Book: Judaism— Revelation of Moses Or Religion of Men?

As I am their witness, the Jews have a zeal for God, but not according to right knowledge.”

As subjects of the Persian empire, the Jews enjoyed relative peace and quiet—and complete freedom of religious practice. This, however, was about to change. In 332 BC—just over a hundred years from the time of Ezra and Nehemiah—Alexander the Great acquired Palestine. While he was quite tolerant of the Jews' religion, Alexander was committed to the creation of a world united by Greek language and culture—Hellenism. As history records, Alexander himself posed little threat to Judea; his successors, however, would aggressively promote his Hellenistic policy. As we will see, it was the corrupting influence of Hellenism on the Aaronic priesthood that led to their loss of favor among the People of the Land and the subsequent rise of the Hasidim, the progenitors of the Pharisees. With the aid of their scribal cohorts, the outcome would ultimately be Judaism.

Already centuries old and rife with paganism, the underlying philosophy behind Hellenism was freedom of the individual—that every man had the “right to think for himself.” Ernest Martin writes that “this philosophy—freedom of thought or individualism—which is seemingly altruistic in principle, resulted in myriads of confusing and contradictory beliefs among the Greeks in every phase of life. Every man was allowed his own ideas about the sciences, the arts, laws, and about religion. So varied were the opinions among the Greek scholars in the various fields of study that individuals took pride in contending with one another over who could present the greatest 'wisdom' and 'knowledge' on any particular subject” (Is Judaism the Religion of Moses?, p. 37).

The pervasive influence of Hellenism on Jewish culture and religion must not be underestimated. Within a generation of Alexander's conquest of Palestine, the entire ancient East throbbed with new life—new ideas, new names for old gods, new methods of administration, a new language, and new markets for trade—all of which led to the awakening of the East from the quiet lethargy of easygoing Persian rule. Importantly, Solomon Grayzel notes that Hellenism—as compared to the effects of exile in Babylon—was “more persistent and more subtle in its efforts to lure the Jews from their [Scripture based] way of life” (A History of the Jews, pp. 41-42). Martin brings out that the Jews found it impossible to escape the omnipresence of Hellenistic thought. And Greek quickly became the language of commerce and social intercourse, making it necessary to acquire fluency in Greek (p. 77). In Story Without End, Solomon Landman writes that the Jews were “charmed by the customs and manners, by the very spirit of the Greeks” (p. 73). But as we will see, nowhere was this effect more pronounced than, ironically, among the leaders of the Jews—the chief priests.

Alexander's rule was short lived. No sooner had he been put to rest than his generals began to contend for control of the empire. A long and complicated series of wars followed between the dynasties formed by two particularly important generals, Ptolemy and Seleucus—with Palestine often caught in the middle. Judea first passed under the rule of the Ptolemies of Egypt; later, the Seleucids of Syria would control Palestine. Both Greek kingdoms were strict proponents of Hellenism.

One of the key changes of this period—probably under the rule of the Ptolemies—was the dismantling of the Great Assembly. Of this, Martin writes: “Within a score of years after the coming of the Greeks, the Great Assembly disappears from history as an organized body having religious control over the Jewish people. It is not known how the Greeks dismissed this authoritative religious body from its official capacity as teachers of the Law, but it is obvious that the authority of the Great Assembly was eroded and the Greek leaders forbade them to teach” (“Between The Testaments,” from Tomorrow's World, p. 21).

Without the guidance of the Great Assembly, many Jews began to adopt Greek customs. Almost everything the Greeks brought to the Jews was antagonistic to the laws of God; the rule of Scripture was rapidly being replaced by Hellenistic ideas. Martin adds that the Sopherim were divested of all authority: “So thorough was the dissolution of the Sopherim as a corporate body [i.e., the Great Assembly] that we hear nothing more of any of its members outside of Simon the Just, the High Priest who died in 270 BC” (p. 44; emphasis added). But the highly-respected “doctors of the law” had by no means become extinct. As we will see, they continued quietly, exerting their influence wherever possible; in generations to come, they would find a new venue from which to teach their lofty doctrines—the Pharisees.

According to Martin, the period of Ptolemaic rule—roughly 100 years in duration—was an era of religious disarray during which Hellenism made its greatest inroads. Quoting the historian Jacob Lauterbach, Martin writes: “There prevailed a state of religious anarchy, wherein the practical life of the people was ..... [no longer] controlled by the law of the fathers as interpreted by the religious authorities, nor were the activities of the teachers [scribes] carried on in an official way by an authoritative body. This chaotic state of affairs lasted for a period of about eighty years.... [During this time] many new practices [were] gradually adopted by the people” (pp. 45-46; from Rabbinic Essays, pp. 200, 206). During this period of Ptolemaic rule, Greek ideas, customs and morality were rapidly absorbed by the Jews. According to Martin, “what had been started by Alexander the Great was brought to its greatest degree of perfection among the Jews during this one-hundred-year period.... [The] Jews during this period of Egyptian control, by the sheer force of environment and circumstance, surrendered themselves to Hellenistic ideas and ways of life” (Is Judaism the Religion of Moses?, p. 39; emphasis added).

The Scribes Discover Greek Logic

Without question, Hellenization had a dramatic impact on the Jews as a whole, leaving no area of life untouched. However, the effects of Greek culture on the Jews' religion were most significant—in three specific areas. First, as amazing as it sounds, the priesthood's response to Hellenism was outright acceptance—and, as we will see, not without considerable consequences. Second, Hellenization led to the rise of a new religious element— the Hasidim, a grassroots movement of pious Jews who stood for the “old time” religion of Moses and the prophets.

Third, in the case of the scribes, the effects of Greek culture were subtle, yet equally profound. Though no longer functioning as an organized body (such as through the Great Assembly) the sopherim continued to be held in high regard. They continued in their study of the Scriptures, passing on their esoteric knowledge to eager students. For the most part, the scribes resisted the liberal ideas of Hellenism, finding them contrary to Scripture. But then, there was Greek logic—utterly irresistible to the scholarly mind of the scribe. Of this time, John Phillips writes that while many Jews, such as those of the Aaronic priesthood, “became outright Hellenists and openly embraced the liberal ideas of the day,” the Jewish scholars “added new ideas to their approach to biblical truth. They replaced the old and approved allegorical approach with a new, exciting logical approach.” It would not be long, he adds, “before a lush new tangle of exegetical undergrowth began to emerge to add to the already spreading” oral tradition (Exploring the World of the Jew, pp. 34-35; emphasis added).

Further tracing the development of the oral law to the time of Greek influence, Phillips makes this telling statement: “It was in the [oral commentaries of the] Midrash”—which first appeared following the time of Ezra— “that the seeds of [what would become] the Talmud were sown. In the conquests of Alexander the Great and the subsequent Hellenizing of the world, the Jews faced a tremendous survival challenge.... The naive and artless interpretations of the [written] Torah, offered by the Midrash, would no longer suffice in an age of intellectual vigor [liberal thinking]. The rabbis [scribes] began to add Greek reasoning to biblical revelation. The result was the Mishnah, the work of a new set of Jewish scholars known as the Tannas” (pp. 58-59; emphasis added; see Appendix One). Mishnah means “teachings.” It is derived from the Hebrew root shanah, which originally meant “to repeat”—as in orally passing on a teaching. Composing a major portion of the Talmud, Mishnah—as “the oral doctrine from the earliest Midrash of the Sopherim”—is used generally to “designate the law which was transmitted orally” (The Jewish Encyclopedia, “Mishnah”). Tannas is Aramaic and, not surprisingly, means “repeaters.”

Continuing Phillips' quote: “Instead of the allegories and homilies of the Midrash, the Tannas employed logic and reasoning borrowed from the Greeks.... Like the Midrash, [the Mishnah that developed] was a somewhat jumbled exposition of truth, and, like the Midrash, it kept on diluting the Word of God with liberal quantities of fallible human opinion” (p. 59; emphasis added). “The artless commentaries of the Midrash”—the simple, oral exegesis of Scripture—”were [during the time of Ptolemaic rule of Judah] seen by the Jews as inadequate in an age of Greek enlightenment. Adding Greek logic to their hermeneutics, the rabbis [scribes] overhauled their views and developed the Mishnah” (p. 63; emphasis added).

By “artless,” Phillips suggests that the scribes' midrashim were, as yet, uncontrived. They were genuine attempts to explain the Scriptures. But the idea of a so-called “oral law” was most contrived. In fact, with religious constraints cast off, new ideas found fertile ground among these Jewish scholars. Thus, while outwardly supporting the Scriptures and resisting Hel-lenization, the scribes could justify virtually any doctrine by making the claim that it was part of an esoteric oral tradition—hidden all along in the depths of the written Torah.

Rise of the “Pious Ones”

The rise of the Hasidim is of particular importance in the development of Judaism. As has already been mentioned, the Hasidim were, in fact, the immediate forerunners of the Pharisees. As a grassroots movement of pious Jews, their emergence must be understood primarily as a response to the wholesale acceptance of Greek culture by the Aaronic priesthood. The Hasidim were unalterably opposed to the corrupting effects of Hellenism; and, as we will see, it was precisely the indiscriminate adoption of Hellenistic ideals by the priesthood that propelled the Hasidim to the forefront—to “stand in the gap,” as it were.

Thus, to understand the role of the Hasidim in Jewish religion, we must first examine the lamentable response of the priesthood to the lure of Hellenism. On this point, Paul Johnson rhetorically asks, “How were the Jews to react to this cultural invasion, which was opportunity, temptation and threat all in one?” (A History of the Jews, p. 98). Ironically, those best equipped to resist the temptation of Hellenism proved the most vulnerable. Instead of realizing the humble, servant nature of their God-given role, the priesthood clearly identified itself with the nobility, the upper class, the elite of Judah, who were also strongly attracted to Hellenistic culture. Johnson continues: “Many of the better-educated Jews found Greek culture profoundly attractive.... [Many found themselves] torn between new, foreign ideas and inherited piety. It was a destabilizing force spiritually and, above all, it was a secularizing, materialistic force.... In Palestine, as in other Greek conquests, it was the upper classes, the rich, the senior priests, who were most tempted.”(p. 99; emphasis added). Similarly, Grayzel writes that Greek culture had its greatest effect on “the upper classes—the nobility, that is, the chief families among the priests who lived in Jerusalem.” (A History of the Jews, p. 49; emphasis added).

Describing the courageous position of the Hasidim, Landman writes: “[It was with a] mounting sense of horror that the pious elders watched the process of [the] Hellenization of the Jews.... The Pious Ones, or Hasidim as they came to be called, wanted the Jews to differentiate themselves sharply from the Greeks and from the Hellenized Jews as well.... The Hasidim were not simply fanatics or killjoys; they were objecting to the watering-down of Jewish life and faith, particularly because it was the aristocratic priests . who had become [the most] Hellenized” (Story Without End, pp. 75-76; emphasis added). Johnson likewise portrays the Hasidim: “Between the isolationists [those who would ultimately form such antisocial fringe groups as the Essenes] on the one hand and the Hellenizers [the wealthy nobility and the priesthood] on the other was a broad group of pious Jews in the tradition of Josiah, Ezekiel and Ezra. Many of them did not object to Greek rule in principle, any more than they had objected to the Persians.... They were quite willing to pay the conqueror's taxes provided they were left to practice their religion in peace” (p. 100; emphasis added).

In 198 BC, the Seleucid kingdom of Syria forced the Egyptians to give up Palestine. Like the Ptolemies, the Seleucids were of Greek origin and equally Hellenistic in culture and outlook. At the onset, conditions in Judea remained unchanged. In fact, the Seleucid ruler, Antiochus III (the “Great”), was favorably inclined toward the Jews. Conditions changed rapidly, however, with the coming of Antiochus IV (Epiphanes) in 175 BC. As we will see, the corruption of the Aaronic priesthood reached its apex during the rule of this iniquitous Seleucid ruler.

Shortly after he ascended the throne, a group of Hellenizing Jewish leaders approached Antiochus with a clever plan to speed up the process of Hellenization. This “reform party” paid Antiochus a large sum of money to remove the current High Priest, Onias III, and appoint his Hellenized brother, Jason, to the coveted office. They had hoped Jason would help promote Hellenistic ideals. By this time the priesthood was well Hellenized, which brought with it a callous disregard for the sanctity of the office. As Martin notes, “the position of High Priest had dwindled to more of an aristocratic political honor. There was little regard paid to the Law of God by these High Priests. Most of them were outright Hellenists” (Is Judaism the Religion of Moses?, p. 40).

Of this time of political intrigue, Johnson writes that “any possibility of Greeks and Jews living together in reasonable comfort was destroyed by the rise of a Jewish reform party who wanted to force the pace of Hellenization. This reform movement . was strongest among the ruling class of Judah [the priesthood], already half-Hellenized themselves, who wanted to drag the little temple-state into the modern age. Their motives were primarily secular and economic” (p. 100; emphasis added). He adds that “the Jewish reform movement found an enthusiastic but dangerous ally in the new Seleucid monarch, Antiochus Epiphanes. He was anxious to speed up the Hellenization of his dominion as a matter of general policy.... He backed the reformers entirely and replaced the orthodox High Priest Onias III with Jason.” (p. 102). As we will see, the damage done by these “reformers” was incalculable: not only would it soon lead to violent rage by Antiochus against the Jews' religion, it would virtually destroy any remaining confidence the people may have had in the already-corrupt priesthood.

According to Grayzel, the Common People—from which came the Hasidim—were outraged. “It was the first time since the Jews returned from the Babylonian Exile that a non-Jewish government had interfered in the succession to the high priesthood, treating the sacred office as if it were nothing more that an ordinary governorship.... [The Jewish] Hellenizers had full control of Judea's government.... [The resurgence of] Hellenized life brought with it a looseness in religious observance, as well as a characteristically Greek looseness of morals” (p. 55). Grayzel adds that “the Common People watched these events with growing horror. They ascribed them to the influence of Hellenism and to the abandonment by the upper classes [the priesthood] of the principles of the [written] Torah which the scribes had taught” (p. 56; emphasis added). As a reliable historical source, the extra-biblical book of II Maccabees informs us that under Jason's influence “the Hellenizing process reached such a pitch that the priests ceased to show any interest in the services of the altar; scorning the Temple and neglecting the sacrifices, they would hurry to take part in [Greek activities] .... They disdained all that their ancestors had esteemed, and set the highest value on Hellenic honors” (II Macc. 4:13-15; emphasis added).

The rapidly escalating pace of Hellenism and the corresponding corruption of the priesthood ultimately compelled the Hasidim to organize themselves in order to resist Antiochus and the Hellenizing Jews. But the Hasidim were peasants, farmers, artisans—the poor of the land. They were hardly in a position to fight against the Syrians. Moreover, the Hasidim (or anyone else for that matter) could never imagine Antiochus' next move—to entirely outlaw the Jews' religion!

Indeed, about three years later, in 171 BC, “Antiochus found it necessary to replace Jason as High Priest with the still more pro-Greek Mene-laus [who was not of the Aaronic line]. (Johnson, A History of the Jews, p. 102). The reaction among the people was further outrage—with many taking sides and resorting to violence. “In 167 the [rapidly escalating] conflict came to a head with the publication of a decree [by Antiochus] which in effect abolished the Mosaic Law.... But both the Greeks and Menelaus himself overestimated his support. His [illicit] activities in the Temple provoked an uproar. The priests were divided. The scribes sided with his orthodox opponents. So did most pious Jews or Hasidim” (p. 103).

Antiochus' bold move—which ranged from forbidding circumcision and Sabbath observance to desecrating the Temple itself—did not go unmatched. The Hasmoneans—a staunch clan of Jews of priestly descent from an area northwest of Jerusalem—responded with a counteroffensive initiated by the aged Mattathias. Within a year the rebellion fell to his eldest son Judah, surnamed “the Maccabee.” Under the banner of the Maccabees (as they were later called) the Jews managed to eventually drive the Syrians from Judea. After some three years of fighting, Jerusalem was finally cleansed of Syrians and Hellenizing Jews alike—and the Temple repaired and rededicated in 165 BC. Grayzel writes, “The High Priest Menelaus, the Hellenizing Jews, and the new pagan residents now fled from Jerusalem just as three years previously the pious Jews had fled before them” (A History of the Jews, p. 61).

It was a short-lived victory—as the Syrians quickly regrouped and besieged Jerusalem. However, distracted by an imminent threat to their capital, Antioch, the Syrians offered a truce—one that revoked Antiochus' decree against the Jews' religion, but offered no change in the leadership of Judea. Judah the Maccabee refused. As Grayzel notes, the Maccabees realized that “the [Syrian] treaty of peace would restore power to that very group of aristocratic [priestly] Jews who had begun the entire conflict” (p. 64). Judah's leadership, however, was overruled; naively, the Hasidim were intent on accepting the treaty. This, of course, proved disastrous, with the Syrians and Hellenizing Jews once again dominating every area of Jewish life; the old oligarchy was returned to power, including the appointing of non-priests to the office of High Priest. And, once again, Judah and his army came to the rescue—for the time being.

In fact, the Hasidim would find themselves beset again and again by the Syrians (and Hellenizing Jews) over a period of several more years. Sadly, as Grayzel notes, not only did the Maccabees' struggle end in “only partial victory for the Jewish people,” it ended in “total defeat for its heroic leaders” (p. 69). Grayzel is here referring to the ill fate of the Hasmonean line. He writes that even in victory “the Jewish people were unable to maintain . the idealism that they had shown in the days of trouble [following Antiochus's decree]. The later Hasmoneans [beginning with John Hyr-canus, one of Mattathias' grandsons], thirsting for power and glory, lost touch with [their] Jewishness, so that their actions cast dark shadows upon the memory of their ancestors” (p. 69; emphasis added). By some estimates, however, the Hasmoneans' corruption actually began with Judah's successor, his brother Jonathan. After Judah's death in battle, Jonathan eventually succeeded in bringing an unsteady peace to the area—through diplomacy. But, unlike his brother, Jonathan used his position to acquire power and prestige. By tactful diplomacy—and by taking advantage of the bloody civil war occurring within the Syrian empire—Jonathan managed to become both High Priest and governor of Judea. “It may be said,” writes Grayzel, “that Jonathan turned the policy of the Hasmoneans from religious to secul ar.” (p. 71). As we will see, the corruption of the Hasmonean leadership would further the Hasidim's antagonism toward the aristocratic priesthood.

After Jonathan's murder, his brother, Simon, became High Priest and ruler. Already advanced in years, Simon was noted for his wisdom. He formed a second “Great Assembly”—but one quite different from Ezra's time. As Grayzel notes, “The aristocracy which had dominated previous assemblies [i.e., minor ruling councils] had in the meantime become identified with the Hellenizing Jews, so that, if they were represented at all, they were outvoted. The leaders of the Hasidic party [the Hasidim] were in the majority” (p. 72). This assembly—which would later develop into the Sanhedrin of Jesus' day—would not always be dominated by the Hasidim; at times the aristocratic priesthood (known later as the party of the Sadducees) would assume control.

Simon's death marked the end of a long and heroic struggle for religious freedom—from about 170 to 135 BC. Judea was now independent, and would remain so until the Romans began to interfere in 63 BC. It is, however, important to understand that the Maccabean wars were never really about religious freedom as much as they were about defending the Jews' right to self-rule. Martin writes, “The majority of Jews had not been anxious to depart from their Hellenism. What they wanted primarily was their freedom from the foreign yoke. The matter of religion was really [only] invoked to get the people united in one common cause—to drive the foreigner from Judea. There was no real desire among the multitudes to get back to the Law of God.... [Religion had] only become a major issue when Antiochus Epiphanes voiced his anti-religious decrees” (Is Judaism the Religion of Moses?, p. 42; emphasis added). As Martin suggests, once Jewish independence was firmly reestablished, most Jews went back to simply being Jews—rather irreligious Jews, in fact. Thus, the truly devout among the Hasidim were not only by this time relatively few in number, they were undergoing a radical transformation into the sect of the Phari-sees—with an absolute devotion to the teachings of the scribes.

The next 70 or so years would be a period characterized by conflict, corruption and controversy—both political and religious. The effects of Hellenization on the upper class and the priesthood had become permanent; and now a new generation of Hasmoneans was in control, starting with Simon's son, John Hyrcanus. But unlike their predecessors, they were arrogant and hungry for power—and would quarrel even among themselves for control. More significant, however, was the ever widening rift between the Hasidim and the still-Hellenistic priesthood. In fact, what had evolved over numerous generations as a fundamentally moral conflict between the grassroots Hasi-dim and the elite priesthood was soon to erupt into virtual war between the Hasidic Pharisees and the aristocratic Sadducees.

The Perils of Internal Conflict

Of the time following Simon's death, Robinson writes, “At some point during the period in which the [later] Hasmonean dynasty ruled Palestine, three distinct groups emerged within the Jewish community”—the Pharisees, the Sadducees and the Essenes (Essential Judaism, p. 320). Some associate the reign of Hyrcanus (135-105 BC) with the appearance of the Pharisees. According to The Jewish Encyclopedia, for example, it was under the rule of Hyrcanus that the Pharisees appeared as a “powerful party opposing the Sadducean proclivities of [Hyrcanus] the king.... The Hasmonean dynasty, with its worldly ambitions and aspirations, met with little support from the Pharisees, whose aim was the maintenance of a religious spirit in accordance with their interpretation of the Law” (“Pharisees”). In his Old Testament History, Charles Pfeiffer notes that the ideals of the Hellenists “were perpetuated in the party of the Sadducees, [just] as the ideals of the Hasidim were perpetuated in the party of the Pharisees. These parties are first mentioned during the lifetime of Hyrcanus” (p. 580). Likewise, Grayzel informs us that “Hyrcanus's reign saw the emergence of two political par-ties”—the Pharisees and the Sadducees. “The party of the scribes [which, in fact, represented the Hasidim] . became known as the Pharisee party” (A History of the Jews, p. 76). Grayzel makes this statement because the scribes were by this time the scholarly leadership behind the Hasidic movement. Pharisee comes from a Hebrew root (parus or parash) which means “to separate”—indicating the sect's proclivity for separating themselves ritually and physically from Greeks or Hellenized Jews. Noting the Pharisees' aggrandizing claim to honor, Grayzel adds, “The Pharisees, spiritual descendants of the Hasidim, argued that their religion had saved the Jewish nation.” The Sadducees, on the other hand, were “opponents of the Pharisees,” and “remained in complete charge of the government” (p. 77).

The controversies of that day were on several fronts, but two were central to the development of Judaism. First, a dynastic struggle for the office of King-High Priest would soon erupt between Hyrcanus' offspring— particularly his grandsons, Hyrcanus II and Aristobulus II. The two would foolishly invite Roman intervention, resulting ultimately in Rome's occupation of Palestine. But it was the fierce rivalry between the Pharisees and the Sadducees that set the character of the day. The controversy was both political and moral: The Pharisees opposed the Hellenized Sadducean leadership on the grounds that they were unfit to lead the nation; moreover, the Pharisees considered the Sadducees to be utterly ignorant because of their rejection of the scribes' oral law. From the Sadducean perspective, the priests held that the Pharisees' oral law was both illicit and dangerous.

Landman writes that the upper classes and the aristocratic priesthood “organized themselves [for their own political gain] into the Sadducee party to back the political activities of the Hasmoneans.....” (Story Without End, p. 82). He continues: “Because the Hasmoneans and their Sadducean backers busied themselves with political matters, the pious among the Jews began to feel that the commonwealth was [once again] becoming just another [Greek] state.... “ The Hasidim—for whom spiritual ideals were of paramount importance—”organized themselves in opposition to the Sadducees.... They formed themselves into a brotherhood, or fraternity, which became known as the Pharisees. Their watchword was strict observance of the laws of ritual and moral purity.” While the Pharisees did not oppose the Temple or its services, they felt the priesthood had become compromised by their adoption of Hellenistic ideas—and, in particular, because they “disregarded the oral law” of the Hasidim's scribal leaders (p. 83).

Quoting Dr. Jacob Lauterbach, Martin explains the Pharisaic view: “Following the Maccabean victory there were many priests who were ready and willing to resume their ancient, God-given role as teachers and expounders of the Law. But there were also the lay teachers who [as the Hasidim] had . made a notable contribution to the Maccabean cause at a time when many priests were outright Hellenists and supporters of Antiochus Epiphanes. Lauterbach says that the lay teachers 'refused to recognize the authority of the priests as a class, and, inasmuch as many of the priests had proven unfaithful guardians of the Law, they would not entrust to them the regulation of the religious life of the people' (Lauterbach, Rabbinic Essays, p. 209). It was these lay teachers who organized themselves into the party of the Pharisees” (“Between the Testaments,” p. 23).

The Pharisees were not alone in their skepticism of the Sadducees. As Grayzel notes: “The Jews [as a whole] still looked upon the High Priest with awe because he was considered the head of the Temple, their most important religious institution. But the buying and selling of the office, the corruption and ignorance of some of the priests who occupied it, and the fact that they were supporters of Rome and under the thumb of the procurators, made Jews look elsewhere for religious inspiration” (p. 115). Echoing Grayzel, Martin adds, “During the period of religious anarchy [under Egyptian rule] . a fundamental change took place in the attitudes of the priests. Many of the priests were outright Hellenists and steeped in the pagan philosophies of that culture. Not only that, many of them had sided with Antiochus Epiphanes against the Common People during the Maccabean Revolt. Such activities caused the Common People to be wary of the priests and their teaching” (Is Judaism the Religion of Moses?, p. 51). Again, most Jews were irreligious—but there was a general lack of trust for the Sadducean priesthood. Thus, the Pharisees began to find increasing support among the pious of the Common People.

At the heart of the controversy was the scribes' so-called oral law, having finally, after decades of fermentation, come to life as the central doctrine of the Pharisaic party. Of the Sadducean disdain for the oral law, Hertz writes: “The aristocratic and official element of the population—[which became] known as the Sadducees—unhesitatingly declared every law that was not specifically written in the Torah to be a dangerous and reprehensible innovation. [However, the] opposition of the Sadducees only gave an additional impetus to the spread of the oral law by the scribes, later known as [rather, later associated with] the Pharisees” (The Babylonian Talmud, Foreword, p. 14; emphasis added). Referring to the “greater issues between the Pharisaic and Sadducean parties,” The Jewish Encyclopedia brings out that “while the Sadducean priesthood prided itself upon its aristocracy of blood [Aaronic lineage], the Pharisees created an aristocracy of learning instead, declaring a bastard who is a student of the Law to be higher in rank than an ignorant high priest (Hor. 13a).... “ Concerning the scholarly decisions of their scribal leaders—who consisted “originally of Aaronites, Levites and [even] common Israelites”—the Pharisees claimed that the scribes possessed a level of biblical authority that even “endowed them with the power to abrogate the [Mosaic] Law at times ..... [going] so far as to say that he who transgressed their words deserved death (Ber. 4a).” In fact, the Pharisaic scribes' rulings were “claimed to be divine (R. H. 25a).... [Moreover, the Pharisees] took many burdens from the people by claiming for the sage, or scribe, the power of dissolving vows (Hag. i. 8; Tosef.,i.)” (“Pharisees”).

As long as Hyrcanus lived, the conflict between the Hasidic Pharisees and the Sadducean priesthood remained subdued. The rift, however, reached its climax during the days of his son, Alexander Jannaeus. Jannaeus showed extreme contempt for the Pharisees, even using foreign mercenaries to keep them in check. Soon enough, open civil war ensued. Procuring aid from the Syrians, the Pharisees briefly forced Jannaeus and his Sadducean sympathizers into hiding. In the end, however, the Pharisees suffered a massive defeat, with over 800 Pharisees crucified at Jannaeus' order.

Jannaeus was succeeded by his widow, Salome. Being a woman, she could not officiate as High Priest; thus, the office fell to her son, Hyrcanus II. His brother, Aristobulus II, assumed command of the military. Interestingly, Salome's brother, Simeon, was a leading Pharisee. According to Pfeiffer, this fact may have “disposed Salome Alexandra to seek peace between the opposing factions” (Old Testament History, p. 583). Up to this time, the Sanhedrin—which, as a ruling council, was a later development of the Great Assembly formed by Simon of the Maccabees—was composed entirely of Sadducean priests and wealthy aristocrats. Turning the tables, Grayzel writes that Salome “dismissed the Sadducees from their official positions and appointed Pharisees to their places in the Sanhedrin” (A History of the Jews, p. 82). Landman brings out that her son, Hyrcanus II, as High Priest, “appointed many Pharisees to the Sanhedrin which, up to that point, had been controlled by the Sadducees. The Pharisees were now in a position to influence both the religious and civil heads of the commonwealth” (Story Without End, p. 84-85). The Jewish Encyclopedia adds this: “Under Alexander Jannaeus (104-78) the conflict between the people, siding with the Pharisees, and the king [had become] bitter.... Under his widow, Salome Alexandra (78-69), the Pharisees, led by Simeon ben Shetah, came to power; they obtained seats in the Sanhedrin, and that time was afterward regarded as the golden age.” (“Pharisees”).

Under Salome—and particularly with her brother as president of the Sanhedrin—the Pharisees made numerous contributions to Jewish life. Of note was the comprehensive system of education the Pharisees established throughout Judea. This education was, of course, primarily in the Scriptures—led by the esteemed scribes. As we will see, this triumph laid the foundation for what would become an expanded rabbinical system of education, which would prove critical to the popularity of the Pharisaic movement, the development of the Mishnah, and the birth of Judaism.

Near the end of Salome's mostly peaceful nine-year reign, the simmering conflict threatened to reignite. Pfeiffer explains: While the Pharisees were relishing their newfound recognition, “the Sadducees were resentful of the fact that they were deprived of power. To make matters worse, the Pharisees used their power to seek revenge for the massacre of their leaders by Alexander Jannaeus. Sadducean blood was spilt, and the makings of another civil war were in the air” (p. 583). Thus, following Salome's death, “the bloody vengeance . [the Pharisees] took upon the Sadducees led to a terrible reaction, and under [Salome's son] Aristobulus (69-63) the Sadducees regained their power” (The Jewish Encyclopedia, “Pharisees”). A bitter struggle ensued between Hyrcanus II and Aristobulus II, with the Pharisees pulling for Hyrcanus, the rightful heir of the Hasmonean dynasty.

The two brothers appealed to Pompey, Rome's general in Syria, in 63 BC to resolve their dispute over who would rule the Jews. According to Grayzel, the Pharisees—perhaps at the request of the Sanhedrin—also appealed to Pompey to remove both Hyrcanus and Aristobulus so that “Judea might go back to its ancient constitution whereby the High Priest ruled with the advice of a popular council” (p. 87). Pompey, however, sensed a prime opportunity for Rome and decided to annex Palestine. Hyrcanus II remained in office as a Roman figurehead; the Idumean Antipater—a political climber with Rome—ruled Palestine through his sons, Phasael and Herod. Grayzel describes the outcome for the rival parties: “Herod (from 37 BC) had not the slightest intention of letting the Jews rule themselves. He deprived the Sanhedrin of every vestige of political power. Neither the Pharisees nor the Sadducees any longer exercised political influence. Only their names continued to exist for the purpose of describing two groups which differed on religious matters” (p. 97).

With Judea now a vassal state of Rome, the last vestige of Jewish independence was removed. Stripped of its influence and authority, the Sanhedrin was largely impotent, and the office of High Priest would always be subject to the discretion of the Romans. (In fact, from 37 BC to the destruction of the Temple, 28 different men occupied the office of High Priest, which was originally to be held for life.) Moreover, the longstanding corruption of the priesthood had taken its toll. By Jesus' time, the Sadducees had regained much of their religious authority; but, as The Jewish Encyclopedia notes, “they no longer possessed their former power, as the people always sided with the Pharisees” (“Pharisees”). Indeed, while the Sadducees controlled the Sanhedrin by a narrow margin, the Pharisees' growing influence could not be ignored. According to Joachim Jeremias, high priests “with Sadducean sympathies had to accustom themselves to withholding their views in council, and [were compelled to submit] to carrying out [certain of] the Temple rites according to Pharisaic traditions” (Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus, p. 159). In the end, both the Pharisees and Sadducees were reduced by the Romans to mere religious sects.

The Synagogue as a Pharisaic Institution

A classic example of the Jews' extraordinary ability to adapt to adversity is seen in the development of the synagogue. During the period of the Exile, the Jews out of necessity met in small groups for fellowship, prayer and the reading of the Scriptures. Over time, such gatherings became more regular and more organized in nature. As Pfeiffer writes, “Out of this very real need [for fellowship, instruction and worship] the institution known as the synagogue gradually developed. The synagogue [quickly] became the community center for [exilic] Jewish life” (Old Testament History, p. 494). The synagogue continued to develop even after many of the Jews returned to Palestine and rebuilt the Temple. “After the return from captivity, when religious life was reorganized, especially under Ezra and his successors, congregational worship, consisting [of] prayer and the reading of sections from the [Scriptures], developed side by side with the revival of the . Temple at Jerusalem, and thus led to the building of synagogues” (The Jewish Encyclopedia, “Synagogue”; emphasis added). For Jews who did not return to Judah—and subsequently became established throughout the Persian Empire, Egypt, and later, the Roman Empire—the synagogue continued as the center of Jewish religion. Thus, “from the generations of old [since Babylon], Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him in the synagogues, being read every Sabbath day” (Acts 15:21).

Granted, the synagogue developed out of a genuine need for religious stability. And it could well be argued that the very survival of the Jews of the Diaspora has depended on the synagogue. Yet, that system of worship—while certainly not wrong in and of itself—clearly did not represented God's original intent, which was the primacy of the Temple. This point is important because it underscores the longstanding controversy between the Pharisees and Sadducees. The synagogue system actually developed in conjunction with the rise of the Pharisees, and came to be both dominated and misused under their authority. Moreover, as we will see, the scribes and Pharisees deliberately used the synagogue as a way of competing with the Sadducean priesthood—to draw Jews away from the Temple services.

As the Pharisees gained in popularity and influence during the Has-monean period, the synagogue began to play an increasingly important role. Paul Johnson writes, “In their battle against Greek education, [the Pharisaic] pious Jews began, from the end of the second century BC, to develop a national system of education. To the old scribal schools were gradually added a network of local schools where, in theory at least, all Jewish boys were taught the [written] Torah. This development was of great importance in the spread and consolidation of the synagogue [and] in the birth of Pharisaism as a movement rooted in popular education.” (A History of the Jews, p. 106; emphasis added). The Pharisees' emphasis on education is well documented. As quoted earlier, “while the Sadducean priesthood prided itself upon its [Aaronic] aristocracy of blood, the Pharisees created an aristocracy of learning.” (The Jewish Encyclopedia, “Pharisees”).

The scribes and Pharisees accomplished this not only through their schools, but through the synagogues. As Landman writes, in time the Pharisees “made the synagogue the dominant institution in Jewish life, around which the entire life of the community revolved” (Story Without End, p. 85). In fact, according to Grayzel, the synagogue came to play such a critical role in Jewish life that it actually began to replace the Temple. He writes that shortly after the time of Ezra, “certain influences were already at work which eventually made the synagogue even more important than the Temple itself”—and that Jewish religion in the run-up to the first century AD was “undergoing a transformation which was making the Temple a secondary institution.” (A History of the Jews, pp. 118-119).

According to Grayzel, it was the Pharisees who influenced the Jews to believe that services at the synagogue were of greater value than rituals taking place at the Temple. While the “daily sacrifice” at the Temple was obviously conducted on behalf of every Jew, “those who recognized the leadership of the scribes and Pharisees were not satisfied with such indirect contact with God” (p. 119). The Pharisees believed that since God was everywhere, He could be worshipped both in and outside the Temple—and that He was not to be invoked by sacrifices alone. And remember, the Pharisees maintained their view that the still-Hellenized priesthood was corrupt and incompetent to represent God to the people. Thus, they advanced the synagogue as a place of worship, study and prayer—raising it to a place of central importance in the life of the people. The synagogue rivaled the Temple, clearly antagonizing the Sadducees.

By the first century AD, there were synagogues in every Jewish community. Jerusalem itself had several synagogues—there was even one inside the Temple complex! By that time, Grayzel writes, “the attitude of the Pharisees had triumphed.... [The] day was gone when [Jewish religion] depended upon priest and sacrifice, indeed, even upon the Temple itself” (p. 120). In fact, the Pharisees' clout was such that they were able to persuade the Jews to admit into the synagogue some of the non-sacrificial ceremonies of the Temple after it was destroyed. Their goal, writes Grayzel, was to “make the synagogue the heir to the Temple” (p. 196). Some of those ceremonies, having since been modified, form part of the synagogue rituals to this day. Indeed, as Smith's Dictionary of the Bible brings out, it is “hardly possible to overestimate the influence of the [synagogue] system” which tended to “diminish, and ultimately almost to destroy, the authority of the hereditary [Aaronic] priesthood” (“Synagogue”). Or, as Jeremias puts it, “the hereditary [Aaronic] Jewish aristocracy had to endure competition from an intellectual aristocracy [that of the scribes and Pharisees] and, after the destruction of Jerusalem, finally be overtaken [by their popularity and clout]” (p. 245).

Ideally, the scribes and Pharisees should have used the synagogues to teach the Scriptures and point the people to the Temple. But the rivalry between the Pharisees and the Sadducees was simply too deep. And now, the synagogue was poised to play an even greater role in the development of Judaism—for as Robinson writes, the synagogue would become the “central institution of Jewish worship life as a response to the tragedy of the destruction of the Temple [in 70 AD].” (Essential Judaism, p. 311).