The Sadducees were a Jewish religious sect that flourished
from about 200 BC until the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. A
priestly and aristocratic group, the Sadducees owed their
power to political alliance with the Romans, who ruled
their land. They opposed the Pharisees' use of Oral Law and
held only to the Pentateuch (the first five books of the
Old Testament). They also differed with the Pharisees on
many theological tenets: for example, they did not believe
in resurrection and the immortality of the soul. According
to the New Testament, the Sadducees played a leading role
in the trial and condemnation of Jesus.
Buehler, William Wagner, The Pre-Herodian
Civil War and Social Debate: Jewish Society in the Period
76-40 BC and the Social Factors Contributing to the Rise of
the Pharisees and the Sadducees (1974); Manson, Thomas
Walter, Sadducee and Pharisee--The Origin and Significance
of the Name (1938).
The Sadducees were an important Jewish group that flourished in Palestine from the late
second century B.C. to the late first Christian century.
The most reliable information about the Sadducees is found in
three bodies of ancient literature: the writings of Flavius Josephus,
The Jewish War (written ca. A.D. 75), Antiquities of the Jews (ca. A.D.
94), and Life (ca. A.D. 101); the NT, particularly the Synoptic Gospels
and Acts (ca. A.D. 65-90; Matt. 3:7; 16:1-12; 22:23-34; Mark 12:18-27;
Luke 20:27-38); and the rabbinic compilations (ca. A.D. 200 and later;
Mishnah, Ber. 9:5; Erub. 6:2; Par. 3:3, 7; Nidd. 4:2; Yad. 4:6-8). Two
observations about these sources should be made. First, with the
possible exception of Josephus' War, all these sources are decidedly
hostile towards the Sadducees. Second, many of the rabbinic references,
especially those found in the Talmud and later works, are of doubtful
historical reliability. Thus, our knowledge of the Sadducees is
perforce severely limited and one-sided.
Name and Nature
Historically, the question of the derivation and
meaning of the name "Sadducees" has been closely tied to the issue of
the nature of the group. Ever since Abraham Geiger argued that the
Sadducees were the priestly aristocracy, the majority of scholars have
held that their name was derived from "Zadok," the name of the high
priest during Solomon's reign (I Kings 2:35; cf. Ezek. 44:15; 48:11).
Thus the Sadducees are thought to have been the party of the Zadokite
priestly elite. There are problems with this construct, however. The
"Zadok" etymology does not explain the doubling of the "d". Moreover,
when the Sadducees appeared on the scene, the ruling priests were
Hasmoneans, not Zadokites. It is unlikely that the Hasmoneans would
have allied themselves with a rival priestly group whose very name
called into question the legitimacy of the Hasmonean high priesthood.
More recently, many scholars have argued that the Sadducees were
essentially a loose confederation of wealthy and powerful men (this
would include members of the priestly aristocracy) who took a
secular-pragmatic, rather than a religious-ideological, stance with
regard to the nation and its laws. Along with this view, new
etymologies for "Sadducees" have been offered. T. W. Manson proposed
that behind the name stood the Greek title syndikoi, meaning "fiscal
officials." R. North suggested that the Sadducees saw themselves as
administrators of justice and that their name was derived from an
otherwise unattested Piel adjective sadduq ("just"). These and other
etymologies solve some problems, but raise new ones; at bottom, they
all remain speculative. In light of the total absence of Sadducean
sources, it would seem wise to admit that both the precise nature of
the Sadducees and the derivation of their name remain uncertain.
Equally uncertain are the details of Sadducean history. The
meager evidence suggests the following outline. The Sadducees
solidified as a group soon after the Maccabean revolt (167-160 B.C.).
They were heirs to a persistent tendency within the Jewish aristocracy
to see Judaism as a temple-centered religion rather than a law-centered
way of life. Because they supported the Hasmonean policy of military
and economic expansion, they gradually came to exercise tremendous
influence in John Hyrcanus's court (134-104 B.C.). Their influence
predominated until the end of Alexander Jannaeus's reign (76 B.C.).
Under Queen Alexandra (76-67 B.C.) the Sadducees lost their power, and
their numbers were greatly reduced. They fared little better under
Herod the Great (37-4 B.C.), who deeply mistrusted the native Jewish
aristocracy. With the imposition of direct Roman rule (A.D. 6),
Sadducean fortunes revived. Between A.D. 6 and 66 the Sadducees not
only became a major power within the Sanhedrin, but, for many years,
they were able to control the high priesthood as well. The revolt of
66-70 spelled the end for the Sadducees. Although they had sought to
forestall the revolt, the Romans had no use for a failed aristocracy.
With the destruction of the temple and the dissolution of the nation,
the Sadducees faded into oblivion.
The Sadducees are said to have rejected all Jewish
observances not explicitly taught in the pentateuchal law. In their
legal debates, the Sadducees consistently pushed for a strict and
narrow application of the law. They repudiated the notions of
resurrection and rewards and punishments after death. According to
Josephus, they even denied the immortality of the soul. The Sadducees
tended to diassociate God from human affairs. For this reason, they
maintained that human choices and actions were totally free,
unrestrained by divine interference. Consistent with this emphasis on
human autonomy, the Sadducees denied the existence of angels and
Most scholars have held that these beliefs mark off the Sadducees as
conservatives who stubbornly resisted the innovations of the Pharisees
and others. It should be noted, on the other hand, that these beliefs
could just as easily describe hellenized aristocrats who wanted to
minimize as much as possible the claims of their ancestral religion on
their daily lives.
Sadducees and the NT
Unlike the Pharisees, the Sadducees are
consistently painted in a bad light by the NT writers. Their opposition
to Jesus and the early church is presented as monolithic and constant.
Reasons for the hostility are not hard to imagine. To the Sadducees,
Jesus and his early followers would have appeared as destabilizing
forces in delicate balance between limited Jewish freedom and
totalitarian Roman rule. But just as significantly, the Sadducees could
not have had anything but contempt for a movement that proclaimed the
present reality of the resurrection and the unconditional necessity of
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)
Josephus, The Jewish War 2.8.2, 14; Antiquities of the
Jews 13.5.9, 13.10.6, 18.1.4, 20.9.1; and Life 10; A Geiger, Sadducaer
und Pharisaer; G. H. Box, "Who Were the Sadducees?" Exp 15:19-38; T.W.
Manson, "Sadducees and Pharisees, The Origin and Significance of the
Names," BJRL 22:144-59; R. North, "The Qumran Sadducees," CBQ
17:164-88; J. Le Moyne, Les Sadduceens; W. W. Buehler, Pre-Herodian
Civil War and Social Debate; H. D. Mantel, "The Sadducees and the
Pharisees," in The World History of the Jewish People, VIII, 99-123; J.
M. Baumgarten, "The Pharisaic-Sadducean Controversies about Purity and
the Qumran Text," JJS 31:157-70.
(Advanced) Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes
The individual articles presented here were generally first published
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on the Internet in May 1997.
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