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Education in ancient Israel : from earliest times to 70 A.D. online

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self, the others he carried for the foreign ambassadors. 67
Isaiah, to give force to his message to king Hezekiah not
to join with Egypt against Assyria, for three years dressed
like a captive and went barefoot through the streets of
Jerusalem to picture the captivity such rashness would
bring. 68

65 Isaiah viii. 16.

66 C. F. Kent, The Great Teachers of Judaism and Christianity
p. 25.

67 Jeremiah xxvii and xxviii. "The account is not from Jeremiah
himself but seems to rest upon good information."

68 Isaiah xx. 3.


It may be seriously doubted whether any nation has ever
produced a group of religious and moral teachers com-
parable with the prophets of ancient Israel. Through their
spoken public addresses and writings they became creators
g. Educational of national religious and social ideals, critics
importance. an( j inspirers of public policies, denunciators
of social wrongs, preachers of individual and social right-
eousness, and the source and channel of an ever loftier con-
ception of Yahweh and of the mission of Israel. 69 In ful-
filling each of these capacities they were acting as public
teachers. In every national crisis they were at hand to
denounce, to encourage, to comfort and always to instruct.
They were the public conscience of Israel, the soul of its
religion, the creators of public opinion, its most conspicuous,
its most revered, its most convincing teachers.

69 See Chapter I, paragraph on the Prophetic Conception of Yah-




FROM 586 B. C. TO 70 A. D.

"Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people, saith
your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem,
and cry unto her, that her time of service is
accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned;
that she hath received of Yahweh's hand double
for all her sins." Isaiah xl. 1-2.

Summary of Chapter.

In 586 B. C. Jerusalem with its temple was destroyed by the
Babylonians. Thousands of Jews were transported to Babylonia. The
Exile had begun. The Jews in Babylon found themselves in the
midst of a civilization far in advance of their own. A literary re-
naissance ensued, one of whose most important products was a code
of laws known as the Eriestl^oCode, governing every phase of life and
destined to become the basis of education.

From the Babylonian Exile, 586 B. C., to the fall of Jerusalem,
70 A. D., with the exception of the Maccabean century, 167-63 B. C.,
the Jews were always in subjection to some powerful foreign nation,
Babylonia, Persia, Greece, Syria, Egypt, Rome. During this time
thousands of Jewish communities, collectively called the diaspora, be-
came established throughout the world.


In the year 597 B. C. Nebuchadnezzar captured Jerusa-
lem and carried as captives to Babylon King Jehoiachin, his
royal household, a large number of nobles and many artisans.


Not many years had passed before Nebuchadnezzar was
forced to send an army to quell rebellious Judah. After
Babylonian Exile a year and a half's siege Jerusalem fell, 586
586-538 B. c. B. C. The city and temple which had been
spared in 597 were sacked and burned. Thousands of Jews
were deported to Babylon, and Judea was made a part of
the Babylonian province ; the Exile had begun. 1

The Jews in Babylon found themselves in the midst of a
civilization far in advance of their own. Schools and li-
Literary Re- braries, some of them possessing thousands of
naissance. works, were widely spread. A considerable

knowledge of medicine, astronomy, mathematics, architec-
ture, engineering, and an elaborate code of laws dealing
with every phase of life, bore witness to Babylonian intel-
lectual development. Such an environment was bound to
stimulate literary activity. Further stimulus arose from the
i/jews' passionate desire to preserve their national laws, his-
tory, traditions and temple rites. Prior to the Exile, Jeru-
salem had been declared the sole lawful place of sacrifice.
The priests now freed from their customary duties turned
to instruction and writing, as did also the prophets. The
result was a literary renaissance out of which came forth
such original works as the prophecies of Ezekiel and the
Second Isaiah ; new editions of such already existing works
as Amos, Hosea, Deuteronomy and Joshua; compilations
of codes and detailed records of rites, customs and cere-

The Exile lasted only forty-eight years: 2 in 538 B.C.
Cyrus of Persia conquered Babylon. The * Persian rulers
Persian Period permitted the restoration of the Jewish com-
539-332 B. c. mim ity at Jerusalem. The rebuilding of the
temple followed (520-516 B.C.), an event of supreme im-
portance to religion and religious education.

1 H. P. Smith, Old Testament History, p. 297.

2 By Jewish writers frequently considered to have lasted until the
dedication of the second temple, 516 B. C, i. e., a total of seventy years.


In 332 B.C. Alexander the Great of Greece defeated
Darius, King of Persia, and then pushed his conquests south
Greek Period 332- through Palestine and Egypt. Following Alex-
167 B. c. ander's death in 323 B. C. Palestine became

a bone of contention between the rival kingdoms of Egypt
and Syria. For over a hundred and twenty years from 320

B. C. when Ptolemy I captured Jerusalem, Judah was in the
possession now of Egypt, now of Syria. Finally in 198 B.

C. the Seleucids of Syria secured the supremacy, which they
retained until the Maccabean revolt 167 B. C. 3

A part of Alexander's ambition had been to Hellenize the
East. Wherever he had conquered he had planted colonies
of Greeks and had introduced the Greek language, Greek
religion, Greek political institutions and Greek schools. His
efforts to Hellenize Judah were continued by his successors,
the Ptolemies of Egypt and the Seleucids of Syria, who alike
endeavored to wean or force the Jews away from their native
religion, culture, institutions and education. The Seleucids,
not satisfied with the rapidity with which the Jews were be-
coming Hellenized, resorted to violent measures. A Greek
altar was erected on the altar of burnt-offering in the temple
at Jerusalem. Possession of the books of the Law and
Sabbath observance were punished by death. Altars to
Greek gods were erected everywhere and the heads of fam-
ilies were called upon to worship at them under penalty of
death. 4

As a result of these oppressive measures the Jews rose
in revolt in 167 B. C. under the leadership of an aged priest
Maccabean PC- Mattathias and his five sons, the Hasmoneans.
riod 167-63 B. c. Within two years religious liberty was re-
stored. Successive Jewish leaders, by political intrigue and
by playing off one aspirant to the Syrian throne against
another, succeeded in gaining concessions which ultimately

8 Judas Maccabeus victorious in his first battle with the Syrians.
The period is commonly dated 175-63 B. C.

* H. P. Smith, Old Testament History, pp. 444-445. George Adam
Smith, Jerusalem : to 70 A. D. t II, pp. 367-436.


restored to Judah a national independence that continued
until the Romans took Jerusalem in .63 B. C.

The rule of the Romans was attended by disastrous con-
sequences. Roman conquerors on their way through Pal-
Roman Period 63 estine plundered the temple, levied extortionate
B. C.-70 A. D. tribute and carried thousands of Jews away
as slaves. Local aspirants for power kept alive internal
jealousies and strife. One of these, Herod, with the aid
of Rome, captured Jerusalem in 37 B. C. and began his
reign which continued till 4 B. C. His son, Archelaus, who
succeeded to the throne of Samaria, Judea and Idumea,
ruled in such outrageous fashion that after ten years the
oppressed Jews appealed to Rome (6 A. D.). Augustus de-
posed Archelaus and placed Judea under the rule of a
Roman procurator. Roman oppression and mismanagement
resulted in continual efforts at revolt. These efforts cul-
minated in the insurrection which began 66 A. D. and ended
'in 70 A. D. with the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman
Titus. 5 Later came the dispersion throughout the Roman
world of the remnant of miserable survivors. All hope
of a national political existence was now at an end. The
story of how, in the centuries which followed, this wonder-
ful people managed through their system of religious edu-
cation to preserve their nationality belongs to medieval and
modern history, and consequently has no place in the present


The six and a half centuries of contact with foreign
powers outlined above were marked by many important
Hierocracy and changes. During this time the priesthood
Democracy. arose to a position of political power second
only to that of the foreign rulers. Carefully organized,

5 The destruction of Jerusalem is one of the most thrilling as well
as one of the most horrifying events in ancient history. An excellent
description will be found in Carl H. Cornill, History of the People
of Israel, pp. 272-301.


protected and assured a generous competence by laws re-
garded as 'coming from Yahweh, the priests grew in in-
fluence and numbers. Following vain post-Exilic efforts to
perpetuate the kingship, the high priest became the head
of the Jewish state, recognized as such, not only by the
Jews themselves, but by their foreign masters. With the
Jewish state a hierocracy, patriotism and piety were one.
To be law-abiding was to be religious, and to be religious
one must be law-abiding. The importance of this to the
history of Jewish education cannot be overestimated.

In contrast with the tendency fostered by the priesthood
toward the creation of a caste-bound society, there were
certain marked tendencies toward democracy, in part the
outgrowth of the ideals and teachings of the prophet* and
in part the outgrowth of Greek influence. These :1 hide
a growing autonomy for individual cities, and the reorgani-
zation of the senate or Sanhedrin. 6

Prior to the Exile, the Hebrews as an independent
people, often as conquerors, had borrowed freely such ele-
Heiienism Re- men ^ s as they chose from foreign nations.
and The Hellenized peoples with whom they came

Moral Decline. Jn contact frQm the t j me Q f the xile onwar( |

were for the most part their conquerors. The effects of
Greek influence were twofold: the intellectual and esthetic.,
aspects of life were extended and enriched, but this intel-
lectual enrichment was accompanied by religious and moral
decadence. "The rich Judeans soon copied the Greek cus-
toms, and callous to the promptings of shame and honor,
they introduced singers, dancers and dissolute women at
these festivals." 7 Greek religious cults, including the orgi-
astic rites of Dionysus were adopted by t many faithless
Jews. Skepticism, repudiation of Judaism and licentiousness
followed. 8 Amid these conditions there arose among the

6 H. P. Smith, Old Testament History, pp. 417-418.

7 H. Graetz, History of the Jews, I, 428d.

8 Ibid., 426-428.


Jews distinct parties: one, eager for political preferment
who sought to curry favor with their foreign masters by
adopting Greek culture, institutions and religion ; 9 a second,
endeavoring to exlude foreign innovations and to preserve
unsullied the customs and institutions of the fathers ; a
third, representing a somewhat middle ground. It was the
second of these three groups which fostered that attitude
toward life commonly known as Judaism, which emphasized,
often unduly, all rites and customs that marked the Jews as
a peculiar and distinct people consecrated to the worship
and service of Yahweh.

From the time of the Babylonian Exile onward, various

foreign conquerors deported as slaves large numbers of

Jews. Other Jews left Palestine voluntarily

The Diaspora.

to escape oppression, to avoid conflict or to
avail themselves of opportunities in foreign lands. Thus
there gradually arose outside of Palestine throughout the
entire civilized world a vast multitude .of Jewish coHmmuni-
ties. 10 This movement, which began with the Exilc-m-tfae
sixth century, reached its climax in the Roman period. 11
Strabo writes, even in Sulla's time, "there is hardly a place
in the world which has not admitted this people and is not
possessed by it." 12 Through the diaspora, 13 then, as well as
through the settlement of aliens in Judea, Jewish customs,
beliefs and institutions were constantly threatened by for-
eign innovations.

9 Joseph, grandson of Simeon the Just (d. 208 B. C), is a notorious
representative of this type. See H. Graetz, History of the Jews, I,

There is evidence that flourishing Jewish communities existed
S? J? gypt at Da ? nn e and Elephantine as early as the sixth century
B. C.

" A recent English work of much interest is D. Askowith, The
1 oleration and Persecution of the Jews in the Roman Empire.

12 Strabo, frag. 6, cited by Josephus, Antiq., XIV, 7. 2.

13 t)iaspora is the term collectively applied to the body of Jews
living in communities scattered throughout the world.






"Lo, children are a heritage of Jehovah:
And the fruit of the womb is his reward."

Psalm cxxvii. 3.

"And thou shalt teach them diligently unto
thy children." Deuteronomy vi. 7.

Summary of Chapter.

The Hebrews regarded children as a gift from God. The sacred
Law placed upon parents the responsibility of acting as the child's
first teachers of religion. The mother as a teacher occupied a place
subordinate to that of the father but nevertheless an exceedingly
important one. Generally speaking, the education of the 'child was
marked by severity, corporal punishment being highly commended
and freely used. Nevertheless Hebrew literature furnishes abundant *
evidence of the deeply tender affection of parents for their children
and children for their parents. Perjods, more or less distinct, were c^
recognized in the life and education of the child, the dividing line
being generally marked by some religious rite. Education within the
family consisted chiefly of training and instruction in rejigkm, morals,
manners and industrial occupations. The aim of all religious instruc-
tion was to develop in the child a c&nsciousness of his personal
responsibility to Yahweh.


The intensity of the Hebrew desire for children is
revealed in such Old Testament narratives as those of
Desire for Chii- the childless Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Han-
dren. nan . The racial attitude is beautifully ex-

pressed in the well-known lines:

1 A number of topics, such as Education in the Family, Festivals
and the Education of Girls, treated in this and succeeding chapters,


"Lo, children are a heritage of Jehovah :
And the fruit of the womb is his reward.
As arrows in the hand of a mighty man,
So are the children of youth, ^

Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of themr 2

Throughout thpj^ntirfi bisrnry nf rVig H^hrpwg the fam-

ily was regarded as the fundamental educational institution.
Parental Parents were held responsible not only for

Responsibility, { ne instruction of their children but for their
conduct. In time the laws fixed thirteen as the age at which
the boy became personally responsible for the Law, 3 up to
this age his father was held responsible not only for the
boy's education but for his conduct. Even the rise of a
system of elementary schools devoted to the task of daily
religious instruction did not free the home of this its most
important responsibility. It could not, for to parents direct
from Yahweh came the command:

"And thou shalt teach them (the laws of Yahweh) diligently

unto thy children,

And shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thy house,
And when thou walkest by the way,
And when thou risest up.

"And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thy hand,
And they shall be for frontlets between thine eyes,
And thou shalt write them upon the door-posts of thy house,
And upon thy gates." (Deuteronomy vi. 7-9.)

The zizit tefillin 4 and mezuzah 5 show with what degree
of exactness the Hebrews sought to carry out these com-

belong quite as much to the Native Period. Discussion of these
topics has been reserved until the post-Exilic Period, owing to the
vagueness and uncertainty of the data available with respect to them
in the earlier period. Consequently much of the data given in this
chapter refers also to the Native Period.

2 Psalm cxxvii. 3-5.

8 Babylonian Talmud, "Tract Aboth," V, near end. (In Rodkin-
son's translation, p. 133.)

* See below, Distinguishing Rites, paragraphs on Zizit and Tefillin.

6 See below, Religion, paragraph on Mezuzah.


The ancient Hebrew family, writes Cornill, "was an

absolute monarchy, with the father as absolute monarch

at the head." 6 The evidences of this authority

Parental Author-
ity a rflfcne are many. The wife and children were upon
Right. the same k as i s as s i aves A father could sell

his daughters into marriage or slavery, though not to for-
eigners. 7 Infanticide was not permitted, as far as our rec-
ords show, but it is probable that in early times upon certain
occasions fathers offered up their sons and daughters as
living sacrifices. 8 In historic times the modern Rousseauian
theory that parents must win their authority over their chil-
dren by convincing their offspring of the superiority of
parental wisdom and goodness found no place in Hebrew
thought. On the contrary, parents ruled by divine right:

"For the Lord hath given the father honor over the children
And hath confirmed the authority of the mother over the sons." 9

The Deuteronomic law provided that if punishment
failed to beget obedience in a wayward intemperate son,
the father and mother should bring him before the elders
of the city and say, "This our son is stubborn and rebellious,
he will not obey our voice ; he is a riotous liver and a drunk-
ard." 10 No provision was made in this law for any investi-
gation nor for any defense by the accused child. The parents
acted both as accusers and prosecutors, the elders were the
judges. 11 If the parents' accusation was accepted by the
elders of the city, thereupon "All the men of the city shall
stone him (the guilty son) with stones that he die." 12

6 Carl H. Cornill, The Culture of Ancient Israel, p. 87.

7 Exodus xxi. 7-11.

8 This inference seems justified from the story of Abraham and
Isaac, from that of Jephthah's daughter and from the evidence of the
continuance of Moloch worship down to the reforms of Josiah, 621
B. C.

9 Ecclesiasticus iii. 2. 10 Deuteronomy xxi. 20.

11 Carl H. Cornill, The Culture of Ancient Israel, p. 79.

12 Deuteronomy xxi. 21.


It should be noted, however, that the Deuteronomic law,
severe as it is and significant as it is for the light it throws
upon the degree of authority granted parents, is even more
significant as a sign of the attempt to put certairt^checks
upon this authority. In earlier times there had been no check
upon the parents' authority. The Deuteronomic law made it
impossible for the parents to do with their child as they
pleased. Their act must be reviewed by elders of the city
as a court : thus a higher authority, not the parents, imposed
the death penalty.

Many passages similar to Deuteronomy vi. 7-9 might
be quoted in which the father is enjoined to instruct his
c Parents as son or his children in the divine laws, 13 in
Teachers. particular rites such as Passover, 14 or in the

significance of sacred monuments or landmarks. 15 Both
parents were held responsible for the religious education
of the children, but the chief responsibility fell upon the
5- father as head of the household. The mother is frequently 1 '
mentioned in the Scriptures as a teacher, but generally in
conjunction with and subordinate to the father. 16 There
is only one passage in which the mother is represented as
acting independently in this capacity: 17 the first division
of Proverbs is introduced with the title: "The Words of
Lemuel, King of Massa, 18 which his mother taught him."

Proverbs and the apocryphal book Ecclesiasticus, both
designed as manuals for religious and moral instruction,
represent child nature as irresponsible, way- .

Conception of , . ,. , . J /

Child Nature ward, foolish and rebellious. Fathers are
Corporal Punish- warn ed against playing with their children

ment. t i <

and are advised to preserve an austere coun-
tenance toward both sons and daughters:

13 Deuteronomy iv.'9-10. 1* Exodus xii. 26-27.

15 Joshua iv. 21-22. ie Proverbs i. 8.

17 Carl H. Cornill, The Culture of Ancient Israel, p. 92.

18 Massa located beyond the limits of the Holy Land, near to Du-
mah, one of the original seats of the Ishmaelites. See Genesis xxv
14 and 1 Chronicles i. 30.


"Cocker thy child and he shall make thee afraid,
Play with him and he will bring thee to heaviness." 19

* "Laugh not with him, lest thou have sorrow with him
And lest thou gnash thy teeth in the end." 20

"Hast thou daughters? Have a care to their body
And show not thyself cheerful toward them." 21

A child's will must be broken : "A horse not broken be-
cometh headstrong; a child left to himself becometh wil-
ful." 22 "Bow down his neck while he is young, and beat
him on the sides while he is a child, lest he wax stubborn and
be disobedient unto thee." 23

Commendations of corporal punishment abound:

"He that spareth his rod hateth his son.
But he that loveth him chasteneth him diligently." 24

"Chasten thy son, seeing there is hope. . . ," 25

"Withhold not correction from the child,
For if thou beat him with the rod he shall not die." 26

That all Hebrew fathers were not of the austere type
pictured in these passages is evident from the necessity felt
by the authors for repeated admonitions to parents to be
severe, and from passages in other books. Jacob's love for
Joseph and the paternal love depicted by Jesus in the parable
of the Lost Son undoubtedly were typical of many fathers.
Hebrew poets wishing to picture the pity of Yahweh for
Israel do so by a reference to earthly fathers : "Like as a
father pitieth his children, so Jehovah pitieth them that fear

19 Ecclesiasticus xxx. 9. 20 Ibid., xxx. 10.

21 Ibid., vii. 24. 22 Ibid., xxx. 8.

23 Ibid., xxx. 12. 24 Proverbs xiii. 24.

25 Ibid., xix. 18. 2 Ibid., xxiii. 13.



The early age at which the boy assumed adult responsi-
bility made childhood distinctly a period for learning and
Childhood the training. This was recognized not only in
Time for Learn- practice but in pedagogical literature: "Hast
mgp thou children? Instruct them and bow their

neck from their youth." 27 "Train up a child in the way he
should go, and even when he is old he will not depart
from it." 28

Distinguishing Rites.

The Talmud distinguished five periods 29 in child life and
education, 30 but though frequently quoted this division does
not apply to the pre-Talmudic period. Edersheim discovers
in the Scriptures eight "ages of man," seven of which are
distinct periods irj childhood. 31 The Priestly Code provided
rites to mark the opening and close of periods in child life.
Probably many of these rites were in existence long before
they were embodied in the Law. Some arose perhaps in
nomadism, but their antiquity cannot be determined. It
must suffice to describe them.

Upon birth the new-born infant was bathed in water,
rubbed in salt and wrapped in swaddling clothes. 32 If the
Rites of infancy child was the first-born son he belonged to
and circumcision Yahweh and must be redeemed by an offering
of five, shekels. 33 On the eighth day after birth every boy

27 Ecclesiasticus vii. 23. 28 Proverbs xxir. 6.

29 Strictly speaking only four, as the fifth is that of adultness.

30 "Tract Aboth," V, near end. (In Rodkinson's transl, p. 133.)

31 Alfred Edersheim, In the Days of Christ, pp. 104-105, makes

the following divisions: (1) new-born infant, m. jeled, f. jaldah; (2)
suckling, joneh', (3) an eating suckling, olel; (4) a weaned infant,
gamut; (5) "one who clings," taph; (6) "one who has become firm

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