Historical leaders
Founded167 BCE
Dissolved73 CE
ReligionHellenistic Judaism

The Sadducees (/ˈsædjəsz/; Hebrew: צְדוּקִים, romanizedṢədūqīm) were a socio-religious sect of Jews active in Judea during the Second Temple period, from the second century BCE through the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. The Sadducees are often compared to other contemporaneous sects, including the Pharisees and the Essenes.

Josephus, writing at the end of the 1st century CE, associates the sect with the upper social and economic echelon 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 some time after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE.


According to Abraham Geiger, the Sadducee sect of Judaism derived their name (Greek: Saddoukaioi; Hebrew: ṣāddūqim) from that of Zadok, the first High Priest of ancient Israel in the time of Solomon 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).[2] The name Zadok is related to the root צָדַק, ṣāḏaq (to be right, just),[3] which could be indicative of their aristocratic status in society in the initial period of their existence.[4]

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

See also: Second Temple Judaism and Hellenistic Judaism

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 (70 CE).

Throughout the Second Temple period, Jerusalem saw several shifts in rule. Alexander's conquest of the Mediterranean world brought an end to Persian control of Jerusalem (539–334/333 BCE) and ushered in the Hellenistic period. The Hellenistic period, which extended from 334/333 BCE to 63 BCE, is known today for the spread of Hellenistic influence.

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 the Ptolemaic Egypt (r. 301–200 BCE) and later by the Seleucids of Syria (r. 200 – 167 BCE). Antiochus IV Epiphanes of Syria, a Seleucid, disrupted whatever peace there had been in Judea when he desecrated the temple in Jerusalem and forced Jews to violate the Torah. Most prominent of the rebel groups were the Maccabees, led by Mattathias the Hasmonean and his son Judas Maccabeus. Though the Maccabees rebelled against the Seleucids in 164 BCE, Seleucid rule did not end for another 20 years.

The Maccabean (a.k.a. Hasmonean) rule lasted until 63 BCE, when the Roman general Pompey conquered Jerusalem, at which point the Roman period of Judea began, leading to the creation of the province of Roman Judea in 6 CE and (see Syria Palaestina) extending into the 7th century CE – well beyond the end of the Second Temple period. While cooperation between the Romans and the Jews had been strongest during the reigns of Herod and his grandson, Herod Agrippa, 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.[10]

Role of the Temple

During the Achaemenid period, the Temple became more than the center of worship in Judea. Following its reconstruction in 516 BCE, it served as the center of society and the priests held important positions as official leaders outside of the Temple.[citation needed] The democratizing forces of the Hellenistic period lessened and shifted the focus of Judaism away from the Temple, and in the 3rd century BCE a scribal class began to emerge.[citation needed]

It was also during this time that the high priesthood of Israel, often referred to as the Sadducees (although not all Sadducees were priests), was developing a reputation for corruption. Questions about the legitimacy of the Second Temple and its Sadducaic leadership freely circulated within Judean society. Sects began to form during the Maccabean reign (see Jewish sectarianism below).[11] The Temple in Jerusalem was the formal center of political and governmental leadership in ancient Israel, although its power was often contested and disputed by fringe groups.

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 in some Christian texts.[12] In the beginnings of Karaism, 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 Acosta, 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:


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:

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]

Disputes with the Pharisees

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 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

See also: Early Christianity

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]


A loose comparison of the ideologies of the Jewish sects of the post-Hasmonean Second Temple period:[36]

Pharisees Sadducees Essenes
Free will Mostly Yes No
Afterlife Resurrection No Spiritual
Oral Torah Yes No Inspired Exegesis
Hellenism Selective For Against
Interpretation Sophisticated scholarly interpretations Literalist Inspired Exegesis


  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. ^ Abraham Geiger, Urschrift, pp. 20–
  3. ^ צָדוֹק
  4. ^ Newman, p. 76
  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, 1–5, 15–16
  11. ^ Cohen, 153–154
  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
  36. ^ "Pharisees, Sadducees & Essenes". Retrieved 2022-04-12.