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The religion of Israel to the fall of the Jewish state (Volume 2) online

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By dr. a. KUENEK









Cranslatfti from if)c ffiJutcft






London :

178, STRAND.

..v^/ c: inncc2


In rendering this volume into English, the translator has to
acknowledge the assistance of the author, who has continued
to read the proofs, and of Mr. Milroy, who has read the transla-
tion in manuscript.

The valuable taljle of contents given in the original will be
published at the end of the third volume.


Chapter VL


The Religion of Israel to the Fall of Jerusalem in 586 c.c. . 1

Notes on Chapter VL . . . . .77

Chapter VII.
The Israelitish Exiles in Babylonia . . . .98

Notes on Chapter VII. . . . . .174

Chapter VIII.

The Establishment of the Hierarchy and the Introduction of

the Law ....... 202

Notes on Chapter VIII. . . . . .286



The Eeligion of Israel to the Fall of Jerusalem
IN 586 B.C.

Towards the end of tlie 8th century before our era, Hezckiah
had attempted to effect a complete revolution in the religious
practices of his subjects. From the very brief account by the
author of 2 Kings* — which is enlarged and embellished, but
not really supplemented, by the Chronicler-)- — we should scarcely
infer that his measures had so wide an aim. Yet we do not go
too far when we say " a complete revolution," We already know
that the "high places" which Hezekiah abolished had existed
for centuries all over the kingdom, and that the use of pillars,
asheras and images of Jahveh, according to Isaiah and Micah,:|;
was general. It is very improbable, therefore, that the king
met with no opposition of any sort and gained his end entirely
and at once. The historian, it is true, makes no mention of the
obstacles wliich were put in his way, but this fact could possess
value as evidence only if he had shown himself to be accurately
informed and had entered into details. Nevertheless the possi*
bility remains, that Hezekiah was powerful enough to deter his
subjects from any attempt at resistance, or to nip their opposition
in the bud. But no one can well think it likely that he alto-
gether changed the persuasions and ideas of his people during
his reign of thirty years. The means which he employed — the
" removing," " cutting down" and " breaking to pieces" — however

* 2 Kings xviii. 4, corap. 22. t 2 Chr. xxix.— xxxi. X Vol. L pp. 79 sqq,


suitable they may have been for altering the outward appearance
of things in a short time, did not reach the root of the evil. In
a word, but little penetration was required to foresee that these
violent measures would necessarily be followed by an equally
violent reaction. And this is what actually occurred.

In the year 696 B.C. Hezekiah died. His son Manasseh, a
boy of twelve, became king in his stead ; his reign lasted 55
years, until 641 B.C. Anion his son and successor trod in his
father's footsteps until 639 B.C. For 57 years, then, the king-
dom was governed in one spirit, in the spirit of the party whose
tenderest feelings had been wounded by Hezekiah's reformation.

We should indeed remember that Manasseh and Amon, just
as much as their predecessor, represented a conviction. In read-
ing the accounts concerning them,* our first impression is that
they were crowned miscreants, and Manasseh especially. The
author can find no words strong enough to express the abhor-
rence with which Manasseh's deeds inspire him. He twice
compares him to Ahab.-f- One of his atrocities, the placing of
tlie Ashera-pillar in the temple, is a desecration of that building,
and is diametrically opposed to Jahveh's promises and commands
to David and Solomon. :|: It is with evident approbation that
the author mentions the prediction of Manasseh's contemporaries
among the prophets, that, on account of his transgressions and
of the readiness of the people to take part in them, Jerusalem
shall be laid waste and its inhabitants scattered among the
nations. § Over and above all this, he accuses him of having
"shed very mucli innocent blood, till he had filled Jerusalem
with it from one end to the other." || The painful impression
made by these accusations would certainly be considerably less-
ened, if we might assume, with the Chronicler,ir that Manasseh
subsequently repented of his sins, and, after his return from a
temporary captivity in Assyria, hastened to repair as much as

* 2 Kings xxi. ; 2 Chr. xxxiii. f 2 Kings xxi. 3, 13.

% 2 Kings xxi. 7, 8. § 2 Kings xxi. 10—15.

II 2 Kings xxi. 10. "H 2 Chr. xxxiii. 11 seq.


possible the evil he had done. But for various reasons this
account is unworthy of credit. So long, therefore, as we con-
tinue to occupy the standpoint of the Israelitish historians, we
shall judge most unfavourably of Manasseh — and of Amon.
But it is precisely this standpoint which we must attack. It is
that of Manasseh's antagonists, who afterwards regained and kept
the upper hand. They judge him by the standard of their own
ideas, which he, however, did not embrace, or, rather, would have
condemned as revolutionary and dangerous.

Of course, this makes it none the less necessary to give the
verdict of the Israelitish historian its share of our attention, if
we wish to form a true idea of Manasseh's character and designs.
This we do the more readily, now it appears that it is the echo
of the warnings uttered by the king's contemporaries respecting
the punishment whicli was to come.* We remember, too, tliat
Jeremiah -j- also attributes the fall of the kingdom to that which
Manasseh the son of Hezekiah did at Jerusalem. What, then,
had he done ?

In the first place, Manasseh restored the worship of Jahveh
as it had been before Hezekiah's reformation. He built up again
— we are told:|: — that is, he allowed to be built up again, the
high places which his father liad destroyed. He also worshipped
other gods besides Jahveh, and he placed in the temple at
Jerusalem the symbol of Ashera, the tree-stem stripped of its
branches, which was frequently erected next to the altars of
Jahveh. § Like his grandfather Ahaz, he encouraged the service
of Molech, and following his example, he — we do not know
under what circumstances — dedicated one of his sons to this
deity by fire.|| It is told of him further, that he "bowed down
to all the host of heaven and served them (the stars)," and built
altars in honour of these deified celestial bodies in tlie two courts
of the temple at Jerusalem. t Did he adopt this latter worship

* 2 Kings xxi. 10—15. t .Ter. xv. 4. J 2 Kings xxi. 3.

§ 2 Kings xxi. 3, 7; comp. Deut. xvi. 21. || 2 Kings xxi. 6, comp. xvi. 3.

H 2 Kings xxi. 3, 5, comp. xxiii. 4, 6 ; Zeph. i. 5.



from abroad, from the Assyrians or the Babylonians ? He saw
nothing reprehensible in the service of their gods, no more than
in the time-honoured worship of the Canaanitish deities. But
we are not surprised that this imitation of the foreigner was
a new and inexcusable grievance to those who served Jahveh
alone. Manasseh's conduct was the more abominable, in their
estimation, in that he established the worship of false gods —
both that known of old and that introduced by him — in the
place that was the very centre of the service of Jahveh. It is
true that, even under his rule, the temple of Solomon did not
cease to be a sanctuary of Jahveh ; but besides the principal
deity, many other gods were also worshipped there, each after
its own fashion. This was in harmony with tlie heatlien custom.
As we remarked before,* it cannot be considered absolutely
antagonistic to the intentions of the founder of the temple. There
is no doubt either, that Manasseh was not the first who had
done this.-f- Nay, we must even regard it as improbable that
Hezekiah had succeeded in banishing all traces of the worship
of the other gods from the temple, ^i Yet Manasseh went further
than any king before him. And — what cannot but have increased
the dissatisfaction which he caused — his acts led, either in his
reign or subsequently, to the solemnization of still other religious
rites, and among them Egyptian rites, in the temple itself, or in
its immediate vicinity. § In short, it was as though he was bent
upon thwarting, or was trying to introduce the opposite of, the
ideal cherished by the worshippers of Jahveh, the realization of
which had seemed to them so near at hand in Hezekiah's rei^n.
Is it to be wondered at that they abhorred him as an enemy to
Jahveh ?

The descendants and successors of the prophets of the 8th

* Vol. I. pp. 335 seq.

t Comp. what is said of "the kings of Judah" in 2 Kings xxiii. 5, 11, 12.

t Had that been the case, in all probability ]\Ianasseh alone would have been named
in the verses just quoted.

§ Ezek. viii. ; comp. Note I. at the end of this Chapter.


century B.C. must have altogether degenerated, if they could
look upon all this in silence. The Nvriter of the books of Kings
relates — and we have no hesitation in believing him — that
Jahveh raised his voice, " by the mouth of his servants the pro-
phets," against Manasseh's abominations. Here and there their
words were echoed. Were there, perchance, some men who,
inflamed by these words, offered resistance to the king's mea-
sures ? The statement that he " shed very much innocent blood
in Jerusalem" would lead one to suppose so. Free from all
exclusivism, Manasseh cannot well have become a persecutor of
his own accord. If he took this part upon him, he was driven
to it by the reception accorded to his measures. In judging of
his conduct, we must not forget both how intimately religion
was linked to politics in Israel, and how the Jahvistic party
bore themselves when they were in authority. The connection
between religion and politics fully explains why the prophets
and their adherents were looked upon as dangerous to the good
order of the state. And when we call Hezekiah and Josiah to
mind, we lack the heart to castigate Manasseh severely for his

At the same time, we should not forget that in order to form
a well-grounded judgment of JManasseh and Amon, our informa-
tion ought to be more precise. It is indeed to be deplored that
we cannot throw light from contemporaneous records upon so
remarkable a period of nearly half a century. Perhaps a few of
the Psalms were composed during that time.* But nothing
certain is known of their age. When we assign them to the
reign of Manasseh, it is because they express what we suppose
to have been the feelings of his pious contemporaries, judging
from what we already know. They do not extend our know-
ledge. We have no alternative but to rest content with this
ignorance. Fortunately it does not prevent us from compre-
hending the period which dawned after Anion's death. In fact,

* Comp. my Uk. 0. III. 294 seq.


this period lies before us so clearly that it dissipates in some
degree the mist which hangs over Manasseh's reign.

Nothing can be more natural than that the upholders of the
exclusive worship of Jahveh — for the sake of brevity we can call
them the Mosaic party— not only looked forward longingly to
better times, but also did their best to prepare the way for them.
They neither could nor would submit to their defeat. They
could not well do otherwise than exert all their strength to win
back the days of Hezekiah. In connection with this, we invo-
luntarily ask, whether Amon's violent death* was not, perchance,
their work? They certainly had grounds enough for being
exasperated against him; and they reaped substantial benefit
from the change. But we believe we may acquit them of this
crime. It is expressly said that the conspirators against Amon
were " his servants," and that the " people of the land " slew
them all, and then made the son of Amon king. Probably the
unfortunate prince fell a victim to some court intrigue, and the
people came forward for the rightful successor, and also for the
race of their beloved David.

But whoever may have caused it, Amon's death was a bless-
ing for the Mosaic party. They had nothing to hope and
everything to fear from him. Josiah, his successor, was a boy of
eight :-f- what might not be effected if they could only acquire
influence over him, and make him embrace their views ! A
king's poM^er is absolute in the East, and so it was in the king-
dom of Judah. " When there was yet no king in Israel, every
man did that which was right in his own eyes ;"| afterwards —
we can add to the historian's remark — afterwards all or most of
them bowed, at all events outwardly, to the will and orders of
the prince. No wonder that the Mosaic party first conceived
the hope, and then formed the plan, of winning Josiah, and,
through him, of carrying out what, in their eyes, was the duty
and also the interest of the state.

* 2 Kings xxi. 23, 24. f 2 Kings xxii, 1. % Judges xvii. 6.


But before tliey could succeed in this, it was necessary that
they should speak out their wishes plainly, and lay them before
the king in such a manner that there could remain no doubt as
to their meaning and the way in which they were to be realized.
It sounds strange, and yet it is a fact, that hitherto they had
had no accurately defined programme. They knew very well
what they thought needful, but they had failed to commit their
demands to writing with the necessary fulness. Probably it
was partly to this that the failure of their plans after the tem-
porary triumph under Hezekiah was to be attributed. In any
case, a collection of legal precepts was deemed indispensable in
order to obtain any permanent result. But to understand this
thoroughly, it will be necessary for us again to glance back for
a moment.

It need not be repeated here that Moses bequeathed no book
of the law to the tribes of Israel* Certainly nothing more
was committed to writing by him or in his time than " the ten
words" in their original form. We do not know with certainty
where these fundamental laws were kept. Probably, however,
it was in the temple ;-f- perhaps even, as subsequent tradition
says, in " the ark of Jahveh," which may then have borrowed
from this circumstance its later name of " ark of the covenant of
Jahveh." J In Manasseh's reign " the ten words" were no doubt
formulated and enlarged nearly as we now read them in the
Pentateuch. But for the end which the Mosaic party were
struggling to gain, they were altogether inadequate. In the first
place, they were absolutely silent upon many most important
points. In the second, they were wanting in what one might
call legal validity. Jahveh's temple at Jerusalem, where they
had been deposited, was by no means the only sanctuary, merely

Online LibraryAbraham KuenenThe religion of Israel to the fall of the Jewish state (Volume 2) → online text (page 1 of 28)