Ancient Jewish Sects

The Essenes were an aesthetic and mystical Jewish sect that followed strict rules. They lived in small groups, isolated from the rest of the Jewish world. Scholars believe that the Dead Sea Scrolls were written by this isolationist sect. Some scholars also believe that John the Baptist may have been an Essene and early Christianity was influenced by this sect. The Essenes did not survive after the destruction of the Temple in 70CE. It is believed they had been killed by the Romans.

The Tzedukim (Sadducees) were the priests and elite of the Jews and grew out of the Hellenist ideas of the time. They believed in a strict interpretation of the Written Torah but they did not believe in the Oral Torah (Mishnah). They were religiously conservative and the Temple and its sacrifices were the center of their worship. However, they were socially liberal, taking on the ways of the neighboring Greek culture. The Tzedukim could not survive after the destruction of the Temple in 70CE.

The Pharisees believed that both the Written Torah and Oral Torah were given to Moses directly from God. They believed that both the Written and Oral Torah were binding upon all Jews and could be reinterpreted by the rabbis. They were devoted to the study of Torah and the education of all Jews in Torah. The Pharisees were the only sect to survive the destruction of the Temple in 70CE and have become known as “Rabbinic Judaism”.

The Zealots were a Jewish sect that was mainly nationalistic and favored war against Rome. They favored death to living under Roman rule and would commit suicide rather than be captured by the Romans (the most famous example are the Zealots who committed murder/suicide at Masada). The Zealots were killed of in the war with Rome.

During the 1st century CE, a sect known as the Nazarenes came into existence. This sect were the early followers of Jesus. They were later led by John the Baptist and James the Just and incorporated non-Jews into the sect. When Christianity became more uniform in the 3rd and 4th century, the Nazarenes completely split with Judaism and became modern Christianity.

During the 1st century CE, a sect known as the Ebionites came into existence. This sect were the early followers of Jesus. They were later led by John the Baptist and James the Just and incorporated non-Jews into the sect. When Christianity became more uniform in the 3rd and 4th century, the Ebionites completely split with the Nazarenes and remained a non-trinitarian sect.

Karaite Judaism is the original form of Judaism as shown throughout the Tanakh from the time of the Revelation beginning at Har Sinai. Karaites are a sect of Judaism that believes only in the authority of the Tanakh. Karaite Judaism truly began with the national revelation at Har Sinai. Those who followed God’s laws were at first called “Righteous.” READ MORE…

Rabbinic Judaism – Yahadut Rabanit (יהדות רבנית) – grew out of Pharisaic Judaism and has been considered the mainstream form of Judaism since the codification of the Talmud Bavli. With the redaction of the “Oral Law” and the Talmud Bavli becoming the authoritative interpretation of the Tanakh, Rabbinic Judaism became the dominant form of Judaism in the Diaspora. Rabbinic Judaism encouraged the practice of Judaism when the sacrifices and other practices in Eretz Yisrael were no longer possible. READ MORE…