With the proper historical and cultural context in hand per our previous posts dealing with “The Dark Period,” we shall now turn our attention toward the two leading Jewish religious parties: the Sadducees and the Pharisees.
These two religious groups held opposing interpretations for בין הערבים (byn ha-arabim; between the evenings), for the day on which the Passover was eaten, and for the seven days of Unleavened Bread.
In the 143rd Jewish Seleucid year (169/168 B.C.E., Nisan or spring reckoning) the Greek king of Syria, Antiochus IV, began his suppression of Judaea in an attempt to Hellenize the country.
As part of this attempt, Antiochus IV forbade the Jews by threat of death from observing their national customs and sacred days.1 This forced Hellenization policy pushed different groups into hiding and resulted in the Maccabean (Hasmonaean)2 revolt, which began in the winter of 167/166 B.C.E.
In 164 B.C.E. this revolt led to the subsequent defeat of the Syrians holding on to Jerusalem. Shortly thereafter the existence of the Sadducees and Pharisees is formally acknowledged by the records.
In the centuries following 70 C.E., the year when the Temple of Yahweh at Jerusalem was destroyed and the power of the Sadducees disappeared, the Mishnah and Tosefta represented most of the disputes between the Pharisees and Sadducees (especially the Boethusian branch) as mere concerns over interpretations of the laws of ritual purity, with only a few disagreements on civil and Sabbath laws.3
This representation does not reflect the reality of the period prior to 70 C.E. During these earlier years the Sadducees remained a viable force and their differences with the Hasidim spread into every aspect of religious doctrine.
At the core of this ongoing dispute was the struggle for political power and the issue over who had the right to interpret Scriptures.
The separation between Sadducees and Pharisees (who later became the Talmudists) stems back to the basic doctrines and philosophies of each group.
Within the scope of our present discussion and the next post we shall examine the philosophy of religion for each group to determine how they arrived at their respective positions.
We shall then proceed to examine the political struggle between the Sadducees and Pharisees and demonstrate how the Pharisees suppressed the Aristocratic views, including their understanding of how to observe the Festival of Passover and Unleavened Bread and the Festival of Pentecost.
In this post, we will begin with the discussion of the Sadducees.
The Sadducees—Hebrew צדוקי (Tsadoqi), צדוקים (Tsadoqim), i.e., Zadokites; Greek Σαδδουκαῖοι (Saddukaioi)—were the conservative descendants, supporters, and sympathizers of the family of צדוק (Zadok, Tsadoq), a Levitical high priest living in the days of King David.
Zadok was appointed the first high priest over the newly built Temple of Yahweh in Jerusalem in the days of King Solomon (963/962–924/923 B.C.E.).4 From Zadok descended all of the subsequent high priests of the Temple of Yahweh at Jerusalem until the Hasmonaeans usurped that position in the second century B.C.E.5
The conservative Sadducees advocated the Aristocratic Passover practice (System A).
Members of the conservative line of Levitical priests first appeared under the name “Sadducees” shortly after the death of Onias IV (162/161 B.C.E.), the last high priest of the Zadok line.6
J. Bradley Chance comments:
It was probably at this time, in order to distinguish themselves from the Hasidim, that the Zadokites and their non-priestly aristocratic allies began to be recognized by the appellation Sadducees.7
There seems little doubt that they received their title because of their support for the right of the Zadok family to control the Temple and to hold on to their traditional role as chief priests.
Therefore, though not all Jewish priests of this period were Sadducees, “nearly all Sadducees, however, appear to have been priests, especially of the most powerful priestly families.”8
Eerdmans Bible Dictionary reports:
The Sadducees did, indeed, FAVOR THE PRIESTS and accord them an elevated role in their interpretation of the law. By the time of Jesus they included the families who supplied the high priests, as well as other wealthy aristocrats of Jerusalem. Most members of the Sanhedrin, the central judicial authority of Jewish people, were Sadducees. . . . The Sadducees accepted only the written Torah and rejected all ‘oral Torah,’ i.e. the traditional interpretations of the Torah accepted by the Pharisees that became the central importance in rabbinic Judaism. . . . The Sadducees represented in these ways a conservatism that limited both the acceptance of religious ideas not represented in the old sources and the interpretation of every aspect of life by reference to religion, which is precisely what the Pharisees most sought.9
The Encyclopaedia Judaica comments:
The Sadducees were the conservative priestly group, holding to THE OLDER DOCTRINES, and cherishing the highest regard for the sacrificial cult of the Temple.10
Emile Schürer, when comparing the conservative Sadducees with the liberal Hasidic (Pharisaic) system of oral laws, similarly concludes:
In this rejection of the Pharisaic legal tradition, the Sadducees represented an OLDER VIEWPOINT: they stood by the written Torah. For them, none of the subsequent development was binding. Their religious outlook was similarly VERY CONSERVATIVE.11
In the first historical event to which they were associated, the Sadducees were connected with events during the prostas-ship (protector of the state) of the Hasmonaean high priest Jonathan (145/144–142/141 B.C.E.).12
Though these supporters of the Zadok line would not have been happy that a Hasmonaean (Hasmonean) was holding the post of high priest, “they did work well with the Hasmonean leadership and thereby were able to maintain real political power through their control of the Sanhedrin.”13
From the time of the priest-rulers John Hyrcanus, Aristobulus I, and Alexander Jannaeus, the Hasmonaeans depended upon the Sadducean religious party, which controlled the courts and local government.14 Alexander Jannaeus even warred for six years against the Pharisees.15
J. Bradley Chance adds:
Save for the exceptional period of the reign of Queen Alexandra (76–67 B.C.E.) when the Pharisees were given a prominent voice in the Sanhedrin, the Sadducees were the favorite party of the Hasmonean rulers and were permitted to maintain official authority over the Jews.16
Already suffering a setback by the pro-Pharisee position of Queen Alexandra,17 the power of the Sadducees began to wane further when they opposed Herod the Great’s move toward the throne of Judaea.
With the backing of full Roman recognition, Herod was able to seize power in Jerusalem in early 36 B.C.E.18 During the years of his drive for power, Herod rewarded those who supported him, including the Pharisees.
He also assassinated those from the Pharisees, as well as the majority of the Sanhedrin and those from the Hasmonaean family, who opposed him.19
The minority party of the Sadducees was able to continue in positions of power during the reign of Herod because they had learned their lesson and had aligned themselves with Herod and the ruling authorities.
Further, Herod still resented the majority of the Pharisees.20 It was Herod the Great and the Romans who subsequently appointed the high priest and favored the loyalty of the Sadducees.
In turn, the high priestship during the Herodian period was predominantly represented by the Boethusian branch of the Sadducees.21 Nevertheless, the Sadducees were soon dealt two more severe blows:
• First, the Romans ousted the family of Herod the Great from power over Jerusalem in 6 C.E.22 Though the Sadducees continued as high priests, civil and religious power gradually shifted toward the Pharisees, who enjoyed the support of the masses.
This power shift is reflected in the changing composition of the Sanhedrin, which held control over the civil affairs of Judaea, and with the membership of the priesthood.
In the days of the Hasmonaeans, the Sanhedrin and the priesthood were both dominated by the aristocratic Sadducees.
During the Herodian period, on the other hand, the Pharisees began to share seats with them in the august body of the Sanhedrin; and in the last decades of the Temple a number of priests (though not the chief priests) were Pharisees.23
• Second, the authority of the Sadducees collapsed in 70 C.E. when the Romans destroyed the Temple of Yahweh at Jerusalem.24
With the absence of the Temple, there was no longer any need for the Levitical priesthood, as required by the Torah of Moses.
History played its strange hand and the Pharisees actually profited from the fall of the Jewish state.25
Sadducean Philosophical Approach
The philosophical approach of the Sadducees was conservative. The anti-Hellenic Sadducees became allies with the Hasidim (Pharisees, Essenes) during the Jewish revolt against the Greek rulers of Syria.
Yet, these Sadducees “did not feel comfortable with the movement of the Hasidim, for this group refused to look only to the Zadokites for religious guidance and for proper interpretation of the Torah.”26
The issue of who had the right to interpret Scriptures—the aristocratic priests or the middle-class scribes—was at the heart of the disagreements between these two major Jewish factions.27
Further, the Levitical Sadducees were expecting a messiah to come from the ranks of the Levites, while the Pharisees sought the messiah from the seed of David.28
These political realities became the source of much resentment on both sides. The authority of the Sadducees to be the rulers, judges, priests, and high priest in the theocracy came by means of the Torah.
Therefore, they insisted upon a strict observance of the letter of the Torah because they knew that it required a literal interpretation for them to stay in power.29
The reinterpretative methods used by the rabbis, on the other hand, were a direct threat.
For the Sadducees, the real problem with the oral laws was that most were not even inferred by Scriptures. They were simply the inventions and traditions of men.
Yet, the Aristocratic Sadducees went even further. They also believed that if a doctrine or religious practice could not be explicitly found in the Torah it should not be followed at all.
Josippon (953 C.E.) notes that both the early Sadducees and their Aristocratic brothers, the Samaritans, did not observe any tradition or exposition save the Torah of Moses.30
For instance, the Sadducees did not believe in a resurrection of the dead.31 Their reasoning held that, even if one were to argue that the resurrection is inferred, it was not directly taught by the Torah.32
As a result, all oral traditions and laws were condemned and the teachings of the Pharisees were ridiculed as “heresies.”
As Nathan Ausubel notes:
The Sadducees were implacably opposed to the “alien” beliefs expressed by the Pharisees. They denounced them as being in violation of the teachings of Moses, for nowhere in the Torah, they averred—and correctly so—was there any authority for them.33
Josephus also writes:
The Sadducees hold that life perishes along with the body. They own no observance of any sort apart from the Torah; in fact, they reckon it a virtue to dispute with the teachers of the path of wisdom that they pursue. There are but few men to whom this doctrine has been made known, but these are men of the highest standing.34
This school, as a result, carried on the understandings of Scriptures passed down through the ancient Levitical Zadok priesthood.
M‘Clintock and Strong state:
The Sadducees were the aristocratic and conservative priestly party, WHO CLUNG TO THEIR ANCIENT PREROGATIVES AND RESISTED EVERY INNOVATION which the ever-shifting circumstances of the commonwealth demanded.35
Passover Practice of Sadducees More Ancient
The doctrines of the Sadducees, as a result, reflected the ancient traditions and order of the Levitical priesthood as opposed to the “alien” innovations of the Pharisees.
This fact suggests that the Sadducees also observed a more ancient form of the practices used by the priests for the celebration of the Festival of Passover and Unleavened Bread (System A).
At the same time, Josephus notes that the Pharisees were “affectionate to each other and cultivate harmonious relations with the community,” while the Sadducees, despite the antiquity of their practices, suffered from being argumentative and “are, even among themselves, rather boorish in their behavior, and in their intercourse with their peers are as rude as to aliens.”36
An allusion to the Sadducees of the Hasmonaean period is found in the work titled Psalms of the Pharisees (also called the Psalms of Solomon).39
In this text the aristocratic priests are labeled as “sinners,” who are severe in judgment, yet themselves full of sin, lust, and hypocrisy; they are men pleasers and full of evil desires.40
Their aristocratic, arrogant, and boorish manner of life left them unpopular among the general populace. This fault was exacerbated by their continual slide into petty self-interest.
For that reason, as time progressed, the power and popularity of the Sadducees faded while the star of the more liberal Pharisees became brighter.
Time to take a break everyone before we continue with the second part. Please continue to read on with 11. Passover-Sadducees & Pharisees II.
For further reading see the publication by Qadesh La Yahweh press titled The Festivals and Sacred Days of Yahweh.
Click this link for Bibliography and Abbreviations.
1 Macc. 1:20-64; 2 Macc. 6:22-7:42; Jos. Antiq., 12:5:4-5.
2 Variantly spelled Hasmonean.
3 PSSP, pp. 231–234.
4 1 Kings 4:1-4; cf., 2 Sam. 8:17, 15:24-37; 1 Chron. 6:1-59. John Dam., 16, notes that the name Sadducees meant “the most just” and that they were derived “from a priest named Sadok.” צדוק (Zadok, Tsadoq) in Hebrew means “just” (SEC, Heb. #6659); “was righteous, equitable . . . acted justly . . . was in the right . . . justified, cleared, himself or another.” (HEL, p. 218). Also see 8. Passover – The Dark Period I, n. 31.
5 The high priesthood continued in the Levitical family of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, until the time of Eli, a descendant from Ithamar, the son of Aaron (Lev. 10:1-2, 12, cf., 1 Kings 2:27 with 2 Sam. 8:17; 1 Chron. 24:3). The conspiracy of Abiathar, the fourth in descent from Eli, led King Solomon to depose him (1 Kings 1:7, 2:26-27). The office thus returned to the house of Eleazar in the line of Zadok. It continued in that line until political intrigues in the time of the Seleucid king Antiochus Epiphanes led to the deposition of Onias III. Thereafter the position of high priest became the patronage of the ruling power. The last high priest of the Zadok line was Onias IV (Onias Menelaus), who was executed in the year 162/161 B.C.E., Nisan reckoning.
6 For the history of Onias IV (Onias Menelaus) see Jos. Antiq. 12:5:1-12:9:7, 20:10:3; cf., 2 Macc. 4:23-10:38, 11:1-13:8; Meg. Taan., 11.
7 MDB p. 785.
8 NBD p. 1124.
9 EBD p. 902.
10 EJ 14, p. 621.
11 HJP 2, p. 411, cf., p. 413.
12 Jos. Antiq. 13:5:9, in context with 13:5:1-8.
13 MDB p. 785.
14 HJP 2 pp. 401f, 413.
15 Jos. Antiq. 13:13:5 §376, cf., 13:15:5. HJP 2, p. 401; MDB p. 681.
16 MDB p. 785.
17 For her pro-Pharisee position see Jos. Wars, 1:5:1-4, Antiq. 13:15:5-13:16:6.
18 SJC chaps. xvi–xx.
19 Jos. Wars, 1:18:1-5, Antiq. 14:9:1-5, 14:16:2–15:3:7.
20 SHDL p. 61.
21 For the evidence of the Boethusian Sadducees and their high priests during the Herodian period, we will address in a later post of this series.
22 Jos. Wars 2:7:3-2:8:1, Antiq. 17:13:1–18:1:1, 18:2:1.
23 HJP 2, pp. 213, 235, 405, & n. 7 on p. 405.
24 HJP 2, pp. 402, 414; EJ, 14, p. 622; EBD p. 902; NBD p. 1124; CBTEL 9, p. 241; DB p. 579.
25 HJP 2, pp. 402, 414.
26 MDB p. 785.
27 SHDL pp. 57f.
28 SHDL pp. 58–62.
29 SHDL pp. 56f, “They dared not go beyond the four corners of the Pentateuch if they did not wish to risk losing their position. It was only because they kept rigorously to the old traditions that they maintained their position as the secular judges, invested with the full authority of deciding the Law. They were also protected by the ministrations in the Temple, for the whole service lay in their hands, and this, of course, gave them the additional authoritative position in the life of the commonwealth, which could not be disputed by any layman.”
30 Josippon 4:6.
31 That the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection see Luke 20:27-40; Mark 12:18-27; Matt. 22:23-33; Jos. Antiq., 18:1:4, Wars, 2:8:14; B. Sanh., 90b.
32 CBTEL 9, p. 236.
33 BJK p. 385.
34 Jos. Antiq. 18:1:4.
35 CBTEL 9, p. 235.
36 Jos. Wars 2:8:14.
37 B. Shab. 62b.
38 Eusebius H.E. 2:23:21.
39 JE 10, p. 632; OTP 2, p. 642. The text has been attributed by some to the Pharisees and by others to the Essenes, but in either case it would be a Hasidic view.
40 Cf., Ps. Sol. 1:1-8, 4:1-10, 8:8.