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December 29, 2012 by William H. Scarle, Jr.

On the fifth day of Christmas my true love sent to me five golden rings.  You are likely reading this on the fifth day of Christmas.  The twelve days are the time between the celebration of the birth of Jesus and the celebration of the visit of the Magi, which occurs on January 6.  As we mentioned last week these dates in the calendar of the Church are not meant to mark the actual date of the event, but to celebrate the significance of the event, or the teaching represented by the event.   Christmas marks the teaching of the incarnation, or the coming of God in person of Jesus.  Epiphany, or manifestation, or showing, celebrates the revealing of God to the world through Jesus.  This is highlighted by the arrival of the Magi in Jerusalem.  The Magi are not Jews, but are Persians, thus representing the world at large.

Of course the time between the birth of Jesus and the arrival of the Magi was at least eighteen months.  Herod ordered the male children of Bethlehem slaughtered who were two years old or younger.  Mary and Joseph had returned to Nazareth with their baby to introduce him to the family and the small community there.  They then likely returned to Bethlehem planning to settle there as it was Joseph’s home town and because their son was prophesied to be the messianic heir of David.  The visit of the Magi changed all that.  They had to flee to Egypt for a time until Herod’s death in 1 BC and then returned to Nazareth since another of the Herod family inherited his father’s position.  Galilee was safer.

It may be of interest to look at Jesus education in the synagogue in Galilee since nothing is recorded in the New Testament regarding Jesus early life except a trip to Jerusalem for his Bar Mitzvah  during Passover.

At five years of age Jesus would have begun a study of the written Scriptures or the Torah.  Since the written Scriptures were usually only available in the synagogue, most of the education would be through memorization.  Vast amounts of Scripture would be memorized by students at a very young age.  Methods of memorization are recorded in the Talmud, but the chief method was repetition.  This repetition was done in groups so that any mistake in the recitation of the text was immediately corrected.

At ten years of age the typical child would begin study of the Mishnah, or the oral commentary on the written Torah.  At thirteen would come the Bar Mitzvah ceremony.  At fifteen the student would begin the study of Talmudic rabbinic legal decisions.

Each synagogue in the first century would have its own “bet sefer” (elementary school) and “bet midrash” (secondary school).  Class size would be limited to one teacher for twenty-five students.  If there were more students than twenty-five an additional teacher was required.

If you are accustomed to thinking of the synagogue as a place of worship and not study you would be only half right.  In Judaism the study of Torah has always been considered the highest form of worship.

When Jesus traveled to Jerusalem at twelve years of age and conversed with the rabbis there he was well educated in the Torah and likely an outstanding student.

(Bill Scarle can be contacted at