Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Archaeology Queen: The Various Jewish Sects in the First Century BCE

The Archaeology Queen: The Various Jewish Sects in the First Century BCE

During the time of the man known as Jesus, in the region known today as Israel and Palestine, there were several Jewish sects. Until around 165 BCE, this area known as Judea was under Seleucid rule until a new Semitic dynasty called the Hasmoreans were able to establish semi-independence. However, in 63 BCE, the Roman general Pompey conquered the area and was forced to become vassals to the Romans.

The Hasmoneans:

The Hasmoneans did not have the religious legitimacy in the eyes of many strict Jews as they were not the descendants of King David. The Hasmoneans rebuilt Soloman's temple and temple worship began to flourish once more.

The most famous Hasmonean king was Herold, the man known for the massacre of many innocent children when he heard about the birth of the Jewish Messiah. However, many do not realise that he was given the name Herold the Great, due to his magnificent architectural works and expansion of his borders.

The Sadducees:

The Sadducees were the official sect who controlled the Temple and many other key religious posts on the Sanhedrin (the official Jewish organization that decided all religious issues). They held close ties to which ever secular power was established, at this time it was the Romans. The Sadducees believed in the Old Testament but "not in what they thought were extraneous beliefs, which in their case included, for example, resurrection from the dead and an afterlife".

The Pharisees:

The Pharisees were just as religious as the Sadducees and held to the notion of a parallel, oral tradition of rabbinical teachings. These teachings evolved over time with the Scriptures called the Torah.

The Pharisees was open to all people, unlike that of the Saducees. The New Testament claims that the Pharisees, at the time of Jesus, had become too proud in their extensive religious knowledge.

The Essenes:

The Essenes were a smaller sect who lived separate from the other Jewish sects. They lived in special communities and rejected the Hasmonean monarchy. Ascetics, they are famous today due to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the 20th century. These are fragile scrolls which have managed to preserve their teachings.

The Zealots:

The Zealots were another smaller sect who had their own interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures. They were highly political and organised several rebellions which resulted in a major revolt from 66 – 70 CE and the mass Jewish suicide at the fortress of Masada in 73 CE.