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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Tradition

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The body of religious literature contained in the OT is itself largely the deposit of oral tradition. As the result of its progressive canonization, this literature acquired the character of a fixed norm of faith and conduct. But the study devoted to the Scriptures (מִרְרַשׁ, ‘seeking,’ ‘searching’) led to a vast development in the religious traditions of Judaism. On the one hand, through the ceaseless activity of the scribes, the written Law was enriched by a wealth of oral statutes (תּוֹרָה שֶׁבְּעַל־פָּה, ‘the Torah that came by mouth’), partly natural expansions of the Law, arising from the force of custom and the new necessities of life, or as legal precedents from the courts of justice, partly definitions, interpretations, or detailed applications of the Law. From their direct bearing on matters of conduct, these new statutes were described as Hǎlâkhôth (from הָלַךְ, ‘go’), that is, rules governing the normal walk of life. But, while the scholastic mind thus busied itself with details of the Law, the imagination of more poetical spirits played around the narrative parts of Scripture, embellishing the history of Israel with a rich garland of legend, allegory, metaphysics, and morals, often grotesque enough, yet ‘full of the strength and glow of faith’ (H. Heine, Jehuda ben Halevy, pt. i. stanza 34). These more imaginative elements of tradition were termed Hăggâdôth (from הִגִּיד, ‘show,’ ‘tell’), that is, lessons of life taught by way of principles and examples, actual or fictitious (less probably, tales or legends as products of the story-telling gift).

The oral character of both these developments of OT literature was long preserved. As late as the Christian era, the traditional Law was known as מִצְוית זְקִנִים, the ‘command of the elders’ (cf. the NT παράδοσις τῶν πρεσβυτέρων, ‘tradition of the elders’), and a distinct prejudice operated against any part of its contents being reduced to writing. After the destruction of the Temple, however, the title Mishna (from שָׁגָה, ‘repeat’), most probably in the sense of ‘study’ or ‘teaching’ (in spite of the δευτέρωσις of the Church Fathers), came to be applied to the oral Law; and various collections were now made by leading scholars like Hillel and Aḳiba, the standard edition being that of Judah ha-Nasi (circa, about a.d. 200). The Mishna itself is a compilation of Hǎlâkhôth, or formal statutes; but the Gemara, or ‘supplement’ of the Mishna (from גְּמַר, ‘complete’), contains many Hǎggâdôth as well. These were taken over by the Talmuds, especially the Babylonian Talmud, which contains by far the richest treasury of Jewish traditions.

Although originally mere expansions or embellishments of Scripture, the Halakhic traditions in particular acquired an authority and influence equal to those of the Law itself. This principle was explicitly taught in the schools of both Hillel and Shammai, and was accepted by the Pharisees generally, while the conservative Sadducees rejected the claims of tradition in toto (Jos. Ant. XIII. x. 6). Among the more rigid Pharisees, indeed, the oral Law was held to possess an even greater sanctity than the written; for the oral was the ‘perfection’ of the written, and he who knew and followed it was wiser and holier than he who observed merely the written. Thus the idea grew up that the traditional Law also was given to Moses on Sinai, and was delivered by him to Joshua, and by him to the elders, and by them to the prophets, and by them to the men of the Great Synagogue, and thence to the present generation (Pirḳe Aboth, i. 1 ff.). In later Talmudic tradition, the Law given to Moses was said to cover the whole body of Rabbinic doctrines. Thus the real heart of the Law was buried beneath the dead weight of tradition; and men too often used their zeal for tradition as a means of evading the moral demands of the Law (Matthew 15:2 ff., Mark 7:1 ff., etc.).

The conflict with traditionalism, which figures so prominently in the Gospels, sinks into insignificance in the rest of the NT. The problem that confronted St. Paul was that of the Law itself, while the other writers were concerned with the weighty matters of Christian faith and life. Only a few faint traces of tradition appear in their writings-mere survivals from the dead past of Judaism. Thus the allusions of St. Stephen to the burial of Jacob and all his children in Sychem, to Moses’ learning ‘in all the wisdom of the Egyptians,’ and to the presence of angels at the giving of the Law (Acts 7:15 f., Acts 7:22; Acts 7:38; Acts 7:53) are doubtless drawn from Jewish Hăggâdôth; examples of the same thing are found in St. Paul’s references to the Rock that followed the Israelites (1 Corinthians 10:4), to the seducing of Eve by the serpent (2 Corinthians 11:3), and to the ministry of angels (Galatians 3:19; cf. Hebrews 2:2), while the direct use of Haggadic literature is suggested in such texts as 2 Timothy 3:8 f., 1 Peter 3:19 ff., 2 Peter 2:4 ff., Judges 1:6 ff. The influence of Halakhic exegesis is equally evident in the Apostle’s method of argument in Romans 9:7 ff., Galatians 4:21 ff., 1 Corinthians 9:9 f. (cf. 1 Timothy 5:18).

Literature.-L. Zunz, Die gottesdienstlichen Vorträge der Juden, Berlin, 1832; E. Deutsch, The Talmud, in his Literary Remains, London, 1874; H. L. Strack, Einleitung in den Talmud4, Leipzig, 1908; M. Mielziner, Introduction to the Talmud2, New York, 1903; S. Schechter, article ‘Talmud,’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) v. 57ff.; W. Bacher, Die Agada der Tannaiten, 2 vols., Strassburg, 1884-90, Die Agada der babylonischen Amoräer, do., 1878, Die Agada der palästinischen Amoräer, 3 vols., do., 1892-99; F. Weber, Jüdische Theologie2, Leipzig, 1897; E Schürer, GJV [Note: JV Geschichte des jüdischen Volkes (Schürer).] 4 i. [do., 1902] 111ff., II. [do., 1907] 381 ff. (HJP [Note: JP History of the Jewish People (Eng. tr. of GJV).] I. [Edinburgh, 1890] i. 117 ff., 11. [do., 1890] i. 320 ff.); R. T. Herford, Pharisaism, 1912; J. Z. Lauterbach, article ‘Oral Law,’ in Jewish Encyclopedia ix. 423 ff.; A. C. Zenos, article ‘Tradition,’ in Dict. of Christ and the Gospels ii. 741 f.; H. St. J. Thackeray, Relation of St. Paul to Contemporary Jewish Thought, London, 1900.

A. R. Gordon.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Tradition'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/t/tradition.html. 1906-1918.

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