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  • SKETCHES IN JEWISH SOCIAL LIFE - CH. 15 - A
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    Relation of the Pharisees to the Sadducees and Essenes, and to the Gospel of Christ

    On taking a retrospective view of Pharisaism, as we have described it, there is a saying of our Lord which at first sight seems almost unaccountable. Yet it is clear and emphatic. "All therefore whatever they bid you observe, that observe and do" (Matt 23:3). But if the early disciples were not to break at once and for ever with the Jewish community, such a direction was absolutely needful. For, though the Pharisees were only "an order," Pharisaism, like modern Ultramontanism, had not only become the leading direction of theological thought, but its principles were solemnly proclaimed, and universally acted upon- -and the latter, even by their opponents the Sadducees. A Sadducee in the Temple or on the seat of judgment would be obliged to act and decide precisely like a Pharisee. Not that the party had not attempted to give dominance to their peculiar views. But they were fairly vanquished, and it is said that they themselves destroyed the book of Sadducean ordinances, which they had at one time drawn up. And the Pharisees celebrated each dogmatic victory by a feast! What is perhaps the oldest post- Biblical Hebrew book--the "Megillath Taanith," or roll of fasts--is chiefly a Pharisaic calendar of self-glorification, in which dogmatic victories are made days when fasting, and sometimes even mourning, is prohibited. Whatever, therefore, the dogmatic views of the Sadducees were, and however they might, where possible, indulge personal bias, yet in office both parties acted as Pharisees. They were well matched indeed. When a Sadducean high-priest, on the Feast of Tabernacles, poured out the water on the ground instead of into the silver funnel of the altar, Maccabean king though he was, he scarce escaped with his life, and ever afterwards the shout resounded from all parts of the Temple, "Hold up thy hand," as the priest yearly performed this part of the service. The Sadducees held, that on the Day of Atonement the high-priest should light the incense before he actually entered the Most Holy Place. As this was contrary to the views of the Pharisees, they took care to bind him by an oath to observe their ritual customs before allowing him to officiate at all. It was in vain that the Sadducees argued, that the daily sacrifices should not be defrayed from the public treasury, but from special contributions. They had to submit, and besides to join in the kind of half-holiday which the jubilant majority inscribed in their calendar to perpetuate the memory of the decision. The Pharisees held, that the time between Easter and Pentecost should be counted from the second day of the feast; the Sadducees insisted that it should commence with the literal "Sabbath" after the festive day. But, despite argument, the Sadducees had to join when the solemn procession went on the afternoon of the feast to cut down the "first sheaf," and to reckon Pentecost as did their opponents.

    We have here referred to only a few of the differences in ritual between the views of the Sadducees and those of the Pharisees. The essential principle of them lay in this, that the Sadducees would hold by the simple letter of the law--do neither more nor less, whether the consequences were to make decisions more severe or more easy. The same principle they applied in their juridical and also in their doctrinal views. It would take us too much into detail to explain the former. But the reader will understand how this literality would, as a rule, make their judicial decisions (or rather such as they had proposed) far more strict than those of the Pharisees, by a rigidly literal application of the principle, "an eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth." The same holds true in regard to the laws of purification, and to those which regulated inheritance. The doctrinal views of the Sadducees are sufficiently known from the New Testament. It is quite true that, in opposition to Sadducean views as to the non-existence of another world and the resurrection, the Pharisees altered the former Temple-formula into "Blessed be God from world to world" (from generation to generation; or, "world without end"), to show that after the present there was another life of blessing and punishment, of joy and sorrow. But the Talmud expressly states that the real principle of the Sadducees was not, that there was no resurrection, but only that it could not be proved from the Thorah, or Law. From this there was, of course, but a short step to the entire denial of the doctrine; and no doubt it was taken by the vast majority of the party. But here also it was again their principle of strict literality, which underlay even the most extreme of their errors.

    This principle was indeed absolutely necessary to their very existence. We have traced the Pharisees not only to a definite period, but to a special event; and we have been able perfectly to explain their name as "the separated." Not that we presume they gave it to themselves, for no sect or party ever takes a name; they all pretend to require no distinctive title, because they alone genuinely and faithfully represent the truth itself. But when they were called Pharisees, the "Chaberim," no doubt, took kindly to the popular designation. It was to them--to use an illustration-- what the name "Puritans" was to a far different and opposite party in the Church. But the name "Sadducee" is involved in quite as much obscurity as the origin of the party. Let us try to cast some fresh light upon both--only premising that the common derivations of their name, whether from the high-priest Zadok, or from a Rabbi called Zadok, whose fundamental principle of not seeking reward in religion they were thought to have misunderstood and misapplied, or from the Hebrew word "zaddikim"--the righteous--are all unsatisfactory, and yet may all contain elements of truth.

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