• pharisee •
Pronunciation: fæ-rê-see • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. [Pharisee] A member of an ancient Jewish sect that required strict obedience to written and oral Mosaic law. 2. [pharisee] A sanctimonious, self-righteous hypocrite. 3. (Sussex dialect) A fairy.
Notes: Not much to note about pharisee. Remember it begins with a PH for the [f] sound and that the middle vowel is I (i). Pharisee does come with an adjective and adverb: pharisaic(al) and pharisaically, respectively.
In Play: The association of Pharisees with hypocrisy goes back to Jesus himself, who said, "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye cleanse the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full from extortion and excess" (Matthew 23:25). In the European languages the word came to mean "sanctimonious hypocrite", though we seldom hear it: "Abner is such a pharisee! He represents himself as an honest financial broker all the while running one big ponzi scheme."
Word History: Today's Good Word comes from Middle English pharise, borrowed from the Old French. Old French inherited the word from Late Latin pharisaeus, the Latin version Greek pharisaios. The word came into the Greek translation of the Bible from Aramaic pêrišayya, the emphatic plural of pêriš "separated, separatist", derived from from pêraš "to separate". (We are thankful to Monika Freund of Wuppertal, who has separated herself out by suggesting today's unusually Good Word.
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Pharisees are generally portrayed as the bad guys, uptight legalists. Of course, many of them were just that and opposed Jesus's teachings when they relaxed the traditions. But Pharisees began as a reform movement, by those who felt Jewish morality and worship observance was in the pits. They often "built a fence around the law," so even if they trespassed over the fence, they did not actually break the law. For example, to keep the Sabbath holy, as the fourth commandment requires, they would spell out specific rules, the number of steps one could take, what work was permitted and what wasn't. But by Jesus's day, the tail often wagged the dog. Thus Jesus said, "the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." I feel that could be expanded to say rules and laws were made for man, not man for the rules.
- Perry Lassiter
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