THE EVOLUTION OF THEOLOGY: AN ANTHROPOLOGICAL STUDY
[Extracted from The Nineteenth Century (March/April 1890), pp. 346-65, 485-506.]
I CONCEIVE that the origin, the growth, the decline, and the fall of those speculations respecting the existence, the powers, and the dispositions of beings analogous to men, but more or less devoid of corporeal qualities, which may be broadly included under the head of theology, are phenomena the study of which legitimately falls within the province of the anthropologist. And it is purely as a question of anthropology (a department of biology to which, at various times, I have given a good deal of attention) that I propose to treat of the evolution of theology in the following pages.
With theology as a code of dogmas which are to be believed, or at any rate repeated, under penalty of present or future punishment, or as a storehouse of anaesthetics for those who find the pains of life too hard to bear, I have nothing to do; and, so far as it may be possible, I shall avoid the expression of any opinion as to the objective truth or falsehood of the systems of theological speculation of which I may find occasion to speak. From my present point of view, theology is regarded as a natural product of the operations of the human mind, under the conditions of its existence, just as any other branch of science, or the arts of architecture, or music, or painting are such products. Like them, theology has a history. Like them also, it is to be met with in certain simple and rudimentary forms; and these can be connected by a multitude of gradations, which exist or have existed, among people of various ages and races, with the most highly developed theologies of past and present times. It is not my object to interfere, even in the slightest degree, with beliefs which anybody holds sacred; or to alter the conviction of any one who is of opinion that, in dealing with theology, we ought to be guided by considerations different from those which would be thought appropriate if the problem lay in the province of chemistry or of mineralogy. And if people of these ways of thinking choose to read beyond the present paragraph, the responsibility for meeting with anything they may dislike rests with them and not with me.
We are all likely to be more familiar with the theological history of the Israelites than with that of any other nation. We may therefore fitly make it the first object of our studies; and it will be convenient to commence with that period which lies between the invasion [p.347] of Canaan and the early days of the monarchy, and answers to the eleventh and twelfth centuries B.C. or thereabouts. The evidence on which any conclusion as to the nature of Israelitic theology in those days must be based is wholly contained in the Hebrew Scriptures an agglomeration of documents which certainly belong to very different ages, but of the exact dates and authorship of any one of which (except perhaps a few of the prophetical writings) there is no evidence, either internal or external, so far as I can discover, of such a nature as to justify more than a confession of ignorance, or, at most, an approximate conclusion. In this venerable record of ancient life, miscalled a book, when it is really a library comparable to a selection of works from English literature between the times of Beda and those of Milton, we have the stratified deposits (often confused and even with their natural order inverted) left by the stream of the intellectual and moral life of Israel during many centuries. And, embedded in these strata, there are numerous remains of forms of thought which once lived, and which, though often unfortunately mere fragments, are of priceless value to the anthropologist. Our task is to rescue these from their relatively unimportant surroundings, and by careful comparison with existing forms of theology to make the dead world which they record live again. In other words, our problem is palæontological, and the method pursued must be the same as that employed in dealing with other fossil remains.
Among the richest of the fossiliferous strata to which I have alluded are the books of Judges and Samuel.1 It has often been observed that these writings stand out, in marked relief from those which precede and follow them, in virtue of a certain archaic freshness and 'of a greater freedom from traces of late interpolation and editorial trimming. Jephthah, Gideon and Samson are men of old heroic stamp, who would look as much in place in a Norse Saga as where they are; and if the varnish-brush of later respectability has passed over these memoirs of the mighty men of a wild age, here and there, it has not succeeded in effacing, or even in seriously obscuring, the essential characteristics of the theology traditionally ascribed to their epoch.
There is nothing that I have met with in the results of Biblical criticism
inconsistent with the conviction that these books give us a fairly trustworthy
account of Israelitic life and thought in the times which they cover; and, as
such, apart from the great literary merit of many of their episodes, they
possess the interest of being perhaps [p.348] the oldest genuine history, as apart
from mere chronicles on the one hand and mere legends on the other, at present
accessible to us.
But it is often said with exultation by writers of one party, and often admitted, more or less unwillingly, by their opponents, that these books are untrustworthy, by reason of being full of obviously unhistoric tales. And, as a notable example, the narrative of Saul's visit to the so-called "witch of Endor" is often cited. As I have already intimated, I have nothing to do with theological partisanship, either heterodox or orthodox, nor, for my present purpose, does it matter very much whether the story is historically true, or whether it merely shows what the writer believed ; but, looking at the matter solely from the point of view of an anthropologist, I beg leave to express the opinion that the account of Saul's necromantic expedition is quite consistent with probability. That is to say, I see no reason whatever to doubt, firstly, that Saul made such a visit ; and, secondly, that he and all who were present, including the wise woman of Endor herself, would have given, with entire sincerity, very much the same account of the business as that which we now read in the twenty-eighth chapter of the first book of Samuel; and I am further of opinion that this story is one of the most important of those fossils, to which I have referred, in the material which it offers for the reconstruction of the theology of the time. Let us therefore study it attentively—not merely as a narrative which, in the dramatic force of its gruesome simplicity, is not surpassed, if it is equalled, by the witch scenes in Macbeth—but as a piece of evidence bearing on an important anthropological problem.
We are told (1 Sam. xxviii.) that Saul, encamped at Gilboa, became alarmed by the strength of the Philistine army gathered at Shunem. He therefore "inquired of Jahveh," but "Jahveh answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urirn, nor by prophets."2 Thus deserted by Jahveh, Saul, in his extremity, bethought him of "those that had familiar spirits, and the wizards," whom he is said, at some previous time, to have "put out of the land"; but who seem, nevertheless, to have been very imperfectly banished, since Saul's servants, in answer to his command to seek him a woman "that hath a familiar spirit," reply without a sign of hesitation or of fear, "Behold, there is a woman that hath a familiar spirit at Endor"; just as, in some parts of England, a countryman might tell any one who did not look like a magistrate or a policeman, where a "wise woman" was to be met with. Saul goes to this woman, who, after being assured of immunity, asks, "Whom shall I bring up to thee?" whereupon Saul says, "Bring me up Samuel." The woman immediately sees an apparition. But to Saul nothing is visible, for he asks, "What seest thou?" And the woman replies, "I see Elohim coming up out of the earth." Still the spectre remains invisible to Saul, for he asks, "What form is he of?" And [p.349] she replies, "An old man cometh up, and he is covered with a robe." So far, therefore, the wise woman unquestionably plays the part of a "medium," and Saul is dependent upon her version of what happens.
The account continues:—
And Saul perceived that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground and did obeisance. And Samuel said to Saul, Why hast thou disquieted me to bring me up? And Saul answered, I am sore distressed: for the Philistines make war against me, and Elohim is departed from me and answereth me no more, neither by prophets nor by dreams; therefore I have called thee that thou mayest make known unto me what I shall do. And Samuel said, Wherefore then dost thou ask of me, seeing that Jahveh is departed from thee and is become thine adversary? And Jahveh hath wrought for himself, as he spake by me, and Jahveh hath rent the kingdom out of thine hand and given it to thy neighbour, even to David. Because thou obeyedst not the voice of Jahveh and didst not execute his fierce wrath upon Amalek, therefore hath Jahveh done this thing unto thee this day. Moreover, Jahveh will deliver Israel also with thee into the hands of the Philistines; and to-morrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me: Jahveh shall deliver the host of Israel also into the hand of the Philistines. Then Saul fell straightway his full length upon the earth and was sore afraid because of the words of Samuel ... (v. 14-20).
The statement that Saul "perceived" that it was Samuel is not to be taken to imply that, even now, Saul actually saw the shade of the prophet, but only that the woman's allusion to the prophetic mantle and to the aged appearance of the spectre convinced him that it was Samuel. Reuss3 in fact translates the passage "Alors Saul reconnut que c'etait Samuel." Nor does the dialogue between Saul and Samuel necessarily, or probably, signify that Samuel spoke otherwise than by the voice of the wise woman. The Septuagint does not hesitate to call her έγγαστρίμυθος, that is to say, a ventriloquist, implying that it was she who spoke and this view of the matter is in harmony with the fact that the exact sense of the Hebrew words whicli are translated as "a woman that hath a familiar spirit" is "a woman mistress of Ob." Ob means primitively a leather bottle, such as a wine skin, and is applied alike to the necromancer and to the spirit evoked. Its use, in these senses, appears to have been suggested by the likeness of the hollow sound emitted by a half-empty skin when struck, to the sepulchral tones in which the oracles of the evoked spirits were uttered by the medium. It is most probable that, in accordance with the general theory of spiritual influences which obtained among the old Israelites, the spirit of Samuel was conceived to pass into the body of the wise woman, and to use her vocal organs to speak in his own name for I cannot discover that they drew any clear distinction between possession and inspiration.4
If the story of Saul's consultation of the occult powers is to be regarded as an
authentic narrative, or, at any rate, as a statement which is perfectly
veracious so far as the intention of the narrator goes—and, as I have said, I
see no reason for refusing it this character—it will be found, on further
consideration, to throw a flood of light, both directly and indirectly, on the
theology of Saul's countrymen that is to say, upon their beliefs respecting the nature and ways of spiritual beings.
Even without the confirmation of other abundant evidences to the same effect, it leaves no doubt as to the existence, among them, of the fundamental doctrine that man consists of a body and of a spirit, which last, after the death of the body, continues to exist as a ghost. At the time of Saul's visit to Endor, Samuel was dead and buried; but that his spirit would be believed to continue to exist in Sheol may be concluded from the well-known passage in the song attributed to Hannah, his mother:
Jahveh killeth and maketh alive;
He bringeth down to Sheol and bringeth up. (1 Sam. ii. 6.)
And it is obvious that this Sheol was thought to be a place underground in which
Samuel's spirit had been disturbed by the necromancer's summons, and in which,
after his return thither, he would be joined by the spirits of Saul and his sons
when they had met with their bodily death on the hill of Gilboa. It is further
to be observed that the spirit, or ghost, of the dead man presents itself as the
image of the man himself—it is the man, not merely in his ordinary corporeal
presentment (even down to the prophet's mantle) but in his moral and
intellectual characteristics. Samuel, who had begun as Saul's friend and ended
as his bitter enemy, gives it to be understood that he is annoyed at Saul's presumption in disturbing
him; and that, in Sheol, he is as much the devoted servant of Jahveh and as
much empowered to speak in Jahveh's name as he was during his sojourn in the
It appears now to be universally admitted that, before the exile, the Israelites had no belief in rewards and punishments after death, nor in anything similar to the Christian heaven and hell; but our story proves that it would be an error to suppose that they did not believe in the continuance of individual existence after death by a ghostly simulacrum of life. Nay, I think it would be very hard to produce conclusive evidence that they disbelieved in immortality; for I am not aware that there is anything to show that they thought the existence of the souls of the dead in Sheol ever came to an end. But they do not seem to have conceived that the condition of the souls in Sheol was in any way affected by their conduct in life. If there was immortality, there was no state of retribution in their theology. Samuel expects Saul and his sons to come to him in Sheol.
The next circumstance to be remarked is that the name of Elohim [p.351] is applied to the spirit which the woman sees "coming up out of the earth," that is to say, from Sheol. The Authorised Version translates this in its literal sense "gods." The Revised Version gives "god" with "gods" in the margin. Reuss renders the word by "spectre," remarking in a note that it is not quite exact; but that the word Elohim expresses "something divine, that is to say, superhuman, commanding respect and terror" (Histoire des Israelites, p. 321). Tuch, in his commentary on Genesis, and Thenius, in his commentary on Samuel, express substantially the same opinion. Dr. Alexander (in Kitto's Cyclopædia s. v. 'God') has the following instructive remarks:—
[Elohim is] sometimes used vaguely to describe unseen powers or superhuman beings that are not properly thought of as divine. Thus the witch of Endor saw 'Elohim ascending out of the earth' (1 Sam. xxviii. 13), meaning thereby some beings of an unearthly, superhuman character. So also in Zechariah xii. 8, it is said 'the house of David shall be as Elohim, as the angel of the Lord,' where, as the transition from Elohim to the angel of the Lord is a minori ad majus, we must regard the former as a vague designation of supernatural powers.
Dr. Alexander speaks here of "beings"; bat there is no reason to suppose that
the wise woman of Endor referred to anything but a solitary spectre; and it is
quite clear that Saul understood her in this sense, for he asks "What form is
This fact, that the name of Elohim is applied to a ghost, or disembodied soul, conceived as the image of the body in which it once dwelt, is of no little importance. For it is is well known that the same term was employed to denote the gods of the heathen, who were thought to have definite quasi-corporeal forms and to be as much real entities as any other Elohim.5 The difference which was supposed to exist between the different Elohim was one of degree, not one of kind. Elohim was, in logical terminology, the genus of which ghosts, Chemosh, Dagon, Baal, and Jahveh were species. The Israelite believed Jahveh to be immeasurably superior to all other kinds of Elohim. The inscription on the Moabite stone shows that King Mesa held Chemosh to be, as unquestionably, the superior of Jahveh. But if Jahveh was thus supposed to differ only in degree from the undoubtedly zoomorphic or anthropomorphic " gods of the nations," why is it to be assumed that he also was not thought of as having a human shape ? It is possible for those who forget that the time of the great prophetic writers is at least as remote from that of Saul as our day is from that of Queen Elizabeth, to insist upon interpreting the gross notions current in the earlier age and among [p.352] the mass of the people by the refined conceptions promulgated by a few select spirits centuries later. But if we take the language constantly used concerning the Deity in the books of Genesis, Exodus, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, or Kings, in its natural sense (and I am aware of no valid reason which can be given for taking it in any other sense), there cannot, to my mind, be a doubt that Jahveh was conceived by those from whom the substance of these books is mainly derived, to possess the appearance and the intellectual and moral attributes of a man; and, indeed, of a man of just that type with which the Israelites were familiar in their stronger and intellectually abler rulers and leaders. In a well-known passage in Genesis (i. 27) Elohim is said to have "created man in his own image, in the image of Elohim—created he him." It is "man" who is here said to be the image of Elohim not man's soul alone, still less his "reason," but the whole man. It is obvious that for those who call a manlike ghost Elohim, there could be no difficulty in conceiving any other Elohim under the same aspect. And if there could be any doubt on this subject, surely it cannot stand in the face of what we find in the fifth chapter, where, immediately after a repetition of the statement that "Elohim created man, in the likeness of Elohim made he him," it is said that Adam begat Seth "in his own likeness, after his image." Does this mean that Seth resembled Adam only in a spiritual and figurative sense? And if that interpretation of the third verse of the fifth chapter of Genesis is absurd, why does it become reasonable in the first verse of the same chapter?
But let us go further. Is not the Jahveh who "walks in the garden in the cool of the day"; from whom one may hope to "hide oneself among the trees"; of whom it is expressly said that " Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel," saw the Elohim of Israel (Exod. xxiv. 9-11); and that, although the seeing Jahveh was understood to be a high crime and misdemeanour, worthy of death, under ordinary circumstances, yet, for this once, he "laid not his hand on the nobles of Israel"; "that they beheld Elohim and did eat and drink"; and that afterwards Moses saw his back (Exod. xxxiii. 23)—is not this Deity conceived as manlike in form? Again, is not the Jahveh who eats with Abraham under the oaks at Mamre, who is pleased with the "sweet savour" of Noah's sacrifice, to whom sacrifices are said to be "food"6 is not this Deity depicted as possessed of human appetites? If this were not the current Israelitish idea of Jahveh even in the eighth century B.C., where is the point of Isaiah's scathing admonitions to his countrymen: "To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith Jahveh: I am full of the burnt-offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of [p.353] he-goats" (Isa. i. 11). Or of Micah's inquiry, "Will Jahveh be pleased with thousands of rams or with ten thousands of rivers of oil?" (vi. 7.) And in the innumerable passages in which Jahveh is said to be jealous of other gods, to be angry, to be appeased, and to repent; in which he is represented as casting off Saul because the king does not quite literally execute a command of the most ruthless severity; or as smiting Uzzah to death because the unfortunate man thoughtlessly, but naturally enough, put out his hand to stay the ark from falling—can any one deny that the old Israelites conceived Jahveh not only in the image of a man, but in that of a changeable, irritable, and, occasionally, violent man? There appears to me, then, to be no reason to doubt that the notion of likeness to man, which was indubitably held of the ghost Elohim, was carried out consistently throughout the whole series of Elohim, and that Jahveh-Elohim was thought of as a being of the same substantially human nature as the rest, only immeasurably more powerful for good and for evil.
The absence of any real distinction between the Elohim of different ranks is further clearly illustrated by the corresponding absence of any sharp delimitation between the various kinds of people who serve as the media of communication between them and men. The agents through whom the lower Elohim are consulted are called necromancers, wizards, and diviners, and are looked down upon by the prophets and priests of the higher Elohim; but the "seer" connects the two, and they are all alike in their essential characters of media. The wise woman of Endor was believed by others, and, I have little doubt, believed herself, to be able to "bring up" whom she would from Sheol, and to be inspired, whether in virtue of actual possession by the evoked Elohim, or otherwise, with a knowledge of hidden things. I am unable to see that Saul's servant took any really different view of Samuel's powers, though he may have believed that he obtained them by the grace of the higher Elohim. For when Saul fails to find his father's asses, his servant says to him—
Behold, there is in this city a man of Elohim, and he is a man that is held in honour ; all that he saith cometh surely to pass: now let us go thither; peradventure he can tell us concerning our journey whereon we go. Then said Saul to his servant, But behold if we go, what shall we bring the man 1 for the bread is spent in our vessels and there is not a present to bring to the man of Elohim. What have we? And the servant answered Saul again and said, Behold I have in my hand the fourth part of a shekel of silver: that will I give to the man of Elohim to tell us our way. (Beforetime in Israel when a man went to inquire of Elohim, then he said, Come and let us go to the Seer: for he that is now called a Prophet was beforetime called a Seer7) (1 Sam. ix. 6-10).
In fact, when, shortly afterwards, Saul accidentally meets Samuel, he
says, "Tell me, I pray thee, where the Seer's house is." Samuel answers, "I am
the Seer." Immediately afterwards Samuel informs
[p.354] Saul that the asses are found,
though how he obtained his knowledge of the fact is not stated. It will be
observed that Samuel is not spoken of here as, in any special sense, a seer or
prophet of Jahveh, but as a "man of Elohim"—that is to say, a seer having
access to the "spiritual powers," just as the wise woman of Endor might have
been said to be a "woman of Elohim"—and the narrator's or editor's explanatory
note seems to indicate that "Prophet" is merely a name, introduced later than
the time of Samuel, for a superior kind of "Seer," or "man of
Another very instructive passage shows that Samuel was not only considered to be diviner, seer, and prophet in one, but that he was also, to all intents and purposes, priest of Jahveh—though, according to his biographer, he was not a member of the tribe of Levi. At the outset of their acquaintance, Samuel says to Saul, "Go up before me into the high place," where, as the young maidens of the city had just before told Saul, the Seer was going, "for the people will not eat till he come, because he doth bless the sacrifice" (1 Sam. x. 12). The use of the word "bless" here—as if Samuel were not going to sacrifice, but only to offer a blessing or thanksgiving is curious. But that Samuel really acted as priest seems plain from what follows. For he not only asks Saul to share in the customary sacrificial feast, but he disposes in Saul's favour of that portion of the victim which the Levitical legislation, doubtless embodying old customs, recognises as the priest's special property.9
Although particular persons adopted the profession of media between men and Elohim, there was no limitation of the power, in the view of ancient Israel, to any special class of the population. Saul inquires of Jahveh and builds him altars on his own account; and in the very remarkable story told in the fourteenth chapter of the first book of Samuel (v. 37-46), Saul appears to conduct the whole process of divination, although he has a priest at his elbow. David seems to do the same.
Moreover, Elohim constantly appear in dreams—which in old Israel did not mean that, as we should say, the subject of the appearance "dreamed he saw the spirit"; but that he veritably saw the Elohim which, as a soul, visited his soul while his body [p.355] was asleep. And, in the course of the history of Israel, Jahveh himself thus appears to all sorts of persons, non-Israelites as well as Israelites. Again, the Elohim possess, or inspire, people against their will, as in the case of Saul and Saul's messengers, and then these people prophesy—that is to say, "rave"—and exhibit the ungoverned gestures attributed by a later age to possession by malignant spirits. Apart from other evidence to be adduced by and by, the history of ancient demonology and of modern revivalism does not permit me to doubt that the accounts of these phenomena given in the history of Saul may be perfectly historical.
In the ritual practices, of which evidence is to be found in the books of Judges and Samuel, the chief part is played by sacrifices, usually burnt offerings. Whenever the aid of the Elohim of Israel is sought, or thanks are considered due to him, an altar is built, and oxen, sheep, and goats are slaughtered and offered up. Sometimes the entire victim is burnt as a holocaust; more frequently only certain parts, notably the fat about the kidneys, are burnt on the altar. The rest is properly cooked ; and, after the reservation of a part for the priest, is made the foundation of a joyous banquet, in which the sacrificer, his family, and such guests as he thinks fit to invite, participate.10 Elohim was supposed to share in the feast, and it has been already shown that that which was set apart on the altar, or consumed by fire, was spoken of as the food of Elohim, who was thought to be influenced by the costliness, or by the pleasant smell, of the sacrifice in favour of the sacrificer.
All this bears out the view that, in the mind of the old Israelite, there was no difference, save one of degree, between one Elohim and another. It is true that there is but little direct evidence to show that the old Israelites shared the widespread belief of their own, and indeed of all times, that the spirits of the dead not only continue to exist, but are capable of a ghostly kind of feeding and are grateful for such aliment as can be assimilated by their attenuated substance, and even for clothes, ornaments, and weapons.11 That they were familiar with this doctrine in the time of the captivity is suggested by the well-known reference of Ezekiel (xxxii. 27) to the "mighty that are fallen of the uncircumcised, which are gone down to [Sheol] hell with their weapons of war, and have laid their swords under their heads." Perhaps there is a still earlier allusion in the " giving of food for the dead " spoken of in Deuteronomy (xxvi. 14).12
It must be remembered that the literature of the old Israelites, as it lies
before us, has been subjected to the revisal of strictly monotheistic-editors,
violently opposed to all kinds of idolatry, who are not likely to have selected
from the materials at their disposal any obvious evidence, either of the
practice under discussion, or of that ancestor-worship which is so closely
related to it, for preservation in the permanent records of their people.
The mysterious objects known as Teraphim, which are occasionally mentioned in Judges, Samuel, and elsewhere, however, can hardly be interpreted otherwise than as indications of the existence both of ancestor-worship and of image-worship in old Israel. The teraphim were certainly images of family gods, and, as such, in all probability represented deceased ancestors. Laban indignantly demands of his son-in-law, "Wherefore hast thou stolen my Elohim?" which Rachel, who must be assumed to have worshipped Jacob's God, Jahveh, had carried off, obviously because she, like her father, believed in their divinity. It is not suggested that Jacob was in any way scandalised by the idolatrous practices of his favourite wife, whatever he may have thought of her honesty when the truth came to light; for the teraphim seem to have remained in his camp, at least until he "hid" his strange gods "under the oak that was by Shechem" (Gen. xxxv. 4). And indeed it is open to question if he got rid of them then, for the subsequent history of Israel renders it more than doubtful whether the teraphim were regarded as "strange gods" even as late as the eighth century B.C. The writer of the books of Samuel takes it quite as a matter of course that Michal, daughter of one royal Jahveh worshipper and wife of the servant of Jahveh par excellence, the pious David, should have her teraphim handy, in her and David's chamber, when she dresses them up in their bed into a simulation of her husband, for the purpose of deceiving her father's messengers.
Even one of
the early prophets, Hosea, when he threatens that the children of Israel shall
many days without "ephod or teraphim" (iii. 4), appears to regard both as
equally proper appurtenances of the suspended worship of Jahveh, and equally
certain to be restored when that is resumed. When we further take into
consideration that only in the reign of Hezekiah was the brazen
preserved in the temple and believed to be the work of Moses, destroyed, and the
practice of offering incense to it, that is, worshipping it, abolished that
Jeroboam could set up "calves of gold" for Israel to worship, with apparently
none but a political object, and certainly with no notion of creating a schism
among the worshippers of Jahveh, or of repelling the men of Judah from his
standard—it seems obvious, either that the Israelites of the tenth and eleventh
centuries B.C. knew not the second commandment, or that they construed it merely
as part of the prohibition to worship any supreme god other than Jahveh, which
In seeking for information about the teraphim, I lighted upon the following passage in the valuable article on that subject by Archdeacon Farrar, in Kitto's "Cyclopaedia of Biblical Literature," which is so much to the purpose of my argument, that I venture to quote it in full:—
The main and certain results of this review are that the teraphim were rude human images; that the use of them was an antique Aramaic custom; that there is reason to suppose them to have been images of deceased ancestors; that they were consulted oracularly; that they were not confined to Jews; that their use continued down to the latest period of Jewish history; and lastly, that although the enlightened prophets and strictest later kings regarded them as idolatrous, the priests were much less averse to such images, and their cult was not considered in any way repugnant to the pious worship of Elohim, nay, even to the worship of him "under the awful title of Jehovah." In fact, they involved a monotheistic idolatry very different indeed from polytheism; and the tolerance of them by priests, as compared with the denunciation of them by the prophets, offers a close analogy to the views of the Roman Catholics respecting pictures and images as compared with the views of Protestants. It was against this use of idolatrous symbols and emblems in a monotheistic worship that the second commandment was directed, whereas the first is aimed against the graver sin of direct polytheism. But the whole history of Israel shows how utterly and how early the law must have fallen into desuetude. The worship of the golden calf and of the calves at Dan and Bethel, against which, so far as we know, neither Elijah nor Elisha said a single word; the tolerance of high places, tetaphim and betylia; the offering of incense for centuries to the brazen serpent destroyed by Hezekiah; the occasional glimpses of the most startling irregularities sanctioned apparently even in the temple worship itself, prove most decisively that a pure monotheism and an independence of symbols was the result of a slow and painful course of God's disciplinal dealings among the noblest thinkers of a single nation, and not, as is so constantly and erroneously urged, the instinct of the whole Semitic race; in other words, one single branch of the Semites was under God's providence educated into pure monotheism only by centuries of misfortune and series of inspired men (vol. iii. p. 986).
It appears to me that the researches of the anthropologist lead him to
conclusions identical in substance, if not in terms, with those here enunciated
as the result of a careful study of the same subject from a totally different
point of view.
There is abundant evidence in the books of Samuel and elsewhere that an article of dress termed an ephod was supposed to have a peculiar efficacy in enabling the wearer to exercise divination by means of Jahveh-Elohim. Great and long continued have been [p.358] the disputes as to the exact nature of the ephod whether it always means something to wear, or whether it sometimes means an image. But the probabilities are that it usually signifies a kind of waistcoat or broad zone, with shoulder-straps, which the person who "inquired of Jahveh" put on. In 1 Samuel xxiii. 2 David appears to have inquired without an ephod, for Abiathar the priest is said to have "come down with an ephod in his hand" only subsequently. And then David asks for it before inquiring of Jahveh whether the men of Keilah would betray him or not. David's action is obviously divination pure and simple; and it is curious that he seems to have worn the ephod himself and not to have employed Abiathar as a medium. How the answer was given is not clear, though the probability is that it was obtained by casting lots. The Urim and Thummim seem to have been two such lots of a peculiarly sacred character, which were carried in the pocket of the high priest's "breastplate." This last was worn along with the ephod.
With the exception of one passage (1 Sam. xiv. 18) the ark is ignored in the history of Saul. But in this place the Septuagint reads "ephod" for ark, while in 1 Chronicles xiii. 3 David says that "we sought not unto it [the ark] in the days of Saul." Nor does Samuel seem to have paid any regard to the ark after its return from Philistia; though, in his childhood, he is said to have slept in "the temple of Jahveh, where the ark of Elohim was" (1 Sam. iii. 3), at Shiloh, and there to have been the seer of the earliest apparitions vouchsafed to him by Jahveh. The space between the cherubim or winged images on the canopy or cover (Kapporeth) of this holy chest was held to be the special seat of Jahveh—the place selected for a temporary residence of the Supreme Elohim who had, after Aaron and Phineas, Eli and his sons for priests and seers. And, when the ark was carried to the camp at Ebenezer, there can be no doubt that the Israelites, no less than the Philistines, held that "Elohim is come into the camp" (iv. 7), and that the one, as much as the other, conceived that the Israelites had summoned to their aid a powerful ally in "these (or this) mighty Elohim"—elsewhere called Jahve-Sabaoth, the Jahveh of Hosts. If the "temple" at Shiloh was the pentateuchal tabernacle, as is suggested by the name of "tent of meeting" given to it in 1 Samuel ii. 22, it was essentially a large tent, though constituted of very expensive and ornate materials; if, on the other hand, it was a different edifice, there can be little doubt that this "house of Jahveh" was built on the model of an ordinary house of the time. But there is not the slightest evidence that, during the reign of Saul, any greater importance attached to this seat of the cult of Jahveh than to others. Sanctuaries, and "high places" for sacrifice, were scattered all over the country from Dan to Beersheba. And, as Samuel is said to have gone up to one of these high places to bless the sacrifice, it may be taken for tolerably certain that he knew [p.359] nothing of the Levitical laws which severely condemn the high places and those who sacrifice away from the sanctuary hallowed by the presence of the ark.
There is no evidence that, during the time of the Judges and of Samuel, any one occupied the position of the high priest of later days. And persons who were neither priests nor Levites sacrificed and divined or "inquired of Jahveh," when they pleased and where they pleased, without the least indication that they, or any one else in Israel at that time, knew they were doing wrong. There is no allusion to any special observance of the Sabbath; and the references to circumcision are indirect.
Such are the chief articles of the theological creed of the old Israelites, which are made known to us by the direct evidence of the ancient record to which we have had recourse, and they are as remarkable for that which they contain as for that which is absent from them. They reveal a firm conviction that, when death takes place, a something termed a soul or spirit leaves the body and continues to exist in Sheol for a period of indefinite duration, even though there is no proof of any belief in absolute immortality; that such spirits can return to earth to possess and inspire the living; that they are, in appearance and in disposition, likenesses of the men to whom they belonged, but that, as spirits, they have larger powers and are freer from physical limitations; that they thus form a group among a number of kinds of spiritual existences known as Elohim, of whom Jahveh, the national God of Israel, is one; that, consistently with this view, Jahveh was conceived as a sort of spirit, human in aspect and in senses, and with many human passions, but with immensely greater intelligence and power than any other Elohim, whether human or divine. Further, the evidence proves that this belief was the basis of the Jahveh-worship to which Samuel and his followers were devoted; that there is strong reason for believing, and none for doubting, that idolatry, in the shape of the worship of the family gods or teraphim, was practised by sincere and devout Jahveh-worshippers; that the ark, with its protective tent or tabernacle, was regarded as a specially, but by no means exclusively, favoured sanctuary of Jahveh; that the ephod appears to have had a particular value for those who desired to divine by the help of Jahveh; and that divination by lots was practised before Jahveh. On the other hand, there is not the slightest evidence of any belief in retribution after death, but the contrary; ritual obligations have at least as strong sanction as moral ; there are clear indications that some of the most stringent of the Levitical laws were unknown even to Samuel; priests often appear to be superseded by laymen, even in the performance of sacrifices and divination; and no line of demarcation can be drawn between necromancer, wizard, seer, prophet, and priest, each of whom [p.360] is regarded, like all the rest, as a medium of communication between the world of Elohim and that of living men.
The theological system thus defined offers to the anthropologist no feature which is devoid of a parallel in the known theologies of other races of mankind, even of those who inhabit parts of the world most remote from Palestine. And the foundation of the whole, the ghost theory, is exactly that theological speculation which is the most widely spread of all, and the most deeply rooted among uncivilised men. I am able to base this statement, to some extent, on facts within my own knowledge. In December 1848, H.M.S. Rattlesnake, the ship to which I then belonged, was anchored off Mount Ernest, an island in Torres Straits. The people were few and well disposed; and, when a friend of mine (whom I will call B.) and I went ashore, we made acquaintance with an old native, Paouda by name. In course of time we became quite intimate with the old gentleman, partly by the rendering of mutual good offices, but chiefly because Paouda believed he had discovered that B. was his father-in-law. And his grounds for this singular conviction were very remarkable. We had made a long stay at Cape York hard by; and, in accordance with a theory which is widely spread among the Australians, that white men are the reincarnated spirits of black men, B. was held to be the ghost, or narki, of a certain Mount Ernest native, one Antarki, who had lately died, on the ground of some real or fancied resemblance to the latter. Now Paouda had taken to wife a daughter of Antarki's, named Domani, and as soon as B. informed him that he was the ghost of Antarki, Paouda at once admitted the relationship and acted upon it. For, as all the women on the island had hidden away in fear of the ship, and we were anxious to see what they were like, B. pleaded pathetically with Paouda that it would be very unkind not to let him see his daughter and grandchildren. After a good deal of hesitation and the exaction of pledges of deep secrecy, Paouda consented to take B., and myself as B.'s friend, to see Domani and the three daughters, by whom B. was received quite as one of the family, while I was courteously welcomed on his account. This scene made an impression upon me which is not yet effaced. It left no question on my mind of the sincerity of the strange ghost theory of these savages, and of the influence which their belief has on their practical life. I had it in my mind, as well as many a like result of subsequent anthropological studies, when, in I860,13 I wrote as follows:—
There are savages without God in any proper sense of the word, but none without ghosts. And the Fetishism, Ancestor-worship, Hero-worship, and Demonology of primitive savages are all, I believe, different manners of expression of their [p.361] belief in ghosts, and of the anthropomorphic interpretation of out-of-the-way events which is its concomitant. Witchcraft and sorcery are the practical expressions of these beliefs; and they stand in the same relation to religious worship as the simple anthropomorphism of children or savages does to theology.
I do not quote myself with any intention of making a claim to originality in putting forth this view; for I have since discovered that the same conception is virtually contained in the great Discours sur l'Histoire Universelle of Bossuet, now more than two centuries old:—
Le culte des hommes morts faisoit presque tout le fond de 1'idolatrie: presque tous les hommes sacrifioient aux manes, c'est-a-dire aux ames des morts. De si anciennes erretirs nous font voir a la verite combien etoit ancienne la croyance de 1'immortalite de Tame, et nous montrent qu'elle doit etre rangee parmi les premieres traditions du genre humain. Mais l'homme, qui gatoit tout, en avoit etrangement abuse, puisqu'elle le portoit a sacrifier aux morts. On alloit meme jusqu'a cet exces, de leur sacrifier des hommes vivans: on tuoit leurs esclaves, et meme leurs fenimes, pour les aller servir dans l'autre monde.14
Among more modern writers J. G. Muller, in his excellent Geschichte der
amerikanischen Urreligionen (1855), clearly recognises "gespensterhafter
Geisterglaube" as the foundation of all savage and semi-civilised theology, and
I need do no more than mention the important developments of the same view which
are to be found in Mr. Tylor's Primitive Culture, and in the writings of Mr.
Herbert Spencer, especially his recently-published Ecclesiastical
It is a matter of fact that, whether we direct our attention to the older conditions of civilised societies, in Japan, in China, in Hindostan, in Greece, or in Rome,16 we find, underlying all other theological notions, the belief in ghosts, with its inevitable concomitant sorcery; and a primitive cult, in the shape of a worship of ancestors, which is essentially an attempt to please, or appease their ghosts. The same thing is true of old Mexico and Peru, and of all the semi-civilised or savage peoples who have developed a definite cult; and in those who, like the natives of Australia, have not even a cult, the belief in, and fear of, ghosts is as strong as anywhere else. The most clearly demonstrable article of the theology of the Israelites in the eleventh and twelfth centuries B.C. is therefore simply the article which is to be found in all primitive theologies, namely, the belief that a man has a soul which continues to exist [p.362] after death for a longer or shorter time, and may return, as a ghost, with a divine, or at least demonic, character, to influence for good or evil (and usually for evil) the affairs of the living. But the correspondence between the old Israelitic and other archaic forms of theology extends to details. If, in order to avoid all chance of direct communication, we direct our attention to the theology of semi-civilised people, such as the Polynesian Islanders, separated by the greatest possible distance, and by every conceivable physical barrier, from the inhabitants of Palestine, we shall find not merely that all the features of old-Israelitic theology, which are revealed in the records cited, are found among them; but that extant information as to the inner mind of these people tends to remove many of the difficulties which those who have not studied anthropology find in the Hebrew narrative.
One of the best sources, if not the best source, of information on these topics is Mariner's Tonga Islands, which tells us of the condition of Cook's Friendly Islanders eighty years ago, before European influence was sensibly felt among them. Mariner, a youth of fair education and of no inconsiderable natural ability (as the work which was drawn up from the materials he furnished shows), was about fifteen years of age when his ship was attacked and plundered by the Tongans: he remained four years in the islands, familiarised himself with the language, lived the life of the people, became intimate with many of them, and had every opportunity of acquainting himself with their opinions, as well as with their habits and customs. He seems to have been devoid of prejudices, theological or other, and the impression of strict accuracy which his statements conveyhas been justified by all the knowledge of Polynesian life which has been subsequently acquired.
It is desirable, therefore, to pay close attention to that which Mariner tells us about the theological views of these people:—
The human soul,17 after its separation from the body, is termed a hotooa (a god or spirit), and is believed to exist in the shape of the body; to have the same propensities as during life, but to be corrected by a more enlightened understanding, by which it readily distinguishes good from evil, truth from falsehood, right from wrong; having the same attributes as the original gods, but in a minor degree, and having its dwelling for ever in the happy regions of Bolotoo, holding the same rank in regard to other souls as during this life; it has, however, the power of returning to Tonga to inspire priests, relations, or others, or to appear in dreams to those it wishes to admonish ; and sometimes to the external eye in the form of a ghost or apparition ; but this power of reappearance at Tonga particularly belongs to the souls of chiefs rather than of matabooles (vol. ii. p. 130).
The word "hotooa" is the same as that which is usually spelt "atua" by Polynesian philologues, and it will be convenient to adopt [p.363] this spelling. Now under this head of "Atuas or supernatural intelligent beings" the Tongans include:
1. The original gods.
2. The souls of nobles that have all attributes in common with the first but inferior in degree.
3. The souls of matabooles18 that are still inferior, and have not the power as the two first have of coming back to Tonga to inspire the priests, though they are supposed to have the power of appearing to their relatives.
4. The original attendants or servants, as it were, of the gods, who, although they had their origin and have ever since existed in Bolotoo, are still inferior to the third class.
5. The Atua pow or mischievous gods.
6. Mooi, or the god that supports the earth and does not belong to Bolotoo (vol. ii. pp. 103, 104).
From this it appears that the "Atuas" of the Polynesian are exactly equivalent
to the "Elohim" of the old Israelite.19 They comprise everything spiritual, from
a ghost to a god, and from "the merely tutelar gods to particular private
families" (vol. ii. p. 104), to Ta-li-y-Toobo, who was the national god of
Tonga. The Tongans had no doubt that these Atuas daily and hourly influenced
their destinies and could, conversely, be influenced by them. Hence their
"piety," the incessant
acts of sacrificial worship which occupied their lives, and their belief in
omens and charms. Moreover, the Atuas were believed to visit particular persons—their own priests in the case of the higher gods, but apparently anybody in that
of the lower—and to inspire them by a process which was conceived to involve
actual residence of the god, for the time being, in the person inspired, who was
thus rendered capable of prophesying (vol. ii. p. 100). For the Tongan, therefore, inspiration indubitably was possession.
When one of the higher gods was invoked, through his priest, by a chief who wished to consult the oracle, or, in old Israelitic phraseology, to "inquire of," the god, a hog was killed and cooked over night, and, together with plantains, yams, and the materials for making the peculiar drink Jeava (of which the Tongans were very fond), was carried next day to the priest. A circle, as for an ordinary kava-drinking entertainment, was then formed; but the priest, as the representative of the god, took the highest place, while the chiefs sat outside the circle, as an expression of humility calculated to please the god.
As soon as they are all seated the priest is considered as inspired, the god being supposed to exist within him from that moment. He remains for a considerable time in silence with his hands clasped before him, his eyes are cast down and he rests perfectly still. During the time the victuals are being shared out and the kava preparing, the matabooles sometimes begin to consult him; sometimes lie answers, and at other times not; in either case he remains with his eyes cast down. Frequently he will not utter a word till the repast is finished and the kava too. When he speaks he generally begins in a low and very altered tone of voice, which [p.364] gradually rises to nearly its natural pitch, though sometimes a little above it. All that he says is supposed to be the declaration of the god, and he accordingly speaks in the first person, as if lie were the god. All this is done generally without any apparent inward emotion or outward agitation; but, on some occasions, his countenance becomes fierce, and as it were inflamed, and his whole frame agitated with inward feeling; he is seized with an universal trembling, the perspiration breaks out on his forehead, and his lips turning black are convulsed; at length tears start in floods from his eyes, his breast heaves with great emotion, and his utterance is choked. These symptoms gradually subside. Before this paroxysm comes on, and after it is over, he often eats as much as four hungry men under other circumstances could devour. The fit being now gone off, he remains for some time calm and then takes up a club that is placed by him for the purpose, turns it over and regards it attentively; he then looks up earnestly, now to the right, now to the left, and now again at the club; afterwards he looks up again and about him in like manner, and then again fixes his eyes on the club, and so on for several times. At length he suddenly raises the club, and, after a moment's pause, strikes the ground or the adjacent part of the house with considerable force ; immediately the god leaves him, and be rises up and retires to the back of the ring among the people (vol. i. pp. 100, 101).
The phenomena thus described, in language which, to any one who is familiar with the manifestations of abnormal mental states among ourselves, bears the stamp of fidelity, furnish a most instructive commentary upon the story of the wise woman of End or. As in the latter, we have the possession by the spirit or soul (Atua, Elohim), the strange voice, the speaking in the first person. Unfortunately nothing (beyond the loud cry) is mentioned as to the state of the wise woman of Endor. But what we learn from other sources (e.g. 1 Sam. x. 20-24) respecting the physical concomitants of inspiration among the old Israelites has its exact equivalent in this and other accounts of Polynesian prophetism. An excellent authority, Moerenhout, who lived among the people of the Society Islands many years and knew them well, says that, in Tahiti, the role of the prophet had very generally passed out of the hands of the priests into that of private persons who professed to represent the god, often assumed his name, and in this capacity prophesied. I will not run the risk of weakening the force of Moerenhout's description of the prophetic state by translating it:
Un individu, dans cet etat, avait le bras gauche enveloppe d'un morceau d'etofi'e, signe de la presence de la Divinite. II ne parlait que d'un ton imperieux et vehement. Ses attaques, quand il allait prophetiser, etaient aussi effroyables qu'imposantes. Il tremblait d'abord de tous ses membres, la figure enflee, les yeux hagards, rouges et etincelants d'une expression sauvage. Il gesticulait, articulait des mots vides de sens, poussait des cris horribles qui faisaient tressaillir tous les assistants, et s'exaltait parfois an point qu'on n'osait pas 1'approcher. Autour de lui, le silence de la terreur et du respect. ... C'est alors qu'il repondait aux questions, annoncait l'avenir, le destin des batailles, la volonte des dieux; et, chose etonnante! an sein de ce delire, de cet enthousiasme religieux, son langage etait grave, imposant, son eloquence noble et persuasive.20
Just so Saul strips off his clothes, "prophesies" before Samuel, and lies down "naked all that day and night."
Both Mariner and Moerenhout refuse to have recourse to the hypothesis of imposture in order to account for the inspired state of the Polynesian prophets. On the contrary, they fully believe in their sincerity. Mariner tells the story of a young chief, an acquaintance of his, who thought himself possessed by the Atua of a dead woman who had fallen in love with him, and who wished him to die that he might be near her in Bolotoo. And he died accordingly. But the most valuable evidence on this head is contained in what the same authority says about King Finow's son. The previous king, Toogoo Ahoo, had been assassinated by Finow, and his soul, become an Atua of divine rank in Bolotoo, had been pleased to visit and inspire Finow's son—with what particular object does not appear.
When this young chief returned to Hapai, Mr. Mariner, who was upon a footing of great friendship with him, one day asked him how he felt himself when the spirit of Toogoo Ahoo visited him; he replied that he could not well describe his feelings, but the best he could say of it was, that he felt himself all over in a glow of heat and quite restless and uncomfortable, and did not feel his own personal identity, as it were, but seemed to have a mind different from his own natural mind, his thoughts wandering upon strange and unusual subjects, though perfectly sensible of surrounding objects. He next asked him how he knew it was the spirit of Toogoo Ahoo? His answer was, "There's a fool! How can I tell you how I knew it? I felt and knew it was so by a kind of consciousness; my mind told me that it was Toogoo Ahoo" (vol. i. pp. 104, 105).
Finow's son was evidently made for a theological disputant, and fell back at
once on the inexpugnable stronghold of faith when other evidence was lacking. "There's a fool! I know it is true, because I know it," is the exemplar
and epitome of the sceptic-crushing process in other places than the Tonga
The island of Bolotoo, to which all the souls (of the upper classes at any rate) repair after the death of the body, and from which they return at will to interfere, for good or evil, with the lives of those whom they have left behind, obviously answers to Sheol. In Tongan tradition, this place of souls is a sort of elysium above ground and pleasant enough to live in. But, in other parts of Polynesia, the corresponding locality, which is called Po, has to be reached by descending into the earth, and is represented dark and gloomy like Sheol. But it was not looked upon as a place of rewards and punishments in any sense. Whether in Bolotoo or in Po, the soul took the rank it had in the flesh ; and, a shadow, lived among the shadows of the friends and houses and food of its previous life.
(To be concluded.)
The Tongan theologians recognised several hundred gods ; but there was one,
already mentioned as their national god, whom they regarded as far greater than
any of the others, "as a great chief from the top of the sky down to the bottom
of the earth" (Mariner, vol. ii. p. 106). He was also god of war, and the
tutelar deity of the royal family, whoever happened to be the incumbent of the
royal office for the time being. He had no priest except the king himself, and
his visits, even to royalty, were few and far between. The name of this
supreme deity was Ta-li-y-Tooboo, the literal meaning of which is said to be "Wait there,
Tooboo," from which it would appear that the peculiar characteristic of Ta-li-y-Tooboo,
in the eyes of his worshippers, was persistence of duration. And it is curious
to notice, in relation to this circumstance, that many Hebrew philologers have
thought the meaning of Jahveh to be best expressed by the word "Eternal." It
would probably be difficult to express the notion of an eternal being, in a
dialect so little fitted to convey abstract conceptions as Tongan, better than
by that of one who always "waits there."
The characteristics of the gods in Tongan theology are exactly those of men whose shape they are supposed to possess, only they have more intelligence and greater power. The Tongan belief that, after death, the human Atua more readily distinguishes good from evil, runs parallel with the old Israelitic conception of Elohim expressed in Genesis, "Ye shall be as Elohim, knowing good from evil." They further agreed with the old Israelites, that "all rewards for virtue [p.486] and punishments for vice happen to men in this world only, and come immediately from the gods" (vol. ii. p. 100). Moreover, they were of opinion that though the gods approve of some kinds of virtue, are displeased with some kinds of vice, and, to a certain extent, protect or forsake their worshippers according to their moral conduct, yet neglect to pay due respect to the deities, and forgetfulness to keep them in good humour, might be visited with even worse consequences than moral delinquency. And those who will carefully study the so-called "Mosaic code" contained in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, will see that, though Jahveh's prohibitions of certain forms of immorality are strict and sweeping, his wrath is quite as strongly kindled against infractions of ritual ordinances. Accidental homicide may go unpunished, and reparation may be made for wilful theft. On the other hand, Nadab and Abihu, who "offered strange fire before Jahveh, which he had not commanded them," were swiftly devoured by Jahveh's fire; he who sacrificed anywhere except at the allotted place was to be "cut off from his people"; so was he who eat blood; and the details of the upholstery of the Tabernacle, of the millinery of the priests' vestments, and of the cabinet work of the ark, can plead direct authority from Jahveh, no less than moral commands.
Amongst the Tongans, the sacrifices were regarded as gifts of food and drink offered to the divine Atuas, just as the articles deposited by the graves of the recently dead were meant as food for Atuas of lower rank. A kava root was a constant form of offering all over Polynesia. In the excellent work of the Rev. George Turner, entitled Nineteen Years in Polynesia (p. 241), I find it said of the Samoans (near neighbours of the Tongans):—
The offerings were principally cooked food. As in ancient Greece so in Samoa, the first cup was in honour of the god. It was either poured out on the ground or waved towards the heavens, reminding us again of the Mosaic ceremonies. The chiefs all drank a portion out of the same cup, according to rank; and after that, the food brought as an offering was divided and eaten "there before the Lord."
In Tonga, when they consulted a god who had a priest, the latter, as representative of the god, had the first cup; but if the god, like Ta-li-y-Too-boo, had no priest, then the chief place was left vacant, and was supposed to be occupied by the god himself. When the first cup of kava was filled, the mataboole who acted as master of the ceremonies said, "Give it to your god," and it was offered, though only as a matter of form. In Tonga and Samoa there were many sacred places or morais, with houses of the ordinary construction, but which served as temples in consequence of being dedicated to various gods; and there were altars on which the sacrifices were offered; nevertheless there were few or no images. Mariner mentions none in Tonga, and the Samoans seem to have been regarded as no better than atheists by other Polynesians because they had none. It does not appear that either of these peoples had images even of their family or ancestral gods.
In Tahiti and the adjacent islands, Moerenhout (t. i. p. 471) makes the
very interesting observation, not only that idols were often absent, but that,
where they existed, the images of the gods served merely as depositories for the
proper representatives of the divinity. Each of these was called a maro aurou,
and was a kind of girdle artistically adorned with red, yellow, blue, and black
feathers—the red feathers being especially important—which were consecrated and
sacred objects within the idols. They were worn by great personages on solemn
occasions, and conferred upon their wearers a sacred and almost divine
character. There is no distinct evidence that the maro aurou was supposed to
have any special efficacy in divination, but one cannot fail to see a certain
parallelism between this holy girdle, which endowed its wearer with a particular
sanctity, and the ephod.
According to the Rev. R. Taylor, the New Zealanders formerly used the word karakia (now employed for "prayer") to signify a "spell, charm, or incantation," and the utterance of these karakias constituted the chief part of their cult. In the south, the officiating priest had a small image, "about eighteen inches long, resembling a peg with a carved head," which reminds one of the form commonly attributed to the teraphim.
The priest first bandaged a fillet of red parrot feathers under the god's chin, which was called his pahau or beard; this bandage was made of a certain kind of sennet, which was tied on in a peculiar way. When this was done it was taken possession of by the Atua, whose spirit entered it. The priest then either held it in the hand and vibrated it in the air, whilst the powerful karakia was repeated, or he tied a piece of string (formed of the centre of a flax leaf) round the neck of the image and stuck it in the ground. He sat at a little distance from it, leaning against a tuahu, a short stone pillar stuck in the ground in a slanting position and, holding the string in his hand, he gave the god a jerk to arrest his attention, lest he should be otherwise engaged, like Baal of old, either hunting, fishing, or sleeping, and therefore must be awaked. ... The god is supposed to make use of the priest's tongue in giving a reply. Image-worship appears to have been confined to one part of the island. The Atua was supposed only to enter the image for the occasion. The natives declare they did not worship the image itself, but only the Atua it represented, and that the image was merely used as a way of approaching him.21
This is the excuse for image-worship which the more intelligent idolaters make all the world over; but it is more interesting to observe that, in the present case, we seem to have the equivalents of divination by teraphim, with the aid of something like an ephod (which, however, is used to sanctify the image and not the priest) mixed up together. Many Hebrew archaeologists have supposed that the term "ephod" is sometimes used for an image (particularly in the case of Gideon's ephod), and the story of Micah, in the book of Judges, shows that images were, at any rate, employed in close association with the ephod. If the pulling of the string to call the attention of the god seems as absurd to us as it appears to have done to the worthy missionary, who tells us of the practice, it should be recollected [p.488] that the high priest of Jahveh was ordered to wear a garment fringed with golden bells.
And it shall be upon Aaron to minister; and the sound thereof shall be heard when he goeth in unto the holy place before Jahveh, and when he cometh out, that he die not (Exod. xxviii. 35).
An escape from the obvious conclusion suggested by this passage has been sought
in the supposition that these bells rang for the sake of the worshippers, as at
the elevation of the host in the Roman Catholic ritual; but then why should the
priest be threatened with the well-known penalty for inadvisedly beholding the
In truth, the intermediate step between the Maori practice and that of the old Israelites is furnished by the Kami temples in Japan. These are provided with bells which the worshippers who present themselves ring, in order to call the attention of the ancestor-god to their presence. Grant the fundamental assumption of the essentially human character of the spirit, whether Atua, Kami, or Elohim, and all these practices are equally rational.
The sacrifices to the gods in Tonga, and elsewhere in Polynesia, were ordinarily social gatherings, in which the god, either in his own person or in that of his priestly representative, was supposed to take part. These sacrifices were offered on every occasion of importance, and even the daily meals were prefaced by oblations and libations of food and drink, exactly answering to those offered by the old Romans to their manes, penates, and lares. The sacrifices had no moral significance, but were the necessary result of the theory that the god was either a deified ghost of an ancestor or chief, or, at any rate, a being of like nature to these. If one wanted to get anything out of him, therefore, the first step was to put him in good humour by gifts; and if one desired to escape his wrath, which might be excited by the most trifling neglect or unintentional disrespect, the great thing was to pacify him by costly presents. King Finow appears to have been somewhat of a freethinker (to the great horror of his subjects), and it was only his untimely death which prevented him from dealing with the priest of a god, who had not returned a favourable answer to his supplications, as Saul dealt with the priests of the sanctuary of Jahveh at Nob. Nevertheless, Finow showed his practical belief in the gods during the sickness of a daughter, to whom he was fondly attached, in a fashion which has a close parallel in the history of Israel.
If the gods have any resentment against us, let the whole weight of vengeance fall on my head. I fear not their vengeance but spare my child; and I earnestly entreat you, Too bo Totai [the god whom he had evoked], to exert all your influence with the other gods that I alone may suffer all the punishment they desire to inflict (vol. i. p. 354).
So when the king of Israel has sinned by "numbering the people," and they are punished for his fault by a pestilence which slays seventy thousand innocent men, David cries to Jahveh:—
Lo, I have sinned, and I have done perversely: but these sheep, what have they done? let thine hand, I pray thee, be against me, and against my father's house (2 Sam. xxiv. 17).
Human sacrifices were extremely common in
Polynesia; and, in Tonga, the "devotion" of a
child by strangling was a favourite method of
averting the wrath of the gods. The well-known
instances of Jephthah's sacrifice of his daughter
and of David's giving up the seven sons of Saul to
be sacrificed by the Gibeonites "before Jahveh,"
appear to me to leave no doubt that the old
Israelites, even when devout worshippers of
Jahveh, considered human sacrifices, under certain
circumstances, to be not only permissible but
laudable. Samuel's hewing to pieces of the
miserable captive, sole survivor of his nation,
Agag, "before Jahveh," can hardly be viewed in
any other light. The life of Moses is redeemed
from Jahveh, who "sought to slay him," by Zipporah's symbolical
sacrifice of her child, by the bloody operation of circumcision. Jahveh
expressly affirms that the first-born males of men and beasts
are devoted to him; in accordance with that
claim, the first-born males of the beasts are duly
sacrificed; and it is only by special permission
that the claim to the first-born of men is waived,
and it is enacted that they may be redeemed
(Exod. xiii. 12-15). Is it possible to avoid the
conclusion that immolation of their first-born sons
would have been incumbent on the worshippers of
Jahveh, had they not been thus specially excused?
Can any other conclusion be drawn from the
history of Abraham and Isaac? Does Abraham
exhibit any indication of surprise when he receives
the astounding order to sacrifice his son? Is there
the slightest evidence that there was anything in
his intimate and personal acquaintance with the
character of the Deity, who had eaten the meat
and drunk the milk which Abraham set before him
under the oaks of Mamre, to lead him to hesitate
even to wait twelve or fourteen hours for a
repetition of the command? Not a whit. We are told that "Abraham rose early in
the morning" and led his only child to the slaughter, as if
it were the most ordinary business imaginable.
Whether the story has any historical foundation or
not, it is valuable as showing that the writer of it
conceived Jahveh as a deity whose requirement of
such a sacrifice need excite neither astonishment
nor suspicion of mistake on the part of his devotee.
Hence, when the incessant human sacrifices in
Israel, during the age of the kings, are put down
to the influence of foreign idolatries, we may fairly
inquire whether editorial Bowdlerising has not
prevailed over historical truth.
An attempt to compare the ethical standards of two nations, one of which has a written code, while the other has not, is beset with difficulties. With all that is strange and, in many cases, repulsive to us in the social arrangements and opinions respecting moral obligation among the Tongans, as they are placed before us, with perfect candour, in Mariner's account, there is much that indicates a strong [p.490] ethical sense. They showed great kindliness to one another, and faithfulness in standing by their comrades in war. No people could have better observed either the third or the fifth commandment; for they had a particular horror of blasphemy, and their respectful tenderness towards their parents and, indeed, towards old people in general, was remarkable.
It cannot be said that the eighth commandment was generally observed, especially where Europeans were concerned; nevertheless a well-bred Tongan looked upon theft as a meanness to which he would not condescend. As to the seventh commandment, any breach of it was considered scandalous in women and as something to be avoided in self-respecting men; but, among unmarried and widowed people, chastity was held very cheap. Nevertheless the women were extremely well treated, and often showed themselves capable of great devotion and entire faithfulness. In the matter of cruelty, treachery, and blood thirstiness, these islanders were neither better nor worse than most peoples of antiquity. It is to the credit of the Tongans that they particularly objected to slander; nor can covetousness be regarded as their characteristic; for Mariner says:
When any one is about to eat, he always shares out what he has to those about him, without any hesitation, and a contrary conduct would be considered exceedingly vile and selfish (vol. ii. p. 145).
In fact, they thought very badly of the English when Mariner told them that his countrymen did not act exactly on that principle. It further appears that they decidedly belonged to the school of intuitive moral philosophers, and believed that virtue is its own reward; for
Many of the chiefs, on being asked by Mr. Mariner what motives they had for conducting themselves with propriety, besides the fear of misfortunes in this life, replied, the agreeable and happy feeling which a man experiences within himself when he does any good action or conducts himself nobly and generously as a man ought to do; and this question they answered as if they wondered such a question should be asked (vol. ii. p. 161).
One may read from the beginning of the book of Judges to the end of the books of Samuel without discovering that the old Israelites had a moral standard which differs, in any essential respect (except perhaps in regard to the chastity of unmarried women), from that of the Tongans. Gideon, Jephthah, Samson, and David are strong-handed men, some of whom are not outdone by any Polynesian chieftain in the matter of murder and treachery; while Deborah's jubilation over Jael's violation of the primary duty of hospitality, proffered and accepted under circumstances which give a peculiarly atrocious character to the murder of the guest; and her witch-like gloating over the picture of the disappointment of the mother of the victim—
The mother of Sisera cried through the lattice, Why is his chariot so long in coining? (Jud. v. 28. )
—would not have been out of place in the choral
service of the most sanguinary god in the Polynesian
With respect to the cannibalism which the Tongans occasionally practised, Mariner says:
Although a few young ferocious warriors chose to imitate what they considered a mark of courageous fierceness in a neighbouring nation, it was held in disgust by everybody else (vol. ii. p. 171).
That the moral standard of Tongan life was
less elevated than that indicated in the "Book of
the Covenant" (Exod. xxi-xxiii.) may be freely
admitted. But then the evidence that this Book
of the Covenant, and even the ten commandments
as given in Exodus, were known to the Israelites
of the time of Samuel and Saul, is (to say the
least) by no means conclusive. The Deuteronomic
version of the fourth commandment is hopelessly
discrepant from that which stands in Exodus.
Would any later writer have ventured to alter the
commandments as given from Sinai, if he had had
before him that which professed to be an accurate
statement of the "ten words" in Exodus? And
if the writer of Deuteronomy had not Exodus
before him, what is the value of the claim of the
version of the ten commandments therein contained
to authenticity? From one end to the other of the books of Judges and Samuel,
the only "commandments of Jahveh" which are specially adduced refer
to the prohibition of the worship of other gods, or
are orders given ad hoc, and have nothing to do
with questions of morality.
In Polynesia, the belief in witchcraft, in the appearance of spiritual beings in dreams, in possession as the cause of diseases, and in omens, prevailed universally. Mariner tells a story of a woman of rank who was greatly attached to King Finow, and who, for the space of six months after his death, scarcely ever slept elsewhere than on his grave, which she kept carefully decorated with flowers:—
One day she went, with the deepest affliction, to the house of Mo-oonga Toobo, the widow of the deceased chief, to communicate what had happened to her at the fytoca [grave] during several nights, and which caused her the greatest anxiety. She related that she had dreamed that the late How [King] appeared to her and, with a countenance full of disappointment, asked why there yet remained at Vavaoo so many evil-designing persons: for he declared that, since he had been at Bolotoo, his spirit had been disturbed22 by the evil machinations of wicked men conspiring against his son; but he declared that "the youth" should not be molested nor his power shaken by the spirit of rebellion; that he therefore came to her with a warning voice to prevent such disastrous consequences (vol. i. p. 424).
On inquiry it turned out that the charm of
tattao had been performed on Finow's grave, with
the view of injuring his son, the reigning king,
and it is to be presumed that it was this sorcerer's
work which had "disturbed" Finow's spirit. The
Rev. Richard Taylor says in the work already
cited: "The account given of the witch [p.491] of Endor
agrees most remarkably with the witches of New
Zealand" (p. 45).
The Tongans also believed in a mode of divination (essentially similar to the casting of lots) the twirling of a cocoanut.
The object of inquiry ... is chiefly whether a sick person will recover; for this purpose the nut being placed on the ground, a relation of the sick person determines that, if the nut, when again at rest, points to such a quarter, the east for example, that the sick man will recover; he then prays aloud to the patron god of the family that he will be pleased to direct the nut so that it may indicate the truth; the nut being next spun, the result is attended to with confidence, at least with a full conviction that it will truly declare the intentions of the gods at the time (vol. ii. p. 227).
Does not the action of Saul, on a famous occasion, involve exactly the same theological presuppositions?
Therefore Saul said unto Jahveh, the Elohim of Israel, Shew the right. And Jonathan and Saul were taken by lot: but the people escaped. And Saul said, Cast lots between me and Jonathan my son. And Jonathan was taken. And Saul said to Jonathan, Tell me what thou hast done.... And the people rescued Jonathan so that he died not (1 Sam. xiv. 41-45).
As the Israelites had great yearly feasts, so had the Polynesians; as the
Israelites practised circumcision, so did many Polynesian people; as the
Israelites had a complex and often arbitrary-seeming multitude of distinctions between clean
and unclean things, and clean and unclean states
of men, to which they attached great importance
so had the Polynesians their notions of ceremonial
purity and their tabu, an equally extensive and
strange system of prohibitions, violation of which
was visited by death. These doctrines of cleanness
and uncleanness no doubt may have taken their
rise in the real or fancied utility of the prescriptions, but it is probable that the origin of many is
indicated in the curious habit of the Samoans to
make fetishes of living animals. It will be
recollected that these people had no "gods made
with hands," but they substituted animals for
At his birth
every Samoan was supposed to be taken under the care of some tutelary god or aitu [ = Atua] as it was called. The help of perhaps half a dozen different gods was invoked in succession on the occasion, but the one who happened to be addressed just as the child was born was marked and declared to be the child's god for life.
These gods were supposed to appear in some visible incarnation, and the particular thing in which his god was in the habit of appearing was, to the Samoan, an object of veneration. It was in fact his idol, and he was careful never to injure it or treat it with contempt. One, for instance, saw his god in the eel, another in the shark, another in the turtle, another in the dog, another in the owl, another in the lizard; and so on, throughout all the fish of the sea and birds and four-footed beasts and creeping things. In some of the shell-fish even, gods were supposed to be present. A man would eat freely of what was regarded as the incarnation of the god of another man, but the incarnation of his own particular god he would consider it death to injure or eat.23
We have here that which appears to be the
origin, or one of [p.493] the origins, of food prohibitions,
on the one hand, and of totemism on the other.
When it is remembered that the old Israelites
sprang from ancestors who are said to have resided
near, or in, one of the great seats of ancient
Babylonian civilisation, the city of Ur; that they
had been, it is said for centuries, in close contact
with the Egyptians; and that, in the theology of
both the Babylonians and the Egyptians, there is
abundant evidence, notwithstanding their advanced
social organisation, of the belief in spirits, with
sorcery, ancestor-worship, the deification of animals, and the converse
animalisation of gods it obviously needs very strong evidence to justify the
belief that the rude tribes of Israel did riot share
the notions from which their far more civilised
neighbours had not emancipated themselves.
But it is surely needless to carry the comparison further. Out of the abundant evidence at command, I think that sufficient has been produced to furnish ample grounds for the belief, that the old Israelites of the time of Samuel entertained theological conceptions which were on a level with those current among the more civilised of the Polynesian islanders, though their ethical code may possibly, in some respects, have been more advanced.24
A theological system of essentially similar character, exhibiting the same fundamental conceptions respecting the continued existence and incessant interference in human affairs of disembodied spirits, prevails, or formerly prevailed, among the whole of the inhabitants of the Polynesian and Melanesian islands, and among the people of Australia, notwithstanding the wide differences in physical character and in grade of civilisation which obtain among them. And the same proposition is true of the people who inhabit the riverain shores of the Pacific Ocean, whether Dyaks, Malays, Indo-Chinese, Chinese, Japanese, the wild tribes of America, or the highly civilised old Mexicans and Peruvians. It is no less true of the Mongolic nomads of Northern Asia, of the Asiatic Aryans and of the Ancient Greeks and Romans, and it holds good among the Dravidians of the Dekhan and the negro tribes of Africa. No tribe of savages which has yet been discovered, has been conclusively proved to have so poor a theological equipment as to be devoid of a belief in ghosts, and in the utility of some form of witchcraft, in influencing those ghosts. And there is no nation, modern or ancient, which, even at this moment, has wholly given up the belief; and in which it has not, at one time or other, played a great part in practical life.
This sciotheism,25 as it might be called, is found, in several degrees of complexity, in rough correspondence with the stages of social organisation, and, like these, separated by no sudden breaks.
In its simplest condition, such as may be met
with among the Australian savages, theology is a
mere belief in the existence, powers, and disposition (usually malignant) of ghostlike entities who
may be propitiated or scared away; but no cult
can properly be said to exist. And, in this stage,
theology is wholly independent of ethics. The
moral code, such as is implied by public opinion,
derives no sanction from the theological dogmas,
and the influence of the spirits is supposed to be
exerted out of mere caprice or malice.
As a next stage, the fundamental fear of ghosts and the consequent desire to propitiate them acquire an organised ritual in simple forms of ancestor-worship, such as the Rev. Mr. Turner describes among the people of Tanna (i.e. p. 88); and this line of development may be followed out until it attains its acme in the State-theology of China and the Kami-theology26 of Japan. Each of these is essentially ancestor- worship, the ancestors being reckoned back through family groups, of higher and higher order, sometimes with strict reference to the principle of agnation, as in old Home; and, as in the latter, it is intimately bound up with the whole organisation of the State. There are no idols; inscribed tablets in China, and strips of paper lodged in a peculiar portable shrine in Japan, represent the souls of the deceased, or the special seats which they occupy when sacrifices are offered by their descendants. In Japan it is interesting to observe that a national Kami Ten-zio-dai-zin is worshipped as a sort of Jahveh by the nation in general, and (as Lippert has observed) it is singular that his special seat is a portable litter-like shrine, termed the Mikosi, in some sort analogous to the Israelitic ark. In China, the emperor is the representative of the primitive ancestors, and stands, as it were, between them and the supreme cosmic deities Heaven and Earth who are superadded to them, and who answer to the Tangaloa and the Maui of the Polynesians.
Sciotheism, under the form of the deification of ancestral ghosts, in its most pronounced form, is therefore the chief element in the theology of a great moiety, possibly of more than half, of the human race. I think this must be taken to be a matter of fact though various opinions may be held as to how this ancestor-worship came about. But on the other hand, it is no less a matter of fact that there are very few people without additional gods, who cannot, with certainty, be accounted for as deified ancestors.
With all respect for the distinguished authorities on the other side, I cannot find good
reasons for accepting the theory that the cosmic
deities who are superadded to deified ancestors
even in China; who are found all over Polynesia,
in Tangaloa and Maui, and in old Peru, in the Sun—are the product either of the "search after
infinite," or of mistakes arising out of the confusion
of a great chief's name with the thing signified by
the name. But, however this may be, I think it
is again merely matter of fact that, among a
large portion of mankind, ancestor-worship is more
or less thrown into the background either by such
cosmic deities, or by tribal gods of uncertain
origin, who have been raised to eminence by the
superiority in warfare, or otherwise, of their worshippers.
Among certain nations, the polytheistic theology, thus constituted, has become modified by the selection of some one cosmic or tribal god, as the only god to whom worship is due on the part of that nation (though it is by no means denied that other nations have a right to worship other gods), and thus results a worship of one God—monolatry, as Wellhausen calls it—which is very different from genuine monotheism.27 In ancestral sciotheism, and in this monolatry, the ethical code, often of a very high order, comes into closer relation with the theological creed. Morality is taken under the patronage of the god or gods, who reward all morally good conduct and punish all morally evil conduct in this world or the next. At the same time, however, they are conceived to be thoroughly human, and they visit any shadow of disrespect to themselves, shown by disobedience to their commands, or by delay, or carelessness, in carrying them out, as severely as any breach of the moral laws. Piety means minute attention to the due performance of all sacred rites, and covers any number of lapses in morality, just as cruelty, treachery, murder, and adultery did not bar David's claim to the title of the man after God's own heart among the Israelites; crimes against men may be expiated, but blasphemy against the gods is an unpardonable sin. Men forgive all injuries but those which touch their self-esteem; and they make their gods after their own likeness, in their own image make they them.
It is in the category of monolatry that I conceive the theology of the old Israelites must be ranged. They were polytheists, in so far as they admitted the existence of other Elohim of divine rank beside Jahveh; they differed from ordinary polytheists, in so far as they believed that Jahveh was the supreme god and the one proper object of their own national worship. But it will doubtless be objected that I have been building up a fictitious Israelitic theology on the foundation of the recorded habits and customs of the people, when they had lapsed from the ordinances of their great lawgiver and prophet Moses, and that my conclusions may be good for the perverts to Canaanitish theology, but not for the true observers of the Sinaitic legislation. The answer to the objection—is that so far as I can form a judgment of that which is well ascertained in the history of Israel—there is very little ground for believing that we know much, either about the theological and social [p.496] value of the influence of Moses, or about what happened during the wanderings in the Desert.
The account of the Exodus and of the occurrences in the Sinaitic peninsula; in fact, all the history of Israel before the invasion of Canaan, is full of wonderful stories, which may be true, in so far as they are conceivable occurrences, but which are certainly not probable, and which I, for one, decline to accept until evidence, which deserves that name, is offered of their historical truth. Up to this time I know of none.28 Furthermore, I see no answer to the argument that one has no right to pick out of an obviously unhistorical statement the assertions which happen to be probable and to discard the rest. But it is also certain that a primitively veracious tradition may be smothered under subsequent mythical additions, and that one has no right to cast away the former along with the latter. Thus, perhaps the fairest way of stating the case may be as follows.
There can be no a priori objection to the supposition that the Israelites were delivered from their Egyptian bondage by a leader called Moses, and that he exerted a great influence over their subsequent organisation in the Desert. There is no reason to doubt that, during their residence in the land of Goshen, the Israelites knew nothing of Jahveh; but, as their own prophets declare (see Ezek. xx.), were polytheistic idolaters, sharing in the worst practices of their neighbours. As to their conduct in other respects, nothing is known. But it may fairly be suspected that their ethics were not of a higher order than those of Jacob, their progenitor, in which case they might derive great profit from contact with Egyptian society, which held honesty and truthfulness in the highest esteem. Thanks to the Egyptologers, we now know, with all requisite certainty, the moral standard of that society in the time, and long before the time, of Moses. It can be determined from the scrolls buried with the mummified dead and from the inscriptions on the tombs and memorial statues of that age. For, though the lying of epitaphs is proverbial, so far as their subject is concerned, they gave an unmistakable insight into that which the writers and the readers of them think praiseworthy.
In the famous tombs at Beni Hassan there is a record of the life of Prince Nakht, who served Osertasen II., a Pharaoh of the twelfth dynasty as governor of a province. The inscription speaks in his name: "I was a benevolent and kindly governor who loved his country. ... Never was a little child distressed nor a widow ill-treated by me. I have never repelled a workman nor hindered a shepherd. I gave alike to the widow and to the married woman, and have not preferred the great to the small in my gifts." And we have the high authority of the late Dr. Samuel Birch for the statement that the inscriptions of the twelfth dynasty abound in injunctions of a high [p.497] ethical character. "To feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, bury the dead, loyally serve the king, formed the first duty of a pious man and faithful subject."29 The people for whom these inscriptions embodied their ideal of praise-worthiness assuredly had no imperfect conception of either justice or mercy. But there is a document which gives still better evidence of the moral standard of the Egyptians. It is the "Book of the Dead," a sort of "Guide to Spiritland," the whole, or a part, of which was buried with the mummy of every well-to-do Egyptian, while extracts from it are found in innumerable inscriptions. Portions of this work are of extreme antiquity, evidence of their existence occurring as far back as the fifth and sixth dynasties; while the 125th chapter, which constitutes a sort of book by itself, and is known as the "Book of Redemption in the Hall of the two Truths," is frequently inscribed upon coffins and other monuments of the nineteenth dynasty (that under which, there is some reason to believe, the Israelites were oppressed and the Exodus took place), and it occurs, more than once, in the famous tombs of the kings of this and the preceding dynasty at Thebes.30 This "Book of Redemption" is chiefly occupied by the so-called "negative confession" made to the forty-two Divine Judges, in which the soul of the dead denies that he has committed faults of various kinds. It is, therefore, obvious that the Egyptians conceived that their gods commanded them not to do the deeds which are here denied. The "Book of Redemption," in fact, implies the existence in the mind of the Egyptians, if not in a formal writing, of a series of ordinances, couched, like the majority of the ten commandments, in negative terms. And it is easy to prove the implied existence of a series which nearly answers to the "ten words." Of course a polytheistic and image-worshipping people, who observed a great many holy days, but no Sabbaths, could have nothing analogous to the first or the second and the fourth commandments of the Decalogue; but answering to the third, is "I have not blasphemed;" to the fifth, "I have not reviled the face of the king or my father;" to the sixth, "I have not murdered;" to the seventh, "I have not committed adultery;" to the eighth, "I have not stolen," "I have not done fraud to man;" to the ninth, "I have not told falsehoods in the tribunal of truth," and, further, "I have not calumniated the slave to his master." I find nothing exactly similar to the tenth commandment; but that the inward disposition of mind was held to be of no less importance than the outward act is to be gathered from the praises of kindliness already cited and the cry of "I am pure," which is repeated by the soul on trial. Moreover, there is a minuteness of detail in the confession which shows no little delicacy of moral appreciation—"I have not privily done evil against mankind," "I have not afflicted men," "I [p.498] have not withheld milk from the mouths of sucklings," "I have not been idle," "I have not played the hypocrite," "I have not told falsehoods," "I have not corrupted woman or man," "I have not caused fear," "I have not multiplied words in speaking."
Would that the moral sense of the nineteenth century A.D. were as far advanced as that of the Egyptians in the nineteenth century B.C. in this last particular! What incalculable benefit to mankind would flow from strict observance of the commandment, "Thou shalt not multiply word sin speaking." Nothing is more remarkable than the stress which the old Egyptians, here and elsewhere, lay upon this and other kinds of truthfulness, as compared with the absence of any such requirement in the Israelitic Decalogue, in which only a specific kind of untruthfulnes is forbidden.
If, as the story runs, Moses was adopted by a princess of the royal house, and was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, it is surely incredible that he should not have been familiar from his youth up, with the high moral code implied in the "Book of Redemption." It is surely impossible that he should have been less familiar with the complete legal system, and with the method of administration of justice, which, even in his time, had enabled the Egyptian people to hold together, as a complex social organisation, for a period far longer than the duration of old Roman society, from the building of the city to the death of the last Caesar. Nor need we look to Moses alone for the influence of Egypt upon Israel. It is true that the Hebrew nomads who came into contact with the Egyptians of Osertasen, or of Ramses, stood in much the same relation to them, in point of culture, as a Germanic tribe did to the Romans of Tiberius, or of Marcus Antoninus; or as Captain Cook's Omai did to the English of George the Third. But, at the same time, any difficulty of communication which might have arisen out of this circumstance was removed by the long pre-existing intercourse of other Semites, of every grade of civilisation, with the Egyptians. In Mesopotamia and elsewhere, as in Phenicia, Semitic people had attained to a social organisation as advanced as that of the Egyptians; Semites had conquered and occupied Lower Egypt for centuries. So extensively had Semitic influences penetrated Egypt that the Egyptian language, during the period of the nineteenth dynasty, is said by Brugsch to be as full of Semitisms as German is of Gallicisms; while Semitic deities had supplanted the Egyptian gods at Heliopolis and elsewhere. On the other hand, the Semites, as far as Phenicia, were extensively influenced by Egypt.
It is generally admitted31 that Moses, Phinehas (and perhaps Aaron), are names of Egyptian origin, and there is excellent authority for the statement that the name Abir, which the [p.499] Israelites gave to their golden calf, and which is also used to signify the strong, the heavenly, and even God,32 is simply the Egyptian Apis. Brugsch points out that the god, Tum or Tom, who was the special object of worship in the city of Pi-Tom, with which the Israelites were only too familiar, was called Ankh and the "great god," and had no image. Anhk means "He who lives," "the living one," a name the resemblance of which to the 'I am that I am" of Exodus is unmistakable, whatever may be the value of the fact. Every discussion of Israelitic ritual seeks and finds the explanation of its details in the portable sacred chests, the altars, the priestly dress, the breastplate, the incense, and the sacrifices depicted on the monuments of Egypt. But it must be remembered that these signs of the influence of Egypt upon Israel are not necessarily evidence that such influence was exerted before the Exodus. It may have come much later, through the close connection of the Israel of David and Solomon, first with Phenicia and then with Egypt.
If we suppose Moses to have been a man of the stamp of Calvin, there is no difficulty in conceiving that he may have constructed the substance of the ten words, and even of the Book of the Covenant, which curiously resembles parts of the Book of the Dead, from the foundation of Egyptian ethics and theology which had filtered through to the Israelites in general, or had been furnished specially to himself by his early education; just as the great Genevese reformer built up a puritanic social organisation on so much as remained of the ethics and theology of the Roman Church, after he had trimmed them to his liking.
Thus, I repeat, I see no a priori objection to the assumption that Moses may have endeavoured to give his people a theologico-political organisation based on the ten commandments (though certainly not quite in their present form) and the Book of the Covenant, contained in our present book of Exodus. But whether there is such evidence as amounts to proof, or, I had better say, to probability, that even this much of the Pentateuch owes its origin to Moses is another matter. The mythical character of the accessories of the Sinaitic history is patent, and it would take a good deal more evidence than is afforded by the bare assertion of an unknown writer to justify the belief that the people who "saw the thunderings and the lightnings and the voice of the trumpet and the mountain smoking" (Exod. xx. 18); to whom Jahveh orders Moses to say, "Ye yourselves have seen that I have talked with you from heaven. Ye shall not make other gods with me; gods of silver and gods of gold ye shall not make unto you" (ibid. 22, 23), should, less than six weeks afterwards, have done the exact thing they were thus awfully forbidden to do. Nor is the credibility of the story increased by the statement that Aaron, the brother of Moses, the witness and fellow-worker of the miracles before [p.500] Pharaoh, was their leader and the artificer of the idol. And yet, at the same time, Aaron was apparently so ignorant of wrongdoing that he made proclamation, "Tomorrow shall be a feast to Jahveh," and the people proceeded to offer their burnt-offerings and peace-offerings, as if everything in their proceedings must be satisfactory to the Deity with whom they had just made a solemn covenant to abolish image-worship. It seems to me that, on a survey of all the facts of the case, only a very cautious and hypothetical judgment is justifiable. It may be that Moses profited by the opportunities afforded him of access to what was best in Egyptian society to become acquainted, not only with its advanced ethical and legal code, but with the more or less pantheistic unification of the Divine to which the speculations of the Egyptian thinkers, like those of all polytheistic philosophers, from Polynesia to Greece, tend; if indeed the theology of the period of the nineteenth dynasty was not, as some Egyptologists think, a modification of an earlier, more distinctly monotheistic doctrine of a long antecedent age. It took only half a dozen centuries for the theology of Paul to become the theology of Gregory the Great; and it is possible that twenty centuries lay between the theology of the first worshippers in the sanctuary of the Sphinx and that of the priests of Ramses Maimun.
It may be that the ten commandments and the Book of the Covenant are based upon faithful traditions of the efforts of a great leader to raise his followers to his own level. For myself, as a matter of pious opinion, I like to think so; as I like to imagine that, between Moses and Samuel, there may have been many a seer, many a herdsman such as him of Tekoah, lonely amidst the hills of Ephraim and Judah, who cherished and kept alive these traditions. In the present results of Biblical criticism, however, I can discover no justification for the common assumption that, between the time of Joshua and that of Rehoboam, the Israelites were familiar with either the Deuteronomic or the Levitical legislation; or that the theology of the Israelites, from the king who sat on the throne to the lowest of his subjects, was in any important respect different from that which might naturally be expected from their previous history and the conditions of their existence. But there is excellent evidence to the contrary effect. And, for my part, I see no reason to doubt that, like the rest of the world, the Israelites had passed through a period of mere ghost-worship, and had advanced through Ancestor-worship and Fetishism and Totemism to the theological level at which we find them in the books of Judges and Samuel.
All the more remarkable, therefore, is the extraordinary change which is to be noted in the eighth century B.C. The student who is familiar with the theology implied, or expressed, in the books of Judges, Samuel, and the first book of Kings, finds himself in a new [p.501] world of thought, in the full tide of a great reformation, when he reads Joel, Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Micah, and Jeremiah.
The essence of this change is the reversal of the position which, in primitive society, ethics holds in relation to theology. Originally, that which men worship is a theological hypothesis, not a moral ideal. The prophets, in substance, if not always in form, preach the opposite doctrine. They are constantly striving to free the moral ideal from the stifling embrace of the current theology and its concomitant ritual. Theirs was not an intellectual criticism, argued on strictly scientific grounds; the image-worshippers and the believers in the efficacy of sacrifices and ceremonies might logically have held their own against anything the prophets have to say; it was an ethical criticism. From the height of his moral intuition that the whole duty of man is to do justice and to love mercy and to bear himself as humbly as befits his insignificance in face of the Infinite the prophet simply laughs at the idolaters of stocks and stones and the idolaters of ritual. Idols of the first kind, in his experience, were inseparably united with the practice of immorality, and they were to be ruthlessly destroyed. As for sacrifices and ceremonies, whatever their intrinsic value might be, they might be tolerated on condition of ceasing to be idols; they might even be praiseworthy on condition of being made to subserve the worship of the true Jahveh the moral ideal.
If the realm of David had remained undivided, if the Assyrian and the Chaldean and the Egyptian had left Israel to the ordinary course of development of an Oriental kingdom, it is possible that the effects of the reforming zeal of the prophets of the eighth and seventh centuries might have been effaced by the growth, according to its inevitable tendencies, of the theology which they combated. But the captivity made the fortune of the ideas which it was the privilege of these men to launch upon an endless career. With the abolition of the Temple-services for more than half a century, the priest must have lost and the scribe gained influence. The puritanism of a vigorous minority among the Babylonian Jews rooted out polytheism from all its hiding-places in the theology which they had inherited; they created the first consistent, remorseless, naked monotheism, which, so far as history records, appeared in the world (for Zoroastrism is practically ditheism, and Buddhism any-theism or no-theism); and they inseparably united therewith an ethical code, which, for its purity and for its efficiency as a bond of social life, was and is, unsurpassed. So I think we must not judge Ezra and Nehemiah and their followers too hardly, if they exemplified the usual doom of poor humanity to escape from one error only to fall into another; if they failed to free themselves as completely from the idolatry of ritual as they had from that of images and dogmas; if they cherished the new fetters of the Levitical legislation which they had fitted upon themselves and their nation, as though such bonds had the sanctity of the obligations of morality; and if they [p.502] led succeeding generations to spend their best energies in building that "hedge round the Torah" which was meant to preserve both ethics and theology, but which too often had the effect of pampering the latter and starving the former. The world being what it was, it is to be doubted whether Israel would have preserved intact the pure ore of religion, which the prophets had extracted for the use of mankind as well as for their nation, had not the leaders of the nation been zealous, even to death, for the dross of the law in which it was embedded. The struggle of the Jews, under the Maccabean house, against the Seleucidae was as important for mankind as that of the Greeks against the Persians. And, of all the strange ironies of history, perhaps the strangest is that "Pharisee" is current, as a term of reproach, among the theological descendants of that sect of Nazarenes who, without the martyr spirit of those primitive Puritans, would never have come into existence. They, like their historical successors, our own Puritans, have shared the general fate of the poor wise men who save cities.
A criticism of theology from the side of science is not thought of by the prophets, and is at most indicated in the books of Job and Ecclesiastes, in both of which the problem of vindicating the ways of God to man is given up, though on different grounds, as a hopeless one. But with the extensive introduction of Greek thought among the Jews, which took place, not only during the domination of the Seleucidae in Palestine, but in the great Judaic colony which flourished in Egypt under the Ptolemies, criticism, on both ethical and scientific grounds, took a new departure.
In the hands of the Alexandrian Jews, as represented by Philo, the fundamental axiom of later Jewish, as of Christian monotheism, that the Deity is infinitely perfect and infinitely good, worked itself out into its logical consequence agnostic theism. Philo will allow of no point of contact between God and a world in which evil exists. For him God has no relation to space or to time, and, as infinite, suffers no predicate beyond that of existence. It is therefore absurd to ascribe to Him mental faculties and affections comparable in the remotest degree to those of men; He is in no way an object of cognition; He is άποιος and άκατάληκτος33—without quality and incomprehensible. That is to say the Alexandrian Jew of the first century had anticipated the reasonings of Hamilton and Mansell in the nineteenth, and, for him, God is the Unknowable in the sense in which that term is used by Mr. Herbert Spencer. Moreover, Philo's definition of the Supreme Being would not be inconsistent with that "substantia constans infinitis attributis, quorum unumquodque aeternam et infinitam essentiam exprimit," given by another great Israelite, [p.503] were it not that Spinoza's doctrine of the immanence of the Deity in the world puts him, at any rate formally, at the antipodes of theological speculation. But the conception of the essential incognoscibility of the Deity is the same in each case. However, Philo was too thorough an Israelite and too much the child of his time to be content with this agnostic position. With the help of the Platonic and Stoic philosophy, he constructed an apprehensible, if not comprehensible, quasi-deity out of the Logos; while other more or less personified divine powers, or attributes, bridged over the interval between God and man; between the sacred existence, too pure to be called by any name which implied a conceivable quality, and the gross and evil world of matter. In order to get over the ethical difficulties presented by the naive naturalism of many parts of those Scriptures, in the divine authority of which he firmly believed, Philo borrowed from the Stoics (who had been in like straits in respect of Greek mythology), that great Excalibur which they had forged with infinite pains and skill the method of allegorical interpretation. This mighty " two-handed engine at the door " of the theologian is warranted to make a speedy end of any and every moral or intellectual difficulty, by showing that, taken allegorically or, as it is otherwise said, "poetically" or, "in a spiritual sense," the plainest words mean whatever a pious interpreter desires they should mean. In Biblical phrase, Zeno (who probably had a strain of Semitic blood in him) was the "father of all such as reconcile." No doubt Philo and his followers were eminently religious men; but they did endless injury to the cause of religion by laying the foundations of a new theology, while equipping the defenders of it with the subtlest of all weapons of offence and defence, and with an inexhaustible store of sophistical arguments of the most plausible aspect.
The question of the real bearing upon theology of the influence exerted by the teaching of Philo's contemporary, Jesus of Nazareth, is one upon which it is not germane to my present purpose to enter. I take it simply as an unquestionable fact that his immediate disciples, known to their countrymen as "Nazarenes," were regarded as, and considered themselves to be, perfectly orthodox Jews, belonging to the puritanic or pharisaic section of their people, and differing from the rest only in their belief that the Messiah had already come. Christianity, it is said, first became clearly differentiated at Antioch, and it separated itself from orthodox Judaism by denying the obligation of the rite of circumcision and of the food prohibitions, prescribed by the law. Henceforward theology became relatively stationary among the Jews,34 and the history of its rapid [p.504] progress in a new course of evolution is the history of the Christian Churches, orthodox and heterodox. The steps in this evolution are obvious. The first is the birth of a new theological scheme arising out of the union of elements derived from Greek philosophy with elements derived from Israelitic theology. In the fourth Gospel, the Logos, raised to a somewhat higher degree of personification than in the Alexandrian theosophy, is identified with Jesus of Nazareth. In the Epistles, especially the later of those attributed to Paul, the Israelitic ideas of the Messiah and of sacrificial atonement coalesce with one another and with the embodiment of the Logos in Jesus, until the apotheosis of the Son of man is almost, or quite, effected. The history of Christian dogma, from Justin to Athanasius, is a record of continual progress in the same direction, until the fair body of religion, revealed in almost naked purity by the prophets, is once more hidden under a new accumulation of dogmas and of ritual practices of which the primitive Nazarene knew nothing; and which he would probably have regarded as blasphemous if he could have been made to understand them.
As, century after century, the ages roll on, polytheism comes back under the disguise of Mariolatry and the adoration of saints; image-worship becomes as rampant as in old Egypt; adoration of relics takes the place of the old fetish- worship; the virtues of the ephod pale before those of holy coats and handkerchiefs; shrines and calvaries make up for the loss of the ark and of the high places; and even the lustral fluid of paganism is replaced by holy water at the porches of the temples. A touching ceremony the common meal originally eaten in pious memory of a loved teacher becomes metamorphosed into a flesh-and-blood sacrifice, supposed to possess exactly that redeeming virtue which the prophets denied to the flesh-and-blood sacrifices of their day; while the minute observance of ritual is raised to a degree of punctilious refinement which Levitical legislators might envy. And with the growth of this theology, grew its inevitable concomitant, the belief in evil spirits, in possession, in sorcery, in charms and omens, until the Christians of the twelfth century after our era were sunk in more debased and brutal superstitions than are recorded of the Israelites in the twelfth century before it.
The greatest men of the Middle Ages are unable to escape the infection. Dante's "Inferno" would be revolting if it were not so often sublime, so often exquisitely tender. The hideous pictures which cover a vast space on the south wall of the Campo Santo of Pisa convey information, as terrible as it is indisputable, of the theological conceptions of Dante's countrymen in the fourteenth century, whose eyes were addressed by the painters of those disgusting [p.5005 scenes, and whose approbation they knew how to win. A candid Mexican of the time of Cortez, could he have seen this Christian burial-place, would have taken it for an appropriately adorned Teocalli. The professed disciple of the God of justice and of mercy might there gloat over the sufferings of his fellowmen depicted as undergoing every extremity of atrocious and sanguinary torture to all eternity, for theological errors no less than for moral delinquencies; while, in the central figure of Satan,35 occupied in champing up souls in his capacious and well-toothed jaws, to void them again for the purpose of undergoing fresh suffering, we have the counterpart of the strange Polynesian and Egyptian dogma that there were certain gods who employed themselves in devouring the ghostly flesh of the spirits of the dead. But injustice to the Polynesians, it must be recollected that, after three such operations, they thought the soul was purified and happy. In the view of the Christian theologian the operation was only a preparation for new tortures continued for ever and aye.
With the growth of civilisation in Europe, and with the revival of letters and of science in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the ethical and intellectual criticism of theology once more recommenced, and arrived at a temporary resting-place in the confessions of the various reformed Protestant sects in the sixteenth century; almost all of which, as soon as they were strong enough, began to persecute those who carried criticism beyond their own limit. But the movement was not arrested by these ecclesiastical barriers, as their constructors fondly imagined it would be; it was continued, tacitly or openly, by Galileo, by Hobbes, by Descartes, and especially by Spinoza, in the seventeenth century; by the English Freethinkers, by Rousseau, by the French Encyclopedists, and by the German Rationalists, among whom Lessing stands out a head and shoulders taller than the rest, throughout the eighteenth century; by the historians, the philologers, the Biblical critics, the geologists, and the biologists in the nineteenth century, until it is obvious to all who can see that the moral sense and the really scientific method of seeking for truth are once more predominating over false science. Once more ethics and theology are parting company.
It is my conviction that, with the spread of true scientific culture, whatever may be the medium, historical, philological, philosophical, or physical, through which that culture is conveyed, and with its [p.506] necessary concomitant, a constant elevation of the standard of veracity, the end of the evolution of theology will be like its—beginning it will cease to have any relation to ethics. I suppose that, so long as the human mind exists, it will not escape its deep-seated instinct to personify its intellectual conceptions. The science of the present day is as full of this particular form of intellectual shadow-worship as is the nescience of ignorant ages. The difference is that the philosopher who is worthy of the name knows that his personified hypotheses, such as law, and force, and ether, and the like, are merely useful symbols, while the ignorant and the careless take them for adequate expressions of reality. So, it may be, that the majority of mankind may find the practice of morality made easier by the use of theological symbols. And unless these are converted from symbols into idols, I do not see that science has anything to say to the practice, except to give an occasional warning of its dangers. But, when such symbols are dealt with as real existences, I think the highest duty which is laid upon men of science is to show that these dogmatic idols have no greater value than the fabrications of men's hands, the stocks and the stones, which they have replaced.