as such criteria may seem, they are, when the character of the work is sufficiently marked, among the most conclusive; and in this case they enable us to determine, beyond reasonable doubt, the period and circle in which the book was written.
That the history of Israel is a divine discipline, righteous, wise, and good, is the great idea of the prophets. In old Israel, as among other nations, defeat in battle, foreign invasion and conquest, were indeed ascribed to the anger of the national god, whom his people, or members of it, had in some way offended. But that Yahweh's anger as well as his favour is moral, and that therefore his dealing with his people is to be understood upon moral premises, was first distinctly taught by the prophets of the 8th century. This principle was naturally applied by them in the first place to the present and the immediate future. But the evils of the present have their roots in the past; and Hosea, looking back over the history of Israel from the time of the settlement in Canaan, sees in it one long, dark chapter of defection from Yahweh, of heathenish worship and heathenish wickedness. It is Hosea, also, who represents unfaithfulness to Yahweh as the one great sin from which all others spring, and who, with a figure drawn from his own unhappy home, brands this unfaithfulness with the name 'prostitution,' by which later writers so often characterize it.
The prophets of the end of the 7th and the beginning of the 6th century judge Judah in the same way in which Hosea, in the last years of the Northern Kingdom, had judged Israel. In the long reign of Manasseh, foreign gods and foreign cults were introduced in Judah on a scale never before witnessed; the principle of exclusiveness which was native in the religion of Yahweh, and which the prophets had proclaimed with ever increasing absoluteness, was recklessly trampled under foot. This was, as Jeremiah constantly declared, the unpardonable sin which nothing short of the destruction of the nation could expiate. Ezekiel represents the exile as the punishment of the sins of Israel in its whole past: in Egypt, in the wilderness, in Canaan, it had always been a
- Jud. 217 827, 33; see below, p. 72.—With the following cf. Stade, GVI. ii. p. 15ff.
- See e.g. Jer. 15; cf. also 2 K. 2215–20.