The Hasmonean dynasty began in the middle of the second century BC and ended in 37 BC when the Romans appointed Herod the Great, King of the Jews. Two religious parties emerged from that dynasty, the Pharisees and the Sadducees. While the Pharisees were the larger, more dominant party, many of the Sadducees were wealthy and influential. The Sadducees ran the Temple and were responsible for performing sacrifices during festivals including Passover. The governing council, called the Sanhedrin, contained members from both parties. Now the two parties were bitter rivals. That rivalry reached its boiling point in 88 BC after the country erupted into civil war. Alexander Janneus, the Hasmonean, hereditary High Priest, was victorious. He was supported by the Sadducees and opposed by the Pharisees. In his victory celebration, he crucified 800 Pharisees while he feasted with his concubines. Prior to their deaths, he cut the throats of their wives and children before their very eyes.
The origin of Rabbis can be traced to the Pharisees. Before the Second Temple was destroyed in 70 AD, they were known as teachers of the Written Law which was called the Torah. They determined what the written laws meant and how they should be applied to everyday life. The details of their determinations were committed to memory and established as oral traditions to be passed down to future generations. The first written record, called the Talmud, wasn’t created until about 200 AD.
The Pharisees and the Sadducees disagreed over the timing of the events related to the Lord’s Passover. Their disagreement was based on the Hebrew phrase ben ha arbayim which is translated “at twilight” in most Bibles. This was the time when the Passover lambs were sacrificed.
Notably, unlike our contemporary day that runs from midnight to midnight, the Jewish day ran from sunset to sunset. It started in the evening about 6 PM and ended at 6 PM the following evening.
Twilight can be defined as the light diffused over the sky from sunset to dark or, in less common usage, from dark to sunrise. However, to someone who understands Hebrew, ben ha arbayim literally means “between the evenings.” This should not be construed as the 24 hour period between sunsets.
The Sadducees believed the phrase, “between the evenings,” meant dusk or the time between sunset and complete darkness. The first evening referred to the time when the sun sank below the horizon and the second evening referred to the time of total darkness. That constituted a period from 6 PM to 7:20 PM, at the beginning of Nisan 14.
The Pharisees understood the phrase to mean from mid-afternoon to sunset. The first evening referred to the time when the sun began to descend and the second evening referred to sunset. That covered a period from 3 PM to 5 PM (some say 6 PM), at the end of Nisan 14.
The Pharisaic interpretation of the phrase, “between the evenings,” was based on the Torah and the Talmudic traditions. Conversely, the Sadducees had rejected the oral traditions and based their interpretation solely on the Torah.
Hence, the Sadducees believed that the Passover events, including the slaying of lambs and the painting of Hebrew doors, the eating of the Passover meal, the angel’s pass over of Hebrew homes, the smiting of Egyptians, and the night journey out of Egypt, all took place on Nisan 14.
The Pharisees, on the other hand, believed that only the slaying of lambs and the painting of Hebrew doors took place on Nisan 14 and the other events, beginning with the Passover meal, occurred the following day, on Nisan 15.