The term itself is derived from a Hebrew word which literally means "separated." Right from the ethimological interpretation we can deduce that the Pharisees were a group of people who saw things differently compared to the majority. This difference was manifested in the religious area, but also in the political area and the social one.
The Second Temple was the period in which the Phariseean philosophy flourished. It is worth underlining that it is this very philosophy and religious thought that put the basis of the contemporary forms of Judaism.
During the reign of the king Antiochus Epiphanes in which numerous pressures were being made in order to impose the Hellenistic culture and polytheist religion, an anti-Hellenistic Jewish movement was created in order to defend the traditional views.
This movement was called the Hasidim and the Pharisees are one of the group's successors. It must be added that the beliefs of the Pharisees did not remain the same over time, but changed according to the social and cultural modifications that were taking place in the Jewish society.
The Pharisees were part of the main four sects which were created in the first century BCE. Their different approaches to the existing realities are nothing more but different reactions to what the Jewish people were put up with. It is necessary to mention that the majority of the population was not part of any kind of sect. however, the importance of these thought schools can not ne denied.
The four sects are: the Pharisees, their opponents, the Sadducees, the Essenes and the Zealots who represent the revolutionary attitude. Since the Second temple era was tormented by numerous conflicts and aggressive events, it was only normal for these sects to be supported by the population to a more or less important extent.
The Pharisees and the Sadducees were the most important sects. If the Pharisees had the support of the common population, the Sadducees were less popular because they were associated with the elitist social class. The conflict between the poor and the rich were translated into conflicts between these two sects.
But the difference was not only a material one. It was to be found within the doctrine as well. The Pharisees resisted and opposed the hellenization movement while the others did not.
Nevertheless, these are not the only reasons for which the two sects can be considered as members of an opposition. On the one hand, there was a school of thought which considered that the best laws derive from the Temple. On the other hand there was the philosophical movement which gave more importance to the value of the prophecies and Mosaic laws from the past.
Last but not least the difference is to be found in the manner in which these thought currents interpreted the holy book . Their interpretations regarding the manner in which the Torah is to be applied to the day-to-day life differed as well.
The Second Temple period is characterized by the power of the temple. The problems derived from the fact that while the Temple had the power and authority, it lacked a strong enough legitimacy. Pharisees were considered to be democratic while the Sadducees were seen as conservative and aristocratic.
Education had a very strong religious basis, so the different approaches to the interpretation of the Torah set a distance between the supporters of two sects. While the Pharisees are considered to be conservative, the Sadducees were perceived as trying to change the traditional ways.
It has already been mentioned that there were numerous pressures made during the Second Temple times in order to impose the Hellenistic culture and religion in Jerusalem . This happened especially in the period which lasts from the end of the Old testament until the birth of Jesus Christ.
The Pharisees took it upon themselves to be the most drastic defenders of the Jewish tradition. In fact they are also called Chasidim, a term that can be translated as loyal to God. When Jesus started preaching they were some of the most drastic opponents of his message. Their views can be considered as being extremist.
In addition, it must be mentioned that their interpretations were limited to only some parts of the laws, parts which they alone chose. Furthermore, they added texts themselves. Therefore it can be considered that their perspective was not a balanced, moderate one at all.
The truth is that the Jews were living in a form of government which was half state and half church. While the Jews accepted to be ruled by other peoples, they pretended to be allowed to given themselves internally. The role of the religious authorities was of extreme importance.
It is worth underlining that the Jews had a very superior attitude to the other people. Their God was the absolute God, that means, the God to whom all the people had to obey. But, the mercy of God and his miracles were meant only for them.
This attitude led to a sort of social segregation. Marriages were not allowed between Jews and non-believers -- who were considered inferior. The Pharisees wanted to become the most zealous defenders of these values. They considered themselves to be the most pious. The term Pharisee was used to describe their separation as a separation act from the heathen, the unworthy, the inferior.
Their actions reached a sort of climax during the rule of Antiochus. Their beliefs became harsher and harsher. It is safe to say that even if they wanted to defend the traditional views, their interpretations were rather rigid. It is a known fact that many of them died as martyrs because of this.
One particular situation is better known, when they were attacked on Sabbath by the Syrians and refused to defend themselves interpreting the holy texts literally.
Their attitude was indeed a separatist one. They refused any kind of contact with the heathens and this helped them build up a very solid reputation. This helped their influence to become greater and greater in time. As a consequence, at a certain point they had more authority than the priests themselves.
Unfortunately, while their initial intentions might have been good, their nature was only human. The accumulated prestige and authority had negative consequences, manifested in arrogance and conceit. It is true that they started as the harshest defenders of the traditional sacred texts, but they ended up twisting their meaning according to their own interest.
In fact, one very important aspect that needs to be brought into discussion is the opposition and conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees. Jesus would tell the people that in many ways, what the Pharisees were preaching was true. Not only that, but it could have also been considered admirable. However, there was a very important problem which resided in the fact that the Pharisees limited themselves to preaching while they forgot to apply their preaching in their own lives.
Jesus accuses them of being proud and overwhelmed with elements which are only too vain and human. Not only are they presumptuous, but they would not stop at nothing in order to defend their acquired social status -which brought them so many advantages, the most important one probably coming from the admiration of the people. The fact that they preach harsh measures and strict principles might make them seem as martyrs, but according to Jesus, the fact that they are lazy and would not make any effort to fulfil what they preaching makes them evil and corrupt. While pretending to care for the others through their rigid visions, they are actually making way for themselves. This is why they are not worthy of respect.
The development of the situation can be considered rather dramatic since the school movement started as a reaction of defence in front of the aggression represented by the Hellenistic culture and religion. The course of events turned the Pharisees into rapacious and hypocrite persons, looking for their best interest exclusively.
However, all the positive aspects that can be associated with them led to the spreading of their importance and it is safe to say that they put the basis for contemporary Judaism. Looking at the past facts, the Pharisee alternative was perhaps better than all the other one.
As opposed to the Sadducees, they were (or pretended to be democratic). As opposed to the priests they orientation was far more spiritual. Priesthood was a closed cast. One could serve in the Temple only if his family had a priest among the descendants. And being part of the Temple meant being powerful, respected and having a lot of authority since the Temple was the very institution of internal rule for the Jewish population. Contrary to the priests, the Pharisees were much more popular and liberal. This naturally explains how they managed to grow so popular with the masses.
The role that the Pharisees assumed was an educational one. All they did…