions about the Pharisees are also shaped by polemical forces and are often anachronistic. The value of Josephus's information (traditionally regarded as the most helpful) is diminished by recent studies which suggest that Josephus was not a Pharisee before A.D. 70 and that his eventual conversion was motivated more by political realities than by careful study of the different Jewish sects. It certainly cannot be denied that Josephus's descriptions of the Pharisees are superficial. In short, therefore, our sources provide neither a complete nor a straightforward picture of the Pharisees.
The second point of view is a relatively recent development. Proponents of this position argue that when the inherent limitations and tendencies of our sources are taken into account, the Pharisees come across not as the creators and shapers of Judaism but merely as one of its many expressions. In essence, according to this view, the Pharisees were a rather tightly knit sect organized around the observance of purity and tithing laws; on most other issues the Pharisees reflected the range of views present within Judaism. Since Josephus and the Gospels carefully distinguish between the Pharisees and the scribes, scholars of this persuasion argue that it is better not to confuse Pharisaism with the ideology of the scribes. Pharisaism must be seen as a movement which drew from all walks of life. There were Pharisees who were political and religious leaders, but their positions of influence were due to other factors besides sectarian affiliation. Proponents of this second view posit that the Judaism of Christ's day was much more dynamic and variegated than the traditional view allows and that the Pharisees were only one of several sects that influenced the development of Judaism.
Of course, not all scholars subscribe to one of these two views; many hold mediating positions. Nevertheless, these two views constitute the foundations upon which the modern study of Pharisaism is based.
Whatever its origins, the Pharisaic movement seems to have undergone a two-stage development. During the reign of Salome Alexandra the Pharisees as a group were heavily involved in politics and national policy making. Sometime after this, possibly when Herod the Great rose to power (37 B.C.), the Pharisees withdrew from politics. Individual Pharisees remained politically involved, but there was no longer any official Pharisaic political agenda. This seems to have been the situation during the time of Christ.
The Pharisees were divided over the issue of Roman rule. Josephus tells us that a Pharisee named Zaddok was instrumental in forming a "fourth philosophy" which was violently opposed to Roman rule. Elsewhere, however, Josephus records that at a later time certain well-placed Pharisees sought to forestall the Jews' rush toward revolt against the empire. It is impossible to tell which tendency reflected the conviction of the majority of the Pharisees.
After the Jewish revolt of A.D. 70 many scholars with Pharisaic leanings gathered at the city of Jamnia to form a school for the preservation and redefinition of Judaism. There is evidence that the Jamnia school was not exclusively Pharisaic. Nevertheless, it can be safely said that the Pharisees were the single most powerful sectarian element at Jamnia. Thus they played an important role at the beginning of the century-long process which transformed second temple Judaism into rabbinic Judaism.
Yet there is little evidence to suggest that these were distinctively Pharisaic beliefs. To the best of our knowledge these beliefs were the common heritage of most Jews. To some scholars this fact is proof that the Pharisees were the dominant religious force in Judaism; to others it is only another indication that the Pharisees' distinguishing mark was nothing but the scrupulous observance of purity and tithing laws.
Nevertheless, Pharisaic opposition to Jesus is a persistent theme in all four Gospels. This opposition has been explained differently by those who hold differing views on the nature and influence of the Pharisees. Those who see the Pharisees as a class of political leaders posit that Jesus came to be understood as a political liability or threat. Those who understand the Pharisees as a society of legal and religious experts suggest that Jesus became viewed as a dangerous rival, a false teacher with antinomian tendencies. To the extent that there were Pharisaic leaders and scribes, both these factors probably played a part. Yet other scholars point out that according to the Gospels the disputes between Jesus and the Pharisees centered primarily on the validity and application of purity, tithing, and sabbath laws (e.g., Matt. 12:2, 12-14; 15:1-12; Mark 2:16; Luke 11:39-42). In the light of this evidence it would seem that at least part of the Pharisaic opposition to Jesus was occasioned by the obvious disparity between Jesus' claims about himself and his disregard for observances regarded by the Pharisees as necessary marks of piety. In the end, the Pharisees could not reconcile Jesus, his actions and his claims, with their own understanding of piety and godliness.
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)
J. Bowker, Jesus and the Pharisees; E. Rivkin, "Defining the Pharisees; The Tannaitic Sources," HUCA 40-41:205-49, and A Hidden Revolution; L. Finkelstein, The Pharisees: The Sociological Background of Their Faith, 2 vols.; R. T. Herford, The Pharisees; E. Schurer, The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ; H. D. Mantel, "The Sadducees and the Pharisees," in The World History of the Jewish People, VIII; M. Avi-Yonah and Z. Baras, eds., Society and Religion in the Second Temple Period; J. Neusner, From Politics to Piety: The Emergence of Pharisaic Judaism.
The Pharisees were separatists (Heb. persahin, from parash, "to separate"). They were probably the successors of the Assideans (i.e., the "pious"), a party that originated in the time of Antiochus Epiphanes in revolt against his heathenizing policy. The first mention of them is in a description by Josephus of the three sects or schools into which the Jews were divided (B.C. 145). The other two sects were the Essenes and the Sadducees. In the time of our Lord they were the popular party (John 7:48). They were extremely accurate and minute in all matters appertaining to the law of Moses (Matt. 9:14; 23:15; Luke 11:39; 18:12). Paul, when brought before the council of Jerusalem, professed himself a Pharisee (Acts 23:6-8; 26:4, 5).
There was much that was sound in their creed, yet their system of religion was a form and nothing more. Theirs was a very lax morality (Matt. 5:20; 15:4, 8; 23:3, 14, 23, 25; John 8:7). On the first notice of them in the New Testament (Matt. 3:7), they are ranked by our Lord with the Sadducees as a "generation of vipers." They were noted for their self-righteousness and their pride (Matt. 9:11; Luke 7: 39; 18: 11, 12). They were frequently rebuked by our Lord (Matt. 12:39; 16:1-4). From the very beginning of his ministry the Pharisees showed themselves bitter and persistent enemies of our Lord. They could not bear his doctrines, and they sought by every means to destroy his influence among the people.
(Easton Illustrated Dictionary)
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