We know about the Sadducees from the New Testament and the historian, Josephus. Mostly priests, they likely descended from the High Priest Zadok of Solomon's time (10th century BC). They included some Pharisees, landowners and merchants from influential Jewish families.
This group probably stemmed from the role of the high priest who was accepted as the representative of the people by the conquering Persians. With this came prestige and political influence for the priestly families, which led to a peaceful collaboration with their foreign rulers.
Being a religious party, they opposed the lay intrusion of the Pharisees into priestly privilege. The Sadducees accepted only the first five books of the Bible but not later biblical writings, nor the oral law (traditions of the fathers), which the Pharisees accepted.
They rejected many beliefs such as the resurrection, angels and demons, as well as predictions of the end time. Humans, according to them, were totally responsible for their actions and so they denied reward and punishment in the after-life.
They sought to maintain the theocratic community established in God's plan according to the Law revealed to Moses by strict fidelity to the law, especially sacrifice and priestly prerogative. Therefore, compromise to the ruling authority was acceptable providing Temple services were allowed to continue.
In the New Testament, John the Baptist condemned the Sadducees with the Pharisees and Scribes. Later, all are hostile to Jesus.
The Gospels report the Sadducees' attempt to trick Jesus with a question of marriage to several husbands and the resultant relationship in the afterlife to make the Pharisees' belief in the resurrection look ridiculous.
In Acts, the Sadducees are hostile to the Apostles and imprison them.
The Sadducees' influence was enhanced by the Sanhedrin, which was composed mostly of Sadducees and functioned as a supreme court under the presidency of the high priest.
It included the past four high priests and the high priests' families, as well as elders and members of the principal lay families. It was limited to 71 members although its numbers and membership changed at various times.
The Sanhedrin's authority was limited to Judea but its moral authority extended to the diaspora (scattered Jews). It could interpret Judean law and arrest with its own police but could not carry out a death sentence.
Jesus appeared before the Sanhedrin and so did Peter and Paul.
In 70 AD with the destruction of the Temple, the Sadducees perished, leaving the way open for their traditional opponents, the Pharisees who survived and developed modern Judaism.
The Zealots sought violent overthrow of foreign dominance during the first centuries AD. Simon was called the zealot in the Gospels, but there is no indication he was linked to this violent group. It appears that they were instrumental in beginning the Jewish War and mounting a last defence at Masada, which ended with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.
The Essenes are described by ancient writers but are not mentioned in the New Testament. This group disappeared in 70 AD. Most scholars now identify them with the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in 1947 at Qumran.
Founded by a certain "Teacher of Righteousness," they separated themselves from the world and established a priest-directed, scribal and apocalyptic community. They lived an ascetic community life while they awaited the time when God would overthrow the powers of evil and establish his kingdom.
COPIED SACRED TEXTS
They wrote extensively, describing the way of life of their community. In addition, they copied sacred texts including the Scriptures. Fragments of every book of the Hebrew Old Testament, except Esther, have been found and these are valuable, being much earlier than previous available texts.
Not to be forgotten are the majority who did not belong to any of these groups. They were the ordinary people, the peasants, the labourers, the people of the land. These were the ones who were most receptive to and followed Jesus.
It is from these that Jesus chose his first disciples to spread his message throughout the world. When one compares these ordinary people to the educated, influential groups in Jesus' world, one cannot help but marvel at what the power of God accomplished through these people.
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