These two contending groups were struggling for control of the Jewish People during a critical period in history. Who were the Sadducees and what was their claim to authority? The historian Josephus describes the major religious differences among the Jewish People. The following description of the beliefs of the Sadducees is given by Josephus.
According to Josephus, the Sadducees are opposed to the doctrines of the Pharisees. They believe that God is not concerned with human actions. The Sadducees deny the immortality of the soul and the possibility of reward and punishment in the afterlife. This is the doctrine of the Sadducees: The soul dies with the body. They observe only those laws that are written in the Torah. The doctrine of the Sadducees does not attract a large following. They have few followers, and most of these are people in the highest positions; one could say their following is among the aristocracy. While the Sadducees are able to persuade none but the wealthy classes and show no concern for the masses of the people, most of whom are poor, the Pharisees are concerned with the welfare of the common people and the people follow their teachings.
The Pharisees have transmitted to the people a great many laws and observances which they in turn received from their forefathers. Many of these laws are not written in the Torah of Moses. It is for that reason that the Sadducees reject them. On the contrary, say the Sadducees, only those laws are obligatory, which are written in the Torah. We are not to observe those laws which the Pharisees claim are legitimate traditions which have come down from our predecessors. It is concerning these matters that great disputes and differences have arisen between them.
Now concerning the Pharisees, they live simply and have no desire for luxury. They follow the conduct of reason and respect their elders. They believe that a man,in his actions, must choose between good and evil, because they believe in reward and punishment. They believe in the immortality of the soul and in the resurrection of the dead.
The Pharisees control the courts, therefore, when Sadducees are appointed to judicial positions, they resent their position, since they must follow the directions of the Pharisees, with whom they disagree.
The Sadducees are mentioned in the New Testament and some of their ideas are
Presented as follows: The Sadducees say there is no resurrection. Mark 12:18
Then came some of the Sadducees who deny that there is any resurrection. Luke 20:27
Then the High Priest rose up and all they that were with him, which is the sect of the Sadducees. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel nor spirit, but the Pharisees believe in both. Acts 23:8
It is apparent from both the account of Josephus and that of the gospels of Mark and Luke and the Book of Acts, that these statements are quite late in the history of the Pharisaic-Sadducean conflict, and what they report is but a fraction of the arguments that the Sadducees put forth in support of their position and the opposing views of the Pharisees. The conflict has its origins in the events that led up to the rebellion of the Maccabees and the ouster of the Hellenizing priests from the Temple. The opposing groups may not have been known by these names at the time, but the ideas that were the foundations of their religious “philosophies,” to use the term Josephus applies, were already formulated and became the basis of the conflict that persisted down to the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple in the year 70 of the Common Era.