The Years of Silence

With the exception of the birth accounts of Matthew and Luke and Jesus’ visit at the age of twelve to the
Temple at Passover, we know nothing of the years of Christ’s life. He was born in Bethlehem,
circumcised at eight days old, named Jesus, visited by Magi, and taken to Egypt by His parents until the
death of Herod the Great. The family returned to the district of Galilee and lived in a town called
Nazareth, where “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52).
Christ’s development shows how real and normal a life He lived. He grew morally, intellectually,
physically, spiritually and socially.

During a Passover visit to Jerusalem at age twelve, Jesus’ understanding and answers to questions amazed
the teachers at the Temple, where He is found by His parents. “Why were you searching for me?” he
asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49). His question reveals the
shaping of the Man who preferred the Father’s will above His own.

Village Life. In the first century A.D., the vast majority of people in Galilee lived in rural villages where
farming determined virtually every aspect of their daily lives—their traditions and habits, their holy days
and beliefs. Such a place was Nazareth, Jesus’ boyhood home, high in a sheltered basin some 1,300 feet
above sea level. Nazareth lay at the crossroads of the world but was detached by its peculiar topography,
which confined the flow of travel largely to the lowlands, passing by the plateau where the life of the
nation centered. From the hill back of Nazareth, Jesus as a boy must often have scanned the horizon in all
directions. The panorama would include the Mediterranean Sea to the west, Mount Carmel and the plain
of Sharon south of it, the broad valley of Esdraelon, with Mount Tabor on the north, the hill of Moreh and
Mount Gilboa on the south, and Samaria beyond—all of these in almost perfect line north and south.

Most residents of Galilee were Jews, along with a number of Syrians and Romans. Both slave and free
lived together. Galilean social life centered on the family. Rural families tend to be large, cohesive, and
extremely hardworking, such was probably true of Jesus’ kinsmen and neighbors. Jesus had four younger
brothers: James, Joseph, Simon and Judas and an unspecified number of younger sisters (Matthew 13:55;
Mark 6:3). Parents, young children, unmarried adults, and married sons and their spouses might all live
under one small roof, with little or no privacy and very few material comforts to ease their lives. The
husband was the spiritual and legal head of the household, and he was the final arbiter of all issues dealing
with the welfare of his wife and children. Under the Law, if his wife found “no favor in his eyes because
he has found some indecency in her,” a husband could give her a bill of divorcement.

Jewish Method of Child Training. As soon as Jewish children could talk they were made to commit to
memory the “Shema,” the Jewish creed, consisting of 19 verses from Deuteronomy 6:4-9; 11:13-21;
Numbers 15:37-41. As they grew older (boys at least) were taught to write them out. At six years of age,
boys were sent to school. Schools in most cases were attached to the synagogues in town. Compulsory
attendance at schools, according to the Talmud, dates from about 75 B.C. From this we infer that Jesus as
a child also attended the village school of Nazareth.

Besides, the education at school, the Jewish child was educated in his father’s house, in the
synagogue and the workshop. The character of education among the Jews was exclusively
religious and patriotic, its aim being to stimulate the conscience and engrave upon it the Law of
God, as well as the fear of Yahweh (Deuteronomy 4-6). As was the custom, Jesus followed the
trade of His father. The Talmud says, “On the father lies the task of circumcising his son, of
instructing him in the law, of teaching him a craft; for not to teach him a trade, is to teach him to
steal.” So Jesus is called a tektwn (tekton), denoting a carpenter or builder, possibly of wood and
stone as the houses were built of stone (Mark 6:3). There was also a large demand for wooden
farm implements and boats in the region of Galilee.

The mother tongue of Jesus was Aramaic. He no doubt understood classical Hebrew and spoke Greek.
He spoke to non-Jews without an interpreter. As a boy Jesus is likely to have made trips from time to to
time to Sepphoris, only three miles away, where Greek influence was predominant.

Annual Feasts. Moses commanded that “three times a year all your men are to appear before the
Sovereign LORD, the God of Israel” (Ex 34::23). For the Feasts of Passover, Shavuot (Festival of
Weeks), and Succoth (Feast of Tabernacles) enormous numbers of Jews made their way to the Temple in
Jerusalem. Every Jewish child in Palestine became aware early in life of belonging to a people for whom
religion was a passion.

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