The scribes were the copyists of Scripture and teachers of the Law. The Scribes date as a distinct body from the period of Ezra. The name is derived from sepher, or "book" and means scripturalists - those who explained and copied the law. Their functions were to copy, read amend, explain, and protect the law. The scribe keeps record of work done and goods paid, of prices and costs, of profits and loss; he counts the cattle as they move to the slaughter, or corn as it is measured out in sale, he draws up contracts and wills, and makes out his master's income tax.

The Scribes (Hakamin, learned) were not a sect but a profession; they were scholars learned in the law, who lectured on it in synagogues, taught it in schools, debated it in public and private, and applied it in judgment on specific cases. A few of them were priests, some were Sadducees, most were Pharisees, they were in the two centuries before Hillel what the rabbis were after him. From being transcribers and expounders of the Law, they supplied, after the captivity, the place of the prophets and the inspired oracles, which had ceased; and from them arose those glosses and interpretations which our Lord rebukes under the term "traditions."

Professional scribes were paid by the line, and the usual rule was to make each line about as long as the average line of a modern printed page. Longer lines would have been harder to read. Paul's scribe Tertius would have provided himself with pens and ink. His pens were made of reeds, pointed and split like our pens today. He doubtless prepared three or four of them, so as not to keep Paul waiting while he mended pens. There were no spaces between the words in Tertius' letter, and almost no punctuation marks.

A Pharisee as a scribe was a man especially trained as an expert in the Torah. After the required period of preparation, he could be authorized as an official interpreter of the Law. The most distinguished position of the day was that of a scribe. He wore a special long robe and was always given a seat of honor at public gatherings, such as the synagogue, in the marketplace, and at weddings; they were looked up as living models to be followed.

In theory, not all Scribes were Pharisees, as in practice not all Pharisees were scribes, very few priests or Sadducees. Scribe denoted par excellence the man of the Law, whether priest or layman, Pharisee or Sadducee.. The Man of the Book.. one skilled in the Law, and the title of honor, Rabbi (Great One) was reserved for him.. The true "spiritual father" of the people was no longer the priest, but the scribe. The scribes always took refuge in the ancients, and it was their ideal to transmit, without adding or omitting anything, the teachings they had received. Jesus, on the other hand, was opening treasures to which he alone had the key and over which He alone had the authority.

Before Jesus, no teacher of the first order arose to continue the stream of revelation, but in his place appeared that lower order of mind to which the letter is everything, on which the spirit never breathes. The scribes sat in the seat of the prophets, and revelation was succeeded by exposition. The Pharisees held that God continued speaking through the prophets, thus bringing the inspired word on to Malachi, the last of them; and that he spoke still through the commentators, the scribes, who were content to interpret Moses and the prophets; their key phrase being, "thus it is written". The scribes were theologians and jurists at the same time.

The Scribes were the voice of tradition. Jesus was His own voice. Their business was to study and interpret, as well as copy, the scriptures. Because of their minute acquaintance with the law, they were also called lawyers, and were recognized authorities. The decision of leading scribes became oral law, or "tradition." Scribes and interpreters of the Law became men of importance, for the average person wanted to hear what the Scriptures contained. Most scribes were affiliated with a particular school of thinking, headed by a famous rabbi who was surrounded by a circle of disciples, or devoted followers. There were many scribal schools in Palestine in the first century, most of them based in Jerusalem.

It was not unusual for followers of different schools to engage in heated public discussions over a particular point of the law. The courtyard of the Temple and other public places were often the scenes of such discussions. Unlike the hereditary ancestral and financial status of the Sadducees, the authority of the scribes rested upon their learning. Anyone who wished could try to become a member of this venerated class, but he had to devote years of study to that end. A would-be scribe had already mastered the law and achieved a thorough familiarity with the scriptures by the age of 14. Thereafter he spent years in close association with a recognized scribal teacher, receiving a lengthy instruction in personal contact and application of the law in everyday situations. Only at about the age of 40 would he be formally ordained as a scribe in his own right, and from that time on he could be addressed as rabbi.

The scribe must follow the most exacting rules. The Alexandrian author had to dictate or recopy every work he wrote. Before he could turn back to what he had written previously, he had to dry his last words by waving them in the air or pouring sand over them he had not even blotting paper. Yet Jesus himself said that it was possible for the "scribe"- the scholar - to be instructed unto the kingdom of heaven.

It is recorded how one reverent rabbi solemnly warned a scribe thus: "Take heed how you do your work, for your work is the work of heaven, lest you drop or add a letter of the manuscript, and so become a destroyer of the world." They were the most learned of the Pharisaic party, professional experts whose teachings and counsels the Pharisees followed. We must give scribes and Pharisees their due: they knew that only through observance of the religious law could the purity of Israel be preserved. We should throw doubt on the reliability of our text were it not for the extraordinary care with which the Jewish scribes have transmitted their sacred writings.

At a later period, parchment from skins was invented in Pergamos, and was there used for rolls or volumes. The pen for writing on these soft materials (including papyrus) was a small brush, or a reed split at the end, the writing sometimes permanently fixed by fire. Scribes carried their inkhorns hanging to their girdles. An ancient book therefore had the appearance of a thick roll of some paper-like substance, written usually in parallel columns on one side only, and read by gradually unrolling it by means of two small rollers, one at the beginning and the other at the end of the volume. A roll was sometimes sealed, being first tied or wrapped about with a cord, on which the wax was dropped, and stamped by a signet.

Our Lord reproved the Scribes and Pharisees for so very carefully paying tithe and mint but neglecting good works. Forgiveness, especially when applied to the obviously unworthy, is a direct threat to any purely legal system. The scribes, when they heard the assertion of forgiveness, faced only two alternatives; either they had to declare unending war on Christ or they had to learn to say humbly with the publican of the parable, "God be merciful to me a sinner". Their decision was to declare war, a war which ultimately led to the crucifixion, and their first warlike act was to accuse Jesus of blasphemy.
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