What are we to make, for example, of the overlapping texts which mentioned Boethusians and Sadducees in the same context, taking the same legal positions? In one case, an opinion was attributed to the Boethusians, and then a few lines later in the same passage to the Sadducees (y. Yoma 1:5, 39a). Calendar disputes were consistently ascribed to the Boethusians in Rabbinic texts, suggesting that they were a group outside of the circle of those loyal to the Temple, hence perhaps equal to the Qumran sectarians. Yet these very Boethusians were sometimes portrayed as serving in that same Temple. In a similar vein, we now know that a position the Rabbis attributed to a Sadducean high priest who served in Jerusalem – the assertion that all those who participate in preparing the ashes of the Red Heifer must be fully pure-was the view of those who wrote and copied 4QMMT, who described themselves as having withdrawn from the Temple. A difficult choice faces us: are we to distinguish between Sadducees and Boethusians and assume that more than one group shared certain halakhic positions? Was the demand that the priest be fully pure common to Sadducees who served in the Temple and Qumran sectarians who had withdrawn from that Temple, or are we to prefer the path of simplicity and conclude that the Rabbis were inadequately informed about the details of which groups upheld specific halakhic opinions? The temptation to despair – to conclude that the information available to the Rabbis concerning the identity of opposing groups so many years prior to their time was not particularly accurate – is especially great.
Albert I. Baumgarten, “Rabbinic Literature as a Source for the History of Jewish Sectarianism in the Second Temple”, Dead Sea Discoveries, Vol. 2, No. 1 (April 1995), 22-23.