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were /gradually aroused from a state of inactivity.
They became 'subdivided into the small national-
ities of Amorites, Hittites, Hivites, and Perizzites.
The Jebusites, who inhabited this district, were of
minor importance ; they dwelt on the tract of land
which afterwards became the site for the city of
Jerusalem. Of still less account were the Girga-


shites, who had no ''fixed residence. All these names
would have remained unknown had not the Israelites
entered the land.

But this people had not taken a footing in the
country with the mere/object of finding pasture land
for their 'flocks; their pretensions were far greater.
Chief of all, they claimed as their patrimony the land
where the graves of their forefathers were 'situated.
The first patriarch, Abraham, who had 'emigrated
from Aram, on the borders of the Euphrates, had,
after many wanderings through the country, ac-
quired in Hebron, as an hereditary burial-place, the
Cave of Machpelah, or the "Double Cave," together
with the adjoining field and trees. There his wife
Sarah had been interred, then he himself, and after
him his son, the patriarch Isaac.

The third patriarch, Jacob, after many vicissitudes
and wanderings, had purchased a plot of land near
Shechem, and had taken that important city " with
his sword and with his bow." The city was in the
very heart of the territory of the Hivites, and its cap-
ture had taken place in consequence of a breach of
peace, through the abduction and dishonour of Jacob's
daughter. The land was henceforth regarded as the
property of the patriarch, and he only reluctantly
'quitted it at the outbreak of a famine, in order to
proceed to Egypt, where corn was plentiful. On his
death-bed, Jacob impressed upon his sons that they
should deposit his remains in the family tomb of the
" Double Cave." Not alone did Canaan contain the
graves of the three patriarchs, but also the altars
which they had erected and named in various places,
in honour of the Deity whom they worshipped. The
Israelites were therefore firmly convinced that they
had a right to the exclusive possession of the land.

These claims derived further strength from the
tradition left by the patriarchs to their descendants
as a sacred bequest, that the Deity, whom they had
been the first to recognise, had repeatedly and indu-


bitably, though only in visions, promised them this
land as their possession, not merely for the sake
of showing them favour, but as the means of
attaining to a higher degree of culture. This culture
would pre-eminently consist in Abraham's doctrine
of a purer belief in the One God, whose nature
differed essentially from that of the gods whom the
various nations represented in the shape of idols
and by means of other senseless conceptions. The
higher recognition of the Deity was designed to lead
Abraham's posterity to the practice of justice towards
all men, in contradistinction to the injustice univer-
sally prevailing in those days. It was affirmed that
this higher culture was ordained by the Almighty as
"the way of God," and that as such it should be
transmitted by the patriarchs to their families as a
bequest and as a subject of hereditary instruction.
They also received the promise that through their
posterity, as the faithful guardians of this teaching,
all nations of the earth should be blessed, and should
participate in this intellectual advancement of Israel ;
and that with this same object the land of Canaan
had been allotted to Israel, as especially adapted for
the purposes of the hereditary law. Hence it was
that the Israelites, while in a foreign country, felt an
irrepressible yearning for their ancestral land. Their
forefathers had impressed them with the hope that,
though some of their generations would sojourn in a
land which was not their own, a time would surely
come when Israel should return to that land which
was the resting-place of their patriarchs, and where
the patriarchal altars had been erected and conse-
crated. This promise became identified with all
their positive expectations, and with their conviction
that the acquisition of Canaan was secured to them
on condition that they performed the duties of wor-
shipping the God of their fathers, and observed the
ways of justice and righteousness. The nature of
this worship and "the way of justice" was not


clearly defined, nor did they require such a definition.
The lives of the patriarchs, as commemorated by
posterity, served as a sufficient illustration of the
family law. Abraham was^specially held up as a
model of human excellence. Differing from other
nations who worshipped their primaeval ancestors,
his descendants did not revere him as a performer
of marvellous deeds, nor as one exalted to the emi-
nent degree of a god or a demi-god. Not as a war-
rior and a conqueror did he live in the memory of
his descendants, but as a self-denying, God-fearing
man, who joined true simplicity and faith to noble-
ness in thought and in action. According to their
conception, Abraham the Hebrew, although born of
idolatrous parents in Aram, on the other side of the
Euphrates, and although brought up amidst idola-
trous associations, had obeyed the voice which
revealed to him a higher God, and had separated
himself from those around him. When disputes
arose, he did not obstinately insist upon his claims,
but renounced his rights for the sake of living at
peace with his fellow-men. So hospitable was he,
that he would go forth to invite the passing way-
farers, and delighted in entertaining them. He
interceded for the sinners of Sodom and the neigh-
bouring cities, when their cruel and inhuman acts
had brought on them the punishment of Heaven ;
and he prayed that they might be spared for the
sake of any few righteous men amongst them.

These and other remembrances of his peace-loving
and generous disposition, of his self-abnegation, and
of his submission to God, were cherished by his
descendants, together with the conviction that such
a line of conduct was agreeable to the God of their
fathers ; that for the sake of these virtues God had
protected Abraham, as well as his son and his
grandson, because the two latter had followed the
example of their predecessor. This belief that God
especially protects the virtuous, the just, and the


good, was fully confirmed in the life of the patriarch
Jacob, to whom the additional name ISRAEL was
given. His life had been short and toilsome, but
the God of his fathers had delivered him from all
his sorrows. Such remembrances of ancestral piety
were retained by the sons of Israel, and such family
traditions served to supplement and illustrate their
hereditary law.

The growth of Israel as a distinct race commenced
amidst extraordinary circumstances. The beginning
of this people bore but very slight resemblance to the
origin of other nations. Israel as a people arose
amidst peculiar surroundings in the land of Goshen,
a territory situated in the extreme north of Egypt,
near the borders of Palestine. The Israelites were
not at once moulded into a nation, but consisted of
twelve loosely connected shepherd tribes.

These tribes led a simple life in the land of Goshen.
The elders (Zekenim) of the families, who acted as
their chiefs, were consulted on all important occa-
sions. They had no supreme chieftain, nor did they
owe allegiance to the Egyptian kings ; and thus they
habitually enjoyed the freedom of a republic, in
which each tribal section was enabled to preserve its
independence without falling into subjection or
serfdom. Although they did not become inter-
mixed with the ancient Egyptians, who in fact had
an aversion to shepherds perhaps on account of
the oppression they had in former ages endured
from such shepherds (the Hyksos) yet opportu-
nities for contact and mutual communication could
not be wanting. Some families of Israel had aban-
doned their pastoral pursuits, and devoted them-
selves to agriculture or industrial occupations, and
were therefore brought into connection with the


inhabitants of towns. It seems that the members of
the tribe of Ephraim stood in closer social contact
with the original inhabitants. This intercourse had
a favourable influence upon the Israelites.


The Egyptians had already gone through a history
of a thousand years, and attained to a high degree
of culture. Their kings, or Pharaohs, had already
built populous cities, and erected colossal edifices,
temples, pyramids and mausoleums. Their priests
had acquired a certain degree of perfection in such
arts and technical accomplishments as were suited
to the requirements of the country, as for example,
architecture and hydraulic constructions, the kindred
science of geometry, the art of medicine, and the
mystery of embalming for the perpetual preservation
of the remains of the departed ; also the artistic
working of objects in gold, silver and precious
stones, in order to satisfy the luxurious demands of
the kings. They also knew the art of sculpture and
the use of pigments. They studied chronology,
together with astronomy, which was suggested by
the periodical overflow of the Nile. The all-impor-
tant art of writing had been invented and perfected
by the Egyptian priests. They first used stones and
metals to commemorate the renown of their mon-
archs ; and they afterwards employed the fibre of
the papyrus shrub, which was originally marked with
clumsy figures and subsequently with ingeniously
drawn symbols. Of these several attainments the
Israelites seem to have acquired some notion. The
members of the destitute tribe of Levi in particular,
being unencumbered by pastoral service or by
landed possessions, appear to have learnt from the
Egyptian priests the art of writing. Owing to their
superior knowledge, they were treated by the other
tribes as the sacerdotal class, and hence they held,
even in Egypt, the privileged distinction of their
priestly position.

The residence of the Israelites in Egypt was of
great advantage to them. It raised them, or at least
a portion of them, from a rude state of nature to a
higher grade of culture. But what they gained on
the one hand, they lost on the other ; and in spite


of their arts and accomplishments, they would in time
have fallen into a more abject condition. Amongst
no people which had advanced beyond the first stage
of Fetish worship, had idolatry assumed such a
hideous development, or so mischievously tainted
the habits, as was the case with the Egyptians. By
combining and intermingling the gods of the various
districts, they had established a complete system of
polytheism. As a matter of course they worshipped
goddesses as well as gods. What made the myth-
ology of the Egyptians especially repulsive, was the
fact that they placed the deified beings of their
adoration, from whom they expected help, far below
the level of human beings.

They endowed their gods with the shape of
animals, and worshipped the inferior creatures as
divine powers. Ammon, their chief god, was repre-
sented with ram's horns, the goddess Pecht (Pacht)
with a cat's head, and Hathor (Athyr), the goddess
of licentiousness, with a cow's head. Osiris, who was
worshipped throughout Egypt, was represented in a
most loathsome and revolting image, and the uni-
versally honoured Isis was often pictured with a
cow's head. Animals being scarce in the Nile
region, great value was attached to their preserva-
tion, and they received divine homage. Such
honours were paid to the black bull Apis (Abir) in
Memphis, to the white bull Mnevis in Heliopolis, to
the lustful goats, to dogs, and especially to cats;
also to birds, snakes, and even mice. The killing of
a sacred bull or cat was more severely punished than
the murder of a human being.

This abominable idolatry was daily witnessed by
the Israelites. The consequences of such perver-
sions were sufficiently deplorable. Men who in-
vested their gods with the shape of animals sank
down to the level of beasts, and were treated as such
by the kings and by persons of the higher castes-
trie priests and soldiers. Humanity was contemned ;


no regard was paid to the freedom of the subjects,
and still less to that of strangers. The Pharaohs
claimed to be descended from the gods, and were
worshipped as such even during their lifetime. The
entire land with its population was owned by them.
It was a mere act of grace on their part that they
granted a portion of the territory to cultivators of
the soil.

Egypt, in fact, was not peopled by an independent
nation, but by bondmen. Hundreds of thousands
were forced to take part in compulsory labour for
the erection of the colossal temples and pyramids.
The Egyptian priests were \vorthyofsuch kings and
gods. Cruelly as the Pharaohs harassed their
subjects with hard labour, the priests continued to
declare that the kings were demi-gods. Under the
weight of this oppression the people became devoid
of all human dignity, and submitted to the vilest
bondage without ever attempting to relieve them-
selves from the galling yoke. The repulsive idolatry
then prevailing in Egypt had yet further pernicious
consequences. The people lost the idea of chastity,
after they had placed the brute creation on an
equality with their deities. Unspeakable offences in
the use of animals had become of daily occurrence,
and entailed neither punishment nor disgrace. The
gods being depicted in unchaste positions, there
appeared to be no need for human beings to be
better than the gods. No example is more conta-
gious and seductive than folly and sin. The Israel-
ites, especially those who were brought into closer
contact with the Egyptians, gradually adopted
idolatrous perversions, and abandoned themselves
to unbridled license. This state of things was
aggravated by a new system of persecution.
During a long period, the Israelites residing in the
Land of Goshen had been left unmolested, they
having been looked upon as roving shepherds who
would not permanently settle in Egypt. But when


decades and even a century had passed by, and they
still remained in the land and continued to increase
in numbers, the council of the king begrudged them
the state of freedom which was denied to the
Egyptians themselves. The court now feared that
these shepherd tribes, which had become so numer-
ous in Goshen, might assume a warlike attitude
towards Egypt. To avoid this danger, the Israelites
were declared to be bondmen, and were compelled
to perform forced labour. To effect a rapid decrease
in their numbers, the king commanded that the male
infants of the Israelites should be drowned in the
Nile or in some of the canals, and that only the
female infants should be spared. The Israelites,
formerly free in the land of Goshen, were now kept
" in a house of bondage," " in an iron furnace "; here
it was to be proved whether they would conform to
their hereditary law, or follow strange gos.

The greater part of the tribes could not stand
this trial. They had a dim knowledge that the God
of their fathers was a being very different from the
Egyptian idols; but even this knowledge seemed to
decrease from day to day. Love of imitation, sore
oppression, and daily misery made them obtuse, and
obscured the faint light of their hereditary law. The
enslaved labourers did not know what to think of
an unseen God who only lived in their memories.
Like their masters, the Egyptians, they now lifted
their eyes to the visible gods who showed them-
selves so merciful and propitious to Israel's tor-
mentors. They directed their prayers to the bovine
god Apis, whom they called Abir} and they also
offered to the he-goats. 3 The daughter of Israel,
growing up to womanhood, sacrificed her virtue,

1 In Hebrew the word Abir means bull, mighty, and hence God.
It is connected with the Egyptian abr (a bull), from which Apis is
derived. Conf. Jeremiah xlvi. 15.

2 Levit. xvii. 7. The sending of the scape-goat to Azazel marked
the abomination in which this lascivious cult was held.


and abandoned herself to the Egyptians. 1 It was
probably thought that, in the images of the grass-
eating animal, honour was paid to the god of the
patriarchs. When the intellect is on a wrong track,
where are the limits for its imaginings? The Israel-
ites would have succumbed to coarse sensual idolatry
and to Egyptian vice, like many other nations who
had come under the influence of the people of the
land of Ham, had not two brothers and their sister
the instruments of a higher Spirit aroused them
and drawn them out of their lethargy. These were
MOSES, AARON and MIRIAM/* In what did the
greatness of this triad consist? What intellectual
powers led them to undertake their work of redemp-
tion, the elevating and liberating effect of which was
intended to extend far beyond their own times?
Past ages have left but few characteristic traits of
Moses, and barely any of his brother and sister,
which could enable us to comprehend, from a human
point of view, how their vision rose step by step from
the faint dawn of primitive ideas to the bright sun-
light of prophetic foresight, and by what means they
rendered themselves worthy of their exalted mission.
The prophetic trio belonged to that tribe which,
through its superior knowledge, was regarded as
the sacerdotal tribe, namely, the tribe of Levi.
This tribe, or at least this one family, had doubtless
preserved the memory of the patriarchs and the
belief in the God of their fathers, and had accord-
ingly kept itself aloof from Egyptian idolatry and
its abominations.

Thus it was that Aaron, the elder brother, as
also Moses and Miriam, had grown up in an
atmosphere of greater moral and religious purity.
Of Moses the historical records relate that after his
birth his mother kept him concealed during three
months, to evade the royal command, and protect

'Conf. Ezekiel xxiii. 7, 8.

1 Micah vi. 4, mentions also Miriam, with her brothers, as a deliverer.

CH. 1. MOSES. 13

him from death in the waters of the Nile. There
is no doubt that the youthful Moses was well ac-
quainted with Pharaoh's court at Memphis or Tanis
(Zoan). Gifted with an active intellect, he had an
opportunity of acquiring the knowledge that was
to be learnt in Egypt, and by his personal and
intellectual qualities he won the affections of all
hearts. But even more than by these qualities, he
was distinguished by his gentleness and modesty.
" Moses was the meekest of men," is the only
praise which the historical records have bestowed
upon him. He is not praised for heroism or war- t
like deeds, but for unselfishness and self-abnega-

Influenced by the ancient teaching, that the God
of Abraham loved righteousness, he must have been
repelled by the baseless idolatry of animal worship
and by the social and moral wrongs which then were
rife. Shameless vice, the bondage of a whole people
under kings and priests, the inequality of castes, the
treatment of human beings as though they were
beasts or inferior to beasts, the spirit of slavery, all
these evils he recognised in their full destructive
force, and he perceived that the prevailing debase-
ment had defiled his brethren. Moses was the open
antagonist of injustice. It grieved him sorely that
Israel's sons were subjected to slavery, and were
daily exposed to ill-treatment by the lowest of the
Egyptians. One day when he saw an Egyptian
unjustly beating a Hebrew, his passion overcame his
self-control, and he punished the offender. Fearing
discovery, he fled from Egypt into the desert, and
halted at an oasis in the neighbourhood of Mount
Sinai, where the Kenites, an offshoot of the tribe of
Midianites, were dwelling. Here, as in Egypt, he
witnessed oppression and wrong-doing, and here
also he opposed it with zeal. He gave his aid to
feeble shepherdesses. By such action he came into
contact with their grateful father, the priest or


elder of the tribe of the Midianites, and he married
Zipporah, the daughter of that priest.

His employment in Midian was that of a shepherd.
He selected fertile grazing plots for the herds of
Reuel, his father-in-law, between the Red Sea and
the mountain lands. In this solitude the prophetic
spirit came upon him.

What is the meaning of this prophetic spirit?
Even those who have searched the secrets of the
world, or the secrets of the soul in its grasp of the
universe, can give only a faint notion and no distinct
account of its nature. The inner life of man has
depths which have remained inscrutable to the
keenest investigator. It is, however, undeniable
that the human mind can, without help from the
senses, cast a far-seeing glance into the enigmatic
concatenation of events and the complex play of
forces. By means of an undisclosed faculty of the
soul, man has discovered truths which are not within
the reach of the senses. The organs of the senses
can only confirm or rectify the truths already elicited.
They cannot discover them. By means of the truths
brought to light by that inexplicable power of the
soul, man has learned to know nature and to make
its forces subservient to his will. These facts attest
that the power of the soul owns properties which go
beyond the ken of the senses, and transcend the
skilled faculties of human reason. Such properties
lift the veil of the dim future, and lead to the dis-
covery of higher truths concerning the moral conduct
of man ; they are even capable of beholding a some-
thing of that mysterious Being who has formed and
who maintains the universe and the combined action
of all its forces. A soul devoted to mundane matters
and to selfishness can never attain to this degree of
perfection. But should not a soul which is untouched
by selfishness, undisturbed by low desires and pas-
sions, unsoiled by profanity and the stains of every-
day life, a soul which is completely merged in the


Deity and in a longing for moral superiority, should
not such a soul be capable of beholding a revelation
of religious and moral truths?

During successive centuries of Israel's history there
arose pure-minded men, who unquestionably could
look far into the future, and who received and im-
parted revelations concerning God and the holiness
of life. This is an historical fact which will stand
any test. A succession of prophets predicted the
future destiny of the Israelites and of other nations,
and these predictions have been verified by fulfil-
ment. These prophets placed the son of Amram as
first on the list of men to whom a revelation was
vouchsafed, and high above themselves, because his
predictions were clearer and more positive. They
recognised in Moses not only the first, but also the
greatest of prophets; and they considered their own
prophetic spirit as a mere reflection of his mind. If
ever the soul of a mortal was endowed with luminous
prophetic foresight, this was the case with the pure,
unselfish, and sublime soul of Moses. In the desert
of Sinai, says the ancient record, at the foot of Horeb,
where the flock of his father-in-law was grazing, he
received the first divine revelation, which agitated
his whole being. Moved and elated humble, yet
confident, Moses returned after this vision to his
flock and his home. He had been changed into
another being; he felt himself impelled by the spirit
of God to redeem his tribal brethren from bondage,
and to educate them for a higher moral life.

Aaron, who had remained in Egypt, likewise had
a revelation to meet his brother on Mount Horeb,
and to prepare himself jointly with him for the work
of redemption. The task of imbuing the servile
spirit of the people with a desire for liberty seemed
to them far more difficult than that of inducing
Pharaoh to relax his rigor. Both brothers therefore
expected to encounter obstacles and stubborn oppo-
sition. Although both men were already advanced


[n years, they did not shrink from the magnitude of
the undertaking, but armed themselves with pro-
phetic courage, and relied on the support of the God
of their fathers. First they turned to the represen-
tatives of families and tribes, to the elders of the
people, and announced their message that God
would take pity on Israel's misery, that He had

Online LibraryHeinrich GraetzHistory of the Jews (Volume 1) → online text (page 2 of 46)