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distinctive types of domestic as well as of political life.
The handling of these special matters, and the study of
the aspects of ancient life generally, require a just attitude
of mind and a right method.

§ 392. To understand aright the distant past we must
learn to live in it. Every nation in every age has an
atmosphere of thought and feeling of its own distinct
from every other. Its manners and customs, its political
and social features, its views of this world and the next,
its beliefs and prejudices, can only be appreciated by us
if we study them from the point of view of those who
liv'ed under these institutions and were controlled by these
ideas. Broadly speaking, our knowledge of ancient na-
tions and civilizations comes to us through their surviv-
ing literary monuments. The readiness and aptitude with
which we appreciate the life and genius of any ancient
community depend upon several conditions, not only in
ourselves, but also in the people with which we may be
dealing. Speaking generally, the more human and univer-
sal the literature of any nation, the more quickly and deeply
it enters into our minds and hearts. Among all ancient
literatures there is none so human and so universal as that
of the ancient Hebrews, including, of course, the New
Testament as well as the Old. The experiences recorded
in it seem more like what is either habitual or possible
to ourselves than those embodied in any other ancient rec-
ords or memoirs. The ideals which it exhil)its, illustrates,
and enforces are more inspiring, better worth realizing, and
at the same time more attainable, than those set forth
Ijy any other intellectual or spiritual masters. As a
matter of course, then, its language is more homely, more
translucent, more intelligible, than that of other writings of
antiquity. All this implies that the ideas with which the
literature of Israel is conversant are not foreigfn to those
of modern life, and, at the same time, not so complex as


those which are the product of other civilizations. More
specifically, in relation to our special theme, it is to be
said that the institutions, domestic, civil, and religious, of
the Hebrews are simple and comprehensible to a degree
quite unique. Otherwise we could never, so to speak, have
naturalized or domesticated the Bible. Otherwise we
could never have brought it home to our hearts and lives.
For the distinctive phraseology of the Bible is not merely
coloured by the institutions, human and divine, of the
Hebrew people ; it is actually founded upon them. The
language of a people is the reflex of its religious and
political, its social and domestic life, of its habitual mode
of thinking and acting. The language of an ancient and
primitive people is almost immediately expressive of its
peculiar institutions ; the stamp has not yet been worn off
from its intellectual and moral currency by the long and
debasing friction of the world's exchange. There are
certain characteristic Biblical terms, the mention of which
brings us right at once into the midst of the religious and
social life of Israel — words like covenant, sacrifice, sanct-
uary, tabernacle, prophet, priest ; tribe, family ; father,
mother, brother; master, servant; teacher, disciple.

§ 393. When such expressions as these occur to our
minds, we feel that we may have by their means a grasp
upon the thought and life of Israel more strong and sure
than that by which we apprehend the mental and moral
characteristics of any other ancient community. But this
consideration of itself impels us to inquire into the exact
force and significance of such terms. We have observed
how obvious and how easy of apprehension these phrases
are in their general import. And yet they are distinctively
and genuinely Hebrew, sprung from the soil and climate
of Israel. Each of these terms has had a special history
of its own, involved in the larger history of Israel itself.
What we call the usage or signification of words is simply
the resultant of this history, the gathered and treasured
associations of thousands of utterances, of endless differ-


entiatioiis of thought and feeling. And the history of
such terms in the hmguage of the Bible is necessarily
different from the history of the corresponding terms in
our own language, by as much as the history of our
political, social, and religious institutions has differed
from that of the Hebrew people. Words are a kind of
spiritual phonograph. Every new association, each added
shade of meaning which they commemorate, is an impres-
sion made upon and recorded in the most delicate and en-
during of all the instruments or appliances of mind and
soul, — human speech. And the more intense and profound
the thought and the feeling of any people, the more fully
charged will its vocabulary be with sentiment and emotion.
The Bible is the richest repository of moral and religious
experience. But the distinctive phrases which give colour
and character to its diction were based upon the inner life
of the people, and became ever more imbued with its
spirit and flavour as the community changed and devel-
oped in its checkered history. It is the high function
of linguistic and archaeological research, as it turns the
sacred roll, to make those long silent voices live again,
to reawaken and bring once more to human ears these
slumbering "accents of the Holy Ghost."

§ 394. We are now to occupy a few paragraphs with
an inquiry into the usage of the leading social and domes-
tic terms of Hebrew literature. From some such study
we may now see how we incidentally should gain a fuller
and clearer sense of the value of these terms in their appli-
cation to moral and spiritual facts and ideas in the Bible
itself. We shall accordingly not confine ourselves entirely
to a discussion of the literal and every-day significance of
the words that denote relationship and corporate associa-
tion among the Hebrews. Such words as tribe, famih/,
father, mother, brother, servant, really play a more impor-
tant part in the sacred writings in their figurative usage
than in their literal application. They are the familiar
diction of the higher Hebrew literature — the Prophets,


the Psalms, and the New Testament. Through them the
ever-widening conceptions of the moral and spiritual realm
have achieved their eternal currency. They furnisli the
terminology of the new community, the greater Israel, the
kingdom of God. In dealing with these later and fuller
aspects of such fundamental phraseology, we do not pass
beyond the legitimate range of our subject. Just as the
Hebrew literature itself is a single undivided whole, so
the institutions which it commemorates, and of which it is
so largely the outcome, have had an unbroken progressive
history. The passage from the outward and material, in
the social and religious sphere, to the inward and spiritual,
was not sudden and unprepared, but gradual and orderly.
We must regard the simple, primitive social and domestic
institutions of Israel not merely as types and symbols of
that higher organism which has followed and superseded
it. They furnished also in large measure its conditions,
its groundwork, and its germinal elements. Accordingly,
when we think, for example, of the spiritual application of
" fatherhood," " brotherhood," " service," we can, on the
one hand, only understand their Biblical significance when
we have discovered what they stood for in the sphere of
social life ; and, on the other hand, we have a better appre-
hension of what such relationships really involved in the
ancient Hebrew communit}^ when we have traced out the
wide and profound symbolism given to them by the poets
and seers of the race.

§ 395. The foregoing paragraphs have already sug-
gested to us where we are to look for most of our infor-
mation as to the social and domestic life of the ancient
Hebrews. Direct knowledge comes to us almost wholl}'
from the classical literature of the people. The Bible tells
us all that we know of the outward forms of their insti-
tutions, and almost all that we can learn of their social
usages, as well as of the influences which were at work in
their upbuilding as a people. From our familiarity with
the sacred writings we have thus perhaps gained a some-


what one-sided view, as in other matters (§ 16), of the
character and genius of the ancient life of the Hebrews.
We are inclined to think of them as a unique people in all
respects ; or, at least, to draw a broad line of separation
between them and every other community. A brief remi-
niscence of the book of Genesis will recall every observant
Bible reader at once from his error. It is obvious, at least,
that the Hebrews must have maintained to a large extent
the social habits and traditions of the peoples from whom
they sprang (§ 20). We have, as was above suggested
(§ 393), to insist upon and minutely register the distinct-
ive features of Hebrew sociology. But the ever-increas-
ing divergence of the tribes of Israel from their progenitors
and kindred, which gave them their characteristic stamp
in human society, did not sunder them from the general
Semitic type, least of all from the tribes and families near-
est of kin. And we must go much further than this in
reckoning up analogies for the early social and political
life of tlie Hebrews, as well as in gathering illustrations
of their tribal and national manners. We shall need to
remember that a surprising likeness has always prevailed,
and still prevails, throughout the world in the general
features of tribal life, especially among nomadic peoples,
and also among communities that are passing the earlier
years of tlieir fixed settlement in towns and villages.
Accoixlingiy, while guarding against absolute assimilation
of Semitic conditions to those of non-Semitic peoples, we
may find the rudimentary features of primitive Hebrew
life variously illustrated from extraneous sources, and more
particularly from the genius and habits of the early Greek
and Keltic communities. Within the Semitic region the
stereot3'ped tribal constitution of the nomads of Arabia
furnishes a nearer and more instructive parallel.^

1 For the tj-pical tribal conditions of Arabian society, see J. L. Burck-
harclt, Bedouins and Waliabys (Engl. tr. 1831) ; A. von Kremer, Geschichte
der herrschenden Ideen des Islams (1868), p. 343 ff. ; Cultiirgeschichte
des Orients (1875-7), vol. i, ch. iii ; vol. ii, chs. iii, vi; W. Robertson


§ 396. The two words translated tribe and its equiva-
lents in the versions ancient and modern, 'czv and r\'c^}
are identical in usage in the Hebrew, except that the for-
mer is also significantly used for the principal subdivisions
of the tribe (Numb. iv. 18; Jud. xx. 12; IS. ix. 21).
As preceding and conditioning the tribe was the clan or
sept (Lat. gens, Gr. (^parpla, etc.), expressed properly by
rj'r'K, literally, a community or association (E. V. " thou-
sand," which the word in question also signifies). The
same organization is also often indicated by nnsuris,^ which,
however, is the strictly correct term for the subordinate
social division of the kin or family group. Preceding and
underlying the clan, in the simpler forms of society, is this
family group, which is made up of the individual families
or "father's houses" (nx n'2, pi. msx r?'z). As we shall
have to distinguish sharply between the family group and
the clan, we may here note the chief external difference.
The family group implies different degrees of relationship,
and in it the degree of kinship is fundamental. In the
clan, on the other hand, which consists, fundamentally, of
individuals, and not of families, degrees of kinship are dis-
regarded, or are, at least, secondary; and kinship itself is
only assumed to be present, the uniting bond being really
the associations of custom and belief. As the "father's

Smith, Kinship in Early Arabia (1885). For the early Greeks, see
especially Meyer, GA. II (1893), § 53 ff. For general discussions one
may consult C. N. Starcke, The Primitive Family (New York, Appletons,
1889) ; L. H. Morgan, Ancient Society (1877), and the articles "Clan"
and "Family " in the Encycl. Britannica. Most ethnological and anthro-
pological works of a systematic character give information, often of the
very highest value, on social conditions among savage and nomadic
tribes. Special discussions will be cited further on.

1 In the so-called " Priestly Code " njo is the favourite term. For
references, see Siegfried and Stade, Hebr. Worterhuch, s.v.
- 2 In these cases the clan is alluded to from the point of view of origin ;
whereas iS.x characterizes it as an organization. Accordingly we find that
the latter furnishes a special designation for the chief or leader of the
clan, the iiSs (E. V. "duke"). Observe that when the clans of the
Edomites came to inhabit " cities," the rybn was transformed into a iSd or
" king " (Gen. xxxvi. 31 ff. ; cf. § 36).


house " is a subdivision of the family group, it is properly-
used (as in Gen. xxiv. 40) to designate those most nearly
related by blood, or the " family " in the modern sense of
the word. On the other hand, the "household" (n-n
alone) includes, like its equivalent, the Latin familia^ the
servitors and retainers of the establishment, and is, within
its sphere, and after its fasliion, the real administrative or
political unit. It stands under the control of the house-
father, the protector or guardian, who is usually, though
not necessarily, the father of the kindred contained in it.
It must, accordingly, not be supposed that the clan was
constituted by the voluntary binding together of single
families.^ Politically, the family, in the modern sense of
the word, never formed an entity in the primitive com-
munity. Among unorganized hordes, we find, to be sure,
no aggregation higher than the family. But this is, natu-
rally, merely a social institution, since, among such peoples
as the Bushmen of South Africa, political life is still unde-
veloped. From a political point of view, separate family
life is inconceivable in any stage of society. A clan,
viewed externally, may be thus provisionally assumed to

1 It does not seem to be yet fully made out whether the earliest clans
gradually came into being as organizations through association of indi-
viduals already members of families, or whether they were differentiated
from unorganized hordes. I am inclined to the former view, though
rejecting the patriarchal theory defended by Maine, Spencer, and others,
according to which the family was expanded or subdivided as an admin-
istrative unit into the clan under the headship of the ancestral chief.
Families may in any case have been the actual starting-point and nucleus
of the clan (cf. Starcke, The Primitive Family, p. 276), as the most obvi-
ous groups of individuals likely to be united by common usages. On the
other hand, contiguous group-members of the horde might grow up to-
gether to the adoption of common customs and religious observances,
which would differentiate them from other groups, especially as primitive
kinship is known to have been of a very precarious sort. The solution is
thus seen to depend upon the question whether or not the family as an
institution preceded the combination which resulted in the clans. It
should be noted that these discussions do not touch the so-called "patri-
archal " stage of ancient Israel, since Abraham and his people belonged to
a period of social development subsequent to the conditions in question.


be an association of households, or, possibly, of family
groups, and to be neither an accidental aggregation nor a
deliberate combination of related families.

§ 397. Attention must first be fixed upon the external
features and marks of clanship, and then upon its internal
development and its primitive principles. The clan was
the centre and basis of the community of Israel, as it was
when it adventured itself upon the borders of Canaan.
Its constitution is clearly a fundamental matter. Its most
obvious mark is, of course, blood-relationship, actual or
assumed. But there are other characteristics, less obvious
to us moderns, though they are essentially related to the
underlying principle. We have already had occasion to
remark the influence of religious beliefs and practices upon
the social and political life of the Semitic peoples (§ 30 ;
57 f. ; 289 f. ; 299). Historically, the phenomenon in ques-
tion is rooted in the persuasion common to all the primitive
communities of the race that a real kinship and fellowship
existed between the gods and their worshippers. The
deities were not only propitiated by offerings; they were
also partakers of the sacrificial meals in common with the
offerers, who regarded themselves, moreover, as the chil-
dren and servants of their gods.^ Now, as each clan or
tribe had its own special deity, it followed that the bond of
natural kinship between its members was greatly strength-
ened by the consciousness of a common association with
the tribal divinity. It further came to pass, as a matter
of course, that all the rites and ceremonies of religion, and
all its practices, both public and domestic, formed addi-
tional means and motives of union, as well as recognizable
marks of tribal membership. To these must be added, as
badges of the clan or tribe, characteristic social customs
and usages, less formally of a religious character, and yet
invested witli the sacredness of religious sanctions, since

1 See Smith, R. S., Lect. II, where the whole question of the relation of
the gods to their votaries, according to the conceptions of the primitive
Semites, is treated of by the most competent scholar of our time.


matters of religion and of common life were never divorced
among the ancient peoples of the East.

§ 398. But again, the clan, or its expansion, the tribe,
was not merely bound together by inner ties of such force
and vitality ; it was also an alliance against aliens, who,
whether organized into similar tribal association or living
as "fugitives and wanderers," were equally regarded as
natural enemies, from whom the kindly courtesies and the
mutual protection that prevailed within the exclusive com-
munity were sternly withheld.^ Practically this offensive
and defensive combination against all outsiders, which
made the tribal bond such an inviolable union, found ex-
pression in the law of " blood-revenge," which was univer-
sal among the Semites, as among the ancient Hellenic
peoples, and, indeed, in primitive society generally. Ac-
cording to this law, " by the rules of early society, if I slay
my kinsman, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, the act
is murder, and is punished by expulsion from the kin ;
if my kinsman is slain by an outsider, I and every other
member of my kin are bound to avenge his death by killing
the manslayer or some member of his kin. It is obvious
that under such a system there can be no inviolable fellow-
ship except between men of the same blood. For the duty
of blood-revenge is paramount, and every other obligation
is dissolved as soon as it comes into conflict with the
claims of blood." ^

§ 399. Such are the essential external features of clan-
ship or tribalism, some clear apprehension of which is essen-
tial to the understanding of the history of Israel. Tribal
usages were never fully abandoned by the ancient He-

1 This is claimed by Cain, the original tj^pe of outlaws and non-union
men, as the reason why his life would be in danger (Gen. iv. 12, 14 ; cf.
Smith, R. S., p. 252, note 1). And so the "mark " put upon him (verse
15), whatever was its specific character, must have been something which
was to indicate that he was under the protection of Jehovah, who would
avenge his violent death. Notice also the beautiful plea of the "woman
of Tekoa" in 2 S. xiv. 14.

- Smith, R. S., p. 254 ; cf. Kinshi}), p. 22 ff.


brews, nor are they yet completely relinquished by their
descendants. On the other hand, it was out of the conflict
between tribalism and wider, higher principles, social, polit-
ical, and religious, that the new order of things was evolved
which has given Israel its imperishable significance. In
the social sphere, civic life, as far as it was developed
(§ 32 ff.), replaced the tent and the encampment. In
the political region, the establishment and development of
the kinordom and the court led to the abandonment of the
councils of the tribal chiefs. In the transcendent realm of
religion, the conceptions and teachings of Prophec}^ found
their central issue in their triumphant struggle with tri-
balism, with its narrow conceptions of ritual and of duty.
Thus the God of the clans, the tribes, and the nation of
Israel was vindicated in his claim to be the God of all the
families and kingdoms of the earth, their Father, their
Counsellor, their Protector, and their Judge. Thus also
the most germinal and potential idea of ancient tribalism,
that of the kinship and fellowship of the members of the
clan with their tutelary deity, became itself a kind of
prophecy, as it was transmuted and transfigured into the
larger conception (Ezek. xxxvii. 27) and the assured
reality (Rev. xxi. 3) that He " from whom every clan ^ in
heaven and earth has its name " (Eph. iii. 15) should pitch
his tent among men, and should dwell with them, and
they should be his peoples, and He should be their God.
It is with this exulting announcement that the universal
brotherhood of Christianity finally parts company with the
limitations of Semitism.

§ 400. In the foregoing observations attention has been
directed almost exclusively to the clan, and not to the
family on the one hand, or the tribe on the other, for the
reason that the clan is the fundamental nucleus of political
integration and expansion. It is possible now to go further
and trace, at least in a general fashion, the develoi^ment

1 Gr. TTOTptd, cf. irdrpa. The thoughtful Greek named the clan not
only a "brotherhood" ((pparpla), but a "fatherhood."


of the tribe and of the rudimentary state. The essential
distinction between the clan and the family group has been
given above (§ 396). The tribe is simply an aggregation
of clans. It may be formed of sub-clans that have arisen
by descent. Or very frequently it is an assemblage of
clans that have come together by mutual consent, and are
assimilated in habits and worship. The union, however,
is looser than that existing between members of the same
clan. Separate clans may be perpetuated within the tribes.
Common kinship is quite a secondary matter, and is often
a remote aftertliought. Nomadic life favours the clan ;
semi-nomadic or early settled life, the tribe. We may now
revert to the constitution and genius of the clan for an
explanation of the formation of the larger organizations.
The main point is to show the principles and conditions
that affected the external changes of social and political
aggregations. We start with the clan and its outstanding
mark of presumptive kinship. But we must keep in mind
the other main features of clanship just mentioned, and
also remember that they all go hand in hand ; that if any
is disregarded or forfeited, the bond of attachment is
broken, and that on the other hand a partial fulfilment
of the conditions of clanship cannot be accepted as en-
titling to admission to the brotherhood. We here leave
out of sight, as irrelevant to our immediate purpose, the
question of the fundamental relations of the family to the
clan, while keeping in view the household as living within
the clan, and yet not being directly one of its genetic or
formative units. We take our stand for the present at
a point later than the fluctuating and uncertain stage or
stages when the conditions were being made up which
determined the formation of the clan, and assume its
factors and functions to be complete and in normal

§ 401. We are now met with the notoriously universal
fact that this social and political organization is in a con-
stant state of dux, expanding or contracting, changing


its local habitat, adding to itself or parting with families
or individuals, while all along the association retains its

Online LibraryJames Frederick McCurdyHistory, prophecy and the monuments (Volume 2) → online text (page 5 of 39)