JUDEA DURING THE REMAINDER OF THE RULE OF THE ASMONEANS
1. Rival Factions. Pharisees and Sadducees.—
Two parties had grown up in the State. They were rival political factions rather than rival religious sects, although their differences had been in the first place, and were still mainly, of a religious sort. Misfortune does not affect all natures alike. In cases of shipwreck there are always some people who make a rush at the boats, and some who turn at once to the pumps. The simile may serve for the Jews at this period. The Babylonian conquest had threatened national shipwreck, and after the anchorage of the Exile, a long-sustained struggle for national existence had begun. More than once it looked as if the waves must close over the people. There were Syrian storms and Roman winds to make way against, and Greek sunshine to resist; and the sunshine perhaps was the most paralysing of all. The different effects of trouble on different natures soon became manifest. Two distinct parties came to the front. One who at all costs stuck to the ship. Hot and grimy, and terribly in earnest, these worked away at the pumps. They kept to that one task, and, in dread of leaks, patched and cobbled, and by degrees laid down a new keel. The other set, in all good faith, took to the boats. They carried with them what they considered essentials for national existence, but what they had not room for, and thought superfluous, they threw overboard.
2. How they got their Names.—
The people who stood by the ship, and who in effect saved it, came to be called Pharisees. There are two possible meanings to the root פרש from which the name is derived. It means to enlarge or to explain, and it also signifies to separate or divide. From either or from both these meanings the Pharisees probably gained their name. Their first object was to separate from everything that might pollute them externally or internally. The fear of injury to their beloved ship, the Law, made them put on it, as it were, an extra coat of defensive armour-plating. They added line upon line and precept upon precept to the original proportions. Pride in their patriotic patchwork induced them also, as we have seen, to accept the name Chasidim, or Saints, which was given them by outsiders, and to gradually, and somewhat ostentatiously, separate themselves collectively as well as individually from the more easy-going part of the nation. The people who took to the boats, the Zaddikim, who relied on their own righteousness, grew to be known as Sadducees. Tradition tells of a certain Sadok, a famous scholar, from whom the Sadducees derived some of their ideas, and possibly their name.
3. Their Tenets and Position, Religions and Political.—
The Pharisees were rigid upholders of the law. They believed it to be the guiding rule of life, not only for the individual, but for the State. They tightened and narrowed whilst they strengthened the obligations of the law. They insisted not only on a high standard of duty, but on the most minute observance of every precept, Mosaic and traditional. Many persons believed that the Pharisees overdid it a little, over-armour-plated the ship, and were in a degree responsible for some ugly barnacles that came in time to cling about and clog the keel.
Those who thought thus formed the body of the Sadducees. The Sadducees took it all much more lightly. They were content to conform to the main rites of Judaism without troubling much about every detail. They looked on the things of this world and the things of the other world as quite distinct matters, and on the whole, perhaps, considered this world to be the more interesting. The Sadducees did not much believe in the other world at all. They said that right should be done for right’s sake, and without hope of reward. A pure and lofty doctrine in itself, yet hardly worth the cost, since it made them go a step further, and reject altogether the thought of future rewards and a future life.
But the Sadducees were mostly well off, and heaven to them would have been only a luxury the more. The Pharisees were of the people, the less wealthy and cultivated classes. They were not all, however, of the same high type of character. There were as many as seven sorts of Pharisees, we are told, and these seven sorts varied from real saints to real shams in their ‘zeal’ for the law. As a power in the State the Pharisees had numbers and learning on their side, whilst the Sadducees on theirs had money, and what goes now by the name of culture.
To use political words, the Sadducees called themselves liberal, and the Pharisees, in their aims, were certainly conservative. The Sadducee, in fact, rather prided himself on his liberal principles. He would have told you that he cordially admitted every man’s right to his own opinions, and that he never meddled with other people’s observance. And this was perhaps true. But then he stopped there. He never sought to see things from other people’s point of view, he showed no sympathy in their researches, no respect for their acquirements. This unprogressive sort of mind in professed friends of progress was a fatal bar to liberalism in any just sense of the word. And, in effect, the Pharisees were the true liberals; and the Sadducees, despite their wide views and their easy-going way, were the obstructionists.
With all their rigid adherence to the law, the purpose and the practice of the Pharisees was to extend and to expound it, to make it elastic enough to fit everybody’s needs. In their passionate desire to keep the ship afloat they armour-plated it, but equally they never hesitated, on occasion, to cut away for a while a mast or a spar. The Sadducees, when they took to the boats, took all they meant to keep with them. They would have no ‘forms,’ no ‘traditional’ burdens of any kind; they would obey the law, they declared, in its entirety and in its purity, nothing more and nothing less. It sounded promising. But a little effort of thinking will show that a policy of absolute standing still, of contentment with the present, ignoring of the past, and denial of the future, is not progress.
Nor can the mood which lightly tosses tradition overboard, refusing to see that it is as likely to prove compass as cargo, be rightly called liberal. In intention probably the best of the Pharisees and the best of the Sadducees were both right. The Pharisee wanted to keep his religion intact, and wrapped it up in observance; the Sadducee, with perhaps the same object, would have stripped it bare of forms and ceremonies, and relied only on conduct (צְדָקָה).
The Sadducees, it must be owned, considered the ceremonial law binding, but only as prescribed in the law, and as applied according to their own interpretation. And, oddly enough, they who were so easy-going in their habits were much harder in their judgments than the strict Pharisees. Rejecting the notion of future rewards or punishments, the Sadducees considered it a man’s duty to be as severe as possible in judging his neighbour’s conduct. They aimed at being just (צְדָקָה), whilst the Pharisees were content to be merciful. Each had the defects of his qualities, but the defects of the Pharisee were, to superficial sight, of a more patent and troublesome sort than those of his rival.
To be always dreadfully in earnest makes a man a distinctly uncomfortable companion. The ‘zeal’ of the Pharisees might make them pious and devout, might render them first-rate martyrs, and even very tolerable bigots, but hardly, under any circumstances, good courtiers. The Sadducees must always have been pleasanter people to live with. In the early fighting days, the ‘zealous’ Chasidim had been a very satisfactory court circle of soldiers for the warlike Maccabees, and the first two priest-kings were well content to find their mainstay in the Pharisaic faction. But as things grew more settled and peaceful the Pharisees grew exacting and somewhat irksome companions. The numerous restrictions which traditional law enforces on the will and desires of man made princes and courtiers look on the Pharisees as uncomfortable people, as obstacles. At court they grew to be more and more disliked, and towards the end of the reign of John Hyrcanus there came about a decided estrangement.
4. State Quarrel with the Pharisees.—
By the time of John Hyrcanus, the relation between the court and the people had become so strained that a very slight cause was in the end sufficient to bring about the actual rupture. At a big banquet which Hyrcanus gave one day, a person who happened to be a Pharisee, and to whom, possibly, the seat he liked had not been given, took occasion to speak loud scandal against the priest-king’s mother, and to question the consequent right of Hyrcanus to the priesthood. He seems to have been more strict in his notions, this Pharisee, than correct in his facts. His impolite conduct would seem to have had not even the excuse of truth. Hyrcanus was excessively indignant at the ill-timed and ill-tempered attack; he mistook this meddlesome Pharisee for a type of his class, and, in his irritation, during the rest of his reign the king chose his friends and his officials from among the Sadducees.
5. The Essenes.—
One other party among the people claims a little notice. Hardly numerous enough to be called a sect, nor of political importance sufficient to take rank as a faction, the Essenes yet form a feature in the period. The Essenes have been called the monks of Judaism, and they are the nearest approach to anything in the way of monks that Judaism has to show. They were men who in a sort of holy selfishness, and in utter weariness of the world, gave it up, so far as they could, altogether. Their own souls were their chief objects of interest. They passed their days in praying and preaching, and such few possessions as they had were common to all alike. They lived in the very simplest and most uncomfortable fashion, dwelling in caves and huts and deserted places, more like birds and beasts than men. They led this sort of life from duty, but it was an odd conception of duty, and one so entirely opposed to Jewish notions that the Essenes never gained much sympathy among Jews, and were never regarded as more than an eccentric offshoot of Judaism. The little body was never numerous, and gradually died out.
6. Reign of Alexander Jannæus (105‒79 B.C.).—
The eldest son of Hyrcanus succeeded him as priest-king, but he only lived to wear the robes and the crown for a year. His brother, Alexander Jannæus, who then came to the throne, was very brave and warlike, and, during the twenty-seven years he ruled, found plenty of use for his energies both abroad and at home. He was constantly fighting to extend or to defend his frontier, and in one of his many little wars he found allies and helpers in Jewish-Egyptian generals. In his own capital a good deal of desultory rioting went on between the rival factions, rising at times almost to the proportions of civil war. Once, when he was officiating as high priest on the feast of tabernacles, some of the neglected Pharisees, angry at the attitude of the priest-king, pelted him and the smart Sadducees who stood around him with the citrons which had been supplied for so very different a purpose. Alexander Jannæus responded to the attack rather as king than as priest. He charged the people, and some six thousand of them were killed. He certainly could not have liked the Pharisees, but he must have thought well of them, for when he found himself dying he desired his wife to form a government with them rather than with the Sadducees.
7. After the Death of Alexander Jannæus.—
Salome Alexandra took her husband’s advice. She was an earnest, strong-hearted woman herself, and keen enough to appreciate these qualities in the Pharisees. She turned to them at once in her trouble, and the Pharisees rose to the occasion. They forgot themselves, and remembered only the needs of the kingdom. They proved wise counsellors and staunch friends to the widowed queen, and for the nine years in which Salome Alexandra lived to rule over Judea, the country was prosperous and at peace. She had two sons. The elder, Hyrcanus II., who was rather a sleepy, indolent sort of person, was made high priest. The younger, Aristobulus, who was of a much more energetic nature, busied himself in State affairs, and took an active interest in the army; and differing from his mother and brother, he looked for his friends and his supporters among the Sadducees.