« PreviousContinue »
tions made over it and frenzied his funeral rites, even to their gashing themselves with knives. And then is his resurrection, and as magnificent the feast of rejoicing. Unhappily at this a licentiousness prevailed which was one of the strange and dark features of these ancient celebrations. We remember how Aaron made a golden calf, and how Moses returning from the Mount found people indulging in wild deeds of shame, and how he slew three thousand of them. He will have none of it, he abhors it, and his spirit is in Ezra. This abandonment to feeling is altogether unwholesome, if nothing else. It makes for enervation and the decadence of any race that gives way to it. Probably the rapid degeneracy of the Greek was as much due to his emotionalism in later days as to any other cause. He played with fire, and the fire burnt him. No doubt the ancient world justified these things with the hidden meaning that was to be found beneath them all. Thus, in the death and resurrection of Adonis, as instanced, we have an example of that adoration of nature in her reproductive powers which has played so large a part in these religions of the past. And from this we pass to still deeper symbolism, and in winter and summer, in the setting and rising of the sun, in the sowing of the seed and the reaping of the harvest is profound allegory to be realized of the birth and death and immortality of the soul.* It is not in its esoteric meaning that this worship is to be condemned, but in the wild sensationalism by which it was accompanied. This justification, this qualification applies to most of these cults alike. The deity of the ancients was visualized in his attributes. Some were purest of conceptions, the many lent themselves to orgies of a sensual and demoralizing type. The underlying idea may have been sublime, but in practice the resulting scenes were far from edifying. The memorable description of the pilgrimage to Bubastis by Herodotus is well in point :
* Hymn to Ceres, Homer.
“Now when they are being conveyed to the city of Bubastis they act as follows, for men and women embark together, and great numbers of both sexes in every barge. Some of the women have castanets on which they play, and the men play on the flute the whole voyage. The rest of the women and the men sing and clap their hands together at the same time. When in the course of their passage they come to any town they lay their barge near to land and do as follows : some of the women do as I have described; others shout and scoff at (query, with) the women of the place; some dance and others stand up and expose themselves. This they do at every town by the river side. When they arrive at Bubastis they celebrate the feast, offering up great sacrifices, and more wine is consumed at this festival than in all the rest of the year. What with men and women, besides children, they congregate as the inhabitants say to the number of seven hundred thousand. I have already related how they celebrate the festival of Isis in the city of Busiris, and besides, all the men and women to the number of many myriads beat themselves after the sacrifice, but for whom they beat themselves it were impious for me to divulge."
Herodotus, born soon after Marathon, was practically a contemporary of Ezra, and so in his accounts we practically see those religions as Ezra himself saw them. This is valuable, as it gives us the exact atmosphere of the times in which he wrote. And we can realize how his soul must have burned to see his own people given up to these abominations. And we can enter into the spirit of the fierce invective of · Malachi (ii. 11-13): “ Judah hath dealt treacherously, and an abomination is committed in Israel and in Jerusalem; for Judah hath profaned the holiness of the Lord which He loved, and hath married the daughter of a strange god. . . . And this have ye done again. covering the altar of the Lord with tears, with weeping, and with crying out, insomuch that He regardeth not the offering any more or receiveth it with goodwill at your hand.” And for all their apparent exuberance these religions were not really happy ones. But ever it has been, in life there is but one fact, one reality alone-death. And the unknown, the dark, has always overwhelmed with its vague terrors. And with them, in that grim future, was one outstanding
horror-the Day of Judgment. In that dread hour every soul would have to make answer for its life here. In Egypt, in the balances of Osiris, it would be weighed, and woe if weighed and it prove wanting. And still more awful Dis, or Pluto, stern judge of Greek belief. Too late to now bewail. One swift review : in lurid light the most secret thought is laid bare; no act is passed by; no sin is forgotten, and answer must be made. And no expiation made, no sacrifice offered, no penance done, and TartarusTartarus as terrible as any hell of mediaeval imagining -yawns for that poor blasted soul. Yes, most grievous bondage those old faiths. And where escape? Let hecatombs propitiate and gifts placate. Let purification and ministrations and lustrations be made, and vows be paid. In fastings and chastity; in abstinence from meat and alcohol; in mastery of the flesh; in the supremacy of the soul, let sanctification be sought. Avoid the torment that awaits by selftorment here. In lashing with whips, in gashing with knives, in asceticism, in mortification, in defiance of this life itself earn bliss in that day to come. And see, now in this very earthly state is assurance given that the deity is with you. A divine frenzy seizes you; it is the holy god himself that fills you with his being. Thus climax of emotionalism, and as we have before remarked, not far removed from madness itself.
THE GIVING OF THE LAW. 1 20. And Ezra, fresh from the purer atmosphere of Persian thought, is full of trouble now that he is in the holy city of his dreams. All so different to his expectations. Eastern hyperbole may cover the extravagances of grief attributed to him and to Nehemiah who joined him; but under it all is a profound heartache which is touching and beyond doubt. And he knew only one remedy. To give his people again the law which they had lost, and worse, which they did not seem to miss. The second part of Esdras is a very beautiful book. It is essentially Oriental in its cast of thought and in its strain of argument. Like Abraham, Ezra talks face to face with God, and the burden of his cry is, Why are the people of the Lord thus ever abandoned by Him? In style it is reminiscent of Job, but the main motif is that he has been specially called to bring back his nation to its true faith, and however hopeless that he must persevere. “Behold, Lord,” he says, “I will go as Thou hast commanded me and reprove the people which are present; but they that shall be born afterward, who shall admonish them? Thus the world is set in darkness and they that dwell therein are without light. For Thy law is burnt, therefore no man knoweth the things that are done of Thee or the works that shall begin. But if I have found grace before Thee, send the Holy Ghost into me, and I shall write all that hath been done in the world since the beginning, which were written in Thy law, that men may find Thy path and that they which will live in the latter day may live.” *
In passing we must again draw attention to the difficulty of translating precise thought from one language into another. Here in the use of the words “Holy Ghost " we have a sad anachronism. It may be a correct equivalent of the original or it may not, but our ideas at once run to the third person of the Trinity, a concept of nearly five centuries later. When anything important turns on the precise meaning of a word we realize how imperfect a tool is language for such purpose.
And continuing we have, “Andheanswered me saying, Go thy way, gather the people together and say unto them that they seek thee not for forty days. But look thou, prepare thee many box-trees, and take with thee Sarea, Dabria, Selemia, Ecanus, and Asiel, these five which are ready to write swiftly; and come hither and
* 2 Esdras xiv. 20-22.
the wwith theincline by the was bto save
I shall light a candle of understanding in thine heart, which shall not be put out till the things be performed which thou shalt begin to write. And when thou hast done some things shalt thou publish and some things thou shalt show secretly to the wise. To-morrow this hour shalt thou begin to write." Then Ezra seeks the people and having addressed them tells them that they are not to come after him nor to seek him these forty days. Then having taken the five scribes as commanded, he went into the field and there he dictated to them, and they wrote down two hundred and four books, of which the last seventy he reserved for such as were wise amongst the people.
There is always a delight in trying to reconstruct these old scenes of a past age, and in especial one so all-important to mankind as Ezra thus redelivering to the world these sacred books of the Jews. Imbued still with the old pagan ideas, there are some who have been inclined to think that like the Sibyl of Cumae inflamed by the god, Ezra, wholly unconscious of his message, was but the mouthpiece of words given him by the Deity to say. This theory is hardly consonant with the message itself, nor with the facts relating to it as we undoubtedly have them. That, like many another good man, he felt himself called by God to the work, and that he fervently believed himself helped and inspired by the spirit to carry it out, is undoubted, but few things would have grieved him more than to have suggested that, like a medium in a trance, he abandoned himself to ravings which to his God were an abomination. Nor did his message need it. As it is, it is one of the grandest given to humanity, and needs no factitious aids to magnify its merits.
He has given us many a book, faithfully reproduced, many a page of his then past, and yet if only we could see the writers themselves as they actually were, absolutely realize the conditions in which they spoke, how tremendously it would add to our insight into the kernel of what they taught. It is amazing how,