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 in 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 trustworthy deputation. In the account of this by Jn certain points seem clearly implied; on others only suggestions can be ventured.
That the interview referred to occurred after the Baptism of Jesus, appears from the whole context. Similarly, the statement that the deputation which came to Jn 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. Joh_7:15), yet it refers to the people in their corporate capacity, that is, as represented by their constituted religious authorities. On the other hand, although the term ‘scribes and elders’ does not occur in the Gospel of John, 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; 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. 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.
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 Priesthood,’ 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. 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 John must have convinced them that his views and aims lay entirely beyond their horizon.
The origin of the two great parties of Pharisees and Sadducees has already been traced. They mark, not sects, but mental directions, such as in their principles are natural and universal, and, indeed, appear in connection with all metaphysical 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 commonly entertained. 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 regarded as the most trustworthy authority on the matter. The inferences which we derive from the statements of Josephus, though always to be qualified by our general estimate of his animus, 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.
Without entering on the principles and supposed practices of the ‘fraternity’ or ‘association’ (ḥeḇer ḥaḇurah ḥaḇurta) of Pharisees, which was comparatively small, numbering only about 6,000 members, the 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 ḥaḇer, 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’). But it must not be thought that every ḥaḇer was either a learned Scribe, or that every Scribe was a ḥaḇer. On the contrary, as a man might be a ḥaḇer 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 family of a ḥaḇer belonged, as a matter of course, to the community; but this ordinance was afterwards altered. 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 haareṣ. The full ḥaḇer undertook not to sell to an ‘am haareṣ’ 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 primary importance.
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) and that in regard to Levitical purity (the special vow of the ḥaḇer). 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.’ 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.’ ‘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.’ It is as a tradition among the Pharisees 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, 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, 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 painful commentary.
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, 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 canon-law. 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. 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, 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 unorthodox, directions.
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 predestination. 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 the Pharisees. A careful examination of the statements of Josephus on this subject will show that they convey no more than this. 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. 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,’ imposed on themselves the necessity of much self-denial, especially in regard to food but that their practice was under the guidance of reason, as Josephus asserts, is one of those bold misstatements with which he has too often to be credited. His vindication of their special reverence for age and authority 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.’
The second doctrinal difference between Pharisees and Sadducees concerned the ‘after death.’ According to the New Testament, the Sadducees denied the resurrection of the dead, while Josephus, going further, imputes to them denial of reward or punishment after death, and even the doctrine that the soul perishes with the body. 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, 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 states 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 Sadducees 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. 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 this controversy with the Sadducees Christ appealed to the Pentateuch in proof of His teaching.
Connected with this was the equally Rationalistic opposition to belief in Angels and Spirits. It is only mentioned in the New Testament, 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.
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’ εἰμαρμένη) 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 pre-ordination, 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 controversies. Although 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 another place 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, 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.
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 preordination 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 even 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. Even if a man inflicted a cut on his finger, he might be sure that this also had been preordered. Nay, ‘wheresoever a man was destined to die, thither would his feet carry him.’ We can well understand how the Sadducees would suppose notions like these, and all such coarse expressions of fatalism. And it is significant of the exaggeration of Josephus, that neither the New Testament, nor Rabbinic writings, bring the charge of the denial of God’s prevision against the Sadducees.
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. 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. It was, indeed, true that God had created the evil impulse in us; but He had also given the remedy in the Law. 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). Or, to put it in the language of the great Akiba: ‘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.
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. Two other similar instances are mentioned. 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. 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 parity and purifying power. 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. What seem the original ordinances, 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 error. 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.
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_23:11, Lev_23:15, Lev_23:16, 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 Pentacost always on a Sunday; while the Pharisees understood the term ‘Sabbath’ of the festive Paschal day. 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.
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. Similarly, the Sadducees objected to the beating of the willow-branches after the procession round the altar on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles, if it were a Sabbath. 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. 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.
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; 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, 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 punishment 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. 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. Lastly, the Sadducees argued that if, according to Exo_21:28, Exo_21:29, 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.
For the sake of completeness it has been necessary to enter into details, which may not possess 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, and especially the female world, 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. But to conclude from this, either that the Sadducees represented the civil and political aspect of society, and the Pharisees the religious; or, that the Sadducees were the priest-party, 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, 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 Pharisees.’
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, the name was derived from one ṣadoq (Zadok), 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 (ṣadoq), the High-Priest in the time of Solomon. But the objections to this are insuperable. Not to speak of the linguistic difficulty of deriving ṣadaqim (Zaddukim, Sadducees) from ṣadoq (Zadok), neither 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 Tsadoq.
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. From 1 Macc. 2:42; 1 Macc. 7:13; 2 Macc. 14:6, it appears that originally they had taken the sacred name of ḥasidim, or ‘the pious.’ This, no doubt, on the ground that they were truly those who, according to the directions of Ezra, had separated themselves (become niḇdalim) ‘from the filthiness of the heathen’ (all heathen defilement) by carrying out the traditional ordinances. In fact, Ezra marked the beginning of the ‘later,’ in contradistinction to the ‘earlier,’ or Scripture-ḥasidim If we are correct in supposing that their opponents had called them perushim, instead of the Scriptural designation niḇdalim, the inference is at hand, that, while the ‘Pharisees’ would arrogate to themselves the Scriptural name of ḥasidim or ‘the pious,’ their opponents would retort that they were satisfied to be ṣadiqim, or ‘righteous.’ Thus the name of ṣadiqim 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 (ṣadiqim into ṣaduqim), 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. Some wit might have suggested: Read not ṣadiqim, the ‘righteous,’ but ṣaduqim (from ṣadû צָדוִ), ‘desolation,’ ‘destruction.’ Whether or not this suggestion approve itself to critics, the derivation of Sadducees from ṣadiqim is certainly that which offers most probability.
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 (Ἐσσηνοί, or Ἐσσαῖοι – 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. 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 known of their views, would account for the scanty notices about them. Josephus and Philo, 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. 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.
We possess 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 ḥasidim, seems needless. Certain it is that we find its first mention about 150 b.c., and that we meet the first Essene in the reign of Aristobulus I.
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. 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, they chose for their settlements chiefly villages, one of their largest colonies being by the shore of the Dead Sea. At the same time they had also ‘houses’ in most, if not all the cities of Palestine, notably in Jerusalem, where, indeed, one of the gates was named after them. In these ‘houses’ they lived in common, under officials of their own. The affairs of ‘the order’ were administered by a tribunal of at least a hundred members. They 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. 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. 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 son – probably, as they would have explained it, as the emblem of the Divine Light, but implying invocation, if not adoration, of the sun. 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. 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.
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, 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 Josephus, contains 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; and to guard the books belonging to their sect, and the names of the Angels.
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. 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 nature eased. 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.’
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.
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 of prediction; the same mystic writings revealed the secret remedies of plants and stones for the hearing of the body, as well as what was needed for the cure of souls.
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, we know what development the doctrine of Angels received both in the Book of Enoch (alike in its earlier and in its later portion) and in the Book of Jubilees, 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. Here we would only specially notice that in the Book of Jubilees Angels are represented as teaching Noah all ‘herbal remedies’ for diseases, while in the later Pirqé de R. Eliezer 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 sep̱arim haḥiṣonim, ‘outside writings.’ The point is of greatest importance, as will presently appear.
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 Neo-Pythagorean, the other to Persian sources, 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, in its distinctive features, maybe 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.
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 (Ἐσσηνοί, Ἐσσαῖοι) seems the Greek equivalent for ḥiṣonim (חיצונים) ‘the outsiders.’ Even the circumstance that the axe, or rather spade (ἀξινάριον), which every novice received, has for its Rabbinic equivalent the word ḥaṣina, is here not without significance. Linguistically, the words Esenoi and ḥiṣonim are equivalents, as admittedly are the similar designations ḥasidim (חַסִדִים) and Asidaioi (Ἀσιδαῖοι). For, in rendering Hebrew into Greek, the ch (ח) 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.’ 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 Aḇginos (אַבְגִינוֹס) for the Greek (εὐγενής) Eugenes (‘well-born’).
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, etc.), and greatly contributing to that mystic direction which afterwards found expression in what is now known as the kabalah. 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 passage 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 ḥiṣonim 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. Again, we know with what bitterness Rabbinism denounced the use of the external writings (the sep̱arim haḥiṣonim) to the extent of excluding from eternal life those who studied them. 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 sep̱arim haḥiṣonim were exclusively Essene writings, 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 allusion to Essene practices, similar to that which has already been noticed. 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’ (materialists), the same punishment is assigned to those ‘who read externe writings’ (sep̱arim haḥiṣonim) and ‘who whispered’ (a magical formula) ‘over a wound.’ Both the Babylonian and the Jerusalem Talmud 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 ḥiṣonim 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 ḥiṣonim writings with that of magical cures. 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.
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 John 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.