Page images

and might in prayer invoke the forgiveness of his mercy, yet never cease from seeking to constrain the god or demon by magic spell or incantation. Israel alone advanced by understanding the inconsistency of magic with her thought of God. Another people, the Chinese, raised the thought of" Heaven" to all-ruling, ethical law, but lost the living personality of God. Israel held fast to Jehovah, almighty, living, personal, commanding, chiding, ruling, loving, urging men to likeness with himself. The Aryan prophet, Zarathushtra, knew the mighty moving thought of God, Creator of all righteousness and good, and Leader in the conflict with the equally uncreate evil spirit, who created all things ill. But Israel knew her God as all-inclusive of creative power and universal rule; and knew his purpose so greatly to exceed her ken, that she could leave the pain and evil of the world to the unsearchable purpose of a God necessarily righteous, nor seek a source beyond, impairing the consistency of her inspired reason.

Israel's function was to set forth a knowledge of the righteous action of a righteous God, and of right human attitude to him. Her history is a history of man's recognition of God's revelation of himself through his power active in the natural world, in the world of human action, and within each man. Therefore, Israel's history is a history of her religion. Apart from Jehovah, Israel's best mind and heart knew itself impotent, felt itself nothing. Even when thinking thoughts of wisdom touching human life, Israel could not conceive ethics except as related to the standard of God's character and to the sanction of his ways with men; she could in no wise sit by herself apart from God and ponder upon human lots, regarding which she professed only such knowledge as came from him, no knowledge evolved by the unaided thought of man.

The children of Israel once passed from Egypt to


The Stories

of the Patriarchs.

Neither were they indigenous in the land of Goshen. They came from somewhere; and no place from its situation is as likely as Canaan to have been the somewhere whence they came. Before reaching Goshen, they were nomad shepherds, and must have had ancestors or chiefs, the circumstances of whose lives were similar to those echoed by the stories of Abraham and Jacob. The situation indicated in those narratives apparently reflects ancient tradition, for it corresponds with nothing known of the life of Israel in Canaan in the times of the kings. or even of the judges.

Before the period of Moses' prophetic activity, there was among the children of Israel, dwelling in Goshen, a conception of a god who was their god. This was


brought with them from the desert, not evolved in Egypt. The Hebrew conception of Jehovah always differed from Egyptian thoughts of gods, as personal righteousness differs from the beneficence of nature, and distinct conception from its opposite. No more than other races, are Semites naturally monotheistic; yet they seem to sever their gods from nature more entirely than Aryans, and more distinctly to regard all things as created by deity; hence they never merge their thoughts of divine righteousness and power in natural law. Nor is it true that monotheism is the child of desert life, though possibly small wandering tribes would be more likely to think of God as one god, going with them whithersoever they went, than larger settled communities who have brought together several tribal or family divinities and absorb the local traditions of their common abiding-place.

1 Few scholars still look to Egypt as the source or partial source of Israel's conception of God. There is one conclusive proof to the contrary. The most striking part of Egyptian religion was an elaborate scheme of life in and beyond the tomb. Israel could not have borrowed religious thoughts from Egypt without taking some conception of a future life, the absence of which from early Hebrew thought is well known.

2 Cf. Elijah's vision, 1 Kings xix, 11, etc.

713554 A

This tribal cult of one god was not monotheism. It did not exclude the incidental adoration of fetishes and idols. Nor was the one chief tribal god thought of as the god of other tribes, far less as God of all. Primitive thought was not so comprehensive. Moreover, a conception of one tribal god, with appendant superstitions, might, as the tribe met other tribes and learned of other gods, become a more equal polytheism or indiscriminate idolatry. A far more strenuous course would be to lift the apprehension of the one tribal god higher and higher, and perfect it with thoughts of all-embracing power and righteousness, until the possibility of any other god should be excluded from the universe. This was the course which Israel alone achieved, under the guidance of her prophets.

The probability that the desert ancestors of Israel worshipped a single tribal god, accords with the Genesis account of the god of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. A correspondence may also be assumed between the recorded characters of these patriarchs and the actual characters of Israel's ancestors. The narratives of Genesis testify to the ideals and characters of their authors and the people among whom they were preserved. Those characters sprang not from nothing, but partly from a kindred character in those ancestors of whom the stories tell. If the Hebrews esteemed above all other matters righteous obedience to God, and were to make it all in all, it is probable that the Genesis narrative, in telling of the faithfulness of Abraham and Jacob, corresponded to the actual fact that Israel's ancestors were, in a higher sense than could be said of other ancient nomads, god-fearing men, with such faith as was not elsewhere to be found.

There is a more definite reason for regarding as historical the narrative portions of the Hexateuch relating to the Hebrews. That the earliest ancestors of the Writing. Hebrews came from Chaldæa, is hardly open to doubt. If so, they came out of a country where writing was known. Why should they not have been acquainted

with the art? Passing to Syria, they but passed to a land into which Mesopotamian influence had penetrated to an extent sufficient to account for the fact witnessed by the Tell-el-amarna tablets, that cuniform writing was there in general use.' The Hebrews could also have learned writing in Egypt; and finally, returning from Egypt to Palestine, they but passed from one country where writing was in use, to another country where it was in use. From Mesopotamia to Egypt, no people was as gifted as the Hebrews; especially in literature were they to show themselves pre-eminent. There is no reason to discredit any of the earliest allusions to writing in the Old Testament; nor is there any reason to think that the oldest portions of the Hexateuch, whenever they were composed in their present form, were not based on earlier written records.'

The Exodus and Resulting Thought of God.

The Exodus is the narrative of Jehovah's deliverance of Israel out of Egypt, through the instrumentality of a prophet Moses. This was the conception of the matter pervading the religious and historical consciousness of Israel. with correspond the character and life of Moses, and the Mosaic conception of Jehovah's character and demands on men, shown in the rules of conduct


'The Tell-el-amarna tablets date from the fifteenth century, a period when Egyptian influence, though waning, was strong. Had the art of writing come in vogue in Syria at any time between the conquests of Thothmes III and the period of these tablets, it probably would have been Egyptian. The beginning of cuniform writing in Syria must have been prior to the time of Thothmes III, i.e., prior to the sixteenth century at least.

2 See Sayce, Higher Criticism and the Monuments, p. 45 and 387; and a review of this work in Edinburgh Review, October, 1894, p. 84. It is not known when the Hebrews first used the Hebrew alphabet, but the Siloam inscription written in Hebrew is not later than Hezekiah's time. See Sayce, ib., p. 35, 376, etc., and same review, p. 95.

3 As they sometimes state. See Numbers xxi, 14; Joshua x, 12. As to the historical credibility of the Hexateuch, compare Kittel, History of the Hebrews (English translation), vol. i.

There is still no evidence from Egypt clearly bearing on the Exodus. See Renouf, Proceedings of Society of Biblical Archæology, vol. 15, p. 60.

which took form in the Decalogue and other earliest parts of the Law.

The Mosaic conception of God is the conception which had come from Israel's ancestors, enlarged, raised and inspired by Israel's circumstances and by the revelation of God's relations to her through the great mind and heart of Moses. The essence was this: "I am Jehovah, thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt and out of the house of bondage." It is a conception of God the Deliverer. In such an emergency, reliance on Jehovah, if it did not break, would gather strength. Then, as ever afterwards, it was Israel's higher way, to comprehend and meet emergencies through a strengthening, a broadening and uplifting of her thoughts of God's might and righteousness and care: it was the lower way of Israel to turn from her one holy God to heathenism. At least, in this emergency of the Exodus, led by her greatest prophet, Israel rose to grander thought of a delivering God. Moreover, as throughout her history it is apparent that Jehovah requires obedience, and aids only the obedient who trust him, it was natural at the outset of this great deliverance that the people should promise obedience to him. And what is obedience but the observance of his will? And can his will for man be otherwise than according to his nature and his relation to his worshippers? And was he not even then disclosing his actions and his nature by a strong and merciful deliverance of a people who had no other refuge ? How could Israel but know her own weakness and shortcomings, her sins, which she was ever prone to commit and confess? Yet was God delivering her, and would tend her through the desert, despite her murmurings. Thus it came to her to know Jehovah's nature: "Jehovah, Jehovah, a God full of compassion, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy and truth; keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin; and that will by no means clear the guilty; vis

1 Ewald.

« PreviousContinue »