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The sect of the Sadducees (or Zadokites and other variants) - which may have originated as a Political Party - was founded in the 2nd century BC and ceased to exist sometime after the 1st century AD. Their rivals, the Pharisees, are said to have originated in the same time period, but have survived as the later forms of Rabbinic Judaism.
Their name in Hebrew was tsedduqim, a name they choose to indicate that they were followers of the teachings of the High Priest Zadok, who anointed Solomon king during the First Temple era. While little or none of their own writings have been preserved until today, they seem to have indeed been a priestly group, associated with the leadership of the Temple in Jerusalem. Some say that they were not truly descendants of the High Priest Zadok, but rather the followers of another Zadok who rebelled against his Rabbinical Teacher.
Most of what we know about the Sadducees comes from Josephus, who wrote that they were a quarrelsome group whose followers were wealthy and powerful, and that he considered them boorish in social interactions. We know something of them from discussions in the Talmud, the core work of rabbinic Judaism, which is based on the teachings of Pharisaic Judaism. However, historians find the Talmud's historical statements on many issues to be suspect.
It is claimed that the Sadducees denied the immortality of the soul, and are discussed in this light in the New Testament debating the matter with Jesus, and that they denied the existence of spirits or angels.
They rejected the rabbis' interpretation of the Torah, and are presented as denying that any of the Hebrew Bible, apart from the Torah, is authoritative. As to the Torah itself, the Sadducees are presented as interpreting it literally and rigorously on subjects it directly covers, while rejecting the Rabbinic traditions that mitigate the harsher penalties or aim at preventing unintentional rule-breaking.
However there is evidence that there was an internal schism among those called "Saducees" - some which rejected Angels, the Soul, and Resurrection - and some which accepted these teachings and the entirety of the Hebrew Bible.
In regards to the following records of the Talmud, one must keep in mind that the histories regarding the Saduccees were written by a people who defeated them, and may contain many inaccuracies.
According to the Talmud, 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's daughter in case the son was dead.
According to the Talmud, they contended that the seven weeks from the first barley-sheaf-offering ("omer") to Pentecost (The Feast of Weeks, Shavuot) should, according to Lev. 23:15-16, be counted from "the day after Sabbath," and, consequently, that Pentecost should always be celebrated on the first day of the week (Meg. Ta'an. i.; Men. 65a). In this they followed the old Biblical view which regards the festival of the firstlings as having no 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 regards 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, on the contrary, 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 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 super-natural vision, insisted that the incense be kindled within.
- They opposed the popular festivity of the water libation and the procession preceding the same 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 (taboo) 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".
- The Apocryphal book of Sirach is believed by many scholars to be written by a Sadducee.
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 are meant as rhetorical foils for whatever opinion the author wishes to present, and do not in fact represent the teachings of the sect. Being associated closely with the Temple in Jerusalem, after the Temple was destroyed in AD 70 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. 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".
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 Simon the Just, the last of the "Men of the Great Synagogue," and consequently living at the time of the influx of Hellenistic ideas, taught the maxim, "Be not like servants who serve their master for the sake of wages, but be rather like those who serve without thought of receiving wages" (Avot I: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.
This legend is considered to be non-historical.
The Sadducees are mentioned in the Greek Scriptures of the Bible. The author of 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. 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.”
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