Christianity, the New Testament, and the World of Jesus’ Jerusalem Notes by Dr. Honora M. Finkelstein 3 - Jewish Sects in the Time of Jesus There were also four sects of Jews in Jerusalem in the time of Jesus: The Pharisees, who might be considered roughly equivalent in their observances of the law to Orthodox Jews today; The Saducees, who might be considered roughly equivalent in their observances to the Conservative Jews of today; The Essenes, who were generally thought to be ascetics and who kept to their own communities; The Zealots, militant Jews looking for a leader who would come to lead them out of Roman oppression. Another elite group, which some scholars think may have been an offshoot or a special sub-group of the Zealots were the Sicarii; these were assassins, and it is believed by many that Judas Iscariot derives his name from his having been one of these elite assassins. The Pharisees followed the letter of the Hebrew law but were sadly lacking in the generosity of spirit it was intended to preach. The Sadducees were willing to bend the law enough to fit the times and cultures in which they found themselves. And both of these groups wanted to “get along” with the Roman authorities. The Zealots were hoping the Messiah would come and be a great warrior king who would lead them to victory over all their oppressors. The Essenes were an ascetic sect that saw its members as the “preparers of the way” for the coming of the Messiah, who would herald the end of the world and lead them to victory in a more heavenly community. According to virtually all modern research, Jesus was from the Essene sect, and this means he would have been well-steeped in the Messianic prophecies. As mentioned above, the consciousness of Rome in the time of Jesus was ripe for a change. The Old Testament prophets had predicted a coming “Teacher of Righteousness. There was also a tradition of a teacher from a previous age named Melchisedek, who taught that at the beginning of every age (every 2000 year period) an energy would be available on the planet that would allow for an expansion of consciousness. And if anyone on the planet was ready to receive it, then it would “alight.” This energy was called missiayah, and this is the term from which we get the word “Messiah”—so the Essenes believed they were bringing in this energy of missiayah and that they were “preparing the way” for the “teacher of righteousness.” From two sources, Philo of Alexandria in AD 20 and the Roman historian Josephus in AD 75, we know the Essenes often lived a simple lifestyle in communes or self-contained communities. They didn’t accumulate money, and they owned everything in common: food, clothing, animals, etc., though they did not eat or sacrifice animals. There are researchers who believe Jesus was the “Teacher of Righteousness” mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls, but the controversy as to what exactly was being transmitted, and about whom, has not yet been settled. Further, there are also those who contend that there may have been two or even three men of Jesus’ age who had been prepared to receive the messianic energy—a king, a priest, and a prophet. They contend that John the Baptist was the prophet, James the Just was the priest, and Jesus himself was the king. All of these men would have been Essenes, as would other members of Jesus’ family, as well as Peter, Andrew, John, and Philip, and perhaps others of his disciples. Another interesting point is that the city of Nazareth seems not to have existed in Jesus’ time. The Romans were excellent map and record keepers, and documentation of a city called by that name didn’t appear until about the second century. In all likelihood, the idea that Jesus came from Nazareth seems to have been derived from his having been a Nasorean (Nazarene), a term which was generally synonymous with Essene. For more information on the Dead Sea Scrolls, see the following recent translation: Wise, Michael, Martin Abegg, Jr., and Edward Cook. The Dead Sea Scrolls. San Francisco: Harper, 1996. Made with Xara Website by Susan Smily