ISRAEL, RELIGION OF, 2 [ISBE]
ISRAEL, RELIGION OF, 2
- 3. The Religion of Israel before the 8th Century BC:
(1) Decay of Religion in Canaan.
Upon the intense religious feeling produced by the exodus from Egypt and the events at Mt. Sinai, there followed a relapse, in connection with which it appears that in this Mosaic generation the cruder tendencies were still too pronounced to endure the great trial of faith demanded by the conquest of the land of Canaan. In the same way, the heroic struggles of Joshua, carried on under the directions of Yahweh and resulting in the conquest of the country, were followed by a reaction. The zeal for battle weakened; the work of conquest was left unfinished; the people arranged to make themselves at home in the land before it had really been won; peace was concluded with the inhabitants. This decay of theocratic zeal and the occupation of the land by the side of and among the Canaanites had a direful influence on the Yahweh-religion as it had been taught the people by Moses. The people adopted the sanctuaries of the country as their own, instead of rooting them out entirely. They took part in the festivals of their neighbors and adopted their customs of worship, including those that were baneful. The local Baals, in whose honor harvest and autumn festivals were celebrated as thanksgiving for their having given the products of the earth, were in many places worshipped by the Israelites. The possibility of interpreting the name Baal in both a good and bad sense favored the excuse that in doing this the people were honoring Yahweh, whom in olden times they also unhesitatingly called their Baal, as their Lord and the master of the land and of the people. By the side of the Yahweh-altars they placed the Asherah, the sacred tree, really as a symbol of the goddess of this name; and the stone pillars (chammanim), which the original inhabitants had erected near their sanctuaries, were also held in honor, while the heathen ideas associated with them thereby found their way into the religious consciousness of the people. Sorcery, necromancy, and similar superstitions crept in. And since, even as it was, a good deal of superstition had continued to survive among the people, there came into existence, in the period of the Judges, a type of popular religion that was tinged by a pronounced heathenism and had but little in common with theocratical principles of Moses, although the people had no intention of discarding the God of Moses. Characteristic of this religious syncretism during the time of the Judges was the rise of the worship of images dedicated to Yahweh in Dan (Jdg 17 and 18) and probably also at Ophrah (Jdg 8:27), as also human sacrifices (Jdg 11).
(2) The Theocratic Kingdom.
But during this period pronounced reactions to the true worship of Yahweh were not lacking. The heroes who appeared on the arena as liberators from the yoke of the oppressors recalled the people to Yahweh, as was done likewise by the prophets and prophetesses. Samuel, the greatest among this class, was at the same time a prophet and reformer. He again brought the people together and tried to free them from the contamination of heathenism, in accordance with the
Mosaic ordinances, and at the same time prepared for a new future by the establishment of colonies of prophets and by the establishment of the kingdom. This latter innovation seemed to be at variance with the principles of a strict theocracy. It is the merit of Samuel that he created theocratic kingdom, by which the anointed of Yahweh himself was to become an important agent of the supreme rule of Yahweh. It is indeed true that the first king, Saul, did not realize this ideal, but his successor, David, appreciated it all the more. And even if David was far from realizing the ideal of a theocratic king, he nevertheless continued to be the model which prophecy tried to attain, namely, a king who was personally and most intimately connected with Yahweh, and who, as the servant of Yahweh, was to realize entirely in his own person the mission of the people to become the servants of Yahweh, and was thus to furnish the guaranty for the harmony between Israel and their God, and bring rich and unalloyed blessings upon the land.
(3) Religious Ideals of the Psalms from the Time of David.
In this way the covenant-relation became a personal one through "the anointed one of Yahweh." In general, religion in Israel became more personal in character in the days of the earlier kings. Before this time the collective relation to God prevailed. Only as a member of the tribe or of the nation was the individual connected with Yahweh, which fact does not exclude the idea that this God, for the very reason that He rules according to ethical principles, also regards the individual and grants him His special protection and requites to him good or evil according to his deeds. The Hebrew hymns or "psalms," which David originated, give evidence of a more intimate association of the individual with his God.
The very oldest of these psalms, a number of which point to David as their author, are not liturgical congregational hymns, but were originally individual prayer-songs, which emanated from personal experiences, but were, in later times, employed for congregational use. The prejudice, that only in later times such expressions of personal piety could be expected, is refuted by analogous cases among other nations, especially by the much more ancient penitential and petitionary prayers of the Babylonians, in which, as a rule, the wants of the individual and not those of the nation constitute the contents. These Babylonian penitential prayers show that among this people, too, the feeling of guilt as the cause of misfortune was very vivid, and that they regarded repentance and confession as necessary in order to secure the forgiveness of the gods. However, the more exalted character of the Israelite conception of God appears in a most pronounced way in this comparison, since the Babylonian feels his way in an uncertain manner in order to discover what god or goddess he may have offended, and not rarely tries to draw out the sympathy of the one divinity over against the wrath of another. But much more can this difference be seen in this, that the heathen singer is concerned only to get rid of the evil or the misfortune that oppresses him. The communion with his god whose favor he seeks to regain is in itself of no value for him. In David's case the matter is altogether different, as he knows that he is bound to Yahweh by a covenant of love (Ps 18:2), and his heart delights in this communion, more than it does in all earthly possessions (Ps 4:8); and this is even more so in the case of the author of Ps 73:25-26. Such words would, for good reasons, be unthinkable in the case of a Babylonian psalmist.
In the times of those earliest kings of Israel, which, externally, constituted the most flourishing period in their history, unless tradition is entirely at fault, the spiritual world of thought also was enriched by the Wisdom literature of the Proverbs, the earliest examples of which date back to Solomon.
(4) Wisdom Literature from the Time of Solomon.
This chokhmah, or Wisdom literature, is marked by the peculiarity that it ignores the special providential guidance of Israel and their extraordinary relation to their God, and confines itself more to the general revelation of God in Nature and in the history of mankind, but in doing this regards the fear of God as the beginning of wisdom, and at all times has the practical purpose of exhorting to a moral and God-pleasing life. The idea that this cosmopolitan tendency is to be attributed to Greek influences, and accordingly betrays a later period as the time of its origin, is to be rejected, as far as Proverbs and Job are concerned. The many passages in Prov that speak of conduct over against the king show a pre-exilic origin. The universalistic character of this literature must be explained on other grounds. It resulted from this, that this proverb-wisdom is not the sole, exclusive property of Israel and was not first cultivated among them, but was derived from abroad. The Edomites were especially conspicuous in this respect, as the Book of Job shows, in which the Israelite author introduces as speakers masters of this art from this tribe and others adjoining it. We can also compare the superscriptions in Prov 30:1; 31:1, in which groups of proverbs from Arabian principalities are introduced. Accordingly, this wisdom was regarded as a common possession of Israel and of their neighbors. This is probably the reason why the authors of this class of literature refrain from national reference and reminiscences. That the liberal-minded Solomon was the one to introduce this proverb-wisdom, or at any rate cultivated it with special favor, is in itself probable, and is confirmed by the fact that the Queen of Sheba (South Arabia) came to Jerusalem in order to listen to his wisdom. But this also presupposes that in her country a similar class of wisdom was cultivated. This was also the case in Egypt in very early antiquity, and in Egyptian literature we have collections of proverbs that remind us of the proverbs of Solomon (compare Transactions of the Third International Congress of the History of Religions, Oxford, 1908, I, 284 ff; see WISDOM).
(5) The Sanctuary on Mt. Zion.
The kingdom of David and of Solomon not only externally marks the highest development of the history of Israel, but intellectually, too, prepared the soil out of which henceforth the religious life of the nation drew its sustenance. It was especially under David a significant matter, that at this time the higher spiritual powers were in harmony with the political. This found its expression in the Divine election of David and his seed, which was confirmed by prophetical testament (2 Sam 7). Hand in hand with this went the selection of Mt. Zion as the dwelling-place of Yahweh. David, from the beginning, was desirous of establishing here theocratical center of the people, as he had shown by transferring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. In the same way Solomon, by the erection of the Temple, sought to strengthen and suitably equip this central seat. As a matter of course, the sacred shrines throughout the land did not thereby at once lose their significance. But the erection of the sanctuary in Jerusalem was not at all intended to establish a "royal chapel" for the king, as Wellhausen has termed this structure, but it claimed the inheritance of the tabernacle in Shiloh, and the prophets sanctioned this claim.
(6) The Religion of the Kingdom of Ephraim.
The division of the kingdom after the death of Solomon which, as it was, had not been too large, proved politically disastrous. It also entailed a retrogression in religious matters. The centralizing tendencies of the preceding reigns were thwarted. Jeroboam erected other sacred shrines; especially did he make Bethel a "king's sanctuary" (Am 7:13). At the same time he encouraged religious syncretism. It is true that the gold-covered images of heifers (by the prophets, in derision, called "calves") were intended only to represent the Covenant-God Yahweh. However, this representation in the form of images, an idea which the king no doubt had brought back with him from his sojourn in Egypt, was a concession to the corrupt religious instincts in the nation, and gave to the Ephraimitic worship an inferior character in comparison with the service in the Temple in Jerusalem, where no images were to be found. But in other respects, too, the arbitrary conduct of the king in the arrangement of the cults proved to be a potent factor in the Northern Kingdom from the beginning. The opposition of independent prophets was suppressed with all power. Nevertheless, the prophetic agitation continued to be a potent spiritual factor, which the kings themselves could not afford to ignore.
This proved to be the case particularly when the dynasty of Omri, who established a new capital city, Samaria, openly favored the introduction of Phoenician idolatry. Ahab's wife, Jezebel, even succeeded in having a magnificent temple erected in the new capital to her native Baal, and in crushing the opposition of the prophets who were faithful to Yahweh. It now became a question of life and death, so far as the religion of Yahweh was concerned. The struggle involved not only certain old heathen customs in the religion of the masses, dating back to the occupation of Canaan, but it was the case of an invasion of a foreign and heathen god, with a clearly defined purpose. His voluptuous worship was not at all in harmony with the serious character of the Mosaic religion, and it seriously menaced, in a people naturally inclined to sensuality, the rule of the stringent and holy God of Mt. Sinai. The tricky and energetic queen was already certain that she had attained her purpose, when an opponent arose in the person of Elijah, who put all her efforts to naught.
(7) Elijah and Elisha.
In his struggle with the priests of Baal, who deported themselves after the manner of modern dervishes, we notice particularly the exalted and dignified conception of God in 1 Ki 18. When in this chapter Yahweh and Baal are contrasted, the idea of Elijah is by no means that these gods have in their own territory the same rights as Yahweh in Canaan and Israel. Elijah mocks this Baal because he is no God at all (18:21), and the whole worship of the priests convinces him that they are not serving a real and true God, but only the product of their imagination (18:27). This is monotheism, and certainly not of a kind that has only recently been acquired and been first set up by Elijah, but one that came down from the days of Moses. Elijah proves himself to be a witness and an advocate of the God of Sinai, who has been betrayed in a treacherous manner. The fact that he inflicts a dire and fateful punishment on the idolatrous priests of Baal is also in perfect agreement with the old, stringent, Mosaic, legal code. Only such severity could atone for the fearful crime against the God of the country and of the covenant, and could save the people from apostasy. However, theophany at Mt. Sinai (1 Ki 19:11 ff) shows clearly that not His external and fearful power, but His calm and deep character was felt by Elijah to be the distinguishing mark of his God. His successor, Elisha, after the storm had cleared the religious atmosphere in the country, in the performance of his prophetic duties was able again to show forth more emphatically the fatherly care and the helpful, healing love of his God.
In general, the political retrogression of the nation and the opposition of those in power, which the prophets and the faithful worshippers of Yahweh in later times were compelled to experience often enough, served greatly to intensify and to spiritualize their religion. The unfortunate situation of the present, and the weaknesses and failures in the actual state of theocracy, directed their eyes to the future. The people began to study the wonderful ways of God in dealing with His people, and they began to look to the end of these dealings. A proof of this is found in the comprehensive accounts contained in the old history of the covenant-people as recorded in the Pentateuchal documents E and J, which were composed during this period. Whether these extend beyond and later than the period of Joshua or not, can remain an open question. In any case, there existed written accounts also concerning the times of the Judges, and concerning the history of Samuel, David and Solomon, which in part were written down soon after the events they record, and which, because of their phenomenal impartiality, point to an exceptionally high prophetic watchtower from which the ways of God with His people were observed.
4. Development of the Religion of Israel from the 8th Century BC to the Exile:
(1) The Writing Prophets.
The spiritual development of the deeper Israelite religion was the business of the prophets. At the latest, from the 8th century BC, and probably from the middle of the 9th, we have in written form their utterances and discourses. Larger collections of such prophecies were certainly left by Amos and Hosea. These prophets stood entirely on the basis of the revelations which by Moses had been made the foundation of Israel's religion. But in contrast to the superficial and mistaken idea of the covenant of Yahweh entertained by their contemporaries, these prophets make clear the true intentions of this covenant, and at the same time, through their new inspiration, advance the religious knowledge of the people.
(2) Their Opposition to the Cult.
This appears particularly in their rejection of the external and unspiritual cult of their age. Over against the false worship of God, which thinks to satisfy God by the offering of sacrifices, they proclaim the true worship, which consists above all things in the fulfillment of the duties of the law and of love toward their fellow-men. They denounce as a violation of the covenant not only idolatry, the worship of strange gods, and the heathen symbols and customs which, in the course of time, had crept into the service of Yahweh, but they declare also that the religion which is based solely on the offering of sacrifices is worthless, since God, who is in no way dependent on any services rendered by men, does not care for such sacrifices, but is concerned about this, that His commands be observed, and that these consist above all things in righteousness, uprightness in the dealings of man with man, and in mercy on the poor, the weak, the defenseless, who cannot secure justice for themselves. (Compare e.g., 1 Sam 15:22; Hos 6:6; Isa 1:11 ff; Jer 7:21 ff, and other passages equally pointed. See on this subject, J. Robertson, Early Religion, etc., 440 ff.) Such a transfer of the center of religion from the cult to practical ethical life has no analogy whatever in other Semitic and ancient religions. Yet it is not something absolutely new, but is a principle that has developed out of the foundation laid by Moses, while it is in most pronounced contrast to the common religious sentiments of mankind. The prophetic utterances that condemn the unthinking and the unconsecrated cult must not be misunderstood, as though Isaiah, Jeremiah and others had been modern spiritualists, who rejected all external forms of worship. In this case they would have ceased to be members of their own people and children of their own times. What they absolutely reject is only the false trust put in an opus operatum, i.e. a mechanical performance of religious rites, which had been substituted for the real and heartfelt exercise of religion. Then, too, we are not justified in drawing from passages such as Jer 7:22 the conclusion that at this time there did not yet exist in written form a Mosaic sacrificial code. Such a code is found even in the Book of the Covenant, recognized by critics as an older Pentateuch document (Ex 20 through 23; 34), and the fact that the Sabbath commandment is found in the Decalogue does not prevent Isaiah from writing what he has penned in 1:13,14. That at this period, already, there were extant many written ordinances is demanded by Hos 8:12, and the connection shows that cult ordinances are meant. We must accordingly take the prophet's method of expression into consideration, which delights in absolute contrasts in cases where we would speak relatively. But this is not intended to weaken the boldness of the prophetic thoughts, which purpose to express sharp opposition to the religious ideas current at that time.
(3) Their Preaching of the Judgment.
The conception of God and Divine things on the part of the prophets was the logical development of the revelations in the days of Moses, and after that time, concerning the nature and the activity of God. The God of the prophets is entirely a personal and living God, i.e. He enters into the life of man. His holiness is exaltation above Nature and the most pronounced antagonism to all things unclean, to sin. Sin is severely dealt with by God, especially, as has already been mentioned, the sin of showing no love and no mercy to one's neighbor. Because they are saturated with this conviction of the absolute holiness of God, the preexilic prophets proclaim to their people more than anything else the judgment which shall bring with it the dissolution of both kingdoms and the destruction of Samaria and of Jerusalem, together with its temple. First, its destruction is proclaimed to the Northern Kingdom; later on to the Southern. In doing this, these inspired men testify that Yahweh is not inseparably bound to His people. Rather He Himself calls the destroyer to come, since all the nations of the world are at His command.
(4) Their Messianic Promises.
However, the prophets never conclude purely negatively, but they always see on the horizon some rays of hope, which promise to a "remnant" of the people better times. A "day of Yahweh" is coming, when He will make His final settlement with the nations, after they have carried out His judgment on His people. Then, after the destruction of the Gentileworld, He will establish His rule over the world. This fundamental thought, which appears again and again with constantly increasing clearness, often takes the form that a future king out of the house of David, in whom the idea of the "anointed of Yahweh" has been perfectly realized, will first establish in Judah-Israel a pure rule of God, and then also gain the supremacy of the world. Some critics have claimed that all of these Messianic and eschatological predictions date from the postexilic period. In recent years a reaction against this view has set in, based on the belief that in Egypt and Babylonia also similar expectations are found at an early period. These promises, when they are more clearly examined, are found to be so intimately connected with the other prophecies of Isaiah, Hosea, and others, that to separate them would be an act of violence. In their most magnificent character, these pictures of the future are found in Isaiah, while in Jeremiah their realization and spiritualization have progressed farther.
While the prophets are characterized by higher religious ideas and ideals, the religion of the masses was still strongly honeycombed with cruder and even heathen elements. Yet there were not totally wanting among the common people those who listened to these prophetic teachers. And especially in Judea there were times when, favored by pious kings, this stricter and purer party obtained the upper hand. This was particularly the case under the kings Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, and Josiah. During the reigns of these kings the cult was reformed. Hezekiah and Josiah attacked particularly the local sanctuaries and their heathen worship (called bamoth), and concentrated the sacrificial cult in Jerusalem. In doing this they were guided by the faithful priests and prophets and by the ancient Mosaic directions. Josiah, who, more thoroughly than others, fought against the disintegration of the Yahweh-cultus, found his best help in the newly-discovered Book of the Law (Deuteronomy). That the sacrifices should be made at one place had been, as we saw, an old Mosaic arrangement. However, Moses had foreseen that local altars would be erected at places where special revelations had been received from Yahweh (Ex 20:24-25). In this way the numerous altars at Bethel, on Carmel, and elsewhere could claim a certain justification, only they were not entitled to the same rank as the central sanctuary, where the Ark of the Covenant stood and where the sons of Aaron performed their priestly functions. Deuteronomy demands more stringently that all real sacrificial acts shall be transferred to this central point. This rule Josiah carried out strictly. The suppression of the current sacrifices on high places by the fall of the Northern Kingdom aided in effecting the collapse of such shrines, while the sanctuary in Jerusalem, because it was delivered from the attack of the Assyrians, won a still greater recognition.
(6) Destruction of Jerusalem.
However, immediately after the death of Josiah, the apostasy from Yahweh again set in. The people thought that they had been deserted by Him, and they now more than before sought refuge in an appeal to a mixture of gods derived from Babylonia, Egypt, Persia and elsewhere. Ezek 8 and 9 describe this syncretism which made itself felt even in the temple-house in Jerusalem. The people were incapable of being made better and were ripe for destruction. The temple, too, which it was thought by many could not be taken, was doomed to be destroyed from its very foundations.
5. The Babylonian Exile:
(1) Spiritual Purification through the Exile.
A mighty change in the religion of Israel was occasioned by the deportation of the wealthier and better educated Jews to Babylon and their sojourn there for a period of about 50 years, and by the still longer stay of a large portion of the exiles in this country. The nation was thus cut off from the roots of the native heathendom in Palestine and also from the external organization of theocracy. This brought about a purification and a spiritualization, which proved to be a great benefit for later times, when the political manifestation of their religious life had ceased, and the personal element came more into the foreground. Jeremiah and Ezekiel emphasize, each in his own way, the value of this religion for the individual. A spiritual communion came into being during the Exile, which found its bond of union in the word of Yahweh, and which insisted on serving God without a temple and external sacrificial cult (which, however, was still found among the exiles in Egypt). Separated from their homes, they collected all the more diligently the sacred memories and traditions, to which Ezekiel's plans for the temple belong. Their sacred literature, the Torah or Law, the prophetical books, the historical writings, the Psalms, and other literature were collected, and in this way preparations were made for the following period.
(2) Relations to the Gentile World.
The most earnest classes of Jews, at least, absolutely declined to have anything to do with the Babylonian religion and worship. They saw here the worship of images in its most repulsive and sensual form, and they also learned its absolute impotency when the haughty Chaldean empire was overthrown. Deutero-Isaiah (Isa 40 through 66) shows that the Israelites now become more conscious than ever of the great value of their own religion with its Creator of heaven and earth over against this variegated Pantheon of changeable gods in forms of wood and metal images. From this time on, the glory of the Creator of the universe and His revelation in the works of Nature were lauded and magnified with a new zeal and more emphatically than ever before. This same prophet, however, proclaims also the new fact of the mission-call of Israel among the nations of the world. This people, he declares, is to become the instrument of Yahweh to make the Gentiles His spiritual subjects. But as this people in its present condition is little fit for this great service, he sees with his prophetic eye a perfect "Servant of Yahweh," who carries out this mission, a personal, visible "Servant of Yahweh," who establishes the rule of God upon earth, by becoming, in the first place, for Israel a second Moses and Joshua, but who then, too, wins over the heathen nations by this message. He accordingly takes the place of the prophesied future Son of David. However, He is not a personal ruler, but carries out His work through mere spiritual power and in lowliness and weakness. Indeed, His suffering and death become the atonement to wipe out the guilt of His people (Isa 53). We can see in this further development of the deepening and spiritualization of the eschatological hopes how strongly the unaccustomed misfortunes and surroundings of the exiles had influenced them. Notwithstanding all their antagonism to the aberrations of the heathen world, the Israelites yet learned that among the Gentiles there was also some receptivity for the higher truths. The worshippers of Yahweh felt themselves more akin to the Persians than to the Babylonians, as the former served without images a god which was conceived as one and as an exalted divine being. Thoughts taken from Parsiism are also found in the later literature of Israel, although it is not the case that the idea of Satan was first taken from this source. The doctrine of the resurrection of the dead for the judgment also can be gained from Old Testament premises. However, the religion of the Babylonians was not without influence on that of the Jews. It is indeed out of the question that it was only during the Exile that the Jews took over the accounts of the Creation and the Deluge and others similar to the Babylonian, as these are found in Gen 1 through 11. But the development of the angelology shows the evidences of later Babylonian and Persian influences. And especially does demonology play a more important role in post-exilic times than ever before, particularly about the beginnings of the Christian era. Magic art, too, entered largely into the faith of later Judaism, and it can be shown that both of these came from Babylonian sources.
6. Religion of the Post-exilic Period:
(1) Life under the Law.
The people which returned from the Exile was a purified congregation of Yahweh, willing to serve Him. They aimed to re-establish theocracy. This latter had not, indeed, because of the loss of the political independence of the people, the same importance as formerly, but the religious cult and the religious life of the people were all the more stringently observed. The post-exilic period is characterized by religious legalism. The people were exceedingly zealous in observing the old ordinances, and tried to find righteousness in the correctness with which the Mosaic law was observed, as this was now demanded by the teachers of this law. The prophet of the Exile, Ezekiel, had taken the lead in this particular, and had laid great emphasis on the formal ordinances, although in connection with this he also insisted upon real moral earnestness. But it was an easy matter that in the course of time an external work-righteousness and petrifaction of true religion should arise. Yet the later prophets, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, even if they do ascribe a greater importance to external matters than the preexilic prophets did, show that they are the spiritual heirs of these earlier seers. They teach a healthy ethical and sanctifying type of practical religion and continue to proclaim the hopes for an expansion and spiritualization of the Kingdom of God. The leaders of these times, Zerubbabel, Ezra, Nehemiah, show a pronouncedly antagonistic attitude toward the neighboring nations and also toward those inhabitants of the country who did not live under the law. However, their intolerance, especially toward the Samaritans, can be readily understood from the principle of the self-preservation of the people of Yahweh. #The law came to be the subject of the most careful study, and the teachers of the law collected, even to the minutest details, the oral traditions with reference to its meaning and to the proper observance of the different demands, so that already before the time of Christ they were in possession of an extensive tradition, which was afterward put down in written form in the Mishna. The writing of history was also carefully cultivated. The Books of Chronicles show from what viewpoint they described the past; the temple and the cult were the center of interest. In the same way the psalm-poetry, especially the temple-song, flourished again. These later hymns are pretty and regular, but no longer show the bold spirit of the older psalms. In many cases, older songs are made use of in these later hymns in a new way. Of the proverb-literature of the later post-exilic times, the The Wisdom of Solomon of Jesus Sirach, or Ecclesiasticus, is an instructive example. Notwithstanding its great similarity to the old Proverbs, the prevailing and leading points of view have become different in character. The conception of Wisdom has assumed a specifically Jewish and theocratic character.
But the Jewish exclusiveness found a dangerous opponent, especially from the days of Alexander the Great, in the new Hellenism. Hellenistic language, culture, customs and world ideas overwhelmed Palestine also. While the Pious (chacidhim) all the more anxiously fortified themselves behind their ordinances, the worldly-minded gave themselves up fully to the influence that came from without. In the first half of the 2nd century BC there arose, as a consequence, a bloody struggle against the inroads of this heathendom, when Antiochus Epiphanes undertook to suppress the religion of the Jews, and when the Asmoneans began their holy war against him.
(3) Pharisees and Sadducees.
But within the people of Israel itself there were found two parties, one strict and the other lax in the observance of the law. The leaders of the former were the highly popular Pharisees, who, according to their name, were the "Separatists," separated from the common and lawless masses. They tried to surpass each other in their zeal for the traditional ordinances and pious observances. However, among them it was also possible to find real piety, although in the New Testament records, where they are described as taking a hostile attitude toward the higher and the highest form of Divine revelation, they appear at their worst. Their rivals, the Sadducees, were less fanatical in their observance of the demands of the law and more willing to compromise with the spirit of the times. To this party belonged many of the more prominent priests. But this party evinced less real religious life than did the Pharisees.
Then, too, in the time of Jesus, there were not lacking indications of the influence of foreign religions, as is apparent in the case of the Essenes. This party advocated dualistic ideas, as these are later found among the Mandeans.
(5) Positive Connections between Judaism and Hellenism.
In Alexandria a friendly exchange of ideas between Hellenism and Judaism was brought about. Here the Old Testament was translated into the Greek. This translation, known as the Septuagint (Septuagint), shows as yet but few signs of the Greek spirit; rather, a pronounced influence of legal and ritualistic Judaism. On the other hand, apologetical opposition to Hellenism appears to a more marked degree, among others, in the apocryphal work known as "Wisdom of Solomon," in which we find a positive defense of wisdom as the principle of revelation over against the Epicurean world wisdom of Hellenism. In doing this, the book leans on Platonism and Stoicism. The chokhmah, or wisdom of the old Jewish literature, has been Hellenized. Philo goes still farther in adapting Judaism to Greek taste and to humanism. A more liberal conception of inspiration also appears in the reception of contemporaneous literary products into the Old Testament Canon, even of some books which had originally been written in the Greek language. The means observed in adapting national Hebraism to Hellenistic universalism was the allegorical method of interpretation, which Philo practiced extensively and which then passed over to the Christian church Fathers of the Alexandrian school. This school constitutes the opposite extreme to the rabbinical, which clung most tenaciously to the letter of the sacred texts.
(6) Apocalyptic Literature.
A unique phenomenon at the close of the Biblical and in the earliest post-Biblical period is, finally, the APOCALYPTIC LITERATURE (which see). Since the days of the Maccabees we find the custom in certain Jewish circles, by using the old prophecies and adapting them to the events of the times, of drawing up a systematic picture of the future. The authorship of these writings was usually ascribed to one of the ancient saints, e.g. to Enoch, or Abraham, or Moses, or Elijah, or Solomon, or Baruch, or Ezra, or others. The model of these Apocalypses is the Book of Dnl, which, on the basis of older visions, in the times of the oppression by Antiochus Epiphanes, pictures, in grand simplicity, the development of the history of the world down to the final triumph of the Kingdom of God over the kingdoms of the world.
III. Conclusion: Characteristic Features of the Religion of Israel.
When we consider this whole development, it cannot be denied that the religion of Israel passed through many changes. It grew and purified and spiritualized itself out of its own inherent strength; but it also suffered many relapses, when hindering and corrupting influence gained the upper hand. But it received from without not only degenerating influences, but also much that inspired and developed its growth. Its original and native strength also shows itself in this, that without losing its real character it was able to appropriate to itself elements of truth from without and assimilate these.
1. The Living God:
If we ask what the specific and unique character of this religion was, by which it was distinguished from all other religions of antiquity, and by reason of which it alone was capable of producing from itself the highest revelation in Christ, it must be answered that its uniqueness lies, most of all, in its conception of God and of Divine things, and of God's relation to the world. The term "monotheism" but inadequately expresses this peculiarity; for monotheistic tendencies are found also in other nations, and in Israel monotheism often shows itself in a strongly corrupted form. The advantage of Israel lies in its close contact with the living God. From the beginning of Israel's history a strictly personal God gave testimony of Himself to different personalities with a decision which demanded absolute submission; and, in addition, this was a holy God, who elevated mankind above Nature and above themselves, a God who stood in the most absolute contrast to all that was impure or sinful, but at the same time was wonderful in His grace and His mercy to the sinner. This direct revelation of God to specially chosen bearers of the Divine truth goes through the entire history of Israel. Through this factor this religion was being constantly purified and unfolded further. The Israelites learned to conceive God in a more spiritual, correct, and universal manner, the more they advanced in experience and culture. But this God did not thereby become a mere abstract being, separated from mankind, as was the case with so many nations. He always continued to be a living God who takes an active part in the lives of men. We need notice only those prophets who describe the greatness of God in the grandest way, such as Hosea, Isaiah, Deutero-Isaiah, who depict also the personal life of God in the boldest way through anthropomorphisms.
2. The Relation of Man to This God:
In agreement with this, too, we find that this religion demands the personal subjection of men to God. As was the case with all the religions of antiquity, that of the Old Testament, of Man to too, was originally rather a tribal and a national religion than one of the individual. This brought with it the demand for the external observance of the tribal customs in the name of religion. However, the traditional customs and legal ordinances had already been sifted and purified by Moses. And, as a matter of necessity, in a religion of such a pronounced personal nature, the personal relation of the individual to God must become more and more a matter of importance. This idea became deeper and more spiritual in the course of time and developed into a pure love for God. It did not prevent this religion from becoming petrified, even during the Exile, when the doctrines and the cult were most correctly observed. But the vital kernels found embedded in the revelation of God constantly proved their power of rejuvenation. And at that very time when the petrified legalism of Pharisaism attained its most pronounced development, the most perfect fruit of this religion came forth from the old stem of the history of Israel, namely Christ, who unfolded Judaism and converted it into the religion of salvation for the entire world.
Of the literature on the religion of Israel we may yet make particular mention of the following: The textbooks on Old Testament Theology by Oehler, 1891 (also the English translation), of Dillmann, 1895. The Kuenen-Wellhausen school is represented by Kuenen, De Godsdienst van Israel, 1869 (also the English translation); Stade, Biblische Theologie des A T, 1905; Marti, Theologie des A T, 1903; Smend, Lehrbuch der A T Religionsgeschichte, 1899; compare also the works of Robertson Smith, especially his lectures on The Religion of the Semites. Against this radical school, see, in addition to the work of Dillmann, James Robertson, Early Religion of Israel, 1893. On the subject of Semitism in general, S.I. Curtiss, Ursemitische Religion im Volksleben des heutigen Orients, 1903 (also the English translation); Baethgen, Beltrage zur semitischen Religionsgeschichte, 1880; M.J. Lagrange, Etudes sur les religions semitiques, 1905. The relation of Israel to the Assyrian and Babylonian religions is discussed by Hugo Winckler in several works; compare also Fritz Hommel, Alttestamentliche Ueberlieferungen, 1897 (also the English translation); Sayce, The Higher Criticism and the Verdict of the Monuments, 1895; Alfred Jerermias, Das A Tim Lichte des alten Orients, 1906; a good brief summary is found in Sellin, Die A T Religion im Rahmen der andern Altorientalischen, 1908. Full details are given in Kautzsch, "Religion of Israel," in HDB, extra vol, 1904. For the last centuries before Christ see particularly, Schurer, Geschichte des judischen Volkes im Zeitalter Jesu Christi, 1907 (also English Translation). The modern Jewish standpoint is represented by Montefiore, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the History of the Ancient Hebrews, 1892.
C. von Orelli