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Pharisees vs. Sadducees

01 Mar

The Sadducees were a priestly group, Levites, associated with the leadership of the Temple in Jerusalem. Sadducees represented the aristocratic group of the Hasmonean High Priests, who replaced the previous High Priestly lineage. The earlier Priestly lineage had been blamed for allowing the Syrian Emperor Antiochus IV Epiphanes to desecrate the Temple of Jerusalem with idolatrous sacrifices and to martyr monotheistic Jews. The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah celebrates the ousting of the Syrian forces, the rededication of the Temple, and the installment of the new Hasmonean priestly line. The Hasmoneans ruled as “priest-kings”, claiming the titles of high priest and king simultaneously, and like other aristocracies across the Hellenistic world became increasingly influenced by Hellenistic syncretism and Greek philosophies: presumably Stoicism, and apparently Epicureanism in the Talmudic tradition criticizing the anti-Torah philosophy of the “Apikorsus” אפיקורסות (i.e., Epicurus) refers to the Hasmonean clan qua Sadducees. Like Epicureans, Sadducees rejected the existence of an afterlife, thus denied the Pharisaic doctrine of the Resurrection of the Dead.

The Dead Sea Scrolls community, who are probably Essenes, were led by a high priestly leadership, who are thought to be the descendents of the “legitimate” high priestly lineage, which the Hasmoneans ousted. The Dead Sea Scrolls bitterly opposed the current high priests of the Temple. Since Hasmoneans constituted a different priestly line, it was in their political interest to emphasize their family’s priestly pedigree that descended from their ancestor, the high priest Zadok, who had the authority to anoint the kingship of Solomon, son of David.

The Sadducees rejected the Oral Torah (Talmud), which the Pharisees claimed to be a continuously passed down oral tradition which Moses received on Mount Sinai as a companion and elucidation of the Written Torah (Five Book of Moses). Instead they insisted on strict literal interpretation of the Five books of Moses, the Written Torah.

Sadducees followed the Hebrew Bible literally. They rejected the Pharisees’ notion of an Oral Torah even before it was written (the written Oral Torah, the Talmud consisting of the Mishnah and Gemara which were completed by many Pharisee rabbis by 500 CE) by which the Pentateuch could be explained hermeneutically.

An example of this differing approach is the interpretation of the law of retribution (lex talionis):

And a man, when he maims his fellow, as he has done, so shall be done to him. A fracture for a fracture, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth—as he gives a wound in a man, so shall be given in him. (Leviticus 24:19-20)

Most Pharisees understood this to mean that the value of an eye was to be sought by the perpetrator rather than actually removing his eye too. In the Sadducees’ view the law was to be taken literally.

R’ Yitchak Isaac Halevi suggests that while there is evidence of a Sadducee sect from the times of Ezra, it emerged as major force only after the Hasmonean rebellion. The reason for this was not, in fact, a matter of religion. He claims that as complete rejection of Judaism would not have been tolerated under the Hasmonean rule, the Hellenists joined the Sadducees maintaining that they were rejecting not Judaism but Rabbinic law. Thus, the Sadducees were for the most part a political party and not a religious sect. Being associated closely with the Temple in Jerusalem, after the Temple was destroyed in 70 CE the Sadducees vanish from history as a group. There is, however, some evidence that Sadducees survived as a minority group within Judaism up until early medieval times, which may have been the origins of Karaite Judaism.

So the name “Pharisee” comes from the Hebrew פרושים perushim from פרוש parush, meaning “separated”. “Parushim” was transliterated into Greek as ΦΑΡΙΣΑΙΟΙ/φαρισαιοι [farisaiee] The name “Sadducee” comes from a “follower of Zadok” – צכים “[T]Sadokim” . Transliterated into Greek as ΣΑΔΔΟΥΚΑΙΟΙ/σαδδουκαιοι [Saddoukaiee]. The name “Notzrim” (Nazarenes) נֹצְרִים or נוצרים means “sentry” or “watchmen”. Possibly deriving from “offshoot” נצר netsir.

What does “Essene” mean and what is it derived from? According to the events unfolding here, the Essenes wanted the priestly line prior to the Hasmoneans/Maccabees to stay in power… but these priests were sympathetic to Hellenic Judaism and Hellenism.

But Christianity is Hellenic Judaism! Maybe another connection between the Essenes and Christianity? If Jesus or his followers wanted him to fulfill the role of “son of David”, wouldn’t they need some support from the Essenes and their “legitimate” line of High Priests, since only – supposedly – an “Essene” would be the only legitimate anointer of kingship?

Could Jesus’ “clearing of the Temple” leading to his arrest be representative of reversing the Hanukka/Hasmonean rule and re-establishing the rightful High Priest lineage?

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Posted by on March 1, 2009 in dead sea scrolls, essenes, Nazarenes, pharisees, sadducees

 

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