Chapter 7 | Table
of Contents | Book II
The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
THE PREPARATION FOR THE GOSPEL:
THE JEWISH WORLD IN THE DAYS OF CHRIST
TRADITIONALISM, ITS ORIGIN, CHARACTER, AND LITERATURE
THE MISHNAH AND TALMUD
THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST
THE DAWN OF A NEW DAY.
In trying to picture to ourselves New Testament scenes, the
figure most prominent, next to those of the chief actors, is that of the Scribe
(rpws, grammateuV, literatus).
He seems ubiquitous; we meet him in Jerusalem, in Judæa, and even in Galilee.1
Indeed, he is indispensable, not only in Babylon, which may have been the
birthplace of his order, but among the 'dispersion' also.2
Everywhere he appears as the mouthpiece and representative of the people; he
pushes to the front, the crowd respectfully giving way, and eagerly hanging on
his utterances, as those of a recognised authority. He has been solemnly
ordained by the laying on of hands; and is the Rabbi,3
'my great one,' Master, amplitudo. He puts questions; he urges
objections; he expects full explanations and respectful demeanour. Indeed, his
hyper-ingenuity in questioning has become a proverb. There is not measure of
his dignity, nor yet limit to his importance. He is the 'lawyer,'4
the 'well-plastered pit,'5
filled with the water of knowledge 'out of which not a drop can escape,'6
in opposition to the weeds of 'untilled soil' (myrwb) of ignorance.7
He is the Divine aristocrat, among the vulgar herd of rude and profane
'country-people,' who 'know not the Law' and are 'cursed.' More than that, his
order constitutes the ultimate authority on all questions of faith and
practice; he is 'the Exegete of the Laws,'8
the 'teacher of the Law,'9
and along with 'the chief priests' and 'elders' a judge in the eccesiastical
tribunals, whether of the capital or in the provinces.10
Although generally appearing in company with 'the Pharisees,' he is not
necessarily one of them - for they represent a religious party, while he has a
status, and holds an office.11
In short, he is the Talmid or learned student, the Chakham or
sage, whose honour is to be great in the future world. Each Scribe outweighed
all the common people, who must accordingly pay him every honour. Nay, they
were honoured of God Himself, and their praises proclaimed by the angels; and
in heaven also, each of them would hold the same rank and distinction as on
earth.12 Such was
to be the respect paid to their sayings, that they were to be absolutely believed,
even if they were to declare that to be at the right hand which was at the
left, or vice versâ.13
1. St. Luke v. 17.
2. Jos. Ant. xviii. 3. 5; xx. 11. 2.
title Rabbon (our Master) occurs first in connection with
Gamaliel i. (Acts v. 34). The N.T. expression Rabboni or Rabbouni
(St. Mark x. 51; St. John xx. 16) takes the word Rabbon or Rabban
(here in the absolute sense)= Rabh, and adds to it the personal suffix
'my,' pronouncing the Kamez in the Syriac manner.
4. nomikoV, the legis Divinae peritus,
St. Matt. xxii. 35; St. Luke vii. 30; x.25; xi. 45; xiv. 3.
45 a, as apud Derenbourg. Similarly, his rendering
'littéralement, "citerne vide"' seems to me erroneous.
6. Ab. ii. 8.
7. Ber. 45 b 2; Ab. ii. 5; Bemid. R. 3.
8. Jos. Ant. xvii. 6. 2.
9. nomodidaV kaloV, St. Luke v. 17; Acts
v. 34; comp. also 1 Tim. i. 7.
10. St. Matt. ii. 4; xx. 18; xxi. 15; xxvi. 57; xxvii. 41; St. Mark xiv.1.43;xv. 1; St.
Luke xxii. 2, 66; xxiii. 10; Acts iv. 5.
distinction between 'Pharisees' and 'Scribes,' is marked in may passages in the
N.T., for example, St. Matt. xxiii. passim; St. Luke vii. 30; xiv. 3; and
especially in St. Luke xi. 43, comp. with v. 46. The words 'Scribes and
Pharisees, hypocrites,' in ver. 44, are, according to all evidence, spurious.
12. Siphré or Numb. p 25 b.
13. Siphré on Deut. p. 105 a.
An institution which had attained such proportions, and wielded
such power, could not have been of recent growth. In point of fact, its rise
was very gradual, and stretched back to the time of Nehemiah, if not beyond it.
Although from the utter confusion of historical notices in Rabbinic writings
and their constant practice of antedating events, it is impossible to furnish
satisfactory details, the general development of the institution can be traced
with sufficient precision. If Ezra is described in Holy Writ14
as 'a ready (expertus) Scribe,' who had 'set his heart to seek (seek out
the full meaning of) the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach in Israel,'15
this might indicate to his successors, the Sopherim (Scribes), the
threefold direction which their studies afterwards took: the Midrash,
the Halakhah, and the Haggadah,16
of which the one pointed to Scriptural investigation, the other to what was to
be observed, and the third to oral teaching in the widest sense. But Ezra left
his work uncompleted. On Nehemiah's second arrival in Palestine, he found
matters again in a state of utmost confusion.18
He must have felt the need of establishing some permanent authority to watch
over religious affairs. This we take to have been 'the Great Assembly,' or, as
it is commonly called, the 'Great Synagogue.' It is impossible with certainty
to determine,19 either who
composed this assembly, or of how many members it consisted.20
Probably it comprised the leading men in Church and State, the chief priests,
elders, and 'judges' - the latter two classes including 'the Scribes,' if,
indeed, that order was already separately organised.21
Probably also the term 'Great Assembly' refers rather to a succession of men
than to one Synod; the ingenuity of later times filling such parts of the
historical canvas as had been left blank with fictitious notices. In the nature
of things such an assembly could not exercise permanent sway in a sparsely
populated country, without a strong central authority. Nor could they have
wielded real power during the political difficulties and troubles of foreign
domination. The oldest tradition22
sums up the result of their activity in this sentence ascribed to them: 'Be
careful in judgment, set up many Talmidim, and make a hedge about the Torah
14. Ezra vii.6, 10, 11, 12.
15. rmllw tw#(lw #rdl
16. Nedar. iv. 8.
17. In Ned. iv. 3 this is the actual division. Of course, in another sense the Midrash might be considered as the source of both the Halakhah and the
18. Neh. xiii.
strange and ungrounded conjectures on this subject have been hazarded, which
need not here find a place. Comp. for ex. the two articles of Grätz in Frankel's
Montsschrift for 1857, pp. 31 etc. 61 etc., the main positions of which have,
however, been adopted by some learned English writers.
Talmudic notices are often inconsistent. The number as given in them amounts to
abut 120. But the modern doubts (of Kuenen and others) against the
institution itself cannot be sustained.
21. Ezra x. 14; Neh. v. 7.
22. Ab. i. 1.
In the course of time this rope of sand dissolved. The
High-Priest, Simon the Just,23
is already designated as 'of the remnants of the Great Assembly.' But even this
expression does not necessarily imply that he actually belonged to it. In the
troublous times which followed his Pontificate, the sacred study seems to have
been left to solitary individuals. The Mishnic tractate Aboth, which records
'the sayings of the Fathers,' here gives us only the name of Antigonus of
Socho. It is significant, that for the first time we now meet a Greek name
among Rabbinic authorities, together with an indistinct allusion to his
The long interval between Simon the Just and Antigonus and his disciples,
brings us to the terrible time of Antiochus Epiphanes and the great Syrian
persecution. The very sayings attributed to these two sound like an echo of the
political state of the country. On three things, Simon was wont to say, the
permanency of the (Jewish?) world depends: on the Torah (faithfulness to the
Law and its pursuit), on worship (the non-participation in Grecianism), and on
works of righteousness.26
They were dark times, when God's persecuted people were tempted to think, that
it might be vain to serve Him, in which Antigonus had it: 'Be not like servants
who serve their master for the sake of reward, but be like servants who serve
their lord without a view to the getting of reward, and let the fear of heaven
be upon you.'27 After
these two names come those of the so-called five Zugoth, or 'couples,'
of whom Hillel and Shammai are the last. Later tradition has represented these
successive couples as, respectively, the Nasi (president), and Ab-beth-din
(vice-president, of the Sanhedrin). Of the first three of these
'couples' it may be said that, except significant allusions to the
circumstances and dangers of their times, their recorded utterances clearly
point to the development of purely Sopheric teaching, that is, to the
Rabbinistic part of their functions. From the fourth 'couple,' which consists
of Simon ben Shetach, who figured so largely in the political history of the
(as Ab-beth-din), and his superior in learning and judgment, Jehudah ben
Tabbai (as Nasi), we have again utterances which show, in harmony with
the political history of the time, that judicial functions had been once more
restored to the Rabbis. The last of five couples brings us to the time of Herod
and of Christ.
23. In the beginning of the third century b.c.
24. Ab. i. 3, 4
has well pointed out that, if in Ab. i. 4 the first 'couple' is said to have
'received from them' - while only Antigonus is mentioned in the preceding
Mishnah, it must imply Antigonus and his unnamed disciples and followers. In
general, I may take this opportunity of stating that, except for special
reasons, I shall not refer to previous writers on this subject, partly because
it would necessitate too many quotations, but chiefly because the line of
argument I have taken differs from that of my predecessors.
26. Ab. i. 2.
27. Ab. i. 3.
28. See Appendix IV.: 'Political History of the Jews from the Reign of Alexander to the Accession of Herod.'
We have seen that, during the period of severe domestic
troubles, beginning with the persecutions under the Seleucidæ, which marked the
mortal struggle between Judaism and Grecianism, the 'Great Assembly' had
disappeared from the scene. The Sopherim had ceased to be a party in
power. They had become the Zeqenim, 'Elders,' whose task was purely
ecclesiastical - the preservation of their religion, such as the dogmatic
labours of their predecessors had made it. Yet another period opened with the
advent of the Maccabees. These had been raised into power by the enthusiasm of
the Chasidim, or 'pious ones,' who formed the nationalist party in the
land, and who had gathered around the liberators of their faith and country.
But the later bearing of the Maccabees had alienated the nationalists.
Henceforth they sink out of view, or, rather, the extreme section of them
merged in the extreme section of the Pharisees, till fresh national calamities
awakened a new nationalist party. Instead of the Chasidim, we see now
two religious parties within the Synagogue - the Pharisees and the Sadducees.
The latter originally represented a reaction from the Pharisees - the modern
men, who sympathised with the later tendencies of the Maccabees. Josephus
places the origin of these two schools in the time of Jonathan, the successor
of Judas Maccabee,29
and with this other Jewish notices agree. Jonathan accepted from the foreigner
(the Syrian) the High-Priestly dignity, and combined with it that of secular
ruler. But this is not all. The earlier Maccabees surrounded themselves with a
On the coins of their reigns this is designated as the Chebher, or
eldership (association) of the Jews. Thus, theirs was what Josephus designates
as an aristocratic government,32
and of which he somewhat vaguely says, that it lasted 'from the Captivity until
the descendants of the Asmoneans set up kingly government.' In this
aristocratic government the High-Priest would rather be the chief of a
representative ecclesiastical body of rulers. This state of things continued
until the great breach between Hyrcanus, the fourth from Judas Maccabee, and the
which is equally recorded by Josephus34
and the Talmud,35
with only variations of names and details. The dispute apparently arose from the
desire of the Pharisees, that Hycanus should be content with the secular power,
and resign the Pontificate. But it ended in the persecution, and removal from
power, of the Pharisees. Very significantly, Jewish tradition introduces again
at this time those purely ecclesiastical authorities which are designated as
In accordance with this, altered state of things, the name 'Chebher' now
disappears from the coins of the Maccabees, and Rabbinical celebrities ('the
couples' or Zugoth) are only teachers of traditionalism, and
ecclesiastical authorities. The 'eldership,'37
which under the earlier Maccabees was called 'the tribunal of the Asmoneans.'38
now passed into the Sanhedrin.40
Thus we place the origin of this institution about the time of Hyrcanus. With
this Jewish tradition fully agrees.42
The power of the Sanhedrin would, of course, vary with political circumstances,
being at times almost absolute, as in the reign of the Pharisaic devotee-Queen,
Alexandra, while at others it was shorn of all but ecclesiastical authority.
But as the Sanhedrin was in full force at the time of Jesus, its organization
will claim our attention in the sequel.
29. 160-143 b.c.
30. The Gerousia, 1 Macc. xii. 6;
xiii. 36; xiv. 28; Jos. Ant. xiii. 4. 9; 5. 8.
the same time some kind of ruling lerousia
existed earlier than at this period, if we may judge from Jos. Ant. xii
3.3. But he uses the term somewhat vaguely, applying it even to the time of
Jaddua (Antiq. xi. 8. 2).
32. Ant. xi. 4. 8.
Ber. 48 a furnishes evidence of this 'enmity.' This, of course, is an
inference from the whole history and relation there indicated. On the hostile
relations between the Pharisaical party and the Maccabees see Hamburger,
Real-Enc. ii. p. 367. Comp. Jer. Taan. iv. 5.
34. Ant. xiii. 10. 5. 6.
35. Kidd 66 a.
36. Jer. Maas Sheni v. end, p. 56 d Jer. Sot. ix. p. 24 a.
38. my)nwm#h l# wnyr tyb Sanh
82 a; Ab. Z. 36 b.
takes a different view, and identifies the tribunal of the Asmoneans with the
Sanhedrin. This seems to me, historically, impossible. But his opinion to that
effect (u. s. p. 87) is apparently contradicted at p. 93.
40. sunedrion. byr ty w
in the N.T also
once gerousia, Acts v. 21 and
twice presbuterion St. Luke
xxii. 66; Acts xxii 5.
following Wieseler, supposes the Sanhedrin to have been of Roman
institution. But the arguments of Wieseler on this point (Beitr. zur
richt. Wurd. d. Evang. p. 224) are inconclusive.
42. Comp. Derenbourg, u. s. p. 95.
After this brief outline of the origin and development of an
institution which exerted such decisive influence on the future of Israel, it
seems necessary similarly to trace the growth of the 'traditions of the
Elders,' so as to understand what, alas! so effectually, opposed the new
doctrine of the Kingdom. The first place must here be assigned to those legal
determinations, which traditionalism declared absolutely binding on all - not
only of equal, but even greater obligation than Scripture itself.43
And this not illogically, since tradition was equally of Divine origin with
Holy Scripture, and authoritatively explained its meaning; supplemented it;
gave it application to cases not expressly provided for, perhaps not even
foreseen in Biblical times; and generally guarded its sanctity by extending and
adding to its provisions, drawing 'a hedge,' around its 'garden enclosed.'
Thus, in new and dangerous circumstances, would the full meaning of God's Law,
to its every title and iota, be elicited and obeyed. Thus also would their feet
be arrested, who might stray from within, or break in from without.
Accordingly, so important was tradition, that the greatest merit a Rabbi could
claim was the strictest adherence to the traditions, which he had received from
his teacher. Nor might one Sanhedrin annul, or set aside, the decrees of its
predecessors. To such length did they go in this worship of the letter, that
the great Hillel was actually wont to mispronounce a word, because his teacher
before him had done so.44
we read: 'The sayings of the elders have more weight than those of the
prophets' (Jer. Ber. i. 7); 'an offence against the sayings of the Scribes is worse
than one against those of Scripture' (Sanh. xi. 3). Compare also Er. 21 b The
comparison between such claims and those sometimes set up on behalf of 'creeds'
and 'articles' (Kitto's Cyclop., 2nd ed., p. 786, col a) does not seem
to me applicable. In the introduction to the Midr. on Lament. it is inferred
from Jer. ix. 12, 13, that to forsake the law - in the Rabbinic sense - was
worse than idolatry, uncleanness, or the shedding of blood. See generally that
44. Eduy. i. 3. See the comment of Maimonides.
These traditional ordinances, as already stated, bear the
general name of the Halakhah, as indicating alike the way in which the
fathers had walked, and that which their children were bound to follow.45
These Halakhoth were either simply the laws laid down in Scripture; or
else derived from, or traced to it by some ingenious and artificial method of
exegesis; or added to it, by way of amplification and for safety's sake; or,
finally, legalized customs. They provided for every possible and impossible
case, entered into every detail of private, family, and public life; and with
iron logic, unbending rigour, and most minute analysis pursued and dominated
man, turn whither he might, laying on him a yoke which was truly unbearable.
The return which it offered was the pleasure and distinction of knowledge, the
acquisition of righteousness, and the final attainment of rewards; one of its
chief advantages over our modern traditionalism, that it was expressly
forbidden to draw inferences from these traditions, which should have the force
of fresh legal determinations.46
45. It is so explained in the Aruch (ed Zandau, vol. ii. p. 529, col b).
46. Comp. Hamburger, u.s. p 343.
In describing the historical growth of the Halakhah,47
we may dismiss in a few sentences the legends of Jewish tradition about
patriarchal times. They assure us, that there was an Academy and a Rabbinic
tribunal of Shem, and they speak of traditions delivered by that Patriarch to
Jacob; of diligent attendance by the latter on the Rabbinic College; of a
tractate (in 400 sections) on idolatry by Abraham, and of his observance of the
whole traditional law; of the introduction of the three daily times of prayer,
successively by Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; of the three benedictions in the
customary 'grace at meat,' as propounded by Moses, Joshua, and David and
Solomon; of the Mosaic introduction of the practice of reading lessons from the
law on Sabbaths, New Moons, and Feast Days, and even on the Mondays and
Thursdays; and of that, by the same authority, of preaching on the three great
festivals about those feasts. Further, they ascribe to Moses the arrangement of
the priesthood into eight courses (that into sixteen to Samuel, and that into
twenty-four to David), as also, the duration of the time for marriage
festivities, and for mourning. But evidently these are vague statements, with
the object of tracing traditionalism and its observances to primaeval times,
even as legend had it, that Adam was born circumcised,48
and later writers that he had kept all the ordinances.
here especially the detailed description by Herzfeld (u. s. vol. iii.
pp. 226, 263); also the Introduction of Maimonides, and the very able and
learned works (not sufficiently appreciated) by Dr. H. S. Hirschfeld,
Halachische Exegese (Berlin, 1840), and Hagadische Exegese (Berlin, 1847).
Perhaps I may also take leave to refer to the corresponding chapters in my
'History of the Jewish Nation.'
Shochar Tobh on Ps. ix. 6. ed. Warshau, p. 14 b; Abde R. Nath. 2.
But other principles apply to the traditions, from Moses
downwards. According to the Jewish view, God had given Moses on Mount Sinai
alike the oral and the written Law, that is, the Law with all its interpretations
and applications. From Ex. xx. 1, it was inferred, that God had communicated to
Moses the Bible, the Mishnah, and Talmud, and the Haggadah, even to that which
scholars would in latest times propound.49
In answer to the somewhat natural objection, why the Bible alone had been
written, it was said that Moses had proposed to write down all the teaching
entrusted to him, but the Almighty had refused, on account of the future
subjection of Israel to the nations, who would take from them the written Law.
Then the unwritten traditions would remain to separate between Israel and the
Gentiles. Popular exegesis found this indicated even in the language of
the expressions in Ex. xxiv. 12 were thus explained: 'the tables of stone,' the
ten commandments; the 'law,' the written Law; the 'commandments,' the Mishnah;
'which I have written,' the Prophets and Hagiographa; 'that thou mayest teach
them,' the Talmud - 'which shows that they were all given to Moses on Sinai'
(Ber. 5 a, lines 11-16). A like application was made of the various
clauses in Cant. vii. 12 (Erub. 21 b). Nay, by an alternation of the
words in Hos. vii. 10, it was shown that the banished had been brought back for
the merit of their study (of the sacrificial sections) of the Mishnah (Vayyik
50. Hos. viii 12;comp. Shem. R. 47.
But traditionalism went further, and placed the oral actually
above the written Law. The expression,51
'After the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with thee and with
Israel,' was explained as meaning, that God's covenant was founded on the spoken,
in opposition to the written words.52
If the written was thus placed below the oral Law, we can scarcely wonder that
the reading of the Hagiographa was actually prohibited to the people on the
Sabbath, from fear that it might divert attention from the learned discourses
of the Rabbis. The study of them on that day was only allowed for the purpose
of learned investigation and discussions.53
51. Ex. xxxiv. 27.
52. Jer. Chag. p. 76 d.
53. Tos. Shabb. xiv.
54. Another reason also is, however, mentioned for his prohibition.
But if traditionalism was not to be committed to writing by
Moses, measures had been taken to prevent oblivion or inaccuracy. Moses had
always repeated a traditional law successively to Aaron, to his sons, and to
the elders of the people, and they again in turn to each other, in such wise,
that Aaron heard the Mishnah four times, his sons three times, the Elders
twice, and the people once. But even this was not all, for by successive
repetitions (of Aaron, his sons, and the Elders) the people also heard it four
before his death, Moses had summoned any one to come forward, if he had
forgotten aught of what he had heard and learned.56
But these 'Halakhoth of Moses from Sinai' do not make up the whole of
traditionalism. According to Maimonides, it consists of five, but more
critically of three classes.57
The first of these comprises both such ordinances as are found in the
Bible itself, and the so-called Halakhoth of Moses from Sinai - that is,
such laws and usages as prevailed from time immemorial, and which, according to
the Jewish view, had been orally delivered to, but not written down by
Moses. For these, therefore, no proof was to be sought in Scripture
- at most support, or confirmatory allusion (Asmakhtu).58
Nor were these open to discussion. The second class formed the 'oral
law,'59 or the
in the stricter sense. To this class belonged all that was supposed to be
implied in, or that could be deduced from, the Law of Moses.61
The latter contained, indeed, in substance or germ, everything; but it had not
been brought out, till circumstances successfully evolved what from the first
had been provided in principle. For this class of ordinances reference to,
and proof from, Scripture was required. Not so for the third class
of ordinances, which were 'the hedge' drawn by the Rabbis around the Law, to
prevent any breach of the Law or customs, to ensure their exact observance, or
to meet peculiar circumstances and dangers. These ordinances constituted 'the
sayings of the Scribes'62
or 'of the Rabbis'63
- and were either positive in their character (Teqqanoth), or
else negative (Gezeroth from gazar 'to cut off'). Perhaps
the distinction of these two cannot always be strictly carried out. But it was
probably to this third class especially, confessedly unsupported by Scripture,
that these words of Christ referred:65
'All therefore whatsoever they tell you, that do and observe; but do not ye
after their works: for they say, and do not. For they bind heavy burdens and
grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but with their finger
they will not move them away (set in motion).'66
This view has two-fold confirmation. For, this third class of Halakhic
ordinances was the only one open to the discussion of the learned, the ultimate
decision being according to the majority. Yet it possessed practically (though
not theoretically) the same authority as the other two classes. In further
confirmation of our view the following may be quoted: 'A Gezerah (i.e.
this third class of ordinances) is not to be laid on the congregation, unless
the majority of the congregation is able to bear it'67
- words which read like a commentary on those of Jesus, and show that these
burdens could be laid on, or moved away, according to the varying judgment or
severity of a Rabbinic College.68
55. Erub. 54 b.
56. Deut. i. 5.
57. Hirschfeld, u. s. pp. 92-99.
58. From Kms
to lean against. At the same time the ordinances, for which an appeal
could be made to Asmakhta, were better liked than those which rested on
tradition alone (Jer. Chag. p. 76, col d).
59. hp l(b# hrwt
60. hlbq yrbd
connection with this it is very significant that R. Jochanan ben Zaccai, who
taught not many years after the Crucifixion of Christ, was wont to say, that,
in the future, Halakhahs in regard to purity, which had not the support of
Scripture, would be repeated (Sot. 27 b, line 16 from top). In general,
the teaching of R. Jochanan should be studied to understand the unacknowledged
influence which Christianity exercised upon the Synagogue.
62. Myrpws yrbd
64. But this is not always.
65. St. Matt. xxiii. 3, 4.
elucidate the meaning of Christ, it seemed necessary to submit an avowedly
difficult text to fresh criticism. I have taken the word kinein, moveo in the sense of ire
facio (Grimm, Clavis N.T. ed. 2da, p. 241 a), but
I have not adopted the inference of Meyer (Krit. Exeget. Handb. p. 455).
In classical Greek also kinein is used for 'to remove, to alter.' My
reasons against what may be called the traditional interpretation of St. Matt.
xxiii. 3, 4, are: 1. It seems scarcely possible to suppose that, before such an
audience, Christ would have contemplated the possibility of not observing
either of the two first classes of Halakhoth, which were regarded as
beyond controversy. 2. It could scarcely be truthfully charged against the
Scribes and Pharisees, that they did not attempt to keep themselves the
ordinances which they imposed upon others. The expression in the parallel
passage (St. Luke xi. 46) must be explained in accordance with the commentation
on St. Matt. xxiii. 4. Nor is there any serious difficulty about it.
67. B. Kam. 79 b.
the classification, arrangement, origin, and enumeration of these Halakhoth,
see Appendix V.: 'Rabbinic Theology and literature.'
This body of traditional ordinances forms the subject of the Mishnah,
or second, repeated law. We have here to place on one side the Law of Moses as
recorded in the Pentateuch, as standing by itself. All else - even the teaching
of the Prophets and of the Hagiographa, as well as the oral traditions - bore
the general name of Qabbalah - 'that which has been received.' The
sacred study - or Midrash, in the original application of the term -
concerned either the Halakhah, traditional ordinance, which was
always 'that which had been heard' (Shematha), or else the Haggadah,
'that which was said' upon the authority of individuals, not as legal
ordinance. It was illustration, commentary, anecdote, clever or learned saying,
&c. At first the Halakhah remained unwritten, probably owing to the
disputes between Pharisees and Sadducees. But the necessity of fixedness and
order led in course of time to more or less complete collections of the Halakhoth.69
The oldest of these is ascribed to R. Akiba, in the time of the Emperor
But the authoritative collection in the so-called Mishnah is the work of
Jehudah the Holy, who died about the end of the second century of our era.
69. See the learned remarks of Levy about the reasons for the earlier
prohibition of writing down the oral law, and the final collection of the
Mishnah (Neuhebr. u. Chald. Wörterb. vol. ii. p. 435).
70. 132-135 a.d.
collections are enumerated in the Midrash on Eccles. xii. 3. They are also
distinguished as 'the former' and 'the later' Mishnah (Nedar. 91 a).
Altogether, the Mishnah comprises six 'Orders' (Sedarim),
each devoted to a special class of subjects.72
These 'Orders' are divided into tractates (Massikhtoth, Massekhtiyoth,
'textures, webs'), of which there are sixty-three (or else sixty-two) in all.
These tractates are again subdivided into chapters (Peraqim) - in all
525, which severally consist of a certain number of verses, or Mishnahs
(Mishnayoth, in all 4,187). Considering the variety and complexity of
the subjects treated, the Mishnah is arranged with remarkable logical
perspicuity. The language is Hebrew, though of course not that of the Old
Testament. The words rendered necessary by the new circumstances are chiefly
derived from the Greek, the Syriac, and the Latin, with Hebrew terminations.73
But all connected with social intercourse, or ordinary life (such as
contracts), is written, not in Hebrew, but in Aramæan, as the language of the
first 'Order' (Zeraim, 'seeds') begins with the ordinances concerning
'benedictions,' or the time, mode, manner, and character of the prayers
prescribed. It then goes on to detail what may be called the religio-agrarian
laws (such as tithing, Sabbatical years, first fruits, &c.). The second
'Order' (Moed, 'festive time') discusses all connected with the Sabbath
observance and the other festivals. The third 'Order' (Nashim, 'women')
treats of all that concerns betrothal, marriage and divorce, but also includes
a tractate on the Nasirate. The fourth 'Order' (Neziqin, 'damages')
contains the civil and criminal law. Characteristically, it includes all the
ordinances concerning idol-worship (in the tractate Abhodah Zarah) and
'the sayings of the Fathers' (Abhoth). The fifth 'Order' (Qodashim,
'holy things') treats of the various classes of sacrifices, offerings, and
things belonging (as the first-born), or dedicated, to God, and of all
questions which can be grouped under 'sacred things' (such as the redemption,
exchange, or alienation of what had been dedicated to God). It also includes
the laws concerning the daily morning and evening service (Tamid), and a
description of the structure and arrangements of the Temple (Middoth,
'the measurements'). Finally, the sixth 'Order' (Toharoth,
'cleannesses') gives every ordinance connected with the questions of 'clean and
unclean,' alike as regards human beings, animals, and inanimate things.
the very interesting tractate by Dr. Brüll (Fremdspr Redensart in d. Talmud),
as well as Dr. Eisler's Beiträge z. Rabb. u. Alterthumsk., 3 fascic; Sachs,
Beitr. z. Rabb u. Alterthumsk.
But the traditional law embodied other materials than the Halakhoth
collected in the Mishnah. Some that had not been recorded there, found a place
in the works of certain Rabbis, or were derived from their schools. These are
called Boraithas - that is, traditions external to the Mishnah.
Finally, there were 'additions' (or Tosephtoth), dating after the
completion of the Mishnah, but probably not later than the third century of our
era. Such there are to not fewer than fifty-two out of the sixty-three Mishnic
tractates. When speaking of the Halakhah as distinguished from the Haggadah,
we must not, however, suppose that the latter could be entirely separated from
it. In point of fact, one whole tractate in the Mishnah (Aboth: The
Sayings of the 'Fathers') is entirely Haggadah; a second (Middoth:
the 'Measurements of the Temple') has Halakhah in only fourteen places;
while in the rest of the tractates Haggadah occurs in not fewer than 207
thirteen out of the sixty-three tractates of the Mishnah are entirely
free from Haggadah.
74. Comp. the enumeration in Pinner, u. s.
Hitherto we have only spoken of the Mishnah. But this comprises
only a very small part of traditionalism. In course of time the discussions,
illustrations, explanations, and additions to which the Mishnah gave rise,
whether in its application, or in the Academies of the Rabbis, were
authoritatively collected and edited in what are known as the two Talmuds
If we imagine something combining law reports, a Rabbinical 'Hansard,' and
notes of a theological debating club - all thoroughly Oriental, full of
digressions, anecdotes, quaint sayings, fancies, legends, and too often of
what, from its profanity, superstition, and even obscenity, could scarcely be
quoted, we may form some general idea of what the Talmud is. The oldest of
these two Talmuds dates from about the close of the fourth century of our era.
It is the product of the Palestinian Academies, and hence called the Jerusalem
Talmud. The second is about a century younger, and the outcome of the
Babylonian schools, hence called the Babylon (afterwards also 'our')
Talmud. We do not possess either of these works complete.76
The most defective is the Jerusalem Talmud, which is also much briefer, and
contains far fewer discussions than that of Babylon. The Babylon Talmud, which
in its present form extends over thirty-six out of the sixty-three tractates of
the Mishnah, is about ten or eleven times the size of the latter, and more than
four times that of the Jerusalem Talmud. It occupies (in our editions), with
marginal commentations, 2,947 folio leaves (pages a and b). Both
Talmuds are written in Aramæan; the one in its western, the other in its
eastern dialect, and in both the Mishnah is discussed seriatim, and
clause by clause. Of the character of these discussions it would be impossible
to convey an adequate idea. When we bear in mind the many sparkling, beautiful,
and occasionally almost sublime passages in the Talmud, but especially that its
forms of thought and expression so often recall those of the New Testament,
only prejudice and hatred could indulge in indiscriminate vituperation. On the
other hand, it seems unaccountable how any one who has read a Talmudic
tractate, or even part of one, could compare the Talmud with the New Testament,
or find in the one the origin of the other.
75. Talmud: that which is learned, doctrine. Gemara: either the same, or
else 'perfection,' 'completion.'
following will explain our meaning: On the first 'order' we have the
Jerusalem Talmud complete, that is, on every tractate (comprising in all 65
folio leaves), while the Babylon Talmud extends only over its first tractate (Berakhoth).
On the second order, the four last chapters of one tractate (Shabbath)
are wanting in the Jerusalem, and one whole tractate (Sheqalim)
in the Babylon Talmud. The third order is complete in both
Gemaras. On the fourth order a chapter is wanting in one tractate (Makkoth)
in the Jerusalem, and two whole tractates (Eduyoth and Abhoth)
in both Gemaras. The fifth order is wholly wanting in the Jerusalem,
and two and a half tractates of it (Middoth, Qinnim, and half Tamid)
in the Babylon Talmud. Of the sixth order only one tractate (Niddah)
exists in both Gemaras. The principal Halakhoth were collected in a work
(dating from about 800 a.d.)
entitled Halakhoth Gedoloth. They are arranged to correspond with the
weekly lectionary of the Pentateuch in a work entitled Sheeltoth
('Questions:' best ed. Dghernfurth, 1786). The Jerusalem Talmud extends
over 39, the Babylonian over 36 ½ tractates - 15 ½ tractates have no Gemara at
To complete our brief survey, it should be added that our
editions of the Babylon Talmud contain (at the close of vol. ix. and after the
fourth 'Order') certain Boraithas. Of these there were originally nine,
but two of the smaller tractates (on 'the memorial fringes,' and on
'non-Israelites') have not been preserved. The first of these Boraithas is
entitled Abhoth de Rabbi Nathan, and partially corresponds with a
tractate of a similar name in the Mishnah.77
Next follow six minor tractates. These are respectively entitled Sopherim
the ordinances about copying the Scriptures, the ritual of the Lectionary, and
festive prayers; Ebhel Rabbathi or Semakhoth,79
containing Halakhah and Haggadah about funeral and mourning observances; Kallah,80
on the married relationship; Derekh Erets,81
embodying moral directions and the rules and customs of social intercourse; Derekh
treating of similar subjects, but as regards learned students; and, lastly, the
Pereq ha Shalom,83
which is a eulogy on peace. All these tractates date, at least in their
present form, later than the Talmudic period.84
last ten chapters curiously group together events or things under numerals from
10 downwards. The most generally interesting of these is that of the 10 Nequdoth,
or passages of Scripture in which letters are marked by dots, together with the
explanation of their reasons (ch. xxxiv.). The whole Boraitha seems composed of
parts of three different works, and consists of forty (or forty-one) chapters,
and occupies ten folio leaves.
But when the Halakhah, however varied in its
application, was something fixed and stable, the utmost latitude was claimed
and given in the Haggadah. It is sadly characteristic, that,
practically, the main body of Jewish dogmatic and moral theology is really only
Haggadah, and hence of no absolute authority. The Halakhah
indicated with the most minute and painful punctiliousness every legal
ordinance as to outward observances, and it explained every bearing of the Law
of Moses. But beyond this it left the inner man, the spring of actions,
untouched. What he was to believe and what to feel, was chiefly matter of the
Haggadah. Of course the laws of morality, and religion, as laid down in the
Pentateuch, were fixed principles, but there was the greatest divergence and latitude
in the explanation and application of many of them. A man might hold or
propound almost any views, so long as he contravened not the Law of Moses, as
it was understood, and adhered in teaching and practice to the traditional
ordinances. In principle it was the same liberty which the Romish Church
accords to its professing members - only with much wider application, since the
debatable ground embraced so many matters of faith, and the liberty given was
not only that of private opinion but of public utterance. We emphasise this,
because the absence of authoritative direction and the latitude in matters of
faith and inner feeling stand side by side, and in such sharp contrast, with
the most minute punctiliousness in all matters of outward observance. And here
we may mark the fundamental distinction between the teaching of Jesus and
Rabbinism. He left the Halakhah untouched, putting it, as it were, on
one side, as something quite secondary, while He insisted as primary on that
which to them was chiefly matter of Haggadah. And this rightly so, for, in His
own words, 'Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which
cometh out of the mouth,' since 'those things which proceed out of the mouth
come forth from the heart, and they defile the man.'85
The difference was one of fundamental principle, and not merely of development,
form, or detail. The one developed the Law in its outward direction as
ordinances and commandments; the other in its inward direction as life and
liberty. Thus Rabbinism occupied one pole - and the outcome of its tendency to
pure externalism was the Halakhah, all that was internal and higher being
merely Haggadic. The teaching of Jesus occupied the opposite pole. Its
starting-point was the inner sanctuary in which God was known and worshipped,
and it might well leave the Rabbinic Halakhoth aside, as not worth controversy,
to be in the meantime 'done and observed,' in the firm assurance that, in the
course of its development, the spirit would create its own appropriate forms,
or, to use a New Testament figure, the new wine burst the old bottles. And,
lastly, as closely connected with all this, and marking the climax of
contrariety: Rabbinism started with demand of outward obedience and
righteousness, and pointed to sonship as its goal; the Gospel started with the
free gift of forgiveness through faith and of sonship, and pointed to obedience
and righteousness as its goal.
twenty-one chapters, each containing a number of Halakhahs, and occupying in
all four folio leaves.
79. In fourteen chapters, occupying rather more than three folio leaves.
80. It fills little more than a folio page.
81. In eleven chapters, covering about 1 ¾ folio leaves.
82. In nine chapters, filling one folio leaf.
83. Little more than a folio column.
these, Raphael Kirchheim has published (Frankfort, 1851) the so-called
seven smaller tractates, covering altogether with abundant notes, only
forty-four small pages, which treat of the copying of the Bible (Sepher
Torah, in five chapters), of the Mezuzah, or memorial on the
doorposts (in two chapters), Phylacteries (Tephillin, in one
chapter), of the Tsitsith, or memorial-fringes (in one chapter), of Slaves
(Abhadim, in three chapters) of the Cutheans, or Samaritans (in
two chapters), and, finally, a curious tractate on Proselytes (Gerim,
in four chapters).
85. St. Matt. xv. 11, 18.
In truth, Rabbinism, as such, had no system of theology; only
what ideas, conjectures, or fancies the Haggadah yielded concerning God,
Angels, demons, man, his future destiny and present position, and Israel, with
its past history and coming glory. Accordingly, by the side of what is noble
and pure, what a terrible mass of utter incongruities, of conflicting statements
and too often debasing superstitions, the outcome of ignorance and narrow
nationalism; of legendary colouring of Biblical narratives and scenes, profane,
coarse, and degrading to them; the Almighty Himself and His Angels taking part
in the conversations of Rabbis, and the discussions of Academies; nay, forming
a kind of heavenly Sanhedrin, which occasionally requires the aid of an earthly
miraculous merges into the ridiculous, and even the revolting. Miraculous
cures, miraculous supplies, miraculous help, all for the glory of great Rabbis,87
who by a look or word can kill, and restore to life. At their bidding the eyes
of a rival fall out, and are again inserted. Nay, such was the veneration due
to Rabbis, that R. Joshua used to kiss the stone on which R. Eliezer had sat
and lectured, saying: 'This stone is like Mount Sinai, and he who sat on it
like the Ark.' Modern ingenuity has, indeed, striven to suggest deeper
symbolical meaning for such stories. It should own the terrible contrast existing
side by side: Hebrewism and Judaism, the Old Testament and traditionalism; and
it should recognise its deeper cause in the absence of that element of
spiritual and inner life which Christ has brought. Thus as between the two -
the old and the new - it may be fearlessly asserted that as regards their
substance and spirit, there is not a difference, but a total divergence, of
fundamental principle between Rabbinism and the New Testament, so that
comparison between them is not possible. Here there is absolute contrariety.
in B. Mez. 86 a, we read of a discussion in the heavenly Academy on the
subject of purity, when Rabbah was summoned to heaven by death, although this
required a miracle, since he was constantly engaged in sacred study. Shocking
to write, it needed the authority of Rabbah to attest the correctness of the
Almighty's statement on the Halakhic question discussed.
of these miracles are detailed in B. Mets. 85 b, 86 a. Thus, Resh
Lakish, when searching for the tomb of R. Chija, found that it was miraculously
removed from his sight, as being too sacred for ordinary eyes. The same Rabbi
claimed such merit, that for his sake the Law should never be forgotten in
Israel. Such was the power of the patriarchs that, if they had been raised up
together, they would have brought Messiah before His time. When R. Chija
prayed, successively a storm arose, the rain descended, and the earth trembled.
Again, Rabbah, when about to be arrested, caused the face of the messenger to
be turned to his back, and again restored it; next, by his prayer he made a wall
burst, and so escaped. In Abhod. Zar. 17 b, a miracle is recorded in
favour of R. Eleazar, to set him free from his persecutors, or, rather, to
attest a false statement which he made in order to escape martyrdom. For
further extravagant praises of the Rabbis, comp. Sanh. 101 a.
The painful fact just referred to is only too clearly
illustrated by the relation in which traditionalism places itself to the
Scriptures of the Old Testament, even though it acknowledges their inspiration
and authority. The Talmud has it,88
that he who busies himself with Scripture only (i.e. without
either the Mishnah or Gemara) has merit, and yet no merit.89
Even the comparative paucity of references to the Bible in the Mishnah90
is significant. Israel had made void the Law by its traditions. Under a load of
outward ordinances and observances its spirit had been crushed. The religion as
well as the grand hope of the Old Testament had become externalized. And so
alike Heathenism and Judaism - for it was no longer the pure religion of the
Old Testament - each following its own direction, had reached its goal. All was
prepared and waiting. The very porch had been built, through which the new, and
yet old, religion was to pass into the ancient world, and the ancient world
into the new religion. Only one thing was needed: the Coming of the Christ. As
yet darkness covered the earth, and gross darkness lay upon the people. But far
away the golden light of the new day was already tingeing the edge of the
horizon. Presently would the Lord arise upon Zion, and His glory be seen upon
her. Presently would the Voice from out the wilderness prepare the way of the
Lord; presently would it herald the Coming of His Christ to Jew and Gentile,
and that Kingdom of heaven, which, established upon earth, is righteousness,
and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.91
88. Baba Mets. 33 a.
we read in Aboth d. R. Nathan 29: 'He who is master of the Midrash, but knows
no Halakhahs, is like a hero, but there are no arms in his hand. He that is
master of the Halakhoth, but knows nothing of the Midrashim, is a weak person
who is provided with arms. But he that is master of both is both a hero and
of these, of course, are from the Pentateuch. References to any other Old Testament books are generally
loosely made, and serve chiefly as points d'appuî for Rabbinical
sayings. Scriptural quotations occur in 51 out of the 63 tractates of the
Mishnah, the number of verses quoted being 430. A quotation in the Mishnah is
generally introduced by the formula 'as it is said.' This in all but sixteen
instances, where the quotation is prefaced by, 'Scripture means to say.' But,
in general, the difference in the mode of quotation in Rabbinic writings seems
to depend partly on the context, but chiefly on the place and time. Thus, 'as
it is written' is a Chaldee mode of quotation. Half the quotations in the
Talmud are prefaced by 'as it is said;' a fifth of them by 'as it is written;'
a tenth by 'scripture means to say;' and the remaining fifth by various other
formulas. Comp. Pinner's
Introduction to Berakhoth. In the Jerusalem Talmud no al-tikré ('read
not so, but read so') occurs, for the purposes of textual criticism. In the
Talmud a favourite mode of quoting from the Pentateuch, made in about 600
passages, is by introducing it as spoken or written by )nmxr. The various
modes in which Biblical quotations are made in Jewish writings are enumerated
in Surenhusius BibloV katallaghV,
91. For details on the Jewish views on the Canon, and historical and mystical theology, see
Appendix V.: 'Rabbinic Theology and Literature.'
Chapter 7 | Table
of Contents | Book II