Judith M. Lieu
Accounts of Judaism often start from Josephus's description of the three ‘schools of thought’ (haireseis, sometimes misleadingly translated as ‘sects’), or ‘philosophies’, among the Jews, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes (BJ 2. 119–66; AJ 13. 171–3; 18. 11–22). New Testament references to the Pharisees and the Sadducees seemingly confirmed this starting-point, while the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, often associated with Josephus's Essenes, apparently completed the picture, although it also did much to stimulate reconsideration of Jewish faith and practice. On the other hand, Josephus also describes the Jews as holding a remarkable unity (Ap. 2. 151–219), and the tension between these two claims sets the scene for the debates about ‘unity and diversity’ that have dominated much modern scholarship (Cohen 1987). A stress on the diversity and different positions has led to talk of Judaisms, while one on a core unity to that of ‘common Judaism’. Yet, even given this starting- point, ‘three’ is obviously a stylized number, and the uncritical submission to Josephus in some accounts of first- century Judaism has probably led to considerable distortion. Moreover, the language of philosophies is an evident accommodation to his Greek readers and should warn us against reading his accounts as dispassionate; it is this philosophical dress that leads him to define the groups through their views on fate and human free will, categories that sit uncomfortably with the biblical tradition to which all looked. None the less, a definition of these three groups in terms of their differentiating convictions still dominates accounts, although we shall see that it can hardly prove adequate.
Following Josephus, the origins of such movements have regularly been traced to the distinctive circumstances of the second century BCE: apart from the free-floating tradition in AJ 18. 171–3, they first appear, already established, when the Hasmonaean John Hyrcanus (ruled 134–104 BCE) switched allegiance from the Pharisees to the Sadducees (AJ 13. 288–98). Yet what was it that should cause these and other groups to emerge at this time? Do they reflect varying responses to the historical events of the period—for example, to the ‘threat of Hellenism’ in the supposed attempt by Antiochus Epiphanes to outlaw Jewish practice, or to the support he received internally (1 Macc. 1: 20–63), or to the power and strategies adopted by the Hasmonaeans once independence was achieved? Do they represent changes in class structure and in opportunities for individual self-expression or access to influence that were implicated in these events? Is their appearance to be linked with other changes in Judaism in this period—for example, with the growing focus on Torah, alongside but also independently of the Temple, which made possible the rise of Torah specialists from outside the priestly classes, in which case should we trace them back to Ezra ‘the scribe’? Are they best labelled ‘schools of thought’ on a philosophical model, ‘movements’, a loosely-structured tendency with a wider following than the immediate core, or ‘parties’, suggesting a conscious membership but a willingness to work within patterns of co-operation as well as competition, or ‘sects’, sociologically defined by their clear self-determined boundaries and by a conscious distancing from or rejection of other claimants to power or the tradition (see Baumgarten 1997)? Such questions lie at the heart of a fundamental debate particularly regarding the Pharisees and Sadducees, as to whether they are to be defined primarily in terms of their doctrinal stance towards the ‘pillars’ of Jewish faith and practice, Law and Temple, or in terms of their social context and relationship to internal and external power structures. Moreover, are they to be described diachronically in terms of their social and political history, or in the more synchronic functionalist terms of their relationship with the controlling structures of Judaism or contemporary circumstances? (See among others Saldarini 1988; Stemberger 1995).
As can be illustrated with reference to the Pharisees, much depends on the evaluation given to the explicit references (see above) and on the detection of other sources of information. The older classic view was that the Pharisees were the dominant party in late Second Temple Judaism (following Josephus (e.g. AJ 18. 15) and their frequency in the Gospels and Acts), and that they represented the future shape of Judaism through their heirs, the rabbis. As a consequence, rabbinic sources were mined to illustrate Pharisaic thought and practice; on the assumption of Pharisaic dominance, such sources were also held to represent ‘orthodox’ Judaism of the pre-rabbinic period. Here they are a ‘religious’ group, characterized particularly by their allegiance to the ‘oral law’ as the organ of their strict interpretation of Torah (as in Josephus and the NT, e.g. Mark 7: 3–4); this view might interpret their name (from the root prš) as emphasizing their ‘accuracy’ (Josephus, BJ 2. 162), now mirrored by their rejection in the Dead Sea Scrolls as ‘Ephraim…those who seek smooth things’ (4QpNahum (Nahum Pesher) 3–4 ii. 2) (see Baumgarten 1983). The power claimed for them, although including a social or political dimension, is here predicated on a predominantly ‘religious’ definition of first-century Judaism, even when it is also accepted that they despised the ‘masses who did not know the law’, or (important from a Christian perspective) that the minutiae of their regulations led to a burdensome and dry legalism (cf. John 7: 49; Matt. 23: 13–24). Often also assumed here is their challenge to the Temple aristocracy (the Sadducees?), whose connivance with Rome and even financial corruption supposedly distanced them from the people. (Schaper 1999 still represents elements of this picture.)
However, this picture of a Pharisaic monopoly is now widely challenged. It is already undermined by the limited explicit role that they play in Josephus's description of the events of the first century CE (Sievers 1996). In practice, the Temple continued to be the religious and political power centre until its destruction in 70 CE, and those who held most power in the Temple—pace Josephus, the priestly classes—would surely have most actual power (see Sanders 1992). Accordingly, some have argued that Josephus's claims and the high profile of the Pharisees in the Gospels reflect the time when all these were written, towards the end of the first century CE, when the rabbis, supposedly their successors, were coming to prominence and provided the major opposition to the nascent Christian movement. This would, for example, explain the heightened polemic against the Pharisees in Matthew's Gospel (e.g. Matt. 23) compared with his source, Mark. Here the Pharisees appear as a group, ‘waiting in the wings’ prior to the destruction of the Temple, still characterized by a distinctive attitude to Torah, possibly, but not certainly, with some popular following, but not the defining representatives of ‘Judaism’, either religiously nor politically.
Both these pictures are susceptible to a further challenge; there is little explicit evidence that the Pharisees were the direct predecessors of the rabbis. To appeal, as is sometimes done, to their prominence in Josephus and the Gospels is only to produce the proverbial circle; rabbinic sources do not use the term ‘Pharisees’ of their predecessors, although they do claim a few authorities, such as Gamaliel, whom other sources identify as ‘Pharisees’. There are rabbinic anecdotes where perushim are opposed to ‘Sadducees’ (e.g. m. Yadim 4. 6–7; cf. m. Menahoth 10. 3, where the more common term ‘Boethusians’ may represent the Sadducees); but it is not clear that the rabbis always favour the former, whose label may castigate them as ‘separatists’ (also prš). This supports a view that the rabbis represent something of a coalition with a fundamentally different ideology to that of the Pharisees even if some were included within it. While it is a constant in the sources that the Pharisees interpreted Scripture on the basis of their own traditions, that these equate with the ‘oral law’, could be traced back to Moses, and can be unilaterally illustrated by rabbinic traditions, is not justified.
None the less, some scholars, most notably J. Neusner, have developed techniques of analysis to determine which traditions in the Mishnah can be traced back to first-century authorities, whom they then define as ‘Pharisaic’ (1971, 1973b). The picture which emerges from these texts emphasizes a concern for the rules of purity and for tithing, which would be expressed most clearly in eating together: according to this view, a ‘table fellowship’ group dominated by these concerns would be fairly narrow and exclusive (‘separatists’), and would be unlikely to hold real social or political power; yet, as a voluntary group adopting rules scripturally intended for the Temple and priesthood, neither need they have despised the ordinary people who did not, and in normal daily life could not, so live; nor would they have been avid proselytizers (Matt. 23: 15). To the natural objection that this conflicts with their evident political aspirations under John Hyrcanus and still under Salome Alexandra (76–67 BCE) (BJ 1. 110–12), it is suggested that they subsequently withdrew from the political arena, and, by constituting an alternative form of Temple-focused society, adopted a quietism that was itself a means of rejection of the dominant political order but that resulted in a degree of self-chosen marginalization (see also Neusner 1973a). Critics of such a reconstruction argue that while there were such exclusive table-fellowship groups—for example, the Dead Sea community or the haberim (‘associates’) of rabbinic sources—it is unlikely that Josephus and the New Testament would have failed to notice or comment on such behaviour by the Pharisees.
However, this move away from seeing the opposition between Pharisees and Sadducees as one of Torah versus Temple is supported by the Dead Sea Scrolls. The absence of the Essenes from the NT and, for the most part, from independent historical records focuses attention on the exclusive claim in the Scrolls to correct interpretation of Torah, understood both halakhically and prophetically, as well as on their apparent (but perhaps not categorical or sustained) rejection of the Jerusalem Temple alongside their reproduction of Temple in their own communal ideology and practice. If this framework can be applied to each of the ‘parties’, we are left to seek the dynamics by which, and the social, historical, or economic context within which, Torah and Temple became controlling symbols that could generate competing and passionately defended interpretations. While a cultural or ideological perspective may stress the dual impact of the crisis of Hellenism and the nature of the Hasmonaean hegemony, a socio-economic one will attend to the economic status of those involved, who by definition valued and could practice literate skills. The model moves firmly towards one of ‘sects’, competing and, as self-defined, exclusive claims to the tradition, whether of an introversionist (Dead Sea Scrolls) or reformist (Pharisees) kind; it also becomes possible both to agree that a relatively small proportion of the population belonged to such groups—numerically, they were marginal in society—and yet to concede their significance—socio-economically and structurally—for the nature of Judaism in the period (Baumgarten 1997; Schwartz 2001). This need neither exclude nor affirm the allegiance of the masses to the accepted norms of Jewish belief and practice, an issue to be settled on other grounds.
The direction in which debate has moved carries with it further decisions. Older attempts to identify particular texts as ‘Pharisaic’, and perhaps on this basis as representing dominant belief patterns—for example, the strongly messianic Psalms of Solomon—are shown to lack independent justification. Similarly, the synagogue, which belongs to what might be seen as the democratization of the Law, has also been seen as a Pharisaic institution; yet there is limited evidence that explicitly ties Pharisees to the synagogue, and the synagogue is not a major concern of rabbinic literature; neither do we find many anecdotes locating the rabbis in synagogues (if, indeed, the rabbis are indicative of Pharisaic patterns). In the later period a tension between the rabbis, with their ‘house of study’, and the synagogue is now often posited. Study of the NT and of early ‘Jewish’—‘Christian’ relations (e.g. in the Fourth Gospel) has yet to take this seriously into account. Although simplisitic antitheses of Pharisaic legalism over against Jesuan grace have largely been abandoned, these debates still demand considerably more sophistication in analysis of the social, political, and religious dimensions of disputes about observance of Torah in the first century.
Without any additional sources, the Sadducees have invariably been viewed in the shadow of the Pharisees; the move towards a sectarian interpretation of the Pharisees has exacerbated this lack of independent interest, for the little we know about them fits uneasily in to this model. Josephus and the New Testament agree that the Sadducees rejected the doctrine of the resurrection and of angels, both patterns of belief that developed late in the period of the Hebrew Bible; it is then supposed that they hide behind the ‘Epicureans’ of rabbinic polemic who deny the resurrection and the divine origin of Torah (m. Sanhedrin 10. 1). This makes them appear traditionalists, a more conservative party, as too does Josephus's claim that they adhere to the Law alone and rejected the (Pharisees') oral traditions. On these two foundations appears to rest the claim by early Christian writers that they accepted only the Pentateuch, a view presupposing a clearer sense of ‘canon’ than there was in this period and without other support. It is often suggested that all this coheres with their aristocratic status (Josephus, AJ 18. 17), as being particularly associated with the priesthood (cf. Acts 5: 17), their name derived from Zadok the priest. At the same time, it is also often assumed that they were more sympathetic to a pro-Hellenizing position and to the Romans, under whose oversight the High Priestly family held power. This profile thus associates them particularly with the Temple, and ascribes their disappearance to their loss of a power base following 70 CE. Whether all this is compatible with a traditionalism might be debated, although a conservative religious position might live alongside a realpolitik. More important, a number of elements in this common picture are founded only on supposition; the origin of their name is far from certain, and we know of priests who were not Sadducean, Josephus included. Rabbinic accounts of disputes between perushim and Sadducees (Boethusians?) over the interpretation of the Law indicate that they did have their own interpretative traditions, as would anyone who sought some application to the contemporary context, while even Josephus describes them as harsher in the application of penalties (AJ 20. 199). Links have been detected between the interpretations ascribed to the Sadducees in rabbinic sources and positions adopted in the Dead Sea Scrolls, which themselves also have a high regard for the sons of Zadok and the whole priestly tradition. This suggests that there are patterns and networks among Second Temple movements which we do not have sufficient information to unravel.
In his account of the establishment of Roman rule in Judaea (in 6 CE) Josephus introduces a so-called Fourth Philosophy (AJ 18. 23–5), the name (since there were properly ‘three’) designating it as neither integral nor ‘from oldest time’. Although he aligns them with the Pharisees, their religious exclusivism—God alone as Lord—is for him expressed most significantly through their revolutionary aims and methods. For this reason they are usually considered in relation to the role of a revolutionary movement in the events during the first century and leading to the first revolt of 66–70 CE: Josephus implies as much in his initial reference, but does not sustain the connection in his subsequent account. Their identification with the various revolutionary groups that Josephus describes during the first revolt, in particular with those he calls the Zealots (first explicitly in 68 CE, BJ 2. 651) or with the sicarii (dagger-men: AJ 20. 186 under Festus) is much debated; on this important question hangs whether or not the picture of first-century Judaism is to include a continuous revolutionary strain, always in the background if not to the fore. Josephus also speaks of the rise of brigandage prior to the revolt (AJ 20. 4–5, 131, 160–6), as well as of those whom he labels impostors and charlatans, but who appear as charismatic figures winning followers by their prophetic message or acts (AJ 18. 85–7; 20. 169–72). Here he has provoked counter-readings, attempts to discern possible relationships between these individuals or their followers, and to locate them within a religious or a socio-economic framework, in so far as such a distinction can be sustained. Although Josephus dates their rise to the Roman period, attempts to defend a religious interpretation have often appealed to the religious associations of the term ‘zeal’ and to an ideology traced back to the zeal of Phinehas (Num. 25: 1–15), appealed to by the Maccabees (1 Macc. 2: 54), via Elijah—a tradition willing to kill those who defied or sought to deny God's law (Hengel 1989). Socio-economic interpretations have drawn on comparative studies of ‘brigandage’, within the context of the economic changes of the first century, although, in the light of what we have seen above, this need not exclude moments of intersection with the controlling ‘myths’ of the Jewish system (Horsley 1986).
We have already seen the extent to which the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls has transformed our understanding of these Jewish ‘movements’ (see also Davies, Chapter 6 in this volume). Nowhere is this more true than with Josephus's ‘Essenes’, even when his account is supplemented by the highly idealized ones by Philo (Every Good Man 75–91) and, from an outside perspective, by Pliny the Elder (HN 5. 73). Although not identical, these have enough in common and provide sufficient links with the ideology of the Scrolls to lead to the early identification of the ‘Dead Sea Sect’ with the Essenes (Vermes and Goodman 1989). Here confidence has wavered in more recent scholarship: the Scrolls do not identify themselves as Essene, Josephus and Philo suggest that the Essenes were a widespread movement, and a number of aspects of thought and practice found in the Scrolls are either not mentioned in descriptions of the Essenes or are incompatible with them. While a mediating, and frequently adopted, position is that the Dead Sea Scrolls represent a split within the wider Essene movement, there remains the sharp contrast between the ideology of the distinctive (‘sectarian’) Scrolls, which rejects all other claimants to Israel's status and covenant, and Josephus's failure to mention any such tendency. Again, while any community settled at Qumran would have been too small and isolated to have attracted the attention of early Christian writers, the 4,000 Essenes agreed by Josephus and Philo (compared with 6,000 Pharisees according to Josephus) implies a more substantial movement which might be expected to have made more of a mark on the history of the first century and beyond, or at least to have shaped society in ways now lost to us. The minority position which challenges the association of the Scrolls with the remains at Khirbet Qumran, and the identification of the latter as a monastic-style settlement—as explored alsewhere in this volume—leaves open to conjecture the relation of the thought of the Scrolls, both those overtly sectarian and those not, to other strains of Jewish thought and practice in the period (see above, Chapter 6).
However, the majority position does sharpen the question of how far dissent could extend. The Scrolls most explicitly evince a rejection as members of the covenant of those who think otherwise; a similar sectarian consciousness has been claimed of other groups, and such voluntarism could be traced much earlier within the biblical tradition, with its roots in the prophetic writings. Does the presence of conflicting claims to represent the tradition lead from talk of movements to that of Judaisms? Against this would be the relatively limited evidence of more than verbal polemic; certainly physical violence is part of the ‘memory’ of the Scrolls (1QpHab (Habbakuk pesher) xi. 2–8) and was to become so of some parts of the early ‘Christan’ movement (Acts 8: 1–3; Gal. 1: 13–14), yet these may be exceptions, and, as we have seen, Josephus himself betrays no knowledge of the schismatic consequences of Essene doctrine. The presence of diverse views, for example on messianism, among the Dead Sea Scrolls acts as a warning against seeing behind every difference in doctrine a different and incompatible coherent world-view or interpretation of ‘Judaism’. On the other hand, still following Josephus, the Samaritans have not been included here on the grounds that they represent an independent trajectory, if not schism, with their own institutions, although it is arguable that, given their own claim to be ‘Israelites’ (as witnessed by inscriptions at Delos), they represent but another point on the scale.
Undoubtedly there were other movements: Philo gives a highly idealized account of a monastic community of men and women located in Egypt whom he calls the Therapeutae (On the Contemplative Life). What reality lies behind his account, and whether it might have been repeated elsewhere, is disputed: many interpreters accept the connection with the Essenes suggested by Philo himself; but this might challenge an interpretation which saw a relationship with the Temple as well as with Torah as determinative in Jewish ‘sectarianism’ (hence, perhaps their total absence from Baumgarten 1997). Later patristic and rabbinic texts refer to a variety of other groups, and, while there is frequently a degree of stereotyping in the numbers, they may well reflect genuine memories. Among these appear to be those who practised regular bathing or ablutions, such as the ‘Hemerobaptists’ and ‘Masbotheans’ (Justin, Dial. 80. 4; Eusebius, HE 4. 22). The influence of such groups has often been found behind later Jewish-Christian groups who practised repeated washing or ‘baptism’ and who seem to have been associated with areas around and east of the Jordan River, and in particular behind the later Mandaeans and Elkesaites from whose midst Manichaeism was to emerge. Other figures would include the hermit Bannus, with whom Josephus spent three years after trying out the other three sects (Vit. 3), John the Baptist, known from Josephus and NT sources, and presumably others like them. Including these in the picture begins to put a strain on a sectarian model that requires a core within which sectarianism can flourish; yet neither should we dismiss them as mavericks.
Certainly their inclusion raises other questions: these latter groups appear not to belong only to the period before the destruction of the Temple, which, because of the dearth of later references, is often seen as signalling the end (for a while) of Jewish sectarianism (although cf. Goodman 1994), and so as confirming an interpretation founded on its existence. The vagaries of survival of references may make us ask whether it is fundamental or accidental that, with the exception of Philo, we have been speaking only of Jews within Palestine, and perhaps predominantly of Judaea: despite Paul of Tarsus and Matt. 23: 15, evidence of even Pharisees outside its borders is largely lacking. Were there no such movements among diaspora communities despite the wide variations in Hellenistic Jewish literature towards aspects of Jewish identity (which, according to some interpretations of Acts 6, could even be expressed within Jerusalem itself)? And where, then, are we to locate what was to become Christianity, itself often identified as initially a reform movement within Judaism, albeit passed over in silence by Josephus?
Breaking free from the Josephan model returns us both to the question of origins and to a wider definition of movements. Already in 1 Macc. 2: 42; 7: 13, we find references to the ‘Hasidaeans’ (‘Hasidim’) who refuse to fight on the sabbath; although often identified with or seen as the progenitors of the Pharisees and/or of the Essenes, there is nothing to establish (or disprove) this. Some have argued from references particularly in the Damascus Document (CD) that the earliest origins of the Essene movement lie in the community of the exiles in Babylon; others would note the distinctive stance of texts like Jubilees or the Enochic traditions which may be pushed before the Maccabean period. Some would argue that these may continue local traditions opposed to the Jerusalem Temple whose real power was based on political circumstance. Even further back are the traces in the later books of the Hebrew Bible of power conflicts and groups who find themselves excluded; the development of literary genres, such as apocalyptic, has also been located here. Certainly these do not appear to have generated defined parties or sects, although we may describe them as movements; whether they take us beyond the literate élites as is sometimes claimed for apocalypticism is less certain (Stone 1980). As we saw at the beginning of this essay, the Josephan model establishes movements within a prior unity; the model itself, and, even more, recent developments in the understanding of the formation of ‘Judaism’, provoke the question whether there was a unity within which diversity could arise, and/or how such a unity might be defined or experienced. One answer would be that unity was achieved only after 70 CE, when, supposedly, we no longer have traces of the Sadducees, Essenes, Dead Sea sectarians, or even Pharisees, so named; if it was not a unity based on coercion, it may have been founded on the containment of permissible debate and difference enshrined in the rabbinic writings. This view, too, has been challenged, partly by appeal to the references, albeit sparse, to these groups in writings later than 70 CE, including Josephus and the NT: why detail groups whose identity was by then a matter of fading memory? Such issues lie beyond the scope of this essay, although anyone interested in the earliest history of Christianity within its Jewish matrix will have to address them.