- Haggai 1:15b-2:9 & Psalm 145:1-5, 17-21 (or Psalm 98)
- 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
- Luke 20:27-38
Introduction: The Sadducees
This story raises a number of interesting questions, as it is one of very NT passages that even mention the Sadducees. In its present location in the story of Jesus' final days, the story functions as an illustration of the rising tension between Jesus and the Jerusalem authorities.
If it could be established that it preserves some memory of Jesus' own teachings on the resurrection, this story would be, as John P. Meier says, "a unique and precious relic that allows us to appreciate more fully Jesus' own views on what the future coming of the kingdom would mean" (A Marginal Jew, III:443). Few scholars are willing to go that far, but the Fellows of the Jesus Seminar were so divided over the authenticity of this story that the outcome was a compromise Gray vote.
In the notes this week we focus on the protagonists of Jesus in this story: the Sadducees.
The NT and the Sadducees
When the three variants of this single story are excluded (Mark 12:18-27 = Matthew 22:23-33 = Luke 20:27-40), we find very few references to the Sadducees:
Matthew adds them to the Pharisees as stock elements in his description of John the Baptist (Matt 3:7 - "But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming ...") and again in chapter 16 where they appear as little more than decoration to the story:
- Matthew 16:1 - The Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test Jesus they ...
- Matthew 16:6 - ... of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
- Matthew 16:11 - Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees!
- Matthew 16:12 - ... and Sadducees.
Mark only mentions the Sadducees in this story of the dispute about the resurrection, and makes no connection between these influential members of the Jerusalem hierarchy and the arrest, trial and death of Jesus.
John does not mention the Sadducees at all.
Luke has no other reference to the Sadducees in his Gospel, but in the Acts of the Apostles does refer to them as one element among the Jerusalem authorities:
- Acts 4:1 - the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came to them, ...
- Acts 5:17 - him (that is, the sect of the Sadducees), being filled with ...
- Acts 23:6 - When Paul noticed that some were Sadducees and others were ...
- Acts 23:7 - ... and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided.
- Acts 23:8 - (The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, or angel, ...
None of the NT epistles mention the Sadducees, not even Paul who might be expected to have known several personally and who Acts describes as having been commissioned by the (Sadducee) High Priest to harrass the early Christians.
Josephus describes the Sadducees in his writings that are more or less contemporary with Matthew:
And when I was about sixteen years old, I had a mind to make trim of the several sects that were among us. These sects are three: — The first is that of the Pharisees, the second that Sadducees, and the third that of the Essenes, as we have frequently told you; for I thought that by this means I might choose the best, if I were once acquainted with them all; so I contented myself with hard fare, and underwent great difficulties, and went through them all. Nor did I content myself with these trials only; but when I was informed that one, whose name was Banus, lived in the desert, and used no other clothing than grew upon trees, and had no other food than what grew of its own accord, and bathed himself in cold water frequently, both by night and by day, in order to preserve his chastity, I imitated him in those things, and continued with him three years. (3) So when I had accomplished my desires, I returned back to the city, being now nineteen years old, and began to conduct myself according to the rules of the sect of the Pharisees, which is of kin to the sect of the Stoics, as the Greeks call them. (Life 2)
Wars of the Jews
2. For there are three philosophical sects among the Jews. The followers of the first of which are the Pharisees; of the second, the Sadducees; and the third sect, which pretends to a severer discipline, are called Essenes. (Wars of the Jews II.8.2)
But the Sadducees are those that compose the second order, and take away fate entirely, and suppose that God is not concerned in our doing or not doing what is evil; and they say, that to act what is good, or what is evil, is at men's own choice, and that the one or the other belongs so to every one, that they may act as they please. They also take away the belief of the immortal duration of the soul, and the punishments and rewards in Hades. Moreover, the Pharisees are friendly to one another, and are for the exercise of concord, and regard for the public; but the behavior of the Sadducees one towards another is in some degree wild, and their conversation with those that are of their own party is as barbarous as if they were strangers to them. And this is what I had to say concerning the philosophic sects among the Jews. (Wars of the Jews II.8.14)
Antiquities of the Jews
9. At this time there were three sects among the Jews, who had different opinions concerning human actions; the one was called the sect of the Pharisees, another the sect of the Sadducees, and the other the sect of the Essenes. Now for the Pharisees, (11) they say that some actions, but not all, are the work of fate, and some of them are in our own power, and that they are liable to fate, but are not caused by fate. But the sect of the Essenes affirm, that fate governs all things, and that nothing befalls men but what is according to its determination. And for the Sadducees, they take away fate, and say there is no such thing, and that the events of human affairs are not at its disposal; but they suppose that all our actions are in our own power, so that we are ourselves the causes of what is good, and receive what is evil from our own folly. However, I have given a more exact account of these opinions in the second book of the Jewish War. (Antiquities of the Jews XIII.15.9)
6. Now there was one Jonathan, a very great friend of Hyrcanus's, but of the sect of the Sadducees, whose notions are quite contrary to those of the Pharisees. He told Hyrcanus that Eleazar had cast such a reproach upon him, according to the common sentiments of all the Pharisees, and that this would be made manifest if he would but ask them the question, What punishment they thought this man deserved? for that he might depend upon it, that the reproach was not laid on him with their approbation, if they were for punishing him as his crime deserved. So the Pharisees made answer, that he deserved stripes and bonds, but that it did not seem right to punish reproaches with death. And indeed the Pharisees, even upon other occasions, are not apt to be severe in punishments. At this gentle sentence, Hyrcanus was very angry, and thought that this man reproached him by their approbation. It was this Jonathan who chiefly irritated him, and influenced him so far, that he made him leave the party of the Pharisees, and abolish the decrees they had imposed on the people, and to punish those that observed them. From this source arose that hatred which he and his sons met with from the multitude: but of these matters we shall speak hereafter. What I would now explain is this, that the Pharisees have delivered to the people a great many observances by succession from their fathers, which are not written in the laws of Moses; and for that reason it is that the Sadducees reject them, and say that we are to esteem those observances to be obligatory which are in the written word, but are not to observe what are derived from the tradition of our forefathers. And concerning these things it is that great disputes and differences have arisen among them, 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. But about these two sects, and that of the Essenes, I have treated accurately in the second book of Jewish affairs. (Antiquities of the Jews XIII.10.6)
4. But the doctrine of the Sadducees is this: That souls die with the bodies; nor do they regard the observation of any thing besides what the law enjoins them; for they think it an instance of virtue to dispute with those teachers of philosophy whom they frequent: but this doctrine is received but by a few, yet by those still of the greatest dignity. But they are able to do almost nothing of themselves; for when they become magistrates, as they are unwillingly and by force sometimes obliged to be, they addict themselves to the notions of the Pharisees, because the multitude would not otherwise bear them. (Antiquities of the Jews XVIII.1.4)
1. AND now Caesar, upon hearing the death of Festus, sent Albinus into Judea, as procurator. But the king deprived Joseph of the high priesthood, and bestowed the succession to that dignity on the son of Ananus, who was also himself called Ananus. Now the report goes that this eldest Ananus proved a most fortunate man; for he had five sons who had all performed the office of a high priest to God, and who had himself enjoyed that dignity a long time formerly, which had never happened to any other of our high priests. But this younger Ananus, who, as we have told you already, took the high priesthood, was a bold man in his temper, and very insolent; he was also of the sect of the Sadducees, (23) who are very rigid in judging offenders, above all the rest of the Jews, as we have already observed; when, therefore, Ananus was of this disposition, he thought he had now a proper opportunity [to exercise his authority]. Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned: but as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done; they also sent to the king [Agrippa], desiring him to send to Ananus that he should act so no more, for that what he had already done was not to be justified; nay, some of them went also to meet Albinus, as he was upon his journey from Alexandria, and informed him that it was not lawful for Ananus to assemble a sanhedrim without his consent. (24) Whereupon Albinus complied with what they said, and wrote in anger to Ananus, and threatened that he would bring him to punishment for what he had done; on which king Agrippa took the high priesthood from him, when he had ruled but three months, and made Jesus, the son of Damneus, high priest. (Antiquities of the Jews XX.9.1)
The Historian and the Sadducees
Like the quest for the historical Jesus, the historian's quest to recover what the 1C Sadducees may actually have been like is complex. Our sources are limited and mostly composed by groups that were hostile to the Sadducees -- the NT Gospels, Josephus and the early rabbinic texts.
John P. Meier devotes 22 pages of his third volume (Companions and Competitors) to a review of the Sadducees. He concludes with this cautious statement:
Are we to imagine that for some 200 years, the Sadducees as a group engaged in mass hypocrisy, focusing their religious concerns on a temple whose prayers and sacrifices, conducted often by Sadducean priests, contradicted what the Sadducees really believed and openly professed as their teaching?
While such a damning portrait of the Pharisees is not unheard of in modern scholarship (they are often made the convenient "bad guys" or "heavies" of ancient Jewish history), it hardly seems supported by the evidence. I think it more reasonable to suppose that just as Josephus exaggerated a major tendency of Essene theology, turning the Essenes into fatalists for the sake of his neat pattern of Jewish philosophical schools, so too he exaggerated a major tendency of the pragmatic Sadducees, whose obligation to run the temple and govern Judean Jews during direct Roman rule naturally made them concentrate on human initiative, actions, and obligations ...
This, I think, is all we can say about the Sadducees. Even more than in the case of the Pharisees, our discussion of the Sadducees has had to reply on indirect arguments, reading between the lines, and hypotheses -- only to produce a very fragmentary picture. We must resign ourselves to the fact that, short of the discovery of new documents from the ancient Mediterranean world, the Sadducees will remain for us very shadowy figures. (p. 410f)
- 262 On the Resurrection - (1) Mark 12:18-27 = Matt 22:23-33 = Luke 20:27-40
Liturgies and Prayers
For liturgies and sermons each week, shaped by a progressive theology, check Rex Hunt's web site
Other recommended sites include:
- All People that on Earth do Dwell - TiS 59
- Alleluia. Give thanks to the risen Lord - TiS 390
- Halle halle - TiS 720
- Amazing Grace - TiS 129
- Where the wide sky rolls down - TiS 188
See David MacGregor's Together to Celebrate site for recommendations from a variety of contemporary genre.