The Chief Priests Ask Jesus by What Right Does He Act in This Way by James Tissot

Sadducees is one of the three sects of Jewish philosophers, of which the Pharisees and the Essenes were the others, who had reached their highest state of prosperity about the commencement of the Christian era.

1. The name. -The explanation of the name ‘Sadducee’ has long been a puzzle. Only two views need to be mentioned. (a) It has long been held that the name is derived from a certain priest Zadok. The difficulty has been to identify the Zadok in question. (b) The view in Encyclopaedia Biblica is that the word represents the Persian zandik. In modern Persian zandik means a Zoroastrian, hence an infidel. It is argued that, just as the Greek ἐπικοῦρος was used by Jews as ‘infidel,’ the Persian zandik was probably applied to this sect, who, from the standpoint of the Pharisees were little better than infidels, and who further supported the introduction of foreign customs.

Further, in the Arabic NT ‘Sadducee’ is translated zandakiya. It must be admitted that this view is ingenious. Its difficulties are obvious, a chief one being that we cannot argue safely from modern Persian to an ante-Christian usage. Besides, if we are to admit that the Zadokite fragments are Sadducean in character and origin-and this cannot easily be denied-it is beyond doubt that in this case the old and widely held opinion is correct. (For full discussion see W. O. E. Cesterley, The Books of the Apocrypha, their Origin, Teaching, and Contents, London, 1914, p. 132f.)

2. Opposition to the Pharisees. -That the two parties were hostile is known to all. How precisely and concisely the difference is to be defined is a problem of great difficulty. Our knowledge of the Sadducees in particular is not extensive, and a large portion of it comes from sources that certainly were not sympathetic. Geiger’s view that the Sadducees were aristocratic while the Pharisees were democratic is true so far, but does not bring out the fact that their differences were notably theological or give any explanation of those divergences. J. R. Hanne’s view that Pharisees and Sadducees carried on the old conflict of prophetism and priestism is attractive, but according to the NT it is the Pharisees who are blinded and enslaved by that ceremonialism and externalism against which prophetism protested. Wellhausen’s view that the Pharisees were essentially those devoted to the Law on religious grounds while the Sadducees were essentially a political party has really little evidence in its favor, and all our authorities agree in representing the differences between the two parties as to a great extent doctrinal. Instead of attempting the ambitious task of expressing the differences in any one phrase, we shall do better simply to set down what is known of them as they existed.

(a) Standard of faith and practice. – The fundamental difference between Pharisees and Sadducees was that relating to the supreme arbiter of all disputes. What is the standard? What the final court of appeal? The Sadducees held that it was contained only in the written Law. The Pharisees held that the oral traditions were as authoritative at least as the written Law.

‘The Pharisees have delivered to the people from the tradition of the fathers all manner of ordinances not contained in the laws of Moses; for which reason the sect of the Sadducees reject these ordinances; for they affirm that only such laws ought to be observed as are written, while those which are orally delivered from the tradition of the fathers are not binding. And concerning these things great questionings have arisen among them’ (Jos. Ant. xiii. x. 6).

(b) Providence. – According to Josephus, the Sadducees did not believe in Providence.

While the Pharisees, he tells us, hold that some things in the world happen by the will of Providence, and that other things lie in the power of men, ‘the Sadducees take away Providence, and say there is no such thing, and that the events of human affairs are not at its disposal; but they suppose that all our actions are in our own power’ (Ant. XIII. v. 9). ‘The Sadducees take away Providence 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’ (Bellum Judaicum (Josephus)II. viii. 14).

(c) The future life.-It is clear that the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the body ( Acts 23:8). Did they believe in the immortality of the soul? According to Josephus, they did not.

(d) Attitude to foreign influences. – In strong contrast to the Pharisees, the Sadducees were sympathetic to foreign, especially Hellenistic, culture. This contrast between the two parties is surprising. The Sadducees stood for the old truth against the innovations of the Pharisees. The latter were the party of progress. Yet it was the conservative Sadducee who embraced foreign culture with enthusiasm, and the progressive Pharisee who bitterly opposed it. In the history of the conflicts of political and ecclesiastical parties it is no unusual thing to find the opponents apparently exchanging roles. Often no better explanation can be given than that suggested by Cesterley in this case, ‘the innate illogic of human nature’ (op. cit., p. 155).

(e) The Messiah.-The Sadducees held that Aaron and his family were the chosen of God from whom Messiah should proceed.

(f) The calendar.-Into this complicated subject we have no occasion to enter. It is sufficient to say that endless disputes were carried on between the two parties as to the correct dates of the feasts, arising from the fact that while the Pharisees reckoned by a lunar year, the Sadducees computed a solar year (see Cesterley, op. cit., p. 150 f.).

3. Position and influence. -In our period the Sadducees were in the position of an aristocracy. ‘This doctrine is received but by a few, yet by those still of the greatest dignity’ (Jos. Ant. XVIII. i. 4). Practically they may be identified with the Temple high-priestly caste, though there were priests who were not Sadducees, and no doubt Sadducees who were not priests. The majority of the Temple officials and their relatives constituted the main portion of the sect of the Sadducees (cf. W. Bousset, Die Religion des Judentums im neutestamentlichen Zeitalter, Berlin, 1903, p. 164 f.). The high priest and the whole Temple cultus still possessed considerable influence. But their power was waning. Various movements tended to diminish it. Essenes rejected the Temple rites almost entirely. Several late Jewish works speak deprecatingly of the present Temple compared with the former. The real religious leader was no longer the priest but the scribe. The facts that the Sadducees were harsh in punishing, and that the upkeep of the Temple was so expensive, tended to make the people favour the party who opposed the Sadducees (cf. Bousset, op. cit., p. 87 f.). With the destruction of the Temple Sadduceeism disappeared.

4. Attitude to Christianity. -Jesus Himself referred very seldom to the Sadducees; His polemic was directed against the Pharisees. In His protest against their making void the Law by their traditions He was at one with the Sadducees. Yet it was from the Sadducees that the most bitter persecution of Judaea Christianity arose. We know the part played by the Sadducean Sanhedrin in the trial of Jesus. They continued to persecute His disciples ( Acts 4:1;  Acts 5:17;  Acts 23:1). Josephus informs us that they were responsible for the death of James, the brother of the Lord (Ant. XX. ix. 1). There can be little doubt as to the reason for this persecution. It began when Jesus interfered with the prerogatives of the Sanhedrin by expelling the money-changers from the Temple-court. Significant also is the stress laid upon His alleged threat to destroy the Temple. In the rise of a party adhering to Jesus they feared political consequences ( John 11:47 ff.). They were in power, and they meant to keep it, and anything that threatened to be a danger to their power or to the Temple cultus with which their power was bound up they strove to destroy.

That any Sadducees became Christian we are not told. Many of the priests believed ( Acts 6:7), but that is indecisive, as many priests were not Sadducees. But one of the disciples was ‘known unto the high priest’ ( John 18:15); a considerable degree of intimacy is implied in this statement, and it is very improbable that a friend of the high priest would be anything but a Sadducee. There is a possibility, then, that the author of the Fourth Gospel was once a Sadducee. One would like to think that the two greatest of NT writers were of Pharisee and Sadducee origin respectively. Both sects had their good points, and both their grave errors. Christianity conserved what was good in both, and offered a higher unity in which their differences were transcended.

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