Archive for the ‘Journey Through the Oral Tradition’ Category

The Written Word and the Oral Tradition

Saturday, April 21st, 2007

(this article moved from tripod)

 The Crux of the Problem

We have all read in the bible where Jesus accuses the Pharisees and Scribes of being hypocrites. Jesus  then goes on to give a couple of examples: how they twisted honouring parents to ending their obligation to them; how the altar sanctifies the gift to the gift sanctifies the altar. It seems plain to Christians that the Pharisees and Scribes had it wrong. I am certain that they meant well. So how did they miss the mark?

The Written Word

Moses took pen to scroll and wrote down five books. These five books are called the Torah: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. They believe, like the fundamentalist Christian, that it is the inspired word of God. That every letter is God breathed and not subject to change.

The Oral Tradition

There was a code given to Moses for him to write down. The Jew also believes that God spoke to Moses and that additional  information was given to him. This information was not written down until much later in history. It existed solely by word of mouth passed down through the generations. This became the traditionally accepted interpretation of the Torah. To deny “the tradition” is the same as denying the Torah in whole. The person who denies the oral tradition was given to Moses and then passed down the generations was classed by one rabbi as being a heretic. It is equal to despising the word of God, both written and oral.

The Christian

In time the oral tradition was written down. The vast majority of Christians never read any of this material. Our word of God was written down in letters by the apostles and a few others. (Before these letters were written the new covenant was passed on by oral tradition. Its strength rested in the Old Testament as interpreted by the apostles, prophets and teachers.) Those letters which eventually were accepted as authoritative were placed together and today form our modern New Testament. Since then the church has come to believe many things and brought about the un-ending birth of new traditions. Within the church the accusation of “heresy” was shouted. Divisions and wars were fought over the traditions… not the word.

Back to the Jew

That Moses talked with God… yes. There is a place in the new testament where Jesus says that Moses hit a compromise with God over the subject of divorce because the men would not be able to follow the ideal of  “one man one woman one flesh.” What else was discussed between God and Moses that we are not privy to? What additional instruction did God pass on to Moses and then Moses to the leaders? And the final question. What part or parts of the oral tradition of the Jew are valid and which are not? I could be open to a charge of heresy by the Jew. Yet I believe that is the same accusation they made about Jesus.


So you can say that I am on a voyage of discovery. I will travel down the road of the Jewish oral tradition by reading an English interpretation of the commentaries. What will I find? Who knows? A better understanding of scripture? A better understanding of how they went wrong? Perhaps a new idea will come to my mind. You are invited to join me in this adventure.