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Literacy Training in 1st Century Palestine
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins

Would the synagogue of Jesus's day, in a small town such as Nazareth, teach reading and writing as part of the education of a male?

As I understand the situation, individual synagogues did not conduct programs of that sort.  Learning was conducted in an apprentice format, with disciples following a rabbi in private tutelage out in the community or in private session.  Interestingly, we do not know anything about Jesus' training, but we see him portrayed only in the role of the rabbi with his own disciples.

It is not clear exactly who learned reading and how, but it seems every male youth had some training in Torah.  The society was still primarily oral in focus, though literacy seems to have been higher among the Jews as an ethnicity than among some others.  Details are lacking.  Inferences are drawn form various clues in history and archaeology.

The Sadducees and the Pharisees both had formal, professional teachers ("scribes," "teachers of the law," attached to each faction) who would teach in the synagogues, but inpidual rabbis seem to have generally been welcomed for teaching (as when Jesus was asked to speak in the Nazareth and Capernaum synagogues).  We see Jesus' disciples also going first to the synagogues, as in Paul and Barnabas' missionary journeys.  Paul was a rabbi.  It is not clear if any of Jesus' immediate disciples became formal rabbis.

Note that Rabbinic Judaism as it later developed in Europe was not operative as a model yet at this time, though the roots were there from the congregational pattern developed in the Babylonian Exile, and enhanced after the breakdown of the Hasmonean (Maccabees) Jewish dynasty that was defeated by the Romans.

A further factor is the difference between Galilee and Judea. The two domains were governed differently and the cultures were different.  They were ruled as two separate districts or provinces.  You recall at the time of Jesus' death Galilee had a king, Herod, but Judea was a Roman province or district within the region of Palestine.

I am not familiar with the details that would inform us of the difference in literacty the great cultural or political differences would make.

Also related:
[TXT]Hebrew Usage in the First Century
[TXT]The Language Jesus Used


first written in response to an email question 13 August 2007
Posted on Thoughts and Resources 14 August 2007

Orville Boyd Jenkins, Ed.D., Ph.D.
Copyright © 2007 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Other rights reserved.

Email:  orville@jenkins.nu
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