JESUS IN THE TEMPLE.
EVEN as there is one hemisphere of the lunar surface on which, in its entirety, no human eye has ever gazed, while at the same time the moon's librations enable us to conjecture of its general character and appearance, so there is one large portion of our Lord's life respecting which there is no full record; yet such glimpses are, as it were, accorded to us of its outer edge, that from these we are able to understand the nature of the whole.
Again, when the moon is in crescent, a few bright points are visible through the telescope upon its unilluminated part; those bright points are mountain peaks, so lofty that they catch the sunlight. One such point of splendour and majesty is revealed to us in the otherwise unknown region of Christ's youthful years, and it is sufficient to furnish us with a real insight into that entire portion of His life. In modern language we should call it an anecdote of the Saviour's confirmation.
The age of twelve years was a critical age for a Jewish boy. It was the age at which, according to Jewish legend, Moses had left the house of Pharaoh's daughter; and Samuel had heard the Voice which summoned him to the prophetic office; and Solomon had given the judgment which first revealed his possession of wisdom; and Josiah had first dreamed of his great reform. At this age a boy of whatever rank was obliged, by the injunction of the Rabbis and the custom of his nation, to learn a trade for his own support. At this age he was so far emancipated from parental authority that his parents could no longer sell him as a slave. At this age he became a ben hat-tôrah, or "son of the Law." Up to this age he was called katôn, or "little;" henceforth he was gadôl, or "grown up," and was treated more as a man; henceforth, too, he began to wear the tephillîn, or "phylacteries," and was presented by his father in the synagogue on a Sabbath, which was called from this circumstance the shabbath tephilîm. Nay, more, according to one Rabbinical treatise, the Sepher Gilgulîm, up to this age a boy only possessed the nephesh, or animal life; but henceforth he began to acquire the ruach, or spirit, which, if his life were virtuous, would develop, at the age of twenty, into the nishema, or reasonable soul.
This period, toothe completion of the twelfth yearformed a decisive epoch in a Jewish boy's education. According to Juda Ben Tema, at five he was to study the Scriptures (Mikra), at ten the Mishna, at thirteen the Talmud; at eighteen he was to marry, at twenty to acquire riches, at thirty strength, at forty prudence, and so on to the end. Nor must we forget, in considering this narrative, that the Hebrew race, and, indeed, Orientals generally, develop with a precocity unknown among ourselves, and that boys of this age (as we ]earn from Josephus) could and did fight in battle, and that, to the great detriment of the race, it is, to this day, regarded as a marriageable age among the Jews of Palestine and Asia Minor.
Now it was the custom of the parents of our Lord to visit Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover. Women were, indeed, not mentioned in the law which required the annual presence of all males at the three great yearly feasts of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles; but Mary, in pious observance of the rule recommended by Hillel, accompanied her husband every year, and on this occasion they took with them the boy Jesus, who was beginning to be of an age to assume the responsibilities of the Law. We can easily imagine how powerful must have been the influence upon His human development of this break in the still secluded life; of this glimpse into the great outer world; of this journey through a land of which every hill and every village teemed with sacred memories; of this first visit to that Temple of His Father which was associated with so many mighty events in the story of the kings His ancestors and the prophets his forerunners.
Nazareth lies from Jerusalem at a distance of about eighty miles, and, in spite of the intense and jealous hostility of the Samaritans, it is probable that the vast caravan of Galilæan pilgrims on their way to the feast would go by the most direct and least dangerous route, which lay through the old tribal territories of Manasseh end Ephraim. Leaving the garland of hills which encircle the little town in a manner compared by St. Jerome to the petals of an opening rose, they would descend the narrow flower-bordered limestone path into the great plain of Jezreel. As the Passover falls at the end of April and the beginning of May, the country would be wearing its brightest, greenest, loveliest aspect, and the edges of the vast corn-fields on either side of the road through the vast plain would be woven, like the High Priest's robe, with the blue and purple and scarlet of innumerable flowers. Over the streams of that ancient river, the river Kishonpast Shunem, recalling memories of Elisha as it lay nestling on the southern slopes of Little Hermonpast royal Jezreel, with the sculptured sarcophagi that alone bore witness to its departed splendour past the picturesque outline of bare and dewless Gilboapast sandy Taanach, with its memories of Sisera and Barakpast Megiddo, where He might first have seen the helmets and broadswords and eagles of the Roman legionarythe road would lie to En-Gannîm, where, beside the fountains, and amid the shady and lovely gardens which still mark the spot, they would probably have halted for their first night's rest. Next day they would begin to ascend the mountains of Manasseh, and crossing the "Drowning Meadow," as it is now called, and winding through the rich fig-yards and olive-groves that fill the valleys round El Jîb, they would leave upon the right the hills which, in their glorious beauty, formed the "crown of pride" of which Samaria boasted, but which, as the prophet foretold, should be as a "fading flower." Their second encampment would probably be near Jacob's well, in the beautiful and fertile valley between Ebal and Gerizim, and not far from the ancient Shechem. A third day's journey would take them past Shiloh and Gibeah of Saul and Bethel to Beeroth; and from the pleasant springs by which they would there encamp a short and easy stage would bring them in sight of the towers of Jerusalem. The profane plumage of the eagle-wings of Rome was already overshadowing the Holy City; but, towering above its walls still glittered the great Temple, with its gilded roofs and marble colonnades, and it was still the Jerusalem of which royal David sang, and for which the exiles by the waters of Babylon had yearned with such deep emotion, when they took their harps from the willows to wail the remorseful dirge that they would remember her until their right hands forgot their cunning. Who shall fathom the unspeakable emotion with which the boy Jesus gazed on that memorable and never-to-be-forgotten scene?
The numbers who flocked to the Passover from every region of the East might be counted by tens of thousands. There were far more than the city could by any possibility accommodate; and then, as now at Easter-time, vast numbers of the pilgrims reared for themselves the little succôthbooths of mat, and wicker-work, and interwoven leaves, which provided them with a sufficient shelter for all their wants. The feast lasted for a weeka week, probably of deep happiness and strong religious emotion; and then, with their mules, and horses, and asses, and camels, the vast caravan would clear away their temporary dwelling-places, and start on the homeward journey. The road was enlivened by mirth and music. They often beguiled the tedium of travel with the sound of drums and timbrels, and paused to refresh themselves with dates, or melons, or cucumbers, and water drawn in skins and waterpots from every springing well and running stream. The veiled women and the stately old men are generally mounted, while their sons or brothers, with long sticks in their hands, lead along by a string their beasts of burden. The boys and children sometimes walk and play by the side of their parents, and sometimes, when tired, get a lift on horse or mule. I can find no trace of the assertion or conjecture that the women, and boys, and men formed three separate portions of the caravan, and such is certainly not the custom in modern times. But, in any case, among such a sea of human beings, how easy would it be to lose one young boy!
The apocryphal legend says that on the journey from Jerusalem the boy Jesus left the caravan and returned to the Holy City. With far greater truth and simplicity St. Luke informs us thatabsorbed in all probability in the rush of new and elevating emotionsHe "tarried behind in Jerusalem." A day elapsed before the parents discovered their loss; this they would not do until they arrived at the place of evening rendezvous, and all day long they would be free from all anxiety, supposing that the boy was with some other group of friends or relatives in that long caravan. But when evening came, and their diligent inquiries led to no trace of Him, they would learn the bitter fact that He was altogether missing from the band of returning pilgrims. The next day, in alarm and anguishperhaps, too, with some sense of self-reproach that they had not been more faithful to their sacred chargethey retraced their steps to Jerusalem. The country was in a wild and unsettled state. The ethnarch Archelaus, after ten years of a cruel and disgraceful reign, had recently been deposed by the Emperor, and banished to Vienne, in Gaul. The Romans had annexed the province over which he had ruled, and the introduction of their system of taxation by Coponius, the first procurator, had kindled the revolt which, under Judas of Gamala and the Pharisee Sadoc, wrapped the whole country in a storm of sword and flame. This disturbed state of the political horizon would not only render their journey more difficult when once they had left the shelter of the caravan, but would also intensify their dread lest, among all the wild elements of warring nationalities which at such a moment were assembled about the walls of Jerusalem, their Son should have met with harm. Truly on that day of misery and dread must the sword have pierced through the virgin mother's heart!
Neither on that day, nor during the night, nor throughout a considerable part of the third day, did they discover Him, till at last they found Him in the place which, strangely enough, seems to have been the last where they searched for Himin the Temple, "sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them and asking them questions; and all that heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers."
The last expression, no less than the entire context, and all that we know of the character of Jesus and the nature of the circumstances, shows that the Boy was there to inquire and learnnot, as the Arabic Gospel of the Infancy represents it, to cross-examine the doctors "each in turn"not to expound the number of the spheres and celestial bodies, and their natures and operationsstill less to "explain physics and metaphysics, hyperphysics and hypophysics" (!) All these are but the Apollinarian fictions of those who preferred their heretical and pseudo-reverential fancies of what was fitting, to the simple truthfulness with which the Evangelist lets us see that Jesus, like other children, grew up in gradual knowledge, consistently with the natural course of human development. He was there, as St. Luke shows us, in all humility and reverence to His elders, as an eager-hearted and gifted learner, whose enthusiasm kindled their admiration, and whose bearing won their esteem and love. All tinge of arrogance and forwardness was utterly alien to His character, which, from His sweet childhood upward, was meek and lowly of heart. Among those present may have beenwhite with the snows of well-nigh a hundred yearsthe great Hillel, one of the founders of the Masôrah, whom the Jews almost reverence as a second Moses; and his son, the Rabban Simeon, who thought so highly of silence; and his grandson, the refined and liberal Gamaliel; and Shammai, his great rival, a teacher who numbered a still vaster host of disciples; and Hanan, or Annas, son of Seth, His future judge; and Boethus, the father-in-law of Herod; and Babha Ben Butah, whose eyes Herod had put out; and Nechaniah Ben Hiskanah, so celebrated for his victorious prayers; and Johanan Ben Zacchai, who predicted the destruction of the Temple; and the wealthy Joseph of Arimathea; and the timid but earnest Nicodemus; and the youthful Jonathan Ben Uzziel, who subsequently wrote the celebrated Chaldee paraphrase, and was held by his contemporaries in boundless honour. But though none of these might conjecture Who was before themand though hardly one of them lived to believe on Him, and some to oppose Him in years to comewhich of them all would not have been charmed and astonished at a glorious and noble-hearted boy, in all the early beauty of his life, who, though He had never learned in the schools of the Rabbis, yet showed so marvellous a wisdom, and so deep a knowledge in all things Divine?
Here thenperhaps in the famous Lisheath haggazzîth, or "Hall of Squares"perhaps in the Chanujôth, or "Halls of Purchase," or in one of the spacious chambers assigned to purposes of teaching which adjoined the Court of the Gentilesseated, but doubtless at the feet of his teachers, on the many-coloured mosaic which formed the floor, Joseph and Mary found the Divine Boy. Filled with that almost adoring spirit of reverence for the great priests and religious teachers of their day which characterised at this period the simple and pious Galilæans, they were awe-struck to find Him, calm and happy, in so august a presence. They might, indeed, have known that He was wiser than His teachers, and transcendently more great; but hitherto they had only known Him as the silent, sweet, obedient child, and perhaps the incessant contact of daily life had blunted the sense of His awful origin. Yet it is Mary, not Joseph, who alone ventures to address Him in the language of tender reproach. "My child, why dost Thou treat us thus? see, thy father and I were seeking Thee with aching hearts." And then follows His answer, so touching in its innocent simplicity, so unfathomable in its depth of consciousness, so infinitely memorable as furnishing us with the first recorded words of the Lord Jesus:
"Why is it that ye were seeking me? Did ye not know that I must be about my Father's business?"
This answer, so divinely natural, so sublimely noble, bears upon itself the certain stamp of authenticity. The conflict of thoughts which it implies; the half-vexed astonishment which it expresses that they should so little understand him; the perfect dignity, and yet the perfect humility which it combines, lie wholly beyond the possibility of invention. It is in accordance, too, with all His ministryin accordance with that utterance to the tempter, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God," and with that quiet answer to the disciples by the well of Samaria, "My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me, and to finish His work." Mary had said unto Him, "Thy father," but in His reply He recognises, and henceforth He knows, no father except his Father in heaven. In the "Did ye not know," He delicately recalls to them the fading memory of all that they did know; and in that "I must," He lays down the sacred law of self-sacrifice by which He was to walk, even unto the death upon the cross.
"And they understood not the saying which He spake unto them." Theyeven theyeven the old man who had protected His infancy, and the mother who knew the awful secret of His birth,understood not, that is, not in their deeper sense, the significance of those quiet words. Strange and mournful commentary on the first recorded utterances of the youthful Saviour, spoken to those who were nearest and dearest to Him on earth! Strange, but mournfully prophetic of all his life:"He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not. He came unto His own, and His own received Him not."
And yet, though the consciousness of His Divine parentage was thus clearly present in His mindthough one ray from the glory of His hidden majesty had thus unmistakably flashed forthin all dutiful simplicity and holy obedience "He went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them."