[Illustration: Map of Palestine]
In giving an account of the Holy Land, an author, upon examining his materials, finds himself presented with the choice either of simple history on the one hand, or of mere local description on the other; and the character of his book is of course determined by, the selection which he makes of the first or the second of these departments. The volumes on Palestine hitherto laid before the public will accordingly be found to contain either a bare abridgment of the annals of the Jewish people, or a topographical delineation of the country, the cities, and the towns which they inhabited, from the date of the conquest under Joshua, down to the period of their dispersion by Titus and Adrian. Several able works have recently appeared on each of these subjects, and have been, almost without exception, rewarded with the popularity which is seldom refused to learning, and eloquence. But it occurred to the writer of the following pages, that the expectations of the general reader would be more fully answered were the two plans to be united, and the constitution, the antiquities, the religion, the literature, and even the statistics of, the Hebrews combined with the narrative of their rise and fall in the sacred land bestowed upon their fathers.
In following out this scheme, he has made it his study to leave no source of information unexplored which might supply the means of illustrating the political condition of the Twelve Tribes immediately after they settled on the banks of the Jordan. The principles which entered into the constitution of their commonwealth are extremely interesting, both as they afford a fine example of the progress of society in one of its earliest stages, when the migratory shepherd gradually assumes the habits of the agriculturalist; and also as they confirm the results of experience, in other cases, in regard to the change which usually follows in the form of civil government, and in the concentration of power in the hands of an individual.
The chapter on the Literature and Religion of the Ancient Hebrews cannot boast of a great variety of materials, because what of the subject is not known to the youngest reader of the Bible must be sought for, in the writings of Rabbinical authors, who have unfortunately directed the largest share of their attention to the minutest parts of their Law, and expended the labour of elucidation on those points which are least interesting to the rest of the world. It is to be deeply regretted, that so little is known respecting the Schools of the Prophets–those seminaries which sent forth, not only the ordinary ministers of the Temple and the Synagogue, but also that more distinguished order of men who were employed as instruments for revealing the future intentions of Providence. But the Author hesitates not to say, that he has availed himself of all the materials which the research of modern times has brought to light, while he has carefully rejected all such speculations or conjectures as might gratify the curiosity of learning without tending to edify the youthful mind. The account which is given of the Feasts and Fasts of the Jews, both before and after the Babylonian Captivity, will, it is hoped, prove useful to the reader, more especially by pointing out to him appropriate subjects of reflection while perusing the Sacred Records.
The history of Palestine, prior to the Fall of Jerusalem, rests upon the authority of the inspired writers, or of those annalists, such as Josephus and Tacitus, who flourished at the period of the events which they describe. The narrative, which brings down the fortunes of that remarkable country to the present day, is much more various both in its subject and references; more especially where it embraces the exploits of the Crusaders, those renowned devotees of religion, romance, and chivalry. The reader will find in a narrow compass the substance of the extensive works of Fuller, Wilken, Michaud, and Mills. In the more modern part of this historical outline, in which the affairs of Palestine are intimately connected with those of Egypt, it was thought unnecessary to repeat facts mentioned at some length in the volume already published on the latter country.
The topographical description of the holy Land is drawn from the works of the long series of travellers and pilgrims, who, since the time of the faithful Doubdan, have visited the interesting scenes where the Christian Faith had its origin and completion. On this subject Maundrell is still a principal authority; for, while we have the best reason to believe that he recorded nothing but what he saw, we can trust implicitly to the accuracy of his details in describing every thing which fell under his observation. The same high character is due to Pococke and Sandys, writers whose simplicity of style and thought afford a voucher for the truth of their narratives. Nor are Thevenot, Paul Lucas, and Careri, though less frequently consulted, at all unworthy of confidence as depositaries of historical fact. In more modern times we meet with equal fidelity, recommended by an exalted tone of feeling, in the volumes of Chateaubriand and Dr. Richardson. Clarke, Burckhardt, Buckingham, Legh, Henniker, Jowett, Light, Macworth, Irby and Mangles, Carne, and Wilson, have not only contributed valuable materials, but also lent the aid of their names to correct or to conform the statements of some of the more apocryphal among their predecessors.
The chapter on Natural History has no pretensions to scientific arrangement or technical precision in its delineations. On the contrary, it is calculated solely for the common reader, who would soon be disgusted with the formal notation of the botanist, and could not understand the learned terms in which the student of zoology too often finds the knowledge of animal nature concealed. Its main object is to illustrate the Scriptures, by giving an account of the quadrupeds, birds, serpents, plants, and fruits which are mentioned from time to time by the inspired writers of either Testament.
Edinburgh, _September_, 1831.
Interest attached to the History of Palestine; Remarkable Character of the Hebrew People; Their small Beginning and astonishing Increases; The Variety of Fortune they underwent; Their constant Attachment to the Promised Land; The Subject presents an interesting Problem to the Historian and Politician; The Connexion with Christianity; Effect of this Religion on the Progress of Society; Importance of the Subject to the pious Reader; Holy Places; Pilgrims; Grounds for Believing the Ancient Traditions on this Head; Constantine and the Empress Helena; Relics; Natural Scenery; Extent of Canaan; Fertility; Geographical Distribution; Countries Eastward of the Jordan; Galilee; Samaria; Bethlehem; Jericho; The Dead Sea; Table representing the Possessions of the Twelve Tribes.
HISTORY OF THE HEBREW COMMONWEALTH.
Form of Government after the Death of Joshua; In Egypt; In the Wilderness; Princes of Tribes and Heads of Families; Impatience to take Possession of Promised Land; The Effects of it; Renewal of War; Extent of Holy Land; Opinions of Fleury, Spanheim, Reland, and Lowman; Principle of Distribution; Each Tribe confined to a separate Locality; Property unalienable; Conditions of Tenure; Population of the Tribes; Number of Principal Families; A General Government or National Council; The Judges; Nature of their Authority; Not ordinary Magistrates; Different from Kings, Consuls, and Dictators; Judicial Establishments; Judges and Officers; Described by Josephus; Equality of Condition among the Hebrews; Their Inclination for a Pastoral Life; Freebooters, like the Arabs; Abimelech, Jephthah, and David; Simplicity of the Times; Boaz and Ruth; Tribe of Levi; Object of their Separation; The learned Professions hereditary, after the manner of the Egyptians; The Levitical Cities; Their Number and Uses; Opinion of Michaelis; Summary View of the Times and Character of the Hebrew Judges.
HISTORICAL OUTLINE FROM THE ACCESSION OF SAUL TO THE DESTRUCTION OF JERUSALEM.
Weakness of Republican Government; Jealousy of the several Tribes; Resolution to have a King; Rules for regal Government; Character of Saul; Of David; Troubles of his Reign; Accession of Solomon; Erection of the Temple; Commerce; Murmurs of the People; Rehoboam; Division of the Tribes; Kings of Israel; Kingdom of Judah; Siege of Jerusalem; Captivity; Kings of Judah; Return from Babylon; Second Temple; Canon of Scripture; Struggles between Egypt and Syria; Conquest of Palestine by Antiochus; Persecution of Jews; Resistance by the Family of Maccabaeus; Victories of Judas; He courts the Alliance of the Romans; Succeeded by Jonathan; Origin of the Asmonean Princes; John Hyrcanus; Aristobulus; Alexander Jannaeus; Appeal to Pompey; Jerusalem taken by Romans; Herod created King by the Romans; He repairs to the Temple; Archelaus succeeds him, and Antipas is nominated to Galilee; Quirinius Prefect of Syria; Pontius Pilate; Elevation of Herod Agrippa; Disgrace of Herod Philip; Judea again a Province; Troubles; Accession of Young Agrippa; Felix; Festus; Floris; Command given to Vespasian; War; Siege of Jerusalem by Titus.
ON THE LITERATURE AND RELIGIOUS USAGES OF THE ANCIENT HEBREWS.
Obscurity of the Subject; Learning issued from the Levitical Colleges; Schools of the Prophets; Music and Poetry; Meaning of the term Prophecy; Illustrated by References to the Old Testament and to the New; The power of Prediction not confined to those bred in the Schools; Race of false Prophets; Their Malignity and Deceit; Micaiah and Ahab; Charge against Jeremiah the Prophet; Criterion to distinguish True from False Prophets; The Canonical Writings of the Prophets; Literature of Prophets; Sublime Nature of their Compositions; Examples from Psalms and Prophetical Writings; Humane and liberal Spirit; Care used to keep alive the Knowledge of the Law; Evils arising from the Division of Israel and Judah; Ezra collects the Ancient Books; Schools of Prophets similar to Convents; Sciences; Astronomy; Division of Time, Days, Months, and Years; Sabbaths and New Moons; Jewish Festivals; Passover; Pentecost; Feast of Tabernacles; Of Trumpets; Jubilee; Daughters of Zelophedad; Feast of Dedication; Minor Anniversaries; Solemn Character of Hebrew Learning; Its easy Adaptation to Christianity; Superior to the Literature of all other ancient Nations.
DESCRIPTION OF JERUSALEM.
Pilgrimages to the Holy Land; Arculfus; Willibald; Bernard; Effect of Crusades; William de Bouldessell; Bertrandon de la Broquiere; State of Damascus; Breidenbach; Baumgarten; Bartholemeo Georgewitz; Aldersey; Sandys; Doubdan; Cheron; Thevenot; Gonzales; Morison; Maundrell; Pococke; Road from Jaffa to Jerusalem; Plain of Sharon; Rama or Ramla; Condition of the Peasantry; Vale of Jeremiah; Jerusalem; Remark of Chateaubriand; Impressions of different Travellers; Dr. Clarke; Tasso; Volney; Henniker; Mosque of Omar described; Mysterious Stone; Church of Holy Sepulchre; Ceremonies of Good Friday; Easter; The Sacred Fire; Grounds for Skepticism; Folly of the Priests; Emotion upon entering the Holy Tomb; Description of Chateaubriand; Holy Places in the City; On Mount Zion; Pool of Siloam; Fountain of the Virgin; Valley of Jehoshaphat; Mount of Offence; The Tombs of Zechariah, of Jehoshaphat, and of Absalom; Jewish Architecture; Dr. Clarke’s Opinion on the Topography of Ancient Jerusalem; Opposed by other Writers; The Inexpedience of such Discussions.
DESCRIPTION OF THE COUNTRY SOUTH AND EAST OF JERUSALEM.
Garden of Gethsemane; Tomb of Virgin Mary; Grottoes on Mount of Olives; View of the City; Extent and Boundaries; View of Bethany and Dead Sea; Bethlehem; Convent; Church of the Nativity described; Paintings; Music; Population of Bethlehem; Pools of Solomon; Dwelling of Simon the Leper; Of Mary Magdalene; Tower of Simeon; Tomb of Rachel; Convent of St. John; Fine Church; Tekoa Bethulia; Hebron; Sepulchre of Patriarchs; Albaid; Kerek; Extremity of Dead Sea; Discoveries of Bankes, Legh, and Irby and Mangles; Convent of St. Saba; Valley of Jordan; Mountains; Description of Lake Asphaltites; Remains of Ancient Cities in its Basin; Quality of its Waters; Apples of Sodom; Tacitus, Seetzen, Hasselquist, Chateaubriand; Width of River Jordan; Jericho; Village of Rihhah; Balsam; Fountain of Elisha; Mount of Temptation; Place of Blood; Anecdote of Sir F. Henniker; Fountain of the Apostles; Return to Jerusalem; Markets; Costume; Science; Arts; Language; Jews; Present Condition of that People.
DESCRIPTION OF THE COUNTRY NORTHWARD OF JERUSALEM.
Grotto of Jeremiah; Sepulchres of the Kings; Singular Doors; Village of Leban; Jacob’s Well; Valley of Shechem; Nablous; Samaritans; Sebaste; Jennin; Gilead; Geraza or Djerash; Description of Ruins; Gergasha of the Hebrews; Rich Scenery of Gilead; River Jabbok; Souf; Ruins of Gamala; Magnificent Theatre; Gadara; Capernaum, or Talhewm; Sea of Galilee; Bethsaida and Chorazin; Tarrachea; Sumuk; Tiberias; Description of modern Town; House Of St. Peter; Baths; University; Mount Tor, or Tabor; Description by Pococke, Maundrell, Burckhardt, and Doubdan; View from the Top; Great Plain; Nazareth; Church of Annunciation; Workshop of Joseph; Mount of Precipitation; Table of Christ; Cana, or Kefer Kenna; Waterpots of Stone; Saphet, or Szaffad; University; French; Sidney Smith; Dan; Sepphoris; Church of St. Anne; Description by Dr. Clarke; Vale of Zabulon; Vicinity of Acre.
THE HISTORY OF PALESTINE FROM THE FALL OF JERUSALEM, TO THE PRESENT TIME.
State of Judea after the Fall of Jerusalem; Revolt under Trajan; Barcochab; Adrian repairs Jerusalem; Schools at Babylon and Tiberias; Attempt of Julian to rebuild the Temple; Invasion of Chosroes; Sack of Jerusalem; Rise of Islamism; Wars of the Califs; First Crusade; Jerusalem delivered; Policy of Crusades; Victory at Ascalon; Baldwin King; Second Crusade; Saladin; His Success at Tiberias; He recovers Jerusalem; The Third Crusade; Richard Coeur de Lion; Siege and Capture of Acre; Plans of Richard; His Return to Europe; Death of Saladin; Fourth Crusade; Battle of Jaffa; Fifth Crusade; Fall of Constantinople; Sixth Crusade; Damietta taken; Reverses; Frederick the Second made King of Jerusalem; Seventh Crusade; Christians admitted into the Holy City; Inroad of Karismians; Eighth Crusade under Louis IX.; He takes Damietta; His Losses and Return to Europe; Ninth Crusade; Louis IX. and Edward I; Death of Louis; Successes of Edward; Treaty with Sultan; Final Discomfiture of the Franks in Palestine, and Loss of Acre; State of Palestine under the Turks; Increased Toleration; Bonaparte invades Syria; Siege of Acre and Defeat of French; Actual State of the Holy Land; Number, Condition, and Character of the Jews.
THE NATURAL HISTORY OF PALESTINE.
Travellers too much neglect Natural History–Maundrell; Hasselquist, Clarke. GEOLOGY–Syrian Chain; Libanus; Calcareous Rocks; Granite; Trap; Volcanic Remains; Chalk; Marine Exuviae; Precious Stones. METEOROLOGY–Climate of Palestine; Winds; Thunder; Clouds; Waterspouts; Ignis Fatuus. ZOOLOGY–Scripture Animals; The Hart; The Roebuck; Fallow-Deer; Wild Goat; Pygarg; Wild Ox; Chamois; Unicorn; Wild Ass; Wild Goats of the Rock; Saphan, or Coney; Mouse; Porcupine; Jerboa; Mole; Bat. BIRDS–Eagle; Ossifrage; Ospray; Vulture; Kite; Raven; Owl; Nighthawk; Cuckoo; Hawk; Little Owl; Cormorant; Great Owl; Swan; Pelican; Gier Eagle; Stork; Heron; Lapwing; Hoopoe. AMPHIBIA AND REPTILES–Serpents known to the Hebrews; Ephe; Chephir; Acshub; Pethen; Tzeboa; Tzimmaon; Tzepho; Kippos; Shephiphon; Shachal; Seraph, the Flying Serpent; Cockatrice’ Eggs; The Scorpion; Sea-monsters, or Seals. FRUITS AND PLANTS–Vegetable Productions of Palestine; The Fig-tree; Palm; Olive; Cedars of Libanus; Wild Grapes; Balsam of Aaron; Thorn of Christ.
Map of Palestine
Vignette–Part of Jerusalem, with the Church of the Holy Sepulchre View of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives Fountain of Siloam
Tomb of Absalom
Village of Bethany, and Dead Sea
Subterranean Church of Bethlehem
River Jabbok, and Hilts of Bashan
Sea of Galilee, Town of Tiberias, and Baths of Emmaus Mount Tabor
Interest attached to the History of Palestine; Remarkable Character of the Hebrew People; Their small Beginning and astonishing Increase; The Variety of Fortune they underwent; Their constant Attachment to the Promised Land; The Subject presents an interesting Problem to the Historian and Politician; The Connexion with Christianity; Effect of this Religion on the Progress of Society; Importance of the Subject to the pious Reader; Holy Places; Pilgrims; Grounds for believing the ancient Traditions on this Head; Constantine and the Empress Helena; Relics; Natural Scenery; Extent of Canaan; Fertility; Geographical Distribution; Countries eastward of the Jordan; Galilee; Bethlehem; Samaria; Jericho; The Dead Sea; Table representing the Possessions of the Twelve Tribes.
The country to which the name of Palestine is given by moderns is that portion of the Turkish empire in Asia which is comprehended within the 31st and 34th degrees north latitude, and extends from the Mediterranean to the Syrian Desert, eastward of the river Jordan and the Dead Sea. Whether viewed as the source of our religions faith; or as the most ancient fountain of our historical knowledge, this singular spot of earth has at all times been regarded with feelings of the deepest interest and curiosity. Inhabited for many ages by a people entitled above all others to the distinction of peculiar, it presents a record of events such as have not come to pass in any other land, monuments of a belief denied to all other nations, hopes not elsewhere cherished, but which, nevertheless, are connected with the destiny of the whole human race, and stretch forward to the consummation of all terrestrial things.
To the eye of mere philosophy nothing can appear more striking than the events produced upon the world at large by the opinions and events which originated among the Jewish people. A pastoral family, neither so numerous, so warlike, nor so well instructed in the arts of civilized life as many others in the same quarter of the globe, gradually increased into a powerful community, became distinguished by a system of doctrines and usages different from those of all the surrounding tribes; retaining it, too, amid the numerous changes of fortune to which they were subjected, and finally impressing its leading principles upon the most enlightened nations of Asia and of Europe. At a remote era Abraham crosses the Euphrates, a solitary traveller, not knowing whither he went, but obeying a divine voice, which called him from among idolaters to become the father of a new people and of a purer faith, at a distance from his native country. His grandson Jacob, a “Syrian ready to perish,” goes down into Egypt with a few individuals, where his descendants, although evil entreated and afflicted, became a “nation, great, mighty, and populous,” and whence they were delivered by the special interposition of Heaven. In prosperity and adversity they are still the objects of the same vigilant Providence which reserved them for a great purpose to be accomplished in the latter days; while the Israelites themselves, as if conscious that their election was to be crowned with momentous results, still kept their thoughts fixed on Palestine, as the theatre of their glory, not less than as the possession of their tribes.
We accordingly see them at one period in bondage, the victims of a relentless tyranny, and menaced with complete extirpation; but the hope of enjoying the land promised to their fathers never ceased to animate their hearts, for they trusted that God would surely visit them in the house of their affliction, and, in his appointed time, carry them into the inheritance of peace and rest. At a later epoch we behold them swept away as captives by the hands of idolaters, who used all the motives which spring from fear and from interest to secure their compliance with a foreign worship; but rejecting all such inducements, they still continued a separate people, steadily resisting the operation of those causes which, in almost every other instance, have been found sufficient to melt down a vanquished horde into the population and habits of their masters. At length they appear as the instruments of a dispensation which embraces the dearest interests of all the sons of Adam; and which, in happier circumstances than ever fell to their own lot, has already modified and greatly exalted the character, the institutions, and the prospects of the most improved portion of mankind in both hemispheres of the globe.
Connected with Christianity, indeed, the history of the Hebrews rises before the reflecting mind in a very singular point of view; for, in opposition to their own wishes they laid the foundations of a religion which has not only superseded their peculiar rites, but is rapidly advancing towards that universal acceptation which they were wont to anticipate in favour of their own ancient law. In spite of themselves they have acted as the little leaven which was destined to leaven the whole lump; and in performing this office, they have proceeded with nearly the same absence of intention and consciousness as the latent principle of fermentation to which the metaphor bears allusion. They aimed at one thing, and have accomplished another; but while we compare the means with the ends; whether in their physical or moral relations, it must be admitted that we therein examine one of the most remarkable events recorded in the annals of the human race.
Abstracting his thoughts from all the considerations of supernatural agency which are suggested by the inspired narrative, a candid man will nevertheless feel himself compelled to acknowledge that the course of events which constitutes the history of ancient Palestine has no parallel in any other part of the world. Fixing his eyes on the small district of Judea, he calls to mind that eighteen hundred years ago there dwelt in that little region a singular and rather retired people, who, however, differed from the rest of mankind in the very important circumstance of not being idolaters. He looks around upon every other country of the earth, where he discovers superstitions of the most hateful and degrading kind, darkening all the prospects of the human being, and corrupting his moral nature in its very source. He observes that some of these nations are far advanced in many intellectual accomplishments, yet, being unable to shake off the tremendous load of error by which they are pressed down, are extremely irregular and capricious, both in the management of their reason and in the application of their affections. He learns, moreover, that this little spot called Palestine is despised and scorned by those proud kingdoms, whose wise men would not for a moment allow themselves to imagine, that any speculation or tenet arising from so ignoble a quarter could have the slightest influence upon their belief, or affect, in the most minute degree, the general character of their social condition.
But, behold, while he yet muses over this interesting scene, a Teacher springs up from among the lower orders of the Hebrew people,–himself not less contemned by his countrymen than they were by the warlike Romans and the Philosophic Greeks,–whose doctrines, notwithstanding, continue to gain ground on every hand, till at last the proud monuments of pagan superstition, consecrated by the worship of a thousand years, and supported by the authority of the most powerful monarchies in the world, fall one after another at the approach of his disciples, and before the prevailing efficacy of the new faith. A little stone becomes a mountain, and fills the whole earth. Judea swells in its dimensions till it covers half the globe, carrying captivity captive, not by force of arms, but by the progress of opinion and the power of truth, all the nations of Europe in successive ages,–Greek, Roman, Barbarian,–glory in the name of the humble Galilean; armies, greater than those which Persia in the pride of her ambition led forth to conquest, are seen swarming into Asia, with the sole view of getting possession of his sepulchre; while the East and the West combine to adorn with their treasures the stable in which he was born, and the sacred mount on which he surrendered his precious life.
On these grounds, there is presented to the historian and politician a problem of the most interesting nature, and which is not to be solved by any reference to the ordinary principles whence mankind are induced to act or to suffer. The effects, too, produced on society, exceed all calculation. It is in vain that we attempt to compare them to those more common revolutions which have changed for a time the face of nations, or given a new dynasty to ancient empires. The impression made by such events soon passes away: the troubled surface quickly resumes its equilibrium, and displays its wonted tranquility; and hence we may assert, that the present condition of the world is not much different from what it would have been, though Alexander had never been born and Julius Caesar had died in his cradle. But the occurrences that enter into the history of Palestine possess an influence on human affairs which has no other limits than the existence of the species, and which will be everywhere more deeply felt in proportion as society advances in knowledge and refinement. The greatest nations upon earth trace their happiness and civilization to its benign principles and lofty sanctions. Science, freedom, and security, attend its progress among all conditions of men; raising the low, befriending the unfortunate, giving strength to the arm of law, and breaking the rod of the oppressor.
Nor is the subject of less interest to the pious Christian, who confines his thoughts to the momentous facts which illustrate the early annals of his religion. His affections are bound to Palestine by the strongest associations; and every portion of its varied territory, its mountains, its lakes, and even its deserts are consecrated in his eyes as the scene of some mighty occurrence. His fancy clothes with qualities almost celestial that holy land,
Over whose acres walked those blessed feet, Which eighteen hundred years ago were nailed For our advantage to the bitter cross.
In a former age, when devotional feelings were wont to assume a more poetical form than suits the taste of the present times, an undue importance, perhaps, was placed on the mere localities of Judea, viewed as the theatre on which the great events of Christianity were realized, and more especially on those relics which were considered as identifying particular spots, honoured by the sufferings or triumph of its Divine author. The zealous pilgrim, who had travelled many thousand miles amid the most appalling dangers, required a solace to his faith in the contemplation of the cross, or in being permitted to kiss the threshold of the tomb in which the body of his Redeemer was laid. To such a character no description could be too minute, no details could be too particular. Forgetful of the ravages inflicted on Jerusalem by the hand of the Romans, and by the more furious anger of her own children within her,–fulfilling unintentionally that tremendous doom which was pronounced from the Mount of Olives,–the simple worshipper expected to see the hall of judgment, the house of Pilate, and the palace of the high-priest, and to be able to trace through the streets and lanes of the holy city the path which led his Saviour to Calvary. This natural desire to awaken piety through the medium of the senses, and to banish all unbelief by touching with the hand, and seeing with the eye, the memorials of the crucifixion, has, there is reason to apprehend, been sometimes abused by fraud as well as by ignorance.
But it is nevertheless worthy of remark, that from the very situation of Jerusalem, so well defined by natural limits which it cannot have passed, there is less difficulty in determining places with a certain degree of precision than would be experienced in any other ancient town. Nor can it be justly questioned, that the primitive Christians marked with peculiar care the principal localities distinguished by the deeds or by the afflictions of their Divine Master. It is natural to suppose, as M. Chateaubriand well observes, that the apostles and relatives of our Saviour, who composed his first church upon earth, were perfectly acquainted with all the circumstances attending his life, his ministry, and his death; and as Golgotha and the Mount of Olives were not enclosed within the walls of the city, they would encounter less restraint in performing their devotions to the places which were sanctified by his more frequent presence and miracles. Besides, the knowledge of these scenes was soon extended to a very wide circle. The triumph of Pentecost increased vastly the number of believers; and hence a regular congregation appears to have been formed in Jerusalem before the expiry of the third year from that memorable epoch. If it be admitted that the early Christians were allowed to erect monuments to their religious worship, or even to select houses for their periodical assemblies, the probability will not be questioned that they fixed upon those interesting spots which had been distinguished by the wonders of their faith.
At the commencement of the troubles in Judea, during the reign of Vespasian, the Christians of Jerusalem withdrew to Pella, and as soon as their metropolis was demolished they returned to dwell among its ruins. In the space of a few months they could not have forgotten the position of their sanctuaries, which, generally speaking, being situated outside the walls, could not have suffered so much from the siege as the more lofty edifices within. That the holy places were known to all men in the time of Adrian is demonstrated by an undeniable fact. This emperor, when he rebuilt the city, erected a statue of Venus on Mount Calvary, and another of Jupiter on the sacred sepulchre. The grotto of Bethlehem was given up to the rites of Adonis, the jealousy of the idolaters thus publishing by their abominable profanations, the sublime doctrines of the Cross, which it was their object to conceal or calumniate.
But Adrian, although actuated by an ardent zeal in behalf of his own deities, did not persecute the Christians at large. His resentment seems to have been confined to the Nazarenes in Jerusalem, whom he could not help regarding as a portion of the Jewish nation,–the irreconcilable enemies of Rome. We accordingly perceive, that he had no sooner dispersed the church of the Circumcision established in the holy city, than he permitted within its walls the formation of a Christian community, composed of Gentile converts, whose political principles, he imagined, were less inimical to the sovereignty of the empire. At the same time he wrote to the governors of his Asiatic provinces, instructing them not to molest the believers in Christ, merely on account of their creed, but to reserve all punishment for crimes committed against the laws and the public tranquillity. It has therefore been very generally admitted; that during this period of repose, and even down to the reign of Dioclesian, the faithful at Jerusalem, now called Aelia, celebrated the mysteries of their religion in public, and consequently had altars consecrated to their worship. If, indeed, they were not allowed the possession of Calvary, the Holy Sepulchre, and of Bethlehem, where they might solemnize their sacred rites, it is not to be imagined that the memory of these holy sanctuaries could be effaced from their affectionate recollection. The very idols served to mark the places where the Christian redemption was begun and completed. Nay, the pagans themselves cherished the expectation that the temple of Venus, erected on the summit of Calvary, would not prevent the Christians from visiting that holy mount; rejoicing in the idea, as the historian Sozomen expresses it, that the Nazarenes, when they repaired to Golgotha to pray, would appear to the public eye to be offering up their adoration to the daughter of Jupiter. This is a striking proof that a perfect knowledge of the sacred places was retained by the church of Jerusalem in the middle of the second century. At a somewhat later period, when exposed to persecution, if they were not allowed to build their altars at the Sepulchre, or proceed without apprehension to the scene of the Nativity, they enjoyed at least the consolation of keeping alive the remembrance of the great events connected with these interesting monuments of their faith; anticipating, at the same time, the approaching ruin of that proud superstition by which they had been so long oppressed.
The conversion of Constantine gave a new vigour to these local reminiscences of the evangelical history. That celebrated ruler wrote to Macarius, bishop of Jerusalem, to cover the tomb of Jesus Christ with a magnificent church; while his mother, the Empress Helena, repaired in person to Palestine, in order to glue a proper efficacy to the zeal which animated the throne, and to assist in searching for the venerable remains of the first age of the gospel. To this illustrious female is ascribed the glory of restoring to religion some of its most valued memorials. Not satisfied with the splendid temple erected at the Holy Sepulchre, she ordered two similar edifices to be reared under her own auspices; one over the manger of the Messiah at Bethlehem, and the other on the Mount of Olives, to commemorate his ascension into heaven. Chapels, altars, and houses of prayer gradually marked all the places consecrated by the acts of the Son of Man; the oral traditions were forthwith committed to writing, and thereby secured for ever from the treachery of individual recollection.
These considerations gave great probability to the conjectures of those pious persons who, in the fourth century of our era, assisted the mother of Constantine in fixing the locality of holy scenes. From that period down to the present day, the devotion of the Christian and the avarice of the Mohammedan have sufficiently secured the remembrance both of the places and of the events with which they are associated. But no length of time can wear out the impression of deep reverence and respect which are excited by an actual examination of those interesting spots that witnessed the stupendous occurrences recorded in the inspired volume. Or, if there be in existence any cause which could effectually counteract such natural and laudable feelings, it is the excessive minuteness of detail and fanciful description usually found to accompany the exhibition of sacred relics. The Christian traveller is delighted when he obtains the first glance of Carmel, of Tabor, of Libanus, and of Olivet; his heart opens to many touching recollections at the moment when the Jordan, the Lake of Tiberias, and even the waters of the Dead Sea spread themselves out before his eyes; but neither his piety nor his belief is strengthened when he has presented to him a portion of the cross whereon our Saviour was suspended, the nails that pierced his hands and feet, the linen in which his body was wrapped, the stone on which his corpse reposed in the sepulchre, as well as that occupied by the ministering angel on the morning of the resurrection. The skepticism with which such doubtful remains cannot fail to be examined is turned into positive disgust when, the guardians of the grotto at Bethlehem undertake to show the water wherein the infant Messiah was washed, the milk of the blessed Virgin his mother, the swaddling-clothes, the manger, and other particulars neither less minute nor less improbable.
But such abuses, the fruit of many ages of credulity and ignorance, do not materially diminish the force of the impression produced by scenes which no art can change, and hardly any description can disguise. The hills still stand round about Jerusalem, as they stood in the days of David and of Solomon. The dew falls on Hermon, the cedars grow on Libanus, and Kishon, that ancient river, draws its stream from Tabor as in the times of old. The Sea of Galilee still presents the same natural accompaniments, the fig-tree springs up by the wayside, the sycamore spreads its branches, and the vines and olives still climb the sides of the mountains. The desolation which covered the Cities of the Plain is not less striking at the present hour than when Moses with an inspired pen recorded the judgment of God; the swellings of Jordan are not less regular in their rise than when the Hebrews first approached its banks; and he who goes down from Jerusalem to Jericho still incurs the greatest hazard of falling among thieves. There is, in fact, in the scenery and manners of Palestine, a perpetuity that accords well with the everlasting import of its historical records, and which enables us to identify with the utmost readiness the local imagery of every great transaction.
The extent of this remarkable country has varied at different times, according to the nature of the government which it has either enjoyed or been compelled to acknowledge. When it was first occupied by the Israelites, the land of Canaan, properly so called, was confined between the shores of the Mediterranean and the western bank of the Jordan; the breadth at no part exceeding fifty miles, while the length hardly amounted to three times that space. At a later period, the arms of David and of his immediate successor carried the boundaries of the kingdom to the Euphrates and Orontes on the one hand, an in an opposite direction to the remotest confines of Edom and Moab. The population, as might be expected, has undergone a similar variation. It is true that no particular in ancient history is liable to a better-founded suspicion than the numerical statements which respect nations and armies; for pride and fear have, in their turn, contributed not a little to exaggerate, in rival countries, the amount of the persons capable of taking a share in the field of battle. Proceeding on the usual grounds of calculation, we must infer, from the number of warriors whom Moses conducted through the desert, that the Hebrew people, when they crossed the Jordan, did not fall short of two millions; while, from facts recorded in the book of Samuel, we may conclude with greater confidence that the enrolment made under the direction of Joab must have returned a gross population of five millions and a half.
The present aspect of Palestine, under an administration where every thing decays and nothing is renewed, can afford no just criterion of the accuracy of such statements. Hasty observers have indeed pronounced that a hilly country destitute of great rivers, could not, even under the most skilful management, supply food for so many mouths. But this precipitate conclusion has been vigorously combated by the most competent judges, who have taken pains to estimate the produce of a soil under the fertilizing influence of a sun which may be regarded as almost tropical, and of a well-regulated irrigation which the Syrians knew how to practise with the greatest success. Canaan, it must be admitted, could not be compared to Egypt in respect to corn. There is no Nile to scatter the riches of an inexhaustible fecundity over its valleys and plains. Still it was not without reason that Moses described it as “a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains, and depths that spring out of valleys and hills; a land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig-trees, and pomegranates; a land of oil-olive and honey; a land wherein thou shalt eat bread without scarceness, thou shalt not lack any thing in it; a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills thou mayst dig brass.”
The reports of the latest travellers confirm the accuracy of the picture drawn by this divine legislator. Near Jericho the wild olives continue to bear berries of a large size, which give the finest oil. In places subjected to irrigation, the same field, after a crop of wheat in May, produces pulse in autumn. Several of the trees are continually bearing flowers and fruit at the same time, in all their stages. The mulberry, planted in straight rows in the open field, is festooned by the tendrils of the vine. If this vegetation seems to languish or become extinct during the extreme heats,–if in the mountains it is at all seasons detached and interrupted,–such exceptions to the general luxuriance are not to be ascribed simply to the general character of all hot climates, but also to the state of barbarism in which the great mass of the present population is immersed.
Even in our day, some remains are to be found of the walls which the ancient cultivators built to support the soil on the declivities of the mountains; the form of the cisterns in which they collected the rain-water; and traces of the canals by which this water was distributed over the fields. These labours necessarily created a prodigious fertility under an ardent sun, where a little moisture was the only requisite to revive the vegetable world. The accounts given by native writers respecting the productive qualities of Judea are not in any degree opposed even by the present aspect of the country. The case is exactly the same with some islands in the Archipelago; a tract, from which a hundred individuals can hardly draw a scanty subsistence, formerly maintained thousands in affluence. Moses might justly say that Canaan abounded in milk and honey. The flocks of the Arabs still find in it a luxuriant pasture, while the bees deposite in the holes of the rocks their delicious stores, which are sometimes seen flowing down the surface.
The opinions just stated in regard to the fertility of ancient Palestine receive an ample confirmation from the Roman historians, to whom, as a part of their extensive empire, it was intimately known. Tacitus, especially, in language which he appears to have formed for his own use, describes its natural qualities with the utmost precision, and, as is his manner, suggests rather than specifies a catalogue of productions, the accuracy of which is verified by the latest observations. The soil is rich, and the atmosphere dry; the country yields all the fruits which are known in Italy, besides balm and dates.
But it has never been denied that there is a remarkable difference between the two sides of the ridge which forms the central chain of Judea. On the western acclivity, the soil rises from the sea towards the elevated ground in four distinct terraces, which are covered with an unfading verdure. The shore is lined with mastic-trees; palms, and prickly pears. Higher up, the vines, the olives, and the sycamores amply repay the labour of the cultivator; natural groves arise, consisting of evergreen oaks, cypresses, andrachnes, and turpentines. The face of the earth is embellished with the rosemary, the cytisus, and the hyacinth. In a word, the vegetation of these mountains has been compared to that of Crete. European visitors have dined under the shade of a lemon-tree as large as one of our strongest oaks, and have seen sycamores, the foliage of which was sufficient to cover thirty persons along with their horses and camels.
On the eastern side, however, the scanty coating of mould yields a less magnificent crop. From the summit of the hills a desert stretches along to the Lake Asphaltites, presenting nothing but stones and ashes, and a few thorny shrubs. The sides of the mountains enlarge, and assume an aspect at once more grand and more barren. By little and little the scanty vegetation languishes and dies; even mosses disappear, and a red burning hue succeeds to the whiteness of the rocks. In the centre of this amphitheatre there is an arid basin, enclosed on all sides with summits scattered over with a yellow-coloured pebble, and affording a single aperture to the east through which the surface of the Dead Sea and the distant hills of Arabia present themselves to the eye. In the midst of this country of stones, encircled by a wall, we perceive extensive ruins; stunted cypresses, bushes of the aloe and prickly pear, while some huts of the meanest order, resembling whitewashed sepulchres, are spread over the desolated mass. This spot is Jerusalem.
This melancholy delineation, which was suggested by the state of the Jewish metropolis in the third century, is not quite inapplicable at the present hour. The scenery of external nature is the same, and the general aspect of the venerable city is very little changed. But as beauty is strictly a relative term, and is everywhere greatly affected by association, we must not be surprised when we read in the works of eastern authors the high encomiums which are lavished upon the vicinity of the holy capital. Abulfeda, for example, maintains, not only that Palestine is the most fertile part of Syria, but also that the neighbourhood of Jerusalem is one of the most fertile districts of Palestine. In his eye, the vines, the fig-trees, and the olive-groves, with which the limestone cliffs of Judea were once covered, identified themselves with the richest returns of agricultural wealth, and more than compensated for the absence of those spreading fields waving with corn which are necessary to convey to the mind of a European the ideas of fruitfulness, comfort, and abundance.
Following the enlightened narrative of Malte Brun, the reader will find that southward of Damascus, the point where the modern Palestine may be said to begin, are the countries called by the Romans Auranitis and Gaulonitis, consisting of one extensive and noble plain, bounded on the north by Hermon or Djibel-el-Sheik, on the south-west by Djibel-Edjlan, and on the east by Haouran. In all these countries there is not a single stream which retains its water in summer. The most of the villages have their pond or reservoir, which they fill from one of the wadi, or brooks, during the rainy season. Of all these districts, Haouran is the most celebrated for the culture of wheat. Nothing can exceed in grandeur the extensive undulations of their fields, moving like the waves of the ocean in the wind. Bothin or Batanea, on the other hand, contains nothing except calcareous mountains, where there are vast caverns, in which the Arabian shepherds live like the ancient Troglodytes. Here a modern traveller, Dr. Seetzen, discovered, in the year 1816, the magnificent ruins of Gerasa, now called Djerash, where three temples, two superb amphitheatres of marble, and hundreds of columns still remain among other monuments of Roman power. But by far the finest thing that he saw was a long street, bordered on each side with a splendid colonnade of Corinthian architecture, and terminating in an open space of a semicircular form, surrounded with sixty Ionic pillars. In the same neighbourhood the ancient Gilead is distinguished by a forest of stately oaks, which supply wealth and employment to the inhabitants. Peraea presents on its numerous terraces a mixture of vines, olives, and pomegranates. Karak-Moab, the capital of a district corresponding to that of the primitive Moabites, still meets the eye, but is not to be confounded with another town of a similar name in the Stony Arabia.
The countries now described lie on the eastern side of the river Jordan. But the same stream, in the upper part of its course, forms the boundary between Gaulonitis and the fertile Galilee, which is identical with the modern district of Szaffad. This town, which is remarkable for the beauty of its situation amid groves of myrtle, is supposed to be the ancient Bethulia, which was besieged by Holofernes. Tabara, an insignificant place, occupies the site of Tiberias, which gave its name to the lake more generally known by that of Genesareth, or the Sea of Galilee; but industry has now deserted its borders, and the fisherman with his skiff and his nets no longer animates the surface of its waters. Nazareth still retains some portion of its former consequence. Six miles farther south stands the hill of Tabor, sometimes denominated Itabyrius, presenting a pyramid of verdure crowned with olives and sycamores. From the top of this mountain, the modern Tor and scene of the transfiguration, we look down on the river Jordan, the Lake of Genesareth, and the Mediterranean Sea.
Galilee, says a learned writer, would be a paradise were it inhabited by an industrious people under an enlightened government. Vine stocks are to be seen here a foot and a half in diameter, forming, by their twining branches, vast arches and extensive ceilings of verdure. A cluster of grapes, two or three feet in length, will give an abundant supper to a whole family. The plains of Esdraelon are occupied by Arab tribes, around whose brown tents the sheep and lambs gambol to the sound of the reed, which at nightfall calls them home.
For some years this fine country has groaned and bled under the malignant genius of Turkish despotism. The fields are left without cultivation, and the towns and villages are reduced to beggary; but the latest accounts from the holy Land encourage us to entertain the hope, that a milder administration will soon change the aspect of affairs, and bestow upon the Syrian provinces at large some of the benefits which the more liberal policy of Mohammed Ali has conferred upon the pashalic of Egypt.
Proceeding from Galilee towards the metropolis, we enter the land of Samaria, comprehending the modern districts of Areta and Nablous. In the former we find the remains of Cesarea; and on the Gulf of St. Jean d’Acre stands the town of Caypha, where there is a good anchorage for ships. On the south-west of this gulf extends a chain of mountains, which terminates in the promontory of Carmel, a name famous in the annals of our religion. There Elijah proved by miracles the divinity of his mission; and there, in the middle ages of the church, resided thousands of Christian devotees, who sought a refuge for their piety in the caves of the rocks. Then the mountain was wholly covered with chapels and gardens, whereas at the present day nothing is to be seen but scattered ruins amid forests of oak and olives, the bright verdure being only relieved by the whiteness of the calcareous cliffs over which they are suspended. The heights of Carmel, it has been frequently remarked, enjoy a pure and enlivening atmosphere, while the lower grounds of Samaria and Galileo are obscured by the densest fogs.
The Shechem of the Scriptures, successively known by the names of Neapolis and Nablous, still contains a considerable population, although its dwellings are mean and its inhabitants poor. The ruins of Samaria itself are now covered with orchards; and the people of the district, who have forgotten their native dialect, as well perhaps as their angry disputes with the Jews, continue to worship the Deity on the verdant slopes of Gerizim.
Palestine, agreeably to the modern acceptation of the term, embraces the country of the ancient Philistines, the most formidable enemies of the Hebrew tribes prior to the reign of David. Besides Gaza, the chief town, we recognise the celebrated port of Jaffa or Yaffa, corresponding to the Joppa mentioned in the Sacred Writings. Repeatedly fortified and dismantled, this famous harbour has presented such a variety of appearances, that the description given of it in one age has hardly ever been found to apply to its condition in the very next.
Bethlehem, where the divine Messias was born, is a large village inhabited promiscuously by Christians and Mussulmans, who agree in nothing but their detestation of the tyranny by which they are both unmercifully oppressed. The locality of the sacred manger is occupied by an elegant church, ornamented by the pious offerings of all the nations of Europe. It is not our intention to enter into a more minute discussion of those old traditions, by which the particular places rendered sacred by the Redeemer’s presence are still marked out for the veneration of the faithful. They present much vagueness, mingled with no small portion of unquestionable truth. At all events, we must not regard them in the same light in which we are compelled to view the story that claims for Hebron the possession of Abraham’s tomb, and attracts on this account the veneration both of Nazarenes and Moslems.
To the north-east of Jerusalem, in the large and fertile valley called El-Gaur, and watered by the Jordan, we find the village of Rah, the ancient Jericho, denominated by Moses the City of Palms. This is a name to which it is still entitled; but the groves of opobalsamum, or balm of Moses, have long disappeared; nor is the neighbourhood any longer adorned with those singular flowers known among the Crusaders by the familiar appellation of Jericho roses. A little farther south two rough and barren chains of hills encompass with their dark steeps a long basin formed in a clay soil mixed with bitumen and rock-salt. The water contained in this hollow is impregnated with a solution of different saline substances, having lime, magnesia, and soda for their base, partially neutralized with muriatic and sulfuric acid. The salt which it yields by evaporation is about one-fourth, of its weight. The bituminous matter rises from time to time from the bottom of the lake, floats on the surface, and is thrown out on the shores, where it is gathered for various economical purposes. It is to be regretted that this inland sea has not yet been examined with the attention which it deserves. We are told, indeed, by the greater number of those who have visited it, that neither fish nor shells are to be found in its waters; that an unwholesome vapour is constantly emitted from its bosom; and that its banks, hideous and desolate in the extreme, are never cheered by the note of any bird. But it is admitted by the same travellers, that the inhabitants are not sensible of any noxious qualities in its exhalations; while the accounts formerly believed, that the winged tribes in attempting to fly over it fell down dead, are now generally regarded as fabulous. Tradition supports the narrative of Sacred Scripture so far as to teach that the channel of the Dead Sea was once a fertile valley, partly resting on a mass of subterranean water, and partly composed of a stratum of bitumen; and that a fire from heaven kindling these combustible materials, the rich soil sunk into the abyss beneath, and Sodom and Gomorrah were consumed in the tremendous conflagration.
This brief outline of the geographical limits and physical characters of the Holy Land may prove sufficient as an introduction to its ancient history. Details much more ample are to be found in numerous works, whose authors, fascinated by the interesting recollections which almost every object in Palestine is fitted to suggest, have endeavoured to transfer to the minds of their readers the profound impressions which they themselves experienced from a personal review of ancient scenes and monuments. But we purposely refrain at present from the minute description to which the subject so naturally invites us, because, in a subsequent part of our undertaking, we shall be unavoidably led into a train of local particularities, while setting forth the actual condition of the country and of its venerable remains. Meantime, we supply, in the following table, the means of comparing the division or distribution of Canaan among the Twelve Tribes, with that which was afterward adopted by the Romans.
Ancient Canaanitish Israelitish Roman Division. Division. Division.
Sidonians, Tribe of Asher (in Libanus) ] Unknown, [Naphtali (north-west of the ]Upper Galilee. [ Lake of Genesareth) ]
Perizzites, Zebulun (west of that lake) ] The same, [Issachar (Valley of Esdraelon,]Lower Galilee. [ Mount Tabor) ]
Hivites, [Half-tribe of Manasseh (Dora ] [ and Cesarea) ]Samaria. The same, Ephraim (Shechem, Samaria) ]
Jebusites, Benjamin (Jericho, Jerusalem) ] Amorites, Hittites, Judah (Hebron, Judea proper) ] Philistines, [Simeon (south-west of Judah) ]Judea. [Dan (Joppa) ]
Moabites, Reuben (Peraea, Heshbon) ] Ammonites, Gilead, Gad (Decapolis, Ammonites) ] Kingdom of Bashan, [Half-tribe of Manasseh, ]Peraea. [ Gaulonitis, Batanea ]
In a pastoral country, such as that beyond the river Jordan especially, where the desert in most parts bordered upon the cultivated soil, the limits of the several possessions could not at all times be distinctly marked. It is well known, besides, that the native inhabitants were never entirely expelled by the victorious Hebrews, but that they retained, in some instances by force, and in others by treaty, a considerable portion of land within the borders of all the tribes,–a fact which is connected with many of the defections and troubles into which the Israelites subsequently fell.
_History of the Hebrew Commonwealth_.
Form of Government after the Death of Joshua; In Egypt; In the Wilderness; Princes of Tribes and Heads of Families; Impatience to take Possession of Promised Land; The Effects of it; Renewal of War; Extent of Holy Land; Opinions of Fleury, Spanheim, Reland, and Lowman; Principle of Distribution; Each Tribe confined to a separate Locality; Property unalienable; Conditions of Tenure; Population of the Tribes; Number of Principal Families; A General Government or National Council; The Judges; Nature of their Authority; Not ordinary Magistrates; Different from Kings, onsuls, and Dictators; Judicial Establishments; Judges and Officers; Described by Josephus; Equality of Condition among the Hebrews; Their Inclination for a Pastoral Life; Freebooters, like the Arabs; Abimelech, Jephthah, and David; Simplicity of the Times; Boaz and Ruth; Tribe of Levi; Object of their Separation; The learned Professions hereditary, after the manner of the Egyptians; The Levitical Cities; Their Number and Uses; Opinion of Michaelis; Summary View of the Times and Character of the Hebrew Judges.
Learned men have long exercised their ingenuity with the view of determining the precise form of the social condition which was assumed by the Israelites when they took possession of the Promised Land. The sacred writer contents himself with stating, that “it came to pass a long time after the Lord had given rest unto Israel from all their enemies round about, that Joshua waxed old and stricken in age; and he called for all Israel, for their elders, and for their heads, and for their judges, and for their officers.” The purport of the address he delivered on this occasion, and which is given at length in the twenty-third chapter of the book which bears his name, was solely to remind them of their religious obligations as the chosen people of Jehovah, and of the labors that they had yet to undergo in subduing the remainder of Canaan. Neither in this speech, nor in the exhortation with which he afterward at Shechem endeavoured to animate the zeal and constancy of his followers, did he make any allusion to the form of government that it behoved them to adopt; declining even to direct their choice in the appointment of a chief, who might conduct their armies in the field, and preside in the deliberations of the national council.
The first events which occurred after the demise of Joshua appear to establish the fact, that to every tribe was committed the management of its own affairs, even to the extent of being entitled to wage war and make peace without the advice or sanction of the general senate. The only government to which the sons of Jacob had hitherto been accustomed, was that most ancient and universal system of rule which gives to the head of every family the direction and control of all its members. We find traces of this natural subordination among them, even under the pressure of Egyptian bondage. During the negotiations which preceded their deliverance under the ministry of Moses, the applications and messages were all addressed to the patriarchal rulers of the people. “Go gather the elders of Israel together,” was the command of Jehovah to the son of Amram, when the latter received authority to rescue the descendants of Isaac from the tyranny of Pharaoh.
But during the pilgrimage in the wilderness, and more particularly when the tribes approached the confines of the devoted nations of Canaan, the original jurisdiction of the family chiefs was rendered subordinate to the military power of their inspired leader, who, as the commander of the armies of Israel, was esteemed and obeyed by his followers as the lieutenant of the Lord of Hosts. In truth, the martial labours to which his office called him, placed the successor of Moses at the head of his countrymen in quality of a general, guiding them on their march or forming their array in the field of battle, rather than as a teacher of wisdom or the guardian of a peculiar faith and worship. Until the conquered lands were divided among the victorious tribes, Joshua was a soldier and nothing more; while, on the other hand, the congregation of the Hebrews, who seconded so well his military plans, appear at that juncture on the page of history in no other light than that of veteran troops, rendered hardy by long service in a parching climate, and formidable by the arts of discipline under a skilful and warlike leader.
From the exode, in short, till towards the end of Joshua’s administration, we lose sight of that simple scheme of domestic superintendence which Jacob established among his sons. The princes of tribes, and the heads of families, were converted into captains of thousands, of hundreds, and of fifties; regulating their movements by the sound of the trumpet, and passing their days of rest amid the vigilance and formality of a regular encampment. But no sooner did they convert the sword into a ploughshare, and the spear into a pruning-hook, than they unanimously returned to their more ancient form of society. As soon as there appeared a sufficient quantity of land wrested from the Canaanites to afford to the tribes on the western side of the Jordan a competent inheritance, Joshua “sent the people away, and they departed;” and from this moment the military aspect that their community had assumed gave way to the patriarchal model, to which in fact all their institutions bore an immediate reference, and to the restoration of which their strongest hopes and wishes were constantly directed.
Actuated by such views, it cannot be denied that the Hebrews manifested an undue impatience to enjoy the fruits of their successful invasion. They had fought, it should seem, to obtain an inheritance in a rich and pleasant country, rather than to avenge the cause of pure religion, or to punish the idolatrous practices of the children of Moab and Ammon. As soon, therefore, as the fear of their name and the power of their arms had scattered the inhabitants of the open countries, the Israelites began to sow and to plant; being more willing to make a covenant with the residue of the enemy, than to purchase the blessings of a permanent peace by enduring a little longer the fatigue and privations of war. Their eagerness to get possession of the land flowing with milk and honey seems to have compelled Joshua to adopt a measure, which led at no distant period to much guilt and suffering on the part of his people. He consented that they should occupy the vacant fields before the nations which they had been commissioned to displace were finally subdued; that that they should cast lots for provinces which were still in the hands of the native Gentiles; and that they should distribute, by the line and the measuring-rod, many extensive hills and fair valleys which had not yet submitted to the dominion of their swords.
The effects of this injudicious policy soon rendered themselves apparent; and all the evils which were foreseen by the aged servant of God, when he addressed the congregation at Shechem, were realized in a little time to their fullest extent. The Hebrews did indeed find the remnant of the nations among whom they consented to dwell proving scourges in their sides and thorns in their eyes, and still able to dispute with them the possession of the good land which they had been taught to regard as a sacred inheritance conferred upon them in virtue of a divine promise made to their fathers. For example, the author of the book of Judges relates, “the Amorites forced the children of Dan into the mountains;” for, he adds, “they would not suffer them to come down to the valley.” Hence arose the fact, that the Israelites did not for several hundred years complete their conquest of Palestine. The Canaanites, recovering from the terror which had fallen upon them in the commencement of the Hebrew invasion, attempted, not only to regain possession of their ancient territory, but even to obliterate all traces of their defeat and subjection. What movements were made by the petty sovereigns of the country, in order to effect their object, we are nowhere expressly told; but we find, from a consultation held by the southern tribes of Israel, soon after the death of Joshua, that the necessity of renewing military operations against the natives could no longer be postponed. It was resolved, accordingly, that Judah and Simeon should unite their arms, and take the field, to prevent, in the first place, an inroad with which their borders were threatened, and, subsequently, to reduce to a state of entire subjection the cities and towns that stood within the limits of their respective districts. “And Judah said unto Simeon his brother, come up with me into my lot, that we may fight against the Canaanites; and I likewise will go with thee into thy lot.”
But, leaving these preliminary matters, we shall proceed to take a survey of the Hebrew commonwealth, as it appeared upon its first settlement under the successors of Joshua; endeavouring to ascertain the grounds upon which the federal union of the tribes was established; their relations towards one another in peace and in war; the resources of which they were possessed for conquest or self-defence; their civil rights and privileges as independent states; their laws and judicatories; and, above all, the nature and extent of their property, as well as the tenure on which it was held by families and individuals. Closely connected with this subject is a consideration of that agrarian law which was sanctioned by Moses and acted upon by Joshua, and which will be found, not only to have determined, but also to have secured, the inheritance of every Israelite who entered the Promised Land.
The extent of that portion of Syria which was granted to the Hebrew nation has been variously estimated. On the authority of Hecataeus, a native of Abdera, who is quoted by Josephus, the limits of the territory possessed by the Jews are fixed at three millions of acres, supposing the _aroura_ of the Greeks to correspond to the denomination of English measure just specified. Proceeding on this ground, the Abbe Fleury and other writers have undertaken to prove that the quantity of land mentioned by Hecataeus would maintain only three millions three hundred and seventy-five thousand men,–a computation which is liable to many objections, and has not therefore been generally received. It is obvious, for instance, that the Abderite, who lived in the reign of Alexander the Great, and is said to have afterward attached himself to the person of the first Grecian king of Egypt, described the country of the Jews as he saw it, under the dominion of the Syrian princes of the Macedonian line. He accordingly beheld only the inheritance of the two tribes which had returned from the Babylonian captivity, and of consequence confined his estimates to the provinces that they were permitted to enjoy; taking no account of those extensive districts that formerly belonged to the Ten Tribes of Israel, and which, in his days, were in the hands of that mixed race of men who were descended from the Assyrian colonists whom Shalmaneser placed in their room.
Confiding in the greater accuracy of Spanheim, Reland, and Lowman, we are inclined to compute the Hebrew territory at about fifteen millions of acres; assuming, with these writers, that the true boundaries of the Promised Land were, Mount Libanus on the north, the Wilderness of Arabia on the south, and the Syrian Desert on the east. On the west some of the tribes extended their possessions to the very waters of the Great Sea, though on other parts they found their boundary restricted by the lands of the Philistines, whose rich domains comprehended the low lands and strong cities which stretched along the shore. It has been calculated by Spanheim, that the remotest points of the Holy Land, as possessed by King David, were situated at the distance of three degrees of latitude, and as many degrees of longitude, including in all about twenty-six thousand square miles.
If this computation be correct, there was in the possession of the Hebrew chiefs land sufficient to allow to every Israelite capable of bearing arms a lot of about twenty acres; reserving for public uses, as also for the cities of the Levites, about one-tenth of the whole. It is probable, however, that if we make a suitable allowance for lakes, mountains, and unproductive tracts of ground, the portion to every householder would not be so large as the estimate now stated. But within the limits of one-half of this quantity of land there were ample means for plenty and frugal enjoyment. The Roman people under Romulus and long after could afford only two acres to every legionary soldier; and in the most flourishing days of the commonwealth the allowance did not exceed four. Hence the _quatuor jugera_, or four acres, is an expression which proverbially indicated plebeian affluence and contentment,–a full remuneration for the toils of war, and a sufficient inducement at all times to take up arms in defence of the republic.
The territory of the Hebrews was ordered to be equally divided among their tribes and families according to their respective numbers; and the persons selected to superintend this national work were Eleazar, the high-priest, Joshua, who acted in the character of judge, and the twelve princes or heads of Israel. The rule which they followed is expressed in these words,–“And ye shall divide the land by lot, for an inheritance among your families; and to the more ye shall give the more inheritance; and to the fewer ye shall give the less inheritance: every man’s inheritance shall be in the place where his lot falleth; according to the tribes of your fathers ye shall inherit.”
Every tribe was thus put in possession of a separate district or province, in which all the occupiers of the land were not only Israelites, but more particularly sprung from the same stock, and descendants of the same patriarch. The several families, again, were placed in the same neighbourhood, receiving their inheritance in the same part or subdivision of the tribe; or, to use the language of Lowman, each tribe may be said to have lived together in one and the same country, and each family in one and the same hundred; so that every neighbourhood were relations to each other and of the same families, as well as inhabitants of the same place.
To secure the permanence and independence of every separate tribe, a law was enacted by the authority of Heaven, providing that the landed property of every Israelite should be unalienable. Whatever encumbrances might befall the owner of a field, and whatever might be the obligations under which he placed himself to his creditor, he was released from all claims at the year of jubilee. “Ye shall hallow,” said the inspired legislator, “the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof. It shall be a jubilee unto you, and ye shall return every man to his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family. And the land shall not be sold for ever; for the land is mine, saith the Lord; for ye are strangers and sojourners with me.”
The attentive reader of the Mosaical law will observe, that though a Hebrew could not divest himself of his land in perpetuity, he could dispose of it so far as to put another person in possession of it during a certain number of years; reserving to himself and his relations the right of redeeming it, should they ever possess the means; and having at all events the sure prospect of a reversion at the period of the jubilee. In the eye of the lawgiver this transaction was not regarded as a sale of the land, but merely of the crops for a stated number of seasons. It might indeed have been considered simply as a lease, had not the owner, as well as his nearest kinsman, enjoyed the privilege of resuming occupation whenever they could repay the sum for which the temporary use of the land had been purchased.
The houses which were built in fields or villages were, in regard to the principle of alienation, placed on the same footing as the lands themselves; being redeemable at all times, and destined to return to their original owners in the year of jubilee. But, on the contrary, houses in cities and large towns were, when sold, redeemable only during one year; after which the sale was held binding forever. There was indeed an exception in this case in favour of the Levites, who could at any time redeem “the houses of the cities of their possession,” and who, moreover, enjoyed the full advantage of the fiftieth year.
The Hebrews, like most other nations in a similar state of society, held their lands on the condition of military service. The grounds of exemption allowed by Moses prove clearly that every man of competent age was bound to bear arms in defence of his country,–a conclusion which is at once strikingly illustrated and confirmed by the conduct of the Senate or Heads of Tribes, in the melancholy war undertaken by them against the children of Benjamin. Upon a muster of the confederated army at Mizpeh, it was discovered that no man had been sent from Jabesh-gilead to join the camp; whereupon it was immediately resolved that twelve thousand soldiers should be despatched to put all the inhabitants of that town to military execution. And the congregation commanded them, saying, Go and smite Jabesh-gilead with the edge of the sword, with the women and children; and the only reason assigned for this severe order was, that “when the people were numbered, there were none of the men of Jabesh-gilead there.”
The reader will now be prepared to accompany us while we make a few remarks on the civil constitution of the Hebrews, both as it respected the government of the several tribes viewed as separate bodies, and as it applied to that of the whole nation as a confederated republic.
The tribes of Israel, strictly speaking, amounted only to twelve, descended from the twelve sons of Jacob. But as the posterity of Joseph was divided into two tribes, it follows that the host which entered the land of Canaan under Joshua comprehended thirteen of these distinct genealogies. Viewed in reference to merely secular rights and duties, however, the offspring of Levi having no part nor lot with their brethren, are not usually reckoned in the number; while on other grounds, and chiefly an invincible propensity to idolatrous usages, the tribe of Dan at a later period was sometimes excluded from the list. In the twenty-sixth chapter of the book of Numbers, we have an account of the enrolment which was made on the plains of Moab; from which the numerical strength of the eleven secular tribes may be exhibited as follows:–
Joseph (including Ephraim and Manasseh) 85,200 Judah 76,500
This catalogue comprehended all the men above twenty years of age, to which may be added 23,000 of the tribe of Levi, “all males from a month old and upward: for they were not numbered among the children of Israel, because there was no inheritance given them among the children of Israel.” The whole amounted to six hundred and six thousand seven hundred.
In every tribe there was a chief called the Prince of the Tribe, or the Head of Thousands; and under him were the Princes of Families, or Commanders of Hundreds. For example, we find that at the muster which was made of the Hebrews in the Wilderness of Sinai, Nahshon, the son of Amminadab, was Prince of the Tribe of Judah. This tribe, again, like all the others, was divided into several families; the term being used here not in its ordinary acceptation, to signify a mere household, but rather in the heraldic sense, to denote a lineage or kindred descended from a common ancestor, and constituting the main branches of an original stock. In this respect the Israelites were guided by the same principle which regulates precedency among the Arabs, as well as among our own countrymen in the Highlands of Scotland.
It appears, moreover, that a record of these families, of the households in each, and even of the individuals belonging to every household, was placed in the hands of the chief ruler; for it is related that, on the suspicion excited with regard to the spoils of Jericho and the discomfiture at Ai, “Joshua brought Israel by their tribes, and the tribe of Judah was taken; and he brought the family of Judah, and he took the family of the Zarhites; and he brought the family of the Zarhites man by man, and Zabdi was taken; and he brought his household man by man, and Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, was taken.”
We may collect from the twenty-sixth chapter of the book of Numbers, that the Heads of Families, at the time the children of Israel encamped on the eastern bank of the Jordan, were in number fifty-seven. If to these we add the thirteen Princes, the Heads of tribes, the sum of the two numbers will be seventy; whence there is some ground for the conjectures of those who allege, that the council which Moses formed in the Wilderness consisted of the patriarchal chiefs, who in right of birth were recognized as bearing an hereditary rule over the several sections of the people.
It is probable that the first-born of the senior family of each tribe was usually received as the prince of that tribe, and that the eldest son of every subordinate family succeeded his father in the honours and duties which belonged to the rank of a patriarch. But the sacred narrative presents too few details to permit us to form with confidence any general conclusions in regard to this point. The case of Nahshon, besides, has been viewed as an instance quite irreconcilable with such an opinion; and it certainly seems to prove, that if the Prince of the Tribe was not elective, he was not always, at least, the direct descendant of the original chief. Nahshon, as has just been stated, was the son of Amminadab, the son of Ram, who was a younger son of Hezron the son of Pharez who was a younger son of Judah.
From the particulars now stated, we find that every tribe had a head who presided over its affairs, administered justice in all ordinary cases, and led the troops in time of war. He was assisted in these important duties by the subordinate officers, the Chiefs of Families, who formed his council in such matters of policy as affected their particular district, supported his decisions in civil or criminal inquiries, and finally commanded under him in the field of battle.
But the polity established by the Jewish lawgiver was not confined to the constitution and government of the separate tribes. It likewise extended its regulations to the common welfare of the whole, as one kingdom under the special direction of Jehovah; and provided that on all great occasions they should have the means of readily uniting their counsels and their strength. Even during the less orderly period which immediately followed the settlement of the Hebrews in the land of their inheritance, we find traces of such a general government; a national senate, whose deliberations guided the administration of affairs in all cases of difficulty or hazard; a judge, who was invested with a high degree of executive authority as the first magistrate of the commonwealth; and lastly, the controlling voice of the congregation of Israel, whose concurrence appears to have been at all times necessary to give vigour and effect to the resolutions of their leaders. To these constituent parts of the Hebrew government we may add the Oracle or voice of Jehovah, without whose sanction, as revealed by Urim and Thummim, no measure of importance could be adopted either by the council or by the judge.
It has been justly remarked, at the same time, that however extensive the power might be which was committed to the supreme court of the nation, and how much soever the authority of a military judge among the Israelites resembled that of a Roman dictator, the privilege of making laws was at no period intrusted to any order of the Jewish state. As long as the Hebrews were governed by a theocracy, this essential prerogative was retained by the Divine Head of the nation. “Now therefore hearken, O Israel, unto the statutes, and unto the judgments, which I teach you, for to do them, that ye may live, and go in and possess the land which the Lord God of your fathers giveth you. Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish aught from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.”
It is the opinion of learned men, that the Council of Seventy, established by Moses in the Wilderness, was only a temporary appointment, and did not continue after the Hebrews were settled in the Land of Canaan. The only national assembly of which we can discover any trace subsequently to that event, is the occasional meeting of the Princes of Tribes and Chiefs of Families to transact business of great public importance. Thus, in the case of the war against Benjamin, of which we have a full account in the book of Judges, we are informed that the heads “of all the tribes, even of all the tribes of Israel, presented themselves in the assembly of the people of God.” On that memorable occasion, the interests and character of the whole Hebrew commonwealth were at stake; for which reason the natural leaders of the tribes gathered themselves together at the head of their kinsmen and followers,–even four hundred thousand men that drew the sword,–in order to consult with one another, and to adopt such measures as might be deemed most suitable for punishing the atrocities which had been committed at Gibeah.
During the period to which this part of our narrative refers, the supreme power among the Hebrews was occasionally exercised by judges,–an order of magistrates to which nothing similar is to be found in any other country. The Carthaginians, indeed, had a description of rulers, whose names, being derived from the same oriental term, appear to establish some resemblance in their office to that of the successors of Joshua. But it will be found upon a comparison of their authority, both in its origin and the purposes to which it was meant to be subservient, that the Hebrew judges and the suffites of Carthage had very little in common. Nor do we find any closer analogy in the duties of a Grecian archon or of a Roman consul. These were ordinary magistrates, and periodically elected; whereas the judge was never invested with power except when the exigencies of public affairs required the aid of extraordinary talents or the weight of a supernatural appointment. On this account the Hebrew commander has been likened to the Roman dictator, who, when the commonwealth was in danger, was intrusted with an authority almost unlimited; and with a jurisdiction which extended to the lives and fortunes of nearly all his countrymen. But in one important particular this similarity fails. The dictator laid down his office as soon as the crisis which called for its exercise had passed away; and in no circumstances was he entitled to retain such unwonted supremacy beyond a limited time. The judge, on the other hand, remained invested with his high authority during the full period of his life, and is therefore usually described by the sacred historian as presiding to the end of his days over the tribes of Israel, amid the peace and security which his military skill, aided by the blessing of Heaven, had restored to their land.
The Hebrew judges, says Dupin, were not ordinary magistrates, but men raised up by God, on whom the Israelites bestowed the chief government, either because they had delivered them from the oppressions under which they groaned, or because of their prudence and equity. They ruled according to the law of Jehovah, commanded their armies, made treaties with the neighbouring princes, declared war and peace, and administered justice. They were different from kings,–
1. In that they were not established either by election or succession, but elevated to power in an extraordinary manner.
2. In that they refused to take upon them the title and quality of king.
3. In that they levied no taxes upon the people for the maintenance of government.
4. In their manner of living, which was very far from the pomp and ostentation of the regal state.
5. In that they could make no new laws, but governed according to the statutes contained in the Books of Moses.
6. In that the obedience paid to them by the people was voluntary and unforced, being at most no more than consuls and magistrates of free cities.
But it is less difficult to determine what the judges were not than to ascertain with precision the various parts of their complicated office. In war, they led the host of Israel to meet their enemies; and in peace, it is probable they presided in such courts of judicature as might be found necessary for deciding upon intricate points of law, or for hearing appeals from inferior tribunals. Those who went up to Deborah for judgment had, we may presume, brought their causes in the first instance before the judges of their respective cities; and it was only, perhaps, in cases where greater knowledge and a higher authority were required to give satisfaction to the litigants that the chief magistrate of the republic, aided by certain members of the priesthood, was called upon to pronounce a final decision.
It belongs to this part of the subject to mention the provision made by Moses, and established by Joshua, for the due administration of justice throughout the land. “Judges and officers,” said the former, “shalt thou make thee in all thy gates which the Lord thy God giveth thee; and they shall judge the people with just judgment. Thou shalt not wrest judgment; thou shalt not respect persons, neither take a gift; for a gift doth blind the eyes of the wise and pervert the words of the righteous.” To the same purpose Josephus relates, in his account of the last address delivered by Moses to the Hebrew people, that this great legislator gave instructions to appoint seven judges in every city, men who had distinguished themselves by their good conduct and impartial feelings. Let those who judge, he adds, be permitted to determine according as they shall think right, unless any one can show that they have taken bribes to the perversion of justice, or can allege any other accusation against them.
Between the “judges” and the “officers” nominated by the Jewish lawgiver there was no doubt a marked distinction; though from the remote antiquity of the appointment and the obscure commentaries of the rabbinical writers it has become extremely difficult to define the limits of their respective functions. Maimonides asserts, that in every city where the number of householders amounted to a hundred and twenty there was a court consisting of twenty-three judges, who were empowered to determine in almost all cases both civil and criminal. This is unquestionably the same institution which is mentioned by Josephus in the fourth book of his Antiquities, and described by him as being composed of seven judges and fourteen subordinate officers, or assistants, selected from among the Levites; for these, with the president and his deputy, make up the sum of twenty-three specified by the Jewish writers. In smaller towns, the administration of law was intrusted to three judges, whose authority extended to the determination of all questions respecting debt, theft, rights of inheritance, restitution, and compensation. Though they could not inflict capital punishments, they had power to visit minor offences with scourging and fines, according to the nature of the delinquency and the amount of the injury sustained.
Of the former of these judicial establishments, there were two fixed at Jerusalem even during the period that the Sanhedrim of Seventy was invested with the supreme authority over the lives and fortunes of their countrymen, one of which sat in the gate of Shusan, and the other in that of Nicanor. The place where these judges held their audience was, as Cardinal Fleury remarks, the gate of the city; for as the Israelites were all husbandmen who went out in the morning to their work, and did not return till the evening, the gate of the city was the place where the most frequently met; and we must not be astonished to find that the people laboured in the fields and dwelt in the towns. These were not cities like our provincial capitals, which can hardly subsist on what is supplied to them by twenty or thirty leagues of the surrounding soil. They were the habitations for as many labourers as were necessary to cultivate the nearest fields; hence, as the country was very populous, the towns were very thickly scattered. For a similar reason among the Greeks and Romans, the scene of meeting for all matters of business was the market-place, or forum, because they were all merchants. Among the Jews, the judges took their seats immediately after morning prayers, and continued till the end of the sixth hour, or twelve o’clock; and their authority, though not in capital cases, continued to be respected by the Israelites long after Jerusalem was levelled with the ground.
With the aid of the particulars stated above, the reader mad have been enabled to form some notion of the civil and political circumstances of the ancient Hebrews. They enjoyed the utmost degree of freedom that was consistent with the objects of regular society, acknowledging no authority but that of the laws as administered by the elders of their tribes and the heads of their families. The equality of their property, too, and the sameness of their occupations, precluded the rise of those distinctions in social life which, whatever may be their use in older nations, are opposed by all the habits of a people whose sole cares are yet devoted to the culture of their fields and the safety of their flocks. The form of government which suits best with such a distribution of wealth and employment is unquestionably that which was established by Moses on the basis of the ancient patriarchal rule. But it is worthy of notice, that this model, so convenient in the earliest stage of social existence, was imperceptibly changed by the increasing power and intelligence of the people at large, until, as happened towards the close of Samuel’s administration, the public voice made itself be heard recommending an entire departure from obsolete notions. They glorified in the progress of the human race, that the simple authority of the family-chief passes through a species of oligarchy into a practical democracy, and ends at no very distant period in the nomination of an hereditary sovereign.
The epoch at which we now contemplate the Hebrew community is that very interesting one when the wandering shepherd settles down into the stationary husbandman. The progeny of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who themselves were pastoral chiefs, appear to have retained a decided predilection for that ancient mode of life. Moses, even after he had brought the twelve tribes within sight of the promised land, found it necessary to indulge the families of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh so far as to give them the choice of a settlement beyond the Jordan, where they might devote themselves to the keeping of cattle. From the conduct also of the other tribes, who showed no small reluctance to divide the land and enter upon their several inheritances, it has been concluded, with considerable probability, that they too would have preferred the erratic habits of their ancestors to the more restricted pursuits which their great law-giver had prepared for them amid cornfields, vineyards, and plantations of olives. “And Joshua said unto the children of Israel, How long are ye slack to go to possess the land which the Lord God of your fathers hath given you?”
Among the Arabs, even at the present day, the pastoral life is accounted more noble than that which leads to a residence in towns, or even in villages. They think it, as Arvieux remarks, more congenial to liberty; because the man who with his herds ranges the desert at large will be far less likely to submit to oppression than people with houses and lands. This mode of thinking is of great antiquity in the eastern parts of the world. Diodorus Siculus, when speaking of the Nabathaeans, relates, that they were by their laws prohibited from sowing, planting, drinking wine, and building houses; every violation of the precept being punishable with death. The reason assigned for this very singular rule is, their belief that those who possess such things will be easily brought into subjection by a tyrant; on which account they continue, says the historian, to traverse the desert, feeding their flocks, which consist partly of camels and partly of sheep.
The fact now stated receives a remarkable confirmation from the notice contained in the book of Jeremiah respecting the Rechabites, who, though they had for several ages been removed from Arabia into Palestine, persevered in a sacred obedience to the command of their ancestor, refusing to build houses, sow land, plant vineyards, or drink wine, but resolving to dwell in tents throughout all their generations.
In regard to these points, the Hebrews, in the early age at which we are now considering them, appear to have entertained sentiments not very different from those of the Arabs, from whose sandy plains they had just emerged. The life of a migratory shepherd, too, has a very close alliance with the habits of a freebooter; and the attentive reader of the ancient history of the Israelites will recollect many instances wherein the descendants of Isaac gave ample proof of their relationship to the posterity of Ishmael. The character of Abimelech, the son of Gideon, for example, cannot be viewed in any other light than that of a captain of marauders. The men of Shechem, whom he had hired to follow him, refused not to obey his commands, even when he added murder to robbery. Jephthah, in like manner, when he was thrust out by his brethren, became the chief of a band of freebooters in the land of Tob. “And there were gathered vain men to Jephthah, and went out with him.” But the elders of Gilead did not on that account regard their brave countryman as less worthy to assume the direction of their affairs, and to be head over all the inhabitants of their land,–an honour which he even hesitated to accept when compared with the rank and emolument of the less orderly situation which they requested him to relinquish.
Nor did David himself think it unsuitable to his high prospects to have recourse for a time to a predatory life. When compelled to flee from the presence of Saul, he took refuge in the cave of Adullam; “and every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented gathered themselves unto him, and he became a captain over them.” It has been suggested, indeed, that the son of the Bethlehemite employed his arms against such persons only as were enemies to the Hebrews. But there is no good ground for this distinction. His conduct to Nabal, whose possessions were in Carmel, proves, that when his camp was destitute of provisions he deemed it no violation of honour to force a supply for the wants of his men, even from the stores of a friendly house. We may judge, moreover, of the character of his followers, as well from the remonstrance that was made by the parsimonious rustic to whom he sent them, as from the effect which a refusal produced upon their ardent tempers. “Who is David? and who is the son of Jesse? There be many servants now-a-days that break away every man from his master. Shall I then take my bread, and my water, and my flesh that I have killed for my shearers, and give it unto men whom I know not whence they be?–So David’s young men turned their way, and went again, and told him all those sayings. And David said unto his men, Gird ye on every man his sword. And they girded on every man his sword, and David also girded on his sword: and there went after David about four hundred men, and two hundred abode by the stuff.”
It is manifest, that in the simple condition of society to which our attention is now directed, the profession of a freebooter was not in any sense accounted dishonourable. The courage and dexterity which such a life requires stand high in the estimation of tribes who are almost constantly in a state of war; and hence, in reading the history of the ancient Israelites, we must form an opinion of their manners and principles, not according to the maxims of an enlightened age, but agreeably to the habits, pursuits, and mental cultivation which belonged to their own times.
It is farther worthy of remark, that during the period of the Hebrew judges there is not the slightest trace of those distinctions of rank which spring from mere wealth, office, or profession. From the princes of Judah down to the meanest family in Benjamin, all were agriculturists or shepherds, driving their own oxen, or attending in person to their sheep and their goats. The hospitable Ephraimite, who received into his house at Gibeah the Levite and his unfortunate companion, is described as “an old man coming from his work out of the field at even.” Gideon, again, was thrashing his corn with his own hands when the angel announced to him that he was selected by Divine Providence to be the deliverer of his people. Boaz was attending his reapers in the field when his benevolence was awakened in favour of Ruth, the widow of his kinsman. When Saul received the news of the danger which threatened the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead, he was in the act of “coming after the herd out of the field.” Sovereign as he was, he thought it not inconsistent with his rank to drive a yoke of oxen. Every one knows that David was employed in keeping the sheep when he was summoned into the presence of Samuel to be anointed king over Israel; and even when he was upon the throne, and had by his talents and bravery extended at once the power and the reputation of his countrymen among the neighbouring nations, the annual occupation of sheep-shearing called his sons and his daughters into the hill country to take their share in its toils and amusements. In point of blood and ancestry, too, every descendant of Jacob was held on the same footing; and the only ground of pre-eminence which one man could claim over another was connected with old age, wisdom, strength, or courage,–the qualities most respected in the original forms of civilized life.
We have been the more careful to collect these fragments of personal history, because it is chiefly from them that the few rays of light are reflected which illustrate the state of society at the era of the Hebrew commonwealth. That the times in which the judges ruled were barbarous and unsettled is rendered manifest, not less by the general tenor of events, than by the qualities which predominated in the public mind during the long period that elapsed between the death of Joshua and the reign of Solomon. These notices also convey to us some degree of information, in regard to the political relations which subsisted among the Syrian tribes prior to the commencement of the regal government at Jerusalem. The wars which were carried on at that remote epoch seem not to have been waged with any view to permanent conquest, or even to territorial aggrandizement, but merely to revenge an insult, to exact a ransom, or to abstract slaves and cattle. The history of the judges supplies no facts which would lead us to infer that during any of tie servitudes, which for their repeated transgressions were inflicted on the Hebrews, their lands were taken from them, or their cities destroyed by their conquerors. It was not till a later age that a more systematic plan of conquest was formed by the powerful princes who governed beyond the Euphrates and on the banks of the Nile, and who, not content with the uncertain submission of tributaries, resolved to reduce the Israelites for ever to the condition of subjects or of bondmen.
The account which has been given of the political constitution of the ancient Jews would not be complete were we to omit all notice of the tribe of Levi, the duties and revenues of which were fixed by peculiar laws. It may, perhaps, be thought by some readers, that this institution rested on a basis altogether spiritual; but, upon suitable inquiry, it will be found that the Levitical offices comprehended a great variety of avocations, much more closely connected with secular life than with the ministry of the tabernacle, or with the services which were due to the priesthood. This sacred tribe, indeed, supplied to the whole nation of the Israelites their judges, lawyers, scribes, teachers, and physicians; for Moses, in imitation of the Egyptians, in whose wisdom he was early and deeply instructed, had thought proper to make the learned professions hereditary in the several families of Levi’s descendants.
We find, in the first chapter of the book of Numbers, a command issued by the authority of Heaven to separate the tribe now mentioned from the rest of their brethren, and not to enrol them among those who were to engage in war. It was determined, on similar grounds, that the Levites were to have no inheritance in the land like the other tribes, but were to receive from their kinsmen, in name of maintenance, a tenth part of the gross produce of their fields and vineyards. The occupations for which they were set apart were altogether incompatible with the pursuits of agriculture or the feeding of cattle. It was deemed expedient, therefore, that they should be relieved from the cares and toil connected with the possession of territorial estates, and devote their whole attention to the service of the altar and the instruction of the people.
To effect these wise purposes, it was necessary that the members of this learned body should not be confined to one particular district, but that they should be distributed among all the other tribes, according to the extent of their several inheritances and the amount of their population. With this view the law provided that a certain number of cities should be set apart for them, together with such a portion of soil as might seem requisite for their comfort and more immediate wants. “Command the children of Israel, that they give unto the Levites, of the inheritance of their possession, cities to dwell in; and ye shall give unto the Levites suburbs for the cities round about them. And ye shall measure from without the city, on the east side, two thousand cubits, and on the south side two thousand cubits, and on the west side two thousand cubits, and on the north side two thousand cubits; and the city shall be in the midst: this shall be to them the suburbs of the cities. So all the cities which ye shall give to the Levites shall be forty and eight cities; them shall ye give with their suburbs.”
It was not till after the conquest and division of Canaan that the provisions of this enactment were practically fulfilled. When the other tribes were settled in their respective possessions, the children of Levi reminded Joshua of the arrangement made by his predecessor, and claimed cities to dwell in, and suburbs for their cattle. The justice of their appeal being admitted, the Levitical stations were distributed as follows,–
In the tribes of Judah, Simeon, and Benjamin 13 In Ephraim, Dan, and the half-tribe of Manasseh 10 In the other half-tribe of Manasseh, Issachar, Asher, and Naphtali 13
In Zebulun, Reuben, and Gad 12 —
Every reader of the Bible is aware, that six of these cities were invested with the special right of affording refuge and protection to a certain class of criminals. The Jewish doctors maintain that this privilege, somewhat limited, belonged to all the forty-eight; for, being sacred, no act of revenge or mortal retaliation was permitted to take place within their gates. Into the six cities of refuge, properly so called, the manslayer could demand admittance, whether the Levites were disposed to receive him or not; and on the same ground he was entitled to gratuitous lodging and maintenance, until his cause should be determined by competent judges. It is added, that they could exercise a discretionary power as to the reception of a homicide into any other of their cities, and even in respect to the hire which they might demand for the house used by him during temporary residence. But the institution of Moses, afterward completed by Joshua, affords no countenance to these rabbinical distinctions; and we have no reason whatever to believe that the benefit of asylum was granted to any Levitical town besides Hebron, Shechem, Ramoth, Bezer, Kedesh, and Golan.
As learning and the several professions connected with the knowledge of letters were confined almost exclusively the tribe of Levi, the distribution of its members throughout the whole of the Hebrew commonwealth was attended with many advantages. Every Levitical city became at once a school and a seat of justice. There the language, the traditions, the history, and the laws of their nation were the constant subjects of study, pursued with that zeal and earnestness which can only arise from the feeling of a sacred obligation, combined with the impulse of an ardent patriotism. Within their walls were deposited copies of their religious, moral, and civil institutions; which it was their duty not only to preserve, but to multiply. They kept, besides, the genealogies of the tribes; in which they marked the lineage of every family who could trace their descent to the father of the faithful. Being carefully instructed in the law, and possessed of the annals of their people from the earliest days, they were well qualified to supply the courts with magistrates and scribes, men who were fitted not only to administer justice, but also to frame a record of all their decisions. It is perfectly clear that, in the reign of David and of the succeeding kings, the judges and other legal officers were selected from among the Levites; there being in those days not fewer than six thousand of this learned body who held such appointments.
Michaelis represents the Levitical law among the Hebrews in the light of a literary noblesse; enjoying such a degree of wealth and consideration as to enable them to act as a counterpoise to the influence of the aristocracy; while, on the other hand they prevented the adoption of those hasty measures which were sometimes to be apprehended from the democratical nature of the general government. They were not merely a spiritual brotherhood, but professional members of all the different faculties; and by birth obliged to devote themselves to those branches of study, for the cultivation of which they were so liberally rewarded. Like the Egyptian priesthood, they occupied the whole field of literature and science; extending their inquiries to philosophy, theology, natural history, mathematics, jurisprudence, civil history, and even medicine. Perhaps, too, it was in imitation of the sages of the Nile that the Hebrews made these pursuits hereditary in a consecrated tribe; whence flowed this obvious advantage, that the sons of the Levites, from the very dawn of reason, were introduced to scientific researches, and favoured with a regulated system of tuition suited to the occupation in which their lives were to be spent. In short, the institution bears upon it all the marks of that wisdom for which the Mosaical economy is so remarkably distinguished, when viewed as the basis of a government at once civil, religious, and political.
The youngest reader of the Sacred Volume cannot fail to have perceived, that the character and government of the Hebrew judges withdraw the attention from the ordinary course of human events, and fix it on the marvellous or supernatural. These personages were raised up by the special providence of god, to discharge the duties of an office which the peculiar circumstances of a chosen people from time to time rendered necessary; and the various gifts with which they were endowed, as they constituted the main ground of vocation to their high employment, so were they suited to the difficulties that they had to overcome, and to the achievements they were called to perform. The sanctity of their manners did not, indeed, in all cases correspond to the dignity of their station; and the miracles which they wrought for the welfare of their country were not always accompanied with self-restraint and the due subordination of their passions. Their military exploits were worthy of the highest admiration; while, in some instances, their private conduct calls forth only our surprise and regret. For examples of heroism and bravery, we can with confidence point to Gideon, to Samson, and to Jephthah; but there is not in their character anything besides that a father could recommend to the imitation of his son, or that a lover of order and pureness of living would wish to see adopted in modern society. We observe, in the greater number of them, uncommon and even supernatural powers of body, as well as of mind, united with the gross manners and fierce passions of barbarians. We applaud their patriotism, admire their courage and talent to the field, and even share in the delight which accompanied their triumphs; yet, when we return to their dwellings, we dare not inspect too narrowly the usages of their domestic day, nor examine into the indulgences with which they sometimes thought proper to remunerate the ails and cares of their public life. Divine Wisdom, stooping to the imperfection of human nature, employed the instruments that were best fitted for the gracious ends which, by their means, were about to be accomplished; though it does not appear to have been intended that mankind should ever resort to the history of the Judges for lessons of decorum, humanity, or virtue.
_Historical Outline from the Accession of Saul to the Destruction of Jerusalem_.
Weakness of Republican Government; Jealousy of the several Tribes; Resolution to have a King; Rules for regal Government; Character of Saul; of David; Troubles of his Reign; Accession of Solomon; Erection of the Temple; Commerce; Murmurs of the People; Rehoboam; Division of the Tribes; Kings of Israel; Kingdom of Judah; Siege of Jerusalem; Captivity; Kings of Judah; Return from Babylon; Second Temple; Canon of Scripture; Struggles between Egypt and Syria; Conquest of Palestine by Antiochus; Persecution of Jews; Resistance by the Family of Maccabaeus; Victories of Judas; He courts the Alliance of the Romans; Succeeded by Jonathan; Origin of the Asmonean Princes; John Hyrcanus; Aristobulus; Alexander Jannaeus; Appeal to Pompey; Jerusalem taken by Romans; Herod created King by the Romans; He repairs to the Temple; Archelaus succeeds him, and Antipas is nominated to Galilee; Quirinius Prefect of Syria; Pontius Pilate; Elevation of Herod Agrippa; Disgrace of Herod Philip; Judea again a Province; Troubles; Accession of Young Agrippa; Felix; Festus; Floris; Command given to Vespasian; War; Siege of Jerusalem by Titus.
The weakness and jealousy which seem inseparable from a government comprehending a number of Independent states, had been deeply felt during the administration of Eli, and even under that of Samuel in his latter days. Established in different parts of the country, the several tribes were actuated by local interests and selfish views; those in the north, who were exempted from the hostile inroads of the hilistines and Ammonites, refusing to aid their brethren, the children of Simeon and Judah, whose territory was constantly exposed to the ravages of those warlike neighbours. In the time of the more recent judges, the federal union on which the Hebrew commonwealth was founded appeared practically dissolved. Nay, a spirit of rivalry and dissension occasionally manifested itself among the kindred communities of which it was composed;–Ephraim, stimulated by envy, vexed Judah, and Judah vexed Ephraim.
Meanwhile, several powerful kingdoms in the east, as well as the south, threatened the independence of the Twelve Tribes, especially those on the borders of the desert. Assyria had already turned her views towards the fertile lands which skirt the shores of the Mediterranean; and Egypt, in order to protect her rich valley from the aggressions of that rising monarchy, began to open her eyes to the expediency of securing the frontier towns in the nearest parts of Palestine. In a word, it was fast becoming manifest that the existence of the Hebrews, as a free and distinct people, could only be secured by reviving the union which had originally subsisted among their leading families, under a form that would combine their physical strength and patriotism in the support of a common cause. An aged priest, although he might with the utmost authority direct the solemnities of their national worship, and even administer the laws to which they were all bound to submit, could not command the secular obedience of rude clans, or, with any prospect of success, lead them to battle against an enemy practised in all the stratagems of war. The people, therefore, demanded the consent of Samuel to a change in the structure of their government, that they might have a king, not only to preside over their civil affairs, but also to go out before them and fight their battles.
The principal reason assigned by the elders of Israel for the innovation which they required at the hands of their ancient prophet was, that they might be “like all the nations;” evidently alluding to the advantages of monarchical power, when decisive measures become necessary to defend the interests of a state. It is remarkable that Moses had anticipated this natural result in the progress of society, and even laid down rules for the administration of the regal government. This wise legislator provided that the king of the Hebrews should not be a foreigner: lest he might be tempted to sacrifice the interest of his subjects to the policy of his native land, and perhaps to countenance the introduction of unauthorized rites into the worship of Jehovah. It was also stipulated that the sovereign of the chosen people should not multiply horses to himself, lest he should be carried by his ambition to make war in distant countries, and neglect the welfare of the sacred inheritance promised to the fathers of the Jewish nation.
The qualities which recommended Saul to the choice of Samuel and the approbation of the Tribes, leave no room for doubt that it was chiefly as a military leader that the son of Kish was raised to the throne. Nor was their expectation disappointed in the young Benjaminite, so far as courage and zeal were required in conducting the affairs of war. But the impetuosity of his character, and a certain indifference in regard to the claims of the national faith, paved the way for his downfall and the extinction of his family. The scene of Gilboa, which terminated the career of the first Hebrew monarch, exhibits a most affecting tragedy; in which the valour of a gallant chief, contrasted with his despair and sorrow, throws a deceitful lustre over an event which the reader feels that he ought to condemn.
David, to the skill of an experienced warrior, added a deep reverence for the institutions of his country and the forms of Divine worship; whence he procured the high distinction of being a man after God’s own heart. To this celebrated king was reserved the honour of taking from the Jebusites a strong fortress on the borders of Judah and Benjamin, and of laying the foundations of Jerusalem, viewed, at least, as the metropolis of Palestine and the seat of the Hebrew government. On Mount Zion he built a suburb of considerable beauty; and strength, which continued for many years to bear his name, and to reflect the magnificence of his genius. Not satisfied with this acquisition, he extended his arms on all sides, till the borders of his kingdom touched the western bank of the Euphrates and the neighbourhood of Damascus. He likewise defeated the Philistines, those restless enemies of the southern tribes, and added their dominions to the crown of Israel. The Moabites, who had provoked his resentment, were subjected to military execution, and deprived of a large portion of their land; an example of severity which, so far from intimidating the children of Ammon, only provoked them to try the fortune of war against the victorious monarch. David despatched an army under the command of the irascible Joab, who, after worsting them in the field, inflicted a tremendous chastisement upon the followers of Hanun, for having studiously insulted the ambassadors of his master.
But the splendour of this reign was afterward clouded by domestic guilt and treason; and the nation, which could now have defied the power of its bitterest enemies, was divided and rendered miserable by the foul passions that issued from the royal palace. Still, notwithstanding the rebellion of Absalom, and the defection of certain military leaders, David bequeathed to his successor a flourishing kingdom; rapidly advancing in the arts of civilized life, enjoying an advantageous commerce, the respect of neighbouring states, and a decided preponderance among the minor governments of Western Asia. His last years were spent in making preparations for the building of a temple at Jerusalem,–a work that he himself was not allowed to accomplish, because his hands were stained with blood, which, however justly shed, rendered them unfit for erecting an edifice to the God of mercy and peace.
The success which had attended the arms of his father rendered the accession of Solomon tranquil and secure, so far, at least, as we consider the designs of the surrounding nations. Accordingly; finding himself in possession of quiet as well as of an overflowing treasury, he proceeded to realize the pious intentions of David in regard to the house of God, and thereby to obey the last commands which had been imposed upon him before he had received the crown. The chief glory of Solomon’s administration identified with the erection of the Temple. Nor were the advantages arising from this great undertaking confined to the spiritual objects to which it was principally subservient On the contrary, the necessity of employing foreign artists, and of drawing part of his materials from a distance, suggested to the king the benefits of a regular trade; and as the plains of Syria produced more corn than the natives could consume, he supplied the merchants of Tyre and the adjoining ports with a valuable commodity, in return for the manufactured goods which his own subjects could not fabricate. It was in his reign that the Hebrews first became a commercial people; and although we must admit that considerable obscurity still hangs over the tracks of navigation which were pursued by the mariners of Solomon, there is no reason to doubt that his ships were to be seen on the Mediterranean, the Red Sea, and the Persian Gulf.
But the popularity of his government did not keep pace with the rapidity of his improvements or the magnificence of his works. Perhaps the vast extent of his undertakings may have led to unusual demands upon the industry of his people, and given occasion to those murmurs which could hardly be repressed even within the precincts of the court. Like his predecessor, too, he occasionally failed to illustrate, in his own conduct, the excellent precepts that he propounded for the direction of others; and towards the close of his life, particularly, the wisdom of