The expression Sons of Zadok is found in the Hebrew scriptures only in Ezekiel, and here only three times (Ezek. 40.46, 44.15, 48.11). In these passages a monopoly of priestly Temple service is claimed for the descendants of Zadok. However, other biblical material dealing with the priesthood (for instance, Numbers, Chronicles, Exodus 28–29) includes all “Sons of Aaron” as priests. It is inferred from the biblical evidence that a priestly dynasty, claiming descent from David's priest Zadok, occupied the high priesthood in the Persian period. The phrase Sons of Zadok also occurs several times in the Dead Sea Scrolls, some texts appearing to endorse Ezekiel's position, thus suggesting a possible Zadokite origin, or connection, for the Qumran compositions. Other considerations have also been adduced in favor of this conclusion, going back to the publication by Solomon Schechter of “Fragments of a Zadokite Work,” known also as the Damascus Document, in 1910. Several early commentators on the Zadokite fragments (CD) identified them as Sadducean because the manuscripts contain both the personal name Zadok and the phrase Sons of Zadok (in Hebrew and Aramaic, Zadokite and Sadducee are identical).

In the first generation of the Dead Sea Scrolls research, it was widely held on the basis of paleography, the dating of the occupation of Qumran, and allusions in Pesher Habakkuk to persecution of the “righteous” and priestly “Teacher” by a wicked priest, that the yaḥad (“community”) of the Rule of the Community text from Cave 1 (hereafter, 1QRule of the Community 1QS) was founded by a Zadokite priest (the Teacher of Righteousness) and represented a protest against the usurpation of the high priesthood by the Hasmoneans (Cross, 1995, 3d ed.) Stegemann has even suggested that the Teacher was, before his expulsion to the Judean wilderness, the last of the Zadokite high priests. Although on this theory the sect is identified as Essene, the view has persisted in some quarters that they called themselves Sons of Zadok.

Zadok in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The Damascus Document (v.5) mentions a “book of the law,” sealed “until Zadok arose,” and a hitherto unknown historical figure has sometimes been suggested; more recently, Wacholder has argued that this Zadok is the founder of the Community (for example, the Teacher of Righteousness). However, given the mention of David in the Damascus Document, this Zadok is very probably David's high priest, the founder of the Zadokite line. The unusual selection of Zadok in the context of revealing a hidden law might suggest an important role for Zadokites in the Damascus Document (CD), perhaps even portraying David and Zadok as the archetypal “Messiahs of Aaron and Israel.” [See Messiahs.] But this isolated reference is a flimsy basis for such speculation, and the passage may simply refer to the return of the ark, which contained the tablets of the Law, to the sanctuary in the time of David and Zadok (2 Sm. 6).

A “tomb of Zadok” and a “garden of Zadok” are mentioned in the Copper Scroll (3Q15 xi.3 and xi.6); the Zadok in question is uncertain, but if the names were more than coincidence, their occurrence might provide an otherwise elusive link between this and other Qumran scrolls and perhaps support suggestions that the treasure in question comprised priestly or Temple funds. [See Copper Scroll.]

The Sons of Zadok, the Priests.

The term Sons of Zadok is found in the Damascus Document (4Q266–273; 5Q12, 6Q15; see Davies, 1987), Serekh Damascus (4Q265), the Rule of the Congregation (1Q28a), the Florilegium (4Q174), and Pesher Isaiahc (4Q163). In the Damascus Document (CD) iii.21–iv.3), the term Sons of Zadok occurs in a midrash on Ezekiel 44.15, where it is applied to the “elect of Israel, those called by name, who shall arise at the end of days.” This is the only place in the entire corpus where the term Sons of Zadok is applicable to an entire community, but the reference here is typological rather than literal. In the laws section of the Damascus Document (CD), although priests are occasionally mentioned, they are nowhere referred to as Sons of Zadok. By contrast, in Rule of the Congregation (1Q28a), Rule of the Blessings (1Q28b), and frequently in 1QRule of Community (1Q5), the fuller expression Sons of Zadok, the priests, designates the priests within the community (or communities). In 1QRule of the Community, these have authority over community members, and in Rule of the Blessings (1Q28b iii.22) the Sons of Zadok receive a particular blessing, wherein their eternal priesthood and their centrality in the covenant are confirmed. Their authority in matters of law follows the instruction of Ezekiel, though in Ezekiel they are linked not to the covenant but to the Temple cult. The difference perhaps suggests an important redefinition of the role of priesthood and covenant according to the yaḥad. Elsewhere in the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Florilegium 1.17 (4Q174) cites Ezekiel 44.10, applying the verse to “the Sons of Zadok and the men of his council who will come after them to the council of the community.” Pesher Isaiahc (4Q163) also includes the phrase Sons of Zadok, but the context is too fragmentary.

It appears from the instances cited that the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls recognized only Zadokite priests as legitimate and usually accord them authority, though there is no warrant for taking the term to apply to any community as a whole. However, these passages do not give the entire picture. Sons of Aaron is the phrase used regularly in the War Scroll (1QM) and in the Temple Scroll (1Q19; 11Q20) to denote the priesthood. It is also used in 1QRule of the Community (ix.7, especially). Moreover, in 1QRule of the Community, Zadokite authority is sometimes transferred to or shared by members of the yaḥad (1QS v.2), although a parallel passage in Rule of the Communityd from Cave 4 at Qumran (4Q258) omits the phrase Sons of Zadok entirely, leaving authority solely with the community. Cave 4 Damascus Documentb (4Q267) offers Sons of Zadok, the priests, a unique reading among the Qumran Damascus Document material and perhaps evidence of a pro-Zadokite version. Recognizing the Dead Sea Scrolls are not ideologically homogeneous and have in some cases been edited, we have to conclude that the Zadokite perspective of some passages cannot be applied universally across the scrolls. The root tsdq is among the most common in the scrolls and some scholars have seen in its frequency a reflection of Zadokite ideology or authority. The most striking example is the expression benei tsedeq (“sons of righteousness”) (1QS iii.20, 22; Ritual of Marriage, 4Q502; Daily Prayers, 4Q503). There are no other cases where such a wordplay is explicit; nor can it be argued that the concept of righteousness in the scrolls is in any way especially informed by Zadokite themes, as argued by Eisenman, for whom the term tsedeq functions as a quasi-technical term among several associated groups, forming a wider Jewish movement, and whose Zadokites include Maccabees, Zealots, and early Judean Christians. Yet the title “Teacher of Righteousness” (moreh tsedeq) is derived not from the name Zadok but from a text in Joel (this usage does involve a wordplay: in Joel 2.23, moreh means “rain”). Furthermore, no ambiguous cases are documented in which the personal name Zadok (tsedeq) is spelled defectively (tsdq), so as to draw attention to any link between the two. Thus, the predominance of tsedeq language in the scrolls is not, per se, evidence of a Zadokite ideology.

Sadducees and the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The Sadducean sect is described in Josephus (The Jewish War 2.119, 164–5; Jewish Antiquities 13.171) and alluded to in the New Testament (e.g., Acts 23.6–8). It emerges as an aristocratic priestly Jewish party that remained loyal to (and even comprised) the Temple authorities in the late Second Temple period and denied both the existence of angels and resurrection. Rabbinic literature also refers to tsedoqim, which may sometimes denote these Sadducees but sometimes, especially in censured printed texts, appears to refer to other unorthodox groups, particularly to Christians. The contents of the Miqtsat Ma῾asei ha-Torah Documents from Cave 4 at Qumran (MMTa–f, 4Q394–4Q399), in the opinion of some scholars (Schiffman, 1994), comprise a set of halakhic (legal) positions conforming with what the rabbinic literature ascribes to these tsedoqim. Hence, the theory has recently emerged that the Dead Sea Scrolls (or some of them) come from a Sadducean group, though not the mainstream party. Such a deviant Sadducean sect is conjectural, and the halakhic parallels are few. But the MMT documents may at least imply that legal traditions, rather than priestly dynastic rivalry, form the basis for the opposition to the Temple administration widely found in the scrolls.

In conclusion, it is reasonable to suggest that some of the Dead Sea Scrolls may have originated with, or have been influenced by, groups ideologically or socially attached to a Zadokite priesthood. One explanation might be that the Zadokite priests were either expelled from their place in the Jerusalem Temple by the Hasmoneans when these rulers assumed the high priesthood or, because of halakhic differences that could no longer be tolerated, voluntarily separated from the Temple and its administration. Given the variety of ideologies and communities reflected in the Dead Sea Scrolls, it is unwise to employ the label Zadokite globally for the authors of the scrolls; nevertheless, if one is searching for basic themes uniting the entire corpus, such as the 364-day calendar or a distinct set of holiness laws, then connection with a usurped Jerusalem priesthood remains plausible. It is unfortunate, then, that we know so little of this line, though the report that one of the last Zadokite priests fled to Egypt and built a temple there discloses some Zadokite traditions outside Hasmonean Jerusalem, perhaps even linked in some way with the scrolls.

[See also Damascus Document; Florilegium; Miqtsat Ma῾asei ha- Torah; Pesher Isaiah; Rule of the Community; Rule of the Congregation; Sadducees; and Zadok.]


  • Cross, F. M. The Ancient Library of Qumran. 3d ed. Sheffield, 1995. See pp. 100–120.
  • Davies, P. R. “Sons of Zadok.” In Behind the Essenes: History and Ideology in the Dead Sea Scrolls, pp. 51–72. Brown Judaic Studies, 94. Atlanta, Ga., 1987.
  • Davies, P. R. “Sadducees in the Dead Sea Scrolls?” The Qumran Chronicle 1.2/3 (1990/1991), 85–94.
  • Eisenman, Robert. Maccabees, Zadokites, Christians and Qumran. Leiden, 1983.
  • Schechter, Solomon. “Fragments of a Zadokite Work.” In Documents of Jewish Sectaries, pp. ix–lxix, 1–20. New York, 1970. Reprint of 1910 article.
  • Schiffman, Lawrence. Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls: The History of Judaism, the Background of Christianity, the Lost Library of Qumran, pp. 73–76, 113–117, 154–157, 252–255. Philadelphia and Jerusalem, 1994.
  • Stegemann, H. Die Entstehung der Qumrangemeinde. Bonn, 1971.
  • VanderKam, J. C. “Zadok and the SPR HTWRH HḤTWM in Dam. Doc. V, 2–5.” Revue de Qumrân 11 (1984), 561–570.
  • Wacholder, B. Z. The Dawn of Qumran: The Sectarian Torah and the Teacher of Righteousness, pp. 99–167. Cincinnati, 1983.

Philip R. Davies