Historical Quotes

The Pharisees - Jewish Leaders in the First Century AD.

Quotes from Ancient Sources about the Pharisees

Josephus [37-ca 100 CE]

2. Three Jewish Sects

119 For among Judeans there are three forms of philosophy.
Now Pharisees are one sect, Sadducees another,
but in fact the third, called Essenes, seems to be the most reverential discipline.
--- Josephus, Jewish War 2.119

12. Argument over Oral Torah

297 For now I wish only to explain that the Pharisees transmit to the people some rules in line with the fathers, which were not written in the laws of Moses. And because of this, the line of the Sadducees reject these things. They say that it is necessary to hold those rules that have been written but it is not (necessary) to observe what is (only) from the fathers' tradition. And, as a consequence, controversies and great disagreements have occurred between them.
298 The Sadducees persuade only the well-to-do and have no popular following. But the Pharisees have the masses as allies.
-- Josephus, Antiquities 12.297-298

18. Principles & Popularity of Pharisees

12 The Pharisees live thriftily, giving in to no luxury. For they follow what the Word* (of God) in its authority determines and transmits as good. They believe that to keep what (God) wished to counsel is worth fighting for.
13 Out of respect, they defer to those advanced in years. Nor are they so bold as to stand in opposition to what (the elders) have proposed.
14 While claiming that everything is affected by destiny, they do not deprive human will of power in these things. For it occurred to God to make a combination and to admit to his counsel the will of men---with its virtue and its vice. Their belief is that there is an undying power in souls and that, under the ground, there is an accounting to reward and punish those who were righteous or unrighteous in (this) life. Eternal punishment is offered to the latter, but re-creation in a new life to the former.
15 Because of these ideas, (the Pharisees) are the most persuasive among the citizens. And all the sacrifice and prayer offered to God happens to be according to their exegesis (of scripture). In this way, those who live in the cities have witnessed to their virtue in devoting themselves to all the best in their words and way of life.

--- Josephus, Antiquities 18.12-15
[or "reason", Greek: logos]

2. Sadducees differ from Pharisees

164 Now the Sadducees, the second party, deny destiny altogether and place God beyond doing or seeing anything bad. They say that good and bad are dependent on human choice; and one may allow each of these according to one's own decision.
165 They deny the soul's permanence as well as rewards and punishments in the underworld.
166 Now the Pharisees love one another and practice consensus in their community. But the Sadducees behave rather aggressively even towards each other. And they are as harsh in debates among themselves as with others.

--- Josephus, Jewish War 2.164-166

Rabbinic Writings about the Pharisees

13. Rabbinic Lament over Sadducean Brutality

21 Abba Saul ben Betnith and Abba Jose ben Johanan of Jerusalem* say:
-- "Woe to me from the house of Boethus! woe to me from their rods!"
-- "Woe to me from the house of Qadros!** woe to me from their pens!"
-- "Woe to me from the house of Elhanan!*** woe to me from their house of whispers!"
-- "Woe to me from the house of Elisha! woe to me from their pens!"
-- "Woe to me from the house of Ismael ben Phiabi!
For they are high priests and their sons, treasurers and their sons-in-law (temple) officers!"
"And their servants come and beat us up with staves!"
--- Tosefta, Menachoth 13.21

  • Mistaken attribution. Jose b. Johanan was an early Pharisaic leader [z1 ; ca. 150 BCE] but this lament refers to high priests from the time of Herod into the 1st c. CE. Saul is unknown.
  • Qadros = Kantheros
  • * Elchanan = cHanan I (in Greek: Ananus or Annas)

1. Tradition of the Elders

1. Moses received the Torah from Sinai and committed it to Joshua, and Joshua to the elders and the elders to the prophets; and the prophets committed it to the men of the Great Congregation. These said three things:
"Be deliberate in judgment";
"Raise up many disciples"; and
"Make a hedge for the Torah."

--- Mishna, Aboth Aboth 1.1

A. Standards for Disciples

3 "And raise up many disciples":
The school of Shammai says:
--"Do not teach a man unless he is wise and meek and the son of wealthy parents!"
The school of Hillel says:
--"Teach every man! For there were many sinners in Israel who were led to study Torah, from whom came righteous and pious and worthy men."
--- Babylonian Talmud (supplement) Aboth de R. Nathan A 3

31. Hillel justifies Oral Tradition

31a Our rabbis taught:
It happened that a certain foreigner came to Shammai and said to him:
--"How many Torahs are there for you?"
He told him:
--"Two! A written Torah and an oral Torah."
He said to him:
--"I will trust you on the written but I will not trust you on the oral. I will be a proselyte providing you teach me (only) the written Torah."
(Shammai) rebuked him and drove him out in anger.

(The foreigner) came before Hillel who made him a proselyte. The first day (Hillel) told him:
--"Aleph, Beth, Gimel, Daleth [= ABCD]"
The next day he turned them around for him.
(The disciple) said to (Hillel):
--"But yesterday you did not tell me like this!"
(Hillel) told him:
--"Did you not then trust what I said? Trust me likewise [in this]!"
--- Babylonian Talmud, Shabbath 31a

3. The Yoke of Torah

5 Rabbi Nechonia ben HaQanah said:
--"He who takes the yoke of Torah on himself shall have lifted from him the yoke of kingdom and the yoke of the world's way. But he who takes the yoke of Torah off himself shall find laid on himself the yoke of kingship and the yoke of the world's way."
--- Mishna, Aboth 3.5

3. Deviants from Torah Rejected

12 Rabbi Eleazar of Modi'im said:
--"He who profanes holy things and spurns the set times, he who exposes his colleague in public, he who voids the covenant of our father Abraham, he who discovers parts of the Torah contradicting halakah, he has not share in the world to come, even if he has a grasp of Torah and good deeds."
--- Mishna, Aboth 3.12

4. Saying & Doing

7 (Rabbi Joshua (ben cHanania) says:
-- "He who repeats [shanah] and does not practice ['amel]
is like [mashal] a man who sows and does not harvest.
He who learns Torah and forgets
is like a woman who bears (a child) and buries (it)."
--- Tosefta, Parah 4.7

8. Torah & Propagation

7 (Rabbi Simeon) ben 'Azzai says:
-- "He who does not engage in reproduction and propagation rises up against scripture and diminishes the Image (of God). For it says:
-- 'For in the image of God he made man" (Gen 1:6) and
-- 'be fruitful and multiply!' (Gen 1:7)."
Rabbi Eleazar (ben 'Atzariah) said to him:
-- "Fine words when they come from the mouth of one who does them!
A man may interpret well and perform well;
ben 'Azzai interprets well, but he does not perform well!"
(Rabbi Simeon) ben 'Azzai said to him:
-- "What am I to do? My soul thirsts for Torah!
And the preservation of the world is in the hands of others!"
--- Tosefta, Yebamoth 8.7

37. Seven Types of Pharisees

4 There are seven (types of) Pharisees [perushim]:
-- (a) the superficial Pharisee [sheikmi; lit: "shoulders"];
-- (b) the critical Pharisee [nikphi; lit: "knocking"];
-- (c) the calculating Pharisee [qitzai; lit: "cutting"];
-- (d) the persistent Pharisee [dukai; lit: "pounding"];
-- (e) the Pharisee for whom existence is work;
-- (f) the Pharisee concerned with his (own) strengths; and
-- (g) the Pharisee inclination or the Pharisee from fear."
--- Babylonian Talmud (supplement), Aboth de R. Nathan 37.4
[NOTE: This list is found with some variation in the Palestinian Talmud (Berakoth 9.7) and the Babylonian Talmud (Sota 22b). The first six were traditionally considered the "plagues" of the Pharisees, i.e., false followers. Though well-established by tradition, the nicknames were obscure enough in rabbinic circles that Palestinian and Babylonian amoraim had to devise varying explanations. The original meaning of many of the nicknames is beyond proof. The translations presented here at points differs from traditional interpretations.]

22. False Pharisees

King [Alexander] Jannai said to his wife [Salome Alexandra]:
-- "Do not be afraid of the Pharisees or the non-Pharisees [i.e., Sadducees]
but of th wildcats who mimic the Pharisees.
For their deeds are like the deeds of Zimri [cf. Num 25:14]*
but they seek the reward of Phineas [Num 25:11]."*
--- Babylonian Talmud, Sota 22b

  • Zimri: a Simeonite who had illicit relations with a Moabite woman & submitted to the rites of Ba'al Peor. His deeds violated Torah.
    Phineas: son of Moses' brother, Aaron. By slaying Zimri he ended the slaughter of Israelites. He was rewarded for his zeal for Torah by succeeding his father as high-priest

Scriptures about the Pharisees

Matthew 9:14 - Then came to him the disciples of John, saying, Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not?

Mark 2:16 - And when the scribes and Pharisees saw him eat with publicans and sinners, they said unto his disciples, How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners?

Matthew 9:34 - But the Pharisees said, He casteth out devils through the prince of the devils.

Acts 23:6 - But when Paul perceived that the one part were Sadducees, and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, Men [and] brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question.

Acts 23:9 - And there arose a great cry: and the scribes [that were] of the Pharisees' part arose, and strove, saying, We find no evil in this man: but if a spirit or an angel hath spoken to him, let us not fight against God.

Luke 13:31 - The same day there came certain of the Pharisees, saying unto him, Get thee out, and depart hence: for Herod will kill thee.

Matthew 23:15 - Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.

Mark 8:15 - And he charged them, saying, Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, and [of] the leaven of Herod.

Luke 17:20 - And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation:

John 8:13 - The Pharisees therefore said unto him, Thou bearest record of thyself; thy record is not true.

Luke 5:33 - And they said unto him, Why do the disciples of John fast often, and make prayers, and likewise [the disciples] of the Pharisees; but thine eat and drink?

Matthew 5:20 - For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed [the righteousness] of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 12:24 - But when the Pharisees heard [it], they said, This [fellow] doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils.

Luke 11:53 - And as he said these things unto them, the scribes and the Pharisees began to urge [him] vehemently, and to provoke him to speak of many things:

Matthew 23:23 - Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier [matters] of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.

Mark 2:18 - And the disciples of John and of the Pharisees used to fast: and they come and say unto him, Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but thy disciples fast not?

Matthew 23:14 - Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.

Luke 5:17 - And it came to pass on a certain day, as he was teaching, that there were Pharisees and doctors of the law sitting by, which were come out of every town of Galilee, and Judaea, and Jerusalem: and the power of the Lord was [present] to heal them.

Luke 12:1 - In the mean time, when there were gathered together an innumerable multitude of people, insomuch that they trode one upon another, he began to say unto his disciples first of all, Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.

Matthew 23:27 - Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead [men's] bones, and of all uncleanness.

John 18:3 - Judas then, having received a band [of men] and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, cometh thither with lanterns and torches and weapons.

Mark 7:5 - Then the Pharisees and scribes asked him, Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashen hands?

Luke 11:42 - But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.

Matthew 3:7 - But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

Matthew 23:25 - Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess.

Matthew 23:29 - Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous,

Luke 11:39 - And the Lord said unto him, Now do ye Pharisees make clean the outside of the cup and the platter; but your inward part is full of ravening and wickedness.

John 4:1 - When therefore the Lord knew how the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John,

Matthew 16:12 - Then understood they how that he bade [them] not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.

Matthew 23:13 - But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in [yourselves], neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.