Posted by: chuckbumgardner | September 30, 2009

Scribes and Synagogues

I recently enjoyed this short article:  Lester L. Grabbe, “Scribes and Synagogues,” in The Oxford Handbook of Biblical Studies, Oxford Handbooks in Religion and Theology (Oxford University Press, 2006), 362-71.  Some tidbits:

An interesting quote from Ben Sira:
A scholar’s wisdom comes from ample leisure; to be wise he must be relieved of other tasks. How can one become wise who guides the plough . . . whose talk is all about cattle? (34:24f)
“The position [of scribe] could vary from a rather lowly individual keeping records in a warehouse to a high minister of state whose office was an important one in the established government.”  Josephus mentions various levels: village clerks, secretary to Herod, secretary of the Sanhedrin, scribes of the temple. (365)
Grabbe suggests that the “scribes” of the NT were not an independent sect or group, but are perhaps best understood as “scribes of the Pharisees,” that is, among that particular sect (cf. Mk 2:16; Acts 23:9). (365-66)
“The ideal of public education is a modern concept. In antiquity the wealthy might hire tutors, and we know that in the Graeco-Roman world ‘sophists’ would take on pupils for payment. Greek cities also operated a ‘gymnasium’ for the training of citizens, but this was limited to the small number who qualified as citizens. In short, a system of schools for the general public was unknown.”
“No source refers to the synagogue or anything like until the third century BCE.” (367) “The earliest references to anything like synagogues in extant literature [italics added; earlier evidence was inscriptional/archaeological] are found no earlier than the first century CE.” (368)

A nice quote from Ben Sira:

A scholar’s wisdom comes from ample leisure; to be wise he must be relieved of other tasks.  How can one become wise who guides the plough . . . whose talk is all about cattle? (34:24f)

“The position [of scribe] could vary from a rather lowly individual keeping records in a warehouse to a high minister of state whose office was an important one in the established government.”  Josephus mentions various levels: village clerks, secretary to Herod, secretary of the Sanhedrin, scribes of the temple. (365)

Grabbe suggests that the “scribes” of the NT were not an independent sect or group, on par with the Pharisees, but are perhaps best understood as “scribes of the Pharisees,” that is, among that particular sect (cf. Mk 2:16; Acts 23:9). (365-66)

In discussing literacy in the NT era, Grabbe notes, “The ideal of public education is a modern concept. In antiquity the wealthy might hire tutors, and we know that in the Graeco-Roman world ‘sophists’ would take on pupils for payment. Greek cities also operated a ‘gymnasium’ for the training of citizens, but this was limited to the small number who qualified as citizens. In short, a system of schools for the general public was unknown.” (366)

“No source refers to the synagogue or anything like until the third century BCE.” (367) “The earliest references to anything like synagogues in extant literature [my italics; earlier evidence was inscriptional/archaeological] are found no earlier than the first century CE.” (368)

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