Why the Silence about Jesus' childhood? 2

December 21, 2018

by Barry Fike

    Shortly after Jesus birth, up to age 12, nothing is told us in the sacred record. Then, up to the beginning of his public ministry, at age 30, nothing more is said. What was he doing? “Almost no tradition…exists about the nature of Jesus’ life before he started teaching, but the manner of his upbringing and early experiences cannot be ignored. They must have been significant to his formed personality. It is simply not sufficient to write off most of his life by sentimentalizing him as a carpenter thinking up great truths while laboring in his workshop. Even the gospels, taken literally, make no such claim. When he returned to Nazareth and started teaching, it seems to have been after an absence and people had to exercise their memories to recall that he was the carpenter’s son.” (Cross, Colin. Who is Jesus?)             
     It seems from Jewish sources that the silence of Jesus’ childhood, that we as Christians are baffled about, is commonly understood. It has to do with the education of a child and how extensive it was. As we look at Jesus and his education, we’re briefly going to look at the material with which He was acquainted and how he was part and parcel of the Jewish economy of his day and time.
    Prof. David Flusser says that Jesus was close to the world of the Pious which “were not scrupulous in matters of purification. In general, they were opposed to the emphasis put on the study of the Torah as a supreme value and instead emphasized the importance of good deeds…These Pious opposed the growing tendency towards intellectualism. Indeed, most of the Sages accepted the view of the Pious, that “not learning but doing is the chief thing” as stated by Rabbi Simeon ben Gamaliel (Avot 1:17). The tension between good deeds and intellectualism continued until 120 C.E., when the Sages concluded, after a long debate among themselves, that the study of the Torah takes precedence, since it leads one to action. Jesus always emphasized the importance of action. He commanded his disciples to act according to the rulings of the Pharisees and frequently spoke of doing the will of his Father in Heaven. Study always took second place with Jesus, although he was far more learned than most people of his social position, and certainly more learned than Paul, although Paul studied in Jerusalem.
    The Pious were regarded as sons of God. When Honi the Circle-Drawer had brought about rain, Simeon ben Shetah said to him: “Were you not Honi, I would have had you excommunicated…but what can I do to you, who coax the Almighty to do your will, like a son who coaxes his father to do his will?” (Bab. Taanit 23a) And when Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai asked Rabbi Hanina ben Dosa to pray for Him, he explained that he himself could not pray, since he stood before the Blessed One as a dignitary, while Rabbi Hanina stood before Him as His familiar servant (Bab. Berakhot 34b).
    Jesus felt that he too was a son of God but with special emphasis on the relationship which he felt was more intimate thus making him the son of God which he claimed for himself time and time again. The Sages, too, recognized the special familiar relation of the Pious to God, a relation which originated in their extraordinary deeds…This enables us to understand Jesus as one of those Pious. Jesus’ anti-intellectualism was an exact counterpart of the anti-intellectualism of the Pious. Jesus was most probably one of them. (Flusser, David. Jewish sources in Early Christianity, pp. 33-35)
    This may surprise those of you who have always thought that Paul was the most learned man of his day. Those who are working in the field, working with the word of Jesus, with the historical circumstances of the days of Jesus, are aware that Jesus was probably more learned than Paul because Jesus was part and parcel of the Jewish world of his day whereas Paul had come from a Hellenistic background. (Blizzard, Roy. Notes on a lecture entitled “The Historical Jesus—Jesus the Rabbi” ,p. 2) “Study always took second place with Jesus, although he was far more learned than most people of his social position, and certainly more learned than Paul, although Paul studied in Jerusalem.” (Flusser, David, Jewish Sources in Early Christianity, p. 34)     
    In fact, if today there was being held a lecture by both Paul and Jesus at the same time, but at different places which would you go to? The answer is obvious. The fact is that no one, not even Paul, would show up at Paul’s talk. He too would still want to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to him. If that is true then it is about time that we too sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to him and not the pupil trained at his feet. Jesus should be out primary source of spiritual information though Paul is certainly valuable in many aspects.
    Today we know exactly what was going on in his life during this period of time. Since it’s paramount that Jesus was part of the Pious of the first century, and they did emphasize action above study, did study always take a far back seat to practice? To get this information you have to go to sources that usually aren’t readily available to most Christians. You have to go to the Jewish sources of Talmud and Mishnah and see what was going on in the daily scholastic life of the children in first century Judaism. Join me next week as we continue to delve into this fascinating subject on the education of Jesus and the silence