Popular Science Monthly/Volume 9/September 1876/The Evolution of Hebrew Religion
|THE EVOLUTION OF HEBREW RELIGION.|
PROFESSOR OF HEBREW LITERATURE IN CORNELL UNIVERSITY.
IN 1795, Frederick Augustus Wolf published a modest octavo volume entitled "Prolegomena to Homer," from whose appearance is dated the beginning of a new era of historic criticism. The composition of the poems of Homer formed its subject. For wellnigh twenty years the author had collected evidence, weighed arguments, and patiently tested his results by constant revision. His own bias was strongly engaged on the side of the unity of the great Grecian epic. But the results of his researches continued to point in the opposite direction, and at last his earnest devotion to truth compelled him to adopt a theory the soundness of whose construction seemed to be no longer questionable. He w r as thus worthy to become the "founder of the science of philology in its present significance."
The influence of Wolf's discovery was not confined to the study of classic literature only. It quickly radiated through every department of history. "In every singing age," he said, "a single sæculum is almost like a single man. It is all one mind, one soul."
This conception involved a new social law, and radically altered the current opinions concerning the relation of individual effort to the larger forces that affect the development of nations. The creative energy of remarkable minds was not, indeed, lessened in importance, but spontaneity, in this connection, acquired a new meaning; and for the Deus ex machina of the olden time was substituted the cumulative force of centuries of progressive advancement, culminating, it is true, at last in the triumphant synthesis of genius. The commotion which the Wolfian theory has stirred up in the literary world is largely due to the wide range of ideas which it affected. Yet it was itself but a part of that general movement which, toward the close of the last century, became conspicuous in its effects on every field of human inquiry. Everywhere the shackles of authority were thrown off, and, in place of blindly accepting the testimony of the past, men turned to investigate for themselves. A new principle of research was everywhere acknowledged, a new method was created, and science, natural and historical, entered upon that astonishing career of discovery whose rich promise for the future we have but begun to anticipate.
To the impetus given by Wolf, and to the new-born spirit of science which he carried into the sphere of philology, we owe among other valuable results the beginnings of a more critical inquiry into the records of ancient Hebrew religion. Indeed, the author of the "Prolegomena" himself clearly foresaw the influence which his book was destined to exert on Hebrew studies. In a letter, from which we have already quoted above, he says: "The demonstration that the Pentateuch is made up of unequal portions, that these are the products of different centuries, and that they were put together shortly after the time of Solomon, may, ere long, be confidently expected. I should myself be willing to undertake such an argument without fear, for nowhere do we find any ancient witness to guarantee the authorship of the Pentateuch to Moses himself."
The prediction embodied in these words soon came true. A host of competent scholars took up the study of the Hebrew Bible, and, profiting by Wolf's example and suggestions, applied to its elucidation the same careful methods, the same scrupulous honesty of interpretation, that had proved so successful in the realm of classical philology. Theologians by profession, they set aside their predilections, and placed the ascertainment of the truth above all other interests. They believed in the indestructible vitality of religion, and were willing to admit the full light of criticism upon the scriptural page, confident that any loss would be temporary only, the gain permanent. In the course of their researches they arrived, among others, at the following important conclusions:
That the editor of the Pentateuch had admitted into his volume several accounts touching the main facts of early Hebrew history; that these accounts are often mutually at variance; that minute analysis and careful comparison alone can lead to an approximately true estimate of their comparative value; and, lastly, that the transmission of historical information had in no wise been the object of the Hebrew writers. The history of their people served, it is true, to illustrate certain of their doctrines concerning the divine government of the world, and especially the peculiar relations of the Deity to the chosen race; but it was employed much in the sense of a moral tale, being designed, not to convey facts, but to enforce lessons. Had the acceptance of any particular scheme of Hebrew history been deemed essential to the integrity of religious belief, the Bible, they argued, would certainly not have included discrepant accounts of that history in its pages. In the light of this new insight, it seemed advisable to draw a distinction between the biblical narrative proper and the doctrines which it was designed to illustrate. The latter belong to the province of faith, and their treatment may be left to the expounders of faith. The former is a department of general history, and in dealing with it we are at liberty to apply the same canons of criticism that obtain in every other department, without fearing to trespass upon sacred ground. It is our purpose in the following pages to present some of the more interesting results that have been reached in the study of the Pentateuch, so far as they illustrate the evolution of religious ideas among the Hebrews. We shall begin by summarizing a few instances of discrepant testimony to introduce our subject, and, in particular, to show how little the ordinary purposes of history have been considered in the composition of the biblical writings; how little the bare transmission of facts was an object with the sacred authors.
Scripture opens with two divergent accounts of the creation. In Genesis i., the work of creation proceeds in two grand movements, including the formation of inanimate and animate Nature respectively. On the first day a diffused light is spread out over chaos. Then are made the firmament, the dry earth, the green herbs, and fruit-bearing trees; on the fourth day the great luminaries are called into being; on the fifth, the fishes and birds of the air; on the sixth, the beasts of the field; and, lastly, crowning all, man, his Maker's masterpiece. The human species enters at once upon its existence as a pair. "Male and female did he create them." In the second chapter the same methodical arrangement, the same deliberate progress from the lower to the higher forms of being, is not observed. Man, his interests and responsibilities, stand in the foreground of the picture. The trees of the field are not made until after Adam; and, subsequently to them, the cattle and beasts. Moreover, man is a solitary being. A comparison between his lonely condition and the dual existence of the remainder of the animal world leads the Deity to determine upon the creation of woman. A profound slumber then falls upon Adam, a rib is taken from his side, and from it Eve is fashioned. We may notice that the name Jehovah, as appertaining to the Deity, is employed in the second chapter, while it is scrupulously avoided in the first. The recognition of this distinction has led to further discoveries of far-reaching importance, but too complicated in their nature to be here detailed. The conflicting statements of the two accounts, which we have just indicated, have induced scholars to regard them as the work of different writers. In Genesis iv. we learn that in the days of Enosh, Adam's grandson, men began to call on the name of Jehovah; in Exodus vi., on the contrary, that the name Jehovah was first revealed to Moses, being unknown even to the patriarchs.
Gen. xvi., Hagar is driven from her home by the jealousy of her mistress; escapes into the desert; beholds a vision of God at a well in a wilderness. Gen. xxi., the flight of Hagar is related a second time. The general scheme of the narrative is the same as above; but there are important divergencies of detail. As narrated in chapter xvi., the escape took place immediately before the birth of Ishmael. Fifteen years elapsed, and Ishmael, now approaching the years of maturity, is once more driven forth from the house of Abraham. But, to our surprise, in chapter xxi. the lad is described as a mere infant; he is carried on his mother's shoulders, and laid away, like a helpless babe, under some bushes by the wayside. It appears that we have before us two accounts touching the same event, agreeing in the main incidents of the escape, but showing a disagreement of fifteen years as to the date of its occurrence. The narratives are distinguished as above by the employment of different names of the Deity: Jehovah in the one instance, Elohim in the other.
Gen. xxxii., Jacob at the fords of Jabbok, after wrestling during the night with a divine being, receives the name of Israel. Gen. xxxv., without reference to the previous account, the name Israel is conferred upon Jacob at a different place and under different circumstances.
Gen. xlix., the dispersion of the Levites among the tribes is characterized as a punishment and a curse. They are to be forever homeless and fugitive. Deuteronomy xxxiii. and elsewhere, it is described as a blessing. The Levites have been scattered as good seed over the land. They are the apostles, commissioned to propagate Jehovah's law.
Passing on to the second book of the Pentateuch, we pause before the account of the Revelation on Mount Sinai, beyond a doubt the most important event of Israel's ancient history. Exodus xxiv. 2, Moses alone is to approach the divine presence. Exod. xix. 24, Aaron is to accompany him. Exod. xxiv. 13, Aaron is to remain below and Joshua is to go in his stead. Again, Exod. xxxiii. 20, instant death will overtake him who beholds God. Exod. xxiv. 9-11, Moses, Aaron, two of his sons, and seventy elders of Israel "ascended, and they saw the God of Israel. . . . Also, they saw God, and did eat and drink." Once more, Exod. xxiv. 4-7, Moses himself writes down the words of revelation in a book of covenant. Exod. xxiv. 12, not Moses but God writes them; and, elsewhere, "Two tables of stone inscribed by the finger of God."
Exod. xx. enjoins the observance of the sabbath-day as a memorial of the repose of the Maker of heaven and earth on the sabbath of creation. Deut. v., the fourth commandment is enjoined because of the redemption of Israel from Egyptian bondage. Exod. xxxiv., a new version of the decalogue, differing in most respects from the one commonly received, is promulgated. The first commandment is to worship no strange god; the second, to make no graven images; the third, to observe the feast of unleavened bread; the fourth, to deliver the first-born unto Jehovah; the fifth, to observe the sabbath, etc.
In Exod. xx. we read that the guilt of the fathers will be avenged upon the children down even to the third and fourth generation; in Deut. xxiv., the children shall not die for their fathers. Every one for his own sin shall die.
In Deut. xxv. the marrying of a deceased brother's wife is under certain conditions enjoined as a duty. In Levit. xviii. it is unconditionally prohibited as a crime.
Exod. xxxiii., Moses removes the tabernacle beyond the camp. Num. ii., the tabernacle rests in the very heart of the camp, with all the tribes of Israel grouped round about it, according to their standards and divisions.
Num. xvi., the sons of Korah, the leader of the great Levitical sedition, perish with their father. Num. xxvi., the sons of Korah do not perish.
Of the forty years which the Israelites are said to have dwelt in the desert, not more than two are covered by the events of the narrative. The remainder are wrapped in dense obscurity. There is, however, a significant fact which deserves mention in this connection. The death of Aaron marks, as it were, the close of Israel's journey. Now, while in Num. xxxiii. the death of the high-priest is described as occurring in the fortieth year, in Deut. x. it is actually referred to the second year of the Exodus.
A brief digression beyond the borders of the Pentateuch will show that the conflict of testimony which we have thus far noticed, affecting as it does some of the leading events of ancient Hebrew history, does not diminish as we proceed in the narrative. In 1 Samuel vii. it is said that the Philistines ceased to harass the land of Israel all the days of Samuel. Immediately thereupon we read of new Philistine incursions more direful than ever in their consequences. The popular proverb, "Is Saul among the prophets?" is variously explained, 1 Sam. x. and xix. Two discrepant accounts are given of Saul's rejection from the kingdom, 1 Sam. xiii. and xv.; of David's introduction to Saul, 1 Sam. xvi. and xvii. The charming story of David's encounter with the giant Goliath told in 1 Sam. xvii. is contradicted in 2 Sam. xxi. 19, where, not David, but some person otherwise unknown to fame, is reported to have slain the giant Goliath, and also the time, place, and attendant circumstances, are differently related.
It thus appears that the compiler of the Pentateuch has admitted a variety of views, not only on the ancient history of his people, but also on the general subject of religion and morals, into his work; and that the discordant opinions of diverse authors and of diverse stages of human progress are reflected in its pages. It is the monument of a grand religious movement extending over many centuries of gradual development. It is the image of a nation's struggles and growth. As contained in the books of the Pentateuch, the Mosaic religion is a religious mosaic.
In the foregoing sketch we have observed how deep a mist of uncertainty hangs over the earliest period, the golden age of the history of the Hebrews. All is in a state of flux, and what appeared compact and coherent at a distance yields to our touch upon closer contact. To gain terra firma, let us turn to the period which immediately succeeded the settlement of the Israelites in Palestine; a period in which the outline of historical events begins to assume a more definite and tangible shape.
It was a dismal and sorrowful age. The bonds of social order were loosened; the current conceptions of the Deity and the rites of his worship were gross and often degrading. Mutual jealousies kindled the firebrand of war among the contending clans. Almost the whole tribe of Benjamin is extirpated. Abimelech slays seventy princes upon one stone. Lust and treachery run riot. A wilder deed has never been chronicled in the annals of mankind than that related in chapter xix. of Judges, nor ever has a terrible deed been more terribly avenged. Now, looking backward, we ask, Is it to be believed that in the fourteenth century b. c. not only the leader of Israel, but also their elders, their priests, nay, large numbers even of the very populace, shared in the most exalted, the most spiritual conceptions of God, and nourished the most refined sentiments in regard to human relationships, while immediately thereupon, and centuries thereafter, violence, and bloodshed, and idolatry, do not cease from the records? It has been argued, indeed, that the worship of idols was but a relapse from the purity of a preceding age; and that, though the tradition of the Mosaic time may have been lost in the succeeding period among the people at large, it was still preserved in the circle of a select few, the judges, King David, and others. These, it is believed, continued to remain faithful disciples of the great lawgiver. But these very men, the judges—King David himself—all fall immeasurably below the standard which is set up in the Pentateuch. If they were esteemed the true representatives of the national religion in their day, if the very points in which they transgressed the provisions of the Mosaic code are distinguished by the approval of God and man, we are forced to conclude that that standard—by which they stand condemned did not yet exist; that, in the days of David, the laws of Moses, as we now have them, were as yet unwritten and unknown. Let us illustrate this important point by a few examples taken from the records. Gideon no sooner returns from victory than he makes a golden idol and sets it up for worship. Jephthah slay his daughter as an offering of thanksgiving to Jehovah. In the Pentateuch the adoration of images is branded as the gravest of offenses. David keeps household gods in his own home (1 Sam. xix.). In the Pentateuch, on its opening page, God is proclaimed as a pure spirit, maker of heaven and earth. In the eyes of David (1 Sam. xxvi. 19), the sway of Jehovah does not extend beyond the borders of Palestine. In the Pentateuch the ark of the covenant is described as the treasury of all that is brightest and best in "the worship of the one God. None but the consecrated priest dare approach it, and even he only under circumstances calculated to inspire peculiar veneration and awe. In 2 Sam. vi., David abandons the ark to the keeping of a heathen Philistine. In an early stage of culture, when fear and terror in the presence of superior force entered largely into the religious conceptions of the Hebrews, the taking of the census was deemed an act of grave transgression. It appeared a vaunting of one's strength; it seemed to indicate a defiant attitude toward the loftier power of the Deity, which he would certainly visit with condign punishment. At a later period the priesthood found it in their interest to override these scruples, and the taking of the census became an affair of habitual occurrence. In the last chapter of Samuel the more primitive view still predominated. Seventy thousand Israelites are miserably slain to atone for King David's presumption in commanding a census of the people. In the fourth book of Moses, on the other hand, the numbering of the people not only proceeds without the slightest evil resulting therefrom, but at the express command of God himself.
In the book of Deuteronomy the service of Jehovah is said to consist mainly in the practice' of righteousness, in works of kindness toward our fellows, in sincere and holy love toward the Deity, who is represented as the merciful father of all his human children. 2 Sam. xxi., a famine comes upon the land of Israel. The anger of Jehovah is kindled against the people. To appease him, David offers sacrifice human sacrifice. The seven sons of Saul are slain, and their bodies kept exposed on the hill, "in the sight of Jehovah," and the horrid offering is accepted, and the divine wrath is thereby pacified. Truly, in the age of David, the Hebrews were far, far removed from that high state of culture in which the ideal conception of religion that pervades Deuteronomy became possible. And long after, when centuries had gone by and the kingdom of Judah was already approaching its dissolution, the direful practices of David's reign still survived, and the root of idolatry had not been plucked from the heart of the people. Still do we hear of human sacrifice perpetrated in the midst of Jerusalem, and steeds and chariots dedicated to the sun-god, and images of the Phallus, and all the abominations of sensual worship, filled the very Temple of Jehovah.
But in the mean time a new force had entered the current of Hebrew history. The conviction that one God, and he an all-just, almighty being, rules the destinies of Israel, began to take root. In the eighth century b. c. authentic records prove that monotheism, as a form of religious belief, obtained, at least among the more illustrious members of the prophetic order. We have elsewhere attempted to trace the causes which led to the rise of monotheism at this particular epoch, and shall do no more than briefly allude to them here.
When the mountaineers of Southern Palestine, after centuries of protracted struggle, had secured the safe possession of individual homes, the endearments of domestic life were invested with a sanctity in their eyes never before known. The attachment of the Hebrew toward his offspring was intensified; his devotion to the wife of his bosom became purer and more enduring. Now, the prevailing forms of Semitic religion outraged these feelings at every point. The gods of the surrounding nations were gods of pleasure and of pain; and in their worship the stern practices of fanatic asceticism alternated with the wildest orgies of sensual enjoyment. The worship of Baal Moloch demanded the sacrifice of children; that of the lascivious Baaltis insulted the modesty of woman. The nobler spirits among the Hebrews rebelled against both these demands. And, as they were put forth in the name of the dominant religion, the inevitable conclusion followed that that religion itself must be radically wrong. The spirit of opposition thus awakened was aroused into powerful activity when, in the days of Ahab, the queen, supported by an influential priesthood, determined to introduce the forms of Phœnician religion in Israel by measures of force. The royal edicts were resisted, but for a while the rule of the stronger prevailed. The leaders of the opposition were compelled to flee, and, avoiding the habitations of men, to take refuge in wild and solitary places. Thus the rupture was widened into schism, and persecution inflamed the zeal and kindled the energies of that new order of men of whom Elijah is the well-known type.
Through their agency the emotional nature of the Semitic race now found expression in a form of religious worship loftier by far than any that had ever arisen among men. If Baal was the embodiment of Semitic asceticism and Baaltis the type of sensual orgiastic passion, the national God of Israel now became the type of a nobler emotion, the guardian of domestic purity, the source of sanctity, the ideal Father. It is, indeed, the image 'of a just patriarch that fills the mind and wings the fancy of the eldest prophets, when they describe the nature of Jehovah, their God. Jehovah is the husband of the people. Israel shall be his true and loyal spouse. The children of Israel are his children. Unchastity and irreligion are synonymous terms. And thus, if we err not, the peculiar feature of Hebrew character, their faithful attachment to kith and kin, the strength and purity of their domestic affections, serves to explain the peculiar character, the origin and development of the Hebrew religion. And because the essential elements of the new religion were moral elements it could not tolerate the Nature-worship of the heathens; and the way was prepared for the gradual ascendency of the purely spiritual in religion, which after ages of gradual progress constituted the last, the lasting triumph of prophecy.
After ages of development! For we are not to suppose that, in the centuries succeeding Hosea, the doctrines of the prophetic schools had become in any sense the property of the people at large. "The powers that be" were arrayed against them, and the annals of the kings are replete with evidence of their sufferings. It was in the late reign of Josiah that they at last received not only the countenance of the reigning monarch, but also a decisive influence upon the direction of affairs. In that reign a scroll was found in the temple imbued with the doctrine of the unity of God, and breathing the vigorous spirit of the prophets. In it was emphasized the heart's religion in preference to the empty ceremonial of priestly worship. The allegiance of the people was directed toward the God who had elected them from among the nations of the earth, and dire disaster was predicted in case of disobedience. When brought to the king and read in his presence, he was powerfully affected, and determined, if possible, to stem the tide of impending ruin by such salutary measures of reform as the injunctions of the newly-found Scripture seemed most urgently to call for. The concurrence of many critics has identified this scroll, written and published at or about the time when the youthful Josiah succeeded to the throne of his ancestors, with Deuteronomy, the fifth of the books of Moses. It differs materially from the more recent writings of the Pentateuch. The family of Aaron are not yet exclusively endowed with the priesthood. The priests are all Levites, the Levites all priests. There are, moreover, other vital differences, into which the limits of this article do not permit us to enter. The date of the composition of Deuteronomy is thus referred to the closing decades of the seventh century b. c.
The princes who succeeded Josiah fell back into the old course, and quite undid the work which had begun with such fair promise. Indeed, little permanent good was to be hoped for in so disordered a condition of political affairs, and from the degenerate rulers who then swayed the helm of state. The fortunes of the kingdom of Judah were swiftly declining, and, but a quarter of a century after the pious Josiah had breathed his last, Nebuchadnezzar burned the Temple of Jerusalem, and carried its inhabitants captive to Babylon.
Heretofore, with but a brief, brilliant interlude, idolatry had been the court religion of Judah. Early training, long usage, the example of revered ancestors, had endeared its forms and symbols to the affections of the people. Resistance to the innovating prophets was natural; men being then, as ever, loath to abandon the sacred usages which had come down to them from the distant generations of the past. But, in the long years of the captivity, a profound change came over the spirit of the Hebrew people; "by Babel's streams they sat and wept;" by Babel's streams they recalled the memories of their native land, that land which they had lost. It was then that the voices of Jehovah's messengers, which had so earnestly warned them of the approaching doom, recurred to their startled recollection. They remembered the message; they beheld its fulfillment; the testimony of the prophets had been confirmed by events; the one God to whom they testified had revealed his omnipotence in history; and with willing assent the exiles promised allegiance to his commandments in the future. The love of country, the dread of further chastisement, the dear hope of restoration, combined to win them to the purer worship of their God, and, in the crucible of Babylon, the national religion was purged of the last dregs of heathendom.
With the permission of Cyrus, the Jews returned to Palestine, and the Temple at Jerusalem was rebuilt. The question now arose in what forms the ceremonial of the new sanctuary should be conducted. The time-honored festivals, the solemn and joyful convocations, the sacrifices and purifications of the olden time, were all more or less infected with the taint of paganism. Prophecy would have none of them—prophecy, free child of genius, contemned sacrifice, denounced the priesthood, even the temple and its ritual; proclaimed humbleness and loving-kindness as the true service in which Jehovah takes delight. There was formalism on the one hand, idealism on the other. As is usual in such cases, when the time had arrived for turning theory into practice, it was found necessary to effect a compromise. As Christianity in later days adopted the yule-tree into its system, and lit the lamps of the heathen festival of the 25th of December in honor of the nativity of its founder, so the leaders of the Jews, in the fifth century before our era, adopted the feasts and usages of an ancient Nature-worship, breathed into them a new spirit, informed them with a loftier meaning, and made them tokens, symbols of the eternal God. The old foes were thus reconciled; priesthood and prophecy joined hands, and were thenceforth united. As an offspring of this union, we behold a new code of laws and prescriptions, whose marked and inharmonious features at once betray the dual nature of its progenitors. "A rough preliminary draft, as it were," of this code, is preserved in the book of Ezekiel, composed probably about the middle of the fifth century. In its finished and final shape, it forms the bulk of a still later work—of Leviticus, the third of the books of the Pentateuch: of all the discoveries of criticism, none more noteworthy, none we are bound to consider more assured. What lends additional certainty to the result is the circumstance that it was reached independently by two of the most esteemed scholars of our day, the one a Professor of Theology in the University of Leyden, the other a veteran of thought, whose brow is wreathed by the ripe honors of more than fourscore years. Let us briefly advert to the line of argument by which this astonishing conclusion was reached:
The author of the book of Ezekiel was a priest, and one confessedly loyal to the sanctuary of Jerusalem. Now, had the laws of the Levitical code, which minutely describe the ritual of that sanctuary, existed, or been regarded as authoritative in his day, he could not, would not have disregarded, much less contradicted, their provisions. He does this, and, be it remarked, in points of capital importance. In chapter xlv. of Ezekiel are mentioned the great festivals, with the sacrifices appropriate to each; but the feast of Pentecost, commanded in Leviticus, is entirely omitted; also that of the eighth day of tabernacles. The second of the daily burnt-offerings, upon which the legislator of the fourth book of Moses dwells with such marked emphasis, is not commanded. The order of sacrifices appointed in Ezekiel is at variance with that in the more recent code. Ezekiel nowhere mentions the ark of the covenant. According to him, the new year begins on the tenth of the seventh month, while the festival of the trumpets, ordained in Leviticus for the first of that mouth (the present new year of the Jews), is nowhere referred to. We are not to suppose, however, that the festivals, the ark, etc., did not yet exist in the time of Ezekiel. They existed, no doubt, but were still too intimately associated with pagan customs and superstitions to receive or merit the countenance of a prophetic writer. In Leviticus the process of assimilation above described had reached its climax. The new meaning had been successfully engrafted upon the rites and symbols of the olden time; and they were thenceforth freely employed. The legislation of the Levitical code exhibits the familiar features which in every instance mark the ascendency or consolidation of the hierarchical order. The lines of gradation and distinction between the members of the order among themselves are precisely drawn and strictly adhered to. The prerogatives of the whole order as against the people are fenced about with stringent laws. The revenues of the order are largely increased. In the older code of Deuteronomy, the annual tithes were set apart for a festival occasion, and given over to the enjoyment of the people. In the new code, the hierarchy claims the tithes for its own use. New taxes are invented. The best portions of the sacrificial animal are reserved for the banquets of the Temple. The first-born of men and cattle belong to the priesthood, and must be ransomed by the payment of a sum of money. In no period prior to the fifth century b. c. was the hierarchy powerful enough to design such laws. At that time, however, when in the absence of a temporal sovereign they, with the high-priest at their head, were the acknowledged rulers of the state, they were both prepared to conceive and able to carry them into effect. The language of Leviticus contributes not a little to betray its late origin. The authorship of Moses attributed to the Levitical code is symbolical. The name of Moses is utterly unknown to the elder prophets. In all their manifold writings it does not occur a single time, though they make frequent reference to the past. There can now be little doubt that the composition of the book of Leviticus, and of considerable portions of the books of Numbers, Exodus, and even parts of Genesis, belongs to the epoch of the second Temple, and that the date of these writings may be approximately fixed at about one thousand years after the time of Moses. As to the story of Israel's desert wanderings, it rests upon ancient traditions whose character it is not our present business to investigate. It was successively worked up in various schools of priests and prophets, and this accounts for the host of discrepancies it contains, some of which have been noticed in the beginning of this essay. It was finally amplified by the inventive genius of the second-Temple priesthood, who succeeded in heightening the sanctity of their own institutions by tracing them back to a revered, heroic person, who had lived in the dim days of remote antiquity.
In the preceding pages we have indicated the more important phases of that great conflict which ended in the establishment of monotheism, whose traces, though sometimes barely legible, are still preserved in our records. We saw in the first instance that the Mosaic age is shrouded in uncertainty. We pointed out that pure monotheism was unknown in the time of the early kings. We briefly referred to the rise of monotheism. Finally, we endeavored to show how the prophetic idea had been successively expressed in various codes, each corresponding to a certain stage in the great process of evolution. From what we have said, it follows that the prophetic ideal of religion is the root and core of all that is valuable in the Hebrew Bible. The laws, rites, and observances, in which it found a temporary and changeful expression, may lose their vitality; it will always continue to exert its high influence. It was not the work of one man, nor of a single age, but was reached in the long course of generations on generations, evolved amid error and vice, slowly, and against all the odds of time. It has been said that the Bible is opposed to the theory of evolution. The Bible itself is a prominent example of evolution in history. It is not homogeneous in all its parts. There are portions filled with tales of human error and fallibility. These are the incipient stages of an early age—the dark and dread beginnings. There are others thrilling with noblest emotion, freighted with eternal truths, breathing celestial music. These are the triumph and the fruition of a later day. It is thus by discriminating between what is essentially excellent and what is comparatively valueless that we shall best reconcile the discordant claims of reason and of faith. The Bible was never designed to convey scientific information, nor was it intended to serve as a text-book of history. In its ethical teachings lies its true significance. On them it may fairly rest its claims to the immortal reverence of mankind.
There was a time in the olden days of Greece when it was demanded that the poems of Homer should be removed from the schools, lest the minds of the young might be poisoned by the weeds of superstitious belief. Plato, the poet-philosopher, it was who urged this demand. That time is past. The tales of the gods and heroes have long since ceased to entice our credulity. The story of Achilles's wrath and the wanderings of the sage Ulysses are not believed as history, but the beauty and freshness and the golden poetry of the Homeric epic have a reality all their own, and are a delight and a glory now, as they have ever been before. The Bible also is a classical book. It is the classical book of noble ethical sentiment. In it the-mortal fear, the overflowing hope, the quivering longings of the human soul toward the better and the best, have found their first, their freshest, their fittest utterance. In this respect it can never be superseded.
To Greek philosophy we owe the evolution of the logical categories; to Hebrew prophecy, the pure canon of moral principle and action. That this, result was the outcome of a long process of suffering and struggle cannot diminish its value in our estimation. When we compare the degrading offices of the Hebrew religion in the days of the judges with the lofty aspirations of the second Isaiah, when we remember the utter abyss of moral abasement from which the nobler spirits of the Hebrews rose to the free summits of prophecy, our confidence in the divine possibilities of the human soul is reinvigorated, our emulation is kindled, and from the great things already accomplished we gather the cheering promise of the greater things that are yet to come. It is in this moral incentive that the practical value of the evolutionary theory chiefly lies.
- "In the estimation of the people for whom these books were written, the capital, essential point surely was, not the historic narrative, but rather legislation and religious edification." (Noldeke, "Histoire Littéraire de l'Ancien Testament," p. 19.)
- Bonitz, "Ueber den Ursprung der Homerischen Gedichte," p. 11.
- In a letter given in Korte's "Leben und Studien F. A. Wolf's," L, p. 307.
- Scientific pursuits are distinguished from others, not by the material, but by the method of knowledge. The mere collection of data, however multiplied in detail, however abstruse the subjects to which they may refer, does not of itself deserve the name of science. The term properly applies only when phenomena are placed in causal relation, and the laws which govern their development are traced. Measured by this standard, every attempt to explain the growth of human thought and institutions, and to elucidate the laws which have acted in the process of their evolution, has a just claim to be classed under the head of scientific inquiry.
- Letter in Korte's "Leben und Studien F. A. Wolf's," i., p. 309.
- Many of the following examples are familiarly known. A few, however, are drawn from recent investigations. Compare, especially, Kuenen, "The Religion of Israel."
- Tuch's "Genesis," p. 3, second edition, Halle, 1871.
- For an account of the close analogy between the biblical narration and the Persian story of Meshja and Meshjane, their temptation and fall, vide ibid., p. 40. It is of special importance to note that reference to the account of Genesis ii. is made only in the later literature of the Hebrews, ibid., p. 42.
- Gen. xvii. 25. In quoting from the Old Testament, we follow the order of the Hebrew text.
- Compare De Wette's "Einleitung in das alte Testament" (Schrader's edition), p. 286, note 53.
- Num. xxvi. 11. Indeed, had the sons of Korah and every human being related to him perished, as Num. xvi. avers, how could we account for the fact that Korah's descendants filled high offices in the Temple at Jerusalem later on? The celebrated singer, Heman, himself was a lineal descendant of Korah. To the descendants of Korah also are ascribed the following Psalms: Ps. xlii., xliv.-xlix., lxxxiv., lxxxv., lxxxvii., lxxxviii.
- In connection with this subject it is of interest to compare Goethe's argument on the duration of the desert journey in the "Westöstlicher Divan." Here, as in so many other instances, the intuitive perception of the great poet anticipated the tardy results of subsequent investigation.
- Compare 1 Sam. vii. 13, and 1 Sam. xiii. 19.
- In 1 Chron. xx. 5 we read, "the brother of Goliath." The purpose of the change is clear, and accords well with the apologetical tendencies of the author of Chronicles. Vide De Wette, "Einleitung," etc., p. 370. Geiger, "Urachrift."
- Banishment being described as a transfer of allegiance to strange gods.
- It is important to note that the seven sons of Saul were sacrificed in the beginning of the barley-harvest. This circumstance seems to throw light on the primitive mode of celebrating the Passover. That the rite of human sacrifice was originally connected with this festival is generally acknowledged. Vide, e. g., Exod. xiii., 2. By such offerings it was intended, no doubt, to secure the favor of the god during the continuance of the harvest.
- E. g., the rebellion of Korah is unknown to the author of Deuteronomy.
- The language of Deuteronomy attests its late origin. Sixty-six phrases of Deuteronomy recur in the writings of Jeremiah. Vide Zunz, Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenlandischen Gesellschaft, xxviii., p. 670.
- Jeremiah vii. 4; Isaiah lxvi. 1; Micah vi. 6.
- Prof. A. Kuenen.
- The venerable Dr. Zunz, of Berlin.
- To mention only a single instance, ha Shem (meaning the name, i.e., the ineffable name of God) was not employed until a very late period in the history of the Jews, when the fear of taking the name of the Lord in vain induced men to avoid, if possible, mentioning it at all. We find ha Shem in the above sense in Lev. xxiv. 11.
- Most aptly has this thought been expressed in the lines with which Goethe welcomed the appearance of F. A. Wolfs "Prolegomena:"
"Erst die Gesundheit des Mamies, der, endlich vom Namen Homeros
Künn uns befrelend, una auch führt in die vollere Bahn.
Denn wer wagte mit Göttern den Kampf? und wer rait dem Einen?—
Doch Homeride zu seyn, auch nur als letzter, ist schön."
The Elegy of Hermann und Dorothea.