Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 9.djvu/621

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THE EVOLUTION OF HEBREW RELIGION.

Israel, but also their elders, their priests, nay, large numbers even of the very populace, shared in the most exalted, the most spiritual conceptions of God, and nourished the most refined sentiments in regard to human relationships, while immediately thereupon, and centuries thereafter, violence, and bloodshed, and idolatry, do not cease from the records? It has been argued, indeed, that the worship of idols was but a relapse from the purity of a preceding age; and that, though the tradition of the Mosaic time may have been lost in the succeeding period among the people at large, it was still preserved in the circle of a select few, the judges, King David, and others. These, it is believed, continued to remain faithful disciples of the great lawgiver. But these very men, the judges—King David himself—all fall immeasurably below the standard which is set up in the Pentateuch. If they were esteemed the true representatives of the national religion in their day, if the very points in which they transgressed the provisions of the Mosaic code are distinguished by the approval of God and man, we are forced to conclude that that standard—by which they stand condemned did not yet exist; that, in the days of David, the laws of Moses, as we now have them, were as yet unwritten and unknown. Let us illustrate this important point by a few examples taken from the records. Gideon no sooner returns from victory than he makes a golden idol and sets it up for worship. Jephthah slay his daughter as an offering of thanksgiving to Jehovah. In the Pentateuch the adoration of images is branded as the gravest of offenses. David keeps household gods in his own home (1 Sam. xix.). In the Pentateuch, on its opening page, God is proclaimed as a pure spirit, maker of heaven and earth. In the eyes of David (1 Sam. xxvi. 19), the sway of Jehovah does not extend beyond the borders of Palestine.[1] In the Pentateuch the ark of the covenant is described as the treasury of all that is brightest and best in "the worship of the one God. None but the consecrated priest dare approach it, and even he only under circumstances calculated to inspire peculiar veneration and awe. In 2 Sam. vi., David abandons the ark to the keeping of a heathen Philistine. In an early stage of culture, when fear and terror in the presence of superior force entered largely into the religious conceptions of the Hebrews, the taking of the census was deemed an act of grave transgression. It appeared a vaunting of one's strength; it seemed to indicate a defiant attitude toward the loftier power of the Deity, which he would certainly visit with condign punishment. At a later period the priesthood found it in their interest to override these scruples, and the taking of the census became an affair of habitual occurrence. In the last chapter of Samuel the more primitive view still predominated. Seventy thousand Israelites are miserably slain to atone for King David's presumption in commanding a census of the people. In the fourth book of Moses, on

  1. Banishment being described as a transfer of allegiance to strange gods.