I wrote this little volume more than thirty years ago, since when I have hardly opened it. Therefore I now read it almost as if it were written by another man, and I find to my relief that, on the whole, I think rather better of it than I did when I published it. Indeed, as a criticism of what were then the accepted views of Massachusetts history, as expounded by her most authoritative historians, I see nothing in it to retract or even to modify. I do, however, somewhat regret the rather acrimonious tone which I occasionally adopted when speaking of the more conservative section of the clergy. Not that I think that the Mathers, for example, and their like, did not deserve all, or, indeed, more than all I ever said or thought of them, but because I conceive that equally effective strictures might have been conveyed in urbaner language; and, as I age, I shrink from anything akin to invective, even in what amounts to controversy.
Therefore I have now nothing to alter in the Emancipation of Massachusetts, viewed as history, though I might soften its asperities somewhat, here and there; but when I come to consider it as philosophy, I am startled to observe the gap which separates the present epoch from my early middle life.
The last generation was strongly Darwinian in the sense that it accepted, almost as a tenet of religious faith, the theory that human civilization is a progressive evolution, moving on the whole steadily toward perfection, from a lower to a higher intellectual plane, and, as a necessary part of its progress, developing a higher degree of mental vigor. I need hardly observe that all belief in democracy as a final solution of social ills, all confidence in education as a means to attaining to universal justice, and all hope of approximating to the rule of moral right in the administration of law, was held to hinge on this great fundamental dogma, which, it followed, it was almost impious to deny, or even to doubt. Thus, on the first page of my book, I observe, as if it were axiomatic, that, at a given moment, toward the opening of the sixteenth century, “Europe burst from her mediæval torpor into the splendor of the Renaissance,” and further on I assume, as an equally self-evident axiom, that freedom of thought was the one great permanent advance which western civilization made by all the agony and bloodshed of the Reformation. Apart altogether from the fact that I should doubt whether, in the year 1919, any intelligent and educated man would be inclined to maintain that the twelfth and thirteenth centuries were, as contrasted with the nineteenth, ages of intellectual torpor, what startles me in these paragraphs is the self-satisfied assumption of the finality of my conclusions. I posit, as a fact not to be controverted, that our universe is an expression of an universal law, which the nineteenth century had discovered and could formulate.
During the past thirty years I have given this subject my best attention, and now I am so far from assenting to this proposition that my mind tends in the opposite direction. Each day I live I am less able to withstand the suspicion that the universe, far from being an expression of law originating in a single primary cause, is a chaos which admits of reaching no equilibrium, and with which man is doomed eternally and hopelessly to contend. For human society, to deserve the name of civilization, must be an embodiment of order, or must at least tend toward a social equilibrium. I take, as an illustration of my meaning, the development of the domestic relations of our race.
I assume it to be generally admitted, that possibly man’s first and probably his greatest advance toward order—and, therefore, toward civilization—was the creation of the family as the social nucleus. As Napoleon said, when the lawyers were drafting his Civil Code, “Make the family responsible to its head, and the head to me, and I will keep order in France.” And yet although our dependence on the family system has been recognized in every age and in every land, there has been no restraint on personal liberty which has been more resented, by both men and women alike, than has been this bond which, when perfect, constrains one man and one woman to live a joint life until death shall them part, for the propagation, care, and defence of their children.
The result is that no civilization has, as yet, ever succeeded, and none promises in the immediate future to succeed, in enforcing this primary obligation, and we are thus led to consider the cause, inherent in our complex nature, which makes it impossible for us to establish an equilibrium between mind and matter. A difficulty which never has been even partially overcome, which wrecked the Roman Empire and the Christian Church, which has wrecked all systems of law, and which has never been more lucidly defined than by Saint Paul, in the Epistle to the Romans, “For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do, I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I…. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me…. For the good that I would, I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do…. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: … But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” [Footnote: Romans vii, 14-24.]
And so it has been since a time transcending the limits of imagination. Here in a half-a-dozen sentences Saint Paul exposes the ceaseless conflict between mind and matter, whose union, though seemingly the essence of life, creates a condition which we cannot comprehend and to which we could not hope to conform, even if we could comprehend it. In short, which indicates chaos as being the probable core of an universe from which we must evolve order, if ever we are to cope with violence, fraud, crime, war, and general brutality. Wheresoever we turn the prospect is the same. If we gaze upon the heavens we discern immeasurable spaces sprinkled with globules of matter, to which our earth seems to be more or less akin, but all plunging, apparently, both furiously and aimlessly, from out of an infinite past to an equally immeasurable future.
Whence this material mass comes, or what its wild flight portends, we neither know nor could we, probably, comprehend even were its secret divulged to us by a superior intelligence, always conceding that there be such an intelligence, or any secret to disclose. These latter speculations lie, however, beyond the scope of my present purpose. It suffices if science permits me to postulate (a concession by science which I much doubt if it could make) that matter, as we know it, has the semblance of being what we call a substance, charged with a something which we define as energy, but which at all events simulates a vital principle resembling heat, seeking to escape into space, where it cools. Thus the stars, having blazed until their vital principle is absorbed in space, sink into relative torpor, or, as the astronomers say, die. The trees and plants diffuse their energy in the infinite, and, at length, when nothing but a shell remains, rot. Lastly, our fleshly bodies, when the union between mind and matter is dissolved, crumble into dust. When the involuntary partnership between mind and matter ceases through death, it is possible, or at least conceivable, that the impalpable soul, admitting that such a thing exists, may survive in some medium where it may be free from material shackles, but, while life endures, the flesh has wants which must be gratified, and which, therefore, take precedence of the yearnings of the soul, just as Saint Paul points out was the case with himself; and herein lies the inexorable conflict between the moral law and the law of competition which favors the strong, and from whence comes all the abominations of selfishness, of violence, of cruelty and crime.
Approached thus, perhaps no historical fragment is more suggestive than the exodus of the Jews from Egypt under Moses, who was the first great optimist, nor one which is seldomer read with an eye to the contrast which it discloses between Moses the law-giver, the idealist, the religious prophet, and the visionary; and Moses the political adventurer and the keen and unscrupulous man of the world. And yet it is here at the point at which mind and matter clashed, that Moses merits most attention. For Moses and the Mosaic civilization broke down at this point, which is, indeed, the chasm which has engulfed every progressive civilization since the dawn of time. And the value of the story as an illustration of scientific history is its familiarity, for no Christian child lives who has not been brought up on it.
We have all forgotten when we first learned how the Jews came to migrate to Egypt during the years of the famine, when Joseph had become the minister of Pharaoh through his acuteness in reading dreams. Also how, after their settlement in the land of Goshen,—which is the Egyptian province lying at the end of the ancient caravan road, which Abraham travelled, leading from Palestine to the banks of the Nile, and which had been the trade route, or path of least resistance, between Asia and Africa, probably for ages before the earliest of human traditions,—they prospered exceedingly. But at length they fell into a species of bondage which lasted several centuries, during which they multiplied so rapidly that they finally raised in the Egyptian government a fear of their domination. Nor, considering subsequent events, was this apprehension unreasonable. At all events the Egyptian government is represented, as a measure of self-protection, as proposing to kill male Jewish babies in order to reduce the Jewish military strength; and it was precisely at this juncture that Moses was born, Moses, indeed, escaped the fate which menaced him, but only by a narrow chance, and he was nourished by his mother in an atmosphere of hate which tinged his whole life, causing him always to feel to the Egyptians as the slave feels to his master. After birth the mother hid the child as long as possible, but when she could conceal the infant no longer she platted a basket of reeds, smeared it with pitch, and set it adrift in the Nile, where it was likely to be found, leaving her eldest daughter, named Miriam, to watch over it. Presently Pharaoh’s daughter came, as was her habit, to the river to bathe, as Moses’s mother expected that she would, and there she noticed the “ark” floating among the bulrushes. She had it brought her, and, noticing Miriam, she caused the girl to engage her mother, whom Miriam pointed out to her, as a nurse. Taking pity on the baby the kind-hearted princess adopted it and brought it up as she would had it been her own, and, as the child grew, she came to love the boy, and had him educated with care, and this education must be kept in mind since the future of Moses as a man turned upon it. For Moses was most peculiarly a creation of his age and of his environment; if, indeed, he may not be considered as an incarnation of Jewish thought gradually shaped during many centuries of priestly development.
According to tradition, Moses from childhood was of great personal beauty, so much so that passers by would turn to look at him, and this early promise was fulfilled as he grew to be a man. Tall and dignified, with long, shaggy hair and beard, of a reddish hue tinged with gray, he is described as “wise as beautiful.” Educated by his foster-mother as a priest at Heliopolis, he was taught the whole range of Chaldean and Assyrian literature, as well as the Egyptian, and thus became acquainted with all the traditions of oriental magic: which, just at that period, was in its fullest development. Consequently, Moses must have been familiar with the ancient doctrines of Zoroaster.
Men who stood thus, and had such an education, were called Wise Men, Magi, or Magicians, and had great influence, not so much as priests of a God, as enchanters who dealt with the supernatural as a profession. Daniel, for example, belonged to this class. He was one of three captive Jews whom Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, gave in charge to the master of his eunuchs, to whom he should teach the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans. Daniel, very shortly, by his natural ability, brought himself and his comrades into favor with the chief eunuch, who finally presented them to Nebuchadnezzar, who conversed with them and found them “ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers that were in all his realm.”
The end of it was, of course, that Nebuchadnezzar dreamed a dream which he forgot when he awoke and he summoned “the magicians, and the astrologers, and the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans, for to shew the king his dreams,” but they could not unless he told it them. This vexed the king, who declared that unless they should tell him his dream with the interpretation thereof, they should be cut in pieces. So the decree went forth that all “the wise men” of Babylon should be slain, and they sought Daniel and his fellows to slay them. Therefore, it appears that together with its privileges and advantages the profession of magic was dangerous in those ages. Daniel, on this occasion, according to the tradition, succeeded in revealing and interpreting the dream; and, in return, Nebuchadnezzar made Daniel a great man, chief governor of the province of Babylon.
Precisely a similar tale is told of Joseph, who, having been sold by his brethren to Midianitish merchantmen with camels, bearing spices and balm, journeying along the ancient caravan road toward Egypt, was in turn sold by them to Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s guard.
And Joseph rose in Potiphar’s service, and after many alternations of fortune was brought before Pharaoh, as Daniel had been before Nebuchadnezzar, and because he interpreted Pharaoh’s dream acceptably, he was made “ruler over all the land of Egypt” and so ultimately became the ancestor whom Moses most venerated and whose bones he took with him when he set out upon the exodus.
It is true also that Josephus has preserved an idle tale that Moses was given command of an Egyptian army with which he made a successful campaign against the Ethiopians, but it is unworthy of credit and may be neglected. His bringing up was indeed the reverse of military. So much so that probably far the most important part of his education lay in acquiring those arts which conduce to the deception of others, such deceptions as jugglers have always practised in snake-charming and the like, or in gaining control of another’s senses by processes akin to hypnotism;—processes which have been used by the priestly class and their familiars from the dawn of time. In especial there was one miracle performed by the Magi, on which not only they, but Moses himself, appear to have set great store, and on which Moses seemed always inclined to fall back, when hard pressed to assert his authority. They pretended to make fire descend onto their altars by means of magical ceremonies. [Footnote: Lenormant, Chaldean Magic, 226.] Nevertheless, amidst all these ancient eastern civilizations, the strongest hold which the priests or sorcerers held over, and the greatest influence which they exercised upon, others, lay in their relations to disease, for there they were supposed to be potent. For example, in Chaldea, diseases were held to be the work of demons, to be feared in proportion as they were powerful and malignant, and to be restrained by incantations and exorcisms. Among these demons the one, perhaps most dreaded, was called Namtar, the genius of the plague. Moses was, of course, thoroughly familiar with all these branches of learning, for the relations of Egypt were then and for many centuries had been, intimate with Mesopotamia. Whatever aspect the philosophy may have, which Moses taught after middle life touching the theory of the religion in which he believed, Moses had from early childhood been nurtured in these Mesopotamian beliefs and traditions, and to them—or, at least, toward them—he always tended to revert in moments of stress. Without bearing this fundamental premise in mind, Moses in active life can hardly be understood, for it was on this foundation that his theories of cause and effect were based.
As M. Lenormant has justly and truly observed, go back as far as we will in Egyptian religion, we find there, as a foundation, or first cause, the idea of a divine unity,—a single God, who had no beginning and was to have no end of days,—the primary cause of all. [Footnote: Chaldean Magic, 79.] It is true that this idea of unity was early obscured by confounding the energy with its manifestations. Consequently a polytheism was engendered which embraced all nature. Gods and demons struggled for control and in turn were struggled with. In Egypt, in Media, in Chaldea, in Persia, there were wise men, sorcerers, and magicians who sought to put this science into practice, and among this fellowship Moses must always rank foremost. Before, however, entering upon the consideration of Moses, as a necromancer, as a scientist, as a statesman, as a priest, or as a commander, we should first glance at the authorities which tell his history.
Scholars are now pretty well agreed that Moses and Aaron were men who actually lived and worked probably about the time attributed to them by tradition. That is to say, under the reign of Ramses II, of the Nineteenth Egyptian dynasty who reigned, as it is computed, from 1348 to 1281 B.C., and under whom the exodus occurred. Nevertheless, no very direct or conclusive evidence having as yet been discovered touching these events among Egyptian documents, we are obliged, in the main, to draw our information from the Hebrew record, which, for the most part, is contained in the Pentateuch, or the first five books of the Bible.
Possibly no historical documents have ever been subjected to a severer or more minute criticism than have these books during the last two centuries. It is safe to say that no important passage and perhaps no paragraph has escaped the most searching and patient analysis by the acutest and most highly trained of minds; but as yet, so far as the science of history is concerned, the results have been disappointing. The order in which events occurred may have been successfully questioned and the sequence of the story rearranged hypothetically; but, in general, it has to be admitted that the weight of all the evidence obtained from the monuments of contemporary peoples has been to confirm the reliability of the Biblical narrative. For example, no one longer doubts that Joseph was actually a Hebrew, who rose, through merit, to the highest offices of state under an Egyptian monarch, and who conceived and successfully carried into execution a comprehensive agrarian policy which had the effect of transferring the landed estates of the great feudal aristocracy to the crown, and of completely changing Egyptian tenures. Nor does any one question, at this day, the reality of the power which the Biblical writers ascribed to the Empire of the Hittites. Under such conditions the course of the commentator is clear. He should treat the Jewish record as reliable, except where it frankly accepts the miracle as a demonstrated fact, and even then regard the miracle as an important and most suggestive part of the great Jewish epic, which always has had, and always must have, a capital influence on human thought.
The Pentateuch has, indeed, been demonstrated to be a compilation of several chronicles arranged by different writers at different times, and blended into a unity under different degrees of pressure, but now, as the book stands, it is as authentic a record as could be wished of the workings of the Mosaic mind and of the minds of those of his followers who supported him in his pilgrimage, and who made so much of his task possible, as he in fact accomplished.
Moses, himself, but for the irascibility of his temper, might have lived and died, contented and unknown, within the shadow of the Egyptian court. The princess who befriended him as a baby would probably have been true to him to the end, in which case he would have lived wealthy, contented, and happy and would have died overfed and unknown. Destiny, however, had planned it otherwise.
The Hebrews were harshly treated after the death of Joseph, and fell into a quasi-bondage in which they were forced to labor, and this species of tyranny irritated Moses, who seems to have been brought up under his mother’s influence. At all events, one day Moses chanced to see an Egyptian beating a Jew, which must have been a common enough sight, but a sight which revolted him. Whereupon Moses, thinking himself alone, slew the Egyptian and hid his body in the sand. Moses, however, was not alone. A day or so later he again happened to see two men fighting, whereupon he again interfered, enjoining the one who was in the wrong to desist. Whereupon the man whom he checked turned fiercely on him and said, “Who made thee a prince and a judge over us? Intendest thou to kill me, as thou killedst the Egyptian?”
When Moses perceived by this act of treachery on the part of a countryman, whom he had befriended, that nothing remained to him but flight, he started in the direction of southern Arabia, toward what was called the Land of Midian, and which, at the moment, seems to have lain beyond the limits of the Egyptian administrative system, although it had once been one of its most prized metallurgical regions. Just at that time it was occupied by a race called the Kenites, who were more or less closely related to the Amalekites, who were Bedouins and who relied for their living upon their flocks, as the Israelites had done in the time of Abraham. Although Arabia Patrea was then, in the main, a stony waste, as it is now, it was not quite a desert. It was crossed by trade routes in many directions along which merchants travelled to Egypt, as is described in the story of Joseph, whose brethren seized him in Dothan, and as they sat by the side of the pit in which they had thrown him, they saw a company of Ishmaelites who came from Gilead and who journeyed straight down from Damascus to Gilead and from thence to Hebron, along the old caravan road, toward Egypt, with camels bearing spices and myrrh, as had been their custom since long beyond human tradition, and which had been the road along which Abraham had travelled before them, and which was still watered by his wells. This was the famous track from Beersheba to Hebron, where Hagar was abandoned with her baby Ishmael, and if the experiences of Hagar do not prove that the wilderness of Shur was altogether impracticable for women and children it does at least show that for a mixed multitude without trustworthy guides or reliable sources of supply, the country was not one to be lightly attempted.
It was into a region similar to this, only somewhat further to the south, that Moses penetrated after his homicide, travelling alone and as an unknown adventurer, dressed like an Egyptian, and having nothing of the nomad about him in his looks. As Moses approached Sinai, the country grew wilder and more lonely, and Moses one day sat himself down, by the side of a well whither shepherds were wont to drive their flocks to water. For shepherds came there, and also shepherdesses; among others were the seven daughters of Jethro, the priest of Midian, who came to water their father’s flocks. But the shepherds drove them away and took the water for themselves. Whereupon Moses defended the girls and drew water for them and watered their flocks. This naturally pleased the young women, and they took Moses home with them to their father’s tent, as Bedouins still would do. And when they came to their father, he asked how it chanced that they came home so early that day. “And they said, an Egyptian delivered us out of the hand of the shepherds, and also drew water enough for us, and watered the flock.” And Jethro said, “Where is he? Why is it that ye have left the man? Call him that he may eat bread.”
“And Moses was content to dwell with” Jethro, who made him his chief shepherd and gave him Zipporah, his daughter. And she bore him a son. Seemingly, time passed rapidly and happily in this peaceful, pastoral life, which, according to the tradition preserved by Saint Stephen, lasted forty years, but be the time long or short, it is clear that Moses loved and respected Jethro and was in return valued by him. Nor could anything have been more natural, for Moses was a man who made a deep impression at first sight—an impression which time strengthened. Intellectually he must have been at least as notable as in personal appearance, for his education at Heliopolis set him apart from men whom Jethro would have been apt to meet in his nomad life. But if Moses had strong attractions for Jethro, Jethro drew Moses toward himself at least as strongly in the position in which Moses then stood. Jethro, though a child of the desert, was the chief of a tribe or at least of a family, a man used to command, and to administer the nomad law; for Jethro was the head of the Kenites, who were akin to the Amalekites, with whom the Israelites were destined to wage mortal war. And for Moses this was a most important connection, for Moses after his exile never permitted his relations with his own people in Egypt to lapse. The possibility of a Jewish revolt, of which his own banishment was a precursor, was constantly in his mind. To Moses a Jewish exodus from Egypt was always imminent. For centuries it had been a dream of the Jews. Indeed it was an article of faith with them. Joseph, as he sank in death, had called his descendants about him and made them solemnly swear to “carry his bones hence.” And to that end Joseph had caused his body to be embalmed and put in a coffin that all might be ready when the day came. Moses knew the tradition and felt himself bound by the oath and waited in Midian with confidence until the moment of performance should come. Presently it did come. Very probably before he either expected or could have wished it, and actually, as almost his first act of leadership, Moses did carry the bones of Joseph with him when he crossed the Red Sea. Moses held the tradition to be a certainty. He never conceived it to be a matter of possible doubt, nor probably was it so. There was in no one’s mind a question touching Joseph’s promise nor about his expectation of its fulfilment. What Moses did is related in Exodus XIII, 19: “And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him; for he had straitly sworn the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you; and ye shall carry up my bones away hence with you.”
In fine, Moses, in the solitude of the Arabian wilderness, in his wanderings as the shepherd of Jethro, came to believe that his destiny was linked with that of his countrymen in a revolution which was certain to occur before they could accomplish the promise of Joseph and escape from Egypt under the guidance of the god who had befriended and protected him. Moreover, Moses was by no means exclusively a religious enthusiast. He was also a scientific man, after the ideas of that age. Moses had a high degree of education and he was familiar with the Egyptian and Chaldean theory of a great and omnipotent prime motor, who had had no beginning and should have no end. He was also aware that this theory was obscured by the intrusion into men’s minds of a multitude of lesser causes, in the shape of gods and demons, who mixed themselves in earthly affairs and on whose sympathy or malevolence the weal or woe of human life hinged. Pondering deeply on these things as he roamed, he persuaded himself that he had solved the riddle of the universe, by identifying the great first cause of all with the deity who had been known to his ancestors, whose normal home was in the promised land of Canaan, and who, beside being all-powerful, was also a moral being whose service must tend toward the welfare of mankind. For Moses was by temperament a moralist in whom such abominations as those practised in the worship of Moloch created horror. He knew that the god of Abraham would tolerate no such wickedness as this, because of the fate of Sodom on much less provocation, and he believed that were he to lead the Israelites, as he might lead them, he could propitiate such a deity, could he but by an initial success induce his congregation to obey the commands of a god strong enough to reward them for leading a life which should be acceptable to him. All depended, therefore, should the opportunity of leadership come to him, on his being able, in the first place, to satisfy himself that the god who presented himself to him was verily the god of Abraham, who burned Sodom, and not some demon, whose object was to vex mankind: and, in the second place, assuming that he himself were convinced of the identity of the god, that he could convince his countrymen of the fact, and also of the absolute necessity of obedience to the moral law which he should declare, since without absolute obedience, they would certainly merit, and probably suffer, such a fate as befell the inhabitants of Sodom, under the very eyes of Abraham, and in spite of his prayers for mercy.
There was one other apprehension which may have troubled, and probably did trouble, Moses. The god of the primitive man, and certainly of the Bedouin, is usually a local deity whose power and whose activity is limited to some particular region, as, for instance, a mountain or a plain. Thus the god of Abraham might have inhabited and absolutely ruled the plain of Mamre and been impotent elsewhere. But this, had Moses for a moment harbored such a notion, would have been dispelled when he thought of Joseph. Joseph, when his brethren threw him into the pit, must have been under the guardianship of the god of his fathers, and when he was drawn out, and sold in the ordinary course of the slave-trade, he was bought by Potiphar, the captain of the guard. “And the Lord was with Joseph and he was a prosperous man.” Thenceforward, Joseph had a wonderful career. He received in a dream a revelation of what the weather was to be for seven years to come. And by this dream he was able to formulate a policy for establishing public graineries like those which were maintained in Babylon, and by means of these graineries, ably administered, the crown was enabled to acquire the estates of the great feudatories, and thus the whole social system of Egypt was changed. And Joseph, from being a poor waif, cast away by his brethren in the wilderness, became the foremost man in Egypt and the means of settling his compatriots in the province of Gotham, where they still lived when Moses fled from Egypt. Such facts had made a profound impression upon the mind of Moses, who very reasonably looked upon Joseph as one of the most wonderful men who had ever lived, and one who could not have succeeded as he succeeded, without the divine interposition. But if the god who did these things could work such miracles in Egypt, his power was not confined by local boundaries, and his power could be trusted in the desert as safely as it could be on the plain of Mamre or elsewhere. The burning of Sodom was a miracle equally in point to prove the stern morality of the god. And that also, was a fact, as incontestable, to the mind of Moses, as was the rising of the sun upon the morning of each day. He knew, as we know of the battle of Great Meadows, that one day his ancestor Abraham, when sitting in the door of his tent toward noon, “in the plain of Mamre,” at a spot not far from Hebron and perfectly familiar to every traveller along the old caravan road hither, on looking up observed three men standing before him, one of whom he recognized as the “Lord.” Then it dawned on Abraham that the “Lord” had not come without a purpose, but had dropped in for dinner, and Abraham ran to meet them, “and bowed himself toward the ground.” And he said, “Let a little water be fetched, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree: And I will fetch a morsel of bread, and comfort ye your hearts; after that you shall pass on.” “And Abraham ran unto the herd, and fetcht a calf tender and good, and gave it unto a young man; and he hasted to dress it. And he took butter, and milk, and the calf which he had dressed, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree, and they did eat.” Meanwhile, Abraham asked no questions, but waited until the object of the visit should be disclosed. In due time he succeeded in his purpose. “And they said unto him, Where is Sarah thy wife? And he said, Behold, in the tent. And he [the Lord] said, … Sarah thy wife shall have a son…. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, and well stricken in age.” At this time Abraham was about one hundred years old, according to the tradition, and Sarah was proportionately amused, and “laughed within herself.” This mirth vexed “the Lord,” who did not treat his words as a joke, but asked, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” Then Sarah took refuge in a lie, and denied that she had laughed. But the lie helped her not at all, for the Lord insisted, “Nay, but thou didst laugh.” And this incident broke up the party. The men rose and “looked toward Sodom”: and Abraham strolled with them, to show them the way. And then the “Lord” debated with himself whether to make a confidant of Abraham touching his resolution to destroy Sodom utterly. And finally he decided that he would, “because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great and because their sin is very grievous.” Whereupon Abraham intervened, and an argument ensued, and at length God admitted that he had been too hasty and promised to think the matter over. And finally, when “the Lord” had reduced the number of righteous for whom the city should be saved to ten, Abraham allowed him to go “his way … and Abraham returned to his place.”
In the evening of the same day two angels came to Sodom, who met Lot at the gate, and Lot took them to his house and made them a feast and they did eat. Then it happened that the mob surrounded Lot’s house and demanded that the strangers should be delivered up to them. But Lot successfully defended them. And in the morning the angels warned Lot to escape, but Lot hesitated, though finally he did escape to Zoar.
“Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven.”
“And Abraham gat up early in the morning to the place where he stood before the Lord:
“And he looked toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and toward all the land of the plain, and beheld, and, lo, the smoke of the country went up as the smoke of a furnace.”
We must always remember, in trying to reconstruct the past, that these traditions were not matters of possible doubt to Moses, or indeed to any Israelite. They were as well established facts to them as would be the record of volcanic eruptions now. Therefore it would not have astonished Moses more that the Lord should meet him on the slope of Horeb, than that the Lord should have met his ancestor Abraham on the plain of Mamre. Moses’ doubts and perplexities lay in another direction. Moses did not question, as did his great ancestress, that his god could do all he promised, if he had the will. His anxiety lay in his doubt as to God’s steadiness of purpose supposing he promised; and this doubt was increased by his lack of confidence in his own countrymen. The god of Abraham was a requiring deity with a high moral standard, and the Hebrews were at least in part somewhat akin to a horde of semi-barbarous nomads, much more likely to fall into offences resembling those of Sodom than to render obedience to a code which would strictly conform to the requirements which alone would ensure Moses support, supposing he accepted a task which, after all, without divine aid, might prove to be impossible to perform.
When the proposition which Moses seems, more or less confidently, to have expected to be made to him by the Lord, came, it came very suddenly and very emphatically. “Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb.
“And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed.”
And Moses, not, apparently, very much excited, said, “I will now turn aside, and see this great sight.” But God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, “Moses, Moses.” And he said, “Here am I.” Then the voice commanded him to put off his shoes from off his feet, for the place he stood on was holy ground.
“Moreover,” said the voice, “I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God.
And the Lord said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people … and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows.
“And I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey; unto the place of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites….
“Come now, therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.”
And Moses said unto God, “Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?…” And Moses said unto God, “Behold, when I am come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them?”
And God said unto Moses, “I am That I Am;” and he said, “Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I Am hath sent me unto you.”
“And God said, moreover, unto Moses, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, The Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this is my name forever, and this is my memorial unto all generations.”
Then the denizen of the bush renewed his instructions and his promises, assuring Moses that he would bring him and his following out of the land of affliction of Egypt and into the land of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and others, unto a land flowing with milk and honey. In a word to Palestine. And he insisted to Moses that he should gain an entrance to Pharaoh, and that he should tell him that “the Lord God of the Hebrews hath met with us: and now let us go, we beseech thee, three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God.”
Also God did not pretend to Moses that the King of Egypt would forthwith let them go; whereupon he would work his wonders in Egypt and after that Pharaoh would let them go.
Moreover, he promised, as an inducement to their avarice, that they should not go empty away, for that the Lord God would give the Hebrews favor in the sight of the Egyptians, “so that every woman should borrow of her neighbor, and of her that sojourneth in her house, jewels of silver, jewels of gold, and raiment,” and that they should spoil the Egyptians. But all this time God did not disclose his name; so Moses tried another way about. If he would not tell his name he might at least enable Moses to work some wonder which should bring conviction to those who saw it, even if the god remained nameless. For Moses appreciated the difficulty of the mission suggested to him. How was he, a stranger in Egypt, to gain the confidence of that mixed and helpless multitude, whom he was trying to persuade to trust to his guidance in so apparently desperate an enterprise as crossing a broad and waterless waste, in the face of a well-armed and vigorous foe. Moses apprehended that there was but one way in which he could by possibility succeed. He might prevail by convincing the Israelites that he was commissioned by the one deity whom they knew, who was likely to have both the will and the power to aid them, and that was the god who had visited Abraham on the plain of Mamre, who had destroyed Sodom for its iniquity, and who had helped Joseph to become the ruler of Egypt. Joseph above all was the man who had made to his descendants that solemn promise on whose faith Moses was, at that very moment, basing his hopes of deliverance; for Joseph had assured the Israelites in the most solemn manner that the god who had aided him would surely visit them, and that they should carry his bones away with them to the land he promised. That land was the land to which Moses wished to guide them. Now Moses was fully determined to attempt no such project as this unless the being who spoke from the bush would first prove to him, Moses, that he was the god he purported to be, and should beside give Moses credentials which should be convincing, by which Moses could prove to the Jews in Egypt that he was no impostor himself, nor had he been deceived by a demon. Therefore Moses went on objecting as strongly as at first:
“And Moses answered and said, But behold they will not believe me, nor hearken to my voice; for they will say, the Lord hath not appeared unto thee.”
Then the being in the bush proceeded to submit his method of proof, which was of a truth feeble, and which Moses rejected as feeble. A form of proof which never fully convinced him, and which, in his judgment could not be expected to convince others, especially men so educated and intelligent as the Egyptians. For the Lord had nothing better to suggest than the ancient trick of the snake-charmer, and even the possessor of the voice seems implicitly to have admitted that this could hardly be advanced as a convincing miracle. So the Lord proposed two other tests: the first was that Moses should have his hand smitten with leprous sores and restored immediately by hiding it from sight in “his bosom.” And in the event that this test left his audience still sceptical, he was to dip Nile water out of the river, and turn it into blood on land.
Moses at all these three proposals remained cold as before. And with good reason, for Moses had been educated as a priest in Egypt, and he knew that Egyptian “wise men” could do as well, and even better, if it came to a magical competition before Pharaoh. And Moses had evidently no relish for a contest in the presence of his countrymen as to the relative quality of his magic. Therefore, he objected once more on another ground: “I am not eloquent, neither heretofore nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue.” This continued hesitancy put the Lord out of patience; who retorted sharply, “Who hath made man’s mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? Have not I the Lord?
“Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say.”
Then Moses made his last effort. “0 my Lord, send, I pray thee, by the hand of him whom thou wilt send.” Which was another way of saying, Send whom you please, but leave me to tend Jethro’s flock in Midian.
“And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses; and he said, Is not Aaron the Levite thy brother? I know that he can speak well. And also, behold, he cometh forth to meet thee; and when he seeth thee, he will be glad in his heart.
“And he shall be, … to thee instead of a mouth, and thou shalt be to him instead of God.”
Then Moses, not seeming to care very much what Aaron might think about the matter, went to Jethro, and related what had happened to him on the mountain, and asked for leave to go home to Egypt, and see how matters stood there. And Jethro listened, and seems to have thought the experiment worth trying, for he answered, “Go in peace.”
“And the Lord said unto Moses,”—but where is not stated, probably in Midian,—“Go, return into Egypt,” which you may do safely, for all the men are dead which sought thy life.
“And Moses took his wife and his sons, and set them upon an ass, and he returned to the land of Egypt. And Moses took the rod of God in his hand.”
It was after this, apparently, that Aaron travelled to meet Moses in Midian, and Moses told Aaron what had occurred, and performed his tests, and, seemingly, convinced him; for then Moses and Aaron went together into Egypt and called the elders of the children of Israel together, “and did the signs in the sight of the people. And the people believed: and … bowed their heads and worshipped.” Meanwhile God had not, as yet, revealed his name. But as presently matters came to a crisis between Moses and Pharaoh, he did so. He said to Moses, “I am the Lord:
“I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty; but by my name Jehovah was I not known to them….
“Wherefore say unto the children of Israel, I am the Lord…. And I will bring you in unto the land, concerning the which I did swear to give it to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; and I will give it you for an heritage: I am the Lord.
“And Moses spake so unto the children of Israel: but they hearkened not unto Moses, for anguish of spirit, and for cruel bondage….
“And Moses spake before the Lord, saying, Behold the children of Israel have not hearkened unto me; how then shall Pharaoh hear me?” And from this form of complaint against his countrymen until his death Moses never ceased.
Certain modern critics have persuaded themselves to reject this whole Biblical narrative as the product of a later age and of a maturer civilization, contending that it would be childish to attribute the reasoning of the Pentateuch to primitive Bedouins like the patriarchs or like the Jews who followed Moses into the desert. Setting aside at once the philological discussion as to whether the language of the Pentateuch could have been used by Moses, and admitting for the sake of argument that Moses did not either himself write, or dictate to another, any part of the documents in question, it would seem that the application of a little common sense would show pretty conclusively that Moses throughout his whole administrative life acted upon a single scientific theory of the application of a supreme energy to the affairs of life, and upon the belief that he had discovered what that energy was and understood how to control it.
His syllogism amounted to this:
Facts, which are admitted by all Hebrews, prove that the single dominant power in the world is the being who revealed himself to our ancestors, and who, in particular, guided Joseph into Egypt, protected him there, and raised him to an eminence never before or since reached by a Jew. It can also be proved, by incontrovertible facts, that this being is a moral being, who can be placated by obedience and by attaining to a certain moral standard in life, and by no other means. That this standard has been disclosed to me, I can prove to you by sundry miraculous signs. Therefore, be obedient and obey the law which I shall promulgate “that ye may prosper in all that ye do.”
Indeed, the philosophy of Moses was of the sternly practical kind, resembling that of Benjamin Franklin. He did not promise his people, as did the Egyptians, felicity in a future life. He confined himself to prosperity in this world. And to succeed in his end he set an attainable standard. A standard no higher, certainly than that accepted by the Egyptians, as it is set forth in the 125th chapter of the Book of the Dead, a standard to which the soul of any dead man had to attain before he could be admitted into Paradise. Nor did Moses, as Dr. Budde among others assumes, have to deal with a tribe of fierce and barbarous Bedouins, like the Amalekites, to whom indeed the Hebrews were antagonistic and with whom they waged incessant war.
The Jews, for the most part, differed widely from such barbarians. They had become sedentary at the time of the exodus, whatever they may have been when Abraham migrated from Babylon. They were accustomed in Egypt to living in houses, they cultivated and cooked the cereals, and they fed on vegetables and bread. They did not live on flesh and milk as do the Bedouins; and, indeed, the chief difficulty Moses encountered in the exodus was the ignorance of his followers of the habits of desert life, and their dislike of desert fare. They were forever pining for the delights of civilization. “Would to God we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we eat by the flesh-pots, and when we did eat bread to the full! for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” [Footnote: Ex. XVI, 3.]
“We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlick.” These were the wants of sedentary and of civilized folk, not of barbarous nomads who are content with goat’s flesh and milk. And so it was with their morality and their conceptions of law. Moses was, indeed, a highly civilized and highly educated man. No one would probably pretend that Moses represented the average Jew of the exodus, but Moses understood his audience reasonably well, and would not have risked the success of his whole experiment by preaching to them a doctrine which was altogether beyond their understanding. If he told them that the favor of God could only be gained by obeying the laws he taught, it was because he thought such an appeal would be effective with a majority of them.
Dr. Budde, who is a good example of the modern hypercritical school, takes very nearly the opposite ground. His theory is that Moses was in search of a war god, and that he discovered such a god, in the god of the Bedouin tribe of the Kenites whose acquaintance he first made when dwelling with his father-in-law Jethro at Sinai. The morality of such a god he insists coincided with the morality which Moses may have at times countenanced, but which was quite foreign to the spirit of the decalogue.
Doubtless this is, in a degree, true. The religion of the pure Bedouin was very often crude and shocking, not to say disgusting. But to argue thus is to ignore the fact that all Bedouins did not, in the age of Moses, stand on the same intellectual or moral level, and it is also to ignore the gap that separated Moses and his congregation intellectually and morally from such Bedouins as the Amalekites.
Dr. Budde, in his Religion of Israel to the Exile, insists that the Kenite god, Jehovah, demanded “The sacred ban by which conquered cities with all their living beings were devoted to destruction, the slaughter of human beings at sacred spots, animal sacrifices at which the entire animal, wholly or half raw, was devoured, without leaving a remnant, between sunset and sunrise,—these phenomena and many others of the same kind harmonise but ill with an aspiring ethical religion.”
He also goes on to say: “We are further referred to the legislation of Moses, … comprising civil and criminal, ceremonial and ecclesiastical, moral and social law in varying compass. This legislation, however, cannot have come from Moses…. Such legislation can only have arisen after Israel had lived a long time in the new home.”
To take these arguments in order,—for they must be so dealt with to develop any reasonable theory of the Mosaic philosophy,—Moses, doubtless, was a ruthless conqueror, as his dealings with Sihon and Og sufficiently prove. “So the Lord our God delivered into our hands Og also, the king of Bashan, and all his people: and we smote him until none was left to him remaining….
“And we utterly destroyed them, as we did unto Sihon, king of Heshbon, utterly destroying the men, women, and children of every city.” [Footnote: Deut. III, 3-6.]
There is nothing extraordinary, or essentially barbarous, in this attitude of Moses. The same theory of duty or convenience has been held in every age and in every land, by men of the ecclesiastical temperament, at the very moment at which the extremest doctrines of charity, mercy, and love were practised by their contemporaries, or even preached by themselves. For example:
At the beginning of the thirteenth century the two great convents of Cluny and Citeau, together, formed the heart of monasticism, and Cluny and Citeau were two of the richest and most powerful corporations in the world, while the south of France had become, by reason of the eastern trade, the wealthiest and most intelligent district in Europe. It suffices to say here that, just about this time, the people of Languedoc had made up their minds, because of the failure of the Crusades, the cost of such magnificent establishments was not justified by their results, and accordingly Count Raymond of Toulouse, in sympathy with his subjects, did seriously contemplate secularization. To the abbots of these great convents, it was clear that if this movement spread across the Rhone into Burgundy, the Church would face losses which they could not contemplate with equanimity. At this period one Arnold was Abbot of Citeau, universally recognized as perhaps the ablest and certainly one of the most unscrupulous men in Europe. Hence the crusade against the Albigenses which Simon de Montfort commanded and Arnold conducted. Arnold’s first exploit was the sack of the undefended town of Béziers, where he slaughtered twenty thousand men, women, and children, without distinction of religious belief. When asked whether the orthodox might not at least be spared, he replied, “Kill them all; God knows his own.”
This sack of Béziers occurred in 1209. Exactly contemporaneously Saint Francis of Assisi was organizing his order whose purpose was to realize Christ’s kingdom upon earth, by the renunciation of worldly wealth and by the practice of poverty, humility, and obedience. Soon after, Arnold was created Archbishop of Narbonne and became probably the greatest and richest prelate in France, or in the world. This was in 1225. In 1226 the first friars settled in England. They multiplied rapidly because of their rigorous discipline. Soon there were to be found among them some of the most eminent men in England. Their chief house stood in London in a spot called Stinking Lane, near the Shambles in Newgate, and there, amidst poverty, hunger, cold, and filth, these men passed their lives in nursing horrible lepers, so loathsome that they were rejected by all but themselves, while Arnold lived in magnificence in his palace, upon the spoil of those whom he had immolated to his greed.
In the case of Moses the contrast between precept and practice in the race for wealth and fortune was not nearly so violent. Moses, it is true, according to Leviticus, declared it to be the will of the Lord that the Israelites should love their neighbors as themselves, [Footnote: Lev. XIX, 18.] while on the other hand in Deuteronomy he insisted that obedience was the chief end of life, and that if the Israelites were to thoroughly obey the Lord’s behests, they were to “consume all the people which the Lord thy God shall deliver thee; thine eye shall have no pity upon them: neither” should thou serve their gods, “for the Lord thy God is a jealous God.” [Footnote: Deut. VII, 16.] And the penalty for slackness was “lest the anger of the Lord thy God be kindled against thee, and destroy thee from off the face of the earth.” [Footnote: Deut. VI, 15.] There is, nevertheless, this much to be said in favor of the morality of Moses as contrasted with that of thirteenth-century orthodox Christians like Arnold; Moses led a crusade against a foreign and hostile people, while Arnold slaughtered the Albigenses, who were his own flock, sheep to whom he was the shepherd, communicants in his own church, and worshippers of the God whom he served. What concerns us, however, is that the same stimulant animated Moses and Arnold alike. The stimulant, pure and simple, of greed. On these points Moses was as outspokenly, one may say as brutally, frank as was Arnold. In the desert Moses commanded his followers to exterminate the inhabitants of the kingdom of Bashan in order that they might appropriate their possessions, which he enumerated, and Moses had no other argument to urge but the profitableness of it by which to secure obedience to his moral law.
Arnold stood on precisely the same platform. He did not accuse Count Raymond of heresy or any other crime, nor did Pope Innocent III consider Raymond as morally guilty of a criminal offence, or worthy of punishment. Indeed, the pope would have protected the Count had it been possible, and summoned him before the Fourth Lateran Council for that purpose. But Arnold told his audience that were Raymond allowed to escape there would be an end of the Catholic faith in France. Or, in other words, monastic property would be secularized. Perhaps he was right. At all events, this argument prevailed, and Raymond and his family and people were sacrificed.
Moses promised his congregation that, if they would spare nothing they should enjoy abundance of good things, without working for them. He was much more pitiless than such a man as King David thought it necessary to be, but Moses was not a soldier like David. He could not promise to win victories himself, he could but promise what he had in hand, and that was the spoil of those they massacred. Moses never had but one appeal to make for obedience, one incentive to offer to obey. In this he was perfectly honest and perfectly logical. His congregation and he, finding Egypt untenable, were engaged in a common land speculation to improve their condition; a speculation in which Moses believed, but which could only be brought to a successful end by obtaining control of the dominant energy of the world. This energy, he held, could be handled by no one but himself, and then only in case those who acted with him were absolutely obedient to his commands, which, taken together, were equivalent to a magical exorcism or spell. Then only could they hope that the Lord of Abraham and Isaac would give them “great and goodly cities, which thou buildedst not, And houses full of all good things, which thou filledst not, and wells digged, which thou diggedst not, vineyards and olive trees, which thou plantedst not.” [Footnote: Deut. VI, 10, 11.]
Very obviously, if the theory which Moses propounded were sound the assets which he offered as an inducement for docility could be obtained, at so cheap a rate, in no other way. All Moses’ moral teaching amounted, therefore, to this—“It pays to be obedient and good.” No argument could have been better adapted to Babylonish society, and it seems to have answered nearly as well with the Israelites, which proves that they stood on nearly the same intellectual plane. The chief difficulty with which Moses had to contend was that his countrymen did not thoroughly believe in him, nor in the efficacy of his motor. They always were tempted to try experiments with other motors which were operated by other prophets and by other peoples who were, apparently, as prosperous as they, or even more so. His trouble was not that his followers were nomads unprepared for a sedentary life or a moral law like his, or unable to appreciate the value of the property of a people further advanced in civilization than they were. The Amalekites would have responded to no such system of bribery as Moses offered the Israelites, who did respond with intelligence, if not always with enthusiasm.
The same is true of the Mosaic legislation which Dr. Budde curtly dismisses as impossible to have come from Moses, [Footnote: Religion of Israel to the Exile, 31.] as presupposing a knowledge of a settled agricultural life, which “Israel did not reach until after Moses’ death.”
All this is an assumption of fact unsupported by evidence; but quite the contrary, as we can see by an examination of the law in question. Whatever may have been the date of the establishment of the cities of refuge, I suppose that it will not be seriously denied that the law of the covenant as laid down in Exodus XX, 1, Numbers XXXV, 6, is at least as old as the age of Moses, in principle, if not in words; and this legal principle is quite inconsistent with, if not directly antagonistic to, all the prejudices and regulations, moral, religious, or civil, of a pure nomadic society, since it presupposes a social condition which, if adopted, would be fatal to a nomad society.
The true nomad knows no criminal law save the law of the blood feud, which is the law of revenge, and which prevailed among the Hebrews much earlier. In the early Saxon law it was expressed by the apothegm “Factum reputabitur pro volunte.” The act implies the intent. That is to say, the tribe is an enlarged family who, since they have no collective system of sovereignty which gives them common protection by an organized police, and courts with power to enforce process, have no option but to protect each other. Therefore, it is incumbent on each member of the tribe or family to avenge an injury to any other member, whether the injury be accidental or otherwise; and to be himself the judge of what amounts to an injury. Such a condition prevailed among the Hebrews at a very early period; “And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them: … at the hand of every man’s brother will I require the life of man. Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.” [Footnote: Gen. IX, 1, 5, 6.] These customs and the type of thought which sustain them are very tenacious and change slowly. Moses could not have altered the nomadic customs of thought and of blood revenge, had he tried, more than could Canute. It would have been impossible. The advent of a civilized conception of the law is the work of centuries as the history of England proves.
We know not how long ago it was that the law of the blood feud was fully recognized in England, but it had already been shaken at the conquest, and its death-blow was given it by the Church, which had begun to tire of the responsibility entailed by the trial by ordeal or miracle, and the obloquy which it involved, at a relatively early date. For the purposes of the Church and the uses of confession it was more convenient to regard crime or tort, as did the Romans; as a mental condition, dependent altogether upon the state of the mind or “animus.” Malice in the eye of the Church was the virus which poisoned the otherwise innocent act, and made the thought alone punishable. Indeed, this conception is one which has not yet been completely established even in the modern law. The first signs of such a revolution in jurisprudence only began to appear in England some seven centuries ago. As Mr. Maitland has observed in his History of English Law, [Footnote: Vol. II, 476.] “We receive a shock of surprise when we meet with a maxim which has troubled our modern lawyers, namely, Reum nonfacit nisi mens rea, in the middle of the Leges Henrici.” That is to say somewhere about the year 1118 A.D. This maxim was taken bodily out of a sermon of Saint Augustine, which accounts for it, but at that time the Church had another process to suggest by which she asserted her authority. She threw the responsibility for detecting guilt, in cases of doubt, upon God. By the ordeal, if a homicide, for example, were committed, and the accused denied his guilt, he was summoned to appear, and then, after a solemn reference to God by the ecclesiastics in charge, he was caused either to carry a red-hot iron bar a certain distance or to plunge his arms in boiling water. If he were found, after a certain length of time, during which his arms were bandaged, to have been injured, he was held to have been guilty. If he had escaped unhurt he was innocent. Gradually, however, the ordeal began to fall into ridicule. William Rufus gibed at it, for of fifty men sent to the ordeal of iron, under the sacred charge of the clerks, all escaped, which certainly, as Mr. Maitland intimates, looks as if the officiating ecclesiastics had an interest in the result. [Footnote: History of English Law, II, 599, note 2.] At length, by the Lateran Council of 1215, the Church put an end to the institution, but long afterward it found its upholders. For example, the Mirror, written in the reign of Edward I (circa 1285) complained, “It is an abuse that proofs and compurgations be not by the miracle of God where other proof faileth.” Nor was the principle that “attempts” to commit indictable offences are crimes, established as law, until at least the time of the Star Chamber, before its abolition in the seventeenth century. Though doubtless it is the law to-day. [Footnote: Stephen, Digest of the Criminal Law, 192.] And this, although the means used may have been impossible. Moreover, the doctrine is still in process of enlargement.
Very convincing conclusions may be drawn from these facts. The subject is obscure and difficult, but if the inception of the process of breaking down the right of enforcing the blood feud be fixed provisionally toward the middle of the tenth century,—and this date is early enough,—the movement of thought cannot be said to have attained anything like ultimate results before at least the year 1321 when a case is cited wherein a man was held guilty because he had attempted to kill his master, and the “volunias in isto casu reputabitur pro facto.”
Measuring by this standard five hundred years is a short enough period to estimate the time necessary for a community to pass from the stage when the blood feud is recognized as unquestioned law, to the status involved in the administration of the cities of refuge, for in these cities not only the mental condition is provided for as a legitimate defence, but the defence of negligence is made admissible in a secular court.
“These six cities shall be a refuge, both for the children of Israel, and for the stranger, and for the sojourner among them; that every one that killeth any person unawares may flee thither….
“If he thrust him of hatred, or hurl at him by laying of wait that he die;
“Or in enmity smite him with his hand, that he die: he that smote him shall surely be put to death; for he is a murderer: the revenger of blood shall slay the murderer, when he meeteth him.
“But if he thrust him suddenly without enmity, or have cast upon him anything without laying of wait,
“Or with any stone, wherewith a man may die, seeing him not, and cast it upon him, that he die, and was not his enemy, neither sought his harm:
“Then the congregation shall judge between the slayer and the revenger of blood according to these judgments:
“And the congregation shall deliver the slayer out of the hand of the revenger of blood, and the congregation shall restore him to the city of his refuge, whither he was fled.”… [Footnote: Numbers XXXV, 15, 20-25.]
Here we have a defendant in a case of homicide setting up the defence that the killing happened through an accident, but an accident not caused by criminal negligence, and this defence is to be tried by the congregation, which is tantamount to trial by jury. It is not left to God, under the oversight of the Church; and this is precisely our own system at the present day. We now come to the inferences to be drawn from these facts. Supposing that the Israelites when they migrated to Egypt, in the time of Joseph, were in the condition of pure nomads among whom the blood feud was fully recognized as law, an interval of four or five hundred years, such as they are supposed to have passed in Goshen would bring them to the exodus. Now, assuming that the Israelites during those four centuries, when they lived among civilized neighbors and under civilized law, made an intellectual movement corresponding in velocity to the movement the English made after the conquest, they would have been, about the time when the cities of refuge were created, in the position described in Numbers, which is what we should expect assuming the Biblical tradition to be true.
To us the important question is not whether a certain piece of the supposed Mosaic legislation actually went into effect during the life of Moses, for that is relatively immaterial, but whether the Biblical narrative is, on the whole, worthy of credence, and this correlation of dates gives the strongest possible evidence in its favor. Very possibly, perhaps it may even be said certainly, the order in which events occurred may have been transposed, but, taken as a whole, it is impossible to resist the inference that the Bible story is excellent history and that, due allowance being made for the prejudice of the various scribes who wrote the Pentateuch in favor of the miraculous, where Moses was concerned, the Biblical record is good and trustworthy history, and frank at that;—much superior to quantities of modern documents which we accept without question.
Of all the achievements of Moses’ life none equals the exodus itself, either in brilliancy or success. How it was possible for Moses, with the assistance he had at command, to marshal and move a column of a million or a million and a half of men, women, and children, without discipline or cohesion, and encumbered with their baggage, beside their cattle, is an insoluble mystery. “And the children of Israel did according to the word of Moses; and they borrowed of the Egyptians jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment: … And they spoiled the Egyptians. And the children of Israel journeyed from Ramses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand on foot that were men, beside children. And a mixed multitude went up also with them; and flocks and herds, even very much cattle.” They started from Ramses and Succoth.
The position of Ramses has been identified; that of Succoth is more questionable. Ramses and Pithom were fortified places, built by the Israelites for Ramses II, of the Nineteenth Dynasty, but apparently Succoth was the last halting-place before coming to the difficult ground which was overflowed by the sea.
The crossing was made at night, but it is hard to understand how, even under the most favorable conditions of weather, such a vast and confused multitude of women and children could have made the march in darkness with an active enemy pursuing, without loss of life or material. Indeed, even at that day the movement seemed to the actors so unparalleled that it always passed for a miracle, and its perfect success gave Moses more reputation with the Israelites and more practical influence over them than anything else he ever did, or indeed than all his other works together. “And Israel saw that great work which the Lord did upon the Egyptians: and the people feared the Lord and believed the Lord and his servant Moses.”
“And Miriam, the prophetess, the sister of Aaron; and all the women went after her with timbrels and with dances.” Now Miriam was in general none too loyal a follower of her younger brother, but that day, or rather night, she did proclaim Moses as a conqueror; which was a great concession from her, and meant much. And Moses exulted openly, as he had good cause to do, and gave vent to his exultation in a song which tradition has ever since attributed to him, and has asserted to have been sung by him and his congregation as they stood by the shore of the sea and watched the corpses of the Egyptians lying in the sand. And, if ever man had, Moses then had, cause for exultation, for he had seemingly proved by the test of war, which is the ultimate test to which a man can subject such a theory as his, that he had indeed discovered the motor which he sought, and, more important still, that he knew how to handle it. Therefore, he was master of supreme energy and held his right to command by the title of conquest. This was the culminating moment of his life; he never again reached such exaltation. From this moment his slow and gradual decline began.
And, indeed, great as had been the momentary success of Moses, his position was one of extreme difficulty, and probably he so understood it, otherwise there would be no way to account for his choosing the long, difficult, and perilous journey by Sinai, instead of approaching the “Promised Land” directly by way of Kadesh-Barnea, which was, in any event, to be his ultimate objective. It may well have been because Moses felt himself unable alone to cope with the difficulties confronting him that he decided at any cost to seek Jethro in Midian, who seems to have been the only able, honest, and experienced man within reach. Joshua, indeed, might be held to be an exception to this generalization, but Joshua, though a good soldier, was a man of somewhat narrow understanding, and quite unfit to grapple with questions involving jurisprudence and financial topography.
And at this juncture Moses must have felt his own deficiencies keenly. As a captain he made no pretence to efficiency. The Amalekites were, as he well knew, at this moment lying in wait for him, and forthwith he recognized that he had no alternative but to retire into the background himself and surrender the active command of the army to Joshua, a fatal concession had Joshua been ambitious or unscrupulous. And this was but the beginning. Before he could occupy Palestine he had to encounter and overcome numbers of equally formidable foes, a defeat by any one of whom might well be fatal. A man like Jethro, therefore, would be invaluable in guiding the caravan to spots favorable for action, from whence retreat to a place of safety would be open in case of a check. A reverse which happened on a later occasion gave Moses a shock he never forgot.
Furthermore, though Moses lived many years with Jethro, as his chief servant, he never seems to have travelled extensively in Arabia, and to have been ignorant of the chief trade routes along which wells were dug, and of the oases where pasture was to be found; so that Moses was nearly worthless as a guide, and this was a species of knowledge in which Jethro, according to Moses’ own statement, excelled. Meanwhile, the lives of all his followers depended on such knowledge. And Moses, when he reached Sinai, left no stone unturned to overcome Jethro’s reluctance to join him and to instruct him on the march north.
More important and pressing than all, Moses was ignorant of how, practically, to administer the law which he taught. His only idea was to do all in person, but this, with so large a following, was impossible. And here also his hope lay in Jethro. For when he got to Sinai, and Jethro remonstrated with him upon his methods, pointing out that they were impracticable, all Moses had to say in reply was that he sat all day to hear disputes and “I judge between one and another; and I do make them know the statutes of God, and his laws.” Further than this he had nothing to propose. It was Jethro who explained to him a constructive policy.
On the whole, upon this analysis, it appears that in all those executive departments in which Moses, by stress of the responsibilities which he had assumed, was called upon, imperatively, to act, there was but one, that of the magician or wise man, in which, by temperament and training, he was fitted to excel, and the functions of this profession drove him into to intolerably irksome and distressing position, yet a position from which throughout his life he found it impossible to escape. No one who attentively weighs the evidence can, I apprehend, escape the conviction that Moses was at bottom an honest man who would have conformed to the moral law he laid down in the name of the Lord had it been possible for him to do so. Among these precepts none ranked higher than a regard for truth and honesty. “Ye shall not steal, neither deal falsely, neither lie one to another.” [Footnote: Leviticus XIX, 11.] And this text is but one example of a general drift of thought.
Whether these particular words of Leviticus, or any similar phrases, were ever used by Moses is immaterial. No one can doubt that, in substance, they contained the gist of his moral doctrine and that he enforced the moral duty which they convey to the best of his power. And here the burden lay, which crushed this man, from which he never thenceforward could, even for an instant, free himself, and which Saint Paul avers to be the heaviest burden man can bear. Moses, to fulfil what he conceived to be his destiny and which at least certainly was his ambition, was condemned to lead a life of deceit and to utter no word during his long subsequent march which was not positively or inferentially a lie. And the bitterest of his trials must have been the agony of anxiety in which he must have lived lest some error in judgment on his part, some slackness in measuring the exact credulity of his audience, should cause his exposure and lead to his being cast out of the camp as an impostor and hunted to death as a false prophet: a fate which more than once nearly overtook him. Indeed, as he aged and his nerves lost their elasticity under the tension, he became obsessed with the fixed idea that God had renounced him and that some horror would overtake him should he attempt to cross the Jordan and enter the “Promised Land.” Defeated at Hormah, he dared not face another such check and, therefore, dawdled away his time in the wilderness until further dawdling became impossible. Then followed his mental collapse which is told in Deuteronomy, together with his suicide on Mount Nebo. And thus he died because he could not gratify at once his lust for power and his instinct to live an honest man.
Categories: English Literature