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  • SKETCHES IN JEWISH SOCIAL LIFE - CH. 8 - B
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    From what has been stated, three inferences will be gathered, all of most material bearing on the study of the New Testament. It will be seen how a mere knowledge of the law came to hold such place of almost exclusive importance that its successful prosecution seemed to be well-nigh all in all. Again, it is easy now to understand why students and teachers of theology enjoyed such exceptional honor (Matt 23:6,7: Mark 12:38,39: Luke 11:43, 20:46). In this respect the testimonies of Onkelos, in his paraphrastic rendering of the Scriptures, of the oldest "Targumim," or paraphrastic commentaries, of the Mishnah, and of the two Talmuds, are not only unanimous, but most extravagant. Not only are miracles supposed to be performed in attestation of certain Rabbis, but such a story is actually ventured upon (Bab. Mes. 86 a), as that on the occasion of a discussion in the academy of heaven, when the Almighty and His angels were of different opinions in regard to a special point of law, a Rabbi famed for his knowledge of that subject was summoned up by the angel of death to decide the matter between them! The story is altogether too blasphemous for details, and indeed the whole subject is too wide for treatment in this connection. If such was the exalted position of a Rabbi, this direction of the Mishnah seems quite natural, that in case of loss, of difficulties, or of captivity, a teacher was to be cared for before a father, since to the latter we owed only our existence in this world, but to the former the life of the world to come (Bab. Mez. ii. 11). It is curious how in this respect also Roman Catholicism and Pharisaism arrive at the same ultimate results. Witness this saying of the celebrated Rabbi, who flourished in the thirteenth century, and whose authority is almost absolute among the Jews. The following is his glossary on Deuteronomy 17:11: "Even if a Rabbi were to teach that your left hand was the right, and your right hand the left, you are bound to obey."

    The third inference which the reader will draw is as to the influence which such views must have exercised upon education, alike at home and in schools. It is no doubt only the echo of the most ancient mode of congratulating a parent when to this day those who are present at a circumcision, and also the priest when the first-born is redeemed from him, utter this: "As this child has been joined to the covenant" (or, as the case may be, "attained this redemption"), "so may it also be to him in reference to the 'thorah,' the 'chuppah' (the marriage-baldacchino, under which the regular marriage ceremony is performed), and to good works." The wish marks with twofold emphasis the life that is to come, as compared with the life that now is. This quite agrees with the account of Josephus, who contrasts the heathen festivals at the birth of children with the Jewish enactments by which children were from their very infancy nourished up in the laws of God (Ag. Apion, i, 38-68, ii, 173-205).

    There can be no question that, according to the law of Moses, the early education of a child devolved upon the father; of course, always bearing in mind that his first training would be the mother's (Deu 11:19, and many other passages). If the father were not capable of elementary teaching, a stranger would be employed. Passing over the Old Testament period, we may take it that, in the days of Christ, home-teaching ordinarily began when the child was about three years old. There is reason for believing that, even before this, that careful training of the memory commenced, which has ever since been one of the mental characteristics of the Jewish nation. Verses of Scripture, benedictions, wise sayings, etc., were impressed on the child, and mnemonic rules devised to facilitate the retention of what was so acquired. We can understand the reason of this from the religious importance attaching to the exact preservation of the very words of tradition. The Talmud describes the beau ideal of a student when it compares him to a well-plastered cistern, which would not let even a single drop escape. Indeed, according to the Mishnah, he who from negligence "forgets any one thing in his study of the Mishnah, Scripture imputes it to him as if he had forfeited his life"; the reference here being to Deuteronomy 4:9 (Ab. iii. 10). And so we may attach some credit even to Josephus' boast about his "wonderful memory" (Life, ii, 8).

    In teaching to read, the alphabet was to be imparted by drawing the letters on a board, till the child became familiar with them. Next, the teacher would point in the copy read with his finger, or, still better, with a style, to keep up the attention of the pupil. None but well-corrected manuscripts were to be used, since, as was rightly said, mistakes impressed upon the young mind were afterwards not easily corrected. To acquire fluency, the child should be made to read aloud. Special care was to be bestowed on the choice of good language, in which respect, as we know, the inhabitants of Judaea far excelled those of Galilee, who failed not only in elegance of diction, but even in their pronunciation. At five years of age the Hebrew Bible was to be begun; commencing, however, not with the book of Genesis, but with that of Leviticus. This not to teach the child his guilt, and the need of justification, but rather because Leviticus contained those ordinances which it behoved a Jew to know as early as possible. The history of Israel would probably have been long before imparted orally, as it was continually repeated on all festive occasions, as well as in the synagogue.

    It has been stated in a former chapter that writing was not so common an accomplishment as reading. Undoubtedly, the Israelites were familiar with it from the very earliest period of their history, whether or not they had generally acquired the art in Egypt. We read of the graving of words on the gems of the high- priest's breastplate, of the record of the various genealogies of the tribes, etc; while such passages as Deuteronomy 6:9, 11:20, 24:1, 3, imply that the art was not confined to the priesthood (Num 5:23), but was known to the people generally. Then we are told of copies of the law (Deu 17:18, 28:58, etc.), while in Joshua 10:13 we have a reference to a work called "the book of Jasher." In Joshua 18:9 we find mention of a description of Palestine "in a book," and in 24:26 of what Joshua "wrote in the book of the law of God." From Judges 8:14 (margin) it would appear that in the time of Gideon the art of writing was very generally known. After that, instances occur so frequently and applied to so many relationships, that the reader of the Old Testament can have no difficulty in tracing the progress of the art. This is not the place to follow the subject farther, nor to describe the various materials employed at that time, nor the mode of lettering. At a much later period the common mention of "scribes" indicates the popular need of such a class. We can readily understand that the Oriental mind would delight in writing enigmatically, that is, conveying by certain expressions a meaning to the initiated which the ordinary reader would miss, or which, at any rate, would leave the explanation to the exercise of ingenuity. Partially in the same class we might reckon the custom of designating a word by its initial letter. All theses were very early in practice, and the subject has points of considerable interest. Another matter deserves more serious attention. It will scarcely be credited how general the falsification of signatures and documents had become. Josephus mentions it (Ant. xvi, 317-319); and we know that St. Paul was obliged to warn the Thessalonians against it (2 Thess 2:2), and at last to adopt the device of signing every letter which came from himself. There are scarcely any ancient Rabbinical documents which have not been interpolated by later writers, or, as we might euphemistically call it, been recast and re-edited. In general, it is not difficult to discover such additions; although the vigilance and acuteness of the critical scholar are specially required in this direction to guard against rash and unwarrantable inferences. But without entering on such points, it may interest the reader to know what writing materials were employed in New Testament times. In Egypt red ink seems to have been used; but assuredly the ink mentioned in the New Testament was black, as even the term indicates ("melan," 2 Cor 3:3; 2 John 12; 3 John 13). Josephus speaks of writing in gold letters (Ant. xii, 324-329); and in the Mishnah (Meg. ii. 2) we read of mixed colors, of red, of sympathetic ink, and of certain chemical compositions. Reed quills are mentioned in 3 John 13. The best of these came from Egypt; and the use of a penknife would of course be indispensable. Paper (from the Egyptian "papyrus") is mentioned in 2 John 12; parchment in 2 Timothy 4:13. Of this there were three kinds, according as the skin was used either whole, or else split up into an outer and an inner skin. The latter was used for the Mesusah. Shorter memoranda were made on tablets, which in the Mishnah (Shab. xii. 4) bear the same names as in Luke 1:63.

    Before passing to an account of elementary schools, it may be well, once and for all, to say that the Rabbis did not approve of the same amount of instruction being given to girls as to boys. More particularly they disapproved of their engaging in legal studies--partly because they considered woman's mission and duties as lying in other directions, partly because the subjects were necessarily not always suitable for the other sex, partly because of the familiar intercourse between the sexes to which such occupations would have necessarily led, and finally--shall we say it?--because the Rabbis regarded woman's mind as not adapted for such investigations. The unkindest thing, perhaps, which they said on this score was, "Women are of a light mind"; though in its oft repetition the saying almost reads like a semi- jocular way of cutting short a subject on which discussion is disagreeable. However, instances of Rabbinically learned women do occur. What their Biblical knowledge and what their religious influence was, we learn not only from the Rabbis, but from the New Testament. Their attendance at all public and domestic festivals, and in the synagogues, and the circumstance that certain injunctions and observances of Rabbinic origin devolved upon them also, prove that, though not learned in the law, there must have been among them not a few who, like Lois and Eunice, could train a child in the knowledge of the Scripture, or, like Priscilla, be qualified to explain even to an Apollos the way of God more perfectly.

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