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

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Children are specifically enjoined to respect the old age
of their parents:

"My son, help thy father in his age
And grieve him not as long as he liveth." 83

"Hearken unto thy father in his age
And despise not thy mother when she is old." 84

The remaining moral virtues taught to the Jewish chil-
dren were those which are known and honored to-day
throughout Christendom. They were presented in part
through proverbs, moral precepts, psalms and prayers, in
part through biographies and historical narratives, in part
through the symbolic rites, customs and festivals already
described. It must suffice here to name briefly the more im-
portant of these virtues, bearing in mind that they "were
taught line upon line, precept upon precept," in season and
out of season.

1. Obedience 8. Chastity 14. Patience

2. Reverence 9. Truthfulness 15. Meekness

3. Brotherly love 10. Industry 16. Loyalty

4. Charity 11. Thrift 17. Diligence

5. Compassion 12. Prudence 18. Perseverance

6. Hospitality 13. Patriotism 19. Mercy

7. Temperance

80 Exodus xx. 12. 81 Ecclesiasticus iii. 7.

82 Ibid., vii. 27-28. 83 Ibid., iii. 12. i

84 Proverbs xxiii. 22; Ecclesiasticus iii. 1-16 is of marked interest.



Manners were regarded as matters of religion and moral-
ity. This is well brought out in the command to the young
to rise in the presence of the aged: "Thou
shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honor
the face of the old man, and thou shalt fear thy God : I am
Yahweh." 85 Here we have a command to perform an
ordinary act of politeness made correlative with fearing
God and followed by the most authoritative and binding ol
all divine utterances, "/ am Yahweh."

No description of any system of training in manners
employed by the ancient Hebrews is available. However,
the patriarchal organization of the home, the implicit obe-
dience exacted of children, the respect required of them
for all their elders, the emphasis placed by the Hebrews
upon form in every aspect of life are sufficient reasons for
believing that training in manners constituted a most im-
portant part of the education of children. The soundness
of this inference is amply supported by many lessons in
politeness contained in the Holy Scriptures. Some of these
lessons are given in the form of narratives which relate in
detail the conduct of some great national character. Gen-
esis xviii gives, under the guise of the story of Abraham
entertaining angels unawares, a beautiful lesson in hospital-
ity and detailed instructions as to the proper manner of treat-
ing guests. Genesis xix gives a similar lesson in connection
with the story of Lot. 86 Elsewhere lessons in courtesy are
given in the form of precepts and admonitions relating to
the treatment of strangers, the aged, topics of conversation
and conduct in general or upon particular occasions. These
lessons vary in length from terse proverbs to comparatively
long passages such as that on table manners in Ecclesiasticus. 87

85 Leviticus xix. 32.

86 For a summary of Abraham's acts 0f courtesy see below, para-
graph on Hospitality.

S7 See below, special paragraph.


Breeding expresses itself outwardly and concretely in
acts, but the essence of good breeding is the spirit which
simplicity prompts and pervades the acts. Simplicity,

Meekness and meekness, humility, gentleness and kindness,
the earmarks of good breeding, and the foun-
dations of all genuine courtesy are repeatedly presented as
qualities which bring divine favor, care and reward. "Yah-
weh preserveth the simple." 88 "The meek shall inherit the
land;" 89 "He will adorn the meek with salvation;" 90 "I
(Yahweh) dwell in the high and holy place, with him also
that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit
of the humble and to revive the heart of the contrite;" 91
"Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men
who were upon the face of the earth." 92

Boasting, ostentation and conceit, the most patent evi-
dences of vulgarity, are condemned in narrative and in pre-
cept: "Let another man praise thee, and not thine own
mouth: a stranger and not thine own lips;" 93 "Let not the
wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty glory
in his might, let not the rich glory in his riches ;" 94 "Be not
wise in thine own eyes; fear Yahweh, and depart from
evil ;" 95 "The way of the foolish is right in his own eyes, but
he that is wise hearkeneth unto counsel." 96

Whispering and whisperers are to be shunned: "A whis-\
perer separateth chief friends." 97 Loquacity is condemned
Conversation, and^cscrve in uttgrance commended : "In the
Whispering. multitude of words there wanteth not trans-
gression, but he that ref raineth his lips doth wisely ;" 98 "A
fool's vexation is presently known : but a prudent man con-
cealeth shame ;" 99 "A fool uttereth all his anger but a wise

88 Psalm cxvi. 6. 89 p sa lm xxxvii. 11.

90 Psalm cxlix. 4. i Isaiah Ivii. 15.

82 Numbers xii. 3. ** Proverbs xxvii. 2.

84 Jeremiah ix. 23. . s Proverbs iii. 7.

86 Proverbs xii. 15. * Proverbs xvi. 28.

88 Proverbs x. 19. Proverbs xii. 16.


man keepeth it back and stilleth it ;" 100 "Death and life are
in the power of the tongue; and they that love it shall eat
the fruit thereof." 101

Stinging and bitter retorts are to be avoided: "A soft
answer turneth away wrath : but a grievous word stirreth up
anger;" 102 "The north wind bringeth forth rain: so doth
Topics of a backbiting tongue an angry countenance." 103

Cqnversation. Nothing more readily betrays breeding than
the character of conversation. The book of Proverbs con-
tains numerous exhortations to proper conversation and
denunciations of rash or perverse speech.

"A wholesome tongue is a tree of life :
But perverseness therein is a breaking of the spirit." 10 *

"A word fitly spoken
Is like apples of gold in network of silver." 105

"He that giveth answer before he heareth,
It is folly and shame unto him." 106

Wisdom, righteousness and the laws of Yahweh are to
be made the constant topics of conversation:

"And (thou) shalt talk of them, (the laws and words of
Yahweh), when thou sittest in thy house." 107 "And ye shall
teach them your children, talking of them when thou sittest
in thy house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when
thou liest down, and when thou risest up." 108

"And my tongue shall talk of Thy righteousness,
And of Thy praise all the day long." 109

"The mouth of the righteous talketh of wisdom,
And his tongue speaketh judgment." 110

The inseparability of religion, morals and manners has
been dwelt upon sufficiently to make it unnecessary to point

100 Proverbs xxix. 11. 10 i Proverbs xyiii. 21.

> 2 Proverbs xv. 1. 103 Proverbs xxv. 23.

54 Proverbs xv. 4. 105 Proverbs xxv. 11.

106 Proverbs xviii. 13. 10 ? Deuteronomy vi. 7.

108 Deuteronomy xi. 19. 100 p sa lm xxxv. 28.
110 Psalm xxxvii. 30.


out that the fact that the passages just quoted bear primar-
ily upon religious instruction, does not to the slightest degree
exclude them from the field of manners.

If tact is the test of a thoroughbred, curiosity is equally '
the betrayer of the illbred. Curiosity is linked in the Scrip-
tures with irreverence and disobedience. It
was inevitable that the Hebrews should apply
to commonplace experiences and situations the frightful
warnings contained in the story of Lot's wife, 111 and in the
story of the fifty thousand and seventy men of Beth-shemesh
destroyed because they looked into the ark of Yahweh. 112

Among the most important occasions for display of
breeding are the times when one sits down to eat. Gluttony
Table Manners- is branded as a disgrace to one's own self and
Gluttony. a shaming of one's parents: "He that is a

companion of gluttonous men shameth his father." 113 The
principles, precepts and moral qualities presented and ex-
tolled in the Scriptures if applied to conduct at the table
would have made any specific direction unnecessary. Never-
theless Ben Sira, like the authors of chivalric courtesy books,
felt it incumbent upon him to give specific rules of table,
conduct which he did in the following interesting and, to
the modern mind, curious passage:

"Eat, as it becometh a man, those things which are set
before thee ; and devour not lest thou be hated. Leave off

Ecciesiasticus ^ rst ^ or manners ' sa ^e ; and be not unsatiable
on Table Man- lest' thou offend. When thou sittest among
many, reach not thine hand out first of all.
A very little is sufficient for a man well nurtured. Sound
sleep cometh of moderate eating: he riseth and his wits are
with him." 114

However important may be the command, "Thou shalt
not bear false witness against thy neighbor," it represents
merely the beginning of Hebrew custom with respect to the

111 Genesis xix. 26. i" i Samuel vi. 19.

us Proverbs xxviii. 7. n * Ecciesiasticus xxxi. 16-21.


treatment of neighbors. In the Levitical code, as well as in

the teachings of Jesus 115 stranger and neighbor are to be

treated with the same love that one bears

toward his own flesh and blood : "Thou shalt

love thy neighbor as thyself." 116 Neighbors are to be treated

with generosity when they come seeking to borrow: "Say

not unto thy neighbor, 'Go and come again, and to-morrow

I will give,' when thou hast it by thee." 117

Hospitality is a religious obligation and brings divine
rewards. Many details of a host's conduct are clearly and
HOS itaii beautifully set forth in the two stories already

referred to, of how Abraham 118 and Lot 119
entertained angels unawares. Abraham, sitting in his tent,
beholds three men. He runs forth to meet them. He bows
himself to the earth and then entreats them in terms of
unsurpassable courtesy to be his guests. He orders water
fetched that their feet may be washed. His wife Sarah
makes fresh bread and a feast is prepared. When they
depart, as a last act of hospitality, Abraham goes with them
"to bring them on their way." The acts of hospitality per-
formed by Lot as host are almost identical with those per-
formed by Abraham. Abraham is rewarded by a promise
of a son; Lot, by being saved from the destruction that
overtakes the other inhabitants of Sodom.

116 Luke x. 29-37. Leviticus xix. 18.

11T Proverbs iii. 28. us Genesis xviii. 3-18.

118 Genesis xix.




"Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore
get wisdom." Proverbs iv. 7.

"The fear of Jehovah is the beginning of
wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One
is understanding." Proverbs ix. 10.

"The law of Jehovah is perfect. ...The
precepts of Jehovah are right. .. .The judg-
ments of Jehovah are true. . . .More to be de-
sired are they than gold, yea th'an much fine
gold." Psalm xix. 7-10 (Extracts).

"There is no love such as the love of the
Torah. The words of the Torah are as dif-
ficult to acquire as silken garments,, and are
lost as easily as linen ones." Babylonian
Talmud, "Tract Aboth of Rabbi Nathan,"
XXVIII, beginning. (In Rodkinson's trans-
lation, p. 97.)

Summary of Chapter.

As the earlier hope of ever becoming a great political power
waned, a new hope arose, that of preserving the nation through pre-
serving its religion. There was only one way of doing this, by edu-

The Priestly code had given to the priests the supreme political as ''
well as the supreme religious authority. Their devotion to political
and administrative duties and to the elaborate system of worship
organized in connection with the second temple led them to resign
gradually most of their one-time teaching functions to a newly arisen
lay order of teachers, the scribes. The temple and the priests never
ceased to be important factors in the educational situation, but a new
institution, the synagogue, became the people's prayer-house, assem-.
bly-hall and house of instruction.

Although the family always remained, as it had been in the pre-
Exilic Period, the .-fundamental educational' institution, and the parents L-


continued to be the child's first teachers, nevertheless there gradually
arose, in connection with the synagogues, elementary schools which
relieved the home of much of its educational burden. Finally, as the
result of the reforms of two famous educators, Simpn ben Shetach
(c. 65 B.C.) and _Joshua ben Gamala (c. 64 A.D.), elementajryjidu-
cation became both universal and compulsory. In addition to the ele-
mentary schools higher schools were established for the sake of offer-
ing opportunities for advanced study of the Law.

The schools made no provision for girls and women. Their edu-
cation always remained thoroughly domestic and was received almost
entirely at home.


Warned by the oblivion which had overtaken the tribes
of the northern kingdom, the religious leaders of subject
Zeal for Educa- Judah set about to save the people of the little
tion - kingdom from a similar fate. As the one-

time hope of national and political independence and great-
ness waned a new hope arose, that of preserving the nation ^
through preserving its religion, There was only one way
of achieving this end, that was by universal education. Zeal
for education was further fostered by three important be-
liefs: (1) the belief that national calamities were punish-
ments visited upon the people because they had not been
faithful to Yahweh and his laws; 1 (2) that if Yahweh's
laws were kept, national prosperity would return; (3) the
belief that the divinely appointed mission of Judah was to
make known to the other nations of the world Yahweh, the
only true God. Educational zeal resulted in an ever-increas-
ing tendency to organize and institutionalize education. In
this process of organization and institutionalization, each of
the following five movements played an important part : ( 1 )
the development of a complete code of laws (the Priestly
code) governing every phase of life; (2) the state adoption
of the Priestly code, which made it's observance binding
upon every member of the Jewish state and consequently a

1 This is the underlying philosophy of the Book of Judges. See
Judges iv. 1 and 2; vi. 1 and elsewhere.


knowledge of it necessary; (3) a vast growth of sacred
literature, both oral and written, including works specially
written as textbooks, such as Proverbs and Ecclesiasticus ;

(4) the organization of the scribes into a teaching guild;

(5) the rise of schools, elementary and advanced.

The passages quoted at the opening of the present chap-
ter bear witness to the supreme importance attached to the
Torah, the Law of Yahweh, in the centuries

Place of Religion .. ,, . , _. , , T- M T-I

and Morals in following the Babylonian Exile. This position
Post-Exilic Life O f supremacy had been attained gradually.

and Education. T ,. . . .. TT , ,._ ,. .

In the earliest periods of Hebrew life, religion
was but one, albeit a most important one, of many interests
in life and education. Gradually, however, the vision of
Yahweh, his power and his kingdom enlarged. He came
to be regarded as the founder of the state and of all its
institutions, civic and political as well as religious. He was
accepted as the author of all its laws whether criminal,
moral or religious, and of all institutions. The Law, in\
other words religion, and with it morality, became the
supreme interest, the chief study and the all-determining!
force in public and in private life at home and in school.
It is doubtful whether history contains a more tragic illus-
tration of devotion to an ideal than the story of Simon ben
Shetach's son. Certainly no other incident reveals as for-
cibly the supreme place accorded to the Law in the hearts
of the devout Jews. The story is related by Graetz in the
following words :

"On account of his unsparing severity, Simon ben She-
tach brought upon himself such hatred of his opponents
that they determined upon a fearful revenge. They incited
two false witnesses to accuse his son of a crime punishable
with death, in consequence of which he was actually con-
demned to die. On his way to the place of execution the
young man uttered such vehement protestations of inno-
cence that at last the witnesses themselves were affected
and confessed to their tissue of falsehoods. But when the


judges were about to set free the condemned, the prisoner
himself drew their attention to their violation of the Law,
which enjoined that no belief was to be given witnesses
who withdrew their previous testimony. 'If you wish,' said
the condemned youth to his father, 'that the salvation of
Israel should be wrought by your hand, consider me but
the threshold over which you must pass without compunc-
tion.' Both father and son showed themselves worthy of
their sublime task, that of guarding the integrity of the
Law ; for to uphold it one sacrificed his life, and the other
his paternal love. Simon, the Judean Brutus, let the law
pursue its course, although he, as well as the judges, were
convinced of his son's innocence." 2

I In the educational ideal of the Native Period, the phys-
I ical, the esthetic and the industrial aspects of personality
'i The Scribe as as wel1 as tne intellectual, moral and religious
jj the Post-Exilic were recognized. The educational ideal of the
post-Exilic Period was the scribe, 3 the man
learned in and obedient to the Law. Such obedience im-
plied complete consecration to Yahweh and a consequent
separation from all duties and activities not related to Him.
The vast development of the Law during the Exile, the
multitude of legal interpretations and -precedents made
leisure a prerequisite for all who would become learned
and left the student of the Law little time for attention to
anything else. 4 Despite the fact that the great cultural
heritage of Greece and of Hellehized Rome was at their
very doors, the faithful Jews not only remained indifferent
the physical, esthetic and intellectual interests of their
\pagan conquerors but studiously excluded them from their

2 H. Graetz, History of the Jews, II, 54c-55a.

3 A further discussion of the educational ideal is given below,
paragraph on the Ideal Scribe ; see also below, note 15.

4 Cf. with these statements those relating to the scribes' attitude
toward manual work in Schools of the Soferim, paragraph on Sup-
port, and note 15. An interesting suggestion of a broader attitude in
the Rabbinical comment to Genesis ix. 27, in which ("Tractate Me-
gillah," 9b) the esthetic element in Greek culture is praised.



schools and from their ambitions. Narrow as this may .
seem, it is doubtful whether any other course would havejj
saved the Jews from paganism, amalgamation and oblivion. H

Had the native interests of the Hebrews which charac-
terized the pre-Exilic Period been allowed free development
Ph sicai Educa- ^ 1S P 058 ^ 6 tnat physical education among
tion Greek in- the Hebrews might have had an entirely dif-
ferent history. The solemn duty resting upon
every Jew of mastering an ever-increasing body of sacred
literature left little time for anything else. To be sure, the
high priest Jason who had purchased his office 5 from An-
tiochus IV, Epiphanes (r. 175-164 B.C.), 6 built a Greek
gymnasium in Jerusalem under the very tower. 7 Moreover
"many of the priests took their place in the arena," 8 and
"the high priest even sent three hundred drachmas to Tyre
for a sacrifice to Hercules." 9 Nevertheless the faithful
Jews looked upon the Greek physical sports with abhor-
rence, 7 and the establishment of Greek gymnasia, far from
introducing physical training into Jewish education, led to
an identification of physical education with paganism and to
a consequent hostility to it. 10


Throughout the period of foreign influence, educations
remained for the most part a masculine privilege. With the
exception of the synagogue, of the temple and of certain
festivals, the home was the sole institution providing train-
ing and instruction for girls and women. All schools were
boys' schools and all teachers were men.
H. P. Smith, Old Testament History, p. 443.

6 I. J. Peritz, Old Testament History, p. 293.

7 H. P. Smith, Old Testament History, p. 443 and footnote.

8 See 2 Maccabees iv. 9-12; cf. 1 Maccabees i. 13-14.

9 I. J. Peritz, Old Testament History, p. 294.

10 H. Graetz, History of the Jews, I, 444-446, gives much inter-
esting material.


Decline of Priests and Prophets as Teachers.

Reference has already been made to the growth of the
political importance of the priests following the restoration
of Jerusalem after the return from captivity. More and
more their numbers, wealth and power increased. It was
no longer possible for all the members of this vast army to
be actively engaged all the time in rites and ceremonials.
Consequently they were organized into twenty-four courses
or families. The courses rotated, each course serving one
week in turn and beginning its duties by offering the Sab-
bath evening sacrifice. The existence of a vast Priestly
f |Lode setting forth in detail regulations governing every phase
)f conduct did away with the need of the type of instruction
[iven by the priests and prophets in earlier times. This
i function could now be entrusted to lay teachers whose task
mvould be transmitting and interpreting the already existing
Maws. This fact combined with the increase in the number,
complexity and elaborateness of the temple rites and in the
increase of the political and administrative activities of the
priests resulted in the gradual transfer of the major portion
of the teaching function from the priests and prophets to a
newly arisen teaching order, the Soferim or scribes.

It must not be inferred, however, that the priests ceased
to teach. The Soferim, it is true, became the teachers of
the Law, but the priests still continued to be the people's
great teachers in forms of worship. In addition to this, some
of the priests were also famous scribes, and in this capacity
were professed teachers of the Law.


The Soferim, or Scribes.

The art of writing, as already shown, had been known
and employed from early times by priests, prophets, secre-
taries and others. It has also been shown how the Exilic


renaissance increased greatly the body of literature. The
original meaning of the term soferim was "people who know
how to write." 11 It was, therefore, applied
to court chroniclers or royal secretaries. Be-
cause ability to write came to be generally accepted as the
mark of the educated or learned man, the term came to be
employed for a wise man (1 Chron. xxvii. 32 J. 11

Following the restoration, the Jewish community, under
the leadership of the priest-scribe, Ezra, bound itself to the
observance of the written Law. 12 If the Law was to be
kept it must be known and understood; there must be
teachers and interpreters. But the Law was written in
ancient Hebrew, a tongue almost unknown to the masses,-
most of whom spoke Aramaic or Greek. As the result of
these conditions, those able to read the Scriptures in the
original Hebrew and to interpret them to the people came
to form a distinct teaching class. At length soferim came to
be used to designate specifically this great body of teachers
from the time of Ezra to that of Simeon the Just (a con-
temporary of Alexander the Great). It seems that after
Simeon the Just the teachers were more generally styled
"elders," %ekenim, later "the wise ones," hakhamim, while
soferim was sometimes used as an honorific appellation. In
still later times soferim became synonymous with "teachers
of little children." As conditions became, more settled through-
out Judea the scribes made their way to its remotest parts.
In time a powerful scribes' guild was organized to which
all teachers belonged, and which monopolized the teaching
profession. By the time of the Chronicler, three ranks of
teachers appear: (1) the Hazzan or elementary teacher;
(2) the scribe; (3) the sage. 13

11 Max Seligsohn, "Scribes," Jewish Encyclopedia, XI, 123.

12 H. P. Smith, Old Testament History, pp. 393-5, discredits this

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Online LibraryFletcher Harper SwiftEducation in ancient Israel : from earliest times to 70 A.D. → online text (page 6 of 10)