Sects During Biblical Times — the Boethusians

Sects During Biblical Times — the Boethusians

See the source imageWho were the Boethusians?

The Boethusians were often allied to the Herodians; so who were they? Scholars have various guesses. One has it that the Herodians were a priestly party under the reign of King Herod and his successors. Under Herod the Great, the priestly bloodline of the Hasmonean bloodline were snuffed out and a new bloodline established from a family named Boethus from Alexandria. King Herod married one of the daughters of Boethus and several of the sons of Boethus were appointed by Herod to the high priesthood. Consequently during the Trial, the High Priests Annas (Ananus ben Seth) and his son-in-law Caiaphas (Joseph ben Caiaphas) were Boethusians. The origin of the family of Boethus from Egypt was shrouded in mystery, but seems to run parallel with the Sadducees – perhaps a variation of it. They shared several theological understandings, denying most notably any concept of immortality or resurrection of the dead. Many scholars think they were among the very wealthy, living lives of luxury, using gold and silver in their everyday lives. Needless to say, the Pharisees were in complete opposition to them. The Mishnah contains several disagreements between the Pharisees and Boethusians on various points of law.

In some of his doctrines, Herbert W. Armstrong, took pride in following the Boethusians. One of which is ‘How to figure Pentecost’ in his booklet, “Pagan Holidays–or God’s Holy Days–Which?” He wrote:

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“Before that time, however, the high priests of the family Boethus, who were Sadducees, had been in control of matters concerning the festivals in Jerusalem. The Boethusians always counted beginning with the morrow after the weekly Sabbath, the day we call Saturday, which fell within the Days of Unleavened Bread. This historical information has been preserved for us in the Mishna, which was set in writing about ad 200: “The Boethusians say: ‘The cutting of the sheaf does not take place at the end of the day of the feast [the first of the seven Days of Unleavened Bread], but only at the end of the next regular Sabbath’” (Menahoth, 10, 3).

“This practice had been handed down among the priests from generation to generation. And their method of counting was done as long as they remained in control of the temple and its rituals. Samaritans and Karaites (Jewish sect dating from the eighth century ad) have also continued to count from the weekly Sabbath, the seventh day of the week” (pg 25).

That’s right, Herbert W. Armstrong, founder of the Worldwide Church of God, took pride in following the Samaritans who were originally from various regions of Babylonia and the Boethusians from Egypt. If the true church had been built liked as if with a tiny mustard seed, it would have grown into a big tree, bearing fruits but this wasn’t the case — for within ten years of his death, the whole church collapsed and then disappeared out of sight. Not so bad, some adherents of its innumerable splinters would like to believe, and quite unlike Sodom and Gomorrah, where the wicked were burnt alive and turned into ashes.

The Herodians

During the first century AD, a variety of political groups existed from the intertestamental period. The Herodians began during the time of the Hasmonean ruler John Hyrcanus (134–104 BC) when John conquered Edom (Idumea) in the south of Judea and forced the Edomites to convert to Judaism. These proselytes quickly integrated themselves into the Judean society, and with Roman support, ruled over their conqueror Judea, thus began the Herodian dynasty with Herod the Great assuming the throne of Judea as King of Judea under Rome.

See the source imageThe Herodians were not exactly a religious party and as the name implies, they were political supporters of King Herod and its dynasty, but they were allied to those who maybe religious, the Boethusians and Sadducees, and thus were seen as a religious sect.

The Herodians are mentioned in the New Testament on two occasions — first in Galilee and later in Jerusalem. Whatever their political aims, they early perceived that Christ’s pure and spiritual teaching on the kingdom of God was irreconcilable with their ideology, and that Christ’s influence with the people spreading, they became antagonistic. Hence, in Galilee, on the occasion of the healing of the man with the withered hand, they readily joined with the more powerful party of the Pharisees in plots to crush Jesus (Mark 3:6); and again, in Jerusalem, in the last week of Christ’s life, they renewed this alliance in an attempt to entrap Jesus on the question of the tribute money (Matthew 22:16). The warning of Jesus to His disciples to “beware of the leaven of Herod” (Mark 8:15 “Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod”) may have had reference to the insidious spirit of this party.

Unlike the Pharisees and others who desired Israel to follow the teachings of the Torah apart from the influence of the Romans, Herodians, Boethusians and Sadducees were willing to work with foreign government in more pragmatic ways. Their approach were the opposite extreme of the Zealots of the time, who believed God alone should lead Israel and resorted to activism and military opposition to end Roman control.

The Herodians were thus a priestly party under the reign of King Herod and his successors; called by the Rabbis “Boethusians,” as adherents of the family of Boethus, whose daughter Mariamne was one of the wives of King Herod, and whose sons were successively made high priests by him. They followed the Sadducees in their opposition to the Pharisees, and were therefore often identified with them. According to the Gospels, their plot against the life of Jesus was supported by the Pharisees.

from the Jewish Encyclopedia:

A High-Priestly Family.

The prevailing opinion now is that the Boethusians were only a variety of the Sadducees, deriving their name from the priest Boethus. Simon, son of Boethus from Alexandria, or, according to other sources, Boethus himself, was made a high priest about 25 or 24 B.C. by Herod the Great, in order that Boethus’ marriage with the latter’s daughter Mariamne might not be regarded as a mésalliance (Josephus, “Ant.” xv. 9, § 3; xix. 6, § 2. This Mariamne II. must be distinguished from the first of the Hasmonean Mariamnes). Furthermore, to the family of Boethus belonged the following high priests: Joezer, who filled the office twice (ib. xviii. 1, § 1); Eleazar (ib. xvii. 13, § 1); Simon Cantheras (ib. xix. 6, § 2); his son Elioneus (ib. xix. 8, § 1); and the high priest Joshua b. Gamla, who must also be included, since his wife Martha (Miriam) belonged to the house (Yeb. vi. 4). The hatred of the Pharisees toward this high-priestly family is shown by the words of the tanna Abba Saul b. Baṭnit, who lived about the year 40 of the common era at Jerusalem (Pes. 57a; Tosef., Men. xii. 23). It must be especially noticed that “the house of Boethus” heads the list of the wicked and sinful priestly families enumerated by Abba. It is, however, only an assumption—although a highly probable one—that the Boethusians were the followers of this Boethus and members of his family; for the assumption is not proved, as there may have been another Boethus who really was the founder of the sect. As the beginnings of this sect are shrouded in obscurity, so also is the length of its duration. The Talmud mentions a Boethusian in a dispute with a pupil of Akiba (Shab. 108a; Soferim i. 2); yet it is probable that the word here means simply a sectarian, a heretic, just as the term “Sadducee” was used in a much wider sense later on,” (Boethusians).

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Simon ben Boethus, the High Priest

How Simon Boethus became the High Priest, according to Josephus: Mariamne II was the third wife of Herod the Great. She was the daughter of Simon Boethus the High Priest. Josephus recounts their wedding thus: There was one Simon, a citizen of Jerusalem, the son of one Boethus, a citizen of Alexandria, and a priest of great note there; this man had a daughter, who was esteemed the most beautiful woman of that time; and when the people of Jerusalem began to speak much in her commendation, it happened that Herod was much affected with what was said of her; and when he saw the damsel (a young unmarried woman), he was smitten with her beauty, yet did he entirely reject the thoughts of using his authority to abuse her, as believing, what was the truth, that by so doing he should be stigmatized for violence and tyranny; so he thought it best to take the damsel to wife. And while Simon was of a dignity too inferior to be allied to him, but still too considerable to be despised, he governed his inclinations after the most prudent manner, by augmenting (enhancing) the dignity of the family, and making them more honorable; so he immediately deprived Jesus, the son of Phabet, of the high priesthood, and conferred that dignity on Simon, and so joined in affinity with him [by marrying his daughter]. (Anti. Bk 15, Ch 9(3))

The above is also quoted in Wikipedia: 23 BC – Herod built a palace in Jerusalem and the fortress Herodion (Herodium) in Judea. He married his third wife, Mariamne II, the daughter of the priest Simon Boethus; immediately Herodes deprived Jesus the son of Phabet of the high priesthood and conferred that dignity on Simon. Their only son was Herod II.

Origin of the Boethusians according to the Talmud

“The post-Talmudic work Avot de-Rabbi Natan gives the following origin of the schism between Sadducees and Boethusians: Antigonus of Sokho having taught the maxim, “Be not like the servants who serve their masters for the sake of the wages, but be rather like those who serve without thought of receiving wages”, his two pupils, Zadok and Boethus, repeated this maxim to their pupils. In the course of time, either the two teachers or their pupils understood this to express the belief that there was neither an afterlife nor a resurrection of the dead and founded the sects of the Sadducees and the Boethusians. They lived in luxurious splendor; using silver and golden vessels all their lives, not because they were haughty, but because (as they claimed) the Pharisees led a hard life on earth and yet would have nothing in the world to come.

“Historical in this story is the statement that these two sects denied the immortality of the soul and resurrection. Again, the Midrash is on the whole correct in saying that the sects found their followers chiefly among the wealthy; but the origin of the sects is legendary. The Mishnah, as well as the Baraita, mentions the Boethusians as opposing the Pharisees in saying that the sheaf due at the Passover (compare Omer) must be offered not on the second feast-day, but on the day after the actual Shabbat of the festival week, and, accordingly, that Pentecost, which comes seven weeks and one day later, should always be celebrated on Sunday. In another passage it is narrated that the Boethusians hired false witnesses in order to lead the Pharisees astray in their calculations of the new moon. Another point of dispute between the Boethusians and the Pharisees was whether the high priest should prepare the incense inside or outside the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement.

“As the beginnings of this sect are shrouded in obscurity, so also is the length of its duration. The Talmud mentions a Boethusian in a dispute with a pupil of Akiba (Shab. 108a; Soferim i. 2); yet it is probable that the word here means simply a sectarian, a heretic, just as the term “Sadducee” was used in a much wider sense later on” (Boethusians, Wikipedia).

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The reason why the Mishnah mentions the Boethusians was because the Rabbis wanted the heretics to be seen in a negative light, as heretics, but Herbert W. Armstrong, who studied his doctrines in a public library for only six months without any guidance nor any supervision, took pride as a gospel truth. If he even studied at a secondary university, he would be corrected, instead, the church he built was on sandy foundation, and when it collapsed, it was with a bang. During the 70 AD inferno, all the Sadducees, Herodians, Boethusians, Essenes, together with the House of Shammai Pharisees disappeared from history. Were they receiving their fire? “Not that bad,” many hard headed adherents of WCG’s splinters would like to believe, and certainly “nothing as horrid as Sodom and Gomorrah.”



~ by Joel Huan on September 6, 2019.

3 Responses to “Sects During Biblical Times — the Boethusians”

  1. […] A Post-Mortem Analysis about the Boethusiasms HERE […]

  2. […] A Post-Mortem Analysis about the Boethusiasms HERE […]

  3. […] More about the Boethusiasms HERE […]

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