Page images






In tracing the Biblical history of the religion of the ancient Hebrews, a correct chronological arrangement of the Books of the Old Testament seems to be almost indispensable ; but unfortunately no such arrangement exists. The date and genuineness of each Book have been disputed, and theologians of the greatest learning, and of the deepest research, are divided in opinion respecting the exact time at which these Books may be supposed, severally, to have been written. We must, therefore, be satisfied with the nearest approximation to chronological truth which can be attained. The internal evidence furnished by the Books themselves, is generally the most satisfactory which we are able to procure; but this, of course, is frequently very inconclusive. It is, however, ascertained that very few of the Books were wholly written and some of them not even partially written-by the men whose names they bear; and that there is scarcely a Book in the Old Testament, which can be regarded as the production of but one writer. Many of the Books are compilations, composed of Hebrew documents and fragmentary histories, collected, arranged, and much interlarded by a compiler of a subsequent age; whilst other Books, which at first sight wear the appearance of individuality, are, on closer inspection, discovered to have received interpolations, additions, and appendices of different ages, and from various sources. The consequence is, that notions of earlier and later times are so woven together in the same Book, that it is a work of labour and difficulty to disentangle them.


The fragmentary character of these Books, furnishes a satisfactory explanation of the numerous contradictions and incongruities they contain, and which are so conspicuous in the Pentateuch and the other historical writings. When the fact is once established, that portions of the same Book were written by different men, at distinct and distant periods, it no longer remains impossible to comprehend how ideas and representations of God, so inconsistent with each other, should be found in the same page-how it could have arisen, that in one sentence God is portrayed as the Creator of the universe, and in the next as the family-God of the Patriarchs, or as the national-God of the Hebrews. Descriptions of a superior and elevated character, which are thus combined with those feeble and puerile representations which belong to the infant age of the world, we do not hesitate to refer to a later period; otherwise we are compelled to adopt an hypothesis which to our apprehension involves an absolute absurdity—to admit, that these incongruous passages are the expressions of one and the same writerthat notions so contradictory, so diametrically opposed to one another, co-existed in one and the same mind. It is difficult to believe, that the parents of the human race had any conception of the God described in the opening chapter of Genesis, or that they worshipped the Creator of heaven and earth. Very different are the first notions man forms of a Deity. The mind wanders through many a maze, before it recognises the existence of a great First Cause, the Author and Preserver of the universe. It is contrary to experience, to the natural order in which the religious idea is developed, that mankind should at the period of their wildest barbarism have believed in the One True God, and should afterwards, when more civilized, have degraded this God to the rank of a family-God. The more rude man's condition, the more imperfect are his Deities. The Gods of the savage are invested by him with human forms; they act after the manner of men, and are subject to human passions. But, as man progresses in civilisation, as his intelligence increases, and his moral views grow more just, his own mind gradually cxalts and perfects the object of his adoration. That the religious notions of the ancient Hebrews, like those of all other nations, were progressively developed, may, we think, be proved from the Bible.

Traces of the prior existence of Polytheism to Monotheism, are to be found in Genesis. The Elohim, who were probably at one time worshipped as equal Gods, are there recognised as subordinate Deities, with whom Jehovah-the highest Eloah-enters into council. * We are expressly told, that the father of A.braham and the father of Nachor were Polytheists, that “they served other Gods.”+ Though Abraham worshipped his own God, it does not appear that he disbelieved in the existence of other Gods. It is highly improbable that he suddenly forgot the household-gods of the family whence he sprung, and adopted the worship of the One True God of heaven and earth: he seems rather to have chosen him a God from among the tutelary deities of his ancestors, to have recommended himself to his favour, and to have relied on him for protection. The representations given of this God leave us no room to doubt, that the God Abraham worshipped was a family-God. When the posterity of the patriarchs had multiplied, and had become a numerous people, the family-God of their fathers was raised to the rank of a national-God, and at the time of Moses, when every nation worshipped its own protecting Deity, Jehovah was the acknowledged God of the Hebrews.

In the minds of the Hebrew prophets and sages, this belief in a national-God was gradually expanded into a Monotheistic faith. If they still considered Jehovah in a peculiar sense the God of the Israelites, they also believed in him as the Creator of all men; the Upholder and Governor of the

* We are aware that some commentators contend that, when God says “Let us make man in our image;" “ Let us go down,” &c; the plural number is used as a sign of majesty. If it be so used in a few instances, we cannot understand why it should not be invariably employed, why in the other parts of Genesis, and in all the subsequent Books of the Old Testament, Jehovah is constantly introduced as speaking in the singular number. We, on the contrary, are of opinion that these expressions belong to an ancient mythus whose originator acknowledged more Gods than one. See Herder-Vom Geist der Hebräischen Poesie.”

† “ The God of Abraham, and the God of Nachor, the God of their father, judge betwixt us. And Jacob sware by the fear of his father Isaac.”—Gen. xxxi. 53.

“ Your fathers dwelt on the other side of the flood in old time, even Terah, the father of Abraham, and the father of Nachor: and they served other gods.”_ Joshua xxiv. 2.

universe. Vain, however, were the ceaseless efforts of these wise men to implant the Monotheistic principle among

the Jewish people. They even failed in their attempts to preserve the fidelity of the idolatrous Israelites to the worship of their national-God. Promises and exhortations, reproofs and threats, failed to produce any permanent effects. If, for a season, they were reclaimed from the service of the Gods of the heathen, they again relapsed into idolatry on the first return of adverse fortune. Dissatisfied with their own condition, and envious of the prosperity of the surrounding nations, they forsook Jehovah to follow after the Gods of their neighbours, with the hope of obtaining from them that success and those blessings which they were denied by their own God. The sacred history informs us, that it was not till after the Babylonian exile that this chosen people of God first abandoned idolatry and became confirmed Monotheists.

The progressive improvement to which the religious opinions of the Hebrews were subjected, is also visible in the changes which their notions regarding the administration of the Divine government underwent. In the beginning, God is represented as the immediate agent in the fulfilment of his designs. He appears in person on the earth, and visits the habitations of mortals; but as soon as it is perceived that such familiar intercourse with his creatures is derogatory to the Divine majesty and dignity, the angel of Jehovah is sent to communicate God's commands, and to perform his pleasure upon earth. For a while this angel is the messenger, or ambassador, employed in the execution of both good and evil purposes ; but, subsequently, angels are divided into two classes, and the good angels become the ministers of the blessings, the evil angels of the judgments of Jehovah. 'At a still later period of Jewish history, when intercourse with the Chaldeans had taught the Hebrews that a just and perfect God cannot be the originator of evil, but only of good, an evil principle or Satan is introduced. This Ahriman of the Hebrews possesses a large share in the government of the world, and all evil and wickedness are attributed to his agency.

Though the Bible contains sufficient evidence of the truth of these remarks, the “ angel of Jehovah” has been so often substituted for the original word Jehovah,* that these changes do not follow in regular succession.

Instances occur in which, in one part of the narrative o. the same event, we are told that it is the "

angel of Jehovah," and in another part that it is Jehovah,who speaks or appears. And where two separate accounts of the same occurrence are given, some such alteration or difference may almost invariably be observed.

Throughout the Old Testament, physical evils and national calamities are represented as the judgments of God: they are regarded as the chastisements inflicted on account of the idolatry and immorality of the Jewish people. Temporal blessings and national prosperity, are considered as the rewards bestowed by God for obedience and fidelity to him. The people are constantly encouraged to pursue piety and virtue, with the promise of receiving temporal recompense : under a theocracy, such a system would naturally be adopted. What higher inducements could be held out to a people who were ignorant of a future state of existence, and whose hopes were bounded by the grave ? Experience, however, continually disappointed their expectations, and observation did not fail at length to convince them that the morally good are not always the most successful in life, nor the wicked the

* The later Jewish and Samaritan translators, from an anxious apprehension lest a corporeal existence should be attributed to the Deity, frequently substitute the expression angel of God for the names Jehovah and Elohim. Thus, in the Samaritan version of the Pentateuchinstead of “ Ye shall be as Gods,"

Gen. iii. 5. it is said, “ Ye shall be as the angels of God.

made it is said, « In the likeness of the arget of God made he him.»} Gen. v. 1. instead of “ Enoch was not, for God took him,"

took him."} Gen. v. 24. “ went , it is said, “ The angel of God went up from Abraham.;} Gen. xvii. 22.

Saadias, in his Arabian version of the Pentateuch, has the following renderings:

“ Ye shall be as the angels.—Gen. iii. 5. And the angel of God came down to see the city and the tower.”—Gen. xi. 5. The angel of God went his way.—Gen. xvii. 33. For to day the angel of God will appear unto you.—Lev. ix. 4.

The various Chaldee paraphrasts have made similar alterations; but, instead of saying the “ angel of God,they substitute, sometimes, the word of Jehovah;" sometimes the " Shekinah," that is, the abode of the Word of Jehovahhis visible presence.

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »