The Pharisaic Tradition Today:
Excuse or Inspiration?
Scholarship, both Jewish and Christian, has done much during the last one hundred years to restore the reputation of the Pharisees. It is generally conceded now that the New Testament references to this sect were penned in the heat of controversy, and that the brief account given of them by the contemporary historian Flavius Josephus is not to be taken at face value, since it suffers from that historian’s compulsion to fit Jewish religious ideas into the pattern of Hellenistic-Roman schools of thought.
Though no one denies that there were hypocrites among the Pharisees—the Talmud itself says as much—the pendulum has swung the other way and it has now become fashionable to credit their sect with all that is of value and permanence in traditional Judaism. Jewish writers like Abraham Geiger and Jacob Z. Lauterbach, and Christian writers like George Foot Moore and R. Travers Herford have represented the Pharisees as the party of religious progress. Opposed to the priestly monopoly on the interpretation of the Law, the Pharisees stressed scholarship to the exclusion of caste. In contrast to the Sadducean effort to keep religion within the narrow confines of the Written Law, the Pharisees infused the whole of life with religious idealism and insisted that the Written Law must be supplemented by the Oral.
About the Author