Ernest Renan

[Extracted from his Studies in Religious History, (1893 ed.), pp. 51-93.
Translated from the French, circa 1860.]

It is the property of great things to suffer themselves to be comprehended from several different points of view and to grow larger with the human mind itself, so that each one according to his degree of culture, and each age according as it understands the past more or less deeply, finds from different motives something to admire. When the critics of antiquity and those of the seventeenth century communicated to us the beauties which they thought they had discovered in Homer, the childishness of their aesthetics astonished us: we admire Homer as much as they did, but for other reasons entirely. When Bossuet and M. de Chateaubriand think to admire the Bible in admiring its misunderstandings and nonsense,1 educated Germany has the right to smile. However, the admiration of Herder and Ewald, though being better founded, is not less free from it. The more we contemplate the world and the past as they are, without regard to conventional and preconceived ideas, the more we shall find true beauty; and it is in this sense that we can say  [p.52] science is the first condition of real admiration. Jerusalem has come out more brilliant and more beautiful from the work of being apparently the destroyer of modern science; the pious tales which amused our infancy whilst in the nursery have become, thanks to a wholesome interpretation, great truths; and it is to us, who now see Israel in her real beauty, it is to us the critics that it belongs to say truly: Stantes erant pedes nostri in atriis tuis, Jerusalem! Our feet were standing at thine altars, Jerusalem!

If we regard the development of the Hebrew mind in its entirety, we cannot but be struck with the high character of absolute perfection which gives to its works the right to be regarded as classics, in the same sense as the productions of Greece, Rome, and the Latin people. Alone, among all the people of the East, Israel has had the privilege of writing for the whole world. The Vedas certainly constitute admirable poetry. However, this collection of the first songs of the race from which we take them will never replace in the expression of our religious sentiments the Psalms, the work of a race so different from our own. The literatures of the East cannot in general be read and appreciated by any except the learned. Hebraic literature, on the contrary, is the Bible, the book above all, the universal reading. Millions of men know no other poetry. It must, without doubt, have made, in this astonishing destiny, the kind of religious revolution which, since the sixteenth century, has made us regard the Hebrew books as the source of all revelation. But we can affirm that if these books had not contained something profoundly universal they would not have attained such a degree of importance. Proportion, measure, and taste were in the East the exclusive privilege of the Hebrew people. Israel had, like Greece, the gift of enunciating perfectly its ideas, and of expressing them in a compact and complete [p.53] manner, and by that it succeeded in giving to thoughts and sentiments a general form acceptable to all human nature.

Thanks to this universal adoption, no history is more popular than that of Israel, but no history has been longer in being understood. It is the fate of literature which becomes the foundation of religious belief to contract the rigidity of dogma and to lose its real character in becoming a recognised symbolism where one goes to search for arguments to support every cause. From the history of a people the most opposed to monarchy who have ever existed, Bossuet was able to draw a justification of the policy of Louis XIV.; another has concluded from it in favour of a theocracy; another in favour of a republic. Germany, from the very first, with that gift of historic intuition which seems specially adapted for the primitive epochs, perceived the truth, and framed the history of the Jewish people as a history like any other; not according to theological views agreed on beforehand, but according to a critical and grammatical study of the texts. The work of Biblical exegesis, constructed stone by stone with a marvellous concatenation and an incomparable tenacity of method, is, without contradiction, the masterpiece of German genius, and the most perfect model we can propose for other branches of philology. Already, several years before the Reformation, Germany had made the science of Hebrew its own proper province, of which it has not since been dispossessed. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, criticism, checked in France by the narrow spirit of the theologians,2 or led away by the want of intelligence which characterised the school of Voltaire [p.54] in matters of history, made marvellous progress among the Germans; and after the generations of Michaelis, Eichhorn, Rosenmuller, De-Wette, Winer, and Gesenius, we may well believe that there was nothing more to be done within the circle of Hebraic studies. M. Ewald, however, has proved, in these later years, by numerous writings, and above all by his splendid History of the People of Israel,3 that the part of the great critic in this ever new field is far from being exhausted. By the boldness of his views, his penetration of mind, his brilliant imagination, the marvellous sentiment he possesses with respect to religious and poetic things, M. Ewald has far surpassed all those who had previously occupied themselves with the history and literature of the Hebrew people. Some defects, it is true, may obscure these rare merits; the extreme fineness of the sketches degenerates occasionally to subtlety; he does not always stop soon enough in the way of conjecture. The origin of the people of Israel, the patriarchal epoch, the primitive fables, are treated too arbitrarily in the endeavour to reconcile them with mythologies entirely foreign to the Hebrew spirit. The description of the later ages of Jewish history, of those which immediately preceded and prepared Christianity, is coloured throughout with the particular opinions of M. Ewald with regard to religion and philosophy—opinions to which we can hardly deny the character of a singular originality, and in which the author believes he can combine a sort of Christian fanaticism with the most avowed rationalism.4 The best part of the work of M. [p.55] Ewald is the narrative of the purely Hebraic period, from Samuel to the Maccabees. The history of David and Solomon, the part of the Prophets, the various religious revolutions of the epoch of the Kings, the time of the Captivity, the character of Hebraic poetry, and above all, that of the Psalms, constitute a marvellous exposition, which might possibly be rectified on some points, but not surpassed as a whole and general conception. Why should the learned professor of Gottingen commit the fault of mingling so many beautiful and brilliant sketches and pages full of enthusiasm with a bitter polemic against persons whose opinions often differ only by a shade from his own? Why, in particular, should M. Ewald believe that he is obliged to lower a man like Gesenius, who could not in any wise compare with him for philosophy and aesthetic sentiment, but who has not been surpassed as a philologist and as a grammarian? M. Ewald, if superior to his rival in poetic intelligence and elevation of mind, has no need to deny to him those solid qualities in order to shine himself in the first rank among the critics and exegetes of our age.


A preliminary question dominates all these problems relative to the people of Israel: How were those documents which serve for the foundation of the history of the Hebrews reduced to writing? above all, the five most ancient parts of their annals, that we are accustomed to reunite under the name of the Pentateuch? According to an hypothesis presented to the last age like a bold [p.56]paradox, and which is now adopted by all the enlightened critics in Germany,5 the Pentateuch was formed by the reunion of historic fragments from various sources.

The distinction of basis and form is a distinction most essential in primitive literature, and above all in Hebraic literature, for none has undergone so much overrunning.

We can affirm, for example, that we found in the Books of Exodus and Numbers information at once authentic and contemporaneous upon the state and doings of the Israelites in the desert, from thence almost to Sinai. Must we conclude from this that the Books of Exodus and Numbers such as we possess, date from that epoch? No, certainly. The definitive compilation of the books which contain the ancient history of Israel does not go back probably to the eighth century before our era. By the side of ancient fragments, preserved in a manner almost textual, may be found parts much more modern, and to which ought to be applied principles of criticism entirely different.

The keen and learned philologists who in Germany have devoted themselves to the discussion of this curious problem have seen clearly that it is in the latter times where they ought to seek the analogy of the laws which have governed the successive transformations of the historic writings of the Hebrews. It is in Arabic historiography. When we compare, indeed, the one with the other, the various classes of Mussulman historians, we recognise that almost all reproduce from an identical basis, of which the [p.57] first compilation is found in the Chronicle of Tabari. The work of Tabari itself is only a collection of traditions, arranged so as to follow each other, without the slightest regard to criticism, full of repetitions, contradictions, and derogations from the natural order of facts. In Ibn-al-Athir, who marks a degree of more advanced compilation, the account is continuous, the contradictions are scattered. The narrator has chosen a time for all the traditions which appear to him to be more probable, and passes over the others in silence. The more modern "they says" are inserted here and there, but at the bottom it is always the same history as that in Tabari, with some variations, and also some misconceptions, as though the second compiler had not thoroughly understood the text which he had before him. In Ibn-Khaldoun at last the compilation has, if I may dare to say so, passed once more to the crucible. The author brings into his recital his personal views; we see his opinions and the end he is seeking. It is a history arranged, completed, a view, as across a prism, of the ideas of the writer.

The Hebraic historiographer has traversed analogous degrees. Deuteronomy presents to us history arrived at its last periods-history retouched with an oratorical view, where the narrator does not propose merely to recount, but to edify. The four preceding books enable us to perceive the seams of the most ancient fragments reunited, but not assimilated, in a text following. We can differ upon the division of the parts, upon the number and character of the successive compilations; and we must avow that M. Ewald, in pursuing upon all these points a strictness impossible to attain, has passed the limits which a severe critic ought to impose; but we can no longer doubt as to the proceeding which brought the Pentateuch and the Book of Joshua to their definitive state. It is clear that a Jehovist compiler (that is to say, employing in his narrative [p.58] the name of Jehovah) has given the last form to this great historic work in taking for its basis an Mohistic writing (that is to say, where God is designated by the word Elohim), of which we can at the present day reconstruct the essential parts.6 As to the opinion, which attributes the compilation of the Pentateuch to Moses, it is above criticism altogether, and we have not to discuss it. This opinion, nevertheless, appears modern enough, for it is very certain that the ancient Hebrews never dreamed of regarding their legislator as an historian.7 The narratives of the olden times appeared to them as works absolutely impersonal, to which they did not attach the name of any author. Thus was formed the fundamental writing of the Hebraic annals, that which M. Ewald calls the Book of the Origins, after which they grouped themselves successively—the annals of the Judges, the Kings, the time of the Captivity to Alexander. No people can boast assuredly of the possession of a body of history so complete, or of archives so regularly kept. That which is indeed important to maintain is, that in retouching the form the basis shall not be altered, so that the fragments thus reunited, which contain the history, whether historic or legendary, may have the value of original documents. The Pentateuch contained, according to all appearance, the information imprinted on the archives of the people neighbouring to Israel, such as the narrative of the war of the Iranian [p.59] kings against the kings of the valley of Siddim, where Abraham figures as a stranger—Abraham, the Hebrew, who dwelt in the oak grove at Mamre of the Amorite; the genealogy of the Edomites; the curious synchronism established between the foundation of Hebron and that of Tanais in Egypt. The first pages, even, consecrated to antediluvian origins, all mythological as they appear, are certainly documents which bring us close to the origin of mankind.

It is impossible to understand Israel well without re-attaching it to the group to which it belonged—I mean the Semitic race, of which it is the highest and purest branch. The essential result of modern philology has been to show, in the history of civilisation, the action of a double current produced by two races entirely distinct in manners, language, and spirit—on the one part, the Indo-European race, embracing the noble populations of India, Persia, the Caucasus, and of all Europe; on the other, the race called by the very faulty name of Semitic,8 comprising the populations indigenous to Asia west and south as far as the Euphrates. To the Indo-European race belong almost all the great military, political, and intellectual movements in the history of the world; to the Semitic race, the religious movements. The Indo-European race, pre-occupied with the variety of Nature, did not by itself reach monotheism. The Semitic race, on the contrary, guided by its firm and sure views, cleared away all at once the disguises of the divinity, and, without reflection or reasoning, adopted the purest religious form that humanity has ever known. Monotheism in the world has been the work of the Semitic apostolate in this sense, that before the [p.60] action and without any action on the part of Judaism, Christianity, or Islamism, the worship of God, one and supreme, had not been formulated distinctly to the multitude. But these three great religious movements are three Semitic facts, three branches of the same stem, three unequally beautiful versions of the same idea. There are only some leagues between Jerusalem and Sinai and between Sinai and Mecca.

When and how did the Semitic race arrive at this notion of the divine unity which the world has admitted on the faith of their preaching? I believe it was from primitive intuition, and from their earliest time. They did pot invent monotheism. India, which has thought with as much originality and depth, has not yet reached it, even in our time. All the strength of the Greek mind did not suffice to bring back humanity to it without the co-operation of the Semitic people. We can affirm of these that they never would have acquired the dogma of the divine unity if they had not found it in the most leading instincts of their heart and soul. The first religions of the Indo-European race appear to have been purely physical. They were vivid impressions, such as those of the wind on the trees or the reeds, those of flowing waters, of the sea, which were embodied in the imaginations of these infant people. The man of the Indo-European race is not so quickly able to separate himself from the world as the Semitic man. For a long time he adored his own sensations, and until the Semitic religions introduced to him a more elevated idea of the Divinity, his worship was but an echo of Nature. The Semitic race, on the contrary, evidently arrived at the notion of a Supreme God without any effort. This grand acquisition was not in their case the effect of progress and philosophical reflection; it was one of their first perceptions. Having soon separated his personality from the universe, they almost immediately [p.61] arrived at the third term—God, creator of the universe. Instead of a Nature animated and vivid in all its parts, they conceived, if I may dare to say so, a Nature dry and without fecundity. There is a considerable difference between this rigid and simple conception of a God isolated from the world with a world moulded like a vase in the hands of a potter, and the Indo-European theogony, animating and deifying Nature, taking life as a struggle, the universe as a perpetual changing, and importing in some degree into the divine dynasties, revolution and progress.

The intolerance of the Semitic people is the necessary consequence of their monotheism. The Indo-European people, before their conversion to Semitic ideas (Jews, Christians, or Mussulmans), never having taken their religion as absolute truth, but as a sort of family or caste heritage, remained strangers to intolerance and proselytism. This is why we find among these people only, liberty of thought, the spirit of criticism and individual research. The Semites, on the contrary, seeking to realise a worship independent of province and country, condemned all religions differing from their own. Intolerance is really in this sense an attribute of the Semitic race, and a part of the legacy, good or bad, which they have left to the world. The extraordinary phenomenon of the Mussulman conquest was only possible among a race incapable, like them, of appreciating diversity, and to whom the entire symbol was included in a word : God is God. Certainly Indo-European tolerance exhibits a more elevated idea of human destiny and grander liberality of soul; but who will dare to say that in revealing the divine unity and in definitively suppressing local religions, the Semitic race has not laid the foundation-stone of the unity and progress of humanity?

We can understand now, how this race, so eminently endowed for creating and propagating religions, should [p.62] not have passed mediocrity in all heathen courses. A race incomplete from its very simplicity, it had neither plastic art, nor rational science, nor philosophy, nor political life, nor military organisation. The Semitic race has never comprehended civilisation in the sense which we attach to the word; we do not find in her midst either great organised empires or public spirit, nothing which recalls the Greek city, nothing either which recalls the absolute monarchy of Egypt or of Persia. Questions of aristocracy, democracy, and feudalism, which include the whole secret of the history of the Indo-European peoples, have no meaning for the Semitic race. The Semitic nobility was wholly patriarchal: they did not hold by conquest—the source of it was in their blood. The Jew, like the Arab, rigorously insisted that the only supreme power was in God. The military inferiority of the Semites arose from their utter incapacity for discipline and organisation. In order to create armies they were obliged to have recourse to mercenaries: David employed Phoenicians and Carthaginians, the Khalifs too did so. The Mussulman conquest was itself accomplished without organisation and without tactics. The Khalif was nothing of a sovereign nor of a military chief—he was a vice-prophet. The most illustrious representative of the Semitic race in our days, Abdel-Kader, is a learned man, a man of religions meditation and strong passions, but not a soldier. History does not afford us any great empire founded by a Semitic people. Judaism, Christianity, Islamism, these are their work—work always directed towards the same end: to simplify the human mind, to banish polytheism, to write at the top of the Book of Revelations this word, which has rendered to human thought the great service of effacing the mythological and cosmogonic complications in which profane antiquity lost itself: "At the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."



It is about two thousand years before our era when the regard of the historian rests with some certitude on this predestined family. An emigration of Semitic nomads, with whom the name of Thare or Terah was connected, quitted the mountains of Armenia and went towards the south. We may suppose that there had been for a long time in the mountains of the north, a focus of monotheistic aristocracy, which remained faithful to their patriarchal ^customs and their elevated worship. Even in departing from this sanctuary the emigrant tribes considered themselves as bound to God by an alliance and special bargain; it is thus we see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob continuing in Canaan and in Egypt their noble avocation of shepherd—rich, proud chiefs of a numerous household, in possession of pure and simple religious ideas, and coming across the various civilisations without fusion, and without receiving anything from them.

Abraham, a personage definitively historic and real, conducts the emigration into Palestine. He was not, .however, the first of his race, for, independently of the Canaanites, we find a chief, Semitic and monotheistic like him, Melchisedec, with whom he makes friends. However, Mesopotamia remained for a long time the centre of the Terah family, and it was from thence that the aristocracy, faithful to Semitic ideas in respect of purity of blood, sent up to the time of their going into Egypt, to seek for wives for their sons.

The life of Israel at this epoch was that of an Arab douar, with its prodigious development of individuality and poetry, but otherwise with its absolute want of political ideas, and of scarcely defined intellectual culture. [p.64] We hardly know what was the result of the first contact of the Israelite tribe with Egypt and the Canaanites. The strong antipathy displayed throughout Hebraic history against Canaan affords no reason for thinking that no influence could have been exercised by Canaan upon Israel. The part taken by the Hebrews in not recognising the Canaanites as brethren, does it not indicate the desire to put the Canaanites from out of the chosen race of Shem in order to class them among the infidel family of Ham, contrary to the evident testimony of the language?9 The fraternal hatreds have never been stronger than among the Jewish race, the most contemptuous and the most aristocratic of all. Without admitting, with some learned men, that the Hebrews and the Canaanites had for a long time a religion nearly identical, we ought to recognise that it is only from a relatively modern epoch that the former attained that spirit of exclusion which characterises the Mosaic institutions. Several data of the Phoenician religion are to be found in the ancient Hebrew worship. In the patriarchal epoch we see the descendants of Abraham accept as sacred the places and objects which the Canaanites received as such—trees, mountains, sources, betyles or beth-el.10

Impenetrable darkness covers the first religious movement of Israel, that of which Moses was the hierophant and the hero. It would be as contrary to sound criticism to relegate to these remote times the complicated organisation we find described in the Pentateuch—an organisation of which we do not find a trace in the epoch of the Judges, or even in the time of David and Solomon—as it would be rash to deny that Israel in going out of Egypt had undergone the operation of a grand religious organiser. [p.65] The descendants of Abraham seem to have preserved in Egypt all the originality of their Semitic genius. In constant communication with the other Terachite tribes of Arabia Petrea, they conceived, under the influence of a lively antipathy to Egyptian idolatry, one of those monotheistic reactions so familiar to Semitic people, and generally so fruitful. Every religion naturally avoids its cradle. The movement we speak of, which appears to have had its focus in the tribe of Levi, was followed by a sort of Flight (Hegira) or emigration, and an heroic epoch which in the imagination of more modern times has assumed the proportions of an epic. Sinai, the holy mountain of all the country, was where the first act took place; that was the point at which the revelation was made. A sacred name of the Divinity, including the most elevated notion of monotheism, two tablets upon which were inscribed ten precepts of the better kind of morality, some aphorisms, which formed with the ten precepts the law of Jehovah, some simple ceremonies suitable to the life of a nomadic people, such as the ark, the tabernacle, the passover, were probably the essential elements of this first institution, which afterwards became complicated at the same time as the part of the founder grew greater. M. Ewald11 proves in a most ingenious manner that the glory of Moses underwent in Israel a long eclipse; that his name was almost unknown under the Judges and during the first ages of the Kings, and that the old founder did not come out of his tomb with the extraordinary idai which surrounds him until one or two ages before the fall of the kingdom of Judah.

During the whole of the epoch of the Judges, and before monarchy was established, Israel presented the spectacle of Arab life in all its perfection: tribes without any other obligation than the remembrance of their brotherhood and [p.66] the hegemony (leadership) of one among them; the most simple religion that had ever existed; a poetry vivid, youthful, abrupt, of which the echo has come down to us in the wild and admirable song of Deborah; no institution but that of a temporary chief (judge when required), and the power, still less definite, of the prophet or seer, supposed to be in communication with the Deity; lastly, the priest, regarded as the exclusive right of the tribe of Levi, to such a point that those individuals who suffered themselves to relapse into idolatry believed themselves bound to engage a Levite for the service of their idol. Nothing as yet designates Israel as a predestined people: there were some people quite as advanced among the neighbouring tribes of Palestine, and the curious episode of Balaam proves to us that prophetism, religion, and poetry had among these tribes the same organisation as in Israel.

It is towards the time of Eli and Samuel (about a thousand years before the Christian era) that the seal of divine election is stamped all at once upon Israel. This was the moment when the Israelite nation arrived at reflection, and passed from the tribal state, poor, simple, and ignorant of the idea of majesty, to the state of a kingdom with a constituted power, aspiring to become hereditary. Up till then Israel had lived in a state of patriarchal anarchy, excluding all regular government, and tempered only by the solidarity of the members of the family, which is the customary state of the Arab tribes. Such a state of things became impossible in the face of the development which occurred in social life in the East; the people, with loud cries, demanded a king, as other nations had. All this shows us that this revolution was in imitation of the stranger, perhaps the Philistines or the Phoenicians, contrary to the wishes of the party conservative of traditions, to whom it appeared as a [p.67] kind of infidelity towards Jehovah. The narrative12 which has come down to us is evidently the work of one in opposition; royalty is there represented under an evil aspect, and placed very inferior to the ancient patriarchal form. It is not impossible but that this narrative may have been from the very hand of Samuel; the chapters of the book which bears his name, where his political part is displayed, have a character so personal that we are tempted to believe that he himself was the author. This much is certain, that Samuel, withdrawing with one hand what he had given with the other, never departed from a system of fretfulness against the royalty which he had inaugurated with repugnance, to give in to the exacting demands of the mob. Royalty, inexperienced, and not having any tradition, was at first his plaything. At last the man destined to sum up so many of the contrary needs, and to form the nucleus of the history of the Hebrew people by the reunion in his person of the priest, the prophet, and the king, David, appeared, and became the representative of the poetical, religious, intellectual, and political ideal of Israel.

At first sight some odd contrasts strike him who attempts to describe the character of David according to the purified ideas of morality which we entertain. How was the man whom we find by turns agitated during the different epochs of his career, serving the stranger against his own country, associating with robbers, soiled with domestic crimes, cruel and vindictive even to atrocity, able to pass in the traditions of Israel as a king according to the heart of God, and as indeed an admirable political and religious organiser, the author of those psalms where the most delicate feelings of the heart are so finely expressed? How can the manners of a condottiere be combined with true greatness of soul, the most exquisite piety, [p.68] and the most sentimental poetry? How the man who sacrificed to a capricious adultery his most faithful servant, could persuade himself with entire good faith that Jehovah was his special protector, obliged to make him succeed, and to avenge him of his enemies, as if God existed only for him? All these traits would be inexplicable if we did not refer them to the Semitic character, of which David is the accomplished type in its good as well as in its evil aspects. Essentially egotistic, the Semite knows hardly any duty except to himself. To pursue his vengeance, to recover what he believes to be his right, is in his eyes a sort of obligation. Religion with him is something quite apart from everyday morality. Hence these extraordinary characters of Biblical history who provoke so much objection, and for whom to apologise is as unnecessary as to disparage. Political acts of the least scrupulous description did not prevent Solomon from being recognised as the wisest of kings. The odd mixture of sincerity and falsehood, of religious exaltation and egotism, which strikes us in Mahomet, the facility which the Mussulmans admit that in many cases the Prophet obeyed his passions rather' than his duty, can only be explained by the species of laxity which makes Orientals profoundly indifferent as to the choice of means when they are persuaded that the end to be attained is the will of God. Our disinterested method, or, if we may say so, abstract mode of judging matters, is to them unknown.

It would be contrary to fair criticism to discuss either with malevolence, like Bayle has done, and the fragment collector of Wolfenbuttel, or with buffoonery, as Voltaire has done, those acts of David's life which cannot be justified according to the rules of morality. His conduct towards Saul was equivocal enough. After the death of , Saul the throne belonged to his son Ishbosheth; all the tribes, with the exception of Judah, were grouped around [p.69] him: treason and assassination soon relieved David from, this rival. Thanks to priestly favour, and the strong military institutions which seem to have been borrowed from the Philistines, among whom he had made a long stay, perhaps also by means of the foreign soldiers13 kept in pay, the new king realised his leading idea, the supremacy of the tribe of Judah, a strong royalty hereditary in his line, and having its centre at Jerusalem. This future capital of the religious world had up till then been a small fortified town; David made of it a city in which the houses were no longer detached. Before his death the old king had crushed all his enemies, realised all his projects, and could repeat with pride the war-song of his youthful days, which astonishes us by its proud and brutal energy:—

"Jehovah has said to my master: Sit thou at my right hand until I make thine enemies a stool for thy feet.

"Jehovah shall extend over Sion the sceptre of thy power; he rules in the midst of thine enemies.

"Thy people have hastened to thy call in the brightness of the holy ornaments; the youth which surrounds thee is like a shower from the bosom of the dawn.

"Jehovah has sworn it, and he will not repent of it: thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.

"The Lord is at thy right hand; in the day of his auger he crushes the kings.

"He shall reign over the nations; he will fill up with corpses; he will break heads to a vast extent.

"He will refresh himself on his road with the water of a torrent; from thence he shall lift up his head."


This profane royalty, contrary in many respects to the true destiny of Israel, continued during the whole reign of Solomon. The throne of David, according to the rules of strict heredity, belonged to Adonijah. Solomon obtained it, thanks to the preference of his father and to an intrigue of the harem directed by his mother, Bathsheba, who was always the favourite wife. The matter was decided by the strong men of David, a small body of veterans of the rudest kind, who had the nerve of the preceding reign. The will of David was preponderant, so well had Israel been accustomed to obey him. The wisest of kings began his reign, following the custom of the East, by slaughtering Adonijah and his party. If Adonijah had succeeded, he would doubtless have treated the party of Solomon in the same way. However that may be, these disturbances were attended with serious consequences to heredity, and gave a blow to legitimacy in Israel from which it never recovered.

If the idea of a conquering monarchy ever crossed the mind of David, accustomed to live with his warriors and the Philistines, it was an idea impossible of realisation, and was soon abandoned. The Hebrew people were incapable of a great military organisation, and indeed, under Solomon, all their great warlike preparations turn to peace. The reign of Solomon remains the profane ideal of Israel. His alliances with all the East, without regard to differences of religion, his superb seraglio, which comprehended some seven hundred queens and three hundred concubines, the order and beauty of the services of his palace, the industrial and commercial prosperity of his times, aroused in the imagination that taste for comfort and worldly enjoyment to which Israel has abandoned itself whenever the sting of suffering has not forced it towards a higher destiny.

The Song of Songs is the charming expression of the [p.71] joyous life of Israel, happy and delicately sensual during those moments, allowing divine thoughts to slumber, it gave itself up to pleasure. A profane literature, partly common to the neighbouring people of Palestine, took the upper hand of the lyric poetry of the psalmists and the seers. Solomon himself cultivated this worldly wisdom, almost foreign to the worship of Jehovah, and which is not likely to prosper here. Some works are attributed to him, and it is certain that he wrote. Less of a poet than his father, and not being gifted like him with the true sentiment of the vocation of Israel, he set himself to describe creatures from the cedar to the hyssop;14 then, if we are to believe the legend, he fell into a state of scepticism, disgusted with everything, and took refuge in hopeless wisdom. "Vanity of vanities; nothing is new under the sun; increase of knowledge is increase of trouble. I have desired to search out that which passes under the heavens, and I have seen nothing but vexation of spirit."

We feel how far we are from the pure ideal of Israel. The vocation of Israel was neither philosophy, nor science, nor art (music excepted), nor industry, nor commerce. In opening these profane ways, Solomon did in some sense cause his people to deviate from their wholly religious destiny. It was the act of the true God if similar tendencies had prevailed. Christianity and the conversion of the world to monotheism being the essential work of Israel, to which the remainder ought to be brought back, everything which has interrupted that superior aim has [p.72] been only a frivolous and dangerous distraction in its history. But so far from having advanced the great work, Solomon has done everything to compromise it. If he had succeeded, Israel would have ceased to be the people of God, and would have become a worldly nation like Tyre and Sidon. The prophets had but little influence under him. Carried away by his relations with the most diverse people and by his desire to please his Egyptian, Sidonian, and Moabitish women, he adopted a kind of tolerance for foreign worship. While the successor of David was passing his time in putting conundrums to the infidel Queen of Sheba, altars to Moloch and Astarte might be seen on the Mount of Olives. What could be more contrary to the first duty of Israel? Guardian of an idea to which the world ought to rally, charged with the substitution in the conscience of man of the worship of the Supreme God for that of the national divinities, Israel should have been intolerant, and have boldly affirmed that all worships save that of Jehovah were false and worthless. The reign of Solomon was thus in many respects an interval in the sacred career of Israel. The intellectual and commercial development which he had inaugurated was followed by nothing. Towards the end of his life the prophets, whom he had reduced to silence, regained the upper hand and began an active opposition. His works, considered profane, have been mostly lost. His memory remains doubtful, and the breadth of ideas which he had inaugurated have left in Israel but a vague and brilliant memory.

We see here the great law of all the history of the Hebrew people manifesting itself, the contest of two opposing needs, which seems to have always carried this intelligent and passionate race with it in a contrary sense: on the one part, the breadth of mind aspiring to comprehend the world, to imitate other people, to leave the [p.73] narrow surroundings in which the Mosaic institutions had enclosed Israel; on the other, the conservative thought to which the salvation of humanity was attached. The prophets are the representatives of the exclusive tendency; the kings, of a thought more open to ideas from the outer world. Prophetism, better adapted to the genius and the vocation of the Hebrew people, ought necessarily to triumph and prevent the lay royalty from ever taking permanent root in Israel.

That which is important to remark is that the prophetic authority, so hostile to royalty, was hardly less so to the priesthood. The prophet15 did not come out of the tribe of Levi; he did not teach in the Temple, but in the market-places, the streets, and the squares. Far from enlarging upon observances, according to the custom of the priests, they preached pure worship, indifference to exterior practices when they were not combined with adoration of heart. The prophet held his commission from God alone, and represented the popular interest as against the king and the priests, often allied with the king. From thence arose a power which has no analogy in the history of any other people, a sort of inspired tribunal devoted to the conservation of ancient ideas and ancient rights.

We cannot deny that the general policy of the prophets does not present itself to us as being narrow or opposed to progress; but this was the true policy of Israel. It appears troublesome at first, with voice austere and monotonous, always predicting ruin and anathematising those instincts which lead ancient man towards the worship of Nature. Often, in this long contest between the kings and the pro- [p.74] phets, it is the kings whom we are disposed to think right. The proposition of Samuel to Saul is generally without much reason, and if the prophets sometimes addressed David with very just warnings when they recalled that great king to morality, which he was too ready to forget, we cannot deny that oftentimes their reproaches exhibit a very simple policy; for example, when they presented as a capital crime the numbering of the people ordered by David, and sought to place before him the calamities which followed as a punishment for that doubtless unpopular measure. Many of the kings represented by the severe authors of the Book of Kings and of the Paralipomenes as wretches, were perhaps reasonable and tolerant princes, parties to necessary alliances with strangers, obeying the necessities of the times, and with a certain leaning towards luxury and industry.

The prophets, full of the old Semitic spirit, ardent foes of the plastic arts, furious iconoclasts, hostile to everything calculated to draw Israel into the movement of the world, demanded from the kings the persecution of all worships removed from monotheism, and denounced as crimes the sensible alliances which they had contracted outside. Never was opposition more bitter, more violent, more anarchical; and yet at the bottom the opposition was right. Thence we find this principle, that Israel had but one vocation—the conservation of monotheism; the direction of its movements rightly belonged to the prophets. Israel could only rally humanity round the same faith by scrupulously separating itself first from all foreign influence. The conservation of monotheism required neither breadth nor variety of mind, but only an inflexible tenacity.



David and Solomon represented during sixty years (about six centuries before the Christian era) the highest degree of glory and temporal prosperity the Hebrews have ever reached. From that time all their dreams of happiness turn towards an ideal composed of David and Solomon—towards a king powerful and peaceful, who shall reign from the one sea to the other, and to whom all kings shall be tributary. At what moment does this fruitful thought, out of which shall arise the Messiah, make its appearance in Israel? The critic should not say. These ideas, wrapped up in the depth of the conscience of a nation, have no beginning. Like all the profound works of Nature, they hide their origin in mysterious darkness. Was the idea of the dominion of the world born in Rome at a given moment? No; it was as ancient as Rome itself, and in some sort sealed up in the first stone of the Capitol. The faith in the Messiah, vague, obscure, intermingled with eclipses and neglect, slept all the same among the oldest associations of Israel.

The unfitness of the Hebrews for a great political part disclosed itself more and more. Starting from Rehoboam, they are always in a state of vassalage—at first under Egypt, then under Assyria, then under the Persians, then under the Greeks, and then under the Romans. One particular cause accelerated the ruin of their temporal power. The tribe of Judah, although they gained a preponderance by the victory of David, never succeeded in stifling the individuality of the other tribes so as to unite the nation. The tribes in the north of Palestine grouped around that of Ephraim aspired to a separation, and supported impatiently the state of religious dependence under which they were held by Jerusalem.


The great expenditure of Solomon, which weighed heavily on the provinces and only profited the capital, contributed to separate the interests of the North from the South. Ephraim with Mount Gerizim, the rival of Sion, the holy city of Bethel, the numerous memorials of the patriarchal age, was beyond contradiction the most considerable of the individualities which resisted the absorbing action of Judah. The rivalry of these two principal families of Israel dates from the remotest period of their history. In the time of the Judges, by the sojourn of the Ark at Shiloh, and by its territorial importance, Ephraim truly held the hegemony of the nation. The idea of a monarchy failed for a moment to be realised by Ephraim.16 After the death of Saul, we find this tribe, grouping around it all the other tribes of the North, oppose without success Ishbosheth to David, the able and fortunate champion of the pretensions of Judah; and at last, after the death of Solomon, the separatist tendency triumphs by the division of the kingdom of Israel and the accession of an Ephraimite dynasty. Among the chiefs of the workmen whom Solomon employed in the construction of the rampart between Sion and Moriah, he noticed a robust young man of Ephraim, whose intelligent air struck him, and to whom he gave an important post under Government. This was the man destined to give a mortal blow to the house of David. Jeroboam during Solomon's lifetime raised the standard of revolt. The financial disorders which ensued on the death of the great king furnished an excellent opportunity for completing the separation which had become inevitable. We should not say that the schism of the ten tribes was, in view of the general destiny of the Hebrew people, a serious misfortune. Reduced to a space of twenty leagues long by fifteen broad, Judah, left to itself, became purified and [p.77] elevated—its religious ideas developed and became complicated. The North, on the contrary, delivered over to a brutal dynasty, became a prey to continual revolutions, and was soon disposed of—religious tradition became weak there. Harshly repulsed by the disdainful Jews of Jerusalem, when, after the Captivity, they volunteered their aid in rebuilding the Temple, the Samaritans could only copy at a distance the institutions of Judah. They took their revenge through Christianity. Christ found His most numerous disciples in the despised provinces (ill-fated as regards orthodoxy) of the ancient kingdom of the North, and in this sense we can fairly say that Samaria has had as much part in the work as Jerusalem, the capital of Israel. This old portion of the Hebrew people, which, if it has not had the brilliant destiny of Judah, has almost equalled it in perseverance and faith, is in our days on the eve of being extinguished, and affords to the world the singular spectacle of a religion about to die. Persecutions, misery, and the proselytism of more active sects—above all, Protestant missions threaten every moment its frail existence. In 1820 the Samaritans numbered about five hundred. Robinson, who visited Nablous (the ancient Shechem) in 1838, did not find more than one hundred and fifty. In a petition which he addressed to the French Government in 1842, he states that they are reduced to forty families. Their old priest, Salami, the son of Tobias, who corresponded with Bishop Gregory and M. De Sacy, is still alive;17 but it does not appear that after him the knowledge of the language and Samaritan traditions is likely to continue. At the present day, when all the world is seeking in the East for some one to protect, no one thinks of these poor Samaritans.


It is further remarkable that prophetism in the kingdom of the North was at first an element of political disturbance still more serious than in the South, and rendered the law of succession almost impossible, whilst at Jerusalem the prestige of the House of David and the undisputed privilege of the Levites maintained a sort of right divine for the succession to the throne and the priesthood. Eli and his school represent to us the time when prophetism was all powerful, making and unmaking dynasties, governing in reality under the name of kings in tutelage. The finest pages of M. Ewald's book are those where he shows the character and part of Eli. This giant among the prophets, by his ascetic life, the peculiar dress he wore, his invisible retreat in the mountains, from whence he issued like a supernatural being in order to launch his denunciations and to disappear as suddenly, assumed the more simple appearance of the ancient prophets with that of the ascetic school of the literary. A great revolution was not indeed slow to operate in the form of prophetism. The prophets of the school of Eli and Elisha did not write: to the ancient prophet, the man of action, succeeds the writing prophet, seeking his power in the beauty of his diction only. These wonderful publicists enriched the Hebrew Scriptures, heretofore limited to historical narrative, with canticles and parables of a novel kind; theirs was a sort of political literature, maintained by the events of the day, and to which the press and the tribune of modern times can alone be compared.

As the profane future of Israel seemed destroyed beyond hope of recovery, so the religious destiny became greater. The last days of the kingdom of Judah present one of the most wonderful religious movements in history. The first origin of Christianity is there. The ancient Hebrew religion, simple, severe, and without refined theology, is hardly anything but a negation. Towards the time of [p.79] which we speak, an exalted pietism, which led to the reforms of Hezekiah, and, above all, of Josiah, introduced new elements into Mosaism. Worship was centralised more and more at Jerusalem, prayers commenced. The word of devotion, which does not correspond to anything in ancient patriarchal religion, began to have a sense. New editions of the Mosaic code, conceived in a prophetic tone, and for which authority was obtained by certain pious artifices, were circulated;18 certain canticles, composed by literary men and impressed with some measure of rhetoric, excited a zeal for Mosaism in the minds of the people.

A loose style, prolix, but full of unction, of which we find a type in the works of Jeremiah, characterises these productions. It is not necessary to add that every fresh outbreak of piety was accompanied by a fresh outbreak of intolerance and persecution against all who did not conform to the purest monotheism.

A profound modification in the manner of feeling manifested itself at the same time—a spirit of mildness, a delicate sentiment of compassion for the weak, sympathy with the poor and the oppressed, with shades of character unknown in former times, appeared on all sides. The prophecies of Jeremiah and the Deuteronomy are already recognised as Christian books. Love, charity, is born in the world. At the same time the cherished idea of Israel increases in strength, the expectation of a model king who will reign as God in Jerusalem and realise the ancient oracles. They believed that this perfect king was about to come; but when they saw Josiah almost realise the idea of a theocratic sovereign and then perish miserably, the hope gave way. The very simple system upon which the social edifice of Israel rests, the compact between God and the nation, by virtue of which, so long as the nation [p.80] continued faithful to Jehovah, it should be happy and triumphant, this system, I say, could not fail of being attended with the severest disappointment. The prophets, who were charged with the application of this strange principle, must have had more than one struggle to maintain against the reality. Oftentimes those epochs were the most unfortunate when piety was most lively, and we can say that the final catastrophe overtook Israel in the midst of a period of great fervour. Inured to deception, accustomed to hope against hope, Israel appealed from the letter to the spirit. The idea of a spiritual kingdom of God, and of a law written not upon stone, but in the heart, appeared to them like the dawn of a new future.

Whilst the heart of Jerusalem was stirred with these delicate questions, on which depended the religious future of the world, immense and very powerful empires were being established in the East, to whom the destruction of Jerusalem hardly cost an effort. The Hebrews, with their ideas so simple on the subject of political and military organisation, showed a lively expression of surprise and fear when they found themselves for the first time in the presence of this formidable organisation of force, of impious and brutal materialism, of this despotism where the king usurped the place of God. The prophets, blind according to the flesh, clear-sighted according to the spirit, never ceased to reject the only policy which could save Israel, to batter the wall in order to attack royalty and to excite internal dissension by their threats and their puritanism.19 We see them on the ruins of Jerusalem maintain their obstinacy, and almost triumph in the disasters which fulfilled their predictions. An ordinary policy would condemn them and make them mainly responsible for the misfortunes of their country; but the religious role of the Jewish people must always be fatal to their political role. [p.81] Israel must undergo the fate of people devoted to one idea, and parade its martyrs before the scorn of the world, whilst waiting for the rallied world to ask as a suppliant for a place in Jerusalem.


The Captivity only affected a small number of the inhabitants of Palestine, but it struck the head of the nation, and the whole class with whom religious tradition rested, in such a way that the whole spirit of Judea found itself transported to Babylonia. Such was the cause which brought to light, on the banks of the Euphrates, the most beautiful productions of Hebrew genius; those psalms so touching, which enchant and penetrate the soul with sadness and hope; those incomparable prophetic odes which are added at the end of the works of Isaiah.20 They dwelt outside Babylon, or rather in the little villages grouped round the great city, like a second capital of Judaism. The restorers of the institutions and of the ancient studies of Judea, like Esdras and Nehemiah, came from thence, and were surprised, on their arrival, at the ignorance and corruption of language they found among their co-religionists of Palestine. After the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, Babylon again became the principal centre of the intellectual culture of Israel, so that we may say that the continuation of Jewish tradition was twice made through that city, following the two great catastrophes which, at a distance of seven centuries, entirely ruined Judaism at Jerusalem. I do not know whether there is, in the history of the human mind, a spectacle more strange than that of which Babylon was the witness in the sixth century before the Christian era—[p.82] that little group of exiles, lost in the midst of a profane crowd, feeling at the same time their material weakness and their intellectual superiority, and seeing around them the brutal reign of force and pride exalt itself and reach heaven. From so many divine oracles not yet fulfilled, from that mass of deceived hopes, from that struggle of faith and imagination against reality, the Messiah was definitively horn. In the presence of triumphant iniquity Israel appealed to the great day of Jehovah, and rushed resolutely into the future.

Where did the nameless prophet21 live who was at this decisive moment the interpreter of the mind of Israel? The dreams of the sick man, who, suffering from the delirium of fever, sees spread before him another world and another sun shining, never had a like ardour. We can only point out the motive of these divine hymns by which the illustrious nameless one saluted the New Jerusalem. "Raise thyself, radiant with light, Jerusalem! A voice which cries in the desert: 'Prepare the ways of Jehovah, make smooth the paths!' They are beautiful upon the mountains, the feet of him who announces salvation. Heavens, spread your dew, that the clouds may shed justice. What is he who comes from Edom, who comes from Bozrah with clothes red with blood?" Then, in an obscure and mysterious vision, that sublime apotheosis of the man of grief, the first hymn to suffering the world had understood. The special gift of Israel—faith—the consciousness of his superiority surviving all his faults, the certainty of the future, which gave to a handful of captives the assurance that the world would some day belong to them, never shone more brilliantly than in the inspired pages of which we speak. "Raise thine eyes and look around, Jerusalem, at the crowds who come and gather themselves together. Sons are brought to thee from far countries, and daughters [p.83] press upon thy bosom. A multitude of camels, the dromedaries of Midian and of Ephah, overflow thee; those who come from Sheba, carrying gold and silver, and announcing the praises of Jehovah. The flocks of Kedar run towards thee; the rams of Nabioth offer themselves for thy sacrifices. Who are those who fly like the clouds, like doves to their shelter? The isles of the sea are in hope; the vessels of Tarshish are ready to bring sons to thee. Strangers offer themselves to build thy walls; kings become thy servants. Thy gates will be open night and day to allow the elect of the nations to enter, and the kings brought to do thee homage. The sons of those who have humiliated thee come bending before thee: those who despised thee shall kiss the ground of thy feet; they shall call thee the City of God, the Holy Zion of Israel. Thou shalt suck the milk of nations; thou shalt suckle at the breast of kings. No one shall hear speak of wickedness on the earth nor of disasters within thy frontiers: peace shall reign upon thy walls; glory shall sit at thy gates. Thou shalt not need the sun to brighten thy days nor the moon to illumine thy nights: thy sun shall never set and thy moon shall no more decline; for Jehovah shall be thy light eternal, and the days of thy mourning shall pass away for ever." From this moment Israel appears to us to be exclusively possessed of the religious idea. Any of the profane distractions by which it had been occasionally hindered from henceforth troubled it no more. Above doubt, above revolt, above the temptation to idolatry, Paganism inspired nothing more than the bitter and haughty derision of the Book of Wisdom. Judaism went on restraining and strengthening itself more and more. Liberty, the simplicity of the ancient Hebrew genius, so foreign to all scruples of theology and casuistry, gave place to the pettiness of Rabbinism. The scribe succeeded the prophet. A priesthood strongly organised [p.84] stifled all profane life: the Synagogue became what later on will be the Church, a sort of constituted authority, against which all independent thought is broken. Pietism became developed and produced a literature, very weak if we compare it with the productions of the classical epoch, but still full of charm: some touching and tender psalms, eternal food for pious souls, and the pretty romances of Tobit and Judith are of this period. We compare honest Tobit with Job, struck like him with undeserved misfortune: a world separates them. Here patience, virtue rewarded, sweet and consoling imagery; there revolt, obstinacy, dispute, and the proud feeling of the Arab saying in his misfortune, "God is great!" a sentiment which has nothing in common with the entirely Christian virtue of resignation.

A thorough indifference to political life was the consequence of the narrow and severe zeal which characterised the time at which we have now arrived. Israel was not charged with the duty of teaching liberty to the world; thus we see that since the Captivity they willingly accommodated themselves to the subordinate position, and availed themselves of the advantages offered by the situation without appearing to consider that there was anything shameful in it. Whilst Greece, with resources but little superior to those of Palestine, gained her liberty by her first victory, Israel resigned itself to be only a province of the great King, and found it well enough. That is, we must confess, the bad side of Jewish history. Beings only jealous for their religious liberty, the Jews submitted without much trouble to those powers who showed their worship some tolerance, and furnished to all the despotisms servants the more devoted because they were under no responsibility towards the nation. The Chaldean empire, it is true, was hateful to them, and they hailed its ruin with cries of joy, because, doubtless, that military and wholly [p.85] profane empire had nothing which responded to their own nature. They accepted, on the contrary, as a benefit, the domination of the Persians, whose religion was the least Pagan of the Pagan world, and afforded by its gravity, its leaning towards monotheism, its horror for sculptured figures, much analogy with Mosaic worship. Cyrus was received by them as an envoy of Jehovah, and introduced as of right into the elect family of the people of God.

We cannot deny that the Persians evinced considerable liberality towards Israel. Zorobabel, whom they established at the head of the nation, was of the house of David, and he was held out to the Jews to raise up through him their national dynasty; but such was their political lukewarmness, that after Zorobabel they allowed the line to continue in obscurity, and recognised no other power than that of the high priest, which became hereditary. Israel followed its destiny more and more; its history was no more that of a state, but of a religion. Such is the fate of those people who have to fill a mission, intellectual or religious, for other people, to pay for this brilliant and dangerous vocation with their own nationality. The Greek genius only acted powerfully upon the world for an age which had only a political role. It has been well shown that the first cause of the loss of Italy has been the universal tendency of Italy: the supremacy which, in effect, she had exercised for so long, has had this effect, that wishing to be mistress everywhere, she has had nothing at home. Who knows if some day French ideas will not fill the world when Prance shall be no more? Nationalities which hold strongly to their own soil, which do not seek to make their ideas prevail outside, are among themselves very tenacious, but they have little share in the general movement of the world. In order to act in the world we must die to ourselves: people who become missionaries of a religious thought have no other country than that [p.86] thought, and it is in this sense that too much religion kills a people and thwarts a purely national establishment. The Maccabees are admirable heroes, but their heroism does not excite in us the same impressions as Greek and Roman patriotism. Miltiades fights for Athens without any after-thought of theology or of belief. Judas Maccabeus fights for a faith and not for a country, or at least for his country subordinated to faith. This is so true, that since the Captivity the soil of Palestine has become almost indifferent to the Jews. Their most flourishing, most enlightened, and most pious communities are spread in regions far distant from the East.

A last trial, however, awaited Israel, and perhaps the most dangerous of all. I allude to the contact with Greek civilisation, which, starting from Alexandria, spread over all Asia. The first duty of the Jewish people was isolation. This duty they had been able to fulfil without too much trouble as regards Egypt, Phoenicia, and Assyria. Persia had exercised a sufficiently strong influence upon their imagination; but, thanks to a singular analogy of institutions and genius, this influence, freely adopted, was not an infidelity. The temptation was much more serious before the incomparable fascination which the most noble part of the human race had to undergo from the influence of the Greek spirit. Israel at first was profoundly affected. The Jewish colonists in Egypt allowed themselves to be taken with the seductions of Hellenism; they broke the communion with Jerusalem, and almost entirely went out of the Israelitish family.22

Palestine itself at first suffered from the action of the Seleucides. A stadium and gymnasia were to be seen at Jerusalem. One powerful party, which included almost all [p.87] the youth, favoured these novelties, and, fascinated by the splendours of the Greek institutions, held the worship and austere customs of their ancestors already in contempt. But this time again the conservative spirit prevailed. Some obstinate old men and a family of heroes saved the tradition around which the world was soon about to rally. The measure of danger may be estimated by the degree of hatred. Woe to those who try to oppose themselves to the free development of the religious needs of humanity. The most neglected historical memoirs are those of sovereigns who, not having been able to foresee the future, or having foolishly endeavoured to stay the course of events, have become the persecutors of religious movements which were bound to succeed. Such were Antiochus, Herod, Diocletian, Julian, all great princes on the earth, whom the popular conscience has damned without pity. Antiochus Epiphanes, whose name is invariably associated with that of Nero, was a humane, enlightened prince,23 who undoubtedly desired the progress of civilisation and the arts of Greece. The rude means which he employed were those which the Greeks and Romans put into practice in order to bend to their purposes civilisations different from their own. After having remained for a long time as a hostage in Rome, Antiochus returned to Syria with his head full of ideas of Roman policy, and dreaming of an Eastern empire, founded, like that of Rome, upon the assimilation of nationalities and the extinction of provincial varieties. Judea was the first obstacle he had to encounter in the execution of this project. The priesthood was at that time very weak; the high priest, Jesus, who, to follow the fashion, called himself Jason, forgot himself so far as to send a theoria or deputation to the Herculean games at Tyre; the Temple was pillaged; at one time the Olympian Jupiter had his altar, and bacchanalians ran [p.88] through the streets of Jerusalem. Then began that heroic resistance which has given to religion its first martyrs. The priests and a great part of the population of Jerusalem had given way, but it was the privilege and the secret of the strength of the Jewish people to maintain their faith independently of the priest, by keeping it in the conscience of a small number of heads of families attached to very simple ideas and governed by an invincible feeling of their own superiority. The destiny of humanity was risked then on the firmness of a few families. In consequence of this firmness the Greek spirit was reduced to impotence in Palestine, and deprived of all truly productive co-operation at the first budding of Christianity.

An influence much more efficacious, because it was exercised without violence and by the effects of the moral conformity of the two people, was that of Persia. Persia is the only country which has exercised over the Jewish people a really profound religious action. One of the most important results of Oriental studies in these latter days has been to show the capital part which the institutions of the Avesta have played in all Western Asia during the ages which preceded and those which immediately followed the Christian era. It is to Persia we must give the honour of so many of the new elements which we find in Christianity compared with Mosaism—elements which a superficial examination had at first attributed to Greece. Babylon, which continued to be one of the principal centres of Judaism, was the theatre of this commingling, which led to such serious results in the history of the human spirit, and of which the first consequences were for the Jews a most complicated theory of angels and demons, a refined spiritualism, if we compare it with the ancient Hebrew realism, a taste for symbols, confined to the Cabala, and gnosticism, ideas upon the terrestrial manifestations of the Deity, quite foreign to a Semitic people. The [p.89] belief in immortality and the resurrection of the body takes also more decided forms. The Hebrews had never, on this point, reached anything very decided. The immortality in which Israel has believed more than any other people was that of their race and their work, not that of the individual. At last these Messianic formulas assumed a form of much greater precision, and became connected with the belief that the end of the world was at hand, and would be accompanied by a renewal of everything.24 A series of compositions written under the form of apocalyptic visions, which M. Ewald rightly considers as a sort of revival of prophetism, such as the Books of Daniel, Enoch, the fourth Book of Esdras, and the Sibylline verses,25 were the product of this new taste, which, if we compare it with the style of the poets of the good epoch, represents a sort of romanticism. If we only look upon the form, these are the productions of a thorough decadence. However, we sometimes meet with a singular vigour of thought. The Book of Daniel, in particular, may be considered as the most ancient essay upon the philosophy of history. The revolutions which passed over the East, the cosmopolitan habits of the Jewish people, and the intuition which that people have always had with regard to the future, gave them, under the circumstances, an immense advantage over Greece. Whilst political history—I should say, the history of the internal strife of the city—has found in Greece and in Italy its most excellent interpreters, Israel has had the glory of being the first to look upon humanity as a [p.90] whole, to see in the sequence of empires something more than a fortuitous succession, and reduce to a formula the development of human affairs. Incomplete though it maybe, this system of philosophy of history is at least that which has existed longest; it has lasted since the epoch of the Maccabees until almost to our day. St. Augustine in the Cité de Dieu and Bossuet in the Histoire Universelle have found nothing essential to add to it.

A new fact in Israel heralded the productive age which preceded the birth of Christ: numerous sects arose, introducing a subtilty of theological pretensions unknown until then. At the same time the practices of particular devotion, towards which the ancient Hebrews were never much attracted, spread, and, following the eternal law of religions, whilst developing the accessory, obliterated the original foundation. The synagogues or places of religious meetings, of which we find no trace before the Captivity, and of which the institution is but slightly in harmony with the spirit of Mosaism, became of great importance and multiplied everywhere. The influence of Higher Asia made itself felt more and more; but whilst opened on the Eastern side, Jerusalem remained closed on the side of Greece, and obstinately declined all intercourse with Western philosophy. A few enlightened men, too reasonable to succeed, the Sadducees, tried to constitute a sort of rational Mosaism. The unbelieving Herod caused the Temple to be rebuilt in the Greek style, and opposed to the fanatics a wholly worldly policy, based on the separation of Church and State and upon equal toleration of all the different sects. These timid remedies availed nothing against the mysterious evil which afflicted Israel. The Pharisees objected, but who were the Pharisees? The continuators of the true tradition, the sons of those who resisted during the Captivity, who resisted, under the Maccabees, the ancestors of the Talmudists, and those who mounted on [p.91] the pyres of the Middle Ages, the natural enemies of all those who aspired to make Abraham's bosom wider and more inclusive.

Thus the grand law which governs the history of Israel was maintained to the end, the struggle between the liberal tendency and the conservative tendency—a struggle in which, for the happiness of the world, the conservative thought has always been uppermost. He who studies this history according to our modern ideas, reflected by the ideas of Greece and Rome, is scandalised at each step: he would be for Saul against Samuel, for Ishbosheth against David, for the kings against the prophets, for the Samaritans against the Jews, for the Hellenist party against the Maccabees, for the Sadducees against the Pharisees. However, if Saul and Ishbosheth had succeeded, Israel would have been nothing but a petty state, forgotten in the East, something like Moab and Idumea. If the kings had succeeded in stifling the prophets, perhaps Israel might have equalled in the order of profane things the prosperity of Tyre or of Sidon, but all the religious part would have been suppressed. If the Maccabees had not been found to resist the Seleucidæ, Judea would have become a country like Bithynia or Cappadocia, absorbed first by Greece and then by Rome. It was, if we may say so, the obstinate Jews of Modin, with narrow and backward spirit, with minds closed to all idea of progress, devoid of feeling for art, and totally incapable of understanding the brilliant civilisation of Greece. "We cannot deny that the Sadducees appear in many things to be superior to the Pharisees. The whole history of Israel proves, by a striking example, that victory here below does not belong to the causes which seem the most reasonable, the most liberal; it is to those whom Jehovah has chosen to guide humanity towards the unknown countries which the divine oracles have promised.


The moment was come when enlarged thought and narrow thought were to have their last struggle, and when the two contrary tendencies which had agitated Israel were about to end in being rent asunder. One part, indeed, the Jewish people, had a mission essentially conservative: the other boldly appropriated the future. The day when that future happened, it was easy to see that the synagogue would obey its eternal maxim: always to hope, always to resist. From that arises the false position of Israel in the presence of Christianity, and the origin of that irreconcilable hatred which eighteen centuries have scarcely satisfied. Christ came from out of its midst, and in order to be faithful to its principle Israel ought to have crucified Him. Christianity was its natural development, and it ought to have repulsed it. Driven from the lap of his mother, this son ought to have grown big and gone without her to the destiny which awaited him. St. Paul has expressed, with the energy of his passionate genius, this situation, the most extraordinary that the religious history of the world has ever presented.

Let us stay upon the threshold of this mysterious scene, in which the whole of the life of Israel is displayed in its entirety. Religions neither die nor abdicate, and Judaism, having produced its fruit, ought to continue its long and tenacious existence throughout the ages. Only the spirit of life is henceforth gone out of it: its history is beautiful and curious still, but it is the history of a sect; it is no longer specially the history of religion. "What if, in ending, we put this question: Has Israel fulfilled its vocation? Has it maintained, amidst the great struggle of the people, the post originally assigned to it? Yes, we answer without hesitation. Israel has been the stock upon which the faith of human kind has been grafted. No people have taken their destiny seriously like Israel; none have felt so vividly their national joys [p.93] and griefs; none have lived so entirely for one idea. Israel has conquered time, and made use of all its oppressors. The day when, through false intelligence, the taking of Sebastopol was celebrated a year too soon, an old Polish Jew, who passed his days in the Imperial Library absorbed in reading the dusty manuscripts of his nation, accosted me, citing the passage from Isaiah, "She is fallen, she is fallen, Babylon!" The victory of the allies was in his eyes only the chastisement for the violence exercised towards his co-religionists by him whom he called the Nebuchadnezzar and the Antiochus of our times. I seem to see before me, in this sad old man, the living genius of this indestructible people: he has clapped his hands upon all the ruins; persecuted by all, he has been avenged on all. One simple thing only was needful to him, but that one thing which man does not give to himself—to last. It is from that he has realised the boldest dreams of his prophets. The world which despised him has come to him; Jerusalem, at the present hour, is truly "a house of prayer for all nations." Equally venerated by the Jew, the Christian, the Mussulman, she is the Holy City of four hundred millions of men, and the prophecy of Zachariah is fulfilled to the letter: "In that time then ten men shall attach themselves to the lappet of a Jew's coat, saying to him: We will go with you, for we have heard say that the Lord is with you!"


1 1 "In order to understand the beauty of the Vulgate," says M. de Maistre, "make choice of a friend who may not be a Hebraist, and you will see how a syllable, a word—I hardly know how to phrase it lightly enough—will bring before your eyes beauties of the first order" (Soirees de Saint Petersbourg, viie entret.). Behold, certainly, a convenient aestheticism, fit for a gentleman! Would you, in order to understand the beauties of Homer, make choice of a friend who was not a Hellenist, and he will discover for you in the translation of Mme. Dacier a thousand beauties of the first order which Homer never dreamed of!

2 This check is the more regrettable because the seventeenth century had a superior man, Richard Simon of the Oratory, who, notwithstanding the obstacles which were raised, had created in France a healthy exegesis an age before Germany had begun it.

3 Geschichte des Volkes Israel, 4 vols. in 8vo, 2nd edit. Gottingen, 1834.

4 There are above all the Jahrbilcher der biblischen Wissenchaft, an annual collection published by M. Ewald, and full of his ideas, which should be read to understand the singular part taken by him in the political and religious questions arising in Germany. This part, in which the savant and the historian combine in the strangest fashion with the preacher and the sectary, would be an inexplicable phenomenon if we did not recall the strong impression which the study of the Prophets has made upon the mind of M. Ewald—an impression which betrays itself simply in his conduct and his writings.

5 This assertion, contrary to the notions generally entertained in France, has need of development, which ought not to find place here; but one can read in the work of M. Ewald, and in Langerke, Kenaan, pref.; De Wette, Einleitung in das Alte Testament, 150 and following; Stehelin, Kritische Untersuchungen uber den Pentateuch, 1843; Tuch, Kommentar uber die Genesis, Halle, 1838. We can consult in French the Palestine of M. S. Munk (Paris, 1845), in the collection of L'Univers Pittoresque of Didot, p. 132 and following, where the question, with an excellent criticism, is treated in the sense we have indicated.

6 We ought to remark that this system, long since classical in Germany, has nothing in common with the unfortunate attempt of Dr. Donaldson to re-establish Jasher, one of the books cited in the most ancient annals of Israel. It is surprising that, in a recent article, we are presented, as the last word of the German exegesis, with a similar work, composed by a doctor of the University of Cambridge, and universally reprobated by the German critics.

7 The opinion that Moses is the author of the Pentateuch hardly appears established before the Christian era. M. de Wette believes that even at this epoch it was not entirely accepted.

8 This name here denotes, not the people given in Genesis as the offspring of Shem, but the people who speak or have spoken the language wrongly styled Semitic, that is to say, the Hebrews, Phoenicians, Syrians, Arabs, and Abyssinians.

9 The Phoenician language was nearly pure Hebrew.

10 This name denotes sacred stones to which they attributed divine virtues.

11 Vol. II. p. 44 and following.

12 1 Samuel viii.

13 This at least is the explanation given to the name Cari (Carians?), and the Cherethites and Pelethites (Cretans and Philistines?), who formed the bodyguard of David. The Carians in the ancient world carried on the business of mercenaries, and the Philistines, according to one very probable hypothesis, came from Crete.

14 M. Ewald understands by this expression a cosmography like that of the Arab naturalist Kazwini, or a description of all creatures, commencing with the largest and ending with the smallest. I prefer to think that he descanted on the moral to be drawn from animals and plants, analogous to those we read of in Proverbs xxx., or to those of Physiologus and the Bestiair which were so popular in the Middle Ages. The idea of a science descriptive of nature was foreign to the Semitic people until they came in contact with the Greek spirit.

15 We regret to be obliged to use the word "prophet" which is only given by the Greek translators of the Bible, and would lead to the belief that the prediction of the future was the essential function of these inspired men. It would be preferable, at least for these ancient epochs, to call them seers, or to preserve the Semitic name Nabi.

16 See the narrative of the attempt of Abimelech (Judges ix.).

17 See the little work of M. l'Abbd Barges, entitled Les Samaritains de Naplous. Paris, 1855.

18 V. Book of Kings (IV. according to the Vulgate), chaps, xxii., xxiii.

19 See, for example, Jeremiah xxxvi.

20 Chaps, xl.-lxvi. The strongest proofs have established that these fragments are not by Isaiah, but of the time of the Captivity.

21 He whose works have been placed after the collection of Isaiah.

22  It is remarkable that Philo and the Jews of Egypt have not left any trace in the vast depot of doctrines which compose the Talmud. At the present day the true Jews hardly regard them as co-religionists.

23 See the evidence of the same Book of Maccabees, I. vi. 11.

24 See an excellent work upon the origin and formation of these apocalyptic beliefs among the Jews, recently published in the Revue de Theologie of M. Colani (October 1855) by M. Michel Nicolas, Professor of the Theological Faculty of Montauban. The demonstration of that which is indicated here will there be found.

25 No doubt is possible with regard to the relatively modern date of the Book of Daniel. See the special works of M. Lengerke, Ilitezig, Lucke, Ewald. Part of the Sibylline verses is of Jewish origin.