Who were the religious and political parties during the days of Jesus?
People have sent us emails asking about the religious and political parties that existed in Israel during the days of Jesus' ministry, about 2000 years ago. To help you understand what these parties stood for, and how they affected Christ and Israel, we will give a short description on each of the major parties:
1. The Pharisees
This group arose during the time of the Maccabees under the reign of John Hyrcanus (134-104 BC). They were a conservative group in belief as opposed to the liberal Sadducees, and guardians of the written and oral law. They were the bitter and most hateful enemies of Christ. They condemned Him for just about everything He did, for healing and working on the Sabbath, casting out demons, they denied His miracles, and they sought to kill Him early in His ministry. They threatened retaliation upon all who would accept Jesus, they accused Him of outright lying, they plotted His death, and ordered His arrest at Gethsemane.
The Jewish Encyclopedia lists seven types of Pharisees, which are the "Shoulder," "Wait a Little," "Blind," "Pestal," "Ever-Reckoning," "God Fearing," and "God Loving" Pharisee. The Pharisees were utterly denounced by Jesus and John the Baptist. There were about 6,000 Pharisees during the time of Christ.
2. The Sadducees
This group came from Zadok, the high priest during the reign of Solomon. They were the aristocratic and political party among the Jews and the rivals of the Pharisees. They were the "modernists" of the day. Unlike the Pharisees, they denied the existence of spirits, the resurrection of the just and the immortality of the soul. They were totally anti-supernatural. They came into prominence about the same time the Pharisees did. Both parties briefly set aside their differences to accomplish their common goal of getting rid of Jesus. They attempted to ridicule Jesus on the subject of resurrection, but wound up being ridiculed themselves.
3. The Herodians
This was a political group from the family of Herod. They derived their authority from the Roman government, and favored Greek customs. They were committed to maintaining the status quo and were law-and-order advocates. They joined the efforts of the Pharisees to silence Christ, whom they regarded Him as a revolutionary fanatic.
4. The Galileans
They were the political extreme-right fanatics of their day. The group arose in northern Israel, headed by a man named Judas of Galilee (Judas was a very common name in those days), who led a rebellion against all foreign elements. They advocated that Galilee was for Galileans. They came into violent collision with Pilate, who slaughtered some of them on one occasion. Christ's enemies attempted to identify both Him and the disciples with the Galilean extremists.
5. The Sanhedrin
The Sanhedrin was the religious and legal Jewish Supreme Court. It may have come from the time of Moses, or during the days of King Jehoshaphat. The council had 70 to 72 members and consisted of the High Priest, who was president, the heads of the 24 priestly service divisions, the Scribes and lawyers, and the elders who were representatives of the laity. This is where Christ stood during His third illegal trial. The Sanhedrin normally met in a semicircle with the prisoner standing in the midst, facing them.
6. The Scribes
They were the students, interpreters, and teachers of the Old Testament Scriptures. They were also called lawyers. Christ denounced them for making the Word of God of no effect by their traditions.
By George Konig
August 1, 2004
See a list of all of our commentaries