Sects During Biblical Times — Pharisees

Sects During Biblical Times — Pharisees

Question: Who were the Pharisees?

Who were these that sat on Moses Seat?

In 539 BC the Persians conquered Babylon, and in 537 BC Cyrus the Great authorized the Jews to return to Judea and rebuild the Temple. However, Cyrus did not allow the restoration of the Judean monarchy, which left the Judean priests as the dominant authority. Without the constraining power of the monarchy, the authority of the Temple in civic life was amplified. It was around this time that the priests and allied elites emerged as the party of Sadducee that ruled Judea. But during the initial years, Sanbalat, the Samaritan governor, tried for years to infiltrate the returning Jewish colony in Jerusalem with their Samaritan ideas and beliefs.

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Judah haNasi redacted the Mishnah, an authoritative codification of Pharisaic interpretations, around 200 AD. Most of the authorities quoted in the Mishnah lived after the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD; it thus marks the beginning of the transition from Pharisaic to Rabbinic Judaism. The Mishnah was supremely important because it compiled the oral interpretations and traditions of the Pharisees and later on the Rabbis into a single authoritative text, thus allowing oral tradition within Judaism to survive the destruction of the Second Temple. Of all the major Second Temple Jewish sects, only the Pharisees remained. Their vision of Jewish law as a means by which ordinary people could engage with the sacred in their daily lives was a position meaningful to the majority of Jews. Such teachings extended beyond ritual practices.  Such teachings extended beyond ritual practices. According to the classic midrash in Avot D’Rabbi Nathan (4:5):

The Temple is destroyed. We never witnessed its glory. But Rabbi Joshua did. And when he looked at the Temple ruins one day, he burst into tears. “Alas for us! The place which atoned for the sins of all the people Israel lies in ruins!” Then Rabbi Yohannan ben Zakkai spoke to him these words of comfort: “Be not grieved, my son. There is another way of gaining ritual atonement, even though the Temple is destroyed. We must now gain ritual atonement through deeds of loving-kindness.”

Following the destruction of the Temple, Rome governed Judea through a Procurator at Caesarea and a Jewish Patriarch and levied the Fiscus Judaicus. Yohanan ben Zakkai, a leading Pharisee, was appointed the first Patriarch (the Hebrew word, Nasi, also means prince, or president), and he reestablished the Sanhedrin at Yavneh (see the related Council of Jamnia) under Pharisee control. Instead of giving tithes to the priests and sacrificing offerings at the (now-destroyed) Temple, the rabbis instructed Jews to give charity. Moreover, they argued that all Jews should study in local synagogues, because Torah is “the inheritance of the congregation of Jacob” (Deut. 33:4).

Deuteronomy 33:1 And this is the blessing wherewith Moses the man of God blessed the children of Israel before his death. . . 4 Moses commanded us a law, even the inheritance of the congregation of Jacob.

Rashi: The Torah that Moses commanded us is a legacy for the congregation of Jacob: We have taken hold of it, and we will not forsake it!

Below is from Wikipedia:

The deportation and exile of an unknown number of Jews of the ancient Kingdom of Judah to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar II, starting with the first deportation in 597 BC and continuing after the fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the Temple in 587 BC, resulted in dramatic changes to Jewish culture and religion. During the 70-year exile in Babylon, Jewish houses of assembly (known in Hebrew as a beit knesset or in Greek as a synagogue) and houses of prayer (Hebrew Beit Tefilah; Greek προσευχαί, proseuchai) were the primary meeting places for prayer, and the house of study (beit midrash) was the counterpart for the synagogue. 

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The Temple was no longer the only institution for Jewish religious life. After the building of the Second Temple in the time of Ezra the Scribe, the houses of study and worship remained important secondary institutions in Jewish life. Outside Judea, the synagogue was often called a house of prayer. While most Jews could not regularly attend the Temple service, they could meet at the synagogue for morning, afternoon and evening prayers. On Mondays, Thursdays and Shabbats, a weekly Torah portion was read publicly in the synagogues, following the tradition of public Torah readings instituted by Ezra.

Although the priests controlled the rituals of the Temple, the Pharisees, scribes and sages, later called rabbis (Heb.: “Teacher/master”), dominated the study of the Torah in the country. They were known for their emphasis on personal piety. The word Pharisee comes from a Hebrew word meaning “separated.” These rabbis maintained an oral tradition, a God-given interpretation of the Torah, that they believed had originated at Mount Sinai alongside the written Torah of Moses.

The Hellenistic period of Jewish history began when Alexander the Great conquered Persia in 332 BC. The rift between the priests and the sages developed during this time, when Jews faced new political and cultural struggles. After Alexander’s death in 323 BC, Judea was ruled by the Egyptian-Hellenic Ptolemies until 198 BC, when the Syrian-Hellenic Seleucid Empire, under Antiochus III, seized control. Then, in 167 BC, the Seleucid king Antiochus IV invaded Judea, entered the Temple, and stripped it of money and ceremonial objects. He imposed a program of forced Hellenization, requiring Jews to abandon their own laws and customs, thus precipitating the Maccabean Revolt. Jerusalem was liberated in 165 BC and the Temple was restored. In 141 BC an assembly of priests and others affirmed Simon Maccabeus as high priest and leader, in effect establishing the Hasmonean dynasty.

The Pharisees and their sages believed that the Oral law was simultaneously revealed to Moses at Sinai, and the product of debates among rabbis. Thus, one may conceive of the “Oral Torah” not as a fixed text but as an ongoing process of analysis and argument in which God is actively involved; it was this ongoing process that was revealed at Sinai, and by participating in this ongoing process rabbis and their students are actively participating in God’s ongoing act of revelation. The Oral Torah was to remain oral but was later given a written form. It did not refer to the Torah in a status as a commentary, rather had its own separate existence which allowed Pharisaic innovations.

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Many scholars have characterized the Pharisees as interpreting the Torah liberally, whereas the Sadducees as a sect that interpreted the Torah literally. The Pharisees believed that all Jews in their ordinary life, and not just the Temple priesthood or their elites living around the Temple, should observe rules and rituals concerning purification. Pharisees believed in a broad and literal interpretation of Exodus (19:3–6), “you shall be my own possession among all peoples; for all the earth is mine, and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” The Pharisees, therefore, believed that all observant Jews were to be living like priests as expressed in the Torah, and that the Law itself was transferred from the priesthood to every man in Israel. 

The Pharisees accepted the written Word as inspired by God. By the time of Christ’s earthly ministry, this would have been what we now call the Old Testament, who, in trying to understand the Sacred Text, the Pharisees had given extra rules and ordinances to their Oral Tradition, making it harder for the common people to uphold all the laws of the Torah.

Notwithstanding their many traditions and ordinances, the Pharisees operated within Judaism in the time of Christ and the early church had great influence among the masses, teaching that all Jews should observe all 613 laws in the Torah, including the rituals concerning ceremonial purification. The Pharisees were also innovators in that they enacted specific laws as they saw necessary according to the needs of the time. The Pharisees based their authority to innovate from the Written Torah:

“. . . according to the word they tell you . . . according to all they instruct you. According to the law they instruct you and according to the judgment they say to you, you shall do; you shall not divert from the word they tell you, either right or left” (Deuteronomy 17:10–11).

Just as important as (if not more important than) any particular law was the value the rabbis placed on legal study and debate. The sages of the Talmud believed that when they taught the Oral Torah to their students, they were imitating Moses, who taught the law to the children of Israel. Moreover, the rabbis believed that “the heavenly court studies Torah precisely as does the earthly one, even arguing about the same questions” (Neusner, Jacob Invitation to the Talmud: a Teaching Book 1998; 8; quoted in Wikipedia).

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Thus, in debating and disagreeing over the meaning of the Torah or how best to put it into practice, no rabbi felt that he (or his opponent) was rejecting God or threatening Judaism. On the contrary, it was precisely through such arguments that the rabbis imitated and honored God and as a result, they had popular support among the people. So although the Pharisees were a minority in the Sanhedrin and held a minority number of positions as priests, they seemed to control the decision-making of the Sanhedrin because they were seen as their religious leaders. Although Josephus says the Pharisees were not great in number, only around 6,000, they did have tremendous influence over the people. Neither the Sadducees nor the Essenes could exert the influence the Pharisees could.

Evolving over the centuries, the Pharisaic traditions had the effect of adding or modifying God’s Word, which opponents claimed, were forbidden (Deuteronomy 4:2). The Gospels abound with examples of the Pharisees treating their traditions as contradictory to God’s Word (Matthew 9:14; 15:1–9; 23:5; 23:16, 23; Luke 11:42). Jesus applied the condemnation of Isaiah 29:13 to the Pharisees, saying they had gone too far, “Their teachings are merely human rules” (Mark 7:7).

The Mishnah, an authoritative codification of Pharisaic interpretations, around 200 AD, survived after the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. The Sadducees and Essenes didn’t survived that fire inferno of Jerusalem and thus marked the beginning of the transition from Pharisaic to Rabbinic Judaism. The Mishnah was supremely important because it compiled the oral interpretations and traditions of the Pharisees and later on the Rabbis into a single authoritative text, thus allowing oral tradition within Judaism to survive the destruction of the Second Temple. Of all the major Second Temple Jewish sects, only the Hillel Pharisees remained. Their vision of Jewish law as a means by which ordinary people could engage their daily lives was a position meaningful to the majority of Jews. Such teachings extended beyond ritual practices.  Such teachings extended beyond ritual practices. According to the classic midrash in Avot D’Rabbi Nathan (4:5):

“The Temple is destroyed. We never witnessed its glory. But Rabbi Joshua did. And when he looked at the Temple ruins one day, he burst into tears. “Alas for us! The place which atoned for the sins of all the people Israel lies in ruins!” Then Rabbi Yohannan ben Zakkai spoke to him these words of comfort: “Be not grieved, my son. There is another way of gaining ritual atonement, even though the Temple is destroyed. We must now gain ritual atonement through deeds of loving-kindness” (Pharisees, quoted in Wikipedia).

Following the destruction of the Temple, only the Hillel branch of the Pharisees survived. Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai reestablished the Sanhedrin at Yavneh. Without the Temple, Jews could only study in their newly established synagogues. From Yavneh, the Sanhedrin moved to different cities in Galilee, first at Usha, then at Bet Shearim, later at Sepphoris, ending up in Tiberias. But due to an edict by the Byzantine emperor, the Sanhedrin was finally abolished with the rabbinic patriarchate dissolved in 358 AD. And Hillel II was obliged to fix the calendar in permanent form in 359 AD, although it was adopted at a clandestine, and maybe final, meeting in 358.

Modern attempts in Israel

Main article: Modern attempts to revive the Sanhedrin

Since the dissolution of the Sanhedrin in 358 AD, there has been no universally recognized authority within Halakha. Maimonides (1135–1204) was one of the greatest scholars of the Middle Ages, and is arguably one of the most widely accepted scholars among the Jewish people since the closing of the Talmud in 500. Influenced by the rationalist school of thought and generally showing a preference for a natural (as opposed to miraculous) redemption for the Jewish people, Maimonides proposed a rationalist solution for achieving the goal of re-establishing the highest court in Jewish tradition and reinvesting it with the same authority it had in former years. There have been several attempts to implement Maimonides’ recommendations, the latest being in modern times.

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There have been rabbinical attempts to renew Semicha and re-establish a Sanhedrin by Rabbi Jacob Berab in 1538, Rabbi Yisroel Shklover in 1830, Rabbi Aharon Mendel haCohen in 1901, Rabbi Zvi Kovsker in 1940 and Rabbi Yehuda Leib Maimon in 1949.

In October 2004, a group of rabbis from various Orthodox communities in Israel undertook a ceremony in Tiberias, in which they claimed to reestablish the body according to the proposal of Maimonides and the Jewish legal rulings of Rabbi Yosef Karo.

More notes about the Pharisees

Below is from the Jewish Encyclopedia

— On the great Day of Atonement the high priest was told by the elders that he was but a messenger of the Sanhedrin and must officiate, therefore, in conformity with their (the Pharisees’) rulings (Yoma i. 5; comp. Josephus, “Ant.” xviii. 1, § 4).

—The Boethusians, as the heirs of the Sadducees, still retained a trace of the agricultural character of the feast in adhering to the letter of the law which places the offering of the ‘omer (sheaf of the wave-offering) on the morrow after the Sabbath and the Shabu’ot feast on the morrow after the seventh Sabbath following (Lev. xxiii. 15-16); whereas the Pharisees, in order to connect the Shabu’ot feast with Passover and lend it an independent historical character, boldly interpreted the words “the morrow after Sabbath” as signifying “the day following the first Passover day,” so that Shabu’ot always falls upon the close of the first week of Siwan (Meg. Ta’an. i.; Men. 65a, b; Shab. 88a).

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Nothing could have been more loathsome to the genuine Pharisee than Hypocrisy. “Whatever good a man does he should do it for the glory of God” (Ab. ii. 13; Ber. 17a). Nicodemus is blamed for having given off his wealth to the poor in an ostentatious manner (Ket. 66b). An evil action may be justified where the motive is a good one (Ber. 63a). Still, the very air of sanctity surrounding the life of the Pharisees often led to abuses. Alexander Jannæus warned his wife not against the Pharisees, his declared enemies, but against “the chameleon- or hyena- [“ẓebo’im”-] like hypocrites who act like Zimri and claim the reward of Phinehas:” (Soṭah 22b). An ancient baraita enumerates seven classes of Pharisees, of which five consist of either eccentric fools or hypocrites: (1) “the shoulder Pharisee,” who wears, as it were, his good actions. ostentatiously upon his shoulder; (2) “the wait-a-little Pharisee,” who ever says, “Wait a little, until I have performed the good act awaiting me”; (3), “the bruised Pharisee,” who in order to avoid looking at a woman runs against the wall so as to bruise himself and bleed; (4) “the pestle Pharisee,” who walks with head down like the pestle in the mortar; (5) “the ever-reckoning Pharisee,” who says, “Let me know what good I may do to counteract my neglect”; (6) “the God-fearing Pharisee,” after the manner of Job; (7) “the God-loving Pharisee,” after the manner of Abraham (Yer. Ber. ix. 14b; Soṭah 22b; Ab. R. N., text A, xxxvii.; text B, xlv. [ed. Schechter, pp. 55, 62]; the explanations in both Talmuds vary greatly; see Chwolson, “Das Letzte-Passahmahl,” p. 116). R. Joshua b. Hananiah, at the beginning of the second century, calls eccentric Pharisees “destroyers of the world” (Soṭah iii. 4); and the term “Pharisaic plagues” is frequently used by the leaders of the time (Yer. Soṭah iii. 19a).

— The Charge of Hypocrisy.

It is such types of Pharisees that Jesus had in view when hurling his scathing words of condemnation against the Pharisees, whom he denounced as “hypocrites,” calling them “offspring of vipers” (“hyenas”; see Ẓebu’im); “whited sepulchers which outwardly appear beautiful, but inwardly are full of dead men’s bones”; “blind guides,” “which strain out the gnat and swallow the camel” (Matt. vi. 2-5, 16; xii. 34; xv. 14; xxiii. 24, 27, Greek). He himself tells his disciples to do as the Scribes and “Pharisees who sit on Moses’ seat [see Almemar] bid them do”; but he blames them for not acting in the right spirit, for wearing large phylacteries and ẓiẓit, and for pretentiousness in many other things (ib. xxiii. 2-7). Exactly so are hypocrites censured in the Midrash (Pes. R. xxii. [ed. Friedmann, p. 111]); wearing tefillin and ẓiẓit, they harbor evil intentions in their breasts. Otherwise the Pharisees appear as friends of Jesus (Luke vii. 37, xiii. 31) and of the early Christians (Acts v. 38, xxiii. 9; “Ant.” xx. 9, § 1).

—  Most of these controversies, recorded from the time previous to the destruction of the Temple, are but faint echoes of the greater issues between the Pharisaic and Sadducean parties, the latter representing the interests of the Temple, while the former were concerned that the spiritual life of the people should be centered in the Torah and the Synagogue. 

— While the Sadducean priesthood prided itself upon its aristocracy of blood (Sanh. iv. 2; Mid. v. 4; Ket. 25a; Josephus, “Contra Ap.” i., 7), the Pharisees created an aristocracy of learning instead, declaring a bastard who is a student of the Law to be higher in rank than an ignorant high priest (Hor. 13a), and glorying in the fact that their most prominent leaders were descendants of proselytes (Yoma 71b; Sanh. 96b). 

— Only in regard to intercourse with the unclean and “unwashed” multitude, with the ‘am ha-areẓ, the publican, and the sinner, did Jesus differ widely from the Pharisees (Mark ii. 16; Luke v. 30, vii. 39, xi. 38, xv. 2, xix. 7). In regard to the main doctrine he (Jesus) fully agreed with them, as the old version (Mark xii. 28-34—no mention of keeping as a commandment in some versions) still has it. Owing, however, to the hostile attitude taken toward the Pharisaic schools by Pauline Christianity, especially in the time of the emperor Hadrian (076 AD – 138 AD), “Pharisees” was inserted in the Gospels wherever the high priests and Sadducees or Herodians were originally mentioned as the persecutors of Jesus (see New Testament), and a false impression, which still prevails in Christian circles and among all Christian writers, was created concerning the Pharisees.

— the people always sided with the Pharisees (“Ant.” xviii. 1, § 4). In King Agrippa (41-44) the Pharisees had a supporter and friend, and with the destruction of the Temple the Sadducees disappeared altogether, leaving the regulation of all Jewish affairs in the hands of the Pharisees. Henceforth Jewish life was regulated by the teachings of the Pharisees; the whole history of Judaism was reconstructed from the Pharisaic point of view, and a new aspect was given to the Sanhedrin of the past. 

— Under New Testament — 

It was at a later time and in contradiction to facts showing their friendly attitude (Luke xiii. 31) that the Pharisees were represented as having conspired against the life of Jesus, either with the Herodians or high priests (Mark iii. 6, xii. 13; Matt. xvi. 6, 11; xxii. 15-16; but comp. Luke xx. 19, where the Pharisees are not mentioned, and Matt. xxvii. 62; John vii, 32, 45; xi. 47; xviii. 3) or without them (Matt. xii. 14 [comp. vi. 7], xvi. 11; Luke xi. 53, xii. 1). Accordingly, the charges singled out to account for his persecution by the Pharisees were violation of the Sabbath (Mark ii. 23-iii. 6, et al.) and the claim of being the son of God (Mark xiv. 61-64, et al.).

Again, in the original version the Jewish multitudes side with Jesus to the very last (Luke xx. 19, xxiii. 27; Mark xii. 12); later on, both Herod, the persecutor whom Jesus called “that fox” (Luke xiii. 32), and Pontius Pilate, the Roman prefect (Luke xiii. 1, xix. 1), are transformed into friends and protectors of Jesus (Luke xxiii. 8, 15; Mark xv. 14; Luke xxiii. 4; Matt. xxvii. 17-25; John xviii. 38; xix. 4, 6, 12, 16), and the Jews described as his real crucifiers (Mark xv. 13-14; Matt. xxvii. 22-23; John xix. 12; Acts iv. 10); nay, more, the Jews become synonyms for fiends and bloodthirsty tyrants (John vii. 1, 13; viii. 44; x. 31; et al.).

— The description of the communistic life of the early Christians, their regular gathering in the Temple hall to spend the time in prayer and in works of charity, after the manner of the Essenes (ii. 42, iii. 2, iv. 32-37, v. 12, 25), seems to rest on facts. The institution of seven deacons who were elected by the laying on of hands and under the power of the Holy Spirit (vi. 3, 5) has its parallel in the Jewish community (Josephus, “Ant.” iv. 8, § 14; idem, “B. J.” ii. 20, § 5; Meg. 7a). It is interesting to note that the enemies of Jesus are correctly represented as the Sadducees (iv. 1, v. 17) and not, as in the gospels, the Pharisees, who are rather on his side (v. 17, xv. 5, xxiii. 6),

— The Pharisees appear as friends of Jesus (Luke vii. 37, xiii. 31) and of the early Christians (Acts v. 38, xxiii. 9; “Ant.” xx. 9, � 1). 

Another excerpt from Wikipedia

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— A fourth point of conflict (between the Pharisees and Sadducces), specifically religious, involved different interpretations of the Torah and how to apply it to current Jewish life, with Sadducees recognizing only the Written Torah (with Greek philosophy) and rejecting doctrines such as the Oral Torah, the Prophets, the Writings, and the resurrection of the dead. 

2 Types of Pharisees

a. Shammai and b. Hillel

In the first century, among the Pharisees were two schools of thought, based on the teachings of two rabbis, Shammai and Hillel. Shammai called for a strict, unbending interpretation of the Law on almost every issue, but Hillel taught a looser, more liberal application. After Hillel died in 20 AD, Shammai assumed the office of president of the Sanhedrin until he died in 30 AD. Followers of these two sages dominated scholarly debate over the following decades. Although the Talmud records the arguments and positions of the school of Shammai, the teachings of the school of Hillel were ultimately taken as authoritative. 

Followers of Shammai fostered a hatred for anything Roman, including taxation—Jews who served as tax collectors were persona non grata. The Shammaites wanted to outlaw all communication and commerce between Jews and Gentiles. The Hillelites took a more gracious approach and opposed such extreme exclusiveness. Eventually, the two schools within Pharisaism grew so hostile to each other that they refused to worship together.

Jesus regularly dealt with Pharisees of two different schools of thought.

These two opposing schools would argue about all sorts of matters, which is apparent from the kinds of questions they brought to Jesus. The school of Shammai was rigidly legalistic. They would bicker incessantly about the meanings of words, and would apply things so comprehensively that they would even tithe from their food condiments (Mt. 23:23). They read scripture as a rule book, and all righteousness hinged around being better rule-keepers than everyone else. The school of Hillel was generally loose in their approach to Scripture. They would allow a man to divorce his wife over something as small as burnt toast, and allowed a high degree of subjectivity in applying the law of Moses. One of the only things Hillelites were rigid about was that they wanted no association with the Shammaites.

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Whether one was a Shammaite or a Hillelite, most had however missed the point. Knowing God is not primarily about rule keeping or rule abolishing. Knowing God is primarily about trying to love what God loves. Loving God means caring about personal holiness, and keeping God’s commandments (John 15:10). Loving God means desiring as much mercy and grace for others as we desire for ourselves (Colossians 3:13). Jesus said that none of the law is unimportant, but the weightier matters–the parts that concern God most–are justice, mercy, and faithfulness (Mt. 23:23). If our righteousness does not hinge around our passion for these three things, it might not be righteousness at all.

Following the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple from 66 AD to 70 AD, only the Pharisees survive. The Essenes, Sadducees, the Zealots and even the Shammai branch of Pharisees couldn’t survive the fire inferno during these years of burnings. The Nasi of the Sanhedrin, Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai, fled Jerusalem and reestablished the Sanhedrin at Yavneh on the Mediterranean Coast. Without the Temple, Jews could only study the Torah in their newly established synagogues. The new Jewish leadership under the Hillel branch of Pharisees survived to reemerged as the Rabbinic Judaism.

~ by Joel Huan on November 20, 2020.

One Response to “Sects During Biblical Times — Pharisees”

  1. […] A Post-Mortem Analysis about the Pharisees HERE […]

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