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ELDER (Heb. זָקֵן, zaken). In Israel, as among all other ancient peoples, the elder is not only a person of advanced age, but also a man of distinct social grade (cf. šībum in Akkadian, senator in Latin, geron in Greek, and sheikh in Arabic). The elders were the consulting body of the city, the nation, or the king respectively, and as such were considered "the wise" (cf. Ezek. 7:26 with Jer. 18:18). As a social institution, various types of elders are named: elders of a people (Israel, Judah, Moab, and Midian, Num. 22:4, 7; Egypt, Gen. 50:7); elders of an area (Gilead, Judg. 11:5–11); elders of a tribe (Deut. 31:28); elders of the Diaspora (Jer. 29:1); elders of the priests (ii Kings 19:2; Jer. 19:1); elders of the city (passim); and elders of the house (i.e., palace, Gen. 50:7; ii Sam. 12:17). The most prominent are the elders of the people or the country and the elders of the city.

The Elders of the City

These elders represented their fellow citizens in local matters. Their functions are best exemplified by the pertinent laws of Deuteronomy. The city elders are involved in five laws: (1) blood redemption (19:12); (2) expiation of murder by an unknown culprit (21:3, 6); (3) the rebellious son (21:19); (4) defamation of a virgin (22:15); and (5) levirate (25:9). All these cases deal with protection of the family and local patriarchal interests. In the first, the elders tend to the appeasement of the murdered person's family by delivering the slayer into its hands; in the second, they see to it that their town atones for a homicide committed within its borders. In the next two instances, the elders protect the family against a rebellious son and defend the family against defamation. In the last instance, the elders are concerned with preventing the extinction of a family in their town. No professional judgment is necessary in such cases: the elders preside over a case, whose consequences are clear beforehand. The same applies to Ruth 4:2ff., where the elders only confirm the act of levirate. In contrast, "the judges" in the laws of Deuteronomy have functions that are altogether different from those of the elders. The judges act in connection with disputes (19:17–18; 25:1–3) and controversies in the local courts (17:8ff.) that cannot be solved by the local patriarchal representatives, but need a higher and more objective judicial authority. Furthermore, disputes and controversies involve thorough investigation (cf. 19:18), which can be made only by qualified and professional people. These judges are nominated (cf. Deut. 16:19) in contradistinction to the elders, whose dignity is as a rule hereditary. In only one case in Deuteronomy do the elders act together with the judges: the case of the unknown murderer (21:1ff.). The elders of the town nearest the spot where the corpse was found have to perform the expiation rites on behalf of their town. In order to establish which town is nearest, the distances must be measured (see * Eglah Arufah). This has to be implemented by the judges and the elders of the country (21:2), i.e., by a higher authority. This case is important for an understanding of the composition of the courts in ancient Israel, especially since it has its antecedents in the judicial procedures of the other peoples in the ancient Near East. Among ancient Near Eastern peoples, a representative of the state joined the local authority (i.e., the elders) in order to settle disputes. In Mesopotamia the elders (šībūtum) cooperated with the mayor (rabiānum or ḫazānum), and in the Hittite state the commander of the garrison acted with the elders in settling disputes. In purely provincial matters, such as the returning of stray cattle, the elders themselves acted without resorting to government officials (Hittite Laws, para. 71). Only when investigation was involved was the case brought before a tribunal, which consisted of both state officials and elders. In ancient Israel, as in the Hittite state, the judges were associated or even identical with officers and military commanders (Ex. 18:21; Deut. 1:15). That the officer and the elder had much in common is evident from Isaiah 3:14, Ezra 10:8, et al. In i Kings 21:11, they act together (for the interchange of "noble" with "officer," cf. Jer. 39:6 with 52:10; Jer. 27:20 with ii Kings 24:14).

The Elders of the People or Country

In the city-state, as it existed in Canaan, the elders of the city were identical with the elders of the state. In Israel, both before and during the monarchic period, the elders of the town and those of the people, country, and congregation operated separately. Matters that concerned the entire confederation or the nation were brought to the elders of the people, and after the division of the kingdom to the elders of Israel and Judah respectively, whereas the elders of the town dealt only with the local provincial problems (see above). It is not known how the elders of the country were chosen, but it is possible that they were recruited from the city elders. One might argue that the monarchy had deprived the elders of their power and authority, but this was not the case. Even as powerful a king as Ahab had to consult "the elders of the land" before proclaiming war (i Kings 20:7). It is needless to dwell here on the important role that the elders of Israel and Judah played at the time of David (ii Sam. 3:17; 5:3; 17:4, 15). The elders cooperated with Elisha against the king (ii Kings 6:32), and the elders of the land interfered in the trial of Jeremiah (Jer. 26:17). The "people of the land" or the "people of Judah," who took action when the dynasty was at stake, seem to be identical with the elders of Judah.

The emergence of the elders has been explained in the Pentateuch etiologically. According to Exodus 18, it was Jethro who advised Moses to establish a judicial-social organ in order to help him judge the people. (In the desert setting of the narrative there was no distinction between the elders of the town and the elders of the congregation.) In Numbers 11, following Moses' complaint that he cannot manage the people by himself, the Lord draws from some of the spirit of Moses and instills it in the 70 elders who are to assist him. In Deuteronomy 1:9ff., finally, Moses himself proposes that he pick men from the tribes in order to create the judicial body. These three traditions present different outlooks on the quality of the elder-judge in ancient Israel. In Exodus 18, the attributes of the chosen men are fear of God, trustworthiness, and honesty. In Numbers 11, it is the spirit of God, i.e., divine inspiration (cf. the judge in the period of the Judges, Judg. 3:10; 6:34; et al.), which makes a man a member of the elders' council. In Deuteronomy 1, intellectual capacity (wisdom, understanding, and knowledge) makes a man fit to judge. The description in Deuteronomy is apparently the latest, since it reflects the aristocratic approach, which places wisdom at the top of the ladder of values (cf. e.g., Prov. 8:15–16; et al).

The Functions of the Elders of the People

The functions of the elders of the people were (1) to represent the people in the sacral covenant and in the proclamation of the law (Ex. 19:7; 24:1, 9; Deut. 27:1; 29:9; 31:9; Josh. 8:33; 24:1; cf. ii Kings 23:1); (2) to appoint a leader or a king (i Sam. 8:4; Judg. 11:5–11); (3) to proclaim war (Josh. 8:10; ii Sam. 17:4–15; cf. i Kings 20:7); (4) to conduct political negotiations and make agreements (Ex. 3:16, 18; 4:29; Num. 16:25; ii Sam. 3:17; 5:3); (5) to perform sacred ceremonies (Ex. 12:21; 18:12; Lev. 9:1; i Sam. 4:3; i Kings 8:1, 3; i Chron. 16:25); and (6) to act in times of national crisis (Ex. 17:5–6; Josh. 7:6; i Sam. 4:3; i Chron. 21:16). The elders held their meetings near the city gate (Deut. 21:19; 22:15; 25:7; Ruth 4:1ff.; Lam. 5:14), and more precisely in the square located next to the gate (Job 29:7). In the desert the assemblies were held "at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting" (see *Congregation). The place of the assembly had also been called "the threshing floor" (i Kings 22:10), because of its smooth, stamped surface and its circular shape (cf. Sanh. 4:3). In texts from Ugarit, Danel the pious judge is presented as sitting "before the gate, in the place of the mighty on the threshing floor" (Aqht a, v, lines 5ff., Pritchard, Texts, 151). Participation in the assembly of the elders was considered a great honor (Prov. 31:23; Job 29:7ff.), and appears as such also in Greek literature (Iliad, 1:490; 4:225; et al.).

[Moshe Weinfeld]

In the Talmud

During the mishnaic period the name zaken ("elder") was reserved for scholars, and particularly members of the Sanhedrin or bet din. The title was regarded as equivalent to a sage, and was unconnected with age, as was emphasized by regarding the word as a notarikon: "The zaken is none other than a sage, and the word means zeh she-kanah ḥokhmah ("one who has acquired wisdom"; Kid. 32b). Thus one reads of the elders of Bet Shammai and the elders of Bet Hillel (Ber. 11a), of the "elders of the bet din" who supervised the high priest before the Day of Atonement (Yoma 1:3 and 5), and of "Rabban Gamaliel and the elders who were traveling by ship" (Shab. 16:8; Ma'as Sh. 5:9; cf. also * Zaken Mamre). The word zaken hardly occurs with regard to local government (the "elders of the city" of. Sot. 9:5 and 6 is a reference to Deut. 21:3), although in the Book of Judith, the elders of the city or of the people appear as the main authority of the beleaguered city. It seems that the institution of "the seven good men of the city" who were responsible for its affairs was confined to Babylon. The Mishnah (Meg. 3:1) states that if the people of a town sell a synagogue or other sacred object, the purchaser may not use it for purposes of lesser sanctity. Where the Babylonian Talmud (Meg. 26a, 27a) makes the reservation that this does not apply in cases where the "seven good men of the city" stipulated at the time of the sale that the synagogue or the sacred object could so be used, the parallel passage in the Jerusalem Talmud merely mentions the stipulation but has no reference to the seven communal leaders. Nevertheless Josephus (Ant. 4:214–4) refers to the seven men who ruled the city in Ereẓ Israel, and the Syriac Baruch mentions "the seven elders of the people" (ii Bar. 44:1).

[Louis Isaac Rabinowitz]

Middle Ages and Modern Period

In the Middle Ages and early modern times the term "elder" or "elders" appears both as a titular synonym for scholar and sage as well as a frequent description for the unpaid lay members in the leadership on the boards of communities within the framework of the *Councils of the Lands. It can also be regarded as an honorific description for members of the ruling aristocracy of wealth and learning in the communities of the period. The designation disappears almost entirely from the middle of the 18th century for both communal leaders as well as scholars (except for the fossilized expression zaken veyoshev bi-yshivah used as a title in ultra-conservative circles). Its disuse was the natural corollary of a diminished reverence for age and the rise of a mentality that refused to equate it with wisdom and leadership qualities. It is not accidental that antisemitic vilification in modern times fastened on the term "elder" and attempted to turn it into a horror image. Exploiting the feelings of revulsion against the notion of scheming old men and recalling the use of the term in the Jewish hierarchy and tradition, it conjured up a new Jewish bogey in the shape of the *Elders of Zion ("Sages de Sion"). The Nazis in their calculated policy of fragmentation and foisting a spurious leadership on the Jews turned to the use of the name Judenaelteste ("elders of the Jews") for some of the functionaries in this leadership.

[Haim Hillel Ben-Sasson]


J.L. McKenzie, in: Analecta Biblica, 10 (1959), 388–400; H. Klengel, in: Orientalia, 29 (1960), 357–75; de Vaux, Anc Isr, 68–70; Evans, in: jrh, 2 (1962), 1–12; H. Klengel, Zeitschrift fuer Assyriologie, 23 (1965), 223ff.; H. Tadmor, in: Journal of World History, 11 (1968), 3–23; H. Reviv, in: Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, 12 (1969), 283–97; Baron, Community, index. add. bibliography: T. Wills, Elders of the City (2001); A. Rof, "The Organization of the Judiciary in Deuteronomy," in: M. Daviau et al. (eds.), World of the Arameans (2002), 92–112.

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Gaining popularity in modern times as a cold and flu medicine, elder flower has been an important folk remedy for centuries. The Roman naturalist Pliny wrote about the therapeutic value of this flowering tree in the first century a.d. Native Americans used elder as a treatment for respiratory infections and constipation as well as an herbal pad for healing wounds . Black elder (Sambucus nigra ) is the most popular variety of the plant, though there are other species known to have similar chemical ingredients. Elder grows in Europe, Asia, North Africa, and the United States. Most medicinal elder is obtained from the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and the United Kingdom. The Latin word sambucus is thought to be derived from the Greek sambuca, which refers to a stringed musical instrument popular among the Ancient Romans. In fact, some modern day Italians still make a primitive pipe called a sampogna from the branches of the tree, which also produces fragrant, cream-colored flowers and deep-violet berries. The flowers and berries are used most often in the drug of commerce, though the leaves, bark, and roots are also considered to have therapeutic effects. The berries traditionally have been used to make elder-berry wine as well as pies and jellies, although no value has yet been found in these products.

The German Commission E, considered an authoritative source of information on alternative remedies, determined that elder has the ability to increase bronchial secretions as well as perspiration. These properties can be useful in helping to alleviate symptoms of the common cold or the flu. Even more interesting is the possibility that elder, like another herbal remedy called echinacea , may have the power to shorten the duration of colds by up to a few days. While it is not known exactly how elder produces its therapeutic effects, study has focused on several naturally occurring chemicals in the plant. Elder's flavonoids and phenolic acids are thought to be responsible for its ability to increase perspiration. The triterpenes in elder may also be potential "active ingredients," though more study is required to confirm this. The remaining chemical constituents of medicinal elder usually include potassium and other minerals; sterols;

volatile oils containing linoleic, linolenic, and palmitic acid; mucilage; pectin; protein; sugar; and tannins.

A number of other properties have been ascribed to elder as well, including anti-inflammatory, diuretic, antiviral, and antispasmodic activities. A 1997 study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, which studied black elder in the test tube, indicates that the herb has some activity as an anti-inflammatory. While this may help to partially explain elder's success in treating colds, it also suggests that the herb may have potential as a treatment for inflammatory diseases such as rheumatism. Elder has also been described in the history of folk medicine as a laxative and a sedative.

General use

While not approved by the FDA, black elder flower is primarily used in the United States and Europe for colds and the flu. When taken internally, elder flower is approved by the Commission E for colds. In Germany, elder flower tea is licensed by the government to treat the common cold and other upper respiratory problems. By increasing bronchial secretions as well as perspiration, elder is believed to help ease symptoms such as cough and fever and may even shorten a cold's duration. In the United States and Canada, elder is often combined with peppermint leaf and yarrow flower in preparations intended to alleviate cold-related fever.

In a study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 1995, use of a standardized elderberry extract shortened the duration of the flu by about three days. The placebo-controlled, double-blind study involved the residents of an Israeli kibbutz. "A significant improvement of the symptoms, including fever, was seen in 93.3% of the cases in the SAM-treated group [elder-treated group] within 2 days," the researchers reported, "whereas in the control group 91.7% of the patients showed an improvement within 6 days." About 90% of the people treated with elder were considered flu-free in two to three days, while the majority of patients in the placebo group only got well after about 6 days. The authors of the study recommended elder as a possible treatment for influenza A and B based on the herbal remedy's effectiveness, lack of side effects, and low cost. By way of comparison, over-the-counter synthetic drugs may offer some measure of symptomatic relief for a cold but have not been proven to actually speed recovery. Elder is also being investigated as a treatment for other viral infections such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and herpes.

Throughout its long history, elder has been used to treat a variety of other diseases and medical problems. These include liver disease, kidney disorders, rheumatism, insomnia , toothaches, measles, asthma, cancer , chafing, epilepsy, gout , headaches, neuralgia, psoriasis, syphilis , and laryngitis . It has also been used topically as an herbal pad to reduce external swelling and heal wounds. Some women have used elder to increase the amount of milk produced during breastfeeding. However, as of early 2000, sufficient scientific evidence to support these additional uses is lacking. While elder has been used as a folk remedy for treating diabetes, studies in rodents suggest that it has no effects on blood sugar regulation.


Dosage of elder generally ranges from 10-15 g per day, divided into three equal doses. The drug, which is recommended for internal use only, is usually taken as a tea or liquid extract. Elder tea can be prepared by steeping 3-4 g (2 teaspoonfuls) of dried elder flower in 150 ml of hot (not boiling) water. The mixture should be strained after about 5 minutes. The tea works best when it is consumed at a temperature as hot as can be safely tolerated. Dosage is several cups of tea a day (do not exceed the daily maximum of 15 g of elder), taken in the afternoons and evenings. When using a standardized liquid extract of elder, follow the package directions for proper use.


Taken in recommended dosages, elder is not known to be harmful. It should be used with caution in children, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, and people with kidney or liver disorders because its effects in these groups have not been sufficiently studied.

Be careful not to confuse black elder with a more toxic species of the plant called dwarf elder (Sambucus ebulus ). Dwarf elder is generally not recommended for medical purposes and may cause vomiting and diarrhea in large dosages.

Side effects

Side effects are considered rare. Mild abdominal distress or allergic reactions may occur.


Elder is not known to interact adversely with other medications or herbal remedies. Preparations that combine elder with yarrow flower and peppermint leaf have been used without apparent harm.



Fetrow, Charles W. and Avila, Juan R. Professional's Handbook of Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Pennsylvania: Springhouse, 1998.

Gruenwald, Joerg. PDR for Herbal Medicines. New Jersey: Medical Economics, 1998.

Sifton, David W. PDR Family Guide to Natural Medicines and Healing Therapies. New Jersey: Medical Economics, 1999.


Yesilada E., Ustun O., Sezik E., et al. "Inhibitory effects of Turkish folk remedies on inflammatory cytokines: inter-leukin-1alpha, interleukin-1beta and tumor necrosis factor alpha." J Ethnopharmacol (1997) 58(1):59-73.

Zakay-Rones Z., Varsano N., Zlotnik M., et al. "Inhibition of several strains of influenza virus in vitro and reduction of symptoms by an elderberry extract (Sambucus nigra L.) during an outbreak of influenza B Panama." J Altern Complement Med (1995) 1(4):361-9.


American Botanical Council. PO Box 144345, Austin, TX 78714-4345.

Herb Research Foundation. 1007 Pearl Street, Suite 200, Boulder, CO 80302.


Herb Research Foundation. http://www.herbs.org (January 17, 2001).

OnHealth. http://www.onhealth.com (January 17, 2001).

Discovery Health. http://www.discoveryhealth.com (January 17, 2001).

Greg Annussek

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eld·er1 / ˈeldər/ • adj. (of one or more out of a group of related or otherwise associated people) of a greater age: the elder of the two sons. ∎  (the Elder) used to distinguish between related famous people with the same name: Pliny the Elder. • n. (usu. elders) a person of greater age than someone specified: schoolchildren were no less fascinated than their elders. ∎  a person of advanced age. ∎  (often elders) a leader or senior figure in a tribe or other group: a council of village elders. ∎  an official in the early Christian Church, or of various Protestant Churches and sects. DERIVATIVES: el·der·ship n. eld·er2 • n. (also el·der·ber·ry) a small tree or shrub (genus Sambucus) of the honeysuckle family, with pithy stems, typically having white flowers and bluish-black or red berries.

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elderbedder, cheddar, Edda, Enzedder, header, Kedah, shedder, shredder, spreader, tedder, threader, treader, Vedda •elder, Griselda, welder, Zelda •addenda, agenda, amender, ascender, attender, bender, blender, Brenda, contender, corrigenda, descender, engender, extender, fazenda, fender, gender, Glenda, Gwenda, hacienda, Länder, lender, mender, offender, pudenda, recommender, referenda, render, sender, slender, spender, splendour (US splendor), surrender, suspender, tender, Venda, weekender, Wenda •parascender • bartender •homesteader • newsvendor •spot-welder •abrader, Ada, blockader, crusader, dissuader, evader, fader, grader, Grenada, invader, masquerader, Nader, parader, persuader, raider, Rigveda, Seder, serenader, trader, upgrader, Veda, wader •attainder, remainder •rollerblader •Aïda, bleeder, Breda, breeder, cedar, conceder, corrida, Derrida, Elfreda, Etheldreda, feeder, follow-my-leader, interceder, interpleader, kneader, leader, Leda, Lieder, misleader, pleader, reader, seceder, seeder, speeder, stampeder, succeeder, weeder •fielder, midfielder, wielder, yielder •outfielder • bandleader • ringleader •cheerleader • copyreader •mind-reader • sight-reader •stockbreeder • proofreader •newsreader

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elder2, eldest compar. and superl. of OLD. OE. eldra (WS. ieldra) = OS. aldira, OHG. altiro, eltiro (G. älter), ON. ellri, Goth. alþiza :- Gmc. *alþizan-, f. *alþaz OLD; see -ER3. OE. eldest (WS. ieldest) = OHG. altist (G. ältest), ON. ellztr, Goth. alþista :- Gmc. *alþistaz; see -EST. Superseded, except in special uses, by older and oldest (alder, -este XIII). As sb. elder was used in OE. and later for ‘parent, ancestor’, from c. 1200 for ‘one's senior’ or ‘superior in age’, from XIV rendering L. senior and senatus, by Tindale used to tr. N.T. Gr. presbúteros PRESBYTER; in the Presbyterian and other bodies, title of an office believed to corr. to that of elder in the apostolic church.

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A group of respected citizens who form a consulting body. In the Talmudic period, the term was used of scholars, particularly members of a bet din, and the word means ‘one who has acquired wisdom’ (B.Kid. 32b).


In the New Testament period, elders (Gk., presbyteroi) were church officials with a collective authority and oversight (they are called episkopoi, cf. bishops, in Acts 20. 28, Titus 1. 5–7) over local congregations. In Reformed churches, there are both teaching and ruling elders.

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elder according to legend, Judas Iscariot hanged himself on an elder, and the tree, which is associated with witches, is sometimes believed to be unlucky. Pliny's Natural History, on the other hand, says that elder has prophylactic and curative properties, and it was also believed that elder could protect against lightning.

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elder A common hedgerow bush (Sambucus nigra; American elder is S. canadensis); the flowers are used to flavour cordials, syrups, fruit jellies, and elderflower wine. The fruit is used for making jelly and wine (elderberry wine). Stems and leaves contain alkaloids that cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea.

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elder Shrub or small tree found in temperate and subtropical areas. It has divided leaves and small, white flowers. Its shiny black berries are used for making wine, jelly, and in medicine. There are 40 species. Family Caprifoliaceae, genus Sambucus.

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elder1 tree of genus Sambucus. OE. ellærn, ME. eller, eldre, corr. to MLG. ellern, elderne, elhorn, alhorn, prob. orig. an adj. formation.