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Outline ReviewJames L. Crenshaw's Education in Ancient Israel, a book about how knowledge was transmitted from generation to generation in biblical times, may also shed light on some of the more contentious issues in education today. Crenshaw reads biblical books such as Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes, as well as Sumerian and Egyptian texts to find clues about how students learned to read and memorize their lessons in biblical times. He also describes the frightening forms of corporal punishment that sometimes took place when students failed. Crenshaw's central thesis is that in biblical times, "education originated with the desire for order and community." To realize that desire, educators embarked on ambitious programs of "moral formation, the building of character," which was always strengthened by instruction in religious devotion. Crenshaw's project is historical, so his book stays neutral in contemporary education wars. Still, it's interesting to imagine him head-to-head with someone like William Bennett, considering the question of why so many people of faith today have ideas about education that closely resemble the standards of biblical times. --Michael Joseph Gross
In this groundbreaking new book, distinguished biblical scholar James L. Crenshaw investigates both the pragmatic hows and the philosophical whys of education in ancient Israel and its surroundings. Asking questions as basic as "Who were the teachers and students and from what segment of Israelite society did they come?" and "How did instructors interest young people in the things they had to say?" Crenshaw explores the institutions and practices of education in ancient Israel. The results are often surprising and more complicated than one would expect.
Education, for the people who lived in the biblical world, was more than a simple matter of memorizing information and taking tests. It was a search for the hidden plan and presence of God. Knowledge was gained, according to biblical texts such as Ecclesiastes and Proverbs, not only by means of patient observation and listening, but through communication with Wisdom, the feminine incarnation of the Divine. Drawing upon a broad range of ancient sources, Crenshaw examines this religious dimension of education in ancient Israel, demonstrating how the practice of teaching and learning was transformed into the supreme act of worship.
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