Jewish Contemporaries of Jesus: Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes

Jewish Contemporaries of Jesus: Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes

Jewish Contemporaries of Jesus: Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes

Jewish Contemporaries of Jesus: Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes

Excerpt

As is well known, any attempt to portray the religious movements of Palestinian Judaism during the New Testament period will encounter great difficulties. The main problem is the source material. When we read the various descriptions of the history of Jewish religious parties, we often forget that the designation Phari- see is not found before Paul, or the name Sadducee before Mark's Gospel. Writing slightly later, at about the same time as the other texts of the New Testament, was Flavius Josephus, who added the third school of Judaism, the Essenes. This means that the earliest explicit statements about Pharisees and Sadducees were first written at a time when they had ceased to exist. Only the third group, the Essenes, has been extensively documented by the Qumran texts, although a direct equation of Qumran and the Essenes is still disputed.

The Qumran texts take us farther back in time and are an essential source for Jewish history since the Maccabean period. Nevertheless, the increased interest in the Essenes stimulated by discoveries made during the last few decades should not obscure the fact that they were a rather radical, marginal group. This situation is documented by their own statements and by Josephus. Furthermore, neither the New Testament nor rabbinic literature mentions them. We need to explain this silence if we wish to shed light on the relations of the Essenes to other movements of their time. The extent of the available sources should not mislead us into exaggerating the importance of the Essenes in the history of that period. In addition, there is already a vast, specialized literature for Qumran that will allow us to discuss the Essenes only in relation to the other groups and not as an independent force.

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