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The Sadducees


The Sadducees were so named because they claimed to be descended from Zadok, the high priest at the time of King David and King Solomon. They consisted of the wealthy aristocratic families who controlled the office of high priest. They rejected belief in angels and the resurrection, but they were not liberal rationalists. Rather, they were staunch conservatives, who observed the Law of the Books of Moses (Pentateuch) and who rejected later interpretations of the law, the 'oral law'.

The Sadducees were angered at Jesus' cleansing the temple and at his teaching on the resurrection. It was Sadducean chief priests who condemned Jesus at a night-time trial and handed him over to Pilate. The Sadducees were primarily responsible for trying to suppress the preaching of Peter and the other apostles when they proclaimed that Jesus had risen from the dead. As the destruction of the temple in AD 70 destroyed their reason for existence, the Sadducees did not survive this period.


In the time of Jesus there was much hostility between the Pharisees and the Sadducees. In many ways these two groups conflicted with each other. The Sadducees represented the privileged, conservative, traditional elite of Judaism. The Pharisees were the democratic, progressive new party of the common man. The Sadducees controlled the temple and its rituals, but the Pharisees controlled the synagogues.

The Pharisees openly challenged the privileged status of the Sadducees and criticized their easy tolerance of foreign rule. For the most part, the Pharisees opposed Roman rule, refused to take the oath of allegiance to the emperor and more than once participated in short revolts against Rome. (In 66 AD they led the nation in the great rebellion against Roman rule.) Though the Pharisees were represented on the Sanhedrin by the scribal members, the power there still rested with the Sadducees. The Pharisees were mostly influential in the realm of religious devotion and daily ritual.

But both parties united against Jesus. He brought about an uneasy alliance between these two groups. By threatening the privileged position of the Sadducees and at the same time challenging the basic scribal and Pharisaic precepts, he caused them to unite against Him. For their own very separate reasons, both parties saw this self-styled, unlearned Prophet from Galilee as a dangerous enemy, and together they concluded that he must be brought to trial and condemned to death.

THE SADDUCEES according to Josephus

During the life-time of Jesus, there were probably not more than about 5,000 of the Sadducees in Palestine, but they represented the rulers and the official order, and wore mostly resident in Jerusalem. The name of the sect is usually traced back to the priest Zadok, from whom they were all supposed to be descended. That is why they were more of a family than a religious sect. Josephus also tells us that the Sadducees often refused to take public office (" Antiquities " 18: 1, 4) and were sometimes compelled to do so by force.

All our real information about their beliefs and customs is derived directly from the New Testament and from Josephus (who himself was a Pharisee). Josephus is very clear in saying that the Sadducees believed that the souls of men "die with their bodies." They had no doctrine of the resurrection, an issue which they raised on one occasion with Christ (Mk 12:18-) and of this Paul took advantage at a later date (Acts 23:6). Josephus adds that they would not recognize anything in addition to what the Law commanded (they rejected the "tradition of the elders" (Mk 7:2-.).

In other passages (" The Jewish Wars " 1: 8, 14) Josephus adds further details which show their attachment with Epicurean philosophy: they deny providence, and declare that God is not concerned about our individual choice of right or wrong, a view which removes the idea of having a vital relationship with God, and leads towards skepticism. According to the New Testament, they were very skeptical about miracles and any unusual experience, and they did not believe in angels or spirits (Acts 23:8).

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