[From Caesar Augustus.] The New Testament mentions nothing of the Roman government, but as now reduced under a monarchical form. When that head, which had been mortally wounded in the expulsion of the Tarquins, was healed and restored again in the Caesars, "all the world wondered," saith St. John, Revelation 13:3; and well they might, to see monarchy, that had for so many hundred years been antiquated and quite dead, should now flourish again more vigorously and splendidly than ever.
But whence the epoch or beginning of this government should take its date is something difficult to determine. The foundations of it, as they were laid by Julius Caesar, so did they seem overturned and erased again in the death he met with in the senate-house. It was again restored, and indeed perfected by Augustus; but to what year of Augustus should we reckon it? I would lay it in his one-and-thirtieth, the very year wherein our Saviour was born. Of this year Dion Cassius, lib. lv, speaks thus:
"The third decennium [or term of ten years] having now run out, and a fourth beginning, he, being forced to it, undertook the government." Observe the force of the word forced to it: then was Augustus constrained or compelled to take the empire upon him. The senate, the people, and (as it should seem) the whole republic, with one consent, submitting themselves entirely to a monarchical form of government, did even constrain the emperor Augustus, (who for some time stiffly refused it,) to take the reins into his hands.
I am not ignorant that the computation of Augustus' reign might reasonably enough commence from his battle and victory at Actium; nor do the Gemarists count amiss, when they tell us that "the Roman empire took its beginning in the days of Cleopatra." And you may, if you please, call that a monarchical government, in opposition to the triumvirate, which at that battle breathed its last. But that, certainly, was the pure and absolute monarchy, which the senate and the commonwealth did agree and consent together to set up.
[Should be taxed.] The Vulgar and other Latin copies read, should be described; which, according to the letter, might be understood of the setting out the whole bounds of the empire, according to its various and distinct provinces. Only that Aethicus tells us, this had been done before; whose words, since they concern so great and noble a monument of antiquity, may not prove tedious to the reader to be transcribed in this place:
"Julius Caesar, the first inventor of the Bissextile account, a man singularly instructed in all divine and human affairs, in the time of his consulship, by a decree of the senate, procured, that the whole Roman jurisdiction should be measured out by men of greatest skill, and most seen in all the attainments of philosophy. So that Julius Caesar and M. Antony being consuls, the world began to be measured.
"That is, from the consulship of Caesar above mentioned to the consulship of Augustus the third time, and Crassus, the space of one-and-twenty years, five months, and eight days, all the East was surveyed by Zenodoxus.
"From the consulship likewise of Julius Caesar and M. Antony to the consulship of Saturninus and Cinna, the space of two-and-thirty years, one month, and ten days, the South was measured out by Polyclitus; so that in two-and-thirty years' time, the whole world was surveyed, and a report of it given in unto the senate."
Thus he: though something obscurely in the accounts of consuls, as also in his silence about the West; which things I must not stand to inquire into at this time. This only we may observe, that Julius Caesar was consul with Antony, AUC 710; and that the survey of the Roman empire, being two-and-thirty years in finishing, ended AUC 742; that is, twelve years before the nativity of our Saviour.
Let us in the meantime guess what course was taken in this survey: I. It is very probable they drew out some geographical tables, wherein all the countries were delineated, and laid down before them in one view. II. That these tables or maps were illustrated by commentaries, in which were set down the description of the countries, the names of places, the account of distances, and whatever might be necessary to a complete knowledge of the whole bounds of that empire. That some such thing was done by Augustus' own hand, so far as concerned Italy, seems hinted by a passage in Pliny; In which thing, we must tell beforehand, that we intend to follow Augustus, and the description he made of all Italy, dividing it unto eleven countries.
And now, after this survey of lands and regions, what could be wanting to the full knowledge of the empire, but a strict account of the people, their patrimony, and estates? and this was Augustus' care to do.
"He took upon him the government both of their manners and laws, and both perpetual: by which right, though without the title of censor, he laid a tax upon the people three times; the first and third with his colleague, the second alone." The first with his colleague, M. Agrippa; the third, with his colleague Tiberius; the second, by himself alone; and this was the tax our evangelist makes mention of in this place.
2. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)
[This taxing was first made, &c.] Not the first taxing under Augustus, but the first that was made under Cyrenius: for there was another taxing under him, upon the occasion of which the sedition was raised by Judas the Gaulonite. Of this tax of ours, Dion Cassius seems to make mention, the times agreeing well enough, though the agreement in other things is more hardly reducible:--
"He began a tax upon those that dwelt in Italy, and were worth two hundred sesterces; sparing the poorer sort, and those that lived beyond the countries of Italy, to avoid tumults."
If those that lived out of Italy were not taxed, how does this agree with the tax which our evangelist speaks of? unless you will distinguish, that in one sense they were not taxed, that is, as to their estates they were not to pay any thing: but in another sense they were, that is, as to taking account of their names, that they might swear their allegiance and subjection to the Roman empire. As to this, let the more learned judge.
4. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Beth-lehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David):
[Because he was of the house and lineage of David.] We read in the evangelists of two families, that were of the stock and line of David; and the Talmudic authors mention a third. The family of Jacob the father of Joseph, the family of Eli the father of Mary, and the family of Hillel the president of the Sanhedrim, "who was of the seed of David, of Shephatiah the son of Abital."
I do not say that all these met at this time in Bethlehem: [It is indeed remarked of Joseph, that he was "of the house of David"; partly because he was to be reputed, though he was not the real father of Christ; and partly also, that the occasion might be related that brought Mary to Bethlehem, where the Messiah was to be born.] But it may be considered whether Cyrenius, being now to take an estimate of the people, might not, on purpose and out of policy, summon together all that were of David's stock, from whence he might have heard the Jews' Messiah was to spring, to judge whether some danger might not arise form thence.
7. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
[There was no room for them in the inn.] From hence it appears, that neither Joseph nor his father Jacob had any house of their own here, no, nor Eli neither, wherein to entertain his daughter Mary ready to lie in. And yet we find that two years after the birth of Christ, Joseph and Mary his wife lived in a hired house till they fled into Egypt.
"A certain Arabian said to a certain Jew, 'The Redeemer of the Jews is born.' Saith the Jew to him, 'What is his name?' 'Menahem,' saith the other. 'And what the name of his father?' 'Hezekiah.' 'But where dwell they?' 'In Birath Arba in Bethlehem Judah.'" He shall deserve many thanks that will but tell us what this Birath Arba is. The Gloss tells us no other than that this "Birath Arba was a place in Bethlehem"; which any one knows from the words themselves. But what, or what kind of place was it? Birah indeed is a palace or castle: but what should Arba be? A man had better hold his tongue than conjecture vainly and to no purpose...
8. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
[And there were shepherds keeping watch over their flock, &c.] These are the sheep of the wilderness; viz. those which go out to pasture about the time of the Passover, and are fed in the fields, and return home upon the first rain.
"Which is the first rain? It begins on the third of the month Marchesvan. The middle rain is on the seventh: the last on the seventeenth. So R. Meier: but R. Judah saith, On the seventh, seventeenth, and one-and-twentieth."
The spring coming on, they drove their beasts into wildernesses or champaign grounds, where they fed them the whole summer, keeping watch over them night and day, that they might not be impaired either by thieves or ravenous beasts. They had for this purpose their tower to watch in, or else certain small cottages erected for this very end, as we have observed elsewhere. Now in the month Marchesvan, which is part of our October and part of November, the winter coming on, they betook themselves home again with the flocks and the herds.
13. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
[A multitude of the heavenly host praising God.] The Targumist upon Ezekiel 1:24, a host of angels from above. So in 1 Kings 19:11,12, "A host of the angels of the wind. A host of the angels of commotion. A host of the angels of fire; and after the host of the angels of fire, the voice of the silent singers."
14. Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
[Glory to God in the highest.] We may very well understand this angelic hymn, if good will towards men, be taken for the subject, and the rest of the words for the predicate. The good will of God towards men is glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth. And, is put between glory and peace; not between them and good will.
But now this good will of God towards men, being so wonderfully made known in the birth of the Messiah, how highly it conduced to the glory of God, would be needless to shew; and how it introduced peace on the earth the apostle himself shews from the effect, Ephesians 2:14; Colossians 1:20; and several other places.
21. And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
[And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcision of the child.] "The disciples of R. Simeon Ben Jochai asked him, Why the law ordained circumcision on the eighth day? To wit, lest while all others were rejoicing, the parents of the infant should be sad. The circumcision therefore is deferred till the woman in childbed hath got over her uncleanness." For, as it is expressed a little before, "The woman that brings forth a man-child is prohibited her husband the space of seven days, but on the seventh day, at the coming in of the evening which begins the eighth day, she washeth herself, and is allowed to go in unto her husband." If she came nigh him within the seven days she made him unclean. On the eighth day, therefore, Joseph addresseth himself to make provision for his wife, and to take care about the circumcision of the child.
22. And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord;
[When the days of her purification were accomplished, &c.] "R. Asai saith, the child whose mother is unclean by childbearing is circumcised the eighth day; but he whose mother is not unclean by childbearing is not circumcised the eighth day."
You will ask probably, what mother that is, that is not unclean by childbearing. Let the Gloss upon this place make the answer: "She whose child is cut out of her womb: as also a Gentile woman who is brought to bed today, and the next day becomes a proselyte; her child is not deferred till the eighth day, but is circumcised straightway." And the Rabbins a little after: "One takes a handmaid big with child, and while she is with him brings forth; her child is circumcised the eighth day. But if he takes a serving-maid, and with her a child newly born, that child is circumcised the first day."
They did not account a heathen woman unclean by child-bearing, because she was not yet under the law that concerned uncleanness. Hence, on the other side, Mary was unclean at her bearing a child, because she was under the law; so Christ was circumcised because born under the law.
II. After seven days the woman must continue for three and thirty days in the blood of her purifying, Leviticus 12:4; where the Greek, in her unclean blood; far enough from the mind of Moses. And the Alexandrian MS much wider still: She shall sit thirty and ten days in an unclean garment.
Pesikta, as before, col. 4, it is written "in the blood of her purifying: though she issue blood like a flood, yet is she clean. Nor doth she defile any thing by touching it, but what is holy. For seven days, immediately after she is brought to bed, she lies in the blood of her uncleanness; but the three-and-thirty days following, in the blood of her purifying."
[To present him to the Lord.] I. This was done to the first-born, but not to the children that were born afterward: nor was this done to the first-born unless the first-born were fit for the priest. For in Becoroth they distinguish betwixt a first-born fit for inheritance, and a first-born fit for a priest. That is, if the first-born should be any ways maimed, or defective in any of his parts, or had any kind of spot or blemish in him, this laid no bar for his inheriting, but yet made him unfit and incapable of being consecrated to God.
II. The first-born was to be redeemed immediately after the thirtieth day from his birth. "Every one is bound to redeem his first-born with five shekels after he is thirty days old; as it is said, 'From a month old shalt thou redeem,'" Numbers 18:16. Not that the price of that redemption was always paid exactly upon the thirtieth day, but that then exactly it became due. Hence in that treatise newly quoted: "If the child die within the thirty days, and the father hath paid the price of his redemption beforehand, the priest must restore it: but if he die after the thirty days are past, and the father hath not paid the price of his redemption, let him pay it." Where we find the price of redemption supposed as paid either before or after the thirty days.
III. The women that were to be purified were placed in the east gate of the court called Nicanor's Gate, and were sprinkled with blood.
There stood Mary for her purifying: and there, probably, Christ was placed, that he might be presented before the Lord, presented to the priest.
24. And to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.
[A pair of turtledoves, &c.] I. "The turtles were older, and of a larger size": pigeons less, and younger. For it is said of pigeons, two young pigeons; but not so of turtles.
This was called the offering of the poor; which if a rich man offered, he did not do his duty. And when the doctors speak so often of an offering rising or falling, it hath respect to this. "For the offering of the richer sort was a lamb; but if his hand could not reach to a lamb, then he offered a pair of turtles, or pigeons. But if he was poor, he offered the tenth part of an ephah: therefore is the oblation said to be rising or falling."
"King Agrippa came one day to offer a thousand burnt offerings; but a certain poor man prevented him with two turtledoves. So, also, when one would have offered a bullock, there was a poor man prevented him with a handful of herbs."
II. Of the two turtledoves or young pigeons, one was to be offered as a burnt offering, the other as a sin offering. But as to the particular appointment of the one for the burnt offering, the other for the sin offering, that is, which should be which, it is disputed among the doctors whether it lay in the breast of him or her that offered it, or the priest, to determine it.
By the way, we may observe that the blessed Virgin offers a sin offering for herself. Now what the meaning and design of a sin offering was, is evident from Leviticus 4 and 5.
25. And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him.
[Simeon.--The same man was just and devout.] I. Simeon the Just, of whom the Jewish histories tell so many and great things, hath nothing to do here. For, as it is certain that Simeon died long before, so it is very uncertain whether he deserved the title of Just as well as our Simeon did. He was called 'Just' both for his piety towards God, and his charity towards his countrymen. Grant he was so; yet is it a far greater testimony that is given of our Simeon.
II. Rabban Simeon, the son of Hillel, was alive and at Jerusalem in those very times wherein our evangelist wrote, his father Hillel also still living; whom the son succeeded upon the decease of the father, as president of the council. But as to him, there is nothing famous concerning him amongst Jewish authors but his bare name: "Rabban Simeon, the son of old Hillel, a prince of Israel, as his father had been. As you may see in cap. 1. Schabb. there is no mention of him in Misna." He was, therefore, no father of traditions, neither were there any things recited from him in the Misna: which, indeed, was very extraordinary; but how it should come to pass I cannot tell. Whether he had a sounder apprehension of things; or was not well seen in traditions; or was this very Simeon the evangelist mentions, and so looked higher than the mere traditions of men: this is all the hindrance, that Rabban Simeon lived a great while after the birth of our Saviour and had a son, Gamaliel, whom he bred up a Pharisee.
[Waiting for the consolation of Israel.] That is, believing the consolation of Israel was nigh at hand. The whole nation waited for the consolation of Israel, insomuch that there was nothing more common with them than to swear by the desire which they had of seeing it.
"R. Judah Ben Tabbai said, So let me see the consolation [of Israel], if I have not put to death a false witness. Simeon Ben Shetah saith to him, 'So let me see the consolation, if thou hast not shed innocent blood.'"
"R. Eliezer Ben Zadok said, So let me see the consolation, if I did not see her gleaning barley under the horses' heels."
"R. Simeon Ben Shetah said, 'So let me see the consolation, I saw one pursuing another with a drawn sword.'"
"Those which desire the years of consolation that are to come."
35. (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.
[Yea, and a sword shall pierce through thine own soul also.] Thy soul, i.e. thy life. It is a prediction that the blessed Virgin should suffer martyrdom: "This child of thine shall be set for a sign, which shall be spoken against; neither shalt thou escape in the contradiction that shall be given him, for thou shalt die by the sword." Epiphanius gives some countenance to this exposition.
"Whether the holy Virgin died and was buried, her death was crowned with infinite honour; she made a most chaste end, and the crown of her virginity was given her: or whether she was put to death (as is written, 'A sword shall pass through thine own soul'), she is possessed of glory and a crown amongst the martyrs."
36. And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity;
[Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser.] There were, therefore, prophets at this time among the people. It is not to be denied that at this time there were; that is, when the morning of the gospel began to dawn: but for four hundred years past there had not been even one that had deserved that name, however the Jews vainly enough had honoured the memories of some with that title; which we shall not meddle with at this present. But was this Anna accounted a prophetess by the Jews; if so, whence that proverbial expression, "out of Galilee ariseth no prophet"? John 7:52. She was certainly a Galilean; and for that very reason, probably, it is here remarked that she was of the tribe of Aser.
What think we of that passage in Vajicra Rabba, fol. 174.4 and Bemidbar Rabb. fol. 250.4, The king Messiah, who is placed on the north, shall come and build the house of the sanctuary, which is placed on the south. Doth not this savour something of Christ's coming out of Galilee?
37. And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day.
[Departed not from the Temple.] I. It may be doubted whether any women ever discharged any office in the Temple: some think they did. But that which they allege out of 1 Samuel 2:22, concerning the women that assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, is quite another thing from any public ministering, if we will admit the Targumist and the Rabbins for expositors. So Exodus 38:8, women assembling by troops at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. The Targumists both here and in the place before quoted have it, women that came to pray...
It is apparent, that women were wont to come from other parts to the tabernacle for devotion's sake, not to perform any ministry. So this Anna, by birth of the tribe of Aser, had changed her native soil, and fixed her abode at Jerusalem, partly for devotion, that she might be the more at leisure for praying in the Temple, and partly as a prophetess, that she might utter her prophecies in the great metropolis.
II. She departed not from the Temple; that is, not in the stated times of prayer: according as it is commanded Aaron and his sons, Leviticus 10:7; "Ye shall not go out from the door of the tabernacle." Where Siphra, fol. 24. 2, not in the time of their ministry.
42. And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast.
[And when he was twelve years old.] "Let a man deal gently with his son till he come to be twelve years old: but from that time, let him descend with him into his way of living": that is, let him diligently, and with severity (if need be), keep him close to that way, rule, or art, by which he may get his living.
At twelve years old, they were wont to inure children to fasting, from time to time, or from hour to hour; that they might be accustomed to it, and so be capable of fasting upon the day of atonement.
Christ being now twelve years old, applies himself to his proper work, to be about his Father's business.
Solomon, when 'twelve years old,'...judged between the two women.
"R. Chama saith, That Moses, when he was twelve years old, was taken from his father's house."
43. And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it.
[And when they had fulfilled the days.] Here ariseth a question, Whether it was lawful to depart from Jerusalem before the seven days were ended? If not, why did Peter and Cleophas go away on the third day? If they might, how then is that precept to be understood about eating the unleavened bread throughout the whole seven days?
I. It is controverted amongst the doctors about that passage, Deuteronomy 16:6,7, "Thou shalt sacrifice the Passover at the even, at the going down of the sun, and thou shalt turn in the morning, and go into thy tents," whether it be lawful, after they had eaten the lamb, to go every one to his own house. This is denied, and that not without reason. For as it is in the Gloss, "On the day of the feast," (that is, the first day of the seven,) "the sabbatical limits forbade it." For on the feast day no man ought to exceed the bounds of a sabbath day's journey. "That therefore, (say they) that is said, 'Thou shalt go into thy tents,' is to be thus understood, 'Thou shalt go into thy tents that are without the walls of Jerusalem; but by no means into thine own house.'"
II. Was it lawful then to return home on the second day of the feast? No, it was not. For on that day was the general appearance in the court, and presentment of their offerings. And this seems hinted by R. Elhanani in another Gloss upon the place newly cited: "There were two reasons (saith he) of their lodging in Jerusalem: the one because of the feast day; the other because of the offering."
III. It was not unlawful to depart on the third day, if necessity of affairs required it. But as in many other cases the doctors were wont to speak, so might it be said in this it was much more commendable for them to abide in Jerusalem till all the seven days were ended; and that especially because of the last day, which was a festival or holy day.
"R. Jose the Galilean saith, There are three things commanded to be done in the feast; 1. the Chagigah; 2. the appearance in the court; 3. the rejoicing." The Chagigah or the peace offerings were on the first day; the appearance in the court was on the second day; the rejoicing might be on any day.
IV. In Moed Katon, a treatise that discourseth on things lawful or not lawful to be done in the intermedials of the feast, or in those days of the feast that were not kept holy; in the very entrance of that discourse there are several things allowed, which plainly argue absence and distance from Jerusalem.
As to eating unleavened bread, the precept indeed was indispensable, neither that any thing leavened should be eaten, nor that any leaven should be found in their houses for seven days together: but no one would say that this command was restrained only to Jerusalem. It is said in Jerusalem Kiddushin, the women's Passover is arbitrary: that is, the women's appearance at Jerusalem at the Passover was at pleasure. But let them not say that eating unleavened bread was arbitrary, or at the women's pleasure: for although they sat at home, and did not go to Jerusalem to the Passover, yet did they abstain from leaven in their own houses: the unleavened bread was eaten in every house.
VI. It seems from the very phraseology that Joseph and Mary continued at Jerusalem all the seven days; which was indeed generally done by others for devotion's sake. And then think what numerous companies of people must be going away to this or that country, yea, particularly, how great a crowd might be journeying, together with Joseph and Mary, towards Galilee. So that it may be less strange, if Jesus had not been within his parents' sight, though he had been among the crowd; nor that though they did not see him, yet that they should not suspect his absence.
44. But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day's journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance.
[They went a day's journey.] The first ordinary day's journey from Jerusalem towards Galilee, was to Neapolis, of old called Sychem, distant thirty miles. But was this the day's journey that Joseph and the company that travelled along wit him made at this time? The place where Christ was first missed by his parents is commonly shewed at this day to travellers, much nearer Jerusalem, by the name of Beere, but ten miles from that city. You may believe those that shew it, as you think fit.
46. And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions.
[Sitting in the midst of the doctors.] I. "There are three courts of judicature in the Temple: one in the gate of the Court of the Gentiles; another in the gate of the Court of Israel; a third in the room Gazith."
There was also a synagogue in the Temple, which must be observed. "The high priest came to read" [those places which were to be read on the day of atonement]. "The chazan of the synagogue takes the book, and gives it to the ruler of the synagogue; the ruler to the sagan; the sagan to the high priest," &c. Where the Gloss: "There was a synagogue near the court, in the Mountain of the Temple."
In which of these places Christ was found sitting amongst the doctors, let those tell us that undertake to shew the place where his parents first missed him.
II. It is not easy to say what place he could be admitted to amongst the doctors, especially when that custom obtained which is mentioned: "The Rabbins have a tradition: From the days of Moses to Rabban Gamaliel's, they were instructed in the law standing. But when Rabban Gamaliel died, the world languished, so that they learned the law sitting." Whence also that tradition, that, "since the death of Rabban Gamaliel, the glory of the law was eclipsed."
Now when it was come to that pass after Gamaliel's death, that the disciples sat while the master read, how did they sit? On the ground. Hence that passage; "Rabh would not sit upon his bed, and read to his scholar, while he sat upon the ground." Gloss: "Either both should be on the bed, or both upon the ground."
"The disciples of R. Eleazar Ben Shammua asked him, 'How came you to this great age?' He answered them, 'I never made the synagogue a common way' [that is, I never took my passage through the synagogue for a shorter cut]. 'And I never walked upon the heads of the holy people.'" The Gloss is, "upon the heads of his disciples, sitting upon the ground."
Whether on the naked floor, might be a question, if there were place for it; but we let that pass at this present. For this custom of sitting prevailed after the death of Gamaliel, who took the chair many years after this that we are now upon. The great Hillel possessed the seat at this time; or if he was newly dead, his son Simeon succeeded him: so that it was the disciples' part in this age to stand, not to sit in the presence of their doctors. How therefore should it be said of Christ, that he was "sitting among the doctors"? Let the following clause solve the difficulty:
[And asking them questions.] It was both lawful and customary for the disciples, or any that were present, publicly to inquire either of the doctor that was then reading, or indeed the whole consistory, about any doubtful matter wherein he was not well satisfied. Take but two stories out of many others that may illustrate this matter:--
"R. Judah ordained R. Levi Ben Susi for a doctor to the Simonians. They made him a great chair, and placed him in it. Then propounded questions to him [occasioned from Deuteronomy 25:9], If thy brother's wife should have her hands cut off, how should she loose the shoe of her husband's brother? If she should spit blood; what then?" Most profound questions certainly! such as require a most cunning sophister to unriddle them.
"There is a story of a certain disciple that came and interrogated R. Joshua, Of what kind is evening prayer? He answered him, It is arbitrary. He came to Rabban Gamaliel and asked him; he told him, It is that we are in duty bound to. 'How then,' saith he, 'did R. Joshua tell me it is voluntary?' Saith the other, 'Tomorrow, when I come into the Consistory, do thou come forth and question me about this matter.' The disciple stood forth and asked Rabban Gamaliel [then president of the Sanhedrim] 'Of what kind is evening prayer?' He answers, It is a thing of duty. 'But behold,' saith the other, 'R. Joshua saith, It is a thing at pleasure.' Saith Gamaliel to Joshua, 'Dost thou affirm it to be a thing of pleasure?' He saith unto him, 'No.' 'Stand upon thy feet,' saith the other, 'that they may witness against thee.' Rabban Gamaliel was then sitting and expounding. [Probably this very article.] R. Joshua stood on his feet till all the people cried out to him. They say to R. Hospith the interpreter, 'Dismiss the people,' They say to R. Zenon the Chazan, 'Say, Begin ye'; and they said, 'Begin thou'; so all the people rose up and stood on their feet. They said unto him, 'Who is it thy wickedness hath not touched?' They went out straightway and made R. Eleazar Ben Azariah president of the council. How many seats were there? R. Jacob Ben Susi saith, fourscore seats for the disciples of the wise, beside those who stood behind the bars. R. Jose Ben R. Bon saith thirty, besides those that stood behind the bars." We have the same story in Bab. Beracoth, fol. 27. 2.
This we transcribed the largelier, not only for proof of what we said, of the disciples' asking the doctors questions in the court, but that the reader might have a little sight of the manner of that court, and how there were many, not only of the disciples of the Wise, but others, too, that flocked thither.
We may further add: "In a city where there are not two great wise men, one fit to teach and instruct in the whole law, the other who knows how to hear, and ask, and answer, they do not constitute a Sanhedrim, although there were a thousand Israelites there," &c. "In a city where there are not two that may speak, and one that may hear, they do not constitute a Sanhedrim. In Bitter, there were three: In Jabneh four; viz. R. Eliezer, R. Joshua, R. Akibah, and Simeon the Temanite. He judged before them, sitting on the ground." By him who hears they mean one skilful in the traditions, that can propound questions, and answer every question propounded. Such a one was Simeon the Temanite; who though he was a man of that learning, yet, not being promoted to become one of the elders, he sat upon the ground; that is, not on any of the benches of the fathers of the Sanhedrim; but on one of the seats that were near the ground; for they speak these things as done in the times after the death of Gamaliel. There is nothing absurd therefore in it, if we should suppose Christ gotten into the very Sanhedrim itself. Thither Joseph and his mother might come, and seeking him, might find him on the benches of the fathers of the council for that time, they having found him so capable both to propound questions and answer them. For it is plain they did admit of others, for other reasons, to sit sometimes in their seats. And it is less wonder if they suffer him to sit amongst them, being but twelve years of age, when as they promoted R. Eleazar Ben Azariah to the presidency itself when he was but sixteen. But if it was in a lower court, it is still less wonder if he sat amongst them. But that which might be chiefly inquired is, whether Christ sat amongst them as one of their disciples? This indeed is hardly credible.