Whatever may have been the condition in life of Saul’s father, it seems clear that he designed his son for the learned profession, that is, that he should be educated as a Rabbi. For any other employment or pursuit, the education which he was sent to receive, at Jerusalem, so far away from his paternal home, and during a period extending, it would seem, over many years, would not have been deemed necessary. It would, however, be interesting to know at what age he was sent to Jerusalem. On this point, opinions have been various, and no positive conclusion can be reached.
Some have thought that he was not less than thirty years of age when he preceded to Jerusalem. And in answer to the objection that he is called “a young man,” at the time of Stephen’s death, it is very well remarked, that the ancients extended the period of youth much farther than we do—too far, in fact; and that we equally transgress the laws of nature in making that period too short. Still, this supposition is untenable, and there is not an iota of evidence that the Jews postponed to so advanced a period of life the commencement of a learned education. The assertion of Strabo, that the inhabitants of Tarsus were, as a general thing, led by their love of learning, to foreign cities for the completion of their education, may at the first view seem applicable to this case; but for the reasons already given, it could have no proper reference to Saul and his countrymen generally, but only to the Greeks. According to the educational rule among the Jews—set forth, indeed, at a later period, but which was doubtless conformable to earlier usage—the study of the Mishna or expository traditions of the law, was to be commenced by boys at ten years of age, and at thirteen they became wholly subject to the law. If this appointment seems to assign too early a period of life for such a study, it must be remembered that the Orientals come to maturity earlier than we do, and that with them the thirteenth year corresponds to at least the fifteenth among ourselves. On this account, the same passage of the Talmud from which this rule is taken, designates the eighteenth year as the age proper for marriage. It has therefore been concluded that Saul went to Jerusalem at some period between the tenth and thirteenth year of his age. Had it been at any much later age, he could hardly have said, as he did on one occasion, that although born at Tarsus, a city of Cilicia, he had been “brought up in Jerusalem at the feet of Gamaliel,” Act_22:3.
It was probably with his father, or under the care of some friend older than himself, that the young Saul took this which, we may well suppose to have been his first extensive journey. There is every probability that the passage was by water in some Phoenician vessel to Tyre, or perhaps to Caesarea, and thence to Jerusalem. “The first time one leaves the land of his birth to visit a foreign and distant country, is an important epoch in his life. In the case of one who has taken this first journey at an early age, and whose character is enthusiastic, and susceptible of lively impressions from without, this epoch is usually remembered with peculiar distinctness. But, when the country which is thus visited, has furnished the imagery for the dreams of childhood, and is felt to be more truly the young traveler’s home than the land he is leaving, then the journey assumes the sacred character of a pilgrimage.” Note: Howson, in Life and Epistles of St. Paul, i. 56. The same writer omits not to point out the difference of scenery and cultivation which would meet the eye of one who came from Cilicia. “Not a river, and a wide plain covered with harvests of corn, but a succession of hills and valleys, and terraced vineyards watered by artificial irrigation.”
We have now, then, conducted the young Saul to Jerusalem; and it may not be amiss to inquire for a moment into the nature of the education he there received, and to the acquisition of which several years must have been devoted. The instruction of the doctors of the law, of whom Gamaliel was one, consisted almost exclusively in the oral interpretation of Scripture. The object of this interpretation was partly to develop from the inspired word the prescriptions of ecclesiastical law, and partly to connect with Biblical interpretation various kinds of instruction in ethical science. The Biblical interpretation thus conveyed, was not, however, the individual work of the Rabbi who was instructing at the particular time. It consisted rather, for the most part, in the traditions of the past, respecting the opinions and teachings of certain eminent Rabbis, upon the text or subject under discussion. Practically, therefore, the system was one of Scripture exegesis. No book was in use but the Bible; and there was, indeed, a prejudice against the introduction of any other book. Josephus asserts that this Scripture exposition was the only learning prized among his people. “They award the character of a wise man,” he says, “only to those who understand the Law, and are able to interpret the sacred writings.”
Whatever faults and puerilities disgraced the mode of investigation, there can be no question that this concentration of the attention of the students upon one book, and the continual exercise of their ingenuity, if not judgment, in the development of its meaning, or in the application of every possible meaning it could bear, must have given to them a very thorough acquaintance with the sacred writings. How far this education availed for giving a comprehensive knowledge of the Bible, we may perhaps perceive in the copious and ready use which Paul makes of all parts of the sacred writings, and in the additional fact that he usually quotes from memory. Some inquirers have traced eighty-eight quotations from the Old Testament in his writings, of which, it is thought probable that at least forty-nine are cited from memory—some from the Septuagint version, some from the original Hebrew.
The statement of this mode of instruction suggests the notion of a lecturer or professor propounding his views of the matter in hand, and the students listening to him, and, it may be, taking notes of his discourse. But the real process was very different. The position of the presiding Rabbi was more that of a moderator or chairman than that of a lecturer. He proposed the text or subject, and guided the discussion of it. He questioned, he answered, he proposed difficulties of his own, he solved the difficulties and corrected the errors of others; and in the course of the operation, in which many took part, he managed, by verbal and literal criticism, by illustration, by analogy, by parable, by allegory, by aphorism, by anecdote, and by reporting the sayings of his predecessors, to throw upon the subject all the light which his learning or his genius could supply. The instruction was, in fact, eminently catechetical, and so that not merely the teacher proposed questions to the scholars, but the scholars to the teacher, and to one another. And so partial were the Jews to this mode of teaching, that it was not confined merely to the Rabbinical schools, but extended to the synagogue, where the discourses were concluded, any bearer might propose difficult inquiries, as is done at this day in the Jewish synagogues.
Of all this a remarkable instance occurs in Scripture in the case of our Lord, who, when a boy, was found in the Temple “among the doctors,” both hearing them and asking them questions; but this incident has already engaged our attention in the proper place. Note: On the subject of this evening’s Reading, see in Meuschenii Oratio de Directoribus Scholarum Hebræorum in Nov. Test. ex Talmude et Antiqq. Hebræor. illustratum. Jost’s History of the Hebrew People. Tholuck’s Sketch of the Life and Character of St. Paul, in Biblical Cabinet, No. 287. Cyclop. of Biblical Literature, art. Schools; and Howson, in Life and Epistles of St. Paul.