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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
1. Name: Rival Etymologies. Probably from Zadok the High Priest
2. Authorities: New Testament, Josephus, Talmud (primary), Church Fathers (secondary)
1. Early Notices in Josephus: Alleged Relation to Differences between Prophets and Priests
2. Tendencies of Sadducees toward Hellenism as Causing Rise of Hasidhim
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
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
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
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.
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 (2 Samuel 8:17; 2 Samuel 15:24; 1 Kings 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
2. Authorities: New Testament, Josephus, Talmud (Primary), Church Fathers
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 (Matthew 22:23; Acts 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. ,
2. Tendencies of Sadducees Toward Hellenism as Causing Rise of Hasidhim:
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
3. Favored by Janneus: Put in the Background by Alexandra Salome:
The division between the Hasmoneans and the
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 (Acts 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,
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 Acts (Acts 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. ,
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 Matthew 22:24-31; Jerome on Matthew 22:31 , Matthew 22:32 ). 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" (
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
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" (Matthew 26:5 ). In their direct encounter with our Lord in regard to the resurrection (Matthew 22:25 ff; Mark 12:20 ff; Luke 20:29 ff), 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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Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Sadducees'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/isb/s/sadducees.html. 1915.