Judea's young have a lot to learn


Jerusalem, 33 A.D.

A major overhaul of the system of religious education in Judea has begun following a damning report published this week. Commissioned by the Sanhedrin, the council of chief priests, it concluded that the standard of religious knowledge among Jewish children was "truly abysmal" and "indeed, quite shocking".

It recommended "immediate and radical action to correct this totally unacceptable situation". The report, which was conducted throughout the country over the past six months among children under 10 years old, gave extensive examples of the ignorance of the children where knowledge of Jewish belief was concerned.

Without attribution, it quoted the authentic responses of some of the children as examples of a wider ignorance.

Describing the beginning of the world, an eight-year-old boy in Jerusalem wrote that "God got tired of creating the world, so he took the Sabbath off".

A seven-year-old girl, also in Jerusalem, wrote that "Adam and Eve were created from an apple tree" and "Noah built an ark which the animals come onto in pears".

She continued that "Lot's wife was a pillar of salt by day, but a ball of fire by night" and that "Samson was a strongman who let himself be led astray by a Jezebel called Delilah".

A boy in Bethany wrote that "Moses led the Hebrews to the Red Sea, where they made unleavened bread which is bread without any ingredients". He continued that "the Egyptians were all drowned in the dessert. Afterwards, Moses went up on Mount Cyanide to get the 10 amendments".

He continued that "the first commandment was when Eve told Adam to eat the apple".

A young girl in Jericho wrote that "the greatest miracle was when Joshua told his son to stand still and he obeyed him". In her opinion "David was a Hebrew king skilled at playing the liar ". She further claimed that "Solomon, one of David's sons, had 300 wives and 700 porcupines".

A seven-year-old girl in a Bethlehem school wrote that "a Jew should have only one spouse. This is called monotony". She also wrote about "holy acrimony, which is another name for marriage".

An editorial in the Palestine Times described the findings as "extremely serious" and "a sad reflection of the state of religious knowledge at a wider level in this society".

It felt that "ultimately this is the parents' responsibility, but the religious authorities also have a case to answer".

It continued that "regardless, the present situation cannot be allowed continue. It also goes some considerable way towards explaining why this country is beset by all sorts of preachers and so-called miracle workers, some even claiming to be the Messiah. A better-informed population, adults as well as children, would not be as easily taken-in by such fanatics if they were better informed about their religion."

The High Priest, Dr Caiaphas, agreed the situation was "unacceptable", but felt the media was "largely responsible for it. For years all they have done is attack, demean, denigrate, and generally dismiss anything to do with religion. And they are continually holding the religious authorities up to ridicule. This inevitably has had consequences, not least in the home. For some time it has been clear that people have less and less interest in religion. Children pick this up. So they have little incentive to learn."

He did, however, agree with the newspaper's suggestion that present levels of ignorance among the people made the country a rich breeding ground for religious fanatics. "Take this Jesus fellow for example. We are asked to believe this carpenter from Nazareth is the Messiah, the son of God. That he cures the sick and demented, walks on water, stops storms, changes water into wine, feeds thousands with a few loaves and fish, that he is transfigured on a mountain where God can be heard actually speaking to him - again! - and . . . wait for it . . . that he raises the dead! I ask you. The truly sad thing is that poor ignorant people believe in this guy. That is what all the media bashing has brought about. It has to stop. And he has to be stopped also."