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Zoroastrian Morality.


Among the followers of Zarathustra the notion of sin was very variable, for it might consist in an offence against Shamanistic precepts, in other words, in contamination, or else in an action morally reprehensible. Of the latter sort, lying was regarded as a heavy disgrace,29 deceit as worse than robbery. Theft was a crime, if only because it is done in secret; to lend money seemed culpable, because it was liable to result in the deception of the creditor.30 The moral law of Parseeism insisted and still insists on probity and purity; even to our own times no other religious organization has enjoyed an equal degree of respect from those of other creeds. The first Gospel also makes kindly mention of the Magi who came from the East.


NOTHING is more significant in the moral history of the human race than the development of a monotheistic conception of God. In the legends and narratives so ingenuously and undoubtingly related in the Old Testament, we may see, as in an entirely correct mirror, the slow ripening of this conception, which was so often in danger of annihilation. Because in early childhood we all imbibed the truth that the Holy and Eternal must be indivisible, we overlook the difficulties which necessarily encountered the diffusion of this idea when it was novel, hesitatingly and vaguely held by few, and rejected by the majority for the sake of other and older conceptions. Before reaching a belief in the Divine unity, a people must have passed through long periods of intellectual and moral development, for, as Tylor' truly remarks, monotheism has never been met with in a tribe of so-called savages. Implicit reliance

who was a fire-worshipper, should have condemned Croesus to the stake is scarcely credible; it would be less incredible that the Lydian king wanted to burn his god Sandon (F. Justi). Rapp, on the contrary, supposes that the funeral practices above mentioned were not customary in Western Erân, but were peculiar to the East alone.

29 Herodotus, i. 138.

30 Duncker, Gesch. des Alterthums.

1 Primitive Culture, vol. ii. p. 333.

can, however, be bestowed on biblical history only from the date at which the people of Israel adopted the art of writing, that is, from the time of the exodus from Egypt, or not much before.2

In their earlier days the Hebrews made use of other names than Jahveh for the Supreme Being, and it is a suspicious fact that one of these (Elohim) is in the plural form, and that in swearing a solemn oath three Gods were successively addressed.3 It has already been mentioned that household gods (seraphim) still received worship even in David's time.4 Shortly before the Babylonian captivity, Josiah ordered the destruction of two altars of sacred stones before the gates of Jerusalem.5 The Scriptures themselves expressly testify that in the earliest ages the Jews did not adhere to the pure religion of God. Hence, if the Egyptians worshipped a Supreme Being under the name of I am that I am,6 the conjecture is not entirely to be rejected, that Moses, being initiated into the mysteries of the Egyptian worship, was the first to attain monotheistic views; yet, owing to the obscurity which surrounds the early history of the people of Israel, an assertion such as this can neither be strictly proved nor strictly refuted. But it seems hardly credible that a single mind, however ardent and highly gifted, could have converted an entire nation completely unprepared for such a change to a totally novel interpretation of the world. The conception of an indivisible God must, in common with all processes of this world, have been of slow development. In the Old Testament story we frequently see this conception on the point of extinction, or obscured like the sun by a passing cloud on a gloomy day. Even Moses was not unshaken, or he would never have set up the brazen serpent in the desert as a protection against the snakes in the peninsula of Sinai. This fetish was only destroyed by the devout King Hezekiah, at a time when a far purer and clearer conception of God had become general. Traces of Shamanism are also retained in the trial by ordeal in accusations of adultery. The suspected woman is to

2 The mention of signet rings in Joseph's time (Gen. xxxviii. 18, 25) would point to a somewhat earlier date.

3 With Gen. xxxi. 53, comp. Ewald, Israelitische Geschichte, vol. i. p. 371. ✦ See above. Ewald, vol. iii. p. 757.

G. Ebers, Durch Gosen zum Sinai.

Polytheistic Rudiments.



drink water in which has been soaked a paper inscribed with curses, just as the Mohammedan priests of the present day pretend to cure sick people with water in which written texts of the Koran have been washed. That women also attempted to conjure up the dead is proved by Saul's secret visit to the witch of Endor even in Josiah's time an oracle which existed at Jerusalem was held in much esteem. Immediately after Joshua's death a deplorable license had taken possession of the public mind, and Jahveh worship was polluted with human sacrifices, which were continued in use up to the time of the kings. In old days Jahveh was considered only as the shield of the Hebrew race exclusively, as a tutelary spirit, of greater powers than the deities of the hostile tribes. Thus Jephthah sends word by his messenger to the king of the children of Ammon: "Wilt thou not possess that which Chemosh thy god giveth thee to possess? So whomsoever the Lord our God shall drive out from before us, them will we possess." II Jahveh's power was even considered to be locally restricted, for God undertook to "go down into Egypt" with Jacob.12 The sensuous view was sometimes carried so far that the forces of nature are regarded as vital manifestations of God, and the conception of God is almost reduced to a monotheistic worship of nature. The extreme beauty of the language employed must not obscure the significance of the fact that an audible voice was perceived in the thunder, and the cold or warm breath of Jahveh in frost and thaw.13 Undoubtedly, the limitations to our intellectual faculties always compel us to reinvest the incomprehensible essence of God with the nature of man; even the Gospels speak of the paternal emotions of God; but it is a different thing when we are constantly aware that we are using anthropomorphic terms, in default of truer, just as even in the exact sciences we are not

7 Numbers v. 19.

8 The way in which Shamanistic notions had taken root may be seen from Job vi. 6-10.

9 No sophistry can diminish the shock to humanity which we experience in reading the narrative of Jepthah's daughter (Judges xi). Respecting the human sacrifices under Saul and David, comp. 1 Sam. xiv. 23, 45, and 2 Sam. xxi. 6.


Judges xi. 24. 13 Job xxxvii. and xxxviii.

10 Exod. xv. II, and xviii. II. 12 Gen. xlvi. 4.

always able to avoid figurative expressions. But when the Bible represents Jahveh as being gratified by the savour of sacrifices, 14 it uses language such as Homer would have used. The conception of the Jahveh to whom Moses on Mount Sinai is obliged to recall the promises given, and who, infirm of purpose, withdraws his threats, is childish, and therefore destitute of sublimity. Here, again, we are reminded of scenes such as were enacted on Olympus in the epic periods of the Greeks. Even the dress of the priests with its ornaments and embroidery is traced back to Divine ordinances, 16 and we are sorry to read that Jahveh suggested and abetted the embezzlement of vessels of gold and silver borrowed by the Israelites.17 The conception of the Supreme Being remained long thus meagre, corrupt, and human in its weakness.

The deep significance of the history of Israel consists in this : that by its experiences and sufferings this nation was driven to a conception of God, ever increasing in profundity and purity. Of all the nations of antiquity the Jews alone possess a history which strives to recognize the control of a moral dispensation of the world in earthly events. It was written in exile 18 in a sorrowful mood, where the priesthood no longer existed, so that no hierarchical craft came into play, as has sometimes been supposed. The preceding period of the kings had given the experience that religious license was nearly always followed by worldly ruin, but the Scriptures did not conceal the fact that pious rulers sometimes fell into adversity, or fortune smiled favourably on recreants to the end. By their misfortunes during the time of the kings, the Jews acquired their firm trust in God. "With the Assyrians," exclaims Hezekiah, according to the Scriptures, "is an arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God to help us, and to fight our battles." 19 Thus Eliphaz admonishes the despairing Job how many that "plow iniquity and sow wickedness" are consumed by the blast

15 Exod. xxxii. 9-14.

17 Exod. xi. 2.

18 According to Ewald (History of Israel), the Book of Kings was written in the middle of the Babylonian captivity.


2 Chron. xxxii. 7, 8.

14 Lev. i. 9.

16 Exod. xxviii. 33, 34.

Influence of the Prophets.


of God. 20 The Jews had distinctly recognized that the strength of a nation can only be founded on a firm reliance on the moral dispensation of the world. From their own history they had derived the lesson that they had always been victorious as long as morality prevailed amongst them, and that departure from the law resulted in their being carried away into captivity. The consolation and light which they derived in the hour of their affliction from this knowledge is echoed in the verses of the psalm, "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me."


There are individual traits which show that before, during, and after their exile, in their religious views they discarded their former childlike crudeness. Ezekiel no longer recognizes the God of the Old Testament who never forgave, but always revenged the sins of the forefathers on the third and fourth generations. "The father shall not bear the iniquity of the son, nor the son the iniquity of the father." Even the man overburdened with sin, if he turns away from his sins in true repentance may hope for forgiveness, "for," as the prophet represents the Lord saying, "Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? and not that he should return from his ways and live?" In a psalm ascribed to David,22 compassion as of a father is promised to all who fear God. The maxim of the son of Sirach that 23 we must forgive our neighbour before asking forgiveness for ourselves is among the foreshadowings of Christianity. The Israelites were indebted to the prophets for their liberation from Shamanistic errors. As we have already noticed the dangers with which all sacrificial worship threatens the moral tendencies of the religious emotions, we will recall the much-admired warning of Isaiah,24 "Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire: your land, strangers devour it in your presence, and it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers. And the daughter of Zion is left as a cottage in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city. Except the Lord of Hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like upon

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