« AnteriorContinuar »
indeed, are in the lower, not the upper range of ethical obligations, as though its author scorned to assume that the people for whom he wrote could need to be admonished against low inclinations or gross crimes. The whole tone of his teaching forbids us, for example, to believe that Ptah-hotep would have overlooked drunkenness, if drunkenness had been a vice of his time, or failed to enjoin helpfulness to the needy, if suffering poverty had been common in the land. Thus even the omissions of the treatise cannot lessen the astonishment with which we find such conceptions of conduct and character matured at so early a day.
From Ptah-hotep we pass a long interval of time before we find another code of conduct given to mankind, and that one, the second in our series, is the code delivered to Moses on Mount Sinai, with the awful sanctions of a divine command. As an ethical standard, it offers a strange contrast to the standard marked by the old Egyptian. 'Of its mandates, four are religious, forbidding polytheism, idolatry, and profanity in speech, and enjoining the observance of the Sabbath day; six only are purely moral laws. These touch the right and the wrong of human conduct in six very important particulars, but touch them only on their grosser side. It is not violence that the Decalogue condemns, but murder; not unchastity, but adultery; not dishonesty, but stealing; not untruthfulness, but false-witnessing ; not grasping and malign dispositions generally, but covetousness; and enjoins, not respect for age and wisdom, but filial reverence, only. If we construe this strangely limited code in the largest possible way, there are heights and depths and reaches of temper, passion, thought, conduct, on which it leaves us with no light!
The Decalogue is supplemented, however, by another
Mosaic code, in the nineteenth chapter of Leviticus, which covers a larger ground of morals. This requires the owners of fields and vineyards to leave gleanings for the poor; forbids fraudulent dealing as well as theft, and lying as well as the bearing of false witness. It condemns oppression and injustice, hatred, vengeance, and ill-will, and it gives that great, comprehensive commandment, which received emphasis from Christ, — “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” In that commandment we have really the whole principle of social morality — the essence of everything ethical in the relations between man and
Rightly interpreted, it sums up the obligations of each to each more completely than the Golden Rule, to which it is collateral. The difference between the two is the difference between a principle and a rule. One generalizes the feeling that ought to govern all our conduct toward our fellows; the other lays down a clear, simple, straight line of reciprocity, to which the conduct itself must be squared, in every particular, and which tests it with no possibility of mistake.
The Mosaic codes are far cruder and more primitive, generally, in their ethical tone and spirit, than the teaching of the Egyptian ; but the later Jewish canon of morals, which we find in the Book of Proverbs, rises to a higher level. It is a collection of precepts and sayings ascribed mostly to. Solomon, but probably gathered from many sources. They denounce envy, jealousy, pride, haughtiness, knavery, treachery, lying, slander, mischiefmaking, cruelty, harlotry, contention, drunkenness, slothfulness; and they extol thrift, industry, liberality, benevolence, mercifulness, cheerfulness, reticence; while Wisdom, Understanding, and Righteousness are generalized in praises that run through the book like the refrain of a song. Though some of these proverbial admonitions seem
almost empty of significance, there is great beauty and a finely spiritual insight in many among them. For example : • He that is of a cheerful heart hath a continual feast ; ” — what philosophy and what poetry are in that! And again : “ There is that maketh himself rich, yet hath nothing; there is that maketh himself poor, yet hath great wealth.” That has been said in other words many times, but never with more simple impressiveness. And two, at least, of the thoughts that underlie and are inspiration for the very highest of all states of moral feeling are expressed here in a striking way. 66 If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink: for thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, and the Lord shall reward thee." There we have the proposal of an attitude of spirit that is almost the noblest and nearly the most difficult that man can assume, and which nothing but high culture or native greatness of character makes possible. It is not a disposition, let us admit, that is consistently or repeatedly in. culcated in the Old Testament; but something is added to one's estimate of human nature when we find even a single preacher of magnanimity at so early a stage of human history. Much the same may be said of the other sentiment to which I have referred : “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit is better than he that taketh a city.” Possibly this is the earliest formulation we can find of the grand doctrine of self-mastery, which holds the golden secret of moral greatness in character and life. The discipline of it is practically implied in the older teaching of Ptah-hotep, the Egyptian ; but he did not lead his disciples back from the practice to the principle behind it. Nor does the doctrine seem ever to have become as fundamental in the moral philosophy of the Jews at it did elsewhere in
the ancient world, even though we find it thus early in their proverbs.
In the later Hebrew “wisdom-book," called Ecclesiastes, or Koheleth, The Preacher, there is a loftier eloquence, a deeper thoughtfulness, a profounder sense of the mysteries of the divine government of the world, than in the Book of Proverbs; but the view of life is gloomy almost to despair, and the counsels are stern and limited in range. The still later Apocryphal book of Jewish moral teaching, called “The Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach,” is quite different. It contains, in a scattered way, intermingled with noble prayers and fragments of religious discourse, a large collection of the most practical precepts, extending to common details in all departments of human affairs. The character of these is exceedingly mixed. In some the moral tone is quite elevated, in others decidedly low, indicating no advance in moral sentiment from the time of the earlier wisdom-literature.
In the very old Hindu collection of laws and precepts known as the Code of Manu, the fundamental importance of the doctrine of self-mastery receives far more emphasis than in the Jewish Scriptures; and quite possibly its recognition there antedates its appearance in the Book of Proverbs ; for, in the opinion of Sir William Jones, the Code of Manu was compiled as early as the thirteenth century before Christ, or three centuries before Solomon. Other scholars assign it to an age nearly contemporary with Solomon; while some make it several centuries later. Among the “ Ācāra” or rules of conduct in that ancient Hindu code is the following, as translated by Sir Monier Monier-Williams, in his interesting work entitled “ Indian Wisdom :"
“ E'en as a driver checks his restive steeds,
Do thou, if thou art wise, restrain thy passions,
The same idea is repeated with an enlargement in these words:
“ The man who keeps his senses in control,
Needs neither penance nor austerity.” And a third time it appears, in the following “decalogue,” as it may be called, of Hindu morals, which offers an interesting comparison with the Decalogue of Moses :
"Contentment, patience under injury,
Self-subjugation, honesty, restraint
These form the tenfold summary of duty.” There is a more limited but splendid expression given to the same thought of self-control in the “Dhammapada," or Buddhist precepts of the law, as translated by Professor Max Müller: “ He who holds back rising anger like a rolling chariot, him I call a real driver; other people are but holding the reins.” And again : “ Self is the lord of self; who else could be the lord ? With self well subdued, a man finds a lord such as few can find."
Whatever may have been the prevalent, practical morality of the ancient Hindus, their sense of rightness in feeling and conduct, and their perception of the reason in morals, were singularly advanced, as is shown in their sacred literature, both Brahmanical and Buddhistic. From their great epic poem, “ The Maha-bharata,” Sir Monier Monier-Williams has translated a selection of precepts that are most remarkable in their ethical significance. The poem is some centuries older than Christianity; but it contains the Golden Rule twice formulated in different words. First this :