ISRAEL STORY 12 – Sects in Judaism around the time of Jesus


Collins, Raymond F.  The Birth of the New Testament: The Origin and Develoment of the First Christian Generation.  (Crossroad, New York, 1993).

Dunn, James D.G.  Jesus Remembered.  Volume 1 of Christianity in the Making.  (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 2003).

Ehrman, Bart D.  Lost Scriptures: Books that Did Not Make It into the New Testament.  (Oxford Univ. Press, Oxford , 2003).

Evans, Craig A.  and Emanuel Tov, editors.  Exploring the Origins of the Bible: Canon Formation in Historical, Literary, and Theological Perspective.  (Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, 2008).

Farmer, William Reuben.  Maccabees, Zealots and Josephus: An Inquiry into Jewish Nationalism in the Greco-Roman Period.  (Columbia University Press, New York, 1956).

Grant, Robert M. with David Tracy.  A Short History of the Interpretation of the Bible.  Second Edition, Revised and Enlarged.  (Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 1984).

McDonald, Lee Martin.  The Biblical Cannon: Its Origin, Transmission, and Authority.  (Hendrickson, Peabody MA, 2007).

Metzger, Bruce Manning.  The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption and Restoration.  (Oxford University Press, New York, 1964).

Neusner, Jacob.  First Century Judaism in Crisis.  (Abingdon, Nashville, 1975).

Pelikan, Jaroslav.  Whose Bible Is It?  A Short History of the Scriptures.  (Penguin, London, 2005).

Rost, Leonhard.  Judaism Outside the Hebrew Canon: An Introduction to the Documents.  (Abingdon, Nashville, 1971)

Rowley, H.H.  The Growth of the Old Testament.  (Harper and Row, New York, 1950).

Schniedewind, William M.  How the Bible became a Book.  (Cambridge Univ. Press, New York, 2004)

Wurthwein, Ernst.  The Text of the Old Testament.  Translated by Erroll F. Rhodes.  (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1979).



Neusner p. 37: The Sadduccees were most influential among landholders and merchants, the Pharisees among the middle and lower urban classes, the Essenes among the disenchanted of both these classes.”

Much of what we know about these groups comes from the NT, and other writings, which have clear biases of their own.  So one has to be careful.

Careful study (with additional resources) of these groups and the times will help us understand Jesus and the NT texts better.  Nationalism and apocalyptic thinking were powerful currents in the time of Jesus.   Apocalyptic thinking saw a coming battle between forces of good vs forces of evil, the angels of God fighting on the side of God’s people.

The gospels, with a few exceptions, do not show Jesus as strongly apocalyptic in his thinking.  BUT, with the talk of the Kingdom of God being imminent, Jesus is clearly nationalistic.  He may have differed from the Zealots on how to get there.



Dunn p. 267: “Of ongoing issues, the most fundamental is whether we know enough about the Pharisees to draw a rounded picture of them.  As we have learned more about Second temple Judaism, the more it has become apparent that we know less about the Pharisees than we previously took for granted …”

Dunn p. 268: “The Pharisees very name, generally agreed to signify ‘separated ones’, and thus indicating a wider perception of the Pharisees as a group who defined themselves by their concern to keep themselves apart – a primarily purity concern.”   Not so much themselves over and against other Jews, but for pushing the idea of a holy people separated from Romans / gentiles.



Dunn p. 269: “Where the Pharisees stood out most clearly among their contemporaries, however, was in their concern to keep the law with scrupulous accuracy and exactness, and in their development of a distinctive halakhic (legal) interpretation of Torah, the ‘traditions of their fathers’, the so-called ‘oral law’.”

Dunn p. 270: to say the above is NOT to suggest the simplistic charge of “legalism”.  The Pharisees were FAR more flexible than the folks at Qumran and more lenient than Jesus on divorce.

Neusner p. 26: “The Temple was destroyed, but it was destroyed because of a brave and courageous, if hopeless war.  That war was waged not for the glory of a king or for the aggrandizement of a people, but in the hope that at its successful conclusion, pagan rule would be extirpated from the holy land.”

Neusner p. 29: “The sages regarded gentile rulers in Palestine as robbers, without any rights whatsoever either in the land or over its inhabitants.”

Paul is the only Pharisee from whom we can hear directly in the time period before the destruction of the Temple – no others left a written record.  As noted above, in the gospels we get a portrayal that comes from a biased source.



Neusner p. 36:  upper class, urban.  “They stood for strict adherence to the written word in religious matters, conservatism in both ritual and belief.. Their name probably derived from the priesthood of Zaddoq, established by David ten centuries earlier.  They differed from the Pharisees especially on the doctrine of revelation.  The acknowledged Scripture as the only authority, themselves as its sole arbiters.”

Neusner p. 37: “The Pharisees claimed that Scripture and the traditional oral interpretation were one.  To the Sadducees such a claim of unity was spurious and masked innovation.”

Farmer p. 189: The Sadducees were the major party of collaboration with the Greeks and then the Romans while the Pharisees, Essenes, and Zealots were parties of resistance (though they differed greatly in the ‘how to’ of resistance)

Dunn p. 271: “Since Judea was a temple state, that placed the levers of political, religious, economic, and social power firmly in their hands, to the extent permitted by Rome and the Herods.  This is a fact of considerable importance for any study of Jesus in his historical setting: it not only reminds us that the Judaism of Jesus’ time was a socio-political-religious complex; but it also means that so far as Jewish involvement in the death of Jesus is concerned we can speak realistically only of the high priestly faction.”


“Community Rule” discovered in cave 1 at Qumran, clearly a central document.

Rost p. 168 – may have been written around 130 BCE.  The settlement founded perhaps 10 years earlier

Rost p. 169: “The Community Rule gives us an insight into the teachings and way of life of a splinter group within late Judaism.  It was established by priests probably belonging to the family of the high priest.  Through strict observance of the Law, especially the regulations governing ritual purity for the priests, it sought to require the laity who asked to join of their own free will to observe the priestly regulations and, apparently, to accept celibacy or continence within marriage.  The purpose of this asceticism was to cause the members of the group to take seriously the imminent expectation of the day of salvation, nourished as it was on contemporary interpretation of the prophetical writings, assuring them that they would thereby reserve a place in the kingdom of light.”

Dunn p. 271: the Qumran community was not the only location for the Essenes – they lived in other towns too, perhaps even Jerusalem.









Neusner: p. 34: “The purity they sought was not from common dirt, but from the uncleanness of this world, symbolized by contact with the impure insects or objects Scripture had declared unclean.  In their minds that uncleanness carried a far deeper meaning.  This age was impure and therefore would soon be coming to an end.

Farmer p. 161: May have been spiritual cousins of the Maccabees at the beginning; they stood against the Sadducees on many items, close to the Pharisees on some things but against them on others.  Perhaps John the Baptist had an association with them at some early point.  Their settlement at Qumran destroyed during the war (68-70AD).  Their strong dualism, belief in a coming war may have actually fed the Zealots.

Farmer p. 169: “A careful reading of these selected portions of the scroll of the War of the Sons of Light against the Sons of Darkness makes it perfectly clear that in the Qumran community we are dealing with a group of Jewish patriots for whom there is absolutely no conflict between religion and patriotism, piety and nationalism, prayer and the sword.  Their patriotism grows out of their religion, their nationalism out of their piety, and the sword with which they fight is a consecrated weapon.  The very strength with which they strike is strength from God.”



Accepted the oral tradition of the Pharisees but wanted to restore Israel to holiness through war with the Romans.

Farmer p. 27 ff – a revival / expression of nationalism similar to Maccabees who revolted against the Greeks.

Farmer p. 175: “This inquiry into Jewish nationalism has indicated that the Zealots were not, as Josephus pictured them, purely selfish and secularly motivated.  But rather, like their prototypes the early Maccabees, they were deeply patriotic and motivated by a dynamic theology of zeal for the Torah.  As we have already seen, this zeal for the Law included zeal for the Jerusalem temple.”  And deep confidence in God’s promise of the Land to Israel.


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