The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 69
Lecture IV. — Ezra's Share In It
Ezra's Share In It.
The present age is often spoken of as sordid in spirit, and mercenary, or worse, in character; as an age of low ideals and selfish lives, the motto of which is "each one for himself and the devil take the hindmost;" an age which, devoted to money-making and frivolity, is dead to great interests, heroic impulses, and divine calls. Such is the judgment often passed upon this century of ours, nor am I prepared to say there is not a good deal of truth in it, or that men of business have not good reason to endorse it. As the age recedes into the azure of the past, however, and in its turn comes under the scrutiny of the philosophic historian, I do not think that will be the final verdict which he will pass upon it. On the contrary I think it will assume an entirely new aspect to him; to him it will appear as the age of great controversies, honest enquiry, high thought, painful perplexities, heroic decisions, daily martyrdoms. He will compare it with the sixteenth century—nor will it lose by the comparison. Like the sixteenth it is an age of religious reformation, of theological change; an age, therefore, when human minds have again had to face the nightmares of the soul—the doubt, the perplexity, the agonizing conflict, between old and new opinions, between affection and duty, or, still worse, between one duty and another; when men—aye, and gentle women, too—have had to brace themselves up to renounce the church of their youth, the friends of their early love, perhaps the parents and home that will no longer acknowledge them. That is the life history of many a man and woman to-day, alike the famous and the unknown; possibly of not a few in this very congregation, men and women who have been faithful to the call of the nineteenth century, even the high, stern, call that bade them take as their life motto, "Renunciation for conscience' sake." Ours is pre-eminently the century of new knowledge, spiritual conflicts, painful duty.
These thoughts are not unsuitable to our subject of this morning, and the radical changes of thought which the modem science of Biblical criticism involves; but they have been forced upon my mind in the course of the past week* in an especial manner by the news, flashed to us along the electric wire, that the great soul of John Henry Newman had entered into its rest. And I suppose that, throughout the vast realm over which Queen Victoria bears sway, there will be few congregations this morning page 40 in which some reference—kind or unkind—will not be made to the mighty mind now gone from us; to its painful exercises, its long hesitation, its fatal decision, its undeserved oblivion. John Henry Newman, prince and cardinal of his Church, is no more; at the ripe age of 89 he has fallen asleep. Already a generation has risen up that knows him not—a generation that will hear with surprise the intelligence that this man was once the mightiest orator, the most influential dignitary in the English Church, who swayed the realm at his will, who was the Church of England, and whose defection from that Church, it was believed at the time, would carry with it the irrevocable ruin of that great, historic institution. Of course it would be altogether incorrect to say that this famous ecclesiastic embodied in himself, or even represented, the spirit of the nineteenth century. The spirit of the nineteenth century is that principle of Liberalism which was the abhorrence of the great cardinal's soul—the one thing he loathed, the one thing he fought against from youth to age—and hence we of this congregation are utterly out of sympathy with his intellectual principles, we differ from him by the whole heaven; but none the less would we do honour to his memory for the splendour of his gifts, his extraordinary force of character, the great position he once filled, the mental struggles, so long continued, through which he passed and of which he has left us such a pathetic record, his unfaltering allegiance to duty and conscience, his long eclipse. Foeman though he was, and radically and fatally mistaken as we believe him to have been, we cannot withhold from him our tribute of respect, and even affection, as one of the noble army of spiritual soldiers who, in a worldly and frivolous age, deliberately chose for himself the iron crown of duty.
I have said that John Henry Newman, in spite of his splendid talents and great career, can scarcely be said to represent in any sense the century in which he lived, but he undoubtedly represents one conspicuous feature in it, viz., the reactionary current of thought and feeling set up by the progressive spirit of the times—a progressive spirit of which his own illustrious brother, Francis William Newman, is one of the ablest apostles. Par nobile fratrum, a noble pair of brothers, who, starting together from the same standpoint—the Evangelical Protestantism of the English Church—equally learned, equally conscientious, and equally gifted, were yet the subjects of influences so diverse that, ere they had reached middle life, they became, both of them, representative men of principles eternally contradictory. It can hardly be doubted that future generations will point the moral of the nineteenth century by reference to the phenomenon that the author of "Tract 90" and the author of "Phases of Faith" had in early days played together as brothers in the same English home, and said their prayers together at night at page 41 the knees of the same mother. How little did that mother, as she bent over their bed night after night—how little did she dream that the rising tides of spiritual conflict would in after years surge through the souls of those two boys of hers, making her family for all future time a type of the opposing principles at work in the nineteenth contury. Ah! gentle mothers! how little do you know whom you are rocking to sleep in those lowly cradles of yours! But now for the latest harvest of these nine-teenth century principles.
We have not yet exhausted the Pentateuch. Besides the Elohistic element of the book of Genesis to which we have already referred—besides the Jehovistic document which we have seen was in all probability written in the northern kingdom of the Ten Tribes during what may be called its Assyrian period, i.e., whilst it was attempting to fend off the inevitable destruction that awaited it from the Assyrians; besides the book of Deuteronomy of which the Prophet Jeremiah, or at least one of his contemporaries, was in all probability the author, there still remains more than half the work, viz., the collection of minute directions respecting the forms and ceremonies to be observed by the Jews at all times, but especially in their public worship, and which is contained in the Book of Leviticus and adjacent portions of the Pentateuch. How shall we learn the real age of this Mosaic ritual, as it is popularly called—this priestly legislation, as the critics call it?
But, in order to mark out very definitely the particular subject of our inquiry this morning, and to show how easily it separates itself from the portions of the Pentateuch we have already considered, so that a different source from that of the rest may with the utmost propriety be attributed to it, let me here give a short summary of the Book of Leviticus, the book in which the larger part of the ceremonial law is contained. Commencing with the rules about the burnt offering, whether ox, sheep, or bird, it goes on to treat of the meal offering of flour, oil, and incense, which, strangely enough, in the obsolete English of King James' translators, is called the meat offering. Again, in the third chapter, with a wearisome pettiness not very suggestive of Divine inspiration, we are introduced to all the minutiæ of the peace offering with "the fat thereof and the whole rump, it shall he take off hard by the back-bone, and the fact that covereth the inwards and all the fat that is upon the inwards, and the two kidneys, and the fat that is upon them which is by the flank, and the caul above the liver with the kidneys, it shall he take away" (iii—9, 10). In the same way follows the unmeaning distinctions of the sin offering, made for sins of ignorance, although an uninspired person would imagine that a sin done unwittingly was no sin at all. This, however, is not half the business, the fifth and successive chapters following with all the mysteries of page 42 the trespass offering, until one feels that this sacerdotal system, of religion by the butchering trade, is not a little disgusting. We may omit the enumeration of the priest's perquisites, as we shall have to refer to these later on, but a very distinctive section of this legislative portion of the Pentateuch is that contained in the 11th chapter of the book we are summarizing, the injunctions relating to food, or the marks by which to determine lawful and unlawful food. The most significant detail in these food rules, however, for us of the present day is the extraordinary statement made about the hare, that though it might not be eaten because of its undivided hoof, it yet possessed the other qualification of lawful food, viz., the habit of "chewing the cud" !! In these days of "Elementary Science" one cannot feel much respect for a legislator who fails to distinguish between a Rodent and a Ruminant. But, if human ignorance rather than Divine Omniscience peeps out in this chapter of the Code, a still more repulsive feature crops up in the next, which embodies the superstition that the holiest function of womanhood, the perpetuation of the human species, is a pollution requiring purification. It is declared that for forty days after childbirth the mother shall be regarded as a wrong-doer, whose guilt must be expiated by sacrifice; atonement must be made for her by the slaughter first of a lamb and then of a pigeon. Not more stupid but more petty are the regulations respecting the Tabernacle service in chapter xxiv., which savour largely of the grocer's store and the baker's shop. I refer, of course, to the description of the olive oil and the twelve cakes of shew-bread sprinkled with frankincense and placed carefully in two rows on a clean table in the Holy Place. But, indeed, I think I have now said enough to give a clear idea of that sacerdotal and ecclesiastical system in the Pentateuch which goes by the name of the Jewish Ceremonial Law and the age of which we have now to consider. How shall we learn the real birth-date of this Book of Leviticus?—that's what we want to know.
Well, speaking generally, we may learn it in this way, that the Hebrews themselves, down to the time of the Babylonish Captivity, seem to pay no attention whatever to the injunctions of this book. That is a circumstance which strikes most readers of the Old Testament, who read the books consecutively in the order in which we have them in our English Bibles. After wading through the long list of minute and unmeaning observances which we find enacted for the Jews in this portion of the Pentateuch we are made to feel that the nation must have lived under most teasing restrictions—restrictions calculated to make the Hebrews wretched formalists and even hypocrites; that they were being trained to substitute ceremonies and outward observances for moral principles and obedience to the moral law; that, in fact, the Pharisee of the New Testament is the type page 43 which we ought to find realised more or less in every Hebrew with whose history we become acquainted in the Old Testament. But this is just what we don't find. In the Books of Judges, Samuel, and Kings, the whole priestly legislation of the Pentateuch seems quietly ignored; the actual Hebrews we meet with—the Elis, and Samuels, and Davids, and Elijahs—are anything rather than Pharisees. Some of them are grand characters, and all of them lead free and fearless lives, as unconstrained and unconventional as those of the Patriarchs; there is very little of the monkish regard to ceremony and ritual about them. For instance, the priestly legislation of Leviticus requires that every man who has a sacrifice to offer to Jehovah shall repair to the tabernacle and get one of the priests, the sons of Aaron, to celebrate the solemnity for him; he must not do it himself under penalty of death, as you will see by turning to the 17th chapter of Leviticus. But now, as a commentary on this, when you read the historical books I have just mentioned, you find the Old Testament worthies paying no attention whatever to this injunction, in spite of the death penalty attached to it; not only do they dispense with the services of the sons of Aaron, the priests, they do not even require the assistance of the Levites, but Gideon, of the tribe of Manasseh, and Manoali, the father of Samson, of the tribe of Dan, and Samuel, of the tribe of Ephraim, to say nothing of David of Judah, and Elijah, the Tishbite, from Mount Gilead east of the Jordan, all these themselves offer sacrifices to Jehovah at their own sweet will, whenever and wherever they think fit, and they don't appear to be at all aware that they are transgressing a divine command by so doing, and incurring the death penalty. In fact it is very plain that the writers of these historical books know nothing of this Levitical legislation whatever. It had no existence in their time, still less in the times of which they write.
But the instance I have just given is only one of many similar examples that might be quoted in proof of our proposition, that from the days of the Exodus to those of the Captivity the Hebrews were entirely ignorant of the religious ceremonial improperly called the Mosaic ritual. In the whole round of the Jewish institutions prescribed in this ritual there are none more prominent, none more characteristic, than these three, viz., the Great Day of Atonement, the Sabbatical Year, and the Year of Jubilee, yet not the slightest reference to the celebration of any one of the three is to be found in any of the historical books of the period I am referring to, viz., as I mentioned just now, the Books of Judges, Samuel, and Kings.
The Day of Atonement was, as you know, the one great national fast of the Jewish year, when every Jew was expected to present himself before Jehovah "to afflict his soul" and witness page 44 the solemn sacrifices and ceremonies by which the High Priest purged away the accumulated guilt of the nation incurred during the past year, and gave it a clean bill of health for the time to come. On this day, as you may read in the 16th chapter of Leviticus, the High Priest performed the most solemn function of his office, arraying himself in his most magnificent robes and passing into the most sacred recesses of the Temple, the Holy of Holies itself—the only day of the year in which he was permitted to do so.
This solemnity also is distinguished from all others by the circumstance that in celebrating it the High Priest was required to select two goats, one of which was to be slain as a sin offering, and the other turned loose into the wilderness as what has been called the scapegoat. It's this unhappy scapegoat who was supposed to bear away on his devoted head the accumulated arrears of national guilt for the past year. Remembering how useful this idea of a scapegoat is sometimes found among ourselves—although with us the goat is usually the cat, or at least Mr Nobody—remembering this, it seems a pity truth should oblige us to affirm that the name and whole theory of the scapegoat, as part of a Jewish ceremony, is a gross delusion, the outcome of an ignorant mistranslation—a fact which becomes apparent at once when you observe that in the Revised Version of the Old Testament the scapegoat has disappeared altogether. In fact in the light of modern scholarship the proceedings of the Day of Atonement assume a much more superstitious air than in the A.V.; and, although the correction in question is not absolutely necessary to our argument, it will be well to give it a passing notice.
The ceremonies, then, of the Day of Atonement are intended to propitiate not one, but two deities, an evil as well as a good principle, the good principle being Jehovah, and the evil principle Azazel or the Devil. Jehovah, we know, dwells in the Temple at Jerusalem, and Azazel, the Devil, it is equally well known, haunts solitary, barren regions—the wilderness and the desert. Hence the goat intended for Azazel was to be driven out into the desert, and there let loose to die of starvation. Now, let us read the Revised Version of the proceedings, which you will see involve ideas of a superstition far grosser than that implied in the mere casting of lots—a custom which, of itself, indicates an order of mind sufficiently dark and stupid. "And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for the Lord, and the other lot for Azazel. And Aaron shall present the goat upon which the lot fell for the the Lord, and offer him for a sin-offering. But the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be set alive before the Lord to make atonement for him, to send him away for Azazel into the wilderness" (verses 8 to 10).
But it was not to call attention to this correction of the page 45 revisers that I have introduced this reference to the great Day of Atonement; for the amazing fact is this, that although this institution appears in the ritual as of first-class importance, inferior in nothing even to the Festival of the Passover itself, there is no indication, as we have already said, in any of the historical books of the Old Testament that such a solemnity was ever once celebrated by the Hebrews throughout the whole course of their history from the earliest times till the Captivity. Apparently neither Samuel, David, nor even Solomon, neither Elijah, Hezekiah, nor good King Josiah had ever heard of such an institution. Nor must we omit to notice that both the Book of Exodus and the Book of Deuteronomy are equally silent on the subject, so that we are shut up to the inference that not only was this great annual fast an innovation of the priests subsequent to the return from Babylon, but the whole body of ceremonies of which it forms such an important part was so also.
It's a recognised axiom that silence gives consent, but lest it should be supposed we are drawing too large an inference from the silence of Old Testament history on this annual celebration, we must notice still further that the Day of Atonement is by no means the only great institution imposed in the priestly ritual of Leviticus that remains utterly unnoticed in the historic books, so that even orthodox theologians are obliged to confess that many of the so-called Mosaic laws existed only as idle legislation that was never carried out into practice. I refer in particular to the two somewhat similar institutions already mentioned, the Sabbatical year and the year of Jubilee, both of which are enjoined in Leviticus, 25th chapter. This chapter of Leviticus prescribes that every seventh year the Hebrews shall cease all agricultural operations, shall neither sow their fields nor prune their vineyards, but allow their lands to be entirely fallow. Well, we can readily understand that where the principle of rotation of crops was unknown, it might be proper that the fields should have rest one year in seven; but the priestly legislator was not content with this reasonable provision, he wanted to make the whole life of the Hebrews revolve round the number seven, and so goes on to prescribe the fanciful injunction that after a week of Sabbatical years, i.e., after the lapse of forty-nine years, another year of rest shall be imposed upon the farmers, and an institution called the year of Jubilee shall be celebrated by these much-pestered and hard-used men. The characteristic of the year of Jubilee, however, is this, that not only shall the fields again lie fallow, but all landed property which had changed hands during the previous fifty years shall return unredeemed to its original owners, whilst all Hebrew slaves shall recover their freedom on the same liberal terms. These provisions show what a joyful event the Jubilee year would be to the whole nation, what an era its occurrence would be in the national life, what a sensation in fact it would page 46 make whenever it occurred, so that the historians of the nation could not fail to allude to it again and again in their chronicles. But here once more we are met with the astonishing fact inexplicable, indeed, on the orthodox hypothesis of the Mosaic origin of this ritual—that the five historical books of the Old Testament I have so often mentioned are as silent on the subject of these festivals as the historians of Greece and Rome are silent about them. The inference is inevitable: the Hebrew historians say nothing about them for the same reason that the Greek and Roman historians say nothing about them, because no such institutions as sabbatical years and years of jubilee existed at the time in the legislation of either of them; and, by consequence, because the whole system, of which these institutions were such a prominent part, was unborn at the time.
But, besides the historical books, we have another source of information as to the real condition of things and the mode of life of the Hebrew nation throughout the centuries preceding the Captivity, and that is the works of the earlier prophets, the remonstrances which Amos, Hosea, Micah, Isaiah, and others addressed to their countrymen. What is the character of the wrongdoing of which these great prophets complain? Is not this the one thought that runs through all their utterances, that Jehovah hates forms and ceremonies, that sacrifices are an abomination to him, and that what he requires of his worshippers is the love of their hearts, and the obedience of their lives? And so absolutely is this the case that Reformers of to-day when they wish to expose the errors and shams of modern orthodoxy, and to insist that no mere belief in somebody else's righteousness will avail a man before his God, but only a hearty, cheerful obedience to the law of conscience—these Reformers turn instinctively to the burning words of the Hebrew prophets for their inspiration and guidance. When a Hebrew prophet rebukes his countrymen he doesn't use the words of a modern ritualist, or Presbyterian formalist who says: "O wicked man! you shaved yourself on Sunday morning instead of Saturday night," but he says (Joel ii., 18) "Rend your hearts, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God." Or, still better, "For I desired mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings "(Hosea, vi., 6). Or, even better still, "Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He hath showed thee, O man, what is good, and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God" (Micah, vi., 6, 8). But an extract from Isaiah will be most instructive of all: "To page 47 what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me, saith the Lord, I am full of the burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts, and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats. When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand to tread my courts? Bring no more vain oblations, incense is an abomination unto me, the new moons and Sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons, and your appointed feasts, my soul hateth, I am weary to bear them. . . . Wash you, make you clean, put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes, cease to do evil, learn to do well, seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow" (Isaiah, i., 10—17).
This burning eloquence of the early prophets confirms the conclusion drawn from the historical books, that down to the time of the Captivity of Judah there existed no code of ceremonial laws recognised as of Divine authority. Some ancient customs there doubtless were, but no written Levitical law claiming the authority of Moses and of God. Had there been such, the prophets would never have made light of these sacrificial and ceremonial observances as they did. Indeed, it is most unfortunate for the proper understanding of the Old Testament prophets that the Levitical code should in our Bibles precede the writings of the early prophets, whose words will have ten times more force when it is once perceived that they are to be taken in their most literal sense, and that the speakers knew of no authoritative book of ceremonies claiming their respect.
Well, then, we have seen now that neither from the historical books nor from the prophetical books should we ever have learnt that there was extant through all these centuries of Jewish national existence, a priestly code of ritual as we have it in the Book of Leviticus, claiming divine or even Mosaic origin. Why, then, should we suppose there was such a code? Let us rather ask, under what circumstances did it really come into existence?
It must not be forgotten that when, after a siege of two and a half years, the city of Jerusalem was at last sacked by: Nebuchadnezzar and the Chaldæans in the year 586 B.C., a great part of the city, including the Temple, was destroyed by fire. Further, there is a tradition, which has been handed down to us in one of the apocryphal books of the Old Testament (the Second Book of Esdras), that on the occasion of this great calamity such copies of the Pentateuch as then existed were all destroyed, and the writer goes on to say that at the return from Captivity the book was entirely reproduced by a miracle. Now, amongst the leaders of the returning exiles was a son of Aaron, the priest Ezra, of whom we read in the book that bears his name. The tradition is that a divine communication was made to this man, who was thus enabled to re-write the Pentateuch page 48 by supernatural inspiration exactly as it existed before the capture of the city. Such is the legend; what is the truth that in all probability underlies it? Of this much you may be quite sure, that Ezra had a good deal more to do with the production of the Pentateuch than ever Moses had; and one of the early Christian fathers, a most orthodox man too, seems to think that there was as much to be said for the one authorship as the other. "Whether you choose to say," writes St. Jerome, "that Moses was the author of the Pentateuch, or Ezra the restorer of that work, I have no objection." Such was the opinion of St. Jerome, and even the most orthodox of modern Biblical scholars believe that Ezra, after his returu from Captivity, published a new edition of the Pentateuch with various interpolations and additions. But, as you are aware, all historical documents have of late years been subjected to a scrutiny far more severe and searching than the scholars of previous times thought necessary. The Pentateuch has shared in this scrutiny, and many scholars are now, in consequence, of opinion that Ezra, the priest, did far more than merely edit the work; and it is believed that he and his fellow priests introduced into it the whole of this priestly ritual which now forms so large a part of the book. Let us see.
A cursory examination of the Book of Leviticus and the allied books is quite sufficient to show that one object of the Levitical legislation was to magnify the priestly office and to exalt the descendants of Aaron, the brother of Moses. Now we have in the second chapter of this Book of Ezra a sort of table of the families who returned to Jerusalem to re-build the city and temple, and from this table we learn the astounding fact that one in every ten of these returned exiles was a priest. Think of that. We are not badly off for parsons here in New Zealand, but think what our unhappy condition would be like if one in every ten amongst us was a parson of some color or other. We should then, indeed, be a priest-ridden country—worse than Spain or even Scotland. Well, that was the condition of the Hebrew nation at Jerusalem at the time of the return from Babylon, and I ask, could any circumstances be more favorable for the introduction of a vast ceremonial system than the condition of society at Jerusalem in the time of Ezra? Depend upon it Ezra and his fellow-priests edited the book to some purpose on that occasion. It was not a mere re-issue you may be sure.
But, again. The nation was now reduced to very small dimensions indeed, and consequently many of the Levitical directions that seem to us utterly impracticable, and that would have been utterly impracticable addressed to a nation that occupied the whole of Palestine, would involve no difficulty at all when enjoined upon a few thousand people only, living in Jerusalem and its immediate neighborhood. These could all assemble in the Temple three times a year without any hardship page 49 whatever, and, when a man required to offer sacrifice, he could easily lead his victim to the Courts of the Sanctuary at Jerusalem, to the sons of Aaron, the priests, of whom we don't hear till now.
There are several discrepancies in the priestly sections of the Pentateuch that betray their post-captivity date, but these are for the most part too minute for general discussion, and to one only will I refer. According to the Levitical law whenever a Hebrew offered sacrifice, certain portions of the victim, viz., the breast and hind leg, became the perquisites of Aaron and his sons, the sacrificing priests. Their other perquisites were the first fruits of corn, wine, and oil, and the first-born of all the sheep and oxen. Now it is so important that we should be accurate in our statement of these particulars that I will read one of the passages in which the statement occurs (Leviticus, vii., 31—34.) "And the priest shall burn the fat upon the altar, but the breast shall be Aaron's and his sons'. And the right thigh shall ye give unto the priest as a heave offering out of the sacrifices of your peace offerings. He among the sons of Aaron that offereth the blood of the peace offerings, and the fat, shall have the right thigh for a portion. For the wave breast and the heave thigh have I taken of the children of Israel out of the sacrifices of their peace offerings, and have given them unto Aaron, the priest, and unto his sons as a due for ever from the children of Israel." Notice it doesn't say "unto the Levites," or "the whole tribe of Levi," but "unto Aaron, the priest, and unto his sons as a due for ever." And still further, that there may be no mistake about it, let me quote the 8th and 9th verses of the 18th chapter of Numbers. "And the Lord spake unto Aaron, I, behold I, have given thee the charge of my heave-offerings, even all the hallowed things of the children of Israel, unto thee have I given them by reason of the anointing, and to thy sous as a due for ever. This shall be thine of the most holy things reserved from the fire; every meal-offering of theirs, and every sin-offering of theirs, and every guilt-offering of theirs, which they shall render unto me, shall be most holy for thee and for thy sons." Also from the 11th verse, "And this is thine; the heave-offering of their gift, even all the wave-offerings of the children of Israel: I have given them unto thee and to thy sons and to thy daughters with thee as a due for ever. . . All the best of the oil, and all the best of the vintage, and of the corn, the first fruits of them which they give unto the Lord, to thee have I given them . . Everything that openeth the womb of all flesh which they offer unto the Lord, both of man and beast, shall be thine. Nevertheless the first born of man shalt thou redeem," etc. Now remember that at the time of the wanderings in the Wilderness, when this communication was supposed to have been made according to the orthodox view, the children of Israel numbered about 3,000,000 page 50 people—men, women, and children—all told; at least that is what they are represented to have been. Think, then, what the offerings—first-fruits and firstlings—must have been from a population equal in number to three-fourths that of London at present! Think of the amount of animal food, of wave-breasts and heave-thighs, that would have to be consumed by the priests according to what I have just read !
Let us, however, bring the matter to the test of calculation, though only in one of the smallest details, and let us determine by this ordeal whether the orthodox hypothesis is at all fair and reasonable, or whether the supposition that these laws were framed for the circumstances they profess to fit is at once impossible and absurd. And we will take the case of the offerings to be made by the Hebrew women after childbirth.
In the year 1862, A.D., that in which Bishop Colenso first broached the subject of the origin of the Pentateuch, the population of London was about 3,000,000 souls, corresponding therefore pretty closely to that of the Hebrew nation at the time these Levitical ceremonies are supposed to have been enjoined upon it by Moses in the Desert. Now the average number of births per day in London for the year in question may be put down at 250 (see Colenso's Pentateuch, part I., p. 128), and we may assume that the rate would have been about the same in the other case. Well, according to Leviticus xii., as soon as a Hebrew mother had recovered from childbirth she was required to make atonement for the exercise of her most holy function by presenting to the priest, as an offering for Jehovah, either two young pigeons, or one young pigeon and a lamb. We will suppose, in order to make the case as favorable as possible for the orthodox hypo, thesis, that each Hebrew mother was wealthy enough to afford the larger offering, viz., the lamb and one young pigeon, so that only 250 pigeons would be offered per day. Well, 250 pigeons per day are 90,000 per year; and 90,000 pigeons therefore is the number that would have to be eaten per year by the priests alone, in the Holy Place, as provided for in Leviticus xviii., 10. And, then, remember that at the time of the forty years' wanderings in the wilderness the priests consisted of just three persons, viz, Aaron and his two sons, Eleazar and Ithamar, that's all; so that each of the three would have to consume no less than 30,000 pigeons in the course of the year; to say nothing of the tons upon tons of wave breasts and heave thighs from the larger flesh animals! ! Does not all this then amount to a demonstration that the priestly legislation of the Pentateuch is altogether misplaced as to time, and cannot possibly be made to fit into the conditions given in the Pentateuch itself? The whole thing is absurd in the highest degree. But now on the other hand look how well these very directions fit into the condition of things at the time of the Return from the Captivity. The 3,000,000 people page 51 had dwindled down, as the second chapter of Ezra tells us, to about 42,000 persons. The priests on the other hand, the descendants of Aaron, had increased; times had not been so hard with them as with the laity, they seldom are; the priests, I say, had increased from three persons to more than 4,000, or one in ten of the whole population, as I said before; so that the perquisites provided for them in these enactments would, at most, only give them a fair livelihood; the pickings, if good, would not be superabundant; pigeons, for example, would only come once a year, and then only one among four of them. The arrangements, in fact, fit the new conditions so exactly that one can only infer that they were made for them. The key fits the lock, therefore it is the key that was made for the lock, at all events if it is a complicated lock, like the present.
Some will say, however, Does not this hypothesis that Ezra and his fellow-priests were the authors of the Levitical legislation, does not this imply conscious fraud on their part, and that of a very heinous character, inasmuch as they claimed a divine origin for that which they knew proceeded from themselves? Granted, such persons will say, that the Jehovist reported in good faith the mythology of the past, and that the Deuteronomist, whether Jeremiah or somebody else, was only following a well-understood device when he put unhistorical speeches into the mouth of Moses, neither of these pleas will avail the priests of the return when they drew up a vast scheme of ritual and palmed it off upon their countrymen as divine communications to Aaron and Moses. The phrase repeatedly adopted in the Book of Leviticus is: "And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying," or else this: "And the Lord spake unto Aaron." How do you meet this difficulty?
I reply, in the first place, the hypothesis is none the less probable, even if it does imply dishonesty on the part of the priesthood. Are we so ignorant of the spirit that has animated priesthoods in the past as not to know that again and again they have resorted to deception in order to accomplish their ends and maintain their power over the minds of men? Have even all Christian Churches been free from this stain? Nay, are all free now? Does not the liquefaction of the blood of St. Januarius take place at Naples once a year still? I fear, therefore, that it is no fatal objection to any hypothesis that it involves duplicity on the part of the priesthood.
In the second place, however, I am not quite sure that we are obliged to attribute deception to the Jewish priests in this matter. You must remember especially that we are very ignorant of the conditions under which Ezra and his friends wrote—of the state of mind, that is, both of writers and readers, such readers as there were. Above all we must remember this, that the most fruitful source of all the theological errors of page 52 orthodoxy is that men of European ways of thinking and expressing themselves will persist in ignoring the fact that Asiatics think and express themselves in an entirely different manner. Men will persist in reading modern and Western thought into ancient and Eastern expressions; they will forget that a phrase which is a foreign phrase to them, which they understand quite literally, and which means one thing to them, may mean quite another thing to Hebrews and Arabs, to whom the phrase is native, and who understand it figuratively. We are told by explorers amongst the wilds of Africa, where they constantly meet with Arab tribes, that these people still express themselves in the phrases of the Old Testament, even in speaking of the common occurrences of life, and if they were to write the history of their tribe would attribute every event to the direct interposition of the Divine Being, so that the narrative would read exactly like a chapter out of the Old Testament, although probably it would mean no more to them than our histories mean to us. For instance, Sir Samuel Baker tells us that if an Arab wants to inform you that the tribe has been suffering from pestilence he says "the Lord sent a pestilence upon the people;" or even if he merely wishes to tell you that he had a dream last night, he will say, "The Lord spake unto me last night." He makes use of these phrases because his mind is unscientific, and he cannot form the thought of the government of the world by secondary causes, but the phrases mean little more to him than our impersonal expressions mean to us. They are merely customary forms of speech, nothing more. But, now, if a European comes along and insists on interpreting all these phrases quite literally, he will necessarily come to some erroneous conclusions, and get into considerable confusion. And so it may be in reference to the phrases adopted in this portion of the Pentateuch we are considering. It may be that they were never intended to be taken literally, and that the writers of them never dreamt they would be so taken. It can hardly be supposed that all these rites and ceremonies that form the Levitical legislation were originated suddenly on one occasion by Ezra and his contemporaries. Many of them, at least, may have been common custom previous to the residence in Babylon, and there may even have been a vague tradition that Moses originated them, just as old English institutions, whose real origin was unknown, used always, until recently, to be set down to the credit of Alfred the Great. When the pilgrims returned from exile, and Ezra found it necessary to issue a new edition of the Pentateuch—as all critics, both orthodox and heterodox, acknowledge he did—he may have thought it judicious to introduce into it these old ceremonial practices, accompanied by large additions which he thought desirable, and to give them in writing the authoritative character which tradition had already given them. They came page 53 from the past, they were popularly attributed to Moses and Aaron, hence it would be the most natural thing in the world for Ezra to write: "The Lord spake unto Moses, saying," little dreaming of the forced, literal interpretation which matter-of-fact Europeans centuries afterwards would put upon the phrase. Indeed, the familiar way in which the expression is used, and repeated just as often as there is occasion for it, shows that, in the mind of the writer, it was merely a conventional form of speech—merely a formula of speech, nothing more.
More than one of the arguments we have just adduced seems to demonstrate beyond controversy the conclusion that we have really hit upon the true era of production for this remarkable law-code. Nevertheless, I can well believe that some few of my hearers may feel even yet an involuntary unwillingness in their minds to make so complete a revolution in their ideas of the Old Testament as is involved in the new theory. The mind, familiar from childhood with the supposition that the Jewish ritual originated in the Exodus from Egypt, almost refuses to believe that it was really the Exodus from Babylon that gave it birth. This not unnatural scepticism will perhaps, however, disappear in view of the one indisputable historical fact I am about to cite, viz., that the priests of the Captivity certainly employed themselves in Babylon in providing Rituals of Worship for the future use of their countrymen. And perhaps the most extraordinary fact in connexion with this subject we are discussing, as illustrating the thoroughness with which traditional views close the minds of men to the clearest evidence, is the circumstance that until recently scarcely anyone seems to have noticed that the prophet-priest Ezekiel, who lived in Babylonia early in the Captivity, himself furnishes us with a code of ceremonies similar in many respects to that of the Pentateuch, as you will find by referring to the last nine chapters of his prophecies. First you have the description of an ideal Temple in all its parts and dimensions, corresponding to the Tabernacle of the Book of Exodus, and given with all the minuteness of a modern architect's specifications; next the general account of the Temple is supplemented by a more particular one of Halls to be devoted to the accommodation of "the priests, the sons of Zadok," a feature which finds its parallel in the dresses and functions assigned to "the sons of Aaron, the priest," in the so-called Mosaic ritual. Further, we find mention made of "a Holy Place," holy garments, meat-offerings, sin-offerings, burnt-offerings, "year of liberty,"—mention, in fact, of all the para phernalia with which the Pentateuch has made us so familiar; "and the glory of the Lord fills the house," in Ezekiel xliii., 5, just as in Exodus xl., 34. In fact, we find we have here got into just the stratum of thought and phrase to which the Book of Leviticus belongs; and so close is the correspondence that at page 54 times you can hardly tell, except by looking at the top of the page, whether the paragraph you are reading is in Ezekiel or Leviticus. And as we know that Bel at Babylon had his table of shew-bread and similar institutions exactly as Jahveh or Jehovah at Jerusalem had his, the mind seems shut up to the conviction that we have in the Babylonish Captivity at once both the date and source of the priestly ritual of Leviticus. Nor would scholars have been so long in arriving at this conclusion had they devoted to the literature of the Captivity and the Return—to Ezekiel and Malachi, Ezra and Nehemiah—one half the study they have so lavishly expended on the vain search for Hebrew antiquities amongst the stone-records of Egypt.
I must not linger longer on this topic, but I do not like to pass away from it without calling your attention to the wonderful analogy there is between the condition of the Returning Pilgrims from Babylon and that of their forefathers in the Exodus from Egypt. Oppression and suffering lay behind them both, the desert had to be crossed by both alike, and the promised land lay before the wanderers in each case. Surely the thought of the great similarity between their circumstances and those of their forefathers must often have passed through the mind of Ezra and his companions, so that he might often have thought of himself as, in his measure, a second Moses, and one who might without much impropriety give a new version of the story of the first national deliverance; it is even possible that he may have been aware how much there was of the mythical in the story as it already stood, and he may have felt that he was doing no great injustice to the past by engrafting upon it all that he now wished to enforce upon his countrymen. Anyway, the analogy between the two situations could hardly have escaped the notice of the Returning Exiles.
We have now pretty well completed our investigation into the component elements of this famous work, the Pentateuch. Of course, the kernel of the new criticism is this, that that vast body of minute observances and ceremonies that has hitherto been called the Mosaic law, or the Jewish law, has been antedated nearly 1000 years, and that in reality most of it had no existence, and certainly no written existence till after the Return of the Jews from the Babylonish Captivity. It is the law of Ezra, not the law of Moses, it is the law of the small Jewish church which was founded after the Return, not the law of the Jewish nation, as that nation had existed in Palestine previous to the Captivity, it's the final result of the Jewish mental life, not the foundation of it. In future, if you want really to understand aright the development of the religious idea in Palestine, you must unbind your volume of the Old Testament and remove the Law to the end of the historical books, not leave it at the beginning. If this idea seems a startling one, even to scholars, a very little further study and page 55 investigation will show the reasonableness of it and make the student a willing convert. It's a hypothesis which lights up the whole of the Old Testament with new meaning; it brings the Old Testament utterances down from the unreal world of miracle to which they have hitherto been confined, and gives the Jewish element a place in the normal development of humanity. The hypothesis has only been broached for a quarter of a century, yet already on the Continent of Europe scholars are everywhere welcoming it, so that it has created a new enthusiasm for Old Testament studies; whilst even in England itself,—so conservative wherever theology is concerned,—leading men of the different churches are compelled to recognize its existence, and discuss its claims. In two masterly articles in the Contemporary Review, a year or two ago, the learned Dr Perowne, Dean of Peterborough, gives a history of the theory; and, though still refusing it Ins approval, dissents from it only in the most respectful manner, and almost with a faltering tongue. I venture to say that in another generation it will be as fully recognized amongst scholars as Darwin's principle of Evolution is now amongst biologists.
But I have kept the best morsel for the last. You will remember that in our lecture two Sundays ago we showed the existence of at least two documents even in the Book of Genesis, the Elohistic and the Jehovistic. We also assigned a highly probable date as that when the Jehovistic document was written, viz., the final years of the existence of the Northern Kingdom. But what about the Elohistic element, which gives us an account of the Creation on the first page of our Bibles, crops up here and there all through the Book of Genesis, and is continued into the remaining books, though it seems to terminate at the sixth chapter of the Book of Exodus, where God formally assumes the name of Jahveh or Jehovah? We have said nothing yet of the date of this writing. For some time, indeed, there was a schism in the ranks of the new school of critics on this subject, but all have now come to this startling conclusion that this Elohistic document of Genesis is due to the very same writer to whom the priestly code owes its origin, i.e., that Ezra or one of his contemporaries wrote it; that it is a sort of narrative introduction to lead up to the Ritual; it's the priestly version of the Creation prefixed to the Jehovist's narrative of the same event, and is, as I have said, by the priestly authors of the Code. Just as in two of the Synoptic Gospels,—Matthew, and Luke,—later and grosser legends of the Conception and the Birth of Jesus of Nazareth have been prefixed by a more recent editor to the more historical parts of the original gospels; so here a preface has been written to the Jehovist's account of the Creation, a preface which was not composed until the Jews by their residence in Babylon had become familiar with the Assyrian legend on the same subject. page 56 The older commencement of Genesis, as we may call it, was at the fourth verse of the second chapter, and this first chapter of Genesis, which, both from its position and its subject matter, every one of us from earliest childhood has regarded as the oldest part of the Bible, is, in fact, now proved to be one of the most recent portions of the Old Testament. Why all this has never been discovered before let the gross Bibliolatry of the Protestant Church explain.
Nor do I think that this old friend of ours, the first chapter of Genesis, loses anything by the new view we are compelled to take of it. For no unprejudiced person can read that chapter without feeling, that, in spite of all the errors it contains, there is a certain grandeur and eloquence about its utterances that compares very favorably with the absurd stories of the Jehovist in the second and third chapters of the same book. It's as if the writer was a man of far more advanced culture than the Jehovist, he writes as one who has seen other lands than his own, and knows of other gods than Jahveh or Jehovah, the national god of Israel. Nay, he refuses to ascribe the work of the world's creation to any local god at all; he doesn't say, "in the beginning Jehovah made the world," but, "in the beginning Elohim, the Mighty One, the Universal God, made the heavens and the earth." You see he has been to Babylon and has learnt wisdom; he writes as a philosopher, and seems to think that his sacred book ought not to begin with foolish legends about Adam's rib, and Eve's partiality for an apple. Now that our eyes have been opened a very slight comparison of the documents is sufficient to show us how vast have been the intellectual gains in the three centuries that divide the later writer from the earlier.
* "This lecture was last delivered in Sydney, N.S..W., on Sunday morning, August 17th, 1890.