The Sadducees, Lawrence H. Schiffman, Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls, Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia, 1994.


Temple Scroll

Temple Scroll

Unfortunately, the scrolls give us much less direct material about the legal theology of the Sadducees than about the Pharisees. We can only tentatively sketch the outlines of their point of view by using material from the scrolls. Our sources are so indirect that we have no choice but to start with the evidence of Josephus-

For the moment I wish only to explain that the Pharisees had passed on to the people certain regulations handed down by former generations and not recorded in the Law of Moses, for which reason they are rejected by the Sadducean group, who say that only those regulations should be considered obligatory which were written down (in Scripture), and that those which had been handed down by the fathers should not be observed. And regarding these matters the two parties came to have disputes and serious differences … (ANTIQUITIES 13, 297–298)

Like the sectarians, the Sadducees rejected the nonbiblical laws of the Pharisees. It is not that the Sadducees did not have their own interpretations of the Bible; what they rejected were regulations with no scriptural basis.

The only way we can corroborate this information in the Qumran material is to posit a series of probable assumptions. As we have already seen, the Halakhic Letter, Miqsat Ma‘ase ha-Torah, reflects the view of the sect’s Sadducean forerunners, who could not accept the Maccabean takeover of the high priesthood and the attendant Pharisaic influence in the Temple. In several cases, laws mentioned in rabbinic sources in the name of the Sadducees appear there as those espoused by the authors, who are the founders of the Qumran sect. Because a number of laws in the Halakhic Letter are similar to the presectarian sources of the Temple Scroll, we can generally conclude that the sources of the Temple Scroll represent teachings of the Sadducees, arguing for their beliefs and interpretations regarding the Temple.

If this theory is correct, and it is still only a theory, then the approach by the author of the Temple Scroll to the questions we have been discussing would indicate to us something about the Sadducean point of view. If the Temple Scroll, Josephus, and rabbinic sources all agree, we can at least consider this theory to be logical. Let us investigate this line of reasoning to try to derive a probable set of Sadducean principles on the issues of divine revelation and the provenance of extrabiblical laws. It is to this difficult task that we now turn.

In the Temple Scroll we find a point of view very different from either the Pharisaic materials or the sectarian documents from Qumran. Essentially, the approach used by this author (or by the author’s sources to the extent that they can be isolated) is to regard all laws as derived from a onetime experience of revelation at Sinai. In order to make this point, the author carefully weaves together his own legal views so that they seem to speak in the language of the Torah. Even when the author has no choice but to compose entire sections himself, he does so through imitation so as to present both the canonical Torah and his own Torah as if constituting one divine revelation. Indeed, even the intermediacy of Moses is eliminated so that the revelation of the Torah to Israel is direct. Furthermore, by rewriting the Torah in a certain manner, the author eliminates the impression that there was a series of revelations. After all, the Torah itself speaks of revelations at Sinai, on the plains of Moab, and in the Tent of Meeting. But to this author all is from God—even the author’s own interpretations—and the laws were presented all at once at Sinai.

In contrast to the other two approaches we have encountered, this text does not recognize any other body of material—interpretive, traditional, or otherwise. What to us is clearly the author’s interpretation is presented here as God’s Torah itself. Such an approach is probably closest to that of the Sadducees. If so, we can now conclude that the Sadducean legal system accepted only laws regarded as actually implicit in the Torah, which were seen as integral to the Sinaitic Torah and directly revealed by God. Although we cannot know for sure whether the views expressed in the Temple Scroll are totally Sadducean or merely close to the Sadducean approach, it is clear that thanks to this document and the Halakhic Letter we are a lot closer to Sadducean views than ever before.

All Jewish groups in the Second Temple period tried to assimilate extrabiblical teachings into their way of life. The Dead Sea sect did so through the concept of the nigleh (“revealed”) and nistar (“hidden”). All Jews were permitted access to the revealed, that is, the simple meaning of Scripture and its explicit commandments. Only the sect possessed the hidden knowledge, discovered through inspired biblical exegesis, regularly conducted by members of the sect. Tradition had no authority, since all Israel had gone astray. The true way had only been rediscovered by the sect’s teacher. The rules and the interpretations upon which the rules were based taught the sect how to follow the Torah correctly in the present, premessianic age.

On the other hand, the Pharisees observed traditions “handed down by the fathers” as well as “unwritten laws.” These included various legal traditions of great antiquity as well as interpretations of the biblical texts. Indeed, the Pharisees were known as expounders of the Torah and seem to have excelled in the application of the laws of the Torah to their own circumstances and times. Somewhat later, the successors to the Pharisees, the early Rabbis, the teachers of the Mishnah, would stress that these traditions had been revealed by God to Moses on Sinai as a second Torah. Thus, the Rabbis asserted, God had given two Torahs to Israel, the written and the oral. For the Rabbis, this view essentially elevated the oral Torah to a sanctity and authority equal to that of the written.

The common claim that the Sadducees were strict literalists represents a misunderstanding of their approach, to a great extent predicated on late rabbinic sources and on a parallel misunderstanding of the medieval Karaite movement. The Sadducees apparently regarded only the written law as authoritative, although they admitted the need to interpret it. Their interpretations attempted to adhere as closely as possible to the plain meaning of Scripture.

Against this background, we can now understand the approach of the author/redactor of the Temple Scroll. Seeking to assimilate extrabiblical traditions, the author contends that his new, rewritten Torah properly expresses the will of God as revealed in the original document. The author further claims that the correct meaning of the divine revelation at Sinai, apparently left vague in the canonical Torah, is to be found in the Temple Scroll. Thus, like the sectarians of Qumran, the author has no dual Torah concept such as that of the Rabbis. Neither does he accept the sectarian notion of a continuous, inspired revelation through biblical exegesis. Rather he affirms only a onetime revelation at Sinai of a single Torah, the true contents of which are expressed in the scroll he has authored and redacted. We will now take a closer look at this scroll and its unique system of law and biblical interpretation.

Pages 252-255

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