§ 7. Judaism as a Preparation for Christianity
Jewish, Greek, Reduced, Lord, Monotheism, Worship
After the return from the captivity the Jewish nation remained loyal to Jehovah. The dangers of polytheism and idolatry had passed. We no more hear of either of these tendencies, but, on the contrary, a rigid and almost bigoted monotheism was firmly established. Their sufferings, the teaching of their Prophets, perhaps the influence of the Persian worship, had confirmed them in the belief that Jehovah was one and alone, and that the gods of the nations were idols. They had lost forever the sacred ark of the covenant and the mysterious ornaments of the high-priest. Their kings had disappeared, and a new form of theocracy took the place of a royal government. The high-priest, with the great council, became the supreme authority. The government was hierarchal.
Hellenic influences began to act on the Jewish mind, and a peculiar dialect of Hebrew-Greek, called the Hellenistic, was formed. The Septuagint, or Greek version of the Old Testament, was made in Alexandria about B.C. 260. In Egypt, Greek philosophy began to affect the Jewish mind, the final result of which was the system of Philo. Greek influences spread to such an extent that a great religious revolution took place in Palestine (B.C. 170), and the Temple at Jerusalem was turned into a temple of Olympic Jupiter. Many of the priests and leading citizens accepted this change, though the heart of the people rejected it with horror. Under Antiochus the Temple was profaned, the sacrifices ceased, the keeping of the Sabbath and use of the Scriptures were forbidden by a royal edict. Then arose the Maccabees, and after a long and bitter struggle re-established the worship of Jehovah, B.C. 141.
After this the mass of the people, in their zeal for the law and their old institutions, fell in to the narrow bigotry of the Pharisees. The Sadducees were Jewish Epicureans, but though wealthy were few, and had little influence. The Essenes were Jewish monks, living in communities, and as little influential as are the Shakers in Massachusetts to-day. They were not only few, but their whole system was contrary to the tone of Jewish thought, and was probably derived from Orphic Pythagoreanism.
The Talmud, that mighty maze of Jewish thought, commencing after the return from the captivity, contains the history of the gradual progress and development of the national mind. The study of the Talmud is necessary to the full understanding of the rise of Christianity. Many of the parables and precepts of Jesus may have had their origin in these traditions and teachings. For the Talmud contains much that is excellent, and the originality of Jesus was not in saying what never had been thought before, but in vitalizing all old truth out of a central spiritual life. His originality was not novelty, but vitality. We have room here but for a single extract.
"'Six hundred and thirteen injunctions,' says the Talmud, 'was Moses instructed to give to the people. David reduced them all to eleven, in the fifteenth Psalm: Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle who shall dwell on thy holy hill? He that walketh uprightly,' &c.
"'The Prophet Isaiah reduced them to six (xxxiii. 15): He that walketh righteously,' &c.
"'The Prophet Micah reduced them to three (vi. 8): What doth the Lord require of thee but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?
"'Isaiah once more reduced them to two (lvi. 1): Keep ye judgment and do justice.
"'Amos (v. 4) reduced them all to one: Seek ye me and ye shall live.
"'But lest it might be supposed from this that God could be found in the fulfilment of his whole law only, Habakkuk said (ii. 4): The just shall live by his faith.'"
Thus we have seen the Jewish religion gradually developed out of the family worship of Abraham, through the national worship of the law to the personal and filial trust of David, and the spiritual monotheism of Job and the Prophets. Through all these changes there ran the one golden thread of faith in a Supreme Being who was not hidden and apart from the world, but who came to man as to his child.
At first this belief was narrow and like that of a child We read that when Noah went into the ark, "the Lord shut him in"; that when Babel was built, "the Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the children of men had built"; that when Noah offered burnt-sacrifices, "the Lord smelled a sweet savor"; that he told Moses to make him a sanctuary, that he might dwell among the Israelites. We have seen, in our chapter on Greece, that Homer makes Jupiter send a pernicious dream to Agamemnon, to deceive him; in other words, makes Jupiter tell a lie to Agamemnon. But how is the account in I Kings xxii. 20-23, any better?
But how all this ignorance was enlightened, and this narrowness enlarged, let the magnificent theism of the Psalms, of Job, and of Isaiah testify. Solomon declares "The heaven of heavens cannot contain him, how much less this house that I have builded." Job and the Psalms and Isaiah describe the omniscience, omnipresence, and inscrutable perfections of the Deity in language to which twenty centuries have been able to add nothing.
Thus Judaism was monotheism, first as a seed, then as a blade, and then as the ear which the sun of Christianity was to ripen into the full corn. The highest truth was present, implicitly, in Judaism, and became explicit in Christianity. The law was the schoolmaster to bring men to Christ. It taught, however imperfectly, a supreme and living God; a Providence ruling all things; a Judge rewarding good and punishing evil; a holy Being, of purer eyes than to behold iniquity. It announced a moral law to be obeyed, the substance of which was to love God with all the heart, and one's neighbor as one's self.
Wherever the Apostles of Christ went they found that Judaism had prepared the way. Usually, in every place, they first preached to the Jews, and made converts of them. For Judaism, though so narrow and so alien to the Greek and Latin thought, had nevertheless pervaded all parts of the Roman Empire. Despised and satirized by philosophers and poets, it had yet won its way by its strength of conviction. It offered to men, not a philosophy, but a religion; not thought, but life. Too intolerant of differences to convert the world to monotheism, it yet made a preparation for its conversion. This was its power, and thus it went before the face of the Master, to prepare his way.
|Written By James Freeman Clarke|
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