Los Origenes Saduceos…

Los origenes Saduceos

de las Sectas del Mar Muerto

Sandra S. Williams


Student/Judaic Studies Program
University of Central Florida

  Introduction

  Historical Significance Of The Hasmonaean Revolt

  The Halakhic Letter

  The Zadokite Fragments

  The Community Rule

  The Temple Scroll

  Miscellaneous Texts

  Conclusion

  Footnotes

  Bibliography


Clearly the Dead Sea Scrolls and the schism that caused the Dead Sea sect to arise can only be understood in the context of Jewish history and the sectarianism of the Second Temple period in Judea. Across twenty centuries, the Scrolls speak to us of the pluralism that existed in ancient Judaism, each group competing to be the “True Israel” of God, and each claiming a monopoly on the true interpretation of the Torah. The Scrolls provide us with a window into an ancient Jewish time and give us a glimpse of an ancient Jewish sect who resided in the desert on the shores of the Dead Sea. Reflected in the Scrolls are their religious traditions and beliefs, their legal tenets, their worship, and their approach to God and the rest of humanity.

The most prevalent opinion given by scholars has identified the Qumran sect with the Essenes, of whom Josephus and Philo wrote. While it may be legitimate to attempt to prove Essene authorship as many scholars have done, it is however, illegitimate to use this theory as a universally accepted position on which all Qumran texts are interpreted. Scholarly ethics and integrity, and scientific investigation demand that each text from the caves, along with the Greek writings concerning the Essenes by Philo and Josephus, be subjected to their own separate critical review before conclusions are made.

It must be remembered that Josephus, the primary source of information about the Essenes, wrote primarily for Greek and Roman audiences, and that he wrote approximately two hundred years after the founding of the sect. At this late date, it would be impossible for him to have first hand knowledge. Also, he himself “admits to having included more than one group of sectarians under the heading ‘Essenes’.”1  “It seems from the generalizations he made in his ‘Fourth Philosophy’, that he may have described several groups as one.”2  Because it is known that many Jewish sects existed during the Second Temple period, there is not enough clear evidence to conclude that the Essenes of whom Philo and Josephus described were also one and the same as the Dead Sea sect.

In the writing of this paper, many diverse scholarly opinions on the origins of the Dead Sea sect were evaluated. Each gave valuable information and was useful in the consideration of other points of view. However, because the scope of this paper is focused on the Sadducean position held by Dr. Lawrence Schiffman, his sources were relied upon very heavily, in addition to others, as he is the foremost authority on Sadducean authorship of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Before presenting the Sadducean position on the origins of the Dead Sea sect, it is appropriate and important to begin with an academic introduction of Dr. Schiffman with an explanation of his qualifications that would support and give credibility to his ability to analyze and render a scholarly evaluation with respect to the Sadducees of ancient Judaism and the origins of the Dead Sea sect and their writings.

The Dead Sea Scrolls have been Dr. Schiffman’s life’s work. In particular, he has focused on the unique Halakhah peculiar to the Dead Sea sect. He began his study of the legal material with his doctoral dissertation in 1974, which dealt with “The Halakhah at Qumran.”3  A year later, in 1975, his dissertation was published in a volume by the same name, that dealt with the “conceptual framework behind the legal material in the Qumran corpus, how the sect derived its law, and how its members perceived this process. In order to test these conclusions, the Sabbath Code of the Zadokite Fragments was studied in detail.”4  Since that time, he has gone on to study the many other aspects of Jewish legal material found at Qumran, including the nature of the sect, its structure, and its self-definition.

Dr. Schiffman is Professor of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University in the Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies and also in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Literature. He specializes in the Judaism of late antiquity, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the history of Jewish Law and Talmudic Literature.

In 1991, he was appointed to the team publishing and researching the Dead Sea Scrolls.5  Dr. Schiffman has the respect of his contemporaries in Dead Sea Scrolls research as evidenced by the comments of Herschel Shanks and Emanuel Tov on the cover of his recent book, “Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls”.6  Clearly, Dr. Schiffman is extremely knowledgeable and qualified to render an evaluation regarding the Sadducean authorship of the Dead Sea Scrolls documents.

Dr. Schiffman’s position concerning the origins of the Dead Sea sect and the Scrolls is basically that:

“The earliest members must have been Sadducees unwilling to accept the status quo establishment in the aftermath of the Maccabean revolt. The Maccabees, by replacing the Zadokite high priesthood with their own, reduced the Zadokites to a subsidiary position for as long as Hasmonaean rule lasted. Even after leaving Jerusalem, the Dead Sea sect continued to refer to its leaders as the ‘Sons of Zadok’. These were indeed Sadducees who protested the imposition of Pharisaic views in the Temple under the Hasmonaean priests.”7 

As previously mentioned, the most frequently encountered challenge to this hypothesis, comes from the writings of Josephus. From Josephus and from what we know of the teachings of the ancient Sadducees from Rabbinic writings, there appears to be a contradiction in some of the beliefs of the sect in its heyday. Dr. Schiffman answers this challenge with the following:

“Sadducean priests were not uniform in their degree of Hellenization nor in all their beliefs. Josephus’ descriptions concern only the somewhat Hellenized Sadducees of the Roman period. Moreover, I am not claiming that the Dead Sea sect as we know it is Sadducean, only that its origins and the roots of its halakhic tradition lie in the Sadducean Zadokite priesthood.”8 

Based on the texts of the Scrolls themselves, combined with the history of the Maccabean/Hasmonaean Era, it is my own belief that Dr. Schiffman’s hypothesis may indeed be valid. This conclusion I believe can be supported by a brief discussion of the historical significance of the Hasmonaean revolt, a look at what is known concerning the ancient Sadducees, their opponents, the leadership of the sect, and the Qumran documents themselves. Specifically, 4QMMT (the Halakhic Letter), the Zadokite Fragments, The Community Rule, and The Temple Scroll, in addition to various other scrolls and fragments found at Qumran.

Historical Significance of the Hasmonaean Revolt

As Greek culture spread across the known world in the third and second centuries BCE, the Jewish communities in the Diaspora and in Judea entered into a confrontation with Hellenism, which was to be debated fiercely as to the extent to which they would participate and absorb its influence. It is out of this historical and cultural background that a very complex period in Second Temple Judaism developed. And it is out of this complex period that the Dead Sea sect emerged and withdrew to Qumran. It is therefore important to establish historically when and how this group arose and what specific conflicts shaped their history and ideology. “In particular the information the Scrolls provide us is most relevant to the years between the Maccabean Revolt of 168-164 BCE and the turn of the era.”9  A brief review of the political and religious situation in Judea will help give a better understanding of how the Scrolls to be discussed fit into the history of the sect.

Beginning in the late second century BCE, extreme Hellenism came into open confrontation with Judean society. The stage of a Jewish revolt was set when Antiochus IV of the Selucid Dynasty severely challenged the Jewish way of life by taking control of the Jerusalem priesthood and attempting to transform Jerusalem into another Greek Polis. This confrontation of these two opposing forces, the Jewish people and the Selucids, was to ignite the flames of a full-scale revolt. With the appearance of the Hasmonaean (Maccabean) family, the extreme Hellenism that Antiochus IV sought to inflict upon Israel, was overwhelmingly rejected.

“Immediately following the revolt, a crisis occurred in the Jewish priesthood that had a direct impact on the formation of the Qumran sect and its establishment in the Judean desert.”10  Since the time of King Solomon, virtually without interruption up until the time of the Hasmonaean Revolt, the Zadokite Priests had been in control of the Jerusalem Temple. The Zadokite priests trace their ancestry back to the high priest Zadok, who officiated in King Solomon’s Temple. It was members of this group who were to become known as Sadducees, who had perpetuated many of the Hellenistic reforms that had helped open up Judea to the Hellenistic invasion from the Selucids, and the resulting Maccabean Wars. There were, however, “many Sadducean Priests during this period who continued to be pious, maintaining the ancient traditions of the Temple in Jerusalem.”11 

As a result of the revolt, the Zadokites lost control of the high priesthood to the Hasmonaeans (the Maccabean family). When the dust of the revolt had finally cleared, Jonathan the Hasmonaean, who was not of the Zadokite line, but from the house of Hashmon, had been proclaimed high priest and leader of the people. With the help of the Syrian Pretender to the Selucid Throne, Alexander Balas, Jonathan the Hasmonaean appeared in the robes of the high priest on the Festival of Sukkot in the year 152 BCE. A new dynasty was born that would rule and remain in control until the coming of the Romans in the year 63 BCE.

Undoubtedly, much of the Jewish population must have welcomed these changes. After all, in the years before the revolt, it was the Zadokite priests, by their corruption, who had led the Jewish people astray and had opened the doors to the Selucids. On the other hand, the Hasmonaeans had purified and brought Holiness and reform back to the Temple. They were heroes and the people had fought courageously with them. In the joy of their victory, the Jews undoubtedly hailed the rise of the Hasmonaean high priest as a signal of return to the purity of Jewish worship in the Temple.

The most important symbol of Jewish life in this period was the Temple. And it was here that the greatest conflict arose. The Hasmonaeans not only wanted to cleanse the Temple, but saw the opportunity for an independent Jewish state and actively pursued that goal through political means by negotiating treaties with the Romans.

It is unlikely, however, that the entire population greeted these changes with unqualified joy and acceptance. The older Zadokites, especially the pious priests, undoubtedly must have held bitter resentment towards the new Hasmonaean control of the Temple and the office of High Priest.

“The response that followed was the splitting of the Jewish community into various groups and in some cases sects, each seeking to dominate the religious scene.”12  Although ancient Judaism did not become absorbed by Hellenism and did not simply become one of the many Hellenistic cults, the new environment that now existed because of the cultural contact with Hellenism, was to lead to a reexamination of many issues within Judaism. The sects of primary interest in this period are the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the formation of their ideologies. “Josephus explicitly mentions the Sadducees along with the Pharisees and the Essenes as existing as early as the time of Jonathan Maccabee (circa 150 BCE).”13 

I turn my attention now to a more in depth look at who the Sadducees were, along with the Pharisees and the Calendar controversy.


The most noted and often repeated characteristic of the Sadducees were their aristocratic aspects. “Most of them were apparently priests or those who had intermarried with the high priestly families.”14  “The name Sadducee is derived from that of Zadok, the high priest of the Jerusalem Temple in the time of Solomon.”15  They tended for the most part to be moderate Hellenizers, their culture being greatly influenced by the environment in which they lived, while remaining loyal to the religion of Israel.

“Josephus relates that the Sadducees reflected the ‘traditions of the Fathers,’ which seems to have been the forerunner of the oral law, and was also observed as law by the Pharisees.”16  There were, however, many differences between the Pharisees and the Sadducees on different points of Law and tradition. “In general, the Sadducees regarded the purity laws as applying exclusively to the Temple and the priests, and they refused to extend these laws into the daily life of all Jews. To the Pharisees, that extension was fundamental to their approach.”17  “The Sadducees also differed from the Pharisees on theological questions. They denied the notions of reward and punishment after death and the immortality of the soul.”18 

It is difficult to know the exact beginnings of the Sadducees, other than we know that this priestly aristocracy traced their roots back to First Temple times and that gradually their power had increased during the Persian and Hellenistic times, because they controlled not only the Temple, but also the spiritual affairs of the nation as well. The two went hand-in-hand, and the Jewish people looked to them for guidance and leadership in their daily affairs. Also, the Prophet Ezekiel (Ezek 44: 9-16) had assigned the priestly duties exclusively to this family. 19 

Following the revolt, a small devoted group of Sadducean priests, probably from the lower clergy who had remained loyal to the Torah and the ancestral way of life, may have formed the faction that eventually became the Dead Sea sect. They became unwilling to tolerate the replacement of the Zadokite high priest with a Hasmonaean, and also disagreed with the rest of the Jerusalem priesthood on many other points of Jewish law. Soon after the takeover by Jonathan Maccabee, (152 BCE), they retreated into the deserts of Qumran.

The moderately Hellenized Sadducees who remained in Jerusalem continued to play a supportive role to the Hasmonaean Priest-King, and joined forces with the Pharisees in the governing councils. It is these Sadducees who became known and of whom Josephus refers to and also to whom the later Rabbinic sources refer.

The Calendar

A major point of dispute between the Pharisees and the Sadducees was the Calendar. “The Sadducees held that the first offering of the Omer (barley sheaf; Leviticus 23: 9-14) was to take place not on the Second Day of Passover, as the Pharisees claimed, but rather on the first Sunday after Passover in accord with Leviticus 23: 11, ‘on the morrow of the Sabbath.’ To ensure that this Festival was observed on the proper day of the week, the Sadducees adopted a calendar that, like the one known from the Dead Sea sect and the Book of Jubilees, was based on both solar months and solar years. Following this calendar, the holiday of Shavuot would always fall on a Sunday.”20  The Sadducees, as well as the Dead Sea sect, took the literal interpretation of “on the morrow of the Sabbath,” whereas the Pharisees took “Sabbath” to mean “Festival.” Their calendar was based on the biblical lunar months and they rejected the new innovative solar calendar that protected the Sabbath from being profaned.


The Pharisees appear suddenly in history as a distinct entity during the Hasmonaean period. It is hard to believe that they could have existed as a distinct entity in the Hasmonaean period without their theology and organization having been formulated somewhat earlier than the period under discussion. The exact dating of their formulation is unknown. However, “the Pharisees first appear by name in the time of Jonathan Maccabee (150 BCE). Rabbinic sources trace their history back to the ‘Men of the Great Assembly’, who are said to have provided the religious leadership for Israel in the Persian and early Hellenistic periods.”21  When the “Pharisees appear in Hasmonaean times, they are part of a governing council that serves in coalition with the Sudducees, with whom they sought to advance their vision of how the Jewish people should live and govern themselves.”22 

The Pharisaic name is derived from the Hebrew word “perushim”, which means to separate. This group seems to have rejected almost all aspects of Hellenistic culture. The separation, according to Schiffman, “is most probably referring to their separation from levitically impure food and from the tables of the Am-ha-ares, the common people, who were not scrupulous regarding the laws of levitical purity or tithes.”23  Also, Schiffman gives three major characteristics to describe the Pharisees:

  1. they represented primarily the middle and lower classes,
  2. they were not really Hellenized,
  3. they accepted the “traditions of the Fathers,” the Laws of Purity, tithing, and Sabbath that were passed down through the generations. These teachings supplemented the written Torah and were part of what the Rabbis later called the Oral Law.24 

As the Hasmonaean leaders moved further and further into the political arena and as they became increasingly more Hellenized under John Hyrcanus (138-104 BCE) and Alexander Janneus (103-76 BCE), the Pharisees, who initially had supported them, expressed greater and greater opposition to them.

The Halakhic Letter (4QMMT)

With the release of 4QMMT in 1985, contradictions of the prevalent Essene hypothesis were voiced as scholars again had to make another reexamination of the Qumran Scrolls and question the identity of the sect. The document – Miqsat Ma’aseh ha-Torah – literally “Some rulings pertaining to the Torah,” is a letter that contains about twenty-two religious laws. It appears to be a foundational document of the Qumran sect. Essentially, “the ancient author of MMT asserts that the sect broke away from the Jewish establishment in Jerusalem because of differences involving the religious laws. He asserts that the sect will return if their opponents, who are pictured as knowing that the sectarians were right all along, will recant.”25 

The letter begins with a calendar based on the Sun. This would mean that the Holy Days would fall on different days than the rest of Judaism, which observed the Lunar Calendar. The letter is 120 lines long and mostly deals with the halakhot – religious laws. Specifically, a series of disagreements about sacrificial law and ritual purity are listed. Throughout the letter the authors refer to themselves in the plural. Most of the letter includes both the view of the writers as well as their opponents.

The letter next makes a statement about its own intent: “These are some of our [legal] rulings [regarding Go]d’s [Torah].”

The second part of the letter presents the writer’s general views on the schism that has happened. The authors state: “[You know that] we have separated from the mainstream of the peo[ple and from all their impurities and] from mixing in these matters and from being involved w[ith them] regarding these matters. But you k[now that there cannot be] found in our hands dishonesty, falsehood, or evil.”

The writers seem to be calling on their colleagues in Jerusalem and the Hasmonaean leader for a reconciliation that would allow them to return to their role in the Temple. It is an argument against the sects opponents.

The letter goes on to state that the letter is intended for the addressee and the nation: “And indeed, we have written to you some of the rulings pertaining to the Torah, which we considered were good for you and your people, for [we have seen] that you have wisdom and knowledge of the Torah.”

It is interesting to note that the letter is addressed to an individual in the introductory sentence and also where the text returns to its main argument at the conclusion of the laws. Whereas in the list of laws, the authors engage in a dispute with a group – “you” – plural. Schiffman believes that “the plural sections are addressed to the priests of the Jerusalem Temple and the singular to the Hasmonaean ruler.”26 

To understand the nature of the broken laws, one example of the Halakhic controversy between the sect and the Jerusalem priesthood, is the law regulating liquid streams and ritual purity in the pouring of liquids from one vessel to another.

“The letter asserts that when an upper vessel, the source of a liquid stream is pure and the lower vessel is not. If the stream connects both liquids, then the impurity is also in the upper vessel.” Schiffman sites the Sadducean position in the Mishnah: “The Sadducees say: ‘We complain against you Pharisees, for you declare pure the (poured out) liquid stream’.”27  (M Yadayim 4: 7) The laws regarding the Red Heifer are also explained according to the Sadducean position.

“It appears that this letter was written to the head of the Jerusalem establishment, the high priest. The comparison with the Kings of Judah and Israel must have been particularly appropriate to someone who saw himself as an almost royal figure. In the letter, the ruler is admonished to take care lest he go the way of the kings of First Temple times.”28  This warning could only apply to a person who by his own station in life, could identify with Israel’s ancient kings. The letter makes no mention of the Teacher of Righteousness, which leads to the conclusion that the letter was written in the formative years before the teacher arose.

Schiffman believes that in the letter the views given the opponents of the sect are the same as those usually given the Pharisees in Rabbinic literature. “When Mishnaic texts preserve Pharisee-Sadducee conflict over the same matters discussed in the Halakhic Letter, the views of the letter’s authors match those of the Sadducees.”29 

The only possible explanation is that this letter outlining religious laws that are in dispute, was written by a break-away sect of the Sadducean priesthood to their priestly brethren in Jerusalem and to the Hasmonaean Priest-King, who they still believe had some good in him, but who together with the remaining Sadducees was now embracing Pharisaic ways. These Jerusalem Sadducees knew very well that what they were now doing, differed very much from the old Sadducean practices.

That a schism of such magnitude could happen is hard to believe. But “in ancient times the correct conduct of sacrificial worship was the primary guarantor of their welfare. Indeed, they regarded the sacrificial system as the prime connection of the people of Israel to God, the source of blessings for the land and its inhabitants.”30  It was of major importance that the ancient Halakhah be protected, and the Priesthood and Temple worship be kept pure. They believed that it was by this correct observance that God connected with the people, protected them, and blessed them. It is understandable that a group of Zadokite priests faithful to the old ways would be outraged at the Hasmonaean changes brought into the Temple.

The Zadokite Fragments

At least eight manuscripts of the Damascus Document have been found at Qumran, in addition to the one uncovered in the Cairo genizah. Schiffman believes that “affinities in language and ideology indicate that this text belonged to the Qumran sectarians. Further, other sectarian texts contain excerpts from that text, indicating that it indeed was a document central to the thought of the Qumran sect.”31 

From the text of the Zadokites Fragments found in the Cairo genizah, we learn that “in ancient times Israel went astray. As a result God “hid His face” and allowed the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE,” yet a remnant of the defeated people remained,” and it was they, who ultimately formed the sect.”32  The sect, by their way of life and beliefs, claimed to be this remnant and the true Israel. The text below is telling us that the sect arose from Israel (the people) and from Aaron (the priesthood). It also presents a chronological date for the formation of the sect:

“And in the period of wrath, three hundred and ninety years after He handed it (the Temple) over to Nebuchadnezzar King of Babylon, He remembered them (Israel) and caused to grow from Israel and Aaron the root of a plant (i.e. the sect). (Zadokite Fragments 1: 5-7)”33 

If the period of Wrath (390 years) is subtracted from the time of the destruction of the Temple (586 BCE), the year 196 BCE or there about is the time we arrive at. A specific time is not given. Rather it is stated “in the Age of Wrath.” The Zadokite Fragments then tell about a period of confusion where “they were like blind men groping for the road for twenty years.”34  Then God raised up for them a leader, a Teacher of Righteousness. Prior to that time, they had been leaderless, but now with the emergence of the Teacher, their distinctive way of life began to take shape.

This account also aligns with the Halakhic Letter discussed earlier. It was during this period of confusion that the Halakhic Letter was most likely sent in a reconciliation attempt. After their failure to convince the Jerusalem Sadducees and the Hasmonaean High Priest, the sect became an entity unto itself, no longer expecting to return to Jerusalem and rejoin the priesthood in the Temple.

Additionally, the Zadokite Fragments give “an admonition to remain faithful to the teachings of the sect along with legal rulings on a wide variety of matters, such as the Sabbath, oaths, vows, purity and impurity, and the laws of courts and testimony.”35 

The admonition which is at the beginning of the manuscript is a reaction of the sect to its opponents. “Over and over we are told that only the sect and its leadership is capable of properly interpreting Jewish Law. All other groups and their sins are cataloged so as to explain the necessity for the physical and spiritual separation of the sect from the rest of the people of Israel. We also learn of the role of the “Moreh Sedeg,” the “correct teacher,” who along with the Zadokite priests, led the confused initial members on the path of truth.”36  The ideology of the admonition is quite similar to the Community Rule, where as the legal materials in this document are quite different.

In the Community Rule, the sect’s organizational aspects are outlined, while in the Zadokite Fragments there are a whole range of Jewish legal topics. “Within this text are tracts dealing with civil law, oaths, judges, witnesses, lost and stolen property, ritual purity, Sabbath, cults and sacrifices, relations with idolaters, kashrut of foods, plagues, etc. It seems as if the author wanted to state that only through the sect could one aspire to the correct observance of these laws.”37  The author further states that “the ultimate purpose of this society is that of perfection through traditional Jewish observances and only the sect posses the correct understanding and rulings allowing for proper observance.”38 

All this sounds very familiar and is reminiscent of the tone in the Halakhic Letter. Throughout this document, particularly towards the end, are materials relating to the organization of the sect. These passages describe many of the same institutions as the Community Rule, except for a few important differences. “First, this text seems to envision two groups within the sect, those living at the center of sectarian life (Qumran) and those scattered throughout the country in ‘camps.’ Second, it has been observed that the entrance requirements for the sect in the Zadokite Fragments comprise only the first two stages described in the Manual.”39 

The Community Rule

The Community Rule is an almost intact document that describes a closely-knit society that above all else seeks purity and correct observance of Jewish Law. It rejects all outsiders, except those seeking admission to the sect. The heart of this document are the legalistic sections. Here the nature and structure of the group are defined, procedures are given for the admission of new members to the sect, and penalties and punishments are outlined for various offenses.

The social character of the group is clearly a very close-knit society in which each man has his function and his rank. “The group lives in a perpetual state of ritual purity, joining together for some meals, as well as maintaining regular sessions for study of scripture and liturgical praise of God. Each man sees himself as a part of this group which in itself constitutes a sanctuary in exile, a replacement Temple, which to the sectarians, was currently in the hands of the evil doers.”40 

From the Community Rule we learn that the Zadokite priests held a superior role in the sect, although a sectarian assembly called the Moshav-ha-Rabbin, made the major decisions. From various portions of this document, the role of the priests seems to be evolving and is in the process of becoming ceremonial.

Also located in the Community Rule are passages which speak of withdrawing to the desert to fulfill the command of Isaiah 40: 3 – to prepare a way in the wilderness for the Lord at the end of days.

“When these form a community in Israel, according to these rules they shall be separated from the midst of the settlement of the people of iniquity to go to the desert to clear there the road of the Lord, as it is written, ‘In the desert clear the road of the Lord, straighten in the wilderness a highway for our God.’ (Isaiah 40: 3) This in the interpretation of the Torah (which) He commanded through Moses to observe, according to everything that is revealed from time to time, and as the prophets have revealed by His holy Spirit. (Rule of the Community 8: 12-16)”41 

This passage tells us that to prepare a way in the wilderness, specifically means to interpret the Torah. The initiation process speaks of the group’s attempt to achieve purity, since they have no Temple. And the penalties and punishments are designed to weed out impurities and contamination from the outside, as they prepare a way in the wilderness for the Lord, who He Himself (according to the War Scroll) will fight the final battle against their opponents, the Sons of Darkness, at the End of Days.

The Temple Scroll

In the Temple Scroll, “the author tells us explicitly that the Scroll describes the Temple in which Israel will worship before the end of days. (T.S. 29: 2-10)”42  Schiffman believes that: “This is not a messianic Temple, rather it is an ideal Temple, built upon principals of scriptural exegesis and beliefs of the author(s).”43  It is clear that the subject of the Temple would be of great interest to a priestly sect such as the Sons of Zadok, who had withdrawn to the desert, have no Temple, and consider themselves the true priests.

Schiffman sees the Temple Scroll as seeking “to define the details of the sacrificial cult.”44  He describes the author of the Temple Scroll with the following: “He writes like a member of the ‘priestly circle,’ which transmitted and studied the cult writings of the Penteteuch. He sees no need to relate the cult to society. The cult in and of itself is his main preoccupation. Through it, and only through it, may one obtain Holiness and perfection. The only society that he envisions is one in which the King of Israel manages secular affairs and the Priests or Levites, from their central and unique sanctuary, provide almost vicariously for the religious needs of the people.”45  This Scroll definitely aligns with the hypothesis of a break-away sect of Zadokite priests and is talking about the ideal for the present. The author seems to be calling for a thorough revision of the existing Temple and Hasmonaean order of worship.

Schiffman in another source states: “The Temple presented is an ideal Temple, built upon the principals of scriptural interpretation. The author expects that this Temple will be replaced in the End of Days with a divinely created sanctuary. Until that time, this Scroll represents the correct way to build and operate the Temple.”46 

In the Temple Scroll are extensive laws that deal with the Temple Sacrificial procedure and with ritual purity and impurity. Schiffman sees the authorship of this document as Sadducean by “description of the Sadducees in Rabbinic literature, it is most likely that the sources of the Temple Scroll stem from the Sadducean heritage of those who founded the sect.”47 

As part of an ideal society, the Temple Scroll speaks of marriage and childbirth at the End of Days (Temple Scroll 48: 4-17)48  It seems that the Dead Sea sectarians certainly expected family life to be a normal part of Jewish life. There is no evidence of celibacy.

Miscellaneous Texts

Located throughout the Dead Sea Scrolls are various other texts which also lend support to the Sadducean authorship hypothesis:

The Commentary on Habakkuk 8: 5-6 – speaks of Jonathan the wicked priest, when he first arose he was called by the name of truth. He had good intentions, but then he was seduced and corrupted by wealth and power.49 

The Commentary on Psalms I 7: A – speaks of the liar who “led astray many by his lying words.” (wicked priest lying to the other Sadducees), “so they heeded not the interpreter of knowledge (Teacher of Righteousness).”50 

The Commentary on Psalms II 14-15 – The reference to Ephraim and Manasseh is referring to the two factions – Sadducees and Pharisees. The Sadducees are Mannasseh and the Pharisees are Ephraim.51  Both are opposed to the sect.

The Zadokite Fragment I: 15-20 – In the admonition the author speaks of a “scoffer” who arose “abolishing the ways of righteousness and removing the boundary with which the forefathers had marked out their inheritance.”52 

The patriarchs had understood that a boundary existed between Israel and the nations. This could be referring to the low wall in the Temple to keep the gentiles out. It could also be referring to the treaty the Hasmonaeans made with the Romans.


Two major themes which run through the Scrolls discussed in this paper and of major concern to the Dead Sea sect involve 1) obtaining ritual purity or atonement outside the Temple, in which they could no long participate, and 2) the attempt by the sect to organize their own perfect society in a world they saw as corrupted and defiled by the Hasmonaean and religious leadership in Jerusalem.

It is clear from the documents and texts discussed that they raise their own voice and give their own witness of the Sadducean origins of the Dead Sea sect. Clearly the Judaism practiced by this sect was all encompassing. By its very nature it reached into every aspect of their lives. To understand this ancient sect, linking God to man, we must first understand that which one is obliged to do – their Halakhah – or day to day expressions of their Law and practice. All other aspects of life are of secondary importance. It is only through the Halakhah that one begins to understand the real meaning of life in Judaism. This was true in ancient times and remains true today.

The Halakhic Letter, along with other texts carrying the legal material already discussed, i.e. the Zadokite Fragments, the Community Rule, and the Temple Scroll, give us a greater understanding of the daily life of the sect, its ideals, and how it was regulated. “The legal texts of any society open a window into its daily life unavailable elsewhere. From law we can learn social history, and this is the case with the Qumran material. Man’s debates about issues such as celibacy, attitude toward outsiders, position of the priests, etc. can best be clarified by a detailed investigation of the legal material in the Scrolls.”53 

I agree with Schiffman that the Halakhic Letter is a document of major importance in understanding the origins of the Dead Sea sect. Clearly this Scroll, together with historical evidence and with support from the other scrolls already discussed, seems to point toward a group of priests who emerged out of a conflict over a disagreement concerning various points of Jewish Law, with those who remained in control in the Jerusalem Temple. This document was written during the early stages of the Dead Sea sect’s development when these Sons of Zadok or Sadducean priests still hoped to return to participation in Temple worship.

Schiffman believes that “those holding the Essene theory must now argue that the term ‘Essene’ came to designate the originally Sadducean sectarians who had gone through a process of radicalization until they became a distinct sect.”54  Gradually, over time, these original Sadducean priests who had defected from the Temple began to develop the mentality of those who are rejected and outcast. Could it also be that over time they came to be known as Essenes?

Identifying the Qumran sect means gaining an understanding of the religious and political divisions that existed in ancient Judaism during Second Temple times and fitting the sect into the picture that emerges. The Scrolls tell us that the Qumran community had a priestly head. The priests of the community are called either the “Sons of Aaron” (Manual of Discipline 9: 7) or the “Sons of Zadok” (Messianic Rule 1: 24). In post-exile times, membership in the house of Zadok was a necessary prerequisite for holding a legitimate priestly office, as recorded in Ezekiel’s vision of the new Temple, only the Sons of Zadok are to have the right to make sacrifices (Ezek 40: 46)55  In the lists of priests in I Chronicles Chapter 6, the name of Zadok occurs in the same dominant position in the ancestral line, which was absolutely necessary for legitimate priesthood. The Qumran priests also claimed to derive their genealogy from the high priest Zadok. From their writings we know it was important to them that they maintain that status and be called and recognized as the Sons of Zadok. The Teacher of Righteousness was probably also descended from a priestly family for him to gain the acceptance and respect of these disassociated priests. He may possibly have been the residing high priest who was ousted when the Hasmonaeans took control. The sect also spoke of themselves as “the elect,” which would agree with the Sadducees and their position of aristocracy and their claim to be the true and legitimate heirs of Israel’s priesthood. In the Temple, they had been used to holding positions of power and authority and to providing for the religious needs of the people.

The Temple Scroll also gives us additional insight into this priestly sect. “The Temple Scroll is essentially a rewritten Torah into which the author has inserted his own version of Jewish Law.”56  Only through the sect could purity and holiness be obtained. The purity of Temple worship, along with the dimensions of an ideal Temple and the correctness of sacrificial procedure, would be of major importance to a sect of former Jerusalem Temple priests.

Also of importance are the archeological finds. No private dwellings have ever been found; only communal buildings. Two theories exist as to where the Dead Sea sect actually dwelt: 1) in caves surrounding the settlement or 2) in tents pitched around the communal buildings. Could it be these priests did indeed live with their families in sites surrounding the communal buildings? The all male cemetery was perhaps a priestly burial site of honor. The common theory that the Dead Sea sect was celibate seems to be supported more by sources that describe the Essenes than by the Scrolls themselves. References to marriage and family life are found in the Zadokite Fragments along with the Rule of the Congregation and Temple Scroll, which envisions family life at the End of Days. There is no concrete evidence that would support a conclusion that the Dead Sea sect were celibate. And if they were founded by Sadducean priests, they certainly would not be celibate.

In gaining an understanding of the issues and developments of the various sects in the Second Temple period, it is essential to understand that Jewish law was at the heart of the controversies which divided them. And so it was also for the Dead Sea sect, a group of Sadducean priests who could no longer accept and tolerate what was happening in Jerusalem. They defected to the desert to maintain the purity of Israel’s priesthood and in so doing, make a way for the Lord. (Is. 40: 3) Gradually, when attempts at reconciliation failed, the sect began to look upon itself as the True Israel – the “Sons of Light,” despising and condemning all others – the “Sons of Darkness.” The sect was born out of Sadducean conflict and it was conflict that sustained it, throughout its existence.

Copyright © 1996, Sandra S. Williams, All Rights Reserved
Do not copy any portion of this document without permission!




2 pensamientos en “Los Origenes Saduceos…

  1. Oscar R. Williams. dice:

    Estoy muy emocionado por leer este artículo. Es preciso y conciso. Me ha alegrado el alma. Lamentablemente, no cuento con mucho tiempo, así que no lo he podido leer completo. Sin embargo, creo que entre el Jueves (21/01/2010) y Viernes (22/01/2010), lo termino de leerlo.

  2. oscarlevi dice:

    Hey amigo del alma!
    Que feliz me hace que te haiga impactado la joven judia con su articulo.
    Me gozo con los que se gozan tambien…
    Que mejore tu salud,me alegra verte bien saludable.
    Hoy coloque algo nuevo y corto: DONDE ESTAS es una parafrasis de genesis..cortico pero profundo..te lo dedico.


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