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Yeshua in Context » Background to Gospels, Sadducees » Sadducean Scribblings #1

Sadducean Scribblings #1

There is an unfortunate misunderstanding, common in writings about the background of Jewish life in Yeshua’s time, that the Sadducees were relatively unimportant compared to the Pharisees. Nothing could be further from the truth. And it is not hard to understand how this misunderstanding came about.

By the time of the Mishnah (c. 200 CE), the Sadducees and the old aristocracy were gone. If some remained after the First Jewish Revolt (66-73 CE), the horrors of the Second Jewish Revolt (132-136 CE) wiped them out. E.P. Sanders discusses this disappearance in Judaism: Practice and Belief, 63 BCE – 66 CE on p. 318.

In the time of the New Testament, the Sadducees and the aristocracy were the greatest power in Israel besides Rome.

But three factors have confused the issue. One is that many took their cue from rabbinic literature to understand the Judaism of Yeshua’s lifetime. The Mishnah and Talmud give a distorted picture of the situation, since the Sadducees were gone and the Pharisees were essentially predecessors of the rabbis. A second factor is that Yeshua spoke more about Pharisees than Sadducees, so it seems to casual readers of the gospels that Pharisees were his prime enemy. But read more carefully and see the role of the chief priests (partly or mostly Sadducees). And know that the Sanhedrin was controlled by the Sadducees (though it is likely some Pharisees wielded influence through force of popular opinion). And a third factor is Josephus’ tendency to exaggerate the influence of the Pharisees (cf. Sanders, 451 and following).

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Filed under: Background to Gospels, Sadducees

3 Responses to "Sadducean Scribblings #1"

  1. I always inspired by you, your views and way of thinking, again, appreciate for this nice post.

    - Murk

  2. Dave says:

    … you’re trusting Sanders.

    1. yeshuain says:

      Yes, and his case is excellent. I’ve read the other views. The misuse of rabbinical literature as background to 2nd Temple period needs a check.

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