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Yeshua Explored


todayAugust 23, 2021 24

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Graham Crabtree, a geneticist from Stanford University in California, reckons that if an ancient Greek was transported to today, he would be among the cleverest people alive. The reason, he states, is our gradual intellectual decline over the past three thousand years. Certainly, our current culture doesn’t encourage people to over-think, with decision making tending to be informed by emotions, public opinion and fear rather than rational thought. Now, what about an ancient Jew, how would he cope in the modern world? It’s hard to speculate on his intellectual capacity but one thing is sure is that the scope of his knowledge in one area would be truly outstanding, his knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures.

These days most synagogues have a ‘ba’al qoreh’, an expert at reading Torah scrolls despite the absence of punctuation or vowels. This is chicken-feed compared to the expertise of a six-year old at the time of Jesus, who wouldn’t have needed a Torah scroll (and couldn’t afford one anyway) but could have recited great big chunks of the Torah from memory, having had it drummed into him from the age of five, starting with Leviticus.

In those days education of schoolkids would have been centred around memorisation of the Hebrew Scriptures and, eventually, the Oral traditions as well. This continued during the diaspora, when children would receive basic education – traditions, scripture and prayer (as well as learning the alphabet at the age of three) – at the family dining table, then they would be shipped off to school at the age of five, where their knowledge of Scripture and Hebrew would be expanded.

Remember, we are talking about communities under severe persecution from their “Christian” neighbours, but still maintaining a positive affirming lifestyle. Here’s a telling quote from the Mishnah (Menachoth, 99b) that illustrates their position. “A Rabbi asked ‘since I have learnt the whole of Torah may I now study Greek philosophy?’,” the reply came “‘This book of Torah shall not depart out of your mouth but you shall meditate in it day and night (Joshua 1.8)’, ‘now go and search out at which hour it is neither day nor night and devote it to the study of Greek philosophy'” As well as memorising Scripture, it was the teachers’ responsibility to explain the meanings of the words, in terms of values and the training of behaviour. They were taught the reality of sin and the need to be able to deal with life’s challenges, such as the negative behaviour of others. Jewish children would have been taught law, ethics and history, whereas their Gentile contemporaries would have studied science, arts, and linguistics.

When Jesus (or any other contemporary rabbi) hinted at a Scripture in his teachings, the minds of his listeners would hyperlink to the correct verses without any need for concordances or computer technology. Even the kids would have Biblical knowledge far surpassing many of our current Christian leaders, though perhaps wouldn’t have been quite so hot on the application of the Scripture.

So, here we are, limmud, ‘study’, the highest form of worship and, to prove this to you, for the next few weeks I will be drawing from an article of the same name by the late great teacher, Dwight Pryor.

This is an extract from the book, Shalom, available for £10 at

Is study really the highest form of worship? 

Written by: Rufus Olaniyan

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