Pharisees - a Politico-religious Sect

A politico-religious sect or faction among the adherents of later Judaism, that came into existence as a class about the third century B.C. After the exile, Israel's monarchial form of government had become a thing of the past; in its place the Jews created a community which was half State, half Church.

A growing sense of superiority to the heathen and idolatrous nations among whom their lot was cast came to be one of their main characteristics. They were taught insistently to separate themselves from their neighbours. "And now make confession to the Lord the God of your fathers, and do his pleasure, and separate yourselves from the people of the land, and from your strange wives" (I Esd., x, 11). Intermarriage with the heathen was strictly forbidden and many such marriages previously contracted, even of priests, were dissolved in consequence of the legislation promulgated by Esdras. Such was the state of things in the third century when the newly introduced Hellenism threatened Judaism with destruction.

The more zealous among the Jews drew apart calling themselves Chasidim or "pious ones", i.e., they dedicated themselves to the realization of the ideas inculcated by Esdras, the holy priest and doctor of the law. In the violent conditions incidental to the Machabean wars these "pious men", sometimes called the Jewish Puritans, became a distinct class.

They were called Pharisees, meaning those who separated themselves from the heathen, and from the heathenizing forces and tendencies which constantly invaded the precincts of Judaism (I Mach., i, 11; II Mach., iv, 14 sq.; cf. Josephus Antiq., XII, v, 1).

Hasidean (Chasidim) : Hebrew HASID, OR CHASID ("PIOUS ONE"), plural HASIDIM, OR CHASIDIM, member of a pre-Christian Jewish sect of uncertain origin, noted for uncompromising observance of Judaic Law. The Hasideans joined the Maccabean revolt against the Hellenistic Seleucids (2nd century BC) to fight for religious freedom and stem the tide of paganism. They had no interest in politics as such, and they later withdrew from the Maccabean cause as soon as they had regained their religious freedom. Indeed, they fell into disfavour with the Hasmonean rulers.

Tradition pictures them as so devoted to Judaic Law that martyrdom and torture were willingly preferred to the slightest violation of the Sabbath (1 Maccabees 2:42).

No one can say for sure whether the Hasidim mentioned in the Talmud were Hasideans or not. A later sect or type, ardent in prayer and meticulous in the observance of the commandments and the Sabbath, may have been meant.

Historians tend to explain the disappearance of the Hasideans as a gradual merging with the Pharisees. The Hasideans may also have had a doctrinal influence on the Essenes, an early Jewish sect that flourished in Palestine.

Despite a similarity of names, the Hasideans played no part in the development of either the Hasidic mysticism of 12th-century Germany or of the more important Hasidic movement that arose in 18th-century Poland (see Hasidism). (Britannica Members)

The Pharisees emerged as a party of laymen and scribes in contradistinction to the Sadducees,

i.e., the party of the high priesthood that had traditionally provided the sole leadership of the Jewish people.

They interpreted the Law according to its spirit;

when in the course of time a law had been outgrown or superseded by changing conditions,

they gave it a new and more acceptable meaning,

seeking scriptural support for their actions through a ramified system of hermeneutics.

It was due to this progressive tendency of the Pharisees that their interpretation of the Torah continued to develop and has remained a living force in Judaism.

The Pharisees were not primarily a political party but a society of scholars and pietists. They enjoyed a large popular following, and in the New Testament they appear as spokesmen for the majority of the population.

Around 100 BC a long struggle ensued as the Pharisees tried to democratize the Jewish religion and remove it from the control of the Temple priests. The Pharisees asserted that God could and should be worshiped even away from the Temple and outside Jerusalem. To the Pharisees, worship consisted not in bloody sacrifices--the practice of the Temple priests--but in prayer and in the study of God's law.

Hence the Pharisees fostered the synagogue as an institution of religious worship, outside and separate from the Temple. The synagogue may thus be considered a Pharasaic institution since the Pharisees developed it, raised it to high eminence, and gave it a central place in Jewish religious life. (Britannica Members)

See Judaism (Britannica Members)

During these persecutions of Antiochus the Pharisees became the most rigid defenders of the Jewish religion and traditions. In this cause many suffered martyrdom (I Mach., i, 41 sq.), and so devoted were they to the prescriptions of the Law that on one occasion when attacked by the Syrians on the Sabbath they refused to defend themselves (I Mach., ii, 42; ibid., v, 3 sq.). They considered it an abomination to even eat at the same board with the heathens or have any social relations with them whatsoever.

Owing to their heroic devotedness their influence over the people became great and far-reaching, and in the course of time they, instead of the priests, became the sources of authority.

In the time of Our Lord such was their power and prestige that they sat and taught in "Moses' seat".

This prestige naturally engendered arrogance and conceit, and led to a perversion in many respects of the conservative ideals of which they had been such staunch supporters.

In many passages of the Gospels, Christ is quoted as warning the multitude against them in scathing terms.

"The scribes and the Pharisees have sitten in the chair of Moses. All things therefore whatsoever they shall say to you, observe and do: but according to their works do ye not; for they say and do not.

For they bind heavy and insupportable burdens, and lay them on men's shoulders; but with a finger of their own they will not move them.

[These burdens are defined as "spiritual anxiety created by religious ritual.]

And all their works they do for to be seen of men.

For they make their phylacteries broad, and enlarge their fringes.

And they love the first places at feasts, and the first chairs in the synagogues.

And salutations in the market place, and to be called by men, Rabbi" (Matt., xxiii, 1-8).

Then follows the terrible arraignment of the scribes and Pharisees for their hypocrisy, their rapacity, and their blindness (ibid., 13-36).

And he said unto them in his doctrine, Beware of the scribes, which love to go in long clothing, and love salutations in the market places, Mark 12:38

And the chief seats in the synagogues, and the uppermost rooms at feasts: Mark 12:39

They consumed the widow's livlihood and repaid her by making a long prayer. That is, they sold their litugrical magic:

Which devour (eat down) widows houses, and for a pretense (show) make long prayers: these shall receive greater damnation. Mark 12:40

You know, they demand your tithe and earn it by preaching your funeral.

In the modern sense, a Pharisee rejects the DIRECT COMMANDS and claims some special contact with Jesus which gives them the authority to "be as much like the world as possible." They will then supstitute their own religious practices and, Diotrephes-Like, cast their oponents out of the Synagogue.

Then, they BRAND those who honer God's Word "as it has been spoken" as Pharisee, hypocrite, legalists. This is known as the guilt clause.

After the conflicts with Rome (A.D. 66-135) Pharisaism became practically synonymous with Judaism. The great Machabean wars had defined Pharisaism: another even more terrible conflict gave it a final ascendancy.

The result of both wars was to create from the second century onward, in the bosom of a tenacious race, the type of Judaism known to the western world.

A study of the early history of Pharisaism reveals a certain moral dignity and greatness, a marked tenacity of purpose at the service of high, patriotic, and religious ideals. As contrasted with the Sadducees,

the Pharisees represented the democratic tendency; contrasted with the priesthood,

they stood for both the democratic and the spiritualizing tendency.

By virtue of the Law itself the priesthood was an exclusive class. No man was allowed to exercise a function in the Temple unless he was able to trace his descent from a priestly family.

The Pharisees consequently found their main function in teaching and preaching. Their work was chiefly connected with the synagogues,

and embraced the schooling of children and missionary efforts among the heathen tribes.

Thus, in a sense, Pharisaism helped to clear the ground and prepare the way for Christianity.

It was the Pharisees who made idealized nationalism, based upon the monothism of the prophets, the very essence of Judaism.

To them we are indebted for the great apocalypses, Daniel and Enoch, and it was they who made common the belief in the resurrection and future reward. In a word, their pedagogical influence was an important factor in training the national will and purpose for the introduction of Christianity.

This great work, however, was marred by many defects and limitations. Though standing for the spiritualizing tendency,

Pharisaism developed a proud and arrogant orthodoxy and an exaggerated formalism,

which insisted on ceremonial details at the expense of the more important precepts of the Law (Matt., xxiii, 23-28).

He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. Mark 7: 6

Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. Mark 7: 7

For laying aside the commandment of God,

ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do. Mark 7: 8

Isaiah then speaks what Jesus quoted. He defines a Pharisee as one who removes their heart from the Lord but "for a pretense" replace His Words with their own words:

Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me,

but have removed their heart far from me,

and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men: Isaiah 29:13

Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder:for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid. Isaiah 29:14

Ezekiel has God saying it this way:

Also, thou son of man, the children of thy people still are talking against thee by the walls and in the doors of the houses, and speak one to another, every one to his brother, saying, Come, I pray you, and hear what is the word that cometh forth from the Lord. Ezekiel 33:30

And they come unto thee as the people cometh,

and they sit before thee as my people, and they hear thy words,

but they will not do them:

for with their mouth they shew much love,

but their heart goeth after their covetousness. Ezekiel 33:31

And, lo, thou art unto them

as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice,

and can play well on an instrument:

for they hear thy words,

but they do them not. Ezekiel 33:32

And when this cometh to pass, (lo, it will come,) then shall they know that a prophet hath been among them. Ezekiel 33:33

Music has always been associated with the death of truth and the killers of truth.

Woe unto you, lawyers for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered. Lu.11:52

The importance attached to descent from Abraham (Matt., iii, 9) obscured the deeper spiritual issues and created a narrow, exclusive nationalism incapable of understanding a universal Church destined to include Gentile as well as Jew. It was only through the revelation received on the road to Damascus, that Saul the Pharisee was enabled to comprehend a church where all are equally the "seed of Abraham", all "one in Christ Jesus" (Gal., iii, 28-9).

This exclusivism, together with their over valuation of external levitical observances, caused the Pharisees to be ranged in opposition to what is known as prophetism, which in both the Old and New Testament

places the main emphasis on character and the religious spirit, and thus they incurred not only the vehement reproaches of the Precursor (Matt., iii, 7 seq.), but also of the Saviour Himself (Matt., xxiii, 25 seq.).

The Pharisees are seen at their best when contrasted with the Zealots on one hand, and with the Herodians on the other. Unlike the Zealots, it was their policy to abstain from the appeal to armed force.

It was their belief that the God of the nation controlled all historic destinies, and that in His own good time He would satisfy the long frustrated desires of His chosen people. Meanwhile the duty of all true Israelites consisted in whole-hearted devotion to the Law, and to the manifold observances which their numerous traditions had engrafted upon it, joined to a patient waiting for the expected manifestation of the Divine Will.

The Zealots on the contrary bitterly resented the Roman domination and would have hastened with the sword the fulfilment of the Messianic hope. It is well known that during the great rebellion and the siege of Jerusalem, which ended in the destruction (A.D. 70),

the fanaticism of the Zealots made them terrible opponents not only to the Romans,

but also to the other factions among their own countrymen.

See how those who honor the expressed will of God are labeled as Zealots: Fratricides or brother killers.

On the other hand, the extreme faction of the Sadducees, known as the Herodians, was in sympathy with the foreign rulers and pagan culture, and even looked forward to a restoration of the national kingdom under one of the descendants of King Herod. Yet we find the Pharisees making common cause with the Herodians in their opposition to the Saviour (Mark, iii, 6; xii, 13, etc.).

     GIGOT, Outlines of New Testament History (New York, 1902), 74 sqq.; LE CAMUS, L'Œuvre des Apôtres, I (Paris, 1905), 133; FARRAR, The Life and Work of St. Paul (New York, 1880), 26-39; EATON in HAST INGS, Dict. of the Bible, s. v.; EDERSHEIM, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, passim.

Transcribed by WGKofron
With thanks to St. Mary's Church, Akron, Ohio

The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XI
Copyright © 1911 by Robert Appleton Company
Online Edition Copyright © 1999 by Kevin Knight
Nihil Obstat, February 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor
Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York


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