Why the Silence about Jesus' childhood?4
January 4, 2019
by Barry Fike
Let’s look at a child’s formal Jewish education in the first century. At the age of five or six they began their formal education. Where did this education center? Was it reading, writing, and arithmetic? No! It was centered in the Torah, the law of Moses. “In Tractate Aboth the commencing age is given as five (v. 24): but we have it advocated in the Talmud: ‘Under the age of six we do not receive a child as a pupil; from six upwards accept him and stuff him (with Torah) like an ox’ (B.B. 21a)’ . (Everyman’s Talmud, p. 175)
“If one learns Torah in his youth, the words of Torah are absorbed into his blood and issue clean from his mouth. If he learns Torah in his old age, the words of Torah are not absorbed into his blood and do not issue clear from his mouth. Similarly declares the proverb, “If you did not desire them in your youth, how can you attain them in your old age?” (Everyman’s Talmud, p. 175)
When they began their formal education, the first book of the law which they began with was Leviticus! It had mainly to do with the laws of purity and in Judaism their concept was that the child was born basically pure. This Hebraic concept deals a death blow to the concept given to Christendom by Augustine in the fifth century known as Original Sin. To believe that man is born in sin from the moment of firth is completely foreign to his mindset.
In Judaism the child is born basically good, and he was what his parents were. That’s the reason that the parents are instructed to teach their children and to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. When they reach that age of accountability, about the time of puberty, at age 12 for the girls, and 13 for the boys, they make the decision that they continue to walk with God. The responsibilities for keeping law now falls on their shoulders as opposed to the shoulders of their parents. Until that time of accountability the child is what his parents are. The parents are charged with the responsibility of teaching the children…then the Bible says, “when they are old”, not meaning that they are elderly, but when they are adolescent and it’s time for them to make the decision for themselves, they’re not going to turn away from it but simply continue walking in it.
So when Jesus says, “Let the little children come unto me for such is the kingdom of heaven,” he is saying, “Let those that are pure come unto me for only those that are pure are going to make up my kingdom.” We not only know when this educational process began, but we know a lot about the classes; how they were conducted, how the students studied and how they learned. In the Talmud, it says that ‘the maximum no. of elementary pupils that should be placed under one teacher is twenty-five; if there are fifty an additional teacher must be provided; if there are 40, a senior student should be engaged to assist the master.” (B.B. 21a).
Most Christians know that the synagogue is the Jewish house of prayer and worship. Few Christians are aware that each synagogue usually had its own elementary school, “Bet –Sefer”, and its own high school, or “Bet-Midrash”. “Formal education ended at the age of 12 or 13 when most children went to work. The more gifted students who so desired would continue their studies at the Bet-Midrash together with the adults who studied in their spare time. A few of the most outstanding Bet-Midrash students eventually left home to study with a famous Rabbi, being encouraged and sometimes supported by their families. Only the very promising students were urged to continue studying since their assistance was usually needed in agricultural work at home.” (Jerusalem Perspective, Dec. ’88)
In actuality the Bet-Midrash was considered to be of greater significance than the synagogue. Even today in Judaism it is the house of study that is given far more pre-eminence and considered more sacred than the synagogue. Why? Because the Rabbis taught that study of Torah was one of the highest forms of worship. Why? Because the study would lead to a God-like life style.
“The study of Torah (law) was a central element in worship, both in the synagogue and in the home. All men were urged to study God’s word on their own as a part of daily worship. The Rabbis taught: In what way can the words, “In this law doth he meditate day and night” (Ps. 1:2) be obeyed? Rabbi Joshua answered: By the reading of the Shema (Deut. 6:4-9), for when a man reads the Shema morning and evening, the Holy One, blessed be He, reckons it for him as if he had labored day and night in the study of Torah.” (Braude, Midrash on Psalms 1:23) (Let Judah Go up First, Roy Blizzard, p. 25)
This same type of sentiment is echoed by Paul in Romans 12:2; Acts 17:11 and 2 Timothy 2:15.
It is also referred to in Mishnah, Avot 3:3: R. Simeon said: If three have eaten at one table and have not spoken over it words of the Law, it is as though they had eaten of the sacrifices of the dead, for it is written, For all their tables are full of vomit and filthiness without God. But if three have eaten at one table and have spoken over it words of the Law, it is as if they had eaten from the table of God, for it is written, and he said to me, ‘This is the table that is before the Lord.’”
What was Jesus doing during the silence period of his childhood? Without a doubt what every outstanding scholastic student of his day and time were doing--studying the word of God!