Page images
PDF
EPUB

promoter of Hops & Co., as though there were not half-a-dozen other ways in which those gentlemen could give Hops & Co. a quiet lift up if they were so disposed. On the whole, and having regard to the multitude of temptations placed in their way, I am rather inclined to wonder, not that some of them should succumb, but that so many should not.

A FINANCIAL JOURNALIST.

CHRIST AND THE APPEAL TO

THE PEOPLE.

THEO

THEOLOGICAL writers have not, in my opinion, laid sufficient

stress on the great social revulsion with which the Jewish world was threatened by the teaching of Christ, and have not shown how completely the resistance of the Pharisees was one for the saving of their very existence. I may be wrong, but I think that the public to

. I whom Christ appealed has not been adequately considered, nor has it been shown how large it was, how uneasy was its position, neither has it been pointed out how that His teaching gave utterance to an immense inarticulate craving that for long had been felt by a large section of the Jewish people.

To understand the ground taken up by Christ, and the implacability of the opposition He aroused, it will be necessary to explain wbat were the several positions of the Pharisees on one hand, who were ranged against Christ, and of the Amme Haarazoth, “the sinners," who constituted the public to which He addressed Himself.

On the return from captivity, the first thing Ezra attempted was to establish over the consciences of the people the supremacy of the law.

Finding that a large number of Jews, among them some of the princes, and four members of the High Priest's family, and eighteen of the priests had married pagan wives, Ezra threw himself on his knees, and with outstretched arms and in floods of tears poured forth confession of the transgression of his people before Jehovab. This dramatic procedure, so consonant with Oriental methods, had its desired effect. Many were moved to weeping, and all resolved to end the scandal. The strange wives were repudiated, and Ezra induced the people to take an oath of obedience to the law.

Next he appointed to every community of Jews throughout the land men acquainted with the law, and it was their function to instruct in it every child of Abraham, and to administer justice according to its provisions. •

The synagogue was also instituted, to serve at once as a house of prayer and instruction, and as a court of justice. Every Sabbath, Monday, and Thursday, the Jews were required to assemble for the hearing of the Thora read and expounded, and every father was bound, under penalty of excommunication, to send his son to be taught the precepts of Moses.

Thus the Thora, or law, became the very kernel of the religious consciousness of the Jews.

This great reform, which was destined to determine the character of the nation, and one the effects of which are sensible to the present day, was not wrought by king, priest, or prophet, but by a simple sopher, or lawyer; not by performance of any sign and wonder, but by the force of intense conviction and enthusiastic patriotism. But, more than that, Ezra appeared with his scheme at precisely the right moment when alone it would have been possible to achieve success, when the heart of the people was soft at its return to the old seats, and when it was subdued by the sense of its past humiliation.

From the time of Ezra the sopherim became a predominant power. Their office was to study the law and apply it in every possible contingency. The code, as received from the time of the Kings, was treated as immutable, and their active intellects were directed to its adaptation to circumstances never contemplated when the laws were framed, because the social and political position of the people was wholly different now from what it had been before the Captivity.

The function of the prophet was over. One only, Malachi, appeared to bless the restoration of the nation ; but even he, with true instinct, perceived that a danger lay in the new direction given to the Jewish conscience, and he warned against it.

From the time of Ezra to that of the Maccabees the lawyers were engaged in expanding the precepts of the Thora, but their activity was redoubled after the struggle with the Seleucidæ in the face of advancing Hellenism. What they elaborated was not a system of belief in theologic dogmas; they formulated no creed, but they wove an intricate web of ceremonial observance that enveloped every Jew's everyday life; and the Jew who would not submit to be thus entangled was threatened with exclusion from the Messianic Kingdom.

The system 'started from the assumption of the verbal inspiration of Scripture. “Whoever says that Moses wrote even a single verse out of his own head-he is as one who denies and despises God's Word."

To such an extent was this doctrine pushed, that it was actually asserted that, at the dictation of Jehovah, Moses wrote the eight final verses of Deuteronomy descriptive of his own death. Nay, further, the sopherim declared that the entire law was delivered to Moses ont of heaven, and that the only point on which dispute was permissible was whether it was so transmitted in one volume or many. The dignity of the law was exalted to extravagance. It was declared to have been from everlasting, the express image of the Most High, into which He looked to contemplate His own perfection; and its binding authority was said to be so great that even Jehovah was tied by it. When He swore that He would destroy the people, and Moses interceded for them, it was said that He could not repeal the death sentence till He, the Almighty, had appeared before the lawgiver, and had obtained from him absolution from His oath.

The sign of circumcision admitted into covenant, but covenant was maintained by the observance of the Sabbath, and by severance from the Gentile and all such as were ceremonially unclean.

The bulk of the laws in the Pentateuch concerns ritual, and touched the priests alone. The lawyers accordingly elaborated those of purification and those concerning the Sabbath, which affected the laity.

The first institution of a code of purification was purely for sanitary purposes, but it was laid hold of as a means whereby the Israelite might be insulated, and that thus the national character might be preserved intact. By an elaborate system of taboo the Jew was entangled like a fly in a cobweb, and was assured that outside this cobweb was no salvation.

There is no trace to be found of the observance of the Sabbath before the time of Moses, and its appointment was that it might serve as a token of covenant between God and the sons of Israel, and the obligation to keep it was restricted to them.

“ Verily my Sabbaths ye shall keep, for it is a sign between me and you, throughout your generations "; and again, “ It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever. The obligation no more applied to other peoples than did that of circumcision.

Later on it was given a further signification, as a merciful institution for the relief of overtaxed man and beast.

The ingenuity of the lawyers was exercised to elaborate the Sabbatical restrictions till it was made almost impossible to observe them, and then to devise quibbles whereby escape from strict observance was made possible. Having first of all laid down that a journey of more than two thousand cubits on the Sabbath was unlawful, they then contrived a method for evading the obligation. If a man set some food at the extreme limit of the legal range, he might consider that point as his temporary home, and make a fresh start thence. Or he might seat himself at the end of a walk of two thousand cubits,

,

“This is the place of my Sabbath repose ! ” and then start afresh for a further walk of two thousand. By repeating the process, he might extend his promenade indefinitely.

[ocr errors]

and say,

* Exod. xxxi. 13, 17.

By the institution of the school and synagogue, the law (Thora) and its application (Halacha) became interwoven with the texture of the religious consciousness of the Jew. From earliest childhood the study of the law was set before him as his supreme duty.

But no man would endure so irksome a position without prospect of advantage. Consequently the Messianic Kingdom was held up to the son of Israel as the field in which his obedience would be rewarded. The more intolerable the legal restrictions became, the more accentuated were the Messianic expectations. The Jew was taught that his future place in the Kingdom would be regulated by his submission to the law in this life, and the law, be it understood, comprised both the written code and its oral interpretation.

The elaboration of the ceremonial law of purification and of Sabbatical observance necessarily directed the eye and mind of the Jew to external observance, and diverted them from first principles. It stunted and deformed the conscience, and made the moral vision oblique. The relative value of moral duties and of formalities was lost ; indeed, the centre of gravity of the conscience was displaced, and the weight was thrown on the latter in place of the former.

Those who at the return from exile had bound themselves by oath to the reforms of Ezra, called their fellows in the band Chaberim, comrades or neighbours, and all such as were not so bound, the Jews who had remained in the land, and such as would not submit, these they called Amme Haarazoth. In time the representative men of the strict observance party were designated Perushim, Pharisees—i.e., Separatists.

Now, it was hardly possible for the Jews generally to observe nicely every precept. Exactness in obedience stood in the way of dealing with the Gentiles, with Greeks and Syrians and Romans; it interfered with commerce, and cut off from every office under an alien Government.

Accordingly, around a core of strict formalists lay a very wide belt of pious Jews who had not the energy of character or the selfdenial that was expected of and exercised by the Pharisee. They remained as timorous and respectful adherents, lapsing continually from the rule, unable to remember and fulfil the ten thousand precepts, but with consciences uneasy at their failure, always in nervous alarm lest they should be excluded from the Kingdom, and hanging to the skirts of the “saints "—the Pharisees—in trust that their own shortcomings would be covered over and not imputed to them for the sake of the redundant merits of the Chabcrim.

This, then, was the public before which the Pharisee strutted and ruffled, and from which he expected and received becoming deference.

In fact, this doctrine of imputed righteousness, so largely used after

« PreviousContinue »