Sadducees, Pharisees Trade Barbs in Debate; Jesus Presents Dangerous Alternative

Possible transcript of a debate that took place many years ago — more details at the end of the transcript…

Moderator of the Debate (sitting near the stage, away from the two prominent podiums on stage):
Good evening from Herod’s Palace in downtown Jerusalem. I’m Joseph Solomon and I welcome you to the first of the AD33 political debates between the Sadducee, Simon Joseph and the Pharisee nominee, David Benjamin. The commission on political debates is the sponsor of the event this evening. Tonight’s debate will focus on the our relationship to the Romans and on different views of how we are to be the people of God. Each participant will have two minutes to present their position and then the moderator may follow up after they answer their lead question. They questions were chosen by me, and I have not shared these with anyone. Gentlemen, with that in mind, here is the first lead question. Where do you stand on the Roman issue?

Pharisee (standing behind one podium, dressed in nice suit)
Thank you very much Joseph and thanks to Herod’s Palace for hosting the event. I can’t think of a better time and place in which to discuss our future. We are at a critical point in discussing how we are to be God’s people!

Unlike my friend across the aisle, we are not the party of the rich, but of the average, hard-working Jew in Jerusalem. Our key task as the people of God is not to get tainted by the ways of the world. We are to strictly obey God’s laws. If we obey God’s laws, everything will work out just fine for us. The problem is that we have tax collectors, sinners, and outcasts in the land. These people need to repent and turn back to God, and then God will return to us once again.

– excuse me, but you didn’t answer my question, what about Rome?

To a certain extent we can ignore Rome – we will cooperate if we have to, as long as it does not affect our spiritual lives. But the key is our keeping the Law — and I mean the whole law (the written and oral tradition, unlike my counterpart over there).  We need to keep ourselves pure and clean before God and away from the sinners. It is not about politics; it is about our spiritual life with God – that is what God is concerned with. If we can become clean, God will return and set things straight.

Sadducee (standing behind other podium, also dressed in a nice suit)
Hey, may I interrupt? The book of Moses is our authority – the written books of the Law. Our job, as the people of God, is to preserve and conserve what we know from the past – not listen to these authorities [points at Pharisee] that continue to add to our understanding of scripture.

I don’t like the tone of my debate partner. He does not seem to understand that the Romans have been very good to us. We have a Jewish king, we are able to practice our faith freely here in Jerusalem. That kind of talk just alienates the Romans! They could  take everything we’ve gained away — and I don’t think that is a very good idea. We’ve been conquered by many empires over the years – the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, and now the Romans. It could be worse.
Let’s not rock the boat – they are not occupying us – they are spreading Roman freedom to us!

Anyway, we’re not starving – we’re all doing pretty well here in Jerusalem. If we have to allow a pagan temple here or there, what is the harm? Sure, Rome taxes us a lot – but if we need cash ourselves, we just increase the tax on the poor and charge extra fees for temple worship.

And what is wrong with wealth? Isn’t it a good thing that the most powerful people in the country are God’s people? Would you rather have the pagan Romans in these positions? I’m sure that goodness will come when God’s people are ruling in Israel. We are the evidence of that!

We are now going to break to talk with Ruth Isaacson, she has reactions from some in the crowd tonight.

Announcer (at Side of the Convention Hall)
Thanks Joseph, I have a Judas Iscariot here – he has some strong reactions to the speeches so far. Judas, what do you think?

Judas the Zealot (dressed in revolutionary garb, a la Che Guevara)
I think we need to throw all the bums out – the whole lot of them. Tweedle dee and tweedle dum, that is who they are. They are singing out of the same psalm book! (pointing to the candidates up front)

The rich Sadducees suck up to the Romans – our sworn enemies [points to Sadducee]. The Romans oppress our people, and our supposed leaders do anything the Romans ask them to do. Build a pagan temple, sure! Sacrifice a pig in the temple, no problem! It is disgusting.

The Pharisee [points] up there is not much better – he is a useless leader. What challenge do they present to Rome? They talk a good talk about God’s law, but in the end, they are just as bad as the Sadducees – nothing gets done.

Have you heard of the middle class? Well, we have none here – 5% rich, 95% poor. It is intolerable. We are undergoing a brutal occupation, and any of our leaders that speak truth to power is killed. And it is not only the Romans that brutalize our people – it is our own Jewish leaders — they do not want to lose favor from Rome!

So, we need to throw these bums out, but more importantly, we need arms to overthrow the Romans so we can be our own people on our own land again. It is does not matter the cost, or the amount of blood spilled – we need to usher in the kingdom of God.

Well, yes, thank you for that very honest report. We have word that Elizabeth Rosen has a passerby in the desert with her opinion.

Field Reporter (in the desert)
Yes, Ruth, I’m talking with “desert flower”, an Essene living out in the desert.
What is your take on the current political happenings?

Essene (dressed in a combination 60s hippie of a briar patch)
Yeah, we have a commune out in the desert – it’s pretty cool…
We live on locusts, honey, whatever we can find [picks a grasshopper off of her and eats it]

Field Reporter
How is that outfit – comfortable??

No, it really hurts – especially the sand gets in some inopportune places – really irritating really. But everything that irritates us gets us closer to God, so its’ all good.

Field Reporter
So, why are you out in the desert?

We are waiting for God to return. We have a good community, we love God, we love to pray, and things are good. and now, we’re waiting. And waiting, and waiting….

Field Reporter
Thank you,
Well, back to you, Ruth.

Announcer (in another part of the auditorium, talking to a small crowd)
We’re now going to speak to a group of members in the audience, some who say there is another king in town! Don’t know if our leaders are going to like that very much!

Testimony 1
Hi – yes, I met this man who kept talking about the kingdom of God, but it was very different than the kingdom we know about. It is a kingdom where the poor take part, and the outcasts and sinners are the insiders!

Testimony 2
It is about debts being forgiven and each person having enough!

Testimony 3
…and the sick being healed!

Testimony 4
He talked about Satan as our enemy – not Rome. He said we are no longer to have any enemies – that we were to love our enemies and serve them. He said it was a revolution, not of weapons, but of love of neighbor.

Testimony 5
His name is Jesus – and he created a community that acts like a family, but the members are not related! Every economic level is represented there, and they all share with one another! And women are not property in this kingdom – they get an equal say! In fact, everyone gets a voice!

Testimony 6
He says that this is what it means to be the light to the Gentiles – this is the way we are to be the people of God!

Well, Joe, this sounds like a revolutionary character, this Jesus.
He refused to cave in to power, like the Sadducees; he refused to turn holiness into a formula, like the Pharisees. He is a lot like the zealots, but he refuses violence altogether and loves his enemies. And, finally he is definitely in the midst of things – can’t see this guy waiting in the desert for something to happen, like the Essenes.
I think we need to hear more about this Jesus, Joe.
And that is my report…

If I hear you right, Ruth, this Jesus is quite a radical.
He refuses the way of conservative social responsibility; he refuses the way of rule-oriented compartmental social change; he refuses the way of violence; he refuses the way of quietism and retreat.
He advocates the kingdom of God, a whole new social order.

If he doesn’t watch out – talking like that might get him crucified…

And now, back to the debate…


This was the script I wrote for my church community — we performed it yesterday. We had three to four generations performing — everyone really got into it. It took about 12 minutes to perform, and it served as the ‘word’ section of our service.

During the week before, we invited people to make political signs — some of the options: “Sadducees”, or “Pharisees”, “Zealots”, “Essenes”, or “Jesus”. Some ad-libbed with “Down with the Romans” etc. During the debate, if a person’s candidate or party was mentioned, the person in the congregation would raise their sign up and down, cheer for the candidate or jeer against the others. In addition, we had a ballot box where they could vote — the two listed were Sadducee and Pharisee, but there was also a space for ‘write-in’ where they could write Essene, Zealot, or Jesus.They voted on the way to communion…Jesus was the surprise write-in upset (58). The Sadducees received two votes, and Obama one vote (don’t know what that was about!). We received really good feedback on the event. I’ll post pictures when I get them.

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