Alexandria itself was not an old Egyptian, but a comparatively modern, city; in Egypt and yet not of Egypt. Everything was in character - the city, its inhabitants, public life, art, literature, study, amusements, the very aspect of the place. Nothing original anywhere, but combination of all that had been in the ancient world, or that was at the time - most fitting place therefore to be the capital of Jewish Hellenism.
As its name indicates, the city was founded by Alexander the Great. It was built in the form of an open fan, or rather, of the outspread cloak of a Macedonian horseman. Altogether, it measured (16,360 paces) 3,160 paces more than Rome; but its houses were neither so crowded nor so many-storied. It had been a large city when Rome was still inconsiderable, and to the last held the second place in the Empire. One of the five quarters into which the city was divided, and which were named according to the first letters of the alphabet, was wholly covered by the royal palaces, with their gardens, and similar buildings, including the royal mausoleum, where the body of Alexander the Great, preserved in honey, was kept in a glass coffin. But these, and its three miles of colonnades along the principal highway, were only some of the magnificent architectural adornments of a city full of palaces. The population amounted, probably, to nearly a million, drawn from the East and West by trade, the attractions of wealth, the facilities for study, or the amusements of a singularly frivolous city. A strange mixture of elements among the people, combining the quickness and versatility of the Greek with the gravity, the conservatism, the dream-grandeur, and the luxury of the Eastern.
Three worlds met in Alexandria: Europe, Asia, and Africa; and brought to it, or fetched from it, their treasures. Above all, it was a commercial city, furnished with an excellent harbor - or rather with five harbors. A special fleet carried, as tribute, from Alexandria to Italy, two-tenths of the corn produce of Egypt, which sufficed to feed the capital for four months of the year. A magnificent fleet it was, from the light quick sailer to those immense corn-ships which hoisted a special flag, and whose early arrival was awaited at Puteoli with more eagerness than that of any modern ocean-steamer. The commerce of India was in the hands of the Alexandrian shippers.
Since the days of the Ptolemies the Indian trade alone had increased sixfold. Nor was the native industry inconsiderable. Linen goods, to suit the tastes or costumes of all countries; woolen stuffs of every hue, some curiously wrought with figures, and even scenes; glass of every shade and in every shape; paper from the thinnest sheet to the coarsest packing paper; essences, perfumeries - such were the native products. However idly or luxuriously inclined, still every one seemed busy, in a city where (as the Emperor Hadrian expressed it) 'money was the people's god;' and every one seemed well-to-do in his own way, from the waif in the streets, who with little trouble to himself could pick up sufficient to go to the restaurant and enjoy a comfortable dinner of fresh or smoked fish with garlic, and his pudding, washed down with the favorite Egyptian barley beer, up to the millionaire banker, who owned a palace in the city and a villa by the canal that connected Alexandria with Canobus. What a jostling crowd of all nations in the streets, in the market (where, according to the joke of a contemporary, anything might be got except snow), or by the harbors; what cool shades, delicious retreats, vast halls, magnificent libraries, where the savants of Alexandria assembled and taught every conceivable branch of learning, and its far-famed physicians prescribed for the poor consumptive patients sent thither from all parts of Italy! What bustle and noise among that ever excitable, chatty conceited, vain, pleasure-loving multitude, whose highest enjoyment was the theatre and singers; what scenes on that long canal to Canobus, lined with luxurious inns, where barks full of pleasure-seekers revelled in the cool shade of the banks, or sped to Canobus, that scene of all dissipation and luxury, proverbial even in those days!
And yet, close by, on the shores of Lake Mareotis, as if in grim contrast, were the chosen retreats of that sternly ascetic Jewish party, the Therapeutae, whose views and practices in so many points were kindred to those of the Essenes in Palestine!
This sketch of Alexandria will help us to understand the surroundings of the large mass of Jews settled in the Egyptian capital. Altogether more than an eighth of the population of the country (one million in 7,800,000) was Jewish. Whether or not a Jewish colony had gone into Egypt at the time of Nebuchadnezzar, or even earlier, the great mass of its residents had been attracted by Alexander the Great, who had granted the Jews equally exceptional privileges with the Macedonians. The later troubles of Palestine under the Syrian kings greatly swelled their number, the more so that the Ptolemies, with one exception, favored them. Originally a special quarter had been assigned to the Jews in the city - the 'Delta' by the eastern harbor and the Canobus canal - probably alike to keep the community separate, and from its convenience for commercial purposes. The priveleges which the Ptolemies had accorded to the Jews were confirmed, and even enlarged, by Julius Caesar. The export trade in grain was now in their hands, and the harbor and river police committed to their charge. Two quarters in the city are named as specially Jewish - not, however, in the sense of their being confined to them. Their Synagogues, surrounded by shady trees, stood in all parts of the city. But the chief gloryof the Jewish community in Egypt, of which even the Palestinians boasted, was the great central Synagogue, built in the shape of a basilica, with double colonnade, and so large that it needed a signal for those most distant to know the proper moment for the responses. The different trade guilds sat there together, so that a stranger would at once know where to find Jewish employers or fellow-workmen. In the choir of this Jewish cathedral stood seventy chairs of state, encrusted with precious stones, for the seventy elders who constituted the eldership of Alexandria, on the model of the great Sanhedrin in Jerusalem.
It is a strange, almost inexplicable fact, that the Egyptian Jews had actually built a schismatic Temple. During the terrible Syrian persecutions in Palestine Onias, the son of the murdered High-Priest Onias III., had sought safety in Egypt. Ptolemy Philometor not only received him kindly, but gave a disused heathen temple in the town of Leontopolis for a Jewish sanctuary. Here a new Aaronic priesthood ministered, their support being derived from the revenues of the district around. The new Temple, however, resembled not that of Jerusalem either in outward appearance nor in all its internal fittings.
At first the Egyptian Jews were very proud of their new sanctuary, and professed to see in it the fulfilment of the prediction, that five cities in the land of Egypt should speak the language of Canaan, of which one was to be called Ir-ha-Heres, which the Septuagint (in their original form, or by some later emendation) altered into 'the city of righteousness.' This temple continued from about 160 B.C. to shortly after the destruction of Jerusalem. It could scarcely be called a rival to that on Mount Moriah, since the Egyptian Jews also owned that of Jerusalem as their central sanctuary, to which they made pilgrimages and brought their contributions, while the priests at Leontopolis, before marrying, always consulted the official archives in Jerusalem to ascertain the purity of descent of their intended wives. The Palestinians designated it contemptuously as 'the house of Chonyi' (Onias), and declared the priesthood of Leontopolis incapable of serving in Jerusalem, although on a par with those who were disqualified only by some bodily defect. Offerings brought in Leontopolis were considered null, unless in the case of vows to which the name of this Temple had been expressly attached. This qualified condemnation seems, however, strangely mild, except on the supposition that the statements we have quoted only date from a time when both Temples had long passed away.
Nor were such feelings unreasonable. The Egyptian Jews had spread on all sides - southward to Abyssinia and Ethiopia, and westward to, and beyond, the province of Cyrene. In the city of that name they formed one of the four classes into which its inhabitants were divided. A Jewish inscription at Berenice, apparently dating from the year 13 B.C., shows that the Cyrenian Jews formed a distinct community under nine 'rulers' of their own, who no doubt attended to the communal affairs - not always an easy matter, since the Cyrenian Jews were noted, if not for turbulence, yet for strong anti-Roman feeling, which more than once was cruelly quenched in blood. Other inscriptions prove, that in other places of their dispersion also the Jews had their own Archontes or 'rulers,' while the special direction of public worship was always entrusted to the Archisynagogos, or 'chief ruler of the Synagogue,' both titles occurring side by side.
It is, to say the least, very doubtful, whether the High-Priest at Leontopolis was ever regarded as, in any real sense, the head of the Jewish community in Egypt. In Alexandria, the Jews were under the rule of a Jewish Ethnarch, whose authority was similar to that of 'the Archon' of independent cities. But his authority was transferred, by Augustus, to the whole 'eldership.' Another, probably Roman, office, though for obvious reasons often filled by Jews, was that of the Alabarch, or rather Arabarch, who was set over the Arab population. Among others, Alexander, the brother of Philo, held this post. If we may judge of the position of the wealthy Jewish families in Alexandria by that of this Alabarch, their influence must have been very great.
The firm of Alexander was probably as rich as the great Jewish banking and shipping house of Saramalla in Antioch. Its chief was entrusted with the management of the affairs of Antonia, the much respected sister-in-law of the Emperor Tiberius. It was a small thing for such a man to lend King Agrippa, when his fortunes were very low, a sum of about 7,000l. with which to resort to Italy, since he advanced it on the guarantee of Agrippa's wife, whom he highly esteemed, and at the same time made provision that the money should not be all spent before the Prince met the Emperor. Besides, he had his own plans in the matter. Two of his sons married daughters of King Agrippa; while a third, at the price of apostasy, rose successively to the posts of Procurator of Palestine, and finally of Governor of Egypt. The Temple at Jerusalem bore evidence of the wealth and munificence of this Jewish millionaire. The gold and silver with which the nine massive gates were covered, which led into the Temple, were the gift of the great Alexandrian banker.
The possession of such wealth, coupled no doubt with pride and self-assertion, and openly spoken contempt of the superstitions around, would naturally excite the hatred of the Alexandria populace against the Jews. The greater number of those silly stories about the origin, early history, and religion of the Jews, which even the philosophers and historians of Rome record as genuine, originated in Egypt.
Jews and the Roman Empire
We have already seen, that the ideas entertained in Rome about the Jews were chiefly derived from Alexandrian sources. But it is not easy to understand, how a Tacitus, Cicero, or Pliny could have credited such absurdities as that the Jews had come from Crete, been expelled on account of leprosy from Egypt, and emigrated under an apostate priest, Moses; or that the Sabbath-rest originated in sores, which had obliged the wanderers to stop short on the seventh day; or that the Jews worshipped the head of an ass, or else Bacchus; that their abstinence from swine's flesh was due to remembrance and fear of leprosy, or else to the worship of that animal - and other puerilities of the like kind.
The educated Roman regarded the Jew with a mixture of contempt and anger, all the more keen that, according to his notions, the Jew had, since his subjection to Rome, no longer a right to his religion; and all the more bitter that, do what he might, that despised race confronted him everywhere, with a religion so uncompromising as to form a wall of separation, and with rites so exclusive as to make them not only strangers, but enemies. Such a phenomenon was nowhere else to be encountered. The Romans were intensely practical. In their view, political life and religion were not only intertwined, but the one formed part of the other. A religion apart from a political organisation, or which offered not, as a quid pro quo, some direct return from the Deity to his votaries, seemed utterly inconceivable.
Every country has its own religion, argued Cicero, in his appeal for Flaccus. So long as Jerusalem was unvanquished, Judaism might claim toleration; but had not the immortal gods shown what they thought of it, when the Jewish race was conquered? This was a kind of logic that appealed to the humblest in the crowd, which thronged to hear the great orator defending his client, among others, against the charge of preventing the transport from Asia to Jerusalem of the annual Temple-tribute. This was not a popular accusation to bring against a man in such an assembly.
As the proud Roman passed on the Sabbath through the streets, Judaism would obtrude itself upon his notice, by the shops that were shut, and by the strange figures that idly moved about in holiday attire. They were strangers in a strange land, not only without sympathy with what passed around, but with marked contempt and abhorrence of it, while there was that about their whole bearing, which expressed the unspoken feeling, that the time of Rome's fall, and of their own supremacy, was at hand. To put the general feeling in the words of Tacitus, the Jews kept close together, and were ever most liberal to one another; but they were filled with bitter hatred of all others. They would neither eat nor sleep with strangers; and the first thing which they taught their proselytes was to despise the gods, to renounce their own country, and to rend the bonds which had bound them to parents, children or kindred. To be sure, there was some ground of distorted truth in these charges. For, the Jew, as such, was only intended for Palestine. By a necessity, not of his own making, he was now, so to speak, the negative element in the heathen world; yet one which, do what he might, would always obtrude itself upon public notice.
But the Roman satirists went further. They accused the Jews of such hatred of all other religionists, that they would not even show the way to any who worshipped otherwise, nor point out the cooling spring to the thirsty. According to Tacitus, there was a political and religious reason for this. In order to keep the Jews separate from all other nations, Moses had given them rites, contrary to those of any other race, that they might regard as unholy what was sacred to others, and as lawful what they held in abomination. Such a people deserved neither consideration nor pity; and when the historian tells how thousands of their number had been banished by Tiberius to Sardinia, he dismisses the probability of their perishing in that severe climate with the cynical remark, that it entailed a 'poor loss' (vile damnum).
Still, the Jew was there in the midst of them. It is impossible to fix the date when the first Jewish wanderers found their way to the capital of the world. We know, that in the wars under Pompey, Cassius, and Antonius, many were brought captive to Rome, and sold as slaves. In general, the Republican party was hostile, the Caesars were friendly, to the Jews. The Jewish slaves in Rome proved an unprofitable and troublesome acquisition. They clung so tenaciously to their ancestral customs, that it was impossible to make them conform to the ways of heathen households. How far they would carry their passive resistance, appears from a story told by Josephus, about some Jewish priests of his acquaintance, who, during their captivity in Rome, refused to eat anything but figs and nuts, so as to avoid the defilement of Gentile food. Their Roman masters deemed it prudent to give their Jewish slaves their freedom, either at a small ransom, or even without it. These freedmen (liberti) formed the nucleus of the Jewish community in Rome, and in great measure determined its social character. Of course they were, as always, industrious, sober, pushing. In course of time many of them acquired wealth.
Augustus had assigned to the Jews as their special quarter the 'fourteenth region' across the Tiber, which stretched from the slope of the Vatican onwards and across the Tiber-island, where the boats from Ostia were wont to unload. This seems to have been their poor quarter, chiefly inhabited by hawkers, sellers of matches, glass, old clothes and second-hand wares. The Jewish burying-ground in that quarter gives evidence of their condition. The whole appointments and the graves are mean. There is neither marble nor any trace of painting, unless it be a rough representation of the seven-branched candlestick in red coloring. Another Jewish quarter was by the Porta Capena, where the Appian Way entered the city. Close by, the ancient sanctuary of Egeria was utilized at the time of Juvenal as a Jewish hawking place. But there must have been richer Jews also in that neighborhood, since the burying-place there discovered has paintings - some even of mythological figures, of which the meaning has not yet been ascertained. A third Jewish burying-ground was near the ancient Christian catacombs.
But indeed, the Jewish residents in Rome must have spread over every quarter of the city - even the best - to judge by the location of their Synagogues. From inscriptions, we have been made acquainted not only with the existence, but with the names, of not fewer than seven of these Synagogues. Three of them respectively bear the names of Augustus, Agrippa, and Volumnius, either as their patrons, or because the worshippers were chiefly their attendants and clients; while two of them derived their names from the Campus Martius, and the quarter Subura in which they stood. The 'Synagoge Elaias' may have been so called from bearing on its front the device of an olive-tree, a favorite, and in Rome specially significant, emblem of Israel, whose fruit, crushed beneath heavy weight, would yield the precious oil by which the Divine light would shed its brightness through the night of heathendom. Of course, there must have been other Synagogues besides those whose names have been discovered.
One other mode of tracking the footsteps of Israel's wanderings seems strangely significant. It is by tracing their records among the dead, reading them on broken tombstones, and in ruined monuments. They are rude, and the inscriptions - most of them in bad Greek, or still worse Latin, none in Hebrew - are like the stammering of strangers. Yet what a contrast between the simple faith and earnest hope which they express, and the grim proclamation of utter disbelief in any future to the soul, not unmixed with language of coarsest materialism, on the graves of so many of the polished Romans ! Truly the pen of God in history has, as so often, ratified the sentence which a nation had pronounced upon itself. That civilization was doomed which could inscribe over its dead such words as: 'To eternal sleep;' 'To perpetual rest;' or more coarsely express it thus, 'I was not, and I became; I was, and am no more. Thus much is true; who says other, lies; for I shall not be,' adding, as it were by way of moral, 'And thou who livest, drink, play, come.'
Not so did God teach His people; and, as we pick our way among these broken stones, we can understand how a religion, which proclaimed a hope so different, must have spoken to the hearts of many even at Rome, and much more, how that blessed assurance of life and immortality, which Christianity afterwards brought, could win its thousands, though it were at the cost of poverty, shame, torture, and the arena.
Wandering from graveyard to graveyard, and deciphering the records of the dead, we can almost read the history of Israel in the days of the Caesars, or when Paul the prisoner set foot on the soil of Italy. When Paul, on the journey of the 'Castor and Pollux,' touched at Syracuse, he would, during his stay of three days, find himself in the midst of a Jewish community, as we learn from an inscription. When he disembarked at Puteoli, he was in the oldest Jewish settlement next to that of Rome, where the loving hospitality of Christian Israelites constrained him to tarry over a Sabbath. As he 'went towards Rome,' and reached Capua, he would meet Jews there, as we infer from the tombstone of one 'Alfius Juda,' who had been 'Archon' of the Jews, and 'Archisynagogus' in Capua. As he neared the city, he found in Anxur (Terracina) a Synagogue. In Rome itself the Jewish community was organized as in other places.
The special importance of the Jewish community in Rome lay in its contiguity to the seat of the government of the world, where every movement could be watched and influenced, and where it could lend support to the wants and wishes of that compact body which, however widely scattered, was one in heart and feeling, in thought and purpose, in faith and practice, in suffering and in prosperity. Thus, when upon the death of Herod a deputation from Palestine appeared in the capital to seek the restoration of their Theocracy under a Roman protectorate, no less than 8,000 of the Roman Jews joined it. And in case of need they could find powerful friends, not only among the Herodian princes, but among court favorites who were Jews, like the actor of whom Josephus speaks; among those who were inclined towards Judaism, like Poppaea, the dissolute wife of Nero, whose coffin as that of a Jewess was laid among the urns of the emperors; or among real proselytes, like those of all ranks who, from superstition or conviction, had identified themselves with the Synagogue.
There was no law to prevent the spread of Judaism. Excepting the brief period when Tiberius banished the Jews from Rome and sent 4,000 of their number to fight the banditti in Sardinia, the Jews enjoyed not only perfect liberty, but exceptional privileges. In the reign of Caesar and of Augustus we have quite a series of edicts, which secured the full exercise of their religion and their communal rights. In virtue of these they were not to be disturbed in their religious ceremonies, nor in the observance of their sabbaths and feasts. The annual Temple-tribute was allowed to be transported to Jerusalem, and the alienation of these funds by the civil magistrates treated as sacrilege. As the Jews objected to bear arms, or march, on the Sabbath, they were freed from military service. On similar grounds, they were not obliged to appear in courts of law on their holy days. Augustus even ordered that, when the public distribution of corn or of money among the citizens fell on a Sabbath, the Jews were to receive their share on the following day. In a similar spirit the Roman authorities confirmed a decree by which the founder of Antioch, Seleucus I. (Nicator), had granted the Jews the right of citizenship in all the cities of Asia Minor and Syria which he had built, and the privilege of receiving, instead of the oil that was distributed, which their religion forbade them to use, an equivalent in money.
These rights were maintained by Vespasian and Titus even after the last Jewish war, notwithstanding the earnest remonstrances of these cities. No wonder, that at the death of Caesar the Jews of Rome gathered for many nights, waking strange feelings of awe in the city, as they chanted in mournful melodies their Psalms around the pyre on which the body of their benefactor had been burnt, and raised their pathetic dirges. The measures of Sejanus, and ceased with his sway. Besides, they were the outcome of public feeling at the time against all foreign rites, which had been roused by the vile conduct of the priests of Isis towards a Roman matron, and was again provoked by a gross imposture upon Fulvia, a noble Roman proselyte, on the part of some vagabond Rabbis. But even so, there is no reason to believe that literally all Jews had left Rome. Many would find means to remain secretly behind. At any rate, twenty years afterwards Philo found a large community there, ready to support him in his mission on behalf of his Egyptian countrymen. Any temporary measures against the Jews can, therefore, scarcely be regarded as a serious interference with their privileges, or a cessation of the Imperial favor shown to them.
It was not only in the capital of the Empire that the Jews enjoyed the rights of Roman citizenship. Many in Asia Minor could boast of the same privilege. The Seleucidic rulers of Syria had previously bestowed kindred privileges on the Jews in many places. Thus, they possessed in some cities twofold rights: the status of Roman and the privileges of Asiatic, citizenship. Those who enjoyed the former were entitled to a civil government of their own, under archons of their choosing, quite independent of the rule and tribunals of the cities in which they lived. As instances, we may mention the Jews of Sardis, Ephesus, Delos, and apparently also of Antioch. But, whether legally entitled to it or not, they probably everywhere claimed the right of self-government, and exercised it, except in times of persecution. But, as already stated, they also possessed, besides this, at least in many places, the privileges of Asiatic citizenship, to the same extent as their heathen fellow-citizens. This twofold status and jurisdiction might have led to serious complications, if the archons had not confined their authority to strictly communal interests, without interfering with the ordinary administration of justice, and the Jews willingly submitted to the sentences pronounced by their own tribunals.
But, in truth, they enjoyed even more than religious liberty and communal privileges. It was quite in the spirit of the times, that potentates friendly to Israel bestowed largesses alike on the Temple in Jerusalem, and on the Synagogues in the provinces. The magnificent porch of the Temple was 'adorned' with many such 'dedicated gifts.' Thus, we read of repeated costly offerings by the Ptolemies, of a golden wreath which Sosius offered after he had taken Jerusalem in conjunction with Herod, and of rich flagons which Augustus and his wife had given to the Sanctuary. And, although this same Emperor praised his grandson for leaving Jerusalem unvisited on his journey from Egypt to Syria, yet he himself made provision for a daily sacrifice on his behalf, which only ceased when the last war against Rome was proclaimed. Even the circumstance that there was a 'Court of the Gentiles,' with marble screen beautifully ornamented, bearing tablets which, in Latin and Greek, warned Gentiles not to proceed further, proves that the Sanctuary was largely attended by others than Jews, or, in the words of Josephus, that 'it was held in reverence by nations from the ends of the earth.'
The capital of Syria was one of their favorite resorts. It will be remembered what importance attached to it in the early history of the Christian Church. Antioch was the third city of the Empire, and lay just outside what the Rabbinists designated as 'Syria' and still regarded as holy ground. Thus it formed, so to speak, an advanced post between the Palestinian and the Gentile world. Its chief Synagogue was a magnificent building, to which the successors of Antiochus Epiphanes had given the spoils which that monarch had brought from the Temple. The connection between Jerusalem and Antioch was very close. All that occurred in that city was eagerly watched in the Jewish capital. The spread of Christianity there must have excited deep concern. Careful as the Talmud is not to afford unwelcome information, which might have led to further mischief, we know that three of the principal Rabbis went thither on a mission - we can scarcely doubt for the purpose of arresting the progress of Christianity.
But, whatever privileges Israel might enjoy, history records an almost continuous series of attempts, on the part of the communities among whom they lived, to deprive them not only of their immunities, but even of their common rights. Foremost among the reasons of this antagonism we place the absolute contrariety between heathenism and the Synagogue, and the social isolation which Judaism rendered necessary. It was avowedly unlawful for the Jew even 'to keep company, or come unto one of another nation.' To quarrel with this, was to find fault with the law and the religion which made him a Jew.
Wherever the Jew sojourned, or however he might differ from his brethren, Monotheism, the Divine mission of Moses, and the authority of the Old Testament, were equally to all unquestioned articles of belief. It may well have been that the Hellenistic Jew, living in the midst of a hostile, curious, and scurrilous population, did not care to exhibit over his house and doorposts, at the right of the entrance, the Mezuzah, which enclosed the folded parchment that, on twenty-two lines, bore the words from Deuteronomy 4:4-9 and 11:13-21, or to call attention by their breadth to the Tephillin, or phylacteries on his left arm and forehead, or even to make observable the Tsitsith, or fringes on the borders of his garments. Perhaps, indeed, all these observances may at that time not have been deemed incumbent on every Jew. At any rate, we do not find mention of them in heathen writers. Similarly, they could easily keep out of view, or they may not have had conveniences for, their prescribed purifications. But in every place, as we have abundant evidence, where there were at least ten Batlanim - male householders who had leisure to give themselves to regular attendance - they had, from ancient times, one, and, if possible, more Synagogues.
Where there was no Synagogue there was at least a Proseuche, open sky, after the form of a theatre, generally outside the town, near a river or the sea, for the sake of lustrations. These, as we know from classical writers, were well known to the heathen, and even frequented by them. Their Sabbath observance, their fasting on Thursdays, their Day of Atonement, their laws relating to food, and their pilgrimages to Jerusalem - all found sympathizers among Judaizing Gentiles. They even watched to see, how the Sabbath lamp was kindled, and the solemn prayers spoken which marked the beginning of the Sabbath. But to the Jew the Synagogue was the bond of union throughout the world. There, on Sabbath and feast days they met to read, from the same Lectionary, the same Scripture-lessons which their brethren read throughout the world, and to say, in the words of the same liturgy, their common prayers, catching echoes of the gorgeous Temple-services in Jerusalem. The heathen must have been struck with awe as they listened, and watched in the gloom of the Synagogue the mysterious light at the far curtained end, where the sacred oracles were reverently kept, wrapped in costly coverings. Here the stranger Jew also would find himself at home: the same arrangements as in his own land, and the well-known services and prayers. A hospitable welcome at the Sabbath-meal, and in many a home, would be pressed on him, and ready aid be proffered in work or trial.
As the soil of his native land, the deeds of his people, or the graves of his fathers draw the far-off wanderer to the home of his childhood, or fill the mountaineer in his exile with irrepressible longing, so the sounds which the Jew heard in his Synagogue, and the observances which he kept. Nor was it with him merely matter of patriotism, of history, or of association. It was a religious principle, a spiritual hope. No truth more firmly rooted in the consciousness of all, than that in Jerusalem alone men could truly worship. As Daniel of old had in his hour of worship turned towards the Holy City, so in the Synagogue and in his prayers every Jew turned towards Jerusalem; and anything that might imply want of reverence, when looking in that direction, was considered a grievous sin. From every Synagogue in the Diaspora the annual Temple-tribute went up to Jerusalem, no doubt often accompanied by rich votive offerings. Few, who could undertake or afford the journey, but had at some time or other gone up to the Holy City to attend one of the great feasts. Philo, who was held by the same spell as the most bigoted Rabbinist, had himself been one of those deputed by his fellow-citizens to offer prayers and sacrifices in the great Sanctuary. Views and feelings of this kind help us to understand, how, on some great feast, as Josephus states on sufficient authority, the population of Jerusalem - within its ecclesiastical boundaries - could have swelled to the enormous number of nearly three millions.
We now reach the time when Jesus the Messiah appeared. Knowing the characteristics of that time, we scarcely wonder that the Book of Jubilees, which dates from that period, should have been Rabbinic in its cast rather than Apocalyptic. Yet even there the reference to the future glory is distinct. Thus we are told, that, though for its wickedness Israel had been scattered, God would 'gather them all from the midst of the heathen,' 'build among them His Sanctuary, and dwell with them.' That Sanctuary was to 'be for ever and ever, and God would appear to the eye of every one, and every one acknowledge that He was the God of Israel, and the Father of all the Children of Jacob, and King upon Mount Zion, from everlasting to everlasting. And Zion and Jerusalem shall be holy.' When listening to this language of, perhaps, a contemporary of Jesus, we can in some measure understand the popular indignation which such a charge would call forth, as that the Man of Nazareth had proposed to destroy the Temple, or that he thought merely of the children of Jacob.
The writings to which we have referred have all a decidedly Hellenistic tinge of thought. Still they are not the outcome of pure Hellenism. It is therefore with peculiar interest that we turn to Philo, the great representative of that direction, to see whether he would admit an idea so purely national and, as it might seem, exclusive. Nor are we here left in doubt. So universal was this belief, so deep-seated the conviction, not only in the mind, but in the heart of Israel, that we could scarcely find it more distinctly expressed than by the great Alexandrian. However low the condition of Israel might be, he tells us, or however scattered the people to the ends of the earth, the banished would, on a given sign, be set free in one day. In consistency with his system, he traces this wondrous event to their sudden conversion to virtue, which would make their masters ashamed to hold any longer in bondage those who were so much better than themselves. Then, gathering as by one impulse, the dispersed would return from Hellas, from the lands of the barbarians, from the isles, and from the continents, led by a Divine, superhuman apparition invisible to others, and visible only to themselves. On their arrival in Palestine the waste places and the wilderness would be inhabited, and the barren land transformed into fruitfulness.
Whatever shades of difference, then, we may note in the expression of these views, all anticipate the deliverance of Israel, their restoration, and future pre-eminent glory, and they all connect these events with the coming of the Messiah.
Jews and Gentiles in Judea
The pilgrim who, leaving other countries, entered Palestine, must have felt as if he had crossed the threshold of another world. Manners, customs, institutions, law, life, nay, the very intercourse between man and man, were quite different. All was dominated by the one all-absorbing idea of religion. It penetrated every relation of life. Moreover, it was inseparably connected with the soil, as well as the people of Palestine, at least so long as the Temple stood. Nowhere else could the Shekhinah dwell or manifest itself; nor could, unless under exceptional circumstances, and for 'the merit of the fathers,' the spirit of prophecy be granted outside its bounds. To the orthodox Jew the mental and spiritual horizon was bounded by Palestine. It was 'the land'; all the rest of the world, except Babylonia, was 'outside the land.' No need to designate it specially as 'holy;' for all here bore the impress of sanctity, as he understood it. Not that the soil itself, irrespective of the people, was holy; it was Israel that made it such.
For, had not God given so many commandments and ordinances, some of them apparently needless, simply to call forth the righteousness of Israel; did not Israel possess the merits of 'the fathers,' and specially that of Abraham, itself so valuable that, even if his descendants had, morally speaking, been as a dead body, his merit would have been imputed to them? More than that, God had created the world on account of Israel, and for their merit, making preparation for them long before their appearance on the scene, just as a king who foresees the birth of his son; nay, Israel had been in God's thoughts not only before anything had actually been created, but even before every other creative thought.
If these distinctions seem excessive, they were, at least, not out of proportion to the estimate formed of Israel's merits. In theory, the latter might be supposed to flow from 'good works,' of course, including the strict practice of legal piety, and from 'study of the law.' But in reality it was 'study' alone to which such supreme merit attached. Practice required knowledge for its direction; such as the Am-ha-arets ('country people,' plebeians, in the Jewish sense of being unlearned) could not possess, who had bartered away the highest crown for a spade with which to dig. And 'the school of Arum' - the sages - the 'great ones of the world' had long settled it, that study was before works. And how could it well be otherwise, since the studies, which engaged His chosen children on earth, equally occupied their Almighty Father in heaven? Could anything, then, be higher than the peculiar calling of Israel, or better qualify them for being the sons of God?
It is necessary to transport oneself into this atmosphere to understand the views entertained at the time of Jesus, or to form any conception of their infinite contrast in spirit to the new doctrine. The abhorrence, not unmingled with contempt, of all Gentile ways, thoughts and associations; the worship of the letter of the Law; the self-righteousness, and pride of descent, and still more of knowledge, become thus intelligible to us, and, equally so, the absolute antagonism to the claims of a Messiah, so unlike themselves and their own ideal. His first announcement might, indeed, excite hope, soon felt to have been vain; and His miracles might startle for a time. But the boundary lines of the Kingdom which He traced were essentially different from those which they had fixed, and within which they had arranged everything, alike for the present and the future. Had He been content to step within them, to complete and realize what they had indicated, it might have been different. Nay, once admit their fundamental ideas, and there was much that was beautiful, true, and even grand in the details. But it was exactly in the former that the divergence lay. Nor was there any possibility of reform or progress here. The past, the present, and the future, alike as regarded the Gentile world and Israel, were irrevocably fixed; or rather, it might almost be said, there were not such - all continuing as they had been from the creation of the world, nay, long before it.
The Torah had really existed 2,000 years before Creation; the patriarchs had had their Academies of study, and they had known and observed all the ordinances; and traditionalism had the same origin, both as to time and authority, as the Law itself. As for the heathen nations, the Law had been offered by God to them, but refused, and even their after repentance would prove hypocritical, as all their excuses would be shown to be futile. But as for Israel, even though their good deeds should be few, yet, by cumulating them from among all the people, they would appear great in the end, and God would exact payment for their sins as a man does from his friends, taking little sums at a time. It was in this sense, that the Rabbis employed that sublime figure, representing the Church as one body, of which all the members suffered and joyed together, which Paul adopted and applied in a vastly different and spiritual sense.
If, on the one hand, the pre-eminence of Israel depended on the Land, and, on the other, that of the Land on the presence of Israel in it, the Rabbinical complaint was, indeed, well grounded, that its 'boundaries were becoming narrow.' We can scarcely expect any accurate demarcation of them, since the question, what belonged to it, was determined by ritual and theological, not by geographical considerations. Not only the immediate neighborhood (as in the case of Ascalon), but the very wall of a city (as of Acco and of Caesarea) might be Palestinian, and yet the city itself be regarded as 'outside' the sacred limits. All depended on who had originally possessed, and now held a place, and hence what ritual obligations lay upon it. Ideally, as we may say, 'the land of promise' included all which God had covenanted to give to Israel, although never yet actually possessed by them. Then, in a more restricted sense, the 'land' comprised what 'they who came up from Egypt took possession of, from Chezib [about three hours north of Acre] and unto the river [Euphrates], and unto Amanah.' This included, of course, the conquests made by David in the most prosperous times of the Jewish commonwealth, supposed to have extended over Mesopotamia, Syria, Zobah, Achlah, etc. To all these districts the general name of Soria, or Syria, was afterwards given.
This formed, at the time of which we write, a sort of inner band around 'the land,' in its narrowest and only real sense; just as the countries in which Israel was specially interested, such as Egypt, Babylon, Ammon, and Moab, formed an outer band. These lands were heathen, and yet not quite heathen, since the dedication of the so-called Terumoth, or first-fruits in a prepared state, was expected from them, while Soria shared almost all the obligations of Palestine, except those of the 'second tithes,' and the fourth year's product of plants. But the wavesheaf at the Passover Feast, and the two loaves at Pentecost, could only be brought from what had grown on the holy soil itself.
There was a gradation of sanctity in the Holy Land itself, in accordance with ritual distinctions. Ten degrees are here enumerated, beginning with the bare soil of Palestine, and culminating in the Most Holy Place in the Temple - each implying some ritual distinction, which did not attach to a lower degree. And yet, although the very dust of heathen soil was supposed to carry defilement, like corruption or the grave, the spots most sacred were everywhere surrounded by heathenism; nay, its traces were visible in Jerusalem itself. The reasons of this are to be sought in the political circumstances of Palestine, and in the persistent endeavour of its rulers - with the exception of a very brief period under the Maccabees - to Grecianise the country, so as to eradicate that Jewish particularism which must always be antagonistic to every foreign element. In general, Palestine might be divided into the strictly Jewish territory, and the so-called Hellenic cities. The latter had been built at different periods, and were politically constituted after the model of the Greek cities, having their own senates (generally consisting of several hundred persons) and magistrates, each city with its adjoining territory forming a sort of commonwealth of its own. But it must not be imagined, that these districts were inhabited exclusively, or even chiefly, by Greeks.
One of these groups, that towards Perea, was really Syrian, and formed part of Syria Decapolis; while the other, along the coast of the Mediterranean, was Phoenician. Thus 'the land' was hemmed in, east and west, within its own borders, while south and north stretched heathen or semi-heathen districts. The strictly Jewish territory consisted of Judea proper, to which Galilee, Samaria and Perea were joined as Toparchies. These Toparchies consisted of a group of townships, under a Metropolis. The villages and townships themselves had neither magistrates of their own, nor civic constitution, nor lawful popular assemblies. Such civil administration as they required devolved on 'Scribes'. Thus Jerusalem was really, as well as nominally, the capital of the whole land. Judea itself was arranged into eleven, or rather, more exactly, into nine Toparchies, of which Jerusalem was the chief. While, therefore, the Hellenic cities were each independent of the other, the whole Jewish territory formed only one 'Civitas.' Rule, government, tribute - in short, political life - centerd in Jerusalem.
But this is not all. From motives similar to those which led to the founding of other Hellenic cities, Herod the Great and his immediate successors built a number of towns, which were inhabited chiefly by Gentiles, and had independent constitutions, like those of the Hellenic cities. Thus, Herod himself built Sebaste (Samaria), in the center of the country; Caesarea in the west, commanding the sea-coast; Gaba in Galilee, close to the great plain of Esdraelon; and Esbonitis in Perea.
Similarly, Philip the Tetrarch built Caesarea Philippi and Julias (Bethsaida-Julias, on the western shore of the lake); and Herod Antipas another Julias, and Tiberias. The object of these cities was twofold. As Herod, well knowing his unpopularity, surrounded himself by foreign mercenaries, and reared fortresses around his palace and the Temple which he built, so he erected these fortified posts, which he populated with strangers, as so many outworks, to surround and command Jerusalem and the Jews on all sides. Again, as, despite his profession of Judaism, he reared magnificent heathen temples in honor of Augustus at Sebaste and Caesarea, so those cities were really intended to form centers of Grecian influence within the sacred territory itself. At the same time, the Herodian cities enjoyed not the same amount of liberty as the 'Hellenic,' which, with the exception of certain imposts, were entirely self-governed, while in the former there were representatives of the Herodian rulers.
Although each of these towns and districts had its special deities and rites, some being determined by local traditions, their prevailing character may be described as a mixture of Greek and Syrian worship, the former preponderating, as might be expected. On the other hand, Herod and his successors encouraged the worship of the Emperor and of Rome, which, characteristically, was chiefly practised in the East. Thus, in the temple which Herod built to Augustus in Caesarea, there were statues of the Emperor as Olympian Zeus, and of Rome as Hera. He was wont to excuse this conformity to heathenism before his own people on the ground of political necessity. Yet, even if his religious inclinations had not been in that direction, he would have earnestly striven to Grecianise the people. Not only in Caesarea, but even in Jerusalem, he built a theatre and amphitheatre, where at great expense games were held every four years in honor of Augustus. Nay, he placed over the great gate of Temple at Jerusalem a massive golden eagle, the symbol of Roman dominion, as a sort of counterpart to that gigantic golden vine, the symbol of Israel, which hung above the entrance to the Holy Place.
These measures, indeed, led to popular indignation, and even to conspiracies and tumults, though not of the same general and intense character, as when, at a later period, Pilate sought to introduce into Jerusalem images of the Emperor, or when the statue of Caligula was to be placed in the Temple. In connection with this, it is curious to notice that the Talmud, while on the whole disapproving of attendance at theatres and amphitheatres - chiefly on the ground that it implies 'sitting in the seat of scorners,' and might involve contributions to the maintenance of idol-worship - does not expressly prohibit it, nor indeed speak very decidedly on the subject.
What kept Jews and Gentiles apart?
This abhorrence of all connected with idolatry, and the contempt entertained for all that was non-Jewish, will in great measure explain the code of legislation intended to keep the Jew and Gentile apart. If Judea had to submit to the power of Rome, it could at least avenge itself in the Academies of its sages. Almost innumerable stories are told in which Jewish sages, always easily, confute Roman and Greek philosophers; and others, in which even a certain Emperor (Antoninus) is represented as constantly in the most menial relation of self-abasement before a Rabbi. Rome, which was the fourth beast of Daniel, would in the age to come, when Jerusalem would be the metropolis of all lands, be the first to excuse herself on false though vain pleas for her wrongs to Israel. But on wordly grounds also, Rome was contemptible, having derived her language and writing from the Greeks, and not possessing even a hereditary succession in her empire.
If such was the estimate of dreaded Rome, it may be imagined in what contempt other nations were held. Well might 'the earth tremble,' for, if Israel had not accepted the Law at Sinai, the whole world would have been destroyed, while it once more 'was still' when that happy event took place, although God in a manner forced Israel to it. And so Israel was purified at Mount Sinai from the impurity which clung to our race in consequence of the unclean union between Eve and the serpent, and which still adhered to all other nations!
To begin with, every Gentile child, so soon as born, was to be regarded as unclean. Those who actually worshipped mountains, hills, bushes, etc. - in short, gross idolaters - should be cut down with the sword. But as it was impossible to exterminate heathenism, Rabbinic legislation kept certain definite objects in view, which may be thus summarized: To prevent Jews from being inadvertently led into idolatry; to avoid all participation in idolatry; not to do anything which might aid the heathen in their worship; and, beyond all this, not to give pleasure, nor even help, to heathens. The latter involved a most dangerous principle, capable of almost indefinite application by fanaticism. Even the Mishnah goes so far as to forbid aid to a mother in the hour of her need, or nourishment to her babe, in order not to bring up a child for idolatry! But this is not all.
Heathens were, indeed, not to be precipitated into danger, but yet not to be delivered from it. Indeed, an isolated teacher ventures even upon this statement: 'The best among the Gentiles, kill; the best among serpents, crush its head.' Still more terrible was the fanaticism which directed, that heretics, traitors, and those who had left the Jewish faith should be thrown into actual danger, and, if they were in it, all means for their escape removed. No intercourse of any kind was to be had with such - not even to invoke their medical aid in case of danger to life, since it was deemed, that he who had to do with heretics was imminent peril of becoming one himself, and that, if a heretic returned to the true faith, he should die at once - partly, probably, to expiate his guilt, and partly from fear of relapse. Terrible as all this sounds, it was probably not worse than the fanaticism displayed in what are called more enlightened times. Impartial history must chronicle it, however painful, to show the circumstances in which teaching so far different was propounded by Christ.
In truth, the bitter hatred which the Jew bore to the Gentile can only be explained from the estimate entertained of his character. The most vile, and even unnatural, crimes were imputed to them. It was not safe to leave cattle in their charge, to allow their women to nurse infants, or their physicians to attend the sick, nor to walk in their company, without taking precautions against sudden and unprovoked attacks. They should, so far as possible, be altogether avoided, except in cases of necessity or for the sake of business. They and theirs were defiled; their houses unclean, as containing idols or things dedicated to them; their feasts, their joyous occasions, their very contact, was polluted by idolatry; and there was no security, if a heathen were left alone in a room, that he might not, in wantonness or by carelessness, defile the wine or meat on the table, or the oil and wheat in the store. Under such circumstances, therefore, everything must be regarded as having been rendered unclean.
Three days before a heathen festival (according to some, also three days after) every business transaction with them was prohibited, for fear of giving either help or pleasure. Jews were to avoid passing through a city where there was an idolatrous feast - nay, they were not even to sit down within the shadow of a tree dedicated to idol-worship. Its wood was polluted; if used in baking, the bread was unclean; if a shuttle had been made of it, not only was all cloth woven on it forbidden, but if such had been inadvertently mixed with other pieces of cloth, or a garment made from it placed with other garments, the whole became unclean.
Jewish workmen were not to assist in building basilicas, nor stadia, nor places where judicial sentences were pronounced by the heathen. Of course, it was not lawful to let houses or fields, nor to sell cattle to them. Milk drawn by a heathen, if a Jew had not been present to watch it, bread and oil prepared by them, were unlawful. Their wine was wholly interdicted - the mere touch of a heathen polluted a whole cask; nay, even to put one's nose to heathen wine was strictly prohibited!
The Mishnah and Talmud
In trying to picture to ourselves New Testament scenes, the figure most prominent, next to those of the chief actors, is that of the Scribe. He seems ubiquitous; we meet him in Jerusalem, in Judea, and even in Galilee. Indeed, he is indispensable, not only in Babylon, which may have been the birthplace of his order, but among the 'dispersion' also. Everywhere he appears as the mouthpiece and representative of the people; he pushes to the front, the crowd respectfully giving way, and eagerly hanging on his utterances, as those of a recognized authority. He has been solemnly ordained by the laying on of hands; and is the Rabbi, 'my great one,' Master, amplitudo. He puts questions; he urges objections; he expects full explanations and respectful demeanour. Indeed, his hyper-ingenuity in questioning has become a proverb. There is not measure of his dignity, nor yet limit to his importance. He is the 'lawyer,' the 'well-plastered pit,' filled with the water of knowledge 'out of which not a drop can escape,' in opposition to the weeds of 'untilled soil' of ignorance. He is the Divine aristocrat, among the vulgar herd of rude and profane 'country-people,' who 'know not the Law' and are 'cursed.'
More than that, his order constitutes the ultimate authority on all questions of faith and practice; he is 'the Exegete of the Laws,' the 'teacher of the Law,' and along with 'the chief priests' and 'elders' a judge in the eccesiastical tribunals, whether of the capital or in the provinces. Although generally appearing in company with 'the Pharisees,' he is not necessarily one of them - for they represent a religious party, while he has a status, and holds an office.
In short, he is the Talmid or learned student, the Chakham or sage, whose honor is to be great in the future world. Each Scribe outweighed all the common people, who must accordingly pay him every honor. Nay, they were honored of God Himself, and their praises proclaimed by the angels; and in heaven also, each of them would hold the same rank and distinction as on earth. Such was to be the respect paid to their sayings, that they were to be absolutely believed, even if they were to declare that to be at the right hand which was at the left, or vice versâ.
An institution which had attained such proportions, and wielded such power, could not have been of recent growth. In point of fact, its rise was very gradual, and stretched back to the time of Nehemiah, if not beyond it. Although from the utter confusion of historical notices in Rabbinic writings and their constant practice of antedating events, it is impossible to furnish satisfactory details, the general development of the institution can betraced with sufficient precision. If Ezra is described in Holy Writ as a ready scribe who had set his heart to seek out the law of God, and do it - this might indicate to his successors, the Sopherim (Scribes), the threefold direction which their studies afterwards took: the Midrash, the Halakhah, and the Haggadah, of which the one pointed to Scriptural investigation, the other to what was to be observed, and the third to oral teaching in the widest sense. But Ezra left his work uncompleted. On Nehemiah's second arrival in Palestine, he found matters again in a state of utmost confusion. He must have felt the need of establishing some permanent authority to watch over religious affairs. This we take to have been 'the Great Assembly,' or, as it is commonly called, the 'Great Synagogue.' It is impossible with certainty to determine, either who composed this assembly, or of how many members it consisted. Probably it comprised the leading men in Church and State, the chief priests, elders, and 'judges' - the latter two classes including 'the Scribes,' if, indeed, that order was already separately organised.
Probably also the term 'Great Assembly' refers rather to a succession of men than to one Synod; the ingenuity of later times filling such parts of the historical canvas as had been left blank with fictitious notices. In the nature of things such an assembly could not exercise permanent sway in a sparsely populated country, without a strong central authority. Nor could they have wielded real power during the political difficulties and troubles of foreign domination. The oldest tradition sums up the result of their activity in this sentence ascribed to them: 'Be careful in judgment, set up many Talmidim, and make a hedge about the Torah (Law).'
The High-Priest, Simon the Just, is already designated as 'of the remnants of the Great Assembly.' But even this expression does not necessarily imply that he actually belonged to it. In the troublous times which followed his Pontificate, the sacred study seems to have been left to solitary individuals. The Mishnic tractate Aboth, which records 'the sayings of the Fathers,' here gives us only the name of Antigonus of Socho. It is significant, that for the first time we now meet a Greek name among Rabbinic authorities, together with an indistinct allusion to his disciples.
The long interval between Simon the Just and Antigonus and his disciples, brings us to the terrible time of Antiochus Epiphanes and the great Syrian persecution. The very sayings attributed to these two sound like an echo of the political state of the country. On three things, Simon was wont to say, the permanency of the (Jewish?) world depends: on the Torah (faithfulness to the Law and its pursuit), on worship (the non-participation in Grecianism), and on works of righteousness. They were dark times, when God's persecuted people were tempted to think, that it might be vain to serve Him, in which Antigonus had it: 'Be not like servants who serve their master for the sake of reward, but be like servants who serve their lord without a view to the getting of reward, and let the fear of heaven be upon you.' After these two names come those of the so-called five Zugoth, or 'couples,' of whom Hillel and Shammai are the last. Later tradition has represented these successive couples as, respectively, the Nasi (president), and Ab-beth-din (vice-president, of the Sanhedrin). Of the first three of these 'couples' it may be said that, except significant allusions to the circumstances and dangers of their times, their recorded utterances clearly point to the development of purely Sopheric teaching, that is, to the Rabbinistic part of their functions.
From the fourth 'couple,' which consists of Simon ben Shetach, who figured so largely in the political history of the later Maccabees (as Ab-beth-din), and his superior in learning and judgment, Jehudah ben Tabbai (as Nasi), we have again utterances which show, in harmony with the political history of the time, that judicial functions had been once more restored to the Rabbis. The last of five couples brings us to the time of Herod and of Christ.
We have seen that, during the period of severe domestic troubles, beginning with the persecutions under the Seleucidae, which marked the mortal struggle between Judaism and Grecianism, the 'Great Assembly' had disappeared from the scene. The Sopherim had ceased to be a party in power. They had become the Zeqenim, 'Elders,' whose task was purely ecclesiastical - the preservation of their religion, such as the dogmatic labors of their predecessors had made it. Yet another period opened with the advent of the Maccabees. These had been raised into power by the enthusiasm of the Chasidim, or 'pious ones,' who formed the nationalist party in the land, and who had gathered around the liberators of their faith and country. But the later bearing of the Maccabees had alienated the nationalists. Henceforth they sink out of view, or, rather, the extreme section of them merged in the extreme section of the Pharisees, till fresh national calamities awakened a new nationalist party. Instead of the Chasidim, we see now two religious parties within the Synagogue - the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The latter originally represented a reaction from the Pharisees - the modern men, who sympathized with the later tendencies of the Maccabees. Josephus places the origin of these two schools in the time of Jonathan, the successor of Judas Maccabee, and with this other Jewish notices agree. Jonathan accepted from the foreigner (the Syrian) the High-Priestly dignity, and combined with it that of secular ruler. But this is not all. The earlier Maccabees surrounded themselves with a governing eldership.
On the coins of their reigns this is designated as the Chebher, or eldership (association) of the Jews. Thus, theirs was what Josephus designates as an aristocratic government, and of which he somewhat vaguely says, that it lasted 'from the Captivity until the descendants of the Asmoneans set up kingly government.' In this aristocratic government the High-Priest would rather be the chief of a representative ecclesiastical body of rulers. This state of things continued until the great breach between Hyrcanus, the fourth from Judas Maccabee, and the Pharisaical party, which is equally recorded by Josephus and the Talmud, with only variations of names and details.
The dispute apparently arose from the desire of the Pharisees, that Hycanus should be content with the secular power, and resign the Pontificate. But it ended in the persecution, and removal from power, of the Pharisees. Very significantly, Jewish tradition introduces again at this time those purely ecclesiastical authorities which are designated as 'the couples.' In accordance with this, altered state of things, the name 'Chebher' now disappears from the coins of the Maccabees, and Rabbinical celebrities ('the couples' or Zugoth) are only teachers of traditionalism, and ecclesiastical authorities. The 'eldership,' which under the earlier Maccabees was called 'the tribunal of the Asmoneans.' now passed into the Sanhedrin. Thus we place the origin of this institution about the time of Hyrcanus. With this Jewish tradition fully agrees. The power of the Sanhedrin would, of course, vary with political circumstances, being at times almost absolute, as in the reign of the Pharisaic devotee-Queen, Alexandra, while at others it was shorn of all but ecclesiastical authority. But as the Sanhedrin was in full force at the time of Jesus, its organization will claim our attention in the sequel.
After this brief outline of the origin and development of an institution which exerted such decisive influence on the future of Israel, it seems necessary similarly to trace the growth of the 'traditions of the Elders,' so as to understand what, alas! so effectually, opposed the new doctrine of the Kingdom. The first place must here be assigned to those legal determinations, which traditionalism declared absolutely binding on all - not only of equal, but even greater obligation than Scripture itself. And this not illogically, since tradition was equally of Divine origin with Holy Scripture, and authoritatively explained its meaning; supplemented it; gave it application to cases not expressly provided for, perhaps not even foreseen in Biblical times; and generally guarded its sanctity by extending and adding to its provisions, drawing 'a hedge,' around its 'garden enclosed.'
Thus, in new and dangerous circumstances, would the full meaning of God's Law, to its every title and iota, be elicited and obeyed. Thus also would their feet be arrested, who might stray from within, or break in from without. Accordingly, so important was tradition, that the greatest merit a Rabbi could claim was the strictest adherence to the traditions, which he had received from his teacher. Nor might one Sanhedrin annul, or set aside, the decrees of its predecessors. To such length did they go in this worship of the letter, that the great Hillel was actually wont to mispronounce a word, because his teacher before him had done so.
These traditional ordinances, as already stated, bear the general name of the Halakhah, as indicating alike the way in which the fathers had walked, and that which their children were bound to follow. These Halakhoth were either simply the laws laid down in Scripture; or else derived from, or traced to it by some ingenious and artificial method of exegesis; or added to it, by way of amplification and for safety's sake; or, finally, legalized customs. They provided for every possible and impossible case, entered into every detail of private, family, and public life; and with iron logic, unbending rigour, and most minute analysis pursued and dominated man, turn whither he might, laying on him a yoke which was truly unbearable. The return which it offered was the pleasure and distinction of knowledge, the acquisition of righteousness, and the final attainment of rewards; one of its chief advantages over our modern traditionalism, that it was expressly forbidden to draw inferences from these traditions, which should have the force of fresh legal determinations.
But other principles apply to the traditions, from Moses downwards. According to the Jewish view, God had given Moses on Mount Sinai alike the oral and the written Law, that is, the Law with all its interpretations and applications. From Exodus 20:1, it was inferred, that God had communicated to Moses the Bible, the Mishnah, and Talmud, and the Haggadah, even to that which scholars would in latest times propound. In answer to the somewhat natural objection, why the Bible alone had been written, it was said that Moses had proposed to write down all the teaching entrusted to him, but the Almighty had refused, on account of the future subjection of Israel to the nations, who would take from them the written Law. Then the unwritten traditions would remain to separate between Israel and the Gentiles. Popular exegesis found this indicated even in the language of prophecy.
If traditionalism was not to be committed to writing by Moses, measures had been taken to prevent oblivion or inaccuracy. Moses had always repeated a traditional law successively to Aaron, to his sons, and to the elders of the people, and they again in turn to each other, in such wise, that Aaron heard the Mishnah four times, his sons three times, the Elders twice, and the people once. But even this was not all, for by successive repetitions (of Aaron, his sons, and the Elders) the people also heard it four times. And, before his death, Moses had summoned any one to come forward, if he had forgotten aught of what he had heard and learned. But these 'Halakhoth of Moses from Sinai' do not make up the whole of traditionalism. According to Maimonides, it consists of five, but more critically of three classes.
The first of these comprises both such ordinances as are found in the Bible itself, and the so-called Halakhoth of Moses from Sinai - that is, such laws and usages as prevailed from time immemorial, and which, according to the Jewish view, had been orally delivered to, but not written down by Moses. For these, therefore, no proof was to be sought in Scripture - at most support, or confirmatory allusion (Asmakhtu). Nor were these open to discussion.
The second class formed the 'oral law,' or the 'traditional teaching' in the stricter sense. To this class belonged all that was supposed to be implied in, or that could be deduced from, the Law of Moses. The latter contained, indeed, in substance or germ, everything; but it had not been brought out, till circumstances successfully evolved what from the first had been provided in principle. For this class of ordinances reference to, and proof from, Scripture was required. Not so for the third class of ordinances, which were 'the hedge' drawn by the Rabbis around the Law, to prevent any breach of the Law or customs, to ensure their exact observance, or to meet peculiar circumstances and dangers. These ordinances constituted 'the sayings of the Scribes' or 'of the Rabbis' - and were either positive in their character (Teqqanoth), or else negative (Gezeroth from gazar 'to cut off'). Perhaps the distinction of these two cannot always be strictly carried out. But it was probably to this third class especially, confessedly unsupported by Scripture, that these words of Christ referred:
"Therefore, every judgment that they tell you to observe, observe and do. But do not do according to their works; for they say and do not. For they bind heavy burdens and hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of men; but they will not move them with one of their own fingers. (Matthew 23:3-4, Holy Bible in Its Original Order - A Faithful Version (HBFV))
This view has two-fold confirmation. For, this third class of Halakhic ordinances was the only one open to the discussion of the learned, the ultimate decision being according to the majority. Yet it possessed practically (though not theoretically) the same authority as the other two classes. In further confirmation of our view the following may be quoted: 'A Gezerah (i.e. this third class of ordinances) is not to be laid on the congregation, unless the majority of the congregation is able to bear it' - words which read like a commentary on those of Jesus, and show that these burdens could be laid on, or moved away, according to the varying judgment or severity of a Rabbinic College.
This body of traditional ordinances forms the subject of the Mishnah, or second, repeated law. We have here to place on one side the Law of Moses as recorded in the Pentateuch, as standing by itself. All else - even the teaching of the Prophets and of the Hagiographa, as well as the oral traditions - bore the general name of Qabbalah - 'that which has been received.' The sacred study - or Midrash, in the original application of the term - concerned either the Halakhah, traditional ordinance, which was always 'that which had been heard' (Shematha), or else the Haggadah, 'that which was said' upon the authority of individuals, not as legal ordinance. It was illustration, commentary, anecdote, clever or learned saying, etc. At first the Halakhah remained unwritten, probably owing to the disputes between Pharisees and Sadducees. But the necessity of fixedness and order led in course of time to more or less complete collections of the Halakhoth. The oldest of these is ascribed to R. Akiba, in the time of the Emperor Hadrian. But the authoritative collection in the so-called Mishnah is the work of Jehudah the Holy, who died about the end of the second century of our era.
Altogether, the Mishnah comprises six 'Orders' (Sedarim), each devoted to a special class of subjects. These 'Orders' are divided into tractates (Massikhtoth, Massekhtiyoth, 'textures, webs'), of which there are sixty-three (or else sixty-two) in all. These tractates are again subdivided into chapters (Peraqim) - in all 525, which severally consist of a certain number of verses, or Mishnahs (Mishnayoth, in all 4,187). Considering the variety and complexity of the subjects treated, the Mishnah is arranged with remarkable logical perspicuity. The language is Hebrew, though of course not that of the Old Testament. The words rendered necessary by the new circumstances are chiefly derived from the Greek, the Syriac, and the Latin, with Hebrew terminations. But all connected with social intercourse, or ordinary life (such as contracts), is written, not in Hebrew, but in Aramaean, as the language of the people.
But the traditional law embodied other materials than the Halakhoth collected in the Mishnah. Some that had not been recorded there, found a place in the works of certain Rabbis, or were derived from their schools. These are called Boraithas - that is, traditions external to the Mishnah. Finally, there were 'additions' (or Tosephtoth), dating after the completion of the Mishnah, but probably not later than the third century of our era. Such there are to not fewer than fifty-two out of the sixty-three Mishnic tractates. When speaking of the Halakhah as distinguished from the Haggadah, we must not, however, suppose that the latter could be entirely separated from it. In point of fact, one whole tractate in the Mishnah (Aboth: The Sayings of the 'Fathers') is entirely Haggadah; a second (Middoth: the 'Measurements of the Temple') has Halakhah in only fourteen places; while in the rest of the tractates Haggadah occurs in not fewer than 207 places. Only thirteen out of the sixty-three tractates of the Mishnah are entirely free from Haggadah.
Hitherto we have only spoken of the Mishnah. But this comprises only a very small part of traditionalism. In course of time the discussions, illustrations, explanations, and additions to which the Mishnah gave rise, whether in its application, or in the Academies of the Rabbis, were authoritatively collected and edited in what are known as the two Talmuds or Gemaras. If we imagine something combining law reports, a Rabbinical 'Hansard,' and notes of a theological debating club - all thoroughly Oriental, full of digressions, anecdotes, quaint sayings, fancies, legends, and too often of what, from its profanity, superstition, and even obscenity, could scarcely be quoted, we may form some general idea of what the Talmud is. The oldest of these two Talmuds dates from about the close of the fourth century of our era. It is the product of the Palestinian Academies, and hence called the Jerusalem Talmud. The second is about a century younger, and the outcome of the Babylonian schools, hence called the Babylon (afterwards also 'our') Talmud. We do not possess either of these works complete.
The most defective is the Jerusalem Talmud, which is also much briefer, and contains far fewer discussions than that of Babylon. The Babylon Talmud, which in its present form extends over thirty-six out of the sixty-three tractates of the Mishnah, is about ten or eleven times the size of the latter, and more than four times that of the Jerusalem Talmud. It occupies (in our editions), with marginal commentations, 2,947 folio leaves (pages a and b). Both Talmuds are written in Aramaean; the one in its western, the other in its eastern dialect, and in both the Mishnah is discussed seriatim, and clause by clause. Of the character of these discussions it would be impossible to convey an adequate idea.
To complete our brief survey, it should be added that our editions of the Babylon Talmud contain (at the close of vol. ix. and after the fourth 'Order') certain Boraithas. Of these there were originally nine, but two of the smaller tractates (on 'the memorial fringes,' and on 'non-Israelites') have not been preserved. The first of these Boraithas is entitled Abhoth de Rabbi Nathan, and partially corresponds with a tractate of a similar name in the Mishnah. Next follow six minor tractates. These are respectively entitled Sopherim (Scribes), detailing the ordinances about copying the Scriptures, the ritual of the Lectionary, and festive prayers; Ebhel Rabbathi or Semakhoth, containing Halakhah and Haggadah about funeral and mourning observances; Kallah, on the married relationship; Derekh Erets, embodying moral directions and the rules and customs of social intercourse; Derekh Erets Zuta, treating of similar subjects, but as regards learned students; and, lastly, the Pereq ha Shalom, which is a eulogy on peace. All these tractates date, at least in their present form, later than the Talmudic period.
But when the Halakhah, however varied in its application, was something fixed and stable, the utmost latitude was claimed and given in the Haggadah. It is sadly characteristic, that, practically, the main body of Jewish dogmatic and moral theology is really only Haggadah, and hence of no absolute authority. The Halakhah indicated with the most minute and painful punctiliousness every legal ordinance as to outward observances, and it explained every bearing of the Law of Moses. But beyond this it left the inner man, the spring of actions, untouched. What he was to believe and what to feel, was chiefly matter of the Haggadah. Of course the laws of morality, and religion, as laid down in the Pentateuch, were fixed principles, but there was the greatest divergence and latitude in the explanation and application of many of them. A man might hold or propound almost any views, so long as he contravened not the Law of Moses, as it was understood, and adhered in teaching and practice to the traditional ordinances.
In principle it was the same liberty which the Romish Church accords to its professing members - only with much wider application, since the debatable ground embraced so many matters of faith, and the liberty given was not only that of private opinion but of public utterance. We emphasize this, because the absence of authoritative direction and the latitude in matters of faith and inner feeling stand side by side, and in such sharp contrast, with the most minute punctiliousness in all matters of outward observance. And here we may mark the fundamental distinction between the teaching of Jesus and Rabbinism. He left the Halakhah untouched, putting it, as it were, on one side, as something quite secondary, while He insisted as primary on that which to them was chiefly matter of Haggadah.
The difference was one of fundamental principle, and not merely of development, form, or detail. The one developed the Law in its outward direction as ordinances and commandments; the other in its inward direction as life and liberty. Thus Rabbinism occupied one pole - and the outcome of its tendency to pure externalism was the Halakhah, all that was internal and higher being merely Haggadic.
The teaching of Jesus occupied the opposite pole. Its starting-point was the inner sanctuary in which God was known and worshipped, and it might well leave the Rabbinic Halakhoth aside, as not worth controversy, to be in the meantime 'done and observed,' in the firm assurance that, in the course of its development, the spirit would create its own appropriate forms, or, to use a New Testament figure, the new wine burst the old bottles. And, lastly, as closely connected with all this, and marking the climax of contrariety: Rabbinism started with demand of outward obedience and righteousness, and pointed to sonship as its goal; the Gospel started with the free gift of forgiveness through faith and of sonship, and pointed to obedience and righteousness as its goal.
In truth, Rabbinism, as such, had no system of theology; only what ideas, conjectures, or fancies the Haggadah yielded concerning God, Angels, demons, man, his future destiny and present position, and Israel, with its past history and coming glory. Accordingly, by the side of what is noble and pure, what a terrible mass of utter incongruities, of conflicting statements and too often debasing superstitions, the outcome of ignorance and narrow nationalism; of legendary coloring of Biblical narratives and scenes, profane, coarse, and degrading to them; the Almighty Himself and His Angels taking part in the conversations of Rabbis, and the discussions of Academies; nay, forming a kind of heavenly Sanhedrin, which occasionally requires the aid of an earthly Rabbi. The miraculous merges into the ridiculous, and even the revolting. Miraculous cures, miraculous supplies, miraculous help, all for the glory of great Rabbis, who by a look or word can kill, and restore to life. At their bidding the eyes of a rival fall out, and are again inserted.
The painful fact is only too clearly illustrated by the relation in which traditionalism places itself to the Scriptures of the Old Testament, even though it acknowledges their inspiration and authority. The Talmud has it, that he who busies himself with Scripture only (i.e. without either the Mishnah or Gemara) has merit, and yet no merit. Even the comparative paucity of references to the Bible in the Mishnah is significant. Israel had made void the Law by its traditions. Under a load of outward ordinances and observances its spirit had been crushed. The religion as well as the grand hope of the Old Testament had become externalized. And so alike Heathenism and Judaism - for it was no longer the pure religion of the Old Testament - each following its own direction, had reached its goal.