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Lecture 2: The Preparation of Christianity in Judaism

“WHEN the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son,” says Paul (Gal. iv. 4); and according to Mark (i. 15), Jesus Himself began His preaching with the words, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the Gospel.” The Gospel therefore entered into the world when the time of its preparation was fulfilled, when the world had become ripe for it. In these words it is already said that Christianity appeared not as an unmediated miracle, a deus ex machina without any connection with what preceded it, but that it was the ripe fruit of the historical development of humanity, and especially of the people of Israel. The Christian Church has also recognised this at all times. It rejected most decidedly as a dangerous error the opinion of a Marcion that Christianity is something entirely new, and standing in opposition to all that went before it; it has found everywhere in the writings and histories of the Old Covenant prophecies and types which have come to fulfilment in the history of Christ; and in this very connection between prophecy and fulfilment the Church has all along seen a main proof for the divine revelation of Christianity.

Certainly in this it was perfectly right. There can, in fact, be no better or more irrefutable proof for the divine necessity and truth of Christianity than the fact that it was the ripe fruit of the preceding history,—the goal to which the religious development of humanity in general, and of the people of Israel in particular, had striven from the beginning. But this deep truth has been again and again very imperfectly understood. Instead of finding a fulfilment of “prophecy” in the inner organic connection of Christianity with the whole development of the Old Testament religion, this was sought rather in a miraculous coincidence of individual points of the Gospel-history with individual predictions of the old seers; and still in the present day the “proof of prophecy,” thus understood, is a favourite weapon in the armoury of many apologists. Historical criticism has, however, proved long since the futility of this proof; it has shown that, of the so - called “Messianic prophecies” of the Old Testament, those which were thought to be really “Messianic”—i.e., in the sense of the Jewish idea of the Messiah—were not fulfilled in Jesus Christ, as He neither was nor would be a worldly king and hero; and, on the other hand, the passages to which New Testament narrations appear precisely to correspond did not refer to the future Messiah, but to relationships in the present of the prophet himself, or even in the past. I will only recall a few of the most striking instances. When it is said in Hosea, “Out of Egypt have I called My son,” the prophet in uttering these words did not think in the least of the future return of the Christ-Child from Egypt as Matthew relates it, but he thought of the past calling of the people of Israel out of Egyptian bondage. When it is said in Psalm ii., “Jehovah hath said unto me, Thou art My son; this day have I begotten thee,” the singer did not think at all of the future miraculous generation of the Messiah, but he thought of the installation of the Israelite king into his dignity, which had just then taken place, and by which he became the son—i.e., the protégé or ward—of Jehovah: the promise added in the same passage that he would break the heathen with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel, is anything but a prophecy of the meek and humble Saviour, Jesus Christ. When Isaiah (vii. 14 ff.) encouraged King Ahaz by pointing to the impending birth of a child which would be called Immanuel, because before the child would know to distinguish good and evil, the country would be already forsaken of the hostile kings of whom Ahaz stood in fear,—in these words he manifestly did not think of a miraculous birth of Christ, which was not to take place for centuries to come, but of an ordinary child which was to be born some time within the space of a year, and whose name should be a symbol for the favourable turn in the political condition of Judah which was impending within a few years. It was the Christian readers who first understood these and similar passages as Messianic prophecy, and it was out of this erroneous interpretation that the corresponding narratives of the Gospels first arose. But when the second Isaiah (chap. liii.) speaks of the servant of God whose suffering would be for the expiation of sins and for the salvation of many, we indeed find sure enough in the suffering of the Saviour a wonderful confirmation of these words, only we must not forget at the same time that the prophet in the suffering servant of God did not think of the Messiah coming centuries after, but of the pious sufferers of his own time and surroundings, in whom lie beheld the true kernel of the people of God, the bearer of their ideal future. We are therefore not to seek for a prophecy in the sense of a prediction of a divine future event even in Isaiah liii., but rather, as it must be admitted, a “prophecy” in the higher sense of the term, such as alone occurs in actual history—namely, the expression of an ideal truth which, just because it contains an eternal law of the order of the world, also finds ever new fulfilment at all times.

The fundamental error of the vulgar apologetics in its so-called proof from prophecy just lies in this, that it confounds the prophecy of the Biblical prophets with the soothsaying of the heathen oracles and the superstition of the multitude. To have destroyed this error, and brought the true knowlege of Biblical prophecy to light, is a merit of historical criticism for which those who truly honour the Biblical revelation cannot thank it enough. What was it, then, that distinguished the true prophets, the bearers of divine revelation, from the false soothsayers who gave out the dreams of their own heart as God's word? It was the consciousness of the holiness and righteousness of God and of His government of the world, that profoundly moral idealism, that voice of conscience, in which they recognised, and rightly recognised, the voice of God, the “Holy One of Israel.” Out of this consciousness, and impelled by this holy spirit, they proclaimed their, ideals of the future, which, for that very reason, were nothing else than the expression of the conviction, clothed in many respects by their time and circumstances, that the will of God is the moral ideal of the good, that this will of goodness is the law of the world's history, and that the fates of nations are conditioned by their bearing towards this moral purpose of God. On the other hand, the multitude of the people, together with their priests and false prophets, understood the relationship of Israel to its covenant-God Jehovah in quite the same manner as the heathen peoples thought of their relationship to their national Deities—namely, not as a relationship resting upon moral conditions, but as a natural relationship of mutual affinity and belonging, in virtue of which the people believed themselves assured of the unconditioned protection of their God, whatever might be the character of their moral circumstances. The whole activity of the Hebrew prophets bore upon the constant struggle of the moral ideal belief in God against the naturalism which gave out the dreams and wishes of the selfish heart as divine inspirations. Let us hear the prophets themselves on the point.

Micah mocks at the vulgar soothsayers (ii. 11): “If a man walk with the wind and lie falsely, saying, I will prophesy unto thee of wine and of strong drink; he shall even be a prophet of this people.” In chapter iii. 5, he announces to the prophets who made the people err, crying Peace! when their teeth have anything to bite, that the day shall be dark for them, and the sun shall go down over them, for there is no answer of God to them. “But truly,” continues Micah, “I am full of power by the Spirit of the Lord, and of judgment and of might, to declare unto Jacob his transgression, and to Israel his sin” (iii. 8). And Jeremiah (chapter vi. 13) laments that all, prophets and priests, are given to covetousness and deal falsely: “They have healed also the hurt of My people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace” (xxiii. 13, ff.) As the prophets of Samaria prophesied in Baal's name, and led Israel astray, so do also the prophets of Jerusalem! “They commit adultery, and walk in lies; they strengthen also the hands of evildoers, that none doth return from his wickedness. Hearken not unto the words of the prophets that prophesy unto you; they make you vain; they speak a vision of their own heart, and not out of the mouth of the Lord. And they say unto every one that walketh after the stubbornness of his own heart, No evil shall come upon you. For who hath stood in the counsel of the Lord? Who hath marked His word and heard it? Which think to cause My people to forget My name by their dreams,… and cause My people to err by their lies, and by their lightness; yet I sent them not… Therefore they shall not profit this people at all.” The multitude and their leaders desired in carnal security the “day of Jehovah,” of which they assumed as self-evident that it would be a day of judgment upon the enemies of Israel, and of triumph for the people of God; but Amos calls to them: “Shall not the day of the Lord be darkness, and not light? You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore will I punish you for all your iniquities. Seek good, and not evil, that ye may live; and so the Lord, the God of hosts, shall be with you, as ye have spoken. Hate the evil, and love the good, and establish judgment in the gate; it may be that the Lord God of hosts will be gracious unto the remnant of Joseph” (Amos iii. 2; v. 14, 20). Therefore it is just the election of Israel to be a special property of Jehovah, upon which the others supported their carnal trust in God and their dreams of sensuous prosperity, which became to the prophets rather a ground of the conviction that God will punish the transgressions of His people, and will manifest Himself in them above all others as the Holy God in judgment and righteousness (Isaiah v. 16), and that His pitying favour is only to be hoped for by a morally worthy people.

Through this knowledge of the moral nature and government of God, this revelation which had arisen in their heart and conscience, the Hebrew prophets became the creators of ethical Monotheism, the true Biblical religion, which came to its true fulfilment in Christianity. It was not without reason, therefore, that Renan could say that whoever would describe the origin of Christianity must go back to Isaiah. In this great prophet we already find drawn the two essential consequences that follow from knowledge of the spiritual moral nature of God—namely, that the right worship of God does not consist in ceremonies, but in moral conduct, and that the relationship of God to man must at last pass out of a nationally limited relation into a universal one. The saying already expressed before him by Hosea, that God does not wish sacrifice but mercy, was explicated by Isaiah with glowing eloquence. Instead of sacrifices and festivals, which Jehovah hates, Israel is to become pleasing to Him by putting away its evil works, by ceasing to do evil and learning to do well, by seeking judgment, by relieving the oppressed, by judging the fatherless and pleading for the widow (i. 16, 17). But Jeremiah makes Jehovah Himself say (vii. 22 f.), “For I spake not unto your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt-offerings or sacrifices: but this thing commanded I them, saying, Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be My people; and walk ye in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well unto you.” How would such an expression have been possible if the prophets had known the sacrificial cult not merely as a popular practice but as an institution founded by divine revelation, as it is represented in the priest's law-book of the Pentateuch? And how is it possibly to be explained that in their struggle against idolatry and image-worship they should never have appealed to the law of Moses if that law had been already existing and known for centuries? The whole activity of the prophets remains an inconceivable riddle so long as we see in them only the expounders and defenders of a lonb existing Mosaic law. Such were, in later times, the scribes of the Synagogue: the prophets, however, were no scribes, but men of religious genius, full of original inspiration, who drew from their own religious moral spontaneity the new ideas of God's moral nature and working, and of Israel's destination to be a holy people of God,—ideals which were afterwards fixed in several law-books, but which were at the same time in many respects narrowed and adulterated by compromises with the existing religion of the people.

The rise of the ethical Monotheism having thus proceeded from the practical ideal, it is further self-evident that it did not already exist at the beginning as a clear theoretical knowledge of the unity of God. True, this was undoubtedly included already as a logical consequence in the thought that God is one with the will of the good; but a long way still lay from this practical insight to the theoretical knowledge of that consequence. From the beginning the prophets also shared the belief of their people that Jehovah is the special national God of Israel; that He had chosen this people to be His own kingdom before all others, and had entered, into a covenant with them with mutual obligation, after the fashion of a marriage. Besides, to them too Canaan was still considered the dwelling-place of Jehovah and the Holy Land, outside of which every land is unclean; and in particular Zion, with the Temple, was the throne of God, from whence He made His voice sound forth, and to which the presence of His revelation (His “Name”) is bound, although the whole heaven cannot contain Him. But as regards the other nations, it is still said of them at the end of the time of the kings (Dent. iv. 19) that God has assigned them to the host of heaven as their special national Gods, while He reserved Israel to Himself as His own, “to be unto Him a people of inheritance.” The heathen Gods are not, therefore, denied existence, but they are subordinated as inferior Gods, or vassals, to Jehovah, the national God of Israel; and He is thought of consequently as the “God of Gods and Lord of Lords,” who excels all other Gods in power. Only He is the object of the worship of the pious Israelite; the heathen Gods have to him at most the negative significance of being enemies of his God and people. And, as the prophets knew the God of Israel not merely as the loftiest in power, but as the holy One, whose moral will even the fates of the nations must serve, there arose from this of itself the hope—as it is expressed by Isaiah and Micah —that even the heathen nations will yet in time come to know Jehovah in common with Israel, and to worship Him upon His holy hill, Zion. This may be called practical Monotheism, in so far as in it the existence of the other Gods, while indeed still theoretically assumed, has nevertheless already lost all significance for the religious consciousness of the Hebrew prophets. It is, however, noteworthy that even the prophets, although they strove to rise above the particularism of the popular religion, yet never wholly succeeded in passing beyond it. For even in their ideals of the future, Israel still always plays the central part, as in a unique way the centre of the divine care—as it were the kernel, the original people of the kingdom of God, to which the other peoples were only to be attached as serving vassals. Such a cleaving to the national particularism would be inconceivable if the Monotheism of the prophets had been a product of theoretical speculation, as in the pagan philosophers; but it becomes quite conceivable under the presupposition that the prophets started from the national Henotheism of Israel, and came through moral purification of the idea of God and moral teleological contemplation of history to their practical Monotheism.

The further development of the religion of Israel was accomplished under the schooling of the affliction of its political misfortunes on two sides — namely, as progress in the individualising, and at the same time in the universalising of the religious consciousness. In face of the inevitable destruction of state and city, Jeremiah's view rose to a vision of salvation in the future time of the new Covenant, when Jehovah would write His law in men's hearts, when every man should teach no more his neighbour, but all from the least unto the greatest should know God as the merciful One who would forgive their iniquity, remember their sin no more, and love Israel with everlasting love (xxxi. 32, ff.); and Ezekiel comforted the exiles by prophecy of the time when God would gather the dispersed out of all countries, and would give to them, brought into their own land, a new heart and a new spirit, putting His own spirit within them, and causing them to walk in His statutes, and to keep His judgments (xxxvi. 26). Whence came this sublime idea of religion becoming a personal thing of the heart in individuals ? The prophets can only have drawn this ideal of the new covenant in the future, of the religion of the spirit, out of their own souls. The more lonely and the less understood they were themselves in the midst of a dull unbelieving and superstitious generation, so much the more did they become accustomed to seek and to find the support of their faith in the voice of God within their own breast. From the struggles and afflictions of the external world they fled for refuge into the inner sanctuary of personal communion with God, and what they experienced here of comfort, power, and elevation, became to them the type and pledge of a future universal redemption, when the spirit of God, who now rested only upon them as yet, and the word of God, which was now only put in their mouth as yet, would have become the common good of all, and would no longer depart from their children's children for ever (Isaiah lix. 21). When religion is thus carried back to its deepest centre, to the fellowship of man in his heart with God, the separating limits of the national cults fall away as meaningless; the most inward experience of what is purely human can no longer be a privilege of one people above the others—it must become a thing of the whole of mankind. Thus the extension of the religious relationship of all peoples, as we find it prophesied with magnificent boldness, not indeed in Jeremiah and Ezekiel, but certainly in the second Isaiah, was the necessary consequence of the individual consciousness of the religious relationship as it grew out of the personal experiences of the great prophets in the time of the Exile. Nevertheless, we find these two tendencies, in which the religious development moved on from Judaism to Christianity, nowhere afterwards so closely combined again as in the unnamed prophet of the Babylonian Exile, whom we are wont to designate as the Babylonian or second Isaiah. The universalistic side of his prophecy later withdrew into the background behind a narrow-hearted Jewish particularism, although it was indeed justified by the stress of the times. On the other hand, the individual inwardness of the prophetic piety found its manifold and multiplied echo in the Psalms, those products of the Synagogue after the Exile which bear witness of what vigorous religious life had preserved and developed itself in the last centuries before Christ, even under the rigid forms of Jewish legalism.

It is true that, in certain respects, the legal religion of the Synagogue after the Exile shows a retrogression from the lofty idealism of the prophets. The distance of their ideals from the religious moral reality and power of comprehension in the multitude of the people was too great for these ideals to have been capable of being realised immediately, or even as rapidly as the prophets themselves hoped. Between promise and fulfilment the law must intervene, as the strict schoolmaster of the immature, till the time of freedom in Christ was come, as Paul has clearly recognised in his profound philosophy of history. If the spirit of the prophetic religion, its ethical Monotheism, was to become the fixed inalienable possession of a whole community of people, it was necessary that it should embody itself in the sensible forms of a positive law regulating the whole life. For the first time this took place in the law-book published under Josiah, which has been preserved to us in Deuteronomy. This remarkable work, which arose under the immediate influence of prophetism (perhaps under that of Jeremiah), is, however, not a law-book proper, but a text-book for the people, a “catechism of religion and morality from the school of the prophets,” as it has been strikingly called (Reuss). As love to God with the whole heart as the principle and kernel of all piety is put over the whole (Deut. vi. 4 f.), so likewise does the moral predominate throughout in detail over the ritual. The civil laws are distinguished by a truly humane spirit. Beneficence, mildness, justice, honesty, and other social virtues, upon which the wellbeing of society rests, are brought home to the understanding and conscience as the content of the divine will, which comes to man not as arbitrary statute, but finds a natural response in his own moral consciousness. “For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it” (Deut. xxx. 11-14). On the other hand, an entirely different position appears in the priestly law-book, which was published and brought into vogue two centuries later by the priestly scribe Ezra, who also took part in its composition, and which forms the main contents of the four first books of the Pentateuch. Here the religion of the prophets is narrowed and petrified in ceremonial Ritualism and priestly Hierarchism. To the priestly law, cleanness of skin and of vessels is more important than the cleanness of heart which the prophets demanded; to it, expiations by lustration and sacrifice are more important than the atonement of repentance and conversion. The moral act of blotting out guilt as a process in the heart is turned into an external ceremonial act, whose sacramental power rests partly upon the correct performance of the prescribed forms, and partly upon the higher consecration of the officiating priests. These now obtained the exclusive right to enter the sanctuary and offer the sacrifices; they became the official mediators between God and the community, expounders and executors of His will, whose sacramental performance effects the purity of the community, and guarantees the grace of God.

It is clear that this Jewish religion of law founded by Ezra stands far behind the ideal of the prophetic piety and morality. It happened here as is usual in all great reforms, especially religious reforms. In order to introduce the ideal into the reality of the life of the people, a compromise had necessarily to be entered into with the traditional national religion, that worship of the “weak and beggarly elements” (as Paul designated the ceremonial law), and with this much of its purity naturally was lost. If the fundamental thought of the prophets, the worship of Jehovah as the only true God, had indeed attained in the Jewish community since the Exile to full and no longer disputed victory, yet this victory was purchased by such weighty concessions to the religious naturalism that one might almost raise the question whether in this course of things in Judaism the spirit of the prophets does not appear as the conquered rather than as the conqueror. So much at all events is certain, that those violent protests against the seeming piety of the ceremonies, as we find them so numerously in the prophets, are not to be found again, or at least are only found in rare and deeply faded copies, in the whole time from the Exile down to Jesus, the fulfiller of prophecy. This was the wholly natural consequence of the fact that the priestly law-book had put the sacrificial and Temple worship under the ægis of the old venerable revelation of Moses—a fiction of which a Jeremiah has as yet no presentiment, according to chap. vii. 22 f. Thereby the ceremonialism was combined in such solidarity with the belief in Jehovah that it became very difficult for the pious members of the community, and already a rare degree of insight and courage in the cause of truth was required to exercise upon it such a free criticism as the prophets had done, and as, later, Jesus did again. It is therefore not to be denied that the priestly legislation of Israel laid the basis for that “service of the letter,” that carnal trust in the value of external exercises, that subtle casuistry which makes the little great and the great little, that proud exclusivism and contempt of everything not Judaic, which were the conspicuous features of the Pharisaic Judaism in the time of Jesus and Paul.

Nevertheless, it would be a great error to suppose that the period of Judaism founded by Ezra was only a time of the petrifying and degeneracy of the prophetic religion. Under the lignified bark there still always circulated the sap and the power of true belief in God, which concealed in its germ a future rich in development. While in Jerusalem indeed, as the city of priests and Levites, the sensuous pomp of the Temple and sacrificial worship, in which the prophets had had so little delight, continued to go on with universal satisfaction, there arose at the same time in the Synagogues a new spiritual form of worship, in which we recognise the type and the germ of the Christian Church. Here the place of sacrifices and priests was taken by the public reading and edifying explanation of the law of the prophets, in which every Israelite according to his capabilities could take part as a hearer or speaker. In these assemblies, in which all other interests, and especially political interests, completely receded behind the earnest contemplation of the Sacred Scriptures and the consideration of the highest questions of human life which sought their solution from these Scriptures, religion became purely as such a personal concern of the individual. The individual religious feeling and thinking, which in earlier times had been proper only to the most eminent men of God, became universalised through the Synagogue. Thus, under the protection of the legal institutions of Judaism, the soil was already quietly prepared for the religion of the worship of God in spirit and in truth.

Out of the worship of the synagogue there sprang two new forms of religious literature, both of which became as significant as the law and the prophets for the final development of the religion of Judaism and of humanity, although they have never been equalised in value with these two by the Jewish theology—I mean the Psalms, and the didactic writings, which may be designated as the Jewish moral philosophy and philosophy of religion. The Psalms sprang, as is self-evident, not from King David, whose historical character had not the slightest in common with the pious singer of the Jewish legend—that is to say, of the Chronicles. Rather are they for the most part a product of the religious mood which was awakened and nourished by the Synagogue, and thus they also served the purpose of edifying the community in the worship of the Synagogue. The religious and poetic value of these songs is indeed very different, but of the majority of them it may certainly be said that a deep piety, nourished on the faith in God of the prophets, has given itself a purely human expression in them, which for that very reason has so powerfully and sympathetically laid hold of the feeling even of Christendom at all times. What gives the Psalms, even more than the prophets, their value as classical devotional writings for all times and peoples is just the withdrawal, and partly the total absence, of the national theocratic point of view: cares about the fates of peoples and the future ideals of universal history lay far from the Psalm-poet of the Persian and Greek age; to him the place of the secular state was taken indeed by the religious community. This was certainly a one-sidedness, a narrowing of the spiritual horizon, but it was also the condition of an unparalleled religious concentration. Turned away from the variegated play of the world, the pious man now remained alone with his God, and out of the depths of the soul, which became tremblingly aware of the distance from its holy ideal, there arose a wrestling and struggling, a longing and hoping, of a newer and higher kind, with deeper pains, and more blissful refreshment, than the world of external appearance had ever known. Was not this already a Christianity before Christ? The prayer of the Psalmist (lxxiii.)—“Lord, if I have only Thee, there is none in heaven or earth that I desire beside Thee. My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever”—does it not breathe an idealism before which we Christians may well feel ashamed? True indeed! Only we ought not at the same time to forget the reverse side. Out of the sanctuary of this mysticism, as alienated from the world, no path led to human society: the soul, immersed in the seeking and finding of its God, and forgetting heaven and earth in its doing so, may attain the highest for itself, yet for the world it remains unfruitful; its struggles and victories remain its own experience, but do not become the common good of humanity; its lamentation and exultation remain a solitary monologue, and find no echo in the chorus of the pious community. Hence the piety of the Psalms could indeed prepare many hearts for the glad tidings of the coming of the kingdom of God, but it could not bring these tidings themselves; their deep inwardness lacked practical energy, it wanted the social initiative of the prophets. It was not until the spirit of the prophets awoke anew and united itself with the inward heart-religion of the Psalms, that the time was fulfilled for the Gospel of the coming of the kingdom.

Contemporaneously with the poetry of the Psalms arose that didactic literature of Judaism which is comprehended under the name of the “Books of Wisdom” (moral and religious philosophy). What distinguishes these writings from the Psalms and prophets is the absence of religious warmth and enthusiasm. There reigns in them a cold intellectual reflection, which not seldom shows a touch of scepticism. The idea of God now became indeed purer, but also more abstract, than in the prophets. Anthropomorphisms are avoided, and where they are found in the Sacred Scripture they are interpreted in another manner by the scribes; but at the same time God is put into an abstract remoteness away above the world, so that there opens up a gulf between Him and mankind which cannot be filled. There is found little in the Wisdom-Books of an experience of His living revelation, such as meets us everywhere in the prophets and Psalms. In the theology of the Synagogue the law, the holy Thora, stepped more and more into the place of God. The law appears as the true absolute, as the power that governs the world, and as the final end of all existence, which even God Himself, as its executing instrument, has to serve. We meet not seldom in the history of religion with this absorption and substitution of the living revelation of God by a dead writing, but it is always the sign that the spirit which makes alive has passed away from a Church or a theology. With the Deistic severance of God from the world in the Jewish theology there is further connected, as coherent with it, the striving to fill up the gulf by intermediate beings. Hence the Angels now obtained an important part in the government of the world, of which the prophets had yet known nothing. Besides, such abstract conceptions as “Word of God,” “Wisdom of God,” which in earlier times had been only personified occasionally in poetical metaphor, were now begun to be represented as independent beings, mediators, and instruments of the divine working. In Proverbs (viii. 22 ff.) Wisdom is introduced discoursing. She says of herself that God had prepared her as the beginning of His creating before all His works, that when He settled the heavens and the earth she had been at His side as artist, had played at all times before Him, and had had her delights with the sons of men. If it is already difficult here to think of a mere improper personification, this becomes completely impossible in the “Book of the Wisdom of Solomon,” which was written by an Alexandrian Jew of the century before Christ. Here (vii. 22 ff.) Wisdom is described as the “maker of all things,” in whom there is a holy all-knowing, all-powerful, fine pure spirit that penetrates all and orders all. It is called “a breath of the power of God, an emanation of His glory, a gleam of the eternal light, a mirror of the activity and an image of the goodness of God. Itself unchanged, it renews all things, and, passing from generation to generation into holy souls, it prepares friends of God and prophets.” This passage is worthy of notice in a twofold respect: first, because it enables us distinctly to recognise the influence of the Stoic philosophy, which describes the Logos indwelling in the world with exactly the same predicates, as a principle at once spiritual and also half-material; and secondly, because it has been employed by the Epistle to the Hebrews, which (i. 3) describes with the same predicates the divine nature of Christ as mediating the creation and preservation of the world. In this Alexandrian Book of Wisdom we therefore see the Jewish theology combining with the Greek philosophy, and out of this mixture we see that Hellenic speculation proceeding which became of such far - reaching significance for the development of Christian dogma. The Logos doctrine of the Alexandrian Philo, to which the Gospel of John attaches, is only a further carrying out of the same Jewish-Greek philosophy of religion, the beginnings of which are presented in the Book of the Wisdom of Solomon. As the prophets and Psalms prepared the religious substance of the Christian revelation, the Jewish theology and Alexandrian philosophy of religion prepared the dogmatic forms in which that substance was to be stamped and coined in due time.

A main theme of all religious reflection in the age from the Exile down to Christ turned upon the question of the Theodicy—namely, how the ill fortune of the pious man and the good fortune of the godless man are to be harmonised with the world-government of the just God. This question had as yet given little concern to the older Hebraism, because it did not yet reflect specially upon the fates of individuals, who appeared in the solidarity, of their unity with the whole to share only its weal and woe; but in the faring of the people as a whole it was not difficult to find the ruling of the divine justice. It became otherwise from the time when the religious and moral consciousness had begun to individualise itself, when the pious individual felt himself standing in a personal relationship to God, and when the conscience, become conscious of itself, recognised more deeply the self-responsibility of every individual for his own conduct, and consequently also raised the intransferableness of guilt and desert from one person to another to the position of a postulate. This individual accountability we find for the first time decidedly expressed in Jeremiah: in the future time of salvation, as he hopes (xxxi.29 f.), “They shall say no more, The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children's teeth are set on edge,” but every one shall die for his own transgression. And Ezekiel has again taken up this thought, and carried it out in greater detail: “The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him” (xviii. 20 ff.) Certainly a principle of incontestable truth in the sphere of the civil order and law; but if a demand on the divine government of the world is founded on it, there cannot fail to arise personal conflicts between this ideal postulate and the facts of real experience. This contradiction of reality and the postulate of just individual retribution was the difficult riddle, the solution of which was attempted for centuries by the religious thinking of Judaism. The most magnificent endeavour to solve this question was made by the unknown author of the Book of Job, which certainly belongs to the time after the Exile. He represents the pious Job as fallen into grievous misfortune; and then his friends come with their customary attempts at explanation. They assume that all suffering is a just retribution for the sins of the sufferer, and consequently he who has severe suffering must also have peculiarly heavy guilt; and hence they suggest that in the case of Job, too, hidden guilt was the ground of his suffering. But Job protests against this with the full confidence of the good conscience which is conscious of no grievous guilt, and he obtains the satisfaction that God Himself takes his side and rejects the suspicions of the friends. Thereby the customary explanation of the sufferings of the just is refuted, but the author has not succeeded in putting a more satisfying explanation in its place. The poetical close of his didactic poem comes to this, that the ways of God are unfathomable, and resignation is the only thing which is becoming to weak man. The narrative conclusion, however, represents Job as having at last obtained compensation for all his losses, and the sufferings he has borne are made up for by redoubled prosperity. With this result the author falls back again upon the old standpoint of the common doctrine of retribution, the contradiction of which with everyday experience evokes the problem of a Theodicy. He therefore gives in the closing narrative an only apparent solution, which, however, in truth only pushes the problem back and disguises it, while in the poetical conclusion he directly renounces any solution.

The theory of retribution is also elsewhere in the Psalms and Wisdom - Books often replaced by the deeper view that the suffering of the just man is destined to try and to purify his virtue. But along with this it is always maintained that the disciplinary suffering will yet take a happy issue before the end of the earthly life, and that the probation that has been undergone is rewarded by so much the greater happiness. Thus the Psalmist says (cxviii. 16 ff.): “The right hand of the Lord is exalted: the right hand of the Lord doeth valiantly. I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord. The Lord hath chastened me sore; but He hath not given me over unto death.” And in the Book of Tobias it is said (iii. 22): “Whoever serves God is comforted after the trial, and redeemed from affliction, and after the chastisement he finds grace.” But what if this expectation never arrives? If experience shows that misfortune many a time follows the just man till his death, and that good fortune remains faithful to the godless man up to the last? Is one then to comfort one's self mayhap by holding with Jesus Sirach (xi. 26 ff.) that it is easy for God to reward a man according to his conduct even on the day of his death; that one bad hour makes any one forget the prosperity of life, and, as at the end of the man's life his deeds are discovered, we are therefore not to judge any one to be happy before his death? Such a far-sought ground of consolation will hardly suffice to carry the doubter over the disharmony between moral postulate and reality. It is easy to understand that out of such reflections, especially when influences of Greek philosophy came in to join them, there arose that pessimistic scepticism which we meet in Ecclesiastes. Here the idealism of the religion of the prophets has sunk to the freezing-point. What is worthy of note is not that the author does not know an ideal beyond the present world — for neither had the prophets any such ideal — but it is that he knows no ideal at all, no universal ends of abiding value which give the life of the individual content and significance. Like the Epicureans, he estimates the world from the standpoint of individual Eudæmonism, and on it he naturally finds that “all is vanity,” because all have one and the same fate, the just and the wicked, the good and pure as well as the impure and sinful—nay, at last the man as well as the beast (ix. 2 f.; iii. 19). This pessimism was then, as it is again to-day, the quite natural result of a view of the world which knows nothing higher than the satisfaction of the selfish desire of happiness in the individual. If this view had spread more widely, as could not have been avoided in connection with the advancing Hellenising of the Jews under the Syrian rule, neither could the belief in God, to which the author of Ecclesiastes still held, successfully resist the universal scepticism; for a belief in God which is only the postulate of the natural desire of happiness has too weak a foundation for it to hold out permanently in the conflict with reality and to survive the disappointments of experience.

That this threatening issue of the religion of Israel was averted, that the inheritance of the prophets was preserved to the Jewish people and to humanity—for this the involuntary instrument in the hand of Providence was the arrogance of King Antiochus Epiphanes, who, by his attempt at violent suppression of the Jewish religion, awakened the national and religious feelings of the ill-used Jews out of their slumber. In the heroic rising of the wars of the Maccabees the Jews saved their religion, and even won their political freedom once again for a short time. From this uprising of the national consciousness proceeded that later blossoming of prophetism which it is customary to designate as “Apocalyptic.” Its first and most significant work is the Book of Daniel, whose content forms a philosophy of history from the Jewish theocratic standpoint, which is put into the mouth of a legendary saint of the earlier time in the form of a vision. Founding on the prophecy of the prophet Jeremiah of the seventy years of the period of probation, the Apocalyptist makes out of these seventy years seventy weeks of years, and represents their redemptive turning-point to be immediately at hand, even in his own day, in the time of the Maccabean war. He sees in the Macedonian monarchy the last of the four heathen empires advancing to its end, following immediately upon which the eternal government of the world by the “Saints”—that is, the Jews—is to begin, and the history of the world is to find its close. With this, the hope of a future time of salvation for the Jewish people, the “Messianic prophecy” which had long withdrawn into the background, was again brought to the front, but at the same time heightened and intensified in the direction of the supernatural, the miraculous, and the world to come. This new turn of the Jewish hope of the future, which was extremely significant for the whole further religious history, shows itself above all in the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, of some to eternal life and of others to eternal horror, which appears for the first time in Daniel (xii. 2 f.; xiii.) The attempt has been made to carry back the origin of this doctrine to Parseeism, the influence of which in the Book of Daniel can certainly not be mistaken. But Renan rightly remarks—

“The belief in the resurrection arises so logically out of the development of the Jewish ideas, that it is quite superfluous to seek a foreign origin for it. The martyr was the true creator of the belief in a second life; only in reference to the martyrs did Daniel recognise the necessity of the resurrection. The date of this belief may therefore be exactly determined. Jesus Sirach's son, who wrote a few years before the crisis evoked by Antiochus, had still had no idea of it. One cannot form too high an idea of the fruitfulness of those melancholy times when Antiochus played by anticipation the part of Nero, and even while persecuting religion, confirmed and sealed it. Nothing arises otherwise than through crises; it is only under the pressure of necessity that that is developed which was formerly latent and potential. Messianism, Apocalypticism, hitherto kept back in its development, now enters with gigantic steps into the field. Christianity, in particular, has its foundation here.”1

The Apocalypse of Daniel also became the standard for the future idea of the person and descent of the Messiah. In a vision of the night Daniel sees a form “as of a Son of Man,” being brought upon the clouds of heaven before God, in order to receive dominion and a kingdom that was to last for ever, that all peoples and nations and tongues might serve Him (vii. 13 f.) As this same dominion and power over all kingdoms under heaven is afterwards given to the people of the Saints—i.e., to the Jewish people (vii. 27)—it has been supposed that the heavenly form of a Son of Man was to be the personification of the Jewish people, which, besides, would not exclude from the Apocalyptic mode of representation the view that He was thought of at the same time as a real being of a superterrestrial kind, like the guardian angels or genii of the other peoples (x. 13 ff.) However that may be, at all events this vision in Daniel of the heavenly Son of Man had been early interpreted as referring to the Messiah, and it gave occasion to the view that ascribed to the Messiah a supernatural origin from a heavenly pre-existence, which, although not universally received, was yet held in circles with definite Apocalyptic ideas (Enoch, for example)—a representation which became of the greatest importance for the Christian belief in the Messiah Jesus.

Generally speaking, the significance of the national religious rising of the Maccabees lay in this, that it gave the impulse to the revival of the old prophetic ideal of a coming kingdom of God, of righteousness and happiness, which would have its centre in the Jewish people, and rule from it also over the other peoples. This idea continued from that time in the religious consciousness of Judaism to be the stirring ferment out of which proceeded not only the purest enthusiasm but also the darkest fanaticism, according as the spiritual kernel or the worldly shell of that idea was the deciding element. The bearers of the Messianic hope were pre-eminently the Pharisees—that puritanical theocratic national party, who had already under the Syrian dominion formed the very soul of the resistance to the threatening Hellenising of the people, who had followed the Maccabean hero to conflict and victory, but had then turned away distrustfully and defiantly from the princes of that race as soon as their politics no longer corresponded to their principles of zeal for the law and enmity to the heathen. The Pharisees were not hypocrites in the common sense of the term: they were in full earnest with their zealous piety, yet they had “a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge,” as Paul judged; they held convulsively to the letter of the law, and in doing so forgot its spirit; they made the little great and the great little, they asked for miracles and signs, expected catastrophes from heaven, and at the same time overlooked the signs of the time, the prognostications of a new spirit which was already silently active, and was pressing on to a crisis. Hence Jesus called them “blind leaders of the blind,” who led their people religiously and politically astray, and on to destruction. But the Sadducees, the opponents of the Pharisees, were not one whit better. This priestly aristocracy wanted heart for the people and for what moved their souls, for their faith and hope. Their accommodation to foreigners sprang not merely from political prudence, but also from a sympathy with heathen culture, which appeared to the rigid Jew as a falling away from the faith of the fathers, and their emancipation from the petty scholastic casuistry often degenerated into a libertinism which set itself above all morality with a frivolousness which was doubly offensive in those who held the holy priestly office.

Along with the parties of the Pharisees and Sadducees stood the sect of the Essenes, holding a position apart, and organised into a regular order. We possess no very reliable information concerning their origin. In particular, opinions are still always divided as to whether this sect had a purely Jewish character, and are explicable from a rigoristic striving after purity and from an aversion to the world arising from weariness of life; or whether they are to be explained from Grecian influences, and were an imitation of the Neo-Pythagorean brotherhood. However that may be, thus much is at all events certain, that the Essenes, by their indifference to the Jewish Temple worship, by their rigidly ascetic principles, by the value they laid upon the passive virtues of humility, sufficiency, patience, and mercy, and by their interest in the spiritual world, come into near contact with Christianity. But the Gospel which subdued the world did not proceed from this circle of a paltry, narrow, and world-alienated piety, but out of a soul that was free from the compulsion of forms, and strong in the impulse of love—the soul of Jesus of Nazareth.

  • 1. Histoire du peuple d'Israel, t. iv., 1893, p.325 f.