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The Sadducees (or Tzedukim) were a group of Jews opposed to the Pharisees (today's Rabbinical Jews), founded in the second century BC. They ceased to exist sometime after the destruction of the second Temple in Jerusalem (Herod's Temple) in 70AD.


The Hebrew name, Tsdoki, indicates that they are the followers of the teachings of the High Priest Tsadok, often spelled Zadok, who anointed Solomon king at the start of the First Temple Period.


The Sadducees were a priestly group, Aaronites, associated with the leadership of the Temple in Jerusalem. Sadducees represented the aristocratic group of the Hasmonean High Priests, who replaced the previous High Priestly lineage. The earlier Priestly lineage had been blamed for allowing the Syrian Emperor Antiochus IV Epiphanes to desecrate the Temple of Jerusalem with idolatrous sacrifices and to martyr monotheistic Jews. The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah celebrates the ousting of the Syrian forces, the rededication of the Temple, and the installment of the new Hasmonean priestly line. The Hasmoneans ruled as "priest-kings", claiming the titles of high priest and king simultaneously, and like other aristocracies across the Hellenistic world became increasingly influenced by Hellenistic syncretism and Greek philosophies: presumably Stoicism, and apparently Epicureanism in the Talmudic tradition criticizing the anti-Torah philosophy of the "Apikorsus" אפיקורסות (i.e., Epicurus) refers to the Hasmonean clan qua[clarification needed] Sadducees. Like Epicureans, Sadducees rejected the existence of an afterlife, thus denied the Pharisaic doctrine of the Resurrection of the Dead.

The Dead Sea Scrolls community, which is popularly thought to have been Essene, was led by a high priestly leadership, who are thought[who?] to be the descendents of the "legitimate" high priestly lineage, which the Hasmoneans ousted. The Dead Sea Scrolls bitterly opposed the current high priests of the Temple. Since Hasmoneans constituted a different priestly line, it was in their political interest to emphasize their family's priestly pedigree that descended from their ancestor, the high priest Zadok, who had the authority to anoint the kingship of Solomon, son of David.

The Sadducees rejected the Oral Torah (Talmud), which the Pharisees claimed to be a continuously passed down oral tradition which Moses received on Mount Sinai as a companion and elucidation of the Written Torah (Five Book of Moses). Instead they insisted on strict literal interpretation of the Five books of Moses, the Written Torah.

Most of what is known about the Sadducees comes from Josephus:

For there are three philosophical sects among the Jews. The followers of the first of which are the Pharisees; of the second, the Sadducees; and the third sect, which pretends to a severer discipline, are called Essenes...the Sadducees are those that compose the second order, and take away fate entirely, and suppose that God is not concerned in our doing or not doing what is evil; and they say, that to act what is good, or what is evil, is at men's own choice, and that the one or the other belongs so to every one, that they may act as they please. They also take away the belief of the immortal duration of the soul, and the punishments and rewards in Hades...The Sadducees one towards another is in some degree wild, and their conversation with those that are of their own party is as barbarous as if they were strangers to them.[1]

We know something of them from discussions in the Talmud (mainly the Jerusalem), the core work of rabbinic Judaism, which is based on the teachings of Pharisaic Judaism.


Sadducees followed the Hebrew Bible literally. They rejected the Pharisees' notion of an Oral Torah even before it was written (the written Oral Torah, the Talmud consisting of the Mishnah and Gemara which were completed by many Pharisee rabbis by 500 AD) by which the Pentateuch could be explained hermeneutically.

An example of this differing approach is the interpretation of the law of retribution (lex talionis):

And a man, when he maims his fellow, as he has done, so shall be done to him. A fracture for a fracture, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth—as he gives a wound in a man, so shall be given in him. (Leviticus 24:19-20)

Most Pharisees understood this to mean that the value of an eye was to be sought by the perpetrator rather than actually removing his eye too. In the Sadducees' view the law was to be taken literally.

R' Yitzhak Isaac Halevy Rabinowitz suggests that while there is evidence of a Sadducee sect from the times of Ezra, it emerged as major force only after the Hasmonean rebellion. The reason for this was not, in fact, a matter of religion. He claims that as complete rejection of Judaism would not have been tolerated under the Hasmonean rule, the Hellenists joined the Sadducees maintaining that they were rejecting not Judaism but Rabbinic law. Thus, the Sadducees were for the most part a political party and not a religious sect (Dorot Ha'Rishonim).

Professor Lawrence Schiffman also cites interpretations of the purity regulations in the Dead Sea scroll "MMT" (ca. 150 BC) which closely parallel Sadducean views recorded by the spiritual heirs of the Pharisees, who authored the Talmud (Oral Law). But more importantly, he identifies very detailed Pharisaic (or proto-Pharisaic) views in the MMT scroll. However there is evidence[2] that there was an internal schism among those called "Sadducees"—some who rejected Angels, the Soul, and Resurrection—and some which accepted these teachings and the entirety of the Hebrew Bible.

In regard to criminal jurisdiction they were so rigorous that the day on which their code was abolished by the Pharisaic Sanhedrin under Simeon ben Shetah's leadership, during the reign of Salome Alexandra, was celebrated as a festival. The Sadducees are said to have insisted on the literal execution of the law of retaliation: "Eye for eye, tooth for tooth", which pharisaic Judaism, and later rabbinic Judaism, rejected. On the other hand, they would not inflict the death penalty on false witnesses in a case where capital punishment had been wrongfully carried out, unless the accused had been executed solely in consequence of the testimony of such witnesses.

According to the Talmud, they granted the daughter the same right of inheritance as the son in case the son was dead (see chapter Yeish Nochalin of the Babylonain Talmud, tractate Bava Batra). Emet L' Yaakov explains that the focus of their argument was theological. The question was whether there is an afterlife (see above), and if there is, can the dead person be in the line of inheritance as if they were alive.

According to the Talmud, they contended that the seven weeks from the first barley-sheaf-offering ("omer") to Shavuot (Pentecost in Christian reference) should, according to Leviticus 23:15-16, be counted from "the day after Sabbath," and, consequently, that Shavuot should always be celebrated on the first day of the week (Meg. Ta'an. i.; Men. 65a). In this they followed a literal reading of the Bible which regards the festival of the firstlings as having no direct connection with Passover, while the Pharisees, connecting the festival of the Exodus with the festival of the giving of the Law, interpreted the "morrow after the Sabbath" to signify the second day of Passover.

In regard to rituals at the temple in Jerusalem:

  • They held that the daily burnt offerings were to be offered by the high priest at his own expense, whereas the Pharisees contended that they were to be furnished as a national sacrifice at the cost of the Temple treasury into which taxes were paid.
  • They held that the meal offering belonged to the priest's portion; whereas the Pharisees claimed it for the altar.
  • They insisted on an especially high degree of purity in those who officiated at the preparation of the ashes of the Red Heifer. The Pharisees, by contrast, opposed such strictness.
  • They declared that the kindling of the incense in the vessel with which the high priest entered the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) was to take place outside, so that he might be wrapped in smoke while meeting the Shekhinah within, according to Lev. xvi. 2; whereas the Pharisees, denying the high priest the claim of such supernatural vision, insisted that the incense be kindled within.
  • They opposed the popular festivity of the water libation and the procession preceding it on each night of the Sukkot feast.
  • They opposed the Pharisaic assertion that the scrolls of the Holy Scriptures have, like any holy vessel, the power to render ritually unclean the hands that touch them.
  • They opposed the Pharisaic idea of the eruv, the merging of several private precincts into one in order to admit of the carrying of food and vessels from one house to another on the Sabbath.
  • In dating all civil documents they used the phrase "after the high priest of the Most High," and they opposed the formula introduced by the Pharisees in divorce documents, "According to the law of Moses and Israel".
  • Sirach, one of the Deuterocanonical books by Ben Sira, is believed by many scholars to have been authored by a Sadducee (note, the Talmud says clearly it was rejected by the Sadducees).

Reliability of claims

None of the writings we have about Sadducees present their own side of these controversies, and it is possible that positions attributed to "Sadducees" in later literature such as Josephus are meant as rhetorical foils for whatever opinion the author wishes to present, and do not in fact represent the teachings of the sect.[3]

Legendary origin

Josephus relates nothing concerning the origin of the Sadducees; he knows only that the three "sects" — the Pharisees, Essenes, and Sadducees — dated back to "very ancient times" (Ant. xviii. 1, § 2), which point to a time prior to John Hyrcanus (ib. xiii. 8, § 6) or the Maccabean war (ib. xiii. 5, § 9).

Among the rabbis of the second century the following legend circulated: Antigonus of Soko, successor of Simeon the Just, the last of the Men of the Great Assembly, and consequently living at the time of the influx of Hellenistic ideas (i.e., Hellenization), taught the maxim, "Be not like servants who serve their master for the sake of a reward, but be rather like those who serve without thought of receiving a reward" (Avot 1:3); whereupon two of his disciples, Zadok and Boethus, mistaking the high ethical purport of the maxim, arrived at the conclusion that there was no future retribution, saying, "What servant would work all day without obtaining his due reward in the evening?" Instantly they broke away from the Law and lived in great luxury, using many silver and gold vessels at their banquets; and they established schools which declared the enjoyment of this life to be the goal of man, at the same time pitying the Pharisees for their bitter privation in this world with no hope of another world to compensate them. These two schools were called, after their founders, Sadducees and Boethusians.

New Testament/Greek Scriptures

The Sadducees are mentioned in the New Testament/Greek Scriptures of the Christian Bible. The Gospel of Matthew indicates that the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. Matthew 22:29, 31-32 says:

29 In reply Jesus said to them: “You are mistaken, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God ... [30] ... 31 As regards the resurrection of the dead, did you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob’? He is the God, not of the dead, but of the living.”

The Acts of the Apostles likewise indicates that Sadducees did not share the Pharisees’ belief in a resurrection; Paul starts a conflict during his trial, by claiming that his accusers were motivated by his advocacy of the doctrine of the resurrection (in an aside, Acts 23:8 asserts that “The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, or angel, or spirit; but the Pharisees acknowledge all three”).

The End of the Sadducees

Being associated closely with the Temple in Jerusalem, after the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD the Sadducees vanish from history as a group. There is, however, some evidence that Sadducees survived as a minority group within Judaism up until early medieval times, which may have been the origins of Karaite Judaism. In refutations of Sadducean beliefs, Karaite Sages such as Ya'akov al-Qirqisani quoted one of their texts, which was called Sefer Zadok. Translations into English of some of these quotes can be found in Zvi Cahn's "Rise of the Karaite sect".

See also


  1. Flavius Josephus 'The Wars of the Jews'.
  2. Cf., for one example of a sect that could have represented a Sadducee schism and did believe in Angels, the Afterlife, etc.: Lawrence H. Schiffman, 'The Sadducean Origins of the Dead Sea Scroll Sect', in Understanding the Dead Sea Scrolls, ed. H. Shanks, New York: Random House, 1993, pp. 35-49. It is widely known that the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls never recognizably refer to themselves as "Essenes"—possibly due to the fact that they wrote mainly in Hebrew and Aramaic, whereas we have the term "Essenes" from Greek—but they do refer to themselves in various places as the "Zadokites"/"Sons of Zadok", which term is apparently identical to that by which the Sadducees identified themselves. Among other arguments for a Sadducean Essene origin, Schiffman also cites interpretations of the purity regulations which closely parallel Sadducean views recorded by the spiritual heirs of the Pharisees, who authored the Talmud.
  3. Meyer Waxman - History of Jewish Literature Vol.1- in reference to Josephus

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