Easter without Hindsight, Part 17

Easter without Hindsight: Zeal and Zion: Sadducees

Some Jewish people joke that the easiest way to find a rabbinical school is to follow the sound of shouting. From an outsider’s view the Jews seemed to be a people who enjoy diverse opinions about many of the important things in life. Perhaps the founding father of the habiru, Abraham, he set a precedent when, faced with God about to destroy the city of Sodom, ran a delicate set of negotiations to change God’s mind. Israel, can literally translate to English as ‘the people who argue with God’.

The Sadducees were one of the “sects”, described by the first century Jewish historian Josephus. Those reading the Gospel accounts of Jeshua’s last days might not realise that the Jews had many differences: over social class, adoption of foreign ideas, religious services and religious law. The Sadducees posed Jeshua an apparently silly question (Mark 12:18-27) about a woman who became, successively, the wife of several brothers. It wasn’t silly to them though.

The Sadducees regarded the five books of Moses (Genesis to Deuteronomy in modern Bibles) as being truly authoritative scripture. The story set out a test case of an aspect ancient Jewish law (Gen 38:8 and Deut 25:5-10). By challenging Jeshua over this woman’s fate they were seeking to measure his conformity to ‘Biblical truth’ as they saw it.

Broadly speaking, the Sadducees were an elite grouping of priestly families. The Sadducees may have originated from a priest called Tzadok, the first priest of the first Temple in Jerusalem. Given the eminence they gave to the books of Moses, they emphasised the importance of the Temple and its sacramental rites. Over the centuries the Sadducees gathered priestly authority. The Maccabean revolt around 150BC (which established the priestly Hasmonean dynasty) added political power.

Many within the other sects opposed what they saw as the Sadducees adoption of ‘pagan’ lifestyles from the Hellenic culture of the Empire. Jeshua was one of their loudest critics.

In this encounter in the Temple Jeshua refutes the basis of the question about the woman with another passage they would find authoritative. He publicly undermines their authority, adding that they clearly know neither the power of God, nor the scripture they claim has authority. One can understand why that helped the some of the Sadducees to decide that Jeshua needed to be stopped. His dangerous public teaching needed to be silenced as well, or he would undermine the basis of their authority.

Over the next few days we’ll look at how Jeshua’s teaching was also viewed through the frames of the beliefs of others within the Jewish faith.

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