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Elder (OT)

See also Elder

The elders seemed to occupy a continuing place of importance throughout the history of Israel, from their sojourn in Egypt to the postexilic period when mention was made that they gave orders to assemble the people to deal with the question of foreign marriages (Ezra 10:8). The elders were able to survive the collapse of the royal institutions.

Nothing is said about the organization of the councils of the elders of the tribes. Their number prob. depended on the size of the local community; there were seventy-seven at Succoth (Judg 8:14). It is quite unlikely that there was a council of elders of the entire nation selected from the elders of the various tribes.

In the Mari archives of the 18th cent. b.c. down to the royal correspondence of the Sargon dynasty in the 8th, the elders appear as representatives of the people and defenders of their interests, but without administrative functions. In the Hitt. empire, the elders did control municipal affairs and settled local disputes in co-operation with the commander of the garrison. The Phoen. towns had their elders also, as non-Biblical documents attest for Byblos and Tyre.

It is difficult to determine if the officials, שָׂרִ֖ים, are equivalent to the elders. In Numbers 22:7, 14 and Judges 8:6, 16 the terms appear alternately. They also appear together in Succoth (Judg 8:14). In Job 29:9 the śārîm sat at the gate of the town, as did the elders of Proverbs 31:23.


J. Pedersen, Israel, I-II (1926), see “elders” in Index; C. A. Simpson, The Early Traditions of Israel (1948), 227, 629, 630; M. Noth, The History of Israel (1960), 108, 226; R. de Vaux, Ancient Israel (1961).