Pharisees and Sadducees


I am curious, how many Pharisees and Sadducees were there during Jesus’ time?


We don’t know for sure, although since the Sadducees were mainly priestly aristocrats and the Pharisees had members from all walks of life (some were priests and aristocrats, but most were lay ‘peasants’ - in this case meaning everyone who was not upper-class), the Sadducees would have been in the minority numbers-wise (it’s not as if all aristocrats and chief priests were Sadducees; they were a small segment within that class.). In fact Josephus claims that “the Sadducees are able to persuade none but the rich, and have not the populace obsequious to them, but the Pharisees have the multitude on their side.”

It’s become a cliche to portray the Pharisees as stern and overly-legalistic (a picture encouraged by the gospels’ criticism of them), although when you compare them to say, the Sadducees or the Qumran Community (Essenes?), both of which appearing to have a more scrupulous and strict interpretation of the Mosaic Law, they’re actually more on the lenient / liberal side. Which is why the people sided with them and respected them more.


As you hinted or stated: the Pharisees were seen by some as the liberals.

Josephus does say that there were 6000 Pharisees.


That is not too many.,

I was wondering if modern scholars have additional facts.

The Sadducees, since the majority of people were poor, must have been few in numbers.

Thus, the Christians Jews must have been more numerous.

What does the sound like?


you seem to have answered your own question. What is your point?

the depiction of Pharisees as liberals I think is too simplistic. With the destruction of the Temple by the Romans, the Sadducees basically disappeared. They couldn’t insist on their literal interpretations of the Torah without a temple.

There had to be interpretations that bridged the temple period to the post-destruction period. to be brief, prayer was interpreted to replace the animal sacrifices, for example. And, more generally, to read and meditate on the Torah laws was equivalent to performing them. With Rabbi Akiva and others, Judaism was transformed and modernized in order to survive.

Kosher dietary laws were preserved, along with observance of the Sabbath and Passover and other prescribed feasts. Jews became no longer the people of the temple, but “people of the book.” The Talmud (study of the Torah) became as important or in fact MORE important than the Hebrew scriptures themselves. With all the difficulties IN the Torah, the interpretations became more and more important.

Last I heard, there are at least five main divisions in Judaism: non-rabbinic and three rabbinic: orthodox, conservative, and reformed; and then, non-observant Jews (ethnic but not religious).

Historically, I’m told, the first mention of “rabbi” is not in Jewish literature, but in the Christian gospels. Excellent example of oral traditions occurring before they are captured in writings.


I am looking for additional ideas, like your ideas.

Concerning Pharisees being liberal, I was stating what A. Cohen wrote in “Everyman’s Talmud.”



My purposes are several:

One additional one is if there was only 6000 Pharisees and after the destruction of the Temple, it is the Pharisees that continued Mosaic Judaism, how many of the practicing Pharisees follow Jesus? How many remained faithful to Moses?

There are many other ideas or questions, any help?


In modern Judaism. The ‘orthodox’, ‘conservative’ and ‘reformed’ branches as we know it today were the products of the 18th-19th century. ‘Reform’ Judaism was essentially the product of Jews becoming more and more integrated into wider European society (once Jewish emancipation had set in). Some Jews questioned whether they should ‘update’ their beliefs and practices in keeping with modern sensibilities - which in some circles led to a “rejectionist” sentiment, discarding rituals, practices and even some beliefs that are held to be ‘archaic’ or even ‘barbaric’.

Both ‘orthodox’ and the ‘conservative’ Judaism were essentially reactions to this thing: over against the rejectionist mentality of Reform Jews, some communities affirmed traditional Jewish beliefs and customs and stressed continued observance of them - “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” These traditionalists were the Orthodox Jews. Conservative Judaism meanwhile was a kind of reaction against both Orthodox and Reform Judaism, in that it sought a sort of middle way between these two perceived extremes. They regard traditional beliefs and customs with reverence, but at the same time hold that things are not set in stone forever.

Historically, I’m told, the first mention of “rabbi” is not in Jewish literature, but in the Christian gospels. Excellent example of oral traditions occurring before they are captured in writings.

The difference is that nowadays, ‘Rabbi’ is pretty much an official credential while at the time of Jesus, it was a mere honorific for any teacher (whether someone who formally studied or not) or respected person. Kind of like guru in an Indian context.


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