Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Sadducees

Even after the miraculous victory of the Hasmoneans (Maccabees), the lure of Hellenization, with its grandeur and style, continued to subtly influence the Jewish people. This trend even affected the descendants of the Hasmoneans, the leaders of the great Chanukah revolt. Within only a few generations, the heirs of the Hasmoneans, who improperly assumed the roles of both High Priest and monarch, even had Hellenist names (John Hyrcanus, Aristobulus, etc.).

It was in this environment that the great division of the Jewish people between Pharisees (forerunners of rabbinic Judaism) and Sadducees occurred.

Unfortunately, no Sadducee writings have been discovered and, therefore, what is known of them is mostly based on Pharisee writings. The Sadducees were known to be strict literalists of the Torah and were opposed to the Rabbinic process of interpreting the law based on the oral tradition. One example was their literal understanding of “an eye for an eye.” (The Pharisees understood this to mean monetary compensation).

The Sadducees rejected the belief in an afterlife, angels and reward and punishment. The rejection of such precepts as well as their specific interpretations of the Temple rites was, perhaps, related to the fact that the Sadducees were mostly of the priestly and aristocrat class (those most influenced by Hellenization). For nearly 250 years, the Sadducees had great influence on royal policy, were often in control of the priesthood and dominated the Sanhedrin. (They were actually driven from the Sanhedrin on 28 Tevet in 81 B.C.E. by Shimon ben Shetach, but returned to power after the death of Queen Shlomit Alexandra in 67 B.C.E.)

Because the power of the Sadducees was so closely connected to their role in the Temple, they lost all power when the Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 C.E.

For a historical perspective on the Maccabees, click here.

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