3. HISTORIC FACTS
In order to better understand the Gospel, it is necessary to know the true meaning of many of the words used which bear relation to the customs and the Jewish society of the time. Some of these words no longer have the same meaning and have frequently been misinterpreted, which in tom has led to uncertainty. When the full meanings are explained, it shows the real sense behind certain maxims which, at first sight, appear rather strange.
SAMARITANS - After the division of the ten tribes, Samaria became the capital of the dissident kingdom of Israel. Destroyed and rebuilt various times, under Roman rule it became the administrative head of Samaria, one of the four divisions of Palestine. Herod the Great beautified Samaria with sumptuous monuments and to gratify Augusto, gave it the name of Augusta, in Greek Sébaste.
The Samaritans were almost constantly at war with the kings of Judah. Profound aversion, dating from the time of the separation, perpetuated between the two tribes causing them to avoid any kind of reciprocal relations. In order to widen the schism, and to avoid going to Jerusalem for religious festivities, they built themselves a private temple and adopted some reforms. They only admitted the Pentateuch, which contained the laws of Moses, rejecting all other books to which these were annexed, and their sacred books were all written in ancient Hebrew characters. According to orthodox Jews, they were heretics and consequently despised, excommunicated and persecuted. The antagonism between the two nations was founded exclusively upon their religious divergencies, despite the fact that the origin of their belief was the same. They were the Protestants of their time.
Some Samaritans are still to be found in certain regions of the Lavent, especially near Nablus and in Jaffa. They observe the laws of Moses more strictly than other Jews and only marry amongst themselves.
NAZARITES - The name given in olden times to Jews who took the vow, either temporary or perpetual, to remain in perfect purity. They promised to observe chastity, abstain from alcoholic drinks and not to cut their hair. Samson, Samuel and John the Baptist were Nazarites.
Later on, the Jews gave this name to the first Christians, alluding to Jesus from Nazareth. This was also the name given to a heretical sect from the first phase of the Christian epoch and who, like the Ebonites, from whom they adopted certain principles, mixed the practice of the Mosaic Law with those of Christian dogmas. This sect disappeared during the fourth century AD.
PUBLICANS - In ancient Rome this was the name given to those who rented out the collection of public taxes and all kinds of incomes, either in Rome itself or in other parts of the Empire. They were like the general collectors and auctioneers of taxes in the ancient system in France, which still exists in some regions. The risks they ran made most people close their eyes when it came to their frequently amounted riches which for some, were the fruits of levies and scandalous gains. Later on the name 'Publican' was extended to all those who superintended public monies and their underling agents. Today, the term is employed in a disparaging way, to denote financiers and agents with very few scruples. It is said: "As greedy as a Publican" or "as rich as a Publican", referring to their ill-gotten gains.
During Roman role the question of taxes was what the Jews found most difficult to accept, causing great irritation amongst themselves. Many revolts resulted from this problem, so turning it into a religious question, as it was considered to be against the Law. Indeed, a powerful party was formed at whose front was put a certain citizen named Judah the Gaulite, whose objective was to abolish all taxes. The Jews consequently abominated these taxes and all those entrusted with collecting them. Thence sprang up the aversion shown to Publicans of all categories, amongst whom could be found many people of esteem, but who due to their functions, were despised together with whomsoever kept company with them. Prominent Jews considered it a compromise to have any personal relationship with these people.
TAX COLLECTORS - These were the lower class of collectors, entrusted principally with the collection of tools an entering cities. Their function corresponded more or less with those of the customs officials and the granting of passes. They shared the rejection suffered by Publicans in general. This is the reason why, in the Bible, we frequently meet the ward Publican alongside the expression - sinful people. This did not imply debauchery or vagrancy but was a term of scorn, synonym for people who kept bad company persons unworthy to mix with decent people.
PHARISEES (From the Hebrew, meaning division or separation.) - Tradition is an important part of Jewish theology. It consists of a compilation of the successive interpretations given to the Scriptures which became articles for dogmas. Amongst scholars this was the subject for interminable discussions, most of which were over simple questions as to the meaning of words and their form, just like theological disputes and subtleties of scholastics in the Middle Ages. From all this resulted different sects, each one wishing to have the monopoly of the Truth and consequently detesting one another, as so often happens.
Among these sects the most influential were the Pharisees, whose chief, Hillel, a Jewish doctor born in Babilonia some 180 or 200 years BC, was the founder of a famous school where it was taught that faith should be put only in the scriptures. The Pharisees were persecuted at different times, especially under Hyrcania (who was sovereign pontiff and king of the Jews), Aristoblus and Alexander, who was a king of Syria. However, Alexander granted them honours and restored their properties which made it possible for them to reacquire their old powerful status. This was conserved until the ruin of Jerusalem in the year 70 AD, at which time the name disappeared in consequence of the scattering of the Jews.
The Pharisees took an active part in religious controversy. They were faithful practitioners of exterior cults and ceremonies, full of ardent zeal, proselytism, enemies of innovations, maintaining great severity of principles. But behind the cover of punctilious devotion lay dissolute habits, a great deal of pride and above all an excessive desire to dominate. Religion was actually a means to an end, rather than an object of sincere faith. It possessed nothing of virtue beyond outward appearances and ostentation. Nevertheless, they exercised a great influence over the people, in whose eyes they were sacred. This is how they became powerful in Jerusalem. They believed, or made out they believed, in Divine Providence, the immortality of the soul, eternal punishment and the resurrection of the dead (See chapter 4, item 4). But Jesus, esteeming simplicity and the qualities of the heart above all else, whose preference within the law was for the spirit which vitalizes to the word which kills, applied Himself throughout His mission to the unmasking of their hypocrisy, and because of this was considered by them to be their enemy. This then is the reason why the Pharisees, together with the High Priests, incited the people to eliminate Him.
THE SCRIBES - This name was given in the main to the secretaries of the kings in Judea and to certain people who understood matters relating to the Jewish army. Later it was applied to those scholars who taught the Law of Moses and interpred it to the People. They joined in common cause with the Pharisees, sharing their principles as well as their aversion to all innovations. This is why Jesus included them when He launched criticism against the Pharisees.
SYNAGOGUE (From the Greek SUNAGOGUÊ meaning assembly, congregation.) There was only one temple in Judah, that of Solomon in Jerusalem, where all the great ceremonies of worship were held. Every year all the Jews would go there in pilgrimage for the principal festivals, such as the Passover, the Dedication and the Feast of the Tabernacle. It was on the occasion of these feasts that Jesus would also be present. The other cities did not have temples, only synagogues, buildings where the Jewish people would collect for their Saturday meetings and public prayers, under the leadership of their Eiders, the scribes, or scholars versed in the Law. It was due to this fact that Jesus, although He was not a priest, was able to teach at the synagogues on Saturdays.
Ever since the ruin of Jerusalem and the dispersal of the Jews, the synagogues, in the cities where hey went to live, became temples for the celebration of their cults.
SADDUCEES - Another Jewish sect founded about 24 BC whose name came from Sadoc, us founder. They did not believe in immortality or resurrection, nor in good and bad angels. However, they did believe in God. But as they expected nothing after death, they served Him having in mind only temporary recompenses which, according to them, were limited by Divine Providence. With these thoughts in mind, their main objective in life was the satisfaction of all physical senses. As to the scriptures, they followed the texts of the old laws. They would not accept traditions or any form of interpretation. They put good works and the pure and simple observance of this law before all outward practices of worship. They were, as you see, the materialists, deists and sensualists of their time. The sect had few followers, but amongst them were some important personages and it became a political party constantly in opposition to the Pharisees.
ESSENES - They were a Jewish sect founded about the year 150 BC in the time of the Maccabeans, whose members, living in types of monastries, formed amongst themselves a kind of moral and religious association. They distinguished themselves by their pacific ways and austere virtues, taught the lave of God and neighbour, the immortality of the soul, and believed in resurrection. They were celibate, condemned war and slavery, held all their worldly goods in common, and devoted themselves to agriculture. Contrary to the Sadducees, who were very sensual and denied immortality, and the Pharisees of rigid external practices and only apparent virtues, the Essenes never took part in the disputes which caused antagonism between the other two sects. In their way of life they were similar to the first Christians, and the moral principles they professed caused many people to suppose that Jesus had belonged to their community before He began His mission. It is certain that He knew them, but there is nothing to prove that He was related to them, so all that has been written to this effect is simply hypothetical. *
THERAPEUTS (From the Greek THÉRAPEUTAY, formed from THÉRAPEUEYN to serve, meaning: servants of God or Healers.) - These were Jewish sectarians and contemporaries of Christ, being mostly established in Alexandria in Egypt. Like the Essenes, whose principles they adopted, they also practiced all the virtues. They were extremely frugal in their eating habits, were celibate, dedicated to meditation, lived solitary lives and constituted a truly religious order. Filon, a platonic Jewish philosopher from Alexandria, was the first to speak of the Therapeuts, whom he considered as a Jewish sect. Eusebius, Saint Jerome and other originators of the Church believed them to be Christians. Whether they were, or whether they were Jewish, the fact remains that, like the Essenes, they represent a link in the union between the Jewish and Christian faiths.
* THE DEATH OF JESUS, supposedly written by an Essene is an entirely apocryphal work, whose only objective was to serve one opinion. It carries within it the proof of its modern origin.