The Traditions of the Elders that the Pharisees blamed the disciples for not observing were thousands of little rules that it was humanly impossible to observe.

Sunday, 9/2/12

The Pharisees complained that the disciples of Jesus did not observe the Traditions of the Elders. Let’s look at what those Traditions were, and at why they were so important to the Pharisees.

We will need to look at a little bit of Jewish history to get a fix on the Traditions of the Elders. For seventy years from 600 down to 530 B. C. the Jews were exiled to Babylon, but they were freed when Babylon was conquered by Persia, and the Persian king Cyrus II both sent the Jews back to Jerusalem and aided them in rebuilding their temple.

In 450 B.C. the Persian emperor Artaxerces was troubled by reports of Jerusalem's walls and streets falling into ruin. As well, he heard that morals there had slipped very low. So, he sent two Jewish gentlemen from his court to Jerusalem to study the situation, and to suggest a way of remedying it.

The two gentlemen, Ezra and Nehemiah, suggested cleaning up Jerusalem by introducing the Bible’s Law of Moses as the civil law for Jerusalem.  The courts agreed to this with the provision that amendments were accepted for bringing the ancient law up to date.

The first three amendments accepted all around were that: First, Jews could not marry pagans; Second, Jews could not buy produce brought to town on the Sabbath;  Third, Jews would give a third of a silver shekel a year to the temple.

Those were the original Traditions of the Elders, and they were fine; but over the next four hundred years the scribes and the elders added tens of thousands of new amendments, strictly determining such things as how many steps a person might take away from his property on a Sabbath. Such legalities became ridiculous when the Jewish leaders each bought a square inch of property every hundred yards in Jerusalem, so that they could gad about all day without moving many steps from their property.

The Traditions of the Elders became of extra importance to the Pharisees after the Romans destroyed the Temple. Up to then the Jews had defined themselves as people of the Temple, but after its destruction the Pharisees began saying that to remain truly Jewish one had to keep all the Traditions of the Elders, even the clearly foolish ones.

Thousands of Jews had become Christians while still priding themselves in being Jewish, but since as Christians they had to eat with Gentiles who did not observe kosher. The Pharisees said they could no longer be Jewish.

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