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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Education (2)

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EDUCATION.—Among the Apocryphal Gospels’ fables of what befell during the Silent Years, there are some that are concerned with the school-days of Jesus—mostly silly and sometimes blasphemous stories of the sort which St. Paul brands as ‘profane and old-wifish myths’ (1 Timothy 4:7). For instance, it is told in Arab. [Note: Arabic.] Evang. Inf. xlix. that the wondrous Child one day had a dispute with His teacher about the Hebrew alphabet; and when the latter would have chastised Him, his impious arm was withered, and he died. Such stories are, of course, absolutely unhistorical; but it is indubitable that during His early years at Nazareth Jesus had to do with school and teacher. It is mentioned incidentally by St. Luke that He could read (Luke 4:16), and by St. John that He could write (John 8:8); and it is impossible that He should have grown up without an education. It is not the least merit of the Jewish people that they recognized the value of education, and brought it within the reach of the poorest. ‘Our ground,’ says Josephus,* [Note: Apion. i. 12.] ‘is good, and we work it to the utmost; but our chief ambition is for the education of our children.’ A father, according to R. Salomo, [Note: Wetsteinon 2 Timothy 3:15.] had as well bury his son as neglect his instruction; and it was a saying of R. Judah the Holy that ‘the world exists by the breath of school-children.’

A child’s first school was his home and his first teachers his parents, in accordance with Deuteronomy 6:6-7; and his instruction began very early, since youth was recognized as the season of opportunity. ‘He who learns as a lad,’ said R. Abujah, ‘to what is he like? To ink written on fresh paper. And he who learns when old, to what is he like? To ink written on used paper.’ [Note: Taylor, Sayings of Fathers, iv. 27.] St. Paul testifies that Timothy had known sacred literature ‘from his infancy’ (ἀπὸ βρέφους), his teachers being—since his father was a Greek and apparently deceased—his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice (2 Timothy 3:15; 2 Timothy 1:5); and Josephus says that ‘from the very dawn of understanding’ a Jewish child ‘learned the Law by heart, and had it, as it were, engraved on his soul.’§ [Note: Vita, 2.] It may be assumed that Joseph and Mary would be no less zealous than others in the discharge of this sacred and imperative duty.

When he reached the age of six or seven years, the boy was sent to the elementary school, which, since the subject of study was the Book of the Law, was styled the House of the Book (bêth ha-Sçpher).|| [Note: | According to the ordinance of Joshua ben Gamla. Joshua was high priest from a.d. 63 to 65, but his ordinance was merely a reinforcement of existing requirements. Cf. Schurer, HJP ii. ii. p. 49.] This admirable institution, comparable to John Knox’s parish school, was attached to the synagogue; and since there was a synagogue in every village in the land, there was also an elementary school in every village.* [Note: Lightfoot on Matthew 4:23; cf. Luke 5:17.] The establishment of this system of education was ascribed to the celebrated Simon ben Shetach, brother of Salome Alexandra, the queen of Alexander Jannaeus (b.c. 104–78), and his successor on the throne (b.c. 78–69). Schürer [Note: HJP ii. ii. p. 49.] summarily dismisses the tradition with the remark that ‘this Simon ben Shetach is a meeting-place for all kinds of myths.’ Whatever be the worth of the tradition, Josephus’ reiterated ascription to Moses of the exceedingly thorough system of education which prevailed in his day, [Note: iv. viii. 12; c. Apion. ii. 25.] proves it no recent institution.

From the House of the Book such as desired to prosecute their studies and become teachers themselves passed into the Scribal College, styled the House of the Midrash (bêth ha-Midrâsh),§ [Note: ‘The Midrash may be defined as an imaginative development of a thought or theme suggested by Scripture, especially a didactic or homiletic exposition, or an edifying religious story’ (Driver, LOT6 p. 529).] where the great Rabbis taught. There were several of these colleges in Palestine. Sometimes, like the Christian ἐκκλησία (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:19, Colossians 4:15), they met in an upper room in a private house,|| [Note: | Lightfoot on Acts 1:13; Taylor, Sayings of Fathers, i. 4: ‘Let thy house be a meeting-house for the wise.’] but generally in some special place. The college at Jabne, where R. Eleasar and R. Ishmael taught, met in a place called the Vineyard. The principal college was that of Jerusalem, and it met within the Temple-precincts (cf. Luke 2:46), probably in the Temple-synagogue. The Rabbi occupied a low platform, and his disciples sat round him on the floor, ‘powdering themselves in the dust of the feet of the wise,’ [Note: Taylor, Sayings of Fathers, i. 4, n. 11.] —an arrangement which explains St. Paul’s expression, ‘educated at the feet of Gamaliel’ (Acts 22:3).

The disciples were employed in the study of the Oral Law—the Tradition of the Elders (Matthew 15:2), which in those days was regarded with even greater veneration than the Written Law,** [Note: * Lightfoot on Matthew 15:2.] and which until, at the earliest, the 5th cent. of our era† [Note: † See Margoliouth in Expositor, Dec. 1904, p. 403.] was preserved in the memories of the Rabbis and orally transmitted from generation to generation. The method of study was Mishna, i.e. ‘repetition,’‡ [Note: ‡ The Greek term δευτερωσις (cf. Jer. Algas. Quœst. x) is a literal rendering of Mishna.] the lesson being repeated over and over again until it was fixed in the memory; and proliciency lay in faithful reproduction of the ipsissima verba of the Tradition. It was a high eulogy of Eliezer ben Hyrcanus, a disciple of R. Johanan ben Zakai, when he was likened to ‘a plastered cistern which loses not a drop.’§§ [Note: § Taylor, Sayings of Fathers, ii. 10.]

This mnemonic drill was not the sole employment in the House of the Midrash. Whatever difficulties they felt, the disciples propounded to the Rabbis for elucidation.

Often their questions were ridiculous quibbles, like that put to R. Levi ben Susi in connexion with Deuteronomy 25:9 ‘If his brother’s wife have lost her hands, how is she to loose his shoe?’|||| [Note: ||| Lightfoot on Luke 2:46.] But they were not always quite so trivial. One much discussed quaestio theologicalis was, ‘Are they few that are being saved?’ Some Rabbis held that ‘all Israel would have a portion in the world to come’; others, that as only two of all that came out of Egypt entered into the land of Canaan, so would it be in the days of the Messiah.¶ [Note: ¶ Ib. on Luke 13:23.] Another question was, ‘May a man divorce his wife for any cause?’ (cf. Matthew 19:3). The strict school of Shammai permitted divorce only on the ground of unfaithfulness; but that of Hillel granted greater facility, allowing a man to put away his wife if he hated her; if he was dissatisfied with her cooking; if she went deaf or insane; if he saw another women whom he fancied more.*** [Note: ** Ib. on Matthew 5:31.]

Not being designed for a Rabbi, Jesus never studied at any of the Scribal Colleges; but once He sat at the feet of the Rabbis in the House of the Midrash at Jerusalem—on that memorable occasion when, on attaining the age of twelve years and becoming ‘a son of the Law,’ He for the first time (?) accompanied Joseph and Mary on their annual pilgrimage to the sacred capital to celebrate the Feast of the Passover. He lingered in the city when His parents set forth on their return journey, and they found Him on the third day after in the school of the Rabbis. ‘Raise up many disciples’ was the Rabbinical maxim,* [Note: Taylor, Sayings of Fathers, i. I.] and the new recruit would be welcome when He took His place among the disciples. He was ‘sitting in the midst of the Teachers, both listening to them and questioning them’ (Luke 2:46), and evincing an intelligence which amazed them.

There prevailed in early times a singularly unhappy misconception, that the Holy Child was confounding the wise men by an exhibition of Divine wisdom. The Arab. [Note: Arabic.] Evang. Inf. (l.–lii.) declares that He was puzzling them with questions about theology, astronomy, physics, metaphysics, and anatomy, ‘things which the mind of no creature could reach’; and Origen says: ‘He was questioning the Teachers; and because they could not answer, He Himself was answering the questions which He asked.’ ‘He was questioning the Teachers, not that He might learn aught, but that by questioning He might instruct them.’ [Note: in Luc. Hom. xviii, xix.] This is rank Docetism, and is refuted by the Evangelist’s testimony that ‘Jesus made progress in wisdom and age’ (ἩΛΙΚΙΑ) (Luke 2:52), as it were, pari passu. He had a human education. His mind grew even as His body.

It made Jesus an object of disdain in the eyes of the rulers that He had never attended a Rabbinical College. They called Him ‘a Samaritan,’ which was a nickname that they had for one who had never sat at the feet of the Rabbis. [Note: Wetstein on John 8:48.] At the same time they could not deny that He had a knowledge of the things of God far transcending their theological lore. Again and again He encountered the wise men of Israel in debate, and worsted them on their own proper field (cf. Mark 12:28-34 = Matthew 22:34-40; Matthew 22:41-46 = Mark 12:35-37 = Luke 20:41-44). And once, when they heard Him discoursing in the Temple-court, they marvelled whence He had derived His wisdom. ‘How,’ they asked, ‘hath this man learning, though he hath not studied?’ (John 7:15). His wisdom flowed from a higher source. The lofty truths which they were blindly groping after and ignorantly reasoning about, the Father had revealed to Him (cf. John 5:20).

All the vaunted wisdom of the Rabbis Jesus held in very slight esteem. It was not indeed His manner to despise the searchings of earnest souls after the knowledge of God, but the theology of His day was the very arrogance of ignorance, and blinded its votaries to the truth. It is a pathetic fact that nothing so effectually prevented the recognition of Jesus by the men of Jerusalem as their fancied knowledge of the things of God. Bred in an atmosphere of disputation, they were all controversialists, and at every turn they would raise some theological objection to His claims. Once, when some wondered if He were the Messiah, others answered that His origin was known, and, according to the Rabbinical teaching, the Messiah would appear suddenly, none would know whence, like a serpent by the way or a treasure-trove (John 7:20-27; cf. John 7:41 f.). Again it was objected that He testified concerning Himself; and it was a Rabbinical maxim that a man’s testimony concerning himself was invalid (John 8:13).§ [Note: Wetstein on John 5:31.] Thus it fared with the Messiah when He made His appeal to the men of Jerusalem. Their minds were fenced by an impenetrable barrier of theological prejudice. It was otherwise in Galilee. Among the unsophisticated folk of that despised province the gospel gained a fair hearing and a ready welcome. All the Apostles save Judas were Galiaeans. ‘I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,’ said Jesus, perhaps when He was leaving Jerusalem, rejected by her wise men (John 10:39-40),* [Note: and Lk. give this logion in different connexions, neither suitable (Matthew 11:25-27 = Luke 10:21-22). It is probably one of the fugitive fragments which the Synoptists have preserved of the Judaean ministry. It is remarkably Johannine. Cf. John 3:35; John 13:3; John 1:18; John 6:46; John 6:65; John 10:15.] ‘that thou didst hide these things from wise and understanding, and didst reveal them to babes’ (Matthew 11:25).

It is important to take account of this. Does it not explain a difficulty which has been felt in connexion with the Fourth Gospel? St. John represents Jesus as a controversialist absolutely unlike the gracious Teacher of the Synoptists; and it has been alleged that these representations are incompatible. If Jesus spoke as the Synoptists report, He cannot have spoken after the Johannine fashion. But the difference is really a mark of verisimilitude. Jesus had different audiences in Galilee and in Jerusalem. To the simple people of the north He spoke the language of the heart, and couched His teaching in parable and poetry; but in Jerusalem He had to do with men whose minds were steeped in theology, and He met them on their own ground, talked to them in their own language, and encountered them with their own weapons. He adapted His teaching to His audiences. See, further, art. Boyhood.

Literature.—Schürer, HJP [Note: JP History of the Jewish People.] ii. ii. p. 44 ff.; art. on ‘Education’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible and in Encyc. Biblica.

David Smith.

EGG.—See Animals, p. 66b.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Education (2)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/e/education-2.html. 1906-1918.

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Thursday, July 18th, 2019
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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