THE MAJOR RELIGIOUS DIVISIONS IN 1ST CENTURY AD PALESTINE
SAMARITANS: In the New Testament "Samaritans" is the name given to the inhabitants of the district of Samaria, north of Judea and south of the Galilee. To the Orthodox Jews and Galileans, the Samaritans were a heretical and schismatic group of spurious worshipers of the God of Israel, who were detested even more than pagans. As a people they were descendants of foreign tribes the Assyrians had imported into the former northern kingdom of Israel in the 8th century BC (see 2 Kings, chapter 17) who had accepted the worship of Yahweh along with their own foreign gods. The Samaritans did not worship at the Temple in Jerusalem; instead they worshiped and made sacrifice to Yahweh at Mt. Gerizim in Samaria. They only accepted the first 5 books of Moses and their translation of these books had been altered to reflect their customs and beliefs. In chapter 4 of St. John's Gospel, Jesus tells the Samaritan woman that she and her people worship what they do not understand [John 4:22].
SADDUCEES: Greek = saddukaioi, always used in the plural. The etymology is uncertain. Some scholars suggest that the word Sadducees is from the Hebrew "Zadokite", descendants of Zadok the high priest from which all high priests were to descend from King David's time. Other scholars believe the term derives from the Hebrew word saddik meaning righteous. The Sadducees were a religious and political party within Judaism in the New Testament period. The Sadducees were mostly composed of the priestly aristocracy and their dependents and supporters. The New Testament writers and the 1st century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus ascribe to them distinct beliefs different from the beliefs of the Pharisees. The Sadducees, who were hostile to Jesus and his ministry, denied the resurrection of the dead and the existence of angels and spirits (Matthew 22:23; Acts 23:6-8). They accepted only the Torah, the written law, as authoritative and rejected the Pharisaic doctrine of the traditions of the elders (the Oral Tradition). The Sadducees also accepted Roman domination and many embraced Greek culture. They controlled the Law court known as the Sanhedrin. As a group the Sadducees disappeared with the destruction of the temple and the priesthood in AD70.
PHARISEES: Hebrew = p'rusim, Aramaic =p'rissayya, meaning 'separate'.
The Pharisees were a religious and political party within Judaism in the New Testament period which was less influential than the Sadducees. The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, who identified himself with the party of the Pharisees, wrote that there were only 6,000 Pharisees during the time of Roman-Herodian rule . The Apostle Paul admitted that he was a Pharisee in Acts 23:6; 26:5 and in Philippians 3:5, and Nicodemus was a Pharisee [John 3:1; 7:45-52]. Like the Sadducees they were extremely hostile to Jesus and his ministry. As a group, they accepted as inspired Scripture the Torah, the historical writings, the wisdom writings, and the works of the prophets. In other words, they accepted as canon all the 46 books of the Old Testament that are in our modern Catholic translations. They also accepted the Oral Tradition passed down by Moses to the elders and believed in the resurrection of the dead. The Pharisees conceived Judaism as a religion centered upon the observance of the Law, and they interpreted the obligations of the law in the most severe manner. The Israel under the Law, which the Pharisees conceived, was a theocracy and a national-religion. They were opposed to the rule of the Romans and their Herodian puppet kings, although they had little sympathy with the fanatic nationalists like the Zealots who espoused armed rebellion against Rome. As a group they stood in opposition to the Sadducees but were in close alliance with the scribes, the teachers, interpreters of the Law, and were considered to be the champions of the common people. Jesus condemned the Pharisees for their legalism and pronounced seven curses against them in Matthew 23:13-36. Pharisaic Judaism alone survived the catastrophe of the destruction of the Temple and the beginning of the great Diaspora in 70AD. The Pharisees were the founders of Rabbinical Judaism.
ESSENES: The smallest and least influential of the 1st century religious groups in Palestine. Very little is known about them except the information recorded by Philo of Alexandra in the first half of the 1st century AD and by the Jewish historian Josephus in the second half of the 1st century AD. Both writers mention that the Essenes had a reputation for peculiar sanctity. Some members took a vow of chastity and abstained from marriage, but both married and unmarried Essenes lived together in Essene communities in which the obligations of the Sinai Covenant were strictly observed. Their Sabbath observance was more rigid even than that of the Pharisees. The Essenes believed in immortality of the soul, and they had a profound interest in the Torah, which they studied and discussed in groups. Living, either married or unmarried, in their separate communities, the Essenes shared goods in common. Many scholars believe that the Qumran Community (where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered) was an Essene community even though no single document found there identifies the community as Essene.
ZEALOTS: 1st century AD political group that espoused armed rebellion against Roman rule. One of Jesus' apostles, Simon (not Simon-Peter) was a zealot.
Michal Hunt, Copyright © 1991 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.