Who Were The Sadducees?


So far in this series, we have discussed the Essenes and the Zealots. The Essenes were a group of separatists who, for the most part, lived away from other groups and had a zeal for ritual purity and cleanliness. The Zealots, on the other hand wanted independence from Rome and were willing to use violence and guerilla warfare to get their way. The one thing that both the Essenes and the Zealots have in common is that the New Testament doesn't really give us much information about either group. For this, we need to sources other than the New Testament. Today, we will look at the Sadducees. Unlike the Essenes and Zealots, the Sadducees are mentioned in the New Testament, and we can gain a decent amount of insight from the writings of the New Testament about them. Of course, a fuller picture is gained when looking at a wide variety of historical sources, but it is sufficient to note that, unlike the Zealots and the Essenes, the Sadducees were not largely insignificant to the point that the New Testament authors were making. Here are five things we need to know about the Sadducees.

First, we should note that the Sadducees likely came from wealthy priestly families who aligned with the Hasmoneans. The Hasmonean Dynasty was the dynasty, founded around 142 BC, that was related to the Maccabaeus family and was established after the Maccabees expelled Greek power from Jewish soil. It was out of this background that the Sadducees were likely birthed.

Second, we should understand that the Sadducees had much of their power centered on the Temple. Their chief rival party, the Pharisees, was the party that was popular with the people. While the Sadducees were likely fewer in number than the Pharisees, they had much of their power concentrated in one place.

Third, the Sadducees only accepted the Torah as an authority. Anything beyond the Torah would have been disregarded as not Scriptural. They may have tolerated the Pharisees referring to the Prophets and the Writings and regarding them as authoritative, but the Sadducees would not accept them. Because of this, the Sadducees denied that there was a resurrection. Simply, they did not believe the Torah taught the resurrection. This was rebuffed by Jesus in Mark 12:18-27. The point is that, since the Sadducees only accepted the Torah, they ended up with beliefs that differed from their counterparts, the Pharisees.

Fourth, the Sadducees didn't want to upset the Romans. For the Sadducees, Roman rule brought stability. This would have, no doubt, upset anyone who saw the Romans as improperly occupying the land, such as the Zealots, but the Sadducees likely benefitted greatly from Roman rule. The rule of Rome helped ensure that the Sadducees stayed in power in regards to the Temple. Beyond this, it seems that the Sadducees held quite a bit of power in regards to the Temple because of their relationship with Rome. Any revolt or upheaval could cost them the relative peace and status that they enjoyed. 

Finally, the Sadducees basically disappeared from history after the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. It seems that the only major party that survived the destruction that came as a result of the Jewish revolt was the party of the Pharisees. Like the Essenes and Zealots, not much is heard about the Sadducees after the end of the war. This is possibly due to the way in which the power of the Sadducees was concentrated. The Sadducees held sway over the Temple, but because the Pharisees had more influence and were spread out, it seems that the Pharisees survived the conflict with Rome. The orthodox Jews of today are the descendants of the Pharisees, not the Sadducees

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