There’s no reference in the New Testament to Essenes or “Yahad,” but there are numerous references to the Pharisees. Today I’ll cover what constitutes a Pharisee, a scribe, and background for when Jesus was speaking of them. I’ll also briefly compare them with the Sadducees.
PHARISEES OF THE FIRST CENTURY
During the New Testament era, the Jewish religion was undergoing significant changes. They were still formulating and solidifying their final list of dos and don’ts. Later, when Rome destroyed Jerusalem and the Sadducees ceased to exist, the Pharisees’ religion became the standard for Jews. But during the first century, non-Pharisaic Jews (not just the Sadducees) were often highly critical of the Pharisees.
…the fraternity or association of Pharisees, which was comparatively small, numbering only about 6,000 members…. The object of the association was twofold: to observe…all the ordinances concerning Levitical purity, and…all…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. 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’).From The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
WHO WERE THE SCRIBES?
But…not…every Chabher was…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, 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. 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 to. 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. The full Chabher undertook not to sell to an Am ha-arets…not to buy from him…not to be a guest with him, not to entertain him as a guest in his own clothes (on account of their possible impurity)….From The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
WERE PHARISEES IN THE SANHEDRIN?
It is, however, erroneous to suppose, either that their system represented traditionalism itself, or that Scribes and Pharisees are convertible terms, while the Sadducees represented the civil and political element. The Pharisees…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 canon law. Moreover…when in office the Sadducees conformed to the principles and practices of the Pharisees,From The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
because the Pharisees’ beliefs were backed by the vast majority.
COMPARED TO THE SADDUCEES
Lastly, there were certain traditional ordinances on which both parties were at one. 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…the party would…tend in broad, and often grossly unorthodox, directions.From The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
In one of my documentary links, I covered the corruption of the leadership in Jerusalem. Briefly, the Pharisees’ pride and hypocrisy were both a catalyst for and a reaction to the growth of pride and hypocrisy in the Sadducees. It’s too easy to get our eyes on someone else’s faults and neglect dealing with our own.
Do you do this with any person or group of people?