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PHARISEES (Heb. פְּרוּשִׁים, Perushim), a Jewish religious and political party or sect during the Second Temple period which emerged as a distinct group shortly after the Hasmonean revolt, about 165–160 b.c.e. They were probably successors of the Hasideans (or *Ḥasidim), an earlier Jewish sect which promoted the observance of Jewish ritual and the study of the Torah. The Pharisees considered themselves the traditional followers of Ezra, whom they cherished, after Moses, as the founder of Judaism, maintaining the validity of the Oral Law as well as of the Torah as the source of their religion. They tried to adapt old codes to new conditions, believed in a combination of free will and predestination, in the resurrection of the dead, and in recompense for this life in the next. At first relatively small in number, the Pharisees came to represent, by the first century c.e., the religious beliefs, practices, and social attitudes of the vast majority of the Jewish people. They attempted to imbue the masses with a spirit of holiness, based on a scrupulous observance of the Torah, by spreading traditional religious teaching. So greatly did the religious values prevail over the political in the Pharisaic framework that, in contrast to the *Zealots, they were willing to submit to foreign domination – so long as it did not interfere with their inner way of life – rather than support an impious government of their own.

Origin of the Name

The meaning of the word "Pharisee" is uncertain. It is generally believed that the name derives from a Hebrew stem, parash ("to be separated"), hence "Pharisee" would mean "the separated ones" or the "separatists" (cf. Kid. 66a, where this meaning is clearly implied). According to some scholars, "Pharisee" would mean "those who are set apart", i.e., avoiding contact with others for reasons of ritual purity, or those who "separated themselves" from the heathens (Gal. 2:12ff.) and from the heathenizing tendencies and forces in their own nations, such as the *Sadducees.

History of the Pharisees

The Pharisees' first bid for power was made in a period two centuries after the Babylonian exile during the struggle to remove the Temple and religious control from the sole leadership of the aristocratic Sadducees. The inception of the synagogue worship traced to this time is seen as an attempt by the Pharisees to undermine the privileged authority exercised by the Sadducees. Ceremonies originally part of the Temple cult were carried over to the home, and learned men of nonpriestly descent began to play an important role in national religious affairs. While the priesthood exhausted itself in the round of Temple ritual, the Pharisees found their main function in teaching and preaching the law of God.

The conflict between the lay and priestly factions of the supreme council and tribunal, the Sanhedrin, regarding the interpretation of the Torah when decisions were required on questions arising in daily life, gave the Pharisees the opportunity to incorporate popular customs and traditions into the Temple cult and the religious life of the people. In general, the Pharisees admitted the validity of an evolutionary and non-literal approach toward the legal decisions and regarded the legal framework of the Oral Law as equally valid as the Written Law. A serious conflict eventually developed between the Pharisees and the Sadducees over the approach to these problems, and two distinct parties emerged, with theological differences entangled with politics. The antagonism between Pharisees and Sadducees extended to many spheres outside the religious domain and eventually became a fundamental and distinctive one. Under John Hyrcanus, the Pharisees were expelled from membership in the Sanhedrin and branded with the name Perushim, "the separated ones." They took the name as their own, but used its alternate Hebrew meaning, "the exponents" of the law. Pharisaic strongholds of learning were later founded by such "exponents" as Shammai and Hillel, and Ishmael and Akiva.

By the time of the Hasmonean revolt, it had become evident that the Pharasaic theological doctrines were giving utterance to the hopes of the oppressed masses and affecting the entire life of the Jews. This hope was especially seen in doctrines which included belief in the resurrection of the dead, the Day of Judgment, reward and retribution in the life after death, the coming of the Messiah, and the existence of angels, and also divine foreknowledge along with man's free choice of, and therefore responsibility for, his deeds. These beliefs touched on the theological foundations of life.

Concept of God

Based on the sayings of the prophets, the Pharisees conceived of God as an omnipotent spiritual Being, all-wise, all-knowing, all-just, and all-merciful. They taught that God loved all His creatures and asked man to walk in His ways, to act justly, and to love kindness. Though all-knowing and omnipotent, God endowed man with the power to choose between good and evil. He created in him two impulses, a good one and a bad, advised him to do good, and gave him the Torah as a guide. Since God was transcendent, He could not be comprehended in anthropomorphic terms, nor could His totality of being be designated with a name. Several terms were used merely to describe some attributes of God. The Pharisees spoke of God as "The Creator of the World" (Bore Olam), "the Place" (Ha-Makom), "the Divine Presence" (Shekhinah), and so forth.

Free Will and Divine Retribution

In opposition to the Sadducean belief that God took little cognizance of and little interest in human affairs, the Pharisees held that everything in the world was ordained by God, but that man had it in his power to choose between good and evil. Although "fate does not cooperate in every action," and although God could determine man's choice of conduct, He left the choice open to man himself. In talmudic reports the followers of the Pharisees declare, "Everything is in the hands of God but the fear of God" (Ber. 33b), and although "everything is foreseen, yet freedom of choice is given" (Avot 3:16). As the Talmud puts it, "If man chooses to do good, the heavenly powers help him. If he chooses to do evil, they leave the way open to him" (Shab. 104a). This belief in man's responsibility for his actions led to the Pharisaic doctrine of divine retribution. For the Pharisees, man would be rewarded or punished in the next life according to his conduct. This belief in divine retribution also rests on the more basic idea that man's existence is not limited to this life alone.


According to the Talmud and the New Testament, the Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead. This belief in another world makes possible the belief in divine justice in the face of apparent injustices on earth. Ideas of immortality and resurrection are generally attributed to Greek or Persian origins, yet to the Pharisees it was a genuine Jewish belief based on passages in the Torah.

Place of the Torah

For the Pharisees, the Torah God gave to Moses consisted of the Written and the Oral Law, and both were truth. The divine revelations in the first five books of Moses were supplemented and explained by the prophets and the unwritten tradition, and were intended to guide men in the right way of life. The Torah, they felt, was the center of their teachings and sufficient for all men and all times. Their view of the law was that its commandments were to be interpreted in conformity with the standard and interpretation of the rabbis of each generation, and to be made to harmonize with advanced ideas. Therefore, when a precept was outgrown, it was to be given a more acceptable meaning, so that it would harmonize with the truth resulting from God-given reason. The law must be understood according to the interpretation of the teachers who are endowed with God-given reason to do so. When the letter of the law seemed to oppose conscience, it was to be taken, accordingly, in its spirit. The Mosaic law of "an eye for an eye", for instance, was interpreted to refer to monetary compensation and not retaliation. The Pharisees generated a ramified system of hermeneutics and found no great difficulty in harmonizing Torah teachings with their advanced ideas, or in finding their ideas implied or hinted at in the words of the Torah. It was due to this progressive tendency, therefore, that the Pharisaic interpretation of Judaism continued to develop and remain a vital force in Jewry.

For discussion of the evolution of the Oral Law and its relation to the Torah, see *Oral Law and *Talmud.

Synagogue Worship

The Pharisees believed that, since God was everywhere, he could be worshiped both in and outside the Temple, and was not to be invoked by sacrifices alone. They thus fostered the synagogue as a place of worship, study, and prayer, and raised it to a central and important place in the life of the people, rivalling the Temple.

Relation to the New Testament

While the Pharisees, as a whole, set a high ethical standard for themselves, not all lived up to it. It is mistakenly held that New Testament references to them as "hypocrites" or "offspring of vipers" (Matt. 3:7; Luke 18:9ff., etc.) are applicable to the entire group. However, the leaders were well aware of the presence of the insincere among their numbers, described by the Pharisees themselves in the Talmud as "sore spots" or "plagues of the Pharisaic party" (Sot. 3:4 and 22b). The apostle Paul himself had been a Pharisee, was a son of a Pharisee, and was taught by one of the sect's most eminent scholars, Gamaliel of Jerusalem. Pharisaic doctrines have more in common with those of Christianity than is supposed, having prepared the ground for Christianity with such concepts as Messianism, the popularization of monotheism and apocalypticism, and with such beliefs as life after death, resurrection of the dead, immortality, and angels.

The active period of Pharisaism extended well into the second century c.e. and was most influential in the development of Orthodox Judaism. The Pharisees were deeply earnest in the religion of their forefathers, represented the most stable elements in their religion, and were most instrumental in preserving and transmitting Judaism. Unlike the Zealots, they rejected the appeal to force and violence, believing that God was in control of history and that every true Jew should live in accordance with the Torah. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Pharisees devoted much of their efforts to education. After the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 c.e., it was the synagogues and the schools of the Pharisees that continued to function and to promote Judaism.


general: J.W. Lightly, Jewish Sects and Parties in the Time of Jesus (1925); R.T. Herford, Judaism in the New Testament Period (1928); G.F. Moore, Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era, 3 vols. (1927–30); S. Zeitlin, History of the SecondJewish Commonwealth: Prolegomena (1933); idem, Rise and Fall of the Judean State, 2 vols. (1962–67); H. Wheeler Robinson, History of Israel (1938); Alon, Toledot; Baron, Social 2, 1–2 (1952); N.H. Snaith, The Jews from Cyrus to Herod (1956); D. Daube, New Testament and Rabbinic Judaism (1956); Schuerer, Hist; A. Posy, Mystic Trends in Judaism (1966); J.L. Blau, Modern Varieties of Judaism (1966): R. Kaufman, Great Sects and Schisms in Judaism (1967). pharisees: Schuerer, Gesch, 2 (19074), 447ff., incl. bibl.; I. Abrahams, Studies in Pharisees and the Gospels, 2 vols. (1917–24; repr. 1967); R.T. Herford, Pharisaism: Its Aim and Method (1912); idem, Pharisees (1924); idem, in: Judaism and the Beginnings of Christianity (1924); idem, Truth about the Pharisees (1925); H. Loewe, in: W.O.E. Oesterley (ed.), Judaism and Christianity, 2 (1937, repr. 1969); L. Baeck, Pharisees (1947); J.Z. Lauterbach, Rabbinic Essays (1951), 23–162; Klausner, Bayit Sheni, index, s.v.Perushim; R. Marcus, in: jbl, 73 (1954), 157–61; L. Finkelstein, Pharisees, 2 vols. (19623), incl. bibl.; A. Finkel, The Pharisees and the Teacher of Nazareth (1964); L. Bronner, Sects and Separatism during the Second Jewish Commonwealth (1967); W.D. Davies, Introduction to Pharisaism (1967).

[Menahem Mansoor]

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The predominant sect or religious party among the Jews in the time of Christ. After outlining their history and principal teachings, this article considers the NT references to them.

History and Teachings. The Pharisees were those who had "separated themselves" (Heb. p erûšîm; Aram. p erîšayyā from which comes the Gr. φαρισα[symbol omitted]οι) from others on the basis of ritual purity through minute observance of the Law. It would seem that the sect arose during the Greek period, as a continuation and development of the hasidaeans. At the time of the Maccabees, they were strong enough to offer efficacious support to the hasmonaeans; they came into conflict with this dynasty, however, during the reign of John Hyrcanus (13510.5 b.c.). In NT times the Pharisees were in conflict with the priestly sadducees; the latter were conservatives who rejected the oral tradition accepted by the Pharisees. Most Pharisees were lay, but some priests as well as many of the doctors of the Law or scribes joined their number.

The teaching of the sect was based on oral tradition as well as on the written Law. The Pharisees held for such religious truths as the resurrection of the body and the existence of angels. Since these doctrines were not clearly taught in the Pentateuch (the only Scripture accepted by the Sadducees), the Pharisees founded their belief in them upon later writings and oral traditions. In the field of morals the Pharisees taught a rigorous observance of the sabbath and insisted on legal purity and the payment of tithes. They offered various opinions on minute observance of these and other precepts, to such an extent that their opponents accused them of degenerating into rigorism and casuistry and focusing on sterile externalism destructive of a real religious spirit.

After the destruction of the Temple and the overthrow of the Jewish state, the Pharisees became practically the only influential group among the Jews. Through the uncertain centuries that followed, they held the Jewish people together. Later rabbinical schools looked back with admiration upon the Pharisees as the true upholders of Israel's Law and traditions. The rabbis of the talmud were their spiritual descendants.

In the New Testament. The fact that Jesus rejected much of the legalistic tradition of the Pharisees (Mk7.123), sought to free people from its burden (Mt 11.2830) and to interpret to them the profounder meaning of the Law (Mt 5.2048), inveighed against externalislic pietism (Mt 6.118; 23.512, 2331), and taught that redemption would come from Him (Mk 10.45) brought Him inevitably into conflict with the Pharisees. After His Ascension this conflict continued between the Christians and the Pharisees. While the debates between Jesus and the Pharisees recorded in the Gospels do recount historical events of His public ministry, their very preservation and the manner in which they are cast reflect the later struggle of the Church against the Pharisaic spirit both within and without.

The NT writers frequently mention the Pharisees, sometimes favorably, sometimes unfavorably. The Gospels narrate conflicts between the Pharisees and Jesus in Galilee (Mk 2.63.5; Lk 5.176.5; Mt 9.117; 12.145), in Jerusalem (Mk 11.2712.40; Lk 20.147; Mt 21.2322.46), and in several other less well-defined circumstances (Mt 15.120; Mk 7.123); and a strong condemnation of Pharisaism is found in Mt 23.136. Yet St. Luke relates incidents in which the Pharisees appear in a more favorable light (Lk 13.31; Acts 5.34; 23.69). It should be noted also that the Evangelists do not emphasize the activities of the Pharisees against Jesus in the Passion narratives. Only a few times are the Pharisees explicitly mentioned among those who brought about Jesus' death (Mt 27.62; Jn 18.3). The same reluctance to identify Pharisees as enemies is found in the Synoptic tradition about the predictions of the Passion (Mt 20.1719; Mk8.31; 10.33; Lk 9.22; 18.31).

In spite of, or because of, this ambivalent attitude toward the Pharisees as manifested in the Gospels, some modern critics consider the Evangelists biased and their testimony about the Pharisees untrustworthy. Other scholars attempt to vindicate the Evangelists in their apparent hostility to the sect.

In recent years exegetes have sought to rediscover the literary origins of the narratives, to analyze the religious background of a given pericope in the life of the early Church, and to stress the theological purposes that led an Evangelist to incorporate a narrative into his Gospel.

(see form criticism, biblical.) It should be noted that many of the Gospel incidents mentioning the Pharisees are concerned with disputes between them and Jesus. It would seem that the narratives in which these incidents are recounted reached their present form during the heated Judaizing crisis in the early Church. The Judaizers insisted on the strict observance of the Mosaic Law by Gentile Christians as well as by those of Jewish origin. It was on the authority of the Lord that such a dispute had to be settled, and the early community recalled the occasions on which He had debated with the Pharisees concerning the observance of the Sabbath, circumcision, distinction of foods, legal purity, etc. As the orthodox Christians recalled these discussions and repeated them against the Judaizers (and to some extent against the Pharisees outside the Church), it is obvious that the Pharisees as a group would be depicted in a poor light. The Evangelists then used these ready-made narratives in their Gospels. Their intent was not to disparage the Pharisees as such, but rather to prevent Christian readers from failing into the evils of the Judaizers and the externalism of many Pharisees. Their motive was not a national or party bias but a deep concern for Christian believers.

The Evangelists mentioned the Pharisees with a theological intention in mind. Their chief purpose was to preserve for their Christian readers the authentic teaching of Jesus regarding the primacy of the spirit over the letter, of inner religion over sterile externalism.

Bibliography: l. finkelstein, The Pharisees: The Sociological Background of Their Faith, 2 v. (3d ed. rev. Philadelphia 1962). j. w. bowker, Jesus and the Pharisees (Cambridge 1973). j. neusner, Formative Judaism: Religious, Historical and Literary Studies: Third Series: Torah, Pharisees, and Rabbis (Chico, Calif. 1983). s. mason, Flavius Josephus on the Pharisees: A Composition-Critical Study (Leiden 1991). d. b. gowler, Host, Guest, Enemy, and Friend: Portraits of the Pharisees in Luke and Acts (New York 1991). g. stemberger, Jewish Contemporaries of Jesus: Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes (Minneapolis 1995). j. neusner, The Rabbinic Traditions about the Pharisees before 70 (Atlanta, Ga. 1999). a. j. saldarini, Pharisees, Scribes, and Sadducees in Palestinian Society: A Sociological Approach, new ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich. 2001). j. wellhausen, The Pharisees and the Sadducees: An Examination of Internal Jewish History (Macon, Ga. 2001).

[r. mercurio/eds.]

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Pharisees (fâr´Ĭsēz), one of the two great Jewish religious and political parties of the second commonwealth. Their opponents were the Sadducees, 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 BC). 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 AD 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 (AD 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).

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Phar·i·see / ˈfarəsē/ • n. a member of an ancient Jewish sect, distinguished by strict observance of the traditional and written law, and commonly held to have pretensions to superior sanctity. ∎  a self-righteous person; a hypocrite. DERIVATIVES: Phar·i·sa·ic / ˌfarəˈsāik/ adj. Phar·i·sa·i·cal / ˌfarəˈsāikəl/ adj. Phar·i·sa·ism / -sāˌizəm/ n.

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Pharisees (Heb., perushim, ‘separatists’ or ‘interpreters’). Members of a Jewish religious sect of the second Temple period. The Pharisees emerged c.160 BCE, after the Hasmonean revolt. They believed themselves to be the inheritors of the traditions of Ezra and were scrupulous in their obedience to the oral law as well as to the written Torah. In some sense, they were the predecessors of the rabbis. Despite the strong anti-Pharisaic bias of the New Testament, there is no doubt that the Pharisees set high moral standards for themselves and through their devotion sustained the people through the trauma of the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple and the loss of the sacrificial cult.

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Pharisee a member of an ancient Jewish sect, distinguished by strict observance of the traditional and written law, and commonly held to have pretensions to superior sanctity; they are mentioned only by Josephus and in the New Testament. Unlike the Sadducees, who tried to apply Mosaic law strictly, the Pharisees allowed some freedom of interpretation. Although in the Gospels they are represented as the chief opponents of Christ they seem to have been less hostile than the Sadducees to the nascent Church, with which they shared belief in the Resurrection.

In general use, especially with allusion to the story in Luke of the Pharisee who gave thanks that he was ‘not as other men’, a self-righteous person, a hypocrite.

Recorded in Old English in the form fariseus, the word comes via ecclesiastical Latin from Greek Pharisaios, from Aramaic prīšayyā ‘separated ones’.

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Pharisees Members of a conservative Jewish religious group, prominent in ancient Palestine from the 2nd century bc to the time of the destruction of the second Temple in Jerusalem (ad 70). For much of this period, they constituted a political party opposed to the pagan influences of their Greek and Roman conquerors, but by New Testament times they were largely non-political. They were the founders of orthodox Judaism and were often in conflict with the Sadducees.

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PhariseeChrissie, Cissy, kissy, missy, prissy, sissy •dixie, pixie, tricksy, Trixie •chintzy, De Quincey, wincey •efficiency, proficiency, sufficiency •Gypsy, tipsy •ditzy, glitzy, itsy-bitsy, Mitzi, ritzy, Uffizi •Eurydice •odyssey, theodicy •sub judice • prophecy • anglice •chaplaincy • policy • baronetcy •governessy • Pharisee • actressy •clerisy, heresy •secrecy • statice • captaincy •courtesy •dicey, icy, pricey, spicy, vice •stridency • sightsee •bossy, Flossie, flossy, glossy, mossy, posse •boxy, doxy, epoxy, foxy, moxie, poxy, proxy •bonxie •poncey, sonsy •dropsy, popsy •biopsy • heterodoxy • orthodoxy •autopsy

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Pharisee OE. fariseus, early ME. farisew — late L. pharīsæus, -ēus — Gr. pharīsaîos — Aram. peīšaiyā, emphatic pl. of perīš = Heb. pārûš separated, separatist. The present form is from ME. f-, pharise(e) — OF. pharise — L.