Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians, Scribes, and High Priests
Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians, scribes, high priests - who were these people and what were their roles during Jesus' time?
These groups had different beliefs and served different functions in 1st century Palestine, but they were all influential or part of the ruling elites and united in opposing Jesus and wanting him dead.
The Pharisees, the group most mentioned in the gospel accounts, were mostly laymen who sought to have influence among the rulers and the people. They believed in the strict observance of laws and traditions, and in the resurrection of the dead. The gospels report many encounters in which the Pharisees approached Jesus and tested him with probing questions. These confrontations inevitably ended in humiliating retreats.
The Pharisees' political and religious rivals were the Sadducees, an even more influential group, closer to the wealthy ruling elites. Their beliefs (they denied an after life) and aspirations differed from those of the Pharisees, but that didn't stop them from joining forces with them against Jesus.
The Herodians are only mentioned three times in the gospels, always in the company of the Pharisees either trying to entrap or kill Jesus.
The High Priests held the highest religious position in Palestine, and the High Priest was the presiding officer in the Sanhedrin. Caiaphas held that position in the time of Jesus and, in cooperation with the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, had him put to death.
The Priests were the religious and social leaders of the people, and would challenge Jesus' authority.
The Scribes were more a profession than a group of people. They interpreted Jewish law and most of their duties involved writing legal documents. They were the "lawyers". Scribes were actively opposed to Jesus and wanted him dead, even though the gospels report one notable instance of Jesus praising a "teacher of the law" (or scribe):
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