Left to right: five methods of writing in Bible times.  1.Chiselling hieroglyphics into rock 2. Writing with a stylus on a board covered with wax  3.Gouging hieroglyphics into wet clay. 4.Writing with a brush on papyrus.  5. Writing wiht a stylus on paper
Left to right: five methods of writing in Bible times.
1.Chiselling hieroglyphics into rock
2. Writing with a stylus on a board covered with wax
3.Gouging hieroglyphics into wet clay.
4.Writing with a brush on papyrus.
5. Writing with a stylus on paper

Education is necessary so that the skills and understanding acquired by one generation can be passed on the next. Such education always goes on in families, but as the skills and understanding become more developed, and as money becomes available in the economy to pay for it, a broader education can be given to more and more people. Reflections of this process can be seen in the Bible.


This clay tablet is typical of those used for writing in ancient times. It contains part of the Babylonian Chronicle covering the fall of Nineveh

When Abraham was called by God to leave the city of Ur in Sumer to “go to the land I will show you” (Gen 11: 31-12:5), his going was an act of fait. Ur was a highly civilized city, and Abraham was called to leave it for the unknown. Schools in Ur were used to train people for religious, commercial, and governmental work. The curriculum included mathematics, language, geography, botany, and drawing.

Writing was done by means of a wedge-shaped stylus that was impressed in soft clay tablets. Tablets from the city of Mari have been found with the children’s exercises and the teachers’ corrections in the clay. A “school father” ran the school with an assistant who prepared the exercises.

There were also specialist subject teachers. One recovered tablet tells what a boy did in school: “I read my tablet, ate my lunch, prepared my tablet, wrote it, finished it.” Trouble was corrected by the use of the cane. Education had to be paid for by parents.

There is no evidence that Abraham ever went to one of the “tablet house,” as the schools were called, but he certainly followed the laws of the Sumerians. The custom that a childless wife might have children by proxy through a servant girl (Gen 16: 1-2) was a Sumerian custom. But it was a law that, when that child was born, the girl should not be ill-treated by the wife (Gen 16:6). When Sarah wanted Hagar and Ishmael to be sent away from the family home, Abraham was very uneasy, and he needed God’s assurance that they were to go (Gen 21:10-12).



Two learned Jews study Hebrew Scripture written on a parchment scroll.

Because he was brought up by Pharaoh’s daughter, “Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians” (Acts 7:22), and according to Jewish tradition this included arithmetic, geometry, poetry, music, astronomy, and many other subjects. Schools in Egypt were associated with the temples and were controlled by the priests. Medicine and religion were key subjects if the child was to become a priest. Moses would have been brought up by “the teacher of the king’s children” at the royal court and would have learned how to write Egyptian hieroglyphics with ink on papyrus. He most probably also learned the Canaanite script because Canaan was linked with Egypt at the time. When Moses was told to teach the law to the people, it was effected by repetition and example (Deu 11:19), public reading (Deu 31:10-13), and the use of song writing (Deu 31:19). Since it was common in Egypt to sing lesson, this probably reflects the way that Moses was taught. It may be important to note that God called Moses to leadership from a strong educational background, just as Paul was called centuries later to lead the church.


When a boy first went to school in New Testament times, he went down to the synagogue while it was still dark to listen to the story of how Moses received the law. Then he was taken to the teacher’s house for breakfast, where he received cakes with letters of the laws written on them. in school, the boy received a slate with passages from the Scriptures written on it. The slate was smeared with honey. He had to trace the letters through the honey with his pen, and it was natural to lick the nib of the pen as he proceeded. The idea was that he would realize that the purpose of his going to school was to absorb the Scriptures. This learing practice seems to have been based on an old custom that David refers to in the psalm. (Ps 19:9-10)


When the Jewish people moved from the desert into canaan, they did not have a sophisticated educational system. Such a system developed as their civilization developed, and it was influenced by the practices of the surrounding nations. Initially therefore, education was centred on the home.

Education of both boys and girls was the mother’s responsibility for the first three years (probably until weaning took place). She taught the girls their domestic duties throughout their childhood.

Boys were taught the law by their father from three years of age, and fathers were also responsible for teaching their sons a trade. A rabbi once said, “He who does not teach his son a useful trade is bringing him up to be a thief.” Jesus was not just the carpenter’s son (Matt 13:55) but was also the carpenter (Mk 6:3). This explains why there were groups of linen workers and potters living in the same place (1 Chron 4:21-23). Girls were able to take on professional jobs such as midwifery (Ex 1:15-21) and singing (Ecc 2:8).

Education was basically a religious education enabling children to understand the nature of God through what he had done and what he required in the law. Deuteronomy 6 is a key passage: the words of the shema (creed), “Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord your God what All your heart and with all your should and with all your strength,” were to be taught, talked about, used in worship to declare symbolically that they were part of mind and action, and used as a reminder every time the house was entered or left (Deu 6:4-9; see Ps 121:8). Children were stimulated to ask questions about festivals (Ex 12:26; Deu 6:20-25) by facing them with unusual objects (Ex 13:14-15; Josh 4:6). In this way it became natural to teach them the acts of God.

As sacred shrines began to be a part of the lives of the Jewish people, the personnel who worked there probable began to provide some kind of formal education. Samuel was probable being taught by Eli the priest at Shiloh (1 Sam 1:24). Samuel himself set up a school of the prophets at Ramah (1 Sam 19:18-21), and some kind of theological schools developed from this (2 kings 2:5-7; Isa 8:16). This is the origin of the practice of calling a priest “father.” He exercised the role of the father in teaching the children (2 Kings 2:3,12).

The writing of history was important at those centers. Although people still listen to the reading of the law (Deu 31:9-13) there were now a considerable number of people who could read and write. Judges 8:14 tells how a young man was able to write a list of names for Gideon. When Hezekiah had a waster tunnel built under the city of Jerusalem, the workmen involved were able to write an inscription on the wall at the place where the tunnellers met. Writing was often done in ink on broken pieces of pottery (ostraca). Pens were made of hard cane, sharpened to a point (Jer 17:1). The ink that was used was made from soot, resin, olive oil, and water.

Young jewish boys at the house of the book. Notice the scrolls on the low table in front of the teacher. Education was basically a religious education enabling children to understand the nature of God through what he had done and what he required in the Law.


Young Jewish boys learn to read and write.


(sorry for the not so good quality pictures)


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