Sadducees were a Jewish sect in Judea during the Second Temple period. This sect controlled the priesthood and was highly involved in political responsibilities, like controlling the Sanhedrin. They were also fond of Roman Hellenistic thinking. This way of thinking brought order and structure into the sect.
Hellenistic thinking also brought up theological conversations and a new way of teaching The Torah. This separated the Sadducees from the Pharisees because they denied the oral traditional teaching of the time and relied on the Pentateuch (the first five books of Moses) for teaching. They would also separate themselves from the beliefs of the Pharisees by denying the idea of predestination and the immortality of the soul.
Of the various religious Jewish groups or sects that came to be at the time of the New Testament, the Pharisees were arguably the most separated and distinct from the rest. In fact, the word “Pharisee” itself is thought to be from the Hebrew “perushim” meaning separatists, as many Pharisees were known to detach themselves from many such as those who interpreted the Law differently than they, as well as from Gentiles or Jews who embraced the Hellenistic culture or other foreign influences invading Judaism (Strauss, 132).
Thought to be descendants of the Hasidic Movement, the Pharisees emerged sometime after the Maccabean revolt (Strauss, 132). While the Sadducees possessed great political power, the Pharisees had a great support among the people who were primarily middle-class merchants and craftsman quite involved in synagogues. They believed in resurrection of the dead, the prophesied coming of the Messiah, as well as the afterlife.
Their extremely devout and strict attitude and approach they had to the to the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) is another main characteristic of the Pharisees. The Pharisees were experts on the Law, believing that the gift for interpreting the law, also known as oral law, had been given by God Himself along with the written law to Moses on Mount Sinai. According to the Pharisees, the written law could not be understood without the oral, and therefore the oral law was more important. This approach to the laws made holiness or sanctification possible outside of the temple through following the law.
In fear of infringing on any of these rules they found so important, the Jewish leaders would build a “fence around the law” by developing a system of rules and interpretations that would keep people as far from sin as possible (Strauss, 132). For example, if the law said not to work on the Sabbath day, they would make up volumes of rules that indicated exactly what actions constituted work.
While the New Testament paints a fairly negative picture of the hypocritical and legalistic nature of the Pharisees, this was not their intention. The Pharisees’ main goal was to live a life of “purity and obedience to God’s law” (Strauss, 133). However, they fell short in understanding the true beauty and promise of the Gospels and the love of God. Jesus’ main criticism with the Pharisees was not that they fought to uphold the Law, but that they failed to live out their beliefs in front of a watching world.
Intro on the Zealots
In first-century Israel there were many groups and revolutionaries, which were people who sought to bring about political or social change. A broad term for many of these groups was a zealot. A zealot is fairly similar to a revolutionary, except for their increased passion and belief in their cause. A zealot would typically then share their beliefs with others, and convince them to share their same feelings.
Some of these revolutionary movements focused on a form of “social banditry”. These Social bandits were basically like a first-century Israel version of the hero, Robin Hood, who would steal from the rich and give to the poor. They would attack the elite and powerful upper classes within Israel, along with the Roman troops who protected them. From doing this they gained popular support from the poor and common people. Of course the Romans were not in favor of their practices, viewing them as just criminals.
Another of these Zealot like movements, was one called the “messianic”. They were given this title due to their political aims to overthrow the Roman rulers. From that they would then establish an independent Jewish state. The people originally believed that the messiah would be one who would come and overthrow the Roman rule and oppression, so that is where the name messiah came from.
Prophetic Zealots were people who gained support of the people by proclaiming that God was planing on delivering Israel soon. These movements often had one central leader.There was one movement which held similar beliefs to the Pharisees but they believed in no other leadership than God.
The Sicarii were a dangerous and deadly group. They would kill people in broad day light. They would carry concealed daggers and stab roman sympathizers in crowded areas. after killing someone they would quickly re-conceal their weapon and blend back in with the crowed and leave unnoticed.
Zealots in the Bible
Zealots are mentioned in the the new testament. Acts talks about a man named Theudas who lead a group of 400 but who was killed. It also talks about someone named Judas the Galilean. Judas the one who tried to overthrow the romans claiming that only God could be the leader of Israel. Also in the book of Acts there is a spot that mentions and Egyptian who lead a group of 4000 into the wilderness. Barabbas the one the people freed instead of Jesus was likely a Zealot. The same greek word used to describe Barabbas is used for the two criminals next to Jesus. They very well could have been Zealot like people as well.
The Essenes were similar to the Pharisees, but different in the fact that they were more separatist. The Qumran community, whom made the Dead Sea Scrolls, were believed to be Essenes. This community came about when a group of priests descended from Zadok withdrew from Jerusalem priesthood and moved near the Dead Sea. The withdrawal was because of the opposition to the Hasmonean priest-kings, who they viewed as “illegitimate”. Over the years the Essenes had developed their own legal code that was highly important to them. Part of this code involved animal sacrifice. They did not offer up animal sacrifices in the temple of Jerusalem because they referred to the temple as “polluted by a corrupt priesthood” (Strauss, 135).
The Essenes were also apocalyptic in their beliefs, and they viewed themselves as the “True Israel”, enduring the end of the age. They interpreted scripture in a way that was relevant to their lives. They believed that God would come to bring them up with Him to fight alongside God’s angels in a war against the Romans. They were expecting two Messiahs to come at that time. The first was a military messiah from the line of David and the second a priesthood messiah from the line of Aaron. The Qumran/Essenes were strong rooted, but were eventually destroyed by the Romans in the Jewish Revolt of AD 66-73 (Strauss, 135).