In our first installment titled 10. Passover – Sadducees & Pharisees I, we discussed the religious philosophy of the Sadducees. With our second installment we will proceed to address the viewpoint of the Pharisees and their power struggle with the Sadducees.
It is within the framework of the evolving political and religious conflict between the Sadducees and Pharisees that we can understand just how and why the Pharisees ultimately became victorious in the officially recognized practice of Passover and Unleavened Bread which we have labeled “Hasidic System B.”
The “Hasidic System B” Passover and Unleavened Bread method originated among the early Hasidim but became dominant as a religious practice because of the political power of their spiritual descendants, the Pharisees.1
From Pharisaism derived what is now called Orthodox Judaism.2 Their conflict with the Sadducees was in force from the time of the Hasmonaean revolt.
J. Bradley Chance writes:
The group later known as the PHARISEES was the spiritual descendant of the Hasidim and, hence, the perpetual conflict between the Pharisees and Sadducees finds its roots in the nascent period of these groups.3
Other divisions of the Hasidim never became more than minority parties and never carried the same political clout. They developed into such groups as the Essenes, Qumran Covenanteers, and Therapeutae.4
The Zealots (also called the Sicarii)5 were the fourth major Jewish philosophy in existence during the first century C.E.6 They were classed by Hippolytus as a branch of the Essenes.7 The last Zealot stronghold, Masada, fell in May of 73 C.E.8
Josephus writes of them:
This school agrees in all other respects with the opinions of the Pharisees, except that they have a passion for liberty that is almost unconquerable.9
Hippolytus interestingly also classes the Pharisees as an Essene sect.10 Since the Pharisees were derived from the Hasidim, this association indicates that those referred to as Hasidim by the Pharisees of the first century C.E. were by others called Essenes.
The name “Pharisee” is derived from פרש (pharis), i.e., “to separate” from others.11 The Jewish scribes (lawyers), who were teachers of Jewish law, “belonged mainly to the party of the Pharisees, but as a body were distinct from them.”12
Emile Schürer notes:
From the priestly circles emerged the Sadducean party, and from those of the Torah scholars came the party of the Pharisees, the lay experts in religious matters.13
The evidence that the Sadducees were largely from the priestly ranks also reinforces the fact that, unlike their Hasidic brothers, the Pharisees drew their support largely from the Jewish scribes and scholars who had come to reject aristocratic Zadok authority.14
In their anti-Zadok conviction the Pharisees differed from the other Hasidic groups. For example, the Qumran Covenanteers, whose views on many religious issues parallel that of the Pharisees, opposed the Hasmonaean line of priests and supported the Zadok line.15
Yet, for the Pharisees, the Zadok priesthood had become discredited through the apostasy of some of its leaders, especially when they attempted to forcibly Hellenize Judaea in the mid-second century B.C.E.
Originally the Pharisees were small in number. As time progressed they became the most politically and religiously dominant force in Judaism.
The Pharisaic movement had grown out of the Hasidic belief system constructed by earlier phil-Hellenic priests, like Simeon II and his son Onias III, whose family also represented the Hellenizing branch of the priestly families.
Therefore, the Pharisees, like the early Hasidim, accepted Hellenic philosophical approaches to religious issues but resented complete Hellenization as paganizing.
The Pharisees, along with the Sadducees, are first mentioned as a viable religious group in the time of the Hasmonaean leader Jonathan.
The events fall within the time frame from Jonathan’s confirmation as high priest and his placement as prostas (protector of the state) by Demetrius II in the 167th Jewish Seleucid year (145/144 B.C.E.) until Jonathan’s death in the 170th Jewish Seleucid year (142/141 B.C.E.).16
Now at this time there were three schools of thought among the Jews, which held different opinions concerning human affairs; the first being that of the Pharisees, the second that of the Sadducees, and the third that of the Essenes.17
The appearance of both the Pharisees and the Essenes at this time (145–142 B.C.E.) reflects the disintegration of the Hasidim into rival factions shortly after the outbreak of the Hasmonaean revolt against Antiochus IV in the winter of 167/166 B.C.E.
After the Hasmonaean victory against the Greek rulers of Syria, the Pharisees, by gaining the support of the masses, gradually rose to power.
They were finally given the right to religiously rule Judaea during the reign of Queen Alexandra of Judaea (76/75–68/67 B.C.E.).18 A faction of the Pharisees (Pollion and his disciple Samaias, and most of their disciples) later openly supported Herod the Great against the Hasmonaeans and the Sadducees.19
The Essenes were also held in favor by Herod.20 Then, after the demise of Archelaus as king of Judaea in 6 C.E., the Pharisees, with the support of the masses, eventually became the chief religious power over their country.21
Pharisaic Philosophical Approach
The Pharisees were the “strictest sect” in the Jewish religion.22 They believed in the traditions of their Hasidic forefathers, called the halakoth or oral laws.
The oral laws were provided by the scribes and later formed the regulations of the Mishnah. These traditions of their fathers were designed to “build a fence around the Torah,” i.e., to protect the laws and commandments of Scriptures.
The Pharisees gave these oral laws equal authority with the Scriptures, and in practice made the oral laws greater than scriptural law.25
The Mishnah, for example, states:
Greater stringency applies to (the observance of) the words of the scribes than to (the observance of) the words of the (written) Torah. If (for example) a man said, “There is no obligation to wear phylacteries,” so that he transgresses the words of the Torah, he is not culpable; (but if he said), “There should be in them five partitions,” so that he adds to the words of the Scribes, he is culpable.26
Contrary to the Sadducean position, the Pharisees believed that the rabbis had the power through interpretation and traditions to alter the laws of Scriptures to fit newer circumstances.
Whereas the Sadducees were the conservatives, the Pharisees placed an emphasis “on doctrinal and legal renewal and readaptation by means of biblical exegesis.”27
. . . the Pharisees had passed on to the people CERTAIN REGULATIONS HANDED DOWN BY FORMER GENERATIONS AND NOT RECORDED IN THE LAWS OF MOSES, for which reason they are rejected by the Sadducean group, who hold that only those regulations should be considered valid which are written down and that those traditions which had been handed down by the fathers need not be observed.28
The book by M‘Clintock and Strong notes:
. . . the Pharisees, were the liberals, the representatives of the people—their principle being so to develop and MODIFY THE MOSAIC LAW AS TO ADAPT IT TO THE REQUIREMENTS OF THE TIME, and to make the people at large realize that they were “a people of priests, a holy nation.”29
The very mood of the Hasidic/Pharisaic movement, therefore, was “innovation in religion” in order to adapt it to the new age in which they lived.
The Hasidim who formed the Pharisees, as James Brooks notes, “were middle-class ‘laymen’ who were committed to obeying the Law as it was interpreted by the SCRIBES. The scribes were scholars who were primarily concerned with interpreting and applying the written Law to everyday affairs. The purpose of this was to make the Mosaic Law relevant to changing situations.”30
The Pharisees believed that, because of the presumed antiquity of these oral laws, it gave their scholars the right to govern.
As J. Neusner points out, the Pharisaic branch of the Hasidim “claimed the right to rule all the Jews by virtue of their possessing the ‘Oral Torah’ of Moses. . . . In their own setting, however, the Pharisees were much like any other Hellenistic philosophical school or sect.”31
With their newly found power emerging in the mid-first century B.C.E., the Pharisees began to bring these traditions (oral laws) to bear on the Jewish state.
Sadducees Versus Pharisees
The liberal interpretations of the Pharisees (unlike the more narrow and conservative views of the Sadducees) were well-received by the masses. Eventually, this acceptance gave them political power far exceeding that of the Sadducees, despite Sadducean control of the Temple.
As a result, after Herodian power over Jerusalem had been set aside, whenever a difference arose over issues that could be controlled outside the Temple, the Sadducees were forced to give way to the Pharisees.
Josephus, himself a Pharisee writes in some detail of “the school of Sadducees, who hold opinions opposed to those of the Pharisees.”
And concerning these matters the two parties came to have controversies and serious differences, the Sadducees having the confidence of the wealthy alone but no following among the populace, while the Pharisees have the support of the masses.32
Josephus adds that in his time (in the latter half of the first century C.E.) the Sadducees had surrendered all but the Temple to the Pharisees:
They (the Sadducees) accomplish practically nothing, however, for whenever they assume some office, THOUGH THEY SUBMIT UNWILLINGLY AND PERFORCE, YET SUBMIT THEY DO TO THE FORMULAS OF THE PHARISEES, since otherwise the masses would not tolerate them.33
Sadducean fear of the Pharisees is expressed in a quote found in the Babylonian Talmud, where a Sadducee is reported to have told his son, “My son, although we are Sadducees, we are afraid of the Pharisees.”34 The wives of the Sadducees even followed the Pharisaic rulings with respect to the laws of menstruation.35
It is true that the Pharisaic religious party from the beginning of the first century C.E. gradually became the most important in Judaea by wielding the most political muscle. In the due course of time, one branch of the Pharisees, the Hillelic School, became the most dominant in all Judaism.36
Yet, it is also true that those belonging to the party of the Pharisees represented only a small number of the overall Jewish population in Judaea. Josephus, for example, only counted “over 6,000” Pharisees in the time of Herod the Great.37
Most of the Jewish people of the first century C.E. and the following few centuries, though favoring the Pharisees among the parties contesting for power over the governing of the Jewish people, were not, strictly speaking, Pharisees.
As Moshe Davis notes, “Evidently, ‘the multitude’ were the majority and they were not Pharisees.”38 The general population of Jews, for example, were much more in favor of magic, charms, and amulets.
Erwin R. Goodenough describes this form of Judaism during this early period as follows:
The picture we have got of this Judaism is that of a group still intensely loyal to Iao Sabaoth [[Yahu of hosts]], a group which buried its dead and built its synagogues with a marked sense that it was a peculiar people in the eyes of God, but which accepted the best of paganism (including its most potent charms) as focusing in, finding its meaning in, the supreme Iao Sabaoth. In contrast to this, the Judaism of the rabbis was a Judaism which rejected all of the pagan religious world (all that it could), and said not, like Philo and these magicians, that the true supreme God of pagan formulation was best understood as the God of the Jews, but that any approach to God except the rabbinical Jewish one was blasphemous. Theirs was the method of exclusion, not inclusion. The Judaism of the rabbis won out in the early Middle Ages, to such an extent that the rabbis made men forget that such a Judaism as here has come to light ever existed.39
Moshe Davis also writes:
If there was any such thing, then, as an “orthodox Judaism,” it must have been that which is now almost unknown to us, the religion of the average “people of the land.”40
Long before the Hillelic branch of the Pharisees had gained a stranglehold on Judaism in general, the Pharisees underwent a long struggle against numerous other Jewish groups who did not follow their party line.
Nevertheless, during the first century C.E., the power of the Pharisees was focused on the state level in Judaea and stretched out its hand as a guiding force to the numerous Jewish synagogues spread throughout the world.
It was on this level that they had the support of the masses for controlling state and local religious functions.
Any formal power that the Sadducees might have had, which would have enabled them to push aside the dominance of the Pharisees, began to perish in the early first century C.E., sometime after 6 C.E., when Judaea became a Roman province.41
Victory of the Pharisees
With the power of the Herodian throne absent from Jerusalem, the authority of the Pharisees quickly increased.
As Emile Schürer points out, “The price which the Sadducees had to pay to ensure their supremacy in this later period was admittedly a high one: in the performance of their official functions they had to accommodate themselves to popular Pharisaic views.”42
By the time of the messiah’s death in 30 C.E.,43 the Sadducees were under the domination of the Pharisees with regard to all public priestly services, such as the sacrifices in the court of the Temple and the date of Passover.44
It was at that time that the messiah referred to the Pharisees as sitting in “the seat of Moses.”45 Shortly before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. the power of the Sadducees over matters inside the Temple itself was also finally surrendered to the Pharisees.
This detail is demonstrated by the victory of the Pharisees in the matter of the omer wave offering during the Pentecost season—a purely priestly function inside the Temple.
A Talmudic Scholiast, for example, claims that the rule—namely, that from the eighth day of Nisan until the moad celebration of Passover all mourning was forbidden46—found in the Megillath Taanith (composed in 68 C.E.)47 marked the recent triumph of the Pharisees over the Sadducees in a controversy regarding the date of Pentecost.48
Elsewhere, after giving a general statement of the beliefs of the Pharisees, Josephus, who was writing in 93/94 C.E.,49 well after the fall of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 C.E., adds:
Because of these views they (the Pharisees) are, as a matter of fact, extremely influential among the townsfolk; and all prayers (vows) AND SACRED RITES OF DIVINE WORSHIP are performed according to their exposition.50
This statement clearly demonstrates that the Aristocratic system, with regard to “sacred rites of divine worship,” which includes the Festival of Passover and Unleavened Bread and the Festival of Pentecost, were suppressed by the Pharisees during the first century C.E.
During the first two-thirds of this century the Sadducees still controlled the Temple.
Therefore, during the time of the messiah, even though there was a great dispute among the old priestly line and the upstart Pharisees, the Pharisees had gained the command of popular opinion and the Sadducees were forced to submit to the religious formulas of the Pharisees with regard to the observance of Passover and other sacred days.51
After the destruction of the Temple of Yahweh in 70 C.E., the Sadducees as a political and religious party ceased, leaving the innovative Pharisees in command.52
Pharisaic ability to adapt to new situations enabled them to survive the devastation of their country and centuries of persecution. Today, “almost all forms of modern Judaism trace their lineage through the Pharisees.”53
The survival of the sect of the Pharisees as the dominant religious party is the reason why all Orthodox Judaism today practices the System B Passover.
Unfortunately, this fact has also led to the false assumption, held by many today, that System B was the only arrangement for the Festival of Passover and Unleavened Bread.
The evidence so far demonstrates two fundamentally different approaches to the doctrinal issues of Scriptures.
The Sadducees represented the conservative priests and their allies who saw it in their interest to abide by the letter of the Torah of Moses. Without a literal interpretation of the written Torah their very status as an aristocracy was jeopardized.
The Pharisees, on the other hand, being the liberals, represented the scholars who were from the layman and scribe classes. It was in their interest to remain in favor with the Jewish masses.
Their authority rested upon their claim that there existed an oral law handed down by the traditions of their fathers. This oral law permitted them to interpret the Torah of Moses in light of ever-changing circumstances and, at the same time, offer the people a structured way to piety.
In the eyes of the Pharisees, the interpreters were not the arrogant and self-serving Zadok priests but their own pious rabbinical scholars.
Toward the end of this struggle, the Sadducees fell under the control of the Pharisees and then into insignificance.
Parts I and II of the Sadducees & Pharisees installment has provided the evidence for the present-day Pharisaic/Hasidic practice of Orthodox Judaism which we have labeled System B.
Regrettably, many of the early Sacred Name groups had assumed as valid the basic elements of the Pharisaic/Hasidic version of Passover and Unleavened Bread. Upon recognizing a flaw concerning the timing of the Passover sacrifice/meal a decision was made to develop a hybrid of System B which we have labeled Modern Hybrid System G which is practiced by most Sacred Name groups of today.
Be sure to read on with our next post regarding the Passover debate titled 12. Passover – Hasidic Practice I.
For further reading see the publication by Qadesh La Yahweh press titled The Festivals and Sacred Days of Yahweh.
Click this link for Bibliography and Abbreviations.
2 CBTEL 8, p. 70, “To state the doctrines and statutes of the Pharisees is to give a history of orthodox Judaism; since Pharisaism was after the return from the Babylonian captivity, and is to the present day, the national faith of the orthodox Jews, developing itself with and adapting itself to the ever-shifting circumstances of the nation.”
6 The Zealot movement, though originally not designated under that name (MDB p. 1082; JQR 60, p. 187), was founded by Judas of Galilee, with the assistance of a Pharisee named Saddok, in 7 C.E. when they led a revolt against the Romans at the time of the Roman registration of property for taxes (Acts 5:37; Jos. Wars, 2:8:1, 2:17:8f, Antiq., 18:1:6, 20:5:2). They became a religious party with the revolt against Rome in 66 C.E. Menahem, the son of this Judas, held Masada during the war against Rome (Jos. War, 2:17:8f). It was Eleazar, the son of Yair and descendant of Judas of Galilee, who led the Sicarii (Zealots) at Masada before its final fall (Jos. Wars, 2:17:9, 7:8:1). Also see HJP 1, pp. 381f, & n. 129, 2, pp. 598–606; EJ 16, pp. 947–950; JE 12, pp. 639–643.
7 Hippolytus Ref. Her., 9:21.
8 Jos. Wars, 7:8:1–7:9:2.
9 Jos. Antiq., 18:1:6.
10 Hippolytus Ref. Her., 9:23.
11 SEC Heb. #6567; HJP 2 pp. 396–398; PSSP pp. 220f; NBD p. 981; MDB p. 680; EBD pp. 823f. John Dam. 15, states that the name Pharisee “is interpreted as meaning ‘those who are set apart’.”
22 Acts 26:5.
23 Acts 22:3.
24 Jos. Antiq., 17:2:4; cf., Jos. Life, 38, “the sect of the Pharisees, who have the reputation of being unrivaled experts in their country’s laws”; Jos. Wars, 2:8:14, “the Pharisees who are considered the most accurate interpreters of the laws.”
25 Ab. 1:1–5; TNTB p. 149; MDB p. 681; SNY chap. xiii.
28 Jos. Antiq., 13:10:6.
32 Jos. Antiq., 13:10:6.
33 Jos. Antiq., 18:1:4.
37 Jos. Antiq. 17:2:4 §42.
43 The date of the messiah’s death is derived from the fact that (1) he was murdered during the 10-year procuratorship of Pontius Pilate over Judaea (Jos. Antiq., 18:2:2, 18:4:2, 18:6:5), i.e., between the fall of 26 C.E. until the fall of 36 C.E., and (2) he was murdered on the fifth day of the week, being the 14th of Abib. The 14th of Abib in those years occurred on the fifth day of the week only in the year 30 C.E. Detailed proof for the date of the messiah’s death will be presented in a forthcoming post contained in a different series.
44 For example, at the time of the messiah’s death in 30 C.E., it is clear that the high priests Annas and Caiaphas (Jos., Antiq. 18:2:2, 18:4:3; Matt. 26:57; John 11:49, 18:13; Luke 3:1-3; Acts 4:6) were observing the Pharisaic customs of Passover (e.g., John 2:13, 6:4, 18:28).
45 Matt. 23:1-3.
47 MTS, pp. 3f, “the last event chronicled in our Megillah is one which took place on the 17th of Adar, 66 C.E.” The Talmud places its composition a few years before the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E. (MTS pp. 3f, 112–115; B. R.Sh., 18b). The Pharisaic Zealots overthrew the Sadducee high priest in Nov. of 67 C.E., allowing for the first omer wave offering to be made according to the Pharisaic method in the spring of 68 C.E. The year 68 C.E. for the composition of the Megillath Taanith, therefore, is in full accord with these events. The date of the Megillath Taanith and the date of the Pharisaic victory with regard to the issue of Pentecost will be discussed in the forthcoming post titled Counting Penteost.
48 MTS p. 75. Pentecost is also called the Festival of שבעת (Shabuath), the Festival of Harvest, and the Festival of Firstfruits (Exod. 23:16, 34:22; Num. 28:26; Deut. 16:10; Lev. 23:5-17; cf., LXX at Lev. 23:16, and Jos., Antiq. 3:1:6, Wars, 2:3:1). It was one of the three great khagi of Scriptures (Exod. 23:14-17; Deut. 16:16). Its date was determined by the instructions in Lev. 23:4-22, in relationship with the Passover. In Lev. 23:15-16, we read, “And you shall number for you from the day after the Sabbath, from the day you bring in the wave sheaf offering, seven complete Sabbaths they shall be, until the day after the seventh Sabbath, you shall number 50 days.” Lev. 23:11, states that the sheaf was waved on the day after the Sabbath during the festival of Passover. Those of the Aristocratic schools understood this literally and for them the 50-day count begins on the day after the weekly Sabbath that falls during the seven days of Unleavened Bread and fulfills seven complete weeks. Therefore the festival always falls on the day after the seventh Sabbath, on the first day of the week. The Pharisees, however, interpreted “Sabbath” as the first day of Passover, which was also a “day of rest.” For them, the festival always falls on the 51st day from the first day of Passover (Sifra, Emor Perek 12 §232:1–3; B. Men. 65a–66a; NBD p. 964; EJ 14, p. 1319). The early Christian assemblies, who followed System A, also counted Pentecost in the same manner as the Sadducees (ACC 2 pp. 1157–1161; NBD p. 964).
49 Jos. Antiq. 20:12:1 §267, “the thirteenth year of the reign of Domitian Caesar.”
50 Jos. Antiq. 18:1:3.