Gesù Viaggio in Terra Santa(II): Groups in which giudaismo was divided

Continuation of the text by Gerardo Ferrara, writer, historian and expert in Middle Eastern history. On this occasion, he concentrates on the study of social groups, beliefs and Jewish festivals at the time of Jesus.

Gerardo Ferrara-October 17, 2022-Reading time: 5 minutes
Sea of Galilee

©Robert Bye

At the time of Jesus, Giudaism did not constitute a uniform bloc, but was divided into seven, or schools, of which the following were the main ones:

- I sadducei (in ebraico saddoqím(by their capostipite, Saddoq), who constituted the priestly class and the elite of the time. They were wealthy religious functionaries, attached to the service in the temple, who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead nor in the existence of angels, demons and spirits and believed that the only law to be followed was the written Law, contained in the Torah, or rather the first five books of the Bible (Pentateuch).

- I farisei (in ebraico perushímwhich means "separated"), as observers of the Law, wanted to concentrate on the minutiae of the Law, which for them was not only the written one (Torah), but also and above all the oral one (the "Torah"). halakhahThe farisei were very similar to the ultra-orthodox hens of today, of which the ancient ones are in practice the "separated" ones. The farisei were very similar to the ultra-orthodox Hebrews of today, of which the ancient Egyptians are in practice. They defined themselves as "separated" because they considered themselves aversaries of everything that was not purely Hebrew, or rather, they themselves. It is enough to think that the popolino was defined by them. ‛am ha-areṣThe people of the earth, in the sense of a preventive.

- The erodiani, known more than others for their loyalty to the king Erode. They had to be very close also to the sadducei, since the latter were the elite more prone to the power of both Erode and the Romans, determined as they were to maintain the privileges derived from the status quo.

- I Dottori della legge, o scribi (in ebraico ṣofarím). They progressively codified all that on which it was possible to legislate. For example, at the time of Jesus the most debated object, in the two main rabbinical schools of the great masters Hillel and Shammai, was whether it was lawful to eat an egg made from a Sabbath hen).

- Gli Zeloti (whose Italian name derives from Greek zelotésbut in English it is qana'ím). I termini zelotés che qana' īm they mean both the "followers" languages and refer to the zeal with which this group adheres to the Ebraic doctrine, also in a political sense. Among the disciples of Jesus there is one called Simone the Canaanite, where "Canaanite" does not refer to the geographical origin, but to the belonging to the group of the "Canaanites". qana'īmand so were the Zealots. Costoro were in practice intransigent Farisei also from a political point of view, not only religious. They were called Sicarii by the Romans, by way of the pugnali (sicæ) nascosti sotto il mantello con cui uccidevano chiunque venisse da loro trovato a infrangere precetti della legge ebraica.

- The Essenes, never mentioned in the Hebrew or Christian writings but spoken of by Flavius Giuseppe, Philo, Pliny and others, constituted a true and proper religious confraternity, diffused throughout the land of Israel but concentrated in particular around the Dead Sea, in the presses of the oasis of En Gedi (Qumran). They were very similar to a religious order and ruled as impure the cult of the Temple and the other seven giudaiche. They were literally fanatics of ritual purity and rigid separation from the rest of the world, considered impure, and rigidly averse to women. Among them there was no private property and they practiced, except for some exceptions, celibacy. It was hypothesized that both Gesù and Giovanni Battista were Esseni, but this is contrary to the universality of their message (open, among the others also to women).

These, therefore, were the large groups into which the giudaism of the time of Jesus was divided. After the great catastrophe of 70 A.D. and 132 A.D., the only ones to survive, from a doctrinal point of view, were the Pharisees, from whom modern Judaism derives.

Credenze, usi e costumi

Ebraism at the time of Jesus is found in the second half of the "Mishnaic" phase (10-220 A.D.), from the Ebraic root shanàla stessa delle parole Mishnah e shanahwhich means year. The Mishnah, in fact, together with the Talmud and the Tanakh (a term that is used to indicate the corpus of the Hebrew Bible) is the sacred text of the Hebrew Law. Talmud and Mishnah, however, are not the Bibbia, but rather are exegetical testimonies that collect the writings of thousands of rabbis and scholars up to the IV century AD. Ebbene, the immense material of such exegetical testimonies was in phase of elaboration right at the beginning of the Christian era, therefore under Roman occupation, through the work of the Tannaim (tannà is the Aramaic equivalent of shanah and it indicates the act of repeating), true and proper "repeaters" and disseminators of the doctrine acquired from the masters and the same masters of the oral law. Examples of this phase are the scribes, who progressively codified all that on which it was possible to legislate, from the forbidden books to the rules of purity.

Through this codification process, the Hebrew Law now extended not only to the ten rules contained in the Decalogue, but now dominated every single action of the pio osservante, with 613 main commands, divided into 365 divisions (like the days of the year) and 248 obligations (the same number as the human body's bones). 

When Jesus was alive, there were two great schools of Jewish thought, that of Hillel and that of Shammai, which represented two different perspectives of the Jewish Law, with the former more rigorist and the latter proposing a spiritual reform of Judaism based on the concept of "Love your neighbor as yourself", expressed in a midrash. Gesù, who from a purely Jewish point of view could be considered one of the most important TannaimThe two schools of Hillel and Shammai, in the preaching that never one iota of the Law would have been abolished but that the compimento of the Law itself was the love for God and for the next.

Two were the fundamental pillars of the life of every Hebrew, besides professing the unicity of God, and on such pillars, especially after the persecutions of Antiochus IV Epiphanes (167 B.C.), the very identity of the people of Israel was constituted:

  • Circoncisionewhich was performed eight days after the birth of each child and was practiced alone at home, giving its name to the child. Pie tradizioni narravano che persino gli angeli del cielo fossero circoncisi e che in paradiso non sarebbe entrato nessun incirconciso (la non circoncisione era obbrobrio per i giudei, in quanto simbolo del paganesimo).
  • Osservanza del sabatowhich began from the Venerdì section (the parasceve) and concluded with the next step. This observance was so rigorous that two treatises of the Talmud were dedicated to its casuistry, with a whole series of divieti (e.g. lighting a fire on a Sabbath day) and the ten minutiae that allowed to escape (e.g., it was allowed to know a node of funes but, in the case of a fall of a horse or camel, it was allowed to know a node of funes but, in the case of a fall of a horse or camel, it was not allowed to know a node of funes, it was forbidden to burn a node of fune but, in the case of the fall of an ox, horse or camel, if one resorted to burn it with one hand, it was not a violation of the Sabbath; oppure, he who has bad teeth can sift it with vinegar, but after ingesting it and do not replace it outside, because in the first case he would have to take food, something unlawful, and in the second case he would have to take a medicine, something unlawful). Saturday was, and is, for the Giudaism a day of rest and feast, in which it was dedicated to consume with the family the food prepared for the vigil, to prepare food and suitable ornaments and to spend the time dedicating to the prayer, to the Temple or in synagogue.

To the two batteries that have been added is also the ritual purity, to which in the Talmud two treatises are dedicated (the Tohoroth) that ruled what it was right to eat, touch, eat, etc.. Great importance, in order to maintain or restore purity, was given to the washing of hands, towels and various objects, so much so that, in some sentences, who does not wash his hands is compared to who goes with a meretricious woman. We grasp, at this point, the scandal provoked by the disciples of Jesus in taking food with immonde hands (Marco 7, 1-8. 14-15. 21-23).

Le feste

Besides Saturday, a weekly holiday, Judaism observed other periodic festivals, of which the main ones were Passover (Pesah, the feast celebrating the liberation of the people of Israel from the schiavitu of Egypt) on the 14th of the month of Nisan, followed by the feast of the Azzimi; Pentecost (Shavu'otwhich in Hebrew means weeks and indicates the fifty days after Easter) and the Tabernacoli (Sukkòt(the feast of the Jews, between September and October, which commemorated the stay of the Hebrews in Egypt, in fact it was and is customary to build tabernacles or tents and to spend the time). These three were called "feasts of pilgrimage", because every young and pubescent Israelite was obliged to go to the Temple of Jerusalem.

Other holidays were Yom Kippur (the day of espionage, a day of dignity for the entire population and the only day in which the high priest was allowed to enter into the Sanctum Sanctorum of the Tempio), Hannukah e Purìm.

The authorGerardo Ferrara

Writer, historian and expert on Middle Eastern history, politics and culture.

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