1. Question :

Are there any accounts by Greek, or other historians, that detail what happened to the Sadducees, who were tied to Temple in Jerusalem?

Was there a persecution of the Sadducees?

I am asking this question here - rather than Judaism.SE because I am hoping to find secular historical accounts, if possible ...

2. Context

The Sadducees were a political sect in Israel, defending their authority against the newer sect of the Pharisees (which later became known as Rabbinicism). As a result, it is difficult to rely on the authority of Pharasaic/Rabbinic sources.

About a millennia after the Temple Period, Maimonides' declared that that they could be killed, on sight, without trial :

Mishneh Torah, Mamrim 3:1-3 : 1 A person who does not acknowledge validity of the Oral Law is not the rebellious elder mentioned in the Torah. Instead, he is one of the heretics and he should be put to death by any person. ... 3 To whom does the above apply? To a person ... as did Tzadok and Beitus and those who erred in following them.

  • 2
    Are you aware of the works of Josephus, or are you looking for something more specific? That's the only non-religious primary source material I'm aware of regarding the Sadducees, though there's plenty of secondary source material out here. Commented Apr 7, 2017 at 18:58
  • @HopelessN00b - A.) Actually, Josephus' work is what led to this question. B.) However, I am referring exactly to his explanation affirming that the Oral Tradition was the main source of their disagreement. C.) Did Josephus go further? D.) And yes, I would consider Josephus' and Philo's works in the "Secular" category. And yes, I am aware that this is inconsistent. :) Commented Apr 7, 2017 at 20:28

1 Answer 1


I'm not sure what you mean by "secular" - as opposed to the New Testament gospels? There is an abundance of material in the writings of Josephus: specifically in Jewish War and Antiquities of the Jews, both of which were originally written in Greek. He speaks of their philosophical beliefs and the actions of various individual Sadducees, although he writes from a very clearly pro-Pharisaic perspective.

Aside from Josephus, and the references to Sadducees that exist in early rabbinic literature, there is nothing. Note that Lawrence Schiffman has argued that the sectarian literature found in Qumran represents the halakhic (legal) viewpoint of the Sadducees, but this is very much a minority opinion.

In amongst all of the extant references to the Samaritans, there is zero indication that they were ever subject to "persecution". The opinion of Maimonides, written down over a millennium after the Sadducees had effectively ceased to exist, is entirely irrelevant. (And cannot be used to extrapolate to his opinions regarding contemporary sects like the Karaites, who modelled themselves on what little was known of the Sadducees.)

There is no academic consensus as regards what happened to the Sadducees either - but then, there is also no academic consensus as regards who the Pharisees were and what happened to them. Likely, in both instances, they coalesced into what became rabbinic Judaism: the Sadducees were likely every bit as preoccupied with Torah-based legislation as were their various opponents.

For more information (albeit on the Pharisees in particular), see Jacob Neusner and Bruce Chilton (eds.), In Quest of the Historical Pharisees.

Postscript: It is wrong to assume that the Pharisees represented a "newer" group, and is also wrong to suppose that the Sadducees were "tied to" the temple. The Sadducees were a priestly group, but not all Sadducees officiated in the Temple and not all priests were Sadducees. Note also that the temple compound included the high court (Sanhedrin), which was not entirely Sadducean either.

  • ShimonBM - +1 Thank you; A.) By "Tied" I meant the makeup of Priests and Scribes; B.) I am aware that the Sanhedrin might have been a mix; C.) It is the claim "there is nothing" that is difficult - but seems true, perhaps an argument from silence; D.) It seems that the Pharisee movement became the Rabbinic movement. If there were evidences in the Talmud of significant Sadducean influence - then that would also answer the question; E.) There seem to be very few references in Josephus' writings ... Commented Apr 8, 2017 at 19:38
  • True, @elikakohen, the Sadducees are only ever spoken of as a heretical sect, but movements don't just disappear. Their adherents join other groups, and bring ideas and cultural norms with them, even while divesting themselves of their former group status. Besides, what is it in the Talmud that you identify with Pharisaic influence?? When Pharisees are mentioned, it is always in the third person and often negatively. People have long thought that Pharisees => Rabbis, but people are usually wrong about such things. Rabbinic texts don't lead us to this conclusion; Christian texts do.
    – Shimon bM
    Commented Apr 9, 2017 at 2:01
  • A.) That Rabbinicism is the offshoot of the Pharisees is something I heard argued in Jewish communities in Israel, (based on Rabbinicism also appealing to Oral Tradition to establish their authority. B.) I know of no Christian texts or arguments that assert this. (I am not equating "Rabbi" with Talmudic "Rabbinicism"). C.) Regardless - "Their adherents join other groups" - may actually be the best answer, especially if it is shown that Sadducees were absorbed into the Karaites - but, if true, it would render Maimonides' distinction between them very odd. Commented Apr 9, 2017 at 8:37
  • 1
    @elikakohen, Firstly, while Jews have traditionally thought that the Pharisees became the rabbis, that doesn't make the claim correct. (You chose not to ask this on Judaism.SE for this reason.) Secondly, the Karaites only came into existence as a discernable group in the 9th century, so a good half-a-millennium after the last of the Sadducees. They identify themselves with the Sadducees, but are not necessarily descended from the same.
    – Shimon bM
    Commented Apr 9, 2017 at 9:18
  • Thirdly, the Christian literature lends itself to the view that Pharisees became rabbis, but only because the Pharisees are the largest non-Christian sect depicted in those texts, and the later passages (such as the parenthetic addition to Mark 7) treat the Pharisees as the general body of the people. Though this is now getting away from the substance of your question.
    – Shimon bM
    Commented Apr 9, 2017 at 9:18

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.