Part Pharisee, Part Sadducee, Part Zealot, Part Essene

Today, my NT class explored the major sects in Judaism during the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry. The class got in groups as we debated various opinions. I probably would have been a Pharisee. Here’s why…

  • Pharisees treated all aspects of daily life as if it were part of their sacred/Temple service. I believe that the division between sacred and secular takes away from the opportunity in each moment to experience the divine in the mundane.
  • Pharisees believed in life after death. If this is all there is, I think I would be a very depressed person with a really selfish attitude. I like the idea that God will one day reward the “righteous.”
  • Pharisees lived among the regular people and were involved in typical society. I believe that the Scriptures come to life in everyday situations among the “common” people.
  • Pharisees were the scholar class, and I love books. I hope to one day be a scholar.
  • Pharisees ascribed authority to instruction outside of the written Scriptures. I agree that God still speaks today outside of Scripture although any teaching or word must line up with the Holy Scriptures. 

Although to be honest, I can find things that I like and dislike about all of the major groups. The Sadducees were conservative and wanted to avoid rocking the boat. There are times that I believe that is the best course. Generally, I am a conservative when it comes to most political issues.

Sadducees were influenced by Hellenistic culture and were willing to make compromises. That could be both a good or bad thing depending on what aspect of Greek culture was co-opted.

The Zealots wanted real-world action and were willing to put their lives on the line to see it happen. They were tired of talk and wanted to do something to get rid of the Romans. They were willing to die rather than live under oppressive Roman rule. Yet, their actions threatened the entire society. Although you probably can’t blame them for everything, Zealot groups likely instigated much of the revolutionary rhetoric that led to Rome’s destruction of the second Temple.

The Essenes wanted to avoid the impurity of sinful living and compromises with both Roman rule and Hellenistic culture. They sought to develop a community that took care of each other, held possessions in common, honored authority and attempted to live a disciplined life. They focused on purity and were known for strict discipline. The Essenes looked forward to the final days when God would restore all things as they should be. They celebrated communal holy meals and practiced ritual baptisms.

The Essenes were students of the Scriptures. They memorized and transcribed it. They gave us the Qumran scrolls, which has become one of the best sources of manuscripts for the Hebrew Scriptures.

The Essenes were far from perfect. They basically gathered together in their own remote communities and completely detached from the rest of the world. They had a very dualistic worldview where everyone who was not in their community was considered “A Son of Darkness.” They, of course, where the “Sons of Light.”

The Essenes did not focus on loving those outside of their community. Theywould have had a big problem with how Jesus interacted with those who were considered sons of darkness or sinners. Jesus actively engaged the culture instead of cocooning from it. From what we can tell based on how the early church acted, Jesus probably had a lax attitude toward the purity laws. The Essenes were purity law fanatics by comparison.

Jesus modeled out what it meant to love even the worst sinner or lost soul. The Essenes would not have viewed this approach as godly since they took a very hard line stance on anyone not part of their community.

Jesus worshipped and taught at the Temple. The Essenes thought it had been corrupted by the ruling elite. While the Essene focus on purity, discipline and community are commendable, their complete separation from the rest of the world was unhealthy and misguided since God had called the Jewish people to be a light to the nations. They thought they were preserving their light by isolating themselves. Jesus would have likely criticized them for hiding it under a bushel basket.

Each of the major sects thought they were right and the others were wrong. They all thought they were the true Jews. This reveals how pride can keep us from seeing the good and bad in others as well as ourselves. It is kind of refreshing (and disturbing) to see that not much has changed about human nature in 2,000 years.

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