The Pharisees and Sadducees were political parties during the New Testament period. The Pharisees main purpose was to preserve and teach traditional Judaism. They insisted on a literal interpretation of the law and in following the traditions of the elders. The Sadducees were the social elite in Israel and rejected the oral law and were skeptical of the supernatural. They controlled the priesthood during the time of Jesus.

The first century writer Josephus says that

“the Sadducees have the support of the rich only but no following among the masses; the Pharisees, on the other hand, enjoy popular support. (Jos.Ant. 13.298)

As political parties, the Pharisees and Sadducees would have included a wide range of people of different occupations. It has been argued (Saldarini, 2001, p.284) that many of the Pharisees were probably bureaucrats, judges and teachers. Some were professional scribes; that is, they were copyists of the Law and probably of other documents also.

The Sadducees were an aristocratic group, concerned with running the temple and controlling a majority on the Sanhedrin (the Jewish parliament). Presumably they were paid for this work. Those who were priests were also able to receive part of the taxation based on the principle of tithing.

Further reading: Saldarini, A.J. (2001) Pharisees, scribes and Sadducees in Palestinian society: a sociological approach, Eerdmans.

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