Right below us is the cleft of the Tyropoeon, and here creeps up northwards the 'Lower City' or Acra, in the form of a crescent, widening into an almost square 'suburb.' Across the Tyropoeon - westward, rises the 'Upper City.' If the Lower City and suburb form the business-quarter with its markets bazaars, and streets of trades and guilds, the 'Upper City' is that of palaces. Here, at the other end of the great bridge which connects the Temple with the 'Upper City,' is the palace of the Maccabees; beyond it, the Xystos, or vast colonnaded enclosure, where popular assemblies are held; then the Palace of Ananias the High-Priest, and nearest to the Temple, 'the Council Chamber' and public Archives. Behind it, westwards, rise, terrace upon terrace, the stately mansions of the Upper City, till, quite in the north-west corner of the old city, we reach the Palace which Herod had built for himself - almost a city and fortress, flanked by three high towers, and enclosing spacious gardens. Beyond it again, and outside the city walls, both of the first and the second, stretches all north of the city the new suburb of Bezetha. Here on every side are gardens and villas; here passes the great northern road; out there must they have laid hold on Simon the Cyrenian, and here must have led the way to the place of the Crucifixion.
Changes that marked the chequered course of Israel's history had come even over the city walls. The first and oldest - that of David and Solomon - ran round the west side of the Upper City, then crossed south to the Pool of Siloam, and ran up east, round Ophel, till it reached the eastern enclosure of the Temple, whence it passed in a straight line to the point from which it had started, forming the northern boundary of the ancient city. But although this wall still existed, there was now a marked addition to it. When the Maccabee Jonathan finally cleared Jerusalem of the Syrian garrison that lay in Fort Acra, he built a wall right 'through the middle of the city,' so as to shut out the foe. This wall probably ran from the western angle of the Temple southwards, to near the pool of Siloam, following the winding course of the Tyropoeon, but on the other side of it, where the declivity of the Upper City merged in the valley.
Another monument of the Syrian Wars, of the Maccabees, and of Herod, was the fortress Antonia. Part of it had, probably, been formerly occupied by what was known as Fort Acra, of such unhappy prominence in the wars that preceded and marked the early Maccabean period. It had passed from the Ptolemies to the Syrians, and always formed the central spot round which the fight for the city turned. Judas Maccabee had not been able to take it. Jonathan had laid siege to it, and built the wall, to which reference has just been made, so as to isolate its garrison. It was at last taken by Simon, the brother and successor of Jonathan, and levelled with the ground. Fort Baris, which was constructed by his successor Hyrcanus I., covered a much wider space. It lay on the northwestern angle of the Temple, slightly jutting beyond it in the west, but not covering the whole northern area of the Temple. The rock on which it stood was higher than the Temple, although lower than the hill up which the new suburb Bezetha crept, which, accordingly, was cut off by a deep ditch, for the safety of the fortress. Herod greatly enlarged and strengthened it. Within encircling walls the fort rose to a height of sixty feet, and was flanked by four towers, of which three had a height of seventy, the fourth (S.E.), which jutted into the Temple area, of 105 feet, so as to command the sacred enclosure. A subterranean passage led into the Temple itself, which was also connected with it by colonnades and stairs. Herod had adorned as well as strengthened and enlarged, this fort (now Antonia), and made it a palace, an armed camp, and almost a city.
Hitherto we have only spoken of the first, or old wall, which was fortified by sixty towers. The second wall, which had only fourteen towers, began at some point in the northern wall at the Gate Gennath, whence it ran north, and then east, so as to enclose Acra and the Suburb. It terminated at Fort Antonia. Beyond, and all around this second wall stretched, as already noticed, the new, as yet unenclosed suburb Bezetha, rising towards the north-east. But these changes were as nothing compared with those within the city itself. First and foremost was the great transformation in the Temple itself, which, from a small building, little larger than an ordinary church, in the time of Solomon, had become that great and glorious House which excited the admiration of the foreigner, and kindled the enthusiasm of every son of Israel.
At the time of Christ it had been already forty-six years in building, and workmen were still, and for a long time, engaged on it. But what a heterogeneous crowd thronged its porches and courts! Hellenists; scattered wanderers from the most distant parts of the earth - east, west, north, and south; Galileans, quick of temper and uncouth of Jewish speech; Judeans and Jerusalemites; white-robed Priests and Levites; Temple officials; broad-phylacteried, wide-fringed Pharisees, and courtly, ironical Sadducees; and, in the outer court, curious Gentiles! Some had come to worship; others to pay vows, or bring offerings, or to seek purification; some to meet friends, and discourse on religious subjects in those colonnaded porches, which ran round the Sanctuary; or else to have their questions answered, or their causes heard and decided, by the smaller Sanhedrin of twenty-three, that sat in the entering of the gate or by the Great Sanhedrin. The latter no longer occupied the Hall of Hewn Stones, Gazith, but met in some chamber attached to those 'shops,' or booths, on the Temple Mount, which belonged to the High-Priestly family of Ananias, and where such profitable trade was driven by those who, in their cupidity and covetousness, were worthy successors of the sons of Eli. In the Court of the Gentiles (or in its porches) sat the official money-changers, who for a fixed discount changed all foreign coins into those of the Sanctuary.
Here also was that great mart for sacrificial animals, and all that was requisite for offerings. How the simple, earnest country people, who came to pay vows, or bring offerings for purifying, must have wondered, and felt oppressed in that atmosphere of strangely blended religious rigorism and utter worldliness; and how they must have been taxed, imposed upon, and treated with utmost curtness, nay, rudeness, by those who laughed at their boorishness, and despised them as cursed, ignorant country people, little better than heathens, or, for that matter, than brute beasts. Here also there lay about a crowd of noisy beggars, unsightly from disease, and clamorous for help. And close by passed the luxurious scion of the High-Priestly families; the proud, intensely self-conscious Teacher of the Law, respectfully followed by his disciples; and the quick-witted, subtle Scribe.
These were men who, on Sabbaths and feast-days, would come out on the Temple-terrace to teach the people, or condescend to answer their questions; who in the Synagogues would hold their puzzled hearers spell-bound by their traditional lore and subtle argumentation, or tickle the fancy of the entranced multitude, that thronged every available space, by their ingenious frivolities, their marvellous legends, or their clever sayings; but who would, if occasion required, quell an opponent by well-poised questions, or crush him beneath the sheer weight of authority. Yet others were there who, despite the utterly lowering influence which the frivolities of the prevalent religion, and the elaborate trifling of its endless observances, must have exercised on the moral and religious feelings of all - perhaps, because of them - turned aside, and looked back with loving gaze to the spiritual promises of the past, and forward with longing expectancy to the near 'consolation of Israel,' waiting for it in prayerful fellowship, and with bright, heaven-granted gleams of its dawning light amidst the encircling gloom.
Descending from the Temple into the city, there was more than enlargement, due to the increased population. Altogether, Jerusalem covered, at its greatest, about 300 acres. As of old there were still the same narrow streets in the business quarters; but in close contiguity to bazaars and shops rose stately mansions of wealthy merchants, and palaces of princes. And what a change in the aspect of these streets, in the character of those shops, and, above all, in the appearance of the restless Eastern crowd that surged to and fro! Outside their shops in the streets, or at least in sight of the passers, and within reach of their talk, was the shoemaker hammering his sandals, the tailor plying his needle, the carpenter, or the worker in iron and brass. Those who were less busy, or more enterprising, passed along, wearing some emblem of their trade: the dyer, variously colored threads; the carpenter, a rule: the writer, a reed behind his ear; the tailor, with a needle prominently stuck in his dress.
In the side streets the less attractive occupations of the butcher, the wool-comber, or the flaxspinner were pursued: the elegant workmanship of the goldsmith and jeweller; the various articles de luxe, that adorned the houses of the rich; the work of the designer, the moulder, or the artificer in iron or brass. In these streets and lanes everything might be purchased: the production of Palestine, or imported from foreign lands - nay, the rarest articles from the remotest parts. Exquisitely shaped, curiously designed and jewelled cups, rings and other workmanship of precious metals; glass, silks, fine linen, woollen stuffs, purple, and costly hangings; essences, ointments, and perfumes, as precious as gold; articles of food and drink from foreign lands - in short, what India, Persia, Arabia, Media Egypt, Italy, Greece, and even the far-off lands of the Gentiles yielded, might be had in these bazaars.
Ancient Jewish writings enable us to identify no fewer than 118 different articles of import from foreign lands, covering more than even modern luxury has devised. Articles of luxury, especially from abroad, fetched indeed enormous prices; and a lady might spend 36 litre on a cloak; silk would be paid by its weight in gold; purple wool at 3l. 5s. the pound, or, if double-dyed, at almost ten times that amount; while the price of the best balsam and nard was most exorbitant. On the other hand, the cost of common living was very low. In the bazaars you might get a complete suit for your slave for eighteen or nineteen shillings, and a tolerable outfit for yourself from 3l. to 6l. For the same sum you might purchase an ass, an ox, or a cow, and, for little more, a horse. A calf might be had for less than fifteen shillings, a goat for five or six. Sheep were dearer, and fetched from four to fifteen or sixteen shillings, while a lamb might sometimes be had as low as two pence. No wonder living and labor were so cheap. Corn of all kinds, fruit, wine, and oil, cost very little. Meat was about a penny a pound; a man might get himself a small, of course unfurnished, lodging for about sixpence a week. A day laborer was paid about 7½d. a day, though skilled labor would fetch a good deal more. Indeed, the great Hillel was popularly supposed to have supported his family on less than twopence a day, while property to the amount of about 6l., or trade with 2l. or 3l. of goods, was supposed to exclude a person from charity, or a claim on what was left in the corners of fields and the gleaners.
To these many like details might be added. Sufficient has been said to show the two ends of society: the exceeding dearness of luxuries, and the corresponding cheapness of necessaries. Such extremes would meet especially at Jerusalem. Its population, computed at from 200,000 to 250,000, was enormously swelled by travellers, and by pilgrims during the great festivals. The great Palace was the residence of King and Court, with all their following and luxury; in Antonia lay afterwards the Roman garrison. The Temple called thousands of priests, many of them with their families, to Jerusalem; while the learned Academies were filled with hundreds, though it may have been mostly poor, scholars and students.
In Jerusalem must have been many of the large warehouses for the near commercial harbor of Joppa; and thence, as from the industrial centers of busy Galilee, would the pedlar go forth to carry his wares over the land. More especially would the markets of Jerusalem, held, however, in bazaars and streets rather than in squares, be thronged with noisy sellers and bargaining buyers. Thither would Galilee send not only its manufactures, but its provisions: fish (fresh or salted), fruit known for its lusciousness, oil, grape-syrup, and wine. There were special inspectors for these markets - the Agardemis or Agronimos - who tested weights and measures, and officially stamped them, tried the soundness of food or drink, and occasionally fixed or lowered the market-prices, enforcing their decision, if need were, even with the stick. Not only was there an upper and a lower market in Jerusalem, but we read of at least seven special markets: those for cattle, wool, iron-ware, clothes, wood, bread, and fruit and vegetables.
The original market-days were Monday and Tuesday, afterwards Friday. The large fairs (Yeridin) were naturally confined to the centers of import and export - the borders of Egypt (Gaza), the ancient Phoenician maritime towns (Tyre and Acco), and the Emporium across the Jordan (Botnah). Besides, every caravansary, or khan , was a sort of mart, where goods were unloaded, and especially cattle set out for sale, and purchases made. But in Jerusalem one may suppose the sellers to have been every day in the market; and the magazines, in which greengrocery and all kinds of meat were sold (the Beth haShevaqim), must have been always open. Besides, there were the many shops (Chanuyoth) either fronting the streets, or in courtyards, or else movable wooden booths in the streets. Strangely enough, occasionally Jewish women were employed in selling. Business was also done in the restaurants and wineshops, of which there were many; where you might be served with some dish: fresh or salted fish, fried locusts, a mess of vegetables, a dish of soup, pastry, sweetmeats, or a piece of a fruit-cake, to be washed down with Judean or Galilean wine, Idumaean vinegar, or foreign beer.
If from these busy scenes we turn to the more aristocratic quarters of the Upper City, we still see the same narrow streets, but tenanted by another class. First, we pass the High-Priest's palace on the slope of the hill, with a lower story under the principal apartments, and a porch in front. Here, on the night of the Betrayal, Peter was 'beneath in the Palace.'
Next, we come to Xystos, and then pause for a moment at the Palace of the Maccabees. It lies higher up the hill, and westward from the Xytos. From its halls you can look into the city, and even into the Temple. We know not which of the Maccabees had built this palace. But it was occupied, not by the actually reigning prince, who always resided in the fortress (Baris, afterwards Antonia), but by some other member of the family. From them it passed into the possession of Herod. There Herod Antipas was when, on that terrible Passover, Pilate sent Jesus from the old palace of Herod to be examined by the Ruler of Galilee. If these buildings pointed to the difference between the past and present, two structures of Herod's were, perhaps, more eloquent than any words in their accusations of the Idumaean. One of these, at least, would come in sight in passing along the slopes of the Upper City.
The Maccabean rule had been preceded by that of corrupt High-Priests, who had prostituted their office to the vilest purposes. One of them, who had changed his Jewish name of Joshua into Jason, had gone so far, in his attempts to Grecianise the people, as to build a Hippodrome and Gymnasium for heathen games. We infer, it stood where the Western hill sloped into the Tyropoeon, to the south-west of the Temple. It was probably this which Herod afterwards enlarged and beautified, and turned into a theatre. No expense was spared on the great games held there. The threatre itself was magnificently adorned with gold, silver, precious stones, and trophies of arms and records of the victories of Augustus. But to the Jews this essentially heathen place, over against their Temple, was cause of deep indignation and plots. Besides this theatre, Herod also built an immense amphitheatre, which we must locate somewhere in the north-west, and outside the second city wall.
All this was Jerusalem above ground. But there was an under ground Jerusalem also, which burrowed everywhere under the city - under the Upper City, under the Temple, beyond the city walls. Its extent may be gathered from the circumstance that, after the capture of the city, besides the living who had sought shelter there, no fewer than 2,000 dead bodies were found in those subterranean streets.
Close by the tracks of heathenism in Jerusalem, and in sharp contrast, was what gave to Jerusalem its intensely Jewish character. It was not only the Temple, nor the festive pilgrims to its feasts and services. But there were hundreds of Synagogues, some for different nationalities - such as the Alexandrians, or the Cyrenians; some for, or perhaps founded by, certain trade-guilds. If possible, the Jewish schools were even more numerous than the Synagogues. Then there were the many Rabbinic Academies; and, besides, you might also see in Jerusalem that mysterious sect, the Essenes, of which the members were easily recognized by their white dress. Essenes, Pharisees, stranger Jews of all hues, and of many dresses and languages! One could have imagined himself almost in another world, a sort of enchanted land, in this Jewish metropolis, and metropolis of Judaism. When the silver trumpets of the Priests woke the city to prayer, or the strain of Levite music swept over it, or the smoke of the sacrifices hung like another Shekhinah over the Temple, against the green background of Olivet; or when in every street, court, and housetop rose the booths at the Feast of Tabernacles, and at night the sheen of the Temple illumination threw long fantastic shadows over the city; or when, at the Passover, tens of thousands crowded up the Mount with their Passover lambs, and hundreds of thousands sat down to the Passover supper - it would be almost difficult to believe, that heathenism was so near, that the Roman was virtually, and would soon be really, master of the land, or that a Herod occupied the Jewish throne.
Yet there he was; in the pride of his power, and the reckless cruelty of his ever-watchful tyranny. Everywhere was his mark. Temples to the gods and to Caesar, magnificent, and magnificently adorned, outside Palestine and in its non-Jewish cities; towns rebuilt or built: Sebaste for the ancient Samaria, the splendid city and harbor of Caesarea in the west, Antipatris (after his father) in the north, Kypros and Phasaelis (after his mother and brother), and Agrippeion; unconquerable fortresses, such as Essebonitis and Machoerus in Perea, Alexandreion, Herodeion, Hyrcania, and Masada in Judea - proclaimed his name and sway. But in Jerusalem it seemed as if he had gathered up all his strength. The theatre and amphitheatre spoke of his Grecianism; Antonia was the representative fortress; for his religion he had built that glorious Temple, and for his residence the noblest of palaces, at the north-western angle of the Upper City, close by where Milo had been in the days of David.
It seems almost incredible, that a Herod should have reared the Temple, and yet we can understand his motives. Jewish tradition had it, that a Rabbi (Baba ben Buta) had advised him in this manner to conciliate the people, or else thereby to expiate the slaughter of so many Rabbis. Probably a desire to gain popularity, and superstition, may alike have contributed, as also the wish to gratify his love for splendor and building. At the same time, he may have wished to show himself a better Jew than that rabble of Pharisees and Rabbis, who perpetually would cast it in his teeth, that he was an Idumaean.
Whatever his origin, he was a true king of the Jews - as great, nay greater, than Solomon himself. Certainly, neither labor nor money had been spared on the Temple. A thousand vehicles carried up the stone; 10,000 workmen, under the guidance of 1,000 priests, wrought all the costly material gathered into that house, of which Jewish tradition could say, 'He that has not seen the temple of Herod, has never known what beauty is.' And yet Israel despised and abhorred the builder! Nor could his apparent work for the God of Israel have deceived the most credulous. In youth he had browbeaten the venerable Sanhedrin, and threatened the city with slaughter and destruction; again and again had he murdered her venerable sages; he had shed like water the blood of her Asmonean princes, and of every one who dared to be free; had stifled every national aspiration in the groans of the torture, and quenched it in the gore of his victims. Not once, nor twice, but six times did he change the High-Priesthood, to bestow it at last on one who bears no good name in Jewish theology, a foreigner in Judea, an Alexandrian. And yet the power of that Idumaean was but of yesterday, and of mushroom growth!
It is an intensely painful history, in the course of which Herod made his way to the throne. We look back nearly two and a half centuries to where, with the empire of Alexander, Palestine fell to his successors. For nearly a century and a half it continued the battle-field of the Egyptian and Syrian kings (the Ptolemies and the Seleucidae). At last it was a corrupt High-Priesthood - with which virtually the government of the land had all along lain - that betrayed Israel's precious trust. The great-grandson of so noble a figure in Jewish history as Simon the Just (compare Ecclus. 1.) bought from the Syrians the High-Priestly office of his brother, adopted the heathen name Jason, and sought to Grecianise the people. The sacred office fell, if possible, even lower when, through bribery, it was transferred to his brother Menelaus. Then followed the brief period of the terrible persecutions of Antiochus Epiphanes, when Judaism was all but exterminated in Palestine. The glorious uprising of the Maccabees called forth all the national elements left in Israel, and kindled afresh the smouldering religious feeling. It seemed like a revival of Old Testament times.
And when Judas the Maccabee, with a band so inferior in numbers and discipline, defeated the best of the Syrian soldiery, led by its ablest generals, and, on the anniversary of its desecration by heathen rites, set up again the great altar of burnt-offering, it appeared as if a new Theocracy were to be inaugurated. The ceremonial of that feast of the new 'dedication of the Temple,' when each night the number of lights grew larger in the winter's darkness, seemed symbolic of what was before Israel. But the Maccabees were not the Messiah; nor yet the kingdom, which their sword would have restored - that of Heaven, with its blessings and peace. If ever, Israel might then have learned what Savior to look for.
The period even of promise was more brief than might have been expected. The fervour and purity of the movement ceased almost with its success. It was certainly never the golden age of Israel - not even among those who remained faithful to its God - which those seem to imagine who, forgetful of its history and contests, would trace to it so much that is most precious and spiritual in the Old Testament. It may have been the pressure of circumstances, but it was anything but a pious, or even a 'happy' thought of Judas the Maccabee, to seek the alliance of the Romans. From their entrance on the scene dates the decline of Israel's national cause.
For a time, indeed - though after varying fortunes of war - all seemed prosperous. The Maccabees became both High-Priests and Kings. But party strife and worldliness, ambition and corruption, and Grecianism on the throne, soon brought their sequel in the decline of morale and vigour, and led to the decay and decadence of the Maccabean house. It is a story as old as the Old Testament, and as wide as the history of the world. Contention for the throne among the Maccabees led to the interference of the foreigner. When, after capturing Jerusalem, and violating the sanctity of the Temple, although not plundering its treasures, Pompey placed Hyrcanus II. in the possession of the High-Priesthood, the last of the Maccabean rulers was virtually shorn of power. The country was now tributary to Rome, and subject to the Governor of Syria. Even the shadow of political power passed from the feeble hands of Hyrcanus when, shortly afterwards, Gabinius (one of the Roman governors) divided the land into five districts, independent of each other.
But already a person had appeared on the stage of Jewish affairs, who was to give them their last decisive turn. About fifty years before this, the district of Idumaea had been conquered by the Maccabean King Hyrcanus I., and its inhabitants forced to adopt Judaism. By this Idumaea we are not, however, to understand the ancient or Eastern Edom, which was now in the hands of the Nabataeans, but parts of Southern Palestine which the Edomites had occupied since the Babylonian Exile, and especially a small district on the northern and eastern boundary of Judea, and below Samaria. After it became Judean, its administration was entrusted to a governor. In the reign of the last of the Maccabees this office devolved on one Antipater, a man of equal cunning and determination. He successfully interfered in the unhappy dispute for the crown, which was at last decided by the sword of Pompey. Antipater took the part of the utterly weak Hyrcanus in that contest with his energetic brother Aristobulus. He soon became the virtual ruler, and Hyrcanus II. only a puppet in his hands. From the accession of Judas Maccabaeus, in 166 B.C., to the year 63 B.C., when Jerusalem was taken by Pompey, only about a century had elapsed. Other twenty-four years, and the last of the Maccabees had given place to the son of Antipater: Herod, surnamed the Great.
The settlement of Pompey did not prove lasting. Aristobulus, the brother and defeated rival of Hyrcanus, was still alive, and his sons were even more energetic than he. The risings attempted by them, the interference of the Parthians on behalf of those who were hostile to Rome, and, lastly, the contentions for supremacy in Rome itself, made this period one of confusion, turmoil, and constant warfare in Palestine. When Pompey was finally defeated by Caesar, the prospects of Antipater and Hycanus seemed dark. But they quickly changed sides; and timely help given to Caesar in Egypt brought to Antipater the title of Procurator of Judea, while Hycanus was left in the High-Priesthood, and, at least, nominal head of the people.
The two sons of Antipater were now made governors: the elder, Phasaelus, of Jerusalem; the younger, Herod, only twenty-five years old, of Galilee. Here he displayed the energy and determination which were his characteristics, in crushing a guerilla warfare, of which the deeper springs were probably nationalist. The execution of its leader brought Herod a summons to appear before the Great Sanhedrin of Jerusalem, for having arrogated to himself the power of life and death. He came, but arrayed in purple, surrounded by a body-guard, and supported by the express direction of the Roman Governor to Hyrcanus, that he was to be acquitted. Even so he would have fallen a victim to the apprehensions of the Sanhedrin - only too well grounded - had he not been persuaded to withdrawn from the city. He returned at the head of an army, and was with difficulty persuaded by his father to spare Jerusalem. Meantime Caesar had named him Governor of Coelesyria.
On the murder of Caesar, and the possession of Syria by Cassius, Antipater and Herod again changed sides. But they rendered such substantial service as to secure favor, and Herod was continued in the position conferred on him by Caesar. Antipater was, indeed, poisoned by a rival, but his sons Herod and Phasaelus repressed and extinguished all opposition. When the battle of Philippi placed the Roman world in the hands of Antony and Octavius, the former obtained Asia. Once more the Idumaeans knew how to gain the new ruler, and Phasaelus and Herod were named Tetrarchs of Judea. Afterwards, when Antony was held in the toils of Cleopatra, matters seemed, indeed, to assume a different aspect. The Parthians entered the land, in support of the rival Maccabean prince Antigonus, the son of Aristobulus. By treachery, Phasaelus and Hyrcanus were induced to go to the Parthian camp, and made captives.
Phasaelus shortly afterwards destroyed himself in his prison, while Hyrcanus was deprived of his ears, to unfit him for the High-Priestly office. And so Antigonus for a short time succeeded both to the High-Priesthood and royalty in Jerusalem. Meantime Herod, who had in vain warned his brother and Hyrcanus against the Parthian, had been able to make his escape from Jerusalem. His family he left to the defense of his brother Joseph, in the inaccessible fortress of Masada; himself fled into Arabia, and finally made his way to Rome. There he succeeded, not only with Antony, but obtained the consent of Octavius, and was proclaimed by the Senate King of Judea. A sacrifice on the Capitol, and a banquet by Antony, celebrated the accession of the new successor of David.
But he had yet to conquer his kingdom. At first he made way by the help of the Romans. Such success, however, as he had gained, was more than lost during his brief absence on a visit to Antony. Joseph, the brother of Herod, was defeated and slain, and Galilee, which had been subdued, revolted again. But the aid which the Romans rendered, after Herod's return from Antony, was much more hearty, and his losses were more than retrieved. Soon all Palestine, with the exception of Jerusalem, was in his hands. While laying siege to it, he went to Samaria, there to wed the beautiful Maccabean princess Mariamme, who had been betrothed to him five years before. That ill-fated Queen, and her elder brother Aristobulus, united in themselves the two rival branches of the Maccabean family. Their father was Alexander, the eldest son of Aristobulus, and brother of that Antigonus whom Herod now besieged in Jerusalem; and their mother, Alexandra, the daughter of Hyrcanus II. The uncle of Mariamme was not long able to hold out against the combined forces of Rome and Herod. The carnage was terrible. When Herod, by rich presents, at length induced the Romans to leave Jerusalem, they took Antigonus with them. By desire of Herod he was executed.
This was the first of the Maccabees who fell victim to his jealousy and cruelty. The history which now follows is one of sickening carnage. The next to experience his vengeance were the principal adherents in Jerusalem of his rival Antigonus. Forty-five of the noblest and richest were executed. His next step was to appoint an obscure Babylonian to the High-Priesthood. This awakened the active hostility of Alexandra, the mother of Marimme, Herod's wife. The Maccabean princess claimed the High-Priesthood for her son Aristobulus. Her intrigues with Cleopatra - and through her with Antony - and the entreaties of Mariamme, the only being whom Herod loved, though in his own mad way, prevailed. At the age of seventeen Aristobulus was made High-Priest. But Herod, who well knew the hatred and contempt of the Maccabean members of his family, had his mother-in-law watched, a precaution increased after the vain attempt of Alexandra to have herself and her son removed in coffins from Jerusalem, to flee to Cleopatra. Soon the jealousy and suspicions of Herod were raised to murderous madness, by the acclamations which greeted the young Aristobulus at the Feast of Tabernacles.
So dangerous a Maccabean rival must be got rid of; and, by secret order of Herod, Aristobulus was drowned while bathing. His mother denounced the murderer, and her influence with Cleopatra, who also hated Herod, led to his being summoned before Antony. Once more bribery, indeed, prevailed; but other troubles awaited Herod.
When obeying the summons of Antony, Herod had committed the government to his uncle Joseph, who was also his brother-in-law, having wedded Salome, the sister of Herod. His mad jealousy had prompted him to direct that, in case of his condemnation, Mariamme was to be killed, that she might not become the wife of another. Unfortunately, Joseph told this to Mariamme, to show how much she was loved. But on the return of Herod, the infamous Salome accused her old husband of impropriety with Mariamme.
When it appeared that Joseph had told the Queen of his commission, Herod, regarding it as confirming his sister's charge, ordered him to be executed, without even a hearing. External complications of the gravest kind now supervened. Herod had to cede to Cleopatra the districts of Phoenice and Philistia, and that of Jericho with its rich balsam plantations. Then the dissensions between Antony and Octavius involved him, in the cause of the former, in a war with Arabia, whose king had failed to pay tribute to Cleopatra. Herod was victorious; but he had now to reckon with another master. The battle of Actium decided the fate on Antony, and Herod had to make his peace with Octavius. Happily, he was able to do good service to the new cause, ere presenting himself before Augustus. But, in order to be secure from all possible rivals, he had the aged Hyrcanus II. executed, on pretence of intrigues with the Arabs. Herod was successful with Augustus; and when, in the following summer, he furnished him supplies on his march to Egypt, he was rewarded by a substantial addition of territory.
When about to appear before Augustus, Herod had entrusted to one Soemus the charge of Mariamme, with the same fatal directions as formerly to Joseph. Again Mariamme learnt the secret; again the old calumnies were raised - this time not only by Salome, but also by Kypros, Herod's mother; and again Herod imagined he had found corroborative evidence. Soemus was slain without a hearing, and the beautiful Mariamme executed after a mock trail. The most fearful paroxysm of remorse, passion, and longing for his murdered wife now seized the tyrant, and brought him to the brink of the grave. Alexandra, the mother of Mariamme, deemed the moment favorable for her plots - but she was discovered, and executed. Of the Maccabean race there now remained only distant members, the sons of Babas, who had found an asylum with Costobarus, the Governor of Idumaea, who had wedded Salome after the death of her first husband. Tired of him, as she had been of Joseph, Salome denounced her second husband; and Costobarus, as well as the sons of Babas, fell victims to Herod. Thus perished the family of the Maccabees.
The hand of the maddened tyrant was next turned against his own family. Of his ten wives, we mention only those whose children occupy a place in this history. The son of Doris was Antipater; those of the Maccabean Mariamme, Alexander and Aristobulus; another Mariamme, whose father Herod had made High-Priest, bore him a son named Herod (a name which other of the sons shared); Malthake, a Samaritan, was the mother of Archelaus and Herod Antipas; and, lastly, Cleopatra of Jerusalem bore Philip. The sons of the Maccabean princess, as heirs presumptive, were sent to Rome for their education. On this occasion Herod received, as reward for many services, the country east of the Jordan, and was allowed to appoint his still remaining brother, Pheroras, Tetrarch of Perea. On their return from Rome the young princes were married: Alexander to a daughter of the King of Cappadocia, and Aristobulus to his cousin Berenice, the daughter of Salome. But neither kinship, nor the yet nearer relation in which Aristobulus now stood to her, could extinguish the hatred of Salome towards the dead Maccabean princess or her children. Nor did the young princes, in their pride of descent, disguise their feelings towards the house of their father.
At first, Herod gave not heed to the denunciations of his sister. Presently he yielded to vague apprehensions. As a first step, Antipater, the son of Doris, was recalled from exile, and sent to Rome for education. So the breach became open; and Herod took his sons to Italy, to lay formal accusation against them before Augustus. The wise counsels of the Emperor restored peace for a time. But Antipater now returned to Palestine, and joined his calumnies to those of Salome. Once more the King of Cappadocia succeeded in reconciling Herod and his sons. But in the end the intrigues of Salome, Antipater, and of an infamous foreigner who had made his way at Court, prevailed. Alexander and Aristobulus were imprisoned, and an accusation of high treason laid against them before the Emperor. Augustus gave Herod full powers, but advised the convocation of a mixed tribunal of Jews and Romans to try the case. As might have been expected, the two princes were condemned to death, and when some old soldiers ventured to intercede for them, 300 of the supposed adherents of the cause were cut down, and the two princes strangled in prison. This happened in Samaria, where, thirty years before, Herod had wedded their ill-fated mother.
Antipater was now the heir presumptive. But, impatient of the throne, he plotted with Herod's brother, Pheroras, against his father. Again Salome denounced her nephew and her brother. Antipater withdrew to Rome; but when, after the death of Pheraras, Herod obtained indubitable evidence that his son had plotted against his life, he lured Antipater to Palestine, where on his arrival he was cast into prison. All that was needed was the permission of Augustus for his execution. It arrived, and was carried out only five days before the death of Herod himself. So ended a reign almost unparalleled for reckless cruelty and bloodshed, in which the murder of the Innocents in Bethlehem formed but so trifling an episode among the many deeds of blood, as to have seemed not deserving of record on the page of the Jewish historian.
But we can understand the feelings of the people towards such a King. They hated the Idumaean; they detested his semi-heathen reign; they abhorred his deeds of cruelty. The King had surrounded himself with foreign councillors, and was protected by foreign mercenaries from Thracia, Germany, and Gaul. So long as he lived, no woman's honor was safe, no man's life secure. An army of all-powerful spies pervaded Jerusalem - nay, the King himself was said to stoop to that office. If pique or private enmity led to denunciation, the torture would extract any confession from the most innocent.
What his relation to Judaism had been, may easily be inferred. He would be a Jew - even build the Temple, advocate the cause of the Jews in other lands, and, in a certain sense, conform to the Law of Judaism. In building the Temple, he was so anxious to conciliate national prejudice, that the Sanctuary itself was entrusted to the workmanship of priests only. Nor did he ever intrude into the Holy Place, nor interfere with any functions of the priesthood. None of his coins bear devices which could have shocked popular feeling, nor did any of the buildings he erected in Jerusalem exhibit any forbidden emblems. The Sanhedrin did exist during his reign, though it must have been shorn of all real power, and its activity confined to ecclesiastical, or semi-ecclesiastical, causes. Strangest of all, he seems to have had at least the passive support of two of the greatest Rabbis - the Pollio and Sameas of Josephus - supposed to represent those great figures in Jewish tradition, Abtalion and Shemajah. We can but conjecture, that they preferred even his rule to what had preceded; and hoped it might lead to a Roman Protectorate, which would leave Judea practically independent, or rather under Rabbinic rule.
It was also under the government of Herod, that Hillel and Shammai lived and taught in Jerusalem: the two, whom tradition designates as 'the fathers of old.' Both gave their names to 'schools,' whose direction was generally different - not unfrequently, it seems, chiefly for the sake of opposition. But it is not correct to describe the former as consistently the more liberal and mild. The teaching of both was supposed to have been declared by the 'Voice from Heaven' (the Bath-Qol) as 'the words of the living God;' yet the Law was to be henceforth according to the teaching of Hillel.
But to us Hillel is so intensely interesting, not merely as the mild and gentle, nor only as the earnest student who came from Babylon to learn in the Academies of Jerusalem; who would support his family on a third of his scanty wages as a day laborer, that he might pay for entrance into the schools; and whose zeal and merits were only discovered when, after a severe night, in which, from poverty, he had been unable to gain admittance into the Academy, his benumbed form was taken down from the window-sill, to which he had crept up not to lose aught of the precious instruction. And for his sake did they gladly break on that Sabbath the sacred rest. Nor do we think of him, as tradition fables him - the descendant of David, possessed of every great quality of body, mind, and heart; nor yet as the second Ezra, whose learning placed him at the head of the Sanhedrin, who laid down the principles afterwards applied and developed by Rabbinism, and who was the real founder of traditionalism. Still less do we think of him, as he is falsely represented by some: as he whose principles closely resemble the teaching of Jesus, or, according to certain writers, were its source. By the side of Jesus we think of him otherwise than this.
We remember that, in his extreme old age and near his end, he may have presided over that meeting of Sanhedrin which, in answer to Herod's inquiry, pointed to Bethlehem as the birthplace of the Messiah. We think of him also as the grandfather of that Gamaliel, at whose feet Saul of Tarsus sat. And to us he is the representative Jewish reformer, in the spirit of those times, and in the sense of restoring rather than removing; while we think of Jesus as the Messiah of Israel, in the sense of bringing the Kingdom of God to all men, and opening it to all believers.
And so there were two worlds in Jerusalem, side by side. On the one hand, was Grecianism with its theatre and amphitheatre; foreigners filling the Court, and crowding the city; foreign tendencies and ways, from the foreign King downwards. On the other hand, was the old Jewish world, becoming now set and ossified in the Schools of Hillel and Shammai, and overshadowed by Temple and Synagogue. And each was pursuing its course, by the side of the other. If Herod had everywhere his spies, the Jewish law provided its two police magistrates in Jerusalem, the only judges who received renumeration. If Herod judged cruelly and despotically, the Sanhedrin weighed most deliberately, the balance always inclining to mercy. If Greek was the language of the court and camp, and indeed must have been understood and spoken by most in the land, the language of the people, spoken also by Christ and His Apostles, was a dialect of the ancient Hebrew, the Western or Palestinian Aramaic. It seems strange, that this could ever have been doubted. A Jewish Messiah Who would urge His claim upon Israel in Greek, seems almost a contradiction in terms. We know, that the language of the Temple and the Synagogue was Hebrew, and that the addresses of the Rabbis had to be 'targumed' into the vernacular Aramaean - and can we believe that, in a Hebrew service, the Messiah could have risen to address the people in Greek, or that He would have argued with the Pharisees and Scribes in that tongue, especially remembering that its study was actually forbidden by the Rabbis?
Indeed, it was a peculiar mixture of two worlds in Jerusalem: not only of the Grecian and the Jewish, but of piety and frivolity also. The devotion of the people and the liberality of the rich were unbounded. Fortunes were lavished on the support of Jewish learning, the promotion of piety, or the advance of the national cause. Thousands of votive offerings, and the costly gifts in the Temple, bore evidence of this. Priestly avarice had artificially raised the price of sacrificial animals, a rich man would bring into the Temple at his own cost the number requisite for the poor. Charity was not only open-handed, but most delicate, and one who had been in good circumstances would actually be enabled to live according to his former station. Then these Jerusalemites - townspeople, as they called themselves - were so polished, so witty, so pleasant. There was a tact in their social intercourse, and a considerateness and delicacy in their public arrangements and provisions, nowhere else to be found. Their very language was different. There was a Jerusalem dialect, quicker, shorter, 'lighter' (Lishna Qalila). And their hospitality, especially at festive seasons, was unlimited. No one considered his house his own, and no stranger or pilgrim but found reception. And how much there was to be seen and heard in those luxuriously furnished houses, and at those sumptuous entertainments!
In the women's apartments, friends from the country would see every novelty in dress, adornment, and jewellery, and have the benefit of examining themselves in looking-glasses. To be sure, as being womanish vanity, their use was interdicted to men, except it were to the members of the family of the President of the Sanhedrin, on account of their intercourse with those in authority, just as for the same reason they were allowed to learn Greek. Nor might even women look in the glass on the Sabbath. But that could only apply to those carried in the hand, since one might be tempted, on the holy day, to do such servile work as to pull out a grey hair with the pincers attached to the end of the glass; but not to a glass fixed in the lid of a basket; nor to such as hung on the wall. And then the lady-visitor might get anything in Jerusalem; from a false tooth to an Arabian veil, a Persian shawl, or an Indian dress!
While the women so learned Jerusalem manners in the inner apartments, the men would converse on the news of the day, or on politics. For the Jerusalemites had friends and correspondents in the most distant parts of the world, and letters were carried by special messengers, in a kind of post-bag. Nay, there seem to have been some sort of receiving-offices in towns, and even something resembling our parcel-post. And, strange as it may sound, even a species of newspapers, or broadsheets, appears to have been circulating (Mikhtabhin), not allowed, however, on the Sabbath, unless they treated of public affairs.
Of course, it is difficult accurately to determine which of these things were in use in the earliest times, or else introduced at a later period. Perhaps, however, it was safer to bring them into a picture of Jewish society. Undoubted, and, alas, too painful evidence comes to us of the luxuriousness of Jerusalem at that time, and of the moral corruption to which it led. It seems only too clear, that such commentations as the Talmud gives of Isaiah 3:16-24, in regard to the manners and modes of attraction practised by a certain class of the female population in Jerusalem, applied to a far later period than that of the prophet. With this agrees only too well the recorded covert lascivious expressions used by the men, which gives a lamentable picture of the state of morals of many in the city, and the notices of the indecent dress worn not only by women, but even by corrupt High-Priestly youths.
Nor do the exaggerated descriptions of what the Midrash on Lamentations describes as the dignity of the Jerusalemites; of the wealth which they lavished on their marriages; of the ceremony which insisted on repeated invitations to the guests to a banquet, and that men inferior in rank should not be bidden to it; of the dress in which they appeared; the manner in which the dishes were served, the wine in white crystal vases; and the punishment of the cook who had failed in his duty, and which was to be commensurate to the dignity of the party - give a better impression of the great world in Jerusalem.
And yet it was the City of God, over whose destruction not only the Patriarch and Moses, but the Angelic hosts, the Almighty Himself and His Shekhinah - had made bitterest lamentation. The City of the Prophets, also, since each of them whose birthplace had not been mentioned, must be regarded as having sprung from it. Equally, even more, marked, but now for joy and triumph, would be the hour of Jerusalem's uprising, when it would welcome its Messiah. Oh, when would He come? In the feverish excitement of expectancy they were only too ready to listen to the voice of any pretender, however coarse and clumsy the imposture. Yet He was at hand - even now coming: only quite other than the Messiah of their dreams. 'He came unto His own, and His own received Him not. But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become children of God, even to them that believe on His Name.'
Coming of John the Baptist Announced
It was the time of the Morning Sacrifice. As the massive Temple gates slowly swung on their hinges, a three-fold blast from the silver trumpets of the Priests seemed to waken the City, as with the Voice of God, to the life of another day. As its echoes came in the still air across the cleft of the Tyropoeon, up the slopes of the Upper City, down the busy quarters below, or away to the new suburb beyond, they must, if but for a moment, have brought holier thoughts to all. For, did it not seem to link the present to the past and the future, as with the golden chain of promises that bound the Holy City to the Jerusalem that was above, which in type had already, and in reality would soon descend from heaven? Patriot, saint, or stranger, he could not have heard it unmoved, as thrice the summons from within the Temple-gates rose and fell.
It had not come too soon. The Levites on ministry, and those of the laity, whose 'course' it was to act as the representatives of Israel, whether in Palestine or far away, in a sacrifice provided by, and offered for, all Israel, hastened to their duties. For already the blush of dawn, for which the Priest on the highest pinnacle of the Temple had watched, to give the signal for beginning the services of the day, had shot its brightness far away to Hebron and beyond. Within the Courts below all had long been busy. At some time previously, unknown to those who waited for the morning - whether at cockcrowing, or a little earlier or later, the superintending Priest had summoned to their sacred functions those who had 'washed,' according to the ordinance. There must have been each day about fifty priests on duty. Such of them as were ready now divided into two parties, to make inspection of the Temple courts by torchlight. Presently they met, and trooped to the well-known Hall of Hewn Polished Stones, where formerly the Sanhedrin had been wont to sit. The ministry for the day was there apportioned.
To prevent the disputes of carnal zeal, the 'lot' was to assign to each his function. Four times was it resorted to: twice before, and twice after the Temple-gates were opened. The first act of their ministry had to be done in the grey dawn, by the fitful red light that glowed on the altar of burnt offering, ere the priests had stirred it into fresh flame. It was scarcely daybreak, when a second time they met for the 'lot,' which designated those who were to take part in the sacrifice itself, and who were to trim the golden candlestick, and make ready the altar of incense within the Holy Place. And now morn had broken, and nothing remained before the admission of worshippers but to bring out the lamb, once again to make sure of its fitness for sacrifice, to water it from a golden bowl, and then to lay it in mystic fashion - as tradition described the binding of Isaac - on the north side of the altar, with its face to the west.
All, priests and laity, were present as the Priest, standing on the east side of the altar, from a golden bowl sprinkled with sacrificial blood two sides of the altar, below the red line which marked the difference between ordinary sacrifices and those that were to be wholly consumed. While the sacrifice was prepared for the altar, the priests, whose lot it was, had made ready all within the Holy Place, where the most solemn part of the day's service was to take place - that of offering the incense, which symbolized Israel's accepted prayers. Again was the lot (the third) cast to indicate him, who was to be honored with this highest mediatorial act. Only once in a lifetime might any one enjoy that privilege. Henceforth he was called 'rich,' and must leave to his brethren the hope of the distinction which had been granted him. It was fitting that, as the custom was, such lot should be preceded by prayer and confession of their faith on the part of the assembled priests.
It was the first week in October when 'the course of Abia' - the eighth in the original arrangement of the weekly service - was on duty in the Temple. True this, as indeed most of the twenty-four 'courses' into which the Priesthood had been arranged, could not claim identity, only continuity, with those whose names they bore. For only three, or at most four, of the ancient 'courses' had returned from Babylon. But the original arrangement had been preserved, the names of the missing courses being retained, and their number filled up by lot from among those who had come back to Palestine. In our ignorance of the number of 'houses of their father,' or 'families,' which constituted the 'course of Abia,' it is impossible to determine, how the services of that week had been apportioned among them. But this is of comparatively small importance, since there is no doubt about the central figure in the scene.
In the group ranged that autumn morning around the superintending Priest was one, on whom the snows of at least sixty winters had fallen. But never during these many years had he been honored with the office of incensing - and it was perhaps well he should have learned, that this distinction came direct from God. Yet the venerable figure of Zacharias must have been well known in the Temple. For, each course was twice a year on ministry, and, unlike the Levites, the priests were not disqualified by age, but only by infirmity. In many respects he seemed different from those around. His home was not in either of the great priest-centers - the Ophel-quarter in Jerusalem, nor in Jericho - but in some small town in those uplands, south of Jerusalem: the historic 'hill-country of Judea.' And yet he might have claimed distinction.
To be a priest, and married to the daughter of a priest, was supposed to convey twofold honor. That he was surrounded by relatives and friends, and that he was well known and respected throughout his district, appears incidentally from the narrative. It would, indeed, have been strange had it been otherwise. There was much in the popular habits of thought, as well as in the office and privileges of the Priesthood, if worthily represented, to invest it with a veneration which the aggressive claims of Rabbinism could not wholly monopolise. And in this instance Zacharias and Elizabeth, his wife, were truly 'righteous,' in the sense of walking, so far as man could judge, 'blamelessly,' alike in those commandments which were specially binding on Israel, and in those statutes that were of universal bearing on mankind. No doubt their piety assumed in some measure the form of the time, being, if we must use the expression, Pharisaic, though in the good, not the evil sense of it.
There is much about those earlier Rabbis - Hillel, Gamaliel, and others - to attract us, and their spirit ofttimes sharply contrasts with the narrow bigotry, the self-glory, and the unspiritual externalism of their successors. We may not unreasonably infer, that the Tsaddiq in the quiet home of the hill-country was quite other than the self-asserting Rabbi, whose dress and gait, voice and manner, words and even prayers, were those of the religious parvenu, pushing his claims to distinction before angels and men. Such a household as that of Zacharias and Elizabeth would have all that was beautiful in the religion of the time: devotion towards God; a home of affection and purity; reverence towards all that was sacred in things Divine and human; ungrudging, self-denying, loving charity to the poor; the tenderest regard for the feelings of others, so as not to raise a blush, nor to wound their hearts; above all, intense faith and hope in the higher and better future of Israel.
Of such, indeed, there must have been not a few in the land - the quiet, the prayerful, the pious, who, though certainly not Sadducees nor Essenes, but reckoned with the Pharisaic party, waited for the consolation of Israel, and received it with joy when manifested. Nor could aught more certainly have marked the difference between the one and the other section than on a matter, which must almost daily, and most painfully have forced itself on Zacharias and Elizabeth. There were among the Rabbis those who, remembering the words of the prophet, spoke in most pathetic language of the wrong of parting from the wife of youth, and there were those to whom the bare fact of childlessness rendered separation a religious duty. Elizabeth was childless. For many a year this must have been the burden of Zacharias' prayer; the burden also of reproach, which Elizabeth seemed always to carry with her. They had waited together these many years, till in the evening of life the flower of hope had closed its fragrant cup; and still the two sat together in the twilight, content to wait in loneliness, till night would close around them.
But on that bright autumn morning in the Temple no such thoughts would come to Zacharias. For the first, and for the last time in life the lot had marked him for incensing, and every thought must have centerd on what was before him. Even outwardly, all attention would be requisite for the proper performance of his office. First, he had to choose two of his special friends or relatives, to assist in his sacred service. Their duties were comparatively simple. One reverently removed what had been left on the altar from the previous evening's service; then, worshipping, retired backwards. The second assistant now advanced, and, having spread to the utmost verge of the golden altar the live coals taken from that of burnt-offering, worshipped and retired.
Meanwhile the sound of the 'organ' (the Magrephah), heard to the most distant parts of the Temple, and, according to tradition, far beyond its precincts, had summoned priests, Levites, and people to prepare for whatever service or duty was before them. For, this was the innermost part of the worship of the day. But the celebrant Priest, bearing the golden censer, stood alone within the Holy Place, lit by the sheen of the seven-branched candlestick. Before him - somewhat farther away, towards the heavy Veil that hung before the Holy of Holies, was the golden altar of incense, on which the red coals glowed. To his right (the left of the altar - that is, on the north side) was the table of shewbread; to his left, on the right or south side of the altar, was the golden candlestick. And still he waited, as instructed to do, till a special signal indicated, that the moment had come to spread the incense on the altar, as near as possible to the Holy of Holies.
Priests and people had reverently withdrawn from the neighborhood of the altar, and were prostrate before the Lord, offering unspoken worship, in which record of past deliverance, longing for mercies promised in the future, and entreaty for present blessing and peace, seemed the ingredients of the incense, that rose in a fragrant cloud of praise and prayer. Deep silence had fallen on the worshippers, as if they watched to heaven the prayers of Israel, ascending in the cloud of 'odors' that rose from the golden altar in the Holy Place. Zacharias waited, until he saw the incense kindling. Then he also would have 'bowed down in worship,' and reverently withdrawn, had not a wondrous sight arrested his steps.
On the right (or south) side of the altar, between it and the golden candlestick, stood what he could not but recognize as an Angelic form. Never, indeed, had even tradition reported such a vision to an ordinary Priest in the act of incensing. The two super-natural apparitions recorded - one of an Angel each year of the Pontificate of Simon the Just; the other in that blasphemous account of the vision of the Almighty by Ishmael, the son of Elisha, and of the conversation which then ensued - had both been vouchsafed to High-Priests, and on the Day of Atonement. Still, there was always uneasiness among the people as any mortal approached the immediate Presence of God, and every delay in his return seemed ominous. No wonder, then, that Zacharias 'was troubled, and fear fell on him,' as of a sudden - probably just after he had spread the incense on the altar, and was about to offer his parting prayer - he beheld what afterwards he knew to be the Angel Gabriel ('the might of God'). Apart from higher considerations, there could perhaps be no better evidence of the truth of this narrative than its accord with psychological facts.
An Apocryphal narrative would probably have painted the scene in agreement with what, in the view of such a writer, should have been the feelings of Zacharias, and the language of the Angel. The Angel would have commenced by referring to Zacharias' prayers for the coming of a Messiah, and Zacharias would have been represented in a highly enthusiastic state. Instead of the strangely prosaic objection which he offered to the Angelic announcement, there would have been a burst of spiritual sentiment, or what passed for such. But all this would have been psychologically untrue. There are moments of moral faintness, so to speak, when the vital powers of the spiritual heart are depressed, and, as in the case of the Disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration and in the Garden of Gethsemane, the physical part of our being and all that is weakest in us assert their power.
It was true to this state of semi-consciousness, that the Angel first awakened within Zacharias the remembrance of life-long prayers and hopes, which had now passed into the background of his being, and then suddenly startled him by the promise of their realization. But that Child of so many prayers, who was to bear the significant name of John (Jehochanan, or Jochanan), 'the Lord is gracious,' was to be the source of joy and gladness to a far wider circle than that of the family. This might be called the first rung of the ladder by which the Angel would take the priest upwards. Nor was even this followed by an immediate disclosure of what, in such a place, and from such a messenger, must have carried to a believing heart the thrill of almost unspeakable emotion. Rather was Zacharias led upwards, step by step. The Child was to be great before the Lord; not only an ordinary, but a life-Nazarite, as Samson and Samuel of old had been. Like them, he was not to consecrate himself, but from the inception of life wholly to belong to God, for His work. And, greater than either of these representatives of the symbolical import of Nazarism, he would combine the twofold meaning of their mission - outward and inward might in God, only in a higher and more spiritual sense.
For this life-work he would be filled with the Holy Spirit, from the moment life woke within him. Then, as another Samson, would he, in the strength of God, lift the axe to each tree to be felled, and, like another Samuel, turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. Nay, combining these two missions, as did Elijah on Mount Carmel, he should, in accordance with prophecy, precede the Messianic manifestation, and, not indeed in the person or form, but in the spirit and power of Elijah, accomplish the typical meaning of his mission, as on that day of decision it had risen as the burden of his prayer - that is, in the words of prophecy, 'turn the heart of the fathers to the children,' which, in view of the coming dispensation, would be 'the disobedient (to walk) in the wisdom of the just.' Thus would this new Elijah 'make ready for the Lord a people prepared.'
If the apparition of the Angel, in that place, and at that time, had overwhelmed the aged priest, the words which he heard must have filled him with such bewilderment, that for the moment he scarcely realized their meaning. One idea alone, which had struck its roots so long in his consciousness, stood out: A son - while, as it were in the dim distance beyond, stretched, as covered with a mist of glory, all those marvellous things that were to be connected with him. So, when age or strong feeling renders us almost insensible to the present, it is ever that which connects itself with the past, rather than with the present, which emerges first and strongest in our consciousness. And so it was the obvious doubt, that would suggest itself, which fell from his lips - almost unconscious of what he said. Yet there was in his words an element of faith also, or at least of hope, as he asked for some pledge or confirmation of what he had heard.
It is this demand of some visible sign, by which to 'know' all that the Angel had promised, which distinguishes the doubt of Zacharias from that of Abraham, or of Manoah and his wife, under somewhat similar circumstances - although, otherwise also, even a cursory reading must convey the impression of most marked differences. Nor ought we perhaps to forget, that we are on the threshold of a dispensation, to which faith is the only entrance. This door Zacharias was now to hold ajar, a dumb messenger. He that would not speak the praises of God, but asked a sign, received it. His dumbness was a sign - though the sign, as it were the dumb child of the prayer of unbelief, was its punishment also. And yet, when rightly applied, a sign in another sense also - a sign to the waiting multitude in the Temple; a sign to Elizabeth; to all who knew Zacharias in the hill-country; and to the priest himself, during those nine months of retirement and inward solitude; a sign also that would kindle into flame in the day when God would loosen his tongue.
A period of unusual length had passed, since the signal for incensing had been given. The prayers of the people had been offered, and their anxious gaze was directed towards the Holy Place. At last Zacharias emerged to take his stand on the top of the steps which led from the Porch to the Court of the Priests, waiting to lead in the priestly benediction, that preceded the daily meat-offering and the chant of the Psalms of praise, accompanied with joyous sound of music, as the drink-offering was poured out. But already the sign of Zacharias was to be a sign to all the people. The pieces of the sacrifices had been ranged in due order on the altar of burnt-offering; the priests stood on the steps to the porch, and the people were in waiting. Zacharias essayed to speak the words of benediction, unconscious that the stoke had fallen. But the people knew it by his silence, that he had seen a vision in the Temple. Yet as he stood helpless, trying by signs to indicate it to the awestruck assembly, he remained dumb.
Wondering, they had dispersed - people and priests. The day's service over, another family of ministrants took the place of those among whom Zacharias had been; and again, at the close of the week's service, another 'course' that of Abia. They returned to their homes - some to Ophel, some to Jericho, some to their quiet dwellings in the country. But God fulfilled the word which He had spoken by His Angel.
Before leaving this subject, it may be well to inquire into the relation between the events just described, and the customs and expectations of the time. The scene in the Temple, and all the surroundings, are in strictest accordance with what we know of the services of the Sanctuary. In a narrative that lays hold on some details of a very complex service, such entire accuracy conveys the impression of general truthfulness. Similarly, the sketch of Zacharias and Elizabeth is true to the history of the time - though Zacharias could not have been one of the 'learned,' nor to the Rabbinists, a model priest. They would have described him as an 'idiot,' or common, and as an Amha-arets, a 'rustic' priest, and treated him with benevolent contempt.
The Angelic apparition, which he saw, was wholly unprecedented, and could therefore not have lain within range of common expectation; though the possibility, or rather the fear, of some contact with the Divine was always present to the popular mind. But it is difficult to conceive how, if not true, the invention of such a vision in such circumstances could have suggested itself. This difficulty is enhanced by the obvious difference between the Evangelic narrative, and the popular ideas of the time. Far too much importance has here been attached by a certain class of writers to a Rabbinic saying, that the names of the Angels were brought from Babylon. For, not only was this saying (of Ben Lakish) only a clever Scriptural deduction (as the context shows), and not even an actual tradition, but no competent critic would venture to lay down the principle, that isolated Rabbinic sayings in the Talmud are to be regarded as sufficient foundation for historical facts. On the other hand, Rabbinic tradition does lay it down, that the names of the Angels were derived from their mission, and might be changed with it. Thus the reply of the Angel to the inquiry of Manoah is explained as implying, that he knew not what other name might be given him in the future.
In the Book of Daniel, to which the son of Lakish refers, the only two Angelic names mentioned are Gabriel and Michael, while the appeal to the Book of Daniel, as evidence of the Babylonish origin of Jewish Angelology, comes with strange inconsistency from writers who date it in Maccabean times. But the question of Angelic nomenclature is quite secondary. The real point at issue is, whether or not the Angelology and Demonology of the New Testament was derived from contemporary Judaism. The opinion, that such was the case, has been so dogmatically asserted, as to have almost passed among a certain class as a settled fact. That nevertheless such was not the case, is capable of the most ample proof. Here also, with similarity of form, slighter than usually, there is absolutely contrast of substance.
Admitting that the names of Gabriel and Michael must have been familiar to the mind of Zacharias, some not unimportant differences must be kept in view. Thus, Gabriel was regarded in tradition as inferior to Michael; and, though both were connected with Israel, Gabriel was represented as chiefly the minister of justice, and Michael of mercy; while, thirdly, Gabriel was supposed to stand on the left, and not (as in the Evangelic narrative) on the right, side of the throne of glory. Small as these divergences may seem, they are all important, when derivation of one set of opinions from another is in question.
Finally, as regarded the coming of Elijah as forerunner of the Messiah, it is to be observed that, according to Jewish notions, he was to appear personally, and not merely 'in spirit and power.' In fact, tradition represents his ministry and appearances as almost continuous - not only immediately before the coming of Messiah, but at all times. Rabbinic writings introduce him on the scene, not only frequently, but on the most incongruous occasions, and for the most diverse purposes. In this sense it is said of him, that he always liveth. Sometimes, indeed, he is blamed, as for the closing words in his prayer about the turning of the heart of the people, and even his sacrifice on Carmel was only excused on the ground of express command. But his great activity as precursor of the Messiah is to resolve doubts of all kinds; to reintroduce those who had been violently and improperly extruded from the congregation of Israel, and vice-versa; to make peace; while, finally, he was connected with the raising of the dead. But nowhere is he prominently designated as intended 'to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.'
Thus, from whatever source the narrative may be supposed to have been derived, its details certainly differ, in almost all particulars, from the theological notions current at the time. And the more Zacharias meditated on this in the long solitude of his enforced silence, the more fully must new spiritual thoughts have come to him. As for Elizabeth, those tender feelings of woman, which ever shrink from the disclosure of the dearest secret of motherhood, were intensely deepened and sanctified in the knowledge of all that had passed. Little as she might understand the full meaning of the future, it must have been to her, as if she also now stood in the Holy Place, gazing towards the Veil which concealed the innermost Presence. Meantime she was content with, nay, felt the need of, absolute retirement from other fellowship than that of God and her own heart. Like her husband, she too would be silent and alone - till another voice called her forth. Whatever the future might bring, sufficient for the present, that thus the Lord had done to her, in days in which He looked down to remove her reproach among men. The removal of that burden, its manner, its meaning, its end, were all from God, and with God; and it was fitting to be quite alone and silent, till God's voice would again wake the echoes within. And so five months passed in absolute retirement.