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The Hasideans (Hebrew: חסידים הראשונים, Hasidim ha-Rishonim, Greek Ἀσιδαῖοι or Asidaioi, also transcribed Hasidæans, Assideans, Hassideans or Assideans) were a Jewish religious party which played an important role in political life only during the time of the Maccabean wars, although it had existed for quite some time previous.

The Hasideans are mentioned only three times in the books of the Maccabees. As a result, they have been the object of much scholarly speculation. Opinions are divided as to whether the Hasideans were the predecessors of the Pharisees, the Essenes or both.[1]

The term Hasid[edit]

The Hebrew word hasid, meaning "pious", was a natural title for pious individuals in every generation. The name "Hasidim" occurs frequently in Psalms in the sense of "the pious".[2] In Talmudic sources the Hasideans appear as martyrs to their faith,[3] as unselfish and long-suffering,[4] as the "saints of former times" ("Hasidim ha-Rishonim"), as those who compose themselves inwardly for an hour before prayer[5] and enjoy special honor on Sukkot, on the day of the drawing of water.[6] To their party, which died out with Joshua Kaṭnuta, Jose ben Joezer probably belonged.[7]

In the Amidah, God's blessing is called down upon them immediately after the Tzadikkim ("'al ha-Tzaddikim ve'al ha-Hasidim"), and in later times they appear in general as the ideal representatives of Judaism, so that "Hasid" has come to be a title of respect.[8]

In addition, hasidim became a title for three organized movements in Jewish history. In addition to the Hasidean movement of Maccabean times, these include the Ashkenazi Hasidim and the Hasidic movement. It is unclear if the Talmudic sources above refer to followers of the Hasidean movement, or to individual pious people of no particular affiliation.

Hasidean movement in Maccabees[edit]


I Maccabees 2:42 relates that at the start of the war, after a number of Hasideans in the recesses of the desert had allowed themselves to be killed on the Sabbath without offering any resistance, Mattathias and his followers decided to fight on the Sabbath in case of necessity. Thereupon a company of Hasideans joined them, "mighty warriors of Israel, every one who offered himself willingly for the law". It is noted that in the verses prior, the revolt appears to be losing, and in the verses following, after the Hasideans have joined the fight, the revolt turns in favor of the Maccabaeans. The implication is that the Hasideans were a distinct party, apparently known for their military prowess, whose aid turns the tide of the revolt.[1]

A second passage (I Maccabees 7) states that Alcimus succeeded in persuading Demetrius, the newly elected king of Syria, to appoint him high priest instead of Judas Maccabeus. Whereupon it is said:

Then did there assemble unto Alcimus and Bacchides a company of scribes, to require justice. Now the Asideans [Ἀσιδαῖοι] were the first among the children of Israel that sought peace of them: For, said they, one that is a priest of the seed of Aaron is come with this army, and he will do us no wrong.[9]

They were mistaken, however, since Alcimus later caused sixty of them to be put to death.

In the parallel passage of II Maccabees, on the other hand, Alcimus describes the political situation of the Jews to Demetrius as follows: "Those of the Jews that be called Hasideans, whose captain is Judas Maccabeus, nourish war, and are seditious, and will not let the realm be in peace."[10]

Psalms 79:2 describes many hasidim being slaughtered near Jerusalem by Israel's enemies, while Psalms 149:5–9 depicts the hasidim as powerful warriors who exulted in inflicting "vengeance" on the enemies. The date of composition of these psalms is uncertain; some scholars date them to the Maccabean period and consider the verses in question to refer to the hasidim at this time, while others disagree and assign an earlier date to these psalms.[1]


From these sources have been developed the opinions, generally prevalent among scholars, that the Hasideans were strongly religious ascetics, who held strictly to halachah and loved quiet; who founded a society or sect that exercised considerable power and authority among the people; who began the war against the Syrian Greeks after being provoked into rebellion by Antiochus IV, and carried it to a triumphant conclusion. The Hasideans thus became the chief impelling force in the Jewish struggle for independence.[11]

Concerning the political role of the Hasideans in this war, Wellhausen has endeavored to prove that it was almost insignificant.[12] According to him they formed an independent association existing apart from the teachers of the Law,[13] which attached itself to the Maccabeans after the latter had won their first success,[14] but which seized the first opportunity to make peace with Alcimus and thus left the Maccabeans in the lurch. The contradictory passage in II Maccabees, according to which the Hasideans were the chief force throughout the war, Wellhausen regards as a violently interjected protest against the true representation of them as found in I Maccabees.

Several modern scholars (Schürer, Kautzsch, and others) have agreed to this view[clarification needed], which had already been adopted in part by Georg Heinrich August von Ewald.[15] But even if the justice of this view were admitted, the origin and tenets of the Hasideans would be no less obscure than before. Heinrich Grätz[16] supposes that after the Maccabean victories, they retired into obscurity, being plainly dissatisfied with Judas Maccabeus, and appeared later as the order of the Essenes—a theory which is supported by the similarity in meaning between Ἐσσηνοά or Ἐσσαῖοι (= Syriac stat. absolute חסין, stat. emphat. חסיא, "pious") and "Ḥasidim" ("pious"), and which has as many advocates[17] as opponents.[18] Others think that the Pharisees were developed from the Ḥasidim.[19]

Scholars have until recently started with the assumption that Hellenism "took root only in the upper classes of society, the main body of the [Jewish] nation being wholly untouched by it"[20] and distinguished between the pious, law-abiding majority of the people and the Hasideans as a society of "extra-pious" Jews. However, the sources mentioned do not justify such a view. The συναγωγ σιδαίων of the books of the Maccabees, upon which so much emphasis is laid, corresponds, as has already long been known, to the קהל חסידים of the Psalms, which means neither "sect" nor "society", but only "congregation", with no idea of party. The piety attributed to Ḥasidim in the Talmudic sources is not in any way suggestive of a sect.[21] The supposition that they were a sect closely associated with the scribes, and related to them, rests only on the fact that the two classes are mentioned together in I Maccabees 7:12,13; the genuineness of verse 13, however, has been questioned by Hitzig.[22]


  1. ^ a b c Henriques, James Connell. "The Identity of the Hasideans of 1 and 2 Maccabees: A Re-examination of the Topic with a Focus on the History of Scholarship." PhD diss., University of Georgia, 2009.
  2. ^ Psalms 30:5 [A. V. 4], 31:24 [23], 37:28
  3. ^ Sanhedrin 10b
  4. ^ Pirkei Avot 5:4,13
  5. ^ Berakhot 5:1
  6. ^ Sukkah 5:4
  7. ^ Soṭah 9:15; Hagigah 2:7
  8. ^ Numbers Rabbah §§ 14, 227a, "Yacob he-Hasid"; compare Temurah 15b; Ta'anit 8a
  9. ^ I Maccabees 7:12-14
  10. ^ II Maccabees 14:6
  11. ^ II Maccabees 14:6
  12. ^ Die Pharisäer und die Sadducäer, Greifswald, 1874
  13. ^ compare I Maccabees 7:12
  14. ^ I Maccabees 2:42
  15. ^ Geschichte des Volkes Israel, iv. 401
  16. ^ Geschichte ii. 273
  17. ^ Hitzig, Gesch. des Volkes Israel; Lucius, Die Therapeuten
  18. ^ Levi Herzfeld, Gesch. des Volkes Israel, and others
  19. ^ Schürer, Gesch. ii. 404; Moritz Friedländer [de], Gesch. der Jüdischen Apologetik, pp. 316 et seq., 464 et seq.
  20. ^ Wellhausen, Israelitische und Jüdische Gesch. p. 240
  21. ^ Lehmann, in R. E. J. xxx. 182 et seq.
  22. ^ Gesch. des Volkes Israel, p. 417

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainSinger, Isidore; et al., eds. (1901–1906). "Hasidaeans". The Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls. Its bibliography: