🔼The name Sadducees in the Bible
The name Sadducees belongs to a denomination within Judaism (see full concordance), but it should be remembered that back then, neither the Judaisms nor the Christianities were solely religious movements but rather all-encompassing positions in regard to theology and psychology, statecraft and international politics, and science and technology.
There were an untold number of formal parties in Judea of the first centuries BC and AD. Ancient historians left us the names of a few but there were probably many more, and some groups we know the names of may not have been formal at all (unrelated folks were called collective names by opponents), or even exclusive (folks could be recognized as part of multiple movements). Beside the Sadducees, we know of the Pharisees, Essenes, Therapeutae, Sons Of Light, Zealots, the Fourth Sect, and quite possibly pre-Jesus Christians (those rooting for a Jewish king after the collapse of the Hasmonean dynasty in 63 BC), Hodosites and Baptists (John was probably not the only one and had disciples who were thus Baptists).
In the New Testament, the Sadducees are proverbially juxtaposed with the Pharisees as the two main Judaic systems of national government (which in turn was manifested in the monarchy, or what was left of it, the Sanhedrin and the Temple complex). The Sadducaic school of thought dominated the government during the Hasmonean era, but lost its position to the competing Pharisaic take on things mere years before the Roman invasion of 63 BC. Since it was easier for the Romans to manipulate Pharisaic thought than Sadducaic thought, the Romans chose to support the Pharisees (read our article on the name Annas for more on this). The literary character of the Sadducee-Pharisee tandem as played out in the New Testament, however, should be understood in light of Isaiah's promise that the government would be on Christ's shoulders (Isaiah 9:6).
The New Testament rules that both the Sadducees and the Pharisees had deviated from the revealed Truth, but in their own distinctive way: the Pharisees by inflating legislation until it became an unbearable load (Matthew 23; and this in turn as an offshoot of the "explainers" instated by Ezra the Reformer — Nehemiah 8:7-8), and the Sadducees by deflating it into barely anything to follow or believe in. In perhaps a too fluidic shorthand it may be suggested that the Pharisees leaned most towards Israel's Persian legacy (from whence came the Second Temple; 2 Chronicles 36:23, Ezra 6:1-3), whereas the Sadducees embraced Greek's novel hedonism of pleasure and (near) atheism.
Somewhere in the middle sat the Word of God, or hung, if we lay our scene to Golgotha, because the crucifixion account clearly revisits the theme of the two deviant wisdom schools and the one Logos. The "murderer" who had no respect, not even for his own death, represents the Sadducaic take on things, whereas the contrite but still law-breaking other "murderer" who attached himself to the Word he finally recognized, represented the Pharisaic perspective. In the New Testament, no Sadducee comes to Christ, but in His infancy He is tracked down by Persian astronomers (Matthew 2:1), and several Pharisees collaborate with Him and His ministry: Nicodemus, Gamaliel, and of course the apostle Paul.
The latter became the "apostle to the gentiles", and exhaustively dealt with a similar proverbial duality between the two dominant Greek philosophies of the first century, namely Epicureanism and Stoicism (Acts 17:18). Still, the archetype is utterly fundamental, and is as such described as the second creation day: two halves of the watery earth are separated by the firmament called heaven — the lower half produces the rest of creation, while the upper half is heard from no more (read for a lengthier discussion of this cardinal Scriptural phenomenon our article on the ספף, sapap word-group).
🔼The Sadducees and the Torah
The Sadducees maintained that only the Torah is divinely authoritative in matters of legislation, and the rest is not. This conveniently excluded not only the royal histories (Kings and Chronicles), poetry (Psalms, Proverbs and such) and the prophets, but also the vast oral traditions that would ultimately evolve into the Talmud (the Sadducees nevertheless produced their own texts, notably their handy Book of Decrees). A similar yearning for Scriptural purity resulted during the Reformation in the comparable doctrine of Sola Scriptura. And although both movements are commendable in their apparent quest to be righteous, they both attempted to trim the blossoming tree of the Great Human Library down to the seed it emerged from. That obviously can not be done, but this effort in turn stems from the even vainer quest of wanting to determine where the divine ends and humanity begins.
This latter idea, although apparently pious, comes from the pagan notion that the divine is like some human king: a fellow player on the stage of reality, but of greater rank, seated in some distant fortress and endowed with the greater powers. This divinity rules by means of a discrete package of absolute decrees that must be wholly obeyed, and which turns humanity into a machine. This divinity is also utterly removed from his subjects and requires human representatives in the earthly realms, who therefore also must be blindly obeyed, and who also benefit from turning mankind into a slavish machine.
The God of the Bible, on the other hand, is not a fellow player, but the Creator and Maintainer of reality; of the very stage upon which His people are invited to play. This divinity engages His people in continuing negotiations, to teach them the rules upon which creation operates. Surrender and obedience to these rules is by no means oppressive but brings about the same kind of freedom which a musical virtuoso experiences once he masters both his own instrument and general musical theory, and is fortunate enough to find friends who are likewise liberated from the fetters of ignorance. This divinity is so intimately involved with reality that it's impossible to say where He ends (which He obviously doesn't).
God's revelation is continuous rather than a one-time thing. God's Law (that is the natural law of creation) is written onto every person's heart (Jeremiah 31:33, Romans 2:15, Hebrews 10:16) and is evident to every little child (Matthew 11:25). In other words: we begin our lives as knowers of the divine and are taught to not believe by the grown-ups. In rare instances, people manage to maintain their childlike knowledge of the divine and after a tortuous childhood learn to articulate their insights in adult language. Those people become prophets, and inevitably operate against the established modus operandi of the rest of the grown up world (Matthew 23:27-31).
Had the Sadducees been genuinely interested in the Torah, they would have known that Moses had predicted the coming of (one of) those prophets, who they were to listen to (Deuteronomy 18:15-19, Matthew 5:12, Acts 7:52). John the evangelist stated that all the books in the world could not contain the words of Jesus (John 21:25) and Paul went as far as to deem the miracle of writing, and thus all written texts, "God-breathed" (2 Timothy 3:16, see our article on the name Jambres if you thought that Paul meant that only the Bible is God-breathed).
🔼More Sadducaic leanings
Besides the New Testament we have ancient Jewish commentaries and the works of the first century Jewish-Roman historian Josephus in which the Sadducees are mentioned and discussed. It should be carefully noted, however, that the Sadducees became obsolete after the destruction of the temple, and their legacies were written by their surviving competitors (Josephus, for instance, was a Pharisee; for more on Josephus, see our article on Dalmanutha).
- The actual schism between Pharisees and Sadducees appears to have been caused by interpretations in regard to the afterlife. The Pharisees believed in posthumous rewards but the Sadducees didn't (Matthew 22:23, Acts 23:8). Hence the Pharisees became a nagging bunch of nitpickers who worried greatly about the coming wrath (Luke 3:7), while the Sadducees embraced the pleasures of this life with practical impunity. Note that the nowadays so popular idea of departing souls drifting off to heavenly bliss is wholly pagan. The Bible in stead teaches the doctrine of bodily resurrection and a national "afterlife" on earth (see Revelation 21:24, and read our article on the Greek word ψυχη, psuche, which means life or soul).
- The Pharisees emphasized God's provenance in human affairs while the Sadducees emphasized self-determination. That resulted in the Pharisaic hope for a military Messiah (a political Jewish king to restore Israel's autonomy), and the Sadducaic abandonment of that same hope. Jesus agreed and disagreed with both in equal measures, as He explained that the status of Messiah or Christ was not just for one person but rather for everybody: Israel could only be autonomous if every Israelite became anointed (2 Corinthians 1:21, Hebrews 1:9, 1 John 2:20).
- The Sadducees maintained that God does not commit evil, and although most people will intuitively agree with the Sadducees, the issue is deceptively tricky. Saying that God does not commit evil is the same as stating that there is someone or something else responsible for all the evil in the world. This intuitive bi-polar reality model is pagan (Zoroastrian, to be precise) and also dictates the intuitive truth that darkness is the opposite of light. The Bible sports a mono-polar reality model, which insists that God is the doer of all the doings. This is easily explained by noting that darkness is not the opposite of light but the absence of it — light comes from the sun but darkness has no source, and when light enters a dark room, no opposing substance is pushed away or replaced. What may be perceived as evil on a societal level is quite the same as physical pain on an individual level. It's essentially an instrument that is required to plot a course towards a pain-free and evil-free human existence. Hence the tree of knowledge of good and evil could exist in the middle of a perfect paradise (Genesis 2:9), the Lord could send an evil spirit to Saul (1 Samuel 16:14) and declare through Isaiah that He is the One and Only, who creates light as well as darkness and good as well as evil (Isaiah 45:7).
- The Sadducees appear to have rejected the definition of angels and spirits that is also popular in our days: namely that of winged non-corporeal beings (Acts 23:8). This classical angelic image comes from Babylonian mythology and is not Biblical. The Biblical angel is not per standard equipped with wings, but more importantly: the Hebrew understanding of the wing is not a thing to fly with, but rather a thing to protect with. That also explains why in the Hebrew Bible, God has wings (Deuteronomy 32:11, Psalm 17:8, 36:7, 57:1, 61:4, 63:7, 91:4, Jeremiah 49:22 — see our article on the word כנף, kanap, meaning wing) and why thus humans, who were created in His image, have wings in the same sense as Biblical angels do (Matthew 23:37). Read our article on the Greek word πνευμα (pneuma) for a look at the Biblical understanding of spirit.
- The Sadducaic legal code was exceptionally harsh and its rules were deemed absolute (the Pharisees, on the other hand, who also ruled harshly, believed in negotiation). Particularly their literal application of the famous "eye for an eye" doctrine threatened to make the whole country blind (to use the words of Gandhi), and when their code was abolished, the whole area erupted in spontaneous celebration. Jesus advocated neither a Sadducaic literal eye-for-eye retaliation, nor assigning Pharisaic equivalents and tariffs to various infractions, but condemned retaliation wholesale and stated that we should give to whoever took from us in stead of demanding the purloined item back or a compensation for something that was destroyed (Matthew 5:38-41). This astounding rule to "give to a taker more than he took" is a much neglected doctrine even in churches today, and obviously goes against basic economic theory (1 Timothy 6:10).
- The Pharisees were really quite sincere in their quest for righteousness, but unfortunately rather clumsy about it, fear-driven and not too forgiving to those who were perceived infractors (Matthew 12:2). The Sadducees, on the other hand, were legislative minimalists out of pure laziness, who devised their moral code of straight lines solely as flash justification for their indulgences. The same mechanism today lets people who are blessed with a modest talent and the effects of otherwise unrecognized forces to lecture their adoring public on topics that they know little about, whereas the failure of true experts to achieve financial prominence is explained to demonstrate their underlying lack of enlightenment.
🔼Etymology of the name Sadducees
Most commentators agree that the name Sadducee (in Hebrew literature spelled as צדוקים) derives from Zadok (צדוק), which was the name of the Davidic high priest, who had care of the Ark of the Covenant during the reign of David and ultimately anointed Solomon as king over Israel (2 Samuel 15:24-36). This means that proverbial "sons of Zadok" (Ezekiel 45:15) were no less than king-makers and could be expected to have charge of the Ark, or at least its Templar receptacle, and the wide streams of revenue that flowed from it. Through the prophet Ezekiel, the Lord decreed that a large stretch of land was to be given to the "sons of Zadok", who had kept God's charge and had not gone astray when the Levites and Israelites did (Ezekiel 48:11), and this obviously catered splendidly to the Sadducaic pursuit of earthly pleasures.
It's not probable that the original Sadducaic tradition could boast actual descent from the Davidic priest, but rather linked to him out of convenience. They were probably an established priestly elite who abandoned the cumbersome theological aspect of their profession in favor of fine dining. They looked down upon those of their colleagues who read, copied and discussed difficult texts, who tithed and strove to remain ritualistically pure and allowed themselves little comforts in this life. The formal breach between these two approaches became immortalized in the legend of Antigonus of Soko.
This Antigonus lived when Hellenistic thought flooded the world, and taught that people should not be like servants who only work because some boss pays them but rather like people who work without giving thought to their wage. Two of his disciples, namely a Zadok and a Boethus, swiftly concluded that people should not mind their reward for the simple reason that there isn't one, and gave up their study of Law and embraced the good life. Ironically, what the legendary Zadok and his followers, the Sadducees, abandoned was not only their Jewish roots, but also their distinctiveness from Hellenistic thought. When in 70 AD the Temple was destroyed, the Pharisees kept going (and may even have imputed the gospel genre) and evolved into modern Judaism (and thus Christianity and Islam, the academic tradition and ultimately the scientific revolution), while the Sadducaic tradition was absorbed and digested by Epicureanism (as was indicated on Golgotha).
But apart from all the legends, the Sadducees may simply have named themselves for self-congratulatory reasons by means of the verb צדק (sadeq), meaning to be just:
The name Sadducees may be the same as Zadokians, and either refer to Zadok the disciple of Antigonus of Soko, or Zadok the high priest in the time of David and Solomon. But it is more probable that this name was self-administered by a bunch of rich hedonists who dubbed themselves The Righteous Ones or The Guys Who Got It All Worked Out.
But if their arrogant confidence demonstrated anything, it was their turn into a very short stretch of a dead end. Giving yourself the name "righteous one" doesn't make you righteous, but rather does hungering and thirsting for it (Matthew 5:6, 5:20).