Page images
PDF
EPUB

JEWS.

JEHOVAH! shapeless Power above all powers,
Single and one, the omnipresent God,
By vocal utterance, or blaze of light,
Or cloud of darkness, localized in heaven;
On earth enshrined within the wandering Ark;
Or out of Zion thundering from his throne
Between the Cherubim.

WORDSWORTH.

THE history of the Jews commences with Abraham, their most celebrated patriarch, the tenth generation from Noah. It is supposed he was born in Chaldea, about two thousand years before Christ. He was doubtless educated in the planetary worship of the Chaldeans, and accustomed to adore the images by which they represented the Spirits of sun and stars. Joshua, addressing the tribes of Israel, long after Abraham's day, says: “Your fathers dwelt on the other side of the flood [the river Euphrates] in old time; even Terah, the father of Abraham, and the father of Nahor; and they served other gods." The Greek historian, Suidas, asserts that Terah was a statuary, and made images of the gods for sale. Among the traditions of Jewish Rabbis, it is recorded that Terah, having occasion to take a journey, left his business in the care of Abraham. A man, who came in, apparently to purchase, asked Abraham how old he was. He replied: “I am fifty.” “Yet you worship an image made but yesterday !" rejoined the stranger. These bold words made a deep impression upon Abraham. Some time after, a woman brought flour as an offering to the gods; but Abraham, instead of presenting the oblation, placed a hatchet in the hands of the largest image, and broke all the others in pieces. When his father returned and asked the meaning of this destruction, he replied that the gods had quarrelled which should have an oblation of flour, and the strongest one had destroyed the others. “You are bantering," said Terah; "for images have not sense to do that." "Say you so ?" rejoined Abraham; "then how absurd it is to worship them!"

The same traditions declare that Abraham was persecuted by the Chaldean government, on account of his infidelity concerning the popular gods; that he was condemned to pass through fire, but escaped from the ordeal unharmed Terah afterward removed to Haran, in Mesopotamia, accompanied by children and grandchildren. Abraham was then seventy years old. According to Josephus, historian of the Jews, “ he was a person of great sagacity, both for understanding all things, and persuading his hearers; and not mistaken in his opinions. For which reason he began to have higher notions of virtue than others had, and he determined to renew and to change the opinion all men had concerning God. He was the first who ventured to publish the idea that there was but One God, the Creator of the universe; that as to other gods, if they contributed anything to the happiness of men, they each afforded it ac cording to His appointment, and not by their own power. His opinio'i was derived from the irregular phenomena visible both at land and sea, as well as those that happen to the sun, moon, and all the heavenly bodies. If, said he, these bodies have power of their own, they would certainly take care of their own regular motions; but since they do not preserve such regularity, they make it plain that, so far as they co-operate to our advantage, they do it not of their own abilities, but as they are subservient to Him, who commands them, to whom alone we ought to offer honour and thanksgiving. For which doctrine, when the Chaldeans, and other people of Mesopotamia, raised a tumult against him, he thought fit to leave that country, and at the command, and by the assistance of God, he came and lived in the land of Canaan.” Nahor, his brother, remained with his family in Mesopotamia, and his descendants adhered to the worship of images.

Josephus says: “After this, when famine invaded the land of Canaan, and Abraham had discovered the Egyptians were in a flourishing condition, he was disposed to go down to them, both to partake of the plenty they enjoyed, and to become an auditor of their priests, to know what they said concerning the gods; designing either to follow them, if they had better notions than he, or to convert them into a better way, if his own notions proved the truest.” He conversed with the most learned among the Egyptians, and conferred with various sects, by whom "he was admired as a very wise man, and one of very great sagacity."

Among ancient nations and tribes, it was a general custom to marry very near relatives, with a view to sustain particular families, by strengthening the bond between them. According to the testimony of Josephus, Abraham married his own niece; but in Genesis he himself is recorded as saying: “She is my sister; the daughter of my father, but not the daughter of my mother; and she became my wife.” We are told he returned from Egypt “ with sheep and oxen, he-asses and she-asses, men-servants and maid-servants." Sarah, his wife, being childless, requested him to take one of these bondwomen for a concubine. Her name was Hagar, which signifies a stranger. She bore Abraham a son, and they called his name Ishmael. Sarah at first loved the child, as if it were her own; but when she herself gave birth to a son, she became jealous of the older boy, and dealt hardly with his mother. She said to her husband: “Cast out this bondwoman and her son; for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac." Hebrew Scriptures inform us that “the thing was very grievous in Abraham's sight, because of his son. But God said, Hearken unto the voice of Sarah in all she has said unto thee.” So the poor stranger from a foreign land was sent forth with her child into the wilderness, where they came near perishing with thirst. After Sarah's death, Abrahs married Keturah, by whom he had sons. That he like wise had descendants from mothers whose names are not mentioned, is implied by the record in Genesis: " Abraham gave all that he had unto Isaac. Unto the sons of the concubines, which Abraham had, be gare gifts, and seat them away from Isaac his son, unto the east country, while he was yet alive.”

Little is known concerning the religious views of Als ham, except his belief in one Supreme God Faith in subordinate Spirits is implied by the frequent mention of angels In Hebrew, the word angel simply means a mas senger. The young men who ate bread and real in Abesham's tent, and seized Lot by the hand to hurry him svay from Sodom, appear by their proceedings to hare been mortal messengers; but Josephus calls them "angels of God." When Hagar and Ishmael were perishing in the wilderness, it is said "the angel of God called to be out of heaven," and when she raised her eyes, she perceived a fountain. On several occasions, we are told that the angel of God called to Abraham out of heaven" God himself is represented as talking familiarly with him.. That he appeared in some visible form, seems to be implied by the words: " And God left off talking with him ad went up from Abraham."

Wherever Abraham sojourned, he erected an altar od sacrificed to the Lord. A heifer, a ram, a goat, a turdie dove, and a young pigeon, are mentioned among his osten ings. It was a prevailing opinion with ancient nations, that human sacrifices were acceptable to the deities sod of higher value than the sacrifice of animals. That Abs ham admitted such an idea, is implied by his bebef that the Divine Being required him to sacrifice his gentle and virtuous son Isaac, then twenty-five years old Hebrer Sacred Writings, as they have come down to us, merel state that a God did tempt Abraham, and said, Take on thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thon lorest, and other him for a burnt-offering upon one of the monnisins I I

sacrifice him; al part of femies, an him;

tell thee of." But when all was in readiness, the angel of the Lord called to him out of heaven; to say that his willingness was a sufficient proof of his obedient faith. “And Abraham, lifting up his eyes, saw a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and he offered him up for a burntoffering instead of his son.” Josephus gives a more am. plified account of the transaction. He says: “God being desirous to make an experiment of Abraham's religious disposition toward himself, appeared to him, and enumerated all the blessings he had bestowed on him; how he had made him superior to all his enemies, and that his son Isaac, who was a principal part of his present happiness, was derived from him; and he said he required this son of his as a sacrifice and holy oblation, Accordingly, he commanded him to carry him to Mount Moriah, build an altar, and offer him for a burnt-offering upon it. Abraham, who thought it was not right to disobey God in anything, prepared to follow the injunction. When it became necessary to make his intentions known to the unconscious victim, he said: 'O my son, I poured out a vast number of prayers that I might have thee; and when thou wast come into the world, I was greatly solicitous for everything that could contribute to thy support. There was nothing wherein I thought myself happier than to see thee grown up to man's estate, that I might leave thee successor to my dominions. It was by God's will that I became thy father, and since it is now his will that I should relinquish thee, bear this consecration to God with a generous mind. I resign thee up to God, who has thought fit to require this testimony of honour to himself, on account of the favours he has conferred on me, in being to me a supporter and defender. Accordingly, thou, my son, will now die, not in any common way of going out of the world, but sent beforehand to God, the Father of all men, by thy own father, in the nature of a sacrifice. I suppose he thinks thee worthy to get clear of this world, not by disease, or war, or any of the severe modes by which death usually comes upon men; but he will receive

Vol. I. 33

« PreviousContinue »