Judaism

Did the Sadducees have a limited canon?

I’ve been on a canon kick, lately (see this and this). Here, I find another occasion to examine an Old Testament (OT) canon claim: the limited canon of the Sadducees.[2]It should be acknowledged that the term “canon” is anachronistic to the 1st century. It is used throughout this post for simplicity.

Christian tradition holds that the Sadducees we see in the New Testament (NT) only accept the first five books of the OT (the Torah/Pentateuch, or the books/Law of Moses) and reject all others, notably those of the Prophets. Some scholars question the traditional understanding and in reviewing the arguments and researching the history, I’m convinced the traditional view is erroneous.

Herein, I lay out my case based on a comprehensive review of all the information I can locate. We’ll look at inherent weaknesses in typical arguments, the patristic sources that are the origin of the tradition, historical context, and key passages of Scripture. On the latter, I’ll show: 1) that a prominent early church father misread a key passage and; 2) at least one Biblical passage contradicts the claim, thus providing positive evidence the Sadducees did, in fact accept the books of the Prophets, at minimum. In addition to positive Scriptural evidence, the most reliable sources of information on the 1st century Sadducees, including Josephus (whom the fathers may have also misread), and later Rabbinic literature are consistent. Each affirm a common Biblical canon, recognized by the NT Jewish sects.

In the NT era, the Samaritans (who generally weren’t considered Jews) are almost certainly the only group that recognizes a different canon. They also have a different temple and their separation from Israel long predates the NT era. The 1st century Jewish attitude towards Samaritans makes influence on the Sadducees unlikely, particularly considering the higher likelihood of Sadducees controlling the Temple in Jerusalem. Regarding Jewish sects of the Jerusalem Temple cult, I’ll demonstrate that the key differences between Pharisees and Sadducees are in their interpretation of Scripture, and the Sadducee rejection of the Oral Torah (Pharisaic traditions), not their rejection of written Scriptures.

Some of this analysis will draw from Lee M. McDonald’s The Biblical Canon: Its Origin, Transmission, and Authority, as a basis for discussing the traditional view. McDonald, helpfully, addresses this view relative to some scholarly dissent. This provides a useful framework for parts of the discussion. McDonald retains the traditional view but his argument relies on incorrect assumptions and doesn’t account for other, more decisive evidence.

References

References
1”File:Brooklyn Museum – The Pharisees Question Jesus (Les pharisiens questionnent Jésus) – James Tissot.jpg.” Wikimedia Commons. 3 Jan 2022, 00:46 UTC. 1 Jun 2023, 19:49 https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Brooklyn_Museum_-_The_Pharisees_Question_Jesus_(Les_pharisiens_questionnent_J%C3%A9sus)_-_James_Tissot.jpg&oldid=618722304.
2It should be acknowledged that the term “canon” is anachronistic to the 1st century. It is used throughout this post for simplicity.

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Simon Peter: Son of a Son of a Rock

Jesus and his disciples in Matthew 16 where the "rock" was associated with Simon Peter
Jesus and His disciples in Matthew 16, when the meaning of the “new” name that had previously been given to Simon Peter would have been made clear. (image source: Hole, William, 1846-1917, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Songs, sailors, and Simon’s sonship

Jimmy Buffett’s album “Son of a Son of a Sailor” along with it’s title track was released in 1978. About 12-13 years later, I was in High School and can remember purchasing the album as one of my first Compact Disc’s (CDs). I remember how eager I was to play “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” the song I had bought the CD for, but the title track is the first on the album and it was the first to echo through my speakers. In my minds eye, I can still see myself kneeling down, placing the disc in the tray of my Pioneer CD player, pressing play, and hearing the sound of those ship bells ring for the first time. The addition of Buffett’s guitar, Greg “Fingers” Taylor’s harmonica, and the rest of the instruments of the Coral Reefer band made for a masterful tune. Thus began an obsession with the iconic crooner that lasted at least two decades and included more than 40 visits to see Buffett in various venues around the country with fellow “Parrotheads.”

I have many fond memories of those years and have never really lost my appreciation for Buffett’s music, though my love for the tunes and the times cannot compare to love for the Lord and the wonder of His Word. Now, I will occasionally cycle through a few Buffett songs on the road with the window down on a warm sunny day, or maybe inside during winter when cabin fever sets in but reading, studying, and meditating on God’s Word is a superior joy.

He certainly doesn’t appear to be a believer but Jimmy Buffett is well known for the Margaritaville “state of mind” (and corresponding song) and a beachcomber style he’s popularized, making over a half-billion dollar fortune in 50+ years. What many may not know is that he was raised a Roman Catholic and has alluded to his religious upbringing in song, books, and interviews, many times over the years. In a lesser known song (though most Parrotheads know it well) named “We are the People Our Parents Warned Us About” he begins by decrying: “I was supposed to have been a Jesuit priest…”

Getting back to “Son of a Son of a Sailor,” I recently read a blog post and commented with some observations I’ve made regarding Simon Peter’s name and Jesus’ use of the word “rock” in Matthew 16:18. Afterwards, it occurred to me there are a number of parallels one can draw between the famous Buffett song and Simon Peter. Buffett’s background and the importance of that verse in Roman Catholicism are unintentional irony, I’m sure, but they inspired me to write this.

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