Tradition, Tradition of the Elders
TRADITION, TRADITION OF THE ELDERS. Tradition is the collective wisdom of any given culture, the notions of its world view and the insights of its institutions.
Ancient near East. Tradition existed before the Neolithic food-producing revolution of the 9th-8th millennia b.c. It was formulated by two processes, the conservation of accumulated wisdom and the symbolization of ideas transmitted beyond the limits of horizontal communication. In effect, tradition in the ancient Near E was a complex literary vehicle which came into being before the innovation of writing. Ancient tradition was almost always verified and grounded in the religious ground-motive of the archaic-religious states. All of the most ancient literate cultures assumed that their writing system and its literary monuments were rooted in the very cosmos and enforced by the gods. To a great degree the keeping of tradition was a sympathetic magic bringing the microcosm of the town and its inhabitants into alignment with the universal macrocosm of the world-order. The traditional texts of the Sumerians, Elamites, Babylonians and Hittites as well as the Ugaritic tablets all follow this pattern. The proposal made by the negative higher critics of the 19th cent. that oral traditions existed previous to the enscriptured word of the OT, has never been proven. In fact, the very nature of “law” among human societies implies if not demands that some form of writing exists. To reduce the pre-Biblical cuneiform sources to the level of oral transmissions from the tribal “elders” of ancient amphictyonies is a gross misunderstanding.
OT. The writers of the OT are adamant in insisting that the word-revelation of God was not only antagonistic but antithetical to the traditions of the nations. The common Near Eastern assumption that hoary antiquity verified authority, an underlying motive in all tradition, is refuted in every book of the OT. The God and Word of the patriarchs is stated to be a God of present action, and this aspect is restated to Moses before the Exodus (
3. Intertestamental. The breakup of the Second Commonwealth into an array of religious and political parties left each to be founded and justified by tradition. The dependence upon oral authorities in the time-honored oriental fashion can be traced throughout the documents which have survived from this post-Hel. era. The Apoc. and Pseudep. were written at this time and they both include large portions of traditional method and material. In an age of turmoil and tension it is natural that men turn to a more stable and secure past and hallow its accomplishments, and the Intertestamental period did this in abundance. In the face of the mechanism of the Attic world view which now settled upon Asia, the remnants of the archaic religious states, Israel, Egypt, Babylon, Persia and Gaul all turned inward to their own past. The result was the movement toward neo-Platonism finally codified by Plotinus and his followers. The process of “hedging” the five Books of Moses by layers of oral tradition, commenting upon and solidifying the interpretation of the text, went on unabated throughout the period after the close of the canon. Much of this tradition was tr. from its Heb. and Aram. original into koiné Gr. In this manner it passed into the treasure of diaspora Judaism. The major alteration came about through the Rom. subversion of the Temple administration which resulted in a mistrust of the established interpretation of the law. In its place there appeared a vast number of apocryphal and apocalyptic renderings which are preserved in the DSS and the NT.
5. Dead Sea Scrolls. The discovery of the DSS has cast much light on the formative period of the tradition of the elders, esp. since new collections such as 1QS have indicated that sectarian as well as rabbinic Judaism was in the process of expanding the law. The DSS display the same types of refinements of the tradition as seen in the Talmud: concern for the text of the five Books of Moses; detailed instructions on offerings and tithes; ritual cleanliness and defilement; instruction concerning rituals and verification of current practices. The zeal with which this tradition was carried out to the last letter of its content is demonstrated by the community of Qumran itself, a religious commune existing under the harshest conditions of life. As with the rabbinical traditions the DSS have a twofold purpose in view in their attempt to perfect the traditional system of the law: 1. To maintain against the encroaching paganism the ancient Israelite theocracy; 2. To preserve a remnant of purified Israel against the world until the apocalyptic release. This last futuritive ideal has often been overlooked in modern discussions of the Jewish traditionalism. In the DSS the apocalyptic mode is uppermost and foremost.
6. Tradition in the diaspora and the church. As differences in languages, customs and locale separated the various Jewish communities of the dispersion, so independent traditions sprang up after the apostolic age a.d. 100-102 when Christian churches were commonplace. Judaism was put on the defensive and for centuries turned inward with the outcome of becoming meditative and passive. Christianity on the other hand, seems to have been divided at a very early date over the problem of Jewish sacerdotalism and the maintenance of the non-canonical law. The episodes of Paul’s resisting the Judaizers (
Bibliography H. J. Holtzmann, Kanon und Tradition (1859); C. Ullmann, Reformers before the Reformation, 2 vols. (1874-1877); A. Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus The Messiah, 2 vols. (1883); A. K. G. Harnack, History of Dogma, 7 vols. (1895-1900) see index; G. C. Aalders, De Profeten des Ouden Verbonds (1918); H. L. Strack and P. Billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud und Midrasch, I (1922) 610-720; B. H. Branscomb, Jesus and the Law of Moses (1930); H. Birkeland, Zum hebräischen Traditions-wesen (1938); J. Pedersen, Israel, Its Life and Culture, 4 vols. (1940) see index; S. Mowinckel, Prophecy and Tradition (1946); G. Widengren, Literary and Psychological Aspects of Hebrew Prophets (1948); E. J. Young, An Introduction to the Old Testament (1949) 10-100; D. Daube, The New Testament and Rabbinic Judaism (1956); P. Wernberg-Məller, The Manual of Discipline (1957); S. Mowinckel, “Tradition,” IDB, vol. 4 (1962) 683-685; R. K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament (1969) 19-82.