Why the Silence on Jesus' childhood?5

January 11, 2019

by Barry Fike

    How specifically did a child in Jesus’ day learn? Let’s look at this fascinating material that most Christians aren’t aware of, and see how that it points to an educated populace so that all a Rabbi has to do is hint toward a concept of scripture and the audience will draw up a whole cacophony of material in their heads due to the fact that all of this material is memorized. By all of this material I mean the 39 books of the Old Testament. How was this done?     
     At this point it needs to be understood that although scrolls were used for reading and study, and although the practice of writing was highly developed, writing materials were costly and scarce, and all manuscripts had to be written down by hand by scribes. Therefore, learning meant memorization by constant repetition. The Teacher must keep on repeating the lesson until the pupil had learn it (Erub. 54b); and as for the student, “If he learn Torah and does not go over it again and again, he is like a man who sows without reaping” (Sanh. 99a). “One who repeats his lesson a hundred times is not like him who repeats it a hundred and one times” (Chag. 9b). (Everyman’s Talmud, pp. 176, 177)
Professor Shmuel Safrai, in his article, “Education and the Study of Torah,” pp. 945-970 in Vol. 2 of “The Jewish people of the First Century,” relates: “Individual and group study of the Bible, repetition of the passages, etc., were often done by chanting them aloud. There is the frequent expression “the chirping of children”, which was heard by people passing close by a synagogue as the children were reciting a verse. Adults too, individual and in group study, often read aloud; for it was frequently advised not to learn in a whisper, but aloud. This was the only way to overcome the danger of forgetting. In the eyes of the rabbis, repetition was the key to learning.”     

    Those who have taught language know that it takes you about 25 times repeating the same word over and over again to make it a part of your usable vocabulary. This was also needful: “Since the Oral law, which could not be committed to writing, was continually expanding, accuracy in learning it was attainable only through endless repetition hence the dictum, “He who has repeated his chapter a hundred times is not to be compared to him who has repeated it a hundred and one times.” (Hag. 9b) (J.E., Vol. 6, p. 402)
    To aid the memorization process several aids to help were introduced. “Various literary methods were used as memory aids for the student. Key words (Prov. 25:4, 5; 30:11-14) and common ideas (25:2, 3, 5, 6) tied together independent statements…Other units might be formed as number series (30:15-33). Another mnemonic device was the Alphabet acrostic (31:10-31). There is, in fact, in the Talmud, a lengthy passage that tells us how they taught infants to memorize the Hebrew alphabet. While doing this they taught them the concept of tzedakah, or righteousness. (Shabbath 104a)
    By the time a child was three years old they were already memorizing vast passage of scripture before they began their formal education. In the Bet-Sefer, the elementary school, the children were instructed in the Hebrew language, in Torah, and in the Law of Moses. Lessons took place on all days of the week including the Sabbath when they would, however, “read no new material, but repeat earlier lessons. We even find the children going over their lessons. We even find the children going over their lessons on Friday evenings in the Synagogue.” (Prof. Safrai, p. 954)
    Age limits of 5 to 13 were limited to the Bet-Sefer because your advanced studies were only for the especially gifted. Those not intellectually capable of pursuing academic work and are more inclined toward vocational reality. Those gifted would continue in the Bet Midrash, like our High Schools. Every community had one. This was where God’s word was explained and expounded upon. It is the scriptures that were the focus of their studies. But it wasn’t just the scriptures for they had them memorized by now so the Talmud and Midrash, or interpretations, were now dealt with.
From these historical Jewish documents it can be said with certainty what Jesus was doing in his childhood, adolescence and young adulthood. He was studying, committing vast quantities of material to memory—scripture, Mishnah (Oral Law), Midrash (commentary on Scriptures), Halacha (Rabbinic legal rulings)…all the available sacred literature of his day. It is more important to emphasize that not only did he have this biblical information committed to memory but so did most of the young people of his day unless somehow they were mentally deficient or unable to do so. Would it surprise you that in Orthodox Judaism, to this day, the same is true? It is only when we understand this that we can understand the way the Rabbis taught in the first century.
    We need to understand this material so that we can say for certain that Jesus’ knowledge was taught and not divinely given. He had to digest, think, research and study like every other person in Galilee and in Judaism of his day. From a small child he was taught the scriptures in the home, in the Bet Sefer and the Bet Midrash under the tutelage of great Rabbinic scholars of his day and time. One has to remember that he was “tempted in all ways as we are, yet was without sin.” The temptation to not study, not immerse himself in the word of God wouldn’t have been available to him if it was already there. Thus, Jesus, like us, had to submerge himself in the study of the word of God and let that work through him in the same way that it does today for us. Jesus didn’t have a “leg up” on us; he simply understood what it meant to be led by God, something that we need to learn and follow in our “modern age”. Trust and obey for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus…but to trust and obey. Amen!