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Pharisees Sadducees Zealots And Essenes Theology Religion Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Theology
Wordcount: 1605 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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We must first look at the history of Israel to find the emergence of the main religious sects. Israel was sinning against God, not following the laws of Moses, intermarrying with other nations, and worshiping other gods. God sent prophets to speak to the Israelites to bring them back to him, but if they would not listen. The prophets would often prophesize events that would come because of the disobedience, but also restoration also. The events that lead to this split within the Jewish culture happened around the deportation and exile of an unknown number of Jews of the ancient Kingdom of Judah to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar II, starting with the first deportation in 597 BCE (Coogan, 1999, pg 350) and continuing after the fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the Temple in 587 BCE (Jer 52,12-13). Fast forward to 539 BC, the Persians had captured Babylon; and Cyrus the great had allowed the Israelites to return back to Israel. Ezra 1:1-2: In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and also to put it in writing: “This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: “‘The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Any of his people among you may go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the LORD, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem, and may their God be with them. And in any locality where survivors may now be living, the people are to provide them with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with freewill offerings for the temple of God in Jerusalem.”It was during these times that it is believed the two main sects; the Pharisees and Sadducees emerged. W. D. Morrison puts it: “Long before the names Pharisee and Sadducee appear in the pages of history the divergent tendencies which these two parties represented were in existence within the Jewish community. It has, in fact, been contended that the foundation of their differences goes back into pre-exilian times, and that the priests and prophets of the old Israelitish monarchy are the true precursors of the Sadducees and Pharisees. But the complete transformation which Jewish society underwent after the return from Babylon” (W Morrison, 2007, pg 13). Although it was not until the Maccabean period that these two groups properly emerged as prominent groups within the Jewish culture

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The name Pharisee in its Hebrew form means separatists, or the separated ones, The Pharisees were ‘common’ people, which consisted of laymen and scribes. According to Maayan Jaffe “The Pharisees offered answers for how to live in a post-Temple world and for how to engage with the sacred in their daily lives. Likewise, the Pharisees had a commitment to scholarly debate. Their responses and their inclination for argument for the sake of Torah would eventually constitute Rabbinic Judaism. (The rabbis of the Amoraic period, for example, completed redacting the Jerusalem Talmud circa 400 C.E. and the Babylonia one circa 500 C.E.)” (Jaffe pg 14, 2008)”. While Encyclopedia Britannica gives the reader further information on the beliefs of the Pharisees “The Pharisees, on the other hand, believed that the Law that God gave to Moses was twofold, consisting of the Written Law and the Oral Law, i.e. the teachings of the prophets and the oral traditions of the Jewish people” (Encyclopedia Britannica online). The Basic role of The Pharisees was to keep the law. “The Pharisees were very zealous for the Law of Moses, but they also considered themselves the guardians of the oral traditions that scholars developed over generations. The oral traditions interpreted the Law of Moses. For example, the Law said to keep the Sabbath. They were not to work on God’s holy day. Yet, what was work and what was not? The oral traditions filled in the details that Moses left out. For instance, how far could a person walk on the Sabbath without it being work? The interpreters decided that the distance was 2000 cubits which is about 2/3 of a mile. This was known as a Sabbath’s day journey. Where did they get that number? When the Hebrews carried the Ark of the Covenant in the wilderness, God commanded them to walk 2000 cubits behind the ark. They decided that was God’s way of telling them how far one could walk on the Sabbath”

(Doug Reed, pg 1, 2011) The Pharisees also maintained that an afterlife existed and that God punished the wicked and rewarded the righteous in the world to come. They also believed in a messiah who would herald an era of world peace.


The Sadducees, by contrast, were the chief priests and people of the highest social and wealth class of the time, who were installed by the Roman government, primarily for the purpose of ‘keeping the peace’ between Rome and the Jews. They were often wealthy and part of the ruling class in Jesus’ day. Many of them comprised the priesthood, but unlike the Levites, were not from the ancestral line of priests (royal priesthood, descendents of Aaron) that controlled the temple in Jerusalem. “They only recognized the Torah as the inspired word of God. They acknowledged neither the prophets nor the oral traditions that came after the first five books of the Bible. Consequently, they did not believe in the resurrection or any life after death. They were often at odds with the Pharisees over this matter.” (Doug Reed, pg 1, 2011)


The Essenes were a branch of Pharisees who emphasized a communal life and ritual purity, including full-body immersion for spiritual cleansing. Perhaps the best-known Essene is John the Baptist, “And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.  John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey” (Mark 1:4-6). According to the Jewish Dictionary: “A branch of the Pharisees who conformed to the most rigid rules of Levitical purity while aspiring to the highest degree of holiness. They lived solely by the work of their hands and in a state of communism, devoted their time to study and devotion and to the practice of benevolence, and refrained as far as feasible from conjugal intercourse and sensual pleasures, in order to be initiated into the highest mysteries of heaven and cause the expected Messianic time to come” (Jewish Encyclopedia pg 19-20, 1906), it goes on to say: “that ten thousand of them had been initiated by Moses into the mysteries of the sect, which, consisting of men of advanced years having neither wives nor children, practised the virtues of love and holiness and inhabited many cities and villages of Judea, living in communism as tillers of the soil or as mechanics according to common rules of simplicity and abstinence. In another passage he speaks of only four thousand Essenes, who lived as farmers and artisans apart from the cities and in a perfect state of communism, and who condemned slavery, avoided sacrifice, abstained from swearing, strove for holiness, and were particularly scrupulous regarding the Sabbath, which day was devoted to the reading and allegorical interpretation of the Law.”


The Zealots were yet another offshoot of the Pharisees. The Zealots believed that they could bring the beginning of the Messianic era (which included an end to foreign domination of Judea) by starting a rebellion against Rome. The dictionary also refers to Zealots as “a member of a radical, warlike, ardently patriotic group of Jews in Judea, particularly prominent from a.d. 69 to 81, advocating the violent overthrow of Roman rule and vigorously resisting the efforts of the Romans and their supporters to heathenize the Jews.” (Dictionary.com 2008)

The Oxford History of the Biblical World, ed. by Michael D Coogan. Pub. by Oxford University Press, 1999. pg 350

Jews under Roman RulebyW. D. Morrison pg 13 2007

Dictionary.com was launched in 1995, under the name of Lexico Publishing, LLC and was acquired by IAC in 2008. Today, it is the most-visited, most trusted, online dictionary.

 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia pg 19-20

Jaffe, Maayan. Baltimore Jewish TimesHYPERLINK “http://search.proquest.com/socialsciences/indexingvolumeissuelinkhandler/25578/Baltimore+Jewish+Times/02008Y01Y04$23Jan+4,+2008$3b++Vol.+300+$281$29/300/1?accountid=44543″300. 1 (Jan 4, 2008): 14.

Encyclopædia Britannica  


As of 2008, 4,411 named contributors


Scotland (1768-1900)

United States (1901-present)








Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Official site

Publication date

1768-2010 (printed version)

Media type

As of 2010, 32 volumes (hardbound)


ISBN 1-59339-292-3

OCLC Number


LC Classification

AE5 .E363 2007

Thorncrownjournal Doug Reed 2011


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