« AnteriorContinuar »
of Gibraltar went as far north as Great Britain, and circumnavigated Africa two thousand years before Vasco da Gama. This race has given to man the alphabet, the Bible, the Koran, commerce, and in Hannibal the greatest military genius of all time.
That the different nations inhabiting the region around the Euphrates and Tigris, Syria and Arabia, belonged to one great race, is proved by the unimpeachable testimony of language. The Bible genealogies trace them to Shem, the son of Noah. Ewald,* who believes that this region was inhabited by an aboriginal people long before the days of Abraham, - a people who were driven out by the Canaanites, — nevertheless says that they no doubt were a Semitic people. The languages of all these nations is closely related, being almost dialects of a single tongue, the differences between them being hardly greater than between the subdivisions of the German group of languages. That which has contributed to preserve the close homogeneity among these tongues is, that they have little power of growth or development. As M. Renan says, "they have less lived than lasted." ;
The Phoenicians used a language almost identical with the Hebrew A sarcophagus of Ezmunazar, king of Sidon, dating from the fifth century before Christ, was discovered a few years since, and is now in the Museum of the Louvre. It contains some thirty sentences of the length of an average verse in the Bible, and is in pure Hebrew. In a play of Plautus f a Carthaginian is made to speak a long passage in his native language, the Punic tongue; this is also very readable Hebrew. The black basalt stele, lately discovered in the land of Moab, contains an inscription of Mesha, king of Moab, addressed to his god, Chemosh, describing his victory over the Israelites. This is also in a Hebrew dialect. From
History of Israel, translated by Russell Martineau, Vol. I. p. 231. + New American Cyclopædia, art. Semitic Race.
# Quoted by Le Normant, Manual of Ancient History of the East, Vol. I. p. 71.
$ Remarks on the Phænician Inscription of Sidon, by Professor William W. Turner, Journal of the American Oriental Society, VoL VII. No. 1.
Poenulus, Act V. Sc. 1.
such facts it appears that the Hebrews, Phænicians, and Canaanites were all congeners with each other, and with the Babylonians and Assyrians.
But now the striking fact appears that the Hebrew religion differed widely from that of these other nations of the same family. The Assyrians, Babylonians, Phænicians, and Carthaginians all possessed a nearly identical religion. They all believed in a supreme god, called by the different names of Ilu, Bel, Set, Hadad, Moloch, Chemosh, Jaoh, El, Adon, Asshur. All believed in subordinate and secondary beings, emanations from this supreme being, his manifestations to the world, rulers of the planets. Like other pantheistic religions, the custom prevailed among the Semitic nations of promoting first one and then another deity to be the supreme object of worship. Among the Assyrians, as among the Egyptians, the gods were often arranged in triads, as that of Anu, Bel, and Ao. Anu, or Oannes, wore the head of a fish ; Bel wore the horns of a bull; Ao was represented by a serpent. These religions represented the gods as the spirit within nature, and behind natural objects and forces, - powers within the world, rather than above the world. Their worship combined cruelty and licentiousness, and was perhaps as debasing a superstition as the world has witnessed. The Greeks, who were not puritans themselves in their religion, were shocked at the impure orgies of this worship, and horrified at the sacrifice of children among the Canaanites and Carthaginians.
How then did the Hebrews, under Moses and the later prophets, originate a system so widely different? Their God was above nature, not in it. He stood alone, unaccompanied by secondary deities ; he made no part of a triad; he was not associated with a female representative. His worship required purity, not pollution ; its aim was holiness, and its spirit humane, not cruel. Monotheistic in its spirit from the first, it became an absolute monotheism in its development. Whence this wide departure in the Hebrews from the religious tendencies and belief of the surrounding nations, who spoke the same language and belonged to the same stock?
M. Renan considers this a question of race.* He says: “ The Indo-European race, distracted by the variety of the universe, never by itself arrived at monotheism. The Semitic race, on the other hand, guided by its firm and sure sight, instantly unmasked Divinity, and without reflection or reasoning attained the purest form of religion that humanity has known." But the Assyrians, Babylonians, Arabians before Mohammed, Phænicians, and Carthaginians, and perhaps the Egyptians, belonged to the Semitic race. Yet none of these nations attained to any monotheism purer than that of the Veda or the Avesta. The Arabs, near relations of the Hebrews, were divided between a worship like that of Babylon and Sabæism, or star-worship. No doubt in all these Semitic families the idea of one supreme god lay behind that of the secondary deities; but this was also the case in the Aryan races. And in both this primitive monotheism receded instead of becoming more distinct, with the single exception of the Hebrews. M. Renan's view is not, therefore, supported by the facts. We must look further to find the true cause, and therefore are obliged to examine somewhat in detail the main points of Hebrew history. It would be easy, but would not accord with our plan, to accept the common Christian explanation, and say, “ Monotheism was a direct revelation to Moses." For we are now not able to assume such a revelation, and are obliged to consider the subject from the outside, from the stand-point of pure history.
§ 2. Abraham; or, Judaism as the family Worship of a
Supreme Being We have been so accustomed to regard the Jewish relig. ion as a part of our own, and so to look at it from within, that it is hard to take the historic position, and to look at it from without. But to compare it with other religions, and to see what it really is and is not, this is necessary. It becomes more difficult to assume the attitude of an
* See his Essay on the People of Israel, in Studies of Religious History and Criticism, translated by O. B. Frothingham.
impartial observer, because of the doctrine of verbal inspiration, so universally taught in the Protestant Church. From childhood we have looked on the Old Testament as inspired throughout, and all on the same level of absolute infallibility. There is no high, no low, no degrees of certitude or probability, where every word is assumed to be the very word of God. But those who still hold to the plenary inspiration of the Old Testament must consent, for our present purpose, to suspend their faith in this doctrine, and provisionally to look at the Old Testament with the same impartial though friendly scrutiny with which we have regarded the sacred books of other nations. Not a little will be gained for the Jewish Scriptures by this position. If they lose the authority which attaches to the Word of God, they will gain the interest which belongs to the utterance of man.
While M. Renan finds the source of Hebrew monotheism in a like tendency in the whole Semitic race, supposition which we have seen to be contradicted by the facts, — Max Müller regards the true origin of this tendency to be in Abraham himself, the friend of God, and Father of the Faithful. He calls attention to the fact that both Moses and Christ, and subsequently Mohammed, preached no new God, but the God of Abraham. “Thus,” says he, “the faith in the one living God, which seemed to require the admission of a monotheistic instinct grafted in every member of the Semitic family, is traced back to one man.” He adds his belief that this faith of Abraham in one supreme God came to him by a special revelation.
And if, by a special revelation, is meant a grand profound insight, an inspired vision of truth, so deep and so living as to make it a reality like that of the outward world, then we see no better explanation of the monotheism of the Hebrews than this conviction transmitted from Abraham through father and son, from generation to generation.
For the most curious fact about this Jewish people is, that every one of them * is a child of Abraham. All looked back with the same ancestral pride to their great progeni
Except the proselytes, who are adopted children.
tor, the friend of God. This has never been the case with any other nation, for the Arabs are not a nation. One can hardly imagine a greater spur to patriotism than this union of pride of descent with pride in one's nation and its institutions. The proudest and poorest Jew shared it together. There was one distinction, and that the most honorable, which belonged equally to all.
We have seen that, in all the Semitic nations, behind the numerous divine beings representing the powers of nature, there was dimly visible one Supreme Being, of whom all these were emanations. The tendency to lose sight of this First Great Cause, so common in the race, was reversed in Abraham. His soul rose to the contemplation of the Perfect Being, above all, and the source of all. With passionate love he adored this Most High God, Maker of heaven and earth. Such was his devotion to this Almighty Being, that men, wondering, said, “ Abraham is the friend of the Most High God !” He desired to find a home where he could bring up his children in this pure faith, undisturbed and unperverted by the gross and low worship around him. In some “deep dream or solemn vision ” it was borne in on his mind that he must go and find such a home.
We are not to suppose, however, that the mind of Abraham rose to a clear conception of the unity of God, as excluding all other divine beings. The idea of local, tribal, family gods was too deeply rooted to be at once relinquished. Abraham, as described in Genesis, is a great Arab chief, a type of patriarchal life, in which all authority is paternal. The religion of such a period is filial, and God is viewed as the protector and friend of the family or tribe. Only the family God of Abraham was the highest of all gods, the Almighty (Gen. xvii. 1), who was also the God of Isaac (Gen. xxviii. 3) and of Jacob (Gen. xxxv. 11).
Stanley * expresses his satisfaction that the time has past in which the most fastidious believer can object to hearing Abraham called a Bedouin sheik. The type has remained unchanged through all the centuries, and the
* History of the Jewish Church, Lect. I.