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Josephus, Antiquities XVIII, 11-17: More About the Pharisees and Sadducees

Bowls Found at QumranIn this selection, Josephus gives us an idea of the numerical strength of the Pharisees and Sadducees. He asserts that the Pharisees had the greatest support among the multitude, and especially in the cities, so that the Sadducees had to bow to their wishes in order to hold positions of leadership. Here he attributes the popularity of the Pharisees to their doctrines.

(11) The Jews had for a great while three schools of philosophy peculiar to themselves- the Essenes, the Sadducees, and the third was that of those called Pharisees. . . .

(12) Now, for the Pharisees, they live simply, and despise delicacies in diet. And they follow the conduct of reason; 81 and what that prescribes to them as good for them, they do. They think they ought earnestly to strive to observe those commandments which it has seen fit to dictate to them. They also pay respect to those who are advanced in years, nor are they so bold as to contradict them in anything which they have introduced. (13) Though they determine that all things are done by fate, they do not exclude the freedom from men of acting as they think fit, since their notion is that it has pleased God to make a temperament whereby what he wills is done, but so that the will of men can act virtuously or viciously. (14) They also believe that souls have an immortal power in them, and that under the earth there will be rewards or punishments, depending on whether they have lived virtuously or viciously in this life. The latter are to be detained in an everlasting prison, but the former shall have power to revive and live again. (15) On account of these doctrines, they are very influential among the body of the people, and whatever they do about divine worship, prayers, and sacrifices, they perform them according to their direction. In this way, the inhabitants of the cities gave great tribute to the Pharisees by conducting themselves virtuously, both in their way of life and their discourses as well.

(16) But the doctrine of the Sadducees is that souls die with the bodies. Nor do they regard as obligatory the observance of anything besides what the law enjoins them. For they think it an instance of virtue to dispute with those teachers of philosophy whom they frequent. (17) This doctrine is accepted only by a few, yet by those still of the greatest standing. 82 But they are able to do almost nothing by themselves, for when they become magistrates, as they are unwillingly and by force sometimes obliged to be, they submit themselves to the notions of the Pharisees because the multitude would not otherwise tolerate them.

81. Feldman translates, “the guidance of that which their doctrine has selected.”

82. Among the Sadducees were representatives of the aristocracy.

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