Page images
PDF
EPUB

by Caligula, and restore good relations with the Jews. He gave to Agrippa all the kingdom over which his grandfather Herod had ruled in Judea and Samaria, and then sent letters to every part of his dominions telling how the Jews were friends of the empire, and that their privileges, especially as concerned the worship of their God, were in no way to be curtailed. To Alexandria he sent a specially gracious note, in which he dealt with the late trouble, and confirmed them in their right to their own chief magistrate or Ethnarch.

And added to the general letter is a kind of postscript which is highly illuminating :

"And I do charge them also to use this my kindness to them with moderation, and not to show a contempt of the superstitions and observances of other nations, but to use their own laws only."

And the widest publicity was to be given to his orders. “And I will that this decree of mine be engraven on tables and ... exposed to the public for full thirty days, in such places where it may be plainly read from the ground.”

And did the Jews heed his caution? Their fortunes at this time are steadily progressing, as we judge by the accidental touches of history which tell so much. Are they correspondingly growing in humility? or in arrogance and pride of race?

There are street disturbances in Caesarea between them and its Syrian Greek population. Formerly as Strato's Tower, it had been solely their city—not one Jew in it, as they alleged. Now under pretext that it had been rebuilt by Herod the Great, and that he was by birth a Jew, we see them demanding pre-eminence, “ depending on their wealth.” And everywhere we meet them, objects of furious jealousy, the meed of the fortunate, not the despised. And maybe jealousy was quickened by hate. In the days of Nehemiah we view them as money-lenders, and grievous even to their brethren. When, if ever, did they give up this lucrative business? Half the massacres they have suffered in our days have been due to this same cause. Was

nd only every vile Baskedness was born them theed to

it the reason for the wild, fierce, raving detestation of the pagan in those old days as well? Certainly the books of their faith would not tend to add to their popularity. They simply glory in their original seizure of a fertile country, rich with pasture-land, vineyards, and olive-yards, overflowing with milk and honey, together with populous cities and numerous villages, as well as in the horrible cruelty with which they butchered their innocent inhabitants, poor creatures who had done them no harm, and whose one fault was that their country was desirable and they wished to possess it. That their God had given them the land on account of their wickedness was but the vile excuse made by every vile band of cutthroats in every age, and only added insulting reasons for most horrible practices. So the account would read by those who fancied themselves to be descendants of those dispossessed aboriginals; so to the “ Gnostics," one of the earliest of the Christian sects. And thus it was with the Germans. Their God had given them all our colonies and land and commerce to possess and enjoy, because they were supermen and we were a decadent race. But it did not strike us exactly in the same light. Nor did it happen that we were decadent; nor did it turn out that they were supermen. But undoubtedly in these old Jews was a strain of the superman. So probably, as a matter of fact, they became possessed of the land exactly as every land has been become possessed of as the ages have run their course. The great trouble of nature is the ever-full cradle of some virile race. Many the wars that have been forced on unhappy neighbours, all anxious for peace, by a strong people with an overflowing population. And more than an hundren million Germans ring-fenced in Central Europe is a crater liable at any moment to again become an active, raging volcano.

And at this time, as Josephus tells us, we find the Jew excelling his ever-hated enemy, the Greek, not only in wealth, but in strength of body, as well as sharing with him the intellectual supremacy of the world. The Greek, supreme in all else, in his religious books had easily to give him place. And the Roman respected the Jew as he did not the Greek, for he was fiercest of fighters. As Josephus more or less laments, and their history bears out, “ The Jews are men that despise dangers and are ready to fight upon any occasion." Greek thought was great thought, but he is now the master mind of the ancient world. And we see his fortunes reflected in the respect his religion commanded. The passage from Zechariah which we have quoted was no overdrawn picture. And now men of every nation and language were with the Jew, saying, “We will go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.” So, amongst their women, the new faith was getting hold. Later on, when every man's hand was against the Jew, and the people of Damascus also rose to destroy them, they had to proceed secretly because of their wives and daughters who had become converts to their teaching. Then, as now, there was much in the glorious writings of their holy book; in the stern, pure doctrine that it taught, to appeal to the serious in every home and every land. And backed by worldly success, but one thing alone hindered its almost general acceptance—and that was their insistence on circumcision as an all-important rite. Observance of the law would have proved but little hindrance. Even their Sabbath would have been no serious obstacle. It had long been current amongst other nations such as the Babylonians and Assyrians. But why, asked would-be proselytes, why insistence on abandonment of nationality as well ? But inexorable attitude. The Jew's religion was for Jew alone. And men hesitated to make the great surrender, and hated instead. Hated, but never despised. For where in all the world was wonderful book like theirs ? Pre-eminently “the book," as if there had been no other the wide world over. Where sibyl or oracle with scriptures such as these? Where prophets with the wondrous roll of their verse, the amazing grandeur of their vision, the tremendous splendour of their

imagery? Where hymn of Greek like those of the master singer of Zion? And with the Greek they had made the great God of all their subject and inspiration, and it was their God, and not the Greek god that had captured the mind of the world. As an abstraction the educated Persian, Greek, Egyptian, and Jew alike knew one great principle of the universe; but the Jew alone realized a Deity who, in His attributes, was not unworthy of the tremendous original. With science, our ideas of the universe have extended their horizon, and the world for us is no longer its hubour once modest conception of our own importance; nor have the sun and moon and stars been created for our sole delight. Over all we know of a ruling Deity infinite beyond all power of words to tell, and yet it is in these wondrous old writings of the Jews we alone find a notion of that mighty First Cause, which is not wholly out of tune with the infinite majesty we know to be His. Jupiter, Anu, Fate, The Great Unknown—we pass them in review. They fail to appeal to our intelligence or imagination, but in the Jehovah of the prophets we have a conception that is not wholly vain. God is not simply fate, God is not simply an abstraction, God is not merely supreme amongst gods, but God has a personality and individuality alone found in these wondrous works. And so their God appealed to the ancient world.

But notwithstanding all the magnificent breadth of its utterance, never was more exclusive religion. And thus it was whenever they were in trouble every neighbouring kingdom or tribe found an unholy joy in their affliction. Whether this was peculiar spite to them, or the attitude of the then world to every other people in distress, we have not the materials to determine. We know the pack of wolves : let one be sickly or wounded, and immediately the rest turn on it to rend and devour it; and this may have ruled generally in those days. At the same time the conditions we have enumerated may have engendered exceptional hate and jealousy with a fiercer gloating over them when in trouble than was usual, or after all it may be that we only know more of their case because they had historians to record it. But the terrible fact for them is, that from now on their sufferings are to accumulate and are only to end with the destruction of all dear to them—their privileges, their city, their temple, their liberty, and their lives.

CHAPTER XIX.

BEGINNING OF THE END.

160. At best, under Claudius but an uneasy peace prevailed. The people were in that temper that the smallest incident was enough to set the whole country in a blaze. Nor were their neighbours better disposed towards them. Agrippa had been a just and generous king, not only to his own people, but to other races under his rule. But once dead, it was enough for the Greeks of Caesarea that he was a Jew, and heaping indignity on his memory, they carried the statues of his daughters to the brothels that there in effigy they might be abused. Agrippa, his son, was too young to succeed him, and Claudius kept him with him for the time, and sent Fadus as governor in his stead. Fadus soon had his hands full with the numerous fanatics who made life a terror, and with the quarrelsome doings between the Jews of Perea and the Philadelphians, and a dispute with himself as to the custody of the holy vestments, of immense richness, of the high priest. This latter was made subject of a petition to Claudius, who gave them to the care of the Jews themselves. Then there was a terrible famine, relieved by Helena, Queen of Adiabane, who had become a convert to Judaism. So also one Theudas, posing as a prophet, probably one of the false Messiahs referred to in the gospels, possibly

« PreviousContinue »