This excerpt from rabbinic literature (Babylonian Talmud, Sota 22b – Soncino translation) describes seven types of Pharisees (Aram. פרושין ; parushin – abstentious people). Some are under the impression that the rabbis who wrote the Talmud were Pharisees. That is not exactly the case, as this passage clearly illustrates that they have no problem criticizing the Pharisees, in some ways with even harsher words than Jesus in Matthew 23. The rabbis quoted here lived in the late 3rd century CE. Explanatory notes in square brackets are mine.

Our Rabbis have taught: There are seven types of Pharisees: the shikmi Pharisee, the nikpi Pharisee, the kizai Pharisee, the ‘pestle’ Pharisee, the Pharisee [who constantly exclaims] ‘What is my duty that I may perform it?’, the Pharisee from love [of God] and the Pharisee from fear. 1. The shikmi Pharisee — he is one who performs the action of Shechem [shechem = shoulder, i.e., the one who carried his deeds on his shoulder for everyone to see]. 2. The nikpi Pharisee — he is one who knocks his feet together [i.e., finds excuses to delay and not to do good deeds]. 3. The kizai Pharisee — R. Nahman b. Isaac said: He is one who makes his blood to flow against walls [walks into the wall to avoid looking at\contact with a woman].

4. The ‘pestle’ Pharisee — Rabbah b. Shila said: His head is bowed like a pestle in a mortar. [displays humility constantly] 5. The Pharisee who constantly exclaims ‘What is my duty that I may perform it?’ — but that is a virtue! — Nay, what he says is, ‘What further duty is for me that I may perform it?’ [constantly reckoning good deeds vs. bad ones]. 6 & 7 The Pharisee from love [serves God out of love] and the Pharisee from fear [serves God out of fear of punishment].

Abaye and Raba said to the tanna [who was reciting this passage], Do not mention ‘the Pharisee from love and the Pharisee from fear’; for Rab Judah has said in the name of Rab: A man should always engage himself in Torah and the commandments even though it be not for their own sake, because from [engaging in them] not for their own sake, he will come [to engage in them] for their own sake. R. Nahman b. Isaac said: What is hidden is hidden, and what is revealed is revealed; the Great Tribunal will exact punishment from those who rub themselves against the walls. King Jannai said to his wife’, ‘Fear not the Pharisees and the non-Pharisees but the hypocrites (הצבועין) who are the Pharisees [present themselves as such]; because their deeds are the deeds of Zimri (Num. 25:11ff) but they expect a reward like Phineas'” (Babylonian Talmud, Sota 22b)

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15 COMMENTS

  1. As born again believer in Jesus the Christ, it’s obvious why you don’t mention this; The Universal Jewish Encyclopaedia confirms that Judaism is based on the teachings of the Pharisees and *not* upon the Law of Moses: “The Jewish religion as it is today traces its descent, without (continued)..

    • I disagree, Lazzaro. First of all most students of antiquity know that there was no such thing as “The Judaism” for many centuries after the emergence of Christianity. There were many Judaisms and ideas of several Jewish movements are represented in the Talmud, albeit with the dominance of the Pharisaic views. Pharisees were a movement that survived the Roman destruction better than others, that’s all. It’s like saying that Christianity is a religion of Italians because so many in Rome embraced it and then the bishop was Rome was deemed to be supreme over others.

  2. i find this very interesting. i’d like to know more on true pharisee roots in the areas. these books they come from what are they?

  3. Sir, Thank you very much for this article. However I would like to know more on Pharisees since this sect was used continuously in NT. Saul was a Pharisee and wanted to know what kind of Pharisee was he. I think sects are by choice but not by birth.

    • The articles we post only scratch the surface. I highly recommend a couple of our courses on the topic. Here – we explore Pharisees in some detail. Here – we talk about the beginning of Pharisaic movement and their values.

    • Join us! IBC offers some great lectures that get into these topics. Affordable ala-cart learning at your own pace

  4. You made the point that the men writing the Talmud could not have been Pharisees because they were harshly critical of the Pharisees. However wasn’t it the case that except for in the Temple, where there were strict protocols in place for every behavior and action, one did not correct someone outside their own sect? It would be pointless, as their halacha is set by their sect and probably differs. But in house arguments and criticisms could get quite indecorous, rude, even “harsh.” I was raised Southern Baptist, and we’d have called that “warmin’ up the pews.” If the preacher didn’t make you squirm some in your seat, he wasn’t doin’ his job. So I’d see this as evidence they were not only descended from the Pharisees, but that they still at some level considered themselves to be Pharisees. They were trying to correct the behaviors within their own sect.

  5. Excellent! I have actually done a bit of research on this text and using it as a fun way to analyze the scenarios and interactions with the Prushim in the Gospels to figure out what type of Pharisee they would be based on this passage in the Gemara.

    • You know this is sort of a comical/critical text in Gemara, not an actual list per se. But I am sure you can still make that work 🙂

  6. Yeshua condemned Pharisee-ism because they put their beliefs and traditions above Torah…that is why they came to hate Messiah. It is interesting commentary, but the only one that would be accepted is the one who obeys out of love. Deu 7:9 Shalom.

    • Thanks for the comment. I think saying he condemned Pharisaism is an exaggeration. Criticized, yes. They may have hated him (please study up on the idea of hating in Hebrew) but he loved them as much as he loves you, today, Linda. I think the commentary shows us how even the most devoted and religious people can have erroneous motivations for keeping the Torah.

  7. It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter. Proverbs 25:2

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