Religion in the time of Jesus
James McPolin S.J examines the nature of religious life in the Holy Land at the time of Christ, specifically at the four groups which most feature in scripture: the Pharisees, the Saducees, the Essenes, and the Zealots. What kind of religion did people practise in the time of Jesus?The arrival of Greek culture affected not only the political and socio-economic life of the East but also its religious life. In Palestine especially, the religious life of the country was affected by the introduction of Greek religion, even though there was a strong resistance, especially under the rule of the Maccabees (175-135 BC).Diaspora In addition, the exodus of many Jews who formed communities abroad (called the Diaspora) led to contact with various forms of Greek religion such as belief in various gods of the city-states. Fate, astrology, magic, sorcery, Stoicism (the human being is constituted in his/her inner self by a divine spark) and Epicureanism (stressing the need for inner harmony and a certain withdrawal from the busyness of life).These various forms of religion found their way into Palestine and they survived within the Empire into Roman times.While under the influence of Greek culture and dominated by the colonial power of Rome, Palestinian Jews were not a very united people, for all their national and religious solidarity. In their attitudes to the Jewish law and the temple, for example, differences existed among them. In such a context, let us examine some of the groups with whom Jesus openly dialogued.The Pharisees The Pharisees were known as the 'separated ones' because of their strict avoidance of gentiles, unclean persons, sinners and Jews less observant of the law. They emerged as a lay movement, about 150 BC. Their aim was to extend the religion practised in the temple to the everyday life of the people. They were motivated by a zeal for Judaism.The basis of their teaching was not only the written law (called Torah) and...
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