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The Sadducees - accepted only the Torah (thus rejecting the resurrection due to it not being mentioned), they were a part of the priestly caste, the high elite, wealthy, and educated. Would you categorize them as being ultra liberal (As Tim Keller does), or as ultra conservative?

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closed as primarily opinion-based by curiousdannii, fredsbend, Matt Gutting, bruised reed, Steve Nov 8 '14 at 18:42

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

Don't forget it's also possible that they don't fit conveniently any either of those categories. – DJClayworth May 7 '14 at 15:04
Please define what you mean by liberal and conservative, in this context. I'm sure that will mean different things to different people, which I suppose may be the crux of the answer to your problem, but I digress... – Steven Doggart May 7 '14 at 17:43
Very little is known about the Sadducees and what is known was written by their enemies. What do you understand 'Torah' to mean that was accepted by them? (They seem to have had laws outside the Pentateuch.) I suspect if you try and flesh your question out you will find that any answer about the Sadducees has little validity. We simply do not know enough about them to be objective. (There is the possibility of extrapolating from the behavior of people mentioned by Josephus and others that we suspect of being Sadducees and there are some rabbinical notes but that is tricky.) – gideon marx May 8 '14 at 8:42
This seems like an opinion only question. There is no objective standard of liberalism or conservatism. – curiousdannii Oct 27 '14 at 22:25
@curiousdannii You have enough rep for the close vote now. – fredsbend Oct 30 '14 at 3:37

While the parallels aren't exact, there are some points that are rather interesting. The Saducees believed in a strict interpretation of the Law as originally written, and rejected religious innovation. It wasn't so much that they didn't believe that there were prophets after Moses as that they didn't hold them to be prophets in quite the same, authoritative sense as Moses was, and therefore anything they said was of secondary value. Substitute "Moses" for "The Founding Fathers" and "The Law" for "The Constitution," (or alternatively "The Bible",) and a picture emerges that's rather familiar to Americans who follow politics.

The Pharisees, on the other hand, were quite innovative. They understood that times change, and believed that the Law had to adapt to the progress of society in order to remain relevant. This is the core of their notion of building a hedge around the Law: making sure that people didn't end up doing things that would violate the meaning of the Law even in cases that the Law had not originally covered. The modern phrase "living document" comes to mind...

As I said, the parallels aren't exact, but when you look at the two groups' respective treatment of the Law, the Saducees come off as highly reminiscent of modern conservatives, and the Pharisees as liberals.

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Can you please provide the sources you used to provide this answer. I would like to learn more about the Sadducees and Pharisees than is available in Josephus and the NT and you seem to draw from other sources that I have not yet seen. – gideon marx May 8 '14 at 8:16
So the Pharisees are the Democrats, which makes them the liberals. Makes sense, considering most Jews today are Democrats in the US, and they proudly boast of being the descendants of the Pharisees. – david brainerd May 10 '14 at 3:21

The disparity between those labeling them one way or the other is not due to there being disagreement over what the Sadducees and the Pharisees believed, who they were, or what they were like. Rather, the disparity is caused by a wishy-washy definition of the terms liberal and conservative. The terms liberal and conservative have many different meanings and can change depending on the context. They are also highly-charged political terms which can evoke unintended reactions. The variation in definitions for these words can be demonstrated by the fact that some people will say that Hitler was an ultra-conservative and some people will say he was an ultra-liberal. So who's right? The simple answer is, they are both right, depending on what you mean by the terms.

So, what exactly do the terms mean? Well, given the context that we are discussing here, there are really two particular facets to the definitions of the terms which seem to apply, namely:

Concerning Justice

  • Conservative - Strictly adheres to the letter of the law, thereby ensuring pure justice
  • Liberal - Willing to stray from the letter of the law, making room for mercy at the expense of justice

When using the "justice" test, you would say that the Pharisees were conservative and the Sadducees were liberal. The Pharisees were so concerned with following the letter of the Law that they invented and religiously followed all sorts of additional rules to keep them from ever getting even close to breaking any of the laws. They followed these rules with no concern for mercy. The Sadducees, on the other hand, were seemingly often more concerned with their power and position than they were about strictly adhering to the laws.

Concerning Tradition

  • Conservative - Maintains the traditions, wants to keep things the way they have always been
  • Liberal - Is willing to incorporate new ideas

When using the "tradition" test, you would say that the Sadducees were conservative and the Pharisees were liberal. The Sadducees treated the Torah as the most important and primary source for their religious beliefs. They were hesitant to put too much stock in the teachings of any other "inspired" works which came after the books of Moses. The Pharisees, on the other hand, followed many more modern traditions, some even at the expense of the original laws (see Matt 15:1-9 for an example).

In summary, both terms can accurately be applied to both groups, it just depends on what you mean by the terms.

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This is a little bit based on differing opinions. However, ultra conservatives are typically seen as being concerned about every detail of every part of the Scriptures. The Pharisees appear to have been much more like this.

Ultra liberals are often seen as those who readily dismiss many of the teachings of the Scriptures, preferring some passages and general principles over specifics.

In today's world, some ultra conservatives may assert that any work on Sunday is strictly forbidden, even though that law applied to Saturday under the Mosaic Covenant and not the New Covenant. Some ultra liberals may assert that merely believing in God's existence is the only thing that matters and that we should just love everyone and not suggest that anything is immoral, despite clear teachings of Scripture that contradict this.

So, since the Sadducees disregarded everything but the Torah, that seems to fit more with those that show preferential treatment to certain passages of Scripture. This lines up more with being liberal than being conservative.

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@DJClayworth Tried to explain a bit more. – Narnian May 7 '14 at 15:01
That makes more sense. Thanks. – DJClayworth May 7 '14 at 15:03
Or, if you say that conservatives are more interested in maintaining the traditions and keeping things the way they have always been, and liberals being more willing to make changes and accept new ideas, then you can flip your label assignments in the reverse... – Steven Doggart May 7 '14 at 17:45
@StevenDoggart Yes... it all depends on how one defines "conservative" and "liberal". That's why I started by affirming that it's based on opinion. – Narnian May 7 '14 at 17:58

According to the New Testament itself the disagreement between the Saducees and Pharisees was on the resurrection. But Josephus adds that the Sadducees believed in free-will more than the Pharisees who held to a kind of fatalism although not as rigid as that of the Essenes.

Josephus Antiquities of the Jews, Book 13, Chapter 5, paragraph 9:

Now for the Pharisees, they say that some actions, but not all, are the work of fate, and some of them are in our own power, and that they are liable to fate, but are not caused by fate. But the sect of the Essens affirm, that fate governs all things, and that nothing befalls men but what is according to its determination. And for the Sadducees, they take away fate, and say there is no such thing, and that the events of human affairs are not at its disposal; but they suppose that all our actions are in our own power, so that we are ourselves the causes of what is good, and receive what is evil from our own folly.

So conservative versus liberal here would depend on whether you think fatalism is liberal or free-will is liberal.

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