HotFreeBooks.com
Introduction to the Old Testament
by John Edgar McFadyen
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6
Home - Random Browse

Almost every commentator laments the impossibility of presenting a continuous and systematic exposition of the argument in Ecclesiastes, or Qoheleth, as the book is called in the Hebrew Bible.

The truth is that, though the first three chapters are in the main coherent and continuous, little order or arrangement can be detected in the rest of the book. Various explanations have been offered. Bickell, e.g., supposed that the leaves had by some accident become disarranged—a supposition not wholly impossible, but highly improbable, especially when we consider that the Greek translation reads the book in the same order as the Hebrew text. Others suppose with equal improbability that the book is a sort of dialogue, in which each speaker maintains his own thesis, while the epilogue, xii. 13f, pronounces the final word on the discussion. One thing is certain, that various moods are represented in the book: the question is whether they are the moods of one man or of several. Baudissin thinks it not impossible that, "apart from smaller interpolations, the book as a whole is the reflection of the struggle of one and the same author towards a view of the world which he has not yet found."

Note the phrase "apart from interpolations." Even the most cautious and conservative scholars usually admit that the facts constrain them to believe in the presence of interpolations: e.g., xi. 9b and xii. la are almost universally regarded in this light. The difficulties occasioned by the book are chiefly three. (1) Its fragmentary character. Ch. x.; e.g., looks more like a collection of proverbs than anything else. (2) Its abrupt transitions: e.g., vii. 19, 20. "Wisdom strengtheneth the wise more than ten men that are in a city: for there is not a righteous man on the earth." This may be another aspect of (1). But (3) more serious and important are the undoubted contradictions of the book, some of which had been noted by early Jewish scholars. E.g., there is nothing better than to eat and drink, ii. 24; it is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasting, vii. 2. In iii. 1-8 times are so fixed and determined that human labour is profitless, iii. 9, while in iii. 11 this inflexible order is not an oppressive but a beautiful thing. In viii. 14, ix. 2 (cf. vii. 15) the fate of the righteous and the wicked is the same, in viii. 12, 13, it is different: it is well with the one and ill with the other. In iii. 16, which is radically pessimistic (cf. vv. 18-21), there is no justice: in iii. 17 a judgment is coming. Better death than life, iv. 2, better life than death, ix. 4 (cf. xi. 7). In i. 17 the search for wisdom is a pursuit of the wind: in ii. 13 wisdom excels folly as light darkness. Ch. ii. 22 emphasizes the utter fruitlessness of labour, iii. 22 its joy. These contradictions are too explicit to be ignored. Indeed sometimes their juxtaposition forces them upon the most inattentive reader; as when viii. 12, 13 assert that it is well with the righteous and ill with the wicked, whereas viii. 14 asserts that the wicked often fare as the just should fare and vice versa; and that this is the author's real opinion is made certain by the occurrence of the melancholy refrain at the end of the verse.

Different minds will interpret these contradictions differently. Some will say they are nothing but the reflex of the contradictions the preacher found to run through life, others will say that they represent him in different moods. But they are too numerous, radical, and vital to be disposed of so easily. There can be no doubt that the book is essentially pessimistic: it ends as well as begins with Vanity of Vanities, xii. 8; and this must therefore have been the ground-texture of the author's mind. Now it is not likely to be an accident that the references to the moral order and the certainty of divine judgment are not merely assertions: they can usually, in their context, only be regarded as protests—as protests, that is, against the context. That is very plain in ch. iii., where the order of the world, vv. 1-8, which the preacher lamented as profitless, vv. 9, 10, is maintained to be beautiful, v. 11. It is equally plain in iii. 17, which asserts the divine judgment, whereas the context, iii. 16, denies the justice of earthly tribunals, and effectually shuts out the hope of a brighter future by maintaining that man dies[1] like the beast, vv. 18-21. [Footnote 1: Ch. iii. 21 should read: "Who knoweth the spirit of man, whether it goeth upward?" This translation involves no change in the consonantal text and is supported by the Septuagint.]

Of a similar kind, but on a somewhat lower religious level are the frequent protests against the preacher's pessimistic assertions of the emptiness of life and the vanity of effort. For the injunction to eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of one's labour may, in their contexts, also be fairly considered not simply as statements, but as protests (cf. v. 18-20 with v. 13-17); for this glad love of life was thoroughly representative of the ancient tradition of Hebrew life (cf. Jeremiah's criticism of Josiah, xxii. 15.) Doubtless these protests could come from the preacher's own soul; but, considering all the phenomena, it is more natural to suppose that they were the protests of others who were offended by the scepticism and the pessimism of the book, which may well have had a wide circulation.

It now only remains to ask whether books regarded as Scripture ever received such treatment as is here assumed. Every one acquainted with the textual phenomena of the Old Testament knows that this was a common occurrence. The Greek-speaking Jews, translating about or before the time at which Ecclesiastes was written, altered the simple phrase in Exodus xxiv. 10, "They saw the God of Israel," to "They saw the place where the God of Israel stood." In Psalm lxxxiv. 11 they altered "God is a sun (or pinnacle?) and shield" to "God loves mercy and truth." They altered "God" to "an angel" in Job xx. 15, "God will cast them (i.e., the riches) out of his belly"; or even to "an angel will cast them out of his house." These alterations have no other authority than the caprice of the translators, acting in the interests of a purer, austerer, but more timid theology. At the end of the Greek version of the book of Job, which adds, "It is written that Job will rise again with those whom the Lord doth raise," we see how deliberately an insertion could be made in theological interests. The liberties which the Greek-speaking Jews thus demonstrably took with the text of Scripture, we further know that the Hebrew-speaking Jews did not hesitate to take. A careful comparison of the text of such books as Samuel and Kings with Chronicles[1] shows that similar changes were deliberately made, and made by pious men in theological interests. We are thus perfectly free to suppose that the original text of Ecclesiastes, which must have given great offence to the stricter Jews of the second century B.C., was worked over in the same way. [Footnote 1: Cf., e.g., the substitution of Satan in 1 Chron. xxi. 1 for Jehovah in 2 Sam. xxiv. 1.]

It would be impossible to apportion the various sections or verses of the book with absolute definiteness among various writers; in the nature of the case, such analyses will always be more or less tentative. But on the whole there can be little doubt that the original book, which can be best estimated by the more or less continuous section, i.-iii., was pervaded by a spirit of almost, if not altogether, unqualified pessimism. This received correction or rather protest from two quarters: from one writer of happier soul, who believed that the earth was Jehovah's (Ps. xxiv. 1) and, as such, was not a vanity, but was full of His goodness; and from a pious spirit, who was offended and alarmed by the preacher's dangerous challenge of the moral order, and took occasion to assure his readers of the certainty of a judgment and of the consequent wisdom of fearing God. On any view of the book it is difficult to see the relevance of the collection of proverbs in ch. x.

If this view be correct, the epilogue, xii. 9-14, can hardly have formed part of the original pessimistic book. The last two verses, in particular, are conceived in the spirit of the pious protest which finds frequent expression in the book; and it is easy to believe that the words saved the canonicity of Ecclesiastes, if indeed they were not added for that very purpose. The reference to the commandments in v. 13 is abrupt, and almost without parallel, viii. 5. Again, the preacher, who speaks throughout the book in the first person, is spoken of here in the third, v. 9; and, as in no other part of the book, the reader is addressed as "my son" v. 12 (cf. Prov. i. 8., ii. 1, iii. 1).

The value of Ecclesiastes is negative rather than positive. It is the nearest approach to despair possible upon the soil of Old Testament piety. It is the voice of a faith, if faith it can be called, which is not only perplexed with the search, but weary of it; but it shows how deep and sore was the need of a Redeemer.



ESTHER

The spirit of the book of Esther is anything but attractive. It is never quoted or referred to by Jesus or His apostles, and it is a satisfaction to think that in very early times, and even among Jewish scholars, its right to a place in the canon was hotly contested. Its aggressive fanaticism and fierce hatred of all that lay outside of Judaism were felt by the finer spirits to be false to the more generous instincts that lay at the heart of the Hebrew religion; but by virtue of its very intensity and exclusiveness it as all the more welcome to average representatives of later Judaism, among whom it enjoyed an altogether unique popularity, attested by its three Targums and two distinct Greek recensions[1]—indeed, one rabbi places it on an equality with the law, and therefore above the prophets and the "writings." [Footnote 1: It is probable also that the two decrees, one commanding the celebration for two days, ix. 20-28, the other enjoining fasting and lamentations, ix. 29-32, are later additions, designed to incorporate the practice of a later time.]

The story is well told. The queen of Xerxes, king of Persia, is deposed for contumacy, and her crown is set upon the head of Esther, a lovely Jewish maiden. Presently the whole Jewish race is imperilled by an act of Mordecai, the foster-father of Esther, who refuses to do obeisance to Haman, a powerful and favourite courtier. Haman's plans for the destruction of the Jews are frustrated by Esther, acting on a suggestion of Mordecai. The courtier himself falls from power, and is finally hanged on the gallows he had prepared for Mordecai, while Mordecai "the Jew" is exalted to the place next the king, and the Jews, whom the initial decree had doomed to extermination, turn the tables by slaying over 75,000 of their enemies throughout the empire, including the ten sons of Haman. In memory of the deliverance, the Purim festival is celebrated on the 14th and 15th of the month Adar.

The popularity of the book was due, no doubt, most of all to the power with which it expresses some of the most characteristic, if almost most odious, traits of Judaism; but also in a measure to its attractive literary qualities. The setting is brilliant, and the development of the incident is often skilful and dramatic, The elevation of Mordecai, due to the simple accident of the king's having passed a sleepless night, the unexpected accusation of Haman by Esther, the swift and complete reversal of the situation by which Haman is hanged upon his own gallows and Mordecai receives the royal ring—the general sequence of incidents is conceived and elaborated with considerable dramatic power.

The large number of proper names, the occasional reference to chronicles, ii. 23, vi. 1, and the precise mention of dates, combine to raise the presumption that the book is real history; but a glance at the facts is sufficient to dispel this presumption. The story falls within the reign of Xerxes—about 483 B.C., but the hero Mordecai is represented as being one of the exiles deported with Jehoiachin in 597 B.C. This is a manifest impossibility. Equally impossible is it that a Jewish maiden can have become the queen of Persia, in the face of the express statement of Herodotus (iii. 84) that the king was bound to choose his consort from one of seven noble Persian families. These impossibilities are matched by numerous improbabilities. It is improbable, e.g., that Mordecai could have had such free intercourse with the harem, ii. 11, unless he had been a eunuch, or in the palace, ii. 19, unless he had been a royal official. It is improbable that Xerxes would have announced the date of the massacre months beforehand, improbable that he would later have sanctioned so indiscriminate a slaughter of his non-Jewish subjects, and most improbable of all that the Jews, who were in the minority, should have slain 75,000 of their enemies, who cannot be supposed to have been defenceless. It is much more likely that this wholesale butchery took place chiefly in the author's imagination, though doubtless the wish was father to the thought. Clearly he wrote long after the events he claims to be describing, and the sense of historical perspective is obscured where it is not lost. The Persian empire is a thing of the relatively distant past, i. 1, 13, and though the author is acquainted with Persian customs and official titles, it is significant that the customs have sometimes to be explained. The book is, in fact, not a history, but a historical novel in miniature.

Its date is hard to fix, but it must be very late, probably the latest in the Old Testament. In spite of its obvious attempt to reproduce the classic Hebrew style, the book contains Aramaisms, late Hebrew words and constructions, and the language alone stamps it as late. Still more decisive, however, is its sentiment. Its intensely national pride, its cruel and fanatical exclusiveness, can be best explained as the result of a fierce persecution followed by a brilliant triumph; and this condition is exactly met by the period which succeeded the Maccabean wars (135 B.C. or later). The book, with its Persian setting, may indeed have been written earlier in Persia; but it more probably represents a phase of the fierce Palestinian Judaism of the last half of the second century B.C. It has been suggested with much probability that Haman is modelled on Antiochus Epiphanes; between their murderous designs against the Jews there is certainly a strong resemblance, iii. 9, 1 Macc. i. 41, iii. 34-36.

The object of the book appears to have been twofold: to explain the origin of the Purim festival, and to glorify the Jewish people. The real explanation of the festival is shrouded in mystery. The book traces it to the triumph of the Jews over their enemies and connects it with Pur, ix. 26, supposed to mean "lot"; but no such Persian word has yet been discovered. Doubtless, however, the book is correct in assigning the origin of the festival to Persia. A festival with a somewhat dissimilar name—Farwardigan—was held in Persia in spring to commemorate the dead, and there may be just a hint of this in the fasting with which the festival was preceded, ix. 31, cf. 1 Sam. xxxi. 13, 2 Sam. i. 12. The Babylonians had also held a new year festival in spring, at which the gods, under the presidency of Marduk, were supposed to draw the lots for the coming year: this may have been the ultimate origin of the "lot," which is repeatedly emphasized in the book of Esther, iii. 7, ix. 24, 26. In other words, the Jews adopted a Persian festival, which had already incorporated older Babylonian elements; for there can be little doubt that the ultimate ground-work of the book is Babylonian mythology. Esther is so similar to Istar, and Mordecai to Marduk, that their identity is hardly questionable; and in the overthrow of Haman by Mordecai it is hard not to see the reproduction of the overthrow of Hamman, the ancient god of the Elamites, the enemies of the Babylonians, by Marduk, god of the Babylonians. This supposition leaves certain elements unexplained—Vashti, e.g., is without Babylonian analogy, but it is too probable an explanation to be ignored; and it goes to illustrate the profound and lasting influence of Babylonia upon Israel. The similarity of the name Esther to Amestris, who was Xerxes' queen (Hdt. vii. 114, ix. 112) may account for the story being set in the reign of Xerxes.

A collateral purpose of the book is the glorification of the Jews. In the dramatic contest between Haman the Agagite and Mordecai the Jew, the latter is victor. He refuses to bow before Haman, and Providence justifies his refusal; for the Jews are born to dominion, and all who oppose or oppress them must fall. Everywhere their superiority is apparent: Esther the Jewess is fairer than Vashti, and Mordecai, like Joseph in the old days, takes his place beside the king.

What we regretfully miss in the book is a truly religious note. It is national to the core; but, for once in the Old Testament, nationality is not wedded to a worthy conception of God. Too much stress need not be laid on the absence of His name—this may have been due to the somewhat secular character of the festival with its giving and receiving of presents—and the presence of God, as the guardian of the fortunes of Israel, is presupposed throughout the whole story, notably in Mordecai's confident hope that enlargement and deliverance would arise to the Jews from one place, if not from another, iv. 14. But the religion of the book—for religion it is entitled to be called—is absolutely destitute of ethical elements. It is with a shudder that we read of Esther's request for a second butchery, ix. 13; and all the romantic glamour of the story cannot blind us to its religious emptiness and moral depravity. In a generation which had smarted under the persecution of Antiochus and shed its blood in defence of its liberty and ancestral traditions, such bitter fanaticism is not unintelligible. But the popularity of the book shows how little the prophetic elements in Israel's religion had touched the people's heart, and how stubborn a resistance was sure to be offered to the generous and emancipating word of Jesus.



DANIEL

Daniel is called a prophet in the New Testament (Matt. xxiv. 15). In the Hebrew Bible, however, the book called by his name appears not among the prophets, but among "the writings," between Esther and Ezra. The Greek version placed it between the major and the minor prophets, and this has determined its position in modern versions. The book is both like and unlike the prophetic books. It is like them in its passionate belief in the overruling Providence of God and in the sure consummation of His kingdom; but in its peculiar symbolism, imagery, and pervading sense of mystery it stands without a parallel in the Old Testament. The impulse to the type of prophecy represented by Daniel was given by Ezekiel and Zechariah. The book is indeed rather apocalyptic than prophetic. The difference has been well characterized by Behrmann. "The essential distinction," he remarks, "between prophecy and apocalyptic lies in this: the prophets teach that the present is to be interpreted by the past and future, while the apocalyptic writers derive the future from the past and present, and make it an object of consolatory hope. With the prophets the future is the servant and even the continuation of the present; with the apocalyptic writers the future is the brilliant counterpart of the sorrowful present, over which it is to lift them." This will be made most plain by a summary of the book itself.

Chs. i.-vi. are narrative in form; chs. vii.-xii. are prophetic or apocalyptic—they deal with visions. Curiously enough ii. 4-vii. 28, for no apparent reason, are written in Aramaic. In ch. i. Daniel and his three friends, Jewish captives at the court of Babylon, prove their fidelity to their religion by refusing to defile themselves with the king's food. At the end of three years they show themselves superior to the "wise" men of the empire. Then (ii.) follows a dream of Nebuchadrezzar, in which a great image was shivered to pieces by a little stone, which grew till it filled the whole world. Daniel alone could retell and interpret the dream: it denoted a succession of kingdoms, which would all be ultimately overthrown and succeeded by the everlasting kingdom of God. Ch. iii. deals not with Daniel but with his friends. It tells the story of their refusal to bow before Nebuchadrezzar's colossal image of gold, and how their fidelity was rewarded by a miraculous deliverance, when they were thrown into the furnace of fire. The supernatural wisdom of Daniel is again illustrated in ch. iv., where he interprets a curious dream of Nebuchadrezzar as a token that he would be humbled for a time and bereft of his reason. Ch. v. affords another illustration of the wisdom of Daniel, and of the humiliation of impiety and pride, this time in the person of Belshazzar, who is regarded as Nebuchadrezzar's son. Daniel interprets the enigmatic words written by the mysterious hand on the wall as a prediction of the overthrow of Belshazzar's kingdom, which dramatically happens that very night. Ch. vi. is intended to teach how precious to God are those who trust Him and scrupulously conform to the practices of true religion without regard to consequences. Daniel is preserved in the den of lions into which he had been thrown by the cruel jealousy of the officials of Darius' empire.

With ch. vii. Daniel's visions begin. Four great beasts are seen coming up out of the sea, which, according to Babylonian mythology, is the element opposed to the divine. The last of the beasts, especially cruel and terrible, had ten horns, and among them a little horn with human eyes and presumptuous lips. Then is seen the divine Judge upon His throne, and the presumptuous beast is judged and slain. Before this same Judge is brought one like a son of man, who comes with the clouds of heaven—this human and heavenly figure being in striking contrast to the beasts that rise out of the sea. Daniel is informed that the beasts represent four kingdoms, whose dominion is to be superseded by the dominion of the saints of the most High, i.e. by the kingdom of God, which will be everlasting. In a second vision (viii.) a powerful ram is furiously attacked and overthrown by a goat. The angel Gabriel explains that the ram is the Medo-Persian empire, and the goat is the king of Greece, clearly Alexander the Great. From one of the four divisions of Alexander's empire, a cunning, impudent and impious king would arise who would abolish the daily sacrifice and lay the temple in ruins, but by a miraculous visitation he would be destroyed. In ch. ix. Daniel, after a fervent penitential prayer offered in behalf of his sinful people, is enlightened by Gabriel as to the true meaning of Jeremiah's prophecy (xxv. 11f., xxix. 10f.) touching the desolation of Jerusalem. The seventy years are not literal years, but weeks of years, i.e. 490 years. During the last week (i.e. seven years) there would be much sorrow and persecution, especially during the last half of that period, but it would end in the utter destruction of the oppressor.

In another vision (x.-xii.) Daniel is informed by a shining one of a struggle he had had, supported by Michael, with the tutelary angel of Persia; and he makes a revelation of the future. The Persian empire will be followed by a Greek empire, which will be divided into four. In particular, alliances will be formed and wars made between the kings of the north (no doubt Syria) and the south (Egypt). With great elaboration and detail the fortunes of the king of the north, who is called contemptible, xi. 21, are described: how he desecrates the sanctuary, abolishes the sacrifice, cruelly persecutes the holy people, and prescribes idolatrous worship. At last, however, he too perishes, and his death is the signal that the Messianic days are very soon to dawn. Israel's dead—especially perhaps her martyred dead—are to rise to everlasting life, and her enemies are also to be raised to everlasting shame. Well is it for him who can possess his soul in patience, for the end is sure.

Two facts are obvious even to a cursory inspection of the contents of Daniel (1), that certain statements about the exilic period, during which, according to the book, Daniel lived, are inaccurate; and (2) towards the close of the book and especially in ch. xi., which represents a period long subsequent to Daniel, the visions are crowded with minute detail which corresponds, point for point, with the history of the third and second centuries B.C., and in particular with the career of Antiochus Epiphanes (xi. 21-45).

(1) Among the unhistorical statements the following may be noted. There was no siege and capture of Jerusalem by Nebuchadrezzar in 605 B.C., as is implied by i. 1 (cf. Jer. xxv. 1, 9-11), nor indeed could there have been any till after the decisive battle of Carchemish, which brought Western Asia under the power of Babylon. Again, Belshazzar is regarded as the son of Nebuchadrezzar (v.), though he was in reality the son of Nabunaid, between whom and Nebuchadrezzar three monarchs lay. Nor is there any room in this period of the history (538 B.C.) for "Darius the Mede," v. 31; the conquest of Babylon threw the Babylonian empire immediately into the hands of Cyrus, and the impossible figure of Darius the Mede appears to arise through a confusion with the Darius who recaptured Babylon after a revolt in 521, and perhaps to have been suggested by prophecies (cf. Isa. xiii. 17) that the Medes would conquer Babylon. Again, though in certain passages the Chaldeans represent the people of that name, v. 30, ix. 1, in others (cf. ii. 2, v. 7) the word is used to denote the wise men of Babylon—a use demonstrably much later than the Babylonian empire and impossible to any contemporary of Daniel. Such a seven years' insanity of Nebuchadrezzar as is described in Daniel iv. is extremely improbable; equally improbable is the attitude that Nebuchadrezzar in his decree (iii.) and confession (iv.) and Darius in his decree (vi.) are represented as having adopted towards the God of the Jews.

(2) Concerning the immediately succeeding period—from Cyrus to Alexander—the author is apparently not well informed. He knows of only four Persian kings, xi. 2 (cf. vii. 6). Ch. xi. 5-20 gives a brief resume of the relations between the kings of the north and the kings of the south—which, in this context, after a plain allusion in vv. 3, 4 to Alexander the Great and the divisions of his empire, can only be interpreted of Syria and Egypt. From v. 21, however, to the end of ch. xi. interest is concentrated upon one particular person, who must, in the context, be a king of the north, i.e. Syria. The direct reference in v. 31 to the pollution of the sanctuary, the temporary abolition of sacrifice, and the erection of a heathen altar, put it beyond all doubt that the impious and "contemptible" monarch is none other than Antiochus Epiphanes. This conclusion is confirmed by the details of the section, with their unmistakable references to his Egyptian campaigns, vv. 25-28, and to the check imposed upon him by the Romans, v. 30, in 168 B.C.

The phenomenon then with which we have to deal is this. A book supposed to come from the exile, and to announce beforehand the persecutions and ultimate triumph of the Jewish people in the second century B.C. is occasionally inaccurate in dealing with the exilic and early post-exilic period, but minute and reliable as soon as it touches the later period. Only one conclusion is possible—that the book was written in the later period, not in the earlier. It is a product of the period which it so minutely reflects, 168-165 B.C. The precise date of the book depends upon whether we regard viii. 14 as implying that the dedication of the temple by Judas Maccabaeus in 165 B.C. is a thing of the past or still an object of contemplation. In any case it must have been written before the death of Antiochus in 164 (xi. 45). Like all the prophets, the author of Daniel addresses his own age. The brilliant Messianic days are always the issue of the existing or impending catastrophe; and so it is in Daniel. The redemption which is to involve the resurrection is to follow on the death of Antiochus and the cessation of the horrors of persecution—horrors of which the author knew only too well.[1] [Footnote 1: Daniel is fittingly chosen as the hero of the book and the recipient of the visions, as he appears to have enjoyed a reputation for piety and wisdom (Ezek. xiv. 14, 20, xxviii. 3). Ezekiel's references to him, however, would lead us to suppose that he is a figure belonging to the gray patriarchial times, rather than a younger contemporary of his own.]

Thus the belief in the late date of the book is reached by a study of the book itself, and is not due to any prejudice against the possibility of miracle or predictive prophecy. But the late date is confirmed by evidence of other kinds, especially (1) linguistic, and (2) theological. (1) There are over a dozen Persian words in the book, some even in the Babylonian part of the story. These words would place the book, at the earliest, within the period of the Persian empire (538-331 B.C.). Further, within two verses, iii. 4, 5, occur no less than five Greek words (herald, harp, trigon, psaltery and bagpipe), one of which, psanterin, by its change of l (psalterion) into n, betrays the influence of the Macedonian dialect and must therefore be later than the conquests of Alexander, and another, symphonia, is first found in Plato. Though it is not impossible that the names of the other musical instruments may have been taken over by the Semites from the Greeks at an early time, these words at any rate practically compel us to put the book, at the earliest, within the Greek period (i.e. after 331 B.C.). Further, the Hebrew of the book has a strongly Aramaic flavour. It is not classical Hebrew at all, but has marked affinities, both in vocabulary and syntax, with some of the latest books in the Old Testament, such as Chronicles and Esther.

(2) The theology of Daniel undoubtedly represents one of the latest developments within the Old Testament. The transcendence of God is emphasized. He is frequently called "the God of Heaven," ii. 18, 19, and once "heaven" is used, as in the later manner (cf. Luke xv. 18) almost as a synonym for "God," iv. 26. As God becomes more transcendent, angels become more prominent: they constitute a very striking feature in the book of Daniel—two of them are even named, Gabriel and Michael. Very singular, too, and undoubtedly late is the conception that the fortunes of each nation are represented and guarded in heaven by a tutelary angel, x. 13ff. 20.

The view of the future life in xii. 2, 3 is the most advanced in the Old Testament: not only the nation but the individuals shall be raised, and of the individuals not only the good (cf. Isa. xxvi. 14, 19) but the bad, to receive the destiny which is their due. These facts so conclusively suggest a late date for the book that it is unnecessary to emphasize Daniel's prayer three times a day with his face towards Jerusalem, vi. 10, though this is not without its significance.[1] [Footnote 1: It is worthy of notice that the reference to "the books" from which the prophecy of Jeremiah is quoted in ix. 2 seems to imply that the prophetic canon of Scripture was already closed; and this was hardly the case before 200 B.C.]

The interpretation of this difficult book loses much of its difficulty as soon as we recognize it to be a product of the time of Antiochus Epiphanes. It is best to begin with ch. xi, for there the allusions are, in the main, unmistakable and undeniable. Antiochus is the last of the kings of the north, i.e. Syria, regarded as one of the divisions of the Greek empire of Alexander the Great. Without enigma or symbolism of any kind, the Persian empire is mentioned in xi. 2 as preceding the Greek, and in v. 1 as being preceded by the Median, which in its turn had been preceded by the Babylonian. Here, then, in the plainest possible terms, is a succession of four empires—Babylonian, Median, Persian, Greek—the last to be succeeded by the kingdom of God (ch. xii.); and with this key in our hand we can unlock the secret of chs. vii. and ii.

In ch. vii. the four kingdoms, represented by the four beasts and contrasted with the humane kingdom which is to follow them, are no doubt these very same kingdoms, as are also the four kingdoms of ch. ii., symbolized by the different parts of the colossal image of Nebuchadrezzar's dream: the little stone which destroys the image is again the kingdom of God. In ch. viii. the ram with the two unequal horns is the Medo-Persian empire, and the goat which overthrows the ram is symbolic of the Greek empire, founded by Alexander.

These great features of the book are practically certain. It is further extremely probable that, in spite of a noticeable difference in the context, the "little horn" of viii. 9 is the same as the little horn of vii. 8, 20: the detail of both descriptions—the war with the saints, the destruction of the temple, the abolition of the sacrifice—is an undisguised allusion to Antiochus Epiphanes in his persecution of the faithful Jews and his efforts to extirpate their religion. The one like a son of man in vii. 13 is almost certainly not the Messiah: coming as he does with the clouds of heaven, he is the symbol of the kingdom of God, in contrast to the beasts, which emerge from the ungodly sea and symbolize the empires of this world. Again, his being "like a man"—for this is probably all that the phrase means—is meant to suggest that the kingdom of God is essentially human and humane, in contrast to the four preceding kingdoms, which are essentially brutal and cruel. This interpretation, which the contrasts practically necessitate, is made as certain as may be by vv. 18, 22, 27, where the kingdom and dominion, which in v. 13 are assigned to one like a son of man, are assigned in similar terms to "the people of the saints of the most High," i.e. the faithful Jews.

The passages whose interpretation is least certain occur in ch. ix. In each of two consecutive verses, vv 25f., is a reference to an "anointed one"—a different person being intended in each case. The question of their identity involves the further question of the precise interpretation of the prophecy of the seventy weeks. In ix. 2 Daniel is reminded by a study of Jeremiah (xxv. 11f., xxix. 10) of the prophecy that the desolation of Jerusalem would last for seventy years. But it is not over yet.[1] Gabriel then explains, v. 24, that the years are in reality weeks of years, i.e. by the seventy years prophesied by Jeremiah are really meant 490 years. The period of seventy weeks, thus interpreted, is further subdivided in vv. 25, 26 (a passage almost unintelligible in the Authorized Version) into three periods, viz. seven weeks (=forty-nine years), sixty-two weeks, and one week (=seven years). [Footnote 1: Another incidental proof that the book is late. In the time presupposed by it for the activity of Daniel, the seventy years had not yet expired, and so there could have been no problem.]

With the first and last periods there is no difficulty. Starting from 586 B.C., the date of the exile, forty-nine years would bring us to 537, just about the time assigned to the edict of Cyrus, which permitted the Jews to return and rebuild their city. Cyrus would thus be "the anointed, the prince," and it is an interesting corroboration of this view that Cyrus is actually called the anointed in Isaiah xlv. 1. Now, as the book ends with the anticipated death of Antiochus in 164 B.C., the last week would represent the years 171 to 164; and in 171 the high priest, who, as such, would naturally be an anointed one, was assassinated. Attention is specially called to the sorrows of the last half of the last week, when the sacrifice would be taken away. This corresponds almost exactly with the suspension of the temple services from 168 to 165; and this period, again, is that which is elsewhere characterized as "a time, and times, and half a time," i.e. three and a half years (vii. 25, xii. 7), or "2,300 evenings-mornings," i.e. 1,150 days (viii. 14) or 1,290 or 1,335 days (xii. 11, 12). These varying estimates of the period, not differing widely, probably suggest that the book was written at intervals, and not all at once. The beginning and the close of the seventy weeks or 490 years are thus satisfactorily explained; but the period between 537 and 171 represents 366 instead of 434 years, as the sixty-two weeks demand. Probably the simplest explanation of the difficulty is that during much of this long period the Jews had no fixed method of computing time. Also it ought not to be forgotten that the numbers are, in any case, partly symbolical, and ought not to be too strictly pressed. For the purposes of the author, the first and last periods are more important than the middle.

The precise interpretation of the enigmatic writing on the wall (mene, tekel, peres, v. 28) is uncertain. It has been cleverly explained as equivalent to "a mina (=60 shekels), a shekel and a part" (i.e. about sixty-two) and regarded as a cryptogram for Darius, who, according to v. 31, was on the eve of destroying Belshazzar's kingdom. More probably it simply means "number, weigh, divide"—the ambiguity being caused by the different possibilities of pointing and therefore of precisely interpreting these words, which were of course unpointed in the original. Further, in the word peres (divide), there is a veiled allusion to the Persians.

It is difficult to account for the fact that part of the book, ii. 4-vii., is written in Aramaic. It has been supposed that the author began to use that language in ii. 4, either because he regarded that as the language spoken by the wise men, or because they, being aliens, must not be represented as speaking in the sacred tongue; and that, having once begun to use it, and being equally familiar with both languages, he kept it up till he came to the more purely prophetic part of the book, in which he would naturally recur to the more appropriate Hebrew. Ch. vii., on this view, is difficult to account for, as it, no less than viii.-xii., is prophetic; and we should then have to assume, rather unnaturally, that the vision in ch. vii. was written in Aramaic because it so strongly resembled the dream of ch. ii. Besides it is not certain that the word "in Aramaic" in ii. 4 is meant to suggest that the wise men spoke in that language: it may have originally been only a marginal note to indicate that the Aramaic section begins here, just as vii. 28a may indicate the end of the section. Some have supposed that part of a book originally Hebrew was translated into the more popular Aramaic, or that part of a book originally Aramaic was translated into the sacred Hebrew tongue. The difficulty in either case is to account reasonably for the presence of Aramaic in that particular section which does not coincide with either of the main divisions of the book (narrative or apocalyptic), but appears in both (i.-vi., vii.-xii.). Probably, as Peters has suggested, the Aramaic portion represents old and popular folk-stories about Daniel and his friends, that language being retained because in it the stories were familiarly told, while for the more prophetic or apocalyptic message the sacred language was naturally used. Ch. vii., however, presents a stumbling-block on any view of the Aramaic section. The Aramaic of the book is that spoken when the book was written: it was certainly not the language spoken by the Babylonian wise men. It is most improbable that they would have used Aramaic at all; and if they had, it would not have been the dialect of the book of Daniel, which is a branch of western Aramaic, spoken in and around Palestine.

In spite of its somewhat legendary and apocalyptic form, the religious value of Daniel is very high. It is written at white heat amid the fires of persecution, and it is inspired by a passionate faith in God and in the triumph of His kingdom over the cruel and powerful kingdoms of the world. Its object was to sustain the tried and tempted faith of the loyal Jews under the fierce assaults made upon it by Antiochus Epiphanes. Never before had there been so awful a crisis in Jewish history. In 586 the temple had been destroyed, but that was practically only an incident in or the consequence of the destruction of the city; but Antiochus had made a deliberate attempt to exterminate the Jewish religion. It was to console and strengthen the faithful in this crisis that the book was written. The author reminds his readers that there is a God in heaven, and that He reigns, iv. 26. He bids them lift their eyes to the past and shows them how the fidelity of men like Daniel and his friends was rewarded by deliverance from the lions and the flames. He bids them lift their eyes to the future, the very near future: let them only be patient a little longer, xii. 12, and their enemies will be crushed, and the kingdom of God will come—that kingdom which shall know no end.

It is of especial interest that Antiochus died at the time when our author predicted he would, in 164 B.C., though not, as he had anticipated, in Palestine, xi. 45. In the kingdom that was so swiftly coming, the lives that had been lost on its behalf would be found again: the martyrs would rise to everlasting life. The narrative parts have an application to the times not much less immediate than the apocalyptic. The proud and mighty, like Nebuchadrezzar, are humbled: the impious, like Belshazzar, who drank wine out of the temple vessels, are slain. Any contemporary, reading these tales, would be bound to think of Antiochus, who had demolished the temple and suspended the sacrifices. So Daniel's refusal to partake of the king's food was well calculated to encourage men who had been put to the torture for declining to eat swine's flesh.

Man's extremity is God's opportunity. However cruel the sufferings or desperate the outlook, yet the Lord is mindful of His own, and He will Himself deliver them. For one of the most impressive features of the book is its utter confidence in God and its refusal to appeal to the sword (Ps. cxlix. 6). It counsels to patience, xii. 12. Without human hands, God's kingdom comes, ii. 34, and His enemies are destroyed, viii. 25. In the most skilful way, the book reaches its splendid climax. It moves steadily on, from a distant past in which God's servants had been rewarded and His enemies crushed, down through the centuries in which successive empires were all unconsciously working out His predetermined plan, and on to the darkest days in history—so dark, because the glorious and everlasting kingdom of God was so soon to dawn.



EZRA-NEHEMIAH

Some of the most complicated problems in Hebrew history as well as in the literary criticism of the Old Testament gather about the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Apart from these books, all that we know of the origin and early history of Judaism is inferential. They are our only historical sources for that period; and if in them we have, as we seem to have, authentic memoirs, fragmentary though they be, written by the two men who, more than any other, gave permanent shape and direction to Judaism, then the importance and interest of these books is without parallel in the Old Testament, for nowhere else have we history written by a contemporary who shaped it.

It is just and practically necessary to treat the books of Ezra and Nehemiah together. Their contents overlap, much that was done by Ezra being recorded in the book of Nehemiah (viii.-x.). The books are regarded as one in the Jewish canon; the customary notes appended to each book, stating the number of verses, etc., are appended only to Nehemiah and cover both books; the Septuagint also regards them as one. There are serious gaps in the narrative, but the period they cover is at least a century (538-432 B.C.). A brief sketch of the books as they stand will suggest their great historical interest and also the historical problems they involve.

In accordance with a decree of Cyrus in 538 B.C. the exiled Jews return to Jerusalem to build the temple (Ezra i.). Then follows a list of those who returned, numbering 42,360 (ii.). An altar was erected, the feast of booths was celebrated, and the regular sacrificial system was resumed. Next year, amid joy and tears, the foundation of the temple was laid (iii.). The request of the Samaritans for permission to assist in the building of the temple was refused, with the result that they hampered the activity of the Jews continuously till 520 B.C. (iv, 1-5, 24). Similar opposition was also offered during the reigns of Xerxes and Artaxerxes, when the governor of Samaria formally accused the Jews before the Persian government of aiming at independence in their efforts to rebuild the city walls, and in consequence the king ordered the suspension of the building until further notice, iv. 6-23. Under the stimulus of the preaching of Haggai and Zechariah, the real work of building the temple was begun in 520 B.C. The enterprise roused the suspicion of the Persian governor, who promptly communicated with Darius. The Jews had appealed to the decree of Cyrus granting them permission to build, and this decree was found, after a search, at Ecbatana. Whereupon Darius gave the Jews substantial support, the buildings were finished and dedicated in 516 B.C., and a great passover feast was held (v., vi.).

The scene now shifts to a period at any rate fifty-eight years later (458 B.C.) Armed with a commission from Artaxerxes, Ezra the scribe, of priestly lineage, arrived, with a company of laity and clergy, at Jerusalem from Babylon, with the object of investigating the religious condition of Judah and of teaching the law (vii.). Before leaving Babylon he had proclaimed a fast with public humiliation and prayer, and taken scrupulous precautions to have the offerings for the temple safely delivered at Jerusalem. When they reached the city, they offered a sumptuous burnt-offering and sin-offering (viii.). Soon complaints are lodged with Ezra that leading men have been guilty of intermarriage with heathen women, and he pours out his soul in a passionate prayer of confession (ix.). A penitent mood seizes the people; Ezra summons a general assembly, and establishes a commission of investigation, which, in about three months, convicted 113 men of intermarriage with foreign women (x.).

The history now moves forward about fourteen years (444 B.C.). Nehemiah, a royal cup-bearer in the Persian palace, hears with sorrow of the distress of his countrymen in Judea, and of the destruction of the walls of Jerusalem (Neh. i.). With the king's permission, and armed with his support, he visited Jerusalem, and kindled in the whole community there the desire to rebuild the walls (ii.). The work was prosecuted with vigour, and, with one exception, participated in by all (iii.). The foreign neighbours of Jerusalem, provoked by their success, meditated an attack—a plan which was, however, frustrated by the preparations of Nehemiah (iv.). Nehemiah, being interested in the social as well as the political condition of the community, unflinchingly rebuked the unbrotherly treatment of the poor by the rich, appealing to his own very different conduct, and finally induced the nobles to restore to the poor their mortgaged property (v.). By cunning plots, the enemy repeatedly but unsuccessfully sought to secure the person of Nehemiah; and in fifty-two days the walls were finished (vi.). He then placed the city in charge of two officials, taking precautions to have it strongly guarded and more thickly peopled (vii.).

At a national assembly, Ezra read to the people from the book of the law, and they were moved to tears. They celebrated the feast of booths, and throughout the festival week the law was read daily (viii.). The people, led by the Levites (under Ezra, ix. 6, lxx.), made a humble confession of sin (ix.), and the prayer issued in a covenant to abstain from intermarriage with the heathen and trade on the Sabbath day, and to support the temple service (x.).

The population of the city was increased by a special draft, selected by lot from those resident outside, and also by a body of volunteers (xi.). After a series of lists of priestly and Levitical houses, one of which[1] is carried down to the time of Alexander the Great, xii. 1-26, the walls were formally dedicated, and steps were taken to secure the maintenance of the temple service and officers, xii. 27-47. On his return to Jerusalem in 432 B.C. Nehemiah enforced the sanctity of the temple, and instituted various reforms, affecting especially the Levitical dues, the sanctity of the Sabbath, and intermarriage with foreigners, xiii. [Footnote 1: According to Josephus, Jaddua (Neh. xii. 22) was high priest in the time of Alexander (about 330 B.C.?).]

The difficulties involved in this presentation of the history are of two kinds—inconsistencies with assured historical facts, and improbabilities. Perhaps the most important illustration of the former is to be found in Ezra iii. There not only is an altar immediately built by the returned exiles—a statement not in itself improbable—but the foundation of the temple is laid soon after, iii. 10, and the ceremony is elaborately described (536 B.C.). The foundation is also presupposed for this period elsewhere in the book (cf. v. 16, in an Aramaic document). Now this statement is at least formally contradicted by v. 2, where it is expressly said that, under the stimulus of the preaching of Haggai and Zechariah, who did not prophesy till 520 B.C., Zerubbabel and Joshua began to build the house of God. This is confirmed by the very explicit statements of these two prophets themselves, whose evidence, being contemporary, is unchallengeable. Haggai gives the very day of the foundation, ii. 18, and Zechariah iv. 9 says, "The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house." It is not impossible to surmount the difficulty by assuming that the laying of the foundation in 536 B.C. was a purely formal ceremony while the real work was not begun till 520; still, it is awkward for this view that the language of two contemporary prophets is so explicit. And in any case, the statement in Ezra v. 16 that "since that time (i.e. 536) even until now (520) hath the temple been in building" is not easy to reconcile with what we know from contemporary sources; the whole brunt of Haggai's indictment is that the people have been attending to their own houses and neglecting Jehovah's house, which is in consequence desolate (Hag. i. 4, 9).

The most signal illustration of the improbabilities that arise from the traditional order of the book lies in the priority of Ezra to Nehemiah. On the common view, Ezra arrives in Jerusalem in 458 B.C. (Ezra vii. 7, 8), Nehemiah in 444 (Neh. ii. 1). But the situation which Ezra finds on his arrival appears to presuppose a settled and orderly life, which was hardly possible until the city was fortified and the walls built by Nehemiah; indeed, Ezra, in his prayer, mentions the erection of the walls as a special exhibition of the divine love (Ezra ix. 9). Further, Nehemiah's memoirs make no allusion to the alleged measures of Ezra; and, if Ezra really preceded Nehemiah, it is difficult to see why none of the reformers who came with him from Babylon should be mentioned as supporting Nehemiah. Again, the measures of Nehemiah are mild in comparison with the radical measures of Ezra. Ezra, e.g. demands the divorce of the wives (Ezra x. 11ff.), whereas Nehemiah only forbids intermarriage between the children (Neh. xiii. 25). In short, the work of Nehemiah has all the appearance of being tentative and preliminary to the drastic reforms of Ezra. The history certainly gains in intelligibility if we assume the priority of Nehemiah, and the text does not absolutely bind us. Ezra's departure took place "in the seventh year of Artaxerxes the king" (Ezra vii. 7). Even if we allow that the number is correct, it is just possible that the king referred to is not Artaxerxes I (465-424), but Artaxerxes II (404-359). In that case, the date of Ezra's arrival would be 397 B.C.; in any case, the number of the year may be incorrect.

Any doubt which might arise as to the possibility of so serious a transformation is at once met by an indubitable case of misplacement in Ezra iv. 6-23. The writer is dealing with the alleged attempts of the Samaritans to frustrate the building of the temple between 536 and 520 B.C. (Ezra iv. 1-5), and he diverges without warning into an account of a similar opposition during the reigns of Xerxes (485-465) and Artaxerxes (465-424) (Ezra iv. 6-23), resuming his interrupted story of the building of the temple in ch. v. The account in iv. 6-23 is altogether irrelevant, as it has to do, not with the temple, but with the building of the city walls, iv. 12.

Such peculiarities and dislocations are strange in a historical writing, and they are to be explained by the fact that the book of Ezra-Nehemiah is not so much a connected history as a compilation. The sources and spirit of this compilation we shall now consider. First and of surpassing importance are (a, b) what are known as the I-sections—verbal extracts in the first person, from the memoirs of Ezra and Nehemiah:—

(a) Ezra vii. 27-ix., except viii. 35, 36.

(b) Neh. i.-vii. 5, xii. 27-43, xiii. 4-31.

(c) Other sections, though they are not actually extracts from the memoirs, appear to rest directly on them: cf. Ezra vii. 1-10, x., Neh. viii.-x. In these sections Ezra is spoken of in the third person.

(d) Of great interest and importance are the Aramaic sections, Ezra iv. 7b-vi. 18 and vii. 12-26, involving correspondence with the Persian court or royal rescripts.

(e) Finally, there are occasional lists, such as Neh. xii. 1-26a, or Neh. vii. 6-69, a list of the returning exiles, incorporated in the memoirs of Nehemiah from some earlier list and borrowed in Ezra ii.

These are the chief sources, but there can be no doubt that they were compiled—that is put together and in certain cases worked over—by the Chronicler. That suspicion is at once raised by the fact that Ezra-Nehemiah is a strict continuation of the book of Chronicles,[1] though in the Hebrew Bible Chronicles appears last, because, having to compete with Samuel and Kings, it won its canonical position later than Ezra-Nehemiah. But apart from this, the phraseology, style and point of view of the Chronicler are very conspicuous. There is the same love of the law, the same interest in Leviticalism, the same joy in worship, the same fondness for lists and numbers. He must have lived a century or more after Ezra and Nehemiah; he looks back in Neh. xii. 47 to "the days of Nehemiah," and he must himself have belonged to the Greek period. One of his lists mentions a Jaddua, a high priest in the time of Alexander the Great. He speaks of the king of Persia (Ezra i. 1), and of Darius the Persian[2] (Neh. xii. 22), as one to whom the Persian empire was a thing of the past; contemporaries simply spoke of "the king," Ezra iv. 8. [Footnote 1: Note that the opening verses of Ezra are repeated at the end of Chronicles to secure a favourable ending to the book—the more so as that was the last book of the Hebrew Bible.] [Footnote 2: In Ezra vi. 22 Darius is even called the king of Assyria.]

Many of the peculiarities of the book are explained the moment it is seen to be a late compilation. The compiler selected from his available material whatever suited his purpose; he makes no attempt to give a continuous account of the period. He leaves without scruple a gap of sixty years or more[1] between Ezra vi. and vii. He interpolates a comment of his own in the middle of the original memoirs of Nehemiah.[2] He transcribes the same list twice (Ezra ii., Neh. vii.), which looks as if he had found it in two different documents. He gives passages irrelevant settings (cf. Ezra iv. 6-23). He passes without warning from the first person in Ezra ix. to the third person in Ezra x., showing that he does not regard himself as the slave, but as the master, of his material. Whatever may be thought of the view that he has reversed the chronological order of Ezra and Nehemiah, the book undoubtedly contains misplaced passages. Ezra x. is a very unsatisfactory conclusion to the account of Ezra, whereas Neh. viii.-x., which deal with the work of Ezra and its issue in a covenant, form an admirable sequel to Ezra x., and have almost certainly been misplaced. [Footnote 1: Unless we take into account the brief misplaced section in iv. 6-23.] [Footnote 2: Cf. especially xii. 47 with its reference to "the days of Nehemiah," whereas in xii. 40, xiii. 6, etc., Nehemiah speaks in the first person. Ch. xii. 44-47 at least belongs to the Chronicler.]

We cannot be too grateful to him for giving intact the vivid and extremely important account of the activity of Nehemiah the layman in Nehemiah's own words (i.-vii. 5); at the same time, his own interests are almost entirely ecclesiastical. Unlike Ezra (viii. 15ff.), he says little of the homeward journey of the exiles in 537, but much of the temple vessels (Ezra i.) and of the arrangements for the sacrificial system, iii. 4-6. He dwells at length on the laying of the foundation stone of the temple, iii. 8-13, on the Samaritan opposition to the building, iv. 1-5, on the passover festival at the dedication of the temple when it was finished, vi. 19-22. He amplifies the Nehemiah narratives at the point where the services and officers of the temple are concerned.

The influence of the Chronicler is unmistakable even in the Aramaic documents, whose authenticity one would on first thoughts expect to be guaranteed by their language. Aramaic would be the natural language of correspondence between the Persian court and the western provinces of the empire, and these official documents in Aramaic one might assume to be originals; but an examination reveals some of the editorial terms that characterize the Hebrew. A decree of Darius is represented as ending with the prayer that "the God that hath caused His name to dwell there (i.e. at Jerusalem) may overthrow all kings and peoples that shall put forth their hand to destroy this house of God which is at Jerusalem" (Ezra vi. 13). To say nothing of the first clause, which has a suspicious resemblance to the language of Deuteronomy, such a wish addressed to the God of the Jews is anything but natural on the lips of a Persian. Again, there are several distinctively Jewish terms of expression in the rescript given by Artaxerxes to Ezra, e.g. the detailed allusion to sacrifices in Ezra vii. 17. This, however, might easily be explained by assuming that Ezra himself had had a hand in drafting the rescript, which is not impossible.

The question, however, is for the historian a very serious one: how great were the liberties which the Chronicler allowed himself in the manipulation of his material? It is interesting in this connexion to compare his account of the decree of Cyrus on behalf of the Jewish exiles in Ezra i. 2-4 with the Aramaic version in vi. 3-5, which has all the appearance of being original. The difference is striking. Cyrus speaks in ch. i. as an ardent Jehovah worshipper; but the substance of the edict is approximately correct, though its form is altogether unhistorical and indeed impossible. The Chronicler's idealizing tendency is here very apparent; and it is not impossible that this has elsewhere affected his presentation of the facts as well as the form of his narrative. In the light of the very plain statements of the contemporary prophets Haggai and Zechariah, we are justified in doubting whether, in Ezra iii., the Chronicler has not antedated the foundation of the temple. To him it may well have seemed inconceivable that the returned exiles should—whatever their excuse—have waited for sixteen years before beginning the work which to him was of transcendent importance.

It is possible, too, that prophecy may have influenced his presentation of the history. He throws into the very forefront a prophecy of Jeremiah (xxv. 12), and regards the decree of Cyrus as its fulfilment (Ezra i. 1). He may also have had in mind the words of the great exilic prophet who had represented Cyrus as issuing the command to lay the foundation of the temple (Isa. xliv. 28); and he may in this way have thrown into the period immediately after the return activities which properly belong to the period sixteen years later. But it is perfectly gratuitous, on the strength of this, to doubt, as has recently been done, the whole story of the return in 537 B.C. Those who do so point out that the audience addressed by Haggai, i. 12, 14, ii. 2, and Zechariah viii. 6, is described as the remnant of the people of the land—that is, it is alleged, of those who had been left behind at the time of the captivity. No doubt the better-minded among these would lend their support to the efforts of Haggai and Zechariah to re-establish the worship, but this community as a whole must have been too dispirited and indifferent to have taken such a step without the impulse supplied by the returned exiles. The devotion of the native population to Jehovah, not great to begin with—for it was the worst of the people who were left behind—must have deteriorated through intermarriage with heathen neighbours (Neh. xiii., Ezra ix. x.); and without a return in 537 on the strength of the edict of Cyrus, the whole situation and sequel are unintelligible. The Chronicler's version of the decree of Cyrus throws a flood of light upon his method. It cannot be fairly said that he invents facts; he may modify, amplify and transpose, but always on the basis of fact. His fidelity in transcribing the memoirs of Nehemiah is proof that he was not unscrupulous in the treatment of his sources.

It remains to consider briefly the value of these sources. The authenticity of the memoirs of Nehemiah is universally admitted. Similar phrases are continually recurring, e.g. "the good hand of my God upon me," ii. 8, 18, and the whole narrative is stamped with the impress of a brave, devout, patriotic and resourceful personality. The authenticity of the memoirs of Ezra has been disputed with perhaps a shadow of plausibility. The language of the memoirs distinctly approximates to the language of the Chronicler himself, though this can be fairly accounted for, either by supposing that the spirit and interests of Ezra the priest were largely identical with those of the Chronicler, or that the Chronicler, recognizing his general affinity with Ezra, hesitated less than in the case of Nehemiah to conform the language of the memoirs to his own. But more serious charges have been made. It has been alleged that the account of the career of Ezra has been largely modelled on that of Nehemiah, as that of Elisha on Elijah, and that legendary elements are traceable, e.g. in the immense wealth brought by Ezra's company from Babylon (Ezra viii. 24-27). These reasons do not seem altogether convincing. The Chronicler stood relatively near to Ezra. Records and lists were kept in that period, and he was no doubt in possession of more first-hand documentary information than appears in his book. There is no obvious motive for the writer who so faithfully transcribed the memoirs of Nehemiah, inventing so vivid, coherent and circumstantial a narrative for Ezra in the first person singular (Ezra vii. 27-ix.).

The question of the Ezra memoirs raises the further question of the Aramaic documents. The memoirs are immediately preceded by the Aramaic rescript of Artaxerxes permitting Ezra to visit Jerusalem for the purpose of reorganizing the Jewish community (Ezra vii. 12-26). Doubt has been cast upon the authenticity of this document on the strength of its undeniably Jewish colouring; but this, as we have seen, is probably to be explained by the not unnatural assumption that Ezra himself had a hand in its preparation. Its substantial authenticity seems fully guaranteed by the spontaneous and warm-hearted outburst of gratitude to God with which Ezra immediately follows it (Ezra vii. 27ff): "Blessed be Jehovah, the God of our fathers, who hath put such a thing as this in the king's heart," etc. A similar criticism may be made in general on the Aramaic document, Ezra iv. 7b-vi. 18. It is certain, as we have seen, that the document has been retouched by the Chronicler; but the whole passage and especially the royal decrees are substantially authentic. Attention has been called to the Persian words which they contain, though this alone is not decisive, as they might conceivably be due to a later author; but the authenticity of the decree of Cyrus is practically guaranteed by the story that it was discovered at Ecbatana (Ezra vi. 2). Had it been a fiction, the scene of the discovery would no doubt have been Babylon or Susa.

After making allowance, then, for the Chronicler's occasionally cavalier treatment of his sources, we have to admit that the sources themselves are of the highest historical value, though in order to secure a coherent view of the period, they have, in all probability, to be rearranged. No rearrangement can be considered as absolutely certain, but the following, which is adopted by several scholars, has internal probability:—

Ezra i.-iv. 5, iv. 24-vi., followed by about seventy years of silence (516-444 B.C.). Neh. i.-vi., Ezra iv. 6-23, Neh. vii. 1-69 (= Ezra ii.), Neh. xi., xii., xiii. 4-31, Ezra vii., viii., Neh. vii. 70-viii., Ezra ix.-x. 9, Neh. xiii. 1-3, Ezra x. 10-44, Neh. ix., x.

Despite their enormous difficulties, Ezra-Nehemiah are a source of the highest importance for the political and religious history of early Judaism. The human interest of the story is also great—the problems for religion created by intermarriage (Neh. xiii. 23ff., Ezra ix., x.), and the growth of the commercial spirit (Neh. xiii. 15-22). The figure of Ezra, though not without a certain devout energy, is somewhat stiff and formal; but the personality revealed by the memoirs of Nehemiah is gracious almost to the point of romance. Seldom did the Hebrew people produce so attractive and versatile a figure—at once a man of prayer and of action, of clear swift purpose, daring initiative, and resistless energy, and endowed with a singular power of inspiring others with his own enthusiasm. He forms an admirable foil to Ezra the ecclesiastic; and it is a matter of supreme satisfaction that we have the epoch-making events in his career told in his own direct and vigorous words.



CHRONICLES

The comparative indifference with which Chronicles is regarded in modern times by all but professional scholars seems to have been shared by the ancient Jewish church. Though written by the same hand as wrote Ezra-Nehemiah, and forming, together with these books, a continuous history of Judah, it is placed after them in the Hebrew Bible, of which it forms the concluding book; and this no doubt points to the fact that it attained canonical distinction later than they. Nor is this unnatural. The book of Kings had brought the history down to the exile of Judah; and the natural desire to see the history carried from its new starting point in the return and restoration through post-exilic times is met by the book of Ezra-Nehemiah, to which there was no rival, whereas Chronicles had a rival in the existing and popular books of Samuel and Kings.

The book, whose name Chronicles is borrowed by Luther from Jerome, is very late. Ezra-Nehemiah with which Chronicles goes must be, as we have seen,[1] as late as Alexander the Great; but the lateness of Chronicles can be proved without going beyond the book itself. The Hebrew text of 1 Chron. iii. 19ff. carries the date six generations beyond Zerubbabel (520 B.C.), that is, at the earliest, to 350 B.C., while the Greek text postulates eleven generations, which would compel us to come as late as 250 B.C. We shall not go far astray if we consider the date as roughly 300 B.C. It is thus seven centuries later than the reign of David, with whose ecclesiastical enterprises it deals so elaborately, and about two and a-half centuries from the exile, with which it closes. The distance of the record from the events has to be borne in mind when estimating its religious spirit and historical value. [Footnote: See p. 355.]

The book of Chronicles is an ecclesiastical history in a sense very much more severe than the book of Kings; on every page it reflects the ritual interests which were predominant when the book was written. To it the only history worth recording is the history of Judah. The first ten chapters are occupied with the preparation for that history, and the rest of the book (i Chron. xi.-2 Chron. xxxvi.) with the history itself from the coronation of David to the exile. Israel is the apostate kingdom; she had revolted alike from Judah and Jehovah, and had been swept for her sins into exile, from which she never emerged again. The Chronicler makes a man of God say to Amaziah, "Jehovah is not with Israel," 2 Chron. xxv. 7, and this exactly represents his own attitude. He therefore all but absolutely ignores the history of the northern kingdom, touching upon it only where it is in some special way implicated in the history of Judah.

This practically exclusive attention of the Chronicles to Judah is based upon her unique religious or rather ecclesiastical importance. In Judah God made Himself known as nowhere else (cf. Ps. lxxvi. 1, 2); she was the religious metropolis of the world (Ps. lxxxvii.); Jerusalem was the capital of Judah, and the temple was the centre of Jerusalem. Therefore the temple and its affairs completely dwarf all other interests. Not only is the story in Kings of its building and dedication by Solomon repeated and expanded (2 Chron. i.-ix.), but the story of David's reign (1 Chron. xi.-xxix.) is almost entirely monopolized by an account of the arrangements which he made for the temple ordinances and the material which he collected for the building. He is said to have given Solomon a plan of the temple with all its furniture and sundry other details, the pattern of which he is said to have himself received from the hand of God (xxviii). Every opportunity is taken in the course of the history to dwell with an affectionate elaboration of detail on the temple services or festivals; and the resultant contrast between the corresponding accounts of the same reign in Kings and Chronicles is often very singular—nowhere more so than in the story of Hezekiah, most of which is devoted to an account of the great passover held in connexion with the reformation (2 Chron. xxix., xxx.).

The Chronicler betrays, if possible, even more interest in the Levites than in the priests. It is a Levite who is moved by the Spirit to encourage Jehoshaphat before the battle (2 Chron. xx. 14), and special attention is called to their enthusiasm at the reformation of Hezekiah (2 Chron. xxix. 34). The Chronicler also displays exceptional interest in the musical service—in his account, e.g., of the inauguration of the temple and of the passovers of Hezekiah and Josiah; so that it has been not unreasonably conjectured that the author was himself a Levite and member of one of the guilds of temple singers or musicians.

Since, then, the interests of the Chronicler are so undeniably ecclesiastical, the question may be fairly raised how far his narrative is strictly historical. It must be confessed, e.g., that the impression made by his account of David is distinctly unnatural and improbable, in the light of the graphic biography in 1 and 2 Samuel. It is not a supplementary picture, but an altogether different one. The versatile minstrel-warrior of the earlier books is transformed into a saint, whose supreme aim in life is the service of religion; and this transformation is thoroughly characteristic of the Chronicler. He deals with his literary sources in the most sovereign fashion, and adapts them to his theories of Providence. His omissions, e.g., are very significant. He has nothing to say of David's adultery, nor of Solomon's idolatry, nor of the intrigues by which he succeeded to the throne, nor of the tribute of silver and gold which Hezekiah paid Sennaccherib (2 Kings xviii. 14-16). It may be urged in extenuation of his silence that his public were already familiar with these stories in the books of Samuel and Kings; but he repeats so many sections from these books word for word that his failure to repeat the sections which militate against his heroes can only be regarded as part of a deliberate policy. Especially must this be maintained in the light of his numerous modifications or contradictions of his sources. David's sons, he tells us, were chief about the king (1 Chron, xviii. 17); he cannot allow that they were priests, as 2 Sam. viii. 18 says they were. Nor can he allow that Solomon offered his dedicatory prayer before the altar (1 Kings viii. 22)—that was the place for the priest—so he erects for him a special platform in the midst of the court, from which he addresses the people (2 Chron. vi. 13).

The motive of these changes is obviously respect for the priestly law. Sometimes the motive is to glorify his heroes or to magnify their enthusiasm or devotion. Where, e.g. in 2 Sam. xxiv. 24 David pays Araunah fifty shekels of silver for the ground on which the temple was afterwards built, in 1 Chron. xxi. 25 he pays 600 shekels of gold. Similarly, in 1 Kings ix. 11 Solomon gives Hiram certain cities in return for a loan; in 2 Chron. viii. 2 it is Hiram who gives Solomon the cities. David accumulates 100,000 talents of gold and 1,000,000 of silver for the building of the temple (1 Chron. xxii.)—a fabulous and impossible sum when we remember that Solomon himself had only 666 talents of gold yearly (1 Kings x. 14). In 2 Sam. xxi. 19 Elhanan is the hero who slays Goliath; the Chronicler sees that this conflicts with the romantic story of David (1 Sam. xvii.) and therefore makes Elhanan slay the brother of Goliath (1 Chron. xx. 5). In 2 Kings xxii., xxiii., the reformation of Josiah follows very naturally upon the finding of the law in the eighteenth year of the king, but the Chronicler represents the reformation as taking place in his twelfth year, i.e. as soon as he came of age (2 Chrori. xxxiv. 3). He still, however, dates the finding of the law in his eighteenth year (cf. 8), i.e. six years after the reformation, and thus throws the history into an impossible sequence, apparently for no other object than to illustrate the youthful devotion of his hero-king. He is not even always consistent with himself; following Kings (1 Kings xv. 14, xxii. 43) he says that Asa and Jehoshaphat did not remove the high places (2 Chron. xv. 17, xx. 33), and yet he had just before told us that they did (2 Chron, xiv. 5, xvii. 6) as, on his theory,—being good kings, they should. The motive for the change is usually obvious. In 2 Sam. xxiv. 1 Jehovah had tempted David to number the people. This is intolerable to the more advanced theology of the Chronicler, so he ascribes the impulse to Satan (1 Chron. xxi. 1). A similar transformation may be seen in his notice of the doom of Saul. In 1 Sam. xxviii. 6 it is implicitly said that Saul earnestly sought to discover the divine will; in 1 Chron. x. 14 this is roundly denied-he did not inquire of Jehovah.

These and similar transformations, amounting sometimes to contradictions of the original sources, are due to a religious motive, and they appear to be made in perfectly good faith. The Chronicler is a religious man who, unlike Job, finds no perplexities in the moral world, but everywhere a precise and mechanical correspondence between character and destiny. Not only is piety rewarded by prosperity, but prosperity presupposes piety. The most pious kings have the most soldiers. David has over a million and a half, Jehoshaphat over a million, while Rehoboam has only 180,000. Manasseh's long reign of fifty-five years—a stumbling-block, on the Chronicler's theory—has to be explained by his repentance (2 Chron. xxxiii. 11ff.). Religious explanations are everywhere assigned for facts. Josiah's defeat and death are the penalty of his disobedience to the word of God which came to him through the Egyptian king (2 Chron. xxxv. 21ff). So Uzziah's leprosy is the divine punishment of his pride in presuming to offer incense despite the protests of the priests (2 Chron. xxvi. 16ff.), The Chronicler sees the hand of God in everything; He is the immediate arbiter of all human destiny. That is why rewards and punishments are so swift and just and sure. The divine control of human affairs is most conspicuously seen in the Chronicler's account of battles, where the human warriors count for nothing. God fights or causes a panic among the enemy; the warriors do little more than shout and pursue (2 Chron. xiii. 15, xx.). The battle-scenes show how little imagination the Chronicler possessed; clearly he had never seen a battle, and he has no conception of one (cf. Num. xxxi.). He thinks nothing of describing a conflict between 400,000 Judeans and 800,000 Israelites, in which half a million of the latter were slain (2 Chron. xiii.). It is all so different from the stirring and life-like tales of the Judges or the Maccabees.

In the face of these historical improbabilities, what are we to make of the Chronicler's continual appeal to his sources? These are ostensibly of two kinds: (a) historical, (b) prophetical. (a) He frequently refers to the book of the kings of Israel and Judah, the book of the kings of Judah and Israel, the book of the kings of Israel, and the history of the kings of Israel. No doubt one book is cited under these different titles. The history of Manasseh, e.g., is said to be recorded in the history of the kings of Israel (2 Chron. xxxiii. 18); clearly this cannot be northern Israel, as Manasseh was a king of Judah. What, then, was this book of the kings of Israel and Judah? At first we are strongly tempted to regard it as our canonical book of Kings. That book was already over two centuries in existence and must have been familiar; not only are whole sections copied from it by the Chronicler verbatim, but occasionally passages which he adopts presuppose other passages which he has omitted; e.g. he follows 2 Sam. v. 13 in asserting that David took more wives (1 Chron. xiv. 3), though the word "more" has no meaning in his context; in his source it points naturally enough back to 2 Sam. iii. 2-5. There can be no doubt, then, that the canonical books of Samuel and Kings constituted one of his sources.

Yet it is almost equally certain that that is not the book to which he continually refers his readers. The "book of Jehu," which recorded the history of Jehoshaphat, is said to be incorporated in the book of the Kings of Israel (2 Chron. xx. 34); it is not, however, in our canonical Kings. Neither is the prayer of Manasseh (2 Chron. xxxiii. 18), nor are the genealogies referred to in 1 Chron. ix. 1. Again, for further information about Jotham the reader is referred to the book of the kings of Israel and Judah (2 Chron. xxvii. 7), when, as a matter of fact, the Chronicler has more to tell about him than our book of Kings (2 Kings xv. 32-38). Clearly, then, the book so frequently cited is not the canonical book of Kings. What sort of production it was may be inferred from the reference in 2 Chron. xxiv. 27 to the "midrash of the book of the Kings." Doubtless the book in question was a midrash, i.e. an edifying commentary on the history, of the sort preserved in the very late story of 1 Kings xiii. The tendency towards midrash, which so powerfully affected the later Jewish mind, appears as early as the stories of Elisha. (b) Prophetic sources are also frequently cited or alluded to, e.g. the books of Samuel, Nathan, Gad (1 Chron. xxix. 29), the prophecy of Ahijah, the book of Shemaiah, the book of Iddo (2 Chron, xii. 15), the vision of Isaiah (2 Chron. xxxii. 32), etc. Probably, however, these were not independent prophetic works. The reference to the "midrash of the prophet Iddo" (2 Chron. xiii. 22) suggests that these works, like the history of the kings, were midrashic; in all probability they were simply extracts from the midrashic book of Kings already alluded to. Practically all the prophets to whom books are ascribed in Chronicles are mentioned in the canonical books, and probably they were regarded as the authors of the sections in which their names occur, so that the books of Samuel, Nathan and Gad would be none other than the relevant portions of Samuel and Kings, or of the midrash of these books. Thus the Chronicler's imposing array of citations may be without injustice reduced to two books—the canonical book of Kings (or Genesis to Kings) and the midrash to those books.

These facts have led many to deny all value whatever to the Chronicler's unsupported statements. But such a condemnation is too sweeping. The genealogies in 1 Chron. i.-ix., though they no doubt received many later additions, probably rest on good sources, and there are other notices bearing, e.g., on the fortifications of Rehoboam (2 Chron. xi.), Jotham (2 Chron. xxvii.), etc., on Uzziah's enterprise in peace and war (2 Chron. xxvi. 5-15), on Judah's border warfare (2 Chron. xvii. 11, xxi. 16, xxvi. 7, xxviii. 17f), etc., which do not display the Chronicler's characteristic tendencies and appear to be authentic. On the whole, however, the historical value of Chronicles must be rated low. Nor is its religious value high. Its attitude to the problems raised by the moral order is exceedingly mechanical, and with one noble exception (2 Chron. xxx. 18, 19), its general conception of religion is ritualistic. But it is a valuable monument of the Judaism of the third century B.C., and we learn from it to appreciate the daring independence of such books as Job and Ecclesiastes.

THE END

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6
Home - Random Browse