Governing Body of Pharisees
In 332 B.C.E. Alexander (the Great) and his army swept through Palestine on his way to Persia. After Alexander’s death, two of his generals (Seleucus and Ptolemy) wrested Alexander’s empire and total dominance from local rulers as they grappled with each other ever afterward, with first, one, and then, the other victorious intermittently.
While these ambitious and competitive generals fought each other, their territorial holdings changed hands five times during which these regions took advantage of the chaos and ruled themselves more or less autonomously. In particular, the Jews in Jerusalem were tugged and manhandled in extremis. However we define Judaism, it stopped being just one idea or practice. Judaism fractured and splintered and boiled into a stew of many flavors.
Complicating matters, internal politics and religious differences stirred the mix.
The protection offered by Greek military colonies in outposts near Jerusalem and its environs proved irresistible to Jerusalem’s common folk, endangered constantly by raids, intrusions, and upheaval.
Eventually, marriage between Jewish women and Greek soldiers was encouraged to foster the spread of Hellenistic culture (which was the Greek way of existentially transforming conquered people.) Note: The assimilation of Greek language and wisdom was devastating to traditional Jewish isolationist ethos. Greek was a much more sophisticated language than Hebrew with “a word for everything.”
The final blow to pure Judaism was the SEPTUAGINT (Greek) version of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) due to the fact Jews couldn’t read Hebrew anymore.
Greek bureaucracy established trading centers and helped assimilated Jews set up thriving businesses with the ultimate goal of taxation and economic well-being. (Economic security discourages anarchy or rebellion.)
However--religious fanatics are only interested in purity and separation from polluting outside influences. The High Priest took on a prominence previously unnecessary in matters of politics. Instead of rule by King, priestly aristocrats moved into dominance and influence.
A clash between radical religious leaders and Hellenized Jews was inevitable. Disputes led to military intervention from the outside and outright rebellion broke out. (Maccabean Revolt 168-164 B.C.E.)
In the year 168 B.C.E., the Greek king of the Seleucid empire (Antiochus IV) intervened in the Jews’ Civil War between Hellenized Jews and traditional purists. The result of this clash of religion, culture and political ambition was nothing short of a holocaust for the conservatives. 80,000 men, women and children were destroyed or taken captive; the temple desecrated, and the city of Jerusalem itself was ruined.
THE RISE of the PHARISEES
The Maccabee family rulership went from father Simon to son John (called Hyrcanus *ruler) who was selected by Romans as a puppet in the region and recognized as High Priest (instead of a king.) John Hyrcanus had been tutored by the Perushim sect (Pharisees) and his bias leaned their way. He influenced Roman approval of them above the other sects of Judaism.
The Pharisaic scholars were recognized by Rome as the governing body for the internal life of the Jewish people, so the Pharisees became a party with political power as well as religious influence. Judaism that emerged and survived was primarily Pharisaic Judaism.
For monotheistic Jews, purity of worship was thrown into a crisis of monumental proportions. Judaism disagreed on how to survive and split into three main groups in reaction to the invasion.
EMERGING SECTS of JUDAISM
1. The Essenes fled from Jerusalem and founded a hermetic community at Qumran near the Dead Sea all about purifying themselves of contact with the outside world. These “monks” isolated themselves in a contest of purity in diet and sexual abstinence, “holier-than-thou” to the point of self-extinction. These monks believed their personal interpretations were guided by God Himself. Essenes adopted only the solar calendar, unlike the Pharisees and Sadducees who used a combination of lunar and solar. (Essenes had a seething contempt for the puppet ruler John Hyrcanus.)
Note: the famous Dead Sea Scrolls originated with this sect. Essenes considered themselves the “Teacher of Righteousness” among Jews.
2. Perushim or Pharisees embraced the Oral Torah (from memory) and favored molding the law to novel situations as they arose. Traditions (interpretations) were approved by Pharisees and promoted, some would say, intrusively. Pharisees used a methodology taught in rabbinical school by which interpretation was to be applied to the Oral Torah.
These men were middle class and lower echelon citizens in their society (blue collar Jews) before assuming the role of the governing body. Because of the “oral” nature of the Torah--teachers (rabbi) became necessary among the people. Among Pharisees, the idea of an afterlife of reward and punishment sprung up as well as a Messiah as kind of second David, to usher in world peace.
3. Sadducees trusted the written version of the law, resisting constant interpretations, and rejecting the Oral Torah or Talmud. Surprisingly, these elite members of Jewish society were opportunistic enough to embrace the positive changes brought in through Greek influence, business, and world trade. Sadducees rejected the novel Pharisaic notions of an afterlife of reward and punishment. This life is all there is and Jews must make the most of whatever opportunities that arise. The Sadducees made up half of the Sanhedrin (Court) along with Pharisees deciding matters of jurisprudence, often at odds with one another.
Note: Sadducees is derived from ZADOK-ees or Priests. As in Melchi (king)zadok (priest).
In the 1st century, Jesus was chastised by Pharisees for associating with bad companions.
Paul studied to become a Pharisee. Jesus, you might say, was violating “Bad associations spoil useful habits,” asserted by the Apostle Paul.
Jesus embraced prostitutes, tax collectors, and the non-pious.
Sadducees accepted only the written law and rejected the interpretations (traditions). Sadducees rejected the angelology and demonology which had developed by Pharisees.
Jesus constantly dealt with and preach about demons.
(See: Backgrounds of Early Christianity by Everett Ferguson)
The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses
A misreading of history is to be expected of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
It is nowhere more evident than the idea that Almighty God needs a puppet government on earth like that established by Rome in the time of the Maccabeans.
Christianity eventually created a replacement for all things Judaism which had fractured into sects.
Most of Jesus’ ministry was spent in a debate with the ruling hierarchy of his religion of birth, Judaism. The Governing Body of Judaism considered its own interpretations superior to the written word, let it be recalled. Jesus constantly clashed with this point of view and with elitist attitudes of entitlement to lord it over fellow believers for their own good.
When Rome finally stepped in and stamped its foot on Jerusalem, the Pharisees found themselves out of a job, the Essenes were gone with the desert wind and Sadducees headed into Diaspora.
Interestingly, if you trace the name Perusha from which Pharisee is derived, the preponderance is found in Russia. We know from history the empire split into the Greek city of Constantinople/ Italian Rome. The fall of Rome in the 5th century left only Constantinople until 1453 C.E. By then, Orthodox Christianity had absorbed much of the trappings of Pharisee traditions and outward trappings.
Today’s Governing Body of JW’s has carried Pharisee tradition into the homes of devout purists around the globe waiting for the next cosmic interpretation of what Oral Christianity “really means.”
Indeed, the Christian Greek Scriptures can trace to no original documents and has been culled and collated by a series of filters (Early Church Fathers) deciding what is included and excluded.
Early Church Fathers acted as a crucible for clashing ideas of who or what Jesus was/is and the New Testament is nothing more or less than the pulp from that pressurized pounding by Gnostics, Roman Catholics, Messianic Christians, and Platonic philosophers the first two hundred years or so. It took the imprimatur of a sun worshipping Roman general (Constantine) to coalesce competing forces into a written document both official and eternal.
How long will Watchtower survive? The centralized authority of Jehovah’s Witnesses is precarious. Self-aggrandized doctrine purports to validate their Governing Body as a shadow of early Christianity as described in the Book of Acts. Except it doesn’t.
Even a casual reading of the clash between Paul and Peter and the “chain of command” reveals Paul as a Lone Ranger figure exempt from the other apostles and distinct in teaching.
Judaism is still with us for all the thrashing and trashing of history. It is fractured into sects as always.
Christianity is subsumed by 40K sects, denominations, churches, and congregations under a generalization of “Jesus” yet separately and definitively understood differently.
One thing is certain--everywhere you look.
Pharisees are still with us!