Teaching Students About the Pharisees


The Pharisees were a Jewish religious and political group active during the Second Temple period of ancient Israel (538 BCE – 70 CE). They played a significant role in shaping the religious landscape of their time and often appear in the New Testament, where they are frequently at odds with Jesus. Teaching students about the Pharisees requires a comprehensive approach that considers their historical significance, religious beliefs, and role in the wider Jewish society. Here are some strategies for teaching students about the Pharisees in an engaging and informative manner.

1. Contextualize the Pharisees Within Ancient Jewish Society

Start by providing students with an overview of the cultural, political, and religious context in which the Pharisees lived. Teach them about the different factions within Judaism during this time, such as the Sadducees, Essenes, and Zealots. Emphasize that Pharisees were one of many groups seeking to define Jewish practice and belief. Discuss how they interacted with other groups and what made them unique.

2. Explore Their Core Beliefs

The Pharisees had specific beliefs that distinguished them from other Jewish factions. Teach your students about these core concepts to help them understand why they were influential:

– Oral Torah: The Pharisees maintained that there was an unwritten oral tradition passed down alongside the written Torah. They believed this oral tradition contained essential commandments and guidelines for interpreting the written Torah.

– Resurrection: Unlike other Jewish sects such as the Sadducees, Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead.

Angels and Demons: The existence of angels and demons was another integral part of their belief system.

– Stringent Halakha (Jewish law) observance: The Pharisees were known for their strict adherence to halakha or Jewish law.

3. Discuss Their Role in the New Testament

The Pharisees appear frequently in the New Testament, often in conflict with Jesus. As a teacher, it is essential to address these interactions while also reminding students that the portrayal of the Pharisees in the New Testament is through a specific lens. Encourage critical thinking and discussion about how these portrayals have shaped perceptions of Pharisees throughout history.

4. Investigate Their Impact on Modern Judaism

Show students how the ideas and practices of the Pharisees set the foundation for later rabbinic Judaism. Discuss how their beliefs in an oral tradition influenced the development of the Talmud and how their strict observance of Jewish law shaped contemporary Jewish practices.

5. Use Diverse Teaching Resources

Include various resources such as primary texts, documentaries, and scholarly articles, which offer different perspectives on the Pharisees. Encourage students to engage with these sources and think critically about them.


Teaching students about the Pharisees requires a comprehensive approach that considers their historical context, religious beliefs, and impact on modern Judaism. By using engaging teaching strategies and incorporating diverse resources, educators can help students develop a nuanced understanding of this influential ancient Jewish group.

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