The Fall of the Temple and the Triumph of Judaic Populism

Destruction of the Temple in 70 AD

Judaism is one of the oldest and most powerful religious, ethnic, and cultural traditions still extant in human history.  During the lifetime of Jesus, two distinct worldviews were competing for dominance in Judaism — the Pharisees and the Sadducees.  The outcome of this battle ended up taking the Judaic tradition in the opposite direction of Islamism.

There is no question that Islamists support the establishment of a theocracy — an inherently elitist church-state hybrid that uses the state to enforce a Islamic theology on the populace and Islam to enforce morality on the populace of the state.  This allows the state and Islam to benefit and perfect each other in a utopian Caliphate of the future.

Many critics of the Judeo-Christian tradition wielding influence in the public square often attempt to tie Judeo-Christian beliefs into the desire to install an elitist “theocracy” of their own.  This charge of elitist theocracy, however, ignores both the inherent populism of Christianity and the triumph of populism in the Judaic tradition in 70 A.D.

From 597 – 516 BC, the Jews were captured and taken into the Babylonian exile.  The scribe Ezra helped to bring about a renewal of observance of Judaic law among the populace while the Jews were in exile.  He believed that all Jews were called to obey the Laws of Moses and forged a popular renewal.  He did not believe that Jerusalem was necessary to continuing to observe the Covenant and advocated the creation of synagogues outside of the Temple — which were run by teachers called Rabbis.  He believed in the importance of tradition, taught that in addition to the Torah itself, the Histories, the Poetries, and the Prophets were all part of the sacred tradition of Judaism.  He also believed in the Resurrection from the Dead as described in the Poetries and the Prophets.  He was the founder of the tradition of the Pharisees.  The Pharisees had many disciples among the populace but were opposed by the ruling class in Judea.

In 516 BC, the Persian King Cyrus restored the Jews to Judea from the Babylonian Exile and allowed them to rebuild the Temple.  Instead of setting up a king who could challenge his overlordship, Cyrus set up the Great Sanhedrin Council, a group of priests who were mostly Sadducees.  Sadducees believed that the Laws of Moses needed only to be followed by the priests except when people went to pilgrimage in the Temple.  They were fundamentalist who did not believe in the Resurrection of the Dead because it was not proclaimed in the Torah, the only books they viewed as legitimately sacred.  They tended to believe that Divine retribution was visited in this world while wealth and power were signs of Divine favor.  They had control of both secular and religious governance under the oversight of their conquerors.  They did not believe that God could be worshiped outside of the Temple, which they controlled.  They had the elitist belief  that they themselves and the elite classes were clearly more favored by God than the suffering populace.

Jesus, of course, struggled against both the Pharisees and the Sadducees.

The Pharisees viewed Jesus as showing too wild an example to the populace while the Sadducees viewed Jesus as making his demands on the populace too strict.

The entire ministry of Jesus, he dealt with the Pharisees — who were typically either Rabbis (teachers) or scribes (Mosaic law attorneys), who were sprinkled throughout Galilee and Judea.  They criticized Him for being lax on following Mosaic Law.

Jesus did not ever really encounter the Sadducees (mostly Temple priests) until he went into their turf in Jerusalem.  They believed Jesus was being too hard on the populace and asked Him condescending questions related to his hard teachings on marriage and divorce.

Jesus identified more with the teachings of the Pharisees than the Sadducees, telling audiences to follow the words of the Pharisees but not their example.

Ultimately, it was Sadducees in the Sanhedrin Council (although some Pharisees were on the Council too, in the minority) who arranged for Jesus to be put to death.  That was the height of their power.  In 70 AD, the Temple was destroyed , the Sadducee theocracy was ended, and the elitist strain of Judaism (oft-criticized in the Bible) was shattered forever.

Although the Sadducee elitism boasted strength (as evidenced by the execution of Jesus in spite of His popularity) its lack of popular support made its ongoing strength dependent on retaining power.  Once the Temple, the symbol of the power of the Sadducees, was destroyed, the Sadducee ideology no longer had the capacity for popular renewal.

The destruction of the Second Temple engendered a sort of second exile, which proved to be fertile ground for the Pharisees.  The modern Judaic tradition (both Orthodox and Reformed) descended from populism of the Pharisaical Rabbis has completely routed the Judaic elitism descended from the Sadducee priests, an extinct species in Judaism.

Out of the bitter destruction of the Temple came the decisive triumph of Judaic populism.

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