Category Archives: sadducees

The Traditions of our Fathers

So a little over a year ago I made the argument that Paul wasn’t a Pharisee (which he claims in Philipeans 3:5) based on his apparent ignorance of Hebrew. I inferred this from his argument in Romans 10:

9That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

10For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.

11As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” (Isaiah 28:16) 

12For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him,

13for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Joel 2:32)

Here Paul’s argument only makes sense if Joel 2:32 actually says the word “lord”. He implies that the “name of the lord” that does the saving when it’s spoken is “Jesus”. Joel 2:32 actually says the name of the god of the Jews: YHWH. In the LXX, however, this is replaced with the word “lord” (κυριος in Greek; and it’s actually Joel 3:5 in the LXX). This is the traditional Jewish circumlocution of pronouncing The Name YHWH. This means that Paul was reading from a version of Joel that had “lord” instead of YHWH, more than likely the LXX in order for his argument to make any sense.

From this I made the connection that Paul wasn’t a Pharisee, since Pharisees were trained in Hebrew.

On the other hand, Paul does use a phrase that implies at least a kinship with Pharisaic ideals. He mentions his “zeal” for the “traditions of [his] fathers” (υπαρχων των πατρικων μου παραδοσεων – lit. the still extant traditions of my fathers) in Galatians 1:14. Josephus uses a similar phrase when describing the Pharisees:

Antiquities of the Jews 13.10.6

What I would now explain is this, that the Pharisees have delivered to the people a great many observances by succession from their fathers, which are not written in the laws of Moses; and for that reason it is that the Sadducees reject them, and say that we are to esteem those observances to be obligatory which are in the written word, but are not to observe what are derived from the tradition of our forefathers (παραδοσεως των πατερων). And concerning these things it is that great disputes and differences have arisen among them, while the Sadducees are able to persuade none but the rich, and have not the populace obsequious to them, but the Pharisees have the multitude on their side.

Here Josephus uses “traditions of our fathers” to mean the Oral Torah which eventually became the Talmud. Paul’s disdain for the laws of Moses seems to stem from a Sadducean interpretation of the law. As I understand it, the Pharisees were more liberal about following the law as opposed to the Sadducees. A Pharisee wouldn’t have considered the laws of Moses a “curse” (Galatians 3:10, 13) but instead would have simply relaxed its standards. It would be like a liberal Christian all of the sudden becoming a militant atheist. Militancy breed militancy; an all-or-nothing view of the universe. Thus Paul’s total abrogation of the laws of Moses must have come from a more conservative branch of Judaism – one like the Sadducees. The more analogous situation would be going from a conservative Christian to a militant atheist.

It doesn’t seem as though Paul is using “traditions of our fathers” to refer to the Oral Torah, but as a generic term for Judaism.


Posted by on October 14, 2010 in paul, pharisees, sadducees, YHWH, YHWH pronunciation


Melchizedek Again

Melchizedek seems to have been a pretty important figure in heterodox Jewish literature. I wrote in an earlier post that in 2 Enoch, Melchizedek was born from a virgin during the time of Noah. In the Qumran community, Melchizedek is seen as an archangel who serves as a high priest in heaven, much like Philo’s “Logos”. Both seem to be the prescedent for the Greek writing author of Hebrews.

The DSS community writes about Melchizedek in 11Q13 or the Scroll of Melchizedek (link to it at the Gnostic Library). Why is Melchizedek such an important figure in heterodox Jewish literature, but only shows up in the canonical Jewish bible at Genesis 14 and Psalm 110? What’s even more odd is that the Melchizedek Scroll above never quotes from Psalm 110. 11Q13 has been dated to the later 2nd / early 1st century before the Christian era… what if Psalm 110 was written after the sectarian writings of the DSS community?

The word “Melchizedek” might be liberally translated as “my righteous king”, oddly sharing etymology with the Sadducees (tzedekim). Another parchment found at Qumran 4QAmram 2.3 has the opposite name Melchi-resha (“king of evil”) for a chief angel of darkness.

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Posted by on January 18, 2010 in melchizedek, sadducees


Pharisees vs. Sadducees

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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