THIS aspect of nature, at once smiling and grand, was the whole education of Jesus. He learned to read and to write, doubtless, according to the Eastern method, which consisted in putting in the hands of the child a book, which he repeated in cadence with his little comrades, until he knew it by heart. It is doubtful, however, if he under stood the Hebrew writings in their original tongue. His biographers make him quote them according to the translations in the Aramean tongue; his principles of exegesis, as far as we can judge of them by those of his disciples, much resembled those which were then in vogue, and which form the spirit of the Targums and the Midrashim.
The schoolmaster in the small Jewish towns was the hazzan, or reader in the synagogues. Jesus frequented little the higher schools of the scribes or sopherim (Nazareth had perhaps none of them), and he had none of those titles which confer, in the eyes of the vulgar, the privileges of knowledge. It would, nevertheless, be a great error to imagine that Jesus was what we call ignorant. Scholastic education among us draws a profound distinction, in respect of personal worth, between those who have received and those who have been deprived of it. It was not so in the East, nor, in general, in the good old times. The state of ignorance in which, among us, owing to our isolated and entirely individual life, those remain who have not passed through the schools, was unknown in those societies where moral culture, and especially the general spirit of the age, was transmitted by the perpetual intercourse of man with man. The Arab, who has never had a teacher, is often, nevertheless, a very superior man; for the tent is a kind of school always open, where, from the contact of well-educated men, there is produced a great intellectual and even literary movement. The refinement of manners and the acuteness of the intellect have, in the East, nothing in common with what we call education. It is the men from the schools, on the contrary, who are considered badly trained and pedantic. In this social state ignorance, which among us, condemns a man to an inferior rank, is the condition of great things and of great originality.
It is not probable that Jesus knew Greek. This language was very little spread in Judea beyond the classes who participated in the Government and the towns inhabited by pagans, like Caesarea. The real mother tongue of Jesus was the Syrian dialect mixed with Hebrew, which was then spoken in Palestine. Still less probably had he any knowledge of Greek culture. This culture was proscribed by the doctors of Palestine, who included in the same malediction “he who rears swine and he who teaches his son Greek science.” At all events, it had not penetrated into little towns like Nazareth. Notwithstanding the anathema of the doctors, some Jews, it is true, had already embraced the Hellenic culture. Without speaking of the Jewish school of Egypt, in which the attempts to amalgamate Hellenism and Judaism had been in operation nearly two hundred years, a Jew, Nicholas of Damascus, had become, even at this time, one of the most distinguished men, one of the best informed, and one of the most respected of his age. Josephus was destined soon to furnish another example of a Jew completely Grecianised. But Nicholas was only a Jew in blood. Josephus declares that he himself was an exception among his contemporaries; and the whole schismatic school of Egypt was detached to such a degree from Jerusalem that we do not find the least allusion to it either in the Talmud or in Jewish tradition. Certain it is that Greek was very little studied at Jerusalem, that Greek studies were considered as dangerous, and even servile, that they were regarded, at the best, as a mere womanly accomplishment. The study of the Law was the only one accounted liberal and worthy of a thoughtful man. Questioned as to the time when it would be proper to teach children “Greek wisdom,” a learned Rabbi had answered At the time when it is neither day nor night; since it is written of the Law, Thou shalt study it day and night.”