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Background to the New Testament #13

Fundamental teachings of the Pharisees

                    BACKGROUND TO THE NEW TESTAMENT #13

From the book "Sketches of Jewish Social Life" by Alfred



     TO realise the state of religious society at the time of our
Lord, the fact that the Pharisees were a regular "order," and
that there were many such "fraternities," in great measure the
outcome of the original Pharisees, must always be kept in view.
     For the New Testament simply transports us among
contemporary scenes and actors, taking the then existent state of
things, so to speak, for granted.  But the fact referred to
explains many seemingly strange circumstances, and casts fresh
light upon all. Thus, if, to choose an illustration, we should
wonder how so early as the morning after the long discussion in
the Sanhedrim, which must have occupied a considerable part of
the day, "more than forty men" should have been found "banded
together" under an anathema, neither to eat nor to drink "till
they had killed Paul" (Acts xxiii. 12,21); and, still more, how
such "a conspiracy," or rather "conjuration," which, in the
nature of it, would be kept a profound secret, should have become
known to "Paul's sister's son" (ver.I6), the circumstances of the
case furnish a sufficient explanation. The Pharisees were
avowedly a "Chabura " - that is, a fraternity or "guild" - and
they, or some of their kindred fraternities, would furnish the
ready material for such a "band," to whom this additional "vow"
would be nothing new nor strange, and, murderous though it
sounded, only seem a farther carrying out of the principles of
their "order." Again, since the wife and all the children of a 
"chaber," or member, were ipso facto members of the "Chabura,"
and Paul's father had been a "Pharisee" (ver.6), Paul's sister
also would by virtue of her birth belong to the fraternity, even
irrespective of the probability that, in accordance with the
principles of the party, she would have married into a
Pharisaical family. 
     Nor need we wonder that the rage of the whole "order"
against Paul should have gone to an extreme, for which ordinary
Jewish zeal would scarcely account. The day before, the
excitement of discussion in the Sanhedrim had engrossed their
attention, and in a measure diverted it from Paul. The apologetic
remark then made (ver.9), "If a spirit or an angel hath spoken to
him, let us not fight against God," coming immediately after the
notice (ver.8) that the Sadducees said, there was "neither angel
nor spirit," may indicate, that the Pharisees were quite as
anxious for a dogmatic victory over their opponents as to throw
the shield of the "fraternity" over one of its professed members.
But with the night other and cooler thoughts came. It might be
well enough to defend one of their order against the Sadducees,
but it was intolerable to have such a member in the fraternity.  
     A grosser outrage on every principle and vow - nay, on the
very reason of being of the whole "Chabura" could scarcely be
conceived than the conduct of St.Paul and the views which he
avowed. Even regarding him as a simple Israelite, the multitude
which thronged the Temple had, on the day before, been only
restrained by the heathens from executing the summary vengeance
of "death by the rebel's beating." How much truer was it as the
deliberate conviction of the party, and not merely the cry of an
excited populace, "Away with such a fellow from the earth; for it
is not fit that he should live!" But while we thus understand the
conduct of the Pharisees, we need be under no apprehension as to
the consequences to those "more than forty men" of their rash
vow. The Jerusalem Talmud (Avod. Sar. 4o a) here furnishes the
following curious illustration, which almost reads like a
commentary: "If a man makes avow to abstain from food, Woe to him
if he eateth, and, Woe to him if he does not cat! If he eateth,
he sinneth against his vow; if he does not eat, he sins against
his life. What then must he do? Let him go before 'the sages,'
and they will absolve him from his vow." In connection with the
whole of this matter it is, to say the least, a very curious
coincidence that, at the very time when the party so acted
against St.Paul, or immediately afterwards, three new enactments
should have been passed by Simeon, the son of Gamaliel (Paul's
teacher), which would exactly meet the case of St.Paul. 

     The first of these ordained, that in future the children of
a "Chaber" should not be necessarily such, but themselves require
special and individual reception into the "order;" the second,
that the previous conduct of the candidate should be considered
before admitting him into the fraternity; while the third
enjoined, that any member who had left the "order," or become a
publican, should never afterwards be received back again.

     Three words of modern significance, with which of late we
have all become too familiar, will probably better help us to
understand the whole state of matters than more elaborate
explanations. They are connected with that ecclesiastical
system which in so many respects seems the counterpart of
Rabbinism. Ultramontanism is a direction of religious thought;
the Ultramontanes are a party; and the Jesuits not only its
fullest embodiment, but an "order," which, originating in a
revival of the spirit of the Papacy, gave rise to the
Ultramontanes as a party, and, in the wider diffusion of their
principles, to Ultramontanism as a tendency. Now, all this
applies equally to the Pharisees and to Pharisaism.    

     To make the analogy complete, the order of the Jesuits also
consists of four degrees 1--curiously enough; the exact number of
those in the fraternity of "the Pharisees!"  Like that of the
Jesuits, the order of the Pharisees originated in a period of
great religious reaction. They themselves delighted in tracing
their history up to the time of Ezra, and there may have been
substantial, though not literal truth in their claim.  For we
read in Ezra vi. 21; ix. 1; x. 11; and  Neh. ix. 2 of the
"Nivdalim," or those who had "separated" themselves" from the
filthiness of the heathen;" while in Neh. x. 29 we find, that
they entered into a "solemn league and covenant," with definite
vows and obligations. Now, it is quite true that the Aramaean
word "Perishuth" also means "separation," and that the
"Perushim," or Pharisees, of the Mishnah are, so far as the
meaning of the term is concerned, "the separated," or the
"Nivdalim" of their period. But although they could thus, not
only linguistically but historically, trace their origin to those
who had "separated" themselves at the time of Ezra and Nehemiah,
they were not their successors in spirit; and


I When speaking of the four degrees in the order of Jesuits, we
refer to those which are professed. We are, of course, aware of
the existence of the so-called "professi trium votorum" of whom
nothing definite is really known by the outside world, and whom
we may regard as "the secret Jesuits," and of that of lay and
clerical "coadjutors," whose services and vows are merely


the difference between the designations "Nivdalim" and "Perushim"
marks also the widest possible internal difference, albeit it may
have been gradually brought about in the course of historical
development. All this will become immediately more plain.

     At the time of Ezra, as already noted, there was a great
religious revival among those who had returned to the land of
their fathers. The profession which had of old only characterised
individuals in Israel (Ps. xxx. 4; xxxi. 23; xxxvii. 28) was now
taken up by the covenanted people as a whole: they became the
"Chasidim" or "pious" (rendered in the Authorised Version,
"saints"). As "Chasidim," they resolved to be "Nivdalim," or 
"separated from all filthiness of heathenism" around.  The one
represented, so to speak, the positive; the other, the negative
element in their religion. It is deeply interesting to notice,
how the former Pharisee (or "separated one"), Paul, had this in
view in tracing the Christian life as that of the true "chasid,"
and therefore "Nivdal" - in opposition to the Pharisees of
externalism - in such passages as 2 Cor. vi. 14-vii. I, closing
with this admonition to "cleanse ourselves from all filthiness 1
of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God."
And so St.Paul's former life and thinking seem ever to have
served him as the type of the spiritual realities of his new
state. 2


I The Greek word for "filthiness" occurs in this passage only,
but the verb from which it is derived seems to have a ceremonial
allusion attaching to it in the three passages in which it is
used: 1 Cor. viii. 7; Rev. iii. ; xiv. 4.
2 If St.Paul was originally a Pharisee, the accounts given by the
earliest tradition (Euseb. H. E. ii. 23), compared with that of
Josephus (Ant. xx. 9, 1), would almost lead us to infer that St.
James was a "Chasid." All the more significant would then be the
part he took in removing the yoke of the law from the Gentile
converts (Acts xv. 13-21).



     Two points in Jewish history here claim our special
attention, without attempting to unravel the whole somewhat
tangled web of events. The first is the period immediately after
Alexander the Great. It was one of the objects of the empire
which he founded to Grecianise the world; and that object was
fully prosecuted by his successors. Accordingly, we find a circle
of Grecian cities creeping up along the coast, from Anthedon and
Gaza in the south, northwards to Tyre and Seleucia, and eastwards
to Damascus, Gadara, Pella, and Philadelphia, wholly belting the
land of Israel. Thence the movement advanced into the interior,
taking foothold in Galilee and Samaria, and gathering a party
with increasing influence and spreading numbers among the people.
Now it was under these circumstances, that the "Chasidim" as a
party stood out to stem the torrent, which threatened to
overwhelm alike the religion and the nationality of Israel. The
actual contest soon came, and with it the second grand period in
the history of Judaism.  Alexander the Great had died in July 323
B.C. About a century and a half later, the "Chasidim" had
gathered round the Maccabees for Israel's God and for Israel.    
But the zeal of the Maccabees soon gave place to worldly ambition
and projects. When these leaders united in their person the
high-priestly with the royal dignity, the party of the "Chasidim"
not only deserted them, but went into open opposition. They
called on them to resign the high-priesthood, and were ready to
suffer martyrdom, as many of them did, for their outspoken
convictions. Thenceforth the "Chasidim" of the early type
disappear as a class. They had, as a party, already given place
to the Pharisees, the modern "Nivdalim;" and when we meet them
again they are only a higher order or branch of the Pharisees - 
"the pious" of old having, so to speak, become "pietists."  
Tradition (Men. 40) expressly distinguishes "the early Chasidim"
(harishonim) from "the later" (acheronim). No doubt, those are
some of their principles, although tinged with later colouring,
which are handed down as the characteristics of the "chasid" in
such sayings of the Mishnah as: "What is mine is thine, and what
is thine remains thine as well" (P. Ab. V. 10); "Hard to make
angry, but easy to reconcile" (11); "Giving alms, and inducing
others to do likewise" (13); Going to the house of learning, and
at the same time doing good works" (I4).

     The earliest mention of the Pharisees occurs at the time of
the Maccabees. As a "fraternity" we meet them first under the
rule of John Hyrcanus, the fourth of the Maccabees from
Mattathias (135-105 B.C.); although Josephus speaks of them
already two reigns earlier, at the time of Jonathan (Ant. xiii.
5, 9). He may have done so by anticipation, or applying later
terms to earlier circumstances, since there can be little doubt
that the Essenes, whom he names at the same time, had not then
any corporate existence. Without questioning that, to use a
modern term, "the direction" existed at the time of Jonathan, 1
we can put our finger on a definite event with which the origin
of "the fraternity" of the Pharisees is connected. 


     From Jewish writings we learn, that at the time of Hyrcanus
a commission was appointed to inquire throughout the land, how
the Divine law of religious contributions was observed by the
people. 2 The result showed that, while


1 In proof of this, it may be stated that before the formal
institution of the "order," R. Jose, the son of Joezer, declared
all foreign glass vessels, and indeed the whole soil of heathen
lands, "unclean," thus "separating" Israel from all possible
intercourse with Gentiles.
2 It may be to the decries then enacted by Hyrcanus that Josephus
refers (Ant. xiii. 10, 6), when he speaks of their "abolition"
after Hyrcanus broke with the Pharisaical party.


the "therumah," 1  or priestly "heave-offerings," was regularly
given, neither the first or Levitical tithe, nor yet the
so-called "second" or "poor's tithe," was paid, as the law
enjoined. But such transgression involved mortal sin, since it
implied the personal use of what really belonged to the Lord.
Then it was that the following arrangements were made. All that
the "country people" (am ha-aretz) sold was to be considered 
"demai" - a word derived from the Greek for "people," and so
betraying the time of its introduction, but really implying that
it was "doubtful" whether or nor it had been tithed. In such
cases the buyer had to regard the "therumah," and the "poor's
tithe" as still due on what he had purchased. 
     On the other hand, the Pharisees formed a "Chabura," or
fraternity, of which each member - "Chaber," or "companion" -
bound himself to pay these tithes before use or sale.  Each 
"Chaber" was regarded as "neeman," or "credited" - his produce
being freely bought and sold by the rest of the "Chaberim." 2    
     Of course, the burden of additional expense which this
involved to each non "chaber" was very


1 I cannot here enter into explanations of the therumah, but must
refer the reader to my book on "The Temple and its Services," p.
331, etc.
2 It is with very great reluctance that I dissent from such an
authority as Canon Lightfoot. But I cannot regard the reference
to Niddah, 33 b, in his admirable essay on the Essenes
(Commentary on the Epistle to the Colossians, p.130), as
conclusive of the fact that a Sadducee and even a Samaritan might
be a "Chaber." Of course, there is a general application of the
term "Chaber" to any kind of association. But the whole passage
Niddah, 33 b, originating in a prandial discussion on which R.
Papah is very reluctant to enter, shows that neither the term 
"Samaritan" nor yet that of "Chaber" can be pressed in its
primary meaning. If anything, the statement that, under given
circumstances, "all Israel are to be regarded as Chaberim," would
be decisive, that strict historical value must not be attached to
the expressions of Rabbi Papah.


great, since he had to pay "therumah" and tithe on all that he
purchased or used, while the Pharisee who bought from another
Pharisee was free. One cannot help suspecting that this, in
connection with kindred enactments, which bore very hard upon the
mass of the people, while they left "the Pharisee" untouched, may
underlie the charge of our Lord (Matt. xxiii. 4): "They bind
heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's
shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of
their fingers."


     But the rigorous discharge of tithes was only one part of
the obligations of a "Chaber." The other part consisted in an
equally rigorous submission to all the laws of Levitical
purity as then understood. Indeed, the varied questions as to
what was, or what made "clean," divided the one "order" of
Pharisees into members of various degrees. Four such degrees,
according to increasing strictness in " making clean," are
mentioned. It would take too long to explain this fourfold
gradation in its details. Suffice it, that, generally speaking, a
member of the first degree was called a "Chaber," or "Ben 
hacheneseth," "son of the union" - an ordinary Pharisee; while
the other three degrees were ranked together under the generic
name of "Teharoth " (purifications). These latter were probably
the "Chasidim" of the later period. The "Chaber," or ordinary
Pharisee, only bound himself to tithing and avoidance of all
Levitical uncleanness. The higher degrees, on the other hand,
took increasingly strict vows. 


     Any one might enter "the order" if he took, before three
members, the solemn vow of observing the obligations of the
fraternity. A novitiate of a year (which was afterwards
shortened) was, however, necessary. The wife or widow of a
"Chaber," and his children, were regarded as members of the
fraternity. Those who entered the family of a "Pharisee" had also
to seek admission into the "order." 


     The general obligations of a "Chaber" towards those that
were "without" the fraternity were as follows. He was neither to
buy from, nor to sell to him anything, either in a dry or fluid
state; he was neither to eat at his table (as he might thus
partake of what had not been tithed), nor to admit him to his
table, unless he had put on the garments of a "Chaber" (as his
own old ones might else have carried defilement); nor to go into
any burying-place; nor to give "therumah" or tithes to any priest
who was not a member of the fraternity; nor to do anything in
presence of an "am ha-aretz," or non - "Chaber," which brought up
points connected with the laws of purification, etc. To these,
other ordinances, partly of an ascetic character, were added at a
later period.  But what is specially remarkable is that not only
was a novitiate required for the higher grades, similar to that
on first entering the order; but that,just as the garment of a
non - "chaber" defiled a "Chaber" of the first degree, that of
the latter equally defiled him of the second degree, and so on. 1


     To sum up then: the fraternity of the Pharisees were bound
by these two vows - that of tithing and that in regard to
purifications. As the most varied questions would here arise in
practice, which certainly were not answered in the law of Moses;
the "traditions," which were supposed to explain and supplement
the Divine law, became necessary.  In point of fact, the Rabbis
speak of them in that sense, and describe


1 It is impossible here to reproduce the Talmudical passages in
evidence. But the two obligations of "making clean" and of
"tithing," together with the arrangement of the Pharisees into
various grades, are even referred to in the Mishnah (Chag. ii. 5,
6, and Denzai ii. 2, 3).


them as "a hedge" around Israel and its law. That these
traditions should have been traced up to oral communications made
to Moses on Mount Sinai, and also deduced by ingenious methods
from the letter of Scripture, was only a further necessity of the
case. The result was a system of pure externalism, which often,  
contravened of those very ordinances, the letter of which was
slavishly worshipped. 


     To what arrant hypocrisy it often gave rise, appears from
Rabbinical writings almost as much as from the New Testament. We
can understand how those "blind guides" would often be as great a
trouble to their own party as to others. "The plague of
Pharisaism" was not an uncommon expression; and this religious
sore is ranked with "a silly pietist, a cunning sinner, and a
woman Pharisee," as constituting "the troubles of life" (Sot.
iii. 4).  "Shall we stop to explain the opinions of Pharisees"
asks a Rabbi, in supreme contempt for "the order" as such. "It is
as a tradition among the Pharisees," we read (Ab. de R. Nathan,
5), "to torment themselves in this world, and yet they will not
get anything in the next." It was suggested by the Sadducees,
that "the Pharisees would by-and-by subject the globe of the sun
itself to their purifications." On the other hand, almost
Epicurean sentences are quoted among their utterances, such as, 
 Make haste, eat and drink, for the world in which we are is like
a wedding feast;" "If thou possessest anything, make good cheer
of it; for there is no pleasure underneath the sod, and death
gives no respite.....Men are like the flowers of the field; some
flourish, while others fade away."
     "Like the flowers of the field!" What far other teaching of
another Rabbi, Whom these rejected with scorn, do the words
recall! And when from their words we turn to the kingdom which He
came to found, we can quite understand the essential antagonism
of nature between the two. 

     Assuredly, it has been a bold stretch of assertion to
connect in any way the origin or characteristics of Christianity
with the Rabbis. Yet, when we bring the picture of Pharisaism, as
drawn in Rabbinical writings, side by side with the sketch of it
given by our Lord, we are struck not only with the lifelikeness,
but with the selection of the distinctive features of Pharisaism
presented in His reproofs. Indeed, we might almost index the
history of Pharisaism by passages from the New Testament. The
"tithing of mint and anise," to the neglect of the weightier
matters of the law, and "the cleansing" of the outside - these
two-fold obligations of the Pharisees, "hedged around," as they
were, by a traditionalism which made void the spirit of the law,
and which manifested itself in gross hypocrisy and religious
boasting -- are they not what we have just traced in the history
of "the order?"


To be continued

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