Judaism was different from the pagan religions of its surrounding environment because they believe in and worshiped only one god while the surrounding nations worshiped many gods. Jews also thought that their god alone was worth of worship, and when building a temple to his name did not place a statue in it to represent the image of god because their god was not humanoid like the other deities worshiped by the surrounding cultures.
|A group of Pharisees and Sadducee's|
2. Summarize the differences among the ancient Jewish groups, such as the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes.
The Pharisees were the most numerous of the three groups mentioned, numbering some 6,000 according to Josephus. They were strict to keep the law of Moses, very pious, and made up numerous rules and customs so that by keeping these customs they were unlikely to break the actual written law. Unlike the Sadducee's, the Pharisees believed in a literal Resurrection and an afterlife.
The Sadducee's were the chief priests and Levites. They conformed to the law of Moses to the letter, and did not accept any other beliefs outside of what Moses had taught. Thus they did not believe in an afterlife or a Resurrection of the dead. While there were not as many Sadducee's as there were Pharisees, the Sadducee's were the more influential group because they were the ones who governed the temple and the synagogues, and since the high priest was a Sadducee they were likely the most influential of the three groups.
The Essenes were a fringe group, similar to end times groups in our day who await the end of the world. They lived apart from most people and had their own unique customs. Luckily, because they were highly literate, they copied many texts of the Old Testament which are still available for study and that give us insight into ancient Judaism.
3. In your view, was ancient Judaism one kind of thing, or were there many kinds of Judaism? Should we speak of Judaism or Judaisms in antiquity?
Like Christianity, there were different slants in ancient Judaism, but there was a set of core beliefs that united them, such as monotheism, adherence to the law of Moses, reverence for the temple, and so forth. However, there were obviously some fundamentally different beliefs among the ancient Jews, such as the Pharisees believing in the resurrection and the Sadducee's denying it. So, it is fair to say that while Judaism was one religion, it had various competing sects as Christianity and Islam do today.