Sketches of Jewish Social Life


Alfred Edersheim, D. D., Ph. D.


Chapter 1    Palestine Eighteen Centuries Ago 

Chapter 2    Jews and Gentiles in “The Land” 

Chapter 3    In Galilee at the time of our Lord 

Chapter 4    Travelling in Palestine–Roads, Inns, Hospitality, Custom-House Officers, Taxation, Publicans 

Chapter 5    In Judaea 

Chapter 6    Jewish Homes 

Chapter 7    The Upbringing of Jewish Children 

Chapter 8    Subjects of Study – Home Education in Israel; Female Education – Elementary Schools, Schoolmasters, and School Arrangements. 

Chapter 9    Mothers, Daughters, and Wives in Israel 

Chapter 10    In Death and After Death 

Chapter 11    Jewish Views on Trade, Tradesmen, and Trades’ Guilds 

Chapter 12    Commerce 

Chapter 13    Among the People, and with the Pharisees 

Chapter 14    The “Fraternity” of Pharisees 

Chapter 15    Relation of the Pharisees to the Sadducees and Essenes, and to the Gospel of Christ 

Chapter 16    Synagogues: Their Origin, Structure and Outward Arrangements 

Chapter 17    The Worship of the Synagogue 

Chapter 18    Brief Outline of Ancient Jewish Theological Literature 

Chapter 1 – Palestine Eighteen Centuries Ago

Eighteen and a half centuries ago, and the land which now lies desolate–its bare, grey hills looking into ill-tilled or neglected valleys, its timber cut down, its olive- and vine-clad terraces crumbled into dust, its villages stricken with poverty and squalor, its thoroughfares insecure and deserted, its native population well-nigh gone, and with them its industry, wealth, and strength–presented a scene of beauty, richness, and busy life almost unsurpassed in the then known world. The Rabbis never weary of its praises, whether their theme be the physical or the moral pre-eminence of Palestine. It happened, so writes one of the oldest Hebrew commentaries, that Rabbi Jonathan was sitting under a fig-tree, surrounded by his students. Of a sudden he noticed how the ripe fruit overhead, bursting for richness, dropped its luscious juice on the ground, while at a little distance the distended udder of a she-goat was no longer able to hold the milk. “Behold,” exclaimed the Rabbi, as the two streams mingled, “the literal fulfillment of the promise: ‘a land flowing with milk and honey.'” “The land of Israel is not lacking in any product whatever,” argued Rabbi Meir, “as it is written (Deu_8:9): ‘Thou shalt not lack anything in it.'” Nor were such statements unwarranted; for Palestine combined every variety of climate, from the snows of Hermon and the cool of Lebanon to the genial warmth of the Lake of Galilee and the tropical heat of the Jordan valley. Accordingly not only the fruit trees, the grain, and garden produce known in our colder latitudes were found in the land, along with those of sunnier climes, but also the rare spices and perfumes of the hottest zones. Similarly, it is said, every kind of fish teemed in its waters, while birds of most gorgeous plumage filled the air with their song. Within such small compass the country must have been unequalled for charm and variety. On the eastern side of Jordan stretched wide plains, upland valleys, park-like forests, and almost boundless corn and pasture lands; on the western side were terraced hills, covered with olives and vines, delicious glens, in which sweet springs murmured, and fairy-like beauty and busy life, as around the Lake of Galilee. In the distance stretched the wide sea, dotted with spreading sails; here was luxurious richness, as in the ancient possessions of Issachar, Manasseh, and Ephraim; and there, beyond these plains and valleys, the highland scenery of Judah, shelving down through the pasture tracts of the Negev, or South country, into the great and terrible wilderness. And over all, so long as God’s blessing lasted, were peace and plenty. Far as the eye could reach, browsed “the cattle on a thousand hills”; the pastures were “clothed with flocks, the valleys also covered over with corn”; and the land, “greatly enriched with the river of God,” seemed to “shout for joy,” and “also to sing.” Such a possession, heaven-given at the first and heaven-guarded throughout, might well kindle the deepest enthusiasm. 

“We find,” writes one of the most learned Rabbinical commentators, supporting each assertion by a reference to Scripture (R. Bechai), “that thirteen things are in the sole ownership of the Holy One, blessed be His Name! and these are they: the silver, the gold, the priesthood, Israel, the first-born, the altar, the first-fruits, the anointing oil, the tabernacle of meeting, the kingship of the house of David, the sacrifices, the land of Israel, and the eldership.” In truth, fair as the land was, its conjunction with higher spiritual blessings gave it its real and highest value. “Only in Palestine does the Shechinah manifest itself,” taught the Rabbis. Outside its sacred boundaries no such revelation was possible. It was there that rapt prophets had seen their visions, and psalmists caught strains of heavenly hymns. Palestine was the land that had Jerusalem for its capital, and on its highest hill that temple of snowy marble and glittering gold for a sanctuary, around which clustered such precious memories, hallowed thoughts, and glorious, wide-reaching hopes. There is no religion so strictly local as that of Israel. Heathenism was indeed the worship of national deities, and Judaism that of Jehovah, the God of heaven and earth. But the national deities of the heathen might be transported, and their rites adapted to foreign manners. On the other hand, while Christianity was from the first universal in its character and design, the religious institutions and the worship of the Pentateuch, and even the prospects opened by the prophets were, so far as they concerned Israel, strictly of Palestine and for Palestine. They are wholly incompatible with the permanent loss of the land. An extra-Palestinian Judaism, without priesthood, altar, temple, sacrifices, tithes, first-fruits, Sabbatical and Jubilee years, must first set aside the Pentateuch, unless, as in Christianity, all these be regarded as blossoms designed to ripen into fruit, as types pointing to, and fulfilled in higher realities. * Outside the land even the people are no longer Israel: in view of the Gentiles they are Jews; in their own view, “the dispersed abroad.” 

* This is not the place to explain what substitution Rabbinism proposed for sacrifices, etc. I am well aware that modern Judaism tries to prove by such passages as 1Sa_15:22; Psa_51:16-17; Isa_1:11-13; Hos_1:1, that, in the view of the prophets, sacrifices, and with them all the ritual institutions of the Pentateuch, were of no permanent importance. To the unprejudiced reader it seems difficult to understand how even party-spirit could draw such sweeping conclusions from such premises, or how t could ever be imagined that the prophets had intended by their teaching, not to explain or apply, but to set aside the law so solemnly given on Sinai. However, the device is not new. A solitary voice ventured even in the second century on the suggestion that the sacrificial worship had been intended only by way of accommodation, to preserve Israel from lapsing into heathen rites! 

All this the Rabbis could not fail to perceive. Accordingly when, immediately after the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus, they set themselves to reconstruct their broken commonwealth, it was on a new basis indeed, but still within Palestine. Palestine was the Mount Sinai of Rabbinism. Here rose the spring of the Halachah, or traditional law, whence it flowed in ever-widening streams; here, for the first centuries, the learning, the influence, and the rule of Judaism centered; and there they would fain have perpetuated it. The first attempts at rivalry by the Babylonian schools of Jewish learning were keenly resented and sharply put down. Only the force of circumstances drove the Rabbis afterwards voluntarily to seek safety and freedom in the ancient seats of their captivity, where, politically unmolested, they could give the final development to their system. It was this desire to preserve the nation and its learning in Palestine which inspired such sentiments as we are about to quote. “The very air of Palestine makes one wise,” said the Rabbis. The Scriptural account of the borderland of Paradise, watered by the river Havilah, of which it is said that “the gold of that land is good,” was applied to their earthly Eden, and paraphrased to mean, “there is no learning like that of Palestine.” It was a saying, that “to live in Palestine was equal to the observance of all the commandments.” “He that hath his permanent abode in Palestine,” so taught the Talmud, “is sure of the life to come.” “Three things,” we read in another authority, “are Israel’s through suffering: Palestine, traditional lore, and the world to come.” Nor did this feeling abate with the desolation of their country. In the third and fourth centuries of our era they still taught, “He that dwelleth in Palestine is without sin.” 

Centuries of wandering and of changes have not torn the passionate love of this land from the heart of the people. Even superstition becomes here pathetic. If the Talmud (Cheth. iii. a.) had already expressed the principle, “Whoever is buried in the land of Israel, is as if he were buried under the altar,” one of the most ancient Hebrew commentaries (Ber. Rabba) goes much farther. From the injunction of Jacob and Joseph, and the desire of the fathers to be buried within the sacred soil, it is argued that those who lay there were to be the first “to walk before the Lord in the land of the living” (Psa_116:9), the first to rise from the dead and to enjoy the days of the Messiah. Not to deprive of their reward the pious, who had not the privilege of residing in Palestine, it was added, that God would make subterranean roads and passages into the Holy Land, and that, when their dust reached it, the Spirit of the Lord would raise them to new life, as it is written (Eze_37:12-14): “O My people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel…and shall put My Spirit in you, and ye shall live; and I shall place you in your own land.” Almost every prayer and hymn breathes the same love of Palestine. Indeed, it were impossible, by any extracts, to convey the pathos of some of those elegies in which the Synagogue still bewails the loss of Zion, or expresses the pent-up longing for its restoration. Desolate, they cling to its ruins, and believe, hope, and pray–oh, how ardently! in almost every prayer–for the time that shall come, when the land, like Sarah of old, will, at the bidding of the Lord, have youth, beauty, and fruitfulness restored, and in Messiah the King “a horn of salvation shall be raised up” * to the house of David. 

* These are words of prayer taken from one of the most ancient fragments of the Jewish liturgy, and repeated, probably for two thousand years, every day by every Jew. 

Yet it is most true, as noticed by a recent writer, that no place could have been more completely swept of relics than is Palestine. Where the most solemn transactions have taken place; where, if we only knew it, every footstep might be consecrated, and rocks, and caves, and mountain-tops be devoted to the holiest remembrances–we are almost in absolute ignorance of exact localities. In Jerusalem itself even the features of the soil, the valleys, depressions, and hills have changed, or at least lie buried deep under the accumulated ruins of centuries. It almost seems as if the Lord meant to do with the land what Hezekiah had done with that relic of Moses–the brazen serpent–when he stamped it to pieces, lest its sacred memories should convert it into an occasion for idolatry. The lie of land and water, of mountain and valley, are the same; Hebron, Bethlehem, the Mount of Olives, Nazareth, the Lake of Gennesaret, the land of Galilee, are still there, but all changed in form and appearance, and with no definite spot to which one could with absolute certainty attach the most sacred events. Events, then, not places; spiritual realities, not their outward surroundings, have been given to mankind by the land of Palestine. 

“So long as Israel inhabited Palestine,” says the Babylonian Talmud, “the country was wide; but now it has become narrow.” There is only too much historical truth underlying this somewhat curiously-worded statement. Each successive change left the boundaries of the Holy Land narrowed. Never as yet has it actually reached the extent indicated in the original promise to Abraham (Gen_15:18), and afterwards confirmed to the children of Israel (Exo_23:31). The nearest approach to it was during the reign of King David, when the power of Judah extended as far as the river Euphrates (2Sa_8:3-14). At present the country to which the name Palestine attaches is smaller than at any previous period. As of old, it still stretches north and south “from Dan to Beersheba”; in the east and west from Salcah (the modern Sulkhad) to “the great sea,” the Mediterranean. Its superficial area is about 12,000 square miles, its length from 140 to 180, its breadth in the south about 75, and in the north from 100 to 120 miles. To put it more pictorially, the modern Palestine is about twice as large as Wales; it is smaller than Holland, and about equal in size to Belgium. Moreover, from the highest mountain-peaks a glimpse of almost the whole country may be obtained. So small was the land which the Lord chose as the scene of the most marvellous events that ever happened on earth, and whence He appointed light and life to flow forth into all the world! 

When our blessed Saviour trod the soil of Palestine, the country had already undergone many changes. The ancient division of tribes had given way; the two kingdoms of Judah and Israel existed no longer; and the varied foreign domination, and the brief period of absolute national independence, had alike ceased. Yet, with the characteristic tenacity of the East for the past, the names of the ancient tribes still attached to some of the districts formerly occupied by them (comp. Mat_4:13, Mat_4:15). A comparatively small number of the exiles had returned to Palestine with Ezra and Nehemiah, and the Jewish inhabitants of the country consisted either of those who had originally been left in the land, or of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. The controversy about the ten tribes, which engages so much attention in our days, raged even at the time of our Lord. “Will He go unto the dispersed among the Gentiles?” asked the Jews, when unable to fathom the meaning of Christ’s prediction of His departure, using that mysterious vagueness of language in which we generally clothe things which we pretend to, but really do not, know. “The ten tribes are beyond the Euphrates till now, and are an immense multitude, and not to be estimated by numbers,” writes Josephus, with his usual grandiloquent self-complacency. But where–he informs us as little as any of his other contemporaries. We read in the earliest Jewish authority, the Mishnah (Sanh. x. 3): “The ten tries shall never return again, as it is written (Deu_29:28), ‘And He cast them into another land, as this day.’ As ‘this day’ goeth and does not return again, so they also go and do not return. This is the view of Rabbi Akiba. Rabbi Elieser says, ‘As the day becomes dark and has light again, so the ten tribes, to whom darkness has come; but light shall also be restored to them.'” 

At the time of Christ’s birth Palestine was governed by Herod the Great; that is, it was nominally an independent kingdom, but under the suzerainty of Rome. On the death of Herod–that is, very close upon the opening of the gospel story–a fresh, though only temporary, division of his dominions took place. The events connected with it fully illustrate the parable of our Lord, recorded in Luk_19:12-15, Luk_19:27. If they do not form its historical groundwork, they were at least so fresh in the memory of Christ’s hearers, that their minds must have involuntarily reverted to them. Herod died, as he had lived, cruel and treacherous. A few days before his end, he had once more altered his will, and nominated Archelaus his successor in the kingdom; Herod Antipas (the Herod of the gospels), tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea; and Philip, tetrarch of Gaulonitis, Trachonitis, Batanaea, and Panias–districts to which, in the sequel, we may have further to refer. As soon after the death of Herod as circumstances would permit, and when he had quelled a rising in Jerusalem, Archelaus hastened to Rome to obtain the emperor’s confirmation of his father’s will. He was immediately followed by his brother Herod Antipas, who in a previous testament of Herod had been left what Archelaus now claimed. Nor were the two alone in Rome, They found there already a number of members of Herod’s family, each clamorous for something, but all agreed that they would rather have none of their own kindred as king, and that the country should be put under Roman sway; if otherwise, they anyhow preferred Herod Antipas to Archelaus. Each of the brothers had, of course, his own party, intriguing, manoeuvring, and trying to influence the emperor. Augustus inclined from the first to Archelaus. The formal decision, however, was for a time postponed by a fresh insurrection in Judaea, which was quelled only with difficulty. Meanwhile, a Jewish deputation appeared in Rome, entreating that none of the Herodians might ever be appointed king, on the ground of their infamous deeds, which they related, and that they (the Jews) might be allowed to live according to their own laws, under the suzerainty of Rome. Augustus ultimately decided to carry out the will of Herod the Great, but gave Archelaus the title of ethnarch instead of king, promising him the higher grade if he proved deserving of it (Mat_2:22). On his return to Judaea, Archelaus (according to the story in the parable) took bloody vengeance on “his citizens that hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us.” The reign of Archelaus did not last long. Fresh and stronger complaints came from Judaea. Archealus was deposed, and Judaea joined to the Roman province of Syria, but with a procurator of its own. The revenues of Archelaus, so long as he reigned, amounted to very considerably over 240,000 pounds a year; those of his brothers respectively to a third and sixth of that sum. But his was as nothing compared to the income of Herod the Great, which stood at the enormous sum of about 680,000 pounds; and that afterwards of Agrippa II, which is computed as high as half a million. In thinking of these figures, it is necessary to bear in mind the general cheapness of living in Palestine at the time, which may be gathered from the smallness of the coins in circulation, and from the lowness of the labour market. The smallest coin, a (Jewish) perutah, amounted to only the sixteenth of a penny. Again, readers of the New Testament will remember that a labourer was wont to receive for a day’s work in field or vineyard a denarius (Mat_20:2), or about 8d., while the Good Samaritan paid for the charge of the sick person whom he left in the inn only two denars, or about 1s. 4d (Luk_10:35). 

But we are anticipating. Our main object was to explain the division of Palestine in the time of our Lord. Politically speaking, it consisted of Judaea and Samaria, under Roman procurators; Galilee and Peraea (on the other side Jordan), subject to Herod Antipas, the murderer of John the Baptist–“that fox” full of cunning and cruelty, to whom the Lord, when sent by Pilate, would give no answer; and Batanaea, Trachonitis, and Auranitis, under the rule of the tetrarch Philip. It would require too many details to describe accurately those latter provinces. Suffice, that they lay quite to the north-east, and that one of their principal cities was Caesarea Philippi (called after the Roman emperor, and after Philip himself), where Peter made that noble confession, which constituted the rock on which the Church was to be built (Mat_16:16; Mar_8:29). It was the wife of this Philip, the best of all Herod’s sons, whom her brother-in-law, Herod Antipas, induced to leave her husband,and for whose sake he beheaded John (Mat_14:3, etc.; Mar_6:17; Luk_3:19). It is well to know that this adulterous and incestuous union brought Herod immediate trouble and misery, and that it ultimately cost him his kingdom, and sent him into life-long banishment. 

Such was the political division of Palestine. Commonly it was arranged into Galilee, Samaria, Judaea, and Peraea. It is scarcely necessary to say that the Jews did not regard Samaria as belonging to the Holy Land, but as a strip of foreign country–as the Talmud designates it (Chag. 25 a.), “a Cuthite strip,” or “tongue,” intervening between Galilee and Judaea. From the gospels we know that the Samaritans were not only ranked with Gentiles and strangers (Mat_10:5; Joh_4:9, Joh_4:20), but that the very term Samaritan was one of reproach (Joh_8:48). “There be two manner of nations,” says the son of Sirach (Ecclus. 1.25,26), “which my heart abhorreth, and the third is no nation; they that sit upon the mountain of Samaria, and they that dwell among the Philistines, and that foolish people that dwell in Sichem.” And Josephus has a story to account for the exclusion of the Samaritans from the Temple, to the effect that in the night of the Passover, when it was the custom to open the Temple gates at midnight, a Samaritan had come and strewn bones in the porches and throughout the Temple to defile the Holy House. Most unlikely as this appears, at least in its details, it shows the feeling of the people. On the other hand, it must be admitted that the Samaritans fully retaliated by bitter hatred and contempt. For, at every period of sore national trial, the Jews had no more determined or relentless enemies than those who claimed to be the only true representatives of Israel’s worship and hopes.

Chapter 2 – Jews and Gentiles in “The Land”

Coming down from Syria, it would have been difficult to fix the exact spot where, in the view of the Rabbis, “the land” itself began. The boundary lines, though mentioned in four different documents, are not marked in anything like geographical order, but as ritual questions connected with them came up for theological discussion. For, to the Rabbis the precise limits of Palestine were chiefly interesting so far as they affected the religious obligations or privileges of a district. And in this respect the fact that a city was in heathen possession exercised a decisive influence. Thus the environs of Ascalon, the wall of Caesarea, and that of Acco, were reckoned within the boundaries of Palestine, though the cities themselves were not. Indeed, viewing the question from this point, Palestine was to the Rabbis simply “the land,” * all other countries being summed up under the designation of “outside the land.” In the Talmud, even the expression “Holy Land,” so common among later Jews and Christians, ** does not once occur. 

* So mostly; the expression also occurs “the land of Israel.” 

** The only passage of Scripture in which the term is used is Zec_2:12, or rather 2:16 of the Hebrew original. 

It needed not that addition, which might have suggested a comparison with other countries; for to the Rabbinist Palestine was not only holy, but the only holy ground, to the utter exclusion of all other countries, although they marked within its boundaries an ascending scale of ten degrees of sanctity, rising from the bare soil of Palestine to the most holy place in the Temple (Chel. i. 6-9). But “outside the land” everything was darkness and death. The very dust of a heathen country was unclean, and it defiled by contact. It was regarded like a grave, or like the putrescence of death. If a spot of heathen dust had touched an offering, it must at once be burnt. More than that, if by mischance any heathen dust had been brought into Palestine, it did not and could not mingle with that of “the land,” but remained to the end what it had been–unclean, defiled, and defiling everything to which it adhered. This will cast light upon the meaning conveyed by the symbolical directions of our Lord to His disciples (Mat_10:14), when He sent them forth to mark out the boundary lines of the true Israel–“the kingdom of heaven,” that was at hand: “Whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.” In other words, they were not only to leave such a city or household, but it was to be considered and treated as if it were heathen, just as in the similar case mentioned in Mat_18:17. All contact with such must be avoided, all trace of it shaken off, and that, even though, like some of the cities in Palestine that were considered heathen, they were surrounded on every side by what was reckoned as belonging to Israel. 

The Mishnah (Shev, vi. 1; Chall. iv. 8) marks, in reference to certain ordinances, “three lands” which might equally be designated as Palestine, but to which different ritual regulations applied. The first comprised, “all which they who came up from Babylon took possession of in the land of Israel and unto Chezib” (about three hours north of Acre); the second, “all that they who came up from Egypt took possession of from Chezib and unto the river (Euphrates) eastward, and unto Amanah” (supposed to be a mountain near Antioch, in Syria); while the third, seemingly indicating certain ideal outlines, was probably intended to mark what “the land” would have been, according to the original promise of God, although it was never possessed to that extent by Israel. * For our present purpose, of course, only the first of these definitions must be applied to “the land.” We read in Menachoth vii. 1: “Every offering, ** whether of the congregation or of an individual (public or private), may come from ‘the land,’ or from ‘outside the land, be of the new product (of the year) or of old product, except the omer (the wave-sheaf at the Passover) and the two loaves (at Pentecost), which may only be brought from new product (that of the current year), and from that (which grows) within ‘the land.'” To these two, the Mishnah adds in another passage (Chel. i. 6) also the Biccurim, or first-fruits in their fresh state, although inaccurately, since the latter were likewise brought from what is called by the Rabbis Syria, *** which seems to have been regarded as, in a sense, intermediate between “the land” and “outside the land.” 

* The expressions in the original are so obscure as to render it difficult to form a quite definite judgment. In the text we have followed the views expressed by M. Neubauer. 

** Neither of the English words: “sacrifice,” “offering,” or “gift” quite corresponds to the Hebrew Korban, derived from a verb which in one mood means to be near, and in another to bring near. In the one case it would refer to the offerings themselves, in the other to the offerers, as brought near, the offerings bringing them near to God. The latter seems to me both etymologically and theologically the right explanation. Aberbanel combines both in his definition of Korban. 

*** Syria sent Biccurim to Jerusalem, but was not liable to second tithes, nor for the fourth year’s product of plants (Lev_19:24). 

The term Soria, or Syria, does not include that country alone, but all the lands which, according to the Rabbis, David had subdued, such as Mesopotamia, Syria, Zobah, Achlab, etc. It would be too lengthy to explain in detail the various ordinances in regard to which Soria was assimilated to, and those by which it was distinguished from, Palestine proper. The preponderance of duty and privilege was certainly in favour of Syria, so much so, that if one could have stepped from its soil straight to that of Palestine, or joined fields in the two countries, without the interposition of any Gentile strip, the land and the dust of Syria would have been considered clean, like that of Palestine itself (Ohol. xviii. 7). There was thus around “the land” a sort of inner band, consisting of those countries supposed to have been annexed by King David, and termed Soria. But besides this, there was also what may be called an outer band, towards the Gentile world, consisting of Egypt, Babylon, Ammon and Moab, the countries in which Israel had a special interest, and which were distinguished from the rest, “outside the land,” by this, that they were liable to tithes and the Therumoth, or first-fruits in a prepared state. Of course neither of these contributions was actually brought into Palestine, but either employed by them for their sacred purposes, or else redeemed. 

Maimonides arranges all countries into three classes, “so far as concerns the precepts connected with the soil”–“the land, Soria, and outside the land”; and he divides the land of Israel into territory possessed before and after the Exile, while he also distinguishes between Egypt, Babylon, Moab, and Ammon, and other lands (Hilch. Ther. i. 6). In popular estimate other distinctions were likewise made. Thus Rabbi Jose of Galilee would have it (Bicc. i. 10), that Biccurim * were not to be brought from the other side of Jordan, “because it was not a land flowing with milk and honey.” 

* For a full explanation of the distinction between Biccurim and Therumoth see my work on The Temple: Its Ministry and Services as they were at the time of Jesus Christ. 

But as the Rabbinical law in this respect differed from the view expressed by Rabbi Jose, his must have been an afterthought, probably intended to account for the fact that they beyond Jordan did not bring their first-fruits to the Temple. Another distinction claimed for the country west of the Jordan curiously reminds us of the fears expressed by the two and a half tribes on their return to their homes, after the first conquest of Palestine under Joshua (Jos_22:24-25), since it declared the land east of Jordan less sacred, on account of the absence of the Temple, of which it had not been worthy. Lastly, Judaea proper claimed pre-eminence over Galilee, as being the centre of Rabbinism. Perhaps it may be well here to state that, notwithstanding strict uniformity on all principal points, Galilee and Judaea had each its own peculiar legal customs and rights, which differed in many particulars one from the other. 

What has hitherto been explained from Rabbinical writings gains fresh interest when we bring it to bear on the study of the New Testament. For, we can now understand how those Zealots from Jerusalem, who would have bent the neck of the Church under the yoke of the law of Moses, sought out in preference the flourishing communities in Syria for the basis of their operations (Act_15:1). There was a special significance in this, as Syria formed a kind of outer Palestine, holding an intermediate position between it and heathen lands. Again, it results from our inquiries, that, what the Rabbis considered as the land of Israel proper, may be regarded as commencing immediately south of Antioch. Thus the city where the first Gentile Church was formed (Act_11:20-21); where the disciples were first called Christians (Act_11:26); where Paul so long exercised his ministry, and whence he started on his missionary journeys, was, significantly enough, just outside the land of Israel. Immediately beyond it lay the country over which the Rabbis claimed entire sway. Travelling southwards, the first district which one would reach would be what is known from the gospels as “the coasts (or tracts) of Tyre and Sidon.” St. Mark describes the district more particularly (Mar_7:24) as “the borders of Tyre and Sidon.” These stretched, according to Josephus (Jewish War, iii,35), at the time of our Lord, from the Mediterranean towards Jordan. It was to these extreme boundary tracts of “the land,” that Jesus had withdrawn from the Pharisees, when they were offended at His opposition to their “blind” traditionalism; and there He healed by the word of His power the daughter of the “woman of Canaan,” the intensity of whose faith drew from His lips words of precious commendation (Mat_15:28; Mar_7:29). It was chiefly a heathen district where the Saviour spoke the word of healing, and where the woman would not let the Messiah of Israel go without an answer. She herself was a Gentile. Indeed, not only that district, but all around, and farther on, the territory of Philip, was almost entirely heathen. More than that, strange as it may sound, all around the districts inhabited by the Jews the country was, so to speak, fringed by foreign nationalities and by heathen worship, rites, and customs. 

Properly to understand the history of the time and the circumstances indicated in the New Testament, a correct view of the state of parties in this respect is necessary. And here we must guard against a not unnatural mistake. If any one had expected to find within the boundaries of “the land” itself one nationality, one language, the same interests, or even one religion publicly professed, he would have been bitterly disappointed. It was not merely for the presence of the Romans and their followers, and of a more or less influential number of foreign settlers, but the Holy Land itself was a country of mixed and hostile races, of divided interests, where close by the side of the narrowest and most punctilious Pharisaism heathen temples rose, and heathen rites and customs openly prevailed. In a general way all this will be readily understood. For, those who returned from Babylon were comparatively few in number, and confessedly did not occupy the land in its former extent. During the troubled period which followed, there was a constant influx of heathen, and unceasing attempts were made to introduce and perpetuate foreign elements. Even the language of Israel had undergone a change. In the course of time the ancient Hebrew had wholly given place to the Aramaean dialect, except in public worship and in the learned academies of theological doctors. Such words and names in the gospels as Raka, Abba, Golgotha, Gabbatha, Akel-Dama, Bartholomaios, Barabbas, Bar-Jesus, and the various verbal quotations, are all Aramaean. It was probably in that language that Paul addressed the infuriated multitude, when standing on the top of the steps leading from the Temple into the fortress Antonia (Act_21:40; Act_22:1 ff). But along with the Hebraic Aramaean–for so we would designate the language–the Greek had for some time been making its way among the people. The Mishnah itself contains a very large number of Greek and Latin words with Hebraic terminations, showing how deeply Gentile life and customs around had affected even those who hated them most, and, by inference, how thoroughly they must have penetrated Jewish society in general. But besides, it had been long the policy of their rulers systematically to promote all that was Grecian in thought and feeling. It needed the obstinate determinateness, if not the bigotry, of Pharisaism to prevent their success, and this may perhaps partly explain the extreme of their antagonism against all that was Gentile. A brief notice of the religious state of the outlying districts of the country may place this in a clearer light. 

In the far north-east of the land, occupying at least in part the ancient possession of Manasseh, were the provinces belonging to the tetrarch Philip (Luk_3:1). Many spots there (Mar_8:22; Luk_9:10; Mat_16:13) are dear to the Christian memory. After the Exile these districts had been peopled by wild, predatory nomads, like the Bedawin of our days. These lived chiefly in immense caves, where they stored their provisions, and in case of attack defended themselves and their flocks. Herod the Great and his successors had indeed subdued, and settled among them, a large number of Jewish and Idumaean colonists–the former brought from Babylon, under the leadership of one Zamaris, and attracted, like the modern German colonists in parts of Russia, by immunity from taxation. But the vast majority of the people were still Syrians and Grecians, rude, barbarous, and heathens. Indeed, there the worship of the old Syrian gods had scarcely given way to the more refined rites of Greece. It was in this neighbourhood that Peter made that noble confession of faith, on which, as on a rock, the Church is built. But Caesarea Philippi was originally Paneas, the city devoted to Pan; nor does its change of name indicate a more Jewish direction on the part of its inhabitants. Indeed, Herod the Great had built there a temple to Augustus. But further particulars are scarcely necessary, for recent researches have everywhere brought to light relics of the worship of the Phoenician Astarte, of the ancient Syrian god of the sun, and even of the Egyptian Ammon, side by side with that of the well-known Grecian deities. The same may be said of the refined Damascus, the territory of which formed here the extreme boundary of Palestine. Passing from the eastern to the western bounds of Palestine, we find that in Tyre and Ptolemais Phrygian, Egyptians, Phoenician, and Greek rites contended for the mastery. In the centre of Palestine, notwithstanding the pretence of the Samaritans to be the only true representatives of the religion of Moses, the very name of their capital, Sebaste, for Samaria, showed how thoroughly Grecianised was that province. Herod had built in Samaria also a magnificent temple to Augustus; and there can be no doubt that, as the Greek language, so Grecian rites and idolatry prevailed. Another outlying district, the Decapolis (Mat_4:25; Mar_5:20, Mar_7:31), was almost entirely Grecian in constitution, language, and worship. It was in fact, a federation of ten heathen cities within the territory of Israel, possessing a government of their own. Little is known of its character; indeed, the cities themselves are not always equally enumerated by different writers. We name those of most importance to readers of the New Testament. Scythopolis, the ancient Beth-shean (Jos_17:11, Jos_17:16; Jdg_1:27; 1Sa_31:10, 1Sa_31:12, etc.), was the only one of those cities situated west of the Jordan. It lay about four hours south of Tiberias. Gadara, the capital of Peraea, is known to us from Mat_8:28; Mar_5:1; Luk_8:26. Lastly, we mention as specially interesting, Pella, the place to which the Christians of Jerusalem fled in obedience to the warning of our Lord (Mat_24:15-20), to escape the doom of the city, when finally beleaguered by the Romans. The situation of Pella has not been satisfactorily ascertained, but probably it lay at no great distance from the ancient Jabesh Gilead. 

But to return. From what has been said, it will appear that there remained only Galilee and Judaea proper, in which strictly Jewish views and manners must be sought for. Each of these will be described in detail. For the present it will suffice to remark, that north-eastern or Upper Galilee was in great part inhabited by Gentiles–Phoenicians, Syrians, Arabs, and Greeks (Josephus, Jewish War, iii,419-427), whence the name “Galilee of the Gentiles” (Mat_4:15). It is strange in how many even of those cities, with which we are familiar from the New Testament, the heathen element prevailed. Tiberias, which gave its name to the lake, was at the time of Christ of quite recent origin, having been built by the tetrarch Herod Antipas (the Herod of the gospel history), and named in honour of the Emperor Tiberius. Although endowed by its founder with many privileges, such as houses and lands for its inhabitants, and freedom from taxation–the latter being continued by Vespasian after the Jewish war–Herod had to colonise it by main force, so far as its few Jewish inhabitants were concerned. For, the site on which the city stood had of old covered a place of burial, and the whole ground was therefore levitically unclean (Josephus, Ant, xviii,38). However celebrated, therefore, afterwards as the great and final seat of the Jewish Sanhedrim, it was originally chiefly un-Jewish. Gaza had its local deity; Ascalon worshipped Astarte; Joppa was the locality where, at the time when Peter had his vision there, they still showed on the rocks of the shore the marks of the chains, by which Andromeda was said to have been held, when Perseus came to set her free. Caesarea was an essentially heathen city, though inhabited by many Jews; and one of its most conspicuous ornaments was another temple to Augustus, built on a hill opposite the entrance to the harbour, so as to be visible far out at sea. But what could be expected, when in Jerusalem itself Herod had reared a magnificent theatre and amphitheatre, to which gladiators were brought from all parts of the world, and where games were held, thoroughly anti-Jewish and heathen in their spirit and tendency? (Josephus, Ant., xv,274). The favourites and counsellors by whom that monarch surrounded himself were heathens; wherever he or his successors could, they reared heathen temples, and on all occasions they promoted the spread of Grecian views. Yet withal they professed to be Jews; they would not shock Jewish prejudices; indeed, as the building of the Temple, the frequent advocacy at Rome of the cause of Jews when oppressed, and many other facts show, the Herodians would fain have kept on good terms with the national party, or rather used it as their tool. And so Grecianism spread. Already Greek was spoken and understood by all the educated classes in the country; it was necessary for intercourse with the Roman authorities, with the many civil and military officials, and with strangers; the “superscription” on the coins was in Greek, even though, to humour the Jews, none of the earlier Herods had his own image impressed on them. * Significantly enough, it was Herod Agrippa I, the murderer of St. James, and the would-be murderer of St. Peter, who introduced the un-Jewish practice of images on coins. Thus everywhere the foreign element was advancing. A change or else a struggle was inevitable in the near future. 

* The coin mentioned in Mat_1:1, which bore an “image,” as well as a “superscription,” must therefore have been either struck in Rome, or else one of the tetrarch Philip, who was the first to introduce the image of Caesar on strictly Jewish coins. 

And what of Judaism itself at the period? It was miserably divided, even though no outward separation had taken place. The Pharisees and Sadducees held opposite principles, and hated each other; the Essenes looked down upon them both. Within Pharisaism the schools of Hillel and Shammai contradicted each other on almost every matter. But both united in their unbounded contempt of what they designated as “the country-people”–those who had no traditional learning, and hence were either unable or unwilling to share the discussions, and to bear the burdens of legal ordinances, which constituted the chief matter of traditionalism. There was only one feeling common to all–high and low, rich and poor, learned and unlettered: it was that of intense hatred of the foreigner. The rude Galileans were as “national” as the most punctilious Pharisees; indeed, in the war against Rome they furnished the most and the bravest soldiers. Everywhere the foreigner was in sight; his were the taxes levied, the soldiery, the courts of ultimate appeal, the government. In Jerusalem they hung over the Temple as a guard in the fortress of Antonia, and even kept in their custody the high-priest’s garments, * so that, before officiating in the Temple, he had actually always to apply for them to the procurator or his representative! They were only just more tolerable as being downright heathens than the Herodians, who mingled Judaism with heathenism, and, having sprung from foreign slaves, had arrogated to themselves the kingdom of the Maccabees. 

* The practice commenced innocently enough. The high-priest Hyrcanus, who built the Tower of Baris, kept his dress there, and his sons continued the practice. When Herod seized the government, he retained, for reasons readily understood, this custody, in the fortress of Antonia, which he had substituted for the ancient tower. On similar grounds the Romans followed the lead of Herod. Josephus (Ant. xviii,93) describes “the stone chamber” in which these garments were kept, under seal of the priests, with a light continually burning there. Vitellius, the successor of Pilate, restored to the Jews the custody of the high-priestly garments, when they were kept in a special apartment in the Temple. 

Readers of the New Testament know what separation Pharisaical Jews made between themselves and heathens. It will be readily understood, that every contact with heathenism and all aid to its rites should have been forbidden, and that in social intercourse any levitical defilement, arising from the use of what was “common or unclean,” was avoided. But Pharisaism went a great deal further than this. Three days before a heathen festival all transactions with Gentiles were forbidden, so as to afford them neither direct nor indirect help towards their rites; and this prohibition extended even to private festivities, such as a birthday, the day of return from a journey, etc. On heathen festive occasions a pious Jew should avoid, if possible, passing through a heathen city, certainly all dealings in shops that were festively decorated. It was unlawful for Jewish workmen to assist in anything that might be subservient either to heathen worship or heathen rule, including in the latter the erection of court-houses and similar buildings. It need not be explained to what lengths or into what details Pharisaical punctiliousness carried all these ordinances. From the New Testament we know, that to enter the house of a heathen defiled till the evening (Joh_18:28), and that all familiar intercourse with Gentiles was forbidden (Act_10:28). So terrible was the intolerance, that a Jewess was actually forbidden to give help to her heathen neighbour, when about to become a mother (Avod. S. ii. 1)! It was not a new question to St. Paul, when the Corinthians inquired about the lawfulness of meat sold in the shambles or served up at a feast (1Co_10:25, 1Co_10:27-28). Evidently he had the Rabbinical law on the subject before his mind, while, on the one hand, he avoided the Pharisaical bondage of the letter, and, on the other, guarded against either injuring one’s own conscience, or offending that of an on-looker. For, according to Rabbi Akiba, “Meat which is about to be brought in heathen worship is lawful, but that which comes out from it is forbidden, because it is like the sacrifices of the dead” (Avod. S. ii. 3). But the separation went much beyond what ordinary minds might be prepared for. Milk drawn from a cow by heathen hands, bread and oil prepared by them, might indeed be sold to strangers, but not used by Israelites. No pious Jew would of course have sat down at the table of a Gentile (Act_11:3; Gal_2:12). If a heathen were invited to a Jewish house, he might not be left alone in the room, else every article of food or drink on the table was henceforth to be regarded as unclean. If cooking utensils were bought of them, they had to be purified by fire or by water; knives to be ground anew; spits to be made red-hot before use, etc. It was not lawful to let either house or field, nor to sell cattle, to a heathen; any article, however distantly connected with heathenism, was to be destroyed. Thus, if a weaving-shuttle had been made of wood grown in a grove devoted to idols, every web of cloth made by it was to be destroyed; nay, if such pieces had been mixed with others, to the manufacture of which no possible objection could have been taken, these all became unclean, and had to be destroyed. 

These are only general statements to show the prevalent feeling. It was easy to prove how it pervaded every relationship of life. The heathens, though often tolerant, of course retorted. Circumcision, the Sabbath-rest, the worship of an invisible God, and Jewish abstinence from pork, formed a never-ending theme of merriment to the heathen. Conquerors are not often chary in disguising their contempt for the conquered, especially when the latter presume to look down upon, and to hate them. In view of all this, what an almost incredible truth must it have seemed, when the Lord Jesus Christ proclaimed it among Israel as the object of His coming and kingdom, not to make of the Gentiles Jews, but of both alike children of one Heavenly Father; not to rivet upon the heathen the yoke of the law, but to deliver from it Jew and Gentile, or rather to fulfil its demands for all! The most unexpected and unprepared-for revelation, from the Jewish point of view, was that of the breaking down of the middle wall of partition between Jew and Gentile, the taking away of the enmity of the law, and the nailing it to His cross. There was nothing analogous to it; not a hint of it to be found, either in the teaching or the spirit of the times. Quite the opposite. Assuredly, the most unlike thing to Christ were His times; and the greatest wonder of all–“the mystery hidden from ages and generations”–the foundation of one universal Church.

Chapter 3 – In Galilee at the time of our Lord

“If any one wishes to be rich, let him go north; if he wants to be wise, let him come south.” Such was the saying, by which Rabbinical pride distinguished between the material wealth of Galilee and the supremacy in traditional lore claimed for the academies of Judaea proper. Alas, it was not long before Judaea lost even this doubtful distinction, and its colleges wandered northwards, ending at last by the Lake of Gennesaret, and in that very city of Tiberias which at one time had been reputed unclean! Assuredly, the history of nations chronicles their judgment; and it is strangely significant, that the authoritative collection of Jewish traditional law, known as the Mishnah, and the so-called Jerusalem Talmud, which is its Palestinian commentary, * should finally have issued from what was originally a heathen city, built upon the site of old forsaken graves. 

* There are two Talmuds–the Jerusalem and the Babylonian–to the text of the Mishnah. The Babylonian Talmud is considerably younger than that of Jerusalem, and its traditions far more deeply tinged with superstition and error of every kind. For historical purposes, also, the Jerusalem Talmud is of much greater value and authority than that of the Eastern Schools. 

But so long as Jerusalem and Judaea were the centre of Jewish learning, no terms of contempt were too strong to express the supercilious hauteur, with which a regular Rabbinist regarded his northern co-religionists. The slighting speech of Nathanael (Joh_1:46), “Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?” reads quite like a common saying of the period; and the rebuke of the Pharisees to Nicodemus (Joh_7:52), “Search, and look: for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet,” was pointed by the mocking question, “Art thou also of Galilee?” It was not merely self-conscious superiority, such as the “towns-people,” as the inhabitants of Jerusalem used to be called throughout Palestine, were said to have commonly displayed towards their “country cousins” and every one else, but offensive contempt, outspoken sometimes with almost incredible rudeness, want of delicacy and charity, but always with much pious self-assertion. The “God, I thank Thee that I am not as other men” (Luk_18:11) seems like the natural breath of Rabbinism in the company of the unlettered, and of all who were deemed intellectual or religious inferiors; and the parabolic history of the Pharisee and the publican in the gospel is not told for the special condemnation of that one prayer, but as characteristic of the whole spirit of Pharisaism, even in its approaches to God. “This people who knoweth not the law (that is, the traditional law) are cursed,” was the curt summary of the Rabbinical estimate of popular opinion. To so terrible a length did it go that the Pharisees would fain have excluded them, not only from common intercourse, but from witness-bearing, and that they even applied to marriages with them such a passage as Deu_27:21. 

But if these be regarded as extremes, two instances, chosen almost at random–one from religious, the other from ordinary life–will serve to illustrate their reality. A more complete parallel to the Pharisee’s prayer could scarcely be imagined than the following. We read in the Talmud (Jer. Ber, iv. 2) that a celebrated Rabbi was wont every day, on leaving the academy, to pray in these terms: “I thank Thee, O Lord my God and God of my fathers, that Thou hast cast my lot among those who frequent the schools and synagogues, and not among those who attend the theatre and the circus. For, both I and they work and watch–I to inherit eternal life, they for their destruction.” The other illustration, also taken from a Rabbinical work, is, if possible, even more offensive. It appears that Rabbi Jannai, while travelling by the way, formed acquaintance with a man, whom he thought his equal. Presently his new friend invited him to dinner, and liberally set before him meat and drink. But the suspicions of the Rabbi had been excited. He began to try his host successively by questions upon the text of Scripture, upon the Mishnah, allegorical interpretations, and lastly on Talmudical lore. Alas! on neither of these points could he satisfy the Rabbi. Dinner was over; and Rabbi Jannai, who by that time no doubt had displayed all the hauteur and contempt of a regular Rabbinist towards the unlettered, called upon his host, as customary, to take the cup of thanksgiving, and return thanks. But the latter was sufficiently humiliated to reply, with a mixture of Eastern deference and Jewish modesty, “Let Jannai himself give thanks in his own house.” “At any rate,” observed the Rabbi, “you can join with me”; and when the latter had agreed to this, Jannai said, “A dog has eaten of the bread of Jannai!” 

Impartial history, however, must record a different judgment of the men of Galilee from that pronounced by the Rabbis, and that even wherein they were despised by those leaders in Israel. Some of their peculiarities, indeed, were due to territorial circumstances. The province of Galilee–of which the name might be rendered “circuit,” being derived from a verb meaning “to move in a circle”–covered the ancient possession of four tribes: Issachar, Zebulon, Naphtali, and Asher. The name occurs already in the Old Testament (compare Jos_20:7; 1Ki_9:11; 2Ki_15:29; 1Ch_6:76; and especially Isa_9:1). In the time of Christ it stretched northwards to the possessions of Tyre on the one side, and to Syria on the other; on the south it was bounded by Samaria–Mount Carmel on the western, and the district of Scythopolis (in the Decapolis) on the eastern side, being here landmarks; while the Jordan and the Lake of Gennesaret formed the general eastern boundary-line. Thus regarded, it would include names to which such reminiscences attach as “the mountains of Gilboa,” where “Israel and Saul fell down slain”; little Hermon, Tabor, Carmel, and that great battle-field of Palestine, the plain of Jezreel. Alike the Talmud and Josephus divide it into Upper and Lower Galilee, between which the Rabbis insert the district of Tiberias, as Middle Galilee. We are reminded of the history of Zaccheus (Luk_19:4) by the mark which the Rabbis give to distinguish between Upper and Lower Galilee–the former beginning “where sycomores cease to grow.” The sycomore, which is a species of fig, must, of course, not be confounded with our sycamore, and was a very delicate evergreen, easily destroyed by cold (Psa_78:47), and growing only in the Jordan valley, or in Lower Galilee up to the sea-coast. The mention of that tree may also help us to fix the locality where Luk_17:6 was spoken by the Saviour. The Rabbis mention Kefar Hananyah, probably the modern Kefr Anan, to the north-west of Safed, as the first place in Upper Galilee. Safed was truly “a city set on an hill”; and as such may have been in view of the Lord, when He spoke the Sermon on the Mount (Mat_5:14). In the Talmud it is mentioned by the name of Zephath, and spoken of as one of the signal-stations, whence the proclamation of the new moon, made by the Sanhedrim in Jerusalem, and with it the beginning of every month, was telegraphed by fire-signals from hill to hill throughout the land, and far away east of the Jordan, to those of the dispersion. 

The mountainous part in the north of Upper Galilee presented magnificent scenery, with bracing air. Here the scene of the Song of Solomon is partly laid (Son_7:5). But its caves and fastnesses, as well as the marshy ground, covered with reeds, along Lake Merom, gave shelter to robbers, outlaws, and rebel chiefs. Some of the most dangerous characters came from the Galilean highlands. A little farther down, and the scenery changed. South of Lake Merom, where the so-called Jacob’s bridge crosses the Jordan, we come upon the great caravan road, which connected Damascus in the east with the great mart of Ptolemais, on the shore of the Mediterranean. What a busy life did this road constantly present in the days of our Lord, and how many trades and occupations did it call into existence! All day long they passed–files of camel, mules, and asses, laden with the riches of the East, destined for the far West, or bringing the luxuries of the West to the far East. Travellers of every description–Jews, Greeks, Romans, dwellers in the East–were seen here. The constant intercourse with foreigners, and the settlement of so many strangers along one of the great highways of the world, must have rendered the narrow-minded bigotry of Judaea well-nigh impossible in Galilee. 

We are now in Galilee proper, and a more fertile or beautiful region could scarcely be conceived. It was truly the land where Asher dipped his foot in oil (Deu_33:24). The Rabbis speak of the oil as flowing like a river, and they say that it was easier in Galilee to rear a forest of olive-trees than one child in Judaea! The wine, although not so plentiful as the oil, was generous and rich. Corn grew in abundance, especially in the neighbourhood of Capernaum; flax also was cultivated. The price of living was much lower than in Judaea, where one measure was said to cost as much as five in Galilee. Fruit also grew to perfection; and it was probably a piece of jealousy on the part of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, that they would not allow it to be sold at the feasts in the city, lest people should forsooth say, “We have only come up in order to taste fruit from Galilee” (Pes. 8 b). Josephus speaks of the country in perfectly rapturous terms. He counts no fewer than 240 towns and villages, and speaks of the smallest as containing not less than 15,000 inhabitants! This, of course, must be gross exaggeration, as it would make the country more than twice as thickly populated as the densest districts in England or Belgium. Some one has compared Galilee to the manufacturing districts of this country. This comparison, of course, applies only to the fact of its busy life, although various industries were also carried on there–large potteries of different kinds, and dyeworks. From the heights of Galilee the eye would rest on harbours, filled with merchant ships, and on the sea, dotted with white sails. There, by the shore, and also inland, smoked furnaces, where glass was made; along the great road moved the caravans; in field, vineyard, and orchard all was activity. The great road quite traversed Galilee, entering it where the Jordan is crossed by the so-called bridge of Jacob, then touching Capernaum, going down to Nazareth, and passing on to the sea-coast. This was one advantage that Nazareth had–that it lay on the route of the world’s traffic and intercourse. Another peculiarity is strangely unknown to Christian writers. It appears from ancient Rabbinical writings that Nazareth was one of the stations of the priests. All the priests were divided into twenty-four courses, one of which was always on ministry in the Temple. Now, the priests of the course which was to be on duty always gathered in certain towns, whence they went up in company to the Temple; those who were unable to go spending the week in fasting and prayer for their brethren. Nazareth was one of these priestly centres; so that there, with symbolic significance, alike those passed who carried on the traffic of the world, and those who ministered in the Temple. 

We have spoken of Nazareth; and a few brief notices of other places in Galilee, mentioned in the New Testament, may be of interest. Along the lake lay, north, Capernaum, a large city; and near it, Chorazin, so celebrated for its grain, that, if it had been closer to Jerusalem, it would have been used for the Temple; also Bethsaida, * the name, “house of fishes,” indicating its trade. 

* Three were two places of that name, one east of the Jordan, Bethsaida Julias, referred to in Luk_9:10; Mar_8:22; the other on the western shore of the Lake of Galilee, the birthplace of Andrew and Peter (Joh_1:44). See also Mar_6:45; Mat_11:21; Luk_10:13; Joh_12:21. 

Capernaum was the station where Matthew sat at the receipt of custom (Mat_9:9). South of Capernaum was Magdala, the city of dyers, the home of Mary Magdalene (Mar_15:40, Mar_16:1; Luk_8:2; Joh_20:1). The Talmud mentions its shops and its woolworks, speaks of its great wealth, but also of the corruption of its inhabitants. Tiberias, which had been built shortly before Christ, is only incidentally mentioned in the New Testament (Joh_6:1, Joh_6:23, Joh_21:1). At the time it was a splendid but chiefly heathen city, whose magnificent buildings contrasted with the more humble dwellings common in the country. Quite at the southern end of the lake was Tarichaea, the great fishing place, whence preserved fish was exported in casks (Strabo, xvi,2). It was there that, in the great Roman war, a kind of naval battle was fought, which ended in terrible slaughter, no quarter being given by the Romans, so that the lake was dyed red with the blood of the victims, and the shore rendered pestilential by their bodies. Cana in Galilee was the birthplace of Nathanael (Joh_21:2), where Christ performed His first miracle (Joh_2:1-11); significant also in connection with the second miracle there witnessed, when the new wine of the kingdom was first tasted by Gentile lips (Joh_4:46-47). Cana lay about three hours to the north-north-east of Nazareth. Lastly, Nain was one of the southernmost places in Galilee, not far from the ancient Endor. 

It can scarcely surprise us, however interesting it may prove, that such Jewish recollections of the early Christians as the Rabbis have preserved, should linger chiefly around Galilee. Thus we have, in quite the apostolic age, mention of miraculous cures made, in the name of Jesus, by one Jacob of Chefar Sechanja (in Galilee), one of the Rabbis violently opposing on one occasion an attempt of the kind, the patient meanwhile dying during the dispute; repeated records of discussions with learned Christians, and other indications of contact with Hebrew believers. Some have gone farther, and found traces of the general spread of such views in the fact that a Galilean teacher is introduced in Babylon as propounding the science of the Merkabah, or the mystical doctrines connected with Ezekiel’s vision of the Divine chariot, which certainly contained elements closely approximating the Christian doctrines of the Logos, the Trinity, etc. Trinitarian views have also been suspected in the significance attached to the number “three” by a Galilean teacher of the third century, in this wise: “Blessed be God, who has given the three laws (the Pentateuch, the Prophets, and the Hagiographa) to a people composed of three classes (Priests, Levites, and laity), through him who was the youngest of three (Miriam, Aaron, and Moses), on the third day (of their separation– Exo_19:16), and in the third month.” There is yet another saying of a Galilean Rabbi, referring to the resurrection, which, although far from clear, may bear a Christian application. Finally, the Midrash applies the expression, “The sinner shall be taken by her” (Ecc_7:26), either to the above-named Christian Rabbi Jacob, or to Christians generally, or even to Capernaum, with evident reference to the spread of Christianity there. We cannot here pursue this very interesting subject farther than to say, that we find indications of Jewish Christians having endeavoured to introduce their views while leading the public devotions of the Synagogue, and even of contact with the immoral heretical sect of the Nicolaitans (Rev_2:15). 

Indeed, what we know of the Galileans would quite prepare us for expecting, that the gospel should have received at least a ready hearing among many of them. It was not only, that Galilee was the great scene of our Lord’s working and teaching, and the home of His first disciples and apostles; nor yet that the frequent intercourse with strangers must have tended to remove narrow prejudices, while the contempt of the Rabbinists would loosen attachment to the strictest Pharisaism; but, as the character of the people is described to us by Josephus, and even by the Rabbis, they seem to have been a warm-hearted, impulsive, generous race–intensely national in the best sense, active, not given to idle speculations or wire-drawn logico-theological distinctions, but conscientious and earnest. The Rabbis detail certain theological differences between Galilee and Judaea. Without here mentioning them, we have no hesitation in saying, that they show more earnest practical piety and strictness of life, and less adherence to those Pharisaical distinctions which so often made void the law. The Talmud, on the other hand, charges the Galileans with neglecting traditionalism; learning from one teacher, then from another (perhaps because they had only wandering Rabbis, not fixed academies); and with being accordingly unable to rise to the heights of Rabbinical distinctions and explanations. That their hot blood made them rather quarrelsome, and that they lived in a chronic state of rebellion against Rome, we gather not only from Josephus, but even from the New Testament (Luk_13:2; Act_5:37). Their mal-pronunciation of Hebrew, or rather their inability properly to pronounce the gutturals, formed a constant subject of witticism and reproach, so current that even the servants in the High Priest’s palace could turn round upon Peter, and say, “Surely thou also art one of them; for thy speech bewrayeth thee” (Mat_26:73)–a remark this, by the way, which illustrates the fact that the language commonly used at the time of Christ in Palestine was Aramaean, not Greek. Josephus describes the Galileans as hard-working, manly, and brave; and even the Talmud admits (Jer. Cheth. iv. 14) that they cared more for honour than for money. 

But the district in Galilee to which the mind ever reverts, is that around the shores of its lake. * Its beauty, its marvellous vegetation, its almost tropical products, its wealth and populousness, have been often described. The Rabbis derive the name of Gennesaret either from a harp–because the fruits of its shores were as sweet as is the sound of a harp–or else explain it to mean “the gardens of the princes,” from the beautiful villas and gardens around. 

* The New Testament speaks so often of the occupation of fishers by the Lake of Galilee, that it is interesting to know that fishing on the lake was free to all. The Talmud mentions this as one of the ten ordinances given by Joshua of old (Baba Kama,80 b). 

But we think chiefly not of those fertile fields and orchards, nor of the deep blue of the lake, enclosed between hills, nor of the busy towns, nor of the white sails spread on its waters–but of Him, Whose feet trod its shores; Who taught, and worked, and prayed there for us sinners; Who walked its waters and calmed its storms, and Who even after His resurrection held there sweet converse with His disciples; nay, Whose last words on earth, spoken from thence, come to us with peculiar significance and application, as in these days we look on the disturbing elements in the world around: “What is that to thee? Follow thou Me” (Joh_21:22).

Chapter 4 – Travelling in Palestine–Roads, Inns, Hospitality, Custom-House Officers, Taxation, Publicans


It was the very busiest road in Palestine, on which the publican Levi Matthew sat at the receipt of “custom,” when our Lord called him to the fellowship of the Gospel, and he then made that great feast to which he invited his fellow-publicans, that they also might see and hear Him in Whom he had found life and peace (Luk_5:29). For, it was the only truly international road of all those which passed through Palestine; indeed, it formed one of the great highways of the world’s commerce. At the time of which we write, it may be said, in general, that six main arteries of commerce and intercourse traversed the country, the chief objective points being Caesarea, the military, and Jerusalem, the religious capital. First, there was the southern road, which led from Jerusalem, by Bethlehem, to Hebron, and thence westwards to Gaza, and eastwards into Arabia, whence also a direct road went northwards to Damascus. It is by this road we imagine St. Paul to have travelled, when retiring into the solitudes of Arabia, immediately after his conversion (Gal_1:17-18). The road to Hebron must have been much frequented by priestly and other pilgrims to the city, and by it the father of the Baptist and the parents of Jesus would pass. Secondly, there was the old highway along the sea-shore from Egypt up to Tyre, whence a straight, but not so much frequented, road struck, by Caesarea Philippi, to Damascus. But the sea-shore road itself, which successively touched Gaza, Ascalon, Jamnia, Lydda, Diospolis, and finally Caesarea and Ptolemais, was probably the most important military highway in the land, connecting the capital with the seat of the Roman procurator at Caesarea, and keeping the sea-board and its harbours free for communication. This road branched off for Jerusalem at Lydda, where it bifurcated, leading either by Beth-horon or by Emmaus, which was the longer way. It was probably by this road that the Roman escort hurried off St. Paul (Act_23:31), the mounted soldiers leaving him at Antipatris, about twenty Roman miles from Lydda, and altogether from Jerusalem about fifty-two Roman miles (the Roman mile being 1,618 yards, the English mile 1,760). Thus the distance to Caesarea, still left to be traversed next morning by the cavalry would be about twenty-six Roman miles, or, the whole way, seventy-eight Roman miles from Jerusalem. This rate of travelling, though rapid, cannot be regarded as excessive, since an ordinary day’s journey is computed in the Talmud (Pes 93b) as high as forty Roman miles. A third road led from Jerusalem, by Beth-horon and Lydda, to Joppa, whence it continued close by the sea-shore to Caesarea. This was the road which Peter and his companions would take when summoned to go and preach the gospel to Cornelius (Act_10:23-24). It was at Lydda, thirty-two Roman miles from Jerusalem, that Aeneas was miraculously healed, and “nigh” to it–within a few miles–was Joppa, where the raising of Tabitha, Dorcas, “the gazelle” (Act_9:32-43), took place. Of the fourth great highway, which led from Galilee to Jerusalem, straight through Samaria, branching at Sichem eastwards to Damascus, and westwards to Caesarea, it is needless to say much, since, although much shorter, it was, if possible, eschewed by Jewish travellers; though, both in going to (Luk_9:53, Luk_17:11), and returning from Jerusalem (Joh_4:4, Joh_4:43), the Lord Jesus passed that way. The road from Jerusalem straight northwards also branched off at Gophna, whence it led across to Diospolis, and so on to Caesarea. But ordinarily, Jewish travellers would, rather than pass through Samaria, face the danger of robbers which awaited them (Luk_10:30) along the fifth great highway (comp. Luk_19:1, Luk_19:28; Mat_20:17, Mat_20:29), that led from Jerusalem, by Bethany, to Jericho. Here the Jordan was forded, and the road led to Gilead, and thence either southwards, or else north to Peraea, whence the traveller could make his way into Galilee. It will be observed that all these roads, whether commercial or military, were, so to speak, Judaean, and radiated from or to Jerusalem. But the sixth and great road, which passed through Galilee, was not at all primarily Jewish, but connected the East with the West–Damascus with Rome. From Damascus it led across the Jordan to Capernaum, Tiberias, and Nain (where it fell in with a direct road from Samaria), to Nazareth, and thence to Ptolemais. Thus, from its position, Nazareth was on the world’s great highway. What was spoken there might equally re-echo throughout Palestine, and be carried to the remotest lands of the East and of the West. 

It need scarcely be said, that the roads which we have thus traced are only those along the principal lines of communication. But a large number of secondary roads also traversed the country in all directions. Indeed, from earliest times much attention seems to have been given to facility of intercourse throughout the land. Even in the days of Moses we read of “the king’s highway” (Num_20:17, Num_20:19, Num_21:22). In Hebrew we have, besides the two general terms (derech and orach), three expressions which respectively indicate a trodden or beaten-down path (nathiv, from nathav, to tread down), a made or cast-up road (messillah, from salal, to cast up), and “the king’s highway”–the latter, evidently for national purposes, and kept up at the public expense. In the time of the kings (for example, 1Ki_12:18), and even earlier, there were regular carriage roads, although we can scarcely credit the statement of Josephus (Antiq, viii,7,4) That Solomon had caused the principal roads to be paved with black stone–probably basalt. Toll was apparently levied in the time of Ezra (Ezr_4:13, Ezr_4:20); but the clergy were exempt from this as from all other taxation (Ezr_7:24). The roads to the cities of refuge required to be always kept in good order (Deu_19:3). According to the Talmud they were to be forty-eight feet wide, and provided with bridges, and with sign-posts where roads diverged. 

Passing to later times, the Romans, as might have been expected, paid great attention to the modes of communication through the country. The military roads were paved, and provided with milestones. But the country roads were chiefly bridle-paths. The Talmud distinguishes between public and private roads. The former must be twenty-four, the latter six feet wide. It is added that, for the king’s highway, and for the road taken by funerals, there is no measure (Babba B. vi. 7). Roads were annually repaired in spring, preparatory for going up to the great feasts. To prevent the possibility of danger, no subterranean structure, however protected, was allowed under a public road. Overhanging branches of trees had to be cut down, so as to allow a man on a camel to pass. A similar rule applied to balconies and projections; nor were these permitted to darken a street. Any one allowing things to accumulate on the road, or dropping them from a cart, had to make good what damage might be incurred by travellers. Indeed, in towns and their neighbourhood the police regulations were even more strict; and such ordinances occur as for the removal within thirty days of rotten trees or dangerous walls; not to pour out water on the road; not to throw out anything on the street, nor to leave about building materials, or broken glass, or thorns, along with other regulations for the public safety and health. 

Along such roads passed the travellers; few at first, and mostly pilgrims, but gradually growing in number, as commerce and social or political intercourse increased. Journeys were performed on foot, upon asses, or in carriages (Act_8:28), of which three kinds are mentioned–the round carriage, perhaps like our gig; the elongated, like a bed; and the cart, chiefly for the transport of goods. It will be understood that in those days travelling was neither comfortable nor easy. Generally, people journeyed in company, of which the festive bands going to Jerusalem are a well-known instance. If otherwise, one would prepare for a journey almost as for a change of residence, and provide tent, victuals, and all that was needful by the way. It was otherwise with the travelling hawker, who was welcomed as a friend in every district through which he passed, who carried the news of the day, exchanged the products of one for those of another district, and produced the latest articles of commerce or of luxury. Letters were only conveyed by special messengers, or through travellers. 

In such circumstances, the command, “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers,” had a special meaning. Israel was always distinguished for hospitality; and not only the Bible, but the Rabbis, enjoin this in the strongest terms. In Jerusalem no man was to account a house as only his own; and it was said, that during the pilgrim-feasts none ever wanted ready reception. The tractate Aboth (1.5), mentions these as two out of the three sayings of Jose, the son of Jochanan, of Jerusalem: “Let thy house be wide open, and let the poor be the children of thy house.” Readers of the New Testament will be specially interested to know, that, according to the Talmud (Pes. 53), Bethphage and Bethany, to which in this respect such loving memories cling, were specially celebrated for their hospitality towards the festive pilgrims. In Jerusalem it seems to have been the custom to hang a curtain in front of the door, to indicate that there was still room for guests. Some went so far as to suggest, there should be four doors to every house, to bid welcome to travellers from all directions. The host would go to meet an expected guest, and again accompany him part of the way (Act_21:5). The Rabbis declared that hospitality involved as great, and greater merit than early morning attendance in an academy of learning. They could scarcely have gone farther, considering the value they attached to study. Of course, here also the Rabbinical order had the preference; and hospitably to entertain a sage, and to send him away with presents, was declared as meritorious as to have offered the daily sacrifices (Ber. 10, b). 

But let there be no misunderstanding. So far as the duty of hospitality is concerned, or the loving care for poor and sick, it were impossible to take a higher tone than that of Rabbinism. Thus it was declared, that “the entertainment of travellers was as great a matter as the reception of the Shechinah.” This gives a fresh meaning to the admonition of the Epistle addressed specially to the Hebrews (Heb_13:2): “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” Bearing on this subject, one of the oldest Rabbinical commentaries has a very beautiful gloss on Psa_109:31 : “He shall stand at the right hand of the poor.” “Whenever,” we read, “a poor man stands at thy door, the Holy One, blessed be His Name, stands at his right hand. If thou givest him alms, know that thou shalt receive a reward from Him who standeth at his right hand.” In another commentary God Himself and His angels are said to visit the sick. The Talmud itself counts hospitality among the things of which the reward is received alike in this life and in that which is to come (Shab. 127 a), while in another passage (Sot. 14 a) we are bidden imitate God in these four respects: He clothed the naked (Gen_3:21); He visited the sick (Gen_18:1); He comforted the mourners (Gen_25:11); and He buried the dead (Deu_34:6). 

In treating of hospitality, the Rabbis display, as in so many relations of life, the utmost tenderness and delicacy, mixed with a delightful amount of shrewd knowledge of the world and quaint humour. As a rule, they enter here also into full details. Thus the very manner in which a host is to bear himself towards his guests is prescribed. He is to look pleased when entertaining his guests, to wait upon them himself, to promise little and to give much, etc. At the same time it was also caustically added: “Consider all men as if they were robbers, but treat them as if each were Rabbi Gamaliel himself!” On the other hand, rules of politeness and gratitude are equally laid down for the guests. “Do not throw a stone,” it was said, “into the spring at which you have drunk” (Baba K,. 92); or this, “A proper guest acknowledges all, and saith, ‘At what trouble my host has been, and all for my sake!’–while an evil visitor remarks: ‘Bah! what trouble has he taken?’ Then, after enumerating how little he has had in the house, he concludes; ‘And, after all, it was not done for me, but only for his wife and children!'” (Ber. 58 a). Indeed, some of the sayings in this connection are remarkably parallel to the directions which our Lord gave to His disciples on going forth upon their mission (Luk_10:5-11, and parallels). Thus, one was to inquire for the welfare of the family; not to go from house to house; to eat of such things as were set before one; and, finally, to part with a blessing. 

All this, of course, applied to entertainment in private families. On unfrequented roads, where villages were at great intervals, or even outside towns (Luk_2:7), there were regular khans, or places of lodgment for strangers. Like the modern khans, these places were open, and generally built in a square, the large court in the middle being intended for the beasts of burden or carriages, while rooms opened upon galleries all around. Of course these rooms were not furnished, nor was any payment expected from the wayfarer. At the same time, some one was generally attached to the khan–mostly a foreigner–who would for payment provide anything that might be needful, of which we have an instance in the parabolic history of the Good Samaritan (Luk_10:35). Such hostelries are mentioned so early as in the history of Moses (Gen_42:27; Gen_43:21). Jeremiah calls them “a place for strangers” (Jer_41:17), wrongly rendered “habitation” in our Authorised Version. In the Talmud their designations are either Greek or Latin, in Aramaic form–one of them being the same as that used in Luk_10:34 –proving that such places were chiefly provided by and for strangers. * 

* In the ancient Latin Itineraries of Palestine, journeys are computed by mansiones (night-quarters) and mutationes (change of horses)–from five to eight such changes being computed for a day’s journey. 

In later times we also read of the oshpisa–evidently from hospitium, and showing its Roman origin–as a house of public entertainment, where such food as locusts, pickled, or fried in flour or in honey, and Median or Babylonian beer, Egyptian drink, and home-made cider or wine, were sold; such proverbs circulating among the boon companions as “To eat without drinking is like devouring one’s own blood” (Shab. 41 a), and where wild noise and games of chance were indulged in by those who wasted their substance by riotous living. In such places the secret police, whom Herod employed, would ferret out the opinions of the populace while over their cups. That police must have been largely employed. According to Josephus (Anti. xv,366) spies beset the people, alike in town and country, watching their conversations in the unrestrained confidence of friendly intercourse. Herod himself is said to have acted in that capacity, and to have lurked about the streets at night-time in disguise to overhear or entrap unwary citizens. Indeed, at one time the city seems almost to have been under martial law, the citizens being forbidden “to meet together, to walk or eat together,”–presumably to hold public meetings, demonstrations, or banquets. History sufficiently records what terrible vengeance followed the slightest suspicion. The New Testament account of the murder of all the little children at Bethlehem (Mat_2:16), in hope of destroying among them the royal scion of David, is thoroughly in character with all that we know of Herod and his reign. There is at last indirect confirmation of this narrative in Talmudical writings, as there is evidence that all the genealogical registers in the Temple were destroyed by order of Herod. This is a most remarkable fact. The Jews retaliated by an intensity of hatred which went so far as to elevate the day of Herod’s death (2 Shebet) into an annual feast-day, on which all mourning was prohibited. 

But whether passing through town or country, by quiet side-roads or along the great highway, there was one sight and scene which must constantly have forced itself upon the attention of the traveller, and, if he were of Jewish descent, would ever awaken afresh his indignation and hatred. Whithersoever he went, he encountered in city or country the well-known foreign tax-gatherer, and was met by his insolence, by his vexatious intrusion, and by his exactions. The fact that he was the symbol of Israel’s subjection to foreign domination, galling though it was, had probably not so much to do with the bitter hatred of the Rabbinists towards the class of tax-farmers (Moches) and tax-collectors (Gabbai), both of whom were placed wholly outside the pale of Jewish society, as that they were so utterly shameless and regardless in their unconscientious dealings. For, ever since their return from Babylon, the Jews must, with a brief interval, have been accustomed to foreign taxation. At the time of Ezra (Ezr_4:13, Ezr_4:20, Ezr_7:24) they paid to the Persian monarch “toll, tribute, and custom”–middah, belo, and halach–or rather “ground-tax” (income and property-tax?), “custom” (levied on all that was for consumption, or imported), and “toll,” or road-money. Under the reign of the Ptolemies the taxes seem to have been farmed to the highest bidder, the price varying from eight to sixteen talents–that is, from about 3,140 pounds to about 6,280 pounds–a very small sum indeed, which enabled the Palestine tax-farmers to acquire immense wealth, and that although they had continually to purchase arms and court favour (Josephus, Ant. xii,154-185). During the Syrian rule the taxes seem to have consisted of tribute, duty on salt, a third of the produce of all that was sown, and one-half of that from fruit-trees, besides poll-tax, custom duty, and an uncertain kind of tax, called “crown-money” (the aurum coronarium of the Romans), originally an annual gift of a crown of gold, but afterwards compounded for in money (Josephus,Ant. xii,129-137). Under the Herodians the royal revenue seems to have been derived from crown lands, from a property and income-tax, from import and export duties, and from a duty on all that was publicly sold and bought, to which must be added a tax upon houses in Jerusalem. 

Heavily as these exactions must have weighed upon a comparatively poor and chiefly agricultural population, they refer only to civil taxation, not to religious dues. But, even so, we have not exhausted the list of contributions demanded of a Jew. For, every town and community levied its own taxes for the maintenance of synagogue, elementary schools, public baths, the support of the poor, the maintenance of public roads, city walls, and gates, and other general requirements. It must, however, be admitted that the Jewish authorities distributed this burden of civic taxation both easily and kindly, and that they applied the revenues derived from it for the public welfare in a manner scarcely yet attained in the most civilized countries. The Rabbinical arrangements for public education, health, and charity were, in every respect, far in advance of modern legislation, although here also they took care themselves not to take the grievous burdens which they laid upon others, by expressly exempting from civic taxes all those who devoted themselves to the study of the law. 

But the Roman taxation, which bore upon Israel with such crushing weight, was quite of its own kind–systematic, cruel, relentless, and utterly regardless. In general, the provinces of the Roman Empire, and what of Palestine belonged to them, were subject to two great taxes–poll-tax (or rather income-tax) and ground-tax. All property and income that fell not under the ground-tax was subject to poll-tax; which amounted, for Syria and Cilicia, to one per cent. The “poll-tax” was really twofold, consisting of income-tax and head-money, the latter, of course, the same in all cases, and levied on all persons (bond or free) up to the age of sixty-five–women being liable from the age of twelve and men from that of fourteen. Landed property was subject to a tax of one-tenth of all grain, and one-fifth of the wine and fruit grown, partly paid in product and partly commuted into money. * 

* Northern Africa alone (exclusive of Egypt) furnished Rome, by way of taxation, with sufficient corn to last eight months, and the city of Alexandria to last four months (Jewish War, ii,345-401). 

Besides these, there was tax and duty on all imports and exports, levied on the great public highways and in the seaports. Then there was bridge-money and road-money, and duty on all that was bought and sold in the towns. These, which may be called the regular taxes, were irrespective of any forced contributions, and of the support which had to be furnished to the Roman procurator and his household and court at Caesarea. To avoid all possible loss to the treasury, the proconsul of Syria, Quirinus (Cyrenius), had taken a regular census to show the number of the population and their means. This was a terrible crime in the eyes of the Rabbis, who remembers that, if numbering the people had been reckoned such great sin of old, the evil must be an hundredfold increased, if done by heathens and for their own purposes. Another offence lay in the thought, that tribute, hitherto only given to Jehovah, was now to be paid to a heathen emperor. “Is it lawful to pay tribute unto Caesar?” was a sore question, which many an Israelite put to himself as he placed the emperor’s poll-tax beside the half-shekel of the sanctuary, and the tithe of his field, vineyard, and orchard, claimed by the tax-gatherer, along with that which he had hitherto only given unto the Lord. Even the purpose with which this inquiry was brought before Christ–to entrap Him in a political denunciation–shows, how much it was agitated among patriotic Jews; and it cost rivers of blood before it was not answered, but silenced. 

The Romans had a peculiar way of levying these taxes–not directly, but indirectly–which kept the treasury quite safe, whatever harm it might inflict on the taxpayer, while at the same time it threw upon him the whole cost of the collection. Senators and magistrates were prohibited from engaging in business or trade; but the highest order, the equestrian, was largely composed of great capitalists. These Roman knights formed joint-stock companies, which bought at public auction the revenues of a province at a fixed price, generally for five years. The board had its chairman, or magister, and its offices at Rome. These were the real Publicani, or publicans, who often underlet certain of the taxes. The Publicani, or those who held from them, employed either slaves or some of the lower classes in the country as tax-gatherers–the publicans of the New Testament. Similarly, all other imposts were farmed and collected; some of them being very onerous, and amounting to an ad valorem duty of two and a half, of five, and in articles of luxury even of twelve and a half per cent. Harbour-dues were higher than ordinary tolls, and smuggling or a false declaration was punished by confiscation of the goods. Thus the publicans also levied import and export dues, bridge-toll, road-money, town-dues, etc.; and, if the peaceable inhabitant, the tiller of the soil, the tradesman, or manufacturer was constantly exposed to their exactions, the traveller, the caravan, or the pedlar encountered their vexatious presence at every bridge, along the road, and at the entrance to cities. Every bale had to be unloaded, and all its contents tumbled about and searched; even letters were opened; and it must have taken more than Eastern patience to bear their insolence and to submit to their “unjust accusations” in arbitrarily fixing the return from land or income, or the value of goods, etc. For there was no use appealing against them, although the law allowed this, since the judges themselves were the direct beneficiaries by the revenue; for they before whom accusations on this score would have to be laid, belonged to the order of knights, who were the very persons implicated in the farming of the revenue. Of course, the joint-stock company of Publicani at Rome expected its handsome dividends; so did the tax-gatherers in the provinces, and those to whom they on occasions sublet the imposts. All wanted to make money of the poor people; and the cost of the collection had of course to be added to the taxation. We can quite understand how Zaccheus, one of the supervisors of these tax-gatherers in the district of Jericho, which, from its growth and export of balsam, must have yielded a large revenue, should, in remembering his past life, have at once said: “If I have taken anything from any man by false accusation”–or, rather, “Whatever I have wrongfully exacted of any man.” For nothing was more common than for the publican to put a fictitious value on property or income. Another favourite trick of theirs was to advance the tax to those who were unable to pay, and then to charge usurious interest on what had thereby become a private debt. How summarily and harshly such debts were exacted, appears from the New Testament itself. In Mat_18:28 we read of a creditor who, for the small debt of one hundred denars, seizes the debtor by the throat in the open street, and drags him to prison; the miserable man, in his fear of the consequences, in vain falling down at his feet, and beseeching him to have patience, in not exacting immediate full payment. What these consequences were, we learn from the same parable, where the king threatens not only to sell off all that his debtor has, but even himself, his wife, and children into slavery (Mat_18:25). And what short shrift such an unhappy man had to expect from “the magistrate,” appears from the summary procedure, ending in imprisonment till “the last mite” had been paid, described in Luk_12:58. 

However, therefore, in far-off Rome, Cicero might describe the Publicani as “the flower of knighthood, the ornament of the state, and the strength of the republic,” or as “the most upright and respected men,” the Rabbis in distant Palestine might be excused for their intense dislike of “the publicans,” even although it went to the excess of declaring them incapable of bearing testimony in a Jewish court of law, of forbidding to receive their charitable gifts, or even to change money out of their treasury (Baba K. x. 1), of ranking them not only with harlots and heathens, but with highwaymen and murderers (Ned. iii. 4), and of even declaring them excommunicate. Indeed, it was held lawful to make false returns, to speak untruth, or almost to use any means to avoid paying taxes (Ned. 27 b; 28 a). And about the time of Christ the burden of such exactions must have been felt all the heavier on account of a great financial crisis in the Roman Empire (in the year 33 or our era), which involved so many in bankruptcy, and could not have been without its indirect influence even upon distant Palestine. 

Of such men–despised Galileans, unlettered fishermen, excommunicated publicans–did the blessed Lord, in His self-humiliation, choose His closest followers, His special apostles! What a contrast to the Pharisaical notions of the Messiah and His kingdom! What a lesson to show, that it was not “by might nor by power,” but by His Spirit, and that God had chosen the base things of this world, and things that were despised, to confound things that were mighty! Assuredly, this offers a new problem, and one harder of solution than many others, to those who would explain everything by natural causes. Whatever they may say of the superiority of Christ’s teaching to account for his success, no religion could ever have been more weighted; no popular cause could ever have presented itself under more disadvantageous circumstances than did the Gospel of Christ to the Jews of Palestine. Even from this point of view, to the historical student familiar with the outer and inner life of that period, there is no other explanation of the establishment of Christ’s kingdom than the power of the Holy Ghost. 

Such a custom-house officer was Matthew Levi, when the voice of our Lord, striking to the inmost depths of his heart, summoned him to far different work. It was a wonder that the Holy One should speak to such an one as he; and oh! in what different accents from what had ever fallen on his ears. But it was not merely condescension, kindness, sympathy, even familiar intercourse with one usually regarded as a social pariah; it was the closest fellowship; it was reception into the innermost circle; it was a call to the highest and holiest work which the Lord offered to Levi. And the busy road on which he sat to collect customs and dues would now no more know the familiar face of Levi, otherwise than as that of a messenger of peace, who brought glad tidings of great joy.

Chapter 5 – In Judaea

If Galilee could boast of the beauty of its scenery and the fruitfulness of its soil; of being the mart of a busy life, and the highway of intercourse with the great world outside Palestine, Judaea would neither covet nor envy such advantages. Hers was quite another and a peculiar claim. Galilee might be the outer court, but Judaea was like the inner sanctuary of Israel. True, its landscapes were comparatively barren, its hills bare and rocky, its wilderness lonely; but around those grey limestone mountains gathered the sacred history–one might almost say, the romance and religion of Israel. Turning his back on the luxurious richness of Galilee, the pilgrim, even in the literal sense, constantly went up towards Jerusalem. Higher and higher rose the everlasting hills, till on the uppermost he beheld the sanctuary of his God, standing out from all around, majestic in the snowy pureness of its marble and glittering gold. As the hum of busy life gradually faded from his hearing, and he advanced into the solemn stillness and loneliness, the well-known sites which he successively passed must have seemed to wake the echoes of the history of his people. First, he approached Shiloh, Israel’s earliest sanctuary, where, according to tradition, the Ark had rested for 370 years less one. Next came Bethel, with its sacred memorial of patriarchal history. There, as the Rabbis had it, even the angel of death was shorn of his power. Then he stood on the plateau of Ramah, with the neighbouring heights of Gibeon and Gibeah, round which so many events in Jewish history had clustered. In Ramah Rachel died, and was buried. * 

* This appears, to me at least, the inevitable inference from 1Sa_10:2-3, and Jer_31:15. Most writers have concluded from Gen_35:16, Gen_35:19, that Rachel was buried close by Bethlehem, but the passage does not necessarily imply this. The oldest Jewish Commentary (Sifre, ed. Vienna, p. 146) supports the view given above in the text. M. Neubauer suggests that Rachel had died in the possession of Ephraim, and been buried at Bethlehem. The hypothesis is ingenious but fanciful. 

We know that Jacob set up a pillar on her grave. Such is the reverence of Orientals for the resting-places of celebrated historical personages, that we may well believe it to have been the same pillar which, according to an eye-witness, still marked the site at the time of our Lord (Book of Jubil. cxxxii Apud Hausrath, Neutest. Zeitg. p. 26). Opposite to it were the graves of Bilhah and of Dinah (c. p. 34). Only five miles from Jerusalem, this pillar was, no doubt, a well-known landmark. by this memorial of Jacob’s sorrow and shame had been the sad meeting-place of the captives when about to be carried into Babylon (Jer_40:1). There was bitter wailing at parting from those left behind, and in weary prospect of hopeless bondage, and still bitterer lamentation, as in the sight of friends, relations and countrymen, the old and the sick, the weakly, and women and children were pitilessly slaughtered, not to encumber the conqueror’s homeward march. Yet a third time was Rachel’s pillar, twice before the memorial of Israel’s sorrow and shame, to re-echo her lamentation over yet sorer captivity and slaughter, when the Idumaean Herod massacred her innocent children, in the hope of destroying with them Israel’s King and Israel’s kingdom. Thus was her cup of former bondage and slaughter filled, and the words of Jeremy the prophet fulfilled, in which he had depicted Rachel’s sorrow over her children (Mat_2:17-18). 

But westward from those scenes, where the mountains shelved down, or more abruptly descended towards the Shephelah, or wolds by the sea, were the scenes of former triumphs. Here Joshua had pursued the kings of the south; there Samson had come down upon the Philistines, and here for long years had war been waged against the arch-enemy of Israel, Philistia. Turning thence to the south, beyond the capital was royal Bethlehem, and still farther the priest-city Hebron, with its caves holding Israel’s most precious dust. That highland plateau was the wilderness of Judaea, variously named from the villages which at long distances dotted it; * desolate, lonely, tenanted only by the solitary shepherd, or the great proprietor, like Nabal, whose sheep pastured along it heights and in its glens. 

* Such as Tekoah, Engedi, Ziph, Maon, and Beersheba, which gave their names to districts in the wilderness of Judaea. 

This had long been the home of outlaws, or of those who, in disgust with the world, had retired from its fellowship. These limestone caves had been the hiding-place of David and his followers; and many a band had since found shelter in these wilds. Here also John the Baptist prepared for his work, and there, at the time of which we write, was the retreat of the Essenes, whom a vain hope of finding purity in separation from the world and its contact had brought to these solitudes. Beyond, deep down in a mysterious hollow. stretched the smooth surface of the Dead Sea, a perpetual memorial of God and of judgment. On its western shore rose the castle which Herod had named after himself, and farther south that almost inaccessible fastness of Masada, the scene of the last tragedy in the great Jewish war. Yet from the wild desolateness of the Dead Sea it was but a few hours to what seemed almost an earthly paradise. Flanked and defended by four surrounding forts, lay the important city of Jericho. Herod had built its walls, its theatre and amphitheatre; Archelaus its new palace, surrounded by splendid gardens. Through Jericho led the pilgrim way from Galilee, followed by our Lord Himself (Luk_19:1); and there also passed the great caravan-road, which connected Arabia with Damascus. The fertility of its soil, and its tropical produce, were almost proverbial. Its palm-groves and gardens of roses, but especially its balsam-plantations, of which the largest was behind the royal palace, were the fairy land of the old world. But this also was only a source of gain to the hated foreigner. Rome had made it a central station for the collection of tax and custom, known to us from Gospel history as that by which the chief publican Zaccheus had gotten his wealth. Jericho, with its general trade and its traffic in balsam–not only reputed the sweetest perfume, but also a cherished medicine in antiquity–was a coveted prize to all around. A strange setting for such a gem were its surroundings. There was the deep depression of the Arabah, through which the Jordan wound, first with tortuous impetuosity, and then, as it neared the Dead Sea, seemingly almost reluctant to lose its waters in that slimy mass (Pliny, Hist. Nat. vi. 5,2). Pilgrims, priests, traders, robbers, anchorites, wild fanatics, such were the figures to be met on that strange scene; and almost within hearing were the sacred sounds from the Temple-mount in the distance. * 

* According to the Jerusalem Talmud (Succ. v. 3) six different acts of ministry in the Temple were heard as far as Jericho, and the smell of the burning incense also could be perceived there. We need scarcely say that this was a gross exaggeration. 

It might be so, as the heathen historian put it in regard to Judaea, that no one could have wished for its own sake to wage serious warfare for its possession (Strabo, Geogr. xvi. 2). The Jew would readily concede this. It was not material wealth which attracted him hither, although the riches brought into the Temple from all quarters of the world ever attracted the cupidity of the Gentiles. To the Jew this was the true home of his soul, the centre of his inmost life, the longing of his heart. “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning,” sang they who sat by the rivers of Babylon, weeping as they remembered Zion. “If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy” (Psa_137:5-6). It is from such pilgrim-psalms by the way as Psalm 84 or from the Songs of Ascent to the Holy City (commonly known as the Psalms of Degrees), that we learn the feelings of Israel, culminating in this mingled outpouring of prayer and praise, with which they greeted the city of their longings as first it burst on their view: 

Jehovah hath chosen Zion; 

He hath desired it for His habitation. 

This is my rest for ever: 

Here will I dwell, for I desire after it! 

I will abundantly bless her provision: 

I will satisfy her poor with bread. 

I will also clothe her priests with salvation: 

And her saints shall shout aloud for joy. 

There will I make the horn of David to bud: 

I ordain a lamp for Mine anointed. 

His enemies will I clothe with shame: 

But upon himself shall his crown flourish. 


Words these, true alike in their literal and spiritual applications; highest hopes which, for nigh two thousand years, have formed and still form part of Israel’s daily prayer, when they plead: “Speedily cause Thou ‘the Branch of David,’ Thy servant, to shoot forth, and exalt Thou his horn through Thy salvation” (this is the fifteenth of the eighteen “benedictions” in the daily prayers). Alas, that Israel knows not the fulfilment of these hopes already granted and expressed in the thanksgiving of the father of the Baptist: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for He hath visited and redeemed His people, and hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David; as He spake by the mouth of His holy prophets, which have been since the world began” (Luk_1:68-70). 

Such blessings, and much more, were not only objects of hope, but realities alike to the Rabbinist and the unlettered Jew. They determined him willingly to bend the neck under a yoke of ordinances otherwise unbearable; submit to claims and treatment against which his nature would otherwise have rebelled, endure scorn and persecutions which would have broken any other nationality and crushed any other religion. To the far exiles of the Dispersion, this was the one fold, with its promise of good shepherding, of green pastures, and quiet waters. Judaea was, so to speak, their Campo Santo, with the Temple in the midst of it, as the symbol and prophecy of Israel’s resurrection. To stand, if it were but once, within its sacred courts, to mingle with its worshippers, to bring offerings, to see the white-robed throng of ministering priests, to hear the chant of Levites, to watch the smoke of sacrifices uprising to heaven–to be there, to take part in it was the delicious dream of life, a very heaven upon earth, the earnest of fulfilling prophecy. No wonder, that on the great feasts the population of Jerusalem and of its neighbourhood, so far as reckoned within its sacred girdle, swelled to millions, among whom were “devout men, out of every nation under heaven” (Act_2:5), or that treasure poured in from all parts of the inhabited world. And this increasingly, as sign after sign seemed to indicate that “the End” was nearing. Surely the sands of the times of the Gentiles must have nearly run out. The promised Messiah might at any moment appear and “restore the kingdom to Israel.” From the statements of Josephus we know that the prophecies of Daniel were specially resorted to, and a mass of the most interesting, though tangled, apocalyptic literature, dating from that period, shows what had been the popular interpretation of unfulfilled prophecy. The oldest Jewish paraphrases of Scripture, or Targumim, breathe the same spirit. Even the great heathen historians note this general expectancy of an impending Jewish world-empire, and trace to it the origin of the rebellions against Rome. Not even the allegorising Jewish philosophers of Alexandria remained uninfluenced by the universal hope. Outside Palestine all eyes were directed towards Judaea, and each pilgrim band on its return, or wayfaring brother on his journey, might bring tidings of startling events. Within the land the feverish anxiety of those who watched the scene not unfrequently rose to delirium and frenzy. Only thus can we account for the appearance of so many false Messiahs and for the crowds which, despite repeated disappointments, were ready to cherish the most unlikely anticipations. It was thus that a Theudas could persuade “a great part of the people” to follow him to the brink of Jordan, in the hope of seeing its waters once more miraculously divide, as before Moses, and an Egyptian impostor induce them to go out to the Mount of Olives in the expectation of seeing the walls of Jerusalem fall down at his command (Josephus, Ant. xx,167-172). Nay, such was the infatuation of fanaticism, that while the Roman soldiers were actually preparing to set the Temple on fire, a false prophet could assemble 6,000 men, women, and children, in its courts and porches to await then and there a miraculous deliverance from heaven (Josephus, Jewish War, vi,287). Nor did even the fall of Jerusalem quench these expectations, till a massacre, more terrible in some respects than that at the fall of Jerusalem, extinguished in blood the last public Messianic rising against Rome under Bar Cochab. 

For, however misdirected–so far as related to the person of the Christ and the nature of His kingdom–not to the fact or time of His coming, nor yet to the character of Rome–such thoughts could not be uprooted otherwise than with the history and religion of Israel. The New Testament process upon them, as well as the Old; Christians and Jews alike cherished them. In the language of St. Paul, this was “the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers: unto which our twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night, hope to come” (Act_26:6-7). It was this which sent the thrill of expectancy through the whole nation, and drew crowds to Jordan, when an obscure anchorite, who did not even pretend to attest his mission by any miracle, preached repentance in view of the near coming of the kingdom of God. It was this which turned all eyes to Jesus of Nazareth, humble and unpretending as were His origin, His circumstances, and His followers, and which diverted the attention of the people even from the Temple to the far-off lake of despised Galilee. And it was this which opened every home to the messengers whom Christ sent forth, by two and two, and even after the Crucifixion, every synagogue, to the apostles and preachers from Judaea. The title “Son of man” was familiar to those who had drawn their ideas of the Messiah from the well-known pages of Daniel. The popular apocalyptic literature of the period, especially the so-called “Book of Enoch,” not only kept this designation in popular memory, but enlarged on the judgment which He was to execute on Gentile kings and nations.” * “Wilt Thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” was a question out of the very heart of Israel. Even John the Baptist, in the gloom of his lonely prison, staggered not at the person of the Messiah, but at the manner in which He seemed to found His kingdom. ** He had expected to hear the blows of that axe which he had lifted fall upon the barren tree, and had to learn that the innermost secret of that kingdom–carried not in earthquake of wrath, nor in whirlwind of judgment, but breathed in the still small voice of love and pity–was comprehension, not exclusion; healing, not destruction. 

* The following as a specimen must suffice for the present: “And this Son of man, whom thou hast seen, shall stir up the kings and the mighty from their layers, and the powerful from their thrones, and shall loose the bridles of the mighty and break in pieces the teeth of sinners. And He shall drive the kings from their thrones and from their empires, if they do not exalt nor praise Him, nor gratefully own from whence the kingdom has been entrusted to them. And He shall drive away the face of the mighty, and shame shall fill them: darkness shall be their dwelling and worms their bed, and they shall have no hope of rising from their beds, because they do not exalt the name of the Lord of spirits…And they shall be driven forth out of the homes of His congregation and of the faithful” (Book of Enoch, xlvi. 4,5,6,8). A full discussion of this most important subject, and, indeed, of many kindred matters, must be reserved for a work on the Life and Times of our Lord. 

** The passage above referred to has a most important apologetic interest. None but a truthful history would have recorded the doubts of John the Baptist; especially when they brought forward the real difficulties which the mission of Christ raised in the popular mind; least of all would it have followed up the statement of these difficulties by such an encomium as the Saviour passed upon John. 

As for the Rabbis, the leaders of public opinion, their position towards the kingdom was quite different. Although in the rising of Bar Cochab the great Rabbi Akiba acted as the religious standard-bearer, he may be looked upon as almost an exception. His character was that of an enthusiast, his history almost a romance. But, in general, the Rabbis did not identify themselves with the popular Messianic expectations. Alike the Gospel-history and their writings show not merely that anti-spiritual opposition to the Church which we might have expected, but coldness and distance in regard to all such movements. Legal rigorism and merciless bigotry are not fanaticism. The latter is chiefly the impulse of the ill-informed. Even their contemptuous turning away from “this people which knoweth not the law,” as “accursed,” proves them incapable of a fanaticism which recognises a brother in every one whose heart burns with the same fire, no matter what his condition otherwise. The great text-book of Rabbinism, the Mishnah, is almost entirely un-Messianic, one might say un-dogmatical. The method of the Rabbis was purely logical. Where not a record of facts or traditions, the Mishnah is purely a handbook of legal determinations in their utmost logical sequences, only enlivened by discussions or the tale of instances in point. The whole tendency of this system was anti-Messianic. Not but that in souls so devout and natures so ardent enthusiasm might be kindled, but that all their studies and pursuits went in the contrary direction. Besides, they knew full well how little of power was left them, and they dreaded losing even this. The fear of Rome constantly haunted them. Even at the destruction of Jerusalem the leading Rabbis aimed to secure their safety, and their after history shows, frequently recurring, curious instances of Rabbinical intimacy with their Roman oppressors. The Sanhedrim spoke their inmost apprehensions, when in that secret session they determined to kill Jesus from fear that, if He were allowed to go on, and all men were to believe on Him, the Romans would come and take away both their place and nation (Joh_11:48). Yet not one candid mind among them discussed the reality of His miracles; not one generous voice was raised to assert the principle of the Messiah’s claims and kingdom, even though they had rejected those of Jesus of Nazareth! The question of the Messiah might come up as a speculative point; it might force itself upon the attention of the Sanhedrim; but it was not of personal, practical, life-interest to them. It may mark only one aspect of the question, and that an extreme one, yet even as such it is characteristic, when a Rabbi could assert that “between the present and the days of the Messiah there was only this difference, Israel’s servitude.” 

Quite other matters engrossed the attention of the Rabbis. It was the present and the past, not the future, which occupied them–the present as fixing all legal determinations, and the past as giving sanction to this. Judaea proper was the only place where the Shechinah had dwelt, the land where Jehovah had caused His temple to be reared, the seat of the Sanhedrim, the place where alone learning and real piety were cultivated. From this point of view everything was judged. Judaea was “grain, Galilee straw, and beyond Jordan chaff.” To be a Judaean was to be “an Hebrew of the Hebrews.” It has already been stated what reproach the Rabbis attached to Galilee in regard to its language, manners, and neglect of regular study. In some respects the very legal observances, as certainly social customs, were different in Judaea from Galilee. Only in Judaea could Rabbis be ordained by the laying on of hands; only there could the Sanhedrim in solemn session declare and proclaim the commencement of each month, on which the arrangement of the festive calendar depended. Even after the stress of political necessity had driven the Rabbis to Galilee, they returned to Lydda for the purpose, and it needed a sharp struggle before they transferred the privilege of Judaea to other regions in the third century of our era (Jer. Sanh. i. 1,18). The wine for use in the Temple was brought exclusively from Judaea, not only because it was better, but because the transport through Samaria would have rendered it defiled. Indeed, the Mishnah mentions the names of the five towns whence it was obtained. Similarly, the oil used was derived either from Judaea, or, if from Peraea, the olives only were brought, to be crushed in Jerusalem. 

The question what cities were really Jewish was of considerable importance, so far as concerned ritual questions, and it occupied the earnest attention of the Rabbis. It is not easy to fix the exact boundaries of Judaea proper towards the north-west. To include the sea-shore in the province of Samaria is a popular mistake. It certainly was never reckoned with it. According to Josephus (Jewish War, iii,35-58) Judaea proper extended along the sea-shore as far north as Ptolemais or Acco. The Talmud seems to exclude at least the northern cities. In the New Testament there is a distinction made between Caesarea and the province of Judaea (Act_12:19, Act_21:10). This affords one of the indirect evidences not only of the intimate acquaintance of the writer with strictly Rabbinical views, but also of the early date of the composition of the Book of Acts. For, at a later period Caesarea was declared to belong to Judaea, although its harbour was excluded from such privileges, and all east and west of it pronounced “defiled.” Possibly, it may have been added to the cities of Judaea, simply because afterwards so many celebrated Rabbis resided there. The importance attaching to Caesarea in connection with the preaching of the Gospel and the history of St. Paul, and the early and flourishing Christian churches there established give fresh interest to all notices of the place. Only those from Jewish sources can here engage our attention. It were out of place here to describe the political importance of Caesarea, as the seat of the Roman power, or its magnificent harbour and buildings, or its wealth and influence. In Jewish writings it bears the same name by which we know it, though at times it is designated after its fortifications (Migdal Shur, M. Zor, M. Nassi), or after its harbour (Migdal Shina), once also by its ancient name, the tower of Straton. The population consisted of a mixture of Jews, Greeks, Syrians, and Samaritans, and tumults between them were the first signal of the great Jewish war. The Talmud calls it “the capital of the kings.” As the seat of the Roman power it was specially hateful to the Jews. Accordingly it is designated as the “daughter of Edom–the city of abomination and blasphemy,” although the district was, for its riches, called “the land of life.” As might be expected, constant difficulties arose between the Jewish and Roman authorities in Caesarea, and bitter are the complaints against the unrighteousness of heathen judges. We can readily understand, that to a Jew Caesarea was the symbol of Rome, Rome of Edom–and Edom was to be destroyed! In fact, in their view Jerusalem and Caesarea could not really co-exist. It is in this sense that we account for the following curious passage: “If you are told that Jerusalem and Caesarea are both standing, or that they are both destroyed, believe it not; but if you are told that one of them is destroyed and the other standing, then believe it” (Gitt. 16 a; Meg. 6 a). It is interesting to know that on account of the foreign Jews resident in Caesarea, the Rabbis allowed the principal prayers to be said in Greek, as being the vernacular; and that, from the time of the evangelist Philip, good work was done for Christ among its resident Jews. Indeed, Jewish writings contain special notice of controversies there between Jews and Christians. 

A brief summary of Jewish notices of certain other towns in Judaea, mentioned also in the New Testament, may throw some additional light on the sacred narratives. In general, the Mishnah divided Judaea proper into three parts–mountain, Shephelah, and valley (Shev. ix 2), to which we must add the city of Jerusalem as a separate district. And here we have another striking evidence of the authenticity of the New Testament, and especially of the writings of St. Luke. Only one intimately acquainted with the state of matters at the time would, with the Rabbis, have distinguished Jerusalem as a district separate from all the rest of Judaea, as St. Luke markedly does on several occasions (Luk_5:17; Act_1:8, Act_10:39). When the Rabbis speak of “the mountain,” they refer to the district north-east and north of Jerusalem, also known as “the royal mount.” The Shephelah, of course, is the country along the sea-shore. All the rest is included in the term “valley.” It need scarcely be explained that, as the Jerusalem Talmud tells us, this is merely a general classification, which must not be too closely pressed. Of the eleven toparchies into which, according to Josephus (Pliny enumerates only ten), Judaea proper was arranged, the Rabbis take no notice, although some of their names have been traced in Talmudical writings. These provinces were no doubt again subdivided into districts or hyparchies, just as the towns were into quarters or hegemonies, both terms occurring in the Talmud. The Rabbis forbade the exportation of provisions from Palestine, even into Syria. 

Travelling southward from Caesarea we are in the plain of Sharon, whose beauty and richness are so celebrated in Holy Scripture (Son_2:1; Isa_35:2). This plain extends as far as Lydda, where it merges into that of Darom, which stretches farther southwards. In accordance with the statements of Holy Scripture (Isa_65:10) the plain of Sharon was always celebrated for its pasturage. According to the Talmud most of the calves for sacrifices were brought from that district. The wine of Sharon was celebrated, and, for beverage, supposed to be mixed with one-third of water. The plain was also well known for the manufacture of pottery; but it must have been of an inferior kind, since the Mishnah (Baba K. vi. 2) in enumerating for what proportion of damaged goods a purchaser might not claim compensation, allows not less than ten per cent for breakage in the pottery of Sharon. In Jer. Sotah viii. 3, we read that the permission to return from war did not apply to those who had built brick houses in Sharon, it being explained that the clay was so bad, that the houses had to be rebuilt within seven years. Hence also the annual prayer of the high-priest on the Day of Atonement, that the houses of the men of Sharon should not become their graves. Antipatris, the place where the foot soldiers had left St. Paul in charge of the horsemen (Act_23:31), had once been the scene of a very different array. For it was here that, according to tradition (Yoma,69 a), the priesthood, under Simon the Just, had met Alexander the Great in that solemn procession, which secured the safety of the Temple. In Talmudical writings it bears the same name, which was given it by Herod, in memory of his father Antipater (Ant. vi,5.2). The name of Chephar Zaba, however, also occurs, possibly that of an adjoining locality. In Sanh. 94 b, we read that Hezekiah had suspended a board at the entrance of the Beth Midrash (or college), with the notification that whoever studied not the Law was to be destroyed. Accordingly they searched from Dan to Beersheba, and found not a single unlettered person, nor yet from Gebath to Antipatris, boy or girl, man or woman, who was not fully versed in all the legal ordinances concerning clean and unclean. 

Another remarkable illustration of the New Testament is afforded by Lydda, the Talmudical Lod or Lud. We read that, in consequence of the labours of St. Peter and the miracle wrought on Aeneas, “all that dwelt at Lydda and Saron…turned to the Lord” (Act_9:35). The brief notice of Lydda given in this narrative of the apostle’s labours, is abundantly confirmed by Talmudical notices, although, of course, we must not expect them to describe the progress of Christianity. We can readily believe that Lydda had its congregation of “saints,” almost from the first, since it was (Maas. Sh. v. 2) within an easy day’s journey west of Jerusalem. Indeed, as the Talmud explains, the second tithes (Deu_14:22, Deu_26:12) from Lydda could not be converted into money, but had to be brought to the city itself, so “that the streets of Jerusalem might be garlanded with fruits.” The same passage illustrates the proximity of Lydda to the city, and the frequent intercourse between the two, by saying that the women of Lydda mixed their dough, went up to Jerusalem, prayed in the Temple, and returned before it had fermented. Similarly, we infer from Talmudical documents that Lydda had been the residence of many Rabbis before the destruction of Jerusalem. After that event, it became the seat of a very celebrated school, presided over by some of the leaders of Jewish thought. It was this school which boldly laid it down, that, to avoid death, every ordinance of the Law might be broken, except those in regard to idolatry, incest, and murder. It was in Lydda, also, that two brothers voluntarily offered themselves victims to save their co-religionists from slaughter, threatened because a body had been found, whose death was imputed to the Jews. It sounds like a sad echo of the taunts addressed by “chief priests,” “scribes and elders,” to Jesus on the cross (Mat_27:41-43) when, on the occasion just mentioned, the Roman thus addressed the martyrs: “If you are of the people of Ananias, Mishael, and Azarias, let your God come, and save you from my hand!” (Taan. 18,6). 

But a much more interesting chain of evidence connects Lydda with the history of the founding of the Church. It is in connection with Lydda and its tribunal, which is declared to have been capable of pronouncing sentence of death, that our blessed Lord and the Virgin Mother are introduced in certain Talmudical passages, though with studiously and blasphemously altered names. The statements are, in their present form, whether from ignorance, design, or in consequence of successive alterations, confused, and they mix up different events and persons in Gospel history; among other things representing our Lord as condemned at Lydda. * 

* May there not perhaps be some historical foundation even for this statement? Could the secret gathering of “the chief priests and Pharisees,” mentioned in Joh_11:47, have taken place in Lydda (compare vers. Joh_11:54-55)? Was it there, that Judas “communed with the chief priests and captains, how he might betray Him unto them?” There were at any rate obvious reasons for avoiding Jerusalem in all preliminary measures against Jesus; and we know that, while the Temple stood, Lydda was the only place out of Jerusalem which may be called a seat of the Rabbinical party. 

But there can be no reasonable question that they refer to our blessed Lord and His condemnation for supposed blasphemy and seduction of the people, and that they at least indicate a close connection between Lydda and the founding of Christianity. It is a curious confirmation of the gospel history, that the death of Christ is there described as having taken place “on the eve of the Passover,” remarkably bearing out not only the date of that event as gathered from the synoptical gospels, but showing that the Rabbis at least knew nothing of those Jewish scruples and difficulties, by which modern Gentile writers have tried to prove the impossibility of Christ’s condemnation on the Paschal night. It has already been stated that, after the destruction of Jerusalem, many and most celebrated Rabbis chose Lydda for their residence. But the second century witnessed a great change. The inhabitants of Lydda are now charged with pride, ignorance, and neglect of their religion. The Midrash (Esther 1:3) has it, that there were “ten measures of wretchedness in the world. Nine of those belong to Lod, the tenth to all the rest of the world.” Lydda was the last place in Judaea to which, after their migration into Galilee, the Rabbis resorted to fix the commencement of the month. Jewish legend has it, that they were met by the “evil eye,” which caused their death. There may, perhaps, be an allegorical allusion in this. Certain it is, that, at the time, Lydda was the seat of a most flourishing Christian Church, and had its bishop. Indeed, a learned Jewish writer has connected the changed Jewish feeling towards Lod with the spread of Christianity. Lydda must have been a very beautiful and a very busy place. The Talmud speaks in exaggerated terms of the honey of its dates (Cheth. iii. a), and the Mishnah (Baba M. iv. 3) refers to its merchants as a numerous class, although their honesty is not extolled. * 

* The Mishnah discusses how much profit a merchant is allowed to take on an article, and within what period a purchaser, who finds himself imposed upon, may return his purchase. The merchants of Lydda are certainly not placed in this discussion in the most advantageous light. 

Near Lydda, eastwards, was the village of Chephar Tabi. We might be tempted to derive from it the name of Tabitha (Act_9:36), if it were not that the names Tabi and Tabitha had been so common at the time in Palestine. There can be no question of the situation of Joppa, the modern Jaffa, where Peter saw the vision which opened the door of the Church to the Gentiles. Many Rabbis are mentioned in connection with Joppa. The town was destroyed by Vespasian. There is a curious legend in the Midrash to the effect that Joppa was not overwhelmed by the deluge. Could this have been an attempt to insinuate the preservation and migration of men to distant parts of the earth? The exact location of Emmaus, for ever sacred to us by the manifestation of the Saviour to the two disciples (Luk_24:13), is matter of controversy. On the whole, the weight of evidence still inclines to the traditional site. * 

* Modern writers mostly identify it with the present Kulonieh, colonia, deriving the name from the circumstance that it was colonised by Roman soldiers. Lieut. Conder suggests the modern Khamasa, about eight miles from Jerusalem, as the site of Emmaus. 

If so, it had a considerable Jewish population, although it was also occupied by a Roman garrison. Its climate and waters were celebrated, as also its market-place. It is specially interesting to find that among the patrician Jewish families belonging to the laity, who took part in the instrumental music of the Temple, two–those of Pegarim and Zippariah–were from Emmaus, and also that the priesthood were wont to intermarry with the wealthy Hebrews of that place (Er. ii. 4). Gaza, on whose “desert” road Philip preached to and baptized the Ethiopian eunuch, counted not fewer than eight heathen temples, besides an idol-shrine just outside the city. Still Jews were allowed to reside there, probably on account of its important market. 

Only two names yet remain to be mentioned, but those of the deepest and most solemn interest. Bethlehem, the birthplace of our Lord, and Jerusalem, where He was crucified. It deserves notice, that the answer which the Sanhedrists of old gave to the inquiries of Herod (Mat_2:5) is equally returned in many Talmudical passages, and with the same reference to Mic_5:2. It may therefore be regarded as a settled point that, according to the Jewish fathers, Messiah, the Son of David, was to be born in Bethlehem of Judah. But there is one passage in the Mishnah which throws such peculiar light on the Gospel narrative, that it will be best to give it in its entirety. We know that, on the night in which our Saviour was born, the angels’ message came to those who probably alone of all in or near Bethlehem were “keeping watch.” For, close by Bethlehem, on the road to Jerusalem, was a tower, known as Migdal Eder, the “watch-tower of the flock.” For here was the station where shepherd watched their flocks destined for sacrifices in the Temple. So well known was this, that if animals were found as far from Jerusalem as Migdal Eder, and within that circuit on every side, the males were offered as burnt-offerings, the females as peace-offerings. * 

* Formerly those who found such animals had out of their own means to supply the necessary drink-offerings. But as this induced some not to bring the animals to the Temple, it was afterwards decreed to supply the cost of the drink-offerings from the Temple treasury (Shek. vii. 5). 

R. Jehudah adds: “If suited for Paschal sacrifices, then they are Paschal sacrifices, provided it be not more than thirty days before the feast” (Shekal. vii 4; compare also Jer. Kid. ii. 9). It seems of deepest significance, almost like the fulfilment of type, that those shepherds who first heard tidings of the Saviour’s birth, who first listened to angels’ praises, were watching flocks destined to be offered as sacrifices in the Temple. There was the type, and here the reality. At all times Bethlehem was among “the least” in Judah–so small that the Rabbis do not even refer to it in detail. The small village-inn was over-crowded, and the guests from Nazareth found shelter only in the stable, * whose manger became the cradle of the King of Israel. 

* In Echa R. 72 a, there is a tradition that the Messiah was to be born “in the Castle Arba of Bethlehem Judah.” Caspari quotes this in confirmation that the present castellated monastery, in the cave of which is the traditional site of our Lord’s birth, marks the real spot. In the East such caves were often used as stables. 

It was here that those who tended the sacrificial flocks, heaven-directed, found the Divine Babe–significantly the first to see Him, to believe, and to adore. But this is not all. It is when we remember, that presently these shepherds would be in the Temple, and meet those who came thither to worship and to sacrifice, that we perceive the full significance of what otherwise would have seemed scarcely worth while noticing in connection with humble shepherds: “And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds” (Luk_2:17-18). Moreover, we can understand the wonderful impression made on those in the courts of the Temple, as, while they selected their sacrifices, the shepherds told the devout of the speedy fulfilment of all these types in what they had themselves seen and heard in that night of wonders; how eager, curious crowds might gather around to discuss, to wonder, perhaps to mock; how the heart of “just and devout” old Simeon would be gladdened within him, in expectation of the near realisation of a life’s hopes and prayers; and how aged Anna, and they who like her “looked for redemption in Israel,” would lift up their heads, since their salvation was drawing nigh. Thus the shepherds would be the most effectual heralds of the Messiah in the Temple, and both Simeon and Anna be prepared for the time when the infant Saviour would be presented in the sanctuary. But there is yet another verse which, as we may suggest, would find a fuller explanation in the fact that these shepherds tended the Temple flocks. When in Luk_2:20 we read that “the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God,” the meaning in that connection * seems somewhat difficult till we realise that, after bringing their flocks to the Temple, they would return to their own homes, and carry with them, joyfully and gratefully, tidings of the great salvation. 

* Compare here Luk_2:17-18, which in point of time precede Luk_2:20. The term diagnorizo, rendered in the Authorised Version “make known abroad,” and by Wahl “ultro citroque narro,” does not seem exhausted by the idea of conversation with the party in the “stable,” or with any whom they might meet in “the field.” 

Lastly, without entering into controversy, the passage from the Mishnah above quoted in great measure disposes of the objection against the traditional date of our Lord’s birth, derived from the supposed fact, that the rains of December would prevent the flocks being kept all night “in the field.” For, in the first place, these were flocks on their way to Jerusalem, and not regularly pasturing in the open at that season. And, secondly, the Mishnah evidently contemplates their being thus in the open thirty days before the Passover, or in the month of February, during which the average rainfall is quite the largest in the year. * 

* The average rainfall in Jerusalem for eight years amounts to fourteen inches in December, thirteen in January, and sixteen in February (Barclay, City of the Great King, p. 428). 

“Ten measures of beauty,” say the Rabbis, “hath God bestowed upon the world, and nine of these fall to the lot of Jerusalem”–and again, “A city, the fame of which has gone out from one end of the world to the other” (Ber. 38). “Thine, O Lord, is the greatness, the power, the glory, and eternity.” This–explains the Talmud–“is Jerusalem.” In opposition to her rival Alexandria, which was designated “the little,” Jerusalem was called “the great.” It almost reminds one of the title “eternal city,” given to Rome, when we find the Rabbis speaking of Jerusalem as the “eternal house.” Similarly, if a common proverb has it, that “all roads lead to Rome,” it was a Jewish saying, “All coins come from Jerusalem.” This is not the place to describe the city in its appearance and glory. But one almost feels as if, on such a subject, one could understand, if not condone, the manifest exaggerations of the Rabbis. Indeed, there are indications that they scarcely expected their statements to be taken literally. Thus, when the number of its synagogues is mentioned as 460 or 480, it is explained that the latter number is the numerical equivalent of the word “full” in Isa_1:21 (“it was full of judgment”). It is more interesting to know, that we find in the Talmud express mention of “the Synagogue of the Alexandrians,” referred to in Act_6:9 –another important confirmation, if such were needed, of the accuracy of St. Luke’s narratives. Of the hospitality of the inhabitants of Jerusalem accounts are given, which we can scarcely regard as much exaggerated; for the city was not reckoned to belong to any tribe in particular; it was to be considered as equally the home of all. Its houses were to be neither hired nor let, but freely thrown open to every brother. Nor did any one among the countless thousands who thronged it at feast-times ever lack room. A curtain hung before the entrance of a house intimated, that there was still room for guests; a table spread in front of it, that its board was still at their disposal. And, if it was impossible to accommodate within the walls of Jerusalem proper the vast crowds which resorted to the city, there can be no doubt that for sacred purpose Bethany and Bethphage were reckoned as within the circle of Jerusalem. It calls forth peculiar sensations, when we read in these Jewish records of Bethany and Bethphage as specially celebrated for their hospitality to pilgrim-guests, for it wakes the sacred memories of our Lord’s sojourn with the holy family of Bethany, and especially of His last stay there and of His royal entrance into Jerusalem. 

In truth, every effort was used to make Jerusalem truly a city of delight. Its police and sanitary regulations were more perfect than in any modern city; the arrangements such as to keep the pilgrim free to give his heart and mind to sacred subjects. If, after all, “the townspeople,” as they were called, were regarded as somewhat proud and supercilious, it was something to be a citizen of Jerushalaimah, as the Jerusalemites preferred to write its name. Their constant intercourse with strangers gave them a knowledge of men and of the world. The smartness and cleverness of the young people formed a theme of admiration to their more shy and awkward country relatives. There was also a grandeur in their bearing–almost luxury; and an amount of delicacy, tact, and tenderness, which appeared in all their public dealings. Among a people whose wit and cleverness are proverbial, it was no mean praise to be renowned for these qualities. In short, Jerusalem was the ideal of the Jew, in whatever land of exile he might tarry. Her rich men would lavish fortunes on the support of Jewish learning, the promotion of piety, or the support of the national cause. Thus one of them would, when he found the price of sacrifices exceedingly high, introduce into the Temple-court the requisite animals at his own cost, to render the service possible for the poor. Or on another occasion he would offer to furnish the city for twenty-one months with certain provisions in her struggle against Rome. In the streets of Jerusalem men from the most distant countries met, speaking every variety of language and dialect. Jews and Greeks, Roman soldiers and Galilean peasants, Pharisees, Sadducees, and white-robed Essenes, busy merchants and students of abstruse theology, mingled, a motley crowd, in the narrow streets of the city of palaces. But over all the Temple, rising above the city, seemed to fling its shadow and its glory. Each morning the threefold blast of the priests’ trumpets wakened the city with a call to prayer; each evening the same blasts closed the working day, as with sounds from heaven. Turn where you might, everywhere the holy buildings were in view, now with the smoke of sacrifices curling over the courts, or again with solemn stillness resting upon the sacred hills. It was the Temple which gave its character to Jerusalem, and which decided its fate. There is a remarkable passage in the Talmud, which, remembering that the time to which it refers was in all probability the very year in which our Lord died on the cross, reads like an unwilling confirmation of the Gospel narrative: “Forty years before the destruction of the Temple, its doors opened of their own accord. Jochanan, * the son of Saccai, rebuked them, saying: O Temple, why openest thou of thine own accord? Ah! I perceive that thine end is at hand; for it is written (Zec_11:1): ‘Open thy doors, O Lebanon, that the fire may devour thy cedars'” (Yoma 39 b). “And, behold, the veil of the Temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom” (Mat_27:51)–blessed be God, not merely in announcement of coming judgment, but henceforth to lay open unto all the way into the Holiest of All. 

* Caspari suggests that this was the same as the high-priest Annas, the name having only the syllable indicating the name of Jehovah prefixed.

Chapter 6 – Jewish Homes

It may be safely asserted, that the grand distinction, which divided all mankind into Jews and Gentiles, was not only religious, but also social. However near the cities of the heathen to those of Israel, however frequent and close the intercourse between the two parties, no one could have entered a Jewish town or village without feeling, so to speak, in quite another world. The aspect of the streets, the building and arrangement of the houses, the municipal and religious rule, the manners and customs of the people, their habits and ways–above all, the family life, stood in marked contrast to what would be seen elsewhere. On every side there was evidence that religion here was not merely a creed, nor a set of observances, but that it pervaded every relationship, and dominated every phase of life. 

Let us imagine a real Jewish town or village. There were many such, for Palestine had at all times a far larger number of towns and villages than might have been expected from its size, or from the general agricultural pursuits of its inhabitants. Even at the time of its first occupation under Joshua we find somewhere about six hundred towns–if we may judge by the Levitical cities, of about an average circumference of two thousand cubits on each side, and with probably an average population of from two to three thousand. But the number of towns and villages, as well as their populousness, greatly increased in later times. Thus Josephus (Life,45) speaks of not fewer than two hundred and forty townships in Galilee alone in his days. This progress was, no doubt, due not only to the rapid development of society, but also to the love of building that characterised Herod and his family, and to which so many fortresses, palaces, temples, and towns owed their origin. Alike the New Testament, Josephus, and the Rabbis give us three names, which may be rendered by villages, townships, and towns–the latter being surrounded by walls, and again distinguished into those fortified already at the time of Joshua, and those of later date. A township might be either “great,” if it had its synagogue, or small, if it wanted such; this being dependent on the residence of at least ten men, who could always be reckoned upon to form a quorum for the worship of the synagogue (the so-called Batlanin *); for service could not be celebrated with any less number of males. 

* From “betal,” to cease–as the glossary to Baba B. 82 a explains: men without reproach, who gave up their work to give themselves wholly to the work of the synagogue. Such had a claim to support from the synagogue revenues. 

The villages had no synagogue; but their inhabitants were supposed to go to the nearest township for market on the Monday and Thursday of every week, when service was held for them, and the local Sanhedrim also sat (Megill. i. 1-3). A very curious law provided (Cheth. 110), that a man could not oblige his wife to follow him if he moved either from a township to a town, or the reverse. The reason of the former provision was, that in a town people lived together, and the houses were close to each other; hence there was a want of fresh, free air, and of gardens, which were enjoyed in townships. On the other hand, a woman might object to exchange residence in a town for one in a township, because in a town everything was to be got, and people met in the streets and market-place from all the neighbourhood. 

Statements like these will give some idea of the difference between town and country life. Let us first think of the former. Approaching one of the ancient fortified towns, one would come to a low wall that protected a ditch. Crossing this moat, one would be at the city wall proper, and enter through a massive gate, often covered with iron, and secured by strong bars and bolts. Above the gate rose the watch-tower. “Within the gate” was the shady or sheltered retreat where “the elders” sat. Here grave citizens discussed public affairs or the news of the day, or transacted important business. The gates opened upon large squares, on which the various streets converged. Here was the busy scene of intercourse and trade. The country-people stood or moved about, hawking the produce of field, orchard, and dairy; the foreign merchant or pedlar exposed his wares, recommending the newest fashions from Rome or Alexandria, the latest luxuries from the far East, or the art produce of the goldsmith and the modeller at Jerusalem, while among them moved the crowd, idle or busy, chattering, chaffing, good-humoured, and bandying witticisms. Now they give way respectfully before a Pharisee; or their conversation is hushed by the weird appearance of an Essene or of some sectary–political or religious,–while low, muttered curses attend the stealthy steps of the publican, whose restless eyes wander around to watch that nothing escape the close meshes of the tax-gatherer’s net. These streets are all named, mostly after the trades or guilds which have there their bazaars. For a guild always keeps together, whether in street or synagogue. In Alexandria the different trades sat in the synagogue arranged into guilds; and St. Paul could have no difficulty in meeting in the bazaar of his trade with the like-minded Aquila and Priscilla (Act_18:2-3), with whom to find a lodging. In these bazaars many of the workmen sat outside their shops, and, in the interval of labour, exchanged greetings or banter with the passers-by. For all Israel are brethren, and there is a sort of freemasonry even in the Jewish mode of salutation, which always embodied either an acknowledgment of the God of Israel, or a brotherly wish of peace. Excitable, impulsive, quick, sharp-witted, imaginative; fond of parable, pithy sayings, acute distinctions, or pungent wit; reverent towards God and man, respectful in the presence of age, enthusiastic of learning and of superior mental endowments, most delicately sensitive in regard to the feelings of others; zealous, with intensely warm Eastern natures, ready to have each prejudice aroused, hasty and violent in passion, but quickly assuaged–such is the motley throng around. And now, perhaps, the voice of a Rabbi, teaching in some shady retreat–although latterly Jewish pride of learning forbade the profanation of lore by popularising it for the “unlearned”–or, better far, at one time the presence of the Master, gathers and keeps them spell-bound, forgetful alike of the cravings of hunger and of the lapse of time, till, the short Eastern day ended, the stars shining out on the deep blue sky must have reminded many among them of the promise to their father Abraham, now fulfilled in One greater than Abraham. 

Back to the town in the cool of even to listen to the delicious murmur of well or fountain, as those crowd around it who have not cisterns in their own houses. The watchman is on the top of the tower above the gateway; presently, night-watchers will patrol the streets. Nor is there absolute darkness, for it is customary to keep a light burning all night in the house, and the windows (unlike those of modern Eastern dwellings) open chiefly on street and road. Those large windows are called Tyrian, the smaller ones Egyptian. They are not filled in with glass, but contain gratings or lattices. In the houses of the rich the window-frames are elaborately carved, and richly inlaid. Generally the woodwork is of the common sycamore, sometimes of olive or cedar, and in palaces even of Indian sandal-wood. The entablature is more or less curiously carved and ornamented. Only there must be no representation of anything in heaven or on earth. So deep was the feeling on this point, that even the attempt of Pilate to introduce by night into Jerusalem the effigies of Caesar on the top of the Roman standards led to scenes in which the Jews showed themselves willing to die for their convictions (Josephus, Ant, xviii,59); while the palace of Herod Antipas at Tiberias was burned by the mob because it was decorated with figures of animals (Josephus, Life,62-67). These extreme views, however, gave way, first, before the tolerant example of Gamaliel, the teacher of Paul, who made use of a public bath, although adorned by a statue of Venus, since, as he put it, the statue was intended for the embellishment of the bath, and not the bath for the sake of the statue. If this argument reminds us that Gamaliel was not a stranger to Christianity, the statement of his grandson, that an idol was nothing if its worship had been disclaimed by the heathen (Ab. Sar. 52), recalls still more strongly the teaching of St. Paul. And so we gradually come down to the modern orthodox doctrine, which allows the representation of plants, animals, etc., but prohibits that of sun, moon, and stars, except for purposes of study, while, though doubtfully, it admits those of men and even angels, provided they be in sunken, not in raised workmanship. 

The rule of these towns and villages was exceedingly strict. The representatives of Rome were chiefly either military men, or else fiscal or political agents. We have, indeed, a notice that the Roman general Gabinius, about half a century before Christ, divided Palestine for juridical purposes into five districts, each presided over by a council (Josephus, Ant. xiv,91); but that arrangement was only of very short duration, and even while it lasted these councils seem to have been Jewish. Then every town had is Sanhedrim, * consisting of twenty-three members if the place numbered at least one hundred and twenty men, or of three members if the population were smaller. ** 

* The name “Sanhedrim,” or “Sunedrion,” is undoubtedly of Greek derivation, although the Rabbis have tried to paraphrase it as “Sin” (=Sinai) “haderin,” those who repeat or explain the law, or to trace its etymology, as being “those who hate to accept the persons of men in judgment” (the name being supposed to be composed of the Hebrew equivalents of the words italicised). 

** An ingenious attempt has lately been made to show that the Sanhedrim of three members was not a regular court, but only arbitrators chosen by the parties themselves. But the argument, so far as it tries to prove that such was always the case, seems to me not to meet all the facts. 

These Sanhedrists were appointed directly by the supreme authority, or Great Sanhedrim, “the council,” at Jerusalem, which consisted of seventy-one members. It is difficult to fix the limits of the actual power wielded by these Sanhedrims in criminal cases. But the smaller Sanhedrims are referred to in such passages as Mat_5:22-23, Mat_10:17; Mar_13:9. Of course all ecclesiastical and, so to speak, strictly Jewish causes, and all religious questions were within their special cognisance. Lastly, there were also in every place what we may call municipal authorities, under the presidency of a mayor–the representatives of the “elders”–an institution so frequently mentioned in Scripture, and deeply rooted in Jewish society. Perhaps these may be referred to in Luk_7:3, as sent by the centurion of Capernaum to intercede for him with the Lord. 

What may be called the police and sanitary regulations were of the strictest character. Of Caesarea, for example, we know that there was a regular system of drainage into the sea, apparently similar to, but more perfect than that of any modern town (Josephus, Ant. xv,340). The same holds true in regard to the Temple-buildings at Jerusalem. But in every town and village sanitary rules were strictly attended to. Cemeteries, tanneries, and whatever also might be prejudicial to health, had to be removed at least fifty cubits outside a town. Bakers’ and dyers’ shops, or stables, were not allowed under the dwelling of another person. Again, the line of each street had to be strictly kept in building, nor was even a projection beyond it allowed. In general the streets were wider than those of modern Eastern cities. The nature of the soil, and the circumstance that so many towns were built on hills (at least in Judaea), would, of course, be advantageous in a sanitary point of view. It would also render the paving of the streets less requisite. But we know that certain towns were paved–Jerusalem with white stones (Josephus, Ant. xx,219-223). To obviate occasions of dispute, neighbours were not allowed to have windows looking into the courts or rooms of others nor might the principal entrance to a shop be through a court common to two or three dwellings. 

These brief notices may help us better to realise the surroundings of Jewish town life. Looking up and down one of the streets of a town in Galilee or Judaea, the houses would be seen to differ in size and in elegance, from the small cottage, only eight or ten yards square, to the mansions of the rich, sometimes two or more stories high, and embellished by rows of pillars and architectural adornments. Suppose ourselves in front of a better-class dwelling, though not exactly that of a patrician, for it is built of brick, or perhaps of undressed, or even of dressed stone, but not of marble, nor yet of hewn stone; nor are its walls painted with such delicate colours as vermilion, but simply whitewashed, or, may be, covered with some neutral tint. A wide, sometimes costly, stair leads from the outside straight up to the flat roof, which is made to slope a little downwards, so as to allow the rainwater easily to flow through pipes into the cistern below. The roof is paved with brick, stone, or other hard substance, and surrounded by a balustrade, which, according to Jewish law, must be at least two cubits (three feet) high, and strong enough to bear the weight of a person. Police-regulations, conceived in the same spirit of carefulness, prohibited open wells and pits, insufficient ladders, rickety stairs, even dangerous dogs about a house. From roof to roof there might be a regular communication, called by the Rabbis “the road of the roofs” (Babba Mez. 88 b). Thus a person could make his escape, passing from roof to roof, till at the last house he would descend the stairs that led down its outside, without having entered any dwelling. To this “road of the roofs” our Lord no doubt referred in His warning to His followers (Mat_24:17; Mar_13:15; Luk_17:31), intended to apply to the last siege of Jerusalem: “And let him that is on the housetop not go down into the house, neither enter therein.” For ordinary intercourse the roof was the coolest, the airiest, the stillest place. Of course, at times it would be used for purposes of domestic economy. But thither a man would retire in preference for prayer or quiet thinking; here he would watch, and wait, and observe whether friend or foe, the gathering of the storm, or–as the priest stationed on the pinnacle of the Temple before the morning sacrifice–how the red and golden light of dawn spread along the edge of the horizon. From the roof, also, it was easy to protect oneself against enemies, or to carry on dangerous fight with those beneath; and assuredly, if anywhere, it was “on the housetops” where secrets might be whispered, or, on the other hand, the most public “proclamation” of them be made (Mat_10:27; Luk_12:3). The stranger’s room was generally built on the roof, in order that, undisturbed by the household, the guest might go out and come in; and here, at the feast of Tabernacles, for coolness and convenience, the leafy “booths” were often reared, in which Israel dwelt in memory of their pilgrimage. Close by was “the upper chamber.” On the roof the family would gather for converse, or else in the court beneath–with its trees spreading grateful shade, and the music of its plashing fountain falling soothingly on the ear, as you stood in the covered gallery that ran all around, and opened on the apartments of the household. 

If the guest-chamber on the roof, which could be reached from the outside, without passing through the house, reminds us of Elisha and the Shunammite, and of the last Passover-supper, to which the Lord and His disciples could go, and which they could leave, without coming in contact with any in the house, the gallery that ran round the court under the roof recalls yet another most solemn scene. We remember how they who bore the man “sick of the palsy,” when unable to “come nigh unto Jesus for the press,” “uncovered the roof where He was,” “and let him down through the tiling with his couch into the midst before Jesus” (Mar_2:4; Luk_5:19). We know, from many Talmudical passages, that the Rabbis resorted in preference to “the upper room” when discussing religious questions. It may have been so in this instance; and, unable to gain access through the door which led into the upper room, the bearers of the sick may have broken down the ceiling from the roof. Or, judging it more likely that the attendant multitude thronged the court beneath, while Jesus stood in the gallery that ran round the court and opened into the various apartments, they might have broken down the roof above Him, and so slowly let down their burden at His feet, and in sight of them all. There is a significant parallelism, or rather contrast, to this in a Rabbinical story (Moed K. 25 a), which relates how, when the bier on which a celebrated teacher was laid could not be passed out at the door, they carried up their burden and let it down from the roof–on its way, not to a new life, but to burial. Otherwise, there was also a stair which led from the roof into the court and house. Approaching a house, as visitors ordinarily would do, from the street, you would either pass through a large outer court, or else come straight to the vestibule or porch. Here the door opened into the inner court, which sometimes was shared by several families. A porter opened to callers on mentioning their names, as did Rhoda to Peter on the eventful night of his miraculous deliverance from prison (Act_12:13-14). Our Lord also applies this well-known fact of domestic life, when He says (Rev_3:20), “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come into him, and will sup with him, and he with Me.” Passing through this inner court, and through the gallery, you would reach the various rooms–the family room, the reception room, and the sleeping apartments–the most retired being occupied by the ladies, and the inner rooms used chiefly in winter. The furniture was much the same as that now in use, consisting of tables, couches, chairs, candlesticks, and lamps, varying in costliness according to the rank and wealth of the family. Among articles of luxury we mention rich cushions for the head and arms, ornaments, and sometimes even pictures. The doors, which moved on hinges fastened with wooden pins, were barred by wooden bolts, which could be withdrawn by check keys from the outside. The dining apartment was generally spacious, and sometimes employed for meetings. 

We have been describing the arrangements and the appearance of towns and dwellings in Palestine. But it is not any of these outward things which gives a real picture of a Jewish home. Within, everything was quite peculiar. At the outset, the rite of circumcision separated the Jew from the nations around, and dedicated him to God. Private prayer, morning and evening, hallowed daily life, and family religions pervaded the home. Before every meal they washed and prayed: after it they “gave thanks.” Besides, there were what may be designated as special family feasts. The return of the Sabbath sanctified the week of labour. It was to be welcomed as a king, or with songs as a bridegroom; and each household observed it as a season of sacred rest and of joy. True, Rabbinism made all this a matter of mere externalism, converting it into an unbearable burden, by endless injunctions of what constituted work and of that which was supposed to produce joy, thereby utterly changing its sacred character. Still, the fundamental idea remained, like a broken pillar that shows where the palace had stood, and what had been its noble proportions. As the head of the house returned on the Sabbath-eve from the synagogue to his home, he found it festively adorned, the Sabbath lamp brightly burning, and the table spread with the richest each household could afford. But first he blessed each child with the blessing of Israel. And next evening, when the Sabbath light faded out, he made solemn “separation” between the hallowed day and the working week, and so commenced his labour once more in the name of the Lord. Nor were the stranger, the poor, the widow, or the fatherless forgotten. How fully they were provided for, how each shared in what was to be considered not a burden but a privilege, and with what delicacy relief was administered–for all Israel were brethren, and fellow-citizens of their Jerusalem–those know best who have closely studied Jewish life, its ordinances and practices. 

But this also is rather a sketch of religious than of family life. At the outset, we should here say, that even the Hebrew name for “woman,” given her at her creation (Gen_2:23), marked a wife as the companion of her husband, and his equal (“Ishah,” a woman, from “Ish,” a man). But it is when we consider the relations between man and wife, children and parents, the young and the aged, that the vast difference between Judaism and heathenism so strikingly appears. Even the relationship in which God presented Himself to His people, as their Father, would give peculiar strength and sacredness to the bond which connected earthly parents with their offspring. Here it should be borne in mind that, so to speak, the whole purpose of Israel as a nation, with a view to the appearance of the Messiah from among them, made it to each household a matter of deepest interest that no light in Israel should be extinguished through want of succession. Hence, such an expression as (Jer_22:10), “Weep sore for him that goeth away: for he shall return no more,” was applied to those who died childless (Moed K. 27). Similarly, it was said that he who had no child was like one dead. Proverbial expressions in regard to the “parental relation” occur in Rabbinical writings, which in their higher application remind us that the New Testament writers were Jews. If, in the impassioned strain of happy assurance concerning our Christian safety, we are told (Rom_8:33), “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth,” we may believe that St. Paul was familiar with a saying like this: “Shall a father bear witness against his son?” (Abod S. 3). The somewhat similar question, “Is there a father who hateth his own son?” may recall to our minds the comfort which the Epistle to the Hebrews ministers to those who are in suffering (Heb_12:7), “If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?” 

Speaking of the relation between parents and children, it may be safely asserted, that no crime was more severely reprobated than any breach of the fifth commandment. The Talmud, with its usual punctiliousness, enters into details, when it lays down as a rule that “a son is bound to feed his father, to give him drink, to clothe him, to protect him, to lead him in, and to conduct him out, and to wash his face, his hands, and his feet”; to which the Jerusalem Gemara adds, that a son is even bound to beg for his father–although here also Rabbinism would give preference to a spiritual before a natural parent, or rather to one who teaches the law before a father! The general state of Jewish society shows us parents as fondly watching over their children, and children as requiting their care by bearing with the foibles, and even the trials, arising from the caprices of old age and infirmity. Such things as undutifulness, or want of loving consideration for parents, would have wakened a thrill of horror in Jewish society. As for crimes against parents, which the law of God visited with the utmost penalty, they seem happily to have been almost unknown. The Rabbinical ordinances, however, also specified the obligation of parents, and limited their power. Thus a son was considered independent whenever he could gain his own living; and, although a daughter remained in the power of her father till marriage, she could not, after she was of age, be given away without her own express and free consent. A father might chastise his child, but only while young, and even then not to such extent as to destroy self-respect. But to beat a grown-up son was forbidden on pain of excommunication; and the apostolic injunction (Eph_6:4), “Fathers, provoke not your children to wrath,” finds almost its literal counterpart in the Talmud (Moed K. 17 a). Properly speaking, indeed, the Jewish law limited the absolute obligation of a father (a mother was free from such legal obligation) to feed, clothe, and house his child to his sixth year, after which he could only be admonished to it as one of the duties of love, but not legally constrained (Chethub. 49 b; 65 b). In case of separation of the parents, the mother had charge of the daughters, and the father of the sons; but the latter also might be intrusted to the mother, if the judges considered it for the advantage of the children. 

A few notices as to the reverence due to age will appropriately close this brief sketch of Jewish home life. It was a beautiful thought–however some may doubt its exegetical correctness–that just as the pieces of the broken tables of the law were kept in the ark, so old age should be venerated and cherished, even though it should be broken in mind or memory (Ber. 8 b). Assuredly, Rabbinism went to the utmost verge in this matter when it recommended reverence for age, even though it were in the case of one ignorant of the law, or of a Gentile. There were, however, diverging opinions on this point. The passage, Lev_19:32, “Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man,” was explained to refer only to sages, who alone were to be regarded as old. If R. Jose compared such as learned of young men to those who ate unripe grapes and drank of new wine, R. Jehudah taught, “Look not at the bottles, but at what they contain. There are new bottles full of old wine, and old bottles which contain not even new wine” (Ab. iv. 20). Again, if in Deu_13:1-2, and also, Deu_18:21-22 the people were directed to test a prophet by the signs which he showed–a misapplication of which was made by the Jews, when they asked Christ what sign He showed unto them (Joh_2:18, Joh_6:30)–while in Deu_17:10 they were told simply “to do according to all that they of that place inform thee,” it was asked, What, then, is the difference between an old man and a prophet? To this the reply was: A prophet is like an ambassador, whom you believe in consequence of his royal credentials; but an ancient is one whose word you receive without requiring such evidence. And it was strictly enjoined that proper outward marks of respect should be shown to old age, such as to rise in the presence of older men, not to occupy their seats, to answer them modestly, and to assign to them the uppermost places at feasts. 

After having thus marked how strictly Rabbinism watched over the mutual duties of parents and children, it will be instructive to note how at the same time traditionalism, in its worship of the letter, really destroyed the spirit of the Divine law. An instance will here suffice; and that which we select has the double advantage of illustrating an otherwise difficult allusion in the New Testament, and of exhibiting the real characteristics of traditionalism. No commandment could be more plainly in accordance, alike with the spirit and the letter of the law, than this: “He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death.” Yet our Lord distinctly charges traditionalism with “transgressing” it (Mat_15:4-6). The following quotation from the Mishnah (Sanh. vii. 8) curiously illustrates the justice of His accusation: “He that curseth his father or his mother is not guilty, unless he curses them with express mention of the name of Jehovah.” In any other case the sages declare him absolved! And this is by no means a solitary instance of Rabbinical perversion. Indeed, the moral systems of the synagogue leave the same sad impression on the mind as its doctrinal teaching. They are all elaborate chains of casuistry, of which no truer description could be given than in the words of the Saviour (Mat_15:6): “Ye have made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.”

Chapter 7 – The Upbringing of Jewish Children

The tenderness of the bond which united Jewish parents to their children appears even in the multiplicity and pictorialness of the expressions by which the various stages of child-life are designated in the Hebrew. Besides such general words as “ben” and “bath”-“son” and “daughter”–we find no fewer than nine different terms, each depicting a fresh stage of life. The first of these simply designates the babe as the newly-“born”–the “jeled,” or, in the feminine, “jaldah”–as in Exo_2:3, Exo_2:6, Exo_2:8. But the use of this term throws a fresh light on the meaning of some passages of Scripture. Thus we remember that it is applied to our Lord in the prophecy of His birth (Isa_9:6): “For a babe” (‘jeled’) is born unto us, a son (‘ben’) is given to us”; while in Isa_2:6 its employment adds a new meaning to the charge: “They please themselves (or strike hands) with the ‘jalde’–the ‘babes’–of strangers”–marking them, so to speak, as not only the children of strangers, but as unholy from their very birth. Compare also the pictorial, or else the poetical, use of the word “jeled” in such passages as Isa_29:23, Isa_57:4; Jer_31:20; Ecc_4:13; 1Ki_12:8; 2Ki_2:24; Gen_42:22; and others. The next child-name, in point of time, is “jonek,” which means, literally, “a suckling,” being also sometimes used figuratively of plants, like our English “sucker,” as in Isa_53:2 : “He shall grow up before Him as a sucker”–“jonek.” The word “jonek” occurs, for example, in Isa_11:8, and in Psa_8:2. On the other hand, the expression in the latter passage, rendered “babes” in our Authorised Version, marks a yet third stage in the child’s existence, and a farther advancement in the babe-life. This appears from many passages. As the word implies, the “olel” is still “sucking”; but it is no longer satisfied with only this nourishment, and is “asking bread,” as in Lam_4:4 : “The tongue of the ‘jonek’ cleaves to the roof of his mouth for thirst: the ‘olalim’ ask bread.” A fourth designation represents the child as the “gamul,” or “weaned one” (Psa_131:2; Isa_11:8, Isa_28:9), from a verb which primarily means to complete, and secondarily to wean. As we know, the period of weaning among the Hebrews was generally at the end of two years (Chethub. 60), and was celebrated by a feast. After that the fond eye of the Hebrew parent seems to watch the child as it is clinging to its mother–as it were, ranging itself by her–whence the fifth designation, “taph” (Est_3:13, “The ‘taph’ and the women in one day”; Jer_40:7; Eze_9:6). The sixth period is marked by the word “elem” (in the feminine, “almah,” as in Isa_7:14, of the virgin-mother), which denotes becoming firm and strong. As one might expect, we have next the “naari,” or youth–literally, he who shakes off, or shakes himself free. Lastly, we find the child designated as “bachur,” or the “ripened one”; a young warrior, as in Isa_31:8; Jer_18:21, Jer_15:8, etc. Assuredly, those who so keenly watched child-life as to give a pictorial designation to each advancing stage of its existence, must have been fondly attached to their children. 

There is a passage in the Mishnah (Aboth. v. 21), which quaintly maps out and, as it were, labels the different periods of life according to their characteristics. It is worth reproducing, if only to serve as introduction to what we shall have to say on the upbringing of children. Rabbi Jehudah, the son of Tema, says: “At five years of age, reading of the Bible; at ten years, learning the Mishnah; at thirteen years, bound to the commandments; at fifteen years, the study of the Talmud; at eighteen years, marriage; at twenty, the pursuit of trade or business (active life); at thirty years, full vigour; at forty, maturity of reason; at fifty, of counsel; at sixty, commencement of agedness; at seventy, grey age; at eighty, advanced old age; at ninety, bowed down; at a hundred, as if he were dead and gone, and taken from the world.” In the passage just quoted the age of five is mentioned as that when a child is expected to commence reading the Bible–of course, in the original Hebrew. But different opinions also prevailed. Generally speaking, such early instruction was regarded as only safe in the case of very healthy and strong children; while those of average constitution were not to be set to regular work till six years old. There is both common sense and sound experience in this Talmudical saying (Cheth. 50), “If you set your child to regular study before it is six years old, you shall always have to run after, and yet never get hold of it.” This chiefly has reference to the irreparable injury to health caused by such early strain upon the mind. If, on the other hand, we come upon an admonition to begin teaching a child when it is three years old, this must refer to such early instructions as the of certain passages of Scripture, or of small isolated portions and prayers, which a parent would make his child repeat from tenderest years. As we shall show in the sequel, six or seven was the age at which a parent in Palestine was legally bound to attend to the schooling of his son. 

But, indeed, it would have been difficult to say when the instruction of the Hebrew child really commenced. Looking back, a man must have felt that the teaching which he most–indeed, one might almost say, which he exclusively–valued had mingled with the first waking thoughts of his consciousness. Before the child could speak–before it could almost understand what was taught, in however elementary language–before it would even take in the domestic rites of the recurring weekly festival, or those of the annual feasts–it must have been attracted by the so-called “Mesusah,” which was fastened at the door-post of every “clean” apartment, * and at the entrance of such houses as were inhabited by Jews exclusively. The “Mesusah” was a kind of phylactery for the house, serving a purpose kindred to that of the phylactery for the person, both being derived from a misunderstanding and misapplication of the Divine direction (Deu_6:9, Deu_11:20), taking in the letter what was meant for the spirit. But while we gladly concede that the earlier Jewish practice was free from some of the present almost semi-heathenish customs, ** and further, that many houses in Palestine were without it, there can be little doubt that, even at the time of Christ, this “Mesusah” would be found wherever a family was at all Pharisaically inclined. 

* The “Mesusah” was not affixed to any that were not “diroth cavod”–dwellings of honour. Thus not to bath rooms, wash-houses, tanneries, dyeworks, etc. The “Mesusah” was only attached to dwelling-places, not to synagogues. 

** The tractate Massecheth Mesusah cannot be regarded as an authority for early times. But even the “Sohar” contains much that is little better than heathen superstition on the supposed efficacy of the “Mesusah.” Among later superstitions connected with it, are the writing of the name “Cuso bemuchsas cuso” (supposed to be that of Israel’s watching angel), the etymology of that name, etc. 

For, not to speak of what seems an allusion to it, so early as in Isa_57:8, we have the distinct testimony of Josephus (Ant. iv,213) and of the Mishnah to their use (Ber. iii. 3; Megill. i. 8; Moed K. iii. 4; Men. iii.7–in the last-mentioned place, even with superstitious additions). Supposing the “Mesusah” to have been somewhat as at present, it would have consisted of a small, longitudinally-folded parchment square, on which, on twenty-two lines, these two passages were written: Deu_6:4-9, and Deu_11:13-21. Inclosed in a shining metal case, and affixed to the door-post, the child, when carried in arms, would naturally put out its hand to it; the more so, that it would see the father and all others, on going out or in, reverently touch the case, and afterwards kiss the finger, speaking at the same time a benediction. For, from early times, the presence of the “Mesusah” was connected with the Divine protection, this verse being specially applied to it: “The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore” (Psa_121:8). Indeed, one of the most interesting ancient literary monuments in existence–“Mechilta,” a Jewish commentary on the book of Exodus, the substance of which is older than the Mishnah itself, dating from the beginning of the second century of our era, if not earlier–argues the efficacy of the “Mesusah” from the fact that, since the destroying angel passed over the doors of Israel which bore the covenant-mark, a much higher value must attach to the “Mesusah,” which embodied the name of the Lord no less than ten times, and was to be found in the dwellings of Israel day and night through all their generations. From this to the magical mysticism of the “Kabbalah,” and even to such modern superstitions as that, if dust or dirt were kept within a cubit of the “Mesusah,” no less a host than three hundred and sixty-five demons would come, there is a difference of degree rather than of kind. 

But to return. As soon as the child had any knowledge, the private and the united prayers of the family, and the domestic rites, whether of the weekly Sabbath or of festive seasons, would indelibly impress themselves upon his mind. It would be difficult to say which of those feasts would have the most vivid effect upon a child’s imagination. There was “Chanukah,” the feast of the Dedication, with its illumination of each house, when (in most cases) the first evening one candle would be lit for each member of the household, the number increasing each night, till, on the eighth, it was eight times that of the first. Then there was “Purim,” the feast of Esther, with the good cheer and boisterous merriment which it brought; the feast of Tabernacles, when the very youngest of the house had to live out in the booth; and, chiefest of feasts, the week of the Passover, when, all leaven being carefully purged out, every morsel of food, by its difference from that ordinarily used, would show the child that the season was a special one. From the moment a child was at all capable of being instructed–still more, of his taking any part in the services–the impression would deepen day by day. Surely no one who had ever worshipped within the courts of Jehovah’s house at Jerusalem could ever have forgotten the scenes he had witnessed, or the words he had heard. Standing in that gorgeous, glorious building, and looking up its terraced vista, the child would watch with solemn awe, not unmingled with wonderment, as the great throng of white-robed priests busily moved about, while the smoke of the sacrifice rose from the altar of burnt-offering. Then, amid the hushed silence of that vast multitude, they had all fallen down to worship at the time of incense. Again, on those steps that led up to the innermost sanctuary the priests had lifted their hands and spoken over the people the words of blessing; and then, while the drink-offering was poured out, the Levites’ chant of Psalms had risen and swelled into a mighty volume; the exquisite treble of the Levite children’s voices being sustained by the rich round notes of the men, and accompanied by instrumental music. The Jewish child knew many of these words. They had been the earliest songs he had heard–almost his first lesson when clinging as a “taph” to his mother. But now, in those white-marbled, gold-adorned halls, under heaven’s blue canopy, and with such surroundings, they would fall upon his ear like sounds from another world, to which the prolonged threefold blasts from the silver trumpets of the priests would seem to waken him. And they were sounds from another world; for, as his father would tell him, all that he saw was after the exact pattern of heavenly things which God had shown to Moses on Mount Sinai; all that he heard was God-uttered, spoken by Jehovah Himself through the mouth of His servant David, and of the other sweet singers of Israel. Nay, that place and that house were God-chosen; and in the thick darkness of the Most Holy Place–there afar off, where the high-priest himself entered on one day of the year only, and in simple pure white vesture, not in those splendid golden garments in which he was ordinarily arrayed–had once stood the ark, with the veritable tables of the law, hewn and graven by the very hand of God; and between the cherubim had then throned in the cloud the visible presence of Jehovah. Verily this Temple with its services was heaven upon earth! 

Nor would it have been easy to lose the impression of the first Paschal Supper which a child had attended. There was that about its symbols and services which appealed to every feeling, even had it not been that the law expressly enjoined full instruction to be given as to every part and rite of the service, as well as to the great event recorded in that supper. For in that night had Israel been born as a nation, and redeemed as the “congregation” of the Lord. Then also, as in a mould, had their future history been cast to all time; and there, as in type, had its eternal meaning and import for all men been outlined, and with it God’s purpose of love and work of grace foreshadowed. Indeed, at a certain part of the service it was expressly ordained, that the youngest at the Paschal table should rise and formally ask what was the meaning of all this service, and how that night was distinguished from others; to which the father was to reply, by relating, in language suited to the child’s capacity, the whole national history of Israel, from the calling of Abraham down to the deliverance from Egypt and the giving of the law; “and the more fully,” it is added, “he explains it all, the better.” In view of all this, Philo might indeed, without exaggeration, say that the Jews “were from their swaddling clothes, even before being taught either the sacred laws or the unwritten customs, trained by their parents, teachers, and instructors to recognise God as Father and as the Maker of the world” (Legat. ad. Cajum, sec. 16); and that, “having been taught the knowledge (of the laws) from earliest youth, they bore in their souls the image of the commandments” (Ibid. sec. 31). To the same effect is the testimony of Josephus, that “from their earliest consciousness” they had “learned the laws, so as to have them,as it were, engraven upon the soul” (Ag. Apion, ii,18); although, of course, we do not believe it, when, with his usual boastful magniloquence, he declares that at the age of fourteen he had been “frequently” consulted by “the high priests and principal men of the city…about the accurate understanding of points of the law” (Life,7-12; compare also Ant. iv,31; Ag. Apion, i,60-68, ii,199-203). 

But there is no need of such testimony. The Old Testament, the Apocrypha, and the New Testament, leading us progressively from century to century, indicate the same carefulness in the upbringing of children. One of the earliest narratives of Scripture records how God said to Abraham, “I know him, that he will command his children, and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of Jehovah to do justice and judgment” (Gen_18:19)–a statement which, we may note by the way, implies the distinction between the seed of Abraham after the flesh and after the spirit. How thoroughly the spirit of this Divine utterance was carried out under the law, appears from a comparison of such passages as Exo_12:26, Exo_13:8, Exo_13:14; Deu_4:9-10, Deu_6:7, Deu_6:20, Deu_11:19, Deu_31:13; Psa_78:5-6. It is needless to pursue the subject farther, or to show how even God’s dealings with His people were regarded as the basis and model of the parental relationship. But the book in the Old Testament which, if properly studied, would give us the deepest insight into social and family life under the old dispensation–we mean the book of Proverbs–is so full of admonitions about the upbringing of children, that it is sufficient to refer the reader generally to it. He will find there the value of such training, its object, in the acquisition of true wisdom in the fear and service of Jehovah, and the opposite dangers most vividly portrayed–the practical bearing of all being summed up in this aphorism, true to all times: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Pro_22:6); of which we have this New Testament application: “Bring up (your children) in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph_6:4). 

The book of Proverbs brings before us yet another phase of deepest interest. It contains the fullest appreciation of woman in her true dignity, and of her position and influence in the family-life. It is quite true, as we shall presently show, that the obligation to train the child rested primarily upon the father, and that both by the law of God and by the ordinances of the Rabbis. But even the patriarchal story will prepare an attentive reader to find, especially in the early upbringing of children, that constant influence of woman, which, indeed, the nature of the maternal relationship implies, provided the family-life be framed on the model of the Word of God. Lovelier pictures of this than the mother of Samuel and the pious Shunammite hostess of Elisha can scarcely be conceived. But the book of Proverbs shows us, that even in the early times of the Jewish monarchy this characteristic of Old Testament life also appeared outside the bounds of the Holy Land, wherever pious Israelites had their settlements. The subject is so deeply interesting, historically and religiously, and perhaps so new to some readers, that a slight digression may be allowed us. 

Beyond the limits of the Holy Land, close by Dumah, lay the land or district of Massa (Gen_25:14), one of the original seats of the Ishmaelites (1Ch_1:30). From Isa_21:11 we gather that it must have been situate beyond Seir–that is, to the south-east of Palestine, in Northern Arabia. Whether the Ishmaelites of Massa had come to the knowledge of Jehovah, the true God; whether Massa was occupied by a Jewish colony, which there established the service of the Lord; * or whether, through the influence of Hebrew immigrants, such a religious change had been brought about, certain it is, that the two last chapters of the book of Proverbs introduce the royal family of Massa as deeply imbued with the spiritual religion of the Old Testament, and the queen- mother as training the heir to the throne in the knowledge and fear of the Lord. ** 

* From 1Ch_4:38-43 we infer colonisation in that direction, especially on the part of the tribe of Simeon. Utterances in the prophets (such as in Isa 21 and Micah 1) seem also to indicate a very wide spread of Jewish settlers. It is a remarkable fact that, according to mediaeval Jewish and Arab writers, the districts of Massa and Dumah were largely inhabited by Jews. 

** There can be no question that the word rendered in the Authorised Version (Pro_30:1 and Pro_31:1) by “prophecy” is simply the name of a district, “Massa.” 

Indeed, so much is this the case, that the instruction of the queen of Massa, and the words of her two royal sons, are inserted in the book of Proverbs as part of the inspired records of the Old Testament. According to the best criticism, Pro_30:1 should be thus rendered: “The words of Agur, the son of her whom Massa obeys. Spake the man to God-with-me–God with me, and I was strong.” * 

* Or, according to another rendering, “Spake the man: I diligently searched after God, and I am become weary.” This, of course, is not the place for critical discussion; but we may say that we have followed the general conclusions adopted alike by Delitzsch and Zockler, and by Ewald, Hitzig, and Bertheau. 

Then Proverbs 31 embodies the words of Augur’s royal brother, even “the words of Lemuel, king of Massa, with which his mother taught him.” If the very names of these two princes–Agur, “exile,” and Lemuel, “for God,” or “dedicated to God”–are significant of her convictions, the teaching of that royal mother, as recorded in Pro_31:2-9, is worthy of a “mother in Israel.” No wonder that the record of her teaching is followed by an enthusiastic description of a godly woman’s worth and work (Pro_31:10-31), each verse beginning with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet (the Hebrew alphabet has 22 letters), like the various sections of Psalm 119–as it were, to let her praises ring through every letter of speech. 

As might have been expected, the spirit of the Apocryphal books is far different from that which breathes in the Old Testament. Still, such a composition as Ecclesiasticus shows that even in comparatively late and degenerate times the godly upbringing of children occupied a most prominent place in religious thinking. But it is when we approach the New Testament, that a fresh halo of glory seems to surround woman. And here our attention is directed to the spiritual influence of mothers rather than of fathers. Not to mention “the mother of Zebedee’s children,” nor the mother of John Mark, whose home at Jerusalem seems to have been the meeting-place and the shelter of the early disciples, and that in times of the most grievous persecution; nor yet “the elect lady and her children,” whom not only St. John, “but also all they that know the truth,” loved in truth (2Jo_1:1), and her similarly elect sister with her children (2Jo_1:13), two notable instances will occur to the reader. The first of these presents a most touching instance of a mother’s faith, and prayers, and labour of love, to which the only parallel in later history is that of Monica, the mother of St. Augustine. How Eunice, the daughter of the pious Lois, had come to marry a heathen, * we know as little as the circumstances which may have originally led the family to settle at Lystra (Act_16:1; compare Act_14:6, etc.), a place where there was not even a synagogue. 

* The language of the New Testament leads to the inference that Timothy’s father was not only by birth, but continued a Greek–being not merely a heathen, but not even a Jewish proselyte. 

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” (2Ti_1:5, 2Ti_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: Luk_1:41, Luk_1:44, Luk_2:12, Luk_2:16, Luk_18:15; Act_7:19; 2Ti_3:15; and 1Pe_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” * (Deu_6:4-9, Deu_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. 

* The “Shema”–so called from the first word, “Shema” (“Hear, O Israel”)–forms part of the regular prayers; as the section called “Hallel” (“praise”) was appointed to be sung at certain seasons. 

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 favour 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 (Luk_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 (Mat_5:18) and by St. Luke (Luk_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 favourable change which the use of the Aramaean by St. Paul produced upon the infuriated people (Act_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 expostulations of Christ: “Have ye not read?” (Mat_12:3, Mat_19:4, Mat_21:13, Mat_21:16, Mat_21:42, Mat_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” (Luk_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 Saviour 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 Paschal week. Joseph and Mary, on the other hand, had, as allowed by the law, returned towards Nazareth on the third day of the Paschal 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.

Chapter 8 – Subjects of Study – Home Education in Israel; Female Education – Elementary Schools, Schoolmasters, and School Arrangements.

If a faithful picture of society in ancient Greece or Rome were to be presented to view, it is not easy to believe that even they who now most oppose the Bible could wish their aims success. For this, at any rate, may be asserted, without fear of gainsaying, that no other religion than that of the Bible has proved competent to control an advanced, or even an advancing, state of civilisation. Every other bound has been successively passed and submerged by the rising tide; how deep only the student of history knows. Two things are here undeniable. In the case of heathenism every advance in civilisation has marked a progressive lowering of public morality, the earlier stages of national life always showing a far higher tone than the later. On the contrary, the religion of the Bible (under the old as under the new dispensation) has increasingly raised, if not uniformly the public morals, yet always the tone and standard of public morality; it has continued to exhibit a standard never yet attained, and it has proved its power to control public and social life, to influence and to mould it. 

Strange as it may sound, it is strictly true that, beyond the boundaries of Israel, it would be scarcely possible to speak with any propriety of family life, or even of the family, as we understand these terms. It is significant, that the Roman historian Tacitus should mark it as something special among the Jews *–which they only shared with the ancient barbarian Germans–that they regarded it as a crime to kill their offspring! 

* Tacitus, Hist. v. 5. In general this fifth book is most interesting, as showing the strange mixture of truth and error, and the intense hatred of the Jewish race even on the part of such men as Tacitus. 

This is not the place to describe the exposure of children, or the various crimes by which ancient Greece and Rome, in the days of their highest culture, sought to rid themselves of what was regarded as superfluous population. Few of those who have learned to admire classical antiquity have a full conception of any one phase in its social life–whether of the position of woman, the relation of the sexes, slavery, the education of children, their relation to their parents, or the state of public morality. Fewer still have combined all these features into one picture, and that not merely as exhibited by the lower orders, or even among the higher classes, but as fully owned and approved by those whose names have descended in the admiration of ages as the thinkers, the sages, the poets, the historians, and the statesmen of antiquity. Assuredly, St. Paul’s description of the ancient world in the first and second chapters of his Epistle to the Romans must have appeared to those who lived in the midst of it as Divine even in its tenderness, delicacy, and charity; the full picture under bright sunlight would have been scarcely susceptible of exhibition. For such a world there was only one alternative–either the judgment of Sodom, or the mercy of the Gospel and the healing of the Cross. * 

* Let it not be thought that we have been guilty of the slightest exaggeration. The difficulty here is to tell the truth and yet find moderate terms in which to express it. That Christianity should have laid its hold on such a society, found there its brightest martyrs and truest followers, and finally subdued and transformed it, is quite as great a miracle as that of the breaking down of the middle wall of partition among the Jews, or their spiritual transformation of mind and heart from self-righteousness and externalism. In either case, to the student of history the miracle will seem greater than if “one rose from the dead.” 

When we pass from the heathen world into the homes of Israel, even the excess of their exclusiveness seems for the moment a relief. It is as if we turned from enervating, withering, tropical heat into a darkened room, whose grateful coolness makes us for the moment forget that its gloom is excessive, and cannot continue as the day declines. And this shutting out of all from without, this exclusiveness, applied not only to what concerned their religion, their social and family life, but also to their knowledge. In the days of Christ the pious Jew had no other knowledge, neither sought nor cared for any other–in fact, denounced it–than that of the law of God. At the outset, let it be remembered that, in heathenism, theology, or rather mythology, had no influence whatever on thinking or life–was literally submerged under their waves. To the pious Jew, on the contrary, the knowledge of God was everything; and to prepare for or impart that knowledge was the sum total, the sole object of his education. This was the life of his soul–the better, and only true life, to which all else as well as the life of the body were merely subservient, as means towards an end. His religion consisted of two things: knowledge of God, which by a series of inferences, one from the other, ultimately resolved itself into theology, as they understood it; and service, which again consisted of the proper observance of all that was prescribed by God, and of works of charity towards men–the latter, indeed, going beyond the bound of what was strictly due (the Chovoth) into special merit or “righteousness” (Zedakah). But as service presupposed knowledge, theology was again at the foundation of all, and also the crown of all, which conferred the greatest merit. This is expressed or implied in almost innumerable passages of Jewish writings. Let one suffice, not only because it sounds more rationalistic, but because it is to this day repeated each morning in his prayers by every Jew: “These are the things of which a man eats the fruit in this world, but their possession continueth for the next world: to honour father and mother, pious works, peacemaking between man and man, and the study of the law, which is equivalent to them all” (Peah. i. 1). 

And literally “equivalent to them all” was such study to the Jew. The circumstances of the times forced him to learn Greek, perhaps also Latin, so much as was necessary for intercourse; and to tolerate at least the Greek translation of the Scriptures, and the use of any language in the daily prayers of the Shema, of the eighteen benedictions, and of the grace after meat (these are the oldest elements of the Jewish liturgy). But the blessing of the priests might not be spoken, nor the phylacteries nor the Mesusah written, in other than the Hebrew language (Megil. i. 8; Sotah, vii. 1,2); while heathen science and literature were absolutely prohibited. To this, and not to the mere learning of Greek, which must have been almost necessary for daily life, refer such prohibitions as that traced to the time of Titus (Sotah, ix. 14), forbidding a man to teach his son Greek. The Talmud itself (Men. 99 b) furnishes a clever illustration of this, when, in reply to the question of a younger Rabbi, whether, since he knew the whole “Thorah” (the law), he might be allowed to study “Greek wisdom,” his uncle reminded him of the words (Jos_1:8), “Thou shalt meditate therein day and night.” “Go, then, and consider,” said the older Rabbi, “which is the hour that is neither of the day nor of the night, and in it thou mayest study Grecian wisdom.” This, then, was one source of danger averted. Then, as for the occupations of ordinary life, it was indeed quite true that every Jew was bound to learn some trade or business. But this was not to divert him from study; quite the contrary. It was regarded as a profanation–or at least declared such–to make use of one’s learning for secular purposes, whether of gain or of honour. The great Hillel had it (Ab. i. 13): “He who serves himself by the crown (the ‘Thorah’) shall fade away.” To this Rabbi Zadok added the warning, “Make study neither a crown by which to shine, nor yet a spade with which to dig”–the Mishnah inferring that such attempts would only lead to the shortening of life (Ab. iv. 5). All was to be merely subsidiary to the one grand object; the one was of time, the other of eternity; the one of the body, the other of the soul; and its use was only to sustain the body, so as to give free scope to the soul on its upward path. Every science also merged in theology. Some were not so much sciences as means of livelihood, such as medicine and surgery; others were merely handmaidens to theology. Jurisprudence was in reality a kind of canon law; mathematics and astronomy were subservient to the computations of the Jewish calendar; literature existed not outside theological pursuits; and as for history, geography, or natural studies, although we mark, in reference to the latter, a keenness of observation which often led instinctively to truth, we meet with so much ignorance, and with so many gross mistakes and fables, as almost to shake the belief of the student in the trustworthiness of any Rabbinical testimony. 

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 honour (Mat_23:6-7 : Mar_12:38-39 : Luk_11:43, Luk_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 Deu_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 Deu_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 Deu_6:9, Deu_11:20, Deu_24:1, Deu_24:3, 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, Deu_28:58, etc.), while in Jos_10:13 we have a reference to a work called “the book of Jasher.” In Jos_18:9 we find mention of a description of Palestine “in a book,” and in Jos_24:26 of what Joshua “wrote in the book of the law of God.” From Jdg_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 (2Th_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,” 2Co_3:3; 2Jo_1:12; 3Jo_1:13). Josephus speaks of writing in gold letters (Ant. xii,324-329); and in the Mishnah (Meg. ii. 2) we read of mixed colours, 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 2Jo_1:12; parchment in 2Ti_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 Luk_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. 

Supposing, then, a child to be so far educated at home; suppose him, also, to be there continually taught the commandments and observances, and, as the Talmud expressly states, to be encouraged to repeat the prayers aloud, so as to accustom him to it. At six years of age he would be sent to school; not to an academy, or “beth hammedrash,” which he would only attend if he proved apt and promising; far less to the class-room of a great Rabbi, or the discussions of the Sanhedrim, which marked a very advanced stage of study. We are here speaking only of primary or elementary schools, such as even in the time of our Lord were attached to every synagogue in the land. Passing over the supposed or real Biblical notices of schools, and confining our attention strictly to the period ending with the destruction of the Temple, we have first a notice in the Talmud (Bab. B. 21 b), ascribing to Ezra an ordinance, that as many schoolmasters as chose should be allowed to establish themselves in any place, and that those who had formerly been settled there might not interfere with them. In all likelihood this notice should not be taken in its literal sense, but as an indication that the encouragement of schools and of education engaged the attention of Ezra and of his successors. Of the Grecianised academies which the wicked high-priest Jason tried to introduce in Jerusalem (2 Macc iv. 12,13) we do not speak, because they were anti-Jewish in their spirit, and that to such extent, that the Rabbis, in order to “make a hedge,” forbade all gymnastic exercises. The farther history and progress of Jewish schools are traced in the following passage of the Talmud (Bab. B. 21 a): “If any one has merit, and deserves that his name should be kept in remembrance, it is Joshua, the son of Gamaliel. Without him the law would have fallen into oblivion in Israel. For they used to rest on this saying of the law (Deu_11:19), ‘Ye shall teach them.’ Afterwards it was ordained that masters be appointed at Jerusalem for the instruction of youth, as it is written (Isa_2:3), ‘Out of Zion shall go forth the law.’ But even so the remedy was not effectual, only those who had fathers being sent to school, and the rest being neglected. Hence it was arranged that Rabbis should be appointed in every district, and that lads of sixteen or seventeen years should be sent to their academies. But this institution failed, since every lad ran away if he was chastised by his master. At last Joshua the son of Gamaliel arranged, that in every province and in every town schoolmasters be appointed, who should take charge of all boys from six or seven years of age.” We may add at once, that the Joshua here spoken of was probably the high-priest of that name who flourished before the destruction of the Temple, and that unquestionably this farther organisation implied at least the existence of elementary schools at an earlier period. 

Every place, then, which numbered twenty-five boys of a suitable age, or, according to Maimonides, one hundred and twenty families, was bound to appoint a schoolmaster. More than twenty-five pupils or thereabouts he was not allowed to teach in a class. If there were forty, he had to employ an assistant; if fifty, the synagogue authorities appointed two teachers. This will enable us to understand the statement, no doubt greatly exaggerated, that at the destruction of Jerusalem there were no fewer than four hundred and eighty schools in the metropolis. From another passage, which ascribes the fall of the Jewish state to the neglect of the education of children, we may infer what importance popular opinion attached to it. But indeed, to the Jew, child-life was something peculiarly holy, and the duty of filling it with thoughts of God specially sacred. It almost seems as if the people generally had retained among them the echo of our Lord’s saying, that their angels continually behold the face of our Father which is in heaven. Hence the religious care connected with education. The grand object of the teacher was moral as well as intellectual training. To keep children from all intercourse with the vicious; to suppress all feelings of bitterness, even though wrong had been done to one’s parents; to punish all real wrong-doing; not to prefer one child to another; rather to show sin in its repulsiveness than to predict what punishment would follow, either in this or the next world, so as not to “discourage” the child–such are some of the rules laid down. A teacher was not even to promise a child anything which he did not mean to perform, lest its mind be familiarised with falsehood. Everything that might call up disagreeable or indelicate thoughts was to be carefully avoided. The teacher must not lose patience if his pupil understood not readily, but rather make the lesson more plain. He might, indeed, and he should, punish when necessary, and, as one of the Rabbis put it, treat the child like a young heifer whose burden was daily increased. But excessive severity was to be avoided; and we are told of one teacher who was actually dismissed from office for this reason. Where possible, try kindness; and if punishment was to be administered, let the child be beaten with a strap, but never with a rod. At ten the child began to study the Mishnah; at fifteen he must be ready for the Talmud, which would be explained to him in a more advanced academy. If after three, or at most five, years of tuition the child had not made decided progress, there was little hope of his attaining to eminence. In the study of the bible the pupil was to proceed from the book of Leviticus to the rest of the Pentateuch, thence to the Prophets, and lastly to the Hagiographa. This regulation was in accordance with the degree of value which the Rabbis attached to these divisions of the Bible. In the case of advanced pupils the day was portioned out–one part being devoted to the Bible, the other two to the Mishnah and the Talmud. Every parent was also advised to have his child taught swimming. 

It has already been stated that in general the school was held in the synagogue. Commonly its teacher was the “chazan,” or “minister” (Luk_4:20); by which expression we are to understand not a spiritual office, but something like that of a beadle. This officer was salaried by the congregation; nor was he allowed to receive fees from his pupils, lest he should show favour to the rich. The expenses were met by voluntary and charitable contributions; and in case of deficiency the most distinguished Rabbis did not hesitate to go about and collect aid from the wealthy. The number of hours during which the junior classes were kept in school was limited. As the close air of the school-room might prove injurious during the heat of the day, lessons were intermitted between ten a.m. and three p.m. For similar reasons, only four hours were allowed for instruction between the seventeenth of Thamuz and the ninth of Ab (about July and August), and teachers were forbidden to chastise their pupils during these months. The highest honour and distinction attached to the office of a teacher, if worthily discharged. Want of knowledge or of method was regarded as sufficient cause for removing a teacher; but experience was always deemed a better qualification than mere acquirements. No teacher was employed who was not a married man. To discourage unwholesome rivalry, and to raise the general educational standard, parents were prohibited from sending their children to other than the schools of their own towns. 

A very beautiful trait was the care bestowed on the children of the poor and on orphans. In the Temple there was a special receptacle–that “of the secret”–for contributions, which were privately applied for the education of the children of the pious poor. To adopt and bring up an orphan was regarded as specially a “good work.” This reminds us of the apostolic description of a “widow indeed,” as one “well reported for good works”; who “had brought up children, lodged strangers, washed the saints’ feet, relieved the afflicted, diligently followed every good work” (1Ti_5:10). Indeed, orphans were the special charge of the whole congregation–not thrust into poor-houses,–and the parochial authorities were even bound to provide a fixed dowry for female orphans. 

Such were the surroundings, and such the atmosphere, in which Jesus of Nazareth moved while tabernacling among men.

Chapter 9 – Mothers, Daughters, and Wives in Israel

In order accurately to understand the position of woman in Israel, it is only necessary carefully to peruse the New Testament. The picture of social life there presented gives a full view of the place which she held in private and in public life. Here we do not find that separation, so common among Orientals at all times, but a woman mingles freely with others both at home and abroad. So far from suffering under social inferiority, she takes influential and often leading part in all movements, specially those of a religious character. Above all, we are wholly spared those sickening details of private and public immorality with which contemporary classical literature abounds. Among Israel woman was pure, the home happy, and the family hallowed by a religion which consisted not only in public services, but entered into daily life, and embraced in its observances every member of the household. It was so not only in New Testament times but always in Israel. St. Peter’s reference to “the holy women” “in the old time” (1Pe_3:5) is thoroughly in accordance with Talmudical views. Indeed, his quotation of Gen_18:12, and its application: “Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord,” occur in precisely the same manner in Rabbinical writings (Tanch. 28,6), where her respect and obedience are likewise set forth as a pattern to her daughters. * 

* The following illustration also occurs: A certain wise woman said to her daughter before her marriage: “My child, stand before thy husband and minister to him. If thou wilt act as his maiden he will be thy slave, and honour thee as his mistress; but if thou exalt thyself against him, he will be thy master, and thou shalt become vile in his eyes, like one of the maidservants.” 

Some further details may illustrate the matter better than arguments. The creation of woman from the rib of Adam is thus commented on (Shab. 23): “It is as if Adam had exchanged a pot of earth for a precious jewel.” This, although Jewish wit caustically had it: “God has cursed woman, yet all the world runs after her; He has cursed the ground, yet all the world lives of it.” In what reverence “the four mothers,” as the Rabbis designate Sarah, Rebekah, Leah, and Rachel, were held, and what influence they exercised in patriarchal history, no attentive reader of Scripture can fail to notice. And as we follow on the sacred story, Miriam, who had originally saved Moses, leads the song of deliverance on the other side of the flood, and her influence, though not always for good, continued till her death (compare Mic_6:4). Then “the women whose heart stirred them up in wisdom” contribute to the rearing of the Tabernacle; Deborah works deliverance, and judgeth in Israel; and the piety of Manoah’s wife is at least as conspicuous, and more intelligent, than her husband’s (Jdg_13:23). So also is that of the mother of Samuel. In the times of the kings the praises of Israel’s maidens stir the jealousy of Saul; Abigail knows how to avert the danger of her husband’s folly; the wise woman of Tekoah is sent for to induce the king to fetch his banished home; and the conduct of a woman “in her wisdom” puts an end to the rebellion of Sheba. Later on, the constant mention of queen mothers, and their frequent interference in the government, shows their position. Such names as that of Huldah the prophetess, and the idyllic narrative of the Shunammite, will readily occur to the memory. The story of a woman’s devotion forms the subject of the Book of Ruth; that of her pure and faithful love, the theme or the imagery of the Song of Songs; that of her courage and devotion the groundwork of the Book of Esther: while her worth and virtues are enumerated in the closing chapter of the Book of Proverbs. Again, in the language of the prophets the people of God are called “the daughter,” “the virgin daughter of Zion,” “the daughter of Jerusalem,” “the daughter of Judah,” etc.; and their relationship to God is constantly compared to that of the married state. The very terms by which woman is named in the Old Testament are significant. If the man is Ish, his wife is Ishah, simply his equal; if the husband is Gever, the ruler, the woman is, in her own domain, Gevirah and Gevereth, the mistress (as frequently in the history of Sarah and in other passages), or else the dweller at home (Nevath bayith, Psa_68:12). * 

* Similar expressions are Sarah and Shiddah, both from roots meaning to rule. Nor is this inconsistent with the use of the word Baal, to marry, and Beulah, the married one, from Baal, a lord–even as Sarah “called Abraham lord” (1Pe_3:6, the expression used of her to Abimelech, Gen_20:3, being Beulah). Of course it is not meant that these are the only words for females. But the others, such as Bath and Naarah, are either simply feminine terminations, or else, as Bethulah, Levush, Nekevah, Almah, Rachem, descriptive of their physical state. 

Nor is it otherwise in New Testament times. The ministry of woman to our blessed Lord, and in the Church, has almost become proverbial. Her position there marks really not a progress upon, but the full carrying out of, the Old Testament idea; or, to put the matter in another light, we ask no better than that any one who is acquainted with classical antiquity should compare what he reads of a Dorcas, of the mother of Mark, of Lydia, Priscilla, Phoebe, Lois, or Eunice, with what he knows of the noble women of Greece and Rome at that period. 

Of course, against all this may be set the permission of polygamy, which undoubtedly was in force at the time of our Lord, and the ease with which divorce might be obtained. In reference to both these, however, it must be remembered that they were temporary concessions to “the hardness” of the people’s heart. For, not only must the circumstances of the times and the moral state of the Jewish and of neighbouring nations be taken into account, but there were progressive stages of spiritual development. If these had not been taken into account, the religion of the Old Testament would have been unnatural and an impossibility. Suffice it, that “from the beginning it was not so,” nor yet intended to be so in the end–the intermediate period thus marking the gradual progress from the perfectness of the idea to the perfectness of its realisation. Moreover, it is impossible to read the Old, and still more the New Testament without gathering from it the conviction, that polygamy was not the rule but the rare exception, so far as the people generally were concerned. Although the practice in reference to divorce was certainly more lax, even the Rabbis surrounded it with so many safeguards that, in point of fact, it must in many cases have been difficult of accomplishment. In general, the whole tendency of the Mosaic legislation, and even more explicitly that of later Rabbinical ordinances, was in the direction of recognising the rights of woman, with a scrupulousness which reached down even to the Jewish slave, and a delicacy that guarded her most sensitive feelings. Indeed, we feel warranted in saying, that in cases of dispute the law generally lent to her side. Of divorce we shall have to speak in the sequel. But what the religious views and feelings both about it and monogamy were at the time of Malachi, appears from the pathetic description of the altar of God as covered with the tears of “the wife of youth,” “the wife of thy covenant,” “thy companion,” who had been “put away” or “treacherously dealt” with (Mal_2:13-17). The whole is so beautifully paraphrased by the Rabbis that we subjoin it: 

“If death hath snatched from thee the wife of youth, 

It is as if the sacred city were, 

And e’en the Temple, in thy pilgrim days, 

Defiled, laid low, and levelled with the dust. 

The man who harshly sends from him 

His first-woo’d wife, the loving wife of youth, 

For him the very altar of the Lord 

Sheds forth its tears of bitter agony.” 

Where the social intercourse between the sexes was nearly as unrestricted as among ourselves, so far as consistent with Eastern manners, it would, of course, be natural for a young man to make personal choice of his bride. Of this Scripture affords abundant evidence. But, at any rate, the woman had, in case of betrothal or marriage, to give her own free and expressed consent, without which a union was invalid. Minors–in the case of girls up to twelve years and one day–might be betrothed or given away by their father. In that case, however, they had afterwards the right of insisting upon divorce. Of course, it is not intended to convey that woman attained her full position till under the New Testament. But this is only to repeat what may be said of almost every social state and relationship. Yet it is most marked how deeply the spirit of the Old Testament, which is essentially that of the New also, had in this respect also penetrated the life of Israel. St. Paul’s warning (2Co_6:14) against being “unequally yoked together,” which is an allegorical application of Lev_19:19; Deu_22:10, finds to some extent a counterpart in mystical Rabbinical writings, where the last-mentioned passages is expressly applied to spiritually unequal marriages. The admonition of 1Co_7:39 to marry “only in the Lord,” recalls many similar Rabbinical warnings, from which we select the most striking. Men, we are told (Yalkut on Deu_21:15), are wont to marry for one of four reasons–for passion, wealth, honour, or the glory of God. As for the first-named class of marriages, their issue must be expected to be “stubborn and rebellious” sons, as we may gather from the section referring to such following upon that in Deu_21:11. In regard to marriages for wealth, we are to learn a lesson from the sons of Eli, who sought to enrich themselves in such manner, but of whose posterity it was said (1Sa_2:36) that they should “crouch for a piece of silver and a morsel of bread.” Of marriages for the sake of connection, honour, and influence, King Jehoram offered a warning, who became King Ahab’s son-in-law, because that monarch had seventy sons, whereas upon his death his widow Athaliah “arose and destroyed all the seed royal” (2Ki_11:1). But far otherwise is it in case of marriage “in the name of heaven.” The issue of such will be children who “preserve Israel.” In fact, the Rabbinical references to marrying “in the name of heaven,” or “for the name of God,”–in God and for God–are so frequent and so emphatic, that the expressions used by St. Paul must have come familiarly to him. Again, much that is said in 1 Corinthians 7 about the married estate, finds striking parallels in Talmudical writings. One may here be mentioned, as explaining the expression (1Co_7:14): “Else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.” Precisely the same distinction was made by the Rabbis in regard to proselytes, whose children, if begotten before their conversion to Judaism, were said to be “unclean”; if after that event to have been born “in holiness,” only that, among the Jews, both parents required to profess Judaism, while St. Paul argues in the contrary direction, and concerning a far different holiness than that which could be obtained through any mere outward ceremony. 

Some further details, gathered almost at random, will give glimpses of Jewish home life and of current views. It was by a not uncommon, though irreverent, mode of witticism, that two forms of the same verb, sounding almost alike, were made to express opposite experiences of marriage. It was common to ask a newly-married husband: “Maza or Moze?”–“findeth” or “found”; the first expression occurring in Pro_18:22, the second in Ecc_7:26. A different sentiment is the following from the Talmud (Yeb. 62 b; Sanh. 76 b), the similarity of which to Eph_5:28 will be immediately recognised: “He that loveth his wife as his own body, honoureth her more than his own body, brings up his children in the right way, and leads them in it to full age–of him the Scripture saith: ‘Thou shalt know that thy tabernacle shall be in peace’ (Job_5:24).” Of all qualities those most desired in woman were meekness, modesty, and shamefacedness. Indeed, brawling, gossip in the streets, and immodest behaviour in public were sufficient grounds for divorce. Of course, Jewish women would never have attempted “teaching” in the synagogue, where they occupied a place separate from the men–for Rabbinical study, however valued for the male sex, was disapproved of in the case of women. Yet this direction of St. Paul (1Ti_2:12): “I suffer not a woman to usurp authority over the man” findeth some kind of parallel in the Rabbinical saying: “Whoever allows himself to be ruled by his wife, shall call out, and no one will make answer to him.” 

It is on similar grounds that the Rabbis argue, that man must seek after woman, and not a woman after a man; only the reason which they assign for it sounds strange. Man, they say, was formed from the ground–woman from man’s rib; hence, in trying to find a wife man only looks after what he had lost! This formation of man from soft clay, and of woman from a hard bone, also illustrated why man was so much more easily reconcilable than woman. Similarly, it was observed, that God had not formed woman out of the head, lest she should become proud; nor out of the eye, lest she should lust; nor out of the ear, lest she should be curious; nor out of the mouth, lest she should be talkative; nor out of the heart, lest she should be jealous; nor out of the hand, lest she should be covetous; nor out of the foot, lest she be a busybody; but out of the rib, which was always covered. Modesty was, therefore, a prime quality. It was no doubt chiefly in jealous regard for this, that women were interdicted engaging in Rabbinical studies; and a story is related to show how even the wisest of women, Beruria, was thereby brought to the brink of extreme danger. It is not so easy to explain why women were dispensed from all positive obligations (commands, but not prohibitions) that were not general in their bearing (Kidd. 1. 7,8), but fixed to certain periods of time (such as wearing the phylacteries, etc.), and from that of certain prayers, unless it be that woman was considered not her own mistress but subject to others, or else that husband and wife were regarded as one, so that his merits and prayers applied to her as well. Indeed, this view, at least so far as the meritorious nature of a man’s engagement with the law is concerned, is expressly brought forward, and women are accordingly admonished to encourage their husbands in all such studies. 

We can understand how, before the coming of the Messiah, marriage should have been looked upon as of religious obligation. Many passages of Scripture were at least quoted in support of this idea. Ordinarily, a young man was expected to enter the wedded state (according to Maimonides) at the age of sixteen or seventeen, while the age of twenty may be regarded as the utmost limit conceded, unless study so absorbed time and attention as to leave no leisure for the duties of married life. Still it was thought better even to neglect study than to remain single. Yet money cares on account of wife and children were dreaded. The same comparison is used in reference to them, which our Lord applies to quite a different “offence,” that against the “little ones” (Luk_17:2). Such cares are called by the Rabbis, “a millstone round the neck” (Kidd. 29 b). In fact, the expression seems to have become proverbial, like so many others which are employed in the New Testament. 

We read in the Gospel that, when the Virgin-mother “was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily” (Mat_1:18-19). The narrative implies a distinction between betrothal and marriage–Joseph being at the time betrothed, but not actually married to the Virgin-mother. Even in the Old Testament a distinction is made between betrothal and marriage. The former was marked by a bridal present (or Mohar, Gen_34:12; Exo_22:17; 1Sa_18:25), with which the father, however, would in certain circumstances dispense. From the moment of her betrothal a woman was treated as if she were actually married. The union could not be dissolved, except by regular divorce; breach of faithfulness was regarded as adultery; and the property of the women became virtually that of her betrothed, unless he had expressly renounced it (Kidd. ix. 1). But even in that case he was her natural heir. It is impossible here to enter into the various legal details, as, for example, about property or money which might come to a woman after betrothal or marriage. The law adjudicated this to the husband, yet with many restrictions, and with infinite delicacy towards the woman, as if reluctant to put in force the rights of the stronger (Kidd. viii. 1, etc.). From the Mishnah (Bab. B. x. 4) we also learn that there were regular Shitre Erusin, or writings of betrothal, drawn up by the authorities (the costs being paid by the bridegroom). These stipulated the mutual obligations, the dowry, and all other points on which the parties had agreed. The Shitre Erusin were different from the regular Chethubah (literally, writing), or marriage contract, without which the Rabbis regarded a marriage as merely legalised concubinage (Cheth. v. 1). The Chethubah provided a settlement of at least two hundred denars for a maiden, and one hundred denars for a widow, while the priestly council at Jerusalem fixed four hundred denars for a priest’s daughter. Of course these sums indicate only the legal minimum, and might be increased indefinitely at pleasure, though opinions differ whether any larger sums might be legally exacted, if matters did not go beyond betrothal. The form at present in use among the Jews sets forth, that the bridegroom weds his bride “according to the law of Moses and of Israel”; that he promises “to please, to honour, to nourish, and to care for her, as is the manner of the men of Israel,” adding thereto the woman’s consent, the document being signed by two witnesses. In all probability this was substantially the form in olden times. In Jerusalem and in Galilee–where it was said that men in their choice had regard to “a fair degree,” while in the rest of Judaea they looked a good deal after money–widows had the right of residence in their husband’s house secured to them. 

On the other hand, a father was bound to provide a dowry (nedan, nedanjah) for his daughter conformable to her station in life; and a second daughter could claim a portion equal to that of her elder sister, or else one-tenth of all immovable property. In case of the father’s death, the sons, who, according to Jewish law, were his sole heirs, were bound to maintain their sisters, even though this would have thrown them upon public charity, and to endow each with a tenth part of what had been left. The dowry, whether in money, property, or jewellery, was entered into the marriage contract, and really belonged to the wife, the husband being obliged to add to it one-half more, if it consisted of money or money’s value; and if of jewellery, etc., to assign to her four-fifths of its value. In case of separation (not divorce) he was bound to allow her a proper aliment, and to re-admit her to his table and house on the Sabbath-eve. A wife was entitled to one-tenth of her dowry for pin-money. If a father gave away his daughter without any distinct statement about her dowry, he was bound to allow her at least fifty sus; and if it had been expressly stipulated that she was to have no dowry at all, it was delicately enjoined that the bridegroom should, before marriage, give her sufficient for the necessary outfit. An orphan was to receive a dowry of at least fifty sus from the parochial authorities. A husband could not oblige his wife to leave the Holy Land nor the city of Jerusalem, nor yet to change a town for a country residence, or vice versa, nor a good for a bad house. These are only a few of the provisions which show how carefully the law protected the interests of women. To enter into farther details would lead beyond our present object. All this was substantially settled at the betrothal, which, in Judaea at least, seems to have been celebrated by a feast. Only a bona fide breach of these arrangements, or wilful fraud, was deemed valid ground for dissolving the bond once formed. Otherwise, as already noted, a regular divorce was necessary. 

According to Rabbinical law certain formalities were requisite to make a betrothal legally valid. These consisted either in handing to a woman, directly or through messengers, a piece of money, however small, or else a letter, * provided it were in each case expressly stated before witnesses, that the man thereby intended to espouse the woman as his wife. 

* There was also a third mode of espousal–simply by cohabitation, but this was very strongly disapproved by the Rabbis. 

The marriage followed after a longer or shorter interval, the limits of which, however, were fixed by law. The ceremony itself consisted in leading the bride into the house of the bridegroom, with certain formalities, mostly dating from very ancient times. Marriage with a maiden was commonly celebrated on a Wednesday afternoon, which allowed the first days of the week for preparation, and enabled the husband, if he had a charge to prefer against the previous chastity of his bride, to make immediate complaint before the local Sanhedrim, which sat every Thursday. On the other hand, the marriage of a widow was celebrated on Thursday afternoon, which left three days of the week for “rejoicing with her.” This circumstance enables us, with some certainty, to arrange the date of the events which preceded the marriage in Cana. Inferring from the accompanying festivities that it was the marriage of a maiden, and therefore took place on a Wednesday, we have the following succession of events:–On Thursday (beginning as every Jewish day with the previous evenint), testimony of the Baptist to the Sanhedrim-deputation from Jerusalem. On Friday (Joh_1:29), “John seeth Jesus coming unto him,” and significantly preacheth the first sermon about “the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.” On Saturday (v 35), John’s second sermon on the same text; the consequent conversion of St. John and St. Andrew, and the calling of St. Peter. On Sunday (v 43), our Lord Himself preacheth His first Messianic sermon, and calls Philip and Nathanael. On “the third day” after it, that is, on Wednesday, was the marriage in Cana of Galilee. The significance of these dates, when compared with those in the week of our Lord’s Passion, will be sufficiently evident. 

But this is not all that may be learned from the account of the marriage in Cana. Of course, there was a “marriage-feast,” as on all these occasions. For this reason, marriages were not celebrated either on the Sabbath, or on the day before or after it, lest the Sabbath-rest should be endangered. Nor was it lawful to wed on any of the three annual festivals, in order, as the Rabbis put it, “not to mingle one joy (that of the marriage) with another (that of the festival).” As it was deemed a religious duty to give pleasure to the newly-married couple, the merriment at times became greater than the more strict Rabbis approved. Accordingly, it is said of one, that to produce gravity he broke a vase worth about 25 pounds; of another, that at his son’s wedding he broke a costly glass; and of a third, that being asked to sin, he exclaimed, Woe to us, for we must all die! For, as it is added (Ber. 31 a): “It is forbidden to man, that his mouth be filled with laughter in this world (dispensation), as it is written, ‘Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing.’ When is that to be? At the time when ‘they shall sing among the heathen, The Lord hath done great things for them.'” 

It deserves notice, that at the marriage in Cana there is no mention of “the friends of the bridegroom,” or, as we would call them, the groomsmen. This was in strict accordance with Jewish custom, for groomsmen were customary in Judaea, but not in Galilee (Cheth. 25 a). This also casts light upon the locality where Joh_3:29 was spoken, in which “the friend of the bridegroom” is mentioned. But this expression is quite different from that of “children of the bridechamber,” which occurs in Mat_9:15, where the scene is once more laid in Galilee. The term “children of the bridechamber” is simply a translation of the Rabbinical “bene Chuppah,” and means the guests invited to the bridal. In Judaea there were at every marriage two groomsmen or “friends of the bridegroom”–one for the bridegroom, the other for his bride. Before marriage, they acted as a kind of intermediaries between the couple; at the wedding they offered gifts, waited upon the bride and bridegroom, and attended them to the bridal chamber, being also, as it were, the guarantors of the bride’s virgin chastity. Hence, when St. Paul tells the Corinthians (2Co_11:2): “I am jealous over you with godly jealousy; for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ,” he speaks, as it were, in the character of groomsman or “bridegroom’s friend,” who had acted as such at the spiritual union of Christ with the Corinthian Church. And we know that it was specially the duty of the “friend of the bridegroom” so to present to him his bride. Similarly it was his also, after marriage, to maintain proper terms between the couple, and more particularly to defend the good fame of the bride against all imputations. It may interest some to know that his custom also was traced up to highest authority. Thus, in the spiritual union of Israel with their God, Moses is spoken of as “the friend of the bridegroom” who leads out the bride (Exo_19:17); while Jehovah, as the bridegroom, meets His Church at Sinai (Psa_68:7; Pirke di R. El. 41). Nay, in some mystic writings God is described as acting “the friend of the bridegroom,” when our first parents met in Eden. There is a touch of poetry in the application of Eze_28:13 to that scene, when angels led the choir, and decked and watched the bridal-bed (Ab. de R. Nathan iv. and xii.). According to another ancient Rabbinical commentary (Ber. R. viii), God Almighty Himself took the cup of blessing and spoke the benediction, while Michael and Gabriel acted the “bridegroom’s friends” to our first parents when they wedded in Paradise. 

With such a “benediction,” preceded by a brief formula, with which the bride was handed over to her husband (Tobit vii. 13), the wedding festivities commenced. And so the pair were led towards the bridal chamber (Cheder) and the bridal bed (Chuppah). The bride went with her hair unloosed. Ordinarily, it was most strictly enjoined upon women to have their head and hair carefully covered. This may throw some light upon the difficult passage, 1Co_11:1-10. We must bear in mind that the apostle there argues with Jews, and that on their own ground, convincing them by a reference to their own views, customs, and legends of the propriety of the practice which he enjoins. From that point of view the propriety of a woman having her head “covered” could not be called in question. The opposite would, to a Jew, have indicated immodesty. Indeed, it was the custom in the case of a woman accused of adultery to have her hair “shorn or shaven,” at the same time using this formula: “Because thou hast departed from the manner of the daughters of Israel, who go with their head covered;…therefore that has befallen thee which thou hast chosen.” This so far explains verses 1Co_11:5-6. The expression “power,” as applied in verse 1Co_11:10 to the head of woman, seems to refer to this covering, indicating, as it did, that she was under the power of her husband, while the very difficult addition, “because of the angels,” may either allude to the presence of the angels and to the well-known Jewish view (based, no doubt, on truth) that those angels may be grieved or offended by our conduct, and bear the sad tidings before the throne of God, or it may possibly refer to the very ancient Jewish belief, that the evil spirits gained power over a woman who went with her head bare. 

The custom of a bridal veil–either for the bride alone, or spread over the couple–was of ancient date. It was interdicted for a time by the Rabbis after the destruction of Jerusalem. Still more ancient was the wearing of crowns (Son_3:11; Isa_61:10; Eze_16:12), which was also prohibited after the last Jewish war. Palm and myrtle branches were borne before the couple, grain or money was thrown about, and music preceded the procession, in which all who met it were, as a religious duty, expected to join. The Parable of the Ten Virgins, who, with their lamps, were in expectancy of the bridegroom (Mat_25:1), is founded on Jewish custom. For, according to Rabbinical authority, such lamps carried on the top of staves were frequently used, while ten is the number always mentioned in connection with public solemnities. * The marriage festivities generally lasted a week, but the bridal days extended over a full month. ** 

* According to R. Simon (on Chel. ii. 8) it was an Eastern custom that, when the bride was led to her future home, “they carried before the party about ten” such lamps. 

** The practice of calling a wife a bride during the first year of her marriage is probably based on Deu_24:5. 

Having entered thus fully on the subject of marriage, a few further particulars may be of interest. The bars to marriage mentioned in the Bible are sufficiently known. To these the Rabbis added others, which have been arranged under two heads–as farther extending the laws of kindred (to their secondary degrees), and as intended to guard morality. The former were extended over the whole line of forbidden kindred, where that line was direct, and to one link farther where the line became indirect–as, for example, to the wife of a maternal uncle, or to the step- mother of a wife. In the category of guards to morality we include such prohibitions as that a divorced woman might not marry her seducer, nor a man the woman to whom he had brought her letter of divorce, or in whose case he had borne testimony; or of marriage with those not in their right senses, or in a state of drunkenness; or of the marriage of minors, or under fraud, etc. A widower had to wait over three festivals, a widow three months, before re-marrying, or if she was with child or gave suck, for two years. A woman might not be married a third time; no marriage could take place within thirty days of the death of a near relative, nor yet on the Sabbath, nor on a feast-day, etc. Of the marriage to a deceased husband’s brother (or the next of kin), in case of childlessness, it is unnecessary here to speak, since although the Mishnah devotes a whole tractate to it (Yebamoth), and it was evidently customary at the time of Christ (Mar_12:19, etc.), the practice was considered as connected with the territorial possession of Palestine, and ceased with the destruction of the Jewish commonwealth (Bechar. i. 7). A priest was to inquire into the legal descent of his wife (up to four degrees if the daughter of a priest, otherwise up to five degrees), except where the bride’s father was a priest in actual service, or a member of the Sanhedrim. The high-priest’s bride was to be a maid not older than six months beyond her puberty. 

The fatal ease with which divorce could be obtained, and its frequency, appear from the question addressed to Christ by the Pharisees: “Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?” (Mat_19:3), and still more from the astonishment with which the disciples had listened to the reply of the Saviour (v 10). That answer was much wider in its range than our Lord’s initial teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Mat_5:32). To the latter no Jew could have had any objection, even though its morality would have seemed elevated beyond their highest standard, represented in this case by the school of Shammai, while that of Hillel, and still more Rabbi Akiba, presented the lowest opposite extreme. But in reply to the Pharisees, our Lord placed the whole question on grounds which even the strictest Shammaite would have refused to adopt. For the farthest limit to which he would have gone would have been to restrict the cause of divorce to “a matter of uncleanness” (Deu_24:1), by which he would probably have understood not only a breach of the marriage vow, but of the laws and customs of the land. In fact, we know that it included every kind of impropriety, such as going about with loose hair, spinning in the street, familiarly talking with men, ill-treating her husband’s parents in his presence, brawling, that is, “speaking to her husband so loudly that the neighbours could hear her in the adjoining house” (Chethub. vii. 6), a general bad reputation, or the discovery of fraud before marriage. On the other hand, the wife could insist on being divorced if her husband were a leper, or affected with polypus, or engaged in a disagreeable or dirty trade, such as that of a tanner or coppersmith. One of the cases in which divorce was obligatory was, if either party had become heretical, or ceased to profess Judaism. But even so, there were at least checks to the danger of general lawlessness, such as the obligation of paying to a wife her portion, and a number of minute ordinances about formal letters of divorce, without which no divorce was legal, * and which had to be couched in explicit terms, handed to the woman herself, and that in presence of two witnesses, etc. 

* The Jews have it that a woman “is loosed from the law of her husband” by only one of two things: death or a letter of divorce; hence Rom_7:2-3. 

According to Jewish law there were four obligations incumbent on a wife towards her husband, and ten by which he was bound. Of the latter, three are referred to in Exo_21:9-10; the other seven include her settlement, medical treatment in case of sickness, redemption from captivity, a respectable funeral, provision in his house so long as she remained a widow and had not been paid her dowry, the support of her daughters till they were married, and a provision that her sons should, besides receiving their portion of the father’s inheritance, also share in what had been settled upon her. The obligations upon the wife were, that all her gains should belong to her husband, as also what came to her after marriage by inheritance; that the husband should have the usufruct of her dowry, and of any gains by it, provided he had the administration of it, in which case, however, he was also responsible for any loss; and that he should be considered her heir-at-law. 

What the family life among the godly in Israel must have been, how elevated its tone, how loving its converse, or how earnestly devoted its mothers and daughters, appears sufficiently from the gospel story, from that in the book of Acts, and from notices in the apostolic letters. Women, such as the Virgin-mother, or Elisabeth, or Anna, or those who enjoyed the privilege of ministering to the Lord, or who, after His death, tended and watched for His sacred body, could not have been quite solitary in Palestine; we find their sisters in a Dorcas, a Lydia, a Phoebe, and those women of whom St. Paul speaks in Phi_4:3, and whose lives he sketches in his Epistles to Timothy and Titus. Wives such as Priscilla, mothers such as that of Zebedee’s children, or of Mark, or like St. John’s “elect lady,” or as Lois and Eunice, must have kept the moral atmosphere pure and sweet, and shed precious light on their homes and on society, corrupt to the core as it was under the sway of heathenism. What and how they taught their households, and that even under the most disadvantageous outward circumstances, we learn from the history of Timothy. And although they were undoubtedly in that respect without many of the opportunities which we enjoy, there was one sweet practice of family religion, going beyond the prescribed prayers, which enabled them to teach their children from tenderest years to intertwine the Word of God with their daily devotion and daily life. For it was the custom to teach a child some verse of Holy Scripture beginning or ending with precisely the same letters as its Hebrew name, and this birthday text or guardian-promise the child was day by day to insert in its prayers. Such guardian words, familiar to the mind from earliest years, endeared to the heart by tenderest recollections, would remain with the youth in life’s temptations, and come back amid the din of manhood’s battle. Assuredly, of Jewish children so reared, so trained, so taught, it might be rightly said: “Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of My Father which is in heaven.”