How do the beliefs of the Jewish Sects of the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes compare? Are there parts of these groups’ beliefs that can be agreed with? Why? Which party controlled the Temple and was apparently on better terms with the Romans.
Pharisees were one of the most influential Jewish sects during the time of Christ with a strong zeal for strict obedience to the Torah (Ryrie, 1995, 1516). Oral tradition, documented as the Mishnah, became commensurate to a second law to rigidly observe (Lea, 2003). Josephus (Jewish War) explains, “They say that all souls are imperishable, but that the souls of good men only pass into other bodies while the souls of evil men are subject to eternal punishment” (as cited in Segal, 2003, 167). The Pharisees also believed in immortal power with future rewards and punishments depending on the righteousness or malevolence during life (Segal, 2003). Finally, as supernaturalists they believed angels and spirits existed (Lea, 2003).
The Sadducees believed in the Torah and its supremacy over the Writings and the Prophets of the Old Testament and, in contrast to the Pharisees, were anti-supernaturalists (Lea, 2003). Sadducees diverged from pharisaic beliefs by denying the existence of angels and spirits as well as future punishment and rewards (Ryrie, 1995). The resurrection was a strong pharisaic tradition; however, the Sadducees denied its reality (Tomson, 2001). Though Sadducees believed in the Torah, they gravitated toward Hellenistic lifestyles and limited the Torah’s authority to areas specifically covered; conversely, the pharisaic notion was to broaden the Torah’s reach by continuously augmenting the application of the law (Segal, 2003). The Sadducees were a priestly party in close proximity to political power, while the Pharisees were patriotic allies of the people (Driscoll, 1912).
According to Josephus (Jewish War), the abstemious Essenes were considered “stricter than all other Jews” (as cited in Cohen, 2007, 133). They were a small restrained group congregated in communal life, dedicated to asceticism and the abstinence of worldly pleasures including marriage (Lea, 2003). Cohen (2007) explains that a key difference between Essenes and other Jewish sects was the role intentionality played in the application of the law. For Essenes legal prohibition is absolute, but intentionality plays a central role to a mishnaic sage’s interpretation of the law (Cohen, 2007).
It is difficult not to agree with the supernaturalistic pharisaic beliefs including angels, eternal immortality, and bodily resurrection. In fact, Jesus commends the Pharisees saying, “The scribes and Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses” (Matthew 23:2, New American Standard [NAS]). Further, I naturally agree with the intentionality of the adherence to the law by the Pharisees, and personally desire to do all the Pharisees tell me to do and observe, absent of hypocrisy (Matthew 23:3, NAS). However, I recognize the futility of such an assertion.
To agree with certain pharisaic beliefs necessitates an intellectual and ideological clash with the Sadducees. Anti-supernaturalistic beliefs in spirit life and immortality contradict basic Christian principles (Romans 8:16 NAS, John 3:16 NAS). And a rejection of a bodily resurrection proves Christian faith is vain (I Corinthians 15:13-14, NAS). Finally, the extreme arrogance of the Essenes to humanly acquire righteousness appears to be an affront to the basic precepts of Christianity (Romans 3:21-22, NAS).
Huie (1997) recognizes that even as early as the Maccabean period there is evidence Pharisees were the party in control of the Temple. And although the, “Sadducees were the party of those with political power, those allied with the Herodian and Roman rulers,” the Pharisees were the group who extended significant influence among the common people (Huie, 1997).
Carson, D.A., & Moo, D. J. (2005). An Introduction to the New Testament (2nd ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Cohen, S. J. D. (2007). The Judaean Legal Tradition and the Halakhah of the Mishnah: The Cambridge Companion to the Talmud and Rabbinic Literature (Charlotte Elisheva Fonrobert and Martin S. Jaffee eds.). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press. Cambridge Collections Online, Cambridge University Press.14 February 2010, DOI:10.1017/CCOL0521843901.007
Driscoll, J.F. (1912). Sadducees. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved February 15, 2010 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13323a.htm
Huie, B. T. (1997). Who were the Pharisees and the Sadducees? Retrieved February 14, 2010 from http://www. herealittletherealittle.net/index.cfm?page_name =Pharisees-Sadducees
Lea, T. D. (2003). The New Testament its Background and Message (2nd ed.). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman.
Ryrie, Charles Caldwell. (1995). Ryrie Study Bible (Expanded ed.). Chicago, IL: Moody Press.
Segal, A. F. (2003). Paul’s Jewish Presuppositions: The Cambridge Companion to St Paul (James D. G. Dunn eds.). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press. Cambridge Collections Online, Cambridge University Press.14 February 2010, DOI:10.1017/CCOL0521781558.012
Tomson, P. J. (2001). Jesus and his Judaism: The Cambridge Companion to Jesus (Markus Bockmuehl eds.). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press. Cambridge Collections Online, Cambridge University Press.14 February 2010, DOI:10.1017/CCOL0521792614.003