|PAUL'S CHILDHOOD AND EDUCATION
The psychology of a person's childhood is always reflected in his life's work. Paul's curriculum vitae, that is, the "course of his life", was directed in the grooves which were drummed into him during his education, including Greek culture and the teaching of the rabbis. God's prevenient grace and guidance is effective in us even before we become aware of his plans. I might be so bold as to say that Paul's missionary calling, the basic character of his activities and even the special emphases of his teaching were programmed into his inner being before his spiritual crisis on the Damascus road. It is as though, having encountered Jesus, all his seeking and questions just clicked into place.
In archaeology individual pieces of mosaic have no function of their own. But when the ground yields up a broken outline, separate fragments find their right "topos" or "place". And thus an integrated whole is created. Similarly, Paul's stray references to his home and education help to create an overall picture of his later life.
In Paul's world, education and teaching had already been transferred from families to society. Thus he too received the building material of his life both at home and at school. In Palestine the first regulations about providing free teaching were based on discussions held in c. 200 B.C.
The apocryphal book of Sirach refers to this free teaching, on which the present-day law of compulsory education is based. Its author, Yeshua Ben Sira, wrote in Old Testament Hebrew. In the final exhortation of his book he exclaims, "Draw near to me, you who are untaught, and lodge in my school... I opened my mouth ...without charge ... let your souls receive instruction." Sirach had his own academy in Jerusalem, where they taught ethical questions and the Law.
About one hundred years later, Shimon Ben Shetah suggested that the Jewish community should provide free teaching to its members.
Rabbi Gamaliel, familiar from the book of Acts, often repeated that everyone should provide himself with a teacher, because it also prepares us "for the life to come." At first teaching was restricted mainly to religious issues.
Very early on children were also taught other skills of life. Scholars said, "Torah which is not combined with the teaching of skill with the hands leads finally to laziness and sin." Thus inactivity gives way to "the evil impulse", and that leads to a fall. A "profession" meant studying "the things of heaven" and practical life. "He who does not teach his son a profession makes him a good-for-nothing." A father should also teach his children to swim, for instance; thus they had a chance of survival even in difficult circumstances --- we remember that Paul once "spent a night and a day in the open sea."
Paul tells of himself: "I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no ordinary city." "I was circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews, as to the Law a Pharisee." I have been a Roman citizen "since I was born." "The Jews all know the way I have lived ever since I was a child, from the beginning of my life in my own country, and also in Jerusalem." And I was "taught at the feet of Gamaliel." Paul felt, however, that he was like an "abnormally born" weakling and "the least of the Apostles" because he had persecuted the church.
Paul's home district of Cilicia in the south-east of Asia Minor exercised great influence on little Paul. Late in spring the snow-covered Taurus mountains, three thousand metres in height, still framed the northern landscape around Tarsus. To the south one had a view of the blue Mediterranean. In the east and west wound the hills of the Amanus Mountains. When the snow melted, one could reach the lush northern plateau from the "Gates of Cilicia". The engineers of Tarsus had cut through this mountain pass and thus caravans could travel by land from the Euphrates as far as Ephesus and Rome. From summer to late autumn it channelled the wealth of seabound trade to merchants in Syria. Through the city flowed the River Cydnus, which formed mighty waterfalls before it reached the city and after passing it settled down and became navigable as far as the sea. Paul knew from his childhood what it is to be "in danger on the waters of rivers."
According to a tradition recorded by Jerome, both Paul's parents came from Gischala in Galilee. His father was of the tribe of Benjamin. It is evident that the family had a leather factory or weaving mill, where they manufactured the famous "cilicium" textiles. This was made of the hair of goats bred on the Cilician plateau. Soldiers and sailors favoured this warm clothing. Working rough goat hair was an awkward business and often made one's hands bleed. The church fathers called Paul a tanner or tentmaker. Perhaps his father sometimes took his little son along with him on his business journeys and to the nearby harbour. There the little man could hear news of the Roman superpower of his time.
The primary responsibility for the education of sons belonged to the father. He taught the set prayers to be learnt by heart. Similarly, they crammed some of the Psalms. Today too there are young boys who know the whole book of Psalms by heart. In the Talmud there is a saying: "Do not take pupils under six years of age and do not force knowledge into him as into an ox." It was also the custom to send boys to be taught by the synagogue "hazan" or cantor. There they also learned to read the Bible by reciting it. Some of the children might live with the cantor and learn there good behaviour,"derekh eretz". These children were called by the name "tinoqot shel beit ha-kneset", that is, "little synagogue children." This was a kind of kindergarten. It was also called by the name "vineyard".
In rich families a slave pedagogue took children to the schoolroom and carried their writing utensils, iron stylus and wax tablets. At the age of ten began a less pleasant stage in education. Now they began to introduce them to the oral Law and the so-called "fence of the Law", the "seyag ha-Torah", and the numerous purification rules. Perhaps already at this stage Paul received his basic education according to the "strictest party of the Law." He knew that "the Law is good when it is used lawfully"(1Tim.1:8). The Pharisees indeed aimed at "rational solutions" and following "the voice of reason." Nevertheless, perhaps already at this time the sensitive and perfectionist young Paul received some kind of injury to his soul. And he tells later that this Torah, "that was intended to bring life actually brought death"(Rom. 7:10).
Organized schools originated in connection with the synagogue. They usually had a so-called "beit ha-sefer" or "house of the book". The subject-matter of teaching was principally the Bible. Early on the so-called "beit talmud", "the house of learning", was distinguished from it. Here they concentrated on explaining the traditions of the fathers. One teacher was always entrusted with twenty-five pupils, but if the number of children rose to forty, he was assigned an assistant. In this way Israel might remain "the people of the book."
The teaching of philosophy, that is, Greek thought, was shunned. Similarly, the study of languages concentrated on Hebrew. Sometimes girls were, "for social reasons," given guidance in the Greek language and even in poetry. Mothers were responsible for guiding them in household management, weaving and cookery.
Fathers often saw to it that when they grew up boys were sent to Jerusalem for further study. Rabbi Gamaliel had founded there a school for five hundred pupils, where they also taught Greek philosophy, so that the pupils could later keep in contact with their provincial governors. It is estimated that in the whole Mediterranean area there were then over one hundred and fifty centres with their synagogues. Once Professor David Flusser of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem pointed out that the areas mentioned in Acts in the description of Pentecost, the areas from which Jews had come to the festival, covered the most important Jewish colonies of the time.
Paul was a child of prayer. Perhaps there were practical reasons for this. He felt himself that God had already "from his mother's womb separated and called" him "to work among the Gentiles." On the other hand, he felt himself to be as it were a "premature baby" -- perhaps he was. Perhaps his mother had already had several miscarriages and therefore she promised her future son to God. Great hopes were vested in the child. At the circumcision it was the custom to ask the father what the child's name would be. Now the boy was named after King Saul of the tribe of Benjamin, "who was a head taller than all the people." But the boy became sickly and small. So they began to call him by an equivalent resembling his Hebrew name, Paulus or "tiny". Perhaps there was another reason for this.
Roman citizens usually had three names: the forename, of which only its initial letter was generally used; second was the family name and third his additional name. So G. (Gaius) Julius Caesar meant that he was called by the name Caesar. And since his ruling qualities were very prominent, his additional name came to mean the leader of the Empire. Tarsus was also named Iuliopolis after Julius. Previously Roman citizenship could be applied for only if one was a member of a respected family. In the time of Paul it could be bought for five hundred drakhmas. It may indeed be that these citizen rights were given either to Paul's grandfather or to his father. It may be that the conqueror of the city, a Roman general called L. Aemilius Paulus, saw in them some special merits. Perhaps Paul's Roman name was derived from him.
The Significance of Greek Culture
In Paul's pious home they doubtless shunned the excessive influence of Greek philosophy. In Tarsus there was a renowned university. The famous Greek geographer Strabo considered it better than the seats of learning of Athens and Alexandria. The Roman statesman Cicero had once been governor of the province of Cilicia. Shortly before Paul's time the Stoic philosopher Athenodorus was one of the most eminent residents of Tarsus. Paul had probably heard many of his teachings. He instructed the Emperor Augustus, for instance, by saying that "when excited one should not open one's mouth before one has read the alphabet through in one's mind." He also said that "everyman's conscience is his god." It is worth mentioning that this concept of "conscience" defined by the philosopher Socrates (Gr. syneidesis or "knowing together", cf. Swedish samvete and German Gewissen) does not occur at all in the Old Testament. There its equivalent is the word "heart": Job tells that conscience did not "reproach" him, in Hebrew his heart did not "sting" within him; David's conscience "reproached" him, in other words, his heart "beat" within him; or Solomon experienced "pangs" of conscience, Heb. "nega levavo" or "pains of the heart." Old Testament believers did not experience their relationship with God so much in the area of "knowledge" as "in the heart." Therefore conscience or the heart "knocked" within them. Paul makes abundant use of the Greek word for conscience.
Athenodorus also said, "Live with men as if God sees it and speak with God as if men hear it." He also taught that we are freed from passions when we have reached the point where "we do not ask from God anything that we could not ask publicly." Seneca learned the meaning of conscience from Athenodorus. With him originated the saying: "In us there is a holy spirit, which observes and records our thoughts, both good and bad."
Paul was evidently influenced mainly by Stoicism. This can be deduced from, for instance, his discipline and self-denial in missionary work. Paul indeed avoided using the names of scholars of his time, although he might borrow their ideas. In Acts 17 he refers to what "some of your poets" have said. In his Areiopagus speech he shows that he knows the poets Epimenides, who lived five hundred years earlier, and Aratus from Cilicia (315-245 B.C.). They wrote that "we are the kin of the gods." In Titus 1:12 Paul also quotes the words of Epimenides, who was from the island of Crete: "Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons."
Also the Athenian writer Menander (343-291 B.C.), famed for his comedies, appears in 1 Cor. 15:33. In his play "Thais" this writer says, "Bad company ruins good manners." The port of Tarsus was widely known for its vice. Perhaps it was the moral backbone of Stoicism that appealed to the young Paul. Thus he did not grow up in a narrow Jewish ghetto. In his native district he was accustomed to free association with his contemporaries. We do not know whether he studied at Tarsus' famous university. The observant reader will notice that when describing Paul's actual activities Luke does not use his forename Saul but his additional name Paulus, as was the custom of the Romans. This supports the historical reliability of the narrative.
Paul's Rabbinic Training
A frequently quoted German proverb says, "Zeichnen ist Weglassen," "drawing is leaving out." An artist aims to conjure up in a few strokes the essential features of his subject. Paul's later activities are most clearly illuminated in the light of the emphases he received from his famous teacher, Rabban Gamliel.
Rabban Gamliel ha-zaqen was president of the Great Council and his people's spiritual leader during the last decades before the destruction of the Temple around 25-50 B.C. The additional name "ha-zaqen" or "the old one", he was given to distinguish him from his grandson Rabban Gamliel de-Yavneh, who lived and worked in Jamnia.
In rabbinic literature there are as many as six scholars named Gamaliel. The Jews also mention in their own sources that "old" Gamaliel was the teacher of Saul of Tarsus. Gamaliel was the first of the presidents of the Great Council to be called "rabban" or "our rabbi".
Acts 5: 34-40 tells of Gamaliel the teacher of the Law "who was honoured by all the people." When the Great Council were deliberating on what to do with the first apostles, who had "filled Jerusalem with their teaching," Gamaliel, who was known for his moderation, stood up and gave wise advice: "Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men ... Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God."
Gamaliel was known for his humane and rational decisions. Pirqei Abot 5:17 has recorded his statement, which resembles the words of Acts: "Every party (Heb. mahaloqet , that is, "division" or "controversy") which is founded in God's name will in the end endure; but one which is not built in God's name will not endure in the end." The corresponding Hebrew phrase, "in the name of heaven", means the same as "to the glory of God." The rabbis explain that it one should "seek the truth out of pure motives" and not act "out of envy or obstinately."
Gamaliel solved contemporary legal problems "mipnei tiqun ha-olam" , that is, "to correct the world," which meant that "the interpretation of the Law was applied according to the needs of renewing life." Pharisaism was also a kind of reform movement. This basic aim Gamaliel received from his grandfather Rabbi Hillel.
During Gamaliel's presidential term in the Great Council was also drawn up the well-known "halakhah", the application of the Law: "In a city where both Jews and Gentiles live, a Jew should besides looking after the poor also appoint a superintendent to look after Gentiles and to receive contributions for the poor from the Gentiles, if they want to give any; similarly, one should look after both Gentile and Jewish poor people; visit sick Gentiles, bury their dead and hold funeral speeches for them, console their mourners and clothe their destitute --- in order to maintain the peace."
Against this background we can understand the Apostle Paul's attitude to the Gentiles and his great zeal for, for example, contributing to the needs of the "saints in Jerusalem".
Rabbi Hillel ha-zaqen, that is, "old Hillel" formed his own school, which dominated the more lenient trend of Pharisaism for four hundred and fifty years. At that time young people got married very early and had a great number of children. So the significance of grandparents in their grandchildren's life was decisive. Thus one can comprehend that Hillel's grandson Gamaliel the Elder and his grandson Gamaliel of Jamnia became the principal cornerstones of Hillelite interpretation of the Law.
In addition, it is good to know that Hillel was from the tribe of Benjamin on his father's side, and that on his mother's side he belonged to the house of David. Small wonder that he greatly appreciated the fact that as a Benjaminite he was from the same tribe as his great mentor.
According to old Jewish tradition, boys should learn to read the Torah at the age of five; he made the acquaintance of oral tradition at the age of ten, boys were directed to more profound doctrinal questions at the age of fifteen, and it was good to come under the "huppah" or "wedding canopy" by the age of eighteen.
Pirqei Abot 5:21 mentions how this development continues: "At twenty he is ready for war, at thirty a man is at the peak of his strength, at forty he grows in understanding, at fifty he is mature enough to give counsel, at sixty he begins to grow old," etc. According to the Talmud, God is not pleased with a man who is already twenty years old and not yet married. And if someone does not get married, he is not a complete man. Marriage is one of the first obligations of the "taryag" or the six hundred and thirteen commandments.
Paul's father could afford to send his gifted son to Gamaliel's seat of learning in Jerusalem. This may have happened when the youngster was fifteen years old. It may be that this stage lasted at least three or five years c. 20 - 25, if Paul was born in around the year 5. At that time Jesus had not yet begun his public ministry. The rabbis' way of teaching was based on discussion and debates. Professor Josef Klausner and Shalom Ben-Chorin have suggested that the Talmud described a dispute between young Paul and Gamaliel, indicating a certain pupil by the phrase "oto talmid", "that pupil". The Talmud also calls Jesus by words that avoid using his name - "oto ish", "that man". When Gamaliel explains the Messianic age, he says that then "a woman will give birth every day, because it is written (Jer. 31:8): among them are pregnant women and women in labour." In Hebrew the verse reads "harah ve-yoledet yahdav," that is, "the pregnant woman and the woman in labour together;" the words "every day" were Gamaliel's interpretation. "Then that pupil mocked him and said, 'There is nothing new under the sun' " (Prov. 1:9). Gamaliel continues explaining that in the Messianic age "trees will produce fruit every day, because it is written (Ezek. 17:23): 'It will produce branches and bear fruit.' " Again Gamaliel added to the verse the words "every day". And again "that pupil mocked him and said, 'There is nothing new under the sun.' " And Gamaliel continues by stating an impossible assertion for developing spontaneous thinking, to which "that pupil" replies by saying three times: "There is nothing new under the sun." Perhaps Gamaliel deliberately provoked this discussion, and when the pupil could not directly debate with his teacher, he might instead quote the "Scriptures".
Gamaliel's influence on Paul appeared in at least three basic things: First of all, Hillel, who had come from Babylonia to Palestine, was aware of the "new situation" in which Judaism encountered the contemporary Gentile world. Gamaliel acted in the spirit of his great grandfather and took note of the surrounding Gentiles "in order to maintain the peace." Therefore social relief work was also directed towards Gentiles. This halakhah drawn up under Gamaliel's leadership also obligated them to console Gentiles in their sorrow, as we have previously stated. The superintendent responsible for this relief work organized special collections for it. This is the way Paul too worked in different churches. In the Diaspora Jews also engaged in vigorous Gentile missionary work, as described in Horace's satire (I;4,142). Josephus and Seneca, for example, were very aware of this activity, of which Christian missionary work was a continuation. Rabbi Gamaliel tells of his home: "In my father's home it was the custom to give white clothes to foreigners three days before the Sabbath." Then they could take part in Sabbath meals.
Secondly, Gamaliel's guiding teaching principle can be regarded as that he emphasised the significance of correspondence in creating contacts. The fact that his school had a more open relation to the Greek language also made external contacts possible. The Talmud describes how Rabbi Gamaliel sat on the Temple Mount and his scribe Yohanan had before him three unfinished letters. "One he had written to Upper and Lower Galilee, the second to the inhabitants of the south, the third to the Dispersion in Babylon and the rest to all others of the Diaspora of Israel." Gamaliel is known to have had the most extensive correspondence of his time, giving his advice, for instance, to King Agrippa I. In this light we can understand that Paul too dictated his long teaching and pastoral letters to be sent to the churches.
Thirdly, it is noteworthy that the school of Gamaliel aimed to make easier the interpretation of the Law in Hillel's tolerant spirit. So he drew up some applications of the Law to improve the position of women. If a husband had divorced his wife he no had the right to refuse her marital intentions in another court. If a woman's spouse had died, now one witness was sufficient instead of two to confirm that "she was free for a second marriage," as the bill of divorce always stated.
When people arrived on the Sabbath to testify in the court of the judgment seat in Jerusalem, they should have remained there until the end of the Sabbath. Rabbi Gamaliel decreed that these witnesses had the right to move two thousand cubits in every direction without infringing the holy day. This applied also to women in labour, for it happened "to protect life." This principle gave freedom from individual precepts of the Law.
We are also told that once, when he was walking on the Temple Mount, Gamaliel saw a woman with a beautiful body and thanked God that He had "created such beautiful creatures in his world." We are told that Galileans were much more tolerant towards women than the inhabitants of Jerusalem and Judea. If Paul's parents were from Gischala in Galilee, Gamaliel's teachings certainly fell on favourable ground. He teaches later that when we have put on Christ "there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither man nor woman" -- before God we are in the same position. And he says: "You are restricted in your affections-- open wide your hearts also!"
This raises the question which often comes up of whether Paul was possibly married. Since the rabbis were of the opinion that it would be best to come under the "wedding canopy" by the age of eighteen, it has been thought that Paul would have got married when he was in Jerusalem. It was required of Great Council members and of candidates for it that they be married. However, if Paul had been married, it would seem evident that he would have referred to it at least in 1 Cor. 7 or in Ephesians chapter 5, where he also weighs the possible re-marriage of a widowed person.
When Paul gave his advice, he said he was doing so "as a concession, not as a command." In case of problems it was better that a wife "be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife."
Three times he emphasised that it was best for a person "to remain in the situation God called him to." And a man "is happier if he stays as he is." This was due to the fact that "because of the present crisis it is good for you to remain as you are." But believers were not "under any compulsion."
Paul spoke of love with great pastoral wisdom. In Ephesians 5 he says, "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her" ..."In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies" ..."This is a profound mystery -- but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself and the wife must respect her husband." "The woman is the glory of man." "Wives are to be women worthy of respect."
"A deacon must be the husband of but one wife." Also, an elder must be "blameless, the husband of but one wife." One would think that only a married man could write like this -- perhaps Paul was married during the years 25 - 30 that he spent in Tarsus.
Jewish scholars emphasise here and there that one should find oneself a reliable rabbi, so as to escape from "suspicions." Similarly, the Torah should be "enduring" ("qeva"), and one should "make many disciples" so that they transmit the Torah to their pupils. Hillel, the stricter Shammai and Gamaliel the Elder all fought very passionately against false interpretation of the Law. Also, interpretations of the Law unsuitable for everyday life should be avoided. "The Essenes, who brought new customs and who spread their opinions within the Temple walls, brought about disputes." "They withdrew from other company, so that they would not be polluted, and brought about dispersion to the Torah in the life of the faithful." Such a "split" (Heb. "qera"), scholars attempted to avoid.
Both Josephus and Philo estimated that before the destruction of the Temple the number of Pharisees was a modest six thousand and the number of Essenes four thousand. Only after the destruction of the Temple, when the Pharisees' main seat of learning was transferred to Jamnia near modern Tel Aviv, did they remain, as it were, the only heirs of the Torah interpretation of the fathers.
It is known that Hillel had eighty disciples, Gamaliel the Elder had five hundred pupils in Jerusalem and Gamaliel"the younger" as many as one thousand pupils in Jamnia, of whom five hundred studied Torah and five hundred Greek language and Greek culture.
The Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20 uses the Greek word "matheteusate", that is, "make disciples." Jesus had twelve disciples properly so called because he felt he was called to be the Saviour of the twelve tribes of Israel. In addition, at one stage he sent twelve disciples into surrounding Gentile villages, because precisely that number symbolized the twelve Gentile peoples. Now Paul's missionary work and all his literary activity was spreading the same "discipleship" to the whole contemporary world. This attitude was not at all alien to Judaism. The Talmud says that "holy God, praised be his name, has not scattered Israel among the peoples for any other purpose than that they should make converts."
The Apostle Paul indeed inherited his love and responsibility for
the Gentiles from his famous teacher Gamaliel. Similarly, he learned
from his spiritual father the significance of correspondence. Also boldness
to interpret the Torah in new situations was typical of the school of Hillel.
And we shall see that his way of teaching observed the rules applying
to midrashim, that is, synagogue sermons. In the new "post-Messianic"
situation after his conversion these teachings found new contexts. There
is only one thing that causes one to wonder: although old rabbinic literature
always mentions dozens of teachers who speak "be-shem omro," that is, "in
the name of him who says," Paul does not refer to contemporary scholars
in a single one of his letters nor even in the sermons of Acts. His
inner world of values had changed so that he accepted only Old Testament
teachings as the sole authority. The other apostles also observed the same