Continuing this study on Christ in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) looking at the world into which Christ made His entrance, specifically this blog concerns the Jewish religious system.
The Sadducees and the Pharisees were the two largest religious parties in Christ's day. In the preceeding blog, the focus was on the Pharisees and synagogues. Synagogues and Pharisees
Of these two groups the Sadducees were the smaller group, but by far were wealthier. They took their membership from the powerful, aristocratic and high priestly families of Israel. They were more of a closed society. In contrast to the Pharisees, they did not recruit members for their party. Membership was usually hereditary.
Unlike the Pharisees, the Sadducees accepted the intrusion of Hellenism (Greek culture and language) into Jewish law and traditions. Roman peace and stability guaranteed their priviliged lifestyle and concern for wealth and position appears to have been more important than the purity of Jewish law and tradition. The Sadducees accepted only the written books of the Law but rejected the books of the Prophets and the Writings. They also rejected the oral tradition of the Pharisees, as well as teachings on angels and the doctrine of bodily resurrection.
While the Pharisees were connected with the synagogues, the Sadducees stayed in Jerusalem and directed activities associated with the temple. Sadducees demonstrated little interest in outward ceremony. In fact, there was very little upon which Pharisees and Sadducees agreed. The ordinary Jew felt he had more in common with the Pharisees than with the Sadducees. The gospel record does not refer to the Sadducees as much as the Pharisees. It was the Sadducees who became the greatest enemies of Christ.
The Pharisees did care about what was closest to all Jews: their religious heritage. And nothing could come between the Pharisees and their obedience to the Law. This was true even though they did not interpret God's real intentions for it. The Sadducees cared about their wealth, position and security. So they favored a stable political system even if it meant compromising the law of God.
With the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, the Sadducees died out. However, the Pharisees were the foundation of Judaism in later centuries.
While the Pharisees emphasized the externals and the Sadducees modeled power and greed, a third "shadow party" offered relief from the corrupting influences of the society around them. Although not mentioned in Scripture, the Dead Sea Scrolls reveal that the members of an ascetic brotherhood lived at Qumran, about eight miles from Jericho between 165 BC and AD 68. Historians Philo, Pliny and Josephus, also, make mention of this group.
The Essenes appear to have forsaken society, choosing to live in the wilderness where they could prepare for the coming of the Messiah. They viewed themselves as people of God. All others, including the Jewish religious leaders were considered God's foes. The Essenes believed they were the "sons of light' and waited with great expectancy for the coming of the Messiah. At this point, they believed God would give them victory over the "sons of darkness" as He broke in on the evil world system and restored His righteous rule. They lived a simple life, providing their own food and necessities in the remote wilderness. They studied the Scriptures, abstained from marriage, lived in charity toward one another, shared all their property, provided for members too old or sick to work, and refrained from business or military activity.
Josephus shows that the Essenes lived throughout Palestine, and only the fully initiated members lived in separate communities. The group as a whole subscribed to a strict code of discipline. Above all else, they maintained hope for the coming Messiah.
While Pharisees and Sadducees tried to adjust to Roman rule and Essenes awaited God's intervention to deliver them, Zealots more actively searched for salvation. They were even more zealous in the following of the Law. Their zeal, however, was directed toward fanatical nationalism.
The Zealots strongly opposed the rule of Rome and refused to pay taxes to a pagan emperor. Since God was Israel's true King, they supported the idea that the Jewish nation should resist any attempt by other nations to govern them.
Resistence to the Zealots was key. The main objective was the complete overthrow of the Roman government. The Zealots were willing to resort to any means, however violent, to achieve this objective. They viewed themselves as agents of God's judgment and redemption. While Rome tried repeatedly to suppress their violent actions, the Zealots simply became more fanatical and eventually launched a full-scale rebellion against Rome. The rebellion led to the eventual destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the Jewish nation in the Roman-Jewish war between AD 66-70. In large measure, this destruction was brought about by the Zealots.
The only biblical record of the Zealots is in relation to one of Christ's disciples, Luke makes reference to "Simon the Zealot." A debt is owed to historians for what is known about the Zealots. A possible reason for the lack of biblical record is the full scale rebellion and destruction of Jerusalem (AD 70) took place after the original writings making up the gospels had been completed.
Scribes ARE mentioned a number of times in the Old Testament. The best known scribe was, prabably, Ezra. In the Old Testament, scribes acted as secretaries or clerks. They were usually involved in recording business transactions, keeping records and acting as readers for important documents. But, by the time of Christ, a scribe could be accurately called a "lawyer" or "teacher of the Law." The scribe had three main duties: he acted as a copyist, a preserver, and an interpreter of the Law. Thus, the scribes were neither a religious sect nor a political party; instead they were a professional group. They were respected members of the Jewish community, and their word on matters of the Law was final. The greater the esteem the people had for the Law, the greater the esteem they had for the experts of the Law.
In Ezra's time, frequently a scribe was also a priest. This is true of Ezra. By the time of Christ, it appears the scribes were a separate group of men. The scribe was an important member of the Jewish religious system because he lived in a society that was totally consumed by religious conviction and practice. The position of prominence was assured.
One more blog on the Sanhedrin to come and then this series of study will be finished.
Reference Used: Christ in the Synoptic Gospels by Mike McClaflin Chapter 4.1.4-4.2.3
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