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Ethical Ideal as determinant in life.
Reviewed in the ANCIENT HISTORY OF THE JEWS
and in CREEDLESS CHRISTIANITY.
A PRELIMINARY RETROSPECT. s 1. Our great museum authorities adopt the following convenient divisions of prehistoric times :
Eolithic, or dawn of the Stone Age;
regard as ending in general in northern
Europe about B.C. 2000. This later period they follow with the Bronze Age, which ended in general in Europe between B.C. 1000 and 500, and then, with the Iron Age, the first of which overlaps and the latter of which is co-extensive with what we know as Historic Times.
These Historic Times, once more, we roughly regard as ancient and modern, but with the greater precision of the prehistoric classification we might well see in our ancient history the two great masses, Pre Alexandrian and Post-Alexandrian, taking approximately the year B.C. 300 as the date of the changing conditions. This has the advantage of giving a clear and sharp line of demarcation between two succeeding phases of civilization. Naturally, the other divisions are more or less arbitrary,and from their very character more or less indefinite, e.g. The Stone Age, which ended in Crete and in the great civilizations of the Nile
what we Historicodern, brication wereat
and Euphrates' valleys considerably before B.C. 2000, the date given, and which is hardly at an end yet in parts of South America and in some of the wilder regions of our world. Or take a more modern instance. It is generally agreed that the epoch of our Henry VII. marked the transition from medieval to modern times, but it would be difficult to put one's finger on any particular year and say, “In this the change took place.” Probably the greatest factor in this development was the discovery of printing, but generations were to pass before its influence cculd be clearly traced. So with times to which many a conqueror has given his name. Many such have cursed their fellows, but it is doubtful if any have been sufficiently distinctive to establish an age. Their remembrance may be a nightmare, their pæans of triumph one long wail of widows and orphans, but in little else are their mighty deeds to perpetuate their memory. Like lightning they have come and gone and nothing to tell of their having been but the desolation they have left. True, we have seen great empires established by fighting and conquest, e.g. the Roman in older times, the Anglo-Saxon in these days, but these again tell of epochs rather than of any especial period. But far different were the mighty achievements of Alexander the Great. He found an old world : he left a new. In this he is to be distinguished from the other conquerors to whom we have referred. We cannot do better than instance Cyrus, founder of the Persian Empire, who, on the ruins of a destroyed Assyria, established his majesty. In many respects Cyrus might well be likened to him. In him we see one of the greatest and most enlightened generals of the world. He built up his magnificent empire by his ability and courage, and above all by his rectitude. It lasted some two hundred years, and then it passed and was merely of those that had been-of those whose story has been told. Far other Alexander in his triumphs. His empire hardly lasted longer than the baked meats of his funeral rites, and we still feel its influence. In modern days we have had almost another such example in the great Napoleon. Unlike Alexander he had not the fortune to die in the heyday of his glory, and he lived to see his mighty fabric crumble about him in ruins. But had his work survived it is doubtful if it had much affected the destinies of mankind. So of the German attempt at universal dominion, and with results as disastrous to the prime movers in the resulting tragedy. And had success crowned such wicked attempt on the freedom of mankind, would a new era have been established? As with the Tartar hordes, would the triumphs of their arms have involved destruction of all noblest in man, or at best, as in the case of Cyrus, would it have meant but little more than change of master? By any chance could it have had the far-reaching consequences of the triumphs of this first world conqueror? No. Amongst the great generals of the, world, in the extent and endurance of his achievements, Alexander stands alone. With him was farewell to a world then passing away; the introduction to a new which was to be the prelude to our own. How history would have been written had there been no Alexander who can tell? Greek thought by peaceful penetration might still have mastered the world, but would it have been as all-potent without the glamour of his fame? However, it is wiser for us to keep to what has been accomplished rather than indulge in speculations of the what-might-have-beens of the past.
2. Here for a moment let us glance at the surface features of his achievements, the clash of Grecian with Persian arms. Alexander's triumph was the culmination of a race conflict of which the first move was the battle of Marathon. The tale of Marathon has been too often and too well told to need retelling here. East and West were in mortal grip, and the world was not large enough for two such powers. At this first encounter it would have seemed that all the chances were with the former. The Persian was apparently at his zenith, and his story till then had been one of magnificent success. As a connecting link between the two great protagonists we may turn to the Jewish race. It was in the year B.C. 722 that Sargon took Samaria and carried into captivity the ten tribes.* He was the general of the Assyrian army, but revolting from his master he usurped the supreme authority and established the wonderful hundred years' dynasty in which we see Assyria in its greatest glory. He was succeeded by Sennacherib, of the Old Testament; he by Esarhaddon, and the line was virtually closed by Assurbanipal, who might well have been distinguished as the Magnificent. It is to these princes we owe the treasures and remains which are the marvels of the Louvre and of the British Museum. It was these kings who enriched Nineveh with their buildings, their monuments, and above all with their libraries. And in a moment it was ended. The Assyrian was fiendishly cruel, and his empire was held together by fear alone. The crisis came, and Assurbanipal—some suggest his son-deserted by all, his general Nabopolassar faithless as Sargon his predecessor had been faithless, succumbed to a coalition of his rebellious servant with Cyaxares, king of the Medes, and Necho, king of Egypt, and Nineveh was taken. For himself, according to Greek tradition, he would not survive his lost fortunes and, collecting all that was most precious into one huge funeral pyre, he set it on fire with his own hands; then threw himself into the raging flames and so made end.
Thus first stage in the destruction of the Assyrian.
Nabopolassar, reaping the reward of his treachery, as king of Assyria established his capital in Babylon, where he was succeded by his son Nebuchadnezzar. For awhile their fortunes were somewhat varying. The fall of Nineveh, the division of the empire amongst the allies, lessened its prestige in general, and there were enemies ever ready to profit by its
* According to his annals some 27,280 people, who would probably include their smiths and soldiers, as well as captains and principal citizens. Later on, in Tobit we see them holding high office in Nineveh.
knockin, and thene forth under Nery conclus
weakness. Not least were the Scythians always knocking at its gates. “The lion is come up from the thicket, and the destroyer of the Gentiles is on his way; he is gone forth from his place to make the land desolate "* Egypt under Necho II., a vigorous monarch, was anxious to again try conclusions with his hereditary enemies, and also ranged against them were their late allies, the Medes. Evidently Judith of the Apocrypha must find setting in some such period as this, nor does there seem reason for regarding it as wholly fictitious, as some would think. In it we have a lively account of how “Nabuchodonozor” sent to the once subjects and tributaries of the empire on the west to come to his assistance. But instead, "the inhabitants of the land made light of his commandments, neither went they with him to battle, for they were not afraid of him. Yea, he was before them as one man, and they sent away his ambassadors from them with disgrace” (Judith i. 11). And then another turn of fortune's wheel. Nebuchadnezzar was a great general, and he triumphed over the Medes and Egyptians alike. Ecbatana, their capital, he took, and he “spoiled the streets thereof and turned the beauty thereof into shame. He took also Arphaxad, in the mountains of Ragan, and smote him through with his darts and destroyed him utterly that day.” And then he called to mind those who had made light of him in his hour of weakness. Judith is the story of how at first he was baulked of his prey, and then successful and his vengeance was terrible. Amongst those on whom he poured out his fury were the tribes of Judah. We know their fate. He destroyed utterly their city Jerusalem and carried the chief of the people away into captivity into Babylon. This was about the year B.C. 588, and was to prove their salvation as a nation. Such of the ten tribes as were carried into Nineveh with the break up of the Assyrian power were scattered and lost in the Semitic race generally. The Jews in
* Jer. v. 7.