Saturday, July 20, 2013

Why the Scribes and Pharisees Were Important to Judaism and Why Yeshua Endorsed Their Authority

[WARNING:  EXTREMELY NERDY POST]

So you probably know that the Pharisees were transmitters of "the traditions of the elders."  For example, Irving Zeitlin says:

"The so called 'Pharisees', then, were already in Maccabean ties the religious and intellectual leaders of the community, enjoying the support of the people.  The Mishnah, I Maccabees and Josephus all presuppose this 'Pharisaic revolution', for all three sources take for granted the twofold Law--that the oral Law was no less revealed to Moses on Sinai than the written Law.  All three sources likewise share the view that the scribes, scholars and Torah teachers were the 'carriers' of what the New Testament calls the 'tradition of the elders.'" (pg. 18 of Judaism in the Time of Jesus)

And:

 "The New Testament is in full accord with Josephus' view that the hallmark of the Pharisees was the twofold Law, the 'tradition of the elders' (Matt. 15:1-9; Mark 7:1-13; Phil. 3:5-6; Gal. 1:13-14),"(pg. 20, ibid.

But did you know that the "scribes" mentioned in Matthew 23 were transmitters of the Written Torah? 

What follows is an extended excerpt of "Scribal Culture" by Van Der Toorn in which the author lays down a cumulative case of evidence that very persuasively argues that "the scribes are descendants and successors of the Levites from the days of Ezra":

pg. 79  "...the fourth meaning of the term [sopher].  The scribes who were scholars of scripture belonged to the group of the Levites (2 Chronicles 34:13).  According to Nehemiah 8, several Levites assisted Ezra during his Torah reading in the temple:
'The Levites explained the Torah to the people, while the people remained in their places.  And they read from the scroll, from the Torah of God, interpreting it and clarifying its meaning; so they understood the reading. [Neh. 8:7-8] 
The fact that the Levitical scribes operated as a group is significant.  This does not mean that they took turns in reading and explaining.  It is far more plausible that they gave instruction simultaneously but at different points and to different audiences.  The Levitical scribes were teachers of Torah. 
'They offered instruction throughout Judah, and they had with them the Scroll of theTorah of [HaShem].  They made the rounds of all the cities of Judah and taught among the people.' [2 Chron. 17:9] 
Having the written Torah 'with them'...the Levites were 'teaching' [2 Chron 17:9], 'interpreting [Neh. 8:7], 'explaining' [Neh. 8:8], and 'clarifying the meaning' [Neh. 8:8] of the Torah.  As scholars of scripture, the Levites acted as the successors of Moses who had been the first to 'explicate'...the Torah (Deut 1:5; compare Deut 30:1-13)," pgs. 79-80
pg. 89-92  "The Levitical Scribes...If the scribes behind the Bible were indeed temple scribes, they were the forerunners of, and partly identical with, the Levitical scribes from the days of Ezra and later.  These Levites were scribes in the fourth meaning of the term:  scholars of scripture.  They are referred to in this capacity in post-exilic sources....An important source of information on the Levites is Chronicles....the Levites were involved in activities that required high literacy.  There are four roles that the Levites are said to perform.  First, the Levites offer Torah instruction:  they explain, interpret, and teach.  People come to seek Torah from their mouth.  As guardians of the Torah, the Levites are the only ones allowed to carry the ark, the shrine of the Scroll of the Torah.  Second, the Levites are liturgists:  they lead in prayer, confession, praise, and blessings; conduct musical performances in a cultic context; and address the homily to the congregation.  Third, the Levites act as civil servants, both in Jerusalem and throughout Judah:  they distribute justice; collect tithes and taxes; and keep the records of the civil state.  Fourth, the Levites maintain order in the temple:  they protect the gates and supervise construction activities. 
Though Chronicles rarely designates Levites as scribes (1 Chron 24:6; 2 Chron 34:13), there is no doubt that responsibilities for Torah instruction and jurisdiction could be held only by people who had had the proper scribal training.  For those Levites who worked as liturgists, magistrates, tax collectors, or clerks, literacy was also a basic requirement.  It can be concluded, in view of their various responsibilities, that the Levites were part of the literate elite of the Second Temple period. 
Extrabiblical texts from the Hellenistic period confirm the impression that the Levites were the scribal experts of Jewish society.  In the Aramaic Levi Document, an important source of the Greek Testament of Levi, Levi enjoins his children to perpetuate their scribal knowledge....The majority of scholars date the Levi Document to the middle of the third century B.C.E.  It seems warranted, then, to conclude that the role of the Levites as experts of the scribal craft continued in the Hellenistic period. 
Further evidence on the Levites as scholars of scripture is found in the Book of Jubilees (ca. 150 B.C.E.). 
'And he [i.e, Jacob] gave all of his books and his fathers' books to Levi, his son, so that he might preserve them and renew them for his sons until this day.' [Jubilees 45:15] 
This passage bears a close resemblance to the transmission of sacred writings by Levi and his lineage mentioned in the Testament of Qahat and reflected in the Visions of Amram, both known from the Qumran scrolls. 
'And they gave to Levi, my father, and my father Levi [gave] to me All my writings [...] in testimony, so that you might be forewarned by them.' [4 Q542, fragment I, ii, 11-12 (compare 4Q543, fragment 1, 1-2). 
The significance of these references does not reside in the implications about the writing proficiencies of the Levites but rather in the emphasis on the Levites as the transmitters of the sacred literature of the Jews. 
But what does it mean if we say that the scribes of the Second Temple were Levites?  Who are the Levites?  The question is legitimate and to the point; if it does not receive an answer, the statement that the Levites were the temple scribes of the Persian period adds little to our knowledge." 
pg. 92  "The position of the Levites is a classic problem in biblical scholarship and the subject of numerous studies.  By way of a succinct statement of the problem, it suffices to compare the terminology of Deuteronomy with Chronicles.  Deuteronomy speaks about 'the Levitical priests'...whereas Chronicles distinguishes between 'the priests and the Levites'....in the post-exilic view of Chronicles, Levites are by definition nonpriests.  How are we to explain the difference?" 
pg. 93 "As a spokesman of the priestly elite from Jerusalem....Ezekiel distinguishes between 'the Levitical priests descended from Zadok' (Ezek 44:15) and the other Levites.  In the view of Ezekiel, the Zadokite priests were the ones who maintained the service of the temple at the time Israel went astray from [HaShem] (Ezek 44:15).  They had thereby earned the right to act as sole priests. 
'They shall declare to My People what is sacred and what is profane, and inform them what is clean and what is unclean.  In lawsuits, too, it is they who shall act as judges; they shall decide them in accordance with my rules.  They shall preserve My teachings and My laws regarding all My fixed occasions; and they shall maintain the sanctity of My Sabbaths.' [Ezek 44:23-24 (NJPS)] 
Ezekiel blamed the Levites for the cultic aberrations in the pre-exilic period (Ezek 44:10).  As their punishment, the Levites were to be demoted from the priesthood and made responsible for all the menial chores in the temple.  They could remain temple servants, but they forfeited their priestly prerogatives." 
pg. 94  "According to the synoptic Gospels, the temple clergy consists of 'the priests' (archiereis) and 'the scribes' (grammateis) instead of 'the priests and the Levites' as in Chronicles.  The terminological development underscores that the division between 'priests' and 'Levites' came to be perceived as one of labor rather than ancestry."
pg. 94  "Two further arguments support the view that the 'scribes' of the Gosples are the descendants and successors of the Levites form the days of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Chronicles.  One is the associate of the scribes with the study and teaching of Torah.  According to the Gospel of Luke, the 'scribes' are coterminous with 'the teachers of the law' (nomodisdaskaloi, Luke 5:17) or 'lawyers' (nomikoi, Luke 7:30).  The other argument is based on a comparison of lists of temple staff as found in Nehemiah (ca. 350 B.C.E.); the Seleucid Charter of Antiochus III (222-187); and the synoptic Gospels (ca. 70 C.E.).  Nehemiah enumerates Levites, singers, gatekeepers, and priests (Neh 13:5).  The Seleucid Charter grants tax exemption to 'the council of elders, and the priests, and the scribes of the temple, and the temple musicians.'  In the Gospels, the list consists of elders, priests, and scribes.  Apparently the 'scribes [of the temple]' in the later lists (Antiochus III charter, Gospels) have taken the place of the Levites in the earlier one (Nehemiah)."
pg. 95  "Another piece of evidence on the temple scribes is the Book of Deuteronomy.  As witnessed in their preoccupation with 'the Levitical priests,' the scribes who wrote Deuteronomy had affinities with, and may have belonged to, the Levitical priesthood.  A telltale occurrence of the 'Levitical priests' is found in connection with a ruling concerning the king.   
'And when [the king] accedes to the royal throne, he shall have a copy of this Torah written for him on a scroll from before the Levitical priests.  And it shall be with him and he shall read from it all his life.' [Deut 17:18-19] 
Several modern Bible translations (e.g., NJPS) render the expression 'from before'...as 'by,' implying that the Levitical priests were to provide the king with a copy of the Torah.  Literally, however, the preposition implies that the copying takes place 'in the presence of' the Levitical priests, because they are the guardians of the original Torah.  The latter interpretation is entirely in keeping with the role of the Levites as guardians of the ark (Deut 31:24-26)" pg. 96

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