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This was idolatry, but it was better than worshipping stones.
The broad sky, the terrible thunder-storm, the sun, the moon,
the stars, — all these sugqested to them divinities who dwelt in
and governed these objects. We know very little about the
names and characters of these gods. "El" was probably a gen-


eral name for divine persons. One deity seems to have been
called Elyon, which means "high;" another, Shaddai, the
"mighty," or the " destroyer." There was perhaps a Gad, the
god of fortune ; and an Asher, the god of prosperity. Perhaps,
too, at this time, they worshipped Yahwe (Jehovah), who after-
wards became their only God.

5. Their Worship. — Like all other ancient nations they
sacrificed to the gods, the offerings being animals (sheep, goats,
bullocks, calves, pigeons), or wheat, oil, and wine. Priests,
also, perhaps they had, though it is likely that every father
of a family acted as priest in his own household. They had no
temple, but built altars wherever they chose. Their worship
was of the simplest kind, and they had no sacred books.

6. Their Language. — Their language was that which we call
Hebrew, the language in which the Old Testament was written.
It belongs to the same family with the Assyrian, the Syriac, and
the Arabic; and it is altogether diffei^ent from Greek, Latin,
German, French, and English.


1. On the stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the book

of Genesis: "Early Old Testament Narratives," by Pulsford,
and "Beginnings." by Gould. They are legendary accounts
"which grew up among the people, and were committed to writ-
ing in later times. They represent later religious ideas, and
embody many noble truths ; but they contain only a small
kernel of history. Vigouroux's " La Bible et les Decouvertes
Modernes," 2 vols., Paris, 1877, opposes the conclusions of
Kuenen, Lenormant, and others.

2. On the various forms of religion, as fetishism, astrolatry,
&c.: C. P. Tiele's "Outlines of the History of Religions," Lon-
don, 1877.

3. On the earliest form of the Lsraelitish religion: Tiele's
" Histoire Comparee des Anciennes Religions de I'Egypte et des
Peuples Semitiques," French translation, Paris, 1882.


4. On the connection between the Hebrews and Mesopotamia:
Schrader's "Die Keil-inschriften und das Alte Testament,"
Giessen, 1883; Lenormant's " Les Oiigines de rilistoire," &c.,
2 vols., Paris, 1880, 1882, and English translation of vol. i., N.Y.,
1882; George Smith's "Chaldean Genesis," edited by Sayce;
and Duncker's " History of Antit^ui^y," English translation, 4
vols., London, 1877.

5. For later stories of the patriarchs: Baring-Gould's "Leg-
ends of Old-Testament Characters," London and New York,
1871; Weil's "Biblical Legends of the Mussulmans," English
translation. New York, 1863.


1. Name the races of the earth. What are the three Caucasian families?
What nations compose the Semitic family?

2. Where did the Semites live in the earliest times? Why did the\'
move westward ? Which of the Semites first came to Canaan? About what
time did the Israelites first enter Canaan? What nations were their nearest
kinsfolk, that is, what nations besides the Israelites were included under the
name Hebrews? Were the Israelites made up of several different bodies of
immigrants? Did it require time to weld these together?

3. What is a nomadic life? What sort of government did the Hebrews
have at first? What laws? What sort of property? How did they buy
and sell ? Did they have books? What peo[)le now resemble them?

4. Were the Israelites destined to accomplish a great work? Did the
religion of Israel have to grow as a child grows to be a man? Did the
people at first worship stocks and stones? Afterwards, what gods did they
have? In this early period did they worship Yahwe?

5. Did the Israelites at first have temples? — priests? ^^'hat sacrifices
did they offer?

6. What language did they speak? Is it like English?




1. The Greatness of the Egyptians. — In those early times,
namely, about i$.c. 2000-1200, the Egyptians were the greatest
nation of the world. They had already been a settled people,
with a regular kingly government, for many centuries, perliaps


from as far back as about B.C. 4000; and now they had a flour-
ishing civilization, and a remarkable and, in some respects,
noble system of religion. They had conquered most of the tribes
dwelling around them in Africa, and carried their arms into Asia,
along the shore of the Mediterranean Sea and eastward up to
the Euphrates; they had built pyramids, temples, and palaces;
their wise men studied art and science, and wrote books, for the
Egyptiaiis had invented or developed a system of writing (the
hieroglyphic) sufficient for the expression of all their ideas.

2. The Fertility of Egypt. Dependence of the Desert
Tribes on it. — Ancient Egypt was so fertile, thanks to the
annual overflow of the Nile, that it was considered the granary
of Western Asia, as it was, in later times, of Rome; it seemed
to produce corn enough for all the world. In those days, how-
ever, there was little commerce, and it often happened that in
times of scarcity of provisions, a tribe, instead of sending ships
or caravans, would leave its home and go where it could find
food. So it was with the wandering tribes who dwelt just east
of Egypt on the borders of the Arabian desert. Their country
was not very p^roductive, they had only rude means of tilling
the soil, and they were not infrequently exposed to the danger
of famine. At such times they would move nearer to Egypt,
where they could exchange their flocks and herds for wheat.
The Egyptians, on their part, were not sorry to have friendly
tribes settled on their nortlieastern border, for these served as an
out-post and a protection against the bedawin ("desei-t-tribes) and
other Asiatic peoples with whom Egypt was often at war. These
visiting tribes became dependent allies of the Egyptians, with
whom they naturally entered into more or less close relations;
we find accounts in the Egyptian writings of bedawin chiefs
who attained high position in the Egyptian government. But
it is probable that such tribes would give up their old habits
and lose their distinctive character, in proportion as they became
united with their more civilized neighbors.

3. The Israelites in Goshen. — It seems that among others
the Israelites were driven clown into Egypt by famine. It is pos-


sible that this happened more than once; for, in Gen. xii. 10,
it is said that Abraliani went thitlier wlien tliere was a grievous
famine in the hind of Canaan. This, however, would be only
a passing visit; at a later period the people went to stay. Of
this we have an account in the book of Genesis (chapter
xlvi.), and there is no reason to doubt its general correctness,
though the migration may not have happened exactly as it
is there narrated. Instead of a family (Jacob's), moving into
the land by invitation of the viceroy or chief officer (Joseph),
we must rather think of them as a tribe wandering from place
to place, and coming at last, as other tribes did, to the fertile
region of Goshen, where they were allowed to settle by the
Egyptian government. It may be that one of tlieir number
became a great officer under the king, and that this fact pro-
longed their stay in Egypt. But, according to our present
information, this must be looked on as uncertain. These
stories in Genesis were committed to writing long after those
times, when the memory of the events was not clear, and addi-
tions had been made to the original facts, as so commonly
happens in popular traditions. All that we need say is that,
whether or not the beautiful and instructive story of Joseph is
simple history, the Israelites did probably go to live in Goshen.
We do not know certainly at what time they went, or how long
they stayed, or what happened to them there, or how they came
to go back to Canaan. The situation of the land of Goshen,
where they are said to have lived, is also uncertain ; but it was
probably the border-land between Egypt and Canaan and Ara-
bia, and large enough to furnish pasturage for the Israelites and
f(n' such other tribes as may have been dwelling there at the
same time. This region was admirably suited for pastoral life,
and we know from Egyptian accounts tliat it was occupied by
pastoral tribes.

4. How the Israelites lived in Goshen. — We may sup-
pose that the mode of existence of the Israelites in Goshen was
not materially different from what it had been in Canaan. They
fed their flocks and cultivated the ground, and occasionally,
perhaps, made marauding expeditions into the neighboring


regions of Arabia and Canaan. They would probal)ly inter-
marry somewhat with the other pastoral tribes, and with the
Egyptians. But they seem to have substantially preserved their
own habits and institutions. We find in their later history
almost no traces of borrowing from the Egyptians, which they
would probably have done if they had lived in close social inter-
course with them. It seems more likely, therefore, that they
remained separate from their neighbors, and retained the social
laws and religious customs which they brought with them from
Canaan, as has been described in Lesson I. In the next Lessou
we shall speak more particularly of their religious history at this
time, but here we must mention one custom which they possibly
took from the Egyptians, that is, the institution of circumcision,
which was afterwards to become so important a part of their
religious life. This custom existed among the Egyptians
(though to what extent we do not know), and also among other
African peoples, while the Israelites seem to have been the only
Canaanite people who practised it. It is found among the
Arabs after the beginning of our era, but it is not known when
tliey adopted it. We know of no Asiatic people from whom
the Israelites could have got it, and so it seems likely that they
took it from the Egyptians, perhaps during that first visit to
Egypt which is hinted at in the story of Abraham (Gen. xii.).
At any rate, the custom was already established among them
when they departed from Egypt to return to Canaan, and suc-
ceeding times regarded it as having been enjoined on the stem-
father Abraham by God (El-Shaddai, Gen. xvii.). On some
other things possibly borrowed from the Egyptians, see Lesson
III. 4.

5. The Israelites forced into Hard Labor by the
Egyptians. — At first, as it would seem, the Egyptians left their
pastoral neighbors to themselves. But after a while the Egyp-
tian king, according to the Israelitish account (Ex. i.),
determined to make use of them in certain great public works
in which he was engaged, and accordingly pressed them into
service to aid in the building of several cities. From the name
of one of these cities, Rameses (Ex. i. 11) it has been con-


jectured that the king who thus forced the Israelites into liard
labor was Rameses II. of the nineteenth dynasty, one of the
most famous of tlie Egyptian princes. He was a great builder,
and the general circumstances of his reign are not unfavorable
to the supposition that his allies were forced to become his
workmen. If this view is correct, we may put the beginning of
the oppression somewhere near the year 1400 B.C., and we may
suppose that it lasted sixty or eighty years, into the reign of
Menephtah, the son and successor of Ilameses. It was during
this period that, according to the account in Exodus (chapter ii.),
Moses, the future deliverer of his people, was born.


1. On the history and manners and customs of Egypt:
Brugsch's " Ilistoi-y of Egypt," English translation, London,
1879, gives numerous extracts from the Egyptian inscriptions;
Duncker's "History of Antiquity " is a convenient and generally
sound work ; Rawlinson's " History of Egypt," 2 vols., London
and New York, 1881, is well arranged and clear, but not always
reliable; Wilkinson's " Ancient Egyptians," London, 1878,
gives full details of manners and customs. Other books are
Chevallier and Lenormant's " Ancient History of the East," 2
vols.; Maspero's •' Histoire Ancienne des Peuples de 1' Orient,"
Paris, 1875.

2. On the Egyptian religion: the works of Wilkinson,
Duncker, and Rawlinson above mentioned (Rawlinson's expla-
nations are generally unsatisfactory) ; Le Page Renouf, Ilibbert
Lectures, 1879, "The Religion of Ancient Egypt;" Tiele's
"Histoire Comparee " (mentioned in Lesson I.), and his
"Egyptian Religion," 1882 (in the English and Foreign Philo-
sophical Library).

3. On the Egyptian language and literature: " Hieroglyphic
Grammar" in vol. v. of Bunsen's "Egypt's Place in Univer-
sal History," English translation, London, 18G7; Brugsch's
"Grammaire Hieroglyphique," Leipzig, 1872, and Woerterbuch,
Leipzig, 1867-1881 ; Renouf 's "Elementary Grammar," London,
1875; " Funereal Ritual," in Bunsen, vol. v. above mentioned;



"Records of the Past," vols. 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, Londou, 1874-1881,
translations of Egyptian texts.


1. At what time were the Egyptians the greatest nation of the world ?
What territory had they conquered and overran V What had the}- buiitV
— and written'?

• 2. Why did the bedawin go to Egypt for food? If thej' settled on the
border, what was their relation to the Egyptians? Would they learn some-
thing of Egyptian ci%'ilization?

3. Did the Israelites go to live near Egypt? Do we know exactly when
and how they went? — or exactly where Goshen was? Do you know the
story of Joseph? Are we sure that it is exact history? When were these
traditions committed to writing? Was the country on the border suited to
a pastoral life ?

4. What were the occupations of the Israelites in Goshen ? Did they
intermarry with their neighbors? Did they borrow any customs from the

5. Did the Egyptians at first interfere with the Israelites in Goshen?
Why did they afterwards force them to work? What labor were they made
to perform ? Do we know how long this oppression lasted?



1. Bible Account of Moses and the Exodus. — We may

probably look on it as an historical fact that the Israelitish tribes
at a certain time (perhaps aboitt B.C. 1330) left the frontiers of
Egypt, and made their way towards Canaan ; but we know little
of the particulars of the movement. The story in Exodus
(chapters ii. -xiv.) tells us of the event as pious Israelites long
afterwards thought of it, but we cannot be sure that their recol-
lection was correct. Many of the particulars given in the nar-
rative are improbable. God did indeed lead them out, though
not in the way there described. According to the Israelitish
account, Moses, hidden while an infant by his parents to save


him from the king's cruel command that all Hebrew male chil-
dren should be put to death, was found and adopted by the
king's daughter, brought up in the court, and, it was afterwards
added, educated in all Egyptian learning (Acts vii. 22). But,
when he was forty years old, having killed an Egyptian officer
who was maltreating a Hebrew, he had to fly for his life. He
took refuge in Midian, on the east of Egypt, where he married
the daughter of the jiriest Jetln-o, and remained forty years
engaged in tending his father-in-law's flocks. At the end of
that time he was sent by God back to Egypt to bring his people
out. Here, with his brother Aaron, he called down ten terrible
plagues on the Egyptians, and so forced them to let the Israelites
go. He led them forth, first to ]\Iount Sinai in Arabia, where
he received the Law from God (books of Exodus, Leviticus, and
Mumbers) and gave it to the people ; thence they wandered
nearly forty years in the wilderness (book of Numbers) after
which they approached Canaan on the east of the Jordan,
Moses made a farewell address (book of Deuteronomy) and, just
before the people crossed the river, ascended Mount Pisgah, and
there died alone and was buried by God.

2. The Exodus and the March to Canaan. — There are
many reasons why we cannot think that this narrative gives a
veritable history of the events ; some of these reasons will
appear in the course of our Lessons. Yet we must suppose that
the Israelites somehow reached the land of Canaan, and con-
quered it, and that Moses was really a great leader and instructor
of his countrymen. It is not very important for us to know
exactly what he did, and what the history of the Israelites was
during their march to Canaan. This is the period of their
childhood, and we shall be more interested in studying their
later years. So for the present we may be satisfied with saying
that the tribes probably led a nomadic life for some years, dur-
ing which time Moses taught them as he had opportunity,
organizing their civil and religious institutions, and preparing
them for their succeeding life in Canaan. It is hard to say how
long they wandered about before entering their new abode, —
it may have been two years, it may have been forty, — but it


seems to have been long enough to mould them in some fashion
into one people. It does not appear that they gained many new
religious ideas during this time. But here we must say a word
about Moses and his work.

3. The Traditional Account of the Origin of the Law of
Israel. — As our Old U'estament is now arranged, INloses is rep-
resented as having received from God and given to his people
at Sinai nearly the whole of the religious law by which they were
guided down to the time of the coming of Christ. This is con-
tained in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers; then
in Deuteronomy we find certain additions which he is said to
have given thirty-eight years later, on the eastern bank of the
Jordan. But we cannot take the account literally. The book
of Kings and the writings of the prophets do not repi-esent even
the best of the people as acquainted with the Pentateuchal legis-
lation down to the Exile. The law grew up gradually, and
hundreds of years after Moses, when pious prophets and priests
gathered together the religious usages of their times, they thought
that it must all have been revealed in the beginning by the God
of Israel, and so they came to believe that their great deliverer
from Egyptian bondage had received it all at once. But we shall
see that the succeeding history does not bear this out. The be-
ginning of Israel's life was feeble; we shall try to follow it out
to its grand ending. We commence with Moses.

4. What the Early Prophets said of Moses. Whether
he borrowed anything from the Egyptians. — In the days
of the prophet Hosea, about 750 B.C., it was believed that God
had delivered Israel from Egypt by the hand of one of his ser-
vants : " By a prophet," says he, " the Lord brought Israel out
of Egypt" (Hos. xii. 13). Who this prophet was, he does not
say, but we cannot doubt that he was thinking of Moses. The
prophet Micah (about B.C. 710) represents God as saying : " I
brought thee up out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed thee
out of the house of servants, and I .sent before thee Moses, Aaron,
and Miriam" (Mic. vi. 4). The prophets, however, tell us
almost nothing of Moses' life, and the story in Exodus is largely
the tradition of a later time. We know very little about his
religious faith and his teaching. It is uncertain how far he was


acquainted with the relif^ious iJeas of the Egyptians. It has
been supposed that certain parts of the Israelitish worship were
borrowed from Egypt, as the ark. the dress and observances of
the priests, and the Uriin and Thummini which were worn on
the high-priest's breast. This is possible, but we cannot say
that ]\Ioses introduced them ; they may have been adopted while
the people were in Egypt. We cannot point to any ethical or
religious teaching which probably came to the Israelites from
the Egyptians. It is remarkable, for example, that the two
peoples differed so much in their ideas of the future life. The
Egyptians believed that after death men lived as real a life as
on earth. They said that there were judges in the lower world,
that every man was rewarded or punished according to his deeds
in this world, — the wicked suffered terrible tortures ; the good,
having been tried and purified, their souls reunited to their
bodies, dwelt forever in the presence of God, in the enjoyment
of unspeakable happiness. The Israelites, down to the time of
the Exile (n.c. 585), thought of the underworld as a cold, cheer-
less place, where the dead wandered about, inactive, without
pleasure or hope. They seem to have learned nothing fiom
the Egyptians in this respect. Their belief was the same as
that of the Babylonians and Assyrians in the old home in

5. Israelitish Customs before Moses. — Moses found the
people in possession of certain civil and religious ideas and
cixstoms. Besides their simple government and their sacrifices
(see Lesson I.) they had probably festival-days, especially in the
beginning of spring (vernal equinox), midsummer, and in the
fall (autumnal equinox) ; these afterwards became the Pesach
(Passover), the feast of weeks (Pentecost), and the feast of
booths or Tabernacles, and they correspond in season to the
Christian festivals of Easter, Whitsuntide, and Michaelmas.
In early times, as far as we know, the Hebrews had no mid-
winter (winter solstice) festival, corresponding to our Christmas.
The Israelites also had a sabbath, a seventh day of rest from
work, devoted more or less to religious observances. This they
had perhaps brought with them from INIesopotamia, wliero


something like it seems to have been a custom of the old
Sumeriau-Accadians. Then there were festivals at the begin-
ning of the month (new moon), and perhaps others. These and
similar customs Moses would no doubt try to bring under the
influence of a purer religious feeling. Whether he added new
ones, we cannot tell. Of his higher religious work we will speak
in the next Lesson.


1. On the life and works of Moses : Kuenen's "Religion of
Israel," English translation, 3 vols., London, 1874 ; " The Bible
for Learners," by Oort and Hooykaas, English translation, Old
Testament, 2 vols., Boston, 1878; Knappert's "Religion of
Israel " (an abridged statement of the views of Kuenen and others
of the latest school of Old Testament criticism), English trans-
lation, London, 1877 ; Stanley's " History of the Jewish
Church," Old Testament, 2 vols., New York, 1870 ; Tide's
" Histoire des Anciennes Religions," &c.

2. On Egyptian and other accounts of the Exodus of the
Israelites : the histories of Brugsch, Duncker, and Rawlinson,
above mentioned.


1. Can you give the biblical history of Moses ? Is it reasonably certain
that the Israelites at some time left the frontiers of Egypt ? What date is
suggested for their departure ?

2. Who led the Israelites from Egypt to Canaan ? Can we suppose that
all the stories about him in the Pentateuch (that !«, the five books at the
beginning of the Old Testament) are real history V If they are not, may
they nevertheless be instructive '? How did the Israelites live on the march
to Canaan i* Did Moses instruct them during this time V

3. What books of the Old Testament contain what is called the " Law of
Moses " 'I When did the Israelites suppose that this was given V Was the
law made all at once, or gradually? Was it natural that people should
think in later times that God gave all the religious law to Moses?

4. What did Hosea saj' of IMoses ? What did Micah say ? How long
was this after Jloses' time ? What things may the Israelites possibly have
got from the Egyptians ? Did they get any ideas of the future life? What
was the Egyptian idea of the life hereafter ? What was the ancient Israel-
'tish idea ?


5. What civil government did the Israelites have before the time of
Moses? What sacrifices y Wliat festivals ? Did they have a seventh day
of rest (sabbath) V Did Moses establish any new civil or religious obser-
vances ?



1. Yah-wre, the God of IsraeL His Original Character. —

Though, clown to the Babylonian Exile (b.c. 585-535), the
Israelites in Canaan worshipped various deities, yet we know
that, all this time, their real national god was Yah we (Jehovah),

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Online LibraryCrawford Howell ToyThe history of the religion of Israel : an Old Testament primer .. → online text (page 3 of 15)