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At most then two or three Jewish families lived in that heathen city. Perhaps Lois and Eunice were the only worshippers of Jehovah there; for we do not even read of a meeting-place for prayer, such as that by the river-side where Paul first met Lydia. Yet in such adverse circumstances, and as the wife of a Greek, Eunice proved one to whom royal Lemuel's praise applied in the fullest sense: "Her children arise up and call her blessed," and "Her works praise her in the gates"-- of the new Jerusalem. Not a truer nor more touching portraiture of a pious Jewish home could have been drawn than in these words of St. Paul: "I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice"; and again, "From a child thou hast know the Holy Scriptures" (2 Tim 1:5, 3:15). There was, we repeat, no synagogue in Lystra where Timothy might have heard every Sabbath, and twice in the week, Moses and the Prophets read, and derived other religious knowledge; there was, so far as we can see, neither religious companionship nor means of instruction of any kind, nor religious example, not even from his father; but all around quite the contrary. But there was one influence for highest good--constant, unvarying, and most powerful. It was that of "mother of Israel." From the time that as a "taph" he clung to her--even before that, when a "gamul," an "olel," and a "jonek"--had Eunice trained Timothy in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. To quote again the forcible language of St. Paul, "From an infant" * (or baby) "thou hast known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation, through faith which is in Christ Jesus."
* The Greek term means literally "a baby," and is so used, not only by classical writers, but in all the passages in which it occurs in the New Testament, which are as follows: Luke 1:41, 44, 2:12, 16, 18:15; Acts 7:19; 2 Tim 3:15; and 1 Peter 2:2.
From the Apocrypha, from Josephus, and from the Talmud we know what means of instruction in the Scriptures were within reach of a pious mother at that time. In a house like that of Timothy's father there would, of course, be no phylacteries, with the portions of Scripture which they contained, and probably no "Mesusah," although, according to the Mishnah (Ber. iii. 3), the latter duty was incumbent, not only upon men but upon women. the Babylon Talmud (Ber. 20 b) indeed gives a very unsatisfactory reason for the latter provision. But may it not be that the Jewish law had such cases in view as that of Eunice and her son, without expressly saying so, from fear of lending a sanction to mixed marriages? Be this as it may, we know that at the time of the Syrian persecutions, just before the rising of the Maccabees, the possession of portions or of the whole of the Old Testament by private families was common in Israel. For, part of those persecutions consisted in making search for these Scriptures and destroying them (1 Macc. i. 57), as well as punishing their possessors (Josephus, Ant. xii, 256). Of course, during the period of religious revival which followed the triumph of the Maccabees, such copies of the Bible would have greatly multiplied. It is by no means an exaggeration to say that, if perhaps only the wealthy possessed a complete copy of the Old Testament, written out on parchment or on Egyptian paper, there would scarcely be a pious home, however humble, which did not cherish as its richest treasure some portion of the Word of God--whether the five books of the Law, or the Psalter, or a roll of one or more of the Prophets. Besides, we know from the Talmud that at a later period, and probably at the time of Christ also, there were little parchment rolls specially for the use of children, containing such portions of Scripture as the "Shema" * (Deut 6:4-9, 11:13-21; Num 15:37- 41), the "Hallel" (Psa 113-118), the history of the Creation to that of the Flood, and the first eight chapters of the book of Leviticus. Such means of instruction there would be at the disposal of Eunice in teaching her son.
And this leads us to mention, with due reverence, the other and far greater New Testament instance of maternal influence in Israel. It is none less than that of the mother of our blessed Lord Himself. While the fact that Jesus became subject to His parents, and grew in wisdom and in favor both with God and man, forms part of the unfathomable mystery of His self-humiliation, the influence exerted upon His early education, especially by His mother, seems implied throughout the gospel history. Of course, His was a pious Jewish home; and at Nazareth there was a synagogue, to which, as we shall by-and-by explain, a school was probably attached. In that synagogue Moses and the Prophets would be read, and, as afterwards by Himself (Luke 4:16), discourses or addresses be delivered from time to time. What was taught in these synagogue- schools, and how, will be shown in another chapter. But, whether or not Jesus had attended such a school, His mind was so thoroughly imbued with the Sacred Scriptures--He was so familiar with them in their every detail--that we cannot fail to infer that the home of Nazareth possessed a precious copy of its own of the entire Sacred Volume, which from earliest childhood formed, so to speak, the meat and drink of the God-Man. More than that, there is clear evidence that He was familiar with the art of writing, which was by no means so common in those days as reading. The words of our Lord, as reported both by St. Matthew (Matt 5:18) and by St. Luke (Luke 16:17), also prove that the copy of the Old Testament from which He had drawn was not only in the original Hebrew, but written, like our modern copies, in the so-called Assyrian, and not in the ancient Hebrew-Phoenician characters. This appears from the expression "one iota or one little hook"-- erroneously rendered "tittle" in our Authorised Version--which can only apply to the modern Hebrew characters. That our Lord taught in Aramaean, and that He used and quoted the Holy Scriptures in the Hebrew, perhaps sometimes rendering them for popular use into Aramaean, there can be little doubt on the part of careful and unprejudiced students, though some learned men have held the opposite. It is quite true that the Mishnah (Megill. i. 8) seems to allow the writing of Holy Scripture in any language; but even Simeon, the son of Gamaliel (the teacher of St. Paul), confined this concession to the Greek--no doubt with a view to the LXX, which was so widely spread in his time. But we also know from the Talmud, how difficult it was for a Rabbi to defend the study or use of Greek, and how readily popular prejudice burst into a universal and sweeping condemnation of it. The same impression is conveyed not only from the immediate favorable change which the use of the Aramaean by St. Paul produced upon the infuriated people (Acts 21:40), but also from the fact that only an appeal to the Hebrew Scriptures could have been of authority in discussion with the Pharisees and Scribes, and that it alone gave point to the frequent arguments of Christ: "Have ye not read?" (Matt 12:3, 19:4, 21:13, 16, 42, 22:31).
This familiarity from earliest childhood with the Scriptures in the Hebrew original also explains how at the age of twelve Jesus could be found "in the Temple; sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them and asking them questions" (Luke 2:46). In explaining this seemingly strange circumstance, we may take the opportunity of correcting an almost universal mistake. It is generally thought that, on the occasion referred to, the Savior had gone up, as being "of age," in the Jewish sense of the expression, or, to use their own terms, as a "Bar Mizvah," or "son of the commandment," by which the period was marked when religious obligations and privileges devolved upon a youth, and he became a member of the congregation. But the legal age for this was not twelve, but thirteen (Ab. v. 21). On the other hand, the Rabbinical law enjoined (Yoma, 82 a) that even before that--two years, or at least one year--lads should be brought up to the Temple, and made to observe the festive rites. Unquestionably, it was in conformity with this universal custom that Jesus went on the occasion named to the Temple. Again, we know that it was the practice of the members of the various Sanhedrims--who on ordinary days sat as judicatories, from the close of the morning to the time of the evening sacrifice (Sanh. 88 b)--to come out upon the Sabbaths and feast-days on "the terrace of the Temple," and there publicly to teach and expound, the utmost liberty being given of asking questions, discussing, objecting, and otherwise taking intelligent part in these lectures. On the occasion of Christ's presence, these discussions would, as usual, be carried on during the "Moed Katon," or minor festive days, intervening between the second and the last day of the Passover week. Joseph and Mary, on the other hand, had, as allowed by the law, returned towards Nazareth on the third day of the Passover week, while Jesus remained behind. These circumstances also explain why His appearance in the midst of the doctors, although very remarkable considering His age, did not at once command universal attention. In point of fact, the only qualification requisite, so far as learning was concerned, would be a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures in the Hebrew, and a proper understanding of them.
What we have hitherto described will have conveyed to the reader that the one branch of instruction aimed after or desired by the Jews at the time of Christ was religious knowledge. What was understood by this, and how it was imparted--whether in the family or in the public schools--must form the subject of special investigation.