This is a fascinating book as it discusses about the historical Pharisees and also provides some background information of the primary sources that talk about the Pharisees. The author is Jewish, and this work might be offensive to orthodox Jews and Christians, who consciously employs higher critical methodology. This methodology, specifically when it comes to his source criticism when it comes to the primary source materials, has been applied to the Christian gospels from some quarters of New Testament scholarship but now is employed in the evaluation of Jewish primary sources. This to me is a major drawback as there are times where his conjecture seems too subjective.
As a Christian, I commend him for his interaction with the Christian sources in discussing about the historical Pharisees. He devotes a chapter on the Gospel accounts of the Pharisees. He goes out on a limb to step into a territory that he notes many Jewish studies does not, by interacting with the Christian gospels. This commendable first step move makes a Christian reader such as myself more lenient when it comes to some simple mistakes that I’m surprised any scholar would make when it comes to the Gospels. For instance, he cites Matthew 27:67 as an example of the Gospel narrative in which the Pharisees were enemies of Jesus on page 69, but there is no verse 67 in Matthew 27. He quotes Luke 13:31 on page 72, but that reference is off. In the section that he discusses about the Pharisees and Christians in agreement, he stated that “Luke-Acts preserves a different picture of the Pharisees. They appear as allies of the Christians and friends of Jesus” (Page 71). However, this goes against the very citation of Luke passages he has mentioned to support the view of the Gospel showing the Pharisees as Jesus’ enemies on pages 68-71. There is no indication in Neusener’s writing of any awareness on his part of the glaring problem.
One thing I did appreciate about Neusener’s work is how he lays out the method behind his interaction with the primary text. The author has stated the book’s purpose is more about the methodology behind the historical study of the Pharisees than a study on the Pharisees per se (though it does that). I reach a stage where I am tired of the bare naked assertions of writers who does not discuss how they come to their conclusion or a disputed premise. One may disagree and find their method problematic (I do at some point with the subjectiveness of Neusener’s method) but at least readers can see how the author come to their conclusion.
He supplements his chapters with two appendices from two other writers concerning source criticism of the Gospels. I did not find this section helpful at all, and really a case of all that is silly with higher criticism.
What I sought to find in this book originally was a short primer of an understanding of the Pharisees movement from the eyes of Judiasm. To that end, I find this book useful. The work was friendly to a general reading audience who might not be well versed with the different Rabbis. He does a good introduction on the them, and also their historical context after 70 A.D. I have also found portion of the book to be illuminating concerning the difficulties of studying second temple Judiasm (relevant in light of the debate on the New Perspective on Paul)