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Outlines Of New Testament History -Rev. Francis E. Gigot D.D.



              1. The Return from Egypt:

              At what time?


                            By what road?




              2. Developments of His Human Life:

              Physical: developments both real and normal.





              Apparent: words of St. Luke.





              Protestant views.


                            Catholic teaching.




              3. Apparition among the Doctors:

              At the age of twelve.


                            Appeal of Mary. Response of Jesus.






              1. His Surroundings:

              The Place:

              The province of Galilee described.


                                          The town of Nazareth.




                            The People:

              A mixed population.


                                          The Jewish element.




                            Family and Relatives:

              Parents: St. Joseph disappears.




                                          “Brothers and Sisters”:

              Not full brothers and sisters.


                                          Either half brothers and sisters,


                                          Or only cousins.




              2. His Occupations:

              The trade of St. Joseph.


                            No special training under any great Rabbi.


                            The rest: A matter of conjecture.


§ 1. First Years of the Life of Jesus

1. Our Lord’s Return from Egypt. The date of Our Lord’s return from Egypt is intimately connected with the date of Herod’s death. For on the one hand, the Gospel tells us that St. Joseph remained in Egypt till he received word from God, and on the other hand, there are good grounds to admit that St. Joseph received the divine message very soon after the death of Herod, and that he then did not delay, but rather hastened his return.

Considering how numerous were the Jews in Egypt, how constant their communications with Palestine, how great their hatred of Herod, it is certain that the news of Herod’s death would have soon reached St. Joseph in the ordinary way; but it was first made known to him by the angel of the Lord, so that a very short interval must be admitted between the death of the monarch and the angelic message. That St. Joseph hastened his return upon this divine message is implied in the fact that he did not know that Archelaus was Herod’s successor till he reached the Holy Land. Now, as is very probable, Herod died in April, 750 U. C., so that Our Lord’s return is most likely to be placed in this same year, after about two months of sojourn in Egypt.|

The intention of Joseph was to settle down in Bethlehem as the proper place in which to rear the Son of David, near Jerusalem, from which the Messias was expected to extend His rule over the world. He therefore started by the great caravan road which connects Egypt with Damascus. This road passes by Gaza and Ramleh; and it is probably in this last-named town—which is connected by a branch road with Jerusalem—that Joseph, in obedience to a new divine message, gave up his purpose to reside in Bethlehem, and withdrew into Galilee. To reach this province, now under the rule of Herod Antipas, he had only to pursue his way on the caravan road, first northward through the plain of Saron, and next eastward across the mountains, into the plain of Esdrælon. A little north of the plain of Esdrælon lies the upland town of Nazareth, in which Joseph took up his abode again, and in which “THE CHILD GREW AND WAXED STRONG.”

2. Developments of Our Lord’s Human Life. The words of St. Luke, just quoted, point to what all grant to have been the real condition of Our Lord’s physical life, viz., a condition of natural development. After its miraculous conception in the virginal womb of Mary, Our Lord’s body was subject to the ordinary laws of growth: from helpless infancy it passed through the stage of childhood, and the natural increase in strength and age,| into the full vigor of man’s estate. The physical developments of Christ’s human life were then both real and normal.

As to the developments of His mental life, they are the object of considerable difficulty. When St. Luke writes (2:52) “AND JESUS INCREASED IN WISDOM AND AGE,” it is plain that the Evangelist refers to such an intellectual growth of Our Lord as appeared to His contemporaries no less real than His actual increase in years and bodily strength. The difficulty is to know whether such growth was real after the manner in which the mind of a child gradually expands into all manner of knowledge.

Here, recent Protestant writers depart considerably from the teachings of past ages. They admit that the growth undergone by Our Lord’s mind was a strictly human growth, with all its weaknesses and imperfections and its gradual acquisition of positive knowledge. According to them, Jesus did not know from the beginning that He was the true Son of God; and it was only after long years of prayer and reflection that He became absolutely sure of His Messianic calling. Such a conception of Our Lord’s mental life is hardly reconcilable with His divine character, and contradicts not only the constant teachings of ecclesiastical tradition, but also the impression which the Gospel narrative produces upon the mind of an impartial reader, concerning Our Lord’s knowledge during His mortal life.

The common teaching of Catholic theologians is entirely different. They admit that Our Lord’s mind was endowed with a twofold knowledge which was not susceptible of increase, viz.: the beatific vision and an infused knowledge, in virtue of which He was ever “full of wisdom and of truth.” But besides, they hold that His mind acquired an experimental knowledge, the actual development of which depended upon the natural and gradual exercise of His mental powers acting on the data of His senses, and in virtue of which He was truly advancing in wisdom as He increased in age. Such a co-existence of growth in knowledge, with a possession of all its ultimate results, is not without parallel in ordinary human life; the telescope, for instance, may verify a result of which we have been previously informed by a mathematical calculation; and we are all constantly learning by direct observation, things already known to us.

3. Our Lord’s Apparition among the Doctors. At the age of twelve, a Jewish boy began to be instructed in the Law and to be subject to its regulations. Among these stood prominent the obligation to appear before the Lord three times a year, and as Joseph and Mary had no longer to fear the cruelty of Archelaus, who had been banished the year before by Augustus, they took up with them to the Holy City, and for the first time, the Child Jesus.

This was on the occasion of the Paschal feast of the year 761 U.C. [8 A.D.]. It was the greatest of all the Jewish solemnities, lasted seven days, and was attended by countless Jews who came to Jerusalem from every part of the world. When the seven days were over and the various caravans formed of kinsmen and fellow countrymen proceeded on their homeward journey, relatives could easily be separated without feeling any anxiety. Thus it was that Joseph and Mary did not feel any anxiety when they first noticed the absence of Jesus; they simply thought that “He was in the company,” and that they would easily find Him at the end of their first day’s journey home, most likely at Beeroth, about 10 miles north of Jerusalem. Not finding Him, however, “AMONG THEIR KINSFOLK AND ACQUAINTANCE,” they spent the next day in returning to the Holy City and seeking Him there. But it was only on the following day—the third after the separation—that they found Him within the sacred precincts of the Temple.

The precise part of the Temple where Our Lord was sitting with the Jewish doctors cannot be identified with certainty. It was most likely, however, the Hall of Gazith, where the Sanhedrim, together with the scribes, ordinarily assembled. During the Paschal festivities in particular, the eminent Jewish doctors of the time sat surrounded by great throngs eager to be instructed by them. Jesus was among their auditors, and He soon astonished all by His questions and answers.

At the sight of Jesus, Mary could not help addressing to Him a maternal reproach, which was at the same time an appeal to His filial love for Joseph and for her. “Son, why hast Thou done so to us? Behold Thy father and I have sought Thee sorrowing.” To this tender appeal of His mother Jesus made an answer full of mysterious meaning: “How is it that you sought Me? Did you not know that I must be about the things that are My Father’s?” Even Joseph and Mary did not realize the full sense of these words, for we are expressly told that “they understood not the word that He spoke unto them.”

§ 2. Youth and Early Manhood of Christ

1. His Surroundings. The return of Jesus to Nazareth was followed by a long period of silent subjection and obscurity, of which the Gospel narrative says nothing, beyond this brief statement: “He (Jesus) went down with them (Joseph and Mary), and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them.” But, with our present knowledge of the circumstances of the time and place, it is possible, and may prove interesting, to obtain a distinct idea of Our Lord’s surroundings during the long years of obscurity which preceded, and in some measure extended to, His public ministry.

The province in which Jesus spent no less than thirty years of His mortal life is Galilee, the northernmost of the three parts of Palestine, west of the Jordan. It lay almost wholly inland, and was divided into Upper and Lower Galilee. Upper Galilee comprised the mountain range, a prolongation of Anti-Lebanon, which lay between Phenicia and the upper Jordan. As the town of Capharnaum was in Upper Galilee, this district must have touched to the east the lake of Genesareth, while to the west it reached to the coast of Tyre and Sidon. Upper Galilee was more especially the “Galilee of the Gentiles.” Lower Galilee included the great triangular plain of Esdrælon, with its offshoots which run down to the Jordan and the lake of Genesareth, and the whole of the hill country adjoining it on the north, to the foot of the mountain range.

From the writings of Josephus it may be gathered that the Galilee of Our Lord’s time had a rich and well-cultivated soil, that it abounded in fruit and forest trees, and that numerous large towns and populous villages—amounting to no less than 240—thickly studded the face of the country. And there is no doubt that Lower Galilee, in particular, was ever one of the richest and most beautiful sections of the Holy Land.

The town of Nazareth—called Our Lord’s “own country” in the Gospels, lies on the western side of a small valley of Lower Galilee, a little north of the plain of Esdrælon, about 14 miles from the Sea of Galilee and 66 miles north of Jerusalem, in a straight line. It is reached from the plain of Esdrælon by rocky and precipitous paths, and its population in Our Lord’s day is variously estimated from 5000 to 15,000 inhabitants. Its flat-roofed houses are to-day, in general, built of stone, and have a neat and comfortable appearance, but its streets or lanes are narrow and crooked, and after rain are so full of mud and mire as to be almost impassable. Nazareth enjoys a mild atmosphere and climate, and all the fruits of the country—as pomegranates, oranges, figs, olives—ripen early and attain a rare perfection. Its present population is about 7500 souls. At the northeast of the town is the Fountain of the Virgin, whither, it is supposed, Jesus often accompanied Mary when she went to draw water, as the women of Nazareth do in the present day.

The village is surrounded by some fifteen heights, several of which rise to an altitude of 400 or 500 feet. They have rounded tops and present a pleasing aspect, diversified as they are with the foliage of fig trees, wild shrubs, occasional fields of grain, and countless gay flowers. From the top of the hill northwest of Nazareth there is a most remarkable view often described by travellers, and preferred by Porter even to that which is enjoyed from the top of Mount Thabor. Finally, a prevalent tradition indicates as the Mount from the summit of which the inhabitants of Nazareth wished to throw Our Lord, a hill about 2 miles southeast of the town.

If from the country and town we pass to the people in the midst of which Jesus spent His youth and early manhood, we easily notice that it was a mixed population, the various foreign elements of which—Assyrians, Phenicians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs—had been brought thither by trade, exercise of power, or the natural intermingling of the neighboring populations, as Galilee was the great thoroughfare between Syria and Egypt. The Galilean Jews were fervent worshippers of Jehovah, and crowded to the Holy City at the feasts and to the local synagogues on Sabbath days. Far from admitting new doctrines, they remained extremely faithful to the Law, most likely because of the influence of the Pharisees and doctors of the Jews, who seem to have been settled in every town. Contact with strangers did nor affect their morals, and their courage could not be questioned; and yet they were despised by the Jews of the south, who boasted to live near the Temple, amid a less mixed population, on a holier soil, to possess a greater culture and to speak a purer dialect.

That Nazareth had a worse name among them than any other Galilean town is not proved.

In the home itself at Nazareth we find two persons most dear to Jesus and whom the gospels call His parents; 1. Mary, His true mother, of the race of David, married young to Joseph, and who survived both Joseph and Jesus. 2. Joseph, a descendant of David, working at his trade for his daily bread, the foster-father of Jesus, and who died before Him—a tradition says when Jesus was eighteen years old.

Besides His parents Our Lord had relatives, who lived also in Nazareth, and perhaps under the same roof with Him. They are indeed called in the gospels “HIS BROTHERS” and “HIS SISTERS,” never His cousins or kinsmen; but all grant that this does not necessarily define the degree of relationship which they bore Him, and in fact scholars are still divided respecting this difficult question.

Many Protestant writers think that these relatives were the full brothers and sisters of Jesus, or children both of Joseph and Mary, the mother of the Lord. This view would have the advantage that it takes the words “brothers” and “sisters” in their strictest natural sense; and after having been admitted by ancient heretics, written down by St. Jerome, it has been revived in Germany by Herder, Strauss, etc.; in England by Alford, Edersheim, etc.; and in America by Schaff, Lyman Abbott, Easton, Gould, etc. But it is irreconcilable with the ancient and constant tradition of the Church, which has made the perpetual virginity of Mary an article of Catholic belief. It is also repugnant to the common instinct of Christians, who have ever felt “that the selection of a woman to be the mother of the Lord carries with it as a necessary implication that no other could sustain the same relation to her, and that the selection of a virgin still more necessarily implied that she was to continue to be so.” Even from a lower standpoint this view is hardly compatible with the fact that our dying Saviour intrusted His mother to St. John, if she had other children to take care of her. Finally, while the words “brother,” “sister,” may certainly be understood otherwise than in their strict natural sense, it is significant that nowhere in the gospels are those relatives of Jesus called the children of Mary, the mother of the Lord. It is plain, therefore, that the “brothers” and “sisters” of Jesus were not His full brothers and sisters.

When this erroneous view has been set aside two opinions remain, each with its respective amount of probability. The first maintains that these relatives of Our Lord were only His half-brothers and half-sisters, or children of Joseph by a former marriage. This view goes back to the earliest ages of Christianity; it has been admitted by many of the Fathers, both Greek and Latin, and is in the present day the current notion of the Greek Church. It does not present any unsurmountable difficulty, and has the advantage that it takes the words “brothers,” “sisters,” in a natural sense.

The second opinion takes the words “brothers,” “sisters,” in a broad sense as equivalent to “cousin.” This view was strongly advocated, and, indeed, to all appearance, started, by St. Jerome. Under the influence of this great Doctor it has become the current opinion of the Latin Church. There is no doubt that the words “brother,” “sister,” may be understood as equivalent to “cousin.” Again, if Our Lord had no brother in the natural sense of the term we understand easily why He gave John to Mary as her son. It has also been noticed that Jesus is designated at Nazareth by an appellation usual to the only son of a widow. For these and other such reasons this third opinion remains very probable, although its partisans seem, at times, to rely too much on conjectures to strengthen their position.

2. Our Lord’s Occupations. The life of Jesus in Nazareth was indeed a life of obscurity. Subject to His parents, as all good children are, He was simply known as the “carpenter’s son” and as the “carpenter.” This last expression implies that He had learned and that He actually toiled at the humble trade of His foster-father. We can gather also that He received none of the curious learning of the time, and was subjected to no special training under any great rabbi, such as St. Paul had under Gamaliel: for we are told that “the Jews wondered, saying: How doth this man know letters, having never learned?”|

This is all we know for certain about Our Lord’s occupations during His youth and early manhood. Several attempts have been made to fill up the gaps of the sacred narrative and to present a fuller picture of the life of Jesus in Nazareth.

The first of these attempts goes back to the early times of Christianity, when it gave birth to legendary accounts, samples of which have come down to us in the gospel of Thomas and the Arabic gospel of the infancy. No one can peruse these apocryphal gospels without feeling of how little use they must ever remain to complete the picture drawn from the sacred text. They hardly ever record a fact of real importance not already supplied by our canonical gospels, while they abound in wonders which they ascribe to Jesus, and of a character always unlikely, sometimes even childish.

This is also the case, to a large extent, with the descriptions of Our Lord’s life in Nazareth which were drawn during the Middle Ages. They breathe the childlike piety of the time, but also bespeak its great lack of acquaintance with Oriental customs and manners. Only in our century have really scientific efforts been made to retrace in descriptions that would be true to life the youth and early manhood of Christ. Contemporary scholars have availed themselves of all the sources of information at their disposal to describe accurately the manner of life of a young and poor artisan of Galilee in the time of Christ, and they bid us contemplate in the picture thus drawn a faithful image of Our Lord’s life in Nazareth. Like the other young men of His time and country, we are told, Jesus frequented the school of Nazareth and received the ordinary instruction imparted there; attended divine service in the synagogue of that city on the Sabbath and festival days; went up with the Galilean caravans to Jerusalem for the yearly celebration of the Pasch, etc. Of course, as the divine character of Jesus remained absolutely concealed during this period of His life, it is only natural to picture Him to ourselves as conforming to the ordinary ways of the young men of His time and condition. It remains true, however, that we have no positive information about the extent it pleased the Son of God to conform to, or dispense with, the natural conditions of the time, so that many features of His life in Nazareth as described by recent scholars must ever appear an object of more or less plausible conjecture.

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