Page images

which so much perplexed and perverted the text, instead of explaining it; and hence arose that unauthorized maxim, which was the principal source of all the Jewish sects, that the oral or traditionary law was of divine origin, as well as the written law of Moses. Ezra had examined the various traditions concerning the antient and approved usages of the Jewish church, which had been in practice before the captivity, and were remembered by the chief and most aged of the Elders of the people; and he had given to some of these traditionary customs and opinions the sanction of his authority. The Scribes therefore, who lived after the time of Simon the Just, in

order they continued to call the council of a remnant of the people which remained some time in Galilee, collected them into six books, which were called the Mishna, or Repetition of the Oral Law. The Mishna soon became the study of all the learned Jews, who employed themselves in making comments upon it. These comments they call the Gemara, or Complement, because by them the Mishna is fully explained, and the whole traditionary doctrine of their law and religion completed. Thus the Mishna is the text, and the Gemara the comment, and both together make what they call the Talmud. That made by the Jews in Judæa is called the Jerusalem Talmud, and that by the Jews in Babylon is called the Babylonian Talmud; the former was completed about the year of our Lord 300, and the latter in the beginning of the sixth century. Vide Prideaux.


order to give weight to their various interpretations of the law, at first pretended that they also were founded upon tradition, and added them to the opinions which Ezra had established as authentic; and in process of time it came to be asserted, that when Moses was forty days on Mount Sinai, he received from God two laws, the one in writing, the other oral; that this oral law was communicated by Moses to Aaron and Joshua ; and that it passed unimpaired and uncorrupted from generation to generation, by the tradition of the Elders or great national council established in the time of Moses; and that this oral law was to be considered as supplemental and explanatory of the written law, which was represented as being in many places obscure, scanty, and defective. In some cases they were led to expound the law by the traditions, in direct opposition to its true intent and meaning ; and it may be supposed that the intercourse of the Jews with the Greeks, after the death of Alexander, contributed much to increase those“ vain subtleties,” with which they had perplexed and burthened the doctrines of religion. During our Saviour's ministry, the Scribes were those who made the law of Moses their particular study, and who were employed in instructing the people. Their reputed skill



[ocr errors]

in the Scriptures induced Herod (i) to consult them concerning the time at which the Messiah was to be born. And our Saviour speaks of them as sitting in Moses's seat (k), which implies that they taught the law; and he foretold that he should be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the Scribes (1), and that they should put him to death, which shews that they were men of great power and authority among the Jews. Scribes," “ doctors of the law," and

lawyers,” were only different names for the same class of persons. Those who in the fifth chapter of St. Luke are called Pharisees and doctors of the law, are soon afterwards called Pharisees and Scribes; and he who by St. Matthew (m) is called " a lawyer,” is by St. Mark (n) called

one of the Scribes.” They had scholars under their care, whom they taught the knowledge of the law, and who, in their schools, sat on low stools just beneath their seats, which explains St. Paul's expression that he was “brought up at the feet of Gamaliel (o).” We find that our Saviour's manner of teaching was contrasted with that of these “ vain disputers ;" for it is said, when he


(i) Matt. c. 2. v. 4.
(1) Matt. c. 16. v. 21.
(n) Mark, c. 12. v. 28.

(k) Matt. c. 23. v. 2.
(m) Matt. C. 22. v. 35.
(0) Acts, c. 22. v. 3.

had ended his sermon upon the Mount, " the people were astonished at his doctrine, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the Scribes (p).” By the time of our Saviour, the Scribes had indeed in a manner laid aside the written" law, having no farther regard to that than as it agreed with their traditionary expositions of it; and thus, by their additions, corruptions, and misinterprétations, “they had made the word of God of none effect through their traditions (9).” It may be observed, that this in a great measure accounts for the extreme blindness of the Jews with respect to their Messiah, whom they had been taught by these commentators upon the prophecies to expect as a temporal prince. Thus when our Saviour asserts his divine nature, and appeals to -“ Moses and the prophets who spake of him, the people sought to slay him (r),” and he expresses no surprize at their intention. But when he converses with Nicodemus (8), (who appears to have been convinced by his miracles, that he was " a teacher sent from God,” when he “came to Jesus by night,” anxious to obtain farther information concerning


(p) Matt. c. 7. v. 29. (r) John, c. 5.

(9) Matt. c. 15. v.6. (s) John, c. 3.

his nature and his doctrine), our Lord, after intimating the necessity of laying aside all prejudices against the spiritual nature of his kingdom, asks, “art thou a Master in Israel, and knowest not these things ?” that is, knowest not that Moses and the prophets describe the Messiah as the son of God? and he then proceeds to explain in very clear language the dignity of his person and office, and the purpose for which he came into the world, referring to the predictions of the antient Scriptures. And Stephen (t), just before his death, addresses the multitude by an appeal to the Law and the Prophets, and reprobates in the most severe terms the teachers who misled the people. Our Lord, when speaking of " them of old time," classed the “prophets, and wise men, and Scribes (u)together ; but of the later Scribes he uniformly speaks with censure and indignation, and usually joins them with the Pharisees, to which sect they in general belonged. St. Paul asks, “Where is the wise? Where is the Scribe? Where is the disputer of this world (v)?” with evident contempt for such,' as “professing themselves wise above what was written, became fools.”


(t) Acts, c.7.

(u) Matt. c. 23. v. 34. (v) i Cor. c. 1. V. 20.

« PreviousContinue »