« הקודםהמשך »
two hundred years was the ascendency gained by Athaliah, the daughter of Jezebel, over her husband Jehoram, who introduced the gods of Phænicia. She seems to have exercised the same malign influence in Jerusalem that Jezebel did in Samaria, and was as unscrupulous as her pagan mother. She even succeeded in usurping the throne, and in destroying the whole race of David, with the exception of Joash, an infant, whom Jehoiada the high-priest contrived to hide until the unscrupulous Athaliahi was slain, having reigned as queen six years, — the first instance in Jewish history of a female sovereign.
Both Judah and Israel in these years had the danger of a Syrian war constantly threatening them. Under Hazael, who reigned at Damascus, great conquests were made by the Syrians of Jewish territory, and the capture of Jerusalem was averted only by buying off the enemy, to whom were surrendered the gifts to the Temple accumulating since the days of Jehoshaphat. The whole land was overrun and pillaged. Nor were calamities confined to the miseries of war. A long drouth burned the fields ; seed rotted under the clods ; the cattle moaned in the barren and driedup pastures; while locusts devoured what the drouth had spared. Says Stanley: “The purple vine, the green fig-tree, the gray olive, the scarlet pomegranate, the golden corn, the waving palm, the fragrant citron,
vanished before them, and the trunks and branches were left bare and white by their devouring teeth,”
- a brilliant sentence, by the way, which Geikie quotes without acknowledgment, as well as many others, which lays him open to the charge of plagiarism. Both Stanley and Geikie, however, seem to be indebted to Ewald for all that is striking and original in their histories, — so true is Solomon's saying that there is nothing new under the sun. The rarest thing in literature is a truly original history.
In this mournful crisis the prophet Joel, who was a priest at Jerusalem, demanded a solemn fast, which the entire kingdom devoutly celebrated, the whole body of the priests crying aloud before the gates of the Temple, “Spare Thy people, O Lord! give not Thine heritage to reproach, lest the heathen make us a by-word, and ask, Where is now thy God ?” But Joel, the oldest, and in many respects the most eloquent, Hebrew prophet whose utterances have come down to us, did not speak in vain, and a great religious revival fol. . lowed, attended naturally by renewed prosperity, — for among the Jews a “revival of religion ” meant a practical return from vice to virtue, personal holiness, and the just and wholesome requirements of their law; so that “under Amaziah, Uzziah, and Jotham, Judah rose once more to a pitch of honor and glory which almost recalled the golden age of David.”
A greater power than that of Syria threatened the peace and welfare of the kingdom of Judah, as it also did that of Israel; and this was the empire of Assyria. During the reigns of David and Solomon this empire was passing through so many disasters that it was not regarded as dangerous, and both of the Jewish kingdoms were left free to avail themselves of every facility afforded for national development. Ewald notices emphatically this outward prosperity, which introduced luxury and pride throughout the kingdom. It was the golden age of merchants, usurers, and money-mongers. Then appeared that extraordinary greed for riches which never afterward left the nation, even in seasons of calamity, and which is the most striking peculiarity of the modern Hebrew. This was a period not only of prosperity and luxury, but of vanity and ostentation, especially among women. The insidious influences of wealth more than balanced the good effected by a long succession of virtuous and gifted princes. I read of no country that, on the whole, was ever favored by a more remarkable constellation of absolute kings than that of Judah. Most of them had long reigns, took prophets and wise men for their counsellors, developed the resources of their kingdoms, strengthened Jerusalem, avoided entangling wars, and enjoyed the love and veneration of the people. Most of them, unlike the kings of Israel, were true to
their exalted mission, were loyal to Jehovah, and discouraged idolatry, if they did not root out the scandal by persecuting violence. Some of these kings were poets, and others were saints, like their great ancestor David ; and yet, in spite of all their efforts, corruption and infidelity gained ground, and ultimately undermined the state and prepared the way for Babylonian conquests. Though Jerusalem survived the fall of Samaria for nearly five generations, divine judgment was delayed, but not withdrawn. The chastisement was sent at last at the hands of warriors whom no nation could successfully resist.
The old enemies who had in the early days overwhelmed the Hebrews with calamities under the Judges had been conquered by Saul and David, — the Moabites, the Edomites, the Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Philistines, — and they never afterward seriously menaced the kingdom, although there were occasional wars. But in the eighth century before Christ the Assyrian empire, whose capital was Nineveh, had become very formidable under warlike sovereigns, who aimed to extend their dominion to the Mediterranean and to Egypt. In the reign of Jehoash, the son of Athaliah, an Assyrian monarch had exacted tribute from Tyre and Sidon, and Syria was overrun. When Pul, or Tilgath-pilneser, seized the throne of Nineveh, he pushed his conquests to the Caspian Sea on the north
and the Indus on the east, to the frontier of Egypt and the deserts of Sinai on the west and south. In 739 B. c. he appeared in Syria to break up a confederation which Uzziah of Judah had formed to resist him, and succeeded in destroying the power of Syria, and carrying its people as captives to Assyria. Menahem, king of Samaria, submitted to the enormous tribute of one thousand talents of silver. In 733 B.C. this great conqueror again invaded Syria, beheaded Rezin its king, took Damascus, reduced five hundred and eighteen cities and towns to ashes, and carried back to Nineveh an immense spoil. In 728 B.C. Shalmanezer IV. appeared in Palestine, and invested Samaria. The city made an heroic defence; but after a siege of three years it yielded to Sargon, who carried away into captivity the ten tribes of Israel, from which they never returned.
Judah survived by reason of its greater military skill and its strong fortresses, with which Asa, Jehoshaphat, and Uzziah had fortified the country, especially Jerusalem. But the fate of western Asia was sealed when Rezin of Damascus, Menahem of Samaria, Hirann of Tyre, and the king of Hamath moodily consented to pay tribute to the king of Assyria ; the downfall of the sturdy Judah was in preparation.
Greater evils than those of war threatened the stability of the state. In Judah as in Ephraim drunk