The Resurrection of Yeshua and the Festivals of Firstfruits.
Part III - Was it the Sadducees or the Christians?

Yeshua was raised from the dead at the Festival of the Firstfruits of the Barley Harvest. This was on the "first day of the week", according to the popular translation of a Greek jargon phrase which could have a number of other meanings. The Church was born seven weeks later at the Festival of the Firstfruits of the Wheat Harvest, otherwise known as Pentecost.

This is the third of a three-part series.
For a Biblical Overview, see Part I.
For a review of the Jewish Literature and the Greek New Testament, see Part II.

In Part II we saw how the Pharisees and Sadducees were arguing about the First Day of the Omer. The Pharisees argued that it should be the day after Passover, so it was always 16th Nisan. The Sadducees argued that it was always the day after the first weekly Sabbath after Passover, i.e. the first Sunday. This would affect the date of Pentecost because it is the 50th Day of the Omer, the same day of the week as the First Day of the Omer, seven weeks later.

It is possible that the argument might not have been between the Pharisees and Sadducees, but between the Pharisees and the Jewish-Christians. On some occasions in the Talmud, where the word "Sadducee" is used, there is a footnote saying that this is a censor's amendment. When the writers of the Talmud wanted to say something controversial about the Jewish-Christians, the censor would substitute the word "Sadducee" to avoid getting complaints. The Sadducees were virtually extinct after the destruction of the Temple, so it was a fairly safe substitution to make.

This does not substantially affect the argument about date of the resurrection of Yeshua, or the date that the early Apostles considered to be Pentecost, because in either case the argument about the First Day of the Omer was based on the interpretation of the Torah, and not on Christian tradition as we know it today. The Sadducees and the Jewish-Christians would have been equally capable of articulating the same arguments about a festival date, together with many others who studied the Torah. The First Day of the Omer, when Yeshua rose from the dead, would have been celebrated on a Sunday if there were large numbers of Jews in Jerusalem who believed that this was the right thing to do, and were able to persuade the Priests and the Sanhedrin. The First Day of the Omer is one of the big questions of Judaism, and people still argue about it today.

The Censor's Amendments

In the following passages of the Talmud, the word "Sadducee" is substituted for "Jewish-Christians" or other groups that are considered heretical:

Talmud - Mas. Yoma 40b

Come and hear: (5) The disciples of R. Akiba asked him: If it [the lot 'for the Lord'] came up in the left hand, may he turn it to the right? He replied: Do not give all occasion for the Sadducees to rebel! (6)

The footnote says:

(6) The substitution of Sadducees for 'Minim' (Judeo-Christian heretics) is undoubtedly due to the censors' dislike of any word that may appear as even an implied attack on the Church. The heretics will claim this manipulation an 'additional proof' of the Pharisees' doing with the law whatever pleased them. Thus they would be helped to rebel, arguing at once in favour of their heresy and against the Pharisees.

Talmud - Mas. Sanhedrin 100b

R. AKIBA SAID: ALSO HE WHO READS UNCANONICAL BOOKS etc. A Tanna taught: [This means], the books of the Sadducees. (6)

The footnote says:

(6) This probably refers to the works of the Judeo-Christians, i.e., the New Testament. There were no Sadducees after the destruction of the Temple, and so 'Sadducees' is probably a censor's emendation for sectarians or Gentiles (Herford, Christianity in the Talmud, p. 333.) [MS. M. reads, Minim.]

Talmud - Mas. Horayoth 11a

If a man eats suet merely in order to satisfy his appetite he is considered an apostate, but if in defiance of the law he is considered a Sadducee. (58)

The footnote says:

(58) [Read with MS.M., Min, a general term for sectarian, heretic, not necessarily a Jewish Christian; v. A. Z. (Sonc. ed.) p. 14, n. 2.]

Sadducees and Jewish-Christians Viewed as Different Types of Apostasy

On some occasions, the Sadducees are described as heretics, not just as a substitute name for Jewish-Christians, but in a way that identifies them as a distinct sectarian group.

Talmud - Mas. Shabbath 116a

Come and hear: The blank spaces (15) and the Books of the Minim (16) may not be saved from a fire, but they must be burnt in their place, they and the Divine Names occurring in them.

The footnote says:

(16) Sectarians. The term denotes various kinds of Jewish sectarians, such as the Sadducces, Samaritans, Judeo-Christians, etc., according to the date of the passage in which the term is used. The reference here is probably to the last-named. V. J.E., art. Min; Bacher in REJ. XXXVIII, 38. Rashi translates: Hebrew Bibles written by men in the service of idolatry.

Talmud - Mas. Chagigah 14b

Ben Zoma looked and became demented.(32) Of him Scripture says: Hast thou found honey? Eat so much as is sufficient for thee, lest thou be filled therewith, and vomit it.(33) Aher mutilated the shoots.(34) R. Akiba departed unhurt.

The footnote says:

(34) I.e., apostatized. Scholars differ greatly regarding the nature of Aher's defection: he has been variously described as a Persian, Gnostic or Philonian dualist; as a Christian; as a Sadducee; and as a 'victim of the inquisitor Akiba', in J.E., V. 183 and bibliography.

The Discussion of First Day of Omer

The above passages clearly imply that the Sadducees were not held in very high esteem at the time when these sections of the Talmud were written. Not only was their name used as a substitute for the despised Jewish-Christians, but they were considered to be a sectarian group in their own right. It is in this light that we have to see the following passages about the discussion of the First Day of the Omer.

Talmud - Mas. Chagigah 17a


The footnote says:

(17) I.e., the Sadducees, who understood the word 'Sabbath' in Lev. XXIII, 11, 15 literally, and hence maintained that Pentecost must always fall on a Sunday, for it is written: 'And ye shalt count unto you from the morrow after the Sabbath . . . even unto the morrow after the seventh week shall ye number fifty days' (Lev. XXIII, 15-16). But the Pharisees explained the word 'Sabbath' to mean 'day of rest', i.e., 'holy day' (cf. Lev. XXIII, 32, 39; Ibn Ezra to v. 11 (ibid.) and Men. 65a), and referred it to the first festival day of Passover. This same controversy formed part of the dispute between the Rabbanites and the Karaites some eight hundred years later.

Clearly, the main text gives a disparaging view of those who say Pentecost follows the weekly Sabbath, and the footnote about Sadducees could mean "Jewish-Christians" although there is no way of knowing this for sure. Since the Sadducees were themselves considered sectarian, it is more likely to be a genuine reference to the Sadducees.

Talmud - Mas. Menachoth 65a


The footnote says:

(11) A sect in opposition to the Pharisees and often regarded as synonymous with the Sadducees. They held that the expression (Lev. XXIII, 11), mi'maharot ha'shabbat 'the morrow after the Sabbath', must be taken in its literal sense, the day following the first Saturday in Passover. The Pharisees, however, argued that the Sabbath meant here 'the day of cessation from work', i.e., the Festival of Passover. Accordingly the 'Omer was to be offered on the second day of the Festival, and the reaping of the corn on the night preceding, at the conclusion of the first day of the Festival.

This passage is clearly not about Jewish-Christians. It is about another group called the Beothusians who were considered to be synomymous with the Sadducees.

Talmud - Mas. Ta'anith 17b

From the New Moon of Nisan until the eighth of the month mourning is not permissible because the Daily offering was established; (11) from the eighth day of the same month until the end of the festival [of Passover] mourning is not permissible since the date of the observance of the Feast of Weeks was then definitely fixed. (12)

The footnote says:

(12) There was also a dispute between the Pharisees and Sadducees with regard to the fixing of the date of Pentecost. The dispute turned on the interpretation of the words mi'maharot ha'shabbat (Lev. XXIII, 15). The Pharisees took the view that the 'Omer had to be brought on the second day of Passover, while the Sadducees maintained that these words meant the morrow of the first Sabbath of the Passover week and from that day forty-nine days had to be counted to Pentecost. V. Megillath Ta'anith, ch. 1; Men. 65a.

This passage is about genuine debate between the Pharisees and Sadducees. There are no disparaging remarks, and nobody is denounced as sectarian.


The word "Sadducee" appears 137 times in the Talmud and in a small minority of cases it is used as a censor's substitute for "Jewish-Christian". In other cases it appears that the Sadducees themselves were a despised sectarian group, having suffered a gradual decline and become extinct after the destruction of the Temple in 70AD.

Whatever their status might have been, there was clearly a genuine debate going on between the Pharisees and Sadducees about the First Day of the Omer, and it cannot all be attributed to Jewish-Christians just because of a censor's amendment to a few passages.

The Sadducees had considerable influence during the time of Yeshua, as we have seen in Part II. There is reason to believe that the family of Herod were Sadducees, but that's another question I have to look into.

See also:

Three Days and Three Nights
Passover in the New Testament

Copyright 1997 Updated December 1999

Mike Gascoigne
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