I. Origin of the Group

A. Most scholars believe the name comes from Zadok, one of David's high priests (cf. 2 Sam. 8:17; 15:24).  Later, Solomon exiled Abiathar for supporting the rebellion of Adonijah (cf. 1 Kgs. 2:26-27) and recognized Zadok as the only High Priest (cf. 1 Kgs. 2:35).  After the Babylonian exile this priestly line was reestablished in Joshua (cf. Hag. 1:1).  This Levitical family was chosen to administer the temple. Later those who were of this priestly tradition and their supporters were called Zadokites or Sadducees.

B. A ninth century a.d. rabbinical tradition (Aboth of Rabbi Nathan) says Zadok was a disciple of Antigonus of Sokho (2nd century b.c.).  Zadok misunderstood a famous saying of his mentor, "after dead rewards," and developed a theology that denied an afterlife and, thereby also denied the resurrection of the body.

C. Later within Judaism the Sadducees are identified with the Boethusians.  Boethus was also a disciple of Antigonus of Sokho. He developed a theology similar to Zadok, which also denied an afterlife.

D. The name Sadducee does not appear until the days of John Hyrcanus (135-104 b.c.), which is cited by Josephus (cf. Antiquities 13.10.5-6). In Antiquities 13.5.9 Josephus says there existed "three schools of thought," Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes.

E. There is a rival theory that they came from the time of the Selucid rulers' attempts to Hellenize the priesthood under Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-163 b.c.). During the Maccabean revolt a new priesthood was started in Simon Maccabees (142-135 b.c.) and his descendants (cf. I Macc. 14:41).  These new Hasmonean high priests were possibly the start of the aristocratic Sadducees.  The Pharisees developed during this same time from the Hasidim (i.e., "the separated ones," cf. I Macc. 2:42; 7:5-23).

F. There is the modern theory (i.e., T. W. Manson) that "Sadducee" is a transliteration of the Greek term sundikoi.  This term referred to local authorities who interfaced with Roman authority.  This may explain why some Sadducees were not aristocratic priests, but were members of the Sanhedrin.


II. Distinctive Beliefs

A. They were the priestly conservative faction of the sects of Jewish life during the Hasmonean and Roman periods.

B. They were especially concerned with temple procedures, protocol, rituals, and liturgy.

C. They held to the written Torah (i.e., Genesis – Deuteronomy) as authoritative, but rejected the Orad Tradition (i.e., Talmud).

D. They, therefore, rejected many of the cherished developed doctrines of the Pharisees 

1. the resurrection of the body (cf. Matt. 22:23; Mark. 12:18; Luke 20:27; Acts 4:1-2; 23:8)

2. the immortality of the soul (cf. Antiquities 18.1.3-4; Wars 2.8.14)

3. the existence of an elaborate hierarchy of angels (cf. Acts 23:8)

4. they took the "eye-for-an-eye" (i.e., lex talionis) literally and supported physical punishment and the death penalty (instead of a monetary settlement)

E. Another area of theological dispute was predestination vs. free will. Of the three groups mentioned by Josephus

1. the Essenes affirmed a kind of determinism

2. the Sadducees placed an emphasis on human free will (cf. Antiquities 13.5.9; Wars 2.8.14)

3. the Pharisees held somewhat of a balancing position between the other two

F. In one sense the conflicts between the two groups (i.e., Sadducees – Pharisees) mirrored the tension between priests and prophets in the OT.

Another tension arose from the fact that the Sadducees represented the social and landed gentry.  They were the aristocrats (cf. Josephus' Antiquities 13.10.6; 18.1.4-5; 20.9.1), while the Pharisees and scribes were the scholars and pious among the people of the land.  This tension could be characterized as the temple in Jerusalem vs. the local synagogues throughout the land.

Another tension may have represented the Sadducean rejection of the influence of Zoroastrianism on Pharisaic theology.  Examples of their theology are (1) a highly developed angelology; (2) a dualism between YHWH and Satan; and (3) an elaborate view of the afterlife in glowing physical terms.  These excesses by the Essenes and Pharisees caused a reaction in the Sadducees. They return to the conservative position of Moses-only theology in an attempt to thwart the speculations of other Jewish groups.

III. Sources of Information

A. Josephus is the chief source of information about the Sadducees.  He was biased both by his commitment to the Pharisees and his interests in portraying a positive image of Jewish life to the Romans.

B. The other source of information is the rabbinical literature.  However, here, too, a strong bias is evident.  The Sadducees denied the relevance and authority of the Oral Tradition of the Elders (i.e., the Talmud).  These Pharisaic writings obviously describe their opponents in negative, possibly exaggerated (i.e., straw man, tactics) ways.

C. There are no known writings of Sadducees themselves which have survived.  With the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in a.d. 70 all documents and influence of the priestly elite were destroyed.

They wanted to maintain regional peace and the only way to do that in the first century was to cooperate with Rome (cf. John 11:48-50).

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