John P. Meier, The Marginal Jew,
v.3, ch. 29: Jesus in Relation to Competing Jewish Groups: The Sadducees,
pp 389-487

(Detailed summary)

Who are these mysterious Sadducees?


The mysterious figure of the Sadducees is mentioned because we have no contemporary documents about them, and those we do have do not present them in a favorable light and show them in opposition to the Pharisees. The etymology of the word Sadducees, Saddûqîn, probably comes from the name of the priest Zadok in Jerusalem who served Kings David and Solomon. Thereafter, all the priests who based their legitimacy on this lineage were called sons of Zadok. The Sadducees group probably dates from the 2nd century BC when the Hasmoneans took control of the role of high priest in the Jerusalem temple, and it became a political-religious party in opposition to this illegitimate usurpation. In Jewish society, they are found among landowners, influential people and those with political power. They are part of the secular and priestly aristocracy. For much of the early Christian era, until the destruction of the temple in 70 AD, when the Romans ran the political life through a prefect, the Sadducees directly or indirectly controlled the work of the high priests in Jerusalem.

Rabbinic tradition presents them in conflict with the Pharisees on certain practices of ritual purity, civil responsibility, the writing of divorce papers, the Sabbath or criminal justice. In specific cases, they may appear either less rigorous or more rigorous than the Pharisees. Above all, they reject their innovations and additions to the Mosaic law, such as that of the 'erub, which allows a greater distance to be made on the Sabbath. As for doctrine, it was on the question of the resurrection of the dead that they would come into conflict with the Pharisees, rejecting what they saw as belonging to this flood of new and suspect ideas and preferring the solid rock of a sober conservatism that holds to the normative revelation of the Torah. It is precisely on the question of the resurrection of the dead that they will confront Jesus according to Mark's account (12:18-27). A close analysis of this text leads us to conclude, based on the criteria of discontinuity and coherence, that it echoes an event of the historical Jesus. Using Ex 3:6, there is something rabbinic and unique about Jesus' argument to demonstrate the existence of the resurrection and its "how."

Jesus in Relation to Competing Jewish Groups: The Sadducees

  1. The Problem of Identifying the Sadducees

    1. Introduction to the Problem

      The problem is that we have no contemporary record of the Sadducees or of anyone sympathetic to them. As we saw with the Pharisees, we have three sources: the New Testament, Flavius Josephus and rabbinic literature. But these sources do not present a favorable picture of the Sadducees: the Acts of the Apostles places the chief priests and the Sadducees in the group of incessant enemies of the Christians, while the Misha always vindicates the Pharisees in their disputes with the Sadducees. Later, in rabbinic literature, it is even questioned whether the Sadducees are really Jews. In addition to all this, it is sometimes difficult to know whether the word saddûqîn is really original in the manuscript, and not an addition to replace the words mînîm (heretic) or gôyîm (Gentile) as is sometimes seen. Finally, the relationship between the Sadducees and the Boethusians who are sometimes interchangeable in rabbinic literature is confusing. It is therefore best to limit ourselves to clear cases where the Sadducees are in opposition to the Pharisees.

      A Few Clear Lines in a Fuzzy Portrait

      1. Existence

        Their existence as a religio-political group in Judea in the early Christian era is supported by the multiple attestations of the New Testament, Flavius Josephus, and the rabbinic literature. However, this support is less strong than the support we have for the Pharisees.

      2. A Brief History

        Our knowledge is based on the Jewish historian Josephus who reports their existence from the Hasmonean Jonathan (160-143 BC). The Sadducees were overshadowed by the Pharisees during the following reigns until the time of Aristobulus I (104-103) and Alexander Jannaeus (103-76) when they regained their power, but lost it again to the Pharisees when Queen Salome Alexandra (76-69) took the throne. Herod the Great (40-4) marginalized them in favor of families of high priests whom he sought out in Egypt and Babylon. It is with the direct management of the Romans through the intermediary of the prefects around the year +6 that the Sadducees regain their influence: the Romans rely on the priestly and lay aristocracy for the current management in Jerusalem. We know the name of a high priest around 62 AD who was a Sadducee: Ananus the Younger. Unfortunately, the Sadducees as a group did not survive the destruction of Jerusalem around 70 AD, although they remained in the city during the final assault.

      3. Socioeconomic and Political Status
      4. According to Josephus (Jewish Antiquities, 13.10.6), the Sadducees were few in number and had no following among the common people. Their influence was among the elite and the wealthy. In Jewish society, they are found among landowners, influential people and those with political power. They are part of the secular and priestly aristocracy.

        The etymology of the word Sadducees, Saddûqîn, suggests the name of the priest Zadok in Jerusalem who served Kings David and Solomon. Thereafter, all the priests who based their legitimacy on this lineage were called sons of Zadok. They seem to have controlled the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem (around 520 or 515 BC) after the exile in Babylon. But with the Hasmonean takeover of power in the 2nd century BC and their assumption of the role of high priest forced the Sadducees to become a pressure group, a group claiming to be the only legitimate high priest against the Hasmonean intruders. Laymen will join this group to support this vision of a lineage that goes back to Zadok. Thus, they are both a religious and political party, made up of people from the old conservative aristocracy, both secular and priestly, focused on Jerusalem, its temple and the high priest.

      5. The Sadducees and the High Priesthood
      6. We have the same problem with the Sadducees as with the Pharisees: we can identify only a few individuals as being clearly Sadducees. Let us remember that at the end of the 2nd century BC John Hyrcanus began to support the Sadducees as did his successors Aristobulus I and Alexander Jannaeus. But it is not known whether the high priests in office were Sadducees. The first individual clearly identified as high priest and Sadducee by Josephus is Ananus II (or the Younger) around +62. This Ananus II is the son of Ananus I, better known in the New Testament as Annas (Lk 3:2; Jn 13:13,24; Acts 4:6), father-in-law of Joseph Caiaphas, high priest at the time of Jesus' arrest and crucifixion. Even though he was removed as high priest in +15, Annas was known to be a great political manipulator. He is probably partly responsible for the appointment of his son Ananus II as high priest. In addition to the father-in-law Caiaphas, five of his sons were also appointed: Eleazar (16-17), Jonathan (37), Theophilus (37-41), Matthias (43?), Ananus II (62). Thus, for 34 years the high priests were of Sadducee allegiance. In the Acts of the Apostles, it is mentioned that the high priests and the Sadducees intervene to arrest the apostles who proclaim the resurrection of the dead of Jesus. Whether or not the high priest was a Sadducee, he had to rely on the Sadducean aristocracy to rule.

      7. Hălākâ

        1. The Sadducees have been said to reject the Pharisees' claim to possess a tradition from the ancients, not contained in the Scriptures, but binding on every Israelite. And to this statement has been added the idea that the Sadducees only accepted the first 5 books of the Bible, called the Pentateuch, and rejected everything else. It is necessary to qualify this by saying first of all that the Sadducees were not different from what we will find later in the rabbinic tradition where, while accepting the other parts of the Bible, i.e. the Prophets and the Writings, they gave primacy to the Pentateuch. Moreover, the Sadducees had their own oral tradition, as one might expect, while the sons of the high priests learned what to do in the temple from the example of the father, not from the study of the Pentateuch whose guidelines were so general that they could not answer questions of detail. When in the second century BC the solar calendar was changed to the lunar calendar under pressure from the Pharisees, the Sadducees complied. There is every indication that the Sadducees had their own tradition (such as when the high priest should light the incense when he entered the holy of holies in the temple), even though they had to accept the Pharisees' tradition in practice.

        2. The Sadducees supported a number of rules and opinions related to daily practices (halakôt) that were not contained in the Mosaic law.

          1. According to the Mishna Yad. 4:6, the Sadducees are less stringent than the Pharisees in rejecting the idea that touching the Scriptures makes the hands unclean, but they accept the idea that touching human bones makes a person unclean.

          2. According to the Mishna Yad. 4:7, the Sadducees are more stringent than the Pharisees in stating that a liquid flowing continuously from a pure vessel to an impure vessel makes the former and its contents impure.

          3. According to the Mishna Yad. 4:7, the Sadducees are less stringent than the Pharisees in stating that water flowing from a cemetery does not make one unclean.

          4. According to the Mishna Yad. 4:7, the Sadducees were more stringent than the Pharisees in their view of civil liability, stating that an owner is not only responsible for damage caused by his ox or donkey, but also by his slave.

          5. The Sadducees had their own way of writing the divorce document (the mention of God at the bottom of the page, not that of Moses).

        3. The Sadducees are rigorous in refusing the accommodation of the Pharisees known as 'Erub, which allows movement over a greater distance than the Sabbath law permits, by depositing in the public square a personal object that is automatically enlarging one's property (see Mishna, 'Erub 6, 1-2).

        4. The Mishna Mak., 1, 6 speaks of the problem of false testimony responsible for a person's death sentence. The Sadducees' position is less rigorous in terms of criminal justice than that of the sages (hakamîm) based on Deut 19:19-21 and saying that the false witness should only be put to death if the accused died as a result according to the biblical principle of "a life for a life".

        In short, when one compares the position of the Sadducees and the Pharisees regarding the halakot, one notes the rejection by the former of the innovations and additions to the Mosaic law made by the latter, such as that of the 'erub. On the other hand, the Sadducees also have their own traditions which are not contained in the Pentateuch. But here they differ from the Pharisees in two ways: on the one hand, instead of asserting that the traditions of the elders are as important as Scripture, they try to demonstrate that the points of their tradition are somehow found in Scripture by forcing the exegesis of the texts; on the other hand, unlike the Pharisees, they refuse to impose their traditions on the people.

      8. Doctrine

        It is on the level of doctrine more than on that of daily practices (halakôt) that the Sadducees resist Pharisaic innovations that go beyond the letter of the Pentateuch.

        1. According to Flavius Josephus (Jewish Antiquities, 18.1.4, Jewish War 2, 8.14), Mk 12:18-27, and Acts 23:8, the Sadducees reject the Pharisaic innovation of a belief in the resurrection of the dead. In this, they are only doing the correct exegesis of the full meaning of the Pentateuch. The canon of the Jewish Scriptures never explicitly teaches the resurrection of the dead, with the exception of the book of Daniel. And let us not forget that the latter appeared a decade or two before the Sadducee or Pharisee movement crystallized into a socio-political party. The Sadducees held the common view of a descent into Sheol at the time of death, a dark and gloomy subterranean place, with no idea of reward or punishment for good or evil committed.

        2. This idea of a resurrection of the dead and the promise of a blessed and eternal life for the righteous comes from Jewish apocalyptic eschatology which flourished from the third century BC until the second century of the Christian era. In this context, the Sadducees appear as the solid rock of a sober conservatism that holds to the normative revelation of the Torah in the face of the flood of new and suspect ideas. This is not to say that the Sadducees had no eschatological hope. If we look at Isa 2:1-5 or Isa 60:1-22, we can imagine that they hoped for the day when the Temple-state would become the center of the world and even the Gentiles would bring their offerings there.

        3. This rejection of an apocalyptic theology also entails the rejection of that lush angelology and demonology which forms the framework of the last judgment. This rejection allows us to understand a surprising statement found in Acts 23:8: "For the Sadducees say that there is neither resurrection nor angel nor spirit, while the Pharisees profess both". But how can it be said that the Sadducees do not believe in angels when they are found throughout the Old Testament (see Gen 3:24; 28:12)? Luke is mistaken about the Sadducees: since he imagines the people who rise from the dead as angels (see Lk 20:36), he probably imagines that by rejecting the resurrection of the dead the Sadducees also reject angels.

        4. When Josephus presents to his Greco-Roman audience the three dominant politico-religious movements of his time using the fate/free will standard, he simplifies things as follows: a) the Essenes attribute everything to fate, b) the Pharisees combine fate and free will, c) the Sadducees deny the existence of fate. Such statements must be read with a critical eye. How could people like the Sadducees deny divine intervention, when they welcome the Pentateuch which tells of God's action with the Patriarchs and his people to bring them out of Egypt, and shows how much he cares for his people by promising to help the widow and the orphan? Moreover, how could they officiate at the temple in Jerusalem where they offered prayers and sacrifices on behalf of the people to ask for God's blessing and forgiveness of sins if they had no faith in a divine response? Josephus exaggerates the tendency of the Sadducees to be pragmatic, as they had to manage everyday life under the Roman government. Moreover, the Sadducees may have been influenced by the post-exilic theology that emphasized the transcendence of God and that he was not responsible for evil on earth.

  2. Jesus' Dispute with the Sadducees Over the Resurrection of the Dead (Mark 12:18-27 Parr.)

    18 Then some Sadducees came to him - people who say there is no resurrection - and asked him, saying, "Teacher, Moses wrote for us, 'If a brother dies and leaves a wife without children, let him take the wife and raise up children for his brother. 20 There were seven brothers. The first took a wife and died without descendant. 21 The second took a wife and died without descendant, and so did the third; 22 and none of the seven left descendant. After all of them the woman also died. 23 In the resurrection, when they rise again, to which of them will she be the wife? For the seven had her as their wife." 24 Jesus said to them, "Do you not err, knowing neither the Scriptures nor the power of God? 25 For when one is raised from the dead, he does not take a wife or a husband, but is like an angel in heaven. 26 As for the dead being raised, have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the passage of the Bush, how God said to him, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? 27 He is not a God of the dead, but of the living. You are greatly mistaken!"
    1. Introduction to the Sadducees in the Gospels

      This episode appears only in the evangelist Mark (Mk 12:18-27 || Mt 22:22-33 || Lk 20:27-38), which Matthew and Luke only copy. Otherwise, Matthew only mentions the Sadducees in incidental roles.

      • Mt 3:7: As he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to be baptized, he said to them, "You brood of vipers, who suggested that you escape the coming wrath?"
      • Mt 16:1: Then the Pharisees and Sadducees came to him and asked him, in order to test him, to show them a sign from heaven.
      • Mt 16:11: How do you not understand that my word was not about bread? Beware, I say, of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees!" Then they understood that he had said to beware, not of the leaven out of which bread is made, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

      They are totally absent from the gospel of John as well as from the epistles of Paul. This should not be surprising, since, on the one hand, they constitute a very small group of priestly and lay aristocrats located in Jerusalem, and on the other hand, they disappeared completely from the socio-political landscape after the fall of Jerusalem in the year 70, thus in a period when the writing of the gospels began. The gospel according to Mark, written a little before or after this date, would then bear the reminiscences of an event that would go back to the historical Jesus.

    2. The Form-Critical Category of the Pericope

      This pericope belongs to a literary genre called "dispute".

      • A teaching or practice of Jesus, i.e. his faith in the resurrection, is questioned by making a mockery of it with the story of the seven brothers who must take turns marrying their brother's widow, according to the law of levirate (Deut 25:5);

      • Jesus responds concisely and incisively with a witty argument, i.e. he reproaches the Sadducees for a) their ignorance of God's power to make deceased people like angels, and therefore without the need for the coupling of marriage, and b) their ignorance of the scriptures, especially Ex 3:6 ("I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.") where God can refer only to living beings;

      • The debate ends with a defeat of the opponents for the Christian audience, i.e. a scribe recognizes that Jesus has answered correctly (v. 28).

    3. The Placement of the Dispute Within Mark's Gospel

      There are two cycles of dispute in the gospel, the first in Galilee (Mk 2:1 – 3:6) before Jesus' ministry there reaches its climax, the second in Jerusalem (Mk 11:27 – 12:37) before the climax of his trial and death. These two cycles aim to present a growing hostility towards Jesus, the outcome of which Mark's audience knows, his trial and death. In this second cycle, where our pericope is situated, there are six disputes.

      1. In 11:27-33 the chief priests, the scribes and the elders challenge the authority of Jesus who has destroyed the commercial organization of the temple;

      2. The parable of the homicidal vinedressers (12:1-12) is not technically a dispute, but because of the similarity of the audience and the context of a response by Jesus to the challenge to his authority, it takes on a highly polemical tone that ends with the desire to arrest Jesus;

      3. In 12:13-17 Mark introduces the Pharisees and Herodians, the same group mentioned in his first cycle of controversies, to ask Jesus a trick question about the tax due to Caesar. By linking the two cycles, Mark intends to emphasize the fatal fate that awaits Jesus;

      4. The fourth dispute (12:18-27), our debate on the resurrection of the dead, introduces a new group of opponents, the Sadducees;

      5. The fifth text (12:28-34) does not at first appear to be a dispute, and is rather seen as a scholastic dialogue with its discussion of the first commandment with a sympathetic scribe. But Mark follows it with an attack on the scribes by Jesus (12:38-40) about their teaching on the Messiah, and thus maintains the polemical tone of the whole;

      6. The last text (12:41-44) about the poor widow who puts two coins into the temple treasury can be seen as a summary of the whole insofar as it is seen above all as a condemnation of the temple authorities who exploit the poor.

      These six pericopes demonstrate Mark's literary talent in tying together heterogeneous texts to construct a cycle of dispute in Jerusalem marked by growing opposition to Jesus, which can only end with his arrest, trial and death. In spite of everything, our debate on the resurrection of the dead, taken by itself, does not involve any Christian rewriting and is perfectly situated within the framework of first century Judaism.

    4. The structure of Mark 12:18-27

      The story is meticulously constructed in two well-balanced parts.

      1. In vv. 18-23 the Sadducees lead the action.
        • (a) In the first subsection (v.19), the Sadducees refer to the law of levirate (Deut 25:5) to emphasize God's will to ensure descent for the first brother;
        • (b) In the second subsection (vv. 20-23) the Sadducees emphasize the failure of the brothers to provide offspring for the deceased husband and mockingly ask the trick question of the husband in the next life; v. 23, which speaks of the seven brothers, is included with v. 20, which introduced the seven brothers;

      2. In vv. 24-27 it is Jesus who leads the action. He answers the Sadducees' objection in two subsections, i.e. a) the fact of the resurrection and b) the how. But he reverses the order by starting with the how.
        • (b) In v. 25 Jesus explains that God can by his power raise someone from the world of the dead into an angel-like existence where sexual rules no longer apply;
        • (a) Vv. 26-27 mark a change of subject (as to the fact that the dead rise) and Jesus makes his point by referring to the same Pentateuch used by the Sadducees, i.e. Ex 3:6 where God shows his concern for his people at the burning bush, and defines himself as the God who revealed himself to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, not to the dead, but to the living. The narrative ends with the mention of the Sadducees' error, which repeats the very beginning when Jesus speaks of their error, a literary form called inverted parallelism or chiasm.

      Faced with such a well-constructed narrative, it is difficult to accept the theory of a pericope constructed randomly in several stages, with various additions over time.

    5. Exegesis of Mark 12:18-27

      1. In the first part (vv. 18-23) Mark has to introduce the Sadducees ("of those who say there is no resurrection") who were not known by their Christian audience.

        • (a) In v.19 the Sadducees give the title of "teacher" (Rabbi) to Jesus, a simple de facto recognition of his reputation as a teacher to the crowds. Then they appeal to Moses, i.e., to the Pentateuch, which enjoyed a pre-eminent place through the Scriptures, to emphasize the law of levirate (Deut 25:5 and Gen 38:8), which was intended to raise offspring from a deceased man and to ensure that ancestral property remained within the family. In the logic of the Sadducees, God can only ask someone to raise up offspring in the context of that life being the only life possible;

        • (b) In the second subsection (vv. 20-23) the Sadducees propose the fictional case of a man who died without leaving any offspring. The story takes a folkloric turn: the case of two brothers would have been sufficient to demonstrate his point, but the story expands the number first to three, typical in stories, and then to seven, a symbol of totality. To understand the argument of the Sadducees, it is necessary to know that as much as polygamy (one man with several wives) could be accepted, even if it was very limited in the first century, polyandry (one woman with several men) was perceived as something repugnant and unacceptable. The resurrection of the seven deceased brothers would lead to polyandry, which is why it is impossible;

      2. In vv. 24-27 Jesus responds to the Sadducees by first asking them a question: are you not ignorant in the knowledge of both the Scriptures and the power of God? Then he will deal with these two points in reverse order, for he must first remove the obstacles related to the "how" of the resurrection before the Sadducees can seriously consider the a) fact of the resurrection itself.

        • (b) To understand v. 25, where Jesus speaks of the risen ones as angel-like, we must forget our perception of angels as pure spirits without bodies or sexuality. In Judaism, angels were thought to have rarefied and refined bodies (like fire) while retaining their genitals (Isa 6:1-3 speaks of Seraphim hiding their feet, a euphemism for genitals). But since this body is now immortal, they no longer need to exercise their sexuality in procreation, hence their state of eternal celibacy. This is the transformation that God will bring about in dead people through his omnipotence. Thus, the Sadducees' objection to polyandry is self-evident, and Jesus highlights their theological ignorance.

        • (a) Having eliminated the "how" objection, Jesus can now address the fact of the resurrection itself in vv. 26-27. By referring to Ex 3:6 (I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob?) Jesus' approach is still theological. To understand it, a number of considerations must be made.

          1. A scriptural argument must be understood in its cultural context, for it is intended to convince a particular group; our way of doing exegesis would be incomprehensible in Jesus' time.

          2. To understand the cultural gap, we need only read again the Babylonian Talmud (6th century), tractate Sanhedrin 90b-91a, where the texts used to support the resurrection of the dead seem to have nothing to do with this reality, as does Jesus, and where the type of exegesis used seems to us to be twisted and tendentious.

          3. The rabbinic approach is of the apologetic type where one addresses a believing and preconquered public to whom one does not feel the need to explain certain logical rules.

          4. But Jesus is not really a rabbi, not having received the appropriate training, and his use of Ex 3:6 to demonstrate the resurrection of the dead is without parallel in the rabbinic world.

          5. However, Jesus' exegesis is not arbitrary and corresponds to the meaning that Ex 3:6 has received over time in the Jewish world. When we say "God of" (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob), we evoke the idea of a God who freely chooses people and their descendants to make them his people, to protect them, to free them from peril, including the ultimate peril of death.

          6. The use of the great patriarchs as symbols of the final salvation that transcends this world receives confirmation from another word of Jesus, from the Q Document, which we have already considered authentic: Mt 8:11-12 || Lk 13:28-29 (Well, I tell you that many will come from the east and the west to take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the Kingdom of Heaven). One can only understand the use of Ex 3:6 within an eschatological proclamation of Jesus addressing conquered people.

          7. In the Jewish world, a person's name is not simply a label of some kind, but defines his inner being and his abilities. Now, if the God of life defines himself in relation to persons, he cannot define himself in relation to dead beings.

          8. Similar to some rabbis, Jesus' argument takes the form of a syllogism:
            1. Major premise: In Ex 3:6 God defines himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, a definition that holds for all time
            2. Minor premise: Now, as it is stated throughout the Old Testament, our God is the God of the living only, not of the dead, otherwise this relationship would make him impure.
            3. Implied Conclusion: If God's being is truly defined by its relationship to the three patriarchs, then the three patriarchs must be alive (now or in a future life) and in living relationship with God.

        In this debate with the Sadducees, Jesus presents this life beyond death as a resurrection. And this resurrection comes from the saving action of God which was revealed in the time of the patriarchs and continues with their descendants.

      In summary, just as the literary structure of the story was very well chiseled, its theological content is totally coherent, and all this argues for the original unity of the pericope. It is easy to imagine this narrative as the work of a first-century Christian. But the question remains: does it reflect an event in the life of Jesus?

    6. The Debate on the Resurrection of the dead: an Incident From the Ministry of the Historical Jesus?

      We must answer two questions: (1) was the account composed by Mark himself or by a first generation Christian teacher? (2) Does the account preserve an event from the ministry of the historical Jesus?

      1. Most exegetes do not consider this account to be the work of Mark himself for the following reasons.
        1. The controversies in which our story is set are a motley collection that Mark painstakingly puts together to try to dramatize the growing tension between Jesus and his opponents

        2. Mark does not even attempt to link our story to the story of Jesus' passion, and even seems to ignore the relationship between the Sadducees and the chief priests who will condemn him to death

        3. The theme of the resurrection of the dead in this account is atypical of Mark's theology, which shows no interest in the state of the risen up or in the scriptural support of the resurrection of the dead

        4. The use of the word anastasis (resurrection) does not reflect Mark's usual vocabulary, which prefers "to rise" (anistēmi: Mk 8:31; 9:31; 10:34) or "to awaken" (egeirō: Mk 14:28; 16:6).

        Some see Mark's additions to v. 23, first the doublet (At the resurrection, when they shall rise), to emphasize the difficulty of a faith in the resurrection, and then the reminder that the woman had seven husbands (For the seven shall have had her for a wife.), to emphasize the difficulty, if not the impossibility, of solving the riddle. But this is only a hypothesis, as the story could be totally pre-Marcan.

      2. This story is therefore a Christian composition that precedes Mark. Even if it does not exactly repeat the words of Jesus, it nevertheless reflects a historical event if we use two of our criteria of historicity.

        1. The criterion of discontinuity
          1. Sometimes Christians invent stories of dispute around issues that Jews and Christians quarreled over in the first century, such as the Sabbath and ritual purity. In this case, the opponents of Jesus are usually the scribes and Pharisees. But our story features Sadducees, which is quite unusual, because the gospels show no interest in these people.

          2. Early Christians created narratives about hot-button issues, such as the Sabbath and ritual purity, to crystallize their position and the practice of the early church. But the question of the levirate and sexuality in the next life was not one of these hot topics. And it is hard to see how Jewish Christians could have engaged in this debate, since they had no opportunity to meet the secular or priestly aristocracy of Jerusalem through the Sadducees.

          3. When the first Christians speak of the resurrection of the dead, it is always on the basis of the resurrection of Jesus himself, and never on the basis of a scriptural text, much less Ex 3:6.

          4. Jesus' use of Ex 3:6 is quite unique and is not found anywhere else, neither in the Old Testament, nor in the intertestamental literature, nor in the rabbinic tradition, nor even in the rest of the New Testament. Only two passages in the Acts of the Apostles refer to Ex 3:6, i.e. Acts 7:32 where Stephen uses it as an event in salvation history when in the burning bush God calls Moses to his mission, and Acts 3:13 where Peter proclaims that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob has glorified this Jesus whom the authorities had put to death. Luke, the author of the Acts of the Apostles, never tries to link this allusion to Ex 3:6 to the general fact of the resurrection of the dead, even though he has included in his gospel the account of Jesus' debate with the Sadducees.

        2. The criterion of coherence. It is recognized that Jesus' focus was on the imminence of God's reign and his action was to ensure that all the living standing on its doorstep would enter it, and thus he had no interest in speculating about the afterlife. In spite of this, Jesus nevertheless alluded to a general resurrection.

          1. In addition to Mk 12:26, there is another excerpt from the Q Document, Mt 8:11 || Lk 13:29: Well, I tell you that many will come from the east and the west to take their place at the feast with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. As an eschatological prophet, Jesus proclaims that this life continues through the final stage of a miraculous transformation. The resurrection is evoked in the form of a final banquet. Jesus speaks to us about this future life symbolically, not by doing systematic theology.

          2. In Lk 14:14, Luke's own material, Jesus invites giving without ulterior motive and ends with, Will you be glad then that they have not enough to repay you? For it will be returned to you at the resurrection of the just. In this typical form of the beatitudes, Jesus alludes to the last day, understood as a general resurrection.

          3. In a text from the Q Document (Mt 11:21-24 || Lk 10:13-15), the eschatological prophet Jesus inveighs against the cities of Galilee that rejected him, including Capernaum: So I tell you, for the land of Sodom there will be less severity on the Day of Judgment than for you. We have already discussed the historical value of this text. To speak of a Day of Judgment implies a life after life, and thus a resurrection.

          4. A similar prophecy about the final judgment is found in another text of the Q tradition, as Jesus condemns the attitude of his countrymen who refuse his teaching (Mt 12:41-42 || Lk 11:31-32): The men of Nineveh will stand up at the Judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and there is more here than Jonah! Here we have an echo of Jesus' typical enigmatic preaching with its "there is here" reference to the reign of God. And the Judgment refers in a natural way to the general resurrection.

          5. We find in Mk 9:43-47 || Mt 18:8-9 || Mt 5:29-30 various words of Jesus on the scandal: And if your eye is an occasion of sin to you, pluck it out: it is better for you to enter the Kingdom of God one-eyed than to be cast with your two eyes into Gehenna. Thus, Jesus presupposes the resurrection of bodies. And the radical and shocking nature of these images fits well with Jesus' preaching, and one would look in vain for parallels in the rest of the New Testament.

          6. At his last supper, Jesus makes this statement: Truly, I say to you, I will not drink any more of the produce of the vine until the day when I drink the new wine in the Kingdom of God (Mk 14:25). We have already discussed the historicity of this text. Here, Jesus expresses his hope that God will snatch him from death when his reign comes to an end and so he can sit at the final banquet. The image indirectly evokes the general resurrection, without openly proclaiming it.

      In short, it is not so much the detail of each text as their cumulative effect that convinces us that Jesus, on various occasions, in various ways, under various images, spoke of a last judgment, and refers to the general resurrection. But if Jesus only occasionally and indirectly alluded to the resurrection, what could lead him to address this question directly? Mk 12:18-27 gives us the answer: when people who deny the resurrection like the Sadducees confront him. Thus, this story would reflect an incident in the ministry of the historical Jesus that took place in Jerusalem.

      Jesus did believe that at some point in the eschatological drama the past generations would rise from death and that all faithful Israelites would share a new, angel-like life, one that no longer required the exercise of sexuality. And he proclaimed his faith with authority, as one who knows.

Did the Qumran Essenes influence Jesus?

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