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In the first chapter of Albert Camus's novel The Fall, the narrator asks his addressee a few questions:

Possédez-vous des richesses? Quelques-unes? Bon. Les avez-vous partagées avec les pauvres? Non. Vous êtes donc ce que j'appelle un saducéen.

(Note that Camus writes "saducéen" with one 'd', unlike the French Wikipedia article Sadducéens.)

Translation:

Do you own any wealth? Some? Good. Have you shared it with the poor? No. You are then what I call a Sadducee.

After reading both the English Wikipedia article Sadducees and the corresponding French Wikipedia article, I learnt a few interesting facts about this group of Jews that became extinct some time after 70 CE. For example, unlike the Pharisees, they did not believe that the soul was immortal, that there was an afterlife or that there were rewards or penalties after death. However, since the novel's narrator does not seem to believe that God exists or at least that he is still he useful concept, it is not clear to me how the Sadducees are relevant to the addressee's not sharing his wealth with the poor. Can anybody shed light on this?

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The answer to my question is probably much more straightforward than the two previous answers suggest. According to the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, the Sadducees believed that there were "no rewards or penalties after death" (Wikipedia's words). It is in the light of this statement that I interpret the narrator's words: if there are no penalties after death, there is no penalty for not sharing part of your wealth with the poor.

This interpretation is consistent with other statements by the narrator in The Fall, e.g. that we should not wait for the Last Judgment (people judge each other every day anyway) and that the name of God has gone out of fashion. (The narrator does not straight out deny the existence of God or of gods generally, though.)

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  • Makes sense. Camus "obtained a diplôme d’études supérieures in 1936 for a thesis on the relationship between Greek and Christian thought in the philosophical writings of Plotinus and St. Augustine"; so the works of Josephus (as well as other Judeo-Christian writings) may very well have been part of his studies. (see britannica.com/biography/Albert-Camus) – David Anson Jun 11 at 20:16
  • "Bad theology produces bad living". You have answered the heart of it. If there is no resurrection, the he who dies with the most toys wins; this is the only life that counts, so why should I spend my life on you. Many modern Jews hold the position that there is no afterlife. though they may label the sects differently today, the theology is still here. Jesus taught to build your treasures in heaven. Your belief in the afterlife has a direct influence on how you "love your neighbor" and even your enemy. – Bob Jones Sep 23 at 1:24
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I cannot speak to the Camus misspelling in the French, however, in the context of the New Testament (NT) the Sadducees are (ironically) considered heretics by the larger more prominent faction of religious leaders--the Pharisees. It is the Sadducees (chief priests (Lk 22:2)) who are the ones ultimately responsible for the crucifixion of Christ—who condemned him in a religious court of law and handed him over to the state—i.e. Pontius Pilot (see Lk 22:66). During his ministry, Christ chastised both groups of religious leaders (i.e. Pharisees and Sadducees) with equal impunity. Additionally, they (Sadducees) consisted of “wealthy aristocratic families who controlled the office of the High Priest” (Yamauchi 22).

Reference to the Sadducees occur only in the synoptic gospels (Matthew (Mt); Mark (Mk); and Luke (Lk); but, interestingly not in the Gospel of John (at least not by name where they are referred to only as “the Jews”); and in the book of Acts.

I think the following are all the occurrences in the synoptic gospels:

“But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Mt 3:7, KJV).

“The Pharisees also with the Sadducees came, and tempting desired him that he would shew them a sign from heaven” (Mt 16:1, KJV).

“Then Jesus said unto them, ‘Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees’” (Mt 16:6, KJV).

“But when the Pharisees had heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together” (Mt 23:34).

“Then come unto him the Sadducees, which say there is no resurrection; and they asked him, saying” (Mk 12:18, KJV).

“Then came to him certain of the Sadducees, which deny that there is any resurrection; and they asked him” (Lk 20:27, KJV).

So, none of these occurrences in the NT have to do with giving or not giving money to the poor directly. Camus might have had in mind the fact of their aristocratic status—thus making them elevated religious leaders with little or no regard for the poor per se. This of course is speculation as I do not know how well aquatinted Camus was with the particulars of religious sects as recorded in the NT.

My guess would be Camus had in mind Jesus’ encounter with a rich young ruler. The other gospels refer to him as a rich young man; it is only Luke that calls him a rich young ruler: “And a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? (Lk 18:18ff). The word 'ruler' in Greek ἄρχων (archon) may indeed be referring to a Sadducee.” Jesus replied to him “sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me. And when he heard this, he was very sorrowful: for he was very rich” (Lk 18:22-23). By virtue of this description of the man, makes him at least qualified to be a Sadducee; and the fact goes on his way sorrowful (that is to day decides not to give his money to the poor) seems to fit Camus notion.

Sources

Aland, Kurt, et. al. The Greek New Testament (Third Edition). United Bible Societies, 1975.

Bauer, Walter, et. al. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. University of Chicago Press, 1979.

The Holy Bible, Authorized King James Version, Thomas Nelson, 1972.

Yamauchi, Edwin. Harper’s World of the New Testament. Harper and Row, 1981.

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Probably sloppy reading of the Gospels. Jesus talks with a Sadducee once over a dispute about resurrection. He also tells a parable about a rich man who shared nothing with the poor. The narrator is conflating those two, whether accidentally or intentionally.

Whether Camus is conflating them or this is a reflection of the narrator's character is not clear from that passage.

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  • Thanks. Do you think you could expand your answer a bit, e.g. by adding the Bible references for the passages you mention? The conflation of two stories cannot be excluded entirely, but this narrator is well-read. In another chapter, he cites Luke 6,26 correctly; he is familiar with Dante's Divine Comedy and with the much more obscure Lettres portugaises. – Tsundoku Jun 10 at 13:06

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