Samuel George Smith.

Religion in the making; a study in Biblical sociology online

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MACMILLAN & CO., Limited






A Study in Biblical Sociology




AM rights reserved

Copyright 1909

Set up and electrotyped. Printed January, 1910




For nearly twenty years I have been teaching
sociology to the upper classmen in the University
of Minnesota. During about the same length of
time I have been teaching the Bible to special
classes in connection with the Peoples Church of
St. Paul. It was not until ten years ago that the
thought occurred to me that there is anything in
common between these two departments of labor.
About that time I formed the opinion that sociology
might prove one of the best instruments for the
interpretation of the Bible, and that, on the other
hand, the Bible might prove to be one of the best
sources of sociological material. My subsequent
studies have been largely influenced by this con-
clusion. During two winters I pursued the joint
study with selected companies of students. The
work seemed so promising that four years ago I
offered work in biblical sociology to my classes in
the university. This book is a condensation of a
part of the work done in the university classes.
The survey of the subject will be completed by an-
other volume in the course of preparation dealing


with the domestic, poHtical, and industrial life of
the Hebrews. I have avoided notes, debates, and
citation of authorities, in the interest of brevity and
clearness. Acknowledgrpent of obHgations to
various authorities will be made in the bij^liography
which accompanies this work. The book, however,
is a fresh study at first hand of the Bible in the
light of the principles of sociology. So far as I
know, the term "biblical sociology" was first used
in my announcements. It has since been adopted
by two or three other writers.

Samuel G. Smith
St. Paul


Chap. Page

I. Some Aspects of the Religious Problem.. i
II. Science of Sociology 15

III. The Social Value of Religion 23

IV. Scientific Views of the Bible 33

V. The Land and the People 41

VI. Development of the Idea of God 57

VII. Sacred Persons: The Making of the Priest.. 90

The Tribe of Levi 107

Development of the Prophets no

VIII. Sacred Places: The Altar 114

The High Places 121

The Temple 127

The Synagogue 140

IX. Sacred Services : Early Sacrifices 143

The Religion of Fasting 157

Ritual of the Temples 162

X. Sacred Objects: The Ark 180

Other Sacred Materials 188

XI. Sacred Days i97

XII. Hebrew Conception of Sanctity 210

XIII. Some Resultant Conclusions 226

Bibliography 244

Index 247





The beauty of the lily is not challenged because
it grows out of the muck. The roots of all the social
values in the world are planted in darkness and
ignorance. Men have only grown wise by the
rejection of their mistakes. The true interpretation
of history is not found by emphasis of the ignorance
and the weakness of early men, but rather in
remembering that we are forevermore their debtors
because out of their lowly experiences have grown
the beautiful forms of goodness and of truth. The
study of the world's experience breeds hope for
the future because of faith in the past. One of the
greatest influences in modern life flows from the
Hebrew life and literature. The present need is to
frankly acknowledge our obligation rather than
to discover wherein the Hebrew was weak or at
fault. To discover what our debt is to the Hebrew


people it is necessary to investigate their history
and to learn what ideas and institutions they have
given worthy of becoming part of the permanent
inheritance of the world.

Every age has some religious problems and some
ages have many religious problems. These prob-
lems arise because new individuals are born to
refresh the life of the race. These individuals must
be taught the faith of their fathers, but there will
be some of them who wish to make changes. The
pressure of strong men is the great force in society
that makes for social changes. It has been agreed,
on the whole, that these social changes are to be
called progress. There is decay and death, no doubt,
in the social order. Peoples and civilizations perish
because they are unfit for the struggle of existence.
But the whole history of the world taken together
indicates to us more clearly than it did to Hegel the
definite if not steady progress in human institutions.

Some ages are characterized by great religious
unrest and others by great intellectual disturbance.
Intellectual disturbances born of new knowledge
bring always a time of debate. The children of the
new day fling out their challenges to the various
forms of the social inheritance. In these times the
creeds are put upon the rack, but not the creeds of
religion any more than the creeds of science or of


politics. Readjustments must be made. In making
them changes occur, and the period which brings
the most disturbance to the conservative mind is
the period which, at last, results in the greatest
advantage to the world. We are at the close of an
era of the greatest intellectual disturbance that the
world has ever known. The time has seen vast
changes in government, and the creation of nearly
all the modern constitutions, as well as the re-crea-
tion of every form of scientific knowledge. Re-
ligion could not escape, and the storm that has
broken over all churches in all lands is the severest
since the Reformation, and will doubtless be re-
garded in time to come as one of the most tre-
mendous in all human history.

The men of tradition while accepting as much of
the new knowledge as they can use in their fields of
work, wish to either reject altogether the new influ-
ence upon religious faith, or, at least, to reduce it
to its lowest terms. Scholars quite universally
condemn the traditionalist. He has gradually been
elbowed out of all the universities and his place is
vacant among the seats of the mighty. The schol-
ars say that traditionalism is dead; that all the old
views of inspiration and revelation with their
accompanying dogmas can no longer be held by
the sincere mind. Meantime the man of traditions


seems to have a strange hold upon the multitude.
The scholars say that it is because the multitude is
not yet sufficiently instructed, but that is not the
reason. It is rather because the man of tradition
is frequently very sincere and very strong in his
own religious life. In spite of absurdities of
thought and ridiculous mistakes of fact, the people
are moved by any man who seems intoxicated with
a passion for their good. Such a man does not
speak like the scribes, and he conquers by fresh
enthusiasm while he fails in fresh knowledge. The
fundamental reason for his power is that religion
is something essential to human nature.

The biblical critic has had his word, and with his
weapons he has driven panic-stricken hosts under
the shelter of the fortresses of antiquity. He has
taken the Bible and dismembered it book by book
and piece by piece. He has counted and lettered
the documents. He has even printed the different
authorities in different colors, and with much real
ability and a great deal of sound scholarship he has
demanded his right to be heard. At this point he
cannot be gainsaid, but the trouble with the critic
is that he has not done enough. He has dethroned
the old Bible but he has not enthroned any new
oracle. His successes have saddened the world. If
the critic has put to flight his enemies, he has also


greatly disappointed his friends. He has brought
neither peace nor comfort. Some of the work of
the critic will doubtless remain, but the permanent
results will take their place as material for the
upbuilding of a new temple for the living faith of
a living present.

The evolutionist comes into the field of religion
as he comes into every other field of human action
to give a universal law by which every kind of his-
tory is explained. Matter, life, man, institutions,
begin simply and become complex. They begin
indefinite in form and become definite both in
organ and in function. So far as this principle is
applicable, it sheds wonderful light on the history
of the universe in general, but most of all upon
the history of this world in particular. But most
evolutionists lack vision and have very little imag-
ination. They do not see the limits of the law
which has been discovered. They do not see that
though the law of evolution in some form or other
may become more universal than even that of
gravitation, it leaves untouched at last the funda-
mental problems of life and of religion. The
ordinary evolutionist thinks that he is rid of God
to-day and that he will be rid of religion to-morrow.
But the discovery of a process, however wide-
spread, is no inquiry into power of any kind, and


a law may be universal in its applicability to the
visible world and have little meaning for the
psychical experiences of the race.

The ethnologist is one of our most interesting
modern acquisitions. He studies and compares the
customs, laws, habits, and manners of peoples, kin-
dreds and tongues. He studies the apparatus of
religion as among the most interesting remains
from bygone days. He finds resemblances among
tribes so remote from each other that no historic
contact has been possible. The curious thing about
the ethnologist is that if he finds customs in some
other religion that bear a strong resemblance to
something in the Bible, he feels quite sure that he
has rendered the biblical fact of no special im-
portance. He sees the tremendous influence of
religion as a human experience in all the forms of
human history, but he thinks that while from the
religious instinct and tradition have come agri-
culture, the practical arts, and the fine arts, since he
has found religion to be a universal experience,
one religion is just as worthless as another, and
having done their work in the world, they will
all pass away. But the ethnologist does not tell us
when religion, which is the life in the engine, is
dead, by what new power or authority he will work
new miracles of history.


Grateful to the men of tradition, to the critic,
to the evolutionist, and to the ethnologist, for all
they have done, this study seeks to claim some gift
from each of them in order to make a study of
Hebrew institutions under the influence of the
science of sociology.

From any point of view there are serious diffi-
culties in the scientific study of human kind. It is
sometimes even asserted that there are no human
sciences, and there are not in the sense of the multi-
plication table and the binomial theorem. The
studies of life are all more intricate than the study
of matter. The higher the form of organization,
the more complex it is, and the wider the range of
its activities. Man is the most complex form of
life. His motives and desires, his hopes and fears,
his loves and hates, set him as far apart from every
other animal as though he belonged to another
world. Perhaps he does. It may some time be
admitted that there is a transcendent element in
man which defies scientific analysis. But though
our knowledge of him may be incomplete, he will
remain the most interesting creature in the world.

The study of the group, or men in the mass, gives
us more definite results. We learn to trace the
genesis of institutions and to find that certainly in
r,ome matters this human being so elusive is yet


put under law. It is the business of science to
observe social facts and forces and to study the
sequence of events. Early studies of men made
perhaps too much of the external resemblances be-
tween the institutions of different peoples. These
resemblances are very convenient for purposes of
classification. They enable us to group and relate
our -facts, but they must not be too much depended
upon for definite results. Many houses, for
example, look much alike, but the homes which
they shelter within are leagues apart in dignity and
beauty. It is the spirit within the thing which gives
it value.

Another difficulty which must be frankly ad-
mitted is that much of the material in the Bible is
foreign to our modern life. There is a strangeness
about Palestine itself from which the traveler can-
not escape. He is at home, it may be, in Paris and
Berlin, but he remains a stranger in Jerusalem or
Damascus. It is not easy for the western mind to
get the point of view of the orient. The eastern
mind was so large, so vague, it covered so much
emotion, it had such gift of imagination. It
brooded and dreamed and often closed its eyes and
sat still for long periods of time. Europeans wish
definiteness, system, order. These things are not
found in the Bible. The very lack of system, the


indefiniteness of dates which were normal enough
to the men who wrote the Bible, made their work,
particularly under scientific scrutiny, a good deal
like a confusion of tongues.

Mindful at least of some of the difficulties of the
task, the object of this study is to examine the
various methods by which the Hebrews expressed
their religious life, to note whether there were
changes and developments in the history of that life,
and for this purpose the altar, the priest, the ritual,
and the other instruments of the religion of the
Bible are to be examined. In harmony with the
best modern thinking we must attempt to gather
some knowledge of the psychical forces back of
these visible expressions, and out of the record to
evoke the soul of this religion — its idea of God.
The problem of the Old Testament from the point
of view of sociology must be separated from the
Christian problem. It is an effort to conceive the
Old Testament history as it really was before
Christianity, to note its characteristics and to
reckon its values.

Since environment is an important element in
the development of a nation, we must take a glance
at the land and the people in order to find setting
for the work.

The method will be to accept the facts stated in


the Bible as substantially correct, but to select
them under a system that will seek to organize the
facts and relate them to different periods of his«
torical unfolding. It may be frankly admitted that
many problems will be left untouched, but the task,
if successful, should prove an introduction to a
valuable way of looking at the Bible. No intelli-
gent person should shrink from the scrutiny of the
religious beginnings any more than from the early
conditions of any other form of social life. As the
study of biology gathers beauty in the eyes of its
votary as he sees in lower forms of life a prophecy
of beings much higher in the scale, so all human
origins are of interest to the patient student of the
conditions surrounding early men. The genetic
idea of history furnishes a new set of values. The
etching of a mammoth made by a pre-historic hand
in a bone cave is vastly more important to the his-
tory of civilization than any Madonna painted by
the hand of Raphael.

We need a new notion of validity. The discov-
ery of progress in the Bible does not make it less
a divine book than it was before. Nay, the history
of the progress may be so conceived as to render
the story more divine. The value of human inter-
pretation must always depend upon the correctness
of a man's knowledge of his facts and the wisdom


with which he combines them. The honest inter-
pretation of fact by the social man, that is to say
by the common mind of any social group, is doubt-
less better for that group than a wiser interpreta-
tion would be. It is what this social man can
understand and it is what he needs to know. This
view covers the whole range of human affairs.

Nature has been variously interpreted both by
individuals and by peoples. And all these different
readings ultimately flow into that thing which we
call science. But they are written down one above
the other until human experience of nature is a
great palimpsest in which the former theories are
studied only that their places may be usurped.

Equally the interpretation of what is the proper
method of conducting human life has given rise to
standards of conduct. Man has not changed phys-
ically since the earliest ages. His world is here.
He has had his various personal and social ques-
tions to ask and to answer, and the interpretations
vary from that of the brute man to the highest
moral creed of the purest sage. Let no one despise
the work of the brute man. Nothing ever written
by saint or philosopher is so wonderful as these
dim awakenings of the child conscience through
which the race learned by painful effort to set


bounds to passion and to live under law that men
might develop as social beings.

The various interpretations of religion grow out
of variations in human life and experience. The
beginnings of religion are as crude as the begin-
nings of government. The state began in the per-
son of some one man who took the lead of his clan
in time of battle or distress because he was stronger
and wiser than the rest. The state died when the
crisis passed and with each new need it was
revived again by some new leader. So read also
the stories of the Judges of Israel. This flickering
of authority and insecurity of power make us
marvel not the less but the more at the splendid
dignity and usefulness of the modern state. Its
constitution and laws, its officers and its authority,
are not weakened by the humbleness of the origin
of political institutions.

The institutions of religion began when men in
a common service sought to express a common need
and to seek a common good. These began to be
visible and organized when men made some spot
where they had worshiped before, a permanent
trysting place for new appeals to the unseen powers.
Religion in modern times is of no less value, and
has no less truth and beauty because in the minds


of those far-off worshipers there were behefs and
feeUngs which we now regard as superstitious.

While we study the history of the Hebrews we
are also slowly learning that God has never left
Himself without a witness, but that through all
men and by all faiths, He has been coming more
and more into communion with the race. Any real
faith in a real God must teach that all men are
cared for by Him, all men share His life, and all
men according to the measure of their need and
their capacity receive His revelations.

With respect to these problems one of the most
illuminating questions to ask is "Was man active
or passive in the making of religion?" This ques-
tion is perhaps the most divisive that can be asked.
It seems to separate men into naturalists and super-
naturalists. The believer in the supernatural is
wont to say that all the knowledge and worship in
religion come as a direct gift from an active God
to a passive man. The naturalist, on the other
hand, would have us believe that the making of
religion was done by an active man working largely
upon material in his own heart and brain, and that
God was either absent or passive in the perform-
ance. It does not seem necessary to have these two
camps divide religious men in modern times. The
revelation of the thought and life of God could


never rise above the knowledge and capacity of the
man to whom it was revealed. This man, yearning
with longing and hopes too great for speech, was
sure to make many and many a mistake. He
would often misunderstand even the voice of God
Himself. 'Thus saith the Lord" cannot always oe
trusted. Nevertheless through the travail of the
generations men were active in cooperation with
all their environment, physical and psychical, seek-
ing to understand and to interpret. His reverence
made man great.


The modern science of sociology has furnished
a method of interpretation for nearly every field
of scientific inquiry. If it has not yet furnished
itself with principles and methods of great defi-
niteness, it has done more. It has furnished a point
of view for the study of human activity of peculiar
significance. History, economics, politics, and all
human sciences have been brought into relation
with each other to such an extent that the bound-
aries of each have become uncertain and a nobler
unity of knowledge seems emergent.

For the purposes of this study it is necessary to
define sociology in order to indicate the nature and
scope of the science. This is the more necessary
because the word has been used as the title of all
kinds of theories and as the object of numerous
reform programs. But it is a science and so deals
with facts and their interpretation. It demands
the inductive method. As the science of society it
finds its social facts related to space and gives rise
to social geography. It finds them in relation to



time and hence there is a history of society. But
it is not the isolated fact that is the object of inter-
est. It is the social fact as one of a series. Acts
tend to group themselves. Given a certain degree
of development in the state, and correspondences are
found in the form of the family and in the quality
of religious institutions. Societies are not made,
they grow. Society exhibits certain organs or
institutions through which it does its work and
expresses its life. Similarity of social organs does
not mean that the two groups in comparison neces-
sarily have a common origin or that one group has
borrowed from the other. These social resem-
blances mark a much profounder law, namely, that
societies at similar stages of development, under
similar conditions, manifest similar characteristics.
The form of the family, that is, whether the home
shelters one wife or several, is not based upon what
we moderns call moral grounds so much as it is
upon the supply of food products and the economic
and political organization of the group. Nor does
this statement mean that ethical motives are not
universal and profoundly significant.

Sociology may be defined as a study of the
agents, processes, results, and tendencies of social
development. The active agents are human beings,
and a study of them as related to the history of any


form of society is much more than the taking of a
census to find their numbers or the studying of
their race in order to ascertain their quality, though
these facts are each important. A social group
must be distinguished from the forms of social
institutions through which it works. It is a body
of people, large or small, with common social inter-
ests, who live and work together.

The size of the group will depend upon the fer-
tility of the soil, the extent of the territory, but most
of all upon the degree of culture. Abundance of
food is necessary to any civilization. Surplus food
makes the artisan, the merchant, and the artist
possible, but cultural development is necessary to
provide social organs at once sufficiently complex
and sufficiently elastic to meet the needs of rich and
varied forms of living. It is agreed by students of
the question that low-grade people can only live in
small groups, no matter what their other advantages.
The organization of the group must increase in
definiteness as it increases in size. The clan may
have a small organization, but the tribe is more
than a group of clans. Each clan in the tribe may
maintain its own special organization, but all the
clans in the tribe must unite in a common life and
organization, or there is no tribe. A tribe may get

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Online LibrarySamuel George SmithReligion in the making; a study in Biblical sociology → online text (page 1 of 14)