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Scribes (in the Bible)


A group of Jewish leaders who flourished from the time of the Exile until the destruction of the Jewish state by Titus (70 a.d.). Originally their name (Heb. sōperêm, writers) was used merely of clerks whose function was to copy royal and sacred manuscripts. Later, the title signified the official post of one who was learned in the Law of Moses (Ezr 7.6, 11; Neh 8.1, 4). The people admired the scribes' erudition and their interpretations of precedents and tradition. Sirach extols the work of the scribe (Sir 38.2439.11).

At the time of Christ many of the scribes adhered to the teachings of the pharisees and shared their casuistry, legalism, and externalism. With the chief priests, sadducees, and Pharisees, the scribes composed the Jewish aristocracy of the time; and many were members of the sanhedrin.

The scribes are mentioned frequently by the Evangelists as being opposed to Jesus and His teaching (Mk 2.67, 16; 11.2728; Lk 5.21, 30; 6.7; 20.12, 1923). They are also associated with the chief priests and elders in causing Jesus' death (Mk 14.43, 53; 15.1, 31; Lk 22.66; 23.10). In Jesus' denunciations of the Jewish leaders Matthew includes the scribes as well as the Pharisees (Mt 23.236). The lawyers condemned in Lk 11.4552 for their hypocrisy are also to be identified with the scribes. Their spiritual descendants were the rabbis whose teachings are recorded in the talmud.

Bibliography: Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, tr. and adap. by l. hartman (New York 1963) 214344. s. lÉgasse, "Scribes et disciples de Jésus," Revue biblique 68 (1961) 321345, 481505. a. f. j. klijn, "Scribes, Pharisees, High Priests and Elders in the N.T.," Novum Testamentum 3 (1959) 259267.

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