The Gospel introduces us to the Pharisees, who were the chief adversaries of Jesus. Let’s look at how this group of men got their start. We must first dip deep into Jewish history, to 967 B.C. That was the year King David died.
As David lay dying, an upstart son of his named Adonijah surrounded himself with henchmen, and began acting as though he was the next king. That brought Bathsheba, mother of Solomon, to David’s bedside. She asked David if he had not promised to have her son Solomon following him. David agreed. He summoned the priest Zadok, telling him to consecrate Solomon king. Zadok was sure that Adonijah would kill him if he obeyed David, but he bravely anointed Solomon as the next king. The move was so popular with the people that they were all calling, “Long live King Solomon,” and that had Adonijah running for his life.
After that, for the next eight hundred years it was a hard rule among the Jews that only a direct descendent of Zadok could be king. What put an end to that tradtion was that in 152 B.C. the only direct descendent of Zadoc was a man with a criminal mind; while the brother of Judas Maccabeus was a national hero. This brother, Jonathan, took the high priest’s crown; and a third of the people, the strong traditionalists, rejected him.
Those traditionalists themselves split in two. Half went off to the caves of the Dead Sea. Known to us as the Essenes, they left us the Dead Sea scrolls. The other half of the traditionalists stayed on in Jerusalem. They were called Separatists, which in their language was Pharisees.Those friends of Jonathan who took over the temple were only nominally Jewish. They were in it for the money and political power. They played free and easy with the kosher traditions. The Pharisees, in opposition to Jonathan’s followers, made a big thing of keeping all the rules down to the letter. In setting themselves up as examples of virtue they became victims of pride. As a girl in the musical “Carousal” put it. “Stone cutters cut it in stone, woodcutters cut it in wood: there’s nothing quite so bad as a man who thinks he’s good.”