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THE EMANCIPATION OF MASSACHUSETTS
THE DREAM AND THE REALITY
PREFATORY NOTE TO FIRST EDITION.
I am under the deepest obligations to the Hon. Mellen Chamberlain and Mr.
The generosity of my friend Mr. Frank Hamilton Cushing in putting at my
disposal the unpublished results of his researches among the Zuńis is in
keeping with the originality and power of his mind. Without his aid my
attempt would have been impossible. I have also to thank Prof. Henry C.
Chapman, J. A. Gordon, M. D., Prof. William James, and Alpheus Hyatt,
Esq., for the kindness with which they assisted me. I feel that any merit
this volume may possess is due to these gentlemen; its faults are all my
QUINCY, _September_ 17, 1886.
CHAPTER I. THE COMMONWEALTH
CHAPTER II. THE ANTINOMIANS
CHAPTER III. THE CAMBRIDGE PLATFORM
CHAPTER IV. THE ANABAPTISTS
CHAPTER V. THE QUAKERS
CHAPTER VI. THE SCIRE FACIAS
CHAPTER VII. THE WITCHCRAFT
CHAPTER VIII. BRATTLE CHURCH
CHAPTER IX. HARVARD COLLEGE
CHAPTER X. THE LAWYERS
CHAPTER XL. THE REVOLUTION
PREFACE TO NEW EDITION.
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 medićval 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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
"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.
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
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
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
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.
The interval during which Moses led the exodus falls, naturally, into
three parts of unequal length. The first consists of the months which
elapsed between the departure from Ramses and the arrival at Sinai. The
second comprises the halt at Sinai, while the third contains the story of
the rest of his life, ending with Mount Nebo.
His trials began forthwith. The march was hardly a week old before the
column was in quasi-revolt because he had known so little of the country,
that he had led the caravan three days through a waterless wilderness
where they feared to perish from thirst. And matters grew steadily worse.
At Rephidim, "And the people murmured against Moses, and said, Wherefore
is this that thou hast brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our
children and our cattle with thirst?" Not impossibly Moses may still, at
this stage of his experiences, have believed in himself, in the God he
pretended to serve, and in his mission. At least he made a feint of so
doing. Indeed, he had to. Not to have done so would have caused his
instant downfall. He always had to do so, in every emergency of his life.
A few days later he was at his wits' end. He cried unto the Lord, "What
shall I do unto this people? They be almost ready to stone me." In short,
long before the congregation reached Sinai, and indeed before Moses had
fought his first battle with Amalek, the people had come to disbelieve in
Moses and also to question whether there was such a god as he pretended.
"And he called the name of the place Massah, and Meribah, because of the
chiding of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the Lord,
saying, Is the Lord among us, or not?"
"Then came Amalek, and fought with Israel in Rephidim." [Footnote: Exodus
xvii, 7, 8.]
Under such conditions it was vital to Moses to show resolution and
courage; but it was here that Moses, on the contrary, flinched; as he
usually did flinch when it came to war, for Moses was no soldier.
"And Moses said unto Joshua, Choose us out men and go out, fight with
Amalek: to-morrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God
in mine hand."
And Moses actually had the assurance to do as he proposed, nor did he even
have the endurance to stand. He made Aaron and Hur fetch a stone on which
he should sit and then hold up his hands for him, pretending the while
that when Moses held up his hands the Hebrews prevailed and when he
lowered them Amalek prevailed. Notwithstanding, Joshua won a victory. But
it may readily be believed that this performance of his functions as a
captain, did little to strengthen the credit of Moses among the fighting
men. Nor evidently was Moses satisfied with the figure that he cut, nor
was he confident that Joshua approved of him, for the Lord directed Moses
to make excuses, promising to do better the next time, by assuring Joshua
that "I will utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven."
This was the best apology Moses could make for his weakness. However, the
time had now come when Moses was to realize his plan of meeting Jethro.
"And Jethro ... came with his sons and his wife unto Moses into the
wilderness, where he encamped at the mount of God: ... And Moses went out
to meet his father-in-law, and did obeisance, and kissed him; and they
asked each other of their welfare; and they came into the tent.
"And Moses told his father-in-law all that the Lord had done unto Pharaoh
and to the Egyptians for Israel's sake, and all the travail that had come
upon them by the way, and how the Lord had delivered them....
"And Jethro said, Blessed be the Lord, who hath delivered you out of the
hand of the Egyptians.... Now I know that the Lord is greater than all
gods.... And Aaron came, and all the elders of Israel, to eat bread with
Moses' father-in-law before God."
It is from all this very plain that Jethro had a controlling influence
over Moses, and was the proximate cause of much that followed. For the
next morning Moses, as was his custom, "sat to judge the people: and the
people stood by Moses from the morning unto the evening." And when Jethro
saw how Moses proceeded he remonstrated, "Why sittest thou thyself alone,
and all the people stand by thee from morning unto even?"
And Moses replied: "Because the people come unto me to enquire of God."
And Jethro protested, saying "The thing thou doest is not good. Thou wilt
surely wear away, both thou and this people that is with thee: for this
thing is too heavy for thee; thou art not able to perform it thyself
"Hearken, ... I will give thee counsel, and God shall be with thee; Be
thou for the people to God-ward, that thou mayest bring the causes unto
Then it was that Moses perceived that he must have a divinely promulgated
code. Accordingly, Moses made his preparations for a great dramatic
effect, and it is hard to see how he could have made them better. For,
whatever failings he may have had in his other capacities as a leader, he
understood his part as a magician.
He told the people to be ready on the third day, for on the third day the
Lord would come down in the sight of all upon Mount Sinai. But, "Take heed
to yourselves that ye go not up into the mount, or touch the border of it:
whosoever toucheth the mount shall be surely put to death:
"There shall not an hand touch it, but he shall surely be stoned or shot
through; whether it be beast or man, it shall not live: when the trumpet
soundeth long, they shall come up to the mount."
It must be admitted that Moses either had wonderful luck, or that he had
wonderful judgment in weather, for, as it happened in the passage of the
Red Sea, so it happened here. At the Red Sea he was aided by a gale of
wind which coincided with a low tide and made the passage practicable, and
at Sinai he had a thunder-storm.
"And it came to pass on the third day, in the morning, that there were
thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice
of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that was in the camp
trembled." Moses had undoubtedly sent some thoroughly trustworthy person,
probably Joshua, up the mountain to blow a ram's horn and to light a
bonfire, and the effect seems to have been excellent.
"And Mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the Lord descended
upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace,
and the whole mount quaked greatly.
"And when the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and
louder, Moses spake, and God answered him by a voice.
"And the Lord came down upon Mount Sinai, on the top of the mount; and the
Lord called Moses up to the top of the mount; and Moses went up." And the
first thing that Moses did on behalf of the Lord was to "charge the
people, lest they break through unto the Lord to gaze, and many of them
And Moses replied to God's enquiry, "The people cannot come up to Mount
Sinai: for thou chargedst us, saying, Set bounds about the mount.
"And the Lord said unto him, Away, get thee down, and thou shalt come up,
thou, and Aaron with thee: but let not the priests and the people break
through to come up unto the Lord, lest he break forth upon them.
"So Moses went down unto the people, and spake unto them."
Whether the decalogue, as we know it, was a code of law actually delivered
upon Sinai, which German critics very much dispute as being inconsistent
with the stage of civilization at which the Israelites had arrived, but
which is altogether kindred to the Babylonish law with which Moses was
familiar, is immaterial for the present purpose. What is essential is that
beside the decalogue itself there is a considerable body of law chiefly
concerned with the position of servants or slaves, the difference between
assaults or torts committed with or without malice, theft, trespass, and
the regulation of the _lex talionis_. There are beside a variety of
other matters touched upon all of which may be found in the 21st, 22d, and
23d chapters of Exodus.
Up to this point in his show Moses had behaved with discretion and had
obtained a complete success. The next day he went on to demand an
acceptance of his code, which he prepared to submit in form. But as a
preliminary he made ready to take Aaron and his two sons, together with
seventy elders of the congregation up the mountain, to be especially
impressed with a sacrifice and a feast which he had it in his mind to
organize. In the first place, "Moses ... rose up early in the morning, and
builded an altar, ... and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen unto the
"And he took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the
people: and they said, All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be
Had Moses been content to end his ceremony here and to return to the camp
with his book of the covenant duly accepted as law, all might have been
well. But success seems to have intoxicated him, and he conceived an undue
contempt for the intelligence of his audience, being, apparently,
convinced that there were no limits to their credulity, and that he could
do with them as he pleased.
It was not enough for him that he should have them accept an ordinary book
admittedly written by himself. There was nothing overpoweringly impressive
in that. What he wanted was a stone tablet on which his code should be
engraved, as was the famous code of Hammurabi, which he probably knew
well, and this engraving must putatively be done by God himself, to give
it the proper solemnity.
To have such a code as this engraved either by himself or by any workman
he could take into the mountain with him, would be a work of time and
would entail his absence from the camp, and this was a very serious risk.
But he was over-confident and determined to run it, rather than be baulked
of his purpose,
"And Moses rose up, and his minister Joshua; and Moses went up into the
mount of God.
"And he said unto the elders, Tarry you here for us, until we come again
unto you: and, behold, Aaron and Hur are with you: and if any man have
matters to do, let him come unto them. And Moses went into the midst of
the cloud, and gat him up into the mount: and Moses was in the mount forty
days and forty nights."
But Moses had made the capital mistake of undervaluing the intelligence of
his audience. They had, doubtless, been impressed when Moses, as a
showman, had presented his spectacle, for Moses had a commanding presence
and he had chosen a wonderful locality for his performance. But once he
was gone the effect of what he had done evaporated and they began to value
the exhibition for what it really was. As men of common sense, said they
to one another, why should we linger here, if Moses has played this trick
upon us? Why not go back to Egypt, where at least we can get something to
eat? So they decided to bribe Aaron, who was venal and would do anything
"And when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down out of the mount,
the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said unto him, Up,
make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man
that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of
When Aaron heard this proposition he showed no objection to accept,
provided the people made it worth his while to risk the wrath of Moses; so
he answered forthwith, "Break off the golden earrings, which are in the
ears of your wives, of your sons, and of your daughters, and bring them
These were the ornaments of which the departing Israelites had spoiled the
Egyptians and they must have been of very considerable value. At all
events, Aaron took them and melted them and made them into the image of a
calf, such as he had been used to see in Egypt. The calf was probably made
of wood and laminated with gold. Sir G. Wilkinson thinks that the calf was
made to represent Mnevis, with whose worship the Israelites had been
familiar in Egypt. Then Aaron proclaimed a feast for the next day in honor
of this calf and said, "To-morrow is a feast to the Lord," and they said,
"These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of
"And they rose up early on the morrow, and offered burnt offerings, and
brought peace offerings: and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and
rose up to play."
It was not very long before Moses became suspicious that all was not right
in the camp, and he prepared to go down, taking the two tables of
testimony in his hands. These stone tablets were covered with writing on
both sides, which must have taken a long time to engrave considering that
Moses was on a bare mountainside with probably nobody to help but Joshua.
Of course all that made this weary expedition worth the doing was that, as
the Bible says, "the tables were" to pass for "the work of God, and the
writing was the writing of God." Accordingly, it is not surprising that as
Moses "came nigh unto the camp," and he "saw the calf, and the dancing":
that his "anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and
brake them beneath the mount.
"And he took the calf which they had made, and burnt it in the fire, and
ground it to powder, and strewed it upon the water, and made the children
of Israel drink of it.
"And Moses said unto Aaron, What did this people unto thee, that thou hast
brought so great a sin upon them?
"And Aaron said, Let not the anger of my lord wax hot: thou knowest the
people, that they are set on mischief.
"For they said unto me, Make us gods, which shall go before us: for as for
this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot
not what is become of him.
"And I said unto them, Whosoever hath any gold, let them break it off. So
they gave it me: then I cast it into the fire, and there came out this
"And when Moses saw that the people were naked; (for Aaron had made them
naked unto their shame among their enemies:)" that is to say, the people
had come to the feast unarmed, and without the slightest fear or suspicion
of a possible attack; then Moses saw his opportunity and placed himself in
a gate of the camp, and said: "Who is on the Lord's side? Let him come
unto me. And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him.
"And he said unto them, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Put every man
his sword by his side, and go in and out from gate to gate throughout the
camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and
every man his neighbour.
"And the children of Levi did according to the word of Moses: and there
fell of the people that day about three thousand men."
There are few acts in all recorded history, including the awful massacres
of the Albigenses by Simon de Montfort and the Abbot Arnold, more
indefensible than this wholesale murder by Moses of several thousand
people who had trusted him, and whom he had entrusted to the care of his
own brother, who participated in their crime, supposing that they had
committed any crime saving the crime of tiring of his dictatorship.
The effect of this massacre was to put Moses, for the rest of his life, in
the hands of the Levites with Aaron at their head, for only by having a
body of men stained with his own crimes and devoted to his fortunes could
Moses thenceforward hope to carry his adventure to a good end. Otherwise
he faced certain and ignominious failure. His preliminary task, therefore,
was to devise for the Levites a reward which would content them. His first
step in this direction was to go back to the mountain and seek a new
inspiration and a revelation more suited to the existing conditions than
the revelation conveyed before the golden calf incident.
Up to this time there is nothing in Jewish history to show that the
priesthood was developing into a privileged and hereditary caste. With the
consecration of Aaron as high priest the process began. Moses spent
another six weeks in seclusion on the mount. And as soon as he returned to
the camp he proclaimed how the people should build and furnish a sanctuary
in which the priesthood should perform its functions. These directions
were very elaborate and detailed, and part of the furnishings of the
sanctuary consisted in the splendid and costly garments for Aaron and his
sons "for glory and for beauty."
"And thou shalt put upon Aaron the holy garments, and anoint him, and
sanctify him; that he may minister unto me in the priest's office. And
thou shalt bring his sons, and clothe them with coats: And thou shalt
anoint them, as thou didst anoint their father, that they may minister
unto me in the priest's office: for their anointing shall surely be an
everlasting priesthood, throughout their generations.
"Thus did Moses: according to all that the Lord commanded him, so did he."
It followed automatically that, with the creation of a great vested
interest centred in an hereditary caste of priests, the pecuniary burden
on the people was correspondingly increased and that thenceforward Moses
became nothing but the representative of that vested interest: as
reactionary and selfish as all such representatives must be. How selfish
and how reactionary may readily be estimated by glancing at Numbers XVIII,
where God's directions are given to Aaron touching what he was to claim
for himself, and what the Levites were to take as their wages for service.
It was indeed liberal compensation. A good deal more than much of the
congregation thought such services worth.
In the first place, Aaron and the Levites with him for their service "of
the tabernacle" were to have "all the tenth in Israel for an inheritance."
But this was a small part of their compensation. There were beside
perquisites, especially those connected with the sacrifices which the
people were constrained to make on the most trifling occasions; as, for
example, whenever they became _unclean_, through some accident, as
by touching a dead body:
"This shall be thine of the most holy things, reserved from the fire:
every oblation of their's, every meat offering of their's, and every sin
offering of their's, and every trespass offering of their's, which they
shall render unto me, shall be most holy for thee and thy sons.
"In the most holy place shalt thou eat it; every male shall eat it; it
shall be holy unto thee.
"And this is thine.... All the best of the oil, and all the best of the
wine, and of the wheat, the first fruits of them which they shall offer
unto the Lord, them have I given thee; ... every one that is clean in
thine house shall eat of it.
"Everything devoted in Israel shall be thine....
"All the heave offerings of the holy things, which the children of Israel
offer unto the Lord, have I given thee, and thy sons and thy daughters
with thee, by a statute forever: it is a covenant of salt forever before
the Lord unto thee and to thy seed with thee."
Also, on the taking of a census, such as occurred at Sinai, Aaron received
a most formidable perquisite.
The Levites were not to be numbered; but there was to be a complicated
system of redemption at the rate of "five shekels by the poll, after the
shekel of the sanctuary."
"And Moses took the redemption money of them that were over and above them
that were redeemed by the Levites: Of the first-born of the children of
Israel took he the money; a thousand three hundred and three score and
five shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary; And Moses gave the money
of them that were redeemed unto Aaron and to his sons."
Assuming the shekel of those days to have weighed two hundred and twenty-
four grains of silver, its value in our currency would have been about
fifty-five cents, but its purchasing power, twelve hundred years before
Christ, would have been, at the very most moderate estimate, at least ten
for one, which would have amounted to between six and seven thousand
dollars in hard cash for no service whatever, which, considering that the
Israelites were a wandering nomadic horde in the wilderness, was, it must
be admitted, a pretty heavy charge for the pleasure of observing the
performances of Aaron and his sons, in their gorgeous garments.
Also, under any sedentary administration it followed that the high priest
must become the most considerable personage in the community, as well as
one of the richest. And thus as payment for the loyalty to himself of the
Levites during the massacre of the golden calf, Moses created a theocratic
aristocracy headed by Aaron and his sons, and comprising the whole tribe
of Levi, whose advancement in fortune could not fail to create discontent.
It did so: a discontent which culminated very shortly after in the
rebellion of Korah, which brought on a condition of things at Kadesh which
contributed to make the position of Moses intolerable.
Moses was one of those administrators who were particularly reprobated by
Saint Paul; Men who "do evil," as in the slaughter of the feasters who set
up the golden calf, "that good may come," and "whose damnation,"
therefore, "is just." [Footnote: Romans III, 8.]
And Moses wrought thus through ambition, because, though personally
disinterested, he could not endure having his will thwarted. Aaron had
nearly the converse of such a temperament. Aaron appears to have had few
or no convictions; it mattered little to him whether he worshipped Jehovah
on Sinai or the golden calf at the foot of Sinai, provided he were paid at
his own price. And he took care to exact a liberal price. Also the
inference to be drawn from the way in which Moses behaved to him is that
Moses understood what manner of man he was.
Jethro stood higher in the estimation of Moses, and Moses did his best to
keep Jethro with him, but, apparently, Jethro had watched Moses closely
and was not satisfied with his conduct of the exodus. On the eve of
departure from Sinai, just as the Israelites were breaking camp, Moses
sought out Jethro and said to him; "We are journeying unto the place of
which the Lord said, I will give it you; come thou with us, and we will do
thee good; for the Lord has spoken good concerning Israel.
"And he said unto him, I will not go; but I will depart to mine own land,
and to my kindred."
Not discouraged, Moses kept on urging: "Leave us not, I pray thee;
forasmuch as thou knowest how we are to encamp in the wilderness, and thou
mayest be to us instead of eyes.
"And it shall be, if thou go with us, yea, it shall be, that what goodness
the Lord shall do unto us, the same will we do unto thee." It has been
inferred from a passage in Judges, [Footnote: Judges I, 16.] that Moses
induced Jethro to reconsider his refusal and that he did accompany the
congregation in its march to Kadesh, but, on the whole, the text of the
Bible fails to bear out such inference, for there is no subsequent mention
of Jethro in the books which treat directly of the trials of the journey,
although there would seem to have been abundant occasion for Moses to have
called upon Jethro for aid had Jethro been present. In his apparent
absence the march began, under the leadership of the Lord and Moses, very
much missing Jethro.
They departed from the mount: "And the cloud of the Lord was upon them by
day," when they left the camp "to search out a resting-place." Certainly,
on this occasion, the Lord selected a poor spot for the purpose, quite
different from such an one as Jethro would have been expected to have
pointed out; for the children of Israel began complaining mightily, so
much so that it displeased the Lord who sent fire into the uttermost parts
of the camp, where it consumed them.
"And the people cried unto Moses, and when Moses prayed unto the Lord, the
fire was quenched."
This suggestion of a divine fire under the control of Moses opens an
The Magi, who were the priests of the Median religion, greatly developed
the practices of incantation and sorcery. Among these rites they
"pretended to have the power of making fire descend on to their altars by
means of magical ceremonies." [Footnote: Lenormant, _Chaldean Magic_,
226, 238.] Moses appears to have been very fond of this particular
miracle. It is mentioned as having been effective here at Taberah, and it
was the supposed weapon employed to suppress Korah's rebellion. Moses was
indeed a powerful enchanter. His relations with all the priestcraft of
central Asia were intimate, and if the Magi had secrets which were likely
to be of use to him in maintaining his position among the Jews, the
inference is that he would certainly have used them to the utmost; as he
did the brazen serpent, the ram's horns at Sinai, and the like. But in
spite of all his miracles Moses found his task too heavy, and he frankly
confessed that he wished himself dead.
"Then Moses heard the people weep throughout their families... and the
anger of the Lord was kindled greatly; Moses also was displeased.
"And Moses said unto the Lord, Wherefore hast thou afflicted thy
servant? ... that thou layest the burden of all this people upon me?
"Have I conceived all this people? have I begotten them, that thou
shouldest say unto me, Carry them in thy bosom, as a nursing father
beareth the sucking child, unto the land which thou swarest unto their
"Whence should I have flesh to give unto all this people? for they weep
unto me saying, Give us flesh that we may eat.
"I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for
"And if thou deal thus with me, kill me, I pray thee, out of hand, if I
have found favour in thy sight; and let me not see my wretchedness."
Leaving aside for the moment all our childish preventions, and considering
this evidence in the cold light of history, it becomes tolerably evident
that Moses had now reached the turning-point in his career, the point
whither he had inexorably tended since the day on which he bid good-bye to
Jethro to visit Egypt and attempt to gain control of the exodus, and the
point to which all optimists must come who resolve to base a religious or
a political movement on the manipulation of the supernatural. However pure
and disinterested the motives of such persons may be at the outset, and
however thoroughly they may believe in themselves and in their mission,
sooner or later, to compass their purpose, they must resort to deception
and thus become impostors who flourish on the credulity of their dupes.
Moses, from the nature of the case, had to make such demands on the
credulity of his followers that even those who were bound to him by the
strongest ties of affection and self-interest were alienated, and those
without such commanding motives to submit to his claim to exact from them
absolute obedience, revolted, and demanded that he should be deposed. The
first serious trouble with which Moses had to contend came to a head at
Hazeroth, the second station after leaving Sinai. The supposed spot is
still used as a watering-place. There Miriam and Aaron attacked Moses
because they were jealous of his wife, whom they decried as an
"Ethiopian." And they said, "Hath the Lord indeed spoken only by Moses?
hath he not spoken also by us?" Instantly, it became evident to Moses that
if this denial of his superior intimacy with God were to be permitted, his
supremacy must end. Accordingly the Lord came down "in the pillar of the
cloud, and stood in the door of the tabernacle, and called Aaron and
Miriam: and they both came forth." And the Lord explained that he had no
objection to a prophet; if any one among the congregation had an ambition
to be a prophet he would communicate with him in a dream; but there must
always be a wide difference between such a man or woman and Moses with
whom he would "speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark
speeches." And then God demanded irritably, "Wherefore, then, were ye not
afraid to speak against my servant Moses?" "Afterward the cloud,"
according to the Bible, departed and God with it.
Ever since the dawn of time the infliction of or the cure of disease has
been the stronghold of the necromancer, the wise man, the magician, the
saint, the prophet and the priest, and Moses was no exception to the rule,
only hitherto he had had no occasion to display his powers of this kind.
Nevertheless, among the Hebrews of the exodus, the field for this form of
miracle was large. Leprosy was very prevalent, so much so that in Egypt
the Jews were called a nation of lepers. And in the camp the regulations
touching them were strict and numerous. But the Jews were always a dirty
In chapter XIII of Leviticus, elaborate directions are given as to how the
patient shall be brought before Aaron himself, or at least some other of
the priests, who was to examine the sore and, if it proved to be a
probable case of leprosy, the patient was to be excluded from the camp for
a week. At the end of that time the disease, if malignant, was supposed to
show signs of spreading, in which case there was no cure and the patient
was condemned to civil death. On the contrary, if no virulent symptoms
developed during the week, the patient was pronounced clean and returned
to ordinary life.
The miracle in the case of Miriam was this: When the cloud departed from
off the tabernacle, Miriam was found to be "leprous, white as snow," just
as Moses' hand was found to be white with leprosy after his conversation
with the Lord at the burning bush. Upon this Aaron, who had been as guilty
as Miriam, and was proportionately nervous, made a prayer to Moses: "Alas,
my lord, I beseech thee, lay not the sin upon us, wherein we have done
foolishly.... Let her not be as one dead.
"And Moses cried unto the Lord, saying, Heal her now, O God, I beseech
But the Lord replied: "If her father had but spit in her face, should she
not be ashamed seven days? Let her be shut out from the camp seven days,
and after that let her be received in again."
This was the Mosaic system of discipline. And it was serious for all
parties concerned. Evidently it was very serious for Miriam, who had to
leave her tent and be exiled to some spot in the desert, where she had to
shift for herself. We all know the almost intolerable situation of those
unfortunates who, in the East, are excluded from social intercourse, and
sit without the gate, and are permitted to approach no one. But it was
also a serious infliction for the congregation, since Miriam was a
personage of consequence, and had to be waited for. That is to say, a
million or two of people had to delay their pilgrimage until Moses had
determined how much punishment Miriam deserved for her insubordination,
and this was a question which lay altogether within the discretion of
Moses. In that age there were at least seven varieties of eruptions which
could hardly, if at all, be distinguished, in their early stages, from
leprosy, and it was left to Moses to say whether or not Miriam had been
attacked by true leprosy or not. There was no one, apparently, to question
his judgment, for, since Jethro had left the camp, there was no one to
controvert the Mosaic opinion on matters such as these. Doubtless Moses
was content to give Aaron and Miriam a fright; but also Moses intended to
make them understand that they lay absolutely at his mercy.
After this outbreak of discontent had been thus summarily suppressed and
Miriam had been again received as "clean," the caravan resumed its march
and entered into the wilderness of Paran, which adjoined Palestine, and
from whence an invasion of Canaan, if one were to be attempted, would be
organized. Accordingly Moses appointed a reconnaissance, who in the
language of the Bible are called "spies," to examine the country, report
its condition, and decide whether an attack were feasible.
On this occasion Moses seems to have remembered the lesson he learned at
Sinai. He did not undertake to leave the camp himself for a long interval.
He sent the men whom he supposed he could best trust, among whom were
Joshua and Caleb. These men, who corresponded to what, in a modern army,
would be called the general-staff, were not sent to manufacture a report
which they might have reason to suppose would be pleasing to Moses, but to
state precisely what they saw and heard together with their conclusions
thereon, that they might aid their commander in an arduous campaign; and
this duty they seem, honestly enough, to have performed. But this was very
far from satisfying Moses, who wanted to make a strenuous offensive, and
yet sought some one else to take the responsibility therefor.
The spies were absent six weeks and when they returned were divided in
opinion. They all agreed that Canaan was a good land, and, in verity,
flowing with milk and honey. But the people, most of them thought, were
too strong to be successfully attacked. "The cities were walled and very
great," and moreover "we saw the children of Anak there."
"The Amalekites dwell in the land of the south; and the Hittites, and the
Jebusites, and the Amorites, dwell in the mountains; and the Canaanites
dwell by the sea, and by the coast of Jordan.
"And Caleb stilled the people before Moses, and said, Let us go up at
once, ... for we are well able to overcome it.
"But the men that went up with him said, We be not able to go up against
the people; for they are stronger than we.
"And they brought up an evil report of the land which they had searched,
... saying, ... all the people that we saw in it are men of great stature.
"And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, ... and we were in our own
sight as grasshoppers, and so were we in their sight."
Had Moses been gifted with military talent, or with any of the higher
instincts of the soldier, he would have arranged to have received this
report in private and would then have acted as he thought best. Above all
he would have avoided anything like a council of war by the whole
congregation, for a vast popular meeting of that kind was certain to
become unmanageable the moment a division appeared in their command, upon
a difficult question of policy.
Moses did just the opposite. He convened the people to hear the report of
the "spies." And immediately the majority became dangerously depressed,
not to say mutinous.
"And all the congregation lifted up their voice, and cried; and the people
wept that night.
"And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron:
and the whole congregation said unto them, Would God that we had died in
the land of Egypt! Or would God we had died in this wilderness!...
"And they said one to another, Let us make a captain, and let us return
"Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly of the
congregation of the children of Israel."
But Joshua, who was a soldier, when Moses thus somewhat ignominiously
collapsed, retained his presence of mind and his energy. He and Caleb
"rent their clothes," and reiterated their advice.
"And they spake unto all the company of the children of Israel, saying,
The land which we passed through to search it, is an exceeding good land.
"If the Lord delight in us, then he will bring us into this land, and give
it us; a land which floweth with milk and honey.
"Only rebel not ye against the Lord, neither fear ye the people of the
land; for they are bread for us: their defence is departed from them...
fear them not.
"But all the congregation bade stone them with stones."
By this time Moses seems to have recovered some composure. Enough, at
least, to repeat certain violent threats of the "Lord."
Nothing is so impressive in all this history as the difference between
Moses when called upon to take responsibility as a military commander, and
Moses when, not to mince matters, he acted as a quack. On the one hand, he
was all vacillation, timidity, and irritability. On the other, all
temerity and effrontery.
In this particular emergency, which touched his very life, Moses vented
his disappointment and vexation in a number of interviews which he
pretended to have had with the "Lord," and which he retailed to the
congregation, just at the moment when they needed, as Joshua perceived, to
be steadied and encouraged.
"How long," vociferated the Lord, when Moses had got back his power of
speech, "will this people provoke me? and how long will it be ere they
believe me, for all the signs which I have shewed among them?
"I will smite them with the pestilence, and disinherit them, and will make
of thee a greater nation and mightier than they."
But when Moses had cooled a little and came to reflect upon what he had
made the "Lord" say, he fell into his ordinary condition of hesitancy.
Supposing some great disaster should happen to the Jews at Kadesh, which
lay not so very far from the Egyptian border, the Egyptians would
certainly hear of it, and in that case the Egyptian army might pursue and
capture Moses. Such a contingency was not to be contemplated, and
accordingly Moses began to make reservations. It must be remembered that
all these ostensible conversations with the "Lord" went on in public; that
is to say, Moses proffered his advice to the Lord aloud, and then retailed
his version of the answer he received.
"Now if thou shalt kill all this people as one man, then the nations which
have heard the fame of thee will speak, saying,
"Because the Lord was not able to bring this people into the land which he
sware unto them, therefore he hath slain them in the wilderness....
"Pardon, I beseech thee, the iniquity of this people according unto the
greatness of thy mercy, and as thou hast forgiven this people from Egypt
even until now.
"And the Lord said, I have pardoned according to thy word."