Ancient Jewish Sects

Within the Jewish faith there are several religious movements also known as denominations. These denominations have developed and evolved since the ancient days until now. However, there are Jewish sects that were in existence in the ancient past, the common sects that were around during the life and times of Jesus Christ and that are severally mentioned in the bible especially in The New Testament; these denominations are the subject of this post and have been broken down as follows:

(a) Sadducees

The Sadducees as a sect is made up of the Judean elite; members of this sect were mostly drawn from aristocratic, priestly, and military circles. The Sadducees believe that God is not actively involved in human affairs and that human beings have total free will. Additionally, Sadducees are dismissive of the concept that the soul lives on after death and also of the notion of judgment and punishment of the soul in the afterlife. They are against oral law and are mostly focused on temple worship. Together with the Pharisees, they were two of the largest sects in Israel in the two centuries right before destruction of the Second Temple in the year 70 C.E.

Sadducees were accused of arrogance and a boorish attitude in their pursuance of higher social standing and wealth.

(b) Pharisees

Of all the Jewish sects in Judea in the ancient times, Pharisees were the most popular. They were involved in virtually all major aspects of the society; from the government, to the community, to the temple and religious practices. This was a sect that had the support of the masses as a whole. The Pharisees held belief that life is a combination of fate and freewill and that the soul is indestructible even after death. The Pharisees also believed that good deeds will be rewarded and evil deeds punished in the afterlife, thus it was important to carry oneself accordingly with this knowledge in mind. This group followed both the oral and written Torah. The Pharisees and the Sadducees never saw eye to eye; there was never peaceful co-existence between the two. The Pharisees were the only group of the Jewish sect that recovered from the unfortunate events leading to the destruction of the Second Temple between 66-70 C.E. It is important to note that the rabbinic movement which ultimately became a normative tradition in Judaism was developed out of the Pharisees movement.

(c) Essenes

Like the Pharisees and the Sadducees, Essenes was also among the Jewish religious movements that flourished in the last two centuries prior to the destruction of the Second Temple. The Essenes were an exclusive group of people that refrained from Temple worship in Jerusalem. They believed in an afterlife and that the soul lived on in the hereafter. In regards to Sabbath, the Essenes committed more of their time to studying and were more stringent compared to the Pharisees. This group was also characterized by its unique practices like leading a voluntary life of poverty, celibacy, and water purification rituals. Becoming a member of this sect was not easy as it required adherence to a strict sect of rules with an extensive trial period accompanied with many pledges, vows, and oaths.

(d) Zealots

The most common trait characterizing this Jewish movement was its passion for liberty. Also known as the fourth philosophy, the zealots showed a real zeal or passion for God. This group was known for its controversial tendencies and way of life. The Sicarii (assassins) were a sub-group of the Zealots and were known for their rebellion of the Romans and doing their killings with small daggers concealed in their cloaks and which they used to strike down Roman sympathizers. Perhaps a common controversial story associated with the Zealots was the day a big group of them stood atop a mountain known as Mount Masada, about eight hundred of them, and committed mass suicide rather than being taken alive by the Romans.

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