Jewish Sects

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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. This article will answer these questions and more.

Pharisees were one of the most influential Jewish sects during the time of Christ with a strong zeal for strict obedience to the Torah. Oral tradition, documented as the Mishnah, became commensurate to a second law to rigidly observe. Josephus 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.” The Pharisees also believed in immortal power with future rewards and punishments depending on the righteousness or malevolence during life. Finally, as supernaturalists they believed angels and spirits existed.

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. Sadducees diverged from pharisaic beliefs by denying the existence of angels and spirits as well as future punishment and rewards. The resurrection was a strong pharisaic tradition; however, the Sadducees denied its reality. 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. The Sadducees were a priestly party in close proximity to political power, while the Pharisees were patriotic allies of the people.

According to Josephus, the abstemious Essenes were considered “stricter than all other Jews.” They were a small restrained group congregated in communal life, dedicated to asceticism and the abstinence of worldly pleasures including marriage. Cohen 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.

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). 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). 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, John 3:16). And a rejection of a bodily resurrection proves Christian faith is vain (I Corinthians 15:13-14). 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).

Huie 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.

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Source by August Regius