It has been proven down through the centuries that there is no religion other than the Bible that has proved competent to control an advanced state of civilization. In the case of heathenism every advance in civilization has marked a progressive lowering of public morality.
On the other hand, when the religion of the Bible has been followed, the tone and standard of public morality continues to improve instead of decay.
One of the main things that set the Jews apart while living in a heathen society all around them was their morals and their family life. Beyond the boundaries of Israel there were very few traces of any peoples that treasured the family and taught family values from generation to generation.
The Roman historian Tacitus had a hatred for the Jewish race, but even he marked it special as something among the Jews that they regarded it as a crime to kill their offspring. The Roman world at this time was a cruel barbaric place and they thought nothing of doing what we would call unspeakable things to get what they wanted. In the days of their highest culture, they were known to rid themselves of people who did not measure up to their academic standards. They wanted to continue to rule the world and wanted only the finest people to continue their race.
As the Jews lived in this barbaric world, though, they shut it out and concentrated on their own religion, social and family life. In the days of Christ, the pious Jew had no other knowledge other than that of the law of God and he neither cared for nor sought any other kind.
During this time in history, the heathenism religion did not consume the thinking or life of people as the Jewish religion did. They just pretty much did what they wanted to do and lived the life they thought was fit for them. They had no particular religion or culture that dominated how they felt and lived. This may have been why there was so much hatred and animosity for the Jews. To them, the knowledge of God was everything; and to prepare for or impart that knowledge was the sum total, and the sole object of their education. This was the life of the Jew’s soul – the better, and only true life, to which all else as well as the life of the body were merely subservient, and just as a means toward an end.
The main two things that their religion consisted of was: knowledge of God and service. They believed themselves to be righteous when they went beyond what the law said was strictly due. They were a very charitable people because they wanted to be recognized as living a holy life before God.
Study was very important to any devout Jew. The circumstances of the times forced them to learn Greek and maybe even Latin just so they could interact with other people in the cities and towns in which they lived. They also had to learn to tolerate the Greek translation of the scriptures. They could use any language in their daily prayers and benedictions, but the blessing of the priests could only be spoken in Hebrew. When they wore phylacteries on their arms or foreheads, the only language for writing down the verses was also Hebrew only. Heathen science and literature were strictly prohibited for them to read.
They had to learn Greek so that they could learn a trade and support their families or just be able to converse in the market place, but they kept it strictly set apart for only that use for the most part. Anything that was strictly related to the Temple was done with the Hebrew language.
To the Jew everything that was real in his life revolved around his religion and the Temple. Everything else was just a way to make money to eat and provide for needs. Even though many of them were rich, their heart revolved around religion and the Temple. Thus, it is pretty easy to see how they came to hold the people in such high regard who continually studied the scriptures. They thought of them as very knowledgeable and felt that they should listen to them because they knew what was right. This is probably the way the Scribes had come to the point that they were revered even to the point of the people believing them and following their instruction when the people themselves knew that instruction was wrong. Learning and knowledge were everything to the Jews in this era of time.
Eventually the Rabbis, and also the people, felt that their power was absolute. A thirteenth century Rabbi wrote “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.”
In the next text we will study about the actual education of a Jewish child and what subjects they studied. We will also take a look at the kind of schools they had.