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An active, vociferous religious Jewish sect in the centuries before and after Christ appeared on earth. They represented by and large the intellectual sector of their people, because they were avid, contentious students and teachers of Jewish religious law. Their intensity and single-mindedness resulted in a harsh and uncharitable emphasis on the legal aspects of religion at the expense of charity and loving concern. Jesus represented a threat to their intellectual security and leadership. They baited him at every opportunity. they tried to trap him into wrong answers (Matthew 22:15-22). They proposed questions, hoping to prove contradictions (Matthew 23:34-40). they deplored the company he kept. They objected to his Sabbath activities (Mark 2:15-17; Mark 2:23-26). They even plotted against his life (John 11:45-54). Indeed they worked together with the priests and the Sadducees until their plotting culminated in his arrest and crucifixion (John 18:3). Their hostility, of course, was aggravated by the accusations that Jesus leveled at the Pharisees. He called them hypocrites (Matthew 15:7). He deplored their legalisms as rendering God's word null and void (Mark 7:13). Their self-righteousness he exposed in the parable of the Pharisee and the publican (Luke 18:9-14). The entire Chapter 23 of Matthew is a lengthy, detailed indictment of Pharisee mentality. Needless to say, all Pharisees were not fanatics. Gamaliel and Nicodemus were men who kept a sense of balance and were open to the development of Judaism (John 3:1-21; Acts 5:34-39). It is likely that many Pharisees became Christians. (Etym. Hebrew perusim; Aramaic perissayya', separated, separated ones, separators.)
All items in this dictionary are from Fr. John Hardon's Modern Catholic Dictionary, © Eternal Life. Used with permission.