Chapter 8 | Table
of Contents | Chapter 10
The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
FROM THE MANGER IN BETHLEHEM TO THE BAPTISM IN
THE CHILD-LIFE IN NAZARETH
(St. Matthew 2:19-23; St. Luke 2:39,40.)
THE stay of the Holy Family in Egypt must have been of brief
duration. The cup of Herod's misdeeds, but also of his misery, was full. During
the whole latter part of his life, the dread of a rival to the throne had
haunted him, and he had sacrificed thousands, among them those nearest and dearest
to him, to lay that ghost.1
And still the tyrant was not at rest. A more terrible scene is not presented in
history than that of the closing days of Herod. Tormented by nameless fears;
ever and again a prey to vain remorse, when he would frantically call for his
passionately-loved, murdered wife Mariamme, and her sons; even making attempts
on his own life; the delirium of tyranny, the passion for blood, drove
him to the verge of madness. The most loathsome disease, such as can scarcely
be described, had fastened on his body,2
and his sufferings were at times agonizing. By the advice of his physicians, he
had himself carried to the baths of Callirhoe (east of the Jordan), trying all
remedies with the determination of one who will do hard battle for life. It was
in vain. The namelessly horrible distemper, which had seized the old man of
seventy, held him fast in its grasp, and, so to speak, played death on the
living. He knew it, that his hour was come, and had himself conveyed back to
his palace under the palm-trees of Jericho. They had known it also in
Jerusalem, and, even before the last stage of his disease, two of the most
honored and loved Rabbis - Judas and Matthias - had headed the wild band, which
would sweep away all traces of Herod's idolatrous rule. They began by pulling
down the immense golden eagle, which hung over the great gate of the Temple.
The two ringleaders, and forty of their followers, allowed themselves to be
taken by Herod's guards. A mock public trial in the theatre at Jericho followed.
Herod, carried out on a couch, was both accuser and judge. The zealots, who had
made noble answer to the tyrant, were burnt alive; and the High-Priest, who was
suspected of connivance, deposed.
1. And yet Keim speaks of his Hochherzigkeit and natürlicher Edelsinn!
(Leben Jesu, i. 1. p. 184.) A much truer estimate is that of Schürer,
Neutest. Zeitgesch. pp. 197, 198.
2. See the horrible description of his living death in Jos. Ant. xvii. 6. 5.
After that the end came rapidly. On his return from Callirhoe,
feeling his death approaching, the King had summoned the noblest of Israel
throughout the land of Jericho, and shut them up in the Hippodrome, with orders
to his sister to have them slain immediately upon his death, in the grim hope
that the joy of the people at his decease would thus be changed into mourning.
Five days before his death one ray of passing joy lighted his couch. Terrible
to say, it was caused by a letter from Augustus allowing Herod to execute his
son Antipater - the false accuser and real murderer of his half-brothers
Alexander and Aristobulus. The death of the wretched prince was hastened by his
attempt to bribe the jailer, as the noise in the palace, caused by an attempted
suicide of Herod, led him to suppose his father was actually dead. And now the
terrible drama was hastening to a close. The fresh access of rage shortened the
life which was already running out. Five days more, and the terror of Judĉa lay
dead. He had reigned thirty-seven years - thirty-four since his conquest of Jerusalem.
Soon the rule for which he had so long plotted, striven, and stained himself
with untold crimes, passed from his descendants. A century more, and the whole
race of Herod had been swept away.
We pass by the empty pageant and barbaric splendor of his
burying in the Castle of Herodium, close to Bethlehem. The events of the last
few weeks formed a lurid back-ground to the murder of 'the Innocents.' As we
have reckoned it, the visit of the Magi took place in February 750 a.u.c. On the 12th of March the Rabbis
and their adherents suffered. On the following night (or rather early morning)
there was a lunar eclipse; the execution of Antipater preceded the death of his
father by five days, and the latter occurred from seven to fourteen days before
the Passover, which in 750 took place on the 12th of April.3
3. See the calculation in Wiesler's Synopse, pp. 56 and 444. The 'Dissertatio
de Herode Magno,' by J.A. van der Chijs (Leyden, 1855), is very clear and accurate. Dr. Geikie adopts the manifest mistake of Caspari, that Herod died in January, 753, and holds that the Holy Family spent three years in Egypt. The repeated statement of Josephus that Herod died close upon the Passover should have sufficed to show the impossibility of that hypothesis. Indeed, there is scarcely any historical date on which competent writers are more agreed than that of Herod's death. See Schürer, Neutest. Zeitg., pp. 222, 223.
It need scarcely be said, that Salome (Herod's sister) and her
husband were too wise to execute Herod's direction in regard to the noble Jews
shut up in the Hippodrome. Their liberation, and the death of Herod, were
marked by the leaders of the people as joyous events in the so-called Megillath
Taanith, or Roll of Fasts, although the date is not exactly marked.4
Henceforth this was to be a Yom Tobh (feast-day), on which mourning was
4. Meg. Taan xi, 1, ed Warsh, p. 16 a.
5. The Megillath Taanith itself, or 'Roll of Fasts,' does not mention the death of Herod. But the commentator adds to the dates 7th Kislev (Nov.) and 2nd Shebhat
(Jan.), both manifestly incorrect, the notice that Herod had died - on the 2nd Shebhat, Jannai also - at the same time telling a story about the incarceration and liberatio of 'seventy of the Elders of Israel,' evidently a modification of
Josephus' account of what passed in the Hippodrome of Jericho. Accordingly, Grätz
(Gesch. vol. iii. p. 427) and Derenbourg (pp. 101, 164) have regarded the 1st of Shebhat as really that of Herod's death. But this is impossible; and we know enough of the historical inaccuracy of the Rabbis not to attach any serious importance to their precise dates.
Herod had three times before changed his testament. By the
first will Antipater, the successful calumniator of Alexander and Aristobulus,
had been appointed his successor, while the latter two were named kings, though
we know not of what districts.6
After the execution of the two sons of Mariamme, Antipater was named king, and,
in case of his death, Herod, the son of Mariamme II. When the treachery of
Antipater was proved, Herod made a third will, in which Antipas (the Herod
Antipas of the New Testament) was named his successor.7
But a few days before his death he made yet another disposition, by which
Archelaus, the elder brother of Antipas (both sons of Malthake, a Samaritan),
was appointed king; Antipas tetrarch of Galilee and Perĉa; and Philip (the son
of Cleopatra, of Jerusalem8),
tetrarch of the territory east of the Jordan.9
These testaments reflected the varying phases of suspicion and family-hatred
through which Herod had passed. Although the Emperor seems to have authorised
him to appoint his successor,10
Herod wisely made his disposition dependent on the approval of Augustus.11
But the latter was not by any means to be taken for granted. Archelaus had,
indeed, been immediately proclaimed King by the army; but he prudently declined
the title, till it had been confirmed by the Emperor. The night of his father's
death, and those that followed, were characteristically spent by Archelaus in
rioting with his friends.12
But the people of Jerusalem were not easily satisfied. At first liberal
promises of amnesty and reforms had assuaged the populace.13
But the indignation excited by the late murder of the Rabbis soon burst into a
storm of lamentation, and then of rebellion, which Archelaus silenced by the
slaughter of not less than three thousand, and that within the sacred precincts
of the Temple itself.14
6. Jos. War i. 23. 5.
7. Jos. Ant. xvii. 6. 1; War i. 32. 7.
8. Herod had married no less than ten times.
9. Batanĉa, Trachonitis, Auranitis, and Panias.
10. Jos. War i. 23. 5.
11. Ant. xvii 8. 2.
12. Ant. xvii 8. 4; 9. 5.
13. Ant. xvii 8. 4.
14. Ant. xvii. 9. 1-3.
Other and more serious difficulties awaited him in Rome,
whither he went in company with his mother, his aunt Salome, and other
relatives. These, however, presently deserted him to espouse the claims of
Antipas, who likewise appeared before Augustus to plead for the royal
succession, assigned to him in a former testament. The Herodian family, while
intriguing and clamouring each on his own account, were, for reasons easily
understood, agreed that they would rather not have a king at all, but be under
the suzerainty of Rome; though, if king there must be, they preferred Antipas
to Archelaus. Meanwhile, fresh troubles broke out in Palestine, which were
suppressed by fire, sword, and crucifixions. And now two other deputations
arrived in the Imperial City. Philip, the step-brother of Archelaus, to whom
the latter had left the administration of his kingdom, came to look after his
own interests, as well as to support Archelaus.15
At the same time, a Jewish deputation of fifty, from Palestine, accompanied by
eight thousand Roman Jews, clamoured for the deposition of the entire Herodian
race, on account of their crimes,17
and the incorporation of Palestine with Syria - no doubt in hope of the same
semi-independence under their own authorities, enjoyed by their
fellow-religionists in the Grecian cities. Augustus decided to confirm the last
testament of Herod, with certain slight modifications, of which the most
important was that Archelaus should bear the title of Ethnarch, which,
if he deserved it, would by-and-by be exchanged for that of King. His dominions
were to be Judĉa, Idumĉa, and Samaria, with a revenue of 600 talents18
(about 230,000l. to 240,000l). It is needless to follow the
fortunes of the new Ethnarch. He began his rule by crushing all resistance by
the wholesale slaughter of his opponents. Of the High-Priestly office he
disposed after the manner of his father. But he far surpassed him in cruelty,
oppression, luxury, the grossest egotism, and the lowest sensuality, and that,
without possessing the talent or the energy of Herod.19
His brief reign ceased in the year 6 of our era, when the Emperor banished him,
on account of his crimes to Gaul.
15. Ant. xvii. 11. 1; War ii. 6. 1.
16. I cannot conceive on what ground Keim (both in Schenkel's Bible
Lex, and in his 'Jesu von Nazara') speaks of him as a pretender to the throne.
17. This may have been the historical basis of the parable of our Lord in St. Luke xix. 12-27.
18. The revenues of Antipas were 200 talents, and those of Philip 100 talents.
19. This is admitted even by Braun (Söhne d. Herodes, p. 8). Despite its pretentiousness this tractate is untrustworthy, being written in a party spirit (Jewish).
It must have been soon after the accession of Archelaus,20
but before tidings of it had actually reached Joseph in Egypt, that the Holy
Family returned to Palestine. The first intention of Joseph seems to have been
to settle in Bethlehem, where he had lived since the birth of Jesus. Obvious
reasons would incline him to choose this, and, if possible, to avoid Nazareth
as the place of his residence. His trade, even had he been unknown in
Bethlehem, would have easily supplied the modest wants of his household. But
when, on reaching Palestine, he learned who the successor of Herod was, and
also, no doubt, in what manner he had inaugurated his reign, common prudence
would have dictated the withdrawal of the Infant-Saviour from the dominions of
Archelaus. But it needed Divine direction to determine his return to Nazareth.21
20. We gather this from the expression, 'When he heard that Archelaus did reign.' Evidently Joseph had not heard who was Herod's successor, when he left Egypt. Archdeacon Farrar suggests, that the expression 'reigned' ('as a king,' basileuei-St. Matt. ii. 22) refers to the period before Augustus had changed his title from 'King' to Ethnarch. But this can scarcely be pressed, the word being used of other rule than that of a king, not only in the New Testament and in the Apocrypha, but by
Josephus, and even by classical writers.
21. The language of St. Matthew (ii. 22, 23) seems to imply express Divine direction not to enter the territory of Judĉa. In that case he would travel along the coast-line till he passed into Galilee. The impression left is, that the settlement at Nazareth was not of his own choice.
Of the many years spent in Nazareth, during which Jesus passed
from infancy to childhood, from childhood to youth, and from youth to manhood,
the Evangelic narrative has left us but briefest notice. Of His childhood:
that 'He grew and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom, and the grace of
God was upon Him;'22
of His youth: besides the account of His questioning the Rabbis in the
Temple, the year before he attained Jewish majority - that 'He was subject to
His parents,' and that 'He increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favour
with God and man.' Considering what loving care watched over Jewish child-life,
tenderly marking by not fewer than eight designations the various stages of its
and the deep interest naturally attaching to the early life of the Messiah,
that silence, in contrast to the almost blasphemous absurdities of the
Apocryphal Gospels, teaches us once more, and most impressively, that the
Gospels furnish a history of the Saviour, not a biography of Jesus of Nazareth.
22. St. Luke ii. 40.
23. Yeled, the newborn babe, as in Is. ix. 6; Yoneq, the suckling, Is. xi. 8; Olel,
the suckling beginning to ask for food, Lam. iv. 4; Gamul, the weaned child, Is. xxviii. 9; Taph, the child clinging to its mother, Jer. xl.
7; Elem, a child becoming firm; Naar, the lad, literally, 'one who shakes himself free;' and Bachur, the ripened one. (See
Jewish Social Life,' pp. 103. 104.)
St. Matthew, indeed, summarises the whole outward history of
the life in Nazareth in one sentence. Henceforth Jesus would stand out before
the Jews of His time - and, as we know, of all times,24
by the distinctive designation: 'of Nazareth,' yrcn (Notsri), NazwraioV, the Nazarene.' In the mind
of a Palestinian a peculiar significance would attach to the by-Name of the Messiah, especially in its connection with the general teaching of prophetic Scripture. And here we must remember, that St. Matthew primarily addressed his Gospel to Palestinian readers, and that it is the Jewish presentation of the Messiah as meeting Jewish expectancy. In this there is nothing derogatory to the character of the Gospel, no accommodation in the sense of adaptation, since Jesus was not only the Saviour of the world, but especially also the King of
the Jews, and we are now considering how He would stand out before the Jewish mind. On one point all were agreed: His Name was Notsri (of Nazareth). St. Matthew proceeds to point out, how entirely this accorded with prophetic Scripture - not, indeed, with any single prediction, but with the whole language of the prophets. From this25
the Jews derived not fewer than eight designations or Names by which the
Messiah was to be called. The most prominent among them was that of Tsemach,
We call it the most prominent, not only because it is based upon the clearest
Scripture-testimony, but because it evidently occupied the foremost rank in
Jewish thinking, being embodied in this earliest portion of their daily
liturgy: 'The Branch of David, Thy Servant, speedily make to shoot
forth, and His Horn exalt Thou by Thy Salvation....Blessed art Thou Jehovah,
Who causeth to spring forth (literally: to branch forth) the Horn of Salvation'
(15th Eulogy). Now, what is expressed by the word Tsemach is also
conveyed by the term Netser, 'Branch,' in such passages as Isaiah xi,1,
which was likewise applied to the Messiah.27
Thus, starting from Isaiah xi. 1, Netser being equivalent to Tsemach,
Jesus would, as Notsri or Ben Netser,28
bear in popular parlance, and that on the ground of prophetic Scriptures, the
exact equivalent of the best-known designation of the Messiah.30
The more significant this, that it was not a self-chosen nor man-given name,
but arose, in the providence of God, from what otherwise might have been called
the accident of His residence. We admit that this is a Jewish view; but then
this Gospel is the Jewish view of the Jewish Messiah.
24. This is still the common, almost universal, designation of Christ among the Jews.
25. Comp. ch. iv. of this book.
26. In accordance with Jer. xxiii. 5; xxxiii. 15; and especially Zech. iii 18.
27. See Appendix IX.
28. So in Be R. 76.
29. Comp. Buxtorf, Lexicon Talm. p. 1383.
30. All this becomes more evident by Delitzsch's ingenious suggestion (Zeitschr.
fur luther. Theol. 1876, part iii. p. 402), that the real meaning, though not the literal rendering, of the words of St. Matthew, would be wm# rcn yk - 'for
Nezer ['branch'] is His Name.'
But, taking this Jewish title in its Jewish significance, it
has also a deeper meaning, and that not only to Jews, but to all men. The idea
of Christ as the Divinely placed 'Branch' (symbolised by His Divinely-appointed
early residence), small and despised in its forthshooting, or then visible
appearance (like Nazareth and the Nazarenes), but destined to grow as the
Branch sprung out of Jesse's roots, is most marvellously true to the whole
history of the Christ, alike as sketched 'by the prophets,' and as exhibited in
reality. And thus to us all, Jews or Gentiles, the Divine guidance to Nazareth
and the name Nazarene present the truest fulfilment of the prophecies of His
Greater contrast could scarcely be imagined than between the
intricate scholastic studies of the Judĉans, and the active pursuits that
engaged men in Galilee. It was a common saying: 'If a person wishes to be rich,
let him go north; if he wants to be wise, let him come south' - and to Judĉa,
accordingly, flocked, from ploughshare and workshop, whoever wished to become
'learned in the Law.' The very neighbourhood of the Gentile world, the contact
with the great commercial centres close by, and the constant intercourse with
foreigners, who passed through Galilee along one of the world's great highways,
would render the narrow exclusiveness of the Southerners impossible. Galilee
was to Judaism 'the Court of the Gentiles' - the Rabbinic Schools of Judĉa its
innermost Sanctuary. The natural disposition of the people, even the soil and
climate of Galilee, were not favourable to the all-engrossing passion for Rabbinic
study. In Judĉa all seemed to invite to retrospection and introspection; to
favour habits of solitary thought and study, till it kindled into fanaticism.
Mile by mile as you travelled southwards, memories of the past would crowd
around, and thoughts of the future would rise within. Avoiding the great towns
as the centres of hated heathenism, the traveller would meet few foreigners,
but everywhere encounter those gaunt representatives of what was regarded as
the superlative excellency of his religion. These were the embodiment of Jewish
piety and asceticism, the possessors and expounders of the mysteries of his
faith, the fountain-head of wisdom, who were not only sure of heaven
themselves, but knew its secrets, and were its very aristocracy; men who could
tell him all about his own religion, practised its most minute injunctions, and
could interpret every stroke and letter of the Law - nay, whose it actually was
to 'loose and to bind,' to pronounce an action lawful or unlawful, and to
'remit or retain sins,' by declaring a man liable to, or free from, expiatory
sacrifices, or else punishment in this or the next world. No Hindoo fanatic
would more humbly bend before Brahmin saints, nor devout Romanist more venerate
the members of a holy fraternity, than the Jew his great Rabbis.31
Reason, duty, and precept, alike bound him to reverence them, as he reverenced
the God Whose interpreters, representatives, deputies, intimate companions,
almost colleagues in the heavenly Sanhedrin, they were. And all around, even
nature itself, might seem to foster such tendencies. Even at that time Judĉa
was comparatively desolate, barren, grey. The decaying cities of ancient
renown; the lone highland scenery; the bare, rugged hills; the rocky terraces
from which only artificial culture could woo a return; the wide solitary
plains, deep glens, limestone heights - with distant glorious Jerusalem ever in
the far background, would all favour solitary thought and religious
31. One of the most absurdly curious illustrations of this is the following: 'He who blows his nose in the presence of his Rabbi is worthy of death' (Erub, 99 a, line 11 from bottom). The dictum is supported by an alteration in the
reading of Prov. viii. 36.
It was quite otherwise in Galilee. The smiling landscape of
Lower Galilee invited the easy labour of the agriculturist. Even the highlands
of Upper Galilee32
were not, like those of Judĉa, sombre, lonely, enthusiasm-killing, but
gloriously grand, free, fresh, and bracing. A more beautiful country - hill,
dale, and lake - could scarcely be imagined than Galilee Proper. It was here
that Asher had 'dipped his foot in oil.' According to the Rabbis, it was easier
to rear a forest of olive-trees in Galilee than one child in Judĉa. Corn grew
in abundance; the wine, though not so plentiful as the oil, was rich and
generous. Proverbially, all fruit grew in perfection, and altogether the cost
of living was about one-fifth that in Judĉa. And then, what a teeming, busy
population! Making every allowance for exaggeration, we cannot wholly ignore
the account of Josephus about the 240 towns and villages of Galilee, each with
not less than 15,000 inhabitants. In the centres of industry all then known
trades were busily carried on; the husbandman pursued his happy toil on genial
soil, while by the Lake of Gennesaret, with its unrivalled beauty, its rich
villages, and lovely retreats, the fisherman plied his healthy avocation. By
those waters, overarched by a deep blue sky, spangled with the brilliancy of
innumerable stars, a man might feel constrained by nature itself to meditate
and pray; he would not be likely to indulge in a morbid fanaticism.
32. Galilee covered the ancient possessions of Issachar, Zebulun, Naphtali, and Asher. 'In
the time of Christ it stretched northwards to the possessions of Tyre on the one side, and to Syria on the other. On the south it was bounded by Samaria - Mount Carmel on the Western, and the district of Scythopolis on the eastern side, being here landmarks; while the Jordan and the Lake of Gennesaret formed the general eastern boundary line.' (Sketches of Jewish Soc. Life. p. 33.) It
was divided into Upper and Lower Galilee - the former beginning 'where
sycomores (not our sycamores) cease to grow.' Fishing in the Lake of Galilee was free to all (Baba K. 81 b).
Assuredly, in its then condition, Galilee was not the home of
Rabbinism, though that of generous spirits, of warm, impulsive hearts, of
intense nationalism, of simple manners, and of earnest piety. Of course, there
would be a reverse side to the picture. Such a race would be excitable,
passionate, violent. The Talmud accuses them of being quarrelsome,33
but admits that they cared more for honour than for money. The great ideal
teacher of Palestinian schools was Akiba, and one of his most outspoken
opponents a Galilean, Rabbi José.34
In religious observances their practice was simpler; as regarded canon-law they
often took independent views, and generally followed the interpretations of
those who, in opposition to Akiba, inclined to the more mild and rational - we
had almost said, the more human - application of traditionalism.35
The Talmud mentions several points in which the practice of the Galileans
differed from that of Judĉa - all either in the direction of more practical
or of alleviation of Rabbinic rigorism.37
On the other hand, they were looked down upon as neglecting traditionalism,
unable to rise to its speculative heights, and preferring the attractions of
the Haggadah to the logical subtleties of the Halakhah.38
There was a general contempt in Rabbinic circles for all that was Galilean.
Although the Judĉan or Jerusalem dialect was far from pure,39
the people of Galilee were especially blamed for neglecting the study of their
language, charged with error in grammar, and especially with absurd
malpronunciation, sometimes leading to ridiculous mistakes.40
'Galilean - Fool!' was so common an expression, that a learned lady turned with
it upon so great a man as R. José, the Galilean, because he had used two
needless words in asking her the road to Lydda.41
Indeed, this R. José had considerable prejudices to overcome, before his
remarkable talents and learning were fully acknowledged.43
'cantankerous' (?), Ned. 48 a.
34. Siphré on Numb. x. 19, ed. Friedmann, 4 a; Chag. 14 a.
35. Of which Jochanan, the son of Nuri, may here be regarded as the exponent.
36. As in the relation between bridegroom and bride, the cessation of work the day before the Passover, &c.
37. As in regard to animals lawful to be eaten, vows, &c.
38. The doctrinal, or rather Halakhic, differences between Galilee and Judĉa are partially noted by Lightfoot (Chronoger. Matth. praem. lxxxvi.), and by Hamburger
(Real-Enc. i. p. 395).
39. See Deutsch's Remains, p. 358.
40. The differences of pronunciation and language are indicated by Lightfoot
(u.s. lxxxvii.), and by Deutsch (u. s. pp. 357, 358). Several instances of ridiculous mistakes arising from it are recorded. Thus, a woman cooked for her husband two lentils (yxpl+)instead of two feet (of an animal, ypl+)
as desired (Nedar. 66 b). On another occasion a woman
malpronounced 'Come, I will give thee milk,' into 'Companion, butter devour thee!' (Erub. 53 b). In the same connection other similar stories are told. Comp. also Neubauer, Geogr. du Talmud, p. 184, G. de Rossi, della
lingua prop. di Cristo, Dissert. I. passim.
41. Erub. 53 b.
42. The Rabbi asked: What road leads to Lydda? - using four words. The woman pointed out that, since it was not lawful to multiply speech with a woman, he should have asked: Whither to Lydda? - in two words.
43. In fact, only four great Galilean Rabbis are mentioned. The Galileans are said to have inclined towards mystical (Kabbalistic?) pursuits.
Among such a people, and in that country, Jesus spent by far
the longest part of His life upon earth. Generally, this period may be
described as that of His true and full Human Development - physical,
intellectual, spiritual - of outward submission to man, and inward submission
to God, with the attendant results of 'wisdom,' 'favour,' and 'grace.'
Necessary, therefore, as this period was, if the Christ was to be TRUE MAN, it cannot be said that it was
lost, even so far as His Work as Saviour was concerned. It was more than the
preparation for that work; it was the commencement of it: subjectively
(and passively), the self-abnegation of humiliation in His willing submission;
and objectively (and actively), the fulfilment of all righteousness through
it. But into this 'mystery of piety' we may only look afar off - simply
remarking, that it almost needed for us also these thirty years of Human
Life, that the overpowering thought of His Divinity might not overshadow
that of His Humanity. But if He was subject to such conditions, they must, in
the nature of things, have affected His development. It is therefore not
presumption when, without breaking the silence of Holy Scripture, we follow the
various stages of the Nazareth life, as each is, so to speak, initialled by the
brief but emphatic summaries of the third Gospel.
In regard to the Child-Life,44
we read: 'And the Child grew, and waxed strong in spirit,45
being filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon Him.'46
This marks, so to speak, the lowest rung in the ladder. Having entered upon
life as the Divine Infant, He began it as the Human Child, subject to all its
conditions, yet perfect in them.
44. Gelpke, Jugendgesch, des Herrn, has, at least in our days, little value beyond its title.
45. The words 'in spirit' are of doubtful authority. But their omission can be of no consequence, since the 'waxing strong' evidently refers to the mental development, as the subsequent clause shows.
46. St. Luke ii. 40.
These conditions were, indeed, for that time, the happiest
conceivable, and such as only centuries of Old Testament life-training could
have made them. The Gentile world here presented terrible contrast, alike in
regard to the relation of parents and children, and the character and moral
object of their upbringing. Education begins in the home, and there were
not homes like those in Israel; it is imparted by influence and example, before
it comes by teaching; it is acquired by what is seen and heard, before it is
laboriously learned from books; its real object becomes instinctively felt,
before its goal is consciously sought. What Jewish fathers and mothers were;
what they felt towards their children; and with what reverence, affection, and
care the latter returned what they had received, is known to every reader of
the Old Testament. The relationship of father has its highest sanction and
embodiment in that of God towards Israel; the tenderness and care of a mother
in that of the watchfulness and pity of the Lord over His people. The
semi-Divine relationship between children and parents appears in the location,
the far more than outward duties which it implies in the wording, of the Fifth
Commandment. No punishment more prompt than that of its breach;47
no description more terribly realistic than that of the vengeance which
overtakes such sin.48
47. Deut. xxi. 18-21.
48. Prov. xxx. 17.
From the first days of its existence, a religious atmosphere
surrounded the child of Jewish parents. Admitted in the number of God's chosen
people by the deeply significant rite of circumcision, when its name was first
spoken in the accents of prayer,49
it was henceforth separated unto God. Whether or not it accepted the privileges
and obligations implied in this dedication, they came to him directly from God,
as much as the circumstances of his birth. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and
Jacob, the God of Israel, the God of the promises, claimed him, with all of
blessing which this conveyed, and of responsibility which resulted from it. And
the first wish expressed for him was that, 'as he had been joined to the
covenant,' so it might also be to him in regard to the 'Torah' (Law), to 'the
Chuppah' (the marriage-baldachino), and 'to good works;' in other words, that
he might live 'godly, soberly, and righteously in this present world' - a holy,
happy, and God-devoted life. And what this was, could not for a moment be in
doubt. Putting aside the overlying Rabbinic interpretations, the ideal of life
was presented to the mind of the Jew in a hundred different forms - in none
perhaps more popularly than in the words, 'These are the things of which a man
enjoys the fruit in this world, but their possession continueth for the next:
to honour father and mother, pious works, peacemaking between man and man, and
the study of the Law, which is equivalent to them all.'50
This devotion to the Law was, indeed, to the Jew the all in all - the sum of
intellectual pursuits, the aim of life. What better thing could a father seek
for his child than this inestimable boon?
49. See the notice of these rites at the circumcision of John the Baptist, in ch. iv. of his
50. Peah i. 1.
The first education was necessarily the mother's.51
Even the Talmud owns this, when, among the memorable sayings of the sages, it records
one of the School of Rabbi Jannai, to the effect that knowledge of the Law may
be looked for in those, who have sucked it in at their mother's breast.52
And what the true mothers in Israel were, is known not only from instances in
the Old Testament, from the praise of woman in the Book of Proverbs, and from
the sayings of the son of Sirach (Ecclus. iii.53),
but from the Jewish women of the New Testament.54
If, according to a somewhat curious traditional principle, women were dispensed
from all such positive obligations as were incumbent at fixed periods of time
(such as putting on phylacteries), other religious duties devolved exclusively
upon them. The Sabbath meal, the kindling of the Sabbath lamp, and the setting
apart a portion of the dough from the bread for the household, these are but
instances, with which every 'Taph,' as he clung to his mother's skirts, must
have been familiar. Even before he could follow her in such religious household
duties, his eyes must have been attracted by the Mezuzah attached to the
door-post, as the name of the Most High on the outside of the little folded
reverently touched by each who came or went, and then the fingers kissed that
had come in contact with the Holy Name.56
Indeed, the duty of the Mezuzah was incumbent on women also, and one can
imagine it to have been in the heathen-home of Lois and Euice in the far-off
'dispersion,' where Timothy would first learn to wonder at, then to understand,
its meaning. And what lessons for the past and for the present might not be
connected with it! In popular opinion it was the symbol of the Divine guard
over Israel's homes, the visible emblem of this joyous hymn: 'The Lord shall
preserve thy going out and coming in, from this time forth, and even for
51. Comp. 'Sketches of Jewish Social Life,' pp. 86-160, the literature there quoted: Duschak,
Schulgesetzgebung d. alten Isr.; and Dr. Marcus, Pĉdagog. d. Isr.
52. Ber. 63 b.
53. The counterpart is in Ecclus. xxx.
54. Besides the holy women who are named in the Gospels, we would refer to the mothers of Zebedee's children and of Mark, to Dorcas, Lydia, Lois, Eunice, Priscilla, St.
John's 'elect lady,' and others.
55. On which Deut.vi. 4-9 and xi. 13-21 were inscribed.
56. Jos. Ant. iv. 8. 13; Ber.iii. 3; Megill. i. 8; Moed K. iii.
57. Ps. cxxi. 8.
There could not be national history, nor even romance, to
compare with that by which a Jewish mother might hold her child entranced. And
it was his own history - that of his tribe, clan, perhaps family; of the past,
indeed, but yet of the present, and still more of the glorious future. Long
before he could go to school, or even Synagogue, the private and united prayers
and the domestic rites, whether of the weekly Sabbath or of festive seasons,
would indelibly impress themselves upon his mind. In mid-winter there was the
festive illumination in each home. In most houses, the first night only one
candle was lit, the next two, and so on to the eighth day; and the child would
learn that this was symbolic, and commemorative of the Dedication of the
Temple, its purgation, and the restoration of its services by the
lion-hearted Judas the Maccabee. Next came, in earliest spring, the merry time
of Purim, the Feast of Esther and of Israel's deliverance through her,
with its good cheer and boisterous enjoyments.58
Although the Passover might call the rest of the family to Jerusalem, the rigid
exclusion of all leaven during the whole week could not pass without its
impressions. Then, after the Feast of Weeks, came bright summer. But its golden
harvest and its rich fruits would remind of the early dedication of the first
and best to the Lord, and of those solemn processions in which it was carried
up to Jerusalem. As autumn seared the leaves, the Feast of the New Year spoke
of the casting up of man's accounts in the great Book of Judgment, and the
fixing of destiny for good or for evil. Then followed the Fast of the Day of
Atonement, with its tremendous solemnities, the memory of which could never
fade from mind or imagination; and, last of all, in the week of the Feast of Tabernacles,
there were the strange leafy booths in which they lived and joyed, keeping
their harvest-thanksgiving; and praying and longing for the better harvest of a
58. Some of its customs almost remind us of our 5th of November.
But it was not only through sight and hearing that, from its
very inception, life in Israel became religious. There was also from the first
positive teaching, of which the commencement would necessarily devolve on the
mother. It needed not the extravagant laudations, nor the promises held out by
the Rabbis, to incite Jewish women to this duty. If they were true to their
descent, it would come almost naturally to them. Scripture set before them a
continuous succession of noble Hebrew mothers. How well they followed their
example, we learn from the instance of her, whose son, the child of a Gentile
father, and reared far away, where there was not even a Synagogue to sustain
religious life, had 'from an infant59
known the Holy Scriptures,' and that in their life-moulding influence.60
It was, indeed, no idle boast that the Jews 'were from their
swaddling-clothes...trained to recognise God as their Father, and as the Maker
of the world;' that, 'having been taught the knowledge (of the laws) from
earliest youth, they bore in their souls the image of the commandments;'61
that 'from their earliest consciousness they learned the laws, so as to have
them, as it were, engraven upon the soul;'62
and that they were 'brought up in learning,' 'exercised in the laws,' 'and made
acquainted with the acts of their predecessors in order to their imitation of
59. The word brefoV has no other meaning
than that of 'infant' or 'babe.'
60. 2 Tim. iii. 15; i. 5.
61. Philo, Legat. ad Cajum, sec. 16. 31.
62. Jos. Ag. Apion ii. 19.
63. Jos. Ag. Apion ii. 26; comp. 1. 8, 12; ii. 27.
But while the earliest religious teaching would, of necessity,
come from the lips of the mother, it was the father who was 'bound to teach his
son.'64 To impart
to the child knowledge of the Torah conferred as great spiritual distinction,
as if a man had received the Law itself on Mount Horeb.65
Every other engagement, even the necessary meal, should give place to this
nor should it be forgotten that, while here real labour was necessary, it would
never prove fruitless.67
That man was of the profane vulgar (an Am ha-arets), who had sons, but
failed to bring them up in knowledge of the Law.68
Directly the child learned to speak, his religious instruction was to begin69
- no doubt, with such verses of Holy Scripture as composed that part of the
Jewish liturgy, which answers to our Creed.70
Then would follow other passages from the Bible, short prayers, and select
sayings of the sages. Special attention was given to the culture of the memory,
since forgetfulness might prove as fatal in its consequences as ignorance or
neglect of the Law.71
Very early the child must have been taught what might be called his
birthday-text - some verse of Scripture beginning, or ending with, or at least
containing, the same letters as his Hebrew name. This guardian-promise the
child would insert in its daily prayers.72
The earliest hymns taught would be the Psalms for the days of the week, or
festive Psalms, such as the Hallel,73
or those connected with the festive pilgrimages to Zion.
64. Kidd, 29 a.
65. Sanh. 99 b.
66. Kidd, 30 a.
67. Meg. 6 b.
68. Sot. 22 a.
69. Succ. 42 a.
70. The Shema.
71. Ab. iii. 9
'Sketches of Jewish Social Life,' pp. 159 &c. The enigmatic mode of wording and writing was very common. Thus, the year is marked by a verse, generally from Scripture, which contains the letters that give the numerical value of the
year. These letters are indicated by marks above them.
73. Ps. cxiii. - cxviii.
The regular instruction commenced with the fifth or sixth year
(according to strength), when every child was sent to school.74
There can be no reasonable doubt that at that time such schools existed
throughout the land. We find references to them at almost every period; indeed,
the existence of higher schools and Academies would not have been possible
without such primary instruction. Two Rabbis of Jerusalem, specially
distinguished and beloved on account of their educational labours, were among
the last victims of Herod's cruelty.75
Later on, tradition ascribes to Joshua the son of Gamla the introduction of
schools in every town, and the compulsory education in them of all children
above the age of six.76
Such was the transcendent merit attaching to this act, that it seemed to blot
out the guilt of the purchase for him of the High-Priestly office by his wife
Martha, shortly before the commencement of the great Jewish war.77
To pass over the fabulous number of schools supposed to have existed in
Jerusalem, tradition had it that, despite of this, the City only fell because
of the neglect of the education of children.79
It was even deemed unlawful to live in a place where there was no school.80
Such a city deserved to be either destroyed or excommunicated.81
74. Baba B. 21 a; Keth. 50 a.
75. Jos. Ant. xvii. 6. 2.
76. Baba B. 21 a.
77. Yebam. 61 a; Yoma 18 a.
78. He was succeeded by Matthias, the son of Theophilos, under whose Pontificate the war against Rome began.
79. Shabb. 119 b.
80. Sanh. 17 b.
81. Shabb. u.s.
It would lead too far to give details about the appointment of,
and provision for, teachers, the arrangements of the schools, the method of
teaching, or the subjects of study, the more so as many of these regulations
date from a period later than that under review. Suffice it that, from the
teaching of the alphabet or of writing, onwards to the farthest limit of
instruction in the most advanced Academies of the Rabbis, all is marked by
extreme care, wisdom, accuracy, and a moral and religious purpose as the
ultimate object. For a long time it was not uncommon to teach in the open air;82
but this must have been chiefly in connection with theological discussions, and
the instruction of youths. But the children were gathered in the Synagogues, or
where at first they either stood, teacher and pupils alike, or else sat on the
ground in a semicircle, facing the teacher, as it were, literally to carry into
practice the prophetic saying: 'Thine eyes shall see thy teachers.'84
The introduction of benches or chairs was of later date; but the principle was
always the same, that in respect of accommodation there was no distinction
between teacher and taught.85
Thus, encircled by his pupils, as by a crown of glory (to use the language of
Maimonides), the teacher - generally the Chazzan, or Officer of the
Synagogue86 - should
impart to them the precious knowledge of the Law, with constant adaptation to
their capacity, with unwearied patience, intense earnestness, strictness
tempered by kindness, but, above all, with the highest object of their training
ever in view. To keep children from all contact with vice; to train them to
gentleness, even when bitterest wrong had been received; to show sin in its
repulsiveness, rather than to terrify by its consequences; to train to strict
truthfulness; to avoid all that might lead to disagreeable or indelicate
thoughts; and to do all this without showing partiality, without either undue
severity, or laxity of discipline, with judicious increase of study and work,
with careful attention to thoroughness in acquiring knowledge - all this and
more constituted the ideal set before the teacher, and made his office of such
high esteem in Israel.
82. Shabb. 127 a; Moed K. 16. a.
83. Among the names by which the schools are designated there is also that of Ischoli, with its various derivations, evidently from the Greek scolh, schola.
84. Is. xxx. 20.
85. The proof-passages from the Talmud are collated by Dr. Marcus (Pĉdagog. d. Isr. Volkes, ii. pp. 16, 17).
86. For example, Shabb. 11 a.
Roughly classifying the subjects of study, it was held, that,
up to ten years of age, the Bible exclusively should be the text-book; from ten
to fifteen, the Mishnah, or traditional law; after that age, the student should
enter on those theological discussions which occupied time and attention in the
higher Academies of the Rabbis.87
Not that this progression would always be made. For, if after three, or, at
most, five years of tuition - that is, after having fairly entered on Mishnic
studies - the child had not shown decided aptitude, little hope was to be
entertained of his future. The study of the Bible commenced with that of the
Book of Leviticus.88
Thence it passed to the other parts of the Pentateuch; then to the Prophets;
and, finally, to the Hagiographa. What now constitutes the Gemara or Talmud was
taught in the Academies, to which access could not be gained till after the age
of fifteen. Care was taken not to send a child too early to school, nor to
overwork him when there. For this purpose the school-hours were fixed, and
attendance shortened during the summer-months.
87. Ab. v. 21.
88. Altingius (Academic. Dissert. p. 335) curiously suggests, that this was done to teach a
child its guilt and the need of justification. The Rabbinical interpretation (Vayyikra R. 7) is at least equally far-fetched: that, as children are pure and
sacrifices pure, it is fitting that the pure should busy themselves with the pure. The obvious reason seems, that Leviticus treated of the ordinances with
which every Jew ought to have been acquainted.
The teaching in school would, of course, be greatly aided by
the services of the Synagogue, and the deeper influences of home-life. We know
that, even in the troublous times which preceded the rising of the Maccabees,
the possession of parts or the whole of the Old Testament (whether in the
original or the LXX. rendering) was so common, that during the great
persecutions a regular search was made throughout the land for every copy of
the Holy Scriptures, and those punished who possessed them.89
After the triumph of the Maccabees, these copies of the Bible would, of course,
be greatly multiplied. And, although perhaps only the wealthy could have
purchased a MS. of the whole Old Testament in Hebrew, yet some portion or
portions of the Word of God, in the original, would form the most cherished
treasure of every pious household. Besides, a school for Bible-study was
attached to every academy,90
in which copies of the Holy Scripture would be kept. From anxious care to
preserve the integrity of the text, it was deemed unlawful to make copies of
small portions of a book of Scripture.91
But exception was made of certain sections which were copied for the
instruction of children. Among them, the history of the Creation to that of the
Flood; Lev. i.-ix.; and Numb. i.-x. 35, are specially mentioned.92
89. 1 Macc. i. 57; comp. Jos. Ant. xii. 5. 4.
90. Jer. Meg. iii. 1, p. 73 d.
91. Herzfeld (Gesch. d. V. Isr. iii. p. 267, note) strangely misquotes and misinterprets
this matter. Comp. Dr. Müller, Massech. Sofer. p. 75.
92. Sopher. v. 9, p. 25 b; Gitt. 60 a; Jer. Meg. 74 a; Tos. Yad. 2.
It was in such circumstances, and under such influences, that
the early years of Jesus passed. To go beyond this, and to attempt lifting the
veil which lies over His Child-History, would not only be presumptuous,93
but involve us in anachronisms. Fain would we know it, whether the Child Jesus
frequented the Synagogue School; who was His teacher, and who those who sat
beside Him on the ground, earnestly gazing on the face of Him Who repeated the
sacrificial ordinances in the Book of Leviticus, that were all to be fulfilled
in Him. But it is all 'a mystery of Godliness.' We do not even know quite
certainly whether the school-system had, at that time, extended to far-off
Nazareth; nor whether the order and method which have been described were
universally observed at that time. In all probability, however, there was such
a school in Nazareth, and, if so, the Child-Saviour would conform to the
general practice of attendance. We may thus, still with deepest reverence,
think of Him as learning His earliest earthly lesson from the Book of
Leviticus. Learned Rabbis there were not in Nazareth - either then or
He would attend the services of the Synagogue, where Moses and the prophets
were read, and, as afterwards by Himself,95
occasional addresses delivered.96
That His was pre-eminently a pious home in the highest sense, it seems almost
irreverent to say. From His intimate familiarity with Holy Scripture, in its
every detail, we may be allowed to infer that the home of Nazareth, however
humble, possessed a precious copy of the Sacred Volume in its entirety. At any
rate, we know that from earliest childhood it must have formed the meat and
drink of the God-Man. The words of the Lord, as recorded by St. Matthew97
and St. Luke,98
also imply that the Holy Scriptures which He read were in the original Hebrew,
and that they were written in the square, or Assyrian, characters.99
Indeed, as the Pharisees and Sadducees always appealed to the Scriptures in the
original, Jesus could not have met them on any other ground, and it was this
which gave such point to His frequent expostulations with them: 'Have ye not
93. The most painful instances of these are the legendary accounts of the early history of Christ in the Apocryphal Gospels (well collated by Keim, i. 2, pp. 413-468, passim). But later writers are unfortunately not wholly free
from the charge.
94. I must here protest against the introduction of imaginary 'Evening Scenes in Nazareth,' when, according to Dr. Geikie, 'friends or neighbours of Joseph's circle would meet for an hour's quiet gossip.' Dr. Geikie here introduces as specimens of this 'quiet gossip' a number of Rabbinic quotations from the German translation in Dukes' 'Rabbinische Blumenlese.' To this it is
sufficient answer: 1. There were no such learned Rabbis in Nazareth. 2. If
there had been, they would not have been visitors in the house of Joseph. 3. If they had been visitors there, they would not have spoken what Dr. Geikie quotes from Dukes, since some of the extracts are from mediĉval books and only one a proverbial expression. 4. Even if they had so spoken, it would at least have been in the words which Dukes has translated, without the changes and additions
which Dr. Geikie has introduced in some instances.
95. St. Luke iv. 16.
96. See Book III., the chapter on 'The Synagogue of Nazareth.'
97. St. Matt. v. 18.
98. St. Luke xvi. 17.
99. This may be gathered even from such an expression as 'One iota, or one little hook' - not 'tittle' as in the A.V.
But far other thoughts than theirs gathered around His study of
the Old Testament Scriptures. When comparing their long discussions on the
letter and law of Scripture with His references to the Word of God, it seems as
if it were quite another book which was handled. As we gaze into the vast glory
of meaning which He opens to us; follow the shining track of heavenward living
to which He points; behold the lines of symbol, type, and prediction converging
in the grand unity of that Kingdom which became reality in Him; or listen as,
alternately, some question of His seems to rive the darkness, as with flash of
sudden light, or some sweet promise of old to lull the storm, some earnest lesson
to quiet the tossing waves - we catch faint, it may be far-off, glimpses of
how, in that early Child-life, when the Holy Scriptures were His special study,
He must have read them, and what thoughts must have been kindled by their
light. And thus better than before can we understand it: 'And the Child grew,
and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon
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