Copheerim, from caaphar to "write," "order," and "count." (See LAWYER.) The function was military in Judges 5:14 (See SCEPTRE), also in Jeremiah 52:25; Isaiah 33:18. Two scribes in Assyrian monuments write down the various objects, the heads of the slain, prisoners, cattle, etc. The scribe or "royal secretary" under David and Solomon (2 Samuel 8:17; 2 Samuel 20:25; 1 Kings 4:3) ranks with the high priest and the captain of the host (compare 2 Kings 12:10). Hezekiah's scribe transcribed old records and oral traditions, in the case of Proverbs 25-29, under inspiration of God. Henceforth, the term designates not a king's officer but "students and interpreters of the law". Jeremiah 8:8 in KJV means "the pen of transcribers is (i.e. multiplies copies) in vain." But Maurer, "the false pen of the scribes (persons skilled in expounding) has converted it (the law) into a lie," namely, by false interpretations.
Ezra's glory, even above his priesthood, was that "he was a ready scribe in the law of Moses which the Lord God of Israel had given," and "had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments" (Ezra 7:6; Ezra 7:10; Ezra 7:12), "a scribe of the law of the God of heaven." The spoken language was becoming Aramaic, so that at this time an interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures, the basis of their national and religious restoration, was a primary necessity to the exiles just returned from Babylon (Nehemiah 8:8-13). Scribe maybe meant in Ecclesiastes 12:11-12, "master of assemblies" under "one shepherd," but the inspired writers are probably meant, "masters of collections," i.e. associates in the collected canon, given (Ephesians 4:11) from the Spirit of Jesus Christ the one Shepherd (Ezekiel 37:24; 1 Peter 5:2-4). The "many books" of mere human composition are never to be put on a par with the sacred collection whereby to "be admonished."
"The families of scribes" had their own special residence (1 Chronicles 2:55). Ezra with the scribes probably compiled under the Holy Spirit, from authoritative histories, Chronicles (1 Chronicles 29:29; 2 Chronicles 9:29; 2 Chronicles 13:22, "the commentary of the prophet Iddo": Midrash). Except Zadok, no scribe but Ezra is named (Nehemiah 13:13). The scribes by whom the Old Testament was written in its present characters and form, and its canon settled, are collectively in later times called "the men of the great synagogue, the true successors of the prophets" (Pirke Aboth ("The Sayings of the [Jewish] Fathers"), i. 1). Their aim was to write nothing themselves but to let the sacred word alone speak; if they had to interpret they would do it only orally. The mikra', or "careful reading of the text" (Nehemiah 8:8) and laying down rules for its scrupulous transcription, was their study (compare copherim, in the Jerus. Gemara). Simon the Just (300-290 B.C.), last of the great synagogue, said, "our fathers taught us to be cautious in judging, to train many scholars, and to set a fence about the law."
But oral precepts, affecting eases of every day life not especially noticed in the law, in time by tradition became a system of casuistry superseding the word of God and substituting ceremonial observances for moral duties (Matthew 15:1-6; Matthew 23:16-23). The scribes first reported the decisions of previous rabbis, the halachoth, the "current precepts". A "new code" (the Mishna, "repetition or second body of jurisprudence") grew out of them. Rabbinical sayings, Jewish fables (Titus 1:14), and finally the Gemara ("completeness") filled up the scheme; and the Mishna and Gemara together formed the Talmud ("instruction"), the standard of orthodoxy for the modern Jew. The Old Testament too was "searched" (midrashim) for "recondite meanings", the very search in their view entitling them to eternal life. Jesus warns them to "search" them very differently, namely, to find Him in them, if they would have life (John 5:39). The process was called hagada ("opinion"). The Kabala ("received doctrine") carried mysticism further. The gematria (the Greek term for "the exactest science, geometry, being applied to the wildest mode of interpreting") crowned this perverse folly by finding new meanings through letters supposed to be substituted for others, the last of the alphabet for the first, the second last for the second, etc.
The Sadducees maintained, against tradition, the sufficiency of the letter of the law. Five pairs of teachers represent the succession of scribes, each pair consisting of the president of the Sanhedrin and the father of the house of judgment presiding in the supreme court. The two first were Joses ben Joezer and Joses ben Jochanan (140-130 B.C.). Their separating themselves from defilement originated the name Pharisees. The Sadducees taunt was "these Pharisees would purify the sun itself." Hillel (112 B.C.) is the best representative of the scribes; Menahem (probably the Essene Manaen: Josephus Ant. 15:10, section 5) was at first his colleague, But with many followers renounced his calling as scribe and joined Herod and appeared in public arrayed gorgeously. To this Matthew 11:8; Luke 7:24-25, may allude. The Herodians perhaps may be connected with these. Shammai headed a school of greater scrupulosity than Hillel's (Mark 7:1-4), making it unlawful to relieve the poor, visit the sick, or teach children on the Sabbath, or to do anything before the Sabbath which would be in operation during the Sabbath. (See PHARISEES.)
Hillel's precepts breathe a loftier spirit: "trust not thyself to the day of thy death"; "judge not thy neighbour until thou art in his place"; "leave nothing dark, saying I will explain it when I have time, for how knowest thou whether the time will come?" (James 4:13-15); "he who gums a good name gains it for himself, but he who gains a knowledge of the law gains everlasting life" (compare John 5:39; Romans 2:13; Romans 2:17-24). A proselyte begged of Shammai instruction in the law, even if it were so long as he could stand on his foot. Shammai drove him away; but Hillel said kindly, "do nothing to thy neighbour that thou wouldest not he should do to thee; do this, and thou hast fulfilled the law and the prophets" (Matthew 22:39-40). With all his straitness of theory Shammai was rich and self indulgent, Hillel poor to the day of his death. Christ's teaching forms a striking contrast. The scribes leant on "them of old time" (Matthew 5:21-27; Matthew 5:33); "He taught as one having authority and not as the scribes" (Matthew 7:29).
They taught only their disciples; "He had compassion on the multitudes" (Matthew 9:36). They taught only in their schools; He through "all the cities and villages" (Matthew 4:23; Matthew 9:35). As Hillel lived to the age of 120 he may have been among the doctors whom Jesus questioned (Luke 2:46). His grandson and successor, Gamaliel, was over his school during Christ's ministry and the early part of the Acts. Simeon, Gamaliel's son, was so but for a short time; possibly the Simeon of Luke 2:25, of the lineage of David, therefore disposed to look for Messiah in the Child of that house. The scanty notice of him in rabbinic literature makes the identification likely; the Pirke Aboth ("The Sayings of the [Jewish] Fathers") does not name him. This school was better disposed to Christ than Shammai's; to it probably belonged Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, and others too timid to confess Jesus (John 12:42; John 19:38; Luke 23:50-51). The council which condemned Him was probably a packed meeting, hastily and irregularly convened.
Translated Isaiah 53:8, "He was taken away by oppression and by a judicial sentence," i.e. by an oppressive sentence; Acts 8:33, "in His humiliation His judgment was taken away," i.e., a fair trial was denied Him. Candidate scribes were "chosen" only after examination (compare Matthew 20:16; Matthew 22:14; John 15:16). The master sat on a high chair, the eider disciples on a lower bench, the youngest lowest, "at his feet" (Luke 10:39; Acts 22:3; Deuteronomy 33:3; 2 Kings 4:38); often in a chamber of the temple (Luke 2:46), the pupil submitting cases and asking questions, e.g. Luke 10:25; Matthew 22:36. The interpreter or crier proclaimed, loud enough for all to hear, what the rabbi whispered cf6 "in the ear" (Matthew 10:27). Parables were largely used. The saying of a scribe illustrates the pleasant relations between master and scholars, "I have learned much from my teachers, more from my colleagues, most from my disciples."
At 30 the presiding rabbi admitted the probationer to the chair of the scribe by laying on of hands, giving him tablets whereon to write sayings of the wise, and cf6 "the key of knowledge" (Luke 11:52) wherewith to open or shut the treasures of wisdom. He was then a chaber, or "of the fraternity", no longer of "the ignorant and unlearned" (Acts 4:13), but, separated from the common herd, "people of the earth," "cursed" as not knowing the law (John 7:15; John 7:49). Fees were paid them for arbitrations (Luke 12:14), writing bills of divorce, covenants of espousals, etc. Rich widows they induced to minister to them, depriving their dependent relatives of a share (Matthew 23:14; contrast Luke 8:2-3). Poverty however, and a trade, were counted no discredit to a scribe, as Paul wrought at tent making.
Their titles, rab, rabbi, rabban, formed an ascending series in dignity. Salutations, the designation father, chief seats in synagogues and feasts, the long robes with broad blue zizith or "fringes", the hems or borders, the "phylacteries" (tephillim), contrasted with Jesus' simple "inner vesture" (chitoon) and "outer garment" (himation), were all affected by them (Matthew 23:5-6; Luke 14:7). Notwithstanding the self seeking and hypocrisy of most scribes, some were not far from the kingdom of God (Mark 12:32-34; Mark 12:38; Mark 12:40; contrast Mark 12:42-44); some were "sent" by the Wisdom of God, the Lord Jesus (Matthew 23:34; Luke 11:49). Christ's minister must be a cf6 "scribe instructed which is unto the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 13:52); such were "Zenas the lawyer" and "Apollos mighty in the Scriptures" (Titus 3:13).