August 28, 2009

The Nazareth Synagogue - 8

An awful lot of what we know about Synagogue practice is based on evidence that dates after 70 AD. Obviously, when Jerusalem and its Temple were destroyed the local communities in Palestine and the Diaspora had to adapt in many ways. One of the significant changes that scholars believe must have taken place was an increased need for and emphasis on the formal education of Jewish children.

Obviously, practices varied and we don't know for certain precisely what went on anywhere, let alone everywhere. But Solomon's vision - renewed by Zerubbabel and co-opted by Herod the Great - was that God would always be with Israel via Jerusalem. So as long as the religious aspects of life were secure in what seemed to be their everlasting institutions at Jerusalem, local Synagogues were less vital to Jewish identity and their members were more free to concentrate personal and family resources as necessary on what was always the primary activity of anyone in the ancient world - raw survival. Thus, there was less emphasis in general on childhood education in Synagogues before 70 AD.

This makes Maslow's "Hierarchy of Needs" seem upside down, but Maslow (aside from generalizing) was focused on individuals. As all of European History shows, the survival of the Jews has always been a community effort. Most human beings are hard pressed to help certain ones among their own kin, but Jews everywhere have traditionally been helpful to each others' relatives. Over time, that positive interdependence helped generate wealth in their communities, which in turn helped inspire resentment, but it was never all about the wealth. In effect, they were hated because they were beautiful.

By the way, this always reminds me of Tacitus accusing the Christians in Rome of anti-social tendencies (Penguin; or, in the Loeb translation, "hatred of the human race"). An enclave of foreigners always stands out when they band together, and early christians were foreigners anywhere in the world. It is sometimes when the foriegners seem to prefer their community that the locals begin to dislike feeling like outsiders. Well, oh well.

My point is that Maslow claims basic survival should be the top priority, but Jewish economics depended on the survival of the community. So when community survival required universal childhood education, individual economic needs actually became less of a priority. Or maybe the Synagogue distributed welfare. Either way, the top, bottom and middle of Maslow's triangle seem bound together in Jewish motivation after Jerusalem fell, because of community, not to mention because of their faith (another Maslow blind spot). After 70 AD, it became more intensely true on a local level that Jewish survival depended on survival as Jews.

So, after 70, education of Jewish children in every community became vitally necessary. But before 70 AD, a random carpenter's son may or may not have been able - or perhaps even allowed - to attend school during the work week. Until it became a vital necessity, Jewish education of the general public was more like education in the rest of the world. All Jews learned on the Sabbath, but work day chores were demanding if not all consuming. By and large, families that could not afford servants needed all hands pitching in.

As I said above, the picture we get is a little unclear, but this is solid in general. Next we can consider these principles more specifically, and other facts about Synagogues (pre and post 70) as they all pertain to the probable education activities of Jesus in Nazareth.

To be continued...

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

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