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INTRODUCTION

1. OLD TESTAMENT HISTORY

THE Old Testament narrative is not only a rich literary source, from which all our serious prose and poetry draw ideas and expressive forms of speech: it is a history, recording the life of a people that has influenced the course of human affairs. A modern man, therefore, can hardly understand either his native literature or the society he lives in, without knowing something of the story of Israel.

This importance of the little Hebrew people is due, not to its having any remarkable antiquity, nor to any commanding rôle that it played. Israel was both antedated and overshadowed by great civilized states in the valleys of the Nile and of the Euphrates, and between these her national life was finally crushed out. But before this could happen, her national religion had become dominated by ideals which made it one of the indestructible forces of the spirit. For reasons to be explained later (p. xxi), the growth of these ideals can be followed only imperfectly by an uncritical reading of the Old Testament books as they stand. A summary of Hebrew history is therefore required, to show, on the one hand, its general setting in the ancient world, on the other, the successive parts in it taken by the prophets.

Excavation and study have in recent years brought to light some information about Palestine before the coming of the Hebrews. Its narrow strip of habitable land was important to Babylonia and Egypt, because through this ran great trade routes between the Nile and the Euphrates. Babylonia was first to control the region, but by B. c. 1500 it had passed to Egypt, and under Thutmose III (d. 1447) was consolidated as part of his great empire. His successors, however, were unable to defend Palestine against the Aramean nomads that, about 1350, began pressing in from the desert, and taking its little city-kingdoms one by one. As part of this Aramean migration, though perhaps more than a century later, appeared the clans of Israel.

The gradual and irregular advance of the Israelites into Canaan

is pictured in the book of Judges. The clans were only loosely in league, and for the most part won their way singly. Many city strongholds held out for generations, until, by securing rights as sojourners and by intermarriage, the invaders became blended with the natives, who were chiefly of their own Semitic stock. During this period the Israelite Beduins had to contest their ground not only with the more civilized Canaanite inhabitants, but with new invaders. Moabites, Midianites, Ammonites, and Philistines tried in their turn to supplant the tribesmen in one quarter and another. These inroads were met, first by uprisings under various local heroes, the "judges," and finally by the coalition of the tribes into a nation under Saul.

Before Saul's death David had won the leadership of Judah. On succeeding to the kingship of all Israel he took steps to consolidate and extend his realm. He captured the ancient Canaanite fortress of Jerusalem, which till then had separated Judah from the tribes to the north, and by making that his capital he averted the sectional jealousies that would have attached to a royal seat either north or south. He broke the power of the Philistines; made tributaries of Moab, Edom, Ammon, and Damascus; and gave Israel a recognized position among the nations. His success was made possible by the fact that Assyria, after the reign of Tiglath-pileser I, had fallen into a period of weakness, while Egypt, now under the 21st dynasty, was in disunion between rulers at Tanis and Thebes.

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Politically the young nation's career was hardly noteworthy. The Hebrews had none of the Greek civic spirit, nor of the Roman talent for organizing. David's attractive and energetic personality availed to hold his kingdom together through his own lifetime; but on or soon after Solomon's accession (about 977 B. C.) Edom and Damascus fell away, and during his reign Israel itself became disaffected. Solomon's rule was outwardly splendid, but his buildings, commerce, and luxury were all maintained by exploiting his subjects in ways familiar to Oriental despotism. At his death (937 B. c.) the jealousy of North Israel towards Judah, sharpened by the general discontent, brought on a final split of the kingdom into two.

Down to this time the religion of Israel seems to have been but little higher than that of her Semitic kinsfolk. By tradition, indeed, the clans which Moses led out of Egypt had made a solemn covenant to serve Jehovah as their God. But many passages

show that the early Hebrews thought of Him chiefly under two secular and almost non-moral aspects. He was their tribal wargod, whom they invoked against their enemies, just as the Moabites invoked Chemosh, and the Ammonites, Milcom. He was also a life-giving deity, to whom, as the Hebrews changed from a nomadic to an agricultural people, they sacrificed on their high places, just as the Canaanites sacrificed to the Baals, in order to obtain fertility for their lands. His worship did not exclude certain barbarous and superstitious customs, such as the "ban," by which the whole population of a hostile city might be religiously destroyed, the law of blood revenge, and the use of household teraphim. The prophets were as yet simply seers and ecstatic dervishes, who for the most part had no special ethical message.

In the divided kingdoms, however, the religion of Jehovah met issues that brought into play its latent spiritual power. North Israel was a country of fertile plains, crossed by highways for trade and intercourse with its neighbors. Under Omri it began a vigorous national life. This able king established a strong capital at Samaria, made alliances with Damascus and Tyre, and put Moab under tribute. Under his son Ahab the Israelites gained so rapidly in wealth, and in the culture of their commercial neighbors, that it became a question whether the old ideal of their national covenant to serve Jehovah would survive. Ahab's queen, Jezebel, had introduced the more luxurious cult of her native deities, the Tyrian Melkart and Ashtart, and had moved Ahab to infringe ancient property-rights of Israel. The crisis brought to the front Elijah, the first of the great prophet reformers. His success in rousing a Jehovah party which won the upper hand in Jehu's revolution, was clouded by a decline in Israel's fortunes which followed. In 842 B. C. Jehu paid tribute to Assyria, and for nearly half a century after, Israel was hard pressed by Damascus. Beginning about 800, however, the northern kingdom had a new era of prosperity. The Assyrians were occupied meeting attacks from the Armenian kingdom of Urartu, and Damascus broke down in conflict with a new Aramean power under Zakar. The long reign of Jeroboam II was one of increasing wealth and luxury, but also of social and religious decline. A moneyed class had grown up, who made loans to the poorer husbandmen on terms that often resulted in the seizure of their small land holdings. And, while Baalism had been suppressed, the worship of Jehovah was at the popular

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sanctuaries corrupted by practices learned from the heathen cults. These conditions called forth a new prophetic movement, in which Jehovah's relation to Israel was clearly declared to rest upon right conduct and spiritual worship. About 750 B. c. was written the traditional history of God's dealings with His people that modern criticism has distinguished in the Old Testament as the Ephraimite narratives. At the same time appeared Amos, denouncing the oppression of the poor, and urging that Jehovah took no pleasure in the ritual offerings of wrong-doers. Hosea attacked the ritual worship itself, debased by Baalish immoralities, as only grieving the jealous love of their God. Both Amos and Hosea pronounced a doom from Jehovah to be threatening the sinful nation. The doom soon followed. A great monarch, Tiglath-pileser III, was already reviving the prestige of Assyria. In 734 he took Damascus, put Pekah king of Israel to death, and deported the chief inhabitants north of the Plain of Jezreel. Pekah's successor, Hoshea, incited by the Egyptians, still ventured to resist, but in 722 Sargon captured Samaria, deported more inhabitants from the region, and abolished the kingdom of Israel.

The history of Judah, since the division of the kingdom, had meanwhile been comparatively uneventful. Natural and political barriers shut in her rugged and unfertile country, which faced toward the desert, and favored the simpler habits of life and thought inherited from her nomadic past. David's dynasty continued on the throne. The reform movement that Elijah had set afoot took effect in Judah in a palace revolution, by which the priest Jehoiada deposed Jezebel's daughter Athaliah, who had usurped the government, and was favoring the worship of Baal. Shortly after 850 B. C., Judean prophets began putting into literary form the traditions now distinguished in the Old Testament as the Judean narratives. But under Uzziah (782737) Judah had a period of expansion and commerce which developed much the same social conditions as were rife in Israel. Her political position also was insecure. By a timely submission she escaped when Samaria fell, but in Hezekiah's reign a party in Jerusalem was continually looking to the Philistine cities and Egypt for a coalition against Assyria. This policy was steadily opposed by the prophet Isaiah, who advised the king simply to trust Jehovah and avoid all foreign alliances. Hezekiah, however, upon Sargon's death in 705, was drawn into a

general rebellion which had the support of Egypt. The uprising was met in 701 by Sennacherib. Defeating the allies, he invaded Judah, captured forty-six of the smaller towns, and invested Jerusalem itself. Its inhabitants were stricken with panic. Hezekiah sent belated offers of tribute to Sennacherib, whose main army had pushed on to the borders of Egypt. Isaiah alone came forward, boldly preaching social and religious reform, and proclaiming a faith that Jehovah would save Jerusalem. The result bore out his trust. A plague broke out in the Assyrian army, and Sennacherib raised the siege.

This event impressed the Hebrew imagination as showing Jerusalem to be the favored abode of Jehovah. He had left the ancient shrines of North Israel to their fate, but until this invasion a number of the countryside shrines of Judah had flourished. They were now attacked by the prophetic party, both because worship at these high places was continually showing Baalish features, and because the idea was gaining headway that the one God should be worshipped only at his one chosen temple. Hezekiah therefore took steps to abolish the country shrines, and perhaps to correct social abuses which about this time were denounced by Isaiah's younger contemporary, Micah.

The following reign of Manasseh was one of religious reaction. The superstitions of the people were still attached to the halfheathenish worship of the high places, and the prophetic party was driven into retirement. About 650 B. C. one of this party embodied its ideals in the code of Deuteronomy. Judah continued in submission to Assyria, which in this reign extended its rule from the Taurus mountains to the Upper Nile.

Manasseh's grandson, Josiah (639–608 B. c.) saw the decline of the Assyrian power. An incursion of Scythians, which called forth the sermons of Zephaniah, betrayed its weakened condition, in which Judah was left to shape her own policies. The stirring address of Nahum shows that the occasion was improved by the prophetic party to press their reforms. Josiah came wholly under their influence. In his eighteenth year the discovery of the law of Deuteronomy prompted him to make a sweeping reformation, by which all the local sanctuaries were abolished, and the worship centralized in the temple. The movement, however, was checked by political misfortunes. Assyria was now so hard beset between the two rising kingdoms of the Medes and the Chaldeans, that Egypt took the opportunity to extend

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