Education in Ancient Israel

The Nation of Israel as described in the Bible has a rich and long history of several thousand years. This particular group of people believed that they are the keepers of the knowledge of the true God. Their influence in religion is remarkable in that a large part of the theology of Christianity is derived from Hebrew writings.

In this post, we will only look at a cross-section of Hebrew education around the time of the time of the monarchy period of David and Solomon.

What Did they Teach

The goal of Hebrew education was to produce people who obeyed God. This is in stark contrast to other educational systems that emphasized obeying earthly rulers. The Hebrew system stress first allegiance to God and then allegiance to man when this did not conflict with the will of God. When there was a disagreement in terms of what man and God commanded the Hebrew was taught to obey  God. This thinking can be traced even in Christianity with the death of martyrs throughout Church history.

The educational system was heavily inspired by their sacred writings. At the time we are looking at, the majority of the writings were by Moses. The writings of Moses provide a detailed education of health principles, morality, and precise explanation of performing the rites of the sacrificial system.

The sacrificial system in the Hebrew economy is particularly impressive in that the ceremonies performed were all meant to help the Israelites remember what God had done for them and to be shadows of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ as understood by some Christian theologians.

In order for children to learn all of the laws and sacred writings of their nation, it required that almost everyone learn to read. People were held personally responsible to understand their role in society as well as in how to treat others and God’s will for them. Again this is in contrast to other religions in which people simply obeyed the religious leaders. The Jew was expected to know for themselves what their religion was about.

How Did They Teach

Despite the theocratic nature of the government and the details of the religious system, the educational system in Ancient Israel was highly decentralized. The school was the home and the teachers were the parents. Most nations that reached the strength and level of the Monarchy of Israel had a state ran educational system. However, the Hebrews never had this.

The decentralized nature of education is unusual because secular leaders normally want to mold the people to follow and obey them. In Israel, this never happens because of the focus on serving God. The personalized education allowed children to grow as individuals rather than as cogs in a nation-state machine. The idea of allowing parents to all educate their children as they decide would seem chaotic in today’s standardized world. Yet the Israel monarchy lasted as long as any other kingdom in the world.

How Did They Organize 

Once a child completed their studies they would learn a trade and begin working. Higher education was not focused on secular matters and was often reserved for the priestly class to learn skills related to their office. Example include law, sacred writings weights and measures, and astronomy to determine when the various feast days would be.

Another form of additional education was the Schools of the Prophets. Apparently, these were independent institutions that provided training in the scriptures, medicine, and law. At least one author claims that the Schools of the Prophets were established because Hebrew parents were neglecting the education of their children.  In other words, when the parents began to neglect the education of their children is when the nation begin to decline as well.

Conclusion

The Israelite educational system during the early monarchy period was an interesting example of contrasts. Highly detailed yet decentralized in execution, focused on obeying God yet having a monarchy that probably wanted to keep power, and little regard for higher education while producing some of the most profound theological works of all-time.  The strength of this system would be considered a weakness in many others.

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