The Teachers Teacher

If you know Hillel…

If you know Aristotle, you know Plato. If you know Thomas Jefferson, you know John Locke.

How do you know them? Because Plato and John Locke were the teachers, you might even call them Masters. When you read the words of the student, you can hear the masters voice.

As I often do, I was wondering about things. I began to wonder…who was Jesus teacher? When we read about Jesus, he is referred to,and thought of as, the teacher. They called him Master, and Rabbi.

Now before you criticize me for not giving all of the credit for what Jesus thought and said to his Father, and to divine inspiration, hold on a second. I am referring to that human side, the one that was “famished” when he fasted in the desert. The one that I believe was hungry to learn.

If you know Jesus, you know Hillel.

Often, too often in my view, we disregard that Jesus was a Jew, raised as a Jew, by Jews and with Jews. He was never a Christian, always a Jew.

I don’t believe that there is any certain evidence of Jesus being a student of Hillel. In fact, his death is recorded as being in the year 10, which would make Jesus an unlikely student. However, Hillel had established what was called the House of Hillel.  It was an Academy that outlived the founder.
At that time there were two dominant traditions. There was the House of Shammai, which was rigid and conservative in it’s teachings, focusing on strict adherence to religious law. The House of Hillel was far more liberal, emphasizing openheartedness to all; including women. While the Shammai school were about the law, Hillel was about philosophy.
We know that Hillel lived in Jerusalem during the time of King Herod and the Roman Emperor Augustus. He was a constant student, even at the time of being viewed as the premier sage and scholar in Jerusalem. It is said that he spent half of the day cutting wood, to earn enough so that he could study the other half.
We know that Jesus was inclined more to peace, and to understanding others than he was drawn to the strict following of the law. In fact, it was his dismissal of the law for greater good that often got him in trouble.

Consider some of these parallels:

  • Hillel said: “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah.”
  • Jesus said: “Do unto to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12)


  • Hillel said: “Pass not judgment upon thy neighbor until thou hast put thyself in his place.”
  • Jesus said, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.” (Luke 6:37)


  • Hillel said: “Whoever would make a name loses the name… whoever makes use of the crown perishes.”
  • Jesus said: Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.” (Luke 32:33)

These are  considered to be the most famous words of Hillel:If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And when I am for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” Like any worthwhile philosopher, he asks the questions, the ones that lead us to the introspective answers. Jesus was always asking also. His words to us are loaded with question marks.Once, when the two rival leaders stood together, they were asked if they could sum up the Torah while standing on one foot. In other words, were they capable of brevity. Shammai got mad and left, Hillel said:”That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation. Now go and learn.”

I can see why Jesus would have been drawn to such thinking. I am, and I am grateful that he was. The Jews were the first culture to believe and teach this revolutionary thought about their relationship with their God. Most cultures spent all of their time trying to do things for their God, so that he would have favor on them.This Yahweh God was saying that he would find favor with his people, if they would only be kind to each other. This is how you get a quirky commandment, unknown to any other religion.

Love one another, as I have loved you.


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