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Pharisees and Sadducees

During the Maccabaean rebellion a small faction claimed that their worship of Yahweh was unadulterated and that worship by other Jews was not. After failing to win the rest of Judea to their point of view they left Judea and went to Damascus, where they hoped to establish a "New Covenant" of repentance. There they would remain a sect and fade into oblivion.

The Maccabaean wars exacerbated divisions in Yahweh worship, the two most prominent divisions being the Pharisees and Sadducees. The Pharisees tended to be men from the lower classes – including craftsmen. They accepted the newer, popular doctrines: the conflict between good and evil spirits, Satan as an independent and evil force, and resurrection. The Sadducees, on the other hand, were aristocrats and hereditary priests, and among them were the priests who managed Jerusalem's temple. They rejected the new doctrines and saw the Pharisees as vulgarizing of their religion. Although the Sadducees were the more religiously conservative of the two factions, they were the more Hellenized.

According to the Hellenized Jewish historian Josephus (37-95), the Sadducees were haughty and harsh toward common Jews and disliked by commoners. Common Jews tended to see the Pharisees as "expounders of scripture," as scholars of Judaic law and as defenders of religious tradition against Hellenistic influences. This was encouraged by Pharisee insistence on a strict interpretation of Jewish law, including diet and dress, and a strict adherence to ceremony and observance of the Sabbath.

However much they failed to acknowledge it, the Pharisees also drew from Hellenism. They had been attracted by the student-teacher relationship that had been common in the Hellenistic world but alien to Judaic society. They had been impressed by that part of Hellenistic education that tried to develop character in students and that had a high regard for individuality. Under Pharisaic influence the synagogue became a university for the Jews, a place where they gathered to learn and read the words of sacred writings from the past, where they read from the Torah and studied, sang and prayed.

The Pharisees were impressed by Hellenism's Stoic philosophers, who taught an inner standard impervious to happenstance and suffering. And the Pharisees were attracted to Hellenistic law-making: Greek-style legislative bodies. The Pharisees created the Beth Din ha-Gadol (Great Legislature) as a lawmaking, law-transmitting and law-confirming body. They had not lifted the idea of this institution from scripture, but they saw their legislative body as having its authority in God rather than from a constitution, and they saw laws created by the legislature as having origins in divine revelation.

Closer to common people than the aristocratic Sadducees, the Pharisees left interpretations of Judaism's laws open to discussion and scholarly debate. And in debate they invented the cross-examination that was to become a part of modern jurisprudence. They believed that God alone was able to look into the conscience of individuals and measure whether they lived by The Law.

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