The Sadducees, Who Were They?

Who Were the Sadducees?

The Sadducees, were one

of three major religious

bodies in Palestine, during

the life of Jesus.  One

should become familiar

with them to understand

the backdrop for the NT,

the Early Church, and

more.

https://www.biblicaltraining.org/library/sadducees

Sadducees

SADDUCEES (săd’yū-sēz, Gr. Saddoukaioi). One of the religious parties that existed among the Jews in the days of Christ and the early church, but exercised comparatively little influence among the people. They resisted the truth of the gospel. Their origin is uncertain, but it is to be sought in the period in Jewish history between the restoration of the Jews to their own land (536 b.c.) and the Christian era. No evidence of Sadduceeism is to be found in Israel before the Captivity.

The origin of the name of the sect is obscure. The root of the word means “to be righteous,” and the word has sometimes been taken to be an adjective (“the righteous ones”); but since the Sadducees were not particularly distinguished for their righteousness, it is unlikely that they got their name from this word. Probably the name is derived from someone named Zadok. The best-known Zadok in history was the Davidic high priest (2Sam.8.17), from whom succeeding high priests claimed to descend. He himself was descended from Aaron through the line of Eleazar (1Chr.24.3) and was instrumental in the return of the ark (2Sam.15.24-2Sam.15.29). The prophet Ezekiel, in his description of the restored temple, says that because the sons of Zadok remained loyal to the Lord when the Israelites went astray, they would be ministers in the new sanctuary (Ezek.40.46Ezek.44.15). Some scholars hold that the Sadducees trace their origin to this Zadok. Others, however, think that the name comes from another Zadok, a disciple of Antigonus of Socho (c. 250 b.c.), who taught that obedience to God should be absolutely disinterested, without expectation of future reward. This view goes back to an apocryphal legend in the Abot-de-Rabbi Nathan (c. a.d. 1000). There is also the possibility that the name may be derived from some Zadok unknown to us.

The chief authorities for our knowledge of this sect are the Jewish historian Josephus, the NT, and the Talmud. Josephus lays great stress on the aristocratic nature of the Sadducees. He says, “They only gain the well-to-do; they have not the people on their side.” They were the political party of the Jewish aristocratic priesthood from the time of the Maccabees to the final fall of the Jewish state. The Sadducees were priests, but not all priests were Sadducees. Josephus, for example, was a priest and a Pharisee. The likelihood is that the priestly party only gradually crystallized into the sect of the Sadducees. From the time of the Exile, the priesthood in general constituted the nobility of the Jewish people, and the high priest became an increasingly powerful figure. The priestly aristocracy became leaders in the Hellenizing movement that began withAlexander the Great. Because of their sympathy with the policy of Antiochus Epiphanes, they took no part in the Maccabean struggle, which was supported mainly by the Pharisees, a group of religious enthusiasts who opposed what they regarded as the religious deterioration of the Jewish nation. The high priesthood and the throne were united in a single person when, c. 143 b.c., Simon was recognized as both high priest and ruler of the Jews. This centralization of power led to a number of forms of reaction, especially from the Pharisees. Probably not theological at first, the Sadducees became so in order to defend their policies against the attacks of the Pharisees. Under the Romans they become the party favorable to the government. As aristocrats they were naturally very conservative and were more interested in maintaining the political status quo than in the religious purity of the nation. Since they were satisfied with the present, they did not look forward to a future messianic age. Not popular with the people, they nevertheless sometimes found it necessary to adopt the pharisaic policy in order to win the popular support.

The Sadducees had a number of distinctive beliefs, contrasting strongly with those of the Pharisees:

1. They held only to the written law and rejected the traditions of the Pharisees. Josephus says, “The Pharisees have delivered to the people a great many observances by succession from their fathers, which are not written in the law of Moses; and for that reason it is that Sadducees reject them, and say that we are to esteem those observances to be obligatory which are in the written Word, but are not to observe what are derived from the tradition of our forefathers. And concerning these things it is that great disputes and differences have risen among them” (Antiq. 13.10.6). In other words, the Sadducees believed that the Word of God alone was the seat of religious authority. The Pharisees, on the contrary, believed that just as binding as the Law itself was the supposed oral tradition of the teachings of Moses and the rulings on the law made by the scribes over the years. Some of the church fathers, notably Hippolytus, Origen, Jerome, and Tertullian, credited the Sadducees with regarding the Pentateuch as alone canonical; but this is apparently an error, since Josephus does not mention this, and in the Talmud the Sadducees are introduced as drawing arguments from the other books of the OT in their own defense. It is unlikely, moreover, that the Sadducees would have been admitted to the Sanhedrin had this been true.

2. A second distinctive belief of the Sadducees was their denial of the resurrection of the body, personal immortality, and retribution in a future life. “The doctrine of the Sadducees,” says Josephus, “is this, that souls die with the bodies” (Antiq. 18.1.4); and again, “They also take away the belief of the immortal duration of the soul, and the punishments and rewards in Hades” (War 2.1.14). According to the NT, the Sadducees denied the resurrection of the body (Matt.22.23Mark.12.18Luke.20.27Acts.23.8; cf.Acts.4.1-Acts.4.2), but the NT says nothing about their denial of personal immortality and future retribution.

3. According to Acts.23.8, the Sadducees denied the existence of angels and spirits. Seeing that they accepted the OT, in which spirits often appear, it is hard to understand their position on this subject. A number of factors may have been responsible for this: Their general indifference to religion, their rationalistic temper, and the wild extravagances of the angelology and demonology of the Pharisees.

4. The Sadducees differed from both the Pharisees and the Essenes on the matter of divine predestination and the freedom of the human will. According to Josephus, the Essenes held that all things are fixed by God’s unalterable decree; the Pharisees tried to combine predestination and free will; and the Sadducees threw aside all ideas of divine interposition in the government of the world. “They take away fate,” says Josephus, “and say there is no such thing, and that events of human affairs are not at its disposal, but they suppose that all our actions are in our own power, so that we are ourselves the causes of what is good, and receive what is evil from our own folly” (Antiq. 13.5.9; cf. alsoWar 2.8.14). They felt no need of a divine providence to order their lives. They thought human beings were entirely the master of their own destinies and that the doing of good or evil was entirely a matter of free choice.


After the Day of Pentecost the Sadducees were very active against the infant church. Along with the priests and the captain of the temple they arrested Peter and John and put them in prison. A little later they arrested all the apostles and made plans to kill them (Acts.5.17Acts.5.33). Their hostile attitude persisted throughout the apostolic times. There is no record of a Sadducee being admitted into the Christian church. According to Josephus (Antiq. 20.9.1), they were responsible for the death of James, the brother of the Lord. With the destruction of Jerusalem in a.d. 70, the Sadducean party disappeared.

Bibliography: W. O. E. Oesterley, The Jews and Judaism during the Greek Period, 1941; T. W. Manson, The Servant-Messiah, 1953; L. Finkelstein, The Pharisees, 2 vols., 1962; J. Jeremias,Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus, 1969.——SB


We first meet them in Josephus’s account of John Hyrcanus (135-104 b.c.). Our information about them is meager and derived exclusively from hostile sources. Clearly they consisted mainly of the most influential priestly and aristocratic families. Normally their name is interpreted as “descendants of Zadok,” i.e., David’s high priest. They may have preserved some of the Hellenistic views adopted by many priests in the time ofAntiochus Epiphanes, but they are presented essentially as the preservers of ancient priestly traditions.

In most conflicts with the Pharisees* they were clearly defending an older view. The greater popularity of the Pharisees among the people was mainly due to their trying to interpret the law of Moses, with all their strictness, with the needs of the poor in mind. Many of the Sadducean leaders were murdered by the Zealots* during the revolt against Rome, as real or suspected collaborators; the destruction of the Temple deprived their survivors of their position of religious significance. They disappeared, and the Pharisees saw to it that they left no traces behind them. Though they respected the prophetic books, they denied normative value to them. Hence they denied the resurrection as unprovable from the Pentateuch. They also maintained the concept of complete freedom of the will, and rejected scribal traditions. The denial of angels and spirits (Acts 23:8) was presumably as media of revelation.

E. Schürer, A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ (ET 5 vols., 1886-90); J.W. Lightley, Jewish Sects and Parties in the Time of Jesus (1925), pp. 11-78; H.L. Strack and P. Billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud und Midrash, IV (1928), pp. 339-52. Most works dealing with the Pharisees include a treatment of the Sadducees.


SADDUCEES sǎi’ ə sēz (צְדוּקִים; Σαδδουκαίοι). An important Jewish sect, more political than religious, which arose among the priestly aristocracy of the Hasmonean period, but which ceased to exist with the demise of the aristocracy in a.d. 70. The Sadducees are perhaps today best known for their opposition to the popular party, the Pharisees, with whom they differed on various doctrinal and political questions.

Meaning of “Sadducee.”


Looked at objectively, Manson’s explanation seems to possess more plausibility than the first two explanations. Etymology, however, is often notoriously unpredictable, and it is thus easily possible that, even with their respective difficulties, one of the other explanations is really the correct one. It would seem safe to say that soon after the word achieved currency and its referent was established, that its real etymology became unimportant (and may even have been forgotten) and that alternative etymological possibilities sprang readily to mind.

Origin and history.


Composition and character.

The determinative trait of the Sadducean party seems not to have been its priestly associations as is commonly believed, but rather its aristocratic character. While it is true that the high-priesthood and the chief priests consisted almost exclusively of Sadducees, there were among the priests many Pharisees, and prob. Pharisees even among the upper classes of priests. More important, however, many Sadducees were to be found among the lay nobility who exercised important authority as members or “elders” of the Sanhedrin. Accordingly, that which was common to the Sadducees was not clerical status, but aristocratic eminence. It is natural then that the Sadducean circle was a very exclusive one, remaining closed to the populace as a whole. Josephus states that only a small number of men knew the doctrine of the Sadducees, that these were “men of the highest standing” (Antiq. XVIII. 1. 5), and that the Sadducees had “the confidence of the wealthy alone” (Antiq. XIII. 10. 6).

It is unfortunate that the Sadducees have usually been understood only by way of their contrast to the Pharisees, for this has led to oversimplification and misunderstanding. Thus facile dichotomies have become popular, e.g., that the Sadducees represented the clergy and Temple, but the Pharisees the laity and synagogue; that the Sadducees were the proponents and the Pharisees the resisters of Hellenization; that the Pharisees were the urban bourgeoisie, the Sadducees the rural landowners; that the Pharisees were concerned with religion and the Sadducees with politics. It is undeniable that there is some truth in these various assertions, but none of these contrasts should be absolutized and made alone to account for the peculiar character of the Sadducees. The latter are what they are due to a subtle combination of many factors, in varying degree. The Pharisees and the Sadducees were clearly opposed on certain issues, yet the difference between them is usually not absolute.

The aristocratic makeup of the Sadducees, together with their power in the Sanhedrin and their control of the high-priesthood, made it inevitable that their dominating interests should be political in nature. Their wealth and position on the one hand and on the other hand the fact that their power was delegated to them by the Rom. occupation, combine to account for the most outstanding trait of the Sadducees, their rigid conservatism. This conservatism, of course, was inevitably tempered by the dictates of the Romans. Since their political involvements were conditioned by their vested interests in the preservation of the status quo, it follows that they pursued policies designed to appease the governing authorities of Rome. Thus, paradoxically, the Sadducees were seen to be in line with the Hellenizing tendencies of their predecessors, and the populace hated them for their accommodation to the Romans, based as it was on private expediency. The primary concern of the Sadducees in all of this was to keep the nation peaceable and thereby to avoid trouble for the Romans and, in turn, themselves. In their administration of the internal justice of the country, the Sadducees were exceptionally strict in matters of law and order. Josephus refers to the party of the Sadducees as being “more heartless (or ‘savage’) than any of the other Jews when they sit in judgment” (Antiq. XX. 9. 1; cf. the reference to the Pharisees as being “naturally lenient in the matter of punishments” as compared to the Sadducees, Antiq. XIII. 10. 6). Similarly, any popular movement was a potential threat to the Sadducees, esp. any that could be regarded as in any sense an “uprising.” This accounts for their diligence in attempting to suppress the Christian movement by disposing of Jesus. The chief priests undoubtedly express the Sadducean viewpoint (which here coincided with that of the Pharisees) when they warn, “If we let him go on thus, every one will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation,” to which Caiaphas the high priest, unwittingly prophetic, adds, “it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish” (John 11:48-50).

As to their behavior in interpersonal relationships, Josephus says that they were far inferior to the Pharisees. While the latter were affectionate one to another and lived harmoniously, the Sadducees, he says, are “boorish” and with their “peers” (ὅμοιοι) they are “as rude as to aliens” (War II. 8. 14). This has been seen by some as consonant with the sociological explanation of the Sadducees as crude, unpolished, provincial landowners (in contrast to the urbane Pharisees). To be sure, Josephus has a decidedly negative view of the Sadducees (whom he left to become a Pharisee), yet there are also some indications in the NT which make the Sadducees appear anything but refined (cf.Matt 26:67f.; Acts 23:2). Josephus also represents the Sadducees as inclined toward argumentation to the extent that they “reckon it a virtue to dispute” with their teachers (Antiq. XVIII. 1. 4), and prob. Josephus means this in a derogatory sense. Thus the Sadducees, with all the advantages of higher culture which wealth brings, nonetheless were apparently lacking in the elements of refinement and decency which one usually tends to associate with the aristocracy.

The Sadducees, then, by virtue of their peculiar position, were preeminently concerned with politics and the stability of the state. But while these secular concerns were dominant, it cannot be denied that there was also a clearly religious aspect to the Sadducean viewpoint. It is in the realm of religion esp. that the conservatism of the Sadducees is apparent.

Teaching.

For the most part what we know of the religious teaching of the Sadducees we know only indirectly, that is, only in its negation of certain Pharisaic doctrines. The Sadducees, having rejected a great amount of the Pharisaic teaching as innovative, are properly seen as the conservative religious party; they appear to have regarded themselves as the stalwart guardians of the “pure faith” of the past.

Unquestionably the most important denial on the part of the Sadducees was that of the oral law. They denied the Pharisaic contention that the oral law traced back to Moses and that it was authoritative and binding. Josephus gives explicit information on this point, informing us not only of the fact that the Sadducees abrogated the regulations of the Pharisees, but also giving the reason for this as the absence of these regulations from the “Laws of Moses” (Antiq. XIII. 10. 6). Josephus, indeed, seems to attribute the controversies and differences between the Pharisees and Sadducees to this fundamental disagreement. The Sadducees were prob. in agreement with some parts of the oral law, but nonetheless rejected any suggestion that observance of the oral law was obligatory. With regard to matters not specified in the written law, the Sadducees seemed concerned to protect the right of private opinion. It may well be that behind this Sadducean viewpoint lay the vital concern of preserving the traditional priestly prerogative of interpreting the law, to which the Pharisaic structure of oral law posed no small threat.

To the Sadducean mind, the Pharisaic attempt to “build a hedge” around the Torah—i.e., to protect against transgression by detailed regulations—was mistaken and unnecessary. Indeed, the Sadducees seemed to perceive that such legal stipulation could have the effect of annulling the Mosaic law itself. Paradoxically, however, the Sadducees too had a tradition of “decrees” or interpretation of the law of Moses which was, in principle at least, indistinguishable from the Halacha, or legal tradition, of the Pharisees (cf. Matt. 16:12Mishna: Makkoth 1, 6). On the whole, the Sadducees appear to have interpreted the Mosaic law more literally than did the Pharisees. While they tended to scoff at the scrupulousness of the Pharisees, they themselves were very exacting in matters of Levitical purity, this doubtless in keeping with their concern for the prestige of the priesthood and the Temple ritual. Needless to say, however, the Pharisees regarded the Sadducees as sinners of the worst kind who by their immoral conduct prostituted the sacred ritual of the Temple (cf. the Pharisaic Psalms of Solomon, where the “sinners” spoken of are to be identified with the Sadducees).

Turning to specific doctrinal beliefs of the Sadducees, one may begin by looking at what Josephus tells us of their view of free will and predestination (or Fate, as he calls it, using the Gr. concept). Whereas the Pharisees apparently tried to synthesize the two, the Essenes were at the one extreme of attributing all to Fate, while the Sadducees were at the other extreme of attributing all to free will. “They do away with Fate altogether” and throw everything back upon the free will and responsibility of man (Antiq. XIII. 5. 9; War II. 8. 14). For the Sadducees a man’s own decision accounted for his well-being or misfortune. This belief of the Sadducees has rightly been taken as implying a certain feeling of self-sufficiency on their part and a repudiation of any dependence upon divine providence.

A second negation further removed from God any effective relevance by arguing that there is no resurrection of the dead, nor any future life whether of bliss or sorrow. For the Sadducean denial of the resurrection of the body, NT evidence is plentiful (cf. Mark 12:18ff., and parallels; Acts 23:8; cf. 4:2). From Josephus we learn that the Sadducees believed that the soul perishes with the body (Antiq. XVIII. 1. 4) and therefore can receive neither penalties nor rewards in an afterlife (War II. 8. 14). It is immediately obvious how this denial intensified an already this-worldly perspective which the Sadducees had by virtue of their position. If a man must be content with the present life alone, he is bound to capitalize on any present advantages he may enjoy. And this appears, in fact, to have been the practical philosophy of the Sadducees. It may be added that the Messianic hope played no role in the Sadducean perspective.

Along with the resurrection and the immortality of the soul, the Sadducees appear to have rejected the belief in angels and demons. In contrast to the Pharisees who held to these doctrines, the Sadducees, we are told, believe there is “no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit” (Acts 23:8). The idea of a spiritual world containing elaborate hierarchies of angels and demons flourished particularly in the intertestamental period. This prob. gave the Sadducees a basis for rejecting such notions as innovative, although it must be admitted that angels and thus the spiritual world are encountered in the OT—even in the Pentateuch, which for the Sadducees was finally authoritative.

The doctrinal stance of the Sadducees as we have outlined it has called into question the Sadducean view of what we know as the OT. Are not most of the doctrines which the Sadducees rejected to be found within the OT? How then can we explain that the Sadducees rejected them? Confronted with this question some of the early Fathers (e.g., Hippolytus, Origen, Jerome) concluded that for the Sadducees only the Books of Moses were canonical Scripture. At the same period of time the Samaritans held to a canon consisting exclusively of the Pentateuch. But, the Samaritans were only half-Jews, and it is difficult to believe that evidence of the Sadducees’ rejection of the non-Mosaic writings would not have been noted either by Josephus or in the NT. Moreover, the Fathers may well have been speculating concerning the answer to the above questions.

A more probable solution would seem to lie along the following lines. The Sadducees accepted the OT canon commonly received by the Jews with the one reservation that the authority of the later writings was necessarily subordinate to that of the Books of Moses. It was prob. the allegedly immoderate development of specific doctrines in the intertestamental period that caused the Sadducees to overreact as they did in denying these doctrines altogether. Their final appeal was doubtless to the Pentateuch, but even here, as we have noted, they were inconsistent. Nor can we deny that their doctrinal views were tempered by the “common sense” of contemporary secular thought, such as it was, in the realms of revelation and eschatology. In their reactionary conservatism the Sadducees attempted to capitalize on their self-made image of themselves as the protectors of the pure and true religious tradition which alone went back to Moses.

Sadducees in the NT.

The Sadducees are referred to by name only in the synoptic gospels and Acts, and then not very often. To these references may be added those places where the “chief priests” are mentioned, for these were surely of the Sadducean stripe. It must be admitted, however, that by comparison with the Pharisees, the Sadducees seem insignificant in the gospels. This may be plausibly explained by the consideration of several factors. In the first place, unlike the Sadducees, the Pharisees enjoyed the esteem of the masses, and professed a special concern for righteousness as manifested in their careful allegiance to the oral law. This made them natural targets of Jesus. The Sadducees, on the other hand, had influence only among the aristocracy, a segment of society with which Jesus had little to do, and were mainly concerned with their political interests. The Sadducees were, moreover, restricted for the most part to Jerusalem, whereas the gospels center on the Galilean ministry of Jesus.


The Sadducees appear to have been unconcerned about Jesus early in His career. Only as it became clear that He posed a threat to their security and position (as in His cleansing of the Temple; cf. Mark 11:18) did they begin to become alarmed and decide to take action (cf. John 11:47ff.). Indeed, confronted with Jesus and His claims, the Sadducees were able to unite with the Pharisees, their traditional enemies, for the purpose of disposing of Jesus. Both parties collaborated in His arrest and “trial” by the Sanhedrin (Mark 14:53ff.; 15:1ff.).

The Sadducees were agitated by the preaching of the apostles in the Early Church. The Book of Acts records that they arrested Peter and John for “proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead” (Acts 4:1ff.). Some time later, the Sadducees were “filled with jealousy” at the abundance of signs and wonders wrought by the apostles and arrested them again (Acts 5:17ff.). This action of the Sadducees is consistent with both their character and special interests. Josephus, indeed, implicates the Sadducees in the death of James, the half-brother of Jesus (Antiq. XX. 9. 1; cf. Acts 12:1f.). The final reference to the Sadducees in Acts (and in the NT) occurs in the trial of Paul before the Sanhedrin, where in almost humorous fashion Paul is able to get the Pharisees and Sadducees into an intramural battle on the question of the resurrection, which brings the meeting to an end in a great clamor (Acts 23:6ff.).

The NT evidence while not of considerable extent is nonetheless valuable in itself and consistent with the picture of the Sadducees which can be gleaned from the writings of Josephus. It may finally be remarked that the evidence of Jewish oral tradition as codified in the Mishnah and other rabbinic compilations tends on the whole to support that same picture, whether on the Sadducean aversion for Pharisaic scruples (e.g., Parah 3, 3;Yadaim 4, 6f.) or concerning the question of life after death (e.g., Berakoth, 9, 4). At the same time, the rabbinic lit. must be used somewhat judiciously, for the Sadducees are from the later rabbinic (i.e., Pharisaic) standpoint heretics and virtual enemies of Israel (cf. Erubin 6, 2; Niddah 4, 2) and thus references to the Sadducees often are highly polemical.

Bibliography

Primary source material: The NT; Josephus (Loeb edition); and The Mishnah (trans. H. Danby, 1933).

Secondary materials: E. Schürer, A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ, Division II, Vol. II, (1890); D. Eaton, “Sadducees,” HDB IV (1902), 349-352; K. Kohler, “Sadducees,” Jew Enc, vol. X (new ed., 1925), 630-633; G. F. Moore, Judaism (3 vols., 1927-1930); T. W. Manson, “Sadducees and Pharisees—The Origin and Significance of the Name,” BJRL XXII (1938), 144-159; W. O. E. Oesterley, The Jews and Judaism During the Greek Period (1941); J. Z. Lauterbach, Rabbinic Essays (1951); T. W. Manson, The Servant-Messiah(1953); L. Finkelstein, The Pharisees (2 vols., 1962); A. C. Sundberg, “Sadducees,” IDB IV (1962), 160-163; R. Meyer, “Σαδδουκαι̂ος, G4881, ” TDNT VII (Ger. 1964; Eng. tr. 1971); B. Reicke, The New Testament Era (1964; Eng. tr., 1968); J. Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus (Eng. tr., 1969).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(tsadduqim; Saddoukaioi):

I. INTRODUCTORY

1. Name: Rival Etymologies. Probably from Zadok the High Priest

2. Authorities: New Testament, Josephus, Talmud (primary), Church Fathers (secondary)

II. ORIGIN AND HISTORY

1. Early Notices in Josephus: Alleged Relation to Differences between Prophets and Priests 2. Tendencies of Sadducees toward Hellenism as Causing Rise of Chacidhim

3. Favored by Alexander Janneus: Put in the Background by Alexandra Salome

4. From a Political Party, but also Became a Religious Party

5. Fear Roman Interference if Jesus’ Messianic Claims Are Recognized

6. Sadducees Antagonistic to the Apostles: Pharisees More Favorable

7. Fall of Sadducean Party at Outbreak of Jewish War

III. DOCTRINES OF THE SADDUCEES

1. Laid Stress on Ceremonial Exactness

2. Disbelief in the Spiritual World, in a Resurrection, and in Providence: Their Materialism

3. Alleged Belief in Canonicity of the Pentateuch Alone

4. Relation to Epicureanism

IV. CHARACTER OF SADDUCEES

1. Characterized as Rough and Boorish

2. Talmudic Account of the Sadducees

3. Relation to Temple and Worship was a Heathenish One

4. Sadducean Literature

V. RELATION OF SADDUCEES TO JESUS

1. Less Denounced by Jesus than the Pharisees

2. Attitude of Sadducees to Jesus

This prominent Jewish sect, though not so numerous as their opponents, the Pharisees, by their wealth and the priestly descent of many of them had an influence which fully balanced that of their more popular rivals. They were a political party, of priestly and aristocratic tendency, as against the more religious and democratic Pharisees.

I. Introductory.

1. Name: Rival Etymologies. Probably from Zadok the High Priest:

The Talmud form suggests derivation from the name of their founder, but the form in New Testament and Josephus would imply connection with the verb “to be righteous.” The probability is, that the name is derived from some person named “Zadok.” The most prominent Zadok in history was the Davidic high priest (2Sa 8:1715:241Ki 1:35), from whom all succeeding high priests claimed to descend. It is in harmony with this, that in the New Testament the Sadducees are the party to whom the high priests belonged. On the authority of ’Abhoth de-Rabbi Nathan (circa 1000 AD) another Zadok is asserted to be he from whom the Sadducees received their name. He was a disciple of Antigonus of Socho (circa 250 BC) who taught that love to God should be absolutely disinterested (Pirqe ’Abhoth, i.3). ’Abhoth de-Rabbi Nathan’s account of the derivation of the Sadduceanism from this teaching is purely an imaginary deduction (Charles Taylor, Sayings of the Jewish Fathers(2), 112). The majority of authoritative writers prefer to derive the name from Zadok, the colleague of Abiathar, the contemporary of David.

2. Authorities: New Testament, Josephus, Talmud (primary), Church Fathers (secondary):

Our main authorities for the teaching of the Sadducees are the New Testament and Josephus. According to the former, the Sadducees denied the resurrection of the body, and did not believe in angels or spirits (Mt 22:23Ac 23:8). More can be learned from Josephus, but his evidence is to be received with caution, as he was a Pharisee and, moreover, had the idea that the Sadducees were to be paralleled with the Epicureans. The Talmud is late. Before even the Mishna was committed to writing (circa 200 AD) the Sadducees had ceased to exist; before the Gemara was completed (circa 700 AD) every valid tradition of their opinions must have vanished. Further, the Talmud is Pharisaic. The Fathers, Origen, Hippolytus, Epiphanius and Jerome, have derived their information from late Pharisaic sources.

II. Origin and History.

1. Early Notices in Josephus: Alleged Relation to Differences between Prophets and Priests:

Josephus describes the Sadducees along with the contemporary sects, the Pharisees and the Essenes (Josephus, Ant, XIII, v, 9; X, vi 2; XVIII, i, 4, 5; BJ, II, viii, 14). His earliest notice of them is after his account of the treaties of Jonathan with the Romans and the Lacedemonians. He indicates his belief that the parties were ancient; but if so, they must have formerly had other names. It has been suggested that the earlier form of the conflict between the Sadducees and Pharisees was opposition between the priests and the prophets. This, however, is not tenable; in the Southern Kingdom there was no such opposition; whatever the state of matters in the Northern Kingdom, it could have had no influence on opinion in Judea and Galilee in the time of our Lord. By others the rivalry is supposed to be inherited from that between the scribes and the priests, but Ezra, the earliest scribe, in the later sense of the term, was a priest with strong sacerdotal sympathies.

2. Tendencies of Sadducees toward Hellenism as Causing Rise of Chacidhim:

Probably the priestly party only gradually crystallized into the sect of the Sadducees. After the return from the exile, the high priest drew to himself all powers, civil and religious. To the Persian authorities he was as the king of the Jews. The high priest and those about him were the persons who had to do with the heathen supreme government and the heathen nationalities around; this association would tend to lessen their religious fervor, and, by reaction, this roused the zeal of a section of the people for the law. With the Greek domination the power of the high priests at home was increased, but they became still more subservient to their heathen masters, and were the leaders in the Hellenizing movement. They took no part in the Maccabean struggle, which was mainly supported by their opponents the chacidhim, as they were called (the Hasideans of 1 Macc 2:42, etc.). When the chacidhim, having lost sympathy with the Maccabeans, sought to reconcile themselves to the priestly party, Alcimus, the legitimate high priest, by his treachery and cruelty soon renewed the breach. The Hasmoneans then were confirmed in the high-priesthood, but were only lukewarmly supported by the chacidhim.

3. Favored by Janneus: Put in the Background by Alexandra Salome:

The division between the Hasmoneans and the chacidhim, or, as they were now called, Pharisees, culminated in the insult offered by Eleazar to John Hyrcanus, the Hasmonean high priest (Josephus, Ant, XIII, x, 5). Alexander Janneus, the son of Hyrcanus, became a violent partisan of the Sadducees, and crucified large numbers of the Pharisees. Toward the end of his life he fell out of sympathy with the Sadducees, and on his deathbed recommended his wife Alexandra Salome, who as guardian to his sons succeeded him, to favor the Pharisees, which she did. In the conflict between her two sons, John Hyrcanus II and Aristobulus II, the Sadducees took the side of Aristobulus, the younger and abler brother. So long as the contest was between Jews, the Sadducean candidate prevailed. When the Romans were called in, they gave the advantage to Hyrcanus.

4. From a Political, Become Also a Religious Party:

Thrown into the background by the overthrow of their candidate for the high-priesthood, they soon regained their influence. They allied themselves with the Herodiana who had supported Hyrcanus, but were subservient to Rome. Though they were not theological at first, they became so, to defend their policy against the attacks of the Pharisees. A historic parallel may be found in the Cavaliers of the reign of Charles I, as over against the Puritans.

5. Fear Roman Interference if Jesus’ Messianic Claims Are Recognized:

The Sadducees at first regarded the struggle between our Lord and the Pharisees as a matter with which they had no concern. It was not until our Lord claimed to be the Messiah, and the excitement of the people consequent on this proved likely to draw the attention of the Roman authorities, that they intervened. Should Tiberius learn that there was widespread among the Jews the belief in the coming of a Jewish king who was to rule the world, and that one had appeared who claimed to be this Messiah, very soon would the quasi-independence enjoyed by the Jews be taken from them, and with this the influence of the Sadducees would depart. An oligarchy is proverbially sensitive to anything that threatens its stability; a priesthood is unmeasured in its vindictiveness; and the Sadducees were a priestly oligarchy. Hence, it is not wonderful that only the death of Jesus would satisfy them.

6. Sadducees Antagonistic to the Apostles: Pharisees More Favorable:

After the resurrection, the Pharisees became less hostile to the followers of Christ; but the Sadducees maintained their attitude of suspicion and hatred (Ac 4:1). Although a Pharisee, it was as agent of the Sadducean high priest that Paul persecuted the believers. The Sadducees gained complete ascendancy in the Sanhedrin, and later, under the leadership of Annas, or as he is sometimes called by Josephus, Ananus, the high priest, they put James the brother of our Lord to death (Josephus, Ant, XX, ix, 1) with many others, presumably Christians. The Pharisees were against these proceedings; and even sent messengers to meet Albinus who was coming to succeed Festus as governor to entreat him to remove Annas from the highpriesthood.

7. The Fall of Sadducean Party at Outbreak of Jewish War:

With the outbreak of the Jewish war, the Sadducees with their allies the Herodians were driven into the background by the Zealots, John of Gischala and Simon ben Gioras. Annas and Joshua, also called high priest by Josephus, were both put to death by the Zealots and their Idumean allies (Josephus, BJ, IV, v, 2). With the destruction of the temple and the fall of the Jewish state the Sadducean party disappeared.

III. Doctrines of the Sadducees.

1. Laid Stress on Ceremonial Exactness:

As the sacerdotal party, the Sadducees laid great stress on the ceremonial of sacrifice, and rejected the changes introduced by their opponents unless these found support in the words of the Law.

2. Disbelief in the Spiritual World, in a Resurrection, and in Providence: Their Materialism:

The most prominent doctrine of the Sadducees was the denial of the immortality of the soul and of the resurrection of the body. The Pharisees believed that Moses had delivered these doctrines to the elders, and that they had in turn handed them on to their successors. The Sadducees rejected all these traditions. From Ac (23:8) we learn that they believed in neither “angel or spirit.” As appearances of angels are mentioned in the Law, it is difficult to harmonize their reverence for the Law with this denial. They may have regarded these angelophanies as theophanies. Josephus distinctly asserts (Ant., XVIII, i, 4) that the Sadducees believe that the soul dies with the body. They deny, he says, divine providence (BJ, II, viii, 14). Their theology might be called “religion within the limits of mere sensation.”

3. Alleged Belief in Canonicity of the Pentateuch Alone:

The Fathers, Hippolytus, Origen and Jerome, credit the Sadducees with regarding the Pentateuch as alone canonical (Hipp., Haer., ix.24; Orig., Contra Celsum, i.49; on Mt 22:24-31; Jerome on Mt 22:31,32). This idea may be due to a false identification of the views of the Sadducees with those of the Samaritans. Had they rejected all the rest of Scripture, it is hardly possible that Josephus would have failed to notice this. The Talmud does not mention this among their errors. It is certain that they gave more importance to the Pentateuch than to any other of the books of Scripture. Hence, our Lord, in the passage commented on by Origen and Jerome, appeals to the Law rather than to the Prophets or the Psalms. It follows from the little value they put upon the Prophets that they had no sympathy with the Messianic hopes of the Pharisees.

4. Relation to Epicureanism:

It need hardly be said that there was no real connection between Sadduceanism and the doctrines of Epicurus. There was a superficial resemblance which was purely accidental. Their favor for Hellenism would give a color to this identification.

IV. Character of Sadducees.

1. Characterized as Rough and Boorish:

Josephus says that while the Pharisees have amiable manners and cultivate concord among all, the Sadducees are “very boorish” (BJ, II, viii, 14). This want of manners is not a characteristic usually associated with an aristocracy, or with supple diplomats, yet it suits what we find in the New Testament. The cruel horseplay indulged in when our Lord was tried before the irregular meeting of the Sanhedrin (Mt 26:67,68), the shout of Ananias at the trial of Paul before the same tribunal to “smite him on the mouth,” show them to be rough and overbearing. What Josephus relates of the conduct of Annas (or Ananus) in regard to James, above referred to, agrees with this. Josephus, however, does not always speak in such condemnatory terms of Ananus–in Josephus, Jewish Wars (IV, v, 2) he calls him “a man venerable and most just.” Only the violence which, as Josephus relates in the chapter immediately preceding that from which we have quoted, Ananus resorted to against the Zealots better suits the earlier verdict of Josephus than the later. As to their general character Josephus mentions that when the Sadducees became magistrates they conformed their judgments to Pharisaic opinion, otherwise they would not have been tolerated (Ant., XVIII, i, 4).

2. Talmudic Account of the Sadducees:

As noted above, the Talmud account is untrustworthy, late and Pharisaic. The Gemara from which most of the references are taken was not committed to writing till 7 centuries after Christ–when the traditions concerning the Sadducees, such as had survived, had filtered through 20 generations of Pharisaism. Despite this lengthened time and suspicious medium, there may be some truth in the representations of the Talmudic rabbin. In Pesachim 57a it is said, “Woe’s me on account of the house of Boothus, woe’s me on account of their spears; woe’s me on account of the house of Hanun (Annas), woe’s me on account of their serpent brood; woe’s me on account of the house of Kathros, woe’s me on account of their pen; woe’s me on account of the house of Ishmael ben Phabi; woe’s me on account of their fists. They are high priests and their sons are treasurers of the temple, and their sons-in-law, assistant treasurers; and their servants beat the people with sticks.” As these are Sadducean names, this passage exhibits Pharisaic tradition as to the habits of the Sadducees.

3. Relation to Temple and Worship a Heathenish One:

The Sadducean high priests made Hophni and Phinehas too much their models. Annas and his sons had booths in the courts of the temple for the sale of sacrificial requisites, tables for money-changers, as ordinary coins had to be changed into the shekels of the sanctuary. From all these the priests of the high-priestly caste derived profit at the expense of desecrating the temple (Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus, I, 371 ff). They did not, as did the Pharisees, pay spiritual religion the homage of hypocrisy; they were frankly irreligious. While officials of religion, they were devoid of its spirit. This, however, represents their last stage.

4. Sadducean Literature:

The favor for the memory of John Hyrcanus shown by the writer of 1 Maccabees (16:23,14) renders probable Geiger’s opinion that the author was a Sadducee. He shows the party in its best form: his outlook on life is eminently sane, and his history is trustworthy. He has sympathy with the patriotism of the Hasideans, but none with the religious scruples which led them to desert Judas Maccabeus. That the writer of Ecclesiasticus from his silence as to the national expectation of a Messiah and the hope of a future life was also a Sadducee, is almost certain.

V. Relation of Sadducees to Jesus.

1. Less Denounced by Jesus than the Pharisees:

As the doctrines and practices of the Sadducees were quite alien from the teaching of our Lord and the conduct He enjoined, it is a problem why He did not denounce them more frequently than He did. Indeed He never denounces the Sadducees except along with their opponents the Pharisees; whereas He frequently denounces the Pharisees alone. As His position, both doctrinal and practical, was much nearer that of the Pharisees, it was necessary that He should clearly mark Himself off from them. There was not the same danger of His position being confused with that of the Sadducees. Josephus informs us that the Sadducees had influence with the rich; Jesus drew His adherents chiefly from the poor, from whom also the Pharisees drew. The latter opposed Him all the more that He was sapping their source of strength; hence, He had to defend Himself against them. Further, the Gospels mainly recount our Lord’s ministry in Galilee, whereas the Sadducees were chiefly to be found in Jerusalem and its neighborhood; hence, there may have been severe denunciations of the Sadducees that have not come down to us.

2. Attitude of Sadducees to Jesus:

The Sadducees probably regarded Jesus as harmless fanatic who by His denunciations was weakening the influence of the Pharisees. Only when His claim to be the Messiah brought Him within the sphere of practical politics did they desire to intervene. When they did determine to come into conflict with Jesus, they promptly decreed His arrest and death; only the arrest was to be secret, “lest a tumult arise among the people” (Mt 26:5). In their direct encounter with our Lord in regard to the resurrection (Mt 22:25 ffMr 12:20 ffLu 20:29 ), there is an element of contempt implied in the illustration which they bring, as if till almost the end they failed to take Him seriously. For Literature see Pharisees.

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