תמונות בעמוד
PDF
ePub

iarity was a slavish and fanatical observance of all the technicalities of the law, both Mosaic and traditional; a sect exceedingly narrow, but popular and powerful. They multiplied fasts and ritualistic observances as the superstitious monks of the Middle Ages did after them; they extended the payment of tithes (tenths) to the most minute and unimportant things, like the herbs which grew in their gardens; they began the Sabbath on Friday evening, and kept it so rigorously that no one was permitted to walk beyond one thousand steps from his own door.

A natural reaction to this severity in keeping minute ordinances, alike narrow, fanatical, and unreasonable, produced another sect called the Sadducees, — a revolutionary party with a more progressive spirit, which embraced the more cultivated and liberal part of the nation; a minority indeed, — a small party as far as numbers went, – but influential from the men of wealth, talent, and learning that belonged to it, coniaining as it did the nobility and gentry. The members of this party refused to acknowledge any Oral Law transmitted from Moses, and held themselves bound only by the Written Law; they were indifferent to dogmas that had not reason or Scriptures to support them. The writings of Moses have scarcely any recognition of a future life, and hence the Sadducees disbelieved in the resurrection of the dead, — for - -which reason the Pharisees accused them of looseness in religious opinions. They were more courteous and interesting than the great body of the people who favored the Pharisees, but were more luxurious in their habits of life. They had more social but less religious pride than their rivals, among whom pride took the form of a gloomy austerity and a self-satisfied righteousness.

Another thing pertaining to divine worship which marked the Jews on their return from captivity was the establishment of synagogues, in which the law was expounded by the Scribes, whose business it was to study tradition, as embodied in the Talmud. The Pharisees were the great patrons and teachers of these meetings, which became exceedingly numerous, especially in the cities. There were at one time four hundred synagogues in Jerusalem alone. To these the great body of the people resorted on the Sabbath, rather than to the Temple. The synagogue, popular, convenient, and social, almost supplanted the Temple, except on grand occasions and festivals. The Temple was for great ceremonies and celebrations, like a mediæval cathedral, — an object of pride and awe, adorned and glorious; the synagogue was a sort of church, humble and modest, for the use of the people in ordinary worship, -a place of religious instruction, where decent strangers were allowed to address the meetings, and where social congratulations and inquiries were exchanged. Hence, the synagogue represented the democratic element in Judaism, while it did not ignore the Temple.

Nearly contemporaneous with the synagogue was the Sanhedrim, or Grand Council, composed of seventy-one members, made up of elders, scribes, and priests, – men learned in the law, both Pharisees and Sadducees. It was the business of this aristocratic court to settle disputed texts of Scripture; also questions relating to marriage, inheritance, and contracts. It met in one of the buildings connected with the Temple. It was presided over by the high-priest, and was a digni. fied and powerful body, its decisions being binding on the Jews outside Palestine. It was not unlike a great council in the early Christian Church for the settlement of theological questions, except that it was not temporary but permanent; and it was more ecclesiastical than civil. Jesus was summoned before it for assuming to be the Messiah ; Peter and John, for teaching false doctrine; and Paul, for transgressing the rules of the Temple.

Thus in one hundred and fifty or two hundred years after the Jews returned to their own country, we see the rise of institutions adapted to their circumstances as a religious people, small in numbers, poor but free, — for they were protected by the Persian monarchs against their powerful neighbors. The largest part of the nation was still scattered in every city of the world, especially at Alexandria, where there was a very large Jewish colony, plying their various occupations unmolested by the civil power. In this period Ewald thinks there was a great stride made in sacred literature, especially in recasting ancient books that we accept as canonical. Some of the most beautiful of the Psalms were supposed to have been written at this time; also Apocalypses, books of combined history and revelatory prophecy, — like Daniel, and simple histories like Esther, — written by gifted, lofty, and spiritual men whose names have perished, embodying vivid conceptions of the agency of Jehovah in the affairs of men, so popular, so interesting, and so religious that they soon took their place among the canonical books.

The most noted point in the history of the Jews in the dark ages of their history, for two hundred years after their. return from Babylon and Persia, was the external peace and tranquillity of the country, favorable to a quiet and uneventful growth, like that of Puritan New England for one hundred and fifty years after the settlement at Plymouth, — making no history outside of their own peaceful and prosperous life. They had no intercourse with surrounding nations, but were contented to resettle ancient villages, and devote themselves to agricultural pursuits. They were thus trained by labor and poverty — possibly by dangers — to manly energies and heroic courage. They formed a material from which armies could be extemporized on any sudden emergencies. There was no standing army as in the times of David and Solomon, but the whole people were trained to the use of military weapons. Thus the hardy and piou3 agriculturists of Palestine grew imperceptibly in numbers and wealth, so as to become once more a nation. In all probability this unhistorical period, of which we know almost nothing, was the most fruitful period in Jewish history for the development of great virtues. If they had no heathen literature, they could still discuss theological dogmas; if they had no amusements, they could meet together in their synagogues; if they had no king, they accepted the government of the high-priest; if they had no powerful nobles, they had the aristocratic Sanhedrim, which represented their leading men; if they were disposed to contention, as so many persons are, they could dispute about the unimportant shibboleths which their religious parties set up as matters of difference, — and the more minute, technical, and insoluble these questions were, the fiercer probably grew their contests.

Such was the Hebrew commonwealth in the dark ages of its history, under the protection of the Persian kings. It formed a part of the province of Syria, but

« הקודםהמשך »