Now we are going to get into the back-round of who was in the “council” and who was involved in the trial of Yeshua. Herod comes to power, and in 30 BC the Nasi (president) of the Sanhedrin was Hillel and the Av Beit Din (vice-president) was a man named Menachem. Menachem is first called “Menachem the Pharisee” and later will be called “Menachem the Essene.” Events will take place where Menachem will step down as Av Beit Din and Shammai becomes Av Beit Din around 20 BC. It seems that Yeshua got along with Beit (house/school) Hillel and there are over 300 recorded arguments between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai. The only opposition to the Sadducees was the Pharisees.
All the Pharisees were basically one group, and Alexander Jannaeus, the last Hasmonean king and a Sadducee, showed his contempt for the Pharisees by pouring the water from the Shiloach Pool on his feet instead of the Altar during the Beit Ha Shoevah ceremony during Sukkot. We have new developments happening at this time. The Romans enter into Israel and become entrenched into Israeli life by the time of Herod because there has been a civil war between Hyrcannus and Aristobulus, two brothers of the Hasmonean dynasty, and Antipater (Herod’s father) called the Romans in to back up Hyrcannus. Pompey the Great comes in, and the Romans stay in the land. The Romans and the non-Jews are a new player now. The Pharisees have a split for the first time. They will become three groups. The Chasidim will be headed by Hillel. Another group will be headed by Shammai, who was very young at this time. The third group was so distinct that they were not considered Pharisees eventually, and they will become the Essenes. They will be headed by a former Pharisee named Menachem.
These three groups have a total different approach on how to deal with the Romans and the non-Jews, and this will have a direct bearing on how one should understand the Gospels and Epistles. There will be another “sub” group that will be against the Romans and the non-Jews, and this group will almost be totally linked to the Pharisee’s under Shammai (Beit Shammai). This group will be known as the Zealots, and they will be divided into two main groups called the Zealots and the Sicarii (Assassins). The Zealots will be closely linked to Beit Shammai. The word “zealot” comes from the idea that they were “zealous for God and the Torah.” They will be motivated by their faith. They are not just people who are angry with the Romans. There was a religious basis for their opposition.
Gamaliel is the Nasi of the Sanhedrin when Yeshua’s trial took place, and you will notice that he is never mentioned in his trial. He will become the teacher of Paul (Acts 22.3). The Gospels and Epistles do not make a difference between the Chasidim, the Pharisees and the Essenes and they are all called by the same term because they were originally all called by the same name. In Acts 5.34-39, Gamaliel gives the “counsel” to wait and see about the new movement teaching that Yeshua was the Messiah. We know the Zealots, and Yeshua had a talmid who was a Zealot named Simon (Luke 6.15) and another who was a Sicarii (Judas). But things have been getting worse and worse since 20 BC, 50 years before Yeshua’s trial.
Paul was arrested in 58 AD, and he addresses a crowd in Acts 22. He talks about Yeshua and how he appeared to him, resulting in his salvation, and nobody disputes it. But when he gets to Acts 22.18-22, the crowd really gets upset with Paul because he talks about how Yeshua called him to bring the “basar” (gospel) to the non-Jews. They said Paul should not even be allowed to live. Acts 10 begins with the story of a Roman Centurion named Cornelius. In Acts 10.28, Peter says how it was unlawful for a Jew to associate with a non-Jew, but God had showed him not to call any man unclean as a result of the vision he saw in Acts 10.9-16. Rabbi Harvey Falk in his book called “Jesus the Pharisee” says in the introduction, “It was not until sometime later that I discovered a passage in the Jerusalem Talmud recording that Menachem the Essene and 160 talidim (students/disciples) had left the Jewish community in 20 BC, on a mission to the Gentiles.” They were going to be a separate group, and they believed that Beit Shammai and the Chasidim under Beit Hillel were too lax in their observance. However, the Essenes said that their mission was to carry the Noahide Covenant to the nations. So, they are going to be different than Beit Shammai, who opposed any interaction between Jews and non-Jews, exactly what Peter was referring to in Acts 10.28.
Beit Shammai will take steps to insure that this restriction becomes a reality. The Chasdim were along the lines of what Gamaliel said in Acts 5.34-39 of “wait and see.” They did not block working with the non-Jews, they just didn’t promote it. So, what we have is this. The three groups had a different opinion on the non-Jews. The Chasdim were observant and passive towards the non-Jews; the Pharisees were harsh in their observance and active against the non-Jews and the Essenes were very extreme in their observance and were favorable towards the non-Jews. Things will happen in 20 BC that will have a tremendous influence on how the Gospels and Epistles will be seen.
As we have said before, Menachem served as the Av Beit Din of the Sanhedrin under Hillel, who was the Nasi, 30 years before Yeshua was born. Menachem subjected himself to Hillel’s authority. Menachem left the Sanhedrin and Shammai succeeded him as Av Beit Din about 20 BC. Rabbi Falk goes on to say in his book (p 56) that when Shammai succeeded Menachem, an attempt was made to keep peace between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai. There was going to be a meeting at the upper room of a man named Hananiah Ben Hezekiah, a sage and scholar, who was doing a work on Ezekiel in 20 BC. He was well respected and it was hoped that his influence would keep the peace. Hananiah was a member of the leading family of the Zealot party, who advocated armed revolution against the Romans and hated the non-Jewish world, and they had close ties with Beit Shammai. His father was Hezekiah Ben Gurion, the founder of the Zealot party. Josephus calls Hezekiah “a chief bandit” and was executed by Herod.
Hananiah, his son, was above all this and devoted himself to scholarship. At his two homes, the two schools of Hillel and Shammai collaborated on some works together. The evidence suggests that the debate regarding the 18 Edicts rose first. The “edicts” will come from Beit Shammai. There will be Zealots, Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel at this meeting. The 18 Edicts will forbid any interaction between Jew and non-Jew, and this will be very controversial. Beit Hillel will be totally against these edicts and Beit Shammai and the Zealots will be totally for them. Before the vote on the edicts was taken at Hananiah’s home, the Jerusalem Talmud in Shabbat 1.4 tells us an unspecified number from Beit Hillel were murdered by Beit Shammai. Two versions of the incident were recorded, demonstrating that eye witness accounts were given regarding this. Rabbi Falk gives the opinion that it was at this time that Menachem, with 80 of his students (talmidim) and 80 from Beit Hillel, left. This group would form the Essenes. The 18 Edicts will have a tremendous influence on what is written in the Gospels and Epistles, especially Acts 15 and the book of Galatians.
So, within the Sanhedrin, you had the Sadducees with the seat of power, but Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai had the support of the people. As a result, even though they did not have the numbers on the Sanhedrin, Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai could still carry the halakah (how one should walk in the Torah) because the Sadducees were afraid of their power. However, going from 20 BC to about 55 AD, Beit Shammai will dominate because of this “extinction” of Beit Hillel. They have the upper hand and there would be “bad blood” between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai. So, you can see why there were over 300 arguments between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai. Yeshua himself would side with Beit Hillel on most issues, so you can see why the Pharisee’s from Beit Shammai argued with him. Most of the time in the Gospels, when you see Yeshua arguing with the Pharisees or taking issue with their teachings, it was usually directed against the Pharisees from Beit Shammai.
In Part 5, we will continue with this back-round information. We have only scratched the surface on this, but what we are going to discuss and teach will be essential if we are going to have a proper foundation to understand the trial of Yeshua and the Gospels and Epistles.