Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Sadducees and Angels; the Pharisees' Lemons

For my write-up today on volume 3 of John Meier's A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, I have two items.

1. Acts 23:8 says that the Sadducees did not believe in angels or spirits. Meier finds this odd because the Sadducees accepted the written Torah, and the written Torah talks about angels. On page 380, Meier attempts to account for Acts 23:8 as follows: "Perhaps Luke is reflecting in a garbled way the idea that the Sadducees rejected the explosion of speculation about angels and demons that was current in Jewish apocalyptic, mystical, and magical circles around the turn of the era, while at least some Pharisees were open to such developments." For Meier, the Sadducees did not reject the existence of angels, but rather the speculation about angels in Jewish apocalypticism, mysticism, and magic.

2. I like what Meier says on page 395 about why the Pharisees were more influential than the Sadducees with the people, even though the Sadducees had the political power:

"Unlike the Pharisees, the Sadducees did not have a great amount of influence with the common people. Perhaps this might be explained in part by the fact that, at least during direct Roman rule, the Sadducees were accustomed to issuing orders backed up by police power, and so felt little need to rely heavily on moral suasion, exemplary living, and exact knowledge of the Scriptures, as did the Pharisees. Needless to say, the usual tension in ancient Mediterranean society between the poor common people and the rich and powerful elite played its part as well."

This has a flavor of "If life gives you lemons, make lemonade!" The Pharisees did not have much political power (though, as Meier notes elsewhere in the book, some of them had a degree of influence with Herod the Great, since they helped him out when he was a commoner). But they used that lack of political power as an opportunity.


  1. This has me wondering Meier's reaction to Philo of Alexandria who worked tirelessly to graft Judaism onto some idealization of philosophy.

    Does Meier look at the notes from Josephus on the Sadducees?

  2. Hi Looney! Yes, I actually talk a little about Josephus and the Sadducees in my next post on Meier, which will appear tomorrow.


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