Who’s Who


The following is a glossary of some of the major players in Jesus' time and life.

The Pharisees — "Love the Law"

The Pharisees were middle-class townspeople and laymen. Like the pious Hasidim, they were zealous for the Jewish law or Torah, and they tried to live holy lives in undivided loyalty to their law. They supported the development of oral tradition to help interpret the law and apply it to changing circumstances. A Pharisee tithed, ate "clean” food from "clean" dishes, observed all Sabbaths, holy days and fasts, and tried to avoid defiling contact with those who broke the law. Some of the Pharisees believed that God had permitted foreigners to gain political power over his people because they had not obeyed His law, and that if everyone would obey the law, even for one day, God would deliver his people. Since many people would not, and many others could not keep the law, there was little hope that God would act quickly. The Pharisees wanted to know if Jesus was a teacher with "respect for the law."

They wanted to know if Jesus was a teacher with “respect for the law.”

The Sadducees — "Maintain the temple; get along with the Romans"

The Sadducees were a conservative, upper-class group, many of whom were priests and members of wealthy families. They differed from and opposed the Pharisees, holding that only the WRITTEN law was binding to faithful Jews. The Sadducees knew that the Roman power was too great to be overthrown. They had agreements with the Romans that permitted them to continue to control temple worship and the collection of religious taxes, which they considered the most important things. In their eyes, irresponsible leaders of revolt would only upset the delicate balance of power, and they knew that any radical outbreak could only make things worse for the Sadducees. They wondered, "Is Jesus another troublemaker?"

They wondered, is Jesus another troublemaker?

The Zealots — "Fight with all your might"

The Zealots were impatient men who tried to organize an underground movement against the Romans. On former occasions God had delivered his people, they said, whenever they had spirit enough to fight. "Let us strike a blow for God, and he will not fail us!" was their battle cry. When such men heard Jesus talking about the kingdom of God, he may have sounded to them like one of themselves. Was he saying, "No king but God!" and offering himself as their leader?

The Scribes

The scribes were pious and learned people who interpreted and taught the scriptures as written. They copied the Torah, kept track of the documents of officialdom, and were fluent in Hebrew.

The Publicans

Jewish tax collectors for the Roman empire.

Pontius Pilot

The Roman prefect, or governor, of Judea from 26 to 36 CE.

Herod Anitpas

Herod Anitpas was the son of Herod the Great, the Roman client king of Judea (74 BE-4 BC). Herod Antipas was the ruler of Galilee from 4 BC to 39 AD.