James Frederick McCurdy.

History, prophecy and the monuments (Volume 2) online

. (page 13 of 39)
Online LibraryJames Frederick McCurdyHistory, prophecy and the monuments (Volume 2) → online text (page 13 of 39)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

short of anarchy, and only to be remedied by the ultimate
surrender of individual and communal autonomy.

§ 486. The dominant needs of the whole community
were prompt and faithful administration of justice and
ample provision for the fulfilment of religious duties.
These two requirements, which to us moderns seem inhe-
rently distinct, were to the ancient Semites, in their more
primitive social stages, practically inseparable. A glance
at the modes and agencies of the administration of law
during this period is now in order, and will help us to a
clear understanding of the whole main question involved.
Under the fully developed city government all the essen-
tial classes of official life had ample play for their func-
tions. There were first the "elders," who represented the
old heads of the families and clans under the tribal sj'stem.
These functionaries were continued under the new con-
ditions of local government. But hereditary claims,
w^hen accompanied by a sufficient property qualification,
came at length to be an adequate title to the office
(§ 569), and in a society where prescription held such
sway the right of no responsible member of the session
was likely to be questioned. Their jurisdiction naturally
embraced matters of family concern: disputes. as to con-
jugal relations (Deut. xxii. 15 if.), about inheritances,
the division of propert}',^ the appointment of the goel or

1 How natural it was for a Palestinian to appeal in such matters to a
man eminent for wisdom and justice, even if a perfect stranger, is shown
in the incident recorded in Luke xii. 13 f., and which took place in times
long subsequent to the " Judges." The difficulty which occurs to us as
inevitable from the custom of having a bench of magistrates chosen neither
by people nor king is quite imaginary. It is to be noted that the elders
sat to be consulted if necessary, not to thrust themselves on any one sup-
posed to be in need of counsel or discipline.

Ch. IV, § 488 THE LOCAL JUDGES 125

upholder of the family (Ruth iv.), the settlement of blood-
revenge (Deut. xix. 12). They also represented the city
in controversies with other cities as to responsibility for
crime, calamity, and the like (Deut. xxi. 1 ff.).

§ 487. Next there were the local "judges." These
were, no doubt, originally appointed as arbitrators. They
are not exactly a characteristic institution of civic as
opposed to nomadic life, for the Bedawin have their kddls
as well as their sheichs. They naturall}- came more and
more to the front as new classes of cases arose for which
the law of the tribe or the family had made no provision.
Such cases, for example, as are dealt with in the " Book of
the Covenant" (§ 474) must have led to complications for
which no precedent could be found. And it is signifi-
cant that the term "judges" does not occur in that pri-
mary legislation. Yet the function is foreshadowed in
the mention of "arbitrators" (E.V. "judges" Ex. xxi.
22) to whom appeal was to be made in a certain case of
special difficulty. What the " judges " eventually had to
do fall accordingly under two heads. They had to decide
cases of appeal from the ordinar}' bench of elders at the
city gates; they had also to administer the new legisla-
tion as it arose, and to establish precedents in unforeseen
and novel instances. They were, doubtless, as a rule,
taken from the body of the elders of the city, and also,
when the more complete organization of the kingly time
came into vogue (§ 530 f.), from the "princes " or chiefs
of the military or fiscal divisions larger or smaller. "With
the further development of the kingdom the " judges "
naturally became more important as compared with the
elders, and played a great part in the social and moral
history of the nation.

§ 488. A third kind of judicial function is that exer-
cised by the priests, and later, also, by prophets.^ In the

1 The difference between the position of the two classes does not lie so
much in the binding force of their respective decisions as in the fact that
the priests were from the first official judges, whereas the prophets were


Hebrew terminology it is called the giving of direction
or "teaching" (E.V. "law," torat)^ and it developed in
the ministry of the prophets into absolutely immeasurable
importance. Resort or appeal to the priest or prophet is
called coming "unto God" (^e.g. Ex. xxi. 6; xxii. 8),^
because the priest, or the prophet, was the direct repre-
sentative of Jehovah. The term " direction " represents
precisely the primary and fundamental notion of these
decisions. They were essentially of an advisory char-
acter, and thus constituted the " oracle " of the Hebrews.
As originallj^ each family group had its own priest, resort
was naturally had to him for light on practical difficulties,
not so much the settling of disputes as pointing out the
safe, judicious, or righteous way for the individual or
the household in embarrassment. And a glance at
the instances of such appeals recorded in the Old Testa-
ment will show that they were always mainly of the
same character, though often on a larger scale. But
as the genius of the true religion abhors what is conven-
tional and perfunctor}', the part played by the priests
receives little emphasis, and that borne by the prophets
comes always more and more into prominence, until we
find them swaying the destinies of the whole nation by
"the word of Jehovah." The subject is fascinating as
Avell as fruitful. In this connection I can only add that
this third kind of "judgment" differed from the other
two in this respect, among others, that the oracle of the
priest or the prophet had no outward compulsion, while
the elders and the judges had apparently not only judicial
but also executive functions, according to the practice
and principles of ancient Semitic jurisprudence. This
distinction brings out into clearer relief the nearness of

appealed to on account of their wisdom and spiritual authority. It was,
of course, as a " prophet " that Jesus was appealed to in the case above

1 R.V. margin, " judges." The reader will see that this rendering is
not strictly correct. In Ex. xxii. 28, it is entirely erroneous.


priest and propliet to Jehovah himself. What was essen-
tially of the character of a revelation carried with it its
own warrant. It was only when it became materialized
into statute law that it needed to be administered by a
set of officials (cf. § 590).

§ 489. Yet these more superficial distinctions must
not blind us to the comprehensive general fact that all
law was essentially of a religious character. Primarily
the family head, who was also the priest of his own house-
hold, directed his family according to the counsel of God
(Gen. xviii. 19, etc.). And as the Hebrew commonwealth
expanded, the same fundamental principle continued to
be recognized that Jehovah was the ultimate fountain of
all legislation. To this it was an obvious corollary that
his direct representatives wielded a unique authority as
law-givers. Passing over the more notorious cases of
Moses and Aaron, it is sufficient to cite the fact that
many of the " judges " were priests or prophets, and that
they were also permitted to offer sacrifices upon occasion.
Now we may note the connection between the administra-
tion of justice and the observance of religious obligations
on the part of the people at large. In the first place we
observe that any laxit}^, irregularit}^ or deterioration of
the religious services, which were the normal function of
the priests, necessarily robbed the legal codes of their
dignity and prestige, and, besides, checked or corrupted
justice at its very fountain. Again (and this brings us
back to our point of departure), if any influences, either
local or national, interfered to prevent or seduce the mem-
bers of the several communities from attending the pre-
scribed religious ordinances, they would be thrown more
completely upon the often inadequate local courts for the
settlement of matters of controversy. It was to prevent
both the tendency and the results that the national or
sectional judges were appointed. It was certainl}^ the
purpose of the Mosaic legislation to have a court of
appeal (Ex. xviii. et al.') or of central jurisdiction; and


one great end of the whole sj'stem was virtually nullified,
when this was neglected or contemned.

§ 490. Notoriously this ideal of a single religious and
a single judicial centre was never fully realized for all
Israel in the long period of the Judges. What then shall
we sa}^ of the several leading centres?^ Of them, too, it
must be confessed that the}' failed to secure a tolerable
measure of moral and social benefit for the people. One
after another their influence and prestige declined. Even
Shiloh, the most renowned among them all both as a
seat of religion and of justice, the home of the Ark and
of its tabernacle, came to an end as a resort of pilgrims
and oracle-seekers. It would be a mistake to suppose
that it ever served as such for the whole of Israel. We
never hear of its clients extending beyond the plain of
Jezreel on the north or as far as Hebron on the south.
But for the central tribes it was long without a rival for
sanctity and attractiveness. It was at the height of its
popularity and influence under the regime of Eli and his
sons, priests and judges of Israel. It did not survive
their administration. The inefliciency and corruption of
Hophni and Phinehas would in any case have hastened its
downfall, which took place shortly after their regime was
brought to its tragic close (1 Sam. iv. 11 ft'.). The cir-
cumstances of the day of its visitation have not been
recorded. We only know that it was overwhelmed by
such a sudden and awful calamity that the event was
recalled with horror through all the following centuries
(Jer. vii. 14; xxvi. 6; cf. Ps. Ixxviii. 60).

§ 491. This catastrophe marks a crisis and an epoch
in the political as well as in the social and religious his-

1 How such resorts necessarily sjaraiig up here and there according to
the needs of the scattered settlers, is shown in the case of Abel-Beth-
Maacah, which, as we are told in 2 Sam. xx. 18, was famous as a centre
of good counsel sought out by all the country-side. Verse 19 indicates
at the same time its importance as the home of a large community, " a
mother in Israel."


toiy of the time. Just as the last general rally under
Deborah and Barak was the conclusion of the first main
period of the history of the Hebrew settlement in Canaan
(§ 480), so this failure of centralized administration and
worship, upon a scale only less than national, marks the
beginning of the end in this whole probationary forma-
tive era. After their decisive overthrow the Canaanites
ceased to play more than a local and insignificant part as
a foe of the Hebrew commonwealth. Meanwhile other
peoples had harassed Hebrews and Canaanites alike.
Above all, the half-foreign Philistines (§ 192; cf. § 166,
note) had become more than mere raiders (§ 479), and
were now threatening the independence and the hope of

§ 492. The onslaughts of the Philistines, as well as
the preceding attacks of other foreigners, must be reck-
oned both as a disintegrating and as a unifying force
among the tribes of Israel. As long as loyalty and devo-
tion to Jehovah, which were much the same thincr as
patriotism, continued to animate the Hebrew people, the
assaults of outsiders formed one of the strongest means
of bringing and keeping them together. Indeed, the
mere sense of danger continued throughout the whole
history of the people to act of itself as a wholesome
cohesive force. On the other hand, a successful invasion,
followed by even a brief occupation of territory, neces-
sarily kept the ill-cemented tribes and smaller communi-
ties apart.

§ 493. We have now to add another occasion of sepa-
ration more dangferous and noxious still. Allusion has
just been made to the defeat of the last formidable com-
bination of the native Canaanites. This final military
triumph does not carry with it the significance suggested
by a victor}' over a deadly hereditary foe. The conquest
was dearly bought. It was followed b}', nay it even
involved, disaster to the victors more deadly than the
losses inflicted by Sisera with his chariots of iron. The


friendship of the Canaanites was more dangerous than
their enmit3^ The latter implied, at least, that the
worship of Baal would have no hold upon the people of
Jehovah. The former was in itself a compromise between
the two religions. Of the friendliness between the two
peoples during the latter half of the period of the Judges
we have abundant evidence. The truces that had been
made, sometimes as a modus vivendi, sometimes as a
necessary alliance against a common invader, became at
length a permanent peace (cf. 1 Sam. vii. 14). The
conflicts of armies had, at first, given place to local feuds,
to attacks upon and sorties from one walled town or
another (§ 478). Even these had come to an end before
the time of Samuel. The result was, in fact, something
like an amalgamation. The issue, as we have seen,
depended upon the fate of the Canaanitic cities. That
these became even nominallj' Hebrew implied an amalga-
mation of the races. As far as the south was concerned,
the way had been prepared very early by the adoption, on
the part of Judah, of large foreign elements, chief among
which were Kenites and Calebites. This far-reaching
movement doubtless encouraged a similar rapprochement
throughout the whole of Israel. Outwardly, no doubt,
the i^rocess of union was in the guise of an absorption
of the Canaanites by their Hebrew adversaries. More-
over, the union implied of necessity an acknowledgment,
on the part of the weaker, of the God of the stronger
(§ 61). But where the acquiescent population was at all
considerable a gradual union of the two parties was the
actual result.

§ 494. This was the compromise, the surrender of the
pure worship of Jehovah, so dreaded by the great Prophet
of the olden time and by all loyal Israelites ever after his
day. We shall appreciate the situation better if we try
to follow the process in our imagination. The numerous
surviving cities of the Canaanites, occupying as they so
often did the sites of the " high places," came to be occu-


pied, or a least controlled, by the dominant Hebrew popu-
lation. What could be easier than that which actually
took place? We must remember that Israel had now
for scores of years been following on the whole a career of
selfish aggressiveness. However much the original leaders
may have cherished a more spiritual and ideal view of the
outcome of the conquest, we ma}^ be sure that the mass of
the tribesmen thought of the matter as a business of ac-
quiring wealth and ease. The sphere of religion simply
afforded new chances of self-aggrandizement and social
advantage, coupled with rare facilities for a congenial
fashion of worship.

§ 495. Religious service was inseparable from the daily
life and work of all the Semitic peoples. What could be
more obvious than the opportunity of utilizing the local
sanctuaries which were already so flourishing and influen-
tial ? What more easy than the ready device of honouring
Jehovah and serving Baal ? How simple a thing to appro-
priate the ready-made altars and shrines of Baal, and to
convert them to the service of Jehovah I How easy to
secure a host of retainers and patrons for the God of Israel,
by permitting the votaries of the time-honoured shrines
to continue their ancient ritual and to unite therewith the
name and prestige of Jehovah ! And how inevitable it
was that the servants of Jehovah should adopt the cere-
monies proper to the prescriptive cult of the locality!
For these were redolent of the flavour and spirit of the
very soil. They were repeated and perpetuated as natu-
rally as the rising of the sun and the changes of the moon,
the alternation of the seasons, the bloom of the flowers,
and the ripening of the fruits. The very ties that bound
the Hebrews to the land of Canaan were bonds which
attached them most intimately and alluringly to the gods
of the land. To learn outwardly that their dearly bought
home was Jehovah's land, M'as a lesson speedil}^ acquired.
But the rivals of Israel's God, who claimed his preroga-
tives and actually assumed his name, could only be sub-


verted when the outward acknowledgment and service of
Jehovah became transformed into the pure worship of the
heart and the willing obedience of the life. To accomplish
this result in Israel was the aim of the prophetic move-
ment, which had already begun before the commonwealth
became a monarchy.

§ 496. There is no further need to illustrate the social
disintegration of Israel before the days of the monarchy.
But a resume may be given of our leading points of view.
The breaking up of the tribal system, inevitable under any
form and mode of settlement in a land of cities, villages,
and cultivated soil, was not followed by a durable reunion
on any extensive scale and resting upon any inner prin-
ciple of cohesion. Among the occasions and motives of
segregation and disruption, emphasis is to be laid upon
the want of an administration of justice on a national or
even tribal scale, and the failure of any central sanctuary
to unify the tribesmen or to attract them as regular wor-
shippers. On the other hand, special attention must be
called to the necessary establishment of primitive local
courts for the newly formed communities, and to the con-
venience as well as the attractiveness of the local sacred
places which were often the modified reproduction of the
Canaanitic shrines. Particular stress should be placed upon
the character of the civic communities that sprang up under
the new conditions of life in Canaan, in their bearing upon
both the political and the religious history of the Hebrews.
This form of social aggregation was universal among the
Semites after their abandonment of the nomadic life.
It was also dominant among the Canaanites at the time
of the conquest. Indeed, Israel, through the growth and
multiplication of its own and its adopted cities, was fast
driftiuCT into Canaanitism.

§ 497. If in the foregoing observations too much im-
portance seems to have been ascribed to the influence of
religious associations in recasting and moulding the forms
of Hebrew society, I would ask the reader to transfer


himself in imagination to the times, the region, and the
people that have been engaging our attention. Let him be
reminded that in ancient and especially in Semitic society,
religion was the elemental force which swayed most
strpngly both individual and social life. In thought, feel-
ing, and motive, religion was the factor at once the most
comprehensive, the most profound, and the most urgent.
Yet it was most powerful as a habit of life and as a condi-
tion of social existence. To understand this aright, we
should divest the term " religion " of its modern and
especially of its Christian associations. Rather we should
have to modify the word and call it religiousness. It did
not always include or imply morality; it was not even
necessarily prompted by the spirit of devotion. Indeed,
it was compatible with the absence of all the elements
which we regard as essential, except that of reverence.
Like every other expression of the spirit of humanity, it
was rooted both in sentiment and habit, the immaterial
and the material, the supersensuous and the sensuous.
To the vague but omnipotent and overawing world of
the unseen the votary was united by the elastic cord of
wonder, hope, and dread. To the visible world he was
bound by the iron chain of custom, of ceremou}-, and of
ritual. The power of the one was commensurate with the
influence of the other; the manner of the one Avith the
quality of the other. The grosser the beliefs, the more
enslaving were the rite and ceremony. The purer the
faith, the freer and less stringent were the forms of out-
ward devotion.

§ 498. Reverting for a moment to the prevailing form
of political and social life among the people of Canaan and
among the Semites generally, I would remind the reader
that the very founding of a city was a religious act. The
city itself was not the community; but it was its centre, its
nursery, and its home. And just as the inner life of the
community was mainly based upon and determined by its
religious beliefs and customs, so the establishment of that


Avhicli guarded it and gave it outward form and character,
was a matter primarily of religious concern and control.
We are familiar with the sacred rites which accompanied
the founding of a city among Greeks and Romans.^ The
records of Semitic history testify also, directly and indi-
rectly, to tlie sacredness of walls and fortifications, and
their consecration to the patron deity. The Hebrew litera-
ture 2 tells the same story. For example, the destruction
of the Canaanitish cities was not ordained as a military ex-
pedient, but as a religious act. The character which the
city bore at its foundation it retained throughout its his-
tory. Hence it is that we find so many names of localities
associated with the deities to whom they were originally

§ 499. Another general indication that religious asso-
ciations and practices were the controlling social force
among the ancient Hebrews in Palestine should be par-
ticularly noted. I refer to the outstanding fact that the
festal gatherings of the people were mainly characterized by
religious observances ; that every meal shared in common
involved a religious sacrifice ; that all the public festivi-
ties of the people, as well as their mourning and fasting,
were stated and conventional, and were, in fact, part of a
religious programme. Gatherings of a festal character
were regularly held by kins or family groups, and also by
clans or by tribes, at stated times or seasons in the month
or in the year. Whatever was of interest or importance
to each of these divisions of the people naturally also came
up for discussion and settlement on these occasions, which

1 Explained by Fustel de Coulanojes, La Cite antique^ p. 151 ff.

2 The prohibition of the rebuilding of Jericho has its explanation in
the fact that it had been a city dedicated to false worship. Its very site
was therefore doomed. This instance was intended for a precedent for
the other cities of the Canaanites. The punishment of Hiel, the Bethelite
(1 K. xvi. 34 ; cf. Josh. vi. 26), was inflicted because by his rebuilding the
city he had identified himself with the idolatrous community which had
laid its foundations, given it its distinctive character, and thereby rendered
it "devoted" to Jehovah (cf. Josh. vi. 17, 21).


thus became a sort of clearing-house for the social and
political transactions of the preceding term.

§ 500. An important observation must here be made.
During the greater portion of the time of the Judges the
political uses of these assemblies and popular gatherings
became continually less prominent, while the social pur-
poses remained the chief conserving influence as far as
they continued to be maintained. Hence it followed, as a
matter of course, that those divisions of the whole com-
munity which mainly subserved political ends, found con-
tinually less occasion and less internal motive for coming
together ; while those which were fundamentally of a social
character maintained, as far as possible, their prescriptive
customs, with all the traditional observances connected
therewith. That is to say, according to the distinction
made at the beginning of our study (§ 404), the clans and
the tribes, being properly political organizations, gradually
became dissolved through loss of inward coherence and
through outward compulsion, while the families and kins
or family groups, as social combinations, retained the good
old custom of regular gatherings (e.g. 1 Sam. xxi. 6, 29).
All this is simj^ly an illustration of the general political
disintegration of the Hebrew people as a whole, and of its
several political factors, the tribes and clans of Israel

Online LibraryJames Frederick McCurdyHistory, prophecy and the monuments (Volume 2) → online text (page 13 of 39)