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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Sadducees (2)


1. Derivation and use of the name.—It seems impossible to attain certainty as to the derivation of the name ‘Sadducees’ (Σαδδουκαῖοι; צַדּוּקִים). Formerly it was supposed to be connected with the adjective ẓaddîk, ‘righteous’; but this derivation is now generally given up, for philological and other reasons. No explanation can be given of the change from i to u; and the Sadducees were never regarded, either by themselves or by others, as specially righteous. In more recent times the commonly accepted derivation is from the proper name Zadok; but neither is this without its difficulties. The doubling of the d is not well accounted for, and the problem as to which Zadok gave name to the party is one upon which there is considerable difference of opinion. Many hold that it was Zadok the priest, the contemporary of David and Solomon (2 Samuel 8:17; 2 Samuel 15:24, 1 Kings 1:8; 1 Kings 2:35 etc.), whose posterity officiated in the Temple down to the time of the Exile, and even formed the chief element of the post-exilic priesthood; but Kuenen says this conjecture is burdened with insurmountable difficulties’ (Religion of Israel, iii. p. 122). A Jewish legend states that it was a disciple of Antigonus of Socho, named Zadok; but this is almost universally admitted to have no historical foundation. To solve the difficulty, Kuenen and Montet postulate a Zadok, ‘perhaps a contemporary of Jonathan the Asmonaean’ (Kuenen, l.c.), from whom the name may have been derived; but this, again, is purely hypothetical. Yet another suggestion is offered by A. E. Cowley (art. ‘Sadducees’ in the EBi [Note: Bi Encyclopaedia Biblica.] ), that the word may have been of Persian origin, connected with zindîk, which is used in a general sense for ‘infidel.’ The suggestion is interesting, but is put forward ‘with great diffidence’ by its author.

But however uncertain the derivation may be, there is no dubiety about the application of the name ‘Sadducees.’ It is always used to designate the political party of the Jewish aristocratic priesthood from the time of the Maccabees to the final fall of the Jewish State. The chief authorities for its use are the NT, Josephus, and portions of the Mishna. It is important to note that, while any one, whatever his rank or station, could be a Pharisee, no one could be a Sadducee unless he belonged to one of the high-priestly or aristocratic families. It was not enough to be a priest. There was as great a distance between the higher and lower orders of the priesthood as between the aristocracy and the common people.

2. Outline of history.—From the beginning of the Grecian period of Jewish history, and even before that time, the whole conduct of political affairs was in the hands of the priestly aristocracy. Influenced by Hellenic culture, they sympathized to some extent with the policy of Antiochus Epiphanes which provoked the Maccabaean rebellion; and although, as a consequence, they fell into the background during the earlier period of Hasmonaean rule, they recovered their position in the time of John Hyrcanus, under whom we find them, now known as Sadducees, in direct antagonism to the Pharisees, or party of the scribes. These for a short time acceded to power under Alexandra, but immediately afterwards the Sadducees came again to the front. In the Roman period their power was considerably diminished, in this respect that while they were able to retain the high offices for themselves, they were compelled to adopt the policy of the Pharisees, who had an overwhelming influence with the people. The high priests at the head of the Sanhedrin were Sadducees, but they were always in a minority; though essentially a political party, they had apparently no independent existence apart from Jerusalem and its Temple, and with the fall of the Jewish State they disappear entirely from history.

3. Special characteristics.—The chief outstanding feature of the Sadducees was probably their conservatism. They stood by the established position, held by the old points of view, and rejected everything that partook of the nature of novelty. They were priests, but priests of aristocratic family, and, as such, their duties were political as well as religious. Brought into close contact with their Gentile rulers, their political interests tended to thrust the religious into the background. Their aim was the welfare of the State as a secular institution, rather than the purity of the nation as a religious community. As sober, practical statesmen, representative of moderate Jewish opinion, they entertained no extravagant notions of the coming high position or brilliant future of Israel. And being themselves in comfortable circumstances, they were satisfied with the present, and felt no special need of a future rectification in the interests of justice. The intellectual standpoint of the Sadducees seems to have been mainly negative. They were characterized chiefly by their denial of certain doctrines, and had no positive religious or theological system of their own. They stood in most things in direct opposition to the Pharisees, yet in an opposition which involved no fundamental principle, but into which they had been driven by their historical development.

The leading difference between the two parties is to be found in this, that the Sadducees held by the written Law, and rejected the Pharisaic tradition. It is not, however, correct to say that the Sadducees acknowledged only the Pentateuch and rejected the rest of the OT. Kuenen even maintains that they accepted the Oral Tradition, ‘in so far as this was already established when they constituted themselves a party’ (Rel. of Israel, iii. p. 144). Schürer says that they agreed with the Pharisees on some—perhaps many—particulars of the tradition, but ‘only denied its obligation, and reserved the right of private opinion’ (HJP [Note: JP History of the Jewish People.] ii. ii. 38). A number of minor differences are recorded in Rabbinical literature, of which full accounts will be found in Schürer, or in art. ‘Sadducees’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible . The Sadducees are stated to have been more severe in penal legislation, adhering more strictly to the letter of the Law; and in questions of ritual, while admitting the principle of Levitical purification, they ridiculed the Pharisees for the absurdities of their traditional regulations. It has been maintained that the attitude of the Sadducees was largely determined by their desire to magnify the importance of the priesthood; but Schürer denies that any such motive can be traced. Probably they felt that the Pharisees vitiated the Law by their self-contradictions, and that only by an adherence to what was definite and authentic could the system be conserved according to which alone God could be rightly worshipped.

The distinctive Sadducean doctrines are usually classed under three heads:—(1) They denied the resurrection, personal immortality, and retribution in a future life. So far they merely stood by the old Hebrew position, and from their materialistic and worldly point of view they felt no need of a future life to compensate for the inequalities of the present. In the same spirit they also renounced the entire Messianic hope, at least in the form then current. (2) They denied the existence of angels and spirits. This was scarcely the position of the OT, but their worldly common sense and general culture were bound to prejudice them against the fantastic products of the Pharisaic imagination in the wild extravagances of its angelology and demonology. (3) They denied foreordination and the supremacy of fate, and upheld the freedom of the human will, maintaining ‘that good and evil are at the choice of man, who can do the one or the other at his discretion.’ This is quite in keeping with the rest of their views. They felt no special need of a Divine Providence to order their life, and claimed that whatever they possessed was due to their own efforts. Generally it may be said that, after the manner of an aristocracy, they resented any attempt to impose on them an excess of legal strictness, and that ‘advanced religious views were, on the one hand, superfluous to their worldly-mindedness, and, on the other, inadmissible by their higher culture and enlightenment’ (HJP [Note: JP History of the Jewish People.] ii. ii. 41). Yet the distance between them and the Pharisees was not so great as it might appear. Politically at least there was no insuperable barrier. The two could sit together in the Sanhedrin, and could combine to make common cause against Jesus and to plan His destruction.

4. Relations to Jesus.—The Sadducees are not often mentioned by name in the Gospels, but it has to be remembered that, when mention is made of the chief priests, practically the same persons are referred to. Jesus did not come into the same constant antagonism with the Sadducees as with the Pharisees. For the most part they seem to have ignored Him, at least in the early part of His ministry. They joined with the Pharisees in asking Him to show them a sign from heaven (Matthew 16:1), and shortly afterwards He warned His disciples to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees, meaning probably, so far as the Sadducees were concerned, their utterly secular spirit. They resented His action in the cleansing of the Temple, and along with the scribes and elders they demanded His authority (Mark 11:27 f.), and from this time forward sought to destroy Him (Mark 11:18). They thought to inveigle Him with the Roman power by asking whether it was lawful to give tribute to Caesar (Luke 20:22), and they attempted to discredit His teaching by presenting to Him the problem of the woman who had been married to seven brethren, and asking whose wife she should be in the resurrection; but they only brought upon themselves discomfiture, and the reproof that they knew neither the Scriptures nor the power of God (Matthew 22:23 ||). They sat in the Sanhedrin which condemned Him, and with the others mocked Him upon the cross. Their opposition to Christian doctrine did not cease with the death of Jesus. There is no record of any Sadducee being admitted into the Christian Church, and before long they were merely a memory, hazy and indistinct.

Literature.—See under Pharisees and Scribes.

Joseph Mitchell.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Sadducees (2)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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