Pharisees and Sadducees -- Which One is Which?
"I'm sure you've heard both Pharisees and Sadducees in the Bible... And if you're like me, you wondered, 'Which one is which?'"
There were three major religious sects in Jesus' time. The two main groups were the Pharisees and Sadducees.
The Pharisees were the larger group, more associated with the general public. Though they held the minority of seats on the Sanhedrin council, they held the favor of the common class citizens.
The Sadducees were fewer in number, the more elite crowd, and pushed a Roman agenda. With the Roman Empire in power, the Sadducees didn't want to create any kind of controversy that would compromise their socitiel status.
One of the main differences between these two groups was the concept of an afterlife. The Pharisees preached that, yes, there was life after death, while the Sadducees disagreed. The Sadducees were also very literal with their interpretation of the Torah (first five books of the Old Testament). The Pharisees saw the laws as more open to interpretation.
The other, lesser known religious group were the Essenes.
The Essenes cut themselves off from the public, primarily living in mountainside caves in the desert. They were not a material people, living very simple lives. The Essene beliefs were born from disagreement with both the Pharisee and Sadducee parties. They thought the other sects had corruptued the temple.
It is believed the Essene people were the authors of the Dead Sea scrolls, manuscripts that were discovered in a cave near the Dead Sea in 1947.
A fourth group, hardly mentioned in the Bible, was the Zealots. These were the extreme radicals who fought against Roman rule. They went as far as performing public assassinations. They were violently opposed to any teaching that supported Rome.
An interesting thing to consider: One of Jesus' disiples, Simon, was a Zealot, while another, Matthew, was a tax collector for the Caesar. Jesus attracts people from every background, and unites them with a common purpose.