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Ancient Jewish History IV: Sadducees, Essenes & Maccabees

Early Jewish history involves an assortment of sects that represented different socio and economical groups within the faith. In this article, you will learn about the Sadducees, Essenes, and another group that confronted the Seleucid Empire with a vengeance.

The Sadducees were a sect of Jews that lived during the Second Temple period. They started around the 2nd century BC. The higher ups in the social and economic world of the Judean society played an important role in this group of people. They also maintained the Temple. This sect started to fade following the destruction of Herod’s Temple in Jerusalem (which took place in 70 AD).

The Essenes were prosperous during the 2nd century BCE to the 1st century CE. This Jewish sect didn’t have as many people as the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The Essenes were found in various cities, but came together in communal life that focused on voluntary poverty and abstinence from “worldly pleasures.” The Essenes are linked in history to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

In 198, the Seleucid King Antiochus III (also known as Antiochus the Great) ousts Ptolemy V from Judah and Samaria. Antiochus becomes the 6th ruler of the Seleucid Empire , ruling from 222 to 187 BC. The Greek king ruled over Greater Syria and western Asia as the 3rd century BC was coming to a close. He was only 18 years old when he took the throne. He launched early campaigns against the Ptolemaic Kingdom, but they were not successful. The following years were helpful for Antiochus because he finally succeeded in various military victories. However, he was not always victorious. He waged a war against the Roman Republic in mainland Greece in 192 BC, which resulted in defeat.

The Maccabees and Hasmoneans

Rebelling against the Seleucid Empire, the Maccabees formed a Jewish rebel army that took control of Judea, which had been a ‘client state’ of the Seleucids. They were responsible for founding the Hasmonean dynasty, which stayed in power from 164 BCE to 63 BCE. This was important for the Jewish religion, as this period of time helped reassert the faith. The boundaries of the Land of Israel expanded and they were no longer influenced as much by Hellenistic Judaism.

Other highlights of the Hasmonean dynasty includes the leadership of Simon Maccabeus (140,135 BCE), John Hyrcanus, Hyrcanus II, and Antigonus. To learn more about the leaders of the Hasmonean Dynasty, read the article titled, “Leaders of the Hasmonean Dynasty.”

Roman Occupation

It wasn’t long before Rome increased their power and rule over different parts of the world. In 63 BC, Pompey makes the region of Judah (Israel) a client kingdom of Rome. By 6 AD, Augustus makes it a Roman province (calling it Judaea). However, a revolt takes place between 66 and 73. In 70, the Romans occupy Jerusalem and Titus calls for the destruction of the Second Temple.