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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible


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SADDUCEES . Probably the name ‘Sadducee’ is derived from the name Zadok , a notable priest in the time of David and Solomon ( 2 Samuel 8:17; 2 Samuel 15:24 , 1 Kings 1:34 ). His descendants long played the leading part among the priests, so that Ezekiel regarded them as the only legitimate priests ( Ezekiel 40:46; Ezekiel 43:19; Ezekiel 44:15; Ezekiel 48:11 ). The name indicates the fact that is most decisive for the right understanding of the Sadducees. About the year 200 b.c., when party lines were beginning to be drawn, the name was chosen to point out the party of the priests. That is not saying that no priest could be a Pharisee or a Scribe. Neither is it saying that all the priests were Sadducees. In our Lord’s time many of the poor priests were Pharisees. But the higher priestly families and the priests as a body were Sadducees. With them were joined the majority of the aristocratic lay families of Judæa and Jerusalem. This fact gives us the key to their career. It is wrapped up in the history of the high priesthood. For two centuries after the Exile the high priesthood earned the right to the leadership of the Jewish nation. But in our Lord’s time its leadership lay far back in the past. Its moral greatness had been undermined on two sides. On one side it had lost touch with what was deepest in the being of the Jews. For the most part this was due to its aristocratic bias. The Levitical priesthood was a close corporation. No man not born a priest could become a priest. More and more, as the interests of the nation widened and deepened, the high priesthood failed to keep pace. Its alliance with the aristocratic families made things worse. The high priesthood and the people drifted apart. No great institution can do that and remain great.

From another side also the political the high priesthood was undermined. Owing to the mixture of Church and State the high priests were necessarily in politics all the time. Consequently the historical process, which ended by incorporating Palestine in the Roman Empire, sucked out of the high priesthood all the moralizing influences involved in the handling of large affairs. So, undermined on two sides, the high priesthood lost the right to lead. And the party built up around it the Sadducees became the party of those who cared more for their own well-being and for the maintenance of things as they were than for the Kingdom of God.

When we turn to the tenets of the Sadducees, it is still the contrast with the Pharisees that puts them in an Intelligible light. Pharisaism, with all its faults, was the heart and soul of the nation, the steward of its treasures the Holy Scriptures the trustee of its vitalizing hope. The Sadducees stood for the tenaciously conservative tendencies in the nation. They lay under the curse which rests upon all aristocracies, the inability to realize that the best things must grow. They denied the Pharisaic doctrine of the resurrection of the body ( Mark 12:18 , Matthew 22:23 , Luke 20:27 , Acts 23:8 ). The NT is a better guide in this field than Josephus, who affirms ( BJ II. viii. 14, Ant. XVIII. i. 4) that they denied the immortality of the soul. Josephus overstated things in his desire to make the Jewish parties look like the philosophical schools of Greece. The Sadducees did not deny the immortality of the soul. But they lingered in the past, the period when the belief in Immortality was vague, shadowy, and had not yet become a working motive for goodness. They did not accept the developed faith in immortality which was part and parcel of the Pharisaic teaching regarding the Kingdom of God. And this meant that their nation had outgrown them. The Sadducees also denied the Pharisaic doctrine regarding angels and ministering spirits ( Acts 23:8 ). Thereby they maintained a certain sobriety. They even emancipated themselves from a considerable amount of superstition hound up with Pharisaism. But they paid for it by a wholly disproportionate sacrifice of vital piety.

From this sketch we can see why our Lord had almost no dealings with the Sadducees during His ministry. His interests were with the common people. This brought Him into continual conflict with the Pharisees. It was not until His popularity seemed to threaten the peace of Jerusalem that the high priest, with the Sadducees at his back, was moved to decisive action. We can also see why the Apostolic Church, in her first years, had most to fear from the Sadducees (Acts 4:1-37; Acts 5:1-42 ). See also artt. Pharisees, Scribes.

Henry S. Nash.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Sadducees'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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