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Introduction To ADAM II - A Guide For The Walk Home - Jewish Group: Pharisees
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Pharisee in Hebrew is Perushim, and in Greek, Pharisaion, both meaning, separate, or Separates. This idea developed from the strong desire and attempt to keep the Jew separate from the other peoples of the world, by blood, religion, ceremony, and culture, eventually evolving into the Pharisees' own perception of themselves being separate purists within their own Judean religion. Origins of this can be seen in the call of Abraham through the repatriation of the post-exilic Jew in Ezra's day ( Gen.12:1-2; 24:1-4; Nu.25; Ezra 9-10). Out of this national culture developed several parties of prevailing schools of thought as to, (1) how to interpret and practice the oracles of God handed down through their forefathers, and (2) what role and to what extent their reduced Jewish state would play among other nations, especially under current Persian control. Though the origins of the Pharisee can be seen prior to the Maccabeans who ruled Judea from 167-63 B.C., they did not develop until their time. (See Appendix, Inter-Testament Timeline, p. 3; "Sanhedrin," Chapter 3, p. 77, and "Feast of Dedication," Chapter 10, p. 139.)

Gone was the monarchial rule of pre-Babylonian captivity that lasted several centuries during the Solomon Temple era (See Appendix, Old Testament Timeline, p. 2). During the post-Babylonian period and Zerubbabel's temple time, law and order evolved into the hands of men studied in the Mosaic law, usually priests, or the then emerging scribe such as Ezra, a Levite. (See Ezra 7:6,11-12,21; Neh.8:1-13.)

From this cultural time evolved the Great Assembly, or Knesset Gedolah, composed primarily of anonymous scribes who became the "supreme spiritual authority" in matters of law regulating Jewish life. Therefore, the shift of power from the pre-Babylonian nobles and kings to the post-Babylonian High Priest and Council of Sages (as they were then called, eventually called the Council of Seventy Elders or the sunedrion, or Sanhedrin -- from the Greek suned, meaning council) was complete.

It is stated simply as a matter of fact by a modern Jewish historian that: "All these [post-exilic] developments called for hundreds of new ordinances and enactments to regulate cultural and religious life. . . . The members of the Great Assembly . . . faced the task of providing fixed patterns of behavior in many spheres that had formerly been left to the discretion of the individual" (Steinsaltz, p. 16). Their interpretations of Mosaic law evolved into oral law which was later catalogued and codified and rigidly imposed and enforced. So strong was their desire to remain separate and in strict compliance to the letter of the teachings of the Mosaic law, their stated philosophy was that it was "better to die than sin." A tragic tale exists of the only known nasi, or president of this Council during this period, surrendering his own son for execution on sophistic charges because of their insistence of strict adherence to the letter of their law (Steinsaltz, p. 22).

It is also said that in the beginning the Pharisees were men of great moral and religious character who placed themselves in mortal danger for the cause of their party, but as time passed and the risk declined with growing popularity, its ranks swelled with men of lower character, leading to the gross hypocrisy denounced by John the Baptist when he came upon the scene (Davis, p. 630). ( Mat.3:7)

After the Greeks came to power, unlike the emerging Sadducces, the Pharisees refused to become political, steadfastly resisting the hellenization of their people. To prevent the Jews from adopting the Greek's cultural ways (hellenization), they required strict adherence to the Mosaic laws and the rabbinical teachings and traditions of their fathers. Scholars of Mosaic law evolved and their interpretations became binding, leading to almost if not all life's activities becoming legally defined and ceremonially controlled. This resulted in their becoming highly legalistic in their daily living, creating the yoke of burden upon the people of Israel that went beyond what the spirit of God's law intended. The central question asked by them readily reveals how they evolved into their strict outward ceremonial life: Is it not better to be a doer of God's Word than a hearer? Doing God's Law then became paramount. The condition of the heart became secondary, and to most, totally irrelevant. What mattered most was the strict outward obedience to the Law. This attitude gave rise to their long public praying, excessive tithing, and all the other outward excesses they themselves engaged in and demanded of others. For example, using in part Ex.16:29 & 35:2-3, prohibited work on the Sabbath is identified in seven general categories with thirty-nine subdivisions. Specific detail is given pertaining to the day's activities, with even further specifications for today's modern Jew. For instance, nothing on the Sabbath can be carried outside one's home other than the clothing worn on the person, not even a handkerchief in one's hand. (Babies are exempted, thankfully.) Work is strictly forbidden and specifically identified down to the minutest detail, e.g., the turning on or off of a light, picking up a writing tool, or today, opening an umbrella for shelter from the rain or sun. Private written communication is forbidden to be read unless it was in open form prior to the commencement of the Sabbath. If one desired to personally avoid these voluminous restrictions, they simply hired a Gentile to do what they themselves could not, therefore, clearly keeping the letter of the law but violating its spirit (Trepp, pp. 70, 71). (Maybe they had learned their lesson in captivity all too well.) Consequently, the spiritual aspect of Jewish religion was all but extinct, except among a few, usually among the poorer class who still had hope for a spiritual messiah ( Lk.2:25,38).

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