Skip Navigation Links

Is Judaism the Religion of Moses? (part 1)

People assume that Judaism is the religion of Moses — that Jesus brought a message opposed to the Old Testament — that He came to nullify the teaching of Moses. It is taken for granted that the New Testament presents a Gentile religion and that the Old Testament teaches Judaism!

Yet all these assumptions are absolutely false!

Shocking though it may seem, history proves that Judaism is not the religion of the Old Testament Scriptures. Judaism is plainly and simply the religion of the Jews — a religion manufactured by their own ingenuity. The Jews of Roman times had appropriated the name of Moses as the author of their religion — but in actuality, they had rejected Moses. Jesus said: "Had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me . . . but ye believe not his writings" (John 5:46, 47). The Jews used the name of Moses, but they didn't practice what he commanded.


Just as today, there are hundreds of denominations and sects in what is commonly called Christianity, all appropriating the name of Christ — saying they are Christian — but contradicting each other and failing to practice what He taught! And history proves that the Jews had misappropriated the name of Moses.

In effect, Judaism was a man-made religion! Jesus said that they were "teaching for doctrines the commandments of men" (Mark 7:7).

It is time we looked into the records of history. It is time we learned how the Jews departed from the religion of Moses. We will be dumbfounded to discover that Jesus, in reality, re-emphasized the message that Moses brought — in its true spiritual intention. And, instead of nullifying Moses' teaching, He magnified it, having in view the true spiritual purpose originally intended.

The time has come to get our eyes open to the facts! Judaism was not, and is not, the religion of Moses!

IT IS obvious to the most superficial reader of the New Testament that a fundamental difference existed between the teaching of Jesus and the Judaism of His day.


The answer is surprising!

History shows — and the Jews themselves admit — that their religion had drifted far away from the simple doctrines of Scripture — commonly called the "Old Testament." The Jews had modified God's law and even instituted laws and commandments of their own which were, in many instances, diametrically opposite to the precepts of Moses.

It is time we realize that Christ came to a people who had, through their human laws and traditions, rejected the religion of the Old Testament which God had given to their forefathers.

These are the plain facts of history. It is important that we understand this if we are to comprehend the significance of events in the New Testament period. Christ, in effect, came to retrieve the Jews from their apostasy — from their rejection of the laws of God. And, He came to reveal to them the Gospel the New Testament revelation — to complete the promises that God gave to Moses, not to do away with them!


The Divisions of Judaism

Many people have erroneously assumed that the Judaism in the time of Christ was a religion united in a common bond — every Jew believing about the same thing — all united into one major Jewish denomination.

This is the first illusion that history reveals.

Judaism was divided into many sects in Jesus' day. Each had its peculiar beliefs. One of the most authoritative Jewish writers on Judaism, Dr. Herford, tells us: "If it were possible to analyze the Judaism of the New Testament period into all its component elements, the results of the process would be to show how complex a variety is summed up under that name, and how far from the truth it is to speak of 'the Jews' collectively as if they were all alike, in respect to their Judaism" (Judaism in the New Testament Period, pp. 41, 42).

Judaism was not one unified organization. Actually, there were many religious sects comprising it. And, even within some of these major sects there were many "splinter" groups which had their own ideas and beliefs. In many respects, the Judaism of Christ's time was not unlike our own world. We have many competitive sects representing "Christianity." So likewise, the Jews had their divisions, differing sects representing "Judaism."

Some of these sects will be familiar to readers of the New Testament. There were the Pharisees, Scribes, Sadducees, Zealots and Herodians. However, there were many more divisions of which we have a good deal of history. Some of these were the Essenes, the Qumran sects (who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls of which so much has been written lately), and others who are called, by contemporary religious historians, Apocalyptics.

There were other divisions among the Jews who lived in the surrounding areas, such as Egypt, Asia Minor, Mesopotamia, Greece, etc. There certainly was not just one single Jewish sect — Judaism was split into many fragments.

But history reveals another shocking and little-understood fact. It will eradicate the fiction from many people's minds that the Jews, as a whole, were deeply interested in religion at this time in history.


A Surprising Fact Comes to Light

The records show that far less than 5% of the total Jewish population of Palestine belonged directly to any of the religious groups mentioned above!

Unbelievable as it sounds it is true! Over 95% of the total Palestine population were neither Pharisee, Scribe, Zealot, Herodian, Essene, Qumran, or Apocalyptic. These people — the overwhelming majority in Palestine — had no direct membership in these religious denominations of Judaism and in most cases were not particularly religious at all.

The Pharisees referred to the mass of the people as the Am ha-aretz. This word is Hebrew and signifies "The People of the Land," or simply, "The Common People."

These people were the multitudes who lived in the cities, towns, and country. They were, in many respects, like many non-church members today — some went to the synagogues frequently, many only occasionally, and many never attended at all.

The scholar Herford has this to say about these people:

"It is clear that the Am ha-aretz (the Common People) were not all of one type, either in respect of their religion or socially and economically. Just as they included rich and poor, capitalist and laborer, the merchant, the farmer, the artisan, the tax-gatherer (publican) and the tradesman, so, on the religious side, they included those who were just not Pharisees, and those who paid little or no heed to religion at all, with every shade of piety and indifference in between" (ibid., p. 72).


The Population Analyzed

We can demonstrate quite easily that far less than 5% of the population in Palestine belonged to the Jewish religious sects in New Testament times. By comparing the number of members within the Jewish religious sects with the sum of the total Palestine population, we will arrive at some surprising answers. The figures should be interesting.

The Encyclopedia Biblica records that the population of Palestine must have been somewhere between 2½ and 3 million inhabitants at this time (Column 3550). This is the figure that most scholars represent as the total population of Palestine.

There is a full discussion on the Palestine population question in Salo Baron's, A Social and Religious History of the Jews, vol. i, pp. 370-372. This Jewish historian has summed up the opinions of the experts in this matter. He quotes as his conclusion to the whole question, the findings of Dr. J. Klausner, a contemporary Jewish scholar:

"J. Klausner, finally, has studied in particular, the records pertaining to the wars between 63 and 37 B.C. and has reached the conclusion that 'at the end of the Maccabean reign there lived in all of Palestine approximately 3 million Jews, not including half of a million Samaritans, Syro-Phoenicians, Arabs and Greeks' " (ibid., vol. i., p. 372).

This figure should not be far from right. There were nearly 3,000,000 Jews living in Palestine in the days of Christ.


How Many Jews Belonged to the Religious Sects?

The most prominent sect in Judaism at this time was the Pharisees. This was the group Christ had more to say against than any other. One of the reasons for this is because the Pharisees were the most influential group and had more members than any of the other sects. They also had direct control over the majority of synagogues and schools, and in this respect, were the most popular with the people. But yet, even though the Pharisees were the most influential and the most prominent religious group among the Jews in the time of Christ, it is astounding and dumbfounding to realize that out of 3,000,000 Jews in Palestine only a mere 6,000 were Pharisees. The Jewish historian, Josephus, who was a contemporary of the Apostle Paul, and a Pharisee himself, informs us of this fact in his history Antiquities of the Jews, xvii, 2, 4.

But just imagine what this means! Here were the Pharisees, the major religious sect among the Jews, representing nothing more than an insignificant .2% of all the Jews in Palestine. These facts will have to change the convictions of many people who have had the erroneous idea that most of the Jews in Christ's time were Pharisees.

Most readers of the New Testament have never thought it necessary to ascertain the religious condition of the Jews in Roman times. And because of this, most people have been making erroneous assumptions based on our own contemporary conditions.