“Change can be very slow, even inadvertent, in Jewish tradition”

Change can be very slow, even inadvertent, in Jewish tradition. Present-day academies of Talmudic scholarship have much more in common with their medieval precursors than with modern educational systems. The core of the practices of religious Jews is not very different from those of their ancestors, nor is their religious vocabulary very different. It is extraordinary indeed how the words of the Hebrew Bible have exhibited such consistency through the ages. Once thought to be later than the parent texts of the LXX, the masoretic text-type of the Torah can now be seen to be of the same, if not of an earlier, date.

This is the case because of the endeavors of Jewish teachers through whom these traditions have been handed down. It was their job both to recite what they had heard and to progressively systematize the body of Law and lore, integrating accretions into the formation of a seemingly seamless and organic whole – the tradition (singular). It is for this reason that the core of the tradition has held firm within the same forms and often in the same words from one generation to the next. Otherwise, the great bulk of “the tradition” would have been too diverse and confusing to have been of any use. This process of systematization continues to this day, with new questions being asked concerning the fixed tradition and new theories being propounded in response to them.

Herbert W. Basser, The Mind Behind the Gospels: A Commentary to Matthew 1-14 (Boston: Academic Studies Press, 2009), x.