Yehoshua ha-Kohen Ha-Gadol was a Zadokite; that is, a Sadducee. That was the name of the entire priestly family, descendants of Tzadok, who were in control of the Temple from its very beginning until the time of the Maccabean Rebellion. The Tzadukian priesthood was their family identity; the concept of Sadduceean religious philosophy in contrast to that of the Pharisaic had not yet developed, and the seed of the conflict that was ultimately to divide them and create the profound enmity between the two groups had not yet germinated.
There were other priestly families, groups whose names and identities are known to us. But these were Kohanim who had been removed from functioning in the Temple. One prominent family was that of the priests who were descendants of Abiathar, the Kohen Gadol who had been removed from his position because of his alliance with Adoniyahu, the older brother of Solomon, who was his rival in the struggle for succession to the throne of David. The Kohen Tzadok was Solomon’s partisan and he was elevated by the new king to the position of primacy. Abiathar was exiled from Jerusalem and settled in the town of Anatoth, some ten kilometers northeast of Jerusalem. While a Kohen and the ancestor of many Kohanim, none of them functioned in the Temple of Jerusalem, since that was exclusively the prerogative of the family of the descendants of Tzadok. The most prominent member of the descendants of Abiathar was Jeremiah the Prophet, one of the greatest of Israel’s spiritual teachers, but never a functioning member of the Temple hierarchy.
Another family in the priestly line of descent from Aaron was that of the Kohanim of Modi’in, whose patriarch was Mattityahu. They too were barred from Temple duties and lived in Modi’in, some fifteen kilometers southwest of Jerusalem. The sons of Mattitahyu. led by Judah Maccabee, later played a prominent role in the history of the Jewish People, as we shall see.
The High Priests of Jerusalem who served during the reign of the emperor Antiochus IV Epiphanes had betrayed Judaism and the Jewish People when they agreed to compromise their rôle as High Priests and, by implication, as guardians of the Jewish religious tradition, by adopting Pagan practices and creating a syncretism between Judaism and Hellenic Paganism. Thus, when the Maccabean Rebellion started, the Tzadukian=Sadduceean High Priests became the enemies of those who fought to preserve traditional Judaism. The fighters for the Jewish tradition against the Hellenistic compromisers were the Hasmonean priests of Modiin and the Hasidim, the pietists who joined them in their struggle against the Hellenistic priesthood.
The conflict between the Hasmonean leaders of the Maccabean Rebellion and the Hellenizers ended in total victory for those who fought to preserve and reëstablish the religious traditions and interpretations of the Torah. These traditions, which had been developed in the Babylonian communities and transplanted to the land of Israel by Ezra and Nehemiah and the group which accompanied them from Babylonia, had continued to be the leading philosophy of Judaism; traditional Judaism.
As a result of this conflict, the Hasmonean victors, being Kohanim of the priestly family of Mattityahu Hashmonaï of Modin, assumed the rôle of the leading priests of the Temple in Jerusalem. Thus Shimon Hashmonaï, the only one of the brothers who survived the war, was installed as Kohen Gadol, as High Priest of Israel. It was the Hasmonean Dynasty, the descendants of Simon Hasmonean, who retained the position of High Priests of Israel and the functioning priests of the Temple in Jerusalem until its destruction in the year 70 of the Common Era.
But while the Hellenistic priests who had been ousted from their positions of leadership in the Temple by the Maccabees no longer exercised their priestly duties, they never yielded their claim to primacy in the priesthood by virtue of what they considered to be the Divine Will as expressed in the Torah and in the Prophets. Their claim to legitimacy was grounded in the words of the Torah as recorded in Deuteronomy. There, they claimed, the Divine Will was expressed in the words spoken by Moses to the People of Israel.