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Related to Pharisees: Sanhedrin, Sadducees, Essenes


(fâr`ĭsēz), one of the two great Jewish religious and political parties of the second commonwealth. Their opponents were the SadduceesSadducees
, sect of Jews formed around the time of the Hasmonean revolt (c.200 B.C.). Little is known concerning their beliefs, but according to Josephus Flavius, they upheld only the authority of the written law, and not the oral tradition held by the Pharisees.
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, and it appears that the Sadducees gave them their name, perushim, Hebrew for "separatists" or "deviants." The Pharisees began their activities during or after the Hasmonean revolt (c.166–142 B.C.). The Pharisees upheld an interpretation of Judaism that was in opposition to the priestly Temple cult. They stressed faith in the one God; the divine revelation of the law both written and oral handed down by Moses through Joshua, the elders, and the prophets to the Pharisees; and eternal life and resurrection for those who keep the law. Pharisees insisted on the strict observance of Jewish law, which they began to codify. While in agreement on the broad outlines of Jewish law, the Pharisees encouraged debate on its fine points, and according to one view, practiced the tradition of zuggot, or pairs of scholars with opposing views. They developed the synagogue as an alternative place of worship to the Temple, with a liturgy consisting of biblical and prophetic readings, and the repetition of the shma, the basic creed of Judaism. In addition, they supported the separation of the worldly and the spiritual spheres, ceding the former to the secular rulers. Though some supported the revolt against Rome in A.D. 70, most did not. One Pharisee was Yohanan ben Zakkai, who fled to Jamnia, where he was instrumental in developing post-Temple Judaism. By separating Judaism from dependence on the Temple cult, and by stressing the direct relation between the individual and God, the Pharisees laid the groundwork for normative rabbinic Judaism. Their influence on Christianity was substantial as well, despite the passages in the New Testament which label the Pharisees "hypocrites" or "offspring of the vipers." St. Paul was originally a Pharisee. After the fall of the Temple (A.D. 70), the Pharisees became the dominant party until c.135.


See L. Finkelstein, The Pharisees: The Sociological Background of Their Faith (3d ed., 2 vol., 1963); A. Finkel, The Pharisees and the Teacher of Nazareth (1964); L. Baeck, Pharisees (1947, repr. 1966); J. Neusner, From Politics to Piety (1973) and The Pharisees (1985).



a socioreligious group in Judea from the second century B.C. to the second century A.D. Other such groups were the Sadducees, Essenes, Zealots, and Sicarii.

The Pharisees were drawn from tradesmen, craftsmen, scholars, and middle- or small-scale landowners and for the most part voiced the interests of the middle strata of the population. An indication of the size of the group is provided by Flavius Josephus’ statement that 6,000 Pharisees refused to swear allegiance to Herod the Great. According to Josephus, the Pharisees had great influence with the masses and occasionally headed popular uprisings. Some sources, however, provide evidence of hostility between the Pharisees and the common people. The Pharisees helped establish the Oral Law, which was recorded in the Mishnah in the early third century A.D. In their interpretation of the Torah, the Pharisees strove to adapt the Written Law to new socioeconomic conditions. They laid the ideological foundations for the further development of Judaism.

As a result of the way the Pharisees are characterized in early Christian literature, particularly the Gospels, the word “pharisee” has come to be applied to hypocrites.


Finkelstein, L. The Pharisees, vols. 1–2. Philadelphia, 1962.
Meyer, R. Tradition und Neuschöpfung im antiken Judentum. Berlin, 1965.


sanctimonious lawgivers do not practise what they preach. [N.T.: Matthew 3:7; 23:1–15; Luke 18:9–14]
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