A Child's Life in Nazareth
by Jesse Lyman Hurlbut
THE LITTLE Jesus must have been between two and five years old when he was brought to Nazareth, just coming out of babyhood and growing into a little boy; and Nazareth was his home for at least twenty-five years, all through his childhood, his boyhood and his young manhood.
Jesus was not the only child living in that little white house of one story and one room on the side of the hill. Soon another baby boy came, who was named James, who grew up to become a great man, and many years after wrote one of the books in the Bible, the Epistle of James. Then, one after another, came three more boys, Joseph and Simon and Judas. When we read that name "Judas" we are apt to think of the wicked Judas, who sold the Lord Jesus for a few pieces of silver. But that was a different Judas. This Judas, like his brother James, long afterward wrote another book in the New Testament, the Epistle of Jude. Somewhere in the list of children were two girls--there may have been more than two, but the number and names of the girls have not been kept.
After a few years that little house must often have been crowded, with children coming one after another, and always a baby to be cared for. And much of the time it was the shop where father Joseph did his work as a carpenter. The floor of brick or of clay was often littered with shavings and the workman's tools were on the table.
The house had very little furniture; no chairs, no bedstead with a mattress upon it, no stove and no pictures upon the walls. In one corner a little fire was lighted for cooking the meals, and the smoke went up through a hole in the roof, unless the wind blew it back into the room. They never made a fire to keep the house warm in winter, but when it was cold just waited for the sun to come out. Sometimes a snowstorm came, but the snow seldom stayed more than two or three days. The children of Joseph never took a sleigh-ride and never coasted on sleds down the steep hills.
If there was a table for their meals, it was very low, less than two feet high; and they sat around it on little cushions, dipping their hands or pieces of bread into one common dish for food. Sometimes the table was just a round measure turned upside down; and sometimes the meal was served on the floor, as we serve meals on the grass at a picnic.
When night came, they unrolled some mats, which through the day were rolled up and stood against the wall, spread them on the floor and lay down upon them to sleep, throwing over themselves the long mantle which had been their outside garment through the day. When the door was shut, the house was dark, for its only window was a little hole in the wall; and they lighted it by an oil lamp, which stood either on a tall stand or on a little shelf.
But the house was used little in the daytime, for everybody lived out of doors, in the open court in front, in the streets and on the hills around. On pleasant days Joseph took his tools in the court and worked in wood. We are apt to think of Joseph as building houses, as in our time that is the chief work of a carpenter. But the houses were made of clay or rough stone, and the carpenter did very little work upon them. His chief business was in making wooden plows, yokes for the oxen, the little tables, and the peck or bushel measure, which was to be found in every house, and was also used in place of a table.
One very useful article was either in the house or in the court--the hand mill for grinding grain, made of two round flat stones. Our flour comes to us from great factories, but in that land each family had its own little mill. They poured the grain into a hole in the upper millstone, and then turned the stone round and round by a handle until the grain was ground into flour. This was hard work, but it was always done by the women. Often two women helped each other to turn the handle of the upper millstone. Mary's arms often ached in making the flour needed for her large family. When her daughters grew strong, they helped her in this work.
When Jesus became a boy six years old, he was sent to school with the other boys. There were no schools for girls among the Jews, so far as we know. The school was held in the village church, which they called the synagogue. The teacher was always a man, and he was generally the janitor of the church, who kept the building in order.
The Jews had a pretty name for the village school. They called it "The Vineyard," as though the children were bunches of little grapes, growing up to ripen in the sun. In this vineyard-school there was only one book for study. That was the Bible. The Jews had only the Old Testament, for the New Testament had not yet been written. Each of the larger books was in a separate volume in the form of a long roll of parchment; that is, a sheet made of sheepskin which had been made smooth, on which the words were written.
Several of the smaller books were written on one roll. In the school there was only one copy of the Bible for all the scholars, but each boy had a board and a piece of chalk, with which he wrote sentences from the Bible and then learned them by heart. When his text had been learned, each pupil cleaned off his board like a slate and wrote on it a new lesson. All the teaching in a Jewish school was in the Old Testament.
The copy of the Bible in the school was generally one that had been used in the church until it had grown old and worn out. When they obtained a new set of the books for the service in the church, they gave the old copies to the school.
You can see in that same land now a school of children just like those in the time when Jesus was a boy. The children sit on the floor in a circle, the teacher being one of the ring. When they repeat their verses in learning them, all are talking aloud at the same time, so that the school is very noisy. We could not study in such a din, but they do not seem to mind it.
School was not very hard in that country. Our children have one holiday in each week, free from school, but in the school where Jesus was taught, they had two holidays in every week, besides the sabbath. In addition to these holidays there was a long recess of three hours in the middle of each day, and no school at all if the day was very hot.
When Jesus was a small boy he was taken by father Joseph to the church, which you remember they called the synagogue. The men and boys sat on the floor upon rugs or mats, while the women and girls were in a gallery, looking down upon them. All the men and boys wore their hats in the church. Their hats were turbans of cloth wrapped around their heads. But each one as he entered the door slipped off his shoes or slippers, and was barefooted in the church at the hour of worship. If at the hour of worship you go to a Mohammedan church in that country--which they call a mosque--you will see all the shoes standing outside the door.
In the church they had no minister to lead the service and to preach a sermon. The men took turns in charge of the worship. One read from one part of the Old Testament, another from another part. If they found a boy who was a good reader he was often called upon to read the Bible in the church service. They had prayers, always read from a book; they sang together from the Psalms; and whoever wished to speak could do so.
But we are not to think of the child Jesus as always at school or at church. He was a strong, hearty, healthy boy. He loved outdoor life, he knew the flowers that grew in the fields and the birds flying in the air. He played with other boys and knew all their games. Two of these games he once happened to mention long after, while he was teaching. One game was the wedding, when they sang and danced; the other was the funeral, when they cried with loud voices, making a mournful wail. We know, too, that in those times the boys played ball and marbles, and a game somewhat like ten-pins.
Jesus was not a lonely boy, living apart. He was always fond of having others around him. When he was a man, traveling and teaching over all the land, he had his twelve chosen friends who were always with him, and we may be sure that as a boy he liked to be with other boys, and in turn was liked by the boys of his village.
We may be sure, too, that he grew up a good boy; one who always tried to do right, at home, at school, or in play. At home he would help Joseph in his shop and his mother in her work or in caring for the smaller children; in school we know that he learned his verses in the Bible, because in after years he could always call them to his mind and speak them; and in play he was always fair and good-hearted and willing. We are told that he grew in knowledge and in the favor of God and of all people. In other words, he was a boy that everybody liked.