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The Background to the New Testament #15

The relationship of "religious" groupsd with ...


From the book "Sketches of Jewish Social Life" by Alfred


     ON taking a retrospective view of Pharisaism, as we have
described it, there is a saying of our Lord which at first sight
seems almost unaccountable. Yet it is clear and emphatic. "All
therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do"
(Matt. xxiii. 3). But if the early disciples were not to break at
once and for ever with the Jewish community, such a direction was
absolutely needful. For, though the Pharisees were only "an
order," Pharisaism, like modern Ultramontanism, had not only
become the leading direction of theological thought, but its
principles were solemnly proclaimed, and universally acted upon -
and the latter, even by their opponents the Sadducees. A Sadducee
in the Temple or on the seat of judgment would be obliged to act
and decide precisely like a Pharisee. Not that the party had not
attempted to give dominance to their peculiar views. But they
were fairly vanquished, and it is said that they themselves
destroyed the book of Sadducean ordinances, which they had at one
time drawn up. And the Pharisees celebrated each dogmatic victory
by a feast!

(The truth of the matter concerning Matt.23:3 is correctly
understood as a "general statement" only. I have a study on this
Website explaining the importance of the Bible's use of "general
statement" - the study is called "A Very Important
Understanding." The Pharisees did have some "authority" per se as
they sat in Moses' seat, and if what they taught was correct,
then it had the backing of being in Moses' seat. If what they
taught, and certainly what they did and practiced, was wrong,
then they had no authority. This statement by Christ in Mat.23:3
MUST be taken in the context of all of Christ's teachings in
dealing with the Pharisees, and Mark 7:7 is just one of those
teachings - Keith Hunt)

     What is perhaps the oldest post-Biblical Hebrew book - the 
"Megillath Taanith," or roll of fasts - is chiefly a Pharisaic
calendar of self-glorification, in which dogmatic victories are
made days when fasting, and sometimes even mourning, is
prohibited. Whatever, therefore, the dogmatic views of the
Sadducees were, and however they might, where possible, indulge
personal bias, yet in office both parties acted as Pharisees.
They were well matched indeed. When a Sadducean high-priest, on
the Feast of Tabernacles, poured out the water on the ground
instead of into the silver funnel of the altar, Maccabean king
though he was, he scarce escaped with his life, and ever
afterwards the shout resounded from all parts of the Temple, 
"Hold up thy hand," as the priest yearly performed this part of
the service. The Sadducees held, that on the Day of Atonement the
high-priest should light the incense before he actually entered
the Most Holy Place. As this was contrary to the views of the
Pharisees, they took care to bind him by an oath to observe their
ritual customs before allowing him to officiate at all. It was in
vain that the Sadducees argued, that the daily sacrifices should
not be defrayed from the public treasury, but from special
contributions. They had to submit, and besides to join in the
kind of half-holiday which the jubilant majority inscribed in
their calendar to perpetuate the memory of the decision. The
Pharisees held, that the time between Easter and Pentecost should
be counted from the second day of the feast; the Sadducees
insisted that it should commence with the literal "Sabbath" after
the festive day. 1  But, despite argument, the Sadducees had to
join when the solemn


1 I would here refer the reader who wishes further details to the
accounts of the feasts and services in the Temple, given in my
volume on "The Temple."


procession went on the afternoon of the feast to cut down the
"first sheaf," and to reckon Pentecost as did their opponents.

(This does not mean the Sadducees DID NOT observe the cutting of
the first grain and Pentecost as they saw what the Scriptures
taught, which in this particualr case was the correct
understanding. I refer the reader to all of my studies on
Pentecost - Keith Hunt)

     We have here referred to only a few of the differences in
ritual between the views of the Sadducees and those of the
Pharisees. The essential principle of them lay in this, that the
Sadducees would hold by the simple letter of the law, do neither
more nor less, whether the consequences were to make decisions
more severe or more easy. The same principle they applied in
their juridical and also in their doctrinal views. It would take
us too much into detail to explain the former. But the reader
will understand how this literality would, as a rule, make their
judicial decisions (or rather such as they had proposed) far more
strict than those of the Pharisees, by a rigidly literal
application of the principle, "an eye for an eye; a tooth for a
tooth." The same holds true in regard to the laws of
purification, and to those which regulated inheritance. The
doctrinal views of the Sadducees are sufficiently known from the
New Testament. It is quite true that, in opposition to Sadduceen
views as to the nonexistence of another world and the
resurrection, the Pharisees altered the former Temple-formula
into "Blessed be God from world to world" (from generation to
generation; or, world without end "), to show that after the
present there was another life of blessing and punishment, of joy
and sorrow. But the Talmud expressly states that the real
principle of the Sadducees was not, that there was no
resurrection, but only that it could not be proved from the
Thorah, or Law. From this there was, of course, but a short step
to the entire denial of the doctrine; and no doubt it was taken
by the vast majority of the party. But here also it was again
their principle of strict literality, which underlay even the
most extreme of their errors.

(The truth was really that it was not so much a strict
"literality" of Scripture, as much as in some cases, a plain
point of not acknowledging the literal of the Scriptures, for the
"resurrection" is clearly proved by the Old Testament, as Jesus
said to them, "You know not the Scriptures nor the power of God."
So it is today with many "Christian religions" - they have SOME
truth, but then will-fully ignor or reject other literal aspects
of the Word of God - Keith Hunt)

     This principle was indeed absolutely necessary to their very
existence. We have traced the Pharisees not only to a definite
period, but to a special event; and we have been able perfectly
to explain their name as "the separated" - not that we presume
they gave it to themselves, for no sect or party ever takes a
name; they all pretend to require no distinctive title, because
they alone genuinely and faithfully represent the truth itself.
     But when they were called Pharisees, the "Chaberim," no
doubt, took kindly to the popular designation. It was to them -
to use an illustration - what the name "Puritans" was to a far
different and opposite party in the Church.  But the name
"Sadducee" is involved in quite as much obscurity as the origin
of the party. Let us try to cast some fresh light upon both -
only premising that the common derivations of their name, whether
from the highpriest Zadok, or from a Rabbi called Zadok, whose
fundamental principle of not seeking reward in religion they were
thought to have misunderstood and misapplied, or from the Hebrew
word "zaddikim" - the righteous - are all unsatisfactory, and yet
may all contain elements of truth.

     There can be no question that the "sect" of the Sadducees
originated in a reaction against the Pharisees. If the latter
added to the law their own glosses, interpretations, and
traditions, the Sadducee took his stand upon the bare letter of
the law. He would have none of their additions and supere-
rogations; be would not be righteous overmuch. Suffice it for him
to have to practise "zedakah," "righteousness." We can understand
how this shibboleth of theirs became, in the mouth of the people,
the byname of a party - some using it ironically, some
approvingly. By-and-by the party no doubt took as kindly to the
name as the Pharisees did to theirs. Thus far, then, we agree
with those who derive the title of Sadducees from "zaddikim."    
But why the grammatically unaccountable change from "zaddikim "
to "zaddukim?" May it not be that the simple but significant
alteration of a letter had, after a not uncommon fashion,
originated with their opponents, as if they would have said: 
"You are 'zaddikim?' Nay, rather, 'zaddukim'" from the Aramaean
word "zadu" (wasting or desolation) - meaning, you are not
upholders but destroyers of righteousness? This origin of the
name would in no way be inconsistent with the later attempts of
the party to trace up their history either to the high-priest
Zadok, or to one of the fathers of Jewish traditionalism, whose
motto they ostentatiously adopted. History records not a few
similar instances of attempts to trace up the origin of a
religious party. 

(There is enough evidence to trace the Sadducees back to the line
of "official" priests of Israel, regardless of what Edersheim
thinks or says. There is no reason at all to think the line of
priests disappeared when Judah was taken captive to Babylon by
the Babylonian army, some priests would have survived the
captivity of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. and would have also returned
to Jerusalem under Ezra and Nehemiah - Keith Hunt)

     Be this as it may, we can understand how the adherents of
Sadducean opinions belonged chiefly to the rich, luxurious, and
aristocratic party, including the wealthy families of priests;
while, according to the testimony of Josephus, which is
corroborated by the New Testament, the mass of the people, and
especially the women, venerated and supported the Pharisaical
party. Thus the "order  of the "Chaberim" gradually became a
popular party, like the Ultramontanes.  Finally, as from the
nature of it Pharisaism was dependent upon traditional lore, it
became not only the prevailing direction of Jewish theological
study, but the "Chaber" by-and-by merged into the Rabbi, the
"sage," or "disciple of the sages;" while the non "chaber," or
"am ha-aretz," became the designation for ignorance of
traditional lore, and neglect of its ordinances.

     This was specially the case when the dissolution of the
Jewish commonwealth rendered the obligations of the "fraternity"
necessarily impossible. Under such altered circumstances the old
historical Pharisee would often be no small plague to the leaders
of the party, as is frequently the case with the original
adherents and sticklers of a sect in which the irresistible
progress of time has necessarily produced changes.

     The course of our investigations has shown, that neither
Pharisees nor Sadducees were a sect, in the sense of separating
from Temple or Synagogue; and also that the Jewish people as such
were not divided between Pharisees and Sadducees. The small
number of professed Pharisees (six thousand) at the time of
Herod, the representations of the New Testament, and even the
curious circumstance that Philo never once mentions the name of
Pharisee, confirm the result of our historical inquiries, that
the Pharisees were first an "order," then gave the name to a
party, and finally represented a direction of theological

(The "Pharisee" group was not that large, the major of the people
were either non-religious, or independant in thought, looking
neither to the Pharisees or Sadducees, but looking for the
promised Messiah. Most of the latter group were disciples of John
the baptist - Keith Hunt)


     The New Testament speaks of no other than these two parties.
But Josephus and Philo also mention the "Essenes." It is beyond
our present scope either to describe their tenets and practices,
or even to discuss the complex question of the origin of their
name. From the nature of it, the party exercised no great
influence, and was but short-lived. They seem to have combined a
kind of higher grade Pharisaism with devotional viewes and even
practices, derived from Eastern mysticism, and more particularly
from the Medo-Persian religion. Of the former, the fact that the
one object of all their institutions was a higher purity, may
here be regarded as sufficient evidence. The latter is apparent
from a careful study of their views, as these have been preserved
to us, and from their comparison with the Zoroastrian system.    
     And of the fact that "Palestine was surrounded by Persian
influences," there are abundant indications. 1


     As a sect the Essenes never attained a larger number than
four thousand; and as they lived apart from the rest, neither
mingling in their society nor in their worship, and--as a general
rule--abstained from marriage, they soon became extinct. Indeed,
Rabbinical writings allude to quite a number of what may probably
be described as sectaries, all of them more or less distinctly
belonging to the mystical and ascetic branch of Pharisaism. We
here name, first, the "Vathikin," or "strong ones," who performed
their prayers with the first dawn; secondly, the "Toble
Shachrith," or "morning baptists," who immersed before morning
prayer, so as to utter the Divine Name only in a state of purity;
thirdly, the "Kehala Kadisha," or "holy congregation," who spent
a third of the day in prayer, a third in study, and a third in
labour; fourthly, the "Banaim," or "builders," who, besides
aiming after highest purity, occupied themselves with mystical
studies about God and the world; fifthly, the "Zenuim," or
"secret pious," who besides kept their views and writings secret;
sixthly, the "Nekije hadaath," "men of a pure


1 Canon Lightfoot. "Comm. on Coloss." p.151. The masterly
discussion of Professor Lightfoot on the Essenes, so full of most
solid learning, and so calm in its judicial summing up, may be
said to have almost opened a new era in the study of the sect of
the Essenes, taking it beyond often wild speculation into the
domain of historical investigation. It is not within the scope of
this book either to discuss in a scientific manner the
distinctive doctrinal views of the Pharisees and Sadducees, or to
enter on those of the Essenes. This must be reserved for another
occasion. But in view of Professor Lightfoot's results I may be
allowed to refer, not without satisfaction, to the circumstance
that I had arrived at conclusions somewhat similar to his in my
"History of the Jewish Nation." See my treatment of the Essenes
and abstract of the "Kabbalah," pp.433-461.


mind," who were really separatists from their brethren;
seventhly, the "Chashaim," or "mysterious ones;" and lastly, the
"Assiim," "helpers" or "healers," who professed to possess the
right pronunciation of the sacred Name of Jehovah, with all that
this implied. 1

(So back then it is as today, nothing new under the sun as wise
king Solomon wrote. We today have off-beat, out-in-left-field,
groups that close themselves off from the world, believing THEY
have that special line and connection with God, that no one else
has, and unless you are "with them" you are cut off from the
Lord. We also today have our "sacred name" groups, all claiming
they have the only way to pronounce God's true name, yet they are
many, all differing one from the other, even in how they all
claim is the correct way to say YHVH. There are many studies on
this Website devoted to exposing the falsehood of the so-called
"sacred name" - Keith Hunt)

     If in any of the towns of Judaea one had met the strange
apparition of a man dressed wholly in white, whose sandals and
garments perhaps bore signs of age - for they might not be put
away till quite worn out - but who was scrupulously clean, this
man was an Essene. The passers would stop short and look after
him with mingled reverence and curiosity. For he was but rarely
seen in town or village - the community separating from the rest
of the people, and inhabiting desert places, specially the
neighbourhood of the Dead Sea; and the character of the "order"
for asceticism and self-denial, as well as for purity, was
universally known. However strictly they observed the Sabbath, it
was in their own synagogues; and although they sent gifts to the
altar, they attended not the Temple nor offered sacrifices,
partly because they regarded their arrangements as not
sufficiently Levitically clean, and partly because they came to
consider their own table an altar, and their common meals a
sacrifice. They formed an "order," bound by the strictest vows,
taken under terrible oaths, and subject to the most rigorous
discipline. The members abstained from wine, meat, and oil, and
most of them also from marriage. They had community of goods;
were bound to poverty, chastity, and obedience to their
superiors. Purity of morals was enjoined, especially in regard to
speaking the


I Compare "Hamburger Real-Enc. fiir Bibel u. Talmud," vol. ii. p.
173. Hegesippus (in Eus. H. E. ii.) speaks of seven Hebrew sects;
but his information is evidently second-hand.


truth. To take an oath was prohibited, as also the keeping of
slaves. The order consisted of four grades; contact with one of a
lower always defiling him of the higher grade. The novitiate
lasted two years, though at the end of the first the candidate
was taken into closer fellowship. The rule was in the hands of
"elders," who had the power of admission and expulsion--the
latter being almost equivalent to death by starvation, as the
Essene had bound himself by a terrible oath not to associate with
others. Their day began with sunrise, when they went to prayer.  
Before that, nothing secular might be spoken. After prayer, they
betook themselves to agricultural labour - for they were not
allowed to keep herds and flocks - or else to works of charity,
specially the healing of the sick. At eleven o'clock they bathed,
changed their dress, and then gathered for the common meal. A
priest opened and closed it with prayer. They sat according to
age and dignity; the eldest engaging in serious conversation, but
in so quiet a tone as not to be heard outside. The young men
served. Each had bread and salt handed him, also another dish;
the elders being allowed the condiment of hyssop and the luxury
of warm water. After the meal they put off their clothes, and
returned to work till the evening, when there was another common
meal, followed by mystical hymns and dances, to symbolise the
rapt, ecstatic state of mind.

     It is needless to follow the subject farther. Even what has
been said - irrespective of their separation from the world,
their punctilious Sabbath-observance, and views on purification;
their opposition to sacrifices, and notably their rejection of
the doctrine of the resurrection - is surely sufficient to prove
that they had no connection with the origin of Christianity.

(That is true indeed. Jesus had nothing to do with them, nor did
He endorse them, or support their "out-of-the-way life" - Keith

     Assertions of this kind are equally astonishing to the calm
historical student and painful to the Christian. Yet there can be
no doubt that among these mystical sects were preserved views of
the Divine Being, of the Messiah and His kingdom, and of kindred
doctrines, which afterwards appeared in the so-called "secret
tradition" of the Synagogue, and which, as derived from the study
of the prophetic writings, contain marvellous echoes of Christian
truth. On this point, however, we may not here enter.

     Christ and the Gospel among Pharisees, Sadducees, and
Essenes! We can now realise the scene, and understand the mutual
relations. The existing communities, the religious tendencies,
the spirit of the age, assuredly offered no point of attachment -
only absolute and essential contrariety to the kingdom of heaven.
The "preparer of the way" could appeal to neither of them; his
voice only cried "in the wilderness." Far, far beyond the origin
of Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes, he had to point back to the
original Paschal consecration of Israel as that which was to be
now exhibited in its reality: "Behold the Lamb of God, which
taketh away the sin of the world." If the first great miracle of
Christianity was the breaking down of the middle wall of
partition, the second - perhaps we should have rather put it
first, to realise the symbolism of the two miracles in Cana - was
that it found nothing analogous in the religious communities
around, nothing sympathetic, absolutely no stem on which to graft
the new plant, but was literally "as a root out of a dry ground,"
of which alike Pharisee, Sadducee, and Essene would say: "He hath
no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see Him, there is no
beauty that we should desire Him."

(Ah, so true, the majority of all that could be called "Jewish
religion" could not recognize the man sent to prepare the way
before the Messiah, nor could they recognize the Messiah when He
came among them. They were blind to the truths of the Scriptures.
Times have not changed much in that respect. Most today who go
under the name of "Christ" are blind to the truth of the
Scriptures and cannot recognize who are the true servants of the
Lord. It is only to the relative few, to whom blindness is
removed and who can then see the light of truth. It is only to
those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, who search the
Scriptures daily, who prove all things; only to such a mind and
heart, can the mysteries of the Kingdom of God can be revealed -
Keith Hunt)


To be continued

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