RE: Coming of age among Jews in the First Century?
- At 04:08 PM 1/26/01 -0500, Richard Mallett wrote:
>Reply to : BobRichard,
> >> Perhaps the operative text is Luke 2:41-51-- not exactly a
>Bar-Mitzvah, but possibly a clue to the kind of ceremony/ritual held for
>young Jewish men of the First Century? I'm away from my books on travel
>today, so I can't check to see what the commentaries say about this
>I can find nothing to suggest that it was anything other than the
>normal journey to Jerusalem for Passover.
Well, I suppose it depends on what you mean by "normal". Is it "normal" for
a twelve year old boy from a farming village in Galilee to be found
"46 ... in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and
asking them questions."?
47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.
As I understand it, the Bar-Mitzvah represents the culmination of a process
of instruction (by teachers/rabbis) whereby a thirteen-year-old Jewish
child demonstrates that he is old enough to perform mitzvot (the
commandments of Jewish life) and become a Son or Daughter of the
Commandment. It is revered as one of the most venerable and most potent of
Jewish symbols and rituals. When a Jewish child becomes bar or bat mitzvah,
he or she publicly reads a section from the Torah, the Five Books of Moses.
The youth also reads a haftarah, which is a selection from the weekly
section of the prophetic writings--from Isaiah, Amos, Hosea,etc., or from
historical books like Joshua, Judges, Samuel, or Kings. Having thus
demonstrated his prowess, it would then seem natural for the family to
celebrate the occasion (although in the case of Luke's passage, his
parent's reaction was rather different!!!)
Luke 2:46-47 essentially demonstrates that Jesus had satisfied the
conditions for Bar-Mitzvah. Indulging one's imagination, one might
speculate that while wandering around the part of the Temple area that was
open to the public, Jesus came across a class in preparation for the First
Century equivalent of a Bar-Mitzvah, and joined in the fun. As for the
antiquity of this celebration, there is a Midrash that discusses the feast
which Avraham Avinu made for Yitzchak Avinu when he was
"weaned": According to Rabbi Hoshea the Great's opinion, Avraham made a
party when his son developed adequate moral reasoning and was no longer a
selfish little child. The Torah Shelema says that this Midrash is the
source for having a party for a child when he turns thirteen.
One might compare this with Josephus' autobiographical account of his
literary prowess at age 14 (Life 9), and also with the expansion of Luke's
brief passage in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas 19.
I do not mean us to take this passage literally at face value. But it may
cast some light on First Century custom.
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