Thursday, January 12, 2006

Sadducees

One of the most silly theories of the New Testament, one that most every educated Christian believes, is that in ancient Israel there were numerous Jewish sects: the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Zelots, etc. These are portrayed as being just like the numerous Protestant denominations today, and indeed, this theory is a product of Liberal Historical-Critical thinking. This is ridiculous: there was only one Israel and one Temple, and the sacrifices done there were done for all.

Similarly, one can say that there is no Catholic Church. There are the sects of the Democrats, Republicans, Liberals, Conservatives, Monarchists, Traditionalists, Germans, Romans, and so forth. But differing opinions or viewpoints of the Faith do not alter the Faith itself, which is objective, and which we try—more or less—to understand and practice. Some groups just try to understand the Faith more than others.

We know all about the Pharisees. I can fairly be called one sometimes (or even most of the time?). But as our Lord said, "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice." The Pharisees used both scripture and tradition, had a call for universal holiness, and kept the nation of Israel together under extreme persecution. The Pharisees also considered the prophetic and wisdom writings of the Bible to be canonical. They can be fairly criticized for having too much an emphasis on man-made tradition, though, and not directly on the Law of Moses. And they have been severely criticized for delivering Christ to the Romans.

The Sadducees are quite interesting. They only accepted the Pentateuch as canonical, and not the other books that make up our Old Testament. They did not believe in the resurrection or in angels.

The Sadducees didn't believe in Israel, either. They were very close to whatever foreign power that happened to occupy Israel at the time. They encouraged the hellenization of Israel.

Their view of Scripture denied tradition; instead the Sadducees would interpret it according to their own needs. This is precisely the view of the Biblical-Historicists in the Church today: Scripture is seen as a historic document that is only relevant within the context in which is was written. The danger of this viewpoint is that it sees Scripture as irrelevant to the modern day. The Pharisees, on the other hand, believed that Scripture was universal; careful reason may be needed to interpret it correctly for the modern day, but the chain of tradition was used as a guide.

The religious views of the Sadducees indicated that they had a materialistic philosophy, denying the world of spirit. They were agnostics, which strictly speaking, is the view of a God who is totally unknowable and remote, and who cares nothing of humanity. To them, morality was a personal decision. This is opposed to the view of God as the creator, sustainer, and judge of the world.

By no means were the Sadducees unified; they would often argue among themselves (sometimes violently) and were boorish and rude in social interactions. Their followers were the rich and powerful. The Sadducees were hated by the people.

There are Pharisees in the Church today, but there are Sadducees also. Who in the Church today courts the rich and powerful, seeks endless enculturation, sees Scripture as a mere collection of irrelevant historical documents, and promotes moral relativism and agnosticism?

After the destruction of Israel, the Sadducees disappeared forever; only the Christians and Pharisees survived. But people like the Sadducees have been with us for a long time. The Sophists in ancient Greece have much in common with the Sadducees, and have much in common with contemporary postmodernists.

Traditional Catholics are often dismayed at some of the leadership in the Church. These leaders are just like the Sadducees of times past, more interested in power than the Faith.

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