August 30, 2009

The Nazareth Synagogue - 13

Incredible memory is hardly unusual. It's common for people to spout off endless reams of knowledge about various topics. It all just depends on whatever you're "into". We have noted that Jesus was "in[to] the things of my Father" at age twelve. And he had reflected upon scripture enough to impress elders and sages with his insights. That's amazing chiefly because his particular field of mastery happened to be so un-child like, but in many other ways it's perfectly normal.

It has become easy to see in our modern world that any five year old can memorize vast quantities of information with great detail, provided they have become hyper enthusiastic about the material. To be sure, visual material aids memory (although video CGI is not necessarily more effective than a chart on the back of a baseball card) and some people are visual learners. But some are auditory. Brain studies show the more brain-connections (writing, reading, hearing, reciting) are used, preferably all at once, the more effective rehearsal (or studying) can be for instilling vivid long term memorization.

Now then, the fewer connections (modalities) of learning one is able to employ, the more repetition is required to permanently 'bank' a given bit of information into long term memory. However, one final factor in this memory process is unquantifiable, although every teacher knows what it is. Interest. Unlimited resources can never get through to a student who simply could not care less about the information being presented. Contrariwise, hypermotivated individuals can overcome great learning obstacles to master even the most difficult material. So among all the factors in learning and memorization, motivation and interest are key. Age is not really a factor at all.

In all those facts about learning, there is one practical detail that might take us farther towards reconstructing some likely aspects of Jesus' development. That is, repetition. It is possible Jesus may have been a strong auditory learner or had an audio-photographic memory, but we should not expect he was some super-mentalist. In the case of almost every human who has ever lived, it still requires rehearsal and repetition to move recently acquired knowledge from short term into long term memory.

That means he must have worked at remembering what he heard every day. I don't mean he necessarily worked at it like it was a chore, although I would have no problem with that thought. I simply mean he employed active recall. That means he spent time thinking about what he'd heard. As we have seen, he was genuinely interested in God and the things of God and so thinking about scriptures about God and God's business would seem like a natural pass time for Jesus' private thought life.

In order for him to have learned scripture by attending nothing but (or little more than) Sabbath meetings, and without having a personal copy of anything to take home and re-read, we should absolutely conclude his learning process involved these long periods of personal reflection. And since that reflection was about God, we should certainly expect it was directed towards God. In other words, his reflection on scripture, at times, must have naturally flowed into prayer. If we trust John's gospel especially, that prayer life also grew to include mystical communion, at some point.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think this counts as concluding historically, by a faith-based historiographical analysis of biographical details found in the Gospels, that Jesus must had an active devotional life during the "hidden years" in Nazareth. That is very significant.

Also, if these arguments have been valid then there could still be more for us to conclude about Jesus in Nazareth. We have tried to get this far by focusing on facts and events from the Gospels' Testimony, plus other historical and scientific knowledge. We have tried to get this far without making assumptions based on preference, ideas or God-logic. We will do our best to maintain these methods as strictly as possible.

To be concluded...

Series Update: The Nazareth Synagogue
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14


Peter Kirk said...

It might be worth considering here something about the process of reading and memorisation of Hebrew. It is barely possible to read the biblical Hebrew text out loud correctly from an unpointed scroll (as still used in today's synagogues - but pointing had not been invented in Jesus' day), as Jesus did in Luke 4, unless one is already familiar with the passage, more or less knowing its pronunciation and using the consonantal text as a prompt.

It might also be worth mentioning the way in which many Muslim children and young people today learn the Qur'an, sometimes the whole book by heart. Some of them, who do not understand Arabic, learn it without any understanding. But attentive Arab children will surely learn not just the sound but also much of the meaning of the book. If Muslim children can do this, then surely Jesus would have been able to learn with understanding at least the Torah (smaller than the Qur'an I think) and some passages from the prophets - if not in fact the complete Hebrew Bible (but that is significantly larger than the Qur'an). In that cultural setting it may well be that Jesus simply memorised each week's reading and in that way came to memorise vast quantities of Holy Scripture, without needing access to written scrolls.

Peter Kirk said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bill Heroman said...

As is my custom, Peter, I'm going to admit total ignorance to the Hebrew facts you've related. What is "pointed" and "unpointed" as regarding hebrew scrolls? But I read you loud and clear on the Muslim learning process. Kids can be really amazing. "Prevent them not" may reflect more of His own experience than we've imagined.

At the risk of revealing more of my ignorance... ;-) I haven't done any research yet on whether the scrolls would have been Hebrew or Aramaic. Is there reason to suppose they were necessarily in Hebrew?

Peter Kirk said...

I think the scrolls would have been in Hebrew, not Aramaic, but I'm not sure. I don't think there was a recognised Aramaic translation (targum) of Isaiah at that time, although Targum Jonathan just might date back to about the time of Jesus. More likely Jesus would have read the Hebrew and then he or someone else would have given a paraphrase in Aramaic.

Of course this implies that Jesus knew both languages, which is another issue to consider. If he learned Hebrew it was probably at the synagogue.

In Hebrew, and for that matter Aramaic, only the consonants were written (that is also usually true of modern Hebrew, and Arabic). Only later a system of points (dots and dashes around the letters) was introduced to indicate the vowel sounds, as found in printed Hebrew Bibles but still not in synagogue scrolls. If the material is well known and simple it can be read correctly and understood from the unpointed text by a native speaker (try reading an English text with only the consonants), but it would be very difficult for someone to read aloud in public a complex text in a second language. Perhaps the point in Luke 4:22 about the "words of grace" is simply that he read the Hebrew correctly and gave a good Aramaic translation - indeed I can't help wondering is "words of grace" is some kind of idiom for "words of the biblical text".

Bill Heroman said...

Once again I'm in your debt, brother. Thank you for that wealth of information.

If we knew for sure it was Hebrew scripture and not Targums, that would throw a lot of weight towards some type of weekday training for children. But I'm guessing the task of learning Hebrew would also account for most of that training time, which would make this moot to my basic argument. I hope. ;-)

All these details matter, of course. So muchas, muchas gracias again.

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