views updated


HASSIDEANS (Assideans ; Greek form of Hebrew Ḥasidim; "pious ones"), religious group or sect which originated in about the third or fourth century b.c.e. It centered around the revival and promotion of Jewish rites, study of the Law, and the uprooting of paganism from the land. The date of origin cannot be known with certainty. The Hassideans are first mentioned by name during the persecutions of Antiochus iv (Ephiphanes), king of Syria (175–164 b.c.e.), when its members joined the Maccabean opposition led by Mattathias in his revolt against the Syrians. They formed the nucleus of the Maccabean revolt and refused to compromise in any way with the Hellenizing policy of the Syrians. The Hassideans were exposed to torture and death for their refusal to desecrate the Sabbath and other Jewish observances. In i Maccabees 2:41 it is recorded that they were "mighty men in Israel… such as were devoted to the Law." In i Maccabees 4 they are described as welcoming peace with the Syrians when the latter offered them assurances of religious liberty. The Hassideans ceased to cooperate with the Hasmoneans (the successors of Judah the Maccabee) in their fight for political independence.

Certain references to the *Ḥasidim are found in the Psalms (12:2, 30:5, 31:24, 38:28, et al.), but it is doubtful that these accounts refer to the Ḥasidim. The passages speak of the efforts of the Ḥasidim to observe the Law, their persecutions by their adversaries, and their struggles against their enemies. References to Ḥasidim in the Mishnah and the Talmud (Ber. 5:1, Hag. 2:7, Sot. 3:4, Avot 5:10, and Nid. 17a) may refer to the Hassideans or merely to pious individuals of a later period. The Talmud refers to the strict observance of the commandments by Ḥasidim, to their ardent prayers, which they would not renounce even at the risk of their lives, and to their rigid observance of the Sabbath. Because of their meticulous observances the Hassideans have been linked with the *Essenes, but scholarly consensus places them as the spiritual forerunners of the *Pharisees.


J.W. Lightly, Jewish Sects and Parties in the Time of Jesus (1925); R.T. Herford, Judaism in the New Testament Period (1928); S. Zeitlin, History of the Second Jewish Commonwealth: Prolegomena (1933); idem, Rise and Fall of the Judean State, 2 vols. (1962–67); Baron, Social2, 1–2 (1952); N.H. Snaith, Jews from Cyrusto Herod (1956); Schuerer, Hist, index, s.v.Pious; R. Kaufman, Great Sects and Schisms in Judaism (1967).

[Menahem Mansoor]