But what of Yeshua and his education? The Mishnah, a third century collection of the oral “Traditions of the Elders” tell us that Jewish boys of the day would study the Torah (The first five books of the Bible) at the age of five, the oral “Traditions” at the age of ten and be trained in halachot, rabbinic legal decisions at the ripe old age of fifteen! Sunday School was never harder! It was made harder still when one realizes that reading material was scarce and a poor family like theirs would have, at best, just one or two Biblical scrolls, just a small part of the total breadth of Scripture. So much was committed to memory. In the schools, study of the Bible was often done by chanting out aloud. In that day people passing by such schools would remark on “the chirping of children”.
The Talmud sheds some light on techniques used to commit scripture to memory by describing the mnemonics used to teach small children the Hebrew alphabet. Children used the Sabbath day of rest to memorise material learned in the week. And if they ventured outside while memorizing, there was a warning in the Mishnah.
“A person walking along the road repeating his lessons who interrupts his memorization and exclaims: “What a beautiful tree!” or “What a beautiful field!” it is imputed to him as if he were guilty of a crime punishable by death”.
The Talmud also sings the praises of memorization. “A person who repeats his lesson a hundred times is not to be compared to a person who repeats it a hundred and one times” and “if a student learns Torah and does not go over it again and again, he is like a man who sows without reaping”.
It was serious business being a 1st century Jewish schoolkid! So what was Yeshua doing in those silent early years? He was hard at study, memorizing scripture and rabbinical commentary, in common with most other Jewish youths of his day. By the time he had left his adolescent years he would have memorized most of the written Torah. From then on his mother, Miriam, kept one eye on him, as he ‘grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men.‘
The boy became a man as Yeshua arrived by the banks of the river Jordan, where his relative, John the Baptist (Yochanan the Immerser) was ‘preparing the way’. Baptise me, declared Yeshua. You’ve got to be kidding! responded John. Do I look like I’m kidding? Let it be so! The act of baptism, was, in the words of Alfred Edersheim, “the last act of his private life”. This was some beginning to this unique and awesome ministry. Heaven opens and the Spirit of God descends like a dove and a voice from heaven proclaims, “this is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased”, a combination of Psalm 2:7 and Isaiah 42:1. The common interpretation of the symbolism here is of an expression of the Trinity; God the father commending God the Son in the presence of God the Holy Spirit, who takes the form of a dove.
If we are to rely on purely Jewish sources then we get a different slant on the symbolism of the dove. Nowhere in the Hebrew Scriptures is God symbolized by an animal or bird and the Talmud is similarly silent.
They were poor but must have been devout Jews. Not all families made the annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem, but Luke 2:41 tells us:
“Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover.”
For poor people this was exceptional and tells us that God indeed made the correct choice in parents for Yeshua. Another clue is in the song, The Magnificat, sung by Miriam (Mary) when she visited her relative Elizabeth. This song alludes to no less than thirteen Hebrew scriptures, telling us that, even at a relatively young age, the mother of Yeshua was fully conversant with the Judaism of her day.
What was school like for Jesus?