Page images
PDF
EPUB

nations, and a majority of their kings are distinctly named as taking the lead in these bad practices. Jahvism, therefore, is here not the national religion, but rather an ideal, conceived by prophets and exceptionally good kings, but too exalted for the common people. The national religion is pronounced by these authorities to be some form of Idolatry.

The explanation of the discrepancy is not difficult. The prophets (to whom mainly we owe the former picture) are far from being satisfied with the religious condition of the people, although they do not generally accuse them of aban doning Jahveh. But while the object of their worship was the right one, the mode of worship and the spiritual condition of the worshipper might be all wrong. And this is exactly what the prophets are never tired of saying. Without repudiating sacrifices and other ceremonies in honour of Jahveh, they declare that what he loves is mercy, and not sacrifice; that he even hates their ceremonial feasts in honour of him when the heart is foul and the hands full of blood; and that he threatens to destroy them if they return not from their wicked ways. The authors of the latter picture, on the other hand, which represents the sin of the people to be not an irreligious spirit pervading their worship of Jahveh, but apostasy from Jahveh, take the law of the Pentateuch, and especially Deuteronomy, for their measure of right and wrong in religious matters. Now that law confines offerings and feasts in honour of Jahveb to the Temple of Jerusalem, and imposes many vexations and troublesome conditions. Those, therefore, that ha presented their offerings in an irregular manner had no presented any that the legalists could allow for a momer: -they could only be treated as idolatrous, or as going afte other gods. Hence these legal historians describe the people as false to Jahveh himself. This is perhaps a suf

cient account of the discrepancy; but what we want is to

penetrate to the actual truth of the case, not merely to account for the different opinions held by different writers. In this the prophets are our safest guides.

Priests existed as an order from the first, though without the exclusive privileges afterwards accorded to them, since at first any Israelite might offer sacrifices. They were all of one family, and called themselves sons of Levi, the tribe to which Moses and Aaron belonged; and all Levites were priests, not the "sons of Aaron" only. The priests' special duty is to teach the people the ordinances of Jahveh, to determine the cleanness of sacrificial beasts, and to adjudicate in the matter of slaves, lost property, &c. The crime of the priests in Ephraim, according to Hosea, was that, being the instructors or interpreters of the will of Jahveh, they had not given the necessary instruction (thorah). But besides priests there were also prophets of Jahveh, who were not necessarily priests, though Samuel and some others were both priests and prophets. The prophets were a recognised, but not an hereditary order; they were distinguished by moral earnestness and courage. They gave the strongest proof that the worship of Jahveh was a real, genuine, and living faith, and prevented its degenerating into a mere official system of an opus operandum. Their strong faith in the power and the desire of Jahveh to reward the good and the pious, and to punish the wicked and the idolatrous, led them to utter prophecy, often of the nature of warnings or threats on the one side, and of exhortations and promises of good on the other. Hence it is very natural that in the eighth century the prophets began to write down their words, thereby furnishing us with the most remarkable religious literature that has been preserved from the ancient world. The theme of it all is, that Jahveh is Israel's god, Israel Jahveh's people. Amos anticipates a restoration of the house of David, after which Jahveh will never pluck the people out any more.

Isaiah says, Jahveh will gather together again the scattered remnants of his people. Jeremiah says, Jahveh will make a new covenant with his people, and this time will write his word upon the living tables of their hearts, that it may never be forgotten. But these glorious results are only to be obtained through a radical reformation of character, which they all urge as primarily necessary. The prophets preach strongly against the conduct of the people, and demand repentance from the unjust judges, declaring that only the righteous and truthful shall be safe. In short, they give to Jahveh an abiding ethical character in accordance with which he must act. The moral attributes assigned to him by the people are much less impressive, and do not so strongly impel him into action. To the prophets therefore righteousness is higher than patriotism, and they can conceive of Jahveh taking part with Israel's foes to administer a much-wanted chastisement; thus the Assyrians are called the rod of his wrath, and Nebuchadnezzar Jahveh's servant. We may also observe a change of view introduced by the prophets. At first Jahveh had been the god of Israel-believed by the Israelites to be the most powerful of the gods, but still only one among many gods of the nations-Moab had Chemosh, and Ammon Molechthe existence of whom it did not concern them to deny. But in the prophets' eyes Jahveh was not so much mighty as holy, and this conception, ennobled by the higher ethical meaning given by them to holiness, raised him to a different order of being from the heathen gods, and thus brought about the conception that he was the Only God, while the heathen gods were merely Vanity-i.e. Nothingness-or had no existence at all. This monotheism is taught explicitly in Deuteronomy and Jeremiah in the last quarter of the seventh century B.C.

The Assyrians first brought Israel into close contact with the politics and the influences of the great outer world.

The effect was to introduce heathen rites under Ahaz and Manasseh. But the prophets stuck firmly to Jahveh; when it appeared as if his power was gone, they declared that his power was as great as ever, and that he was only chastising the kingdom of Israel for their sins through the Assyrian, and anticipated a day of glory for Jahveh when foreign nations would serve him; and the second Isaiah prophesies that the "servant of Jahveh "-the faithful in Judah—would be a "light to the heathen." The same prophet advances further into details, and describes Cyrus as the "anointed of Jahveh," "Jahveh's friend, who shall accomplish all his good pleasure," and before whom, as Dr Kuenen paraphrases the passage, "Jahveh will clear away all obstacles, and will give him wealth, in order that he may acknowledge that Jahveh, the god of Israel, calls him by his name." And the exaltation of Israel was to be accomplished not only by the humbling of his foes, but also I by the general acknowledgment of Jahveh; as the same prophet says, "My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations." Thus had the purely national conception of Jahveh been gradually enlarged in the minds of the greatest of the prophets into Universalism.

But the minds of the people were not ripe for any such conclusion. Hezekiah's measures for purifying the worship vanished at his death without a trace. A more important attempt was made by Josiah, in whose reign a new Thorah-law, or divine instruction-the book of Deuteronomy, was suddenly announced to have been just found in the Temple-which modern historians interpret to mean (what is clearly the fact) that it had been recently composed. "Here," Dr. Kuenen says, "the prophetic aspirations of the time had found complete expression." But the writer, while making no change in the character of the sacrifices and feasts in honour of Jahveh, introduces one important novelty; probably through the experience that

the high places had served the purpose of maintaining a mingling of Jahveh-worship with the adoration of other gods, he confines the worship of Jahveh to the temple at Jerusalem. Yet this great attempt at reform, pressed by the king with all his authority, failed. Josiah was killed on the battle-field of Megiddo, and none of his few successors till the fall of the monarchy and the Exile supported it. In the Exile the ideas of the Deuteronomist made no way; and at the Return a very different system of legislation, drawn up not by prophets, but by priests, and conceived throughout in the sacerdotal interest (contained in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers), was read aloud and solemnly accepted. This was the establishment of Judaism. The universalism of the Israel of the prophets was extinguished, and the particularism of the Jewish creed had triumphed.

Judaism the religion of the Jewish people from Ezekiel to Ezra-was manipulated by the priests. It does not entirely set aside the works of the prophets, for there are points of contact between them-both insisting on the severe greatness of Jahveh, though the priest thinks less of his goodness, and puts him further off from man. Still, the religion of the priests differed greatly; its highest conception is that of holiness, which is another word for purity; and this includes material chastity or cleanness, and conse quently means of expiation for uncleanness, which brings in a whole system of expiatory sacrifices, in which the priests themselves are the necessary agents. In spite of the greatly-increased power thus acquired by the priests, Dr. Kuenen considers, rather oddly, that the prophetic idea has really triumphed :—

The conflict between the two conceptions of Jahvism has disappeared. If in the days of Jeremiah they still stood off one from the other so sharply that they might be called with no great exaggeration two religions, they are now reconciled. And

« PreviousContinue »