This tenth installment reveals the truth about the Jewish sects in Palestine in the days of Christ. ALL the sects of Judaism in the New Testament period had their roots within the time of religious anarchy after the death of Alexander the Great. That was the time the Egyptians and then the Syrians dominated Palestine.
When these foreign elements came into Palestine, they brought with them their respective cultures — their forms of Hellenism. Every phase of life was affected by Hellenism. Nothing escaped its influence. That attractiveness of the new culture was overwhelming. The Jews accepted it almost as readily as any of the countries of the East which had been conquered by Alexander the Great. Now let's continue this series.
Sects of Judaism "Because the Jews represent the major non-Greek element in the eventual fusion it is important to observe that their reaction to Hellenism was INITIALLY NO DIFFERENT from that of other non-Greek peoples" (Goodspeed, The Apocrypha, p. xiv).
The Jews, after the peaceful introduction of Hellenism by the Egyptians, accepted it almost totally. And not the least affected by this acceptance of Hellenism were former religious beliefs of the Jews. Changes were made in the Jewish religious services. The foreign influence was so strong and the religious inclination so weak that the period had been called, as we have before mentioned, a time of religious anarchy.
The very basis of Hellenism was the philosophy of "free-thinking"; the right of the individual to think and reason for himself. This philosophy of individualism was accepted by the Jews. The Jews, like their Egyptian rulers, began to think on their own in regard to the arts, sciences, religion, etc.
As with Hellenism in Greece, Syria and Egypt, so in Palestine, the INDIVIDUAL and HIS OPINION became important to the educated. The study of Scripture, when indulged, became more of a private matter and of individual interpretation, as it is commonly done today, rather than of collective interpretation from an authoritative body, like the Sopherim were. In most cases the Scripture became interpreted according to the prevailing custom of viewing everything in the light of Hellenistic "enlightenment."
We find that during the period of religious anarchy there arose a number of individuals endeavoring to teach the Scriptures. These men were almost wholly laymen — the priests, on the whole, thought it not necessary to bother themselves with teaching or studying the Scriptures of their forefathers. At the end of the anarchy, we find these individual laymen establishing themselves, with a few of the faithful priests, into a body of religious authority among the Jews. However, when these men came together they brought with them many varying opinions of the Scriptures they had learned in independent study. Some of the laymen and priests had accepted much of the Hellenistic ways of teaching as well as many Hellenistic customs and practices. There were some teachers, however, who were less inclined towards Hellenism. Yet all these teachers in one way or another were influenced with Hellenism. There is no doubt of this (Herford, "Talmud and Apocrypha," p. 77).
The differences of opinion among these various teachers finally evolved into the real beginning of the sects of Judaism. All of the sects can be shown to have had their origins within or immediately after the period of religious anarchy. And it is also important to indicate that ALL the sects which came out of that anarchy had some form of Hellenism attached to their beliefs. In fact, the various sects of Judaism can be categorized according to the amount of apparent Hellenization that each sect absorbed. There were some sects which embodied much of the Hellenistic spirit; others a moderate amount; but hardly one which absorbed little.
It will be profitable to briefly survey the sects of Judaism which existed in the days of Christ. It will be obvious that none of them were keeping the true and unblemished Law of Moses.
The Truth About the Essenes The first sect to be dealt with will be the Essenes. This group is placed first because they represent the sect which consumed the greatest amount of foreign doctrine.
"Greek culture must have had a POWERFUL INFLUENCE upon Palestine since the time of Alexander the Great — it was not repressed until the Maccabean rising — it is only natural, if we find ACTUAL PROOF OF THIS INFLUENCE OF HELLENISM IN THE CIRCLE OF THE ESSENES" (Schurer, The Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ, sec. ii, vol. ii, p. 218).
There were certain religious customs and beliefs of the Jewish sect of the Essenes which were totally Hellenistic in origin. For one, Josephus tells us they accepted the doctrine of the immortality of the soul (Antiquities of the Jews, xviii, 1, 5). He mentions this foreign belief of the Essenes in several places. Notice:
"For their doctrine is this: That bodies are corruptible, and that the matter they are made of is not permanent; but THAT THE SOULS ARE IMMORTAL, AND CONTINUE FOR EVER ... And IS LIKE THE OPINIONS OF THE GREEKS, that good souls have their souls beyond the oceans, etc." (Wars of the Jews, II, p. 11).
Josephus goes on to say, speaking of the doctrine of the immortality of the soul: "And indeed the Greeks seem to me TO HAVE FOLLOWED THE SAME NOTION" (ibid.).
Notice that Josephus says that these Essenes taught their doctrine as did the Greeks. This doctrine is certainly of foreign origin, for no such doctrine is found in the Scriptures.
"According to him [Josephus], the Essenes had always professed the PUREST DOCTRINES OF GREEK PHILOSOPHY concerning THE IMMORTALITY OF THE SOUL" (Renan, History of the People of Israel, vol. v, p. 56).
This particular teaching IS OF ITSELF PROOF OF THE INFLUENCE OF FOREIGN PHILOSOPHIES (Schurer, The Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ, sec. ii, vol. ii, p. 214). And further, he says:
"If then only one sentence which he (Josephus) says concerning the anthropology of the Essenes is true, IT IS CERTAIN THAT THEIR DOCTRINE OF MAN IS DUALISTIC, i.e NON-JEWISH" (ibid.).
There is absolutely no doubt that the Essenes had accepted the doctrine of the immortality of the soul directly from Hellenism. This doctrine is completely foreign to Scripture.
Other Heathen Doctrines The Essenes also adhered to the doctrine of asceticism — the doctrine of perennial self-denial of even the good things of life. This belief as a continuing custom is entirely alien to the teachings of the Scriptures. However, such practices were common among certain Greek sects and Egyptian philosophies (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th ed., vol. ii, pp. 717, 720).
Because of this peculiar belief (which was condemned by the Apostle Paul in Colossians 2:23), the Essenes developed themselves into monastic orders and repudiated marriage ("Wars of the Jews," II, 8, 2). In no place does the Scripture command an individual to withdraw into a monastery or nunnery and live a life of celibatic asceticism. In fact, the New Testament commands a person NOT to deliberately withdraw himself from society (I Cor. 5:9-10) and it teaches that marriage is entirely honorable and holy (Heb. 13:4).
Essenes Worshipped Toward Sun While the Temple was on earth, the worshippers of God prayed facing the Temple in Jerusalem (I Kings 8:28, 29). Daniel prayed three times a day in this manner (Dan. 6:10). The Temple in Jerusalem was designed symbolically, from its origin, to be the residence of God, and the people were to sacrifice at the Temple and pray toward it.
The Essenes, however, omitted two requirements of God which were obvious violations of Scripture. They refused to sacrifice at the Temple, or anywhere for that matter; and they did not face the Temple when they prayed. They worshipped and prayed TOWARDS THE SUN! ("Wars of the Jews," ii, 8, 9.) This act was strictly forbidden in the Scriptures (Ezekiel 8:15, 16), but nevertheless, the Essenes turned their backs on the Temple and prayed towards the sun.
Relative to this esteem of the sun by the Essenes, Schurer writes that this clearly "leads to the conclusion, that they were in real earnest IN THEIR RELIGIOUS ESTIMATION OF THE SUN. However this may be, the very turning to the sun in prayer WAS CONTRARY to Jewish customs and notions, which REQUIRED THE TURNING TO THE TEMPLE and expressly repudiated THE DIRECTION TOWARDS THE SUN AS HEATHENISH?? (The Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ, sec ii, vol. ii, p. 213).
To this, Schurer adds:
"Thus are we more and more driven to the view, THAT FOREIGN INFLUENCE COOPERATED IN THE FORMATION OF ESSENISM" (ibid., p. 214).
Essenism Was Extreme Pharisaicism It must not be supposed that Essenism, or any of the sects of Judaism, were completely heathen in doctrines in all respects. This was not the case! What existed was a combining or a blending of pagan doctrines with certain teachings of the Scripture. The Essenes kept the Sabbath, circumcision, and many of the other customs common to the Jews. They also kept many of the traditional laws of the Pharisees. We are told expressly by Schurer (ibid., p. 209) that the rigid religious legalism of the Essenes and their punctilious care for ceremonial cleanness, were genuinely Pharisaic in origin.
The Essenes were, however, not a part of the popular Pharisee sect. They were entirely separate and on their own. They may, however, have represented a group that began as a division of the Pharisaic sect and broke away early after the religious anarchy ended. For even though there were many doctrinal differences between the two sects, there were certain similarities. Schurer again tells us: "Essenism then is in the first place MERELY PHARISAICISM IN THE SUPERLATIVE DEGREE" (ibid.).
The sect of the Essenes were actually more rigorous and exacting (if that were possible) than the Pharisees as a whole. They even went beyond the Pharisaic commandments in regard to being ritualistically clean.
"The Essene completely separated himself from the multitude and formed exclusive societies, in which similarity of disposition and endeavour afforded the possibility of realizing the ideal of a life of absolute ceremonial cleanness" (ibid., pp. 210, 211).
Thus, this extreme Pharisaicism led to asceticism and their other peculiar customs that most Jews completely disavowed. The Essenes went quite a bit farther than the Pharisees in accepting, outright, many of the customs of the heathen they learned while under Hellenistic influences.
"The doctrines of the Essenes were, however, tinged by FOREIGN INFLUENCE. In their neglect of the Temple sacrifices, and in their condemnation of wedlock, THEY DEPARTED from the full observance of the Law ... THEY ALSO APPROACHED THE EGYPTIAN SCHOOL in their allegorical interpretation of many parts of Scripture" (Conder, Judas Maccabaeus, p. 210).
There is no question that the Essenes were recipients of many pagan doctrines — and many of them came from Egyptian Hellenism. Schurer again tells us that Essenism represents "a Judaism of quite peculiarly blended ultra-Pharisaic and Alexandrian views [and] appears in alliance with Pythagoreanism [a pagan philosophy] AND WITH MANY RITES OF EGYPTIAN PRIESTS" (ibid., p. 208).
It is clear that Egyptian Hellenism, the Greek philosophies inherited by Egypt, was the primary influence upon the Essene doctrines. Their teachings were certainly far from those of Moses.
"So Essenism can be understood ONLY WHEN REGARDED AS A BLENDING OF JEWISH AND GREEK IDEAS" (Ency. Biblica, col. 2011).
The Truth About the Pharisees Like the Essenes, many of the Pharisees had adopted the pagan belief in the immortality of the soul (Wars of the Jews, II, 8, 14). This doctrine is plainly recognized by scholars, as has been shown above, to have come from heathenism, not from Scripture.
However, it seems as if the Pharisees were not willing to go as far as the Essenes in its complete pagan interpretation. Some of the Pharisees seem to have had certain reservations concerning the new doctrine. Josephus, himself a Pharisee and thoroughly acquainted with their doctrines, makes a vague distinction between the Pharisee belief and that of the Essenes. He says the Pharisees believed in an "immortal vigour" to be in the body; while the Essenes believed outright in the "immortality of the soul" (Antiquities of the Jews, xviii, 1, 3 & 4).
There seems to have been doubts in the minds of some Pharisees in regard to this doctrine. However, it appears certain that most of them believed in it, but with varying degrees of interpretation.
Of course, the doctrine of the immortality of the soul is not taught in the Scripture. In fact, the Scripture teaches just the opposite. For example, we read in Ezekiel 18:4, "The soul that sinneth, it shall die." See also verse 21. Clearly, a soul can die! And also, the New Testament teaches that only Christ has now immortality — no other man has (I Tim. 6:15, 16).
Who Were the Apocalyptists In the second installment of this series mention was made of other minor religious sects which have been called by our modern historians by the name Apocalyptists. The name denotes those who supposedly reveal "hidden truths" or "secret doctrines."
There are extant several books written by these minor sects, or perhaps only by individuals, which show their peculiar beliefs or their prophetical expectations. These sects certainly differed from the major groups of Judaism. And they assuredly do not represent any large religious movements among the Jews.
"The Apocalyptic literature certainly represents an element in the Judaism of its time, BUT IT WAS AN ELEMENT OF VERY MINOR IMPORTANCE compared with those [the Pharisees, etc.] in which lay the real vitality and strength of Judaism. It is a fundamental mistake to suppose that the Apocalyptic literature can explain what Judaism really stood for, in that or any other age" (Herford, Judaism in the New Testament Period, p. 11).
The writings of these few individuals or religious sects were completely rejected by the Jews. Some of the reasons for their rejection by the other sects is because they were obviously contradictory with one another in many ways; they were at variance with the popular teaching of the Scriptures.
All of the writings of these Apocalyptists were written DURING or sometime after the period of the religious anarchy. Some were written even as late as the First Century A.D.
Their teachings on the whole, while having a Jewish basis, reflect men's opinions and ideas which were absorbed from Hellenism. The teachings of the various books are extremely diverse. Strong elements of Hellenism are found in some, and in others to a lesser degree (Ency. Biblica, col. 2010, 2011).
There is no question that some of their teachings, even the manner in which some of them wrote, were directly influenced by Egyptian and Syrian Hellenism. Their teachings represent those of some individual teachers who, after the religious anarchy, began to teach their own religious beliefs independent of the Pharisees, but nonetheless, equally as erroneous.
"Traces of Syrian Hellenism, which had been implanted among the less educated masses, endured, and the victorious Judean people [after the successful Maccabean Revolt] harbored a growing semi-Hellenized crowd who had NEITHER GRASPED THE PURE HEBRAIC FAITH nor received the pure Hellenic spirit. This populace [certain leaders among them] FOSTERED THE APOCALYPTIC LITERATURE WITH ITS FANTASTIC AND YET SOMEWHAT MATERIALISTIC SPIRITUALITY, which, while it was largely an expression of the Hebraic mind and a development of the prophetic vision, SHOWS A MARKED IMPRESS OF FOREIGN DOCTRINE" (Bentwich, Hellenism, p. 335).
The principles behind the apocalyptic literature are an infusion of certain Jewish beliefs with Hellenism. All of the writings of these minor sects, or perhaps only individual writers, were quite varied and contradictory.
"The aspect that that literature presents is of so diversified a character that it is difficult to combine all the DIFFERENT ELEMENTS into one connected whole" (Schurer, The Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ, sec. ii, vol. iii, p. 1).
Were These Groups Akin to the Essenes? Because so many of the doctrines of the writers of these various books seem to show a near kinship to certain Essenistic beliefs, some scholars have endeavored to show that the authors were undoubtedly part of that group ("International Standard Bible Encyclopedia," vol. i, p. 164). This may well be the case. Josephus mentions that the Essenes were fond of keeping "secret" books that related doctrines only the initiated could know (Wars of the Jews, ii, 8, 7). At least we are assured that these sects who wrote the various apocalyptic books were closer in doctrine to the Essenes than any other religious group among the Jews. They were not Pharisees; this much is certain!
"Those who really do know the Pharisaic literature, INCLUDING ALL THE GREAT JEWISH SCHOLARS, agree in the view that the Apocryphal and Apocalyptic writings represent a type (or types) of Judaism DIFFERENT from the Pharisaic type" (Herford, Judaism in the New Testament Period, p. 123).
The Truth About the Sadducees The Sadducees completely rejected the traditions of the elders. They maintained that the Scripture alone was sufficient for religious truth (Lauterbach, "Rabbinic Essays," p. 209). In this connection, the Sadducees were certainly right.
The actions of the Sadducees against the erroneous opinions of the Pharisees seemingly puts them in a good light — as though they were zealously upholding the Law of God and His divine truth. However, the Sadducean position was not as roseate as it may appear on the surface. There were real reasons behind the Sadducees' apparent stand for the acceptance of only the Scripture, and those reasons were not always out of honor for the Scripture or even God.
Can we say the Sadducees respected the Scripture when many of the plain teachings of the Word of God they openly renounced? They clearly rejected the Scripture teaching of the resurrection; they did not believe in angels nor spirits. Yet the Scriptures taught these truths! (See Job 14:4; Eze. 37:1-14; Dan. 12:1-3; Exo. 14:19; Dan. 6:22; I Sam. 18:10, etc.) To reject such fundamental doctrines as the resurrection and the existence of the spirit world, shows that the Sadducees did not hold the Scripture teaching in very high esteem.
Why Sadducees Rejected Traditions of Elders It will come as a surprise to many people to realize that the reason the majority of Sadducees rejected the Pharisaic traditions of the elders, so-called, was NOT because of a reverence for the Scripture and an abhorrence for heathen customs. Their motive for rejecting these new religious laws, in reality, was on account OF THEIR LACK OF INTEREST IN RELIGION. They did not care for ANY MORE religious laws than were necessary.
It is clearly known that the majority of Sadducees were not zealous for religion. Their main interest lay in securing for themselves political positions of power among the influential people in Palestine — they reverenced the gaining of wealth and power more than anything else. They did not want to subject themselves to any of the religious laws of the Pharisees, nor [even] of the Scripture, as we will soon see. The Sadducees represented the "worldly-minded" sect of the Jews — not especially interested in religion. (Almost every society has had or presently has such religious sects, and the Jews were no exception — they had their "Unitarian" sect.)
"They [the Sadducees] saw in the traditions of the elders an excess of legal strictness which they refused to have imposed upon them, while the advanced religious views [of the Pharisees] were, on the one hand SUPERFLUOUS TO THEIR WORLDLY-MINDEDNESS, and on the other, inadmissible by their higher culture and enlightenment" (Schurer, The Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ, sec. ii, vol. ii, p. 41).
The Sadducees simply did not want to be burdened with more religious laws. They thought the Laws of Scripture were certainly enough, without adding more! And, in fact, sometimes, if the Scripture did not teach what they wanted, they would even disallow it.
"The Sadducees, with the easy indifference of men of the world, finding that THERE WAS QUITE ENOUGH IN THE LAW FOR THEM TO OBEY, denied that there was anything obligatory outside the Books of Moses (Renan, History of the People of Israel, vol. 5, pp. 41, 42).
With their rejection of the traditions of the elders and their acceptance of only the Scripture, it is not to be supposed that they were interested in getting the people back to the religion of Moses or in bringing the people to a proper reverence for the Scripture. They were willing to accept just what they had to, in order to retain THEIR political positions among the rich and wealthy of Jerusalem (Antiquities of the Jews, xviii, 10, 6).
"Their whole doctrinal position GAVE THEM LIBERTY TO FOLLOW THEIR DESIRES FOR POLITICAL POWER AND WORLDLY SATISFACTION. Hence they had a DEEPER INTEREST IN SUSTAINING THE POWER OF THE REIGNING PRINCE [whether Jewish or Roman] THAN IN MAINTAINING THE OBSERVANCES OF MOSES" (Riggs, A History of the Jewish People, p. 111).
While on the surface it may have seemed like the Sadducees were a little closer to the truth, because they maintained that the Scripture was sufficient Law to have, yet the fact is, they were just as far away from the truth — even farther! While the Sadducees blamed the Pharisees for not adhering to Scripture for their doctrines, they themselves were rejecting doctrine after doctrine of plain Scripture. They were no more following the complete directions of the Scriptures than were the Pharisees.
Sadducees Reject Other Scripture Teaching! Throughout the Scriptures we are distinctly shown by prophecies and by examples that God at certain times intervenes in the affairs of individuals and of nations. There are multitudes of prophecies which show that God is very soon going to personally intervene in the affairs of mankind. See, for example, the Books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel.
But the Sadducees believed not a word of this! They believed that God did not direct the mind of man in any form or manner — all things that happened were he result of man's own doing, God never intervened!
"And for the Sadducees, they take away fate [the determination of God], and say there is no such thing, and that the events of human affairs are not at its [God's] disposal; but they suppose that ALL our actions are in our power, so that we are ourselves the cause of what is good, and receive what is evil from our own folly" (Antiquities of the Jews, xiii, 5, 9; Wars of the Jews, ii, 14).
The Sadducees were wrong in this! In the Scripture it shows that God at times directs individuals and nations to do certain duties (Isa. 10:13-15, etc.). Of course, not every single action an individual does is being determined by God (Eccl. 9:11). The Pharisees, in this case, understood correctly that God intervenes in the affairs of mankind when He considers it necessary for the carrying out of His plan, but on the whole, mankind's actions are his own (Antiquities of the Jews, xiii, 5, 9).
The Sadducees certainly did not have belief in many truths of the Scripture. By disbelieving in the resurrection, disbelieving in the spirit world and also rejecting the fact that God ever intervenes in the affairs of man, they show clearly that they had little regard for the Word of God.
"They [the Sadducees] were very nearly free-thinkers, and in all cases were men of little religion, mere worldlings. Their wisdom was all worldly. The doctrines attributed to them by Josephus, concerning liberty and divine Providence [that is, the lack of divine Providence], are interpretations or compromises after the Greek fashion. For them all [the Sadducees] this was only an attempt to reduce the supernatural to its minimum, a process for eliminating God" (Renan, History of the People of Israel, vol. v, p. 40).
As pointed out by Schurer: '"THEIR INTERESTS WERE ENTIRELY IN THIS WORLD, AND THEY HAD NO SUCH INTENSIVELY RELIGIOUS INTEREST AS THE PHARISEES" ("The Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ," sec. ii, vol. ii, p. 39).
Brief History of the Sadducees! When religious authority was again established among the Jews after the period of religious anarchy, the Pharisees were anxious for the people to start living a religious life, even though they brought into their religion many of the new customs from Hellenism. However, the majority of Sadducees made no real attempt to return to religion. They certainly saw no reason for accepting the many new customs as extra religious duties to perform.
The majority of Sadducees were priests (Cycl. of Bib. Thee. and Ecc. Lit., vol. ix, p. 238) who had been ordained of God to teach the people the Scriptures. The forefathers of the priests, the Sopherim, were entirely faithful in their appointed task. But the majority of priests after the period of religious anarchy MADE NO ATTEMPT to teach the people the Scriptures. One of the main reasons for their attitude was because most of them had been out-and-out Hellenists! (Herford, Talmud and Apocrypha, pp. 77, 78). Among all the Jews in Palestine, the priests had become the most Hellenistic.
After the religious anarchy, when the lay leaders, the Pharisees, began to exert an influence over the people, they "refused to recognize the authority of the priests as a class, and inasmuch as many of THE PRIESTS HAD PROVEN UNFAITHFUL GUARDIANS OF THE LAW, they would not entrust to them the religious life of the people" (Lauterbach, Rabbinic Essays, p. 209).
Thus, many of the priests joined with, or rather comprised the sect of the Sadducees, which, in all principles, rivaled the Pharisees. The origin of the priestly sect of the Sadducees was actually prompted as a reaction to the Pharisees' taking over much of the religious control of the Jewish people. The Sadducean sect was not formed because of any endeavor on the part of the priests to return to the original Law of Moses; nor did the priests attempt to gain the people to accept only the Scriptures as Law. This sect evolved as merely a reaction to the assumption of power by the lay Pharisees.
Many Priests Continue in Hellenism After assimilating much of the "higher culture and enlightenment" of Hellenism, the priests were not altogether ready to disengage themselves from it. Even after the religious anarchy, many of the priests retained their love for the culture.
The Sadducees actually represented the division of the Jews which continued a reverence for the ETHICAL VIEWS of Hellenism. It is true that they did NOT hold to the many RELIGIOUS DOCTRINES of the pagan cults of Hellenism, but they did retain many of the social aspects of the culture. It was almost imperative that they did, so the Sadducees thought, for they were in constant contact with the political powers in Jerusalem who found it necessary to adhere to much of the Hellenistic beliefs in order to carry on matters of state with the other countries around. Thus, many of the priests did not completely repent of their secular Hellenism, even though on the religious side they acknowledged the Scriptures as the only Law.
"They [the Sadducees] made, however, THE OPEN DOOR THROUGH WHICH GREEK INFLUENCES CAME BACK INTO THE LAND, and, as another has tersely said, 'the antagonism between them and the Pharisees was really A SECONDARY VERSION of the old feud BETWEEN THE HELLENISTS AND THE HASIDEANS'" (Riggs, "A History of the Jewish People," p. 111). The Hasideans were those Jews of the Maccabean Revolt who maintained a zeal for religion, and, of course, the Hellenists were the Jews, many of them priests, who had no interest in religion.
It is clear that this comparison is correct. The Sadducees were simply the remnants of the Hellenists who cared nothing for religion, while the Pharisees were descendants of the religionists — the Hasideans.
"Politically, the Sadducees were, as a party, OPEN TO FOREIGN INFLUENCES, and it was through them THAT HELLENIC CULTURE SPREAD IN ISRAEL" (The Cambridge Companion to the Bible, p. 134).
In other words, the Sadducees were really secular Hellenists. Their acceptance of the Scripture as the only code of Law, even though they rejected much of its teachings, was really out of spite to the Pharisees who accepted the so-called traditions of the elders. The Sadducees saw no need of being overly religious by the acceptance of burdensome customs and rites.
"THEIR INTERESTS WERE ENTIRELY IN THIS WORLD, AND THEY HAD NO SUCH INTENSIVELY RELIGIOUS INTEREST AS THE PHARISEES" (Schurer, The Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ, sec. ii, vol. ii, p. 39).
They had no desire to practice real religion, neither did they think it necessary to teach the people the Laws of God. Even though the majority of Sadducees were priests, and were ordained of God to instruct the people in righteousness, they totally renounced their responsibility.
"Such as they were, the Sadducees had little or no direct influence upon the mass of the people, nor did they seek to have. They made no effort to teach the people, presumably because THE THOUGHT OF DOING SO NEVER ENTERED THEIR MINDS" (Herford, Judaism in the New Testament Period, p. 122).
"We shall perhaps be not far wrong if we represent the Sadducees as holding the ancestral religion MAINLY AS AN INHERITANCE and NOT AS A LIVING REALITY ... It is in accordance with this view that THEY DID NOTHING TO ENLARGE THE MEANING OR INCREASE THE INFLUENCE OF THE TORAH as the Pharisees did" (ibid., p. 121).
The Sadducees made no attempt whatever, that we have record of, to make the Scriptures known to the people or to carry out their God-given function of instructing the people in the Law. They did not see the importance of it! In fact, they were even willing to sacrifice the Laws of Scripture if they could gain politically from it.
"They were the LESS RESTRAINED BY ANY RELIGIOUS SCRUPLES from engaging in public affairs WHICH INVOLVED SOME AMOUNT OF COMPROMISE WITH GENTILES" (ibid., p. 122).
Thus, Schurer adequately describes the Sadducees as pre-eminently having "A RECESSION OF THE RELIGIOUS MOTIVE" rather than a zealousness for the Scriptures (The Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ, sec. ii, vol. ii, p. 39).
What You Should Remember About the Sects It becomes quite obvious, when the truth is known, that the sects of Judaism were not really teaching the Law of Moses. What all of them had done, in one degree or another, was to blend many pagan customs and beliefs, along with various man-made opinions, with the Law of Moses and then endeavored to teach their contradictory doctrines as the truth of God.
The Pharisees had accepted many customs of the heathen as so-called traditional laws from Moses. They had also enacted many of their own commandments which by-passed the commands of the Scripture and in fact, the Pharisaic commands even annulled, in many cases, the plain commandments of God.
The Sadducees were disinterested in religion! The only reason, in reality, that they had any connection with religion at all was because most of them were priests who had the hereditary right to minister in the Temple and to have an association with the religious life of the people. They maintained their hereditary religious right mainly for political purposes in order for them to more easily pursue their worldly-minded aspirations, not out of any desire to teach the people the truth of God.
The Essenes had accepted many heathen customs and beliefs without reservation. Almost all their doctrines were antagonistic to the Law of Moses.
The writers of the Apocalyptic books also show, in varying degrees, an impress of foreign doctrines and philosophies. All of the books are different from one another and represent the contradicting opinions of certain individuals or minor sects. The writers of the Apocalyptic books were probably, in one way or another, connected with the Essenes.
Thus, all the religious sects of the Jews can be adequately shown to be schismatic deviations from the pure and simple Law of Moses. They were all affected by the beliefs that were encountered by the Jews during the period of religious anarchy when Egyptian and Syrian Hellenism were rampant throughout Palestine.
The combined numbers of the Jews who belonged to the religious sects of Judaism, however, numbered less than 5% of the total Jewish population of Palestine in the days of Christ. The great majority, the Common People, were not overly interested in religion. From the time of the religious anarchy, there was never any real collective religious authority among the Jews like the Sopherim. All the people went their own ways. The majority never got back to religion as during the days of the Sopherim. Outside of a nominal adherence to some basic forms of religion, the masses were not zealously concerned. And, there can be no doubt that the confusing and contradictory examples of the various sects were discouraging to the populace. Truly, Christ came to a people who had no shepherd to guide them into the truth of God (Matt. 9:36).
(Next Issue: Is JUDAISM the Law of Moses? - Part 11)