The New International Encyclopædia/Pharisees

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PHARISEES (Heb. pērūshīm, Aramaic pērīshīn, the set apart, separatists). A Jewish religious party. The Pharisees first emerged as a definite party when the success of the Maccabean revolt led to the foundation of a secular State, at the head of which John Hyrcanus (high priest, B.C. 135-105) reigned as a secular prince, making alliances with other powers. Opposition to this policy, along the line of the old spirit of separation from all things non-Jewish (see Gentiles), crystallized in the party of the Pharisees. They were essentially a religious party and used political methods only when their principles had been severely outraged or when they could not otherwise attain their ends. Their distinctive doctrines were: (1) Separation from all intercourse in common life with the mass of the people, whom they designated as the ‘am hā’āreṣ (people of the land). This term did not include, as it had originally done, the heathen inhabitants of the land, from whom Jehovah was supposed to have commanded the Israelites to keep apart for fear of contamination (cf. Ezra ix. 1; Neh. x. 28-31); it was used by the Pharisees to designate even their orthodox fellow countrymen who were less scrupulous than themselves in the interpretation and observance of the law. Since absolute separation was impossible, they drew up elaborate rules to govern their intercourse with the mass of their fellow-countrymen. They would not buy or sell in exchange with an ‘am hā’āreṣ; their great Rabbi Hillel said, “No ‘am hā’āreṣ is pious.” They worshiped, however, with their countrymen in the temple and synagogue, and Hillel also said, “Separate not thyself from the congregation.” Nevertheless the Pharisees stood highest in the popular favor. (2) Less distinctive, but held with equal intensity, was their doctrine of the strict interpretation and rigid observance of the law as a necessity to righteousness. They insisted upon both the written law (the Torah) and also the traditions of the elders. Indeed, they made the tradition of more weight than the law (Mark vii. 8 sqq.). One of their principles was, “It is a greater crime to teach contrary to the precepts of the scribes than contrary to the Torah itself.” The law was extended by them to the minute details of the ablution of hands and vessels, to tithes, fasts, and Sabbath observance. They were the strictly legal party; righteousness was the product of legal observance, according to their teaching. (3) They cherished the political ideal of a restoration of the kingdom of Israel, which they expected to be accomplished through the interposition of a divine act; preparation for this consummation they believed was best achieved through a strict carrying out of the law. Foreign domination they regarded as a punishment of God for the sins of the people. (4) Their other doctrines, regarding the immortality of the soul, providence, and human freedom, were less peculiar and held in common with other Jews.

The Pharisees are most familiar through their relation to Jesus of Nazareth. They became his bitter opponents early in his ministry and continued so until the end. The grounds of their hostility were many. He and his disciples mingled freely with publicans and sinners, thus violating the distinctive Pharisaic doctrine of separation from the ‘am hā’āreṣ. They were careless about the strict observance of fasts, ablutions, and the Sabbath. The teaching of Jesus concerning the Fatherhood of God was in direct opposition to the letter and spirit of Pharisaic legalism. His interpretation of the Torah in the Sermon on the Mount was a repudiation of the Pharisaic principle that righteousness is the result of the strictness with which commandments affecting the external life are observed. The Pharisees made the religious relation one of legal compact; Jesus made it one of personal fellowship in the bond of filial trust and obedience. These two systems were utterly contradictory; the representatives of the one could not endure the teacher of the other. Hence the Pharisees were the most active in putting Jesus to death. After the destruction of Jerusalem under Titus (A.D. 70) the Pharisees survived as a party; their leading rabbis formed a body which regarded itself as the continuation of the ancient Sanhedrin; this group persisted and preserved Judaism of the stricter sort after the theocracy was really overthrown.

Bibliography. Consult the histories of the Jews, by Ewald, Graetz, Wellhausen, and the lives of Jesus; Geiger, Sadducäer und Pharisäer (Breslau, 1863); Cohen, Les Phariséens (Paris, 1877); Wellhausen, Die Pharisäer und Sadducäer (Greifswald, 1874); Schürer, History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ (Edinburgh, 1886-90); Cornill, History of the People of Israel (Chicago, 1898); Eaton, article “Pharisees,” in the Hastings Bible Dictionary, vol. iii. (New York, 1900); Prince, article “Scribes and Pharisees,” in Encyclopædia Biblica, vol. iv. (London, 1903).