Jewish and Christian Ethics/Translator's Preface

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Jewish and Christian Ethics by Elijah Benamozegh, translator not mentioned
Translator's Preface


And ye (Israel) are my witnesses. Is there a God besides me?
Yea, there is no Rock, I know none. Isaiah, xliv. 8.

THE most effective method of counteracting an old and wide-spread error, is to show how and why it arose. Although a logical refutation, a priori, or an historical one from cause and effect, 'a posteriori', would have more weight with the thinker or lover of abstract ideas, yet, for the majority at least, no method seems better than the first. Both the latter indeed are admirably used in the fine essay here presented to the reader, and the author ostensibly rests his case upon their provings; yet the whole tenor of his discourse undesignedly evolves the first in a remarkable degree. The reason of the origin of Christianity clearly comes out, and the splendor of those ethereal doctrines that it claims as its own, are traced in detail and with unerring accuracy to their true source—the then setting sun of Judaism. Even the real peculiarities of the new system, such as Justification by Faith, Freedom from the Law, &c., are ably shown to be misapplications of old Rabbinical doctrines or traditions.

We have had, within the past half century, many works exposing the delusions from which Christianity sprung; none of these, however, occupies exclusively that portion of the field of inquiry explored by this essay, chiefly, we suppose, because the writers lacked that knowledge of Hebrew literature, of the Talmud, and the still more recondite Cabalistic works with which Jews alone are conversant. As this essay was written by one well versed in Hebrew lore, all the necessary arguments are brought to bear,—necessary we say; for as a comparison is here made between an original creed (Judaism) and its two main derivative branches (Christianity and Mohammedanism), it is obvious it could not have been instituted without a full acquaintance with the former.

In the second chapter are given an analysis of the extraordinary doctrines taught by Paul, of the Hebrew doctrines from which he manufactured his seductive fictions, and the consequences, obvious as well as inevitable, which they at once and for centuries produced. This portion of the book is highly curious and interesting. We would also call special attention to the ninth chapter, where the universal and cosmopolitan character of Judaism is vindicated.

The main argument of the book is that Judaism has a two-fold character a—material and a spiritual side; the first, dealing with man's worldly interests and his various relations to the present world; the second, with the conscience of the individual, with things most real indeed, but unseen or to come: and that this system—true to nature, true to the necessities of man's constitution and of his present state—has been "bisected" and therefore wholly marred by the two offshoots herein criticised. Christianity, it is shown, has taken the spiritual side of Judaism, and insisting upon this alone to the exclusion of the other (so indispensable in man's present state), has made itself thereby ridiculously impracticable, and created not only the wildest fanaticism but—whenever it has had full play, unchecked by reason or common sense—the most revolting licentiousness. Mohammedanism, on the other hand, ignoring Judaism's etherial side, has adopted as its sole canon the secular part of the Mosaic Code—given solely for the preservation of the state and of society; hence the materialism, the torpor of the spiritual and purifying element in man's nature, and the social and political semi-barbarism so observable in Islamism. Still, a system springing from the latter selection, must obviously be preferable in theory and practice; in theory, as it strictly preserved the Monotheism of its mother-creed, and never gave to a creature the incommunicable attributes of the First Cause; and in practice, as it would not be liable to fall into the extravagances of its "solely-spiritual" sister-creed. All this is shown with great ability by the author.

So far, in this exclusive adoption of a special side of Judaism, can we draw a parallel between the two systems: but then (unfortunately for Christianity) they remarkably diverge; for while Islamism, as shown in the second part, transcribes exactly, even in their minutiae, its dogmas and precepts from Judaism, Christianity—as embodied in the Papacy, its most legitimate offspring—has taken nearly all its ceremonials, and most of its practical ordinances, as monasticism, celibacy, auricular confession, pictures, beads, canonization of saints, etc., and some of its dogmas even, as the Lamb, the Trinity, the Immaculate Conception, etc., from Indian creeds, especially from Buddhism. Catholicism is, indeed, so close a copy of the latter, that a disciple of Budda could not without difficulty distinguish one from the other. Protestantism has been a revolt from this amalgamation; but rejecting tradition, that served as a check in some degree upon the fanaticism so native to the soil of Christianity, and encountering in the written records the conflicting and irreconcilable doctrines of Jesus and his apostles, it was naturally rent, like the primitive Church, into a thousand pieces.

Incidentally, this work establishes beyond a doubt two main facts as to the founder of Christianity: the first, that he was in its truest sense, a fanatic, i. e. a one-sided philosopher; the second, that he was a false prophet (unconsciously perhaps) by asserting that the end of the world was at hand (Luke xxi, 32:); to which last we must chiefly ascribe (as the essay shows) the recklessness and vice of the primitive Churches.

The prevailing tone of the work is critical and logical; philosophical, too, at need, yet without a dull or tiresome page. It sparkles sometimes with anecdotes, and is quite free from spleen or bitterness, a condemnation of doctrine never being made the ground of an aspersion of character. Every allowance that reason suggests is made for the errors and short-comings of Jesus and Paul. On the whole, we think, that no candid Christian can rise from the perusal of this work without feeling a load lifted from his mind and heart, and without being completely satisfied that, as to the comparative merit of Judaism and Christianity, he has had full and most reliable data for forming or rectifying his judgment.

As the word "Lord" was in a few instances injudiciously employed by the essayist, it did not occur to the translator to alter the term till too late. There is a frequent misuse of the term Lord throughout the James' version of the so-called Old Testament. The proper rendering of the original four-letter word (Tetragrammaton), implying past, present and future, would have been the "Eternal." This remark seems needful for Christians, who—accustomed to the application of Lord to Jesus in the "New Testament," and reading the captions of the English translators to the books of Prophets, (so ridiculously misleading as to the persons or events therein referred to)—are much more liable to fall into error; nor will it seem trivial to those conversant with Hebrew literature, so sensitive as to any infringement of the first commandment. So we read:

I, I am the Eternal, and besides me there is no Saviour.—Isaiah xliii, 11.