The Essenes, Pharisees and Sadducees


The ill-advised repressive measures of Antiochus Epiphanes drove Jews of every religious gradation and economic class under the one banner of the Hasideans as a protest not against Hellenism, but against the denial of religious liberty. Many Jews, especially the rich and the aristocrats, had desired a measure of Hellenization without the disappearance of Judaism. Now that victory over the Seleucids was achieved and the threat of annihilation averted, there was nothing to hold these divergent groups together.

Lacking counterpressure, the internal pressure of the Jewish Hellenizers exploded the Hasideans into three new, separate parties – the Essenes, the Pharisees and the Sadducees.

The Essene Jews developed a messianic religion, giving birth to the ideas that were to play a dominant role in the lives of John the Baptist and Jesus. Like the Pharisees, the Essenes believed in the immortality of the soul, in resurrection, and in the concept of a messiah. The also believed in the punishment of the wicked in an everlasting hell, and reward for the good in heaven. They developed elaborate purification rites, one of which was baptism, that is, immersion in water for remission of sins, or a rebirth into a new life. The Essenes preferred celibacy…In order to preserve their numbers, they held, like the Apostle Paul in later years, that it was “better to marry than to burn,” and therefore permitted occasional marriages. Most new members came through the adoption of children form other sects who then were trained in the ascetic ways of the Essenes.

The Pharisees were conservative in their politics and liberal in their religion. They stood for Synagogue, Rabbi, and Prayer – the post-Prophetic concept of Judaism. The party of the common men. They looked upon the Sadducees as conservatives, upon the Essenes as zealots, and upon themselves as liberals…they believed in the principle of religious evolution. The Pharisees stressed the new Oral Law, a series of reinterpretations of Mosaic law. They were responsible for introducing the elasticity into Judaism which made possible its survival in the times of stress ahead.

The Sadducees stood for Temple, Priest, and Sacrifice –the pre-Prophetic concept of Judaism. They were the party of the aristocrats and priestly class. They represented the liberal, enlightened political viewpoint. They felt that neither their country nor Judaism would be jeopardized by a reasonable amount of Hellenic cultural influence, in the same way that many American Jews today believe that they can safely embrace the best features of American life without having to give up their Jewishness.

Culled, with omissions, from Jews, God and History, by Max I. Dimont, 1962

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