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Chapter V. The Jewish Community In The Time Of The Chronicler.
We have already referred to the light thrown by Chronicles on this subject. Besides the direct information given in Ezra and Nehemiah, and sometimes in Chronicles itself, the chronicler by describing the past in terms of the present often unconsciously helps us to reconstruct the picture of his own day. We shall have to make occasional reference to the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, but the age of the chronicler is later than the events which they describe, and we shall be traversing different ground from that covered by the volume of the “Expositor's Bible” which deals with them.
Chronicles is full of evidence that the civil and ecclesiastical system of the Pentateuch had become fully established long before the chronicler wrote. Its gradual origin had been forgotten, and it was assumed that the Law in its final and complete form had been known and observed from the time of David onwards. At every stage of the history Levites are introduced, occupying the subordinate position and discharging the menial duties assigned to them by the latest documents of the Pentateuch. In other matters small and 93 great, especially those concerning the Temple and its sanctity, the chronicler shows himself so familiar with the Law that he could not imagine Israel without it. Picture the life of Judah as we find it in 2 Kings and the prophecies of the eighth century, put this picture side by side with another of the Judaism of the New Testament, and remember that Chronicles is about a century nearer to the latter than to the former. It is not difficult to trace the effect of this absorption in the system of the Pentateuch. The community in and about Jerusalem had become a Church, and was in possession of a Bible. But the hardening, despiritualising processes which created later Judaism were already at work. A building, a system of ritual, and a set of officials were coming to be regarded as the essential elements of the Church. The Bible was important partly because it dealt with these essential elements, partly because it provided a series of regulations about washings and meats, and thus enabled the layman to exalt his everyday life into a round of ceremonial observances. The habit of using the Pentateuch chiefly as a handbook of external and technical ritual seriously influenced the current interpretation of the Bible. It naturally led to a hard literalism and a disingenuous exegesis. This interest in externals is patent enough in the chronicler, and the tendencies of Biblical exegesis are illustrated by his use of Samuel and Kings. On the other hand, we must allow for great development of this process in the interval between Chronicles and the New Testament. The evils of later Judaism were yet far from mature, and religious life and thought in Palestine were still much more elastic than they became later on.
We have also to remember that at this period the 94 zealous observers of the Law can only have formed a portion of the community, corresponding roughly to the regular attendants at public worship in a Christian country. Beyond and beneath the pious legalists were “the people of the land,” those who were too careless or too busy to attend to ceremonial; but for both classes the popular and prominent ideal of religion was made up of a magnificent building, a dignified and wealthy clergy, and an elaborate ritual, alike for great public functions and for the minutiæ of daily life.
Besides all these the Jewish community had its sacred writings. As one of the ministers of the Temple, and, moreover, both a student of the national literature and himself an author, the chronicler represents the best literary knowledge of contemporary Palestinian Judaism; and his somewhat mechanical methods of composition make it easy for us to discern his indebtedness to older writers. We turn his pages with interest to learn what books were known and read by the most cultured Jews of his time. First and foremost, and overshadowing all the rest, there appears the Pentateuch. Then there is the whole array of earlier Historical Books: Joshua, Ruth, Samuel, and Kings. The plan of Chronicles excludes a direct use of Judges, but it must have been well known to our author. His appreciation of the Psalms is shown by his inserting in his history of David a cento of passages from Psalms xcvi., cv., and cvi.; on the other hand, Psalm xviii. and other lyrics given in the books of Samuel are omitted by the chronicler. The later Exilic Psalms were more to his taste than ancient hymns, and he unconsciously carries back into the history of the monarchy the poetry as well as the ritual of later times. Both omissions and insertions indicate that in 95 this period the Jews possessed and prized a large collection of psalms.
There are also traces of the Prophets. Hanani the seer in his address to Asa9999 2 Chron. xvi. 9. quotes Zech. iv. 10: “The eyes of the Lord, which run to and fro through the whole earth.” Jehoshaphat's exhortation to his people, “Believe in the Lord your God; so shall ye be established,”100100 2 Chron. xx. 20. is based on Isa. vii. 9: “If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established.” Hezekiah's words to the Levites, “Our fathers ... have turned away their faces from the habitation of the Lord, and turned their backs,”101101 2 Chron. xxix. 6. are a significant variation of Jer. ii. 27: “They have turned their back unto Me, and not their face.” The Temple is substituted for Jehovah.
There are of course references to Isaiah and Jeremiah and traces of other prophets; but when account is taken of them all, it is seen that the chronicler makes scanty use, on the whole, of the Prophetical Books. It is true that the idea of illustrating and supplementing information derived from annals by means of contemporary literature not in narrative form had not yet dawned upon historians; but if the chronicler had taken a tithe of the interest in the Prophets that he took in the Pentateuch and the Psalms, his work would show many more distinct marks of their influence.
An apocalypse like Daniel and works like Job, Proverbs, and the other books of Wisdom lay so far outside the plan and subject of Chronicles that we can scarcely consider the absence of any clear trace of them a proof that the chronicler did not either know them or care for them.
Our brief review suggests that the literary concern 96 of the chronicler and his circle was chiefly in the books most closely connected with the Temple; viz., the Historical Books, which contained its history, the Pentateuch, which prescribed its ritual, and the Psalms, which served as its liturgy. The Prophets occupy a secondary place, and Chronicles furnishes no clear evidence as to other Old Testament books.
We also find in Chronicles that the Hebrew language had degenerated from its ancient classical purity, and that Jewish writers had already come very much under the influence of Aramaic.
We may next consider the evidence supplied by the chronicler as to the elements and distribution of the Jewish community in his time. In Ezra and Nehemiah we find the returning exiles divided into the men of Judah, the men of Benjamin, and the priests, Levites, etc. In Ezra ii. we are told that in all there returned 42,360, with 7,337 slaves and 200 “singing men and singing women.” The priests numbered 4,289; there were 74 Levites, 128 singers of the children of Asaph, 139 porters, and 392 Nethinim and children of Solomon's servants. The singers, porters, Nethinim, and children of Solomon's servants are not reckoned among the Levites, and there is only one guild of singers: “the children of Asaph.” The Nethinim are still distinguished from the Levites in the list of those who returned with Ezra, and in various lists which occur in Nehemiah. We see from the Levitical genealogies and the Levites in 1 Chron. vi., ix., etc, that in the time of the chronicler these arrangements had been altered. There were now three guilds of singers, tracing their descent to Heman, Asaph, and Ethan102102 1 Chron. vi. 31-48, xv. 16-20; cf. psalm titles. or Jeduthun, and reckoned by descent among the Levites. 97 The guild of Heman seems to have been also known as “the sons of Korah.”103103 1 Chron. vi. 33, 37; cf. Psalm lxxxviii. (title). The porters and probably eventually the Nethinim were also reckoned among the Levites.104104 1 Chron. xvi. 38, 42.
We see therefore that in the interval between Nehemiah and the chronicler the inferior ranks of the Temple ministry had been reorganised, the musical staff had been enlarged and doubtless otherwise improved, and the singers, porters, Nethinim, and other Temple servants had been promoted to the position of Levites. Under the monarchy many of the Temple servants had been slaves of foreign birth; but now a sacred character was given to the humblest menial who shared in the work of the house of God. In after-times Herod the Great had a number of priests trained as masons, in order that no profane hand might take part in the building of his temple.
Some details have been preserved of the organisation of the Levites. We read how the porters were distributed among the different gates, and of Levites who were over the chambers and the treasuries, and of other Levites how—
“They lodged round about the house of God, because the charge was upon them, and to them pertained the opening thereof morning by morning.
“And certain of them had charge of the vessels of service; for by tale were they brought in, and by tale were they taken out.
“Some of them also were appointed over the furniture, and over all the vessels of the sanctuary, and over the fine flour, and the wine, and the oil, and the frankincense, and the spices.98
“And some of the sons of the priests prepared the confection of the spices.
“And Mattithiah, one of the Levites who was the first-born of Shallum the Korahite, had the set office over the things that were baked in pans.
This account is found in a chapter partly identical with Neh. xi., and apparently refers to the period of Nehemiah; but the picture in the latter part of the chapter was probably drawn by the chronicler from his own knowledge of Temple routine. So, too, in his graphic accounts of the sacrifices by Hezekiah and Josiah,106106 2 Chron. xxix.-xxxi.; xxxiv.; xxxv. we seem to have an eyewitness describing familiar scenes. Doubtless the chronicler himself had often been one of the Temple choir “when the burnt-offering began, and the song of Jehovah began also, together with the instruments of David, king of Israel; and all the congregation worshipped, and the singers sang, and the trumpeters sounded; and all this continued till the burnt-offering was finished.”107107 2 Chron. xxix. 27, 28. Still the scale of these sacrifices, the hundreds of oxen and thousands of sheep, may have been fixed to accord with the splendour of the ancient kings. Such profusion of victims probably represented rather the dreams than the realities of the chronicler's Temple.
Our author's strong feeling for his own Levitical order shows itself in his narrative of Hezekiah's great sacrifices. The victims were so numerous that there 99 were not priests enough to flay them; to meet the emergency the Levites were allowed on this one occasion to discharge a priestly function and to take an unusually conspicuous part in the national festival. In zeal they were even superior to the priests: “The Levites were more upright in heart to sanctify themselves than the priests.” Possibly here the chronicler is describing an incident which he could have paralleled from his own experience. The priests of his time may often have yielded to a natural temptation to shirk the laborious and disagreeable parts of their duty; they would catch at any plausible pretext to transfer their burdens to the Levites, which the latter would be eager to accept for the sake of a temporary accession of dignity. Learned Jews were always experts in the art of evading the most rigid and minute regulations of the Law. For instance, the period of service appointed for the Levites in the Pentateuch was from the age of thirty to that of fifty.108108 Num. iv. 3, 23, 35. But we gather from Ezra and Nehemiah that comparatively few Levites could be induced to throw in their lot with the returning exiles; there were not enough to perform the necessary duties. To make up for paucity of numbers, this period of service was increased; and they were required to serve from twenty years old and upward.109109 1 Chron. xxiii. 24, 27. Probably “twenty” should be read for “thirty” in ver. 3. As the former arrangement had formed part of the law attributed to Moses, in course of time the later innovation was supposed to have originated with David.
There were, too, other reasons for increasing the efficiency of the Levitical order by lengthening their 100 term of service and adding to their numbers. The establishment of the Pentateuch as the sacred code of Judaism imposed new duties on priests and Levites alike. The people needed teachers and interpreters of the numerous minute and complicated rules by which they were to govern their daily life. Judges were needed to apply the laws in civil and criminal cases. The Temple ministers were the natural authorities on the Torah; they had a chief interest in expounding and enforcing it. But in these matters also the priests seem to have left the new duties to the Levites. Apparently the first “scribes,” or professional students of the Law, were mainly Levites. There were priests among them, notably the great father of the order, “Ezra the priest the scribe,” but the priestly families took little share in this new work. The origin of the educational and judicial functions of the Levites had also come to be ascribed to the great kings of Judah. A Levitical scribe is mentioned in the time of David.110110 1 Chron. xxiv. 6. In the account of Josiah's reign we are expressly told that “of the Levites there were scribes, and officers, and porters”; and they are described as “the Levites that taught all Israel.”111111 2 Chron. xxxiv. 13; xxxv. 3. In the same context we have the traditional authority and justification for this new departure. One of the chief duties imposed upon the Levites by the Law was the care and carriage of the Tabernacle and its furniture during the wanderings in the wilderness. Josiah, however, bids the Levites “put the holy ark in the house which Solomon the son of David, king of Israel, did build; there shall no more be a burden upon your shoulders; now serve the Lord your God and His people Israel.”112112 2 Chron. xxxv. 3; cf. 1 Chron. xxiii 26. In other words, 101 “You are relieved of a large part of your old duties, and therefore have time to undertake new ones.” The immediate application of this principle seems to be that a section of the Levites should do all the menial work of the sacrifices, and so leave the priests, and singers, and porters free for their own special service; but the same argument would be found convenient and conclusive whenever the priests desired to impose any new functions on the Levites.
Still the task of expounding and enforcing the Law brought with it compensations in the shape of dignity, influence, and emolument; and the Levites would soon be reconciled to their work as scribes, and would discover with regret that they could not retain the exposition of the Law in their own hands. Traditions were cherished in certain Levitical families that their ancestors had been “officers and judges” under David113113 1 Chron. xxvi. 29.; and it was believed that Jehoshaphat had organised a commission largely composed of Levites to expound and administer the Law in country districts.114114 2 Chron. xvii. 7, 9. This commission consisted of five princes, nine Levites, and two priests; “and they taught in Judah, having the book of the law of the Lord with them; and they went about throughout all the cities of Judah and taught among the people.” As the subject of their teaching was the Pentateuch, their mission must have been rather judicial than religious. With regard to a later passage, it has been suggested that “probably it is the organisation of justice as existing in his own day that he” (the chronicler) “here carries back to Jehoshaphat, so that here most likely we have the oldest testimony to the synedrium of Jerusalem as a 102 court of highest instance over the provincial synedria, as also to its composition and presidency.”115115 Wellhausen, History of Israel, p. 191; cf. 2 Chron. xix. 4-11. We can scarcely doubt that the form the chronicler has given to the tradition is derived from the institutions of his own age, and that his friends the Levites were prominent among the doctors of the Law, and not only taught and judged in Jerusalem, but also visited the country districts.
It will appear from this brief survey that the Levites were very completely organised. There were not only the great classes, the scribes, officers, porters, singers, and the Levites proper, so to speak, who assisted the priests, but special families had been made responsible for details of service: “Mattithiah had the set office over the things that were baked in pans; and some of their brethren, of the sons of the Kohathites, were over the shewbread, to prepare it every sabbath.”116116 1 Chron. ix. 31, 32.
The priests were organised quite differently. The small number of Levites necessitated careful arrangements for using them to the best advantage; of priests there were enough and to spare. The four thousand two hundred and eighty-nine priests who returned with Zerubbabel were an extravagant and impossible allowance for a single temple, and we are told that the numbers increased largely as time went on. The problem was to devise some means by which all the priests should have some share in the honours and emoluments of the Temple, and its solution was found in the “courses.” The priests who returned with Zerubbabel are registered in four families: “the children of Jedaiah, of the house of Jeshua; ... the children of Immer; ... the children of Pashhur; ... the children 103 of Harim.”117117 Ezra ii. 36-39. But the organisation of the chronicler's time is, as usual, to be found among the arrangements ascribed to David, who is said to have divided the priests into their twenty-four courses.118118 1 Chron. xxiv. 1-19. Amongst the heads of the courses we find Jedaiah, Jeshua, Harim, and Immer, but not Pashhur. Post-Biblical authorities mention twenty-four courses in connection with the second Temple. Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, belonged to the course of Abijah119119 Luke i. 5.; and Josephus mentions a course “Eniakim.”120120 Bell. Jud., IV. iii. 8. Abijah was the head of one of David's courses; and Eniakim is almost certainly a corruption of Eliakim, of which name Jakim in Chronicles is a contraction.
These twenty-four courses discharged the priestly duties each in its turn. One was busy at the temple while the other twenty-three were at home, some perhaps living on the profits of their office, others at work on their farms. The high-priest, of course, was always at the Temple; and the continuity of the ritual would necessitate the appointment of other priests as a permanent staff. The high-priest and the staff, being always on the spot, would have great opportunities for improving their own position at the expense of the other members of the courses, who were only there occasionally for a short time. Accordingly we are told later on that a few families had appropriated nearly all the priestly emoluments.
Courses of the Levites are sometimes mentioned in connection with those of the priests, as if the Levites had an exactly similar organisation.121121 1 Chron. xxiv. 20-31; 2 Chron. xxxi. 2. Indeed, twenty-four courses of the singers are expressly named.122122 1 Chron. xxv. But 104 on examination we find that “course” for the Levites in all cases where exact information is given123123 1 Chron. xxvi.; Ezra vi. 18; Neh. xi. 36. does not mean one of a number of divisions which took work in turn, but a division to which a definite piece of work was assigned, e.g., the care of the shewbread or of one of the gates. The idea that in ancient times there were twenty-four alternating courses of Levites was not derived from the arrangements of the chronicler's age, but was an inference from the existence of priestly courses. According to the current interpretation of the older history, there must have been under the monarchy a very great many more Levites than priests, and any reasons that existed for organising twenty-four priestly courses would apply with equal force to the Levites. It is true that the names of twenty-four courses of singers are given, but in this list occurs the remarkable and impossible group of names already discussed:—
“I-have-magnified, I-have-exalted-help; Sitting-in-distress, I-have-spoken In-abundance Visions”124124 Recently a complaint was received at the General Post-office that some newspapers sent from France had failed to arrive. It was stated that the names of the papers were—Il me manque; Plusieurs; Journaux; i.e., I am short of “Several” “Papers.” which are in themselves sufficient proof that these twenty-four courses of singers did not exist in the time of the chronicler.
Thus the chronicler provides material for a fairly complete account of the service and ministers of the Temple; but his interest in other matters was less close and personal, so that he gives us comparatively little information about civil persons and affairs. The restored Jewish community was, of course, made up of descendants of the members of the old kingdom of 105 Judah. The new Jewish state, like the old, is often spoken of as “Judah”; but its claim to fully represent the chosen people of Jehovah is expressed by the frequent use of the name “Israel.” Yet within this new Judah the old tribes of Judah and Benjamin are still recognised. It is true that in the register of the first company of returning exiles the tribes are ignored, and we are not told which families belonged to Judah or which to Benjamin; but we are previously told that the chiefs of Judah and Benjamin rose up to return to Jerusalem. Part of this register arranges the companies according to the towns in which their ancestors had lived before the Captivity, and of these some belong to Judah and some to Benjamin. We also learn that the Jewish community included certain of the children of Ephraim and Manasseh.125125 1 Chron. ix. 3. There may also have been families from the other tribes; St. Luke, for instance, describes Anna as of the tribe of Asher.126126 Luke ii. 36. But the mass of genealogical matter relating to Judah and Benjamin far exceeds what is given as to the other tribes,127127 Levi of course excepted. and proves that Judah and Benjamin were co-ordinate members of the restored community, and that no other tribe contributed any appreciable contingent, except a few families from Ephraim and Manasseh. It has been suggested that the chronicler shows special interest in the tribes which had occupied Galilee—Asher, Naphtali, Zebulun, and Issachar—and that this special interest indicates that the settlement of Jews in Galilee had attained considerable dimensions at the time when he wrote. But this special interest is not very manifest; and later on, in the time of the 106 Maccabees, the Jews in Galilee were so few that Simon took them all away with him, together with their wives and their children and all that they had, and brought them into Judæa.
The genealogies seem to imply that no descendants of the Transjordanic tribes or of Simeon were found in Judah in the age of the chronicler.
Concerning the tribe of Judah, we have already noted that it included two families which traced their descent to Egyptian ancestors, and that the Kenizzite clans of Caleb and Jerahmeel had been entirely incorporated in Judah and formed the most important part of the tribe. A comparison of the parallel genealogies of the house of Caleb gives us important information as to the territory occupied by the Jews. In ii. 42-49 we find the Calebites at Hebron and other towns of the south country, in accordance with the older history; but in ii. 50-55 they occupy Bethlehem and Kirjath-jearim and other towns in the neighbourhood of Jerusalem. The two paragraphs are really giving their territory before and after the Exile; during the Captivity Southern Judah had been occupied by the Edomites. It is indeed stated in Neh. xi. 25-30 that the children of Judah dwelt in a number of towns scattered over the whole territory of the ancient tribe; but the list concludes with the significant sentence, “So they encamped from Beer-sheba unto the valley of Hinnom.” We are thus given to understand that the occupation was not permanent.
We have already noted that much of the space allotted to the genealogies of Judah is devoted to the house of David.128128 1 Chron. iii. The form of this pedigree for the 107 generations after the Captivity indicates that the head of the house of David was no longer the chief of the state. During the monarchy only the kings are given as heads of the family in each generation: “Solomon's son was Rehoboam, Abijah his son, Asa his son,” etc., etc.; but after the Captivity the first-born no longer occupied so unique a position. We have all the sons of each successive head of the family.
The genealogies of Judah include one or two references which throw a little light on the social organisation of the times. There were “families of scribes which dwelt at Jabez”129129 ii. 55. as well as the Levitical scribes. In the appendix130130 iv. 21-23. to the genealogies of chap. iv. we read of a house whose families wrought fine linen, and of other families who were porters to the king and lived on the royal estates. The immediate reference of these statements is clearly to the monarchy, and we are told that “the records are ancient”; but these ancient records were probably obtained by the chronicler from contemporary members of the families, who still pursued their hereditary calling.
As regards the tribe of Benjamin, we have seen that there was a family claiming descent from Saul.
The slight and meagre information given about Judah and Benjamin cannot accurately represent their importance as compared with the priests and Levites, but the general impression conveyed by the chronicler is confirmed by our other authorities. In his time the supreme interests of the Jews were religious. The one great institution was the Temple; the highest order was the priesthood. All Jews were in a measure servants of the Temple; Ephesus indeed was proud to be called 108 the temple-keeper of the great Diana, but Jerusalem was far more truly the temple-keeper of Jehovah. Devotion to the Temple gave to the Jews a unity which neither of the older Hebrew states had ever possessed. The kernel of this later Jewish territory seems to have been a comparatively small district of which Jerusalem was the centre. The inhabitants of this district carefully preserved the records of their family history, and loved to trace their descent to the ancient clans of Judah and Benjamin; but for practical purposes they were all Jews, without distinction of tribe. Even the ministry of the Temple had become more homogeneous; the non-Levitical descent of some classes of the Temple servants was first ignored and then forgotten, so that assistants at the sacrifices, singers, musicians, scribes, and porters, were all included in the tribe of Levi. The Temple conferred its own sanctity upon all its ministers.
In a previous chapter the Temple and its ministry were compared to a mediæval monastery or the establishment of a modern cathedral. In the same way Jerusalem might be compared to cities, like Ely or Canterbury, which exist mainly for the sake of their cathedrals, only both the sanctuary and city of the Jews came to be on a larger scale. Or, again, if the Temple be represented by the great abbey of St. Edmundsbury, Bury St. Edmunds itself might stand for Jerusalem, and the wide lands of the abbey for the surrounding districts, from which the Jewish priests derived their free-will offerings, and first-fruits, and tithes. Still in both these English instances there was a vigorous and independent secular life far beyond any that existed in Judæa.
A closer parallel to the temple on Zion is to be 109 found in the immense establishments of the Egyptian temples. It is true that these were numerous in Egypt, and the authority and influence of the priesthood were checked and controlled by the power of the kings; yet on the fall of the twentieth dynasty the high-priest of the great temple of Amen at Thebes succeeded in making himself king, and Egypt, like Judah, had its dynasty of priest-kings.
“Since the accession of the eighteenth dynasty, Amen has profited more than any other god, perhaps even more than Pharaoh himself, by the Egyptian victories over the peoples of Syria and Ethiopia. Each success has brought him a considerable share of the spoil collected upon the battle-fields, indemnities levied from the enemy, prisoners carried into slavery. He possesses lands and gardens by the hundred in Thebes and the rest of Egypt, fields and meadows, woods, hunting-grounds, and fisheries; he has colonies in Ethiopia or in the oases of the Libyan desert, and at the extremity of the land of Canaan there are cities under vassalage to him, for Pharaoh allows him to receive the tribute from them. The administration of these vast properties requires as many officials and departments as that of a kingdom. It includes innumerable bailiffs for the agriculture; overseers for the cattle and poultry; treasurers of twenty kinds for the gold, silver, and copper, the vases and valuable stuffs; foremen for the workshops and manufactures; engineers; architects; boatmen; a fleet and an army 110 which often fight by the side of Pharaoh's fleet and army. It is really a state within the state.”
Many of the details of this picture would not be true for the temple of Zion; but the Jews were even more devoted to Jehovah than the Thebans to Amen, and the administration of the Jewish temple was more than “a state within the state”: it was the state itself.111
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