The Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes had been the most nostalgically memorable groups of Judaism, besides Christianity, in the time of Jesus Christ. The Pharisees held themselves in high honor for their strict adherence to the letter of the ancient Hebrew law (note Luke 18:9-13) while they employed the use of both written and traditional oral Jewish understanding (Scott, 205). The Sadducees however controlled the temple, and they had been a priestly class of people that used wealth (Scott, 207) as one of the primary objectives of living as they would be open to whatever politics that brought the money in. The Essenes however are not mentioned in the New Testament (Lea, 58) unlike the Pharisees and Sadducees, but they had perhaps the most ‘God loving’ expression of Judaism out of all three groups as some withdrew from society (Scott, 216) and worshiped God in a similar way than that of a monk today without however the utilization of ritualistic blood atonement practices. The Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes had all shared Judaism in common (Lea, 57), but they practiced Judaism very differently as they all had very different ideas about what Judaism was about.
For a Sadducee the point of living was to live a good life, and this ‘good life’ would have been something that the Torah would have helped to accomplish. Most of the Pharisees however would have been concerned with greater experiences of God than what the Sadducees would have been interested in, and as a result the Pharisees believed strongly in the resurrection, angelic beings, and spirits (note Lea, 58). The Essenes had been like the Pharisees in basic belief system (Lea, 58), but instead of legalistically dwelling on atonement and sin the Essenes generally felt that good experience with God was perhaps more important than anything else.
A Sadducee might not have any problem with obeying any ruler or person in charge as long as the temple practices continued and as long as wealth would be involved for their own personal gains. A Pharisee would have had strong interests in restoring the Jewish state to operate like it did in the time of king David, but Pharisees did not resort to the tactics of the Zealots. Many of the Essenes might not have been concerned with what happened in the world around them just so long as they could withdraw from the world and worship God while holding everything in common and deepening their spirituality.
I can appreciate the value that the Essenes offered the world in their depth of concern for God, but removing blood atonement practices was a deadly mistake that could have resulted in heretical Gnosticism. The Pharisees offered much value to the world in that they had many correct beliefs about God, but the fact that they did not offer anything to the world but instead promoted themselves above others as the elite proud adherers of the Law of Moses was a mistake that would have resulted in eternal consequences. Some Sadducees had perhaps as much love of God as what an atheist would have if paid to be a priest, and not much good can be said about them other than that they kept the temple running much like atheists keep our public school system running today (especially in regard to science classes).
The Sadducees would have been in the very best terms with the Roman government because the Sadducees would not have seen Judaism as anything more than just simply a good way to live. The Roman government may have gladly included all Jews into Roman culture without any special political control over them if Jews would have believed in the equality of other gods along with the supremacy of the Roman emperor (this supremacy eventually grew into the concept of the divine supremacy of the Roman emperor). Overall, the Sadducees management of people along with their love for money put them on very good terms with the Roman government because the Roman government knew that they could have complete control over the Sadducees more so than any other group.
Out of all the various sects of Judaism I find the Sadducees to have the most repulsive ideology, and this is an ideology that I am well to familiar with as I have experience with retail management as it would often hold to the very same ideology that wealth and pleasure are all that matters even at very high social and societal costs incurred by others. Although what I am talking about is a much more advanced form of detrimental ideology than what the Sadducees would have subscribed to, it nevertheless could also be attributed to the Sadducees but in a much more mild form. Overall, I can see the reason why the three major sects of Judaism all fell short of the kingdom of heaven with the need for Christianity to usher in a new order.
Lea, Thomas, and David Alan Black. The New Testament: Its Background and Message, 2nd ed. Nashville, Tennessee: H&B Academic, 2003.
Scott, Julius. Jewish Background of the New Testement. Grand Rapids, Mishigan: Baker Academic, 1995.