Jesus only loses his cool a handful of times in the New Testament (just ask the moneychangers in the Temple), but he unleashes one of his fiercest tirades in Matthew 23 against the Pharisees and other "teachers of the law." In verses 13-39, known as "the seven woes," Jesus calls the Pharisees "hypocrites" six times. He also calls them "blind" (five times), "children of hell," "a brood of vipers" and compares the false piety and posturing of the Pharisees to "whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean."
The Pharisees of the New Testament are clearly cast as the bad guys, the perfect ideological and spiritual foils to Jesus and his followers. The Pharisees are portrayed as nitpicky enforcers of Jewish law who are focused so intently on the letter of the law that they miss the spirit entirely. As Jesus says:
But does this picture of the Pharisees — as legalistic hypocrites — jibe with what historians and religious scholars know about the actual Pharisaic movement, which gained prominence during the Second Temple period of Judaism? We spoke with Bruce Chilton, a religion professor at Bard College and co-editor of "In Quest of the Historical Pharisees," to better understand what the Pharisees really believed and why they clashed with the early Christians.