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both human and divine, becomes more a matter of spon-
taneous sentiment and less a matter of arbitrary associa-
tion as, on the one hand, human society becomes more
genial and reasonable, and as, on the other, the nature of
God is more fully revealed. It has been shown how the
primary patria potestas was relaxed in Hebrew history.
I need not repeat here the citations which prove its actual
prevalence and its gradual mitigation (§ 412 ff.). But
it may be pointed out that the predominant tone of the
paternal relation in the Old Testament is that of com-
mand, and the approj)riate filial attitude that of obedience
and respect. The prevailing note is struck in the paral-
lelism between sonship and servitude: "A son honours
his father and a servant his master. If then I be a
father, where is my honour? and if I be a master, where
is my fear?" (Mai. i. 6). Other notes are sounded (Ps.
ciii. 13; Prov. iii. 12) which are a prelude to the softer
and sweeter strains of the New Testament. It is in the
teaching of the Son of God that both fatherhood and son-
ship are revealed in the light of their essential nature and
their inherent possibilities (Matt. vi. 9; Luke xv. 11 ft".).
Only by a parable could the divine conception and the
human ideal be adequately set forth. Only so could they
be disentangled from the associations — arbitrary, mechan-
ical, slavish — of the ancient past of Israel and of the
world. Only so could they be placed before men in that
concrete aspect which the great Teacher has here made
for us so simple and so profound, so universal, so home-
like, so unforgetable, and so infinitely moving. In this
"pearl of parables" we have the inward spiritual process
of Hebrew domestic life exhibited in a single dramatic
scene. The "elder son" (Luke xv. 29) indicates the
primitive condition and, in large measure, the Old Testa-
ment presentation of the filial and paternal relation : ser-
vitude, law, duty — " Lo, these many years do I serve
thee, and I never transgressed a commandment of thine."


The younger son shows in epitome the history of the
moral and spiritual transformation both of society and of
God's individual children, under the holier and mightier
regime of his fatherly patience, forbearance, innate, in-
vincible love. "And he arose and came to his father.
But while he was yet afar off, his father saw him and was
moved with compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and
kissed him."



§ 434. What is usually called the miraculous in the
Old Testament narratives does not exhaust its marvellous
elements. Not less wonderful than the decisive events
in which the people of Jehovah learned to see the direct
intervention of the God of Israel, were those long ante-
cedent processes which were their unmarked but necessary
preparation. The Hebrew mind took little note of second
causes (§ 5) ; the modern philosopher deals with them
alone. The student of the history of Israel may well
cultivate both the ancient and the modern spirit. Habit-
uated to the manifest presence of a controlling Power,
he becomes more and more reverent, as his knowledge
grows from more to more. As a thoughtful observer he
has been measuring the importance of events and move-
ments directly by the range and momentum of their his-
torical influence. As a special inquirer he now becomes
accustomed to estimate their greatness inversely by the
meagreness and feebleness of their obvious contributory
forces. If, as we moderns have been taught, there is
nothing in historical phenomena which did not lie implic-
itly in the antecedent elements and factors, material,
intellectual, and moral, then our admiration may not
unreasonably be evoked by the paramount marvel of the
ancient world, the evolution of the Hebrew people out of
a community of shepherds and slaves.^ It was a clever

1 It is hardly necessary to notice that the Bible writers themselves were
much impressed by this phenomenon. See Deut. xxvi. 5 ; xxxii. 9 ff. ;
Ps. Ixxx. 8 ff. ; Ixxxi. 6 ; cv. 11 ff. ; Isa. li. 1 f. ; Ezek, xvi. 3 ff. et al.



answer that is said to have been given to a skeptical
prince by his chapLain when he was asked to give him, in
a word or two, convincing evidence of the truth of Chris-
tianity. The reply was: "The Jews, your Majesty."
But the Jews, both ancient and modern, are also silent
witnesses to something without which neither Chris-
tianity nor Judaism itself could ever have been. Their
invincible persistence 7iitentes in adversum testifies to the
potentiality of the forces that went to the making of
Israel. The stream cannot rise higher than the fountain.
From what divine heights then must have descended the
influences that moulded and endowed that nation which
gave us the Bible and the vitalizing moral forces of the
world! This perpetual assertion of the presence and
power of the Eternal is the message of Israel. It was
the sentiment and conviction of its seers and poets,
absorbed as they were in the thought of its history. We
may well turn to it again and again while we examine
that history, no matter how critically. Let it be said
that it comes rather from the heart than from the mind.^
Be it so; it wells up from the undivided heart and mind
of Israel. We may, at least, be impressed by what such
faith has wrought for men, and by its ever-living, ever-
widening dominion. Our latest idealists have attained
to nothing higher or deeper or further-reaching. The
conclusion of In Memoriam is no whit more victorious,
no whit more rational. It is, in fact, the adaptation to
the needs of this present cultured age of the faith in
the living God, as it was kept by those in the olden
time of Israel's hope and patience,

" Who rolled a psalin to wintry skies
And built them fanes of fruitless prayer ; "

1 It will be remembered that the word for " mind " in Hebrew is tlie
same as that for "heart." In other words, sentiment (as distinguished
from emotion, which is otherwise expressed) and reflection were one
and the same.


and yet could

" lift from out of dust
A voice as unto Him that hears
A cry above the conquered years
To One that with us works, and trust. " ^

§ 435. Such reflections are suggested by the condition
of ancient Israel at the earliest stage of their existence as
a people. What the character of the Hebrew community
was in the long ages which preceded the Exodus from
Egypt we can learn partly from hints in the Bible narra-
tive, partly by inference from the known condition of
immigrant tribes in Northern Egypt, and partly by what
modern comparative sociology has to tell us of the char-
acter of settlements made by nomadic peoples on the
borders of a cultured nation. We are particularly struck
by the scantiness of the references by the sacred writers.
It will be seen, however, that such as are made are very
suggestive. It will not be forgotten that historical narra-
tion among the Hebrews confined itself to leading inci-
dents illustrative of the inception or progress of their
own institutions. What followed the Exodus, and what
immediately determined and accompanied it, were matters
of the first importance, and therefore received particular
attention. Critical events were elaborated and put in
the, foreground. Antecedent conditions dropped out of
sight or were taken for granted. We may say a word by
the way in explanation of this reticence. The reader is
already familiar with the observation that historical writ-
ing in the modern sense was unknown to the Hebrews
and the Semites generally (§ 12). It would not occur to
the chroniclers, from whose writings the early books of
the Old Testament are compiled, to go into the question
of tlie social and corporate condition of the Hebrews
in Egypt. Such a procedure would have been deemed

1 See, for example, Ps. xxii., xxxvii., Ixxiii., Ixxvii., Ixxx., Ixxxv., xc,
cii., cvi., cxxi., cxxiv., cxxv., cxxvi., cxxx. ; the book of Job; the Prophe-
cies as a whole, especially Hosea, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Habakkuk.


superfluous if it had been thought of, for the contempo-
raries of the writers did not need enlightenment upon
matters which were familiar to them from every-day
observation. To us the missing information is of the
highest importance, mainly because it helps to set in
their true relations and proportions the phenomena of
the early development of Israel. And it is a matter for
devout thankfulness that modern scholarship is wont to
call upon all the historical sciences to supply the missing
lines and shading of the picture left us by the literary
artists of the Old Testament.

§ 436. A few considerations will, I think, show that
the Hebrews while in Egypt were already in possession
of all the essential elements of a stable society. If our
chronological estimate of the patriarchal period and of the
time of the Exodus (§ 109; 114; 167) is correct, the
residence of Israel in Egypt must have extended over
several hundred years. To have endured so long it must
have had inherent elements of permanence of a social
character, apart from the virility of individual founders
or early leaders of the race. The Bible narrative tells us
that it survived a prolonged term of rigorous slavery,
whose severity was aggravated by special repressive
measures. Now there is every reason to believe that this
period of enslavement was a very lengthy one. Indeed,
we know that the attitude of the Egyptians towards the
nomadic tribes, who came from over the Isthmus in search
of food and pasturage, was normally hostile or, at least,
suspicious and watchful. Thus under ordinary circum-
stances the Hebrews could not long have remained inde-
pendent occupants of a territory closely bordering upon
the most thickly settled portion of the country, when the
enterprise of the ruling inhal)itants and their hereditary
feuds with the shepherds of the Desert made them jealous
of all encroachments of strangers. It is true that during
a large portion of the time of the Hebrew residence the
Hyksos, their kindred, formed the controlling element


ill the Egyptian population. But the toleration made
possible during their regime was unknown and, in fact,
impossible under their successors, who ruled Egypt for
the latter half of the time of the Hebrew occupation.

§ 437. Such were the chances of extinction through
oppression. If these had been successfully overcome,
through some singular providence, there still lay behind
elements of danger more subtle and more deadly. I mean
the disintegrating forces which inevitably threaten the
very existence of a community living within the juris-
diction and influence of a people superior both in culture
and in material power. The corporate survival of Israel
in such circumstances is probably unique among the
experiences of the tribes and nations of the earth. So
inherently improbable does the phenomenon seem that it
has been thought to be actually impossible. On this
very ground it has been alleged that the settlement of
Israel in Egypt is a fiction.^ The question is so funda-
mental to our whole inquiry that a clearer and fuller
statement is necessary. In seeking for light ujDon the
early conditions of Hebrew life, some illuminating rays
may fall upon the larger subject of their national move-
ments and fortunes.

§ 438. The reader will remember that what we are
now concerned with is the actual residence of the He-
brews within the territory of Egypt proper. Preserva-
tion of social identity for long periods of time is quite

1 Thus Winckler in his Altorientalische Forschrmgen (1893), in the
course of a dissertation on the Assyrian Miisru ("border, border-land,"
etc., also a proper name, cf. vol. i, 400) claims, on the ground above men-
tioned, that the Hebrews, instead of being in on-is ("Egypt"), really came
into Canaan from a district mentioned in tlie Assyrian inscriptions border-
ing on Southern Palestine, and bearing the name just given. He also
acutely suggests that in Gen. xvi. 1, the true translation is " Hagar the
Musraite," instead of " Hagar the Egyptian." Both hypotheses are im-
probable. It must be constantly kept in mind that until the expulsion of
the Hyksos, the intercourse between Palestine and Egypt for many cen-
turies was very close and frequent. Egypt was indeed the great " border-
land" of the Semites, and hence its name among that people.


possible when the tribes or clans live on the borders of a
highly cultured nation or even when considerable num-
bers of them mingle freely with the settled inhabitants.
Such was the condition of the many tribes who, on the
south and east of Palestine, maintained their name and
autonomy for long ages after the Canaan ites and their
Hebrew successors had brought that country to a fairly
high degree of civilization. ^ Much more nearly parallel
to the case of nomads on the borders of Egypt were the
tribes of Aramaeans and Arabs who shepherded and traded
on the lower Euphrates and Tigris under the shadow of a
much more aggressive type of national culture than any
that ever prevailed in Palestine (§ 339). Another in-
structive analogy is that of the Chakheans, who began
their political existence in unknown early ages within
the territory claimed by the opulent empires of Babylonia
(§ 223; 293; 340), and ended by becoming proprietor of
them all. The picture given us by the Bible writers, to
whom we owe all our direct knowledge of the matter,
represents Israel as within the administrative domain of
the Egyptian rulers, and not as being on the outermost
borders, whether on the Mediterranean shore or upon the

§ 439. This is the situation which makes the survival
so remarkable. If mutual tolerance could have been kept
up between the immigrants and the dominant people, the
chances of the preservation of the former would, of course,
be increased, though it would seem that in the course of
a few generations the moral influences tending towards
absorption would have prevailed. But such an agreeable
state of affairs was out of the question. We are given to
understand that even at the beginning of the intercourse
they were separated from the body of the Egyptian people

1 Those peoples, for example, with whom Gen. x. and xxv. and xxxvi.
as well as the book of Job and the last two chapters of Proverbs, have
made us familiar. Cf . § 334 for allusions to some of them in the Assyrian


because their pastoral occupation was lield in abomination
by the latter. And we may be sure that Avhile the Egyp-
tian had a deep-rooted antipathy for the race of shepherds,
the Hebrew felt something approaching to contempt for
a civilization which made a few rich and the great multi-
tude a herd of slaves. Nor did the pyramids and temples
and palaces of the Pharaohs either overawe or interest him.
They rather excited his aversion as evidences of impious
pride and folly. ^

§ 440. Finally, however, the Hebrews found that if
they were to remain on Egyptian soil they could only do
so on precarious sufferance. The prosperity of such immi-
grants depended not merely on the tolerance or favour of
the Egyptian rulers. It was, also, in inverse ratio to the
prosperity of the Egyptian state as a whole. If the empire
languished, its rigorous rule was relaxed in the border
regions : the pasture-lands increased and invited more and
more the envious Bedawin. If, on the other hand, the
nation prospered, its whole territory was utilized for its
sustenance. The frontier was pushed further forward.
Troops in garrison or on the march occupied the sites of
nomadic encamiDments and held the routes of caravans.
Store-cities were built for them, for the court officials and
the tax-gatherers, and for the master-builders of public
works. Such was the character of the empire of the Nile
under the eighteenth and nineteenth dynasties. Eco-
nomical conditions were changed both for the natives and
the foreigners. The multiplication of cavalry in the
army (§ 144) of itself materially affected the disposition
of the pasture-grounds. Further, the Egyptian dominion
being extended far beyond the frontier into the midst of
Asia, the Hebrew colonists found themselves in the very
heart of an Egyptian administration. Then came the de-
cisive strain upon their social and domestic institutions.

1 Cf. Renan, Histoire du peuple cV Israel, I, p. 64 f., Tvhere, in another
connection, the relations between nomads and settled populations are
ingeniously discussed ; also ib. p. 137.


They must toil as slaves or quit the country. The latter
alternative was impossible during most of the long period
including the eighteenth dynasty and the twentieth.
Slavery was inevitable and that upon a large scale. But
slavery is a speedy destroj-er of all social organization. It
has been habitually resorted to in the East and West alike,
not merely for the profit of the slave-holders, but with the
wader purpose of breaking up the tribal or national bonds
of the communities thought by a superior state to be ag-
gressive or in any way dangerous. It is not here main-
tained that servitude, at the beginning, was abhorrent to
the whole body of the Hebrews. At the time when it was
being carried into effect it may have been welcome to
many of them, whose subsistence was vanishing day by
day. Indeed, after the nomadic state was resumed the
precarious provision of the desert life seemed to the liber-
ated wanderers a poor exchange for the rude but relialjle
rations of fish and onions supplied to them in the days of
their bondage (Numb. xi. 5; cf. xxi. 5). It is only
claimed that such an Oriental system of slave-holding
was necessarily subversive of the sense of nationality,
not to speak of patriotism, which may have been cherished
by the disfranchised multitudes.

§ 441. Mark the consequences of this policy among
the Hebrews in Egypt. Apparently their spirit was
almost completely broken, especially after the atrocious
but characteristically Oriental measures employed to
cripple and obliterate the obnoxious aliens (Ex. vi. 9).
The fact to be appreciated is that they held together at
all. That they did hold together, that the}^ did not allow
themselves to become merged in the nameless multitudes
oifellahin who have done the servile work of Egypt under
all its countless changes of dynastic rule, must have been
due to their organized social condition. Let us see what
this implies. In the first place, they must have lived
in Egypt in no small numbers, occupying a consider-
able extent of country. A small isolated family or clan


could not have endured even for the century which a
recent brilliant historian has assumed as the vrhole
length of the Hebrew occupation of Lower Egypt. ^
Moreover, their numbers must have increased during the
tranquil period of their residence ; otherwise they would
have dwindled away to extinction under outside pressure.
Such is the law of growth and decay among nomadic and
semi-nomadic peoples. Again, their organization must
have become more rigid and prescriptive if not actually
more specialized and complex. The lapse of time alone
necessarily tended to fix the organic tj-pe. But there
was, besides, the perpetual struggle for existence with
newly arriving bands of immigrants from the Desert, and
a constant effort of self-adjustment to the requirements
of a more highly organized community, the potential
masters of the soil.

§ 442. Above and beneath all, they must have observed
the system of social and religious observances which they
had brought with them into Egypt. This was not simply
the unifying bond of the community; it was, rather, its
vital principle. No essential change in this was possible.
To imitate the utterly foreign cult of the Egyptians was
an impossibility from any point of view. It could only
be done separately by members of the Hebrew tribes as
individuals, who would thereb}^ immediately lose their
tribal membership. The question whether the Hebrews
adopted any of the Egyptian beliefs or rites is an entirely
different matter, which will come up later. The cardinal
point is that the central attributes of the Hebrew religion
must have remained intact, — above all, the worship of
Jehovah, the national, or, if you will, the tribal God.
Consider well what this means. It implies that for hun-
dreds of years the same deity had been worshipped and
the same characteristic observances maintained as an
essential part of the tribal system. Otherwise, I repeat,
the survival of Israel in Lower Egypt was impossible and

1 Renan, Histoire, I, 142.


is to US unthinkable. The long and obscure interval
between the Patriarchs and the Exodus is thus bridged
over. The Exodus implies, or rather involves, the essen-
tials of the patriarchal history.

§ 443. Such a conclusion reaches far both backward
and forward. It can be rejected only by those who also
wholly reject the early history of the times preceding the
immigration into Egypt. The one stands or falls with
the other; the one is the development of the other; the
one is implicitly contained in the other. If the story
of the Hebrews in Egypt is a fable, then the narrative of
the simpler life of the nomad Hebrews in Canaan, lived
so long before, is a fable also. But, what is of equal
consequence, the converse is also true. If the patriarchal
history contains a basis of truth, the Egyptian history of
the Hebrews, or something closely corresponding, must
also be accepted. As we shall see, the Hebrews were
no mere nomads when they entered Canaan. They had
already acquired the elements of a settled government,
and these may well have been prepared for during a fixed
residence, just such as they enjoyed in Egypt. The argu-
ment is broad and general, because it has to do with com-
prehensive conditions and long periods of time. How
does it comport with what the book of Exodus has to say
of the Hebrews in Egypt? Let us look at the several
points in order. We have seen that the people must
have been numerous, if they were to survive at all. On
this point the Bible testimony is emphatic enough, as it
also lays stress upon the related fact of their increase.^
That their status and social condition were necessarily
affected by the inexorable pressure of the Egyptian power

1 With regard to the excessively large numbers found in the current .
text in the numeration of the tribes, I must content myself with a general
reference to note (5 in the appendix to vol. i, and with a reminder of
the admitted principle that numbers have a tendency to grow larger in
successive transcriptions of ancient documents generally. Editorial sys-
tematizing must be held responsible for the final results.


we have clearly seen. Of the processes as well as the
consequences of the oppression we have full details in
the Hebrew records. The necessary elaboration of the
tribal government is also attested. The "elders of the
j)eople " (Ex. iii. 16, 18; iv. 29; xii. 21) are not men-
tioned at all in Genesis. They, and not the heads of the
"father's houses," or of the kins, are now the recognized
representatives of the people; that is, of the clans or
tribes. Finally, the perpetuation of the essential beliefs
and usages of the old religion shines through the whole
narrative. The people were, it is true, unsettled and
discouraged by reason of the hard bondage ; and the mes-
sengers of Jehovah received an unfavourable response
from the mass of the people to whom they announced the
coming deliverance. Yet he was still recognized as the
God of Israel; and no subsequent act of disloyalty before
the entrance into Canaan was intended as a rejection of
his paramount claims. To this central fact the whole
story bears evidence, direct and indirect. Conclusions
such as these, taken all together, make the strongest of
arguments for the essential accuracy of the traditional
conceptions of the character and career of Israel in the
earlier stages of its history.

§ 444. It is a prevailing fashion among Old Testa-
ment critics to give credit to the leading facts connected
with the residence of Israel in Egypt, and its departure
from it, and to discard as mythical and not merely tradi-

Online LibraryJames Frederick McCurdyHistory, prophecy and the monuments (Volume 2) → online text (page 9 of 39)