One of the many mistakes made by the authors of the Christian gospels is attributing the state of affairs in their own time to the time they are trying to describe. An example of this error is the way the Pharisees are portrayed. If you relied solely upon the gospels, you would think that the Pharisees were in charge of the Jewish faith and people1. I have gleaned enough information to suspect that this was not the case.
As I understand it, the Pharisees were actually in conflict with the Temple, and had little or no power1 of their own. They were highly regarded by the average person, but the Temple authorities weren't so fond of them. The reason for the anachronistic accounts from the gospel writers is apparently related to the changes caused by the loss of the Second Temple. After the destruction, the Pharisees were finally free from the scrutiny2 of the priests, and became quite influential in the process of assembling the Talmud.
How accurate is this interpretation? Is there clear evidence that the relationship between the Pharisees and the Temple priests was less than friendly? And would the Pharisees have had any official influence over Judaism and the Jewish people as a whole, prior to the destruction of the Second Temple?
1 To be clear, I am not suggesting that the priests were morally superior to the Pharisees - in fact, quite the opposite. I am well aware that in the early first century, Temple priests were appointed by the Romans on the basis of bribery and political maneuvering. The Pharisees, on the other hand, were the true representatives of Judaism, and are represented today by the Rabbis. The power I am talking about is political power and control of the means of observance, which - as far as I have been led to believe - lay firmly in the hands of the priests.
2 "Scrutiny" in a self interested, egotistical sense on the part of the priests. As I understand it, the priests resented the Pharisees for challenging the status quo, which obviously threatened the priests' comfortable position of undeserved authority and high status. The Pharisees were interested in the wellbeing of the Jewish religion and people, whereas the priests were primarily interested in maintaining the status quo for their own benefit.