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Lord hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these thy prophets, and the Lord hath spoken evil concerning thee.'
If this dramatic record of divine complicity in fraud and falsehood be true, Orthodoxy can no longer identify the tribal god of the Hebrews with the Supreme Being whom modern Christians worship; if it be false, so monstrous a calumny against the Deity finally discredits the claims of the Hebrew Scriptures to divine inspiration ; but whether true or false, the scandal of these divergent prophecies destroys all confidence in Hebrew predictions, and warns us against accepting their imaginary fulfilment as confirmation of their divine origin.
Thus far the relationship of the ancient Hebrews to prophetic divination is clearly defined.
(i) They had true and false prophets.
prophecy was to wait its fulfilment or the
death of the prophet. Is it not obvious that the nation, whose domestic and foreign policy was controlled by so disastrous a superstition, was doomed to destruction as a foregone conclusion ?
There remains a yet more important aspect from which to view the prophetic superstition. It is obvious that, if supernatural prediction has any basis in fact, the miracle lies in foreknowledge of future events which would occur in their natural sequence whether predicted or not; and not in the miraculous fulfilment of those events in consequence of their prediction. The actors, also, in the scenes forecast by prophets, must be
unconscious of any design to accommodate their conduct to the prediction, or otherwise the prophecy simply produces its own fulfilment, and loses all claim to the miraculous. But the Hebrew Scriptures clearly show that prophets circumstantially announced impending events, inculcated their fulfilment as a religious duty, and thus evoked that pernicious superstition which prompted the zeal of fanaticism to co-operate with the Deity in blindly executing the decrees of His prophets. How vast and overwhelming an influence this superstition has exercised in the evolution of Christianity will appear at a later stage of our inquiries.
Thus armed with power to influence human thought, shall we blame the prophets if they sometimes adopted pious frauds to accomplish national purposes? The most remarkable instance of fictitious prophecy is, perhaps, furnished by that passage of Scripture in which Cyrus is named, more than a century before his existence, not by Isaiah, but by the Great Unknown' of the Captivity, who obviously personated a remote predecessor with the patriotic design of influencing Cyrus to restore the Hebrews to Palestine.1
• In the first year of the reign of Cyrus, says Josephus,2 • God commiserated the captivity and calam ity of the Israelites, as he had foretold by Jeremiah the prophet, that, after they had undergone a servitude of seventy years, he would restore them to the land of their fathers, and they should build their temple and enjoy their ancient prosperity. And these things did God grant them, for he stirred up the mind of Cyrus, and made him write this through all Asia : Thus
1 Lsa. xliv. 28.
2 Antiq. xi. 1.
saith Cyrus the King-Since God Almighty hath appointed me to be king of the habitable earth, I believe that he is that God which the Israelites worship : for indeed he foretold my name by the prophets, and that I should build him a house at Jerusalem, in the country of Judea. This was known to Cyrus by his reading the book which Isaiah left behind him of his prophecies ; for this prophet said that God had spoken thus to him in a secret vision : My will is that Cyrus, whom I have appointed to be king over many and great nations, send back my people to their own land, and build
my temple. Accordingly, when Cyrus read this, and admired the divine power, an earnest desire and ambition seized upon him to fulfil what was so written; so he called for the most eminent Jews that were in Babylon, and said that he gave them leave to go back to their own country, and to rebuild their city Jerusalem and the temple of God.'
We have attributed the very flattering language addressed to Cyrus by Jehovah to the pen of the Great Unknown, but his work was not improbably interpolated by the pious conspirators who designed and accomplished the return from captivity. If, however, we even accept the prediction as the veritable forecast of Isaiah, it follows that, in the opinion of the Hebrews, prophecy was miraculously fulfilled when a deliberately performed actions which he was assured had been divinely decreed, and for which he had been rewarded in anticipation by the gift of empire.
This view of Hebrew prophecy receives further confirmation from Josephus in the narrative which
| Antiq. xiii. 3.
depicts the High Priest Onias, when living in exile at Alexandria, obtaining permission from Ptolemy Philometer to build a Hebrew temple at Heliopolis, on the grounds that Isaiah had prophesied that “there should be an altar in Egypt to Jehovah.'
SAMUEL having succeeded Eli as the last of the Judges of Israel, when conscious of the growing infirmities of age, appointed his two sons, Joel and Abia, as assistant judges, with the unhappy result of their detection by the Elders in the act of accepting bribes for the perversion of justice.
The addition of judicial corruption to the numerous other calamities endured for centuries under a theocratic government at length exhausted the patience of the long-suffering Israelites; who therefore determined on following the example of their more fortunate neighbours by adopting the monarchical form of government. It was a wise conclusion ; and if they had elected a king invested with the royal prerogative to rule in absolute independence of Samuel and all the prophets, the Hebrews might have succeeded in reforming social abuses, developing internal resources, and so organising national capabilities for resisting foreign aggression as to have founded a permanent dynasty, ruling a united and prosperous people with much happier results than are now found in the blood-stained annals of Israel and Judah.
The moral courage of the people did not, however,
1 1 Sam. viii.