General Information

The Sadducees were a Jewish religious sect that flourished from about 200 BC until the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. A priestly and aristocratic group, the Sadducees owed their power to political alliance with the Romans, who ruled their land. They opposed the Pharisees' use of Oral Law and held only to the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament). They also differed with the Pharisees on many theological tenets: for example, they did not believe in resurrection and the immortality of the soul. According to the New Testament, the Sadducees played a leading role in the trial and condemnation of Jesus.

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Buehler, William Wagner, The Pre-Herodian Civil War and Social Debate: Jewish Society in the Period 76-40 BC and the Social Factors Contributing to the Rise of the Pharisees and the Sadducees (1974); Manson, Thomas Walter, Sadducee and Pharisee--The Origin and Significance of the Name (1938).


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The Sadducees were an important Jewish group that flourished in Palestine from the late second century B.C. to the late first Christian century.


The most reliable information about the Sadducees is found in three bodies of ancient literature: the writings of Flavius Josephus, The Jewish War (written ca. A.D. 75), Antiquities of the Jews (ca. A.D. 94), and Life (ca. A.D. 101); the NT, particularly the Synoptic Gospels and Acts (ca. A.D. 65-90; Matt. 3:7; 16:1-12; 22:23-34; Mark 12:18-27; Luke 20:27-38); and the rabbinic compilations (ca. A.D. 200 and later; Mishnah, Ber. 9:5; Erub. 6:2; Par. 3:3, 7; Nidd. 4:2; Yad. 4:6-8). Two observations about these sources should be made. First, with the possible exception of Josephus' War, all these sources are decidedly hostile towards the Sadducees. Second, many of the rabbinic references, especially those found in the Talmud and later works, are of doubtful historical reliability. Thus, our knowledge of the Sadducees is perforce severely limited and one-sided.

Name and Nature

Historically, the question of the derivation and meaning of the name "Sadducees" has been closely tied to the issue of the nature of the group. Ever since Abraham Geiger argued that the Sadducees were the priestly aristocracy, the majority of scholars have held that their name was derived from "Zadok," the name of the high priest during Solomon's reign (I Kings 2:35; cf. Ezek. 44:15; 48:11). Thus the Sadducees are thought to have been the party of the Zadokite priestly elite. There are problems with this construct, however. The "Zadok" etymology does not explain the doubling of the "d". Moreover, when the Sadducees appeared on the scene, the ruling priests were Hasmoneans, not Zadokites. It is unlikely that the Hasmoneans would have allied themselves with a rival priestly group whose very name called into question the legitimacy of the Hasmonean high priesthood.

More recently, many scholars have argued that the Sadducees were essentially a loose confederation of wealthy and powerful men (this would include members of the priestly aristocracy) who took a secular-pragmatic, rather than a religious-ideological, stance with regard to the nation and its laws. Along with this view, new etymologies for "Sadducees" have been offered. T. W. Manson proposed that behind the name stood the Greek title syndikoi, meaning "fiscal officials." R. North suggested that the Sadducees saw themselves as administrators of justice and that their name was derived from an otherwise unattested Piel adjective sadduq ("just"). These and other etymologies solve some problems, but raise new ones; at bottom, they all remain speculative. In light of the total absence of Sadducean sources, it would seem wise to admit that both the precise nature of the Sadducees and the derivation of their name remain uncertain.


Equally uncertain are the details of Sadducean history. The meager evidence suggests the following outline. The Sadducees solidified as a group soon after the Maccabean revolt (167-160 B.C.). They were heirs to a persistent tendency within the Jewish aristocracy to see Judaism as a temple-centered religion rather than a law-centered way of life. Because they supported the Hasmonean policy of military and economic expansion, they gradually came to exercise tremendous influence in John Hyrcanus's court (134-104 B.C.). Their influence predominated until the end of Alexander Jannaeus's reign (76 B.C.). Under Queen Alexandra (76-67 B.C.) the Sadducees lost their power, and their numbers were greatly reduced. They fared little better under Herod the Great (37-4 B.C.), who deeply mistrusted the native Jewish aristocracy. With the imposition of direct Roman rule (A.D. 6), Sadducean fortunes revived. Between A.D. 6 and 66 the Sadducees not only became a major power within the Sanhedrin, but, for many years, they were able to control the high priesthood as well. The revolt of 66-70 spelled the end for the Sadducees. Although they had sought to forestall the revolt, the Romans had no use for a failed aristocracy. With the destruction of the temple and the dissolution of the nation, the Sadducees faded into oblivion.


The Sadducees are said to have rejected all Jewish observances not explicitly taught in the pentateuchal law. In their legal debates, the Sadducees consistently pushed for a strict and narrow application of the law. They repudiated the notions of resurrection and rewards and punishments after death. According to Josephus, they even denied the immortality of the soul. The Sadducees tended to diassociate God from human affairs. For this reason, they maintained that human choices and actions were totally free, unrestrained by divine interference. Consistent with this emphasis on human autonomy, the Sadducees denied the existence of angels and preterhuman spirits.

Most scholars have held that these beliefs mark off the Sadducees as conservatives who stubbornly resisted the innovations of the Pharisees and others. It should be noted, on the other hand, that these beliefs could just as easily describe hellenized aristocrats who wanted to minimize as much as possible the claims of their ancestral religion on their daily lives.

Sadducees and the NT

Unlike the Pharisees, the Sadducees are consistently painted in a bad light by the NT writers. Their opposition to Jesus and the early church is presented as monolithic and constant. Reasons for the hostility are not hard to imagine. To the Sadducees, Jesus and his early followers would have appeared as destabilizing forces in delicate balance between limited Jewish freedom and totalitarian Roman rule. But just as significantly, the Sadducees could not have had anything but contempt for a movement that proclaimed the present reality of the resurrection and the unconditional necessity of repentance.

S Taylor
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

Josephus, The Jewish War 2.8.2, 14; Antiquities of the Jews 13.5.9, 13.10.6, 18.1.4, 20.9.1; and Life 10; A Geiger, Sadducaer und Pharisaer; G. H. Box, "Who Were the Sadducees?" Exp 15:19-38; T.W. Manson, "Sadducees and Pharisees, The Origin and Significance of the Names," BJRL 22:144-59; R. North, "The Qumran Sadducees," CBQ 17:164-88; J. Le Moyne, Les Sadduceens; W. W. Buehler, Pre-Herodian Civil War and Social Debate; H. D. Mantel, "The Sadducees and the Pharisees," in The World History of the Jewish People, VIII, 99-123; J. M. Baumgarten, "The Pharisaic-Sadducean Controversies about Purity and the Qumran Text," JJS 31:157-70.

Also, see:
Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes (Advanced)

The individual articles presented here were generally first published in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in May 1997.

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