by L. Scott Kellum, Andreas J. Köstenberger, and Charles L. Quarles
Sometime during the Maccabean/Hasmonean reign the Pharisees came to prominence. They were “the most clearly recognizable and socially active group over the entire span of time.” Exactly when the Pharisees and Sadducees arose is unknown. Josephus first mentioned them as established groups during the reign of Jonathan but did not explain their origins (Ant. 13.171–73).
By the time of the reign of Hyrcanus, the two groups were clearly in opposition. Politically, the Pharisees were lay leaders who were the power brokers between the masses and the aristocracy. They were scrupulous about the law and viewed themselves as separate from those who were lax about keeping it.
The Sadducees are even more shrouded in mystery. The derivation of the name Sadducee is uncertain. It is possible that it comes from the name Zadok, but this is far from certain; others trace the name back to the term tsedek, “righteousness.” They were more connected to the aristocracy and observed only the Pentateuch. Josephus attributed to them a denial of divine sovereignty. The major discussion in the New Testament involving the Sadducees involves the resurrection, which they denied (Matt 22:23–33 and parallels; Acts 23:6–8). No known Sadducean document exists. The Sadducees were the major supporters of the Hasmonean dynasty.
The Hasidim, on the other hand, a pious Jewish group that had initially been supportive of the Hasmoneans, eventually turned against them. They split into two main groups: the Pharisees, who remained in Jerusalem; and the Essenes, who withdrew and most likely produced the Qumran sectarian literature known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Except for the reign of Salome Alexandra (see below), none of the Hasmoneans enjoyed the support of the Pharisees.
1. R. Deines, “The Pharisees Between ‘Judaisms’ and ‘Common Judaism,’” in Justification and Variegated Nomism, vol. 1: The Complexities of Second Temple Judaism, ed. D. A. Carson, P. T. O’Brien, and M. A. Seifrid (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2001), 447.
2. So much so that in Neusner’s 2007 book on the Pharisees the question is not addressed in detail: see J. Neusner and B. D. Chilton, eds., In Quest of the Historical Pharisees (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2007).
3. See S. Mason, “Pharisees,” in Dictionary of New Testament Background, 786.
Editor’s note: This is an adapted excerpt from The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown, Second Edition.
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