25 – Pharisees Among The People

Among the People, And With the Pharisees

Part  1

It would have been difficult for a person to travel very far either in Galilee or Judea without coming into contact with a very peculiar and striking individual.  This individual would have been the Pharisee.  They were definitely a power everywhere in Jewish life, both ecclesiastically and politically.  They were either courted or feared, shunned or flattered,  reverently looked up to or laughed at.  They belonged to the most influential, the most zealous, and the most closely-connected religious fraternity.  They spared neither time nor trouble in pursuit of anything, feared no danger, and shrunk from no consequences. There are many inaccurate notions that prevail about them, but when one correctly understands them, it gives a much fuller insight into the state of Judaism at the time that Jesus lived on the earth.  It definitely better illustrates his words and deeds and why He was so against what they had become.  Below we will view the Pharisee as he moves among the crowd, which either respectfully gives way or curiously looks after him.

There was probably no town or village inhabited by Jews which did not have Pharisees that lived there also.   The land of Palestine had 480 synagogues, small and great Sanhedrims, and several schools of study.  A person had no difficulty in recognizing the synagogues in every town.  They were set apart with their own distinct character. 

If a person were walking behind a Pharisee, he would soon have to stop for the Pharisee to say his prescribed prayers.  If the fixed time for them had come, he would stop short in the middle of the road and say a section of them, then he would move a short distance and stop and say another part.  He continued in this way until he finished.  Whatever else the people may have thought about the Pharisees, there could be no question of their total devotion to their cause. 

When he was in the market place or on the street corner, he would stand with his feet drawn well together, compose his body and clothes, and bend so low “that every vertebra in his back would stand out separate.” or until “the skin over his heart would fall into folds”, according to antiquity.  The workman would drop his tools, the burden-bearer his load;  if a man already had one foot in the stirrup, he could withdraw it.  The hour had come, and nothing could disturb him from saying his prayers. 

It was said that this was such a serious thing that the very salutation of a king would have to wait to be returned if it came during the time for prayers.  Also if a serpent was twisted around their hand, it was to not even be thought about that it was there when prayer time came. 

In addition to the daily seasons of prayer, when one entered a village or left it, he must say one or two benedictions.  The same thing was supposed to be done if passing through a fortress, in encountering any danger, in meeting with anything new, strange, beautiful, or unexpected.  It was thought that the longer prayer he prayed the better it was.   In the view of the Rabbis,  much prayer was sure to be heard by God, and to pray long prayers would prolong their lives.  Each prayer that was prayed closed with a benediction of the Divine Name, and if one said 100 benedictions in one day he was thought to be a very pious man.

If one met a Pharisee face-to-face, he would surely know immediately of his identity.  He was self-satisfied, mock-modest, or ostentatiously meek.  Pharisees also had a very haughty attitude towards others, avoided touching any person or things that they felt were unclean, and made extravagant religious displays.  This speaks about the class, or party of Pharisees, and not every single individual who composed it.

There were also classes of Pharisees.  The lowest would have been a person who was just simply a member of the fraternity, only initiated in its lowest degree, or perhaps even a novice.  Then there were degrees all the way up to the most advanced chasid, or pietist. 

If one were in the most advanced degree, he would bring a trespass-offering every day just in case he had committed some offence.   They went to such extremes in observing the laws of Levitical purity that it was written in antiquity that a Rabbi who had to have his leg amputated would not let his son remain in the room while the surgeon was working.  He did not want him to be defiled by chancing to come in contact with the amputated limb, which he considered was dead after it was cut off from his body.

Another pietist went so far in his zeal for Sabbath observance that he would not even build  his own house because he had thought about it on the Sabbath.  It was also declared improper to intrust a letter to a Gentile, lest he should deliver it on the holy day.  These are real cases, but are not thought to be extreme in the eyes of the Pharisees.  Some of the extreme cases would be refusing to save a woman from drowning for fear of touching a female and being unclean, or waiting to pull off their phylactery before stretching out a hand to rescue a drowning child.

Any person who reads the New Testament, will remember that the very dress of the Pharisees greatly differed from the way others dressed.  The garments that they wore in that day were simple, but wealth, rank, and luxury were just as much recognized among them as the garments that we wear today.  Wealth was easily recognizable by the types of garments and richness of the fabrics that they wore.  Jewish writings give us wonderful descriptions of the toilette products that they used. 

Altogether, it seems, that eighteen garments were supposed to complete an elegant toilette.  The material, the color, and the cut distinguished the wearer.  The poor used the upper garment for a covering at night, while the fashionable wore the finest white, embroidered, or even purple garments with curiously looking silk girdles.  It was around this upper garment that “the borders” were worn which the Pharisees “enlarged” in Matthew 23: 5. 

The inner garment went down to the heels.  the head-dress consisted of a pointed cap, or kind of turban.  This could be made of more or less exquisite material and was curiously wound, with the ends often hanging gracefully behind.  Gloves were generally used only for protection.

The ladies wore three different kinds of veils:

  • The Arabian hung down from the head, leaving the wearer free to see all around

  • The veil-dress was a kind of mantilla, thrown gracefully about the whole person, and covering the head

  • The Egyptian resembled the veil of modern Orientals, covering breast, neck, chin, and face, leaving only the eyes free.

The girdle was fastened lower than by men, and was often of very costly fabric and studded with precious stones.  Sandals consisted merely of soles strapped to the feet; but ladies also wore costly slippers that were embroidered or adorned with gems and so arranged that the pressure of the foot emitted a delicate perfume.  It is well known from the Bible that scents and “ointments” were in great demand and often very expensive.

The “ointments” were prepared of oil and of home or foreign perfumes, with the dearest being kept in costly alabaster boxes.  Even though they loved exquisite perfumes, the trade of perfumer was looked down upon among the Jews and even the heathen nations.

In general society anointing was combined with washing, and referred to comfort and refreshment.  The hair, the beard, the forehead, and the face, and even garlands at feasts, were all anointed.  Luxury went much further than this, though.  The ladies used cosmetics by painting their cheeks and blackening their eyebrows with a mixture of antimony, zinc, and oil.  The hair was considered a point of special beauty and was tended with much care.  Young women always wore it long, but it was considered to be a sign of weakness or something connected with being feminine for a man to do so.  The man’s beard was carefully trimmed, anointed, and perfumed.  Slaves were not allowed to wear beards.  Peasant girls tied their hair in a simple knot; but the fashionable Jewesses curled and plaited theirs, adorning it with gold ornaments and pearls.  The favorite color of hair was a kind of auburn.  To produce this effect, the hair was either dyed, or sprinkled with gold dust.  The antiquities even tell about false hair, just as false teeth were also worn in Judea.  The historical writings also mention hair pins and elegant combs, and some of the women had their hair regularly dressed.  However, the trade of hairdresser was regarded as no more of a respectable trade than perfumer. 

As for the ornaments they wore, the gentlemen generally wore a seal, either on the ring-finger or suspended around the neck.  Some of them also wore bracelets on their right arm that were made of ivory, gold, or precious stones strung together.

The fashionable lady was also adorned with bracelets, finger-rings, ankle-rings, nose-rings, ear-rings, gorgeous head-dresses, necklaces, chains, and what we call today “charms”.  The ear-ring was either plain, or had a drop, a pendant, or a little bell inserted.  The nose-ring, hung gracefully over the upper lip so as not to interfere with the salute of the privileged friend.  The traditional law ordered them to be put aside on the Sabbath, though.  They wore two kinds of necklaces – one close-fitting, and the other  usually consisting of precious stones or pearls and hung down over the chest, sometimes as low as the girdle.  The fashionable lady would wear two or three such chains, to which smelling-bottles and various ornaments, or even heathen “charms” would attach.

Gold pendants descended from the head-ornament.  Many times it rose like a tower, or was wreathed in graceful snake-like coils.  Most of the anklets had little bells attached so that they made tinkling sounds when walking.  Sometimes the anklets were even attached, which made the wearer to walk with really small steps.  To all the above, we add gold and diamond pins,  Through all this vague descriptions, we can get some idea of the appearance of a person who dressed fashionably.  As Solomon said, there truly is nothing new under the sun.  The Jewish women dressed much in the same way as women today.

Below are some drawings of the dress of the women and the different beards the men wore.

Veils Women Wore - Jewish Social ValuesWomen's Nose Rings - Jewish Social ValuesMen's Beards - Jewish Social ValuesThe sketch of fashionable dress just given totally contrasts with the appearance that was presented by the Pharisee.  That might be why they felt they were so superior to the rest of the people. 

About Cathy Deaton

Cathy Deaton

My name is Cathy Deaton, Owner of Fan the Flame Ministries. God has radically changed my life, and He has shown me that I am to share the awesome things I am learning with the Millennial Generation (1981 – 1996.) I have found that the Holy Spirit is an awesome teacher when I listen to, obey, and apply what He teaches to my life. You truly can make a difference for God in an uncertain world.