Chapter 1 | Table
of Contents | Chapter 3
The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
THE ASCENT: FROM THE RIVER JORDAN TO THE MOUNT OF
THE DEPUTATION FROM JERUSALEM
THE THREE SECTS OF THE PHARISEES, SADDUCEES, AND ESSENES
EXAMINATION OF THEIR
(St. John 1:19-24)
chapter contains, among other matter, a detailed and critical examination of
the great Jewish Sects, such as was necessary in a work on 'The Times.' as well
as 'The Life,' of Christ.
APART from the repulsively carnal form which it had taken,
there is something absolutely sublime in the continuance and intensity of the
Jewish expectation of the Messiah. It outlived not only the delay of long
centuries, but the persecutions and scattering of the people; it continued
under the disappointment of the Maccabees, the rule of a Herod, the
administration of a corrupt and contemptible Priesthood, and, finally, the
government of Rome as represented by a Pilate; nay, it grew in intensity almost
in proportion as it seemed unlikely of realisation. These are facts which show
that the doctrine of the Kingdom, as the sum and substance of Old Testament
teaching, was the very heart of Jewish religious life; while, at the same time,
they evidence a moral elevation which placed abstract religious conviction far
beyond the reach of passing events, and clung to it with a tenacity which
nothing could loosen.
Tidings of what these many months had occurred by the banks of
the Jordan must have early reached Jerusalem, and ultimately stirred to the
depths its religious society, whatever its preoccupation with ritual questions
or political matters. For it was not an ordinary movement, nor in connection
with any of the existing parties, religious or political. An extraordinary
preacher, of extraordinary appearance and habits, not aiming, like others,
after renewed zeal in legal observances, or increased Levitical purity, but
preaching repentance and moral renovation in preparation for the coming
Kingdom, and sealing this novel doctrine with an equally novel rite, had drawn
from town and country multitudes of all classes - inquirers, penitents and
novices. The great and burning question seemed, what the real character and
meaning of it was? or rather, whence did it issue, and whither did it tend? The
religious leaders of the people proposed to answer this by instituting an
inquiry through a trust-worthy deputation. In the account of this by St. John
certain points seem clearly implied;2
on others only suggestions can be ventured.
2. i. 19-28.
That the interview referred to occurred after the
Baptism of Jesus, appears from the whole context.3
Similarly, the statement that the deputation which came to John was 'sent from
Jerusalem' by 'the Jews,' implies that it proceeded from authority, even if it
did not bear more than a semi-official character. For, although the expression
'Jews' in the fourth Gospel generally conveys the idea of contrast to
the disciples of Christ (for ex. St. John vii. 15), yet it refers to the people
in their corporate capacity, that is, as represented by their constituted
On the other hand, although the term 'scribes and elders' does not occur in the
Gospel of St. John,5
it by no means follows that 'the Priests and Levites' sent from the capital
either represented the two great divisions of the Sanhedrin, or, indeed, that
the deputation issued from the Great Sanhedrin itself. The former suggestion is
entirely ungrounded; the latter at least problematic. It seems a legitimate
inference that, considering their own tendencies, and the political dangers
connected with such a step, the Sanhedrin of Jerusalem would not have come to
the formal resolution of sending a regular deputation on such an inquiry.
Moreover, a measure like this would have been entirely outside their recognised
mode of procedure. The Sanhedrin did not, and could not, originate charges. It
only investigated those brought before it. It is quite true that judgment upon
false prophets and religious seducers lay with it;6
but the Baptist had not as yet said or done anything to lay him open to such an
accusation. He had in no way infringed the Law by word or deed, nor had he even
claimed to be a prophet.7
If, nevertheless, it seems most probable that 'the Priests and Levites' came
from the Sanhedrin, we are led to the conclusion that theirs was an informal
mission, rather privately arranged than publicly determined upon.
3. This point is fully discussed by Lücke,
Evang. Joh., vol. i. pp. 396-398.
4. Comp. St. John v. 15, 16; ix. 18, 22; xviii. 12, 31.
5. So Professor Westcott, in his Commentary on the passage (Speaker's Comment., N.T., vol. ii. p. 18), where he notes that the expression in St. John viii. 3 is unauthentic.
6. Sanh. i. 5.
7. Of this the Sanhedrin must have been perfectly aware. Comp. St. Matt. iii. 7; St. Luke iii. 15 &c.
And with this the character of the deputies agrees. 'Priests
and Levites' - the colleagues of John the Priest - would be selected for such
an errand, rather than leading Rabbinic authorities. The presence of the latter
would, indeed, have given to the movement an importance, if not a sanction,
which the Sanhedrin could not have wished. The only other authority in
Jerusalem from which such a deputation could have issued was the so-called
'Council of the Temple,' 'Judicature of the Priests,' or 'Elders of the
which consisted of the fourteen chief officers of the Temple. But although they
may afterwards have taken their full part in the condemnation of Jesus,
ordinarily their duty was only connected with the services of the Sanctuary,
and not with criminal questions or doctrinal investigations.9
It would be too much to suppose, that they would take the initiative in such a
matter on the ground that the Baptist was a member of the Priesthood. Finally,
it seems quite natural that such an informal inquiry, set on foot most probably
by the Sanhedrists, should have been entrusted exclusively to the Pharisaic
party. It would in no way have interested the Sadducees; and what members of
that party had seen of John10
must have convinced them that his views and aims lay entirely beyond their
8. For ex. Yoma 1. 5.
'The Temple, its Ministry and Services,' p. 75. Dr. Geiger (Urschr. u. Uebersetz. d. Bibel, pp. 113, 114) ascribes to them, however, a much wider jurisdiction. Some of his inferences (such as at pp. 115, 116) seem to me historically unsupported.
10. St. Matt. iii. 7 &c.
The origin of the two great parties of Pharisees and Sadducees
has already been traced.11
They mark, not sects, but mental directions, such as in their principles are
natural and universal, and, indeed, appear in connection with all metaphysical12
questions. They are the different modes in which the human mind views
supersensuous problems, and which afterwards, when one-sidedly followed out,
harden into diverging schools of thought. If Pharisees and Sadducees were not
'sects' in the sense of separation from the unity of the Jewish ecclesiastical
community, neither were theirs 'heresies' in the conventional, but only in the
original sense of tendency, direction, or, at most, views, differing from those
Our sources of information here are: the New Testament, Josephus, and Rabbinic
writings. The New Testament only marks, in broad outlines and popularly, the
peculiarities of each party; but from the absence of bias it may safely be
regarded14 as the
most trustworthy authority on the matter. The inferences which we derive from
the statements of Josephus,15
though always to be qualified by our general estimate of his animus,16
accord with those from the New Testament. In regard to Rabbinic writings, we
have to bear in mind the admittedly unhistorical character of most of their
notices, the strong party-bias which coloured almost all their statements
regarding opponents, and their constant tendency to trace later views and
practices to earlier times.
11. Comp. Book I. ch. viii.
12. I use the term metaphysical here in the sense of all that is above the natural, not merely the speculative, but the supersensuous generally.
13. The word airesiV has received its
present meaning chiefly from the adjective attaching to it in 2 Pet. ii. 1. In Acts xxiv. 5, 14, xxviii. 22, it is vituperatively applied to Christians; in 1
Cor. xi. 19, Gal. v. 20, it seems to apply to diverging practices of a sinful kind; in Titus iii. 10, the 'heretic' seems one who held or taught diverging opinions or practices. Besides, it occurs in the N.T. once to mark the Sadducees, and twice the Pharisees (Acts v. 17; xv. 5, and xxvi. 5).
14. I mean on historical, not theological grounds.
15. I here refer to the following passages: Jewish War ii. 8. 14; Ant. xiii. 5. 9; 10. 5, 6; xvii. 2. 4; xviii. 1, 2, 3, 4.
16. For a full discussion of the character and writings of Josephus, I would refer to the article in Dr. Smith's Dict. of Chr. Biogr. vol. iii.
Without entering on the principles and supposed practices of
'the fraternity' or 'association' (Chebher, Chabhurah, Chabhurta)
of Pharisees, which was comparatively small, numbering only about 6,000
following particulars may be of interest. The object of the association was
twofold: to observe in the strictest manner, and according to traditional law,
all the ordinances concerning Levitical purity, and to be extremely punctilious
in all connected with religious dues (tithes and all other dues). A person
might undertake only the second, without the first of these obligations. In
that case he was simply a Neeman, an 'accredited one' with whom one
might enter freely into commerce, as he was supposed to have paid all dues. But
a person could not undertake the vow of Levitical purity without also taking
the obligation of all religious dues. If he undertook both vows he was a Chabher,
or associate. Here there were four degrees, marking an ascending scale of
Levitical purity, or separation from all that was profane.18
In opposition to these was the Am ha-arets, or 'country people' (the
people which knew not, or cared not for the Law, and were regarded as
'cursed'). But it must not be thought that every Chabher was either a
learned Scribe, or that every Scribe was a Chabher. On the contrary, as
a man might be a Chabher without being either a Scribe or an elder,19
so there must have been sages, and even teachers, who did not belong to the
association, since special rules are laid down for the reception of such.20
Candidates had to be formally admitted into the 'fraternity' in the presence of
three members. But every accredited public 'teacher' was, unless anything was
known to the contrary, supposed to have taken upon him the obligations referred
family of a Chabher belonged, as a matter of course, to the community;22
but this ordinance was afterwards altered.23
The Neeman undertook these four obligations: to tithe what he ate, what
he sold, and what he bought, and not to be a guest with an Am ha-arets.24
The full Chabher undertook not to sell to an 'Am ha-arets' any fluid or
dry substance (nutriment or fruit), not to buy from him any such fluid, not to
be a guest with him, not to entertain him as a guest in his own clothes (on
account of their possible impurity) - to which one authority adds other
particulars, which, however, were not recognised by the Rabbis generally as of
17. Jos. Ant. xvii. 2. 4.
18. Chag. ii. 5, 7; comp. Tohor. vii. 5.
19. For ex. Kidd. 33 b.
20. Bekh. 30.
21. Abba Saul would also have freed all students from that formality.
22. Bekhor. 30.
23. Comp. the suggestion as to the significant time when this alteration was introduced, in
'Sketches of Jewish Social Life,' pp. 228, 229.
24. Dem. ii. 2.
25. Demai ii.3.
These two great obligations of the 'official' Pharisee, or
'Associate' are pointedly referred to by Christ - both that in regard to tithing
(the vow of the Neeman);26
and that in regard to Levitical purity (the special vow of the Chabher).27
In both cases they are associated with a want of corresponding inward reality,
and with hypocrisy. These charges cannot have come upon the people by surprise,
and they may account for the circumstance that so many of the learned kept
aloof from the 'Association' as such. Indeed, the sayings of some of the Rabbis
in regard to Pharisaism and the professional Pharisee are more withering than
any in the New Testament. It is not necessary here to repeat the well-known
description, both in the Jerusalem and the Babylon Talmud, of the seven kinds
of 'Pharisees,' of whom six (the 'Shechemite,' the 'stumbling,' the 'bleeding,'
the 'mortar,' the 'I want to know what is incumbent on me,' and 'the Pharisee
from fear') mark various kinds of unreality, and only one is 'the Pharisee from
love.'28 Such an
expression as 'the plague of Pharisaism' is not uncommon; and a silly pietist,
a clever sinner, and a female Pharisee, are ranked among 'the troubles of
life.'29 'Shall we
then explain a verse according to the opinions of the Pharisees?' asks a Rabbi,
in supreme contempt for the arrogance of the fraternity.30
'It is as a tradition among the pharisees31
to torment themselves in this world, and yet they will gain nothing by it in
the next.' The Sadducees had some reason for the taunt, that 'the Pharisees
would by-and-by subject the globe of the sun itself to their purifications,'32
the more so that their assertions of purity were sometimes conjoined with
Epicurean maxims, betokening a very different state of mind, such as, 'Make
haste to eat and drink, for the world which we quit resembles a wedding feast;'
or this: 'My son, if thou possess anything, enjoy thyself, for there is no
pleasure in Hades,33
and death grants no respite. But if thou sayest, What then would I leave to my
sons and daughters? Who will thank thee for this appointment in Hades?' Maxims
these to which, alas! too many of their recorded stories and deeds form a
26. In St. Luke xi.42; xviii. 12; St. Matt. xxiii. 23.
27. In St. Luke xi. 39, 41; St. Matt. xxiii. 25, 26.
28. Sot. 22 b; Jer. Ber. ix. 7.
29. Sot. iii. 4.
30. Pes. 70 b.
31. Abhoth de R. Nathan 5.
32. Jer. Chag. 79 d; Tos. Chag. iii.
33. Erub. 54 a. I give the latter clause, not as in our edition of the Talmud, but according to a more correct reading (Levy, Neuhebr. Wörterb. vol. ii. p. 102).
34. It could serve no good purpose to give instances. They are readily accessible to those who have taste or curiosity in that direction.
But it would be grossly unjust to identify Pharisaism, as a
religious direction, with such embodiments of it or even with the official
'fraternity.' While it may be granted that the tendency and logical sequence of
their views and practices were such, their system, as opposed to Sadduceeism,
had very serious bearings: dogmatic, ritual, and legal. It is, however,
erroneous to suppose, either that their system represented traditionalism
itself, or that Scribes and Pharisees are convertible terms,35
while the Sadducees represented the civil and political element. The Pharisees
represented only the prevailing system of, not traditionalism itself; while the
Sadducees also numbered among them many learned men. They were able to enter
into controversy, often protracted and fierce, with their opponents, and they
acted as members of the Sanhedrin, although they had diverging traditions of
their own, and even, as it would appear, at one time a complete code of
Moreover, the admitted fact, that when in office the Sadducees conformed to the
principles and practices of the Pharisees, proves at least that they must have
been acquainted with the ordinances of traditionalism.38
Lastly, there were certain traditional ordinances on which both parties were at
one.39 Thus it
seems Sadduceeism was in a sense rather a speculative than a practical system,
starting from simple and well-defined principles, but wide-reaching in its
possible consequences. Perhaps it may best be described as a general reaction
against the extremes of Pharisaism, springing from moderate and rationalistic
tendencies; intended to secure a footing within the recognised bounds of
Judaism; and seeking to defend its principles by a strict literalism of
interpretation and application. If so, these interpretations would be intended
rather for defensive than offensive purposes, and the great aim of the party
would be after rational freedom - or, it might be, free rationality.
Practically, the party would, of course, tend in broad, and often grossly
35. So, erroneously, Wellhausen, in his treatise 'Pharisäer u. Sadduc.'; and
partially, as it seems to me, even Schürer (Neutest. Zeitgesch.). In other respects also these two learned men seem too much under the influence of Geiger
36. Megill. Taan. Per. iv. ed. Warsh. p. 8 a.
37. Wellhausen has carried his criticisms and doubts of the Hebrew Scholion on the Megill. Taan. (or 'Roll of Fasts') too far.
38. Even such a book as the Meg. Taan. does not accuse them of absolute ignorance, but only of being unable to prove their dicta from Scripture (comp. Pereq x.
p. 15 b, which may well mark the extreme of Anti-Sadduceeism).
39. Sanh. 33 t Horay 4 a.
The fundamental dogmatic differences between the
Pharisees and Sadducees concerned: the rule of faith and practice; the 'after
death;' the existence of angels and spirits; and free will and pre-destination.
In regard to the first of these points, it has already been stated that the
Sadducees did not lay down the principle of absolute rejection of all
traditions as such, but that they were opposed to traditionalism as represented
and carried out by the Pharisees. When put down by sheer weight of authority,
they would probably carry the controversy further, and retort on their
opponents by an appeal to Scripture as against their traditions, perhaps
ultimately even by an attack on traditionalism; but always as represented by
A careful examination of the statements of Josephus on this subject will show
that they convey no more than this.41
The Pharisaic view of this aspect of the controversy appears, perhaps, most
satisfactorily because indirectly, in certain sayings of the Mishnah, which
attribute all national calamities to those persons, whom they adjudge to
eternal perdition, who interpret Scripture 'not as does the Halakhah,'
or established Pharisaic rule.42
In this respect, then, the commonly received idea concerning the Pharisees and
Sadducees will require to be seriously modified. As regards the practice
of the Pharisees, as distinguished from that of the Sadducees, we may safely
treat the statements of Josephus as the exaggerated representations of a
partisan, who wishes to place his party in the best light. It is, indeed, true
that the Pharisees, 'interpreting the legal ordinances with rigour,'4344
imposed on themselves the necessity of much self-denial, especially in regard
to food,45 but that
their practice was under the guidance of reason, as Josephus asserts, is
one of those bold mis-statements with which he has too often to be credited.
His vindication of their special reverence for age and authority46
must refer to the honours paid by the party to 'the Elders,' not to the old.
And that there was sufficient ground for Sadducean opposition to Pharisaic
traditionalism, alike in principle and in practice, will appear from the
following quotation, to which we add, by way of explanation, that the wearing
of phylacteries was deemed by that party of Scriptural obligation, and that the
phylactery for the head was to consist (according to tradition) of four compartments.
'Against the words of the Scribes is more punishable than against the words of
Scripture. He who says, No phylacteries, so as to transgress the words of
Scripture, is not guilty (free); five compartments - to add to the words of the
Scribes - he is guilty.'4748
40. Some traditional explanation of the Law of Moses was absolutely necessary, if it was
to be applied to existing circumstances. It would be a great historical
inaccuracy to imagine that the Sadducees rejected the whole paradosiV twn presbuterwn (St. Matt.
xv. 2) from Ezra downwards.
41. This is the meaning of Ant. xiii. 10. 6, and clearly implied in xviii. 1,3,4, and War ii. 8. 14.
42. Ab. iii. 11; v 8.
43. Jos. War i. 5. 2.
44. M. Derenbourg (Hist. de la Palest., p. 122, note) rightly remarks, that the
Rabbinic equivalent for Josephus' akribeia
is )rafm:w@x, heaviness, and that the Pharisees were the Nyrymxm or 'makers
heavy.' What a commentary this on the charge of Jesus about 'the heavy burdens' of the Pharisees! St. Paul uses the same term as Josephus to describe the Pharisaic system, where our A.V. renders 'the perfect manner' (Acts xxii. 3). Comp. also Acts xxvi. 5: kata thn
45. Ant. xviii. 1. 3.
46. Ant. xviii. 1. 3.
47. Sanh. xi. 3.
48. The subject is discussed at length in Jer. Ber. i. 7 (p. 3 b), where the
superiority of the Scribe over the Prophet is shown (1) from Mic. ii. 6
(without the words in italics), the one class being the Prophets
('prophesy not'), the other the Scribes ('prophesy'); (2) from the fact that the Prophets needed the attestation of miracles. (Duet. xiii. 2), but not the Scribes (Deut. xvii. 11).
The second doctrinal difference between Pharisees and Sadducees
concerned the 'after death.' According to the New Testament,49
the Sadducees denied the resurrection of the dead, while Josephus, going
further, imputes to them denial of reward or punishment after death,50
and even the doctrine that the soul perishes with the body.51
The latter statement may be dismissed as among those inferences which
theological controversialists are too fond of imputing to their opponents. This
is fully borne out by the account of a later work,52
to the effect, that by successive misunderstandings of the saying of Antigonus
of Socho, that men were to serve God without regard to reward, his later
pupils had arrived at the inference that there was no other world - which,
however, might only refer to the Pharisaic ideal of 'the world to come,'
not to the denial of the immortality of the soul - and no resurrection of the
dead. We may therefore credit Josephus with merely reporting the common
inference of his party. But it is otherwise in regard to their denial of the
resurrection of the dead. Not only Josephus, but the New Testament and Rabbinic
writings attest this. The Mishnah expressly states53
that the formula 'from age to age,' or rather 'from world to world,' had been
introduced as a protest against the opposite theory; while the Talmud, which
records disputations between Gamaliel and the Sadducees54
on the subject of the resurrection, expressly imputes the denial of this
doctrine to the 'Scribes of the Sadducees.' In fairness it is perhaps only
right to add that, in the discussion, the Sadducees seem only to have actually
denied that there was proof for this doctrine in the Pentateuch, and that they
ultimately professed themselves convinced by the reasoning of Gamaliel.55
Still the concurrent testimony of the New Testament and of Josephus leaves no
doubt, that in this instance their views had not been misrepresented. Whether
or not their opposition to the doctrine of the Resurrection arose in the first
instance from, or was prompted by, Rationalistic views, which they endeavoured
to support by an appeal to the letter of the Pentateuch, as the source of
traditionalism, it deserves notice that in His controversy with the Sadducees
Christ appealed to the Pentateuch in proof of His teaching.56
49. St. Matt xxii. 23, and parallel passages; Acts iv. 1, 2; xxiii. 8.
50. War ii. 8. 14.
51. Ant. xviii 1. 4.
52. Ab. d. R. Nath.5.
53. Ber ix. 5.
54. This is admitted even by Geiger (Urschr. u. Uebers. p. 130, note), though in
the passage above referred to he would emendate: 'Scribes of the Samaritans.' The passage, however, implies that these were Sadducean Scribes, and that they were both willing and able to enter into theological controversy with
55. Rabbi Gamaliel's proof was taken from Deut. i. 8: 'Which Jehovah sware unto your fathers to give unto them.' It is not said 'unto you,' but unto 'them,' which implies the resurrection of the dead. The argument is kindred in character, but far inferior in solemnity and weight, to that employed by our Lord, St. Matt. xxii. 32, from which it is evidently taken. (See
book v. ch. iv., the remarks on that passage.)
56. It is a curious circumstance in connection with the question of the Sadducees, that it raised another point in controversy between the Pharisees and the
'Samaritans,' or, as I would read it, the Sadducees, since 'the Samaritans' (Sadducees?) only allowed marriage with the betrothed, not the actually wedded
wife of a deceased childless brother (Jer Yebam. i. 6, p. 3 a). The
Sadducees in the Gospel argue on the Pharisaic theory, apparently for the
twofold object of casting ridicule on the doctrine of the Resurrection, and on the Pharisaic practice of marriage with the espoused wife of a deceased brother.
with this was the equally Rationalistic opposition to belief in Angels and
Spirits. It is only mentioned in the New Testament,57
but seems almost to follow as a corollary. Remembering what the Jewish
Angelology was, one can scarcely wonder that in controversy the Sadducees
should have been led to the opposite extreme.
57. Acts xxiii.
The last dogmatic difference between the two 'sects' concerned
that problem which has at all times engaged religious thinkers: man's free will
and God's pre-ordination, or rather their compatibility. Josephus - or the
reviser whom he employed - indeed, uses the purely heathen expression 'fate' (eimarmenh)58
to designate the Jewish idea of the pre-ordination of God. But, properly
understood, the real difference between the Pharisees and Sadducees seems to
have amounted to this: that the former accentuated God's preordination, the
latter man's free will; and that, while the Pharisees admitted only a partial
influence of the human element on what happened, or the co-operation of the
human with the Divine, the Sadducees denied all absolute pre-ordination, and
made man's choice of evil or good, with its consequences of misery or
happiness, to depend entirely on the exercise of free will and
self-determination. And in this, like many opponents of 'Predestinarianism,'
they seem to have started from the principle, that it was impossible for God
'either to commit or to foresee [in the sense of fore-ordaining] anything
evil.' The mutual misunderstanding here was that common in all such
Josephus writes as if, according to the Pharisees, the chief part in every good
action depended upon fate [pre-ordination] rather than on man's doing, yet in
he disclaims for them the notion that the will of man was destitute of
spontaneous activity, and speaks somewhat confusedly - for he is by no means a
good reasoner - of 'a mixture' of the Divine and human elements, in which the
human will, with its sequence of virtue or wickedness, is subject to the will of
fate. A yet further modification of this statement occurs in another place,61
where we are told that, according to the Pharisees, some things depended upon
fate, and more on man himself. Manifestly, there is not a very wide difference
between this and the fundamental principle of the Sadducees in what we may
suppose its primitive form.
58. The expression is used in the heathen (philosophical) sense of fate by Philo,
De Incorrupt. Mundi. section 10. ed. Mangey, vol. ii. p. 496 (ed. Fref. p.
59. In Jewish War ii. 8. 14.
60. Ant. xviii. 1. 3.
61. Ant. xiii. 5. 9.
But something more will have to be said as illustrative of
Pharisaic teaching on this subject. No one who has entered into the spirit of
the Old Testament can doubt that its outcome was faith, in its twofold
aspect of acknowledgment of the absolute Rule, and simple submission to the
Will, of God. What distinguished this so widely from fatalism was what may be
termed Jehovahism - that is, the moral element in its thoughts of
God, and that He was ever presented as in paternal relationship to men.
But the Pharisees carried their accentuation of the Divine to the verge of
fatalism. Even the idea that God had created man with two impulses, the one to
good, the other to evil; and that the latter was absolutely necessary for the
continuance of this world, would in some measure trace the causation of moral
evil to the Divine Being. The absolute and unalterable pre-ordination of every
event, to its minutest details, is frequently insisted upon. Adam had been
shown all the generations that were to spring from him. Every incident in the
history of Israel had been foreordained, and the actors in it - for good or for
evil - were only instruments for carrying out the Divine Will. What were ever
Moses and Aaron? God would have delivered Israel out of Egypt, and given them
the Law, had there been no such persons. Similarly was it in regard to Solomon,
to Esther, to Nebuchadnezzar, and others. Nay, it was because man was
predestined to die that the serpent came to seduce our first parents. And as
regarded the history of each individual: all that concerned his mental and
physical capacity, or that would betide him, was prearranged. His name, place,
position, circumstances, the very name of her whom he was to wed, were
proclaimed in heaven, just as the hour of his death was foreordered. There
might be seven years of pestilence in the land, and yet no one died before his
time.62 Even if a
man inflicted a cut on his finger, he might be sure that this also had been
Nay, 'wheresoever a man was destined to die, thither would his feet carry him.'64
We can well understand how the Sadducees would oppose notions like these, and
all such coarse expressions of fatalism. And it is significant of the exaggeration
that neither the New Testament, nor Rabbinic writings, bring the charge of the
denial of God's prevision against the Sadducees.
62. Sanh. 29 a.
63. Chull. 7 b.
64. The following curious instance of this is given. On one occasion King Solomon, when
attended by his two Scribes, Elihoreph and Ahiah (both supposed to have been Ethiopians), suddenly perceived the Angel of Death. As he looked so sad, Solomon ascertained as its reason, that the two Scribes had been demanded at his hands. On this Solomon transported them by magic into the land of Luz,
where, according to legend, no man ever died. Next morning Solomon again
perceived the Angel of Death, but this time laughing, because, as he said.
Solomon had sent these men to the very place whence he had been ordered to
fetch them (Sukk, 53 a).
65. Those who understand the character of Josephus' writings will be at no loss for his reasons in this. It would suit his purpose to speak often of the fatalism of the Pharisees, and to represent them as a philosophical sect like the Stoics. The latter, indeed, he does in so many words.
But there is another aspect of this question also. While the
Pharisees thus held the doctrine of absolute preordination, side by side with
it they were anxious to insist on man's freedom of choice, his personal
responsibility, and moral obligation.66
Although every event depended upon God, whether a man served God or not was
entirely in his own choice. As a logical sequence of this, fate had no
influence as regarded Israel, since all depended on prayer, repentance, and
good works. Indeed, otherwise that repentance, on which Rabbinism so largely
insists, would have had no meaning. Moreover, it seems as if it had been
intended to convey that, while our evil actions were entirely our own choice,
if a man sought to amend his ways, he would be helped of God.67
It was, indeed, true that God had created the evil impulse in us; but He had
also given the remedy in the Law.68
This is parabolically represented under the figure of a man seated at the
parting of two ways, who warned all passers that if they chose one road it
would lead them among the thorns, while on the other brief difficulties would
end in a plain path (joy).69
Or, to put it in the language of the great Akiba:70
'Everything is foreseen; free determination is accorded to man; and the world
is judged in goodness.' With this simple juxtaposition of two propositions
equally true, but incapable of metaphysical combination, as are most things in
which the empirically cognisable and uncognisable are joined together, we are
content to leave the matter.
66. For details comp. Hamburger, Real-Encykl. ii. pp. 103-106 - though there is
some tendency to 'colouring' in this as in other articles of the work.
67. Yoma 38 b.
68. Baba B. 16 a.
69. Siphré on Deut. xi. 26, § 53, ed. Friedmann, p. 86 a.
70. Ab. iii. 15.
The other differences between the Pharisees and Sadducees can
be easily and briefly summed up. They concern ceremonial, ritual, and juridical
questions. In regard to the first, the opposition of the Sadducees to the
excessive scruples of the Pharisees on the subject of Levitical defilements led
to frequent controversy. Four points in dispute are mentioned, of which, however,
three read more like ironical comments than serious divergences. Thus, the
Sadducees taunted their opponents with their many lustrations, including that
of the Golden Candlestick in the Temple.71
Two other similar instances are mentioned.72
By way of guarding against the possibility of profanation, the Pharisees
enacted, that the touch of any thing sacred 'defiled' the hands. The Sadducees,
on the other hand, ridiculed the idea that the Holy Scriptures 'defiled' the
hands, but not such a book as Homer.73
In the same spirit, the Sadducees would ask the Pharisees how it came, that
water pouring from a clean into an unclean vessel did not lose its purity and
If these represent no serious controversies, on another ceremonial question
there was real difference, though its existence shows how far party-spirit
could lead the Pharisees. No ceremony was surrounded with greater care to
prevent defilement than that of preparing the ashes of the Red Heifer.75
What seem the original ordinances,76
directed that, for seven days previous to the burning of the Red Heifer, the
priest was to be kept in separation in the Temple, sprinkled with the ashes of
all sin-offerings, and kept from the touch of his brother-priests, with even
greater rigour than the High-Priest in his preparation for the Day of
Atonement. The Sadducees insisted that, as 'till sundown' was the rule in all
purification, the priest must be in cleanliness till then, before burning the
Red Heifer. But, apparently for the sake of opposition, and in contravention to
their own principles, the Pharisees would actually 'defile' the priest on his
way to the place of burning, and then immediately make him take a bath of
purification which had been prepared, so as to show that the Sadducees were in
In the same spirit, the Sadducees seem to have prohibited the use of anything
made from animals which were either interdicted as food, or by reason of their
not having been properly slaughtered; while the Pharisees allowed it, and, in
the case of Levitically clean animals which had died or been torn, even made
their skin into parchment, which might be used for sacred purposes.79
71. Jer. Chag. iii. 8; Tos. Chag. iii., where the reader will find sufficient proof that
the Sadducees were not in the wrong.
72. In Yad. iv. 6, 7.
73. The Pharisees replied by asking on what ground the bones of a High-Priest 'defiled,' but not those of a donkey. And when the Sadducees ascribed it to the
great value of the former, lest a man should profane the bones of his parents by making spoons of them, the Pharisees pointed out that the same argument applied to defilement by the Holy Scriptures. In general, it seems that the
Pharisees were afraid of the satirical comments of the Sadducees on their
doings (comp. Parah iii. 3).
74. Wellhausen rightly denounces the strained interpretation of Geiger, who would find
here - as in other points - hidden political allusions.
'The Temple, its Ministry and Services,' pp. 309, 312. The rubrics are in the Mishnic tractate Parab, and in Tos. Par.
76. Parah iii.; Tos. Par. 3.
77. Parah iii. 7.
78. The Mishnic passage is difficult, but I believe I have given the sense correctly.
79. Shabb. 108 a.
These may seem trifling distinctions, but they sufficed to
kindle the passions. Even greater importance attached to differences on ritual
questions, although the controversy here was purely theoretical. For, the
Sadducees, when in office, always conformed to the prevailing Pharisaic
practices. Thus the Sadducees would have interpreted Lev. xxiii. 11, 15, 16, as
meaning that the wave-sheaf (or, rather, the Omer) was to be offered on
'the morrow after the weekly Sabbath' - that is, on the Sunday in Easter week -
which would have brought the Feast of Pentecost always on a Sunday;80
while the Pharisees understood the term 'Sabbath' of the festive Paschal day.8182
Connected with this were disputes about the examination of the witnesses who
testified to the appearance of the new moon, and whom the Pharisees accused of
having been suborned by their opponents.83
80. Vv. 15, 16.
81. Men. x. 3; 65 a; Chag. ii. 4.
82. This difference, which is more intricate than appears at first sight, requires a longer discussion than can be given in this place.
83. Rosh haSh. i. 7; ii. 1; Tos. Rosh haSh. ed. Z. i. 15.
The Sadducean objection to pouring the water of libation upon
the altar on the Feast of Tabernacles, led to riot and bloody reprisals on the
only occasion on which it seems to have been carried into practice.8485
Similarly, the Sadducees objected to the beating off the willow-branches after
the procession round the altar on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles, if
it were a Sabbath.86
Again, the Sadducees would have had the High-Priest, on the Day of Atonement,
kindle the incense before entering the Most Holy Place; the Pharisees after
he had entered the Sanctuary.87
Lastly, the Pharisees contended that the cost of the daily Sacrifices should be
discharged from the general Temple treasury, while the Sadducees would have
paid it from free-will offerings. Other differences, which seem not so well
established, need not here be discussed.
84. Sukk. 48 b; comp. Jos. Ant. xiii 13. 5.
85. For details about the observances on this festival I must refer to 'The Temple, its
Ministry and Services.'
86. Sukk. 43 b; and in the Jerus. Talm. and Tos. Sukk. iii. 1.
87. Jer. Yoma i. 5; Yoma 19 b; 53 a.
Among the divergences on juridical questions, reference
has already been made to that in regard to marriage with the 'betrothed,' or
else actually espoused widow of a deceased, childless brother. Josephus,
indeed, charges the Sadducees with extreme severity in criminal matters;88
but this must refer to the fact that the ingenuity or punctiliousness of the
Pharisees would afford to most offenders a loophole of escape. On the other
hand, such of the diverging juridical principles of the Sadducees, as are
attested on trustworthy authority,89
seem more in accordance with justice than those of the Pharisees. They
concerned (besides the Levirate marriage) chiefly three points. According to
the Sadducees, the punishment90 against false witnesses was only to be executed if the innocent person,
condemned on their testimony, had actually suffered punishment, while the
Pharisees held that this was to be done if the sentence had been actually
pronounced, although not carried out.91
Again, according to Jewish law, only a son, but not a daughter, inherited the
father's property. From this the Pharisees argued, that if, at the time of his
father's decease, that son were dead, leaving only a daughter, this
granddaughter would (as representative of the son) be the heir, while the
daughter would be excluded. On the other hand, the Sadducees held that, in such
a case, daughter and granddaughter should share alike.92
Lastly, the Sadducees argued that if, according to Exodus xxi. 28,29, a man was
responsible for damage done by his cattle, he was equally, if not more,
responsible for damage done by his slave, while the Pharisees refused to
recognise any responsibility on the latter score.9394
88. Specially Ant. xx. 9.
89. Other differences, which rest merely on the authority of the Hebrew Commentary on 'The Roll of Fasts,' I have discarded as unsupported by historical evidence. I
am sorry to have in this respect, and on some other aspect of the question, to differ from the learned Article on 'The Sadducees,' in Kitto's Bibl. Encycl.
90. Decreed in Deut. xix. 21.
91. Makk. i. 6.
92. Baba B. 115 b; Tos. Yad. ii. 20.
93. Yad. iv. 7 and Tos. Yad.
94. Geiger, and even Derenbourg, see in these things deep political allusions - which, as it seems to me, have no other existence than in the ingenuity of these writers.
For the sake of completeness it has been necessary to enter
into details, which may not posses a general interest. This, however, will be
marked, that, with the exception of dogmatic differences, the controversy
turned on questions of 'canon-law.' Josephus tells us that the Pharisees
commanded the masses,95
and especially the female world,96
while the Sadducees attached to their ranks only a minority, and that belonging
to the highest class. The leading priests in Jerusalem formed, of course, part
of that highest class of society; and from the New Testament and Josephus we
learn that the High-Priestly families belonged to the Sadducean party.97
But to conclude from this,98
either that the Sadducees represented the civil and political aspect of
society, and the Pharisees the religious; or, that the Sadducees were the
in opposition to the popular and democratic Pharisees, are inferences not only
unsupported, but opposed to historical facts. For, not a few of the Pharisaic
leaders were actually priests,100
while the Pharisaic ordinances make more than ample recognition of the
privileges and rights of the Priesthood. This would certainly not have been the
case if, as some have maintained, Sadducean and priest-party had been
convertible terms. Even as regards the deputation to the Baptist of 'Priests
and Levites' from Jerusalem, we are expressly told that they 'were of the
95. Ant. xiii. 10. 6.
96. Ant. xvii. 2. 4.
97. Acts v. 17; Ant. xx. 9. 1.
98. So Wellhausen, u. s.
99. So Geiger, u. s.
100. Sheqal. iv. 4; vi. 1; Eduy. viii. 2; Ab. ii. B &c.
101. St. John i. 24.
This bold hypothesis seems, indeed, to have been invented
chiefly for the sake of another, still more unhistorical. The derivation of the
name 'Sadducee' has always been in dispute. According to a Jewish legend of
about the seventh century of our era,102
the name was derived from one Tsadoq (Zadok),103
a disciple of Antigonus of Socho, whose principle of not serving God for reward
had been gradually misinterpreted into Sadduceeism. But, apart from the
objection that in such case the party should rather have taken the name of Antigonites,
the story itself receives no support either from Josephus or from early Jewish
writings. Accordingly modern critics have adopted another hypothesis, which
seems at least equally untenable. On the supposition that the Sadducees were
the 'priest-party,' the name of the sect is derived from Zadok (Tsadoq),
the High-Priest in the time of Solomon.104
But the objections to this are insuperable. Not to speak of the linguistic
difficulty of deriving Tsadduqim (Zaddukim, Sadducees) from Tsadoq
Josephus nor the Rabbis know anything of such a connection between Tsadoq and
the Sadducees, of which, indeed, the rationale would be difficult to
perceive. Besides, is it likely that a party would have gone back so many
centuries for a name, which had no connection with their distinctive
principles? The name of a party is, if self-chosen (which is rarely the case),
derived from its founder or place of origin, or else from what it claims as
distinctive principles or practices. Opponents might either pervert such a
name, or else give a designation, generally opprobrious, which would express
their own relation to the party, or to some of its supposed peculiarities. But
on none of these principles can the origin of the name of Sadducees from Tsadoq
be accounted for. Lastly, on the supposition mentioned, the Sadducees must have
given the name to their party, since it cannot be imagined that the Pharisees
would have connected their opponents with the honoured name of the High-Priest
102. In the Ab. de R. Nath. c. 5.
103. Tseduqim and Tsadduqim mark different transliterations of the name Sadducees.
104. This theory, defended with ingenuity by Geiger, had been of late adopted by
most writers, and even by Schürer. But not a few of the statements
hazarded by Dr. Geiger seem to me to have no historical foundation, and the passages quoted in support either do not convey such meaning, or else are of no authority.
105. So Dr. Löw, as quoted in Dr. Ginsburg's article.
If it is highly improbable that the Sadducees, who, of course,
professed to be the right interpreters of Scripture, would choose any
party-name, thereby stamping themselves as sectaries, this derivation of their
name is also contrary to historical analogy. For even the name Pharisees,
'Perushim,' 'separated ones,' was not taken by the party itself, but given to
it by their opponents.106107
From 1 Macc. ii. 42; vii. 13; 2 Macc. xiv. 6, it appears that originally they
had taken the sacred name of Chasidim, or 'the pious.'108
This, no doubt, on the ground that they were truly those who, according to the
directions of Ezra,109
had separated themselves (become nibhdalim) 'from the filthiness of the
heathen' (all heathen defilement) by carrying out the traditional ordinances.110
In fact, Ezra marked the beginning of the 'later,' in contradistinction to the
'earlier,' or Scripture-Chasidim.111
If we are correct in supposing that their opponents had called them Perushim,
instead of the Scriptural designation of Nibhdalim, the inference is at
hand, that, while the 'Pharisees' would arrogate to themselves the Scriptural
name of Chasidim, or 'the pious,' their opponents would retort that they
were satisfied to be Tsaddiqim,112
or 'righteous.' Thus the name of Tsaddiqim would become that of the
party opposing the Pharisees, that is, of the Sadducees. There is,
indeed, an admitted linguistic difficulty in the change of the sound i
into u (Tsaddiqim into Tsadduqim), but may it not have
been that this was accomplished, not grammatically, but by popular witticism?
Such mode of giving a 'by-name' to a party or government is, at least, not
irrational, nor is it uncommon.113
Some wit might have suggested: Read not Tsaddiqim, the 'righteous,' but Tsadduqim
(from Tsadu, w@dcaf), 'desolation,' 'destruction.' Whether or not this
suggestion approve itself to critics, the derivation of Sadducees from Tsaddiqim
is certainly that which offers most probability.114
106. Yad. iv. 6 &c.
107. The argument as against the derivation of the term Sadducee would, of course, hold equally good, even if each party had assumed, not received from the other, its characteristic name.
108. Ps. xxx. 4; xxxi. 23; xxxvii. 28.
109. vi. 21; ix. 1; x. 11; Neh. ix. 2.
110. Comp. generally, 'Sketches of Jewish Social Life,' pp. 230, 231.
111. Ber. v. 1; comp. with Vayyikra R. 2, ed. Warsh. t. iii. p. 5 a.
112. Here it deserves special notice that the Old Testament term Chasid, which the
Pharisees arrogated to themselves, is rendered in the Peshito by Zaddîq. Thus, as it were, the opponents of Pharisaism would play off the equivalent Tsaddiq
against the Pharisaic arrogation of Chasid.
113. Such by-names, by a play on a word, are not unfrequent. Thus, in Shem. R. 5 (ed. Warsh.
p. 14 a, lines 7 and 8 from top), Pharaoh's charge that the Israelites were Myp@ir:ni 'idle,' is, by a transposition of letters made to mean that they
114. It seems strange, that so accurate a scholar as Schürer should have regarded the 'national party' as merely an offshoot from the Pharisees (Neutest. Zeitgesch. p. 431), and appealed in proof to a passage in Josephus (Ant. xviii. 1.6), which expressly calls the Nationalists a fourth
party, by the side of the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes. That in practice they would carry out the strict Judaism of the Pharisees, does not make them Pharisees.
This uncertainty as to the origin of the name of a party leads
almost naturally to the mention of another, which, indeed, could not be omitted
in any description of those times. But while the Pharisees and Sadducees were
parties within the Synagogue, the Essenes ('Essanoi or 'Essaioi>
- the latter always in Philo) were, although strict Jews, yet separatists, and,
alike in doctrine, worship, and practice, outside the Jewish body
ecclesiastic. Their numbers amounted to only about 4,000.115
They are not mentioned in the New Testament, and only very indirectly referred
to in Rabbinic writings, perhaps without clear knowledge on the part of the
Rabbis. If the conclusion concerning them, which we shall by-and-by indicate,
be correct, we can scarcely wonder at this. Indeed, their entire separation
from all who did not belong to their sect, the terrible oaths by which they
bound themselves to secrecy about their doctrines, and which would prevent any
free religious discussion, as well as the character of what is know of their views,
would account for the scanty notices about them. Josephus and Philo,116
who speak of them in the most sympathetic manner, had, no doubt, taken special
pains to ascertain all that could be learned. For this Josephus seems to have
enjoyed special opportunities.117
Still, the secrecy of their doctrines renders us dependent on writers, of whom
at least one (Josephus) lies open to the suspicion of colouring and
exaggeration. But of one thing we may feel certain: neither John the Baptist,
and his Baptism, nor the teaching of Christianity, had any connection with
Essenism. It were utterly unhistorical to infer such from a few points of
contact - and these only of similarity, not identity - when the differences
between them are so fundamental. That an Essene would have preached repentance
and the Kingdom of God to multitudes, baptized the uninitiated, and given
supreme testimony to One like Jesus, are assertions only less extravagant than
this, that One Who mingled with society as Jesus did, and Whose teaching, alike
in that respect, and in all its tendencies, was so utterly Non-, and even
Anti-Essenic, had derived any part of His doctrine from Essenism. Besides, when
we remember the views of the Essenes on purification, and on Sabbath
observance, and their denial of the Resurrection, we feel that, whatever points
of resemblance critical ingenuity may emphasise, the teaching of Christianity
was in a direction opposite from that of Essenism.118
115. Philo, Quod omnis probus liber, 12, ed, Mang. ii. p. 457; Jos. Ant. xviii. 1.5.
116. They are also mentioned by Pliny (Hist. Natur. v. 16).
117. This may be inferred from Josephus' Life, c. 2.
118. This point is conclusively disposed of by Bishop Lightfoot in the third Dissertation appended to his Commentary on the Colossians (pp. 397-419). In general, the masterly discussion of the whole subject by Bishop Lightfoot,
alike in the body of the Commentary and in the three Dissertations appended, may be said to form a new era in the treatment of the whole question, the points on which we would venture to express dissent being few and unimportant. The reader who wishes to see a statement of the supposed analogy between Essenism and the teaching of Christ will find it in Dr. Ginsburg's Article 'Essenes,' in Smith and Wace's Dictionary of Christian
Biography. The same line of argument has been followed by Frankel and Gärtz. The reasons for the opposite view are set forth in the text.
We posses no data for the history of the origin and
development (if such there was) of Essenism. We may admit a certain connection
between Pharisaism and Essenism, though it has been greatly exaggerated by
modern Jewish writers. Both directions originated from a desire after 'purity,'
though there seems a fundamental difference between them, alike in the idea of
what constituted purity, and in the means for attaining it. To the Pharisee it
was Levitical and legal purity, secured by the 'hedge' of ordinances which they
drew around themselves. To the Essene it was absolute purity in separation from
the 'material,' which in itself was defiling. The Pharisee attained in this
manner the distinctive merit of a saint; the Essene obtained a higher
fellowship with the Divine, 'inward' purity, and not only freedom from the
detracting, degrading influence of matter, but command over matter and nature.
As the result of this higher fellowship with the Divine, the adept possessed
the power of prediction; as the result of his freedom from, and command over
matter, the power of miraculous cures. That their purifications, strictest
Sabbath observance, and other practices, would form points of contact with
Pharisaism, follows as a matter of course; and a little reflection will show,
that such observances would naturally be adopted by the Essenes, since they
were within the lines of Judaism, although separatists from its body
ecclesiastic. On the other hand, their fundamental tendency was quite other
than that of Pharisaism, and strongly tinged with Eastern (Parsee) elements.
After this the inquiry as to the precise date of its origin, and whether
Essenism was an offshoot from the original (ancient) Assideans or Chasidim,
seems needless. Certain it is that we find its first mention about 150 b.c.,119
and that we meet the first Essence in the reign of Aristobulus I.120
119. Jos. Ant. xiii. 5. 9.
120. 105-104 b.c.; Ant. xiii. 11. 2; War i. 3. 5.
Before stating our conclusions as to its relation to Judaism
and the meaning of the name, we shall put together what information may be
derived of the sect from the writings of Josephus, Philo, and Pliny.121
Even its outward organisation and the mode of life must have made as deep, and,
considering the habits and circumstances of the time, even deeper impression
than does the strictest asceticism on the part of any modern monastic order,
without the unnatural and repulsive characteristics of the latter. There were
no vows of absolute silence, broken only by weird chaunt of prayer or 'memento
mori;' no penances, nor self-chastisement. But the person who had entered the
'order' was as effectually separated from all outside as if he had lived in
another world. Avoiding the large cities as the centres of immorality,122
they chose for their settlements chiefly villages, one of their largest
colonies being by the shore of the Dead Sea.123
At the same time they had also 'houses' inmost, if not all the cities of Palestine,124
notably in Jerusalem,125
where, indeed, one of the gates was named after them.126
In these 'houses' they lived in common,127
under officials of their own. The affairs of 'the order' were administered by a
tribunal of at least a hundred members,128
wore a common dress, engaged in common labor, united in common prayers, partook
of common meals, and devoted themselves to works of charity, for which each had
liberty to draw from the common treasury at his own discretion, except in the
case of relatives.129
It scarcely needs mention that they extended fullest hospitality to strangers
belonging to the order; in fact, a special official was appointed for this
purpose in every city.130
Everything was of the simplest character, and intended to purify the soul by
the greatest possible avoidance, not only of what was sinful, but of what was
material. Rising at dawn, no profane word was spoken till they had offered
their prayers. These were addressed towards, if not to, the rising sun -
probably, as they would have explained it, as the emblem of the Divine Light,
but implying invocation, if not adoration, of the sun.131
After that they were dismissed by their officers to common work. The morning
meal was preceded by a lustration, or bath. Then they put on their 'festive'
linen garments, and entered, purified, the common hall as their Sanctuary. For
each meal was sacrificial, in fact, the only sacrifices which they
acknowledged. The 'baker,' who was really their priest - and naturally so,
since he prepared the sacrifice - set before each bread, and the cook a mess of
vegetables. The meal began with prayer by the presiding priest, for those who
presided at these 'sacrifices' were also 'priests,' although in neither case
probably of Aaronic descent, but consecrated by themselves.132
The sacrificial meal was again concluded by prayer, when they put off their
sacred dress, and returned to their labour. The evening meal was of exactly the
same description, and partaken of with the same rites as that of the morning.
121. Compare Josephus, Ant. xiii. 5, 9; xv. 10. 4, 5; xviii. 1. 5; Jewish War, ii. 8,
2-13; Philo, Quod omnis probus liber, 12, 13 (ed. Mangey, ii. 457-459; ed. Par. and Frcf. pp. 876-879; ed. Richter, vol. v. pp. 285-288); Pliny, N.H. v. 16, 17. For references in the Fathers see Bp. Lightfoot
on Colossians, pp. 83, 84 (note). Comp. the literature there and in Schürer (Neutest. Zeitgesch. p. 599), to which I would add Dr. Ginburg's Art.
'Essenes' in Smith's and Wace's Dict. of Chr. Biogr., vol. ii.
122. Philo, ii.p. 457.
123. Pliny, Hist. Nat. v. 16, 17.
124. Philo, u.s. p. 632; Jos. Jewish War ii. 8. 4.
125. Ant. xiii. 11.2; xv. 10. 5; xvii. 13.3.
126. War v. 4. 2.
127. Philo, u. s. p. 632.
128. War ii. 8. 9.
129. War ii. 8. 6.
130. u. s. § 4.
131. The distinction is Schürer's, although he is disposed to minimise this point. More on this in the sequel.
132. Jos. War ii. 8. 5; Ant. xviii. 1. 5.
Although the Essenes, who, with the exception of a small party
among them, repudiated marriage, adopted children to train them in the
principles of their sect,133
yet admission to the order was only granted to adults, and after a novitiate
which lasted three years. On entering, the novice received the three symbols of
purity: an axe, or rather a spade, with which to dig a pit, a foot deep,
to cover up the excrements; an apron, to bind round the loins in
bathing; and a white dress, which was always worn, the festive garment
at meals being of linen. At the end of the first year the novice was admitted
to the lustrations. He had now entered on the second grade, in which he
remained for another year. After its lapse, he was advanced to the third
grade, but still continued a novice, until, at the close of the third year of
his probation, he was admitted to the fourth grade - that of full
member, when, for the first time, he was admitted to the sacrifice of the
common meals. The mere touch of one of a lower grade in the order defiled the
Essene, and necessitated the lustration of a bath. Before admission to full
membership, a terrible oath was taken. As, among other things, it bound to the
most absolute secrecy, we can scarcely suppose that its form, as given by
much beyond what was generally allowed to transpire. Thus the long list given
by the Jewish historian of moral obligations which the Essenes undertook, is
probably only a rhetorical enlargement of some simple formula. More credit
attaches to the alleged undertaking of avoidance of all vanity, falsehood,
dishonesty, and unlawful gains. The last parts of the oath alone indicate the
peculiar vows of the sect, that is, so far as they could be learned by the
outside world, probably chiefly through the practice of the Essenes. They bound
each member not to conceal anything from his own sect, nor, even on peril of
death, to disclose their doctrines to others; to hand down their doctrines
exactly as they had received them; to abstain from robbery;135
and to guard the books belonging to their sect, and the names of the Angels.
133. Schürer regards these children as forming the first of the four 'classes' or 'grades'
into which the Essenes were arranged. But this is contrary to the express
statement of Philo, that only adults were admitted into the order, and hence only such could have formed a 'grade' or 'class' of the community. (Comp.
ed. Mangey, ii. p. 632, from Eusebius' Præpar. Evang. lib. viii. cap. 8.) I have adopted the view of Bishop Lightfoot on the subject. Even the marrying order of the Essenes, however, only admitted of wedlock under great restrictions, and as a necessary evil (War, u. s. sections 13). Bishop Lightfoot
suggests, that these were not Essenes in the strict sense, but only 'like the third order of a Benedictine or Franciscan brotherhood.'
134. War ii. 8.7.
135. Can this possibly have any connection in the mind of Josephus with the later Nationalist movement? This would agree with his insistance on their respect for
those in authority. Otherwise the emphasis laid on abstinence from robbery
seems strange in such a sect.
It is evident that, while all else was intended as safeguards
of a rigorous sect of purists, and with the view of strictly keeping it a
secret order, the last-mentioned particulars furnish significant indications of
their peculiar doctrines. Some of these may be regarded as only exaggerations
of Judaism, though not of the Pharisaic kind.136
Among them we reckon the extravagant reverence for the name of their legislator
(presumably Moses), whom to blaspheme was a capital offence; their rigid
abstinence from all prohibited food; and their exaggerated Sabbath-observance,
when, not only no food was prepared, but not a vessel moved, nay, not even
But this latter was connected with their fundamental idea of inherent impurity
in the body, and, indeed, in all that is material. Hence, also, their
asceticism, their repudiation of marriage, and their frequent lustrations in
clean water, not only before their sacrificial meals, but upon contact even with
an Essene of a lower grade, and after attending to the calls of nature. Their
undoubted denial of the resurrection of the body seems only the logical
sequence from it. If the soul was a substance of the subtlest ether, drawn by
certain natural enticement into the body, which was its prison, a state of
perfectness could not have consisted in the restoration of that which, being
material, was in itself impure. And, indeed, what we have called the
exaggerated Judaism of the sect- its rigid abstinence from all forbidden food,
and peculiar Sabbath-observance - may all have had the same object, that of
tending towards an external purism, which the Divine legislator would have
introduced, but the 'carnally-minded' could not receive. Hence, also, the
strict separation of the order, its grades, its rigorous discipline, as well as
its abstinence from wine, meat, and all ointments - from every luxury, even
from trades which would encourage this, or any vice. This aim after external
purity explains many of their outward arrangements, such as that their labour
was of the simplest kind, and the commonality of all property in the order;
perhaps, also, what may seem more ethical ordinances, such as the repudiation
of slavery, their refusal to take an oath, and even their scrupulous care of
truth. The white garments, which they always wore, seem to have been but a
symbol of that purity which they sought. For this purpose they submitted, not
only to strict asceticism, but to a discipline which gave the officials
authority to expel all offenders, even though in so doing they virtually
condemned them to death by starvation, since the most terrible oaths had bound
all entrants into the order not to partake of any food other than that prepared
by their 'priests.'
136. I venture to think that even Bishop Lightfoot lays too much stress on the
affinity to Pharisaism. I can discover few, if any, traces of Pharisaism in the distinctive sense of the term. Even their frequent washings had a different object from those of the Pharisees.
137. For a similar reason, and in order 'not to affront the Divine rays of light' - the
light as symbol, if not outcome, of the Deity - they covered themselves, in such circumstances, with the mantle which was their ordinary dress in winter.
In such a system there would, of course, be no place for
either an Aaronic priesthood, or bloody sacrifices. In fact, they
repudiated both. Without formally rejecting the Temple and its services, there
was no room in their system for such ordinances. They sent, indeed, thank
offerings to the Temple, but what part had they in bloody sacrifices and an
Aaronic ministry, which constituted the main business of the Temple? Their
'priests' were their bakers and presidents; their sacrifices those of
fellowship, their sacred meals of purity. It is quite in accordance with this
tendency when we learn from Philo that, in their diligent study of the
Scriptures, they chiefly adopted the allegorical mode of interpretation.138
138. Ed. Mang ii. p. 458.
We can scarcely wonder that such Jews as Josephus and Philo,
and such heathens as Pliny, were attracted by such an unworldly and lofty sect.
Here were about 4,000 men, who deliberately separated themselves, not only from
all that made life pleasant, but from all around; who, after passing a long and
strict novitiate, were content to live under the most rigid rule, obedient to
their superiors; who gave up all their possessions, as well as the earnings of
their daily toil in the fields, or of their simple trades; who held all things
for the common benefit, entertained strangers, nursed their sick, and tended
their aged as if their own parents, and were charitable to all men; who
renounced all animal passions, eschewed anger, ate and drank in strictest
moderation, accumulated neither wealth nor possessions, wore the simplest white
dress till it was no longer fit for use; repudiated slavery, oaths, marriage;
abstained from meat and wine, even from the common Eastern anointing with oil;
used mystic lustrations, had mystic rites and mystic prayers, an esoteric
literature and doctrines; whose every meal was a sacrifice, and every act one
of self-denial; who, besides, were strictly truthful, honest, upright,
virtuous, chaste, and charitable, in short, whose life meant, positively and
negatively, a continual purification of the soul by mortification of the body.
To the astonished onlookers this mode of life was rendered even more sacred by
doctrines, a literature, and magic power known only to the initiated. Their
mysterious conditions made them cognisant of the names of Angels, by which we
are, no doubt, to understand a theosophic knowledge, fellowship with the
Angelic world, and the power of employing its ministry. Their constant
purifications, and the study of their prophetic writings, gave them the power
the same mystic writings revealed the secret remedies of plants and stones for
the healing of the body,140
as well as what was needed for the cure of souls.
139. Jos. War ii. 8. 12; comp. Ant. xiii. 11. 2; xv. 10. 5; xvii. 13. 3.
140. There can be no question that these Essene cures were magical, and their knowledge of remedies esoteric.
It deserves special notice that this intercourse with Angels,
this secret traditional literature, and its teaching concerning mysterious
remedies in plants and stones, are not unfrequently referred to in that
Apocalyptic literature known as the 'Pseudepigraphic Writings.' Confining
ourselves to undoubtedly Jewish and pre-Christian documents,141
we know what development the doctrine of Angels received both in the Book of
Enoch (alike in its earlier and in its later portion142)
and in the Book of Jubilees,143
and how the 'seers' received Angelic instruction and revelations. The
distinctively Rabbinic teaching on these subjects is fully set forth in another
part of this work.144
Here we would only specially notice that in the Book of Jubilees145
Angels are represented as teaching Noah all 'herbal remedies' for diseases,146
while in the later Pirqé de R. Eliezer147
this instruction is said to have been given to Moses. These two points (relation
to the Angels, and knowledge of the remedial power of plants - not to speak of
visions and prophecies) seem to connect the secret writings of the Essenes with
that 'outside' literature which in Rabbinic writings is known as Sepharim
haChitsonim, 'outside writings.'148
The point is of greatest importance, as will presently appear.
141. Bishop Lightfoot refers to a part of the Sibylline books which seems of Christian authorship.
142. ch. xxxi. - lxxi.
143. Comp. Lucius, Essenismus, p. 109. This brochure, the latest on the subject, (though interesting, adds little to our knowledge.)
144. See Appendix XIII. on the Angelology, Satanology, and Demonology of the Jews.
145. Ch. x.
146. Comp. also the Sepher Noach in Jellinek's Beth. haMidr. part iii. pp. 155, 156.
147. c. 48.
148. Only after writing the above I have noticed, that Jellinek arrives at the same conclusion as to the Essene character of the Book of Jubilees (Beth ha-Midr. iii. p. xxxiv., xxxv.), and of the Book of Enoch (u.s. ii. p. xxx.).
It needs no demonstration, that a system which proceeded from a
contempt of the body and of all that is material; in some manner identified the
Divine manifestation with the Sun; denied the Resurrection, the
Temple-priesthood, and sacrifices; preached abstinence from meats and from
marriage; decreed such entire separation from all around that their very
contact defiled, and that its adherents would have perished of hunger rather
than join in the meals of the outside world; which, moreover, contained not a
trace of Messianic elements - indeed, had no room for them - could have had no
internal connection with the origin of Christianity. Equally certain is it
that, in respect of doctrine, life, and worship, it really stood outside
Judaism, as represented by either Pharisees or Sadducees. The question whence
the foreign elements were derived, which were its distinctive characteristics,
has of late been so learnedly discussed, that only the conclusions arrived at
require to be stated. Of the two theories, of which the one traces Essenism to
the other to Persian sources,150
the latter seems fully established - without, however, wholly denying at least
the possibility of Neo-Pythagorean influences. To the grounds which have been
so conclusively urged in support of the Eastern origin of Essenism,151
in its distinctive features, may be added this, that Jewish Angelology, which
played so great a part in the system, was derived from Chaldee and Persian
sources, and perhaps also the curious notion, that the knowledge of
medicaments, originally derived by Noah from the angels, came to the Egyptians
chiefly through the magic books of the Chaldees.152153
149. So Zeller, Philosophie d. Griechen, ed. 1881, iii. pp. 277-337.
150. So Bishop Lightfoot, in his masterly treatment of the whole subject in his Commentary on the Ep. to the Colossians.
151. By Bishop Lightfoot, u.s. pp. 382-396 In general, I prefer on many points - such as the connection between Essenism and Gnosticism &c., simply to refer
readers to the classic work of Bishop Lightfoot.
152. Sepher Noach ap. Jellinek iii. p. 156.
153. As regards any connection between the Essenes and the Therapeutai, Lucius
has denied the existence of such a sect and the Philonic authorship of de V. cont. The latter we have sought to defend in the Art. Philo (Smith
and Wace's Dict. of Chr. Biogr. iv.), and to show that the Therapeutes were not a 'sect' but an esoteric circle of Alexandrian Jews.
It is only at the conclusion of these investigations that we
are prepared to enter on the question of the origin and meaning of the name Essenes,
important as this inquiry is, not only in itself, but in regard to the relation
of the sect to orthodox Judaism. The eighteen or nineteen proposed explanations
of a term, which must undoubtedly be of Hebrew etymology, all proceed on the
idea of its derivation from something which implied praise of the sect, the two
least objectionable explaining the name as equivalent either to 'the pious,' or
else to 'the silent ones.' But against all such derivations there is the
obvious objection, that the Pharisees, who had the moulding of the theological
language, and who were in the habit of giving the hardest names to those who
differed from them, would certainly not have bestowed a title implying encomium
on a sect which, in principle and practices, stood so entirely outside,
not only of their own views, but even of the Synagogue itself. Again, if they
had given a name of encomium to the sect, it is only reasonable to suppose that
they would not have kept, in regard to their doctrines and practices, a silence
which is only broken by dim and indirect allusions. Yet, as we examine it, the
origin and meaning of the name seem implied in their very position towards the
Synagogue. They were the only real sect, strictly outsiders, and
their name Essenes ('Esshnoi,
'Essaioi) seems the Greek equivalent for Chitsonim (Mynwcyx),
'the outsiders.' Even the circumstance that the axe, or rather spade (axinarion), which every novice
received, has for its Rabbinic equivalent the word Chatsina, is here not without significance. Linguistically, the words Essenoi and Chitsonim
are equivalents, as admittedly are the similar designations Chasidim
(Mydiysixa) and Asidaioi ('Asidaioi).
For, in rendering Hebrew into Greek, the ch (x) is 'often
entirely omitted, or represented by a spiritus lenis in the beginning,' while 'in regard to the vowels no distinct rule is to be laid down.'154
Instances of a change of the Hebrew i into the Greek e are
frequent, and of the Hebrew o into the Greek e not rare. As one instance will suffice, we select a case in which exactly the same transmutation
of the two vowel-sounds occurs - that of the Rabbinic Abhginos
(Mwnoygib:)a) for the Greek (eugenhV)
154. Deutsch, Remains, pp. 359, 360.
155. As other instances may be quoted such as Istagioth (twyog:+s)i) = stegh, roof; Istuli (yliw@+s:)i) = sthlh, a pillar; Dikhsumini (yniymiw@skd@)
= dexamenh, cistern.
This derivation of the name Essenes, which strictly
expresses the character and standing of the sect relatively to orthodox
Judaism, and, indeed, is the Greek form of the Hebrew term for 'outsiders,' is
also otherwise confirmed. It has already been said, that no direct statement
concerning the Essenes occurs in Rabbinic writings. Nor need this surprise us,
when we remember the general reluctance of the Rabbis to refer to their
opponents, except in actual controversy; and, that, when traditionalism was
reduced to writing, Essenism, as a Jewish sect, had ceased to exist. Some of
its elements had passed into the Synagogue, influencing its general teaching
(as in regard to Angelology, magic, &c.), and greatly contributing to that
mystic direction which afterwards found expression in what is now known as the Kabbalah.
But the general movement had passed beyond the bounds of Judaism, and appeared
in some forms of the Gnostic heresy. But still there are Rabbinic references to
the 'Chitsonim,' which seem to identify them with the sect of the Essenes.
Thus, in one passage156
certain practices of the Sadducees and of the Chitsonim are mentioned together,
and it is difficult to see who could be meant by the latter if not the Essenes.
Besides, the practices there referred to seem to contain covert allusions to
those of the Essenes. Thus, the Mishnah begins by prohibiting the public
reading of the Law by those who would not appear in a coloured, but only in a white
dress. Again, the curious statement is made that the manner of the Chitsonim
was to cover the phylacteries with gold - a statement unexplained in the
Gemara, and inexplicable, unless we see in it an allusion to the Essene
practice of facing the rising Sun in their morning prayers.157
Again, we know with what bitterness Rabbinism denounced the use of the externe
writings (the Sepharim haChitsonim) to the extent of excluding from
eternal life those who studied them.158
But one of the best ascertained facts concerning the Essenes is that they
possessed secret, 'outside,' holy writings of their own, which they guarded
with special care. And, although it is not maintained that the Sepharim
haChitsonim were exclusively Essene writings,159
the latter must have been included among them. We have already seen reason for
believing, that even the so-called Pseudepigraphic literature, notably such
works as the Book of Jubilees, was strongly tainted with Essene views; if,
indeed, in perhaps another than its present form, part of it was not actually
Essene. Lastly, we find what seems to us yet another covert allusion160
to Essene practices, similar to that which has already been noticed.161
For, immediately after consigning to destruction all who denied that there was
proof in the Pentateuch for the Resurrection (evidently the Sadducees), those
who denied that the Law was from heaven (the Minim, or heretics -
probably the Jewish Christians), and all 'Epicureans'162
(materialists), the same punishment is assigned to those 'who read externe
writings' (Sepharim haChitsonim) and 'who whispered' (a magical formula)
'over a wound.'163
Both the Babylonian and the Jerusalem Talmud164
offer a strange explanation of this practice; perhaps, because they either did
not, or else would not, understand the allusion. But to us it seems at least
significant that as, in the first quoted instance, the mention of the Chitsonim
is conjoined with a condemnation of the exclusive use of white garments in
worship, which we know to have been an Essene peculiarity, so the condemnation
of the use of Chitsonim writings with that of magical cures.165
At the same time, we are less bound to insist on these allusions as essential
to our argument, since those, who have given another derivation than ours to
the name Essenes, express themselves unable to find in ancient Jewish
writings any trustworthy reference to the sect.
156. Megill. 24 b, lines 4 and 5 from bottom.
157. The practice of beginning prayers before, and ending them as the sun had just risen, seems to have passed from the Essenes to a party in the Synagogue itself, and is pointedly alluded to as a characteristic of the so-called Vethikin,
Ber. 9 b; 25 b; 26 a. But another peculiarity about them, noticed in Rosh haSh. 32 b (the repetition of all the verses in the Pentateuch containing the record of God in the so-called Malkhiyoth, Zikhronoth,
and Shophroth), shows that they were not Essenes, since such Rabbinic practices must have been alien to their system.
158. Sanh. x 1.
159. In Sanh. 100 b they are explained as 'the writings of the Sadducees,' and
by another Rabbi as 'the Book of Sirach' (Ecclus. in the Apocrypha). Hamburger,
as sometimes, makes assertions on this point which cannot be supported
(Real-Wörterb. ii. p. 70). Jer. Sanh. 28 a explains, 'Such as the books of Ben Sirach and of Ben La'nah' - the latter apparently also an Apocryphal book, for which the Midr. Kohel. (ed. Warsh. iii. p. 106 b) has 'the book of Ben Tagla' 'La'nah' and 'Tagla' could scarcely be symbolic names. On the other hand, I cannot agree with Fürst (Kanon d. A.T. p. 99), who
identifies them with Apollonius of Tyana and Empedocles. Dr. Neubauer suggests that Ben La'nah may be a corruption of Sibylline Oracles.
160. In Sanh. x. 1.
161. Meg. 24 b.
162. The 'Epicureans,' or 'freethinkers,' are explained to be such as speak contemptuously
of the Scriptures, or of the Rabbis (Jer. Sanh. 27 d). In Sanh. 38 b a distinction is made between 'stranger' (heathen) Epicureans, and Israelitish Epicureans. With the latter it is unwise to enter into argument.
163. Both in the Jer. and Bab. Talm. it is conjoined with 'spitting,' which was a mode of
healing, usual at the time. The Talmud forbids the magical formula, only in connection with this 'spitting' - and then for the curious reason that the Divine Name is not to be recorded while 'spitting.' But, while in the Bab. Talm. the prohibition bears against such 'spitting' before pronouncing the formula, in the Jer. Talm. it is after uttering it.
164. Sanh. 101 a; Jer. Sanh. p. 28 b.
165. Bishop Lightfoot has shown that the Essene cures were magical (u. s. pp. 91 &c. and p. 377).
On one point, at least, our inquiry into the three 'parties'
can leave no doubt. The Essenes could never have been drawn either to the
person, or the preaching of John the Baptist. Similarly, the Sadducees would,
after they knew its real character and goal, turn contemptuously from a
movement which would awaken no sympathy in them, and could only become of
interest when it threatened to endanger their class by awakening popular
enthusiasm, and so rousing the suspicions of the Romans. To the Pharisees there
were questions of dogmatic, ritual, and even national importance involved,
which made the barest possibility of what John announced a question of supreme
moment. And, although we judge that the report which the earliest Pharisaic
hearers of John166
brought to Jerusalem - no doubt, detailed and accurate - and which led to the
despatch of the deputation, would entirely predispose them against the Baptist,
yet it behooved them, as leaders of public opinion, to take such cognisance of
it, as would not only finally determine their own relation to the movement, but
enable them effectually to direct that of others also.
166. St. Matt. iii. 7.
Chapter 1 | Table
of Contents | Chapter 3