The Evolution of Theology: An Anthropological Study - Essay #8 from "Science and Hebrew Tradition"
by Thomas Henry Huxley
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Sciotheism, under the form of the deification of ancestral ghosts, in its most pronounced form, is therefore the chief element in the theology of a great moiety, possibly of more than half, of the human race. I think this must be taken to be a matter of fact—though various opinions may be held as to how this ancestor-worship came about. But on the other hand, it is no less a matter of fact that there are very few people without additional gods, who cannot, with certainty, be accounted for as deified ancestors.

With all respect for the distinguished authorities on the other side, I cannot find good reasons for accepting the theory that the cosmic deities—who are superadded to deified ancestors even in China; who are found all over Polynesia, in Tangaloa and Maui, and in old Peru, in the Sun—are the product either of the "search after the infinite," or of mistakes arising out of the confusion of a great chief's name with the thing signified by the name. But, however this may be, I think it is again merely matter of fact that, among a large portion of mankind, ancestor-worship is more or less thrown into the background either by such cosmic deities, or by tribal gods of uncertain origin, who have been raised to eminence by the superiority in warfare, or otherwise, of their worshippers.

Among certain nations, the polytheistic theology, thus constituted, has become modified by the selection of some one cosmic or tribal god, as the only god to whom worship is due on the part of that nation (though it is by no means denied that other nations have a right to worship other gods), and thus results a worship of one God—monolatry, as Wellhausen calls it—which is very different from genuine monotheism. [27] In ancestral sciotheism, and in this monolatry, the ethical code, often of a very high order, comes into closer relation with the theological creed. Morality is taken under the patronage of the god or gods, who reward all morally good conduct and punish all morally evil conduct in this world or the next. At the same time, however, they are conceived to be thoroughly human, and they visit any shadow of disrespect to themselves, shown by disobedience to their commands, or by delay, or carelessness, in carrying them out, as severely as any breach of the moral laws. Piety means minute attention to the due performance of all sacred rites, and covers any number of lapses in morality, just as cruelty, treachery, murder, and adultery did not bar David's claim to the title of the man after God's own heart among the Israelites; crimes against men may be expiated, but blasphemy against the gods is an unpardonable sin. Men forgive all injuries but those which touch their self-esteem; and they make their gods after their own likeness, in their own image make they them.

It is in the category of monolatry that I conceive the theology of the old Israelites must be ranged. They were polytheists, in so far as they admitted the existence of other Elohim of divine rank beside Jahveh; they differed from ordinary polytheists, in so far as they believed that Jahveh was the supreme god and the one proper object of their own national worship. But it will doubtless be objected that I have been building up a fictitious Israelitic theology on the foundation of the recorded habits and customs of the people, when they had lapsed from the ordinances of their great lawgiver and prophet Moses, and that my conclusions may be good for the perverts to Canaanitish theology, but not for the true observers of the Sinaitic legislation. The answer to the objection is that—so far as I can form a judgment of that which is well ascertained in the history of Israel—there is very little ground for believing that we know much, either about the theological and social value of the influence of Moses, or about what happened during the wanderings in the Desert.

The account of the Exodus and of the occurrences in the Sinaitic peninsula; in fact, all the history of Israel before the invasion of Canaan, is full of wonderful stories, which may be true, in so far as they are conceivable occurrences, but which are certainly not probable, and which I, for one, decline to accept until evidence, which deserves that name, is offered of their historical truth. Up to this time I know of none. [28] Furthermore, I see no answer to the argument that one has no right to pick out of an obviously unhistorical statement the assertions which happen to be probable and to discard the rest. But it is also certain that a primitively veracious tradition may be smothered under subsequent mythical additions, and that one has no right to cast away the former along with the latter. Thus, perhaps the fairest way of stating the case may be as follows.

There can be no a priori objection to the supposition that the Israelites were delivered from their Egyptian bondage by a leader called Moses, and that he exerted a great influence over their subsequent organisation in the Desert. There is no reason to doubt that, during their residence in the land of Goshen, the Israelites knew nothing of Jahveh; but, as their own prophets declare (see Ezek. xx.), were polytheistic idolaters, sharing in the worst practices of their neighbours. As to their conduct in other respects, nothing is known. But it may fairly be suspected that their ethics were not of a higher order than those of Jacob, their progenitor, in which case they might derive great profit from contact with Egyptian society, which held honesty and truthfulness in the highest esteem. Thanks to the Egyptologers, we now know, with all requisite certainty, the moral standard of that society in the time, and long before the time, of Moses. It can be determined from the scrolls buried with the mummified dead and from the inscriptions on the tombs and memorial statues of that age. For, though the lying of epitaphs is proverbial, so far as their subject is concerned, they gave an unmistakable insight into that which the writers and the readers of them think praiseworthy.

In the famous tombs at Beni Hassan there is a record of the life of Prince Nakht, who served Osertasen II., a Pharaoh of the twelfth dynasty as governor of a province. The inscription speaks in his name: "I was a benevolent and kindly governor who loved his country.... Never was a little child distressed nor a widow ill-treated by me. I have never repelled a workman nor hindered a shepherd. I gave alike to the widow and to the married woman, and have not preferred the great to the small in my gifts." And we have the high authority of the late Dr. Samuel Birch for the statement that the inscriptions of the twelfth dynasty abound in injunctions of a high ethical character. "To feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, bury the dead, loyally serve the king, formed the first duty of a pious man and faithful subject." [29] The people for whom these inscriptions embodied their ideal of praiseworthiness assuredly had no imperfect conception of either justice or mercy. But there is a document which gives still better evidence of the moral standard of the Egyptians. It is the "Book of the Dead," a sort of "Guide to Spiritland," the whole, or a part, of which was buried with the mummy of every well-to-do Egyptian, while extracts from it are found in innumerable inscriptions. Portions of this work are of extreme antiquity, evidence of their existence occurring as far back as the fifth and sixth dynasties; while the 120th chapter, which constitutes a sort of book by itself, and is known as the "Book of Redemption in the Hall of the two Truths," is frequently inscribed upon coffins and other monuments of the nineteenth dynasty (that under which, there is some reason to believe, the Israelites were oppressed and the Exodus took place), and it occurs, more than once, in the famous tombs of the kings of this and the preceding dynasty at Thebes. [30] This "Book of Redemption" is chiefly occupied by the so-called "negative confession" made to the forty-two Divine Judges, in which the soul of the dead denies that he has committed faults of various kinds. It is, therefore, obvious that the Egyptians conceived that their gods commanded them not to do the deeds which are here denied. The "Book of Redemption," in fact, implies the existence in the mind of the Egyptians, if not in a formal writing, of a series of ordinances, couched, like the majority of the ten commandments, in negative terms. And it is easy to prove the implied existence of a series which nearly answers to the "ten words." Of course a polytheistic and image-worshipping people, who observed a great many holy days, but no Sabbaths, could have nothing analogous to the first or the second and the fourth commandments of the Decalogue; but answering to the third, is "I have not blasphemed;" to the fifth, "I have not reviled the face of the king or my father;" to the sixth, "I have not murdered;" to the seventh, "I have not committed adultery;" to the eighth, "I have not stolen," "I have not done fraud to man;" to the ninth, "I have not told falsehoods in the tribunal of truth," and, further, "I have not calumniated the slave to his master." I find nothing exactly similar to the tenth commandment; but that the inward disposition of mind was held to be of no less importance than the outward act is to be gathered from the praises of kindliness already cited and the cry of "I am pure," which is repeated by the soul on trial. Moreover, there is a minuteness of detail in the confession which shows no little delicacy of moral appreciation—"I have not privily done evil against mankind," "I have not afflicted men," "I have not withheld milk from the mouths of sucklings," "I have not been idle," "I have not played the hypocrite," "I have not told falsehoods," "I have not corrupted woman or man," "I have not caused fear," "I have not multiplied words in speaking."

Would that the moral sense of the nineteenth century A.D. were as far advanced as that of the Egyptians in the nineteenth century B.C. in this last particular! What incalculable benefit to mankind would flow from strict observance of the commandment, "Thou shalt not multiply words in speaking!" Nothing is more remarkable than the stress which the old Egyptians, here and elsewhere, lay upon this and other kinds of truthfulness, as compared with the absence of any such requirement in the Israelitic Decalogue, in which only a specific kind of untruthfulnes is forbidden.

If, as the story runs, Moses was adopted by a princess of the royal house, and was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, it is surely incredible that he should not have been familiar from his youth up, with the high moral code implied in the "Book of Redemption." It is surely impossible that he should have been less familiar with the complete legal system, and with the method of administration of justice, which, even in his time, had enabled the Egyptian people to hold together, as a complex social organisation, for a period far longer than the duration of old Roman society, from the building of the city to the death of the last Caesar. Nor need we look to Moses alone for the influence of Egypt upon Israel. It is true that the Hebrew nomads who came into contact with the Egyptians of Osertasen, or of Ramses, stood in much the same relation to them, in point of culture, as a Germanic tribe did to the Romans of Tiberius, or of Marcus Antoninus; or as Captain Cook's Omai did to the English of George the Third. But, at the same time, any difficulty of communication which might have arisen out of this circumstance was removed by the long pre-existing intercourse of other Semites, of every grade of civilisation, with the Egyptians. In Mesopotamia and elsewhere, as in Phenicia, Semitic people had attained to a social organisation as advanced as that of the Egyptians; Semites had conquered and occupied Lower Egypt for centuries. So extensively had Semitic influences penetrated Egypt that the Egyptian language, during the period of the nineteenth dynasty, is said by Brugsch to be as full of Semitisms as German is of Gallicisms; while Semitic deities had supplanted the Egyptian gods at Heliopolis and elsewhere. On the other hand, the Semites, as far as Phenicia, were extensively influenced by Egypt.

It is generally admitted [31] that Moses, Phinehas (and perhaps Aaron), are names of Egyptian origin, and there is excellent authority for the statement that the name Abir, which the Israelites gave to their golden calf, and which is also used to signify the strong, the heavenly, and even God, [32] is simply the Egyptian Apis. Brugsch points out that the god, Tum or Tom, who was the special object of worship in the city of Pi-Tom, with which the Israelites were only too familiar, was called Ankh and the "great god," and had no image. Ankh means "He who lives," "the living one," a name the resemblance of which to the "I am that I am" of Exodus is unmistakable, whatever may be the value of the fact. Every discussion of Israelitic ritual seeks and finds the explanation of its details in the portable sacred chests, the altars, the priestly dress, the breastplate, the incense, and the sacrifices depicted on the monuments of Egypt. But it must be remembered that these signs of the influence of Egypt upon Israel are not necessarily evidence that such influence was exerted before the Exodus. It may have come much later, through the close connection of the Israel of David and Solomon, first with Phenicia and then with Egypt.

If we suppose Moses to have been a man of the stamp of Calvin, there is no difficulty in conceiving that he may have constructed the substance of the ten words, and even of the Book of the Covenant, which curiously resembles parts of the Book of the Dead, from the foundation of Egyptian ethics and theology which had filtered through to the Israelites in general, or had been furnished specially to himself by his early education; just as the great Genevese reformer built up a puritanic social organisation on so much as remained of the ethics and theology of the Roman Church, after he had trimmed them to his liking.

Thus, I repeat, I see no a priori objection to the assumption that Moses may have endeavoured to give his people a theologico-political organisation based on the ten commandments (though certainly not quite in their present form) and the Book of the Covenant, contained in our present book of Exodus. But whether there is such evidence as amounts to proof, or, I had better say, to probability, that even this much of the Pentateuch owes its origin to Moses is another matter. The mythical character of the accessories of the Sinaitic history is patent, and it would take a good deal more evidence than is afforded by the bare assertion of an unknown writer to justify the belief that the people who "saw the thunderings and the lightnings and the voice of the trumpet and the mountain smoking" (Exod. xx. 18); to whom Jahveh orders Moses to say, "Ye yourselves have seen that I have talked with you from heaven. Ye shall not make other gods with me; gods of silver and gods of gold ye shall not make unto you" (ibid. 22, 23), should, less than six weeks afterwards, have done the exact thing they were thus awfully forbidden to do. Nor is the credibility of the story increased by the statement that Aaron, the brother of Moses, the witness and fellow-worker of the miracles before Pharaoh, was their leader and the artificer of the idol. And yet, at the same time, Aaron was apparently so ignorant of wrongdoing that he made proclamation, "Tomorrow shall be a feast to Jahveh," and the people proceeded to offer their burnt-offerings and peace-offerings, as if everything in their proceedings must be satisfactory to the Deity with whom they had just made a solemn covenant to abolish image-worship. It seems to me that, on a survey of all the facts of the case, only a very cautious and hypothetical judgment is justifiable. It may be that Moses profited by the opportunities afforded him of access to what was best in Egyptian society to become acquainted, not only with its advanced ethical and legal code, but with the more or less pantheistic unification of the Divine to which the speculations of the Egyptian thinkers, like those of all polytheistic philosophers, from Polynesia to Greece, tend; if indeed the theology of the period of the nineteenth dynasty was not, as some Egyptologists think, a modification of an earlier, more distinctly monotheistic doctrine of a long antecedent age. It took only half a dozen centuries for the theology of Paul to become the theology of Gregory the Great; and it is possible that twenty centuries lay between the theology of the first worshippers in the sanctuary of the Sphinx and that of the priests of Ramses Maimun.

It may be that the ten commandments and the Book of the Covenant are based upon faithful traditions of the efforts of a great leader to raise his followers to his own level. For myself, as a matter of pious opinion, I like to think so; as I like to imagine that, between Moses and Samuel, there may have been many a seer, many a herdsman such as him of Tekoah, lonely amidst the hills of Ephraim and Judah, who cherished and kept alive these traditions. In the present results of Biblical criticism, however, I can discover no justification for the common assumption that, between the time of Joshua and that of Rehoboam, the Israelites were familiar with either the Deuteronomic or the Levitical legislation; or that the theology of the Israelites, from the king who sat on the throne to the lowest of his subjects, was in any important respect different from that which might naturally be expected from their previous history and the conditions of their existence. But there is excellent evidence to the contrary effect. And, for my part, I see no reason to doubt that, like the rest of the world, the Israelites had passed through a period of mere ghost-worship, and had advanced through Ancestor-worship and Fetishism and Totemism to the theological level at which we find them in the books of Judges and Samuel.

All the more remarkable, therefore, is the extraordinary change which is to be noted in the eighth century B.C. The student who is familiar with the theology implied, or expressed, in the books of Judges, Samuel, and the first book of Kings, finds himself in a new world of thought, in the full tide of a great reformation, when he reads Joel, Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Micah, and Jeremiah.

The essence of this change is the reversal of the position which, in primitive society, ethics holds in relation to theology. Originally, that which men worship is a theological hypothesis, not a moral ideal. The prophets, in substance, if not always in form preach the opposite doctrine. They are constantly striving to free the moral ideal from the stifling embrace of the current theology and its concomitant ritual. Theirs was not an intellectual criticism, argued on strictly scientific grounds; the image-worshippers and the believers in the efficacy of sacrifices and ceremonies might logically have held their own against anything the prophets have to say; it was an ethical criticism. From the height of his moral intuition—that the whole duty of man is to do justice and to love mercy and to bear himself as humbly as befits his insignificance in face of the Infinite—the prophet simply laughs at the idolaters of stocks and stones and the idolaters of ritual. Idols of the first kind, in his experience, were inseparably united with the practice of immorality, and they were to be ruthlessly destroyed. As for sacrifices and ceremonies, whatever their intrinsic value might be, they might be tolerated on condition of ceasing to be idols; they might even be praiseworthy on condition of being made to subserve the worship of the true Jahveh—the moral ideal.

If the realm of David had remained undivided, if the Assyrian and the Chaldean and the Egyptian had left Israel to the ordinary course of development of an Oriental kingdom, it is possible that the effects of the reforming zeal of the prophets of the eighth and seventh centuries might have been effaced by the growth, according to its inevitable tendencies, of the theology which they combated. But the captivity made the fortune of the ideas which it was the privilege of these men to launch upon an endless career. With the abolition of the Temple-services for more than half a century, the priest must have lost and the scribe gained influence. The puritanism of a vigorous minority among the Babylonian Jews rooted out polytheism from all its hiding-places in the theology which they had inherited; they created the first consistent, remorseless, naked monotheism, which, so far as history records, appeared in the world (for Zoroastrism is practically ditheism, and Buddhism any-theism or no-theism); and they inseparably united therewith an ethical code, which, for its purity and for its efficiency as a bond of social life, was and is, unsurpassed. So I think we must not judge Ezra and Nehemiah and their followers too hardly, if they exemplified the usual doom of poor humanity to escape from one error only to fall into another; if they failed to free themselves as completely from the idolatry of ritual as they had from that of images and dogmas; if they cherished the new fetters of the Levitical legislation which they had fitted upon themselves and their nation, as though such bonds had the sanctity of the obligations of morality; and if they led succeeding generations to spend their best energies in building that "hedge round the Torah" which was meant to preserve both ethics and theology, but which too often had the effect of pampering the latter and starving the former. The world being what it was, it is to be doubted whether Israel would have preserved intact the pure ore of religion, which the prophets had extracted for the use of mankind as well as for their nation, had not the leaders of the nation been zealous, even to death, for the dross of the law in which it was embedded. The struggle of the Jews, under the Maccabean house, against the Seleucidae was as important for mankind as that of the Greeks against the Persians. And, of all the strange ironies of history, perhaps the strangest is that "Pharisee" is current, as a term of reproach, among the theological descendants of that sect of Nazarenes who, without the martyr spirit of those primitive Puritans, would never have come into existence. They, like their historical successors, our own Puritans, have shared the general fate of the poor wise men who save cities.

A criticism of theology from the side of science is not thought of by the prophets, and is at most indicated in the books of Job and Ecclesiastes, in both of which the problem of vindicating the ways of God to man is given up, though on different grounds, as a hopeless one. But with the extensive introduction of Greek thought among the Jews, which took place, not only during the domination of the Seleucidae in Palestine, but in the great Judaic colony which flourished in Egypt under the Ptolemies, criticism, on both ethical and scientific grounds, took a new departure.

In the hands of the Alexandrian Jews, as represented by Philo, the fundamental axiom of later Jewish, as of Christian monotheism, that the Deity is infinitely perfect and infinitely good, worked itself out into its logical consequence—agnostic theism. Philo will allow of no point of contact between God and a world in which evil exists. For him God has no relation to space or to time, and, as infinite, suffers no predicate beyond that of existence. It is therefore absurd to ascribe to Him mental faculties and affections comparable in the remotest degree to those of men; He is in no way an object of cognition; He is [Greek] and [Greek] [33]—without quality and incomprehensible. That is to say the Alexandrian Jew of the first century had anticipated the reasonings of Hamilton and Mansell in the nineteenth, and, for him, God is the Unknowable in the sense in which that term is used by Mr. Herbert Spencer. Moreover, Philo's definition of the Supreme Being would not be inconsistent with that "substantia constans infinitis attributis, quorum unumquodque aeternam et infinitam essentiam exprimit," given by another great Israelite, were it not that Spinoza's doctrine of the immanence of the Deity in the world puts him, at any rate formally, at the antipodes of theological speculation. But the conception of the essential incognoscibility of the Deity is the same in each case. However, Philo was too thorough an Israelite and too much the child of his time to be content with this agnostic position. With the help of the Platonic and Stoic philosophy, he constructed an apprehensible, if not comprehensible, quasi-deity out of the Logos; while other more or less personified divine powers, or attributes, bridged over the interval between God and man; between the sacred existence, too pure to be called by any name which implied a conceivable quality, and the gross and evil world of matter. In order to get over the ethical difficulties presented by the naive naturalism of many parts of those Scriptures, in the divine authority of which he firmly believed, Philo borrowed from the Stoics (who had been in like straits in respect of Greek mythology), that great Excalibur which they had forged with infinite pains and skill—the method of allegorical interpretation. This mighty "two-handed engine at the door" of the theologian is warranted to make a speedy end of any and every moral or intellectual difficulty, by showing that, taken allegorically or, as it is otherwise said, "poetically" or, "in a spiritual sense," the plainest words mean whatever a pious interpreter desires they should mean. In Biblical phrase, Zeno (who probably had a strain of Semitic blood in him) was the "father of all such as reconcile." No doubt Philo and his followers were eminently religious men; but they did endless injury to the cause of religion by laying the foundations of a new theology, while equipping the defenders of it with the subtlest of all weapons of offence and defence, and with an inexhaustible store of sophistical arguments of the most plausible aspect.

The question of the real bearing upon theology of the influence exerted by the teaching of Philo's contemporary, Jesus of Nazareth, is one upon which it is not germane to my present purpose to enter. I take it simply as an unquestionable fact that his immediate disciples, known to their countrymen as "Nazarenes," were regarded as, and considered themselves to be, perfectly orthodox Jews, belonging to the puritanic or pharisaic section of their people, and differing from the rest only in their belief that the Messiah had already come. Christianity, it is said, first became clearly differentiated at Antioch, and it separated itself from orthodox Judaism by denying the obligation of the rite of circumcision and of the food prohibitions, prescribed by the law. Henceforward theology became relatively stationary among the Jews, [34] and the history of its rapid progress in a new course of evolution is the history of the Christian Churches, orthodox and heterodox. The steps in this evolution are obvious. The first is the birth of a new theological scheme arising out of the union of elements derived from Greek philosophy with elements derived from Israelitic theology. In the fourth Gospel, the Logos, raised to a somewhat higher degree of personification than in the Alexandrian theosophy, is identified with Jesus of Nazareth. In the Epistles, especially the later of those attributed to Paul, the Israelitic ideas of the Messiah and of sacrificial atonement coalesce with one another and with the embodiment of the Logos in Jesus, until the apotheosis of the Son of man is almost, or quite, effected. The history of Christian dogma, from Justin to Athanasius, is a record of continual progress in the same direction, until the fair body of religion, revealed in almost naked purity by the prophets, is once more hidden under a new accumulation of dogmas and of ritual practices of which the primitive Nazarene knew nothing; and which he would probably have regarded as blasphemous if he could have been made to understand them.

As, century after century, the ages roll on, polytheism comes back under the disguise of Mariolatry and the adoration of saints; image-worship becomes as rampant as in old Egypt; adoration of relics takes the place of the old fetish-worship; the virtues of the ephod pale before those of holy coats and handkerchiefs; shrines and calvaries make up for the loss of the ark and of the high places; and even the lustral fluid of paganism is replaced by holy water at the porches of the temples. A touching ceremony—the common meal originally eaten in pious memory of a loved teacher—becomes metamorphosed into a flesh-and-blood sacrifice, supposed to possess exactly that redeeming virtue which the prophets denied to the flesh-and-blood sacrifices of their day; while the minute observance of ritual is raised to a degree of punctilious refinement which Levitical legislators might envy. And with the growth of this theology, grew its inevitable concomitant, the belief in evil spirits, in possession, in sorcery, in charms and omens, until the Christians of the twelfth century after our era were sunk in more debased and brutal superstitions than are recorded of the Israelites in the twelfth century before it.

The greatest men of the Middle Ages are unable to escape the infection. Dante's "Inferno" would be revolting if it were not so often sublime, so often exquisitely tender. The hideous pictures which cover a vast space on the south wall of the Campo Santo of Pisa convey information, as terrible as it is indisputable, of the theological conceptions of Dante's countrymen in the fourteenth century, whose eyes were addressed by the painters of those disgusting scenes, and whose approbation they knew how to win. A candid Mexican of the time of Cortez, could he have seen this Christian burial-place, would have taken it for an appropriately adorned Teocalli. The professed disciple of the God of justice and of mercy might there gloat over the sufferings of his fellowmen depicted as undergoing every extremity of atrocious and sanguinary torture to all eternity, for theological errors no less than for moral delinquencies; while, in the central figure of Satan, [35] occupied in champing up souls in his capacious and well-toothed jaws, to void them again for the purpose of undergoing fresh suffering, we have the counterpart of the strange Polynesian and Egyptian dogma that there were certain gods who employed themselves in devouring the ghostly flesh of the Spirits of the dead. But in justice to the Polynesians, it must be recollected that, after three such operations, they thought the soul was purified and happy. In the view of the Christian theologian the operation was only a preparation for new tortures continued for ever and aye.

With the growth of civilisation in Europe, and with the revival of letters and of science in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the ethical and intellectual criticism of theology once more recommenced, and arrived at a temporary resting-place in the confessions of the various reformed Protestant sects in the sixteenth century; almost all of which, as soon as they were strong enough, began to persecute those who carried criticism beyond their own limit. But the movement was not arrested by these ecclesiastical barriers, as their constructors fondly imagined it would be; it was continued, tacitly or openly, by Galileo, by Hobbes, by Descartes, and especially by Spinoza, in the seventeenth century; by the English Freethinkers, by Rousseau, by the French Encyclopaedists, and by the German Rationalists, among whom Lessing stands out a head and shoulders taller than the rest, throughout the eighteenth century; by the historians, the philologers, the Biblical critics, the geologists, and the biologists in the nineteenth century, until it is obvious to all who can see that the moral sense and the really scientific method of seeking for truth are once more predominating over false science. Once more ethics and theology are parting company.

It is my conviction that, with the spread of true scientific culture, whatever may be the medium, historical, philological, philosophical, or physical, through which that culture is conveyed, and with its necessary concomitant, a constant elevation of the standard of veracity, the end of the evolution of theology will be like its beginning—it will cease to have any relation to ethics. I suppose that, so long as the human mind exists, it will not escape its deep-seated instinct to personify its intellectual conceptions. The science of the present day is as full of this particular form of intellectual shadow-worship as is the nescience of ignorant ages. The difference is that the philosopher who is worthy of the name knows that his personified hypotheses, such as law, and force, and ether, and the like, are merely useful symbols, while the ignorant and the careless take them for adequate expressions of reality. So, it may be, that the majority of mankind may find the practice of morality made easier by the use of theological symbols. And unless these are converted from symbols into idols, I do not see that science has anything to say to the practice, except to give an occasional warning of its dangers. But, when such symbols are dealt with as real existences, I think the highest duty which is laid upon men of science is to show that these dogmatic idols have no greater value than the fabrications of men's hands, the stocks and the stones, which they have replaced.


[Footnote 1: Even the most sturdy believers in the popular theory that the proper or titular names attached to the books of the Bible are those of their authors will hardly be prepared to maintain that Jephthah, Gideon, and their colleagues wrote the book of Judges. Nor is it easily admissible that Samuel wrote the two books which pass under his name, one of which deals entirely with events which took place after his death. In fact, no one knows who wrote either Judges or Samuel, nor when, within the range of 100 years, their present form was given to these books.]

[Footnote 2: My citations are taken from the Revised Version, but for Lord and God I have substituted Jahveh and Elohim.]

[Footnote 3: I need hardly say that I depend upon authoritative Biblical critics, whenever a question of interpretation of the text arises. As Reuss appears to me to be one of the most learned, acute, and fair-minded of those whose works I have studied, I have made most use of the commentary and dissertations in his splendid French edition of the Bible. But I have also had recourse to the works of Dillman, Kalisch, Kuenen, Thenius, Tuch, and others, in cases in which another opinion seemed desirable.]

[Footnote 4: See "Divination," by Hazoral, Journal of Anthropology, Bombay, vol. i. No. 1.]

[Footnote 5: See, for example, the message of Jephthah to the King of the Ammonites: "So now Jahveh, the Elohim of Israel, hath dispossessed the Amorites from before his people Israel, and shouldest thou possess them? Wilt not thou possess that which Chemosh, thy Elohim, giveth thee to possess?" (Jud. xi. 23, 24). For Jephthah, Chemosh is obviously as real a personage as Jahveh.]

[Footnote 6: For example: "My oblation, my food for my offerings made by fire, of a sweet savour to me, shall ye observe to offer unto me in their due season" (Num. xxviii. 2).]

[Footnote 7: In 2 Samuel xv. 27 David says to Zadok the priest, "Art thou not a seer?" and Gad is called David's seer.]

[Footnote 8: This would at first appear to be inconsistent with the use of the word "prophetess" for Deborah. But it does not follow because the writer of Judges applies the name to Deborah that it was used in her day.]

[Footnote 9: Samuel tells the cook, "Bring the potion which I gave thee, of which I said to thee, Set it by thee." It was therefore Samuel's to give. "And the cook took up the thigh (or shoulder) and that which was upon it and set it before Saul." But, in the Levitical regulations, it is the thigh (or shoulder) which becomes the priest's own property. "And the right thigh (or shoulder) shall ye give unto the priest for an heave-offering," which is given along with the wave breast "unto Aaron the priest and unto his sons as a due for ever from the children of Israel" (Lev. vii. 31-34). Reuss writes on this passage: "La cuisse n'est point agitee, mais simplement prelevee sur ce que les convives mangeront."]

[Footnote 10: See, for example, Elkanah's sacrifice, 1 Sam. i. 3-9.]

[Footnote 11: The ghost was not supposed to be capable of devouring the gross material substance of the offering; but his vaporous body appropriated the smoke of the burnt sacrifice, the visible and odorous exhalations of other offerings. The blood of the victim was particularly useful because it was thought to be the special seat of its soul or life. A West African negro replied to an European sceptic: "Of course, the spirit cannot eat corporeal food, but he extracts its spiritual part, and, as we see, leaves the material part behind" (Lippert, Seelencult, p. 16).]

[Footnote 12: It is further well worth consideration whether indications of former ancestor-worship are not to be found in the singular weight attached to the veneration of parents in the fourth commandment. It is the only positive commandment, in addition to those respecting the Deity and that concerning the Sabbath, and the penalties for infringing it were of the same character. In China, a corresponding reverence for parents is part and parcel of ancestor-worship; so in ancient Rome and in Greece (where parents were even called [secondary and earthly]). The fifth commandment, as it stands, would be an excellent compromise between ancestor-worship and monotheism. The larger hereditary share allotted by Israelitic law to the eldest son reminds one of the privileges attached to primogeniture in ancient Rome, which were closely connected with ancestor-worship. There is a good deal to be said in favour of the speculation that the ark of the covenant may have been a relic of ancestor-worship; but that topic is too large to be dealt with incidentally in this place]

[Footnote 13: "The Scientific Aspects of Positivism," Fortnightly Review, 1869, republished in Lay Sermons.]

[Footnote 14: OEuvres de Bossuet, ed. 1808, t. xxxv. p. 282.]

[Footnote 15: I should like further to add the expression of my indebtedness to two works by Herr Julius Lippert, Der Seelencult in seinen Beziehungen zur alt-hebraischen Religion and Die Religionen der europaischen Culturvolker, both pubished in 1881. I have found them full of valuable suggestions.]

[Footnote 16: See among others the remarkable work of Fustel de Coulanges, La Cite antique, in which the social importance of the old Roman ancestor-worship is brought out with great clearness.]

[Footnote 17: Supposed to be "the finer or more aeriform part of the body," standing in "the same relation to the body as the perfume and the more essential qualities of a flower do to the more solid substances" (Mariner, vol. ii. p. 127).]

[Footnote 18: A kind of "clients" in the Roman sense.]

[Footnote 19: It is worthy of remark that [Greek] among the Greeks, and Deus among the Romans, had the same wide signification. The dii manes were ghosts of ancestors=Atuas of the family.]

[Footnote 20: Voyages aux iles du Grand Ocean, t. i. p. 482.]

[Footnote 21: Te Ika a Maui: New Zealand and its Inhabitants, p. 72.]

[Footnote 22: Compare: "And Samuel said unto Saul, Why hast thou disquieted me?" (I Sam. xxviii. l5)]

[Footnote 23: Turner, Nineteen Years in Polynesia, p. 238.]

[Footnote 24: See Lippert's excellent remarks on this subject, Der Seelencult, p. 89.]

[Footnote 25: Sciography has the authority of Cudworth, Intellectual System, vol. ii. p. 836. Sciomancy [Greek], which, in the sense of divination by ghosts, may be found in Bailey's Dictionary (1751: also furnishes a precedent for my coinage.]

[Footnote 26: "Kami" is used in the sense of Elohim; and is also, like our word "Lord," employed as a title of respect among men, as indeed Elohim was.]

[Footnote 27: [The Assyrians thus raised Assur to a position of pre-eminence.]]

[Footnote 28: I refer those who wish to know the reasons which lead me to take up this position to the works of Reuss and Wellhausen, [and especially to Stade's Geschichte des Volkes Israel.]]

[Footnote 29: Bunsen. Egypt's Place, vol. v. p.129, note.]

[Footnote 30: See Birch, in Egypt's Place, vol. v; and Brugsch, History of Egypt.]

[Footnote 31: Even by Graetz, who, though a fair enough historian, cannot be accused of any desire to over-estimate the importance of Egyptian influence upon his people.]

[Footnote 32: Graetz, Geschichte der Juden, Bd. i. p. 370.]

[Footnote 33: See the careful analsyis of the work of the Alexandrian philosopher and theologian (who, it should be remembered, was a most devout Jew, held in the highest esteem by his countrymen) in Siegfried's Philo von Alexandrien, 1875. (Also Dr. J. Drummond's Philo Judaeus, 1888.)]

[Footnote 34: I am not unaware of the existence of many and widely divergent sects and schools among the Jews at all periods of their history, since the dispersion. But I imagine that orthodox Judaism is now pretty much what it was in Philo's time; while Peter and Paul, if they could return to life, would certainly have to learn the catechism of either the Roman, Greek, or Anglican Churches, if they desired to be considered orthodox Christians.]

[Footnote 35: Dante's description of Lucifer engaged in the eternal mastication of Brutus, Cassius, and Judas Iscariot—

"Da ogni bocca dirompea co' denti Un peccatore, a guisa di maciulla, Si che tre ne facea cosi dolenti. A quel dinanzi il mordere era nulla, Verso 'l graffiar, che tal volta la schiena Rimanea della pelle tutta brulla"—

is quite in harmony with the Pisan picture and perfectly Polynesian in conception.]


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