The Pharisees were influential religious leaders in Palestine around the time of Christ. They became prominent around 200 BC and were still around through the first century. They were very pious, held to the Law, and were ritually pure.
The NT accounts of the Pharisees represent the worst of the group. Generally, they were good people, God-fearing, and sought to honor the Lord. But as with so many things, purity is sacrificed to power. The Pharisees became powerful in Israel and were challenged by Jesus' claims and miracles.
"According to Josephus: Josephus, a Jewish historian of the first century who wrote for non-Jews in Greek, calls the Pharisees a ‘choice [of life]’ and a ‘philosophy.’ . . . .According to Josephus, the Pharisees were the group most influential with the people, were noted for their accurate and therefore authoritative interpretations of Jewish law, and had their own traditions and way of life to which they were faithful. They had a simple standard of living and cultivated harmonious relations with others. . . . Some Pharisees incited opposition to the government, though others worked with the chief priests to keep order. In the first century Josephus says they numbered six thousand."1
- 1. Achtemeier, Paul J., Harper’s Bible Dictionary, (San Francisco: Harper and Row, Publishers, Inc.), 1985.