Biblical Pharisees and Jewish Halakhah

Good guys with bad press, says scholar Roland Deines

This article was originally published in 2013.—Ed.


Were the Biblical Pharisees really as bad as the New Testament makes them seem? Professor Roland Deines thinks not. Photo courtesy Roland Deines.

The common perception of Biblical Pharisees is that they are a bunch of hypocrites. They taught others to follow Jewish halakhah (law) closely and interpreted detailed rules from the scriptures, but their own practice was showy and meaningless—or at least that’s what the New Testament (especially Matthew’s gospel) would lead us to believe. Josephus, too, and even some rabbinic traditions portray the Pharisees in a negative light, according to Biblical scholar Roland Deines of the University of Nottingham (United Kingdom).

And yet, Deines says, the Biblical Pharisees were popular in the first century; they were the people’s party. Why would the people follow a bunch of hypocrites?

As Roland Deines explains in a recent BAR column, the New Testament and Josephus include polemical texts against the Pharisees rather than objective descriptions. In fact, it was the Pharisees’ take on Jewish halakhah that made them so popular.

The strict (and extensive) purity laws of Jewish halakhah made it both costly and time-consuming to follow—putting the Biblical instructions out of reach for most common people. For example, if impurity touched the outside of a pottery vessel, it needed to be broken and the contents thrown away. Instead, the Pharisees interpreted these laws in a way that made purity accessible to more people. According to the Pharisaic interpretation, the inside of the aforementioned vessel remained pure and the contents could still be used.

Although this sort of legalistic interpretation may seem like nit-picking to some, the Pharisees made purity attainable for all of Israel, not just the elite.


For more of Roland Deines’s explanation about the popularity of the Biblical Pharisees and their take on Jewish halakhah, see Roland Deines, Biblical Views: The Pharisees—Good Guys with Bad Press in the July/August 2013 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review. This Bible History Daily post was originally published in August 2013.

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Related reading in Bible History Daily:

Ancient Jewish Theology and Law
Jonathan Klawans on the divergence of the Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes

Schisms in Jewish History
Lawrence H. Schiffman’s four-part series on unity and disunity throughout Jewish history.

Making Sense of Kosher Laws

Josephus on the Essenes


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  1. Paul says

    In the book of Ben Sirach the primordial Wisdom of the Most High is personified searching for a place to reside, as I quote from “Veda and Torah” by Barbara Holdrege, p.136:
    “Wisdom thus ‘took root in an honored people’ and established her seat among the people of Israel in the holy tabernacle in Jerusalem (24:10). Universal wisdom, which God had originally ‘poured out upon all his works,'(1:8) assumed a particularized form and became embodied on earth in the Book of the Torah (24:8).”
    This concept was continued in the Kabbalah as I quote from “Innerspace” by Aryah Kaplan, p.58:
    “”Chokmah (Wisdom) is seen as the basic blueprint that God created to bring the entire spiritual-physlcal universe into existance. It is also the active intellect that God uses to run the universe. Although God was not compelled to create the world through the vehicle of the intellect, He bound Himself to its rules when He created Chokmah. He then created man with the same intellect and the same built-in axioms. They would allow him to grasp the underlying principles of creation by contemplating God’s handiwork.”
    The Gospel of John 9:1 mentions Jesus and his disciples walking along and seeing a blind man from birth and engaging in a halachic discussion as to the origin of the “sin” that caused the man’s condition (the Hebrew for ‘walk’ is halak which also means ‘law’). Jesus answers, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him” (9:4). It reminds me of the album cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Innervison.”
    The kabbalistic scholar Gershom Scholem in his autobiography “From Berlin to Jerusalem” (p.58). mentions Jewish student organizations in Germany around 1914, among which was a Jewish hiking association that imitated the traditional hiking culture so prevailant there. However, Scholem, being an intellectual, focused on his Judaic studies and also rejected the nationalistic war fervor that prevailed in World War I. He would later escape the Nazis and take a post at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
    The boast on Pharaoh Meryneptah’s stele proclaimed, “Isreal’s seed is not!”
    When in fact the hill country where the Isrealites settled was being reworked so as to allow for planting seed with terrace-work and irrigation trenches.

  2. matt says

    Forgive me for sounding so nonacademic and simple in my reply here. Although I have read much of Josephus I cannot comment on that so much, but as it relates to Jesus, his focus was on the heart and following the rule of loving God and others. He was not opposed to, but rather in favor of biblical rules for Godly living, but he kept big things bigger and small things smaller. It is no surprise that the pharisees had a following. It is natural for us as human beings to become legalistic and feel comfortable in that. We like to complicate things that are simple, just look at bills that are passed in government. It is hard to keep things simple and pure. Also Jesus saw the error and damage being done by some of the pharisees and so he spoke out against it.

  3. Brian says

    Not sure I understand the point of The Bible not being “objective.” Sounds like the approach here by Roland is that the New Testament writers were biased as opposed to inspired by God. Jesus was able to see their hearts and the hearts of many others as well. Obviously, they had popularity because the man born blind and healed by Jesus still honored the Pharisees even after Jesus healed his eyes. I’m sure there was some intimidation and fear mixed in as well that caused people to fear the Pharisees. To deny who the Pharisees were as Jesus described seems to say that Jesus was not correct. In that case I side with God of the Universe the Lord Jesus.

  4. Mike says

    That a political leadership party or junta is popular is not an indicator that they were not crooked, sanctimonious, self-righteous, evil, wicked, etc.

    I can think of a current example or two.

  5. JAllan says

    I agree partially with Mike (4) above, but just as millions of sincere Evangelical Christians do NOT share the jingoistic Herod-worshiping (or is it Caesar-worshiping?) prejudices of their leaders (in fact one very LARGE group of Americans, African-Americans, are to a large degree theologically and ethically conservative, and yet very liberal in politics — as a matter of self defense), not all the Pharisees were evil. As the article pointed out, Pharisees GENERALLY expanded the concept of priestly observance to any devout Jew regardless of social or economic status (priesthood of all believers, there’s a catchy phrase!). Jews who could not afford the daily Temple sacrifices, or who were ritually excluded from the Temple due to handicaps, could still satisfy God by living devout and ethically pure lives, or at least as pure as they could manage. The consistent EFFORT was preached by the best Pharisees, and they also emphasized that the most important part of that effort was to be holy in one’s treatment of others.

    The later-written Gospels were written to a somewhat anti-Jewish audience, and after the fall of the Temple, so the Pharisees were the principal “villains.” The Sadducees, wealthy Levites and priests, had lost their influence when the Temple was destroyed. Modern Orthodox and Conservative Judaism was “weaned” from the physical Temple ritual by the better Pharisees.

    One former Pharisee who portrayed their teaching as “God wants perfect results, not the best you can do in effort” was Paul, who apparently felt that extreme position to be the way God was judging HIM personally, and so gave us this misunderstanding of Pharasaic thought, as a contrast to grace through Christ. As a partial result of this dichotomy between faith and works, other Pharisees were portrayed as ignoring human needs to “fulfill” the letter of a commandment. And there certainly HAD been some of that teaching, dating back to the Hasmonean dynasty (descendants of the Maccabees who called themselves “kings”), as the Roman general Pompey was able to conquer Jerusalem without a fight by attacking during the Sabbath, when Jews would not fight back. But the correction to that attitude was also found in the Judea in which Jesus lived, and Jesus was not the ONLY proponent of this reform (or if He was, He was certainly copied by Pharisees over the next few centuries).

    So, some Pharisees surely were crooked or corrupt, but they had far less opportunity for corruption than the Saducees, at least until the Temple was destroyed. They were popular precisely BECAUSE they took the side of the “little guy” against Saducee confiscation of what little the average peasant had (the widow’s mite, so to speak). Santimoniousness and self righteousness are temptations that may be found in any spiritual path, even Christianity (can anyone think of examples?) but are not necessarily the rule.

  6. Andrew says

    the Pharisees made purity attainable for all of Israel, not just the elite.

    – The Pharisees made purity attainable to the people, and not God?

    Jeremiah 31:31-34
    “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

  7. David says

    What? “Bad guys” can’t be popular? Tell that to Pedro Escobar, who was lionized in Columbia for his “good deeds” while simultaneously being the world’s largest drug dealer at that time, which included all the violence that went along with achieving that status. The people LOVED him. Popularity is no sign of righteousness–it’s stupid to even consider. Yeishuu`a (Jesus) condemned the Pharisees to eternal death (saying they were “twice dead”) because they earned their “popularity” by deliberately twisting and doing away with the dictates of Tohraah. Their taqqanoth, as exemplified in “qorban” by Yeishuu`a, taught that explicit instruction from Scripture could be ignored if the people would just follow the “smooth” ways of the Pharisees’ teachings. Their oral interpretations deliberately superseded YHWH’s word in order to ingratiate themselves with the people and pull them away from the influence of the Sadducees (not that they were any better). The Pharisees “bought” their influence over the people by means of reducing the “burdens of YHWH” while simultaneously adding burdens of their own devising. For many of the people, it was an acceptable trade. In the sight of YHWH, this trade earned “second death”.

  8. Carroll says

    If we cannot dazzle people with our brilliance we are likely to baffle them with our B.S. I really believe that was the concern Jesus held in the first place. Straining at knats and overlooking the weightier matters.

  9. JANICE says

    Jesus keep all of the law, otherwise he would not have qualified as being the Messiah. Jesus did not say that we do not need to keep the entire law. The entire law is still the bulls-eye that we should shoot for to live a righteous life. Jesus offered exceptions for when the law could be broken, which included issues of live and death and human compassion. According to Jesus compassion for human needs allowed one to set-aside the law in some instances. However, the law is still valid and the standard by which one should live his life. What scripture was Jesus and the apostles quoting? Always the so called Old Testament, which formed the basis for their discussions. Jesus was offering clarification / teaching to the Pharisees, as Jesus as essentially a Pharisee himself.

  10. Ken says

    Lets not forget Acts 23:6 Paul identifies himself still as a Pharisee.

  11. Robin says

    I enjoyed the brief summation of Roland Deines’ views. I realize that defense of the Pharisees is of interest to many, And I am sure that many/most Pharisees of the ancient nation of Israel were sincere people—most of the time, just like we all are..

    But “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” as it says in the New Testament.

    All–meaning both Jew and Gentile….all races. …all religions.

    As the author of the book Killing Jesus noted, the religious authorities in ancient Judea had no problem watching a man be tortured till near death and then writhing in agony on a cross all day–but were REALLY concerned that His lifeless body be removed and disposed of by sundown, due to Law and the coming festival celebration.

    We are capable of hypocrisy even when trying to be righteous—as the above situation illustrated.

    Thus, nice and good and moral people can flub up and deceive themselves into thinking they have done a good thing.

    We cannot live up to the standard that God has set–no matter what God/god we profess to follow. This is why we need a Savior. This is why God laid upon His Messiah, Jesus, the sins of the world…………….so that we might have forgiveness—even if it is from our self-righteousness–and be with Him always.


    So politics has not changed in 2,000 years.

  13. Krzysztof says

    Any Zeal must be at first rational (Romans 10:2). Acts 6:7 speaks about pharises or others converting to follow Jesus Christ?

  14. Edmundo says

    If the pharisees “were not so bad”, as this article purports, why will then the pharisees turn against Jesus so much that they were looking for an occasion to catch him saying something “against” the law, and ultimately, for an opportunity to kill him? From Scripture, one can determine that not all pharisees were alike. For instance, there we have Nicodemus, a pharisee and a members of the Sanhedrin, and Joseph of Arimathea, another pharisee and also a member of the Sanhedrin. These two men understood that Jesus had come from God. They revered him and believed in him, under threat of their own lives. In any case, Jesus, being the Messiah, the Son of God, revealed (and still reveals) the contents of the hearts of the pharisees. Under such scrutiny, what we really feel and believe, will be made plain. In summary, the great majority of the pharisees were against Jesus and his teachings.

  15. Joe says

    Jesus’ dealings with the pharisees is some of the most anachronistic literature in all the NT.

  16. Hal says

    It seems a lot of these purity laws and the red heifer were Gods way of protecting his people (the whole tribe) from sickness a disease because he loved them all. I don’t think God meant for people to be looked down upon for not being able to pay for the precautions and required methods to do things in a kosher way. It seems to me the pharisees were short sighted in determining the reason for the law and shrugged off the responsibility for the elite to help their fellow tribesmen to be able to afford to maintain the law. Their strength was in their numbers rich or poor.

    We have that same problem today the power elite put their self above the little people that they make their wealth off of. They like to reap the harvest and not reseed the field. The 2 pyramids in that star of David cover both ways top to bottom and bottom to top, it’s not meant to be a one way thing the elite seem to forget that. YHWH people do his work. imho

  17. John says

    They may have been popular with many, they certainly had powerful positions in the community, but so what? So do many hypocritical religious leaders today. Look at the popularity of some TV preachers. There is nothing in the NT to suggest that the Gospel writers were dishonest in their writings. The writings of the early Jewish leaders confirm their hatred of Jesus. There is also no secret about how the Pharisees persecuted the early Christians.
    Now all of the sudden someone wants to white wash what they did. They did not make purity available to all Israel, then actually imposed heave burdens on the people that made obeyingf the law more difficult. They have a shameful history.

  18. Ben says

    Always consider the source, their ties, alliances, consistent positions and financiers of their research. I think a contempory of the time-Josepus, and first hand witness accounts of what Yehoshua said and the non recantations of the tortured witnesses, has the highest of credibility v.s. the schooled opinions of 2,000 year after the fact researchers. Hard but true. Most of us know the archeological politics that are played back and forth. Everyone always has THEIR experts to claim what they want. The Pharisees are Perushim because they think they have more authority to create Law and that it supersedes Torah.
    They supported the Maccabees in his self appointing of High Priest against the Sons of Zaddok/Essenes. The wicked priest killed the founder (Teacher of Righteousness) for speaking against the High Priest and Pharisees, Sound familiar?

  19. William says

    Yeshua (Jesus) also indicated that the P’rushim (Pharisees) were righteous as well . . .

    Notice the following in the text:

    Matthew 5:20 (CJB)
    20 For I tell you that
    unless your righteousness
    is far greater than that of the Torah-teachers and P’rushim,
    you will certainly not enter the Kingdom of Heaven!

    πλείων pleiōn – To a greater degree – greater in magnitude . . .

    If we are going to take an exegetical approach, we have to come to the conclusion that they have a righteousness of some degree because that is exactly what is being said . . .

    Contrast this with the following question:

    If what they were teaching was wrong, would Yeshua instruct his talmidim to do what they say?

    Matthew 23:1-7 (CJB)
    1 Then Yeshua addressed the crowds and his talmidim:
    2 “The Torah-teachers and the P’rushim,” he said, “sit in the seat of Moshe.
    3 So whatever they tell you, take care to do it.

    But don’t do what they do, because they talk but don’t act!
    4 They tie heavy loads onto people’s shoulders but won’t lift a finger to help carry them.
    5 Everything they do is done to be seen by others; for they make their t’fillin broad and their tzitziyot long,
    6 they love the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues,
    7 and they love being greeted deferentially in the marketplaces and being called ‘Rabbi.’

    However, they are also warned not to do what they do . . .

    Obviously, their intent/inner motive is suspect here –
    What is NOT suspect is that they sit in the seat of authority

    They were considered the most accurate interpreters of the law

    The question you have to ask is whether Yeshua would have the people and his talmidim obey them if what they were teaching was wrong . . . .

    In layman’s terms – they followed the rules (where their degree of righteousness comes from)
    but Adonai judges the heart . . .the inner motive

    Isn’t that why he says, if you really believed Moshe you would believe in me because he wrote about me?

    and yet some did – just look at acts 15

    3 verses are all that are needed:

    Acts 15:5 (CJB)
    5 But some of those who had come to trust were from the party of the P’rushim; and they stood up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and direct them to observe the Torah of Moshe.”

    Acts 15:12 (CJB)
    12 Then the whole assembly kept still as they listened to Bar-Nabba and Sha’ul tell what signs and miracles God had done through them among the Gentiles.
    * (this includes the P’rushim)

    Acts 15:25 (CJB)
    25 So we have decided unanimously to select men and send them to you with our dear friends Bar-Nabba and Sha’ul,
    * (again this includes believing P’rushim in their midst)

    P’rushim (Pharisees) that were believers?!? Oy Vey! (Oh the pain) 😛

    My 2 cents anyways

  20. Beth says

    You ask why would the people follow a bunch of hypocrites? Look around you, for Heaven’s sake!!! Human nature hasn’t changed much over the millennia, if I’m any kind of a student of history. Human beings are creatures of expediency and if their leadership found a way to reinterpret the law and navigate a more user-friendly version for the people, I doubt there was a hypocrisy flag thrown by the masses! My 2 cents.

  21. Albert says

    My good Sir, would I be in err to say that they did not ‘make the laws of purity more accessible? ‘

    How did the various takanot and maasim of the Pharisees make ritual purity ‘accessible ‘? Yeshua ‘s (Jesus ‘) first miracle is yo turn water set aside for ritual washing, a commandment never found in the law of God (Torah) but invented by the Prushim (Pharisees), turning this water into the finest wine in the land. And, my!, guess what they considered would make this purported water of puritication defiled? (well, as you will find in all his miracles, the answer is in the miracle :) ) So what would make this purification water defiled?

    Ans : If it had the slightest taste of wine. But boy, this had more than the slightest taste!, I mean ransack France but you won’tget a hold of this Sauvignon!

    Healing the man born blind (at the Feast of Lights!!! enough said, prophecy declared) why did the Lord of Glory spit and mmake mud, send this 40 yr old blind man on a trek to the pool of Shiloam with all the mikvaot on the temple mount? Believe it or not, he broke at least 2 Rabbinic takanot in this one miracle!!!
    1. Making mud on the Sabbath (Talmud, tractate Shabbat 108b)

    2. Walking more than a Sabbath days journey!

    Do we see a pattern here?

    (Main reference tool for this comment : The Chronological Gospels : The Life and Seventy Week Ministry of the Messiah, by Michael Rood) just so you know I am not making these things up!

  22. Ben says

    All of this stuff about ritual purity is actually beside the point. That applied, anyway, only to matters relating to Temple attendance. It was important to priests serving there. That is one chief reason why the Pharisees relieved the mass of the people from most of its obligations, both in Judea and in the Diaspora too, even if they sought to keep as many as were practically possible in their own more demanding observance.

    Underlying these things, anyway, was a vision of the Jewish people as being a dedicated “Kingdom of Priests” (Exod. 19:6) serving a laity which was the whole of humanity, and the Temple itself was to be seen as “a house of prayer for all people” (Isa. 56:7). Succot, Tabernacles, in particular, was a festival in which there were offerings for all humanity, which is why Zechariyah 14:16ff. says in the Messianic Era all peoples will come to Jerusalem to celebrate Succot. There was a universalistic vision behind this which is ignored in most accounts.

    What many of these comments depressingly indicate is that the anti-Judaism that stains too much of the New Testament and the Church Fathers remains alive and well amongst too many otherwise admirably devout Christians today: here we have the heartroot of antisemitism down through the ages, for over 2,000 years. The Pharisees, predecessors of the Rabbis who transmitted mainstream Judaism to later ages, were criticised by Josephus precisely because of their popularity and generally acknowledged authority amongst the people — since he himself was of Sadducean background and sympathies, even if he had toyed with joining the Pharisees in his youth. He had also toyed with joining the Essenes, he tells us; such frivolous adolescent experiments mean little aside from being possible indicators of instability. He was quite ready to go over to the Roman side, after all, betraying his people and joining their mass murderers, at the time of the war with Rome that brought about the destruction of Judea and the Temple itself. His problem with the Pharisees had nothing to do with ritual purity matters. It was because they were the admired and followed mainstream religious authorities of the Jews.

    The hostility towards the Pharisees in the New Testament was for much the same reason. The leaders of early Christianity were in competition from the start with the mainstream authorities of Judaism to win the allegiance of the Jewish masses. They had a problem, though, since few joined them: traditional Jewish religion flourished, and its Pharisaic leaders were too admired for their kindliness, leniency, piety and learning. The great Rabbi/Pharisee Hillel famously exemplified those qualities, and he and his students led the major school amongst the Pharisees. (Indeed there is actually very little in Jesus’ incontrovertible teachings that deviated from Pharisaic teachings; he even insisted that all the Pharisaic teachings were authoritative, came from Sinai and must be followed down to the last detail: Matt.5:18-19; 23:2-3; Luke 11:42, 16:16-17; I Epistle of John 2:3-4, 5:2-3.) Such lives of loftiness and godliness also won the admiration of gentiles, many of whom converted to Judaism in those days, and of “God-fearers” that did not convert but attended synagogues throughout Judea and the Roman Empire.

    The competition grew even fiercer as the Church became gentile and split with the Jerusalem sect under James, something that had gone very far already in the first generation. At that point the gentile Church was competing with the Jewish-led sect for the allegiance of interested gentile proselytes. After all, the Jamesian sect was Pharisaic in spirit and practice, too, as the Epistle of James shows (James 1:25 et passim). So does the Book of Acts as well: the momentous permission James and his Jerusalem council gave to Paul to proselytize amongst gentiles without requiring their conversion, Acts 15:13-21, expressed the Biblical, Pharisaic and later Rabbinic belief that non-Jews did not need to convert to Judaism to be saved — this idea, actualised by the Pharisees in their inclusion of “God-fearers” in synagogue services, they derived from the Noahite Covenant described in the Mosaic Torah and reflected in the Books of Job and Jonah. When the Sadducean High Priest with his Sadducean-dominated Sanhedrin persuaded the Romans to execute James, the most respected religious authorities amongst the people, evidently therefore Pharisees, rose in protest against that (as described in detail by Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 20, 9, 1). Therefore it was no longer just a matter of competing with the Pharisees for religious authority amongst Jews. That could even be abandoned to the Jamesians (they were painted as actually worshipping Satan: John 8:31-47). But the sincerity, piety and learning of the leaders of mainstream Judaism which so impressed gentiles as well had to be painted as mere outward show and hypocrisy, “whitened sepulchres,” beautiful only on the outside, yes, granted, but secretly and really dead and ugly within. So they had Jesus say that those mainstream authorities were literally damned to Hell no matter how good they were or how firmly they dissociated themselves with past persecutions of prophets (Matt. 23:33), for simply as blood descendants of those alleged persecutors they had a evil hereditary racial taint shared by all born Jews (Matt. 23:29-31). It hardly needs saying that Jesus could not have actually said this, since he would have been damning himself and all his apostles and followers as well. Those passages in the Gospel of Matthew were clearly later gentile interpolations, like quite a few of the other anti-Pharisaic texts of the N.T. None of this relates to ritual purity issues, although that could be dragged in eventually, quite contrary to Jesus’s own statements affirming the validity of all the commandments, cited above. Paul’s view of such matters became normative for the gentile Church, instead, that the “Law” is a “dispensation of death,” enslaves, and is a curse from which Christ frees humanity (II Cor. 3:7ff., Gal. 3:10-13, 13-28, etc.).

  23. Ben says

    For more on these matters generally, see Jules Isaac, The Teaching of Contempt: Christian Roots of Anti-Semitism (1964), the book that helped to motivate the revision of Catholic views under Pope John’s urgings in Vatican II; James Parkes, The Conflict of Church and the Synagogue: A Study in the Origins of Antisemitism (1961); and Rosemary Radford Ruether, Faith and Fraticide: The Theological Roots of Antisemitism (1974). In regard to the Pharisees specifically and what they lived by, practiced and believed, and later Rabbinic views and practices as well, it is still worthwhile to consult three groundbreaking works that helped significantly to revise Christian views back in the early 20th century, namely, Israel Abrahams, Studies in Pharisaism and the Gospels (1917-1924), George Foote Moore, Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era, 3 vols. (1927-1930); and Solomon Schechter, Aspects of Rabbinic Theology (1909). More recently, E.P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism: A Comparison of Patterns of Religion (1976), has been a landmark work changing our understanding both of Paul and “the Law,” i.e., Rabbinic religion as such.

  24. Ben says

    P.S.: Since we are all on a first-name basis in this blog, not every entry bearing the same first name is from the same person. So I would like to get “Ben” back in Dec. 2013 off the hook, so to speak, and wish to clarify that my views should not be attributed to him nor vice versa.

  25. Richard says

    Was it not “the Party of the Pharisees” who, upon the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D., began to reform Mosaic Judaism; a process which took nearly 600 years and transformed Mosaic Judaism into the Rabbinic Judaism practiced today?…One question; From where did they get their authority to reform Mosaic Judaism?…One can not find it in the Sinaitic Covenant, or even in Jewish halakha prior to 70 A.D…Thus, the only conclusion one can draw is that they took it upon themselves to reform Mosaic Judaism after 70 A.D. and did so using the halakha of the Party of the Pharisees…This act implied that Yahweh was being unfaithful because, if there was no new Messianic Covenant already in place, then He left them no way to atone for their sins…And this has only resulted in great confusion for Jews and Gentiles over the succeeding centuries…Thus, one can only come to the conclusion that, as Jesus clearly implied – they were “Bad Guys” and not the “good Guys with Bad Press” that Roland Deines claims they are…

  26. tapani says

    The Pharisees brought their knowledge to use the common people. Samely Luther teached what he learned in the monastery to his time. The Bible was important compared with our time when every one thinks to be right what they do and say.

  27. Ben says

    This comment is in response to the post by Richard, August 5, 2014.

    It should be understood clearly that the Pharisees, and the later Rabbis, did not create the Oral Tradition of which they were the recognized and revered authorities amongst most Jews of their day. That Oral Tradition already arose and flourished at the time of the revelation at Mt. Sinai, as the Torah itself makes clear. E.g., Moses is shown in Exod. 18 presiding over cases that were brought before him both before the revelation at Mt. Sinai, and then similarly afterwards. In these case issues were dealt with in accordance with the Torah revelation but in which the application or elaboration was left unclear for these particular persons or problems. In fact, even those without any specific complaint might well inquire concerning how to actually do a Torah commandment. E.g., we are told that one must not work on the Sabbath, but it is not clarified what qualifies as “work.” This has to be explained and was, orally. Every single commandment required such clarification before its full implications could be lived in actuality. Naturally, this was done right from the time of Sinai itself.

    The continuity of this Oral Torah (“Torah” means “Teaching”) down through the subsequent generations was ensured by Moses himself, and was ordained in the Torah. In Deut. 16:18 and especially 17:8-13, this was explicitly described as an essential institution and obedience to the teachers of the Oral Torah in each generation is stipulated as being part of the Written Torah commandments themselves.

    Following the restoration from the Babylonian Exile, Ezra established a Great Sanhedrin to continue this oral teaching and application of the Written Torah. So it persisted down through the later centuries, was sustained by the “Hasidim” who are mentioned in the Books of Maccabees, and their disciples the Pharisees of the late Second Commonwealth period.

  28. Ben says

    There is another very relevant point that should be added to my response to Richard’s post. He apparently considers the Oral Torah maintained by the priests, sagely scribes, and judges of the Great Sanhedrin under Ezra and over following centuries, the Hasidim, the Pharisees, and the Rabbis, to be something inauthentically part of God’s Torah, distorting Moses’s teachings. They were “bad guys,” he says. In this, Richard attacks Jesus’s own views. (I mean the real Jesus, before his teachings were worked over by later non-Judaic editors and made into a vitrolic and hateful attack on the Pharisees, their religion and their authority.) Those are stated very publicly, clearly and firmly. “Then said Jesus to the crowds and to his disciples, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you [Matt. 23: 1-3].'” One must obey them in regard to the commandments, even unto the least jot and tittle of them, or be accounted least in the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt. 5:18-19).

    As for closing out any way to atone for sins, the Pharisees did not do that at all. Basic to the practice of the Jewish religion are the High Holydays, including Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. All Jews of that time, and all religious Jews right up to the present, observe those holy days. In them, it is constantly emphasized that God receives all sinners back into His merciful presence, if they repent (and, where they have wronged another human being, made proper restitution to the victim as stipulated in the Torah, written and oral). So no one can close that way to atone for sins. It does not depend on temple sacrifices, for example — in the synagogues of the diaspora long before the fall of the Temple, amongst those unable to go on distant pilgrimage to the Temple, repentance and prayer, and acts of charity, were already said to effect full return to the Divine Presence and love. That is reiterated in centuries of Rabbinic sayings and in the Talmud that records their teachings.

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