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Pharisees - a group of influential Jews active in Palestine from 2nd century BCE through 1st century CE; they

advocated and adhered to strict observance of the Sabbath rest, purity rituals, tithing, and food restrictions based on the Hebrew Scriptures and on later traditions.

"Pharisees" probably means "separated ones" in Hebrew, referring to their strict observance of laws and traditions (Luke 18:10-12). Long-time political and religious rivals of the Sadducees, vying for influence among the rulers and the people. Mostly laymen, but possibly also some priests (from the tribe of Levi) or even members of the Sanhedrin (Acts 5:34). Followed not only the laws of the Hebrew Bible, but also the "traditions of the elders" (Mark 7:1-13; Matt 15:1-20). Sadducees - another prominent group of Jews in Palestine from 2nd century BCE through 1st century CE; they were probably smaller "elite" group, but even more influential than the Pharisees; they followed the laws of the Hebrew Bible (the Torah), but rejected newer traditions.

"Sadducees" comes from the Hebrew tsaddiqim ("righteous ones"), which may refer to the way they wished to live their lives. The name may also derive from Zadok, the high priest under King David (1 Kings 1:26), since many Sadducees were priests. Long-time political and religious rivals of the Pharisees, although their influence was more with the wealthy ruling elites. Essenes - a smaller group or "sect" that lived a communal "monastic" lifestyle at Qumram (near the Dead Sea) from 2nd century BCE through 1st century CE; the "Dead Sea Scrolls" found in this location in 1947 are usually associated with them.

Originally a group of priests, founded and/or led by a "Teacher of Righteousness" during the early Maccabean/Hasmonean era. They regarded the Jerusalem priests as illegitimate, since those were not Zadokites (from the family of the high priest Zadok). They rejected the validity of the Temple worship, and thus refused to attend the festivals or support the Jerusalem Temple. They expected God to send a great prophet and two different "Messiahs" (anointed leaders), one kingly and one priestly. They live a communitarian life with strict membership requirements, rules, and rituals; they probably also practiced celibacy. Herodians - probably a faction that supported the policies and government of the Herodian family, especially during the time of Herod Antipas, ruler over Galilee and Perea during the lifetimes of John the Baptist and of Jesus. Zealots - one of several different "revolutionary" groups in the 1st century CE who opposed the Roman occupation of Israel. High Priest, Chief Priests, Priests, and Levites - members of the tribe of Levi who were responsible for the temple and its sacrifices, and thus were the religious and social leaders of the Jewish people. Scribes - men specially trained in writing, and thus influential as interpreters and teachers of the Law, and agents of the rulers. Disciples of John the Baptist - during his lifetime and for several centuries thereafter, certain groups of people considered themselves followers of John the Baptist; some of them became Christians, but others maintained that John was earlier and more important than Jesus. Followers of Jesus of Nazareth - starting with smaller numbers of Jews in Galilee and Judea during his lifetime, those who believed in Jesus grew over the decades, spreading the "Jesus Movement" to other nations, cultures, and languages throughout the ancient Mediterranean.

Politics in First-century Palestine The Old Testament did not separate religion and politics. The Bible does not compartmentalize them. In fact, one of the most scathing denunciations from the Old Testament prophets was against people who did that very thing, separating religion and politics. The problem with Israel was not that they were not religious enough. The problem was that they were too religious, but did not translate their religiosity into a social policy of justice. Their religiosity did not make a difference in the way they conducted their business, government, economic policies, and social relationships, particularly when it came to the orphan and the widow, the

disadvantaged, the unfortunate. They took bribes, they imposed unfair fines, they foreclosed on debts without mercy. Amos says that God will bring judgment on the nation of Israel for these injustices. Jesus was saying the same thing: "Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin--you practice your religion very well--but you have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith" (Matt 23:23). When Jesus started talking about justice, he was into politics. We cant understand the Old Testament or the message of Jesus unless we recognize the fact that the God of the Bible is very much interested in the kind of world we make for ourselves as human beings. God is passionately concerned about the world here and now. God becomes agitated when the poor, the orphan and the widow are oppressed and are treated unjustly. Lets consider the political situation of Palestine in the time of Jesus. Palestine was under Roman occupation and domination. Rome needed a great deal of revenue to carry on the affairs of the Empire. So the Romans had a policy of heavy taxation, which was very oppressive. People lost their land because they could not pay taxes. Absentee landlords, people with a lot of capital, were able to acquire more and more land and turned these small plots of land, land upon which Palestine peasants depended for survival, into large operations intended for the export industry. People who lost their land became day laborers. It is in this context, for example, that Jesus told the parable of the vineyard workers (Matthew 20:1-16). When the landowner asked the workers in the market place why they had been standing idle all day, they responded that no on had hired them. The picture is dismal. Lots of workers, but not enough work to go around, therefore high unemployment. What were their options? The only option was to beg, which was the final stage before starvation and death. Most Jewish people in the time of Jesus, including the Pharisees, the Zealots and the Essenes, had a very antagonistic attitude toward foreigners, especially the Romans who had seized the land by force. What right did the Romans have to take over their country? They, after all, were the people of God, and God had given them the land. To make things even worse, the Roman presence in Palestine did not benefit the Jewish people as a whole, and certainly not the ordinary person. It did benefit those who were in positions of political and economic power, rulers, governors, absentee landlords who exploited the situation for their benefit. The Roman government recruited Jewish people as tax collectors, and gave them the authority to collect whatever they could beyond what the Roman regime imposed. They could then keep the difference as income for themselves. Some of them, such as Zacchaeus (Lk 19:2-10), became wealthy at the expense of their fellow Jews. It is in such an environment that we must hear such statements of Jesus such as, "Woe to you who are rich, woe to you who are full, woe to you who laugh, woe to you when you are well spoken of" (Lk 6:24-26). Some Jewish people were more bitter than others, but everyone felt the awful injustice of it all. The Zealots were probably the most militant and aggressive, advocating and practicing guerrilla warfare against the Romans from time to time. But it would be wrong to think that only the Zealots were politically inclined. As noted already, Jews did not separate religion from politics. And neither did Jesus. He looked at politics in a different way than the Zealots, but Jesus was not politically neutral or unconcerned. The Sadducees, on the other hand, were in a different situation than most other Jewish people. They were in control of religious and political power in Jerusalem. They were the priestly group at the temple. They did not like the Romans, but they cooperated with the Romans because it meant that as long as they were favorable toward Rome, their position of control of the temple was secure. So the Sadducees became the aristocratic class. John the Baptist called the Sadducees and the Pharisees, "You brood of vipers" (Matt 3:7). The Sadducees controlled the Sanhedrin, the highest council of Judaism that had power to rule over religious as well as civil cases. Jesus could see that their religiosity made no difference as far as economic, social and political justice for the common folk. As long as they were secure in their position, why should they be too concerned with the peasants and the poor folk in the country? So oppression came not only from the Romans. Even Jewish religious leaders were guilty of oppression. And, Jesus would say, even religious leaders needed to repent.