Josephus, War II, 119-66: Three Philosophical Schools


Jewish War, Josephus Flavius

Jewish War, Josephus Flavius

Excerpted from Lawrence H. Schiffman, Texts and Traditions, Ktav, Hoboken 1998, p.267-268.

Here Josephus elaborates on the three sects which he identifies amongst the Jews. We include here only the material on the Pharisees and the Sadducees, reserving his extensive discussion of the Essenes to be discussed below. In regard to the Pharisees and Sadducees, he notes their attitudes toward the immortality of the soul, life after death, and their behavior to one another. Josephus ascribes the popularity of the Pharisees to their friendly disposition.

(119) For there are three philosophical schools among the Jews. The followers of the first are the Pharisees, the second the Sadducees, and the third, who pretend to a more severe discipline, are called Essenes….

(162) Of the two first-named schools, the Pharisees are those who are considered most skillful in the exact explication of their laws, and are the leading school. They ascribe all to fate and to God, (163) and yet allow that to do what is right, or the contrary, is principally in the power of men, although fate does cooperate in every action. They say that all souls are imperishable, but that the souls of good men only pass into other bodies while the souls of evil men are subject to eternal punishment.

(164) But the Sadducees are those that compose the second order and exclude fate entirely, and suppose that God is not concerned with our doing or not doing what is evil. (165) They say that to do what is good or what is evil is men’s own choice, and that the (choice of) one or the other belongs to each person who may act as he pleases. They
also exclude the belief in the immortality of the soul and the punishments and rewards in the underworld.

(166) Moreover, the Pharisees are friendly to one another and cultivate harmonious relations with the community. But the behavior of the Sadducees towards one another is in some degree boorish; and their conversation with those that are of their own party is as barbarous as if they were strangers to them. And this is what I have to say concerning the philosophic schools among the Jews.

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