Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Historical Context - Pharisees and Herodians

Two Becoming One, For a Common Interest

Throughout history, alliances have been formed for the common good and for bad. An alliance doesn't just have to be between two countries; you can see alliances formed on a playground, when kids start clustering in groups or dividing themselves into teams to play tag. An alliance is essentially a connection through which a common interest is shared. A marriage is an alliance between two people who decide to share their lives together. Even in our own community two opposing groups the Tarkio Indians and the Fairfax Bulldogs came together to form the East Atchison Wolves (two high schools in neighboring towns which have combined efforts for certain activities). Today we will focus on two opposing groups who came together for one common interest to destroy Jesus and all that he represented.

At the time of Jesus, there were certain groups—the Pharisees, the Herodians, and Sadducees—that held positions of authority and power over the people. Other groups were the Sanhedrin, the scribes, lawyers, etc.. Each of these groups held power in either religious or political matters. Each of these groups, in many cases opposed each other each placing importance on themselves as individual groups.


“Pharisee” is derived from Ancient Greek Pharisaios, meaning “set apart, separated” The first main historical mention of the Pharisees and their beliefs comes in the four gospels and the book of Acts, in which both their meticulous adherence to their interpretation of the Torah as well as their eschatological views are described.

The deportation and exile of an unknown number of Jews of the ancient Kingdom of Judah to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar II, starting with the first deportation in 597 BC and continuing after the fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the Temple in 587 BC,  resulted in dramatic changes to Jewish culture and religion. During the 70-year exile in Babylon, Jewish houses of assembly (known in Hebrew as a beit knesset or in Greek as a synagogue) and houses of prayer were the primary meeting places for prayer, and the house of study was the counterpart for the synagogue. The Pharisees emerged as a distinct group shortly after the Maccabean revolt, about 165–160 BC they were, it is generally believed, spiritual descendants of the Hasideans

The Pharisees  were at various times a political party, a social movement, and a school of thought in the Holy Land during the time of Second Temple Judaism.  After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD Pharisaic beliefs became the foundational, liturgical, and ritualistic basis for Judaism (the term “Judaism” today almost always refers to Rabbinic Judaism). Rabbinic Judaism is the belief in Moses as “our Rabbi” and the conception that God revealed the Torah in two parts, as both Written and Oral Torah. Exodus 18 and Numbers 11 show that Moses appointed elders as judges to govern with him and to judge disputes, imparting to them details and guidance of how to interpret the revelations from God while carrying out their duties. Pharisees adhered to the Mosaic and Levitical laws which came in two parts: the Moral Laws (i.e. the Ten Commandments, given by God), and the Ceremonial Laws (proper worship, often established by man).


A party twice mentioned in the Gospels (Matthew and Mark) as acting with the Pharisees in opposition to Jesus. They were not a religious sect, but, as the name implies, a court or political party, supporters of the dynasty of Herod.

Nothing is really known of them beyond what the Gospels state. Whatever their political aims, they early perceived that Christ's pure and spiritual teaching on the kingdom of God was irreconcilable with theirs, and that Christ's influence with the people was antagonistic to their interests.

The Herodians held political power, and most scholars believe that they were a political party that supported King Herod Antipas, the Roman Empire's ruler over much of the land of the Jews.

The Herodians favored submitting to Herod, and therefore to Rome, for political expediency. This support of Herod compromised Jewish independence in the minds of the Pharisees, making it difficult for the Herodians and Pharisees to unite and agree on anything. But one thing did unite them—opposing Jesus.

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