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Bible Encyclopedias

1911 Encyclopedia Britannica


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a sect or party of the Jews mentioned in the historical books of the New Testament (with the exception of the fourth Gospel), by Josephus, and in the Talmud. According to all the authorities, the essential qualification for the title is the denial of certain beliefs which the Pharisees held to be implicitly contained in Scripture, and therefore necessarily part of Judaism as soon as they were formulated. From their own point of view they were orthodox conservatives, so far as they really cared to remain - for whatever reason - within the pale of Jewry and to justify their presence there. From the standpoint of the Pharisees who championed the hope of everlasting life and believed in the existence of angels, through whom God could communicate with men, they were infidels. As the Pharisees accumulated the oral tradition which was afterwards codified and elaborated or preserved by fragments, which served some useful purpose, in the Talmud and other Rabbinic writings, the Sadducees acquired concrete regulations to oppose so long as they dared. The Pharisees even improved upon the Temple ritual, and their popularity enabled them to force the Pharisees into adopting the improvements.

But though some of those who bore the title may be reckoned at their best as orthodox conservatives, their position was, as far as our mainly Pharisaic authorities permit us to learn, merely negative; and all the information we possess, whether it rests on facts or on prejudice, points to their close affinity with the Jews who renounced their faith altogether and advertised the fact - say by habitual and unwarranted breach of the Sabbath, for example. In fact, broadly speaking, the Sadducees for the period during which they are reported to exist, represent and embody the tendency to conformity with neighbouring Gentiles, which is deplored and denounced by Jewish writers from Moses to Philo. And there is this to be said that idolatry may be an outward symbol of a real indebtedness to idolaters which is not necessarily wiped out when the tangible idols are smashed. Idolatry is plainly incompatible with the law of Moses: so were Greek caps; but the Jews who conformed to Hellenism in the time of Antiochus Epiphanes acquired much that was conserved and utilized in that great attempt to convert the Greek world to Judaism, whose best monument is the works of Philo. The process is normal: first, there is an unqualified adoption of a foreign culture by the Sadducees of the time being: then, after unqualified opposition, the Pharisees of the time admit whatever is admissible within the four corners of the Law and are confronted by other Sadducees who have not followed the first into temporary or permanent separation from the existing Jewish way of life and absorption in the immediate foreign environment, and who, therefore, will have none of the current innovations which the Pharisees have in course of time selected as capable of assimilation and reconciliation with the existing body of growing doctrine and practice. The Jews spoiled the Egyptians: some made a golden calf and worshipped it: others destroyed it and turned the spoils into vessels for the sanctuary: some again sighed for the fleshpots of Egypt, if they did not actually return thither.

The controversies of the Pharisees and Sadducees afford a typical example of this process. With the approval of Antiochus Epiphanes, the Sadducean section embraced the outward forms of Hellenism, and out of the persecution of the orthodox which followed was born the hope of a future life which was in the circumstances the necessary corollary of God's righteousness and was discovered to be latent in Scripture. Later Sadducees, who actually bore the name, resisted this and all the characteristics of the Pharisees and continued to flatter the predominant foreigner - Greek or Roman - by imitating him with less reckless bravado than the first Hellenizers and with growing assurance. They were men of the world, and men of this world, and, so far as they still professed and practised Judaism, they preferred to repudiate the additions for which they felt no need, but which had entered into the faith of their fathers. The Pharisees, who pruned and fed the tree of Judaism so that it might bear fruit for the healing of the Nation - and the nations in the latter days - gave them the opportunity of posing as the champions of the primitive standards. But, though the reformers thus played into the hands of the Sadducees, the people were not deceived by the badge which Sadducean priests adopted and paraded to save their faces: they loved the Pharisees and were ready to go to death at their bidding. The Sadducees were the hypocrites of the Jewish world, just as the Epicureans were the hypocrites of the Greek world. The rest of the Jews rated the Sadducees as atheists, just as the rest of the Greeks rated the Epicureans as atheists and discerned, as Plutarch said, the sardonic grin behind the mask of their obsequious devotion to the ceremonies at which the force of public opinion compelled their attendance. The Sadducee was a Jew outwardly so long as he so retained place, power and profit. The destruction of Jerusalem, long before it was consummated in A.D. 70, robbed them of the place and nation which alone compensated them for the inconveniences of their nominal allegiance. They knew well enough the power of invincible Rome; and her advance warned them to take themselves and their talents to the market of the wide world, to which in heart and mind they had always belonged.

Josephus (Ant. xiii. 5.9, §§ 171-173, Niese) introduces the Sadducees along with the Pharisees and Essenes in his account of Jonathan's reign (161-143 B.C.) as the third of the sects of the Jews, and defines their tenets thus: "They deny the existence of God (Josephus says ` Fate,' as he is speaking to pagans) and the Divine government of human affairs; and they assert that everything lies in our power, so that we are responsible for our good or bad fortune." Similarly, in the earlier history of the Jewish War (ii. 8.14, §§ 164-166, Niese) to which he refers, he says: "The Sadducees do away with Destiny altogether and set God beyond the possibility of punishing or supervising men. They assert that man is free to choose good or evil since both are set before him, and that he receives good or evil according to his choice. They deny the immortality of the soul and the punishments and rewards of Hades. In contrast with the mutual friendliness and loyalty of the Pharisees, their behaviour towards one another is lacking in courtesy, and when they mix with their fellow-countrymen, they are as offhanded as if their fellows were aliens." Josephus might have added that they were disposed to treat aliens as they should have treated their friends.

In the New Testament there is already a tendency to ignore the Sadducees and to transfer to the surviving and active sect of the Pharisees denunciations addressed to hypocrites. The feud which set Pharisee and Sadducee against one another is ignored, and generally the condign oblivion which overtook this sect of the Jews is already beginning. The Christian Fathers seem to confound them with the Samaritans, and the confusion is natural enough. The Sadducees were as little loyal to the Judaism of Jerusalem as the Samaritans - and they were less sincere and less interested in religion.

The Talmud reports ancient controversies on points of law; and gives the Sadducees a founder, Zadok the disciple of Antigonus the man of Soco who prohibited the hope of reward for service done to God. But this explanation of the name is as worthless as the rest of the Talmudic accounts of the Sadducees who were already dead and gone. For the present the explanation put forward by A. E. Cowley (Ency. Bib. 4236) holds the field: a Persian word Zindik meaning Zoroastrian, and therefore infidel in the mouths of those who did not hold with Zoroaster, was applied to them by their opponents, and gradually altered so as to mean something in Hebrew - i.e. Zadokite or Righteous. Its acquired significance could be varied by the inflexion of the voice or the suggestion of inverted commas.

Scharer (Geschichte des jiidischen Volkes, ii., 4th ed., pp. 447-456, 475-4 8 9) gives the evidence of the ancient authorities and references to modern studies of the subject. See also JEWS. (J. H. A. H.)

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Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Sadducees'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. 1910.

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