« AnteriorContinuar »
GOD'S MERCIFUL DEALINGS WITH ISRAEL.
of the state. Already a beneficial change had taken place. Yet the people were still open to impeachment. At this point a series of visions is, in the true Oriental manner, brought into operation, in order to work to the desired result. Let it be premised that the civil and military power, as represented by Zerubbabel, is stanch for God and duty. Hardly can the same be said for either priest or people. Serious faults may be laid to their charge. Accordingly, Joshua the high-priest, the recognized representative as of the priesthood so of the people, appears in court in unclean raiments, denotative of the sins of his class and of the nation. Being placed in what in modern law usages is called the dock, the official accuser of God's court stands up and reads the indictment, which he illustrates and enforces. Thereupon God, the presiding Judge, moved by mercy, and by no means denying the inculpatory allegations, bestows a pardon, and in token of that grace commands the forgiven priest to be attired in holiday raiment. The order is obeyed, and festivities ensue.
Thus ends the first act of the drama.
Nevertheless, God's goodness, which naturally "leadeth to repentance" (Rom. ii. 4), fails of its due effect. Again the Jews transgress and again they suffer. Still there are hopeful signs, and God's goodness is inexhaustible. Another trial is conceded. Yea, favour is added to favour. Brilliant promises are held out. Zerubbabel "the Branch" shall rebuild the temple and bring back bright and prosperous days.
Here the curtain falls. And, such is the loving kindness of Jehovah, it falls in a sky so serene and charming as to promise a bright aurora on the morrow.
The passage, thus set forth and explained in its true light, totally shuts out Ahriman, and makes God supreme and alone in his dealings with his people Israel.
What, then, is the final result of our studies? Only the faintest trace (if any) is found of the sacerdotal Satan in the Old Testament, while the genuine Shemitic idea of God's sole and unshared sovereignty is distinctly and repeatedly
declared. Did space permit, I could easily follow this testimony up with illustrative implications, which, ascribing the moral government of the universe to God, exclude all and every partnership whatever.
One instance, however, of the extreme rigour with which the sole sovereignty of Jehovah was guarded in the Hebrew religious thought, is presented in 1 Kings xxii., where the lying spirit which misled Ahab to death in battle is expressly and emphatically stated to have been put into the deceptive prophets by Jehovah himself:
"The prophet of Jehovah, Micaiah, the son of Imlah, said: Hear the word of Jehovah: I saw Jehovah sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing by him on his right hand and on his left. And Jehovah said: Who will persuade Ahab that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-Gilead? And one said on this manner, and another said on that manner. And there came forth a spirit, and stood before Jehovah, and said, I will persuade him. And Jehovah said. unto him, Wherewith? And he said, I will go forth, and I will be a lying spirit in the mouth of his prophets. And he (Jehovah) said, Thou shalt persuade him, and prevail also; go forth and do so. Now therefore, lo! Jehovah hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these thy (Ahab's) prophets, and Jehovah hath spoken evil concerning thee."
Actuated by his prophets, who were actuated by Jehovah, Ahab, king of Israel, went forth and fell in battle against Syria at Ramoth-Gilead. His fall was made dishonourable and offensive, for the dogs licked up his blood. This intensely Shemitic narrative only too markedly preserves the sole sovereignty of Jehovah; only too markedly, I say; for the jealousy of Jehovah is here painted in colours so black and distressing as to ascribe to him qualities and acts commonly held to be characteristic of myself. But this is not the first nor the last time that sacerdotal caste-worship has thrown a funereal pall over the face of the Father of the universe.
66 THE FALL" A SPECULATIVE MYTH.
THE ARYAN OR PAGAN ELEMENT: THE FALL," AN ALLEGORY
I Now approach a theme of surpassing importance, not so much indeed in itself, as in the uses to which it has been turned. I allude to what is termed "the Fall of Man." Here is the great theological reservoir. The whole system of current orthodoxy lies in germ here. Here is the root which has produced the myriads of huge folio tomes of theology and theological philosophy which burden the shelves of libraries, small and great, public and private, all but innumerable. And here, finally, is the origin of the load of intellectual. difficulty, moral complication, religious anxiety, doubt and despair, which has lain, like a grim incubus, on the bosom of human beings whom Christ came to relieve, to liberate, and to make peaceful, for now nearly two thousand years. Yet this mountain of trouble and woe has been produced by theological speculators and visionary poets-has been, I say, produced and thrown up out of the mole-hill of a pagan myth.
The Shemitic monotheism never wholly lost its influence among the Israelites so long as they maintained their political and religious polity on their native land of Palestine. Yet did they not always keep themselves free from Gentile pollution. The fact is illustrated in the second account of creation given in Genesis ii. 4-iii. 24.
"The fall of man," as the ecclesiastical phrase runs, represents a serpent as the occasion which "brought death into the world and all our woe." But no one pretends that I am expressly named in the narrative. Yet had I formed an essential element in the Hebrew religion, and had I been considered as myself the seducer of Eve, I should, it is fair to presume, have appeared in my own proper person. "But," says speculative theology, "you are denoted under the symbol of the serpent." I admit that the serpent does appear as a
(6 THE FALL" A FIGURE OF SPEECH.
symbol of seduction. But then if the serpent is a symbol, the whole account must be symbolic, and if symbolic, it is not historical. Thus "the Fall" itself falls to the ground.
Do not suppose that this is the first time that what is called "the history of the Fall" has been pronounced a symbol. Philo, the great Jewish interpreter, expressly declares :* "These things are types shadowing forth some allegorical truth, according to some mystical application. The serpent is the symbol of bodily pleasure." With him, the Garden of Eden is the Divine Wisdom on one side, and on another a disposition to virtue in the human soul. The trees of Paradise are the offices and duties of life. The four streams are the four cardinal virtues, Prudence, Temperance, Fortitude and Justice. Man is desired to eat of the fruit of the trees of Paradise, because he must practise all the virtues. He is forbidden to taste of the tree of knowledge, because he must not abandon himself to vice, the evil of which is known only by its opposition to virtue. The death threatened in case of disobedience is that of the soul, &c. This allegorical method of explaining the Fall, though carried to extremes by Philo, was so satisfactory to the more early Christian Fathers, that they in general adopted it. Such is the averment of Dr. Geddes.t
In Dr. Geddes I have introduced a high ecclesiastical authority. I will also give you the opinions of a learned and cultivated layman. Mr. R. W. Mackay, in his well-written and instructive work on "The Progress of the Intellect as exemplified in the Religious Development of the Greeks and Hebrews," makes the following statements :
"Narrative and fable were the earliest and most appropriate vehicles of instruction. It was ever customary in the East to give an historical or narrative form to ideas and reason
* On the Creation of the World, sec. lvi.
The Holy Bible, faithfully translated by the Rev. Alexander Geddes, Vol. I. Preface, pp. vii, viii. 3 vols. 4to. London, 1792.
THE MYTHICAL SERPENT.
ings which would now be enunciated as abstract propositions. They told a pleasant story, and left the moral to be extracted by the ingenuity of the hearer or reader. The tendency to make fact subordinate to the moral is seen in many of the so-called historical books of the Hebrews. In the narrative
of the Fall, the object of the writer was to explain the great moral mystery, the origin of evil and the apparent estrangement from heaven; to account for the presumed connection of increase of knowledge with increase of misery; and, in particular, to reconcile the great penalty of death with Divine Justice. Subordinate to these greater points were the questions, Why is the earth covered with thorns and weeds? Whence the origin of clothing, of sexual shame and passion? Whence the infliction of labour; and how are we to justify the degraded condition of women in the East, or to account for the loathing so generally felt towards the serpent tribe ?" (II. 404, seq.)
Having thus explained the general character of the narrative, I take up several particulars on which a few explanatory words seem desirable; and first, the serpent. The serpent in view of the ancients had two sides of character. It is the bad which he wears in Genesis. Here, as often, the serpent is a symbol,-a symbol of subtleness, temptation, malevolence. These are exactly the qualities of Ahriman.
As a symbol of evil, the serpent* appears among the emblems of Seva-Roudra, the Hindoo power of desolation and death. It gnaws the roots of the tree of life in the Eddas, and bites the heel of the unfortunate Eurydice. Generally in Hebrew writers it is a type of evil (Ps. lviii. 4, cxl. 3 ; Prov. xxiii. 32; Eccles. x. 8, 11; Sirach xxi. 2, xii. 13), and is particularly so in the Indian and Persian mythologies. When the sea is
churned by Mount Mandur, rotating within cosmical serpent, to produce the Amrita or
the coils of the water of immor
tality, the serpent vomits a hideous poison, which spreads
Compare the comment in Bunsen's Bibelwerk, I., Gen. iii. 1, seq.