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The Hasideans (Hebrew: חסידים הראשונים, Hasidim ha-Rishonim, Greek Ἀσιδαῖοι, 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.
Account in Maccabees
I Macc. ii. 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 slain 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". A second passage (I Macc. vii.) 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 (verses 12-14):
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.
They were mistaken, however, since Alcimus later caused sixty of them to be put to death. In the parallel passage, on the other hand (II Macc. xiv.), 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" (II Macc. xiv. 6).
In other Jewish literature
The name "Hasideans" occurs frequently in the Psalms, in the sense of "the pious" (xxx. 5 [A. V. 4], xxxi. 24 , xxxvii. 28). In Talmudic sources the Hasideans appear as martyrs to their faith (Sanh. 10b), as unselfish and long-suffering (Abot v. 4, 13), as the "saints of former times" ("Ḥasidim ha-Rishonim"), as those who compose themselves inwardly for an hour before prayer (Ber. v. 1) and enjoy special honor at the Feast of Tabernacles, on the day of the drawing of water (Suk. v. 4). To their party, which died out with Joshua Kaṭnuta, Jose ben Joezer probably belonged (Soṭah ix. 15; Ḥag. ii. 7) In the Eighteen Benedictions God's blessing is called down upon them immediately after the Ẓaddiḳim ("'al ha-Ẓaddiḳim ve'al ha-Ḥasidim"), and in later times they appear in general as the ideal representatives of Judaism, so that "Ḥasid" has come to be a title of respect (Num. R. §§ 14, 227a, "Yacob he-Ḥasid"; comp. Tem. 15b; Ta'an. 8a).
Party of the rebellion
From these sources have been developed the opinions, generally prevalent among scholars, that the Hasideans were strongly religious ascetics, who held strictly to the Law and loved quiet; who founded a society or sect that exercised considerable power and authority among the people; who began the war against the Syrians 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 (II Macc. xiv. 6).
The Hasideans first appear by name in the book of the Maccabees (1 Macc 2:42) where they unite with the Maccabaeans to aid in the revolt. They are described as “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.
Concerning the political role of the Hasideans in this war, Wellhausen has endeavored to prove that it was almost insignificant (Die Pharisäer und die Sadducäer, Greifswald, 1874). According to him they formed an independent association existing apart from the doctors of the Law (comp. I Macc. vii. 12), which attached itself to the Maccabeans after the latter had won their first success (I Macc. ii. 42), 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 (Geschichte des Volkes Israel, iv. 401). But even if the justice of this view were admitted, the origin and tenets of the Hasideans would be no less obscure than before. Grätz (Geschichte ii. 273) supposes them to have developed out of the Nazarenes. After the Maccabean victories, according to Grätz, 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 (Hitzig, Gesch. des Volkes Israel; Lucius, Die Therapeuten) as opponents (Levi Herzfeld, Gesch. des Volkes Israel, and others). Others think that the Pharisees were developed from the Ḥasidim (Schürer, Gesch. ii. 404; Moritz Friedländer, Gesch. der Jüdischen Apologetik, pp. 316 et seq., 464 et seq.).
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" 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 (Lehmann, in R. E. J. xxx. 182 et seq.). 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 Macc. vii. 12, 13; the genuineness of verse 13, however, has been questioned by Hitzig (Gesch. des Volkes Israel, p. 417).
Position of the Hasideans
Since Moritz Friedländer's investigations (especially in The Antichrist (book), Göttingen, 1901) have shown the great extent to which the Jews in Palestine and in the countries of the Diaspora fell away from Judaism, even in the 3rd century B.C., the Hasideans appear simply to have been those "pious" ones who remained true to the customs of their fathers. They lost ground, however, from day to day, as their prayer shows: "Help, Lord; for the Ḥasid ceaseth" (כי גמר חסיד: Ps. xii. 2 [A. V. 1]). They were animated by a profound hatred for the foreign, Hellenic spirit, and for those of their Jewish brethren who were filled with it. In the Maccabean wars they came to an accounting with both. They seem by no means to have been peace-loving hermits or ascetics. Their sentiments and attitude are probably to be seen in Ps. cxlix.:
Sing unto the Lord a new song, and his praise in the assembly of Ḥasidim... The Ḥasidim exult in glory: they sing for joy upon their beds. They have the high praises of God in their mouth, and a two-edged sword in their hand; to execute vengeance upon the nations, and punishments upon the peoples; to bind their kings with chains, and their nobles with fetters of iron: to execute upon them the promised judgment.
- 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.
- Wellhausen, Israelitische und Jüdische Gesch. p. 240).
Jewish Encyclopedia bibliography
- Isaak Markus Jost, Geschichte des Judenthums und Seiner Sekten, i. 199;
- Levi Herzfeld, Geschichte des Volkes Israel, ii. 357, 384, 395;
- Jacob Hamburger, R. B. T. ii. 132;
- Ersch-Gruber, Encyc. section iii., part 32, p. 18;
- Heinrich Grätz, Gesch. ii. 240-374; iii. 2, 7, 83, 99;
- Emil Schürer, Geschichte des jüdischen Volkes im Zeitalter Jesu Christi (1890) 190, 203, 217; ii. 404;
- Julius Wellhausen, Israelitische und Jüdische Geschichte pp. 240, 277;
- Moritz Friedländer, Geschichte Der Jüdischen Apologetik Als Vorgeschichte Des Christenthums, pp. 437 et seq.