We only know about the Sadducees from their critics (or at the very least those who disagreed with them): Josephus is probably the least negative source, then there are the New Testament and Rabbinic literature, both of which are polemical.
It is interesting to note that the Sadducees' views, as described by Josephus, are similar to those held by the more progressive Christians of our time: a denial of "fate" (i.e. determinism), of supernatural beings such as angels, and the afterlife. It may seem ironic that the most progressive voices today sound like the most conservative from Jesus' time. But being "progressive" doesn't mean adopting the newest ideas. If it did, fundamentalism is relatively new, and so we'd all be clamouring to hop on that bandwagon. But in fact, being progressive means being willing to change and listen, even though sometimes that means being willing to return to views one once dismissed out of hand.
Josephus also says that Sadducees viewed it as a virtue to dispute with one's teachers, to question authority, to not simply accept the answers given. Progressive Christians can say "Amen" to that. But do we have the courage to do something akin to what not only Reform but even traditional Rabbinic Judaism has done in arguing with God and with Moses? Do progressive Christians have the courage to point out clearly when they disagree with Jesus?
Then Profesor McGrath notes one conversation that Jesus had with the Sadducees, and suggests that they got less than an adequate response:
The Sadducees famously tried to stump Jesus with a question about levirate marriage and the resurrection. If a woman married all of seven brothers, but had no children, whose wife would she be in the resurrection? Although one may agree that the question presupposes a rather crude understanding of resurrection and the afterlife, popular piety has often held such views, and so the question is not an inappropriate one, even if there were surely people in that time who held to more sophisticated, less crassly physicalist sorts of views.
Jesus' reply is that the Sadducees have made a fundamental mistake in thinking that there will be marriage in the resurrection. Interpreters have long wrestled with this, probably because this answer potentially undermines the whole point of a doctrine of resurrection. The doctrine of resurrection affirms that there is a continuity between our bodily existence in the present and an afterlife. Our relationships make up a substantial part of our identity. If they are going to be essentially ignored, set aside or abolished in an afterlife, then that suggests significant discontinuity between our selves now and that which survives death.
Although the scenario posed by the Sadducees is somewhat farcical, it raises intelligent questions. Jesus' response cannot be regarded as entirely satisfactory, can it? Surely it simply raises the question of what the point is of this life if it contains so many aspects that will not be worth preserving for eternity, and the question of in what sense an eternally-existing "me" that does not share my relationships with others that I have now will in any sense be "me".
Jesus concludes his response with a clever reference to God as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, which combined with the fact that God is the God of the living and not the dead (where does that idea come from?) is used to demonstrate from the Pentateuch (which the Sadducees accepted as authoritative) that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are still around. But would anyone today find this sort of "exegetical trick" convincing?
I'm quite sure that there are plenty of places where I'd side with Jesus against the Sadducees. But at this particular moment, it doesn't seem like they received an entirely satisfactory answer to what was (and remains) a valid question. What do you think? Are we committed enough to the sort of self-critical learning and discipleship that Jesus challenged his followers to undertake, that we will even dare to question his statements and even critically analyse his arguments? Or does being a "follower" mean the religious equivalent of mindless nationalism: "My Lord, wrong or right"? Can one be a critical Christian? Why or why not?
Let me get the ball rolling by offering my own provocative answer to my own questions. Today there are only Christians who disagree at points with what Jesus thought and taught. It is inevitable. The only distinction is between Christians who acknowledge that this is the case, and Christians who pretend that it isn't.
Read it all here.