Fletcher Harper Swift.

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

. (page 7 of 10)
Online LibraryFletcher Harper SwiftEducation in ancient Israel : from earliest times to 70 A.D. → online text (page 7 of 10)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

story entirely.


13 A. R. S. Kennedy, "Education," Hastings' Bible Dictionary, I,


The following paragraphs, written by Jesus ben Sira

(who flourished in the first third of the second century

B.C.) 14 present the most complete description

e * of the ideal scribe that has descended to us

from that period. The divorce made by Sira between the

life of study and that of industrial occupations, and his

contempt for manual labor must not, however, be regarded

as necessarily representing a universal attitude.


(Ecclesiasticus xxxviii. 24 xxxix. 11.)
fif "The wisdom of a learned man cometh by opportunity
I of leisure : and he that hath little business shall become wise.

"How can he get wisdom that holdeth the plow, and
that glorieth in the goad, that driveth oxen, and is occupied
in their labors, and whose talk is of bullocks? He giveth
his mind to make furrows ; and is diligent to give the kine

"So every carpenter and workmaster, that laboreth night
and day ; and they that cut and grave seals, and are diligent
to make great variety, and give themselves to counterfeit
imagery, and watch to finish a work:

"The smith also sitting by the anvil, and considering the
iron work, the vapor of the fire wasteth his flesh, and he
fighteth with the heat of the furnace ; and the noise of ham-
mer and anvil is ever in his ears, and his eyes look still
upon the pattern of the thing that he maketh; he setteth
his mind to finish his work, and watcheth to polish it per-

"So doth the potter sitting at his work, and turning
the wheel about with his feet, who is always carefully set
at his work, and maketh all his work by number;

"He fashioneth the clay with his arm, and boweth down
his strength before his feet; he applieth himself to lead it
over ; and he is diligent to make clean his furnace :

14 I. Levi, "The Wisdom of Jesus Sirach," Jewish Encyc., XI, 389a.


"All these trust in their hands, and every one is wise in
his work.

"Without these cannot a city be inhabited: and they
shall not dwell where they will, nor go up and down. They
shall not be sought for in public council, nor sit high in the
congregation; they shall not sit on the judges' seat, nor
understand the sentence of judgment; they cannot declare
justice and judgment; and they shall not be found where
parables are spoken. But they will maintain the state of
the world, and (all) their desire is in the work of their

"But he that giveth his mind to the law of the Most \<
High and is occupied in the meditation thereof, will seek j
out the wisdom of the ancient, and be occupied in proph- I
ecies. He will keep the sayings of renowned men; and/ ,
where subtil parables are, he will be there also.

"He will seek out the secrets of grave sentences and be
conversant in dark parables.

"He shall serve among great men, and appear before
princes ; he will travel through strange countries ; for he
hath triced the good and the evil among men.

"He will give his heart to resort early to the Lord that
made him, and will pray before the Most High, and will
open his mouth in prayer, and make supplication for his

"He shall show forth that which he hath learned, and\
shall glory in the law of the covenant of the Lord.

"If he die he shall leave a greater name than a thousand :
and if he live he shall increase it." 15

^/ee Franz Delitzsch, Jewish Artisan Life in the Time of Jesus
PP- 76 ' 7 / for opinions opposite to those of Sira regarding the possi-
bility of combining study with handicraft. See also below, Elemen-
tary Schools, paragraph on Teachers: etc., and Schools of the Sofe-
rtm, paragraph on Support.


tf The Soferim regarded their work as a holy one: to
(them had been entrusted the sacred task of transmitting
1 Educational the laws given by Yahweh himself. Through
Services. their literary and educational activities they

/(eventually gained almost complete control over religious
thought and education. They interpreted the Law for the
masses. They furnished the texts upon which instruction
was based. They established elementary schools and col- >
leges. They taught public and select groups of pupils. It
was their aim "to raise up many disciples," as is said in the
Talmud ("Tract Aboth," I, 2). On occasions of public
worship they translated the Scriptures written in a tongue
- almost unknown to the masses in the post-Exilic period
into the language of the people. In their teaching and in
their lives they represented the new educational and re-
ligious ideal of the times, Judaism. Within their schools
arose that oral literature which developed into the Talmud.
Despite the sincere efforts of the Soferim to adjust the
Law to changing conditions they soon became burdened
Defects and with such a mass of traditions and precedents
Weaknesses. that readjustment and progress became ex-
tremely difficult if not impossible. Their standpoint as
legalists led to such emphasis upon technical adherence to
details that the great principles were frequently lost sight
of. Political, social and religious life came to be dominated
by a burdensome system of traditions, laws and minute
regulations, the external form of which instead of the
spirit and underlying principles came to be the focus of
interest and attention. 16


Qnginally the leader of^an^union ofjwprkmen, even
the leader of the hangmen, was called rabbi (literally, "my.
master"). Rabbi was applied to the head of the weavers

16 For a contrary view see S. Schechter, "The Law and Recent
Criticism" in Schechter's Studies in Judaism, Vol. I, pp. 233-251.


(Talmud, "Tract Abodah Zarah" 17b), and to the head of
the gladiators (Talmud, "Tract Baba Mezia," 84a). It was
commonly applied to teachers, but did not entitle its posses-
sor to preach or teach. It apparently was not used dis-
tinctively as a teacher's title till after the time of Christ. 17

The Perushim or Pharisees.

During the latter part of the second century B. C. there
came into prominence among the Jews two important sects
Origin, charac- or parties, the Perushim or Pharisees, and
teristics. the Zedukim or Sadducees. 18 The Perushim_

or separatists were simply later exponents of a tendency
older than the time of Ezra. This tendency had its be-
ginnings in the earliest impulses of a certain portion of the
Jews to regard the devout observance of the laws of Yah-
weh as the supreme aim of individual and national life.
They believed the Jews could realize this aim only by holding
themselves aloof from all foreign innovations and by em-
phasizing those elements and customs of Jewish life that
marked off the Jews as a distinct and peculiar people. They
"insisted upon all political undertakings, all public transac-i]
tions, every national act being tried by the standard of reli-"
gion." 19 In both of these positions they were opposed by the
Sadducees. They differed further from the Zedukim or Sad- Uu^
ducees in accepting and throwing the weight of their influ- ^*
ence in favor of the oral law of the scribes and many beliefs
not set forth in the Pentateuch, such as the doctrine of the
resurrection and the belief in the existence of angels and
future rewards and punishments.

Many of the most prominent of the scribes were Peru-
shim, but the Perushim were in no sense a teaching order.
Rather they constituted a religious sect or party which in-

17 A. R. S. Kennedy, "Education," Hastings? Bible Dictionary, I,

18 H. P. Smith, Old Testament History, p. 479.

19 H. Graetz, History of the Jews, II, 17.


eluded men of every rank and occupation. Their educa-
tional importance grew out of the support they gave to the
cause of Judaism and to the teachings and educational ef-
forts of the Soferim.


Rise of Universal Education.

Universal compulsory education for the sake of pre-
serving the natiori is a state policy familiar to the modern
world. The gradual development of this policy among the
Jews of Palestine is the most interesting and most signifi-
cant feature of the history of education from the time of
the restoration of the Jewish community in the sixth cen-
tury B.C. to the end of the Jewish state 70 A. D. The
realization of this policy was made possible by two distinct
but nevertheless inseparable movements : first, the evolution
of a professional teaching class ; second, the rise of edu-
cational institutions. The Native or pre-Exilic Period had
been a period without schools, the period of foreign influence
was marked by the rise of three types of educative institu-
tions: (1) the synagogue; (2) boys' elementary schools;
(3) the scribes' (or higher) schools.

The most important steps in the rise of the policy of
universal education may be stated as follows : ( 1 ) the public
adoption of the sacred canon and solemn covenant to keep
the Law of Yahweh; (2) the provision of universal oppor-
tunities for instruction through the rise and gradual spread
of the synagogue; (3) the rise of elementary schools (at-
tendance voluntary) ; (4) 70 B. C, ordinance (of Simon
ben Shetach) making compulsory the education of orphan
boys over sixteen years of age; (5) boys' compulsory ele-
mentary education b^ edict of Joshua ben Gamala, high
priest, 64 A. D.


The Synagogue.

Jewish tradition traces the synagogue back to the time
of Moses. Nevertheless it is not expressly mentioned until
Origin and the last century of the second temple, but then
Spread. as an institution long existing, universal, and

the center of Jewish life. 20 It may have arisen during the
Exile. Sacrifice could be offered only in Jerusalem, but
prayer and the study of the Law could be carried on regard-
less of place. The Sabbath, already observed as a day of
rest in pre-Exilic times, 21 offered the exiles leisure and op-
portunity for study. The custom of assembling on the
Sabbath for worship and study may have arisen in Babylon,
whence it may have been carried back to Jerusalem and
there institutionalized in the synagogue. After the restora-
tion of Jerusalem, the synagogue spread throughout Judea
and the entire Jewish world. 22

The term synagogue, applied originally to the assembly,,
came in time to be applied to the building in which the
General Charac- assembly met. The use of the term "church"
ter and Purpose, illustrates a similar transference of a title from
a group of people to the building occupied by the group.
Although used as public halls, court rooms and places for
scourging malefactors, the synagogues never ceased to be
chiefly houses of instruction and worship. In communities
too small or too poor to erect a separate building, a room
in some building might be devoted to the purpose. The in-
terior of buildings erected as synagogues was generally
round or rectangular. 23 Beyond the middle rose the bema

20 W. Bacher, "Synagogue," Hastings' Bible Dictionary, IV, 636d.

21 Exodus xxiii. 12. Nothing is said in this earliest legislation
about special religious observance. See T. G. Scares, The Social /-
stitutions and Ideals of the Bible, pp. 168ff. C. H. W. Johns, "The
Babylonian and Assyrian Sabbath," Enc. Brit., llth ed. XXIII, 961d-

22 W. Bacher, "Synagogue," Hastings' Bible Dictionary, IV, 637b.

23 Alfred Edersheim, In the Days of Christ, p. 254.


or platform. 24 On the center of this stood the lectern or
pulpit. Farther back stood the "ark," the chest containing
the scrolls of Scripture. 26 The manner in which worship
and instruction were combined in synagogical religious exer-
cises is revealed by the order of service.

Synagogue services were held twice on the Sabbath ; on
all (east- and fast^days; and on the two weekly market-
days, Monday and Thursday. 26 Although the

Order of Service. J .' . J / . * ,

service varied somewhat with the day and the
hour, 27 the general order was the same: that of the Sabbath
morning may be taken as a type. An analysis of the Sab-
bath morning service shows that it consisted of two main
divisions : one, liturgical ; the other, instructional. The litur-
gical portion consisted of the recitation by all adult males 27
of the Shema 27 preceded and followed by a number of
"benedictions," prayers or eulogies 27 recited by one indi-
vidual especially deputed for the occasion, the congregation
simply responding "Amen." 28 The Shema is commonly
characterized as the national creed or confession. 27 It is
composed of three scriptural passages: 27 Deuteronomy vi.
4-9 ; Deuteronomy xi. 13-21 ; Numbers xv. 37-41. It begins :
"Hear O Israel, Yahweh is our God, Yahweh alone," a pas-
sage which offers many difficulties in translation as may be
seen from the variant translations in the marginal note of
the American Revised Version. It is named Shema from its
initial Hebrew word shema, meaning "hear." The liturgical
portion of the service offered definite systematic training on
three or more days per week in worship and acts of devo-
tion. The instructional portion consisted in the reading
from the Law and then from the Prophets in the original
Hebrew passages assigned to the day, which were forthwith
translated into the vernacular by the meturgeman or trans-
lator who stood beside the reader. 29

2* Ibid., 261. 2/Wd.,262.

. /&., 277d-278a. " Ibid., 268*.

2* Ibid., 275c. 29 Ibid.. 277-279.


It is unnecessary to dwell upon the educational signifi-
cance of a custom which resulted in insuring the reading to
the Aramaic or Greek speaking masses of their native litera-
ture in the original tongue. The Pentateuch was so divided
that its reading extended over three or .three and a half
years. 30 The section for the day was subdivided in such a
manner that at least seven persons might be called upon to
read a portion of not less than three verses each. 30 The
Law was read and translated verse by verse. The reading
and translating of the Prophets was presented in passages of
three verses each. 31

The synagogue service provided training in worship and
oral instruction in the Scriptures for every man, woman and
child in the community. Furthermore, it furnished a power-
ful stimulus to every man and boy to become an earnest
student of the native literature, for any male, eyen a minor,
might act either as reader or meturgeman, 32 and the public
esteem attached to fulfilling such an office made it the pious
ambition of all, through the many opportunities it furnished
to those qualified for active participation in its "services.
Moreover, one individual especially deputed for the occa-
sion led in the recitation of the benedictions or prayers 33
which constituted so large a part of the liturgical portion of
the service, the congregation simply responding "Amen." 33
Finally, the reading of the Scriptures was followed by the
derashah, an address or exposition which consisted of the
explanation and application of the day's lesson or some
portion of it. 34 Here again we find a custom providing,^
on the one hand, instruction for the mass of the people, and \
on the other hand, an incentive for earnest study, for any
learned man present might be called upon to act as the
datskan or expositor. The manner in which the synagogue
combined worship and education, instruction for the masses

30 Ibid., 277. si Ibid., 279a.

32 Ibid., 278. Ibid., 275.

3 * Ibid., 279b-c.


and incentives to study for those having leisure and ability,
will appear from the following outline 85 of the Sabbath
morning order of service.


I. Lectern Devotions. 86

1. Two "Benedictions."

2. The Shema recited by all adult males.

3. One "Benediction."

II. Devotions Before the "Ark." 3

4. Various "Benedictions."

The number apparently varied from twelve in earlier times
to eighteen or nineteen in later times. 37

5. The Priestly Benediction (Numbers vi. 23-24) , 88

To be recited by a descendant of Aaron if any such were
present, otherwise by the leader of the devotions. 88


I. The Scripture Lessons.

1. "Benediction" by first reader. 89

2. Reading and translation of selections from the Law.

3. Reading and translation of selections from the Prophets.

4. "Benediction" by the last reader. 39
II. The Exposition or Derashah.

The synagogue was the earliest, the most widespread

and the most enduring of all the educational institutions

I Educational Sig- after the Exile. It was the first institution to

offer systematic instruction to both sexes. It

was the parent of the scribe college and the elementary

school. Out of it arose the movement which resulted in

universal education. Under its influence and that of the

**Ibid., 268ff. Edersheim states in a footnote on page 268 that his
description is based on a study of the Mishna.

38 "The 'Shema' and its accompanying 'benedictions' seem to have

been said at the lectern; whereas for the next series of prayers

the leader of the devotions went forward and stood before the ark."
Ibid., 272*.

87 Ibid., 272-275. 88 Ibid., 275. Ibid., 277.


scribes all Jews became students of the Law ; the Law became -
the most reverenced of all studies, and the center of re-
ligious and intellectual interest.

Elementary Schools.

It was but a step from using the synagogue on Sabbaths
and feast-days as a place of instruction to using it every day
Origin and EX- as a place for teaching boys whose parents
tension. would permit them to come. A school was a

common feature of Babylonian temples, and if the syna-
gogue arose during the Exile it may be that the elementary
school arose at this time also as an adjunct to the synagogue*
On the other hand, it may not have arisen till after the
Exile and then not in any sense as a borrowed institution
but merely as a natural result of the increasing conviction
that the salvation of the Jews depended upon every Jew -
knowing and keeping the Law. 40

When such schools first became universal is still an open
question. The universality of teachers in the first part of
the first century A. D. and, by inference, of schools is shown u
by passages in the New Testament such as Luke v. 17: -
"There were Pharisees and doctors of the law, sitting by,
who were come out of every village of Galilee and Judea
and Jerusalem." In the year 64 A. D. the ordinance of
Gamala 41 required that one or more, elementary schools be /
established in every community. The elementary school was
always located in the synagogue proper, or in some room
attached to the synagogue or in the master's house. 42 If, as
is generally agreed, teachers and synagogues were practically
universal in Palestine in the first century B. C, it does not

40 In time the name most commonly given to such a school was
Betha-Sefer, or "House of the Book"; this, however, is a post-

iiblical term and is consequently avoided in the present account.

41 The claims of Shetach and the ordinance of Gamala will be dis-
cussed in the immediately following paragraphs.

42 A - R- S. Kennedy, "Education," Hastings' Bible Dictionary, I,


seem unreasonable to conclude that, whether elementary edu-
cation was compulsory or not at this time, elementary schools
were exceedingly widely spread, perhaps practically uni-
versal. Moreover, if the claims of Shetach be admitted, and
if his law refers, as some maintain, to already existing
schools, it is possible that elementary schools were all but
universal even earlier than the first century B. C., how much
earlier cannot be conjectured. 43

The widespread existence of elementary schools proved
in itself insufficient to guarantee an education to every boy.
Compulsory To insure this, a law was passed requiring
Education. every community to establish one or more

elementary schools and making attendance compulsory for
boys over seven years. It is a matter of dispute whether
this law was passed early in the first century B. C. or in the
latter part of the first century A. D. Some writers give the
credit to a decree issued in 75 B. C. by Simon ben Shetach,
brother-in-law of the Jewish king Alexander Janneus (r.
104-78 B.C.) and president of the Sanhedrin. Kennedy,
in his brief but scholarly account, asserts there is no good
reason for rejecting the tradition regarding Shetach's efforts
on behalf of popular education, but fails to state what he
considers this tradition to include. 44 Graetz, recounting the
reign of Queen Alexandra, writes:

"Simon ben Shetach, the brother of the queen, the oracle
of the Pharisaic party, stood high in her favor. So great a
Rival claims P art did he play in the history of that time
of Shetach and that it was called by many 'the days of Simon
ben Shetach and of Queen Sajome.' 45 . . . ..But
Simon was not an ambitious man and he determined to waive
his own rights (to the presidency of the Great Council) . . .in
favor of Judah ben Tabbai, who was then residing in Alex-

p- . conclusions given below in the paragraph on the

Kival Claims of Shetach and Gamala, should be consulted at this point.
44A ' R ' ^' Kenned y "Education," Hastings' Bible Dictionary, I,

45 H. Graetz, History of the Jews, II, 48d.


andria, of whose profound learning and excellent character he
had formed a high estimate . . .These two celebrated men have
therefore been called 'Restorers of the Law/ who 'brought
back to the Crown (the Law) its ancient splendor'. . . , 46

"One of the reforms of this time expressly attributed to
Simon ben Shetach was the promotion of better instruction.
In all large towns, high schools for the use of young men
from the age of sixteen sprang up at his instance. But all
study, we may presume, was entirely confined to the Holy
Scriptures, and particularly to the Pentateuch and the study
of the Law. Many details or smaller points in the Law
which had been partly forgotten and partly neglected during
the long rule of the Sadducees, that is to say, from Hyr-
canus's oppression of the Pharisees until the commencement
of Salome's reign, were once more introduced into daily
life." 47

The passage in the Jerusalem Talmud which records the
services rendered to education by Simon ben Shetach reads
as follows :

"Simon ben Shetach ordained three things : that a man
may do business with the kethnbah (a sum of money stipu-
lated in the marriage contract) ; that people should send
their children to school; that glassware be subject to con-
tamination." 48

It is evident that the brevity and vagueness of the ref-
erence to education in this passage are such as to furnish
basis for much discussion but at the same time such as to
make exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, any conclusions
as to what Shetach actually did.

Giidemann, 49 Grossmann and Kandel, 50 Laurie, 31 Leip-

46 Ibid., p. 49a and d. 4 ? Ibid., pp. 50d-51a.

48 Jerusalem Talmud, "Kethuboth," VIII, end.

49 M. Giidemann, "Education," Jewish Encyc., V, 43c.

50 Grossmann and Kandel, "Jewish Education," Monroe's Cyclo-
pedia of Education, III, 542d.

51 S. S. Laurie, Pre-Christian Education, p. 93.


ziger, 52 and Spiers, 83 while crediting Shetach with educa-
,tional reforms, regard the law issued in 64 A. D. by the
(high priest Joshua ben Gamala as the ordinance by which
\, elementary education was first made universal and compul-
sory for boys over six or seven. The defenders of the
claims of Gamala assert that the law of Shetach applied
either only to orphan boys over sixteen years of age, or
only to Jerusalem and other large cities. If the first of
these positions be accepted, it would follow that the first
step toward compulsory education was the establishment in
75 B. C. of higher schools for orphan boys over sixteen
years of age. Gudemann sums up the situation as follows :

"The scribes, at first, restricted their educational activ-
ities to adults, giving free lectures in synagogues and schools
while the education of children remained in the hands of the
parents as in olden time's. But as boys often lacked this
advantage, the state employed teachers in Jerusalem (B.

1 2 3 4 5 7 9 10

Online LibraryFletcher Harper SwiftEducation in ancient Israel : from earliest times to 70 A.D. → online text (page 7 of 10)