Relation Of the Pharisees To The Sadducees and Essenes
And To The Gospel Of Christ
Though the Pharisees were only “an order”, they had not only become the leading direction of theological thought, but their principles were solemnly proclaimed, and universally acted upon, even by their opponents the Sadducees. A Sadducee in the Temple or on the seat of judgment would be obliged to act and decide precisely like a Pharisee. The Sadducees had attempted to dominate with their views, but it did not happen. It is said that they themselves destroyed the book of Sadducean ordinances which they at one time had drawn up.
The Pharisees celebrated each dogmatic victory with a feast. The very oldest post-Biblical Hebrew book is called the “Megillath Taanith”, or roll of fasts. It is chiefly their calendar of self-glorification, in which dogmatic victories are made days when fasting, and sometimes even mourning, was prohibited. Whatever their views really were, and what they really believed was of no consequence as far as office as concerned. Both parties acted as Pharisees, and were well-matched indeed.
When a Sadducean high-priest at the Feast of Tabernacles poured out the water on the ground instead of into the silver funnel of the altar, he barely escaped with his life. The Sadducees held that on the Day of Atonement the high-priest should light the incense before he actually entered the Most Holy Place. This was contrary to the views of the Pharisees, and they took care to bind them by oath to observe their ritual customs or they would not be allowed to officiate at all. Every ordinance that they tried to argue with was done in vain, and they had to submit to the ways of the Pharisees.
The essential principle of their differences were that the Sadducees held by the simple letter of the law – doing neither more nor less, whether the consequences were to make decisions more hard or more easy. They also tried to apply the same principles in their juridical and doctrinal views. An example of this was the literal “an eye for an eye; and a tooth for a tooth”. The same held true for them in regard to the laws of purification, and to those which regulated inheritance. Their doctrinal views are sufficiently known from the New Testament. But the Talmud expressly states that the real principle of the Sadducees was not that there was no resurrection, but only that it could not be proved from the Law, or Thorah. From this, there was only a short step to the entire denial of the doctrine. It was also their principle of strict literality, which underlay even the most extreme of their errors. But this principle was absolutely necessary to their very existence.
We have traced the Pharisees not only to a definite period, but to a special event, and have been able (in the previous text) to explain their name as “the separated”. They probably did not give it to themselves, because no sect or party ever takes a name; they all pretend to require no distinctive title, because they alone genuinely and faithfully feel that they represent the truth itself. They, no doubt, felt that the title was one that was well deserved of them, though.
There can be no question that the ‘sect’ of the Sadducees originated in a reaction against the Pharisees. The Pharisees added to the law their own interpretations and traditions, while the Sadducees took their stand upon the bare letter of the law. They would not have anything to do with any additions to the law because they felt that the Pharisees were trying to be overly righteous. They felt that by doing this that they were practicing “righteousness.” This became their byname, and they gradually took kindly to it just as the Pharisees did.
The adherents of Sadducean opinions chiefly belonged to the rich, luxurious, and aristocratic party, including the wealthy families of priests. The testimony of Josephus on this subject is corroborated by the New Testament, and he wrote that the mass of the people, especially the women, supported the Pharisaical Party. From the nature of this party, it is known that it was dependent upon traditional lore. It became not only the prevailing direction of Jewish theological study, but by-and-by it (the Chaber) merged into the Rabbi, the “sage”, or “disciple of the sage”, while the non-“chaber” became the designation for ignorance of traditional lore, and neglect of its ordinances. This was especially the case when the dissolution of the Jewish commonwealth rendered the obligations of the “fraternity” almost impossible. Under such altered circumstances the old historical Pharisee would often be no small plague to the leaders of the party. This is frequently the case when the original founders of any sect resist progress that has come down through the ages.
The Pharisees nor Sadducees were a sect in the sense that they separated from the Temple or Synagogue. Also the Jewish people were not divided between one or the other. There were only 6,000 professed Pharisees at the time of Herod. Representations of the New Testament, and even Philo, confirm the fact that the Pharisees were first an “order”, then gave name to a party, and finally just represented a direction of theological thought.
The New Testament speaks of only these two parties, but Josephus and Philo, Jewish Historians, also mention the Essenes. It seems that they did not ever exert a really great influence among the people, and that they were short-lived as a sect. They seem to have combined a kind of higher grade Pharisaism with devotional views. Their practices seem to be derived from Eastern mysticism, and more particularly from the Medo-Persian religion. The one object that they had was a higher purity. Because of archaeological finds, their views and beliefs have been preserved to us.
As a sect, the Essenes never attained a larger number than 4,000. They lived apart from the rest of the people and did not mingle either in their society or worship lives. As a general rule, they also abstained from marriage, and so they soon became extinct.
Rabbinical writings allude to quite a number of their different sects, with all of them more or less distinctly belonging to the mystical and ascetic branch of Pharisaism. We will name a few of them below:
The Vathikin, or strong ones, performed their prayers with the first dawn
The Toble Shachrith, or morning baptists, immersed themselves before morning prayer, so as to utter the Divine Name only in a state of purity
The Kehala Kadisha, or holy congregation, spent a third of the day in prayer, a third in study, and a third in labor
The Banaim, or builders, aimed after the highest purity. They occupied themselves with mystical studies about God and the world.
The Zenium, or secret pious, kept all their views and writings secret
The Nekije hadaath, or men of a pure mind, were really separatists from their brethren
The Chashaim, or mysterious ones, and
The Assiim, or helpers and healers, professed to possess the right pronunciation of the sacred Name of Jehovah, with all that this implied.
If in any of the towns of Judaea a person had met the strange apparition of a man dressed wholly in white, whose sandals and garments bore signs of real age, but was scrupulously clean, then they knew that they had met an Essene. For they could not get rid of their garments and shoes until they were almost completely worn out. The people would stop short and look after him with much curiosity. For an Essene was rarely ever seen in a town or village. They separated themselves from the rest of the people, and inhabited desert places, especially the neighborhood of the Dead Sea. The character of their order was self-denial, but they always strove for purity. These things about them were universally known in this time in the New Testament.
The strictly observed the Sabbath in their own synagogues; and although they sent their gifts to the altar, they did not attend the Temple nor offer sacrifices in person. This was partly because they did not regard the arrangements as being sufficiently Levitically clean, and partly because they came to consider their own table an altar, and their common meals a sacrifice. They formed an “order” that was bound by the strictest vows, taken under terrible oaths, and subject to the most rigorous discipline.
The members abstained from wine, meat, oil, and most of them from marriage. They all shared with each other by community of goods; they were also bound to poverty, chastity, and had to obey their superiors. They believed in the strictest purity of morals, especially in regarding speaking the truth. They were prohibited from taking an oath, and also could not keep slaves.
The order consisted of four grades. Contact with one of a lower grade could defile another of the higher grade that he had attained. Each person had to be a novice for two years, but at the end of one was started to be taken into a degree of closer fellowship. The rule was in the hands of the “elders,” who had the power of admission and expulsion. If one were expelled, it was almost equivalent to a death sentence by starvation, as the Essene had bound himself to a strict oath not to associate with others.
Their day began with sunrise, when they went to prayer. Not a word could be spoken by them before they had prayed. After prayer, they did agricultural labor, for they were not allowed to keep herds and flocks. They also could not do works of charity, especially the healing of the sick. At eleven o’clock they bathed, changed their dress, and then gathered for their common meal. A priest always opened the meal with prayer. They sat according to age and dignity, with the oldest engaging in serious conversation. The young men served. Each person had bread and salt handed to him along with another dish. The elders, though, were allowed the condiment of hyssop and the luxury of warm water. After the meal they took off their good clothes and returned to work until evening. Then they had another common meal that was followed by mystical hymns and dances that symbolized a rapt, ecstatic state of mind.
Even though they were separated from the world, observed the Sabbath punctually, believed they should be as pure as possible, they still rejected the doctrine of the resurrection and surely had no connection with the origin of Christianity. There is no doubt, though, that among these mystical sects were definite preserved views of the Divine Being and the Messiah and His Kingdom. Also many of them had similar doctrines which afterwards appeared in the “secret tradition” of the Synagogue. They also contained some Christian truth, but just did not believe the “whole truth” about Jesus.
We can now somewhat see the obstacles that Jesus must have faced when he tried to preach the “real truth” among the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes. Each of the sects certainly was contrary to the Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus was born to reveal to the world. That must be why they fought him so hard, and especially because they didn’t want to lose the power that they had attained with the people – especially the Pharisees.