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SADDUCEES (Heb. צְדוּקִים, Ẓedukim), sect of the latter half of the Second Temple period, formed about 200 b.c.e. Active in political and economic life, the Sadducean party was composed largely of the wealthier elements of the population – priests, merchants, and aristocrats. They dominated the Temple worship and its rites and many of them were members of the Sanhedrin (the supreme Jewish council and tribunal of the Second Temple period).

Origin of the Name

According to a talmudic tradition (arn15), the name derives from Zadok, a disciple of Antigonus of *Sokho who, misunderstanding his teacher's maxim, denied afterlife and resurrection and formed a sect in accordance with those views (see *Boethusians). The most probable explanation of the name, however, is that it is derived from Zadok, the high priest in the days of David (ii Sam. 8:17 and 15:24) and Solomon (cf. i Kings 1:34ff. and i Chron. 12:29). Ezekiel (40:46, 43:19 and 44:10–15) selected this family as worthy of being entrusted with the control of the Temple. Descendants of this family constituted the Temple hierarchy down to the second century b.c.e., though not all priests were Sadducees. Hence the name "Sadducees" may best be taken to mean anyone who was a sympathizer with the Zadokites, the priestly descendants of Zadok. In the talmudic literature, the designations Boethusians and Sadducees are used interchangeably to designate the same party or sect. Some scholars believe, however, that the Boethusians were a branch of the Sadducees, deriving their name from their leader Boethus. (See L. Ginzberg, in: je, 3 (1902), 284–5, and Schuerer, Gesch, 2 (19074), 478–9.)

Beliefs and Doctrines

The Sadducees were the conservative priestly group, holding to the older doctrines, and cherishing the highest regard for the sacrificial cult of the Temple. The party was opposed to the *Pharisees down to the time of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 c.e. The main difference between the Pharisees and the Sadducees concerned their attitudes toward the Torah. The supremacy of the Torah was acknowledged by both parties. However, the Pharisees assigned to the Oral Law a place of authority side by side with the written Torah, and determined its interpretation accordingly, whereas the Sadducees refused to accept any precept as binding unless it was based directly on the Torah. The theological struggle between the two parties, as J.Z. Lauterbach puts it (Rabbinic Essays, 23–162), was actually a struggle between two concepts of God. The Sadducees sought to bring God down to man. Their God was anthropomorphic and the worship offered him was like homage paid a human king or ruler. The Pharisees, on the other hand, sought to raise man to divine heights and to bring him nearer to a spiritual and transcendent God.

The Sadducees therefore rejected the Pharisaic supernatural beliefs, claiming that they had no basis in Mosaic Law. They denied the doctrine of the resurrection of the body (Matt. 22:23; Mark 22:18; Luke 20:27; Acts 23:8), denied the immortality of the soul (Jos., Wars, 2:162f. and Ant., 18:16), and rejected the Pharisaic doctrine regarding the existence of angels and ministering spirits (Acts 23:8). Because of the strict adherence to the letter of the law, the Sadducees acted severely in cases involving the death penalty. The Mosaic principle of Lex talionis, for instance (Ex. 21:24), was interpreted literally rather than construed as monetary compensation – the view adopted by the Pharisees. They were opposed to changes and innovations and refused to accept the oral traditions with which the Pharisees supplemented the Written Law. It was never a question of whether certain laws were derived from tradition, but whether those laws that were admittedly derived from tradition were obligatory. Apart from differences between the Pharisees and the Sadducees as to the oral tradition and supernatural beliefs, there were numerous legal ritualistic details upon which these two parties differed, especially those connected with the Temple. On the whole, it can be said that while the Pharisees claimed the authority of piety and learning, the Sadducees claimed that of genealogy and position.

The rivalry between the Pharisees and the Sadducees was, in a sense, the renewal of a conflict between the prophets and priests of pre-Exilic times. Following the restoration of the Temple and its sacrificial cult, the priests were also restored to their former position as religious leaders. Priestly authority was, however, weakened by two factors: the rise of laymen and "scribes" who possessed a knowledge of the law; and the advent of Greek rule – since among the Greeks themselves priests were the servants not the leaders of the community.

Attitude Toward Prayer and Sacrifice

Josephus and the Talmud say little about the Sadducean position on prayer, but the Sadducees would naturally not favor a religious service consisting of prayer and study alone, as would the Pharisees. This would tend to lessen the importance of the sacrificial cult and thereby weaken their own position as priests.


On the problem of human conduct and activities, the Sadducees seemed to have believed that God is not concerned with man's affairs. As Josephus puts it: "As for the Sadducees they take away fate 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, so that we ourselves are the cause of what is good and receive what is evil from our own folly" (Ant., 13:173). Unfortunately no statement has survived from the Sadducean side on their beliefs and principles. There are controversial references in rabbinical literature with regard to the Sadducean interpretation of the law. The Sadducees have been represented as lax and worldly-minded aristocrats, primarily interested in maintaining their own privileged position, and favoring Greco-Roman culture.

The Sadducees and the New Testament

In the New Testament, John the Baptist jointly condemned the Pharisees and the Sadducees, calling them a "generation of vipers" and challenging them both to "bring forth fruits meet for repentance" (Matt. 3:7ff.). In his denunciation of their doctrines, Jesus, too, grouped Sadducees and Pharisees together (Matt. 16:6ff.) and both parties were said to have posed questions designed to perplex Jesus (Matt. 15:1). According to Acts (4:1ff., 5:17), Peter and John were imprisoned by them. Since many Christian doctrines have more in common with those of the Pharisees than with those of the Sadducees, it is clear why the Apostolic Church, in the first years of its existence, had most to fear from the Sadducees (Acts 4 and 5).

Historically the Sadducees came under the influence of Hellenism and later were in good standing with the Roman rulers, though unpopular with the common people, from whom they kept aloof. The Sadducean hierarchy had its stronghold in the Temple, and it was only during the last two decades of the Temple's existence that the Pharisees finally gained control. Since the whole power and raison d'être of the Sadducees were bound up with the Temple cult, the group ceased to exist after the destruction of the Temple in 70 c.e.


E. Baneth, in: mwj, 9 (1882), 1–37, 61–95; V. Eppstein, in: jbl, 85 (1966), 213–24. For further bibliography see *Pharisees.

[Menahem Mansoor]

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