Back | Table of Contents
A Commentary on the New Testament
from the Talmud and Hebraica
Exercitations upon the Evangelist St. Luke
1. And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar
Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.
[From Caesar Augustus.] The New Testament mentions nothing of the Roman
government, but as now reduced under a monarchical form. When that head, which had been
mortally wounded in the expulsion of the Tarquins, was healed and restored again in the
Caesars, "all the world wondered," saith St. John, Revelation 13:3; and well
they might, to see monarchy, that had for so many hundred years been antiquated and quite
dead, should now flourish again more vigorously and splendidly than ever.
But whence the epoch or beginning of this government should take its date is something
difficult to determine. The foundations of it, as they were laid by Julius Caesar, so did
they seem overturned and erased again in the death he met with in the senate-house. It was
again restored, and indeed perfected by Augustus; but to what year of Augustus should we
reckon it? I would lay it in his one-and-thirtieth, the very year wherein our Saviour was
born. Of this year Dion Cassius, lib. lv, speaks thus:
"The third decennium [or term of ten years] having now run out,
and a fourth beginning, he, being forced to it, undertook the government."
Observe the force of the word forced to it: then was Augustus constrained or
compelled to take the empire upon him. The senate, the people, and (as it should
seem) the whole republic, with one consent, submitting themselves entirely to a
monarchical form of government, did even constrain the emperor Augustus, (who for
some time stiffly refused it,) to take the reins into his hands.
I am not ignorant that the computation of Augustus' reign might reasonably enough
commence from his battle and victory at Actium; nor do the Gemarists count amiss, when
they tell us that "the Roman empire took its beginning in the days of
Cleopatra." And you may, if you please, call that a monarchical government, in
opposition to the triumvirate, which at that battle breathed its last. But that,
certainly, was the pure and absolute monarchy, which the senate and the commonwealth did
agree and consent together to set up.
[Should be taxed.] The Vulgar and other Latin copies read, should be
described; which, according to the letter, might be understood of the setting out the
whole bounds of the empire, according to its various and distinct provinces. Only that
Aethicus tells us, this had been done before; whose words, since they concern so great and
noble a monument of antiquity, may not prove tedious to the reader to be transcribed in
"Julius Caesar, the first inventor of the Bissextile account, a man singularly
instructed in all divine and human affairs, in the time of his consulship, by a decree of
the senate, procured, that the whole Roman jurisdiction should be measured out by men of
greatest skill, and most seen in all the attainments of philosophy. So that Julius Caesar
and M. Antony being consuls, the world began to be measured.
"That is, from the consulship of Caesar above mentioned to the consulship of
Augustus the third time, and Crassus, the space of one-and-twenty years, five months, and
eight days, all the East was surveyed by Zenodoxus.
"From the consulship likewise of Julius Caesar and M. Antony to the consulship of
Saturninus and Cinna, the space of two-and-thirty years, one month, and ten days, the
South was measured out by Polyclitus; so that in two-and-thirty years' time, the whole
world was surveyed, and a report of it given in unto the senate."
Thus he: though something obscurely in the accounts of consuls, as also in his silence
about the West; which things I must not stand to inquire into at this time. This only we
may observe, that Julius Caesar was consul with Antony, AUC 710; and that the survey of
the Roman empire, being two-and-thirty years in finishing, ended AUC 742; that is, twelve
years before the nativity of our Saviour.
Let us in the meantime guess what course was taken in this survey: I. It is very
probable they drew out some geographical tables, wherein all the countries were
delineated, and laid down before them in one view. II. That these tables or maps were
illustrated by commentaries, in which were set down the description of the countries, the
names of places, the account of distances, and whatever might be necessary to a complete
knowledge of the whole bounds of that empire. That some such thing was done by Augustus'
own hand, so far as concerned Italy, seems hinted by a passage in Pliny; In which
thing, we must tell beforehand, that we intend to follow Augustus, and the description he
made of all Italy, dividing it unto eleven countries.
And now, after this survey of lands and regions, what could be wanting to the full
knowledge of the empire, but a strict account of the people, their patrimony, and estates?
and this was Augustus' care to do.
"He took upon him the government both of their manners and laws, and both
perpetual: by which right, though without the title of censor, he laid a tax upon the
people three times; the first and third with his colleague, the second alone." The
first with his colleague, M. Agrippa; the third, with his colleague Tiberius; the second,
by himself alone; and this was the tax our evangelist makes mention of in this place.
2. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)
[This taxing was first made, &c.] Not the first taxing under Augustus, but
the first that was made under Cyrenius: for there was another taxing under him, upon the
occasion of which the sedition was raised by Judas the Gaulonite. Of this tax of ours,
Dion Cassius seems to make mention, the times agreeing well enough, though the agreement
in other things is more hardly reducible:--
"He began a tax upon those that dwelt in Italy, and were worth two hundred
sesterces; sparing the poorer sort, and those that lived beyond the countries of Italy, to
If those that lived out of Italy were not taxed, how does this agree with the tax which
our evangelist speaks of? unless you will distinguish, that in one sense they were not
taxed, that is, as to their estates they were not to pay any thing: but in another sense
they were, that is, as to taking account of their names, that they might swear their
allegiance and subjection to the Roman empire. As to this, let the more learned judge.
4. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea,
unto the city of David, which is called Beth-lehem; (because he was of the house and
lineage of David):
[Because he was of the house and lineage of David.] We read in the evangelists
of two families, that were of the stock and line of David; and the Talmudic authors
mention a third. The family of Jacob the father of Joseph, the family of Eli the father of
Mary, and the family of Hillel the president of the Sanhedrim, "who was of the
seed of David, of Shephatiah the son of Abital."
I do not say that all these met at this time in Bethlehem: [It is indeed remarked of
Joseph, that he was "of the house of David"; partly because he was to be
reputed, though he was not the real father of Christ; and partly also, that the occasion
might be related that brought Mary to Bethlehem, where the Messiah was to be born.] But it
may be considered whether Cyrenius, being now to take an estimate of the people, might
not, on purpose and out of policy, summon together all that were of David's stock, from
whence he might have heard the Jews' Messiah was to spring, to judge whether some danger
might not arise form thence.
7. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes,
and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
[There was no room for them in the inn.] From hence it appears, that neither
Joseph nor his father Jacob had any house of their own here, no, nor Eli neither, wherein
to entertain his daughter Mary ready to lie in. And yet we find that two years after the
birth of Christ, Joseph and Mary his wife lived in a hired house till they fled into
"A certain Arabian said to a certain Jew, 'The Redeemer of the Jews is born.'
Saith the Jew to him, 'What is his name?' 'Menahem,' saith the other. 'And what the name
of his father?' 'Hezekiah.' 'But where dwell they?' 'In Birath Arba in Bethlehem Judah.'"
He shall deserve many thanks that will but tell us what this Birath Arba is. The
Gloss tells us no other than that this "Birath Arba was a place in
Bethlehem"; which any one knows from the words themselves. But what, or what kind of
place was it? Birah indeed is a palace or castle: but what should Arba
be? A man had better hold his tongue than conjecture vainly and to no purpose...
8. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch
over their flock by night.
[And there were shepherds keeping watch over their flock, &c.] These are
the sheep of the wilderness; viz. those which go out to pasture about the time of the
Passover, and are fed in the fields, and return home upon the first rain.
"Which is the first rain? It begins on the third of the month Marchesvan. The
middle rain is on the seventh: the last on the seventeenth. So R. Meier: but R. Judah
saith, On the seventh, seventeenth, and one-and-twentieth."
The spring coming on, they drove their beasts into wildernesses or champaign grounds,
where they fed them the whole summer, keeping watch over them night and day, that they
might not be impaired either by thieves or ravenous beasts. They had for this purpose their
tower to watch in, or else certain small cottages erected for this very end, as
we have observed elsewhere. Now in the month Marchesvan, which is part of our October and
part of November, the winter coming on, they betook themselves home again with the flocks
and the herds.
13. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising
God, and saying,
[A multitude of the heavenly host praising God.] The Targumist upon Ezekiel
1:24, a host of angels from above. So in 1 Kings 19:11,12, "A host of the
angels of the wind. A host of the angels of commotion. A host of the angels of fire;
and after the host of the angels of fire, the voice of the silent singers."
14. Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
[Glory to God in the highest.] We may very well understand this angelic hymn, if
good will towards men, be taken for the subject, and the rest of the words for the
predicate. The good will of God towards men is glory to God in the highest, and peace
on earth. And, is put between glory and peace; not between them
and good will.
But now this good will of God towards men, being so wonderfully made known in
the birth of the Messiah, how highly it conduced to the glory of God, would be
needless to shew; and how it introduced peace on the earth the apostle himself
shews from the effect, Ephesians 2:14; Colossians 1:20; and several other places.
21. And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his
name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the
[And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcision of the child.]
"The disciples of R. Simeon Ben Jochai asked him, Why the law ordained circumcision
on the eighth day? To wit, lest while all others were rejoicing, the parents of the
infant should be sad. The circumcision therefore is deferred till the woman in childbed
hath got over her uncleanness." For, as it is expressed a little before, "The
woman that brings forth a man-child is prohibited her husband the space of seven days, but
on the seventh day, at the coming in of the evening which begins the eighth day, she
washeth herself, and is allowed to go in unto her husband." If she came nigh him
within the seven days she made him unclean. On the eighth day, therefore, Joseph
addresseth himself to make provision for his wife, and to take care about the circumcision
of the child.
22. And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were
accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord;
[When the days of her purification were accomplished, &c.] "R. Asai
saith, the child whose mother is unclean by childbearing is circumcised the eighth
day; but he whose mother is not unclean by childbearing is not circumcised the eighth
You will ask probably, what mother that is, that is not unclean by childbearing. Let
the Gloss upon this place make the answer: "She whose child is cut out of her womb:
as also a Gentile woman who is brought to bed today, and the next day becomes a proselyte;
her child is not deferred till the eighth day, but is circumcised straightway." And
the Rabbins a little after: "One takes a handmaid big with child, and while she is
with him brings forth; her child is circumcised the eighth day. But if he takes a
serving-maid, and with her a child newly born, that child is circumcised the first
They did not account a heathen woman unclean by child-bearing, because she was not yet
under the law that concerned uncleanness. Hence, on the other side, Mary was unclean at
her bearing a child, because she was under the law; so Christ was circumcised because born
under the law.
II. After seven days the woman must continue for three and thirty days in the blood
of her purifying, Leviticus 12:4; where the Greek, in her unclean blood; far
enough from the mind of Moses. And the Alexandrian MS much wider still: She shall sit
thirty and ten days in an unclean garment.
Pesikta, as before, col. 4, it is written "in the blood of her
purifying: though she issue blood like a flood, yet is she clean. Nor doth she defile
any thing by touching it, but what is holy. For seven days, immediately after she is
brought to bed, she lies in the blood of her uncleanness; but the three-and-thirty
days following, in the blood of her purifying."
[To present him to the Lord.] I. This was done to the first-born, but not to the
children that were born afterward: nor was this done to the first-born unless the
first-born were fit for the priest. For in Becoroth they distinguish betwixt a
first-born fit for inheritance, and a first-born fit for a priest. That is, if
the first-born should be any ways maimed, or defective in any of his parts, or had any
kind of spot or blemish in him, this laid no bar for his inheriting, but yet made him
unfit and incapable of being consecrated to God.
II. The first-born was to be redeemed immediately after the thirtieth day from his
birth. "Every one is bound to redeem his first-born with five shekels after he is
thirty days old; as it is said, 'From a month old shalt thou redeem,'" Numbers 18:16.
Not that the price of that redemption was always paid exactly upon the thirtieth day, but
that then exactly it became due. Hence in that treatise newly quoted: "If the child
die within the thirty days, and the father hath paid the price of his redemption
beforehand, the priest must restore it: but if he die after the thirty days are past, and
the father hath not paid the price of his redemption, let him pay it." Where we find
the price of redemption supposed as paid either before or after the thirty days.
III. The women that were to be purified were placed in the east gate of the court
called Nicanor's Gate, and were sprinkled with blood.
There stood Mary for her purifying: and there, probably, Christ was placed, that he
might be presented before the Lord, presented to the priest.
24. And to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord,
A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.
[A pair of turtledoves, &c.] I. "The turtles were older, and of
a larger size": pigeons less, and younger. For it is said of pigeons, two
young pigeons; but not so of turtles.
This was called the offering of the poor; which if a rich man offered, he did
not do his duty. And when the doctors speak so often of an offering rising or
falling, it hath respect to this. "For the offering of the richer sort was a
lamb; but if his hand could not reach to a lamb, then he offered a pair of turtles, or
pigeons. But if he was poor, he offered the tenth part of an ephah: therefore is
the oblation said to be rising or falling."
"King Agrippa came one day to offer a thousand burnt offerings; but a certain poor
man prevented him with two turtledoves. So, also, when one would have offered a bullock,
there was a poor man prevented him with a handful of herbs."
II. Of the two turtledoves or young pigeons, one was to be offered as a burnt
offering, the other as a sin offering. But as to the particular appointment of the one for
the burnt offering, the other for the sin offering, that is, which should be which, it is
disputed among the doctors whether it lay in the breast of him or her that offered it, or
the priest, to determine it.
By the way, we may observe that the blessed Virgin offers a sin offering for
herself. Now what the meaning and design of a sin offering was, is evident from
Leviticus 4 and 5.
25. And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the
same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy
Ghost was upon him.
[Simeon.--The same man was just and devout.] I. Simeon the Just, of whom
the Jewish histories tell so many and great things, hath nothing to do here. For, as it is
certain that Simeon died long before, so it is very uncertain whether he deserved the
title of Just as well as our Simeon did. He was called 'Just' both for his piety
towards God, and his charity towards his countrymen. Grant he was so; yet is it a far
greater testimony that is given of our Simeon.
II. Rabban Simeon, the son of Hillel, was alive and at Jerusalem in those very times
wherein our evangelist wrote, his father Hillel also still living; whom the son succeeded
upon the decease of the father, as president of the council. But as to him, there is
nothing famous concerning him amongst Jewish authors but his bare name: "Rabban
Simeon, the son of old Hillel, a prince of Israel, as his father had been. As you may see
in cap. 1. Schabb. there is no mention of him in Misna." He was, therefore, no
father of traditions, neither were there any things recited from him in the Misna: which,
indeed, was very extraordinary; but how it should come to pass I cannot tell. Whether he
had a sounder apprehension of things; or was not well seen in traditions; or was
this very Simeon the evangelist mentions, and so looked higher than the mere traditions of
men: this is all the hindrance, that Rabban Simeon lived a great while after the birth of
our Saviour and had a son, Gamaliel, whom he bred up a Pharisee.
[Waiting for the consolation of Israel.] That is, believing the consolation
of Israel was nigh at hand. The whole nation waited for the consolation of Israel,
insomuch that there was nothing more common with them than to swear by the desire which
they had of seeing it.
"R. Judah Ben Tabbai said, So let me see the consolation [of Israel], if I
have not put to death a false witness. Simeon Ben Shetah saith to him, 'So let me see the
consolation, if thou hast not shed innocent blood.'"
"R. Eliezer Ben Zadok said, So let me see the consolation, if I did not see
her gleaning barley under the horses' heels."
"R. Simeon Ben Shetah said, 'So let me see the consolation, I saw one
pursuing another with a drawn sword.'"
"Those which desire the years of consolation that are to come."
35. (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also), that the thoughts of many
hearts may be revealed.
[Yea, and a sword shall pierce through thine own soul also.] Thy soul,
i.e. thy life. It is a prediction that the blessed Virgin should suffer martyrdom:
"This child of thine shall be set for a sign, which shall be spoken against; neither
shalt thou escape in the contradiction that shall be given him, for thou shalt die by the
sword." Epiphanius gives some countenance to this exposition.
"Whether the holy Virgin died and was buried, her death was crowned with infinite
honour; she made a most chaste end, and the crown of her virginity was given her: or
whether she was put to death (as is written, 'A sword shall pass through thine own soul'),
she is possessed of glory and a crown amongst the martyrs."
36. And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of
Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her
[Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser.] There were,
therefore, prophets at this time among the people. It is not to be denied that at this
time there were; that is, when the morning of the gospel began to dawn: but for four
hundred years past there had not been even one that had deserved that name, however the
Jews vainly enough had honoured the memories of some with that title; which we shall not
meddle with at this present. But was this Anna accounted a prophetess by the Jews;
if so, whence that proverbial expression, "out of Galilee ariseth no prophet"?
John 7:52. She was certainly a Galilean; and for that very reason, probably, it is here
remarked that she was of the tribe of Aser.
What think we of that passage in Vajicra Rabba, fol. 174.4 and Bemidbar Rabb.
fol. 250.4, The king Messiah, who is placed on the north, shall come and build the
house of the sanctuary, which is placed on the south. Doth not this savour something
of Christ's coming out of Galilee?
37. And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not
from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day.
[Departed not from the Temple.] I. It may be doubted whether any women ever
discharged any office in the Temple: some think they did. But that which they allege out
of 1 Samuel 2:22, concerning the women that assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the
congregation, is quite another thing from any public ministering, if we will admit the
Targumist and the Rabbins for expositors. So Exodus 38:8, women assembling by troops
at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. The Targumists both here and in the
place before quoted have it, women that came to pray...
It is apparent, that women were wont to come from other parts to the tabernacle for
devotion's sake, not to perform any ministry. So this Anna, by birth of the
tribe of Aser, had changed her native soil, and fixed her abode at Jerusalem, partly
for devotion, that she might be the more at leisure for praying in the Temple, and partly
as a prophetess, that she might utter her prophecies in the great metropolis.
II. She departed not from the Temple; that is, not in the stated times of
prayer: according as it is commanded Aaron and his sons, Leviticus 10:7; "Ye shall
not go out from the door of the tabernacle." Where Siphra, fol. 24. 2, not
in the time of their ministry.
42. And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of
[And when he was twelve years old.] "Let a man deal gently with his son
till he come to be twelve years old: but from that time, let him descend with him into
his way of living": that is, let him diligently, and with severity (if need be),
keep him close to that way, rule, or art, by which he may get his living.
At twelve years old, they were wont to inure children to fasting, from time
to time, or from hour to hour; that they might be accustomed to it, and so be
capable of fasting upon the day of atonement.
Christ being now twelve years old, applies himself to his proper work, to be about
his Father's business.
Solomon, when 'twelve years old,'...judged between the two women.
"R. Chama saith, That Moses, when he was twelve years old, was taken from
his father's house."
43. And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried
behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it.
[And when they had fulfilled the days.] Here ariseth a question, Whether it was
lawful to depart from Jerusalem before the seven days were ended? If not, why did Peter
and Cleophas go away on the third day? If they might, how then is that precept to be
understood about eating the unleavened bread throughout the whole seven days?
I. It is controverted amongst the doctors about that passage, Deuteronomy 16:6,7,
"Thou shalt sacrifice the Passover at the even, at the going down of the sun, and
thou shalt turn in the morning, and go into thy tents," whether it be lawful, after
they had eaten the lamb, to go every one to his own house. This is denied, and that not
without reason. For as it is in the Gloss, "On the day of the feast," (that is,
the first day of the seven,) "the sabbatical limits forbade it." For on the
feast day no man ought to exceed the bounds of a sabbath day's journey. "That
therefore, (say they) that is said, 'Thou shalt go into thy tents,' is to be thus
understood, 'Thou shalt go into thy tents that are without the walls of Jerusalem; but by
no means into thine own house.'"
II. Was it lawful then to return home on the second day of the feast? No, it was not.
For on that day was the general appearance in the court, and presentment of their
offerings. And this seems hinted by R. Elhanani in another Gloss upon the place newly
cited: "There were two reasons (saith he) of their lodging in Jerusalem: the one
because of the feast day; the other because of the offering."
III. It was not unlawful to depart on the third day, if necessity of affairs required
it. But as in many other cases the doctors were wont to speak, so might it be said in this
it was much more commendable for them to abide in Jerusalem till all the seven days
were ended; and that especially because of the last day, which was a festival or holy day.
"R. Jose the Galilean saith, There are three things commanded to be done in the
feast; 1. the Chagigah; 2. the appearance in the court; 3. the
rejoicing." The Chagigah or the peace offerings were on the first day; the
appearance in the court was on the second day; the rejoicing might be on any
IV. In Moed Katon, a treatise that discourseth on things lawful or not lawful to
be done in the intermedials of the feast, or in those days of the feast that were not kept
holy; in the very entrance of that discourse there are several things allowed, which
plainly argue absence and distance from Jerusalem.
As to eating unleavened bread, the precept indeed was indispensable, neither that
any thing leavened should be eaten, nor that any leaven should be found in their
houses for seven days together: but no one would say that this command was restrained only
to Jerusalem. It is said in Jerusalem Kiddushin, the women's Passover is arbitrary:
that is, the women's appearance at Jerusalem at the Passover was at pleasure. But let them
not say that eating unleavened bread was arbitrary, or at the women's pleasure: for
although they sat at home, and did not go to Jerusalem to the Passover, yet did they
abstain from leaven in their own houses: the unleavened bread was eaten in every house.
VI. It seems from the very phraseology that Joseph and Mary continued at Jerusalem all
the seven days; which was indeed generally done by others for devotion's sake. And then
think what numerous companies of people must be going away to this or that country, yea,
particularly, how great a crowd might be journeying, together with Joseph and Mary,
towards Galilee. So that it may be less strange, if Jesus had not been within his parents'
sight, though he had been among the crowd; nor that though they did not see him, yet that
they should not suspect his absence.
44. But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day's journey; and
they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance.
[They went a day's journey.] The first ordinary day's journey from Jerusalem towards
Galilee, was to Neapolis, of old called Sychem, distant thirty miles. But was this the
day's journey that Joseph and the company that travelled along wit him made at this time?
The place where Christ was first missed by his parents is commonly shewed at this day to
travellers, much nearer Jerusalem, by the name of Beere, but ten miles from that
city. You may believe those that shew it, as you think fit.
46. And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting
in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions.
[Sitting in the midst of the doctors.] I. "There are three courts of
judicature in the Temple: one in the gate of the Court of the Gentiles; another in the
gate of the Court of Israel; a third in the room Gazith."
There was also a synagogue in the Temple, which must be observed. "The high priest
came to read" [those places which were to be read on the day of atonement]. "The
chazan of the synagogue takes the book, and gives it to the ruler of the synagogue; the
ruler to the sagan; the sagan to the high priest," &c. Where the Gloss:
"There was a synagogue near the court, in the Mountain of the Temple."
In which of these places Christ was found sitting amongst the doctors, let those tell
us that undertake to shew the place where his parents first missed him.
II. It is not easy to say what place he could be admitted to amongst the doctors,
especially when that custom obtained which is mentioned: "The Rabbins have a
tradition: From the days of Moses to Rabban Gamaliel's, they were instructed in the law
standing. But when Rabban Gamaliel died, the world languished, so that they learned the
law sitting." Whence also that tradition, that, "since the death of Rabban
Gamaliel, the glory of the law was eclipsed."
Now when it was come to that pass after Gamaliel's death, that the disciples sat while
the master read, how did they sit? On the ground. Hence that passage; "Rabh
would not sit upon his bed, and read to his scholar, while he sat upon the ground."
Gloss: "Either both should be on the bed, or both upon the ground."
"The disciples of R. Eleazar Ben Shammua asked him, 'How came you to this great
age?' He answered them, 'I never made the synagogue a common way' [that is, I never
took my passage through the synagogue for a shorter cut]. 'And I never walked upon the
heads of the holy people.'" The Gloss is, "upon the heads of his disciples,
sitting upon the ground."
Whether on the naked floor, might be a question, if there were place for it; but we let
that pass at this present. For this custom of sitting prevailed after the death of
Gamaliel, who took the chair many years after this that we are now upon. The great Hillel
possessed the seat at this time; or if he was newly dead, his son Simeon succeeded him: so
that it was the disciples' part in this age to stand, not to sit in the presence of their
doctors. How therefore should it be said of Christ, that he was "sitting among the
doctors"? Let the following clause solve the difficulty:
[And asking them questions.] It was both lawful and customary for the disciples,
or any that were present, publicly to inquire either of the doctor that was then reading,
or indeed the whole consistory, about any doubtful matter wherein he was not well
satisfied. Take but two stories out of many others that may illustrate this matter:--
"R. Judah ordained R. Levi Ben Susi for a doctor to the Simonians. They made him a
great chair, and placed him in it. Then propounded questions to him [occasioned from
Deuteronomy 25:9], If thy brother's wife should have her hands cut off, how should she
loose the shoe of her husband's brother? If she should spit blood; what then?"
Most profound questions certainly! such as require a most cunning sophister to unriddle
"There is a story of a certain disciple that came and interrogated R. Joshua, Of
what kind is evening prayer? He answered him, It is arbitrary. He came to
Rabban Gamaliel and asked him; he told him, It is that we are in duty bound to.
'How then,' saith he, 'did R. Joshua tell me it is voluntary?' Saith the other, 'Tomorrow,
when I come into the Consistory, do thou come forth and question me about this matter.'
The disciple stood forth and asked Rabban Gamaliel [then president of the Sanhedrim] 'Of
what kind is evening prayer?' He answers, It is a thing of duty. 'But behold,'
saith the other, 'R. Joshua saith, It is a thing at pleasure.' Saith Gamaliel to Joshua,
'Dost thou affirm it to be a thing of pleasure?' He saith unto him, 'No.' 'Stand upon thy
feet,' saith the other, 'that they may witness against thee.' Rabban Gamaliel was then
sitting and expounding. [Probably this very article.] R. Joshua stood on his feet till all
the people cried out to him. They say to R. Hospith the interpreter, 'Dismiss the people,'
They say to R. Zenon the Chazan, 'Say, Begin ye'; and they said, 'Begin thou'; so all the
people rose up and stood on their feet. They said unto him, 'Who is it thy wickedness hath
not touched?' They went out straightway and made R. Eleazar Ben Azariah president of the
council. How many seats were there? R. Jacob Ben Susi saith, fourscore seats for
the disciples of the wise, beside those who stood behind the bars. R. Jose Ben R. Bon
saith thirty, besides those that stood behind the bars." We have the same story in Bab.
Beracoth, fol. 27. 2.
This we transcribed the largelier, not only for proof of what we said, of the
disciples' asking the doctors questions in the court, but that the reader might have a
little sight of the manner of that court, and how there were many, not only of the
disciples of the Wise, but others, too, that flocked thither.
We may further add: "In a city where there are not two great wise men, one fit to
teach and instruct in the whole law, the other who knows how to hear, and ask, and answer,
they do not constitute a Sanhedrim, although there were a thousand Israelites there,"
&c. "In a city where there are not two that may speak, and one that may hear,
they do not constitute a Sanhedrim. In Bitter, there were three: In Jabneh four; viz. R.
Eliezer, R. Joshua, R. Akibah, and Simeon the Temanite. He judged before them, sitting
on the ground." By him who hears they mean one skilful in the traditions,
that can propound questions, and answer every question propounded. Such a one was Simeon
the Temanite; who though he was a man of that learning, yet, not being promoted to become
one of the elders, he sat upon the ground; that is, not on any of the benches of the
fathers of the Sanhedrim; but on one of the seats that were near the ground; for
they speak these things as done in the times after the death of Gamaliel. There is nothing
absurd therefore in it, if we should suppose Christ gotten into the very Sanhedrim itself.
Thither Joseph and his mother might come, and seeking him, might find him on the benches
of the fathers of the council for that time, they having found him so capable both to
propound questions and answer them. For it is plain they did admit of others, for other
reasons, to sit sometimes in their seats. And it is less wonder if they suffer him to sit
amongst them, being but twelve years of age, when as they promoted R. Eleazar Ben Azariah
to the presidency itself when he was but sixteen. But if it was in a lower court, it is
still less wonder if he sat amongst them. But that which might be chiefly inquired is,
whether Christ sat amongst them as one of their disciples? This indeed is hardly credible.
Back | Table of Contents