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The Various Sects of Judaism in the 1st Century A.D.
Why Might Different Sub-Groups (Sects) Develop Within a Society or Group?
One Religion, Many Groups
 Judaism was not monolithic in the 1st c. (nor is it today)
 Actually made up of a number of sub-groups
 What seems to have kept followers of Judaism together were core common practices
such as:
◦ Monotheism
◦ Circumcision
◦ Laws of Moses
◦ Dietary restrictions (kashrut)
◦ Weekly Sabbath services
◦ Worshiping at the Temple
 There was disagreement on a number of details relating to Jewish practice and
The Various Groups
 Flavius Josephus, a historian, poet, and military commander identified 5 groups of
Jews existing at the time of Jesus
◦ There could have been as many as 12 different groups
 Groups during the 1st c. according to Josephus were:
◦ Pharisees
◦ Sadducees
◦ Essenes
◦ Zealots
◦ Sicarii
 Considered the fathers of modern Judaism
 The name Pharisee, comes from he Hebrew/Aramaic word meaning “Separated one”
◦ Originated in protest against the trend of Jews to accept Greek culture and customs
 Aimed to preserve their national identity
◦ Became a religious and political party
 Laypeople
◦ Blue-collar; representative of the common people
 Opposed to Roman rule and their puppet kings
◦ Not sympathetic with rebellious groups though
Pharisees Cont.
 Believed the Torah (written and oral) should be strictly applied to every aspect of life
◦ Accepted all of what we call the Old Testament (46 books)
◦ Oral Torah – knowledge of the meaning and interpretation of the Laws (God gave
this ability to Moses)
 Observance of the Law included strict observance to:
◦ Worship at the Temple
◦ Strict observance of the Sabbath
◦ Obeying purity laws
◦ Dietary rules
◦ Ritual cleansing
◦ Tithing
 Believed in
◦ Existence of angels and spirits
◦ Existence of an afterlife, and therefore of an immortal soul
◦ Existence of an afterlife, and therefore of an immortal soul
◦ Resurrection of the Dead
◦ Final judgment (rewards and punishments after death)
 Smaller group than the Pharisees, but more influential
 Members of the wealthy, aristocratic, ruling class
 Were elitists, desiring to maintain the priestly class
◦ The Chief Priests, and Elders were from this group (lesser priests may also have
been members, but not all were)
 Priesthood was hereditary (born into it, not a career choice)
 In charge of maintaining holiness of the Temple, and managing it
 Made up the majority of the membership for the Sanhedrin (71 members)
◦ Like a Supreme Court – had final say on issues affecting religion and politics
◦ In charge of interpreting civil and religious laws
◦ Also had political responsibilities
 Willing to incorporate Greek culture into their lives
 Actively worked with the Romans
Sadducees Cont.
 Considered by themselves and others to be conservatives
◦ Followed only what was in the written law, rejecting oral tradition
 Believed only what was written in the Torah (literal interpretation)
 Believed worship at the Temple was the main focus of the Law
 Rejected belief in:
◦ Life after death
◦ Resurrection of the dead
◦ Final Judgment
◦ Existence of angels and spirits
 Felt the above beliefs were corruptions of the faith
 Not a specific group
◦ Connected to both the Pharisees and Sadducees
 Specially trained in writing
◦ e.g. produced legal documents, recorded deeds, copied scriptures
◦ Important as many people couldn’t read of write
 Functioned as interpreters of the Law (their specialty) and teachers
 Often worked for the ruling class
 This group originated with a group of priests
◦ Smaller group than the other 2
 Disapproved of the other two groups
◦ Believed that Jerusalem and the Temple had been corrupted by the others
 Rejected Temple worship
◦ Refused to attend festivals
 Avoided contact with foreign cultures
 May have influenced John the Baptist
Essenes Cont.
 They were very concerned with purity
 Moved out into the desert away from society
◦ Lived in cave dwellings in the mountains
 In Qumran, close to the Dead Sea (lowest place on Earth)
 In Qumran, close to the Dead Sea (lowest place on Earth)
 Mosaic Law was strictly observed
 Observed strict dietary rules and also celibacy
 Believed in immortality of the soul
 Held apocalyptic ideas (hope that God would destroy the enemies of Israel, and
establish a new age)
◦ Believed this new age was coming
◦ Part of the growing hatred of Roman rule
 Moved into wilderness in order to prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah
◦ Believed there would be 2 (one kingly, the other priestly)
Dead Sea Scrolls
 Discovered in 1947 by a shepherd named Jum’a (from the Bedouin Ta’amierh tribe)
◦ Stumbled into cave, while looking for lost sheep, containing jars with parchment
(some papyrus) manuscripts inside
 They seem to date from 1st c. B.C. to 1st c. A.D.
◦ Thought to have been hidden in the years 66-70 A.D. to protect them from the
Roman army which was invading
What is on the Scrolls?
 There are two type of scroll that were found
◦ Biblical
◦ Non-biblical
 Written in Hebrew, but some also in Aramaic and Greek
 The Biblical scrolls contain texts found in the Hebrew Bible
◦ Approx. 230 manuscript fragments
 Partial or complete copies of every book (except Esther)
◦ They are the oldest copies (to date) of the Hebrew Bible
 Approx. 1000 years older then other known copies
 Non Biblical scrolls contain other texts like, bible commentaries, hymns and prayers,
and texts containing the beliefs of the group.
 Most well known revolutionary group
◦ Not the only ones
 Deeply nationalistic, and set themselves against Roman rule
 Political and Religious freedom by any means necessary
 Known for their use of force/violence against the Roman rulers
◦ Often characterised as fanatics who will go to extremes to achieve their goals
 Began the Great Revolt (66-70 A.D.) against Rome
◦ Ended with the destruction of the Temple
 Another group who undertook violent measures
 Active mostly in Jerusalem (even within the Temple), but also in smaller villages
 Engaged in kidnappings and assassinations
◦ Assassinated targets in crowded places then slipped away
 Their targets were largely Jews who were collaborators with or inactive against
Roman rule
◦ Many victims were elite Jews associated with the priesthood
 Name comes from the Latin word for dagger (sica)
◦ Short dagger was weapon of choice
Those not belonging to any sect (aka. Plain Jews)
Those not belonging to any sect (aka. Plain Jews)
 Most numerous
◦ And arguably the most important
 The ones who went about their daily lives as their parents, grandparents and great
grandparents had done
◦ Believed in God
 Followed the rules outlined
in the Torah
◦ Observed the Sabbath,
holidays, festivals
◦ Went on pilgrimage to the
◦ Observed Jewish rituals and
food laws
 How might the existence of multiple different groups within a single religion/faith
affect that religion/faith?