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Historical leaders
Founded167 BCE
Dissolved73 CE
ReligionHellenistic Judaism

The Sadducees (/ˈsædjəsz/; Hebrew: צְדוּקִים, romanizedṢəḏūqīm, lit.'Zadokites') were a sect of Jews active in Judea during the Second Temple period, from the second century BCE to the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. The Sadducees are described in contemporary literary sources in contrast to the two other major sects at the time, the Pharisees and the Essenes.

Josephus, writing at the end of the 1st century CE, associates the sect with the upper echelons of Judean society.[1] As a whole, they fulfilled various political, social, and religious roles, including maintaining the Temple in Jerusalem. The group became extinct sometime after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE.



The English term entered via Latin from Koinē Greek: Σαδδουκαῖοι, romanized: Saddukaioi. The name Zadok is related to the root צָדַק, ṣāḏaq (to be right, just),[2] which could be indicative of their aristocratic status in society in the initial period of their existence.[3]



According to Abraham Geiger, the Sadducee sect of Judaism derived their name from that of Zadok, the first High Priest of Israel to serve in Solomon's Temple. The leaders of the sect were proposed as the Kohanim (priests, the "Sons of Zadok", descendants of Eleazar, son of Aaron).[4] The aggadic work Avot of Rabbi Natan tells the story of the two disciples of Antigonus of Sokho (3rd century BCE), Zadok and Boethus. Antigonus having taught the maxim, "Be not like the servants who serve their masters for the sake of the wages, but be rather like those who serve without thought of receiving wages",[5] his students repeated this maxim to their students. Eventually, either the two teachers or their pupils understood this to express the belief that there was neither an afterlife nor a resurrection of the dead, and founded the Sadducee and Boethusian sects. They lived luxuriously, using silver and golden vessels, because (as they claimed) the Pharisees led a hard life on earth and yet would have nothing to show for it in the world to come.[6] The two sects of the Sadducees and Boethusians are thus, in all later Rabbinic sources, always mentioned together, not only as being similar, but as originating at the same time.[7] The use of gold and silver vessels perhaps argues against a priestly association for these groups, as priests at the time would typically use stone vessels, to prevent transmission of impurity.

Josephus mentions in Antiquities of the Jews that "one Judas, a Gaulonite, of a city whose name was Gamala, who taking with him Sadduc, a Pharisee, became zealous to draw them to a revolt".[8] Paul L. Maier suggests that the sect drew their name from the Sadduc mentioned by Josephus.[9]

The Second Temple period

A Sadducee, illustrated in the 15th-century Nuremberg Chronicle

The Second Temple period is the period between the construction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 516 BCE and its destruction by the Romans during the Siege of Jerusalem. Throughout the Second Temple period, Jerusalem saw several shifts in rule. In Achaemenid Judea, the Temple in Jerusalem became the center of worship in Judea. Its priests and attendants appear to have been powerful and influential in secular matters as well, a trend that would continue into the Hellenistic period.

This power and influence also brought accusations of corruption. Alexander's conquest of the Mediterranean world brought an end to Achaemenid control of Jerusalem (539–334/333 BCE) and ushered in the Hellenistic period, which saw the spread of Greek language, culture, and philosophical ideas, which intermixed with Judaism and created Hellenistic Judaism.

After the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BCE, his generals divided the empire amongst themselves, and for the next 30 years they fought for control of the empire. Judea was first controlled by Ptolemaic Egypt (r. 301–200 BCE) and later by the Seleucid Empire of Syria (r. 200 – 142 BCE). During this period, the High Priest of Israel was generally appointed with the direct approval of the Greek rulership, continuing the intermixing of religious politics with government. King Antiochus IV Epiphanes of the Seleucids began a persecution of traditional Jewish practices around 168–167 BCE, which set off a rebellion in Judea. The most successful rebels were led by the Hasmonean family in what became the Maccabean Revolt, and eventually established the independent Hasmonean kingdom around 142 BCE. While the Sadducees are not attested to this early, many scholars presume that the later sects began to form during the Maccabean era (see Jewish sectarianism below).[10] It is often speculated that the Sadducees grew out of the Judean religious elite in the early Hasmonean period, under rulers such as John Hyrcanus.

Hasmonean rule lasted until 63 BCE, when the Roman general Pompey conquered Jerusalem, at which point the Roman period of Judea began. The province of Roman Judea was created in 6 CE (see also Syria Palaestina). While cooperation between the Romans and the Jews had been strongest during the reigns of Herod and his grandson, Agrippa I, the Romans moved power out of the hands of vassal kings and into the hands of Roman administrators, beginning with the Census of Quirinius in 6 CE. The First Jewish–Roman War broke out in 66 CE. After a few years of conflict, the Romans retook Jerusalem and destroyed the temple, bringing an end to the Second Temple period in 70 CE.[11]

After the Temple destruction


After the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem in 70 CE, the Sadducees appear only in a few references in the Talmud and some Christian texts.[12] In the beginning of Karaite Judaism, the followers of Anan ben David were called "Sadducees" and set a claim of the former being a historical continuity from the latter.[citation needed]

The Sadducee concept of the mortality of the soul is reflected on by Uriel da Costa, who mentions them in his writings.

Role of the Sadducees




The religious responsibilities of the Sadducees included the maintenance of the Temple in Jerusalem. Their high social status was reinforced by their priestly responsibilities, as mandated in the Torah. The priests were responsible for performing sacrifices at the Temple, the primary method of worship in ancient Israel. This included presiding over sacrifices during the three festivals of pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Their religious beliefs and social status were mutually reinforcing, as the priesthood often represented the highest class in Judean society. However, Sadducees and the priests were not completely synonymous. Cohen writes that "not all priests, high priests, and aristocrats were Sadducees; many were Pharisees, and many were not members of any group at all."[13]



The Sadducees oversaw many formal affairs of the state.[14] Members of the Sadducees:

  • Administered the state domestically
  • Represented the state internationally
  • Participated in the Sanhedrin, and often encountered the Pharisees there.
  • Collected taxes. These also came in the form of international tribute from Jews in the Diaspora.
  • Equipped and led the army
  • Regulated relations with the Roman Empire
  • Mediated domestic grievances



Knowledge about the beliefs of the Sadducees is limited by the fact that not a single line of their own writings has survived out of antiquity, as the destruction of Jerusalem and much of the Judean elite in 70 CE seems to have broken them. Extant writings on the Sadducees are often from sources hostile to them; Josephus was a rival Pharisee, Christian records were generally not sympathetic, and the rabbinic tradition (descended from the Pharisees) is uniformly hostile.[15]



The Sadducees rejected the Oral Torah as proposed by the Pharisees. Rather, they saw the Written Torah as the sole source of divine authority.[16] Later writings of the Pharisees criticized this belief as one that strengthened the Sadducees' own power.

According to Josephus, the Sadducees beliefs included:

  • Rejection of the idea of fate or a pre-ordained future.
  • God does not commit or even think evil.
  • Man has free will; "man has the free choice of good or evil".
  • The soul is not immortal and there is no afterlife, and no rewards or penalties after death.
  • It is a virtue to debate and dispute with philosophy teachers.[15][17]

The Sadducees did not believe in resurrection of the dead, but believed (contrary to the claim of Josephus) in the traditional Jewish concept of Sheol for those who had died.[18] Josephus also includes a claim that the Sadducees are rude compared to loving and compassionate Pharisees, but this is generally considered more of a sectarian insult rather than an unbiased judgment of the Sadducees on their own terms.[15] Similarly, Josephus brags that the Sadducees were often forced to back down if their judgments clashed with the Pharisees, as he says that the Pharisees were more popular with the multitude.[15]

The Sadducees occasionally show up in the Christian gospels, but without much detail: usually merely as parts of a list of opponents of Jesus. The Christian Acts of the Apostles contains somewhat more information:[15]

  • The Sadducees were associated with the party of the high priest of the era, and seem to have had a majority of the Sanhedrin, if not all (Gamaliel is a Pharisee member).[19]
  • The Sadducees did not believe in resurrection, whereas the Pharisees did. In Acts, Paul of Tarsus chose this point of division to attempt to gain the protection of the Pharisees (around 59 CE).[20]
  • The Sadducees rejected the notion of spirits or angels, whereas the Pharisees acknowledged them.[20]

Disputes with the Pharisees

  • According to the Sadducees, spilt water becomes ritually impure through its pouring. The Pharisees denied that this was sufficient grounds for impurity.[21] Many Pharisee–Sadducee disputes revolved around issues of ritual purity.
  • According to the Jewish laws of inheritance, the property of a deceased man is inherited by his sons, but if the man had only daughters, his property is inherited by his daughters upon his death (Numbers 27:8).[22] The Sadducees, however, whenever dividing the inheritance among the relatives of the deceased, such as when the deceased left no issue, would perfunctorily seek for familial ties, so that the near of kin to the deceased and who inherits his property could, hypothetically, be his paternal aunt. The Sadducees would justify their practice by A fortiori, an inference from minor to major premise, saying: "If the daughter of his son's son can inherit him (i.e. such as when her father left no male issue), is it not then fitting that his own daughter inherit him?!" (i.e. who is more closely related to him than his great-granddaughter).[23] Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai tore down their argument, saying that the only reason the daughter was empowered to inherit her father was because her father left no male issue. However, a man's daughter – where there are sons, has no power to inherit her father's estate. Moreover, a deceased man who leaves no issue always has a distant male relative, to whom his estate can be given. The Sadducees eventually agreed with the Pharisaic teaching. The vindication of Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai and the Pharisees over the Sadducees gave rise to this date being held in honor in the Scroll of Fasting.[24][25][26]
  • The Sadducees demanded that a master pay for damages caused by his slave. The Pharisees imposed no such obligation, viewing that a slave could intentionally cause damage in order to see the liability for it brought on his master.[21]
  • The Pharisees posited that false witnesses should be executed if the verdict was pronounced on the basis of their testimony—even if not yet actually carried out. The Sadducees argued that false witnesses should be executed only if the death penalty had already been carried out on the falsely accused.[27]

Later rabbinic literature took a dim view of both the Sadducees and Boethusian groups, not only due to their perceived carefree approach to keeping to written Torah and oral Torah law, but also due to their attempts to persuade common-folk to join their ranks.[28][verification needed] Maimonides viewed the Sadducees as rejecting the Oral Torah as an excuse to interpret the Written Torah in a lenient, personally convenient manner.[29] Elsewhere, he describes the Sadducees as "harming Israel and causing the nation to stray from following God".[30]

Jewish sectarianism

The Pharisees and the Sadducees Come to Tempt Jesus by James Tissot (Brooklyn Museum)

The Jewish community of the Second Temple period is often defined by its sectarian and fragmented attributes. Josephus, in Antiquities, contextualizes the Sadducees as opposed to the Pharisees and the Essenes. The Sadducees are also notably distinguishable from the growing Jesus movement, which later evolved into Christianity. These groups differed in their beliefs, social statuses, and sacred texts. Though the Sadducees produced no primary works themselves, their attributes can be derived from other contemporaneous texts, including the New Testament, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and later, the Mishnah and Talmud. Overall, the Sadducees represented an aristocratic, wealthy, and traditional elite within the hierarchy.

Opposition to the Essenes


The Dead Sea Scrolls, which are often attributed to the Essenes, suggest clashing ideologies and social positions between the Essenes and the Sadducees. In fact, some scholars suggest that the Essenes originated as a sect of Zadokites, which would indicate that the group itself had priestly, and thus Sadducaic origins. Within the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Sadducees are often referred to as Manasseh. The scrolls suggest that the Sadducees (Manasseh) and the Pharisees (Ephraim) became religious communities that were distinct from the Essenes, the true Judah. Clashes between the Essenes and the Sadducees are depicted in the Pesher on Nahum, which states "They [Manasseh] are the wicked ones ... whose reign over Israel will be brought down ... his wives, his children, and his infant will go into captivity. His warriors and his honored ones [will perish] by the sword."[31] The reference to the Sadducees as those who reign over Israel corroborates their aristocratic status as opposed to the more fringe group of Essenes. Furthermore, it suggests that the Essenes challenged the authenticity of the rule of the Sadducees, blaming the downfall of ancient Israel and the siege of Jerusalem on their impiety. The Dead Sea Scrolls specify the Sadducaic elite as those who broke the covenant with God in their rule of the Judean state, and thus became targets of divine vengeance.

Opposition to the early Christian church


The New Testament, specifically the books of Mark and Matthew, describe anecdotes which hint at hostility between Jesus and the Sadducaic establishment. A pericope in Mark 12 and Matthew 22 recounts a dispute between Jesus and a Sadducee who challenged the resurrection of the dead by asking who the husband of a resurrected woman would be who had been married to each of seven brothers at one point. Jesus responds by saying that the resurrected "neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven." He also insults them on their own terms as knowing neither the scriptures nor the power of God, presumably a claim that even though the Sadducee insisted on the written law, Jesus considered them to have gotten it wrong.[32][33]

Matthew records John the Baptist calling both the Pharisees and Sadducees a "brood of vipers".[34]

Opposition to the Pharisees


Josephus, the author of the most extensive historical account of the Second Temple Period, gives a lengthy account of Jewish sectarianism in both The Jewish War and Jewish Antiquities. In Antiquities, he describes "the Pharisees have delivered to the people a great many observances by succession from their fathers, which are not written in the law of Moses, and for that reason it is that the Sadducees reject them and say that we are to esteem those observance to be obligatory which are in the written word, but are not to observe what are derived from the tradition of our forefathers."[16] The Sadducees rejected the Pharisaic use of the Oral Torah to enforce their claims to power, citing the Written Torah as the sole manifestation of divinity.

The rabbis, who are traditionally seen as the descendants of the Pharisees, describe the similarities and differences between the two sects in Mishnah Yadaim. The Mishnah explains that the Sadducees state, "So too, regarding the Holy Scriptures, their impurity is according to (our) love for them. But the books of Homer, which are not beloved, do not defile the hands."[35] A passage from the book of Acts suggests that both Pharisees and Sadducees collaborated in the Sanhedrin, the high Jewish court.[20]


  1. ^ "The Antiquities of the Jews (13.298)". Lexundria. ...while the Sadducees are able to persuade none but the rich, and have not the populace obsequious to them, but the Pharisees have the multitude on their side.
  2. ^ צָדוֹק
  3. ^ Newman, p. 76
  4. ^ Abraham Geiger, Urschrift, pp. 20–
  5. ^ Pirkei Avot 1:3
  6. ^ Avot of Rabbi Natan 5:2
  7. ^  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainSinger, Isidore; et al., eds. (1901–1906). "Sadducees". The Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls.
  8. ^ Josephus. AJ. Translated by Whiston, William. 18.1.1..
  9. ^ Josephus, Flavius (1999). The New Complete Works of Josephus. Kregel Academic. p. 587. ISBN 978-0-82542924-8.
  10. ^ Cohen, 153–154
  11. ^ Cohen, 1–5, 15–16
  12. ^ See: Philippe Bobichon, "Autorités religieuses juives et ‘sectes’ juives dans l’œuvre de Justin Martyr", Revue des Études Augustiniennes 48/1 (2002), pp. 3–22 (online).
  13. ^ Cohen p. 155
  14. ^ Wellhausen, p. 45
  15. ^ a b c d e Grabbe, Lester L. (2020). A History of the Jews and Judaism in the Second Temple Period: The Maccabean Revolt, Hasmonaean Rule, and Herod the Great (174–4 BCE). Library of Second Temple Studies. Vol. 95. T&T Clark. pp. 137–143. ISBN 978-0-5676-9294-8.
  16. ^ a b Josephus. Antiquities of the Jews. 13.10.6..
  17. ^ Josephus (1966). The Jewish War. Translated by Thackeray, Henry St. John. Cambridge, Harvard University Press. 2.162.
    Josephus, Titus Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews 18 §1.2.
  18. ^ Manson, T.W.: Sadducee and Pharisee - The Origin and Significance of the Names John Rylands Library, p. 154.
  19. ^ Acts 4:1; Acts 5:17
  20. ^ a b c Acts 23:6–9
  21. ^ a b Mishnah Yadaim 4:7
  22. ^ Numbers 27:8
  23. ^ Jerusalem Talmud (Baba Bathra 21b)
  24. ^ Rashbam in the Babylonian Talmud (Baba Bathra 115b–116a); Jerusalem Talmud (Baba Bathra 8:1 [21b–22a])
  25. ^ Segal of Kraków, Avraham, ed. (1857). Megillat Taanit (in Hebrew). Cracow (?): Hemed. p. 14-16. OCLC 233298491.
  26. ^ Derenbourg, J. (1970). The Oracle of the Land of Israel: Chronicles of the Country from the time of Cyrus to Hadrian, based on the Sages of the Mishnah and the Talmud (משא ארץ ישראל : דברי ימי הארץ מימי כרש ועד אדריאנוס על פי חכמי המשנה והתלמוד) (in Hebrew). Vol. 1–2. Translated by Menahem Mendel Braunstein. Jerusalem: Kedem. pp. 115–117. OCLC 233219980.
  27. ^ Mishnah Makot 1.6
  28. ^ Sifri to Deuteronomy p. 233 (Torah Ve'Hamitzvah edition)
  29. ^ Maimonides, commentary to Pirkei Avot, 1:3
  30. ^ Mishneh Torah, Hilchoth Avodah Zarah 10:2
  31. ^ Pesher on Nahum in Eshol, 40
  32. ^ Mark 12:18–27; Matthew 22:23–33
  33. ^ Pulpit Commentary on Matthew 22, accessed 14 February 2017; Commentary, New Oxford Annotated Bible
  34. ^ Matthew 3:7
  35. ^ Mishnah Yadaim 4:6–8


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