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Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 2.djvu/623

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BIBLICAL


553


BIBLICAL


princes. They acknowledged no subjection, and owed no allegiance to any sovereign. They formed alliances with other princes. They treated with kings on a footing of equality. They maintained a body of servants, trained to the use of arms; were the chiefs who led them in war, and repelled force by force. They were the priests w'ho appointed festivals, and offered sacrifices. They had the power of disinheriting their children, of sending them away from home without assigning any reason, and even of punishing them capitally.

"The twelve sons of Jacob ruled their respective families with the same authority. But when their descendants had become numerous enough to form tribes, each tribe acknowledged a prince as its ruler. This office, it is likely, was at first hereditary in the oldest son, but afterwards became elective. When the tribes increased to such an extent as to embrace a great number of separate households, the less powerful ones united with their stronger relatives, and acknowledged them as their superiors. In this way, there arose a sub-division of the tribes into collections of households. Such a collection was technically called a family, a clan, a house of fathers, or a thousand. This last appellation was not given because each of these sub-divisions contained just a thousand persons, or a thousand households; for in the nature of things, the number must have varied, and in point of fact, it is manifest from the history, that it did. As the tribes had their princes, so these clans, families, or thousands had their respective chiefs, who were called heads of liouses of fathers, heads of thousands, and sometimes simply heads. Harrington denominates these two classes of officers phylarchs, or governors of tribes, and patriarchs, or governors of families. Both, while the Israelites were yet in Egypt, were comprehended under the general title of elders. Whether this name was a title of honour, like that of sheikh (the aged) among the Arabs, and that of senator among the Romans, or whether it is to be understood, according to its etymology, as denoting persons actually advanced in years, is uncertain. These princes of tribes and heads of thousands, the elders of Israel, were the rulers of the people, while they remained still subject to the power of the Pharaohs, and constituted a kind of 'imperium in imperio'. Of course they had no written constitution, nor any formal code of laws, but governed by custom, reason, and the principles of natural justice. They watched over and pro'-ided for the general good of the community, while the affairs of each individual household continued under the control of its own father. For the most part, it may be suppo.sed, only those cases which concerned the fathers of families themselves would come under the cognizance and supervision of the elders."

During their wanderings through the Desert the Hebrew tribes had no occasion to introduce any radical change in this form of government, for they had to contend with continuous difficulties of a social, moral, and religious character. And, although numerically superior to many Canaanitish tribes, they were, nevertheless, lacking in military discipline and were constantly moving from place to place. Realizing the necessity of defending themselves against the predatory tribes and rivals for the posses- sion of fertile lands and oases, they soon developed a military spirit, which is the strongest external principle of cohesion in nomadic life.

The administration of justice in Israel in the Mosaic age, and for a long time after, was in the hands of the elders, the local judges, and, somewhat later, the priests and the Levites, joined afterwards by the prophets. The elders, who represented the former heads of the families and clans under the tribal system, had undoubtedly ample jurisdiction concerning family affairs, disputes about conjugal


relations, inheritances, the division of property, the appointment of the goel or upholder of the family, and the settlement of blood-revenge. The local judges, as we have remarked, were not what this technical title ordinarily means. They were merely arbitrators and advisers in settling disputes which could not be settled by the elders, and very often they had to decide cases of appeal from the ordinary bench of elders at the city gates. They were, as a rule, taken from the body of the elders of the city, and later on from the princes, chiefs, and military officers of the army. The third class consisted of priests, and later on of prophets. They were appealed to in all difficult cases, their authority and influence being undoubtedly very strong. To appeal to a priest was to appeal to God Himself, for the priest was universally acknowledged as the official representa- tive of Yahweh. His decisions were regarded as "directions", and as such they were of an advisory character, thus constituting the "oracle" of the Hebrews. As originally each family group had its own priest, resort was naturally had to him for light on practical difficulties, not so much the set- tling of disputes as pointing out the safe, judicious, or righteous way for the individuals of the household in embarrassment. The prophets were also, in course of time, appealed to, not so much as official repre- sentatives of Yahweh as from the fact that tliey were regarded as men eminent in wisdom and spiritual authority. From the eighth century down- wards the authority of the priests was greatly over- shadowed by that of the prophets, who managed the destinies of the whole nation with an almost unlimited authority and assertiveness, proclaiming themselves as the messengers of Yahweh and the mouthpieces of His orders. A single judicial centre for the whole nation was never attained till the period of the monarchy. During the period of the Judges several leading judicial centres existed, such as Shiloh, Beth-el, Gilgal, Mizpah, Ramah, etc.

Whether Hebrew judges held their office for life is not altogether certain, although the presvunption is that they did. It is likewise uncertain whether any salary or compensation was attached to the office. In the case of the Ten Judges, no revenues were appropriated for them, except, perhaps, a larger snare of the spoils taken in war; and in case of the ordinary local judges or elders the offering of presents was quite common. This at first may have been a kind of testimonial of gratitude and respect, but it afterwards degenerated into mere bribery and corruption.

Whether the office of princes of tribes, chiefs, military officers, elders, and judges was hereditary or elective, is not easy to determine. Both systems may have been according to the different circum- stances; but that in the majority of cases it was hereditary, admits of no doubt, for such was the prevailing custom in the ancient East and, to a cer- tain extent, is so even in our own days.

No external sign of honour seems to have been attached to the dignity of judges and elders in Israel. They were without pomp, retinue, or equipage, although the passage in the Song of Deborah relating to those "who ride on white asses and sit in judg- ment" probably refers to the princes of the tribes, chiefs, elders, and judges in their respective capacities of military commanders, magistrates, and moral advisers and arbiters. In the East, even at the present day, the quadis, or chief judges and magis- trates, have the distinctive privilege of riding eitfier on mules or white asses, as against the military officers and civil governors who must ride on horses.

That the office of chief magistrate was unknown in ancient Israel is quite certain. In the whole Pentateuchal legislation allusion to such an institu- tion is absolutely wanting. The supreme authority