This is an excerpt from “Antiquities of the Jews” by Flavius Josephus (Late First Century CE). Writing for a Roman audience this Jewish historian (from Pharisaic background himself) endeavors to explain the varieties of Jewish belief and practice, comparing them to schools of philosophy. The contrast Josephus highlights here are the opinions on afterlife, fate, free will, and destiny.

(11) The Jews had for a great while three sects of philosophy peculiar to themselves; the sect of the Essenes, and the sect of the Sadducees, and the third sort of opinions was that of those called Pharisees; of which sects although I have already spoken in the second book of the Jewish War, yet will I a little touch upon them now.

(12) Now, for the Pharisees, they live meanly, and despise delicacies in diet; and they follow the conduct of reason; and what that prescribes to them as good for them, they do; and they think they ought earnestly to strive to observe reason’s dictates for practice. They also pay a respect to such as are in years; nor are they so bold as to contradict them in anything which they have introduced; (13) and, when they determine that all things are done by fate, they do not take away the freedom from men of acting as they think fit; since their notion is, that it hath 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 vigor in them, and that under the earth there will be rewards or punishments, according as they have lived virtuously or viciously in this life; and the latter are to be detained in an everlasting prison, but that the former shall have power to revive and live again; (15) on account of which doctrines, they are able greatly to persuade the body of the people; and whatsoever they do about divine worship, prayers, and sacrifices, they perform them according to their direction; insomuch that the cities gave great attestations to them on account of their entire virtuous conduct, both in the actions of their lives and their discourses also.

(16) But the doctrine of the Sadducees is this: That souls die with the bodies; nor do they regard the observation 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) but this doctrine is received but by a few, yet by those still of the greatest dignity; but they are able to do almost nothing of themselves; for when they become magistrates, as they are unwillingly and by force sometimes obliged to be, they addict themselves to the notions of the Pharisees, because the multitude would not otherwise bear them. (Antiquities 18.11-17)

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19 COMMENTS

  1. Actually there are FOUR sects of philosophy in Bible times. There are the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and the Nazarenes. Jesus referred to himself as a Nazarene or Jesus of Nazareth, 17 times in the New Testament and there is still a group today that call themselves, Nazarenes. Nazareth was about 100 miles north of Jerusalem or a 3-4 day walk. Today Nazareth enjoy tourist as they travel to the Sea of Galilee.

    • Well, Josephus did not mention Nazarenes. 🙂 He did mention Zealots, though, so there were more than 4 actually. He mentioned only the ones he wanted to highlight.

    • The sect of the Nazarenes was not until after the crucifixion/resurrection. It was a messianic Jewish sect of the first couple centuries c.e. though I suppose that all his followers during his ministry could be considered “Nazarenes”

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  3. I enjoy reading your commentary. Was it only Josephus who believed the Essenes thought The Soul dies with the body? Did other sources agree that the Essenes did not believe in “The World to Come” after death?

    • I am not sure I follow. Is there a particular text/quote you have in mind? As far as I know, many Essenes embraced afterlife.

  4. There is a difference between Nazarite and a Nazarene, Jesus was a Nazarene because he grew up in
    Nazareth, He was not a Nazarite you read in the Old Testament the people who took a Nazarite
    Vow, they are not the same

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