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186

CHAPTER XVII.

THE GRADUAL GROWTH OF THE LEVITIC RITUAL.

1 Kings viii. 1-66.

"Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice."—1 Sam. xv. 22.

Before we enter on the subject of the Temple worship, it is necessary to emphasise a fact which will meet us again and again in many forms as we consider the history of the Chosen People: it is the amazing ignorance which seems to have prevailed among them for centuries as to the most central and decisive elements of nearly the whole of the Mosaic law as we now read it in the Pentateuch.

1. Take, for instance, the law of a central sanctuary. It is strongly laid down, and incessantly insisted on, throughout the Book of Deuteronomy.307307   See, especially, Deut. xii. 5-19. In the later Priestly Code the centralisation of worship is not inculcated, but supposed to be already established. In the original Book of the Covenant it is not required at all. Yet that law does not seem to have been so much as noticed by any of the earlier prophets or judges, or by Saul, or by David. The judges and early kings offer sacrifices at any place which they regard as sacred—Bochim, Ophrah, Mizpeh, Gilgal, Bethel, Bethlehem, etc.308308   Judg. ii. 5, vi. 24, viii. 27, xx. 1, xxi. 2, 4; 1 Sam. vii. 9, x. 8, xi. 15, xiii. 9, xvi. 5, etc. The rule of187 one place for sacrifice was not regarded for a moment by the kings of the Northern Kingdom. The transgression of it was not made a subject of complaint by Elijah, Elisha, or any of the earlier prophets. Not one of the kings, even of the most pious kings—Asa, Jehoshaphat, Joash, Amaziah, Uzziah, Jotham—rigidly enforced it until the reign of Josiah. The law seems to have remained an absolutely dead letter for hundreds of years. Now this would be amply accounted for if the Deuteronomic and Levitic Codes only belonged in reality to the days of Josiah and of the Exile; for in "the Book of the Covenant" (Exod. xxiv. 7), which is the most ancient part of these codes, and comprises Exod. xx.-xxviii. 33, and is briefly repeated in Exod. xxxiv. 10-28, there is not only no insistence on a central shrine, but many of the regulations would have been rendered impossible had such a shrine existed (e.g., Exod. xxi. 6, xxii. 7, 8, where "the judges" should be "God," as in the R.V.). Indeed, so far from insistence on one Temple, we expressly read (Exod. xx. 24), "An altar of earth shalt thou make Me, and shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt offerings and thy peace offerings, thy sheep and thine oxen, in all places where I record My name, and I will come unto thee and bless thee."

2. Again, the Book of Leviticus lays down a singularly developed code of ritual, "extending to the minutest details of worship and of life." Yet there is scarcely the shadow of a trace of the observance of even its most reiterated and important provisions during centuries of Israelitish history. It is emphatically a priestly book; yet from the days of David down to those of Josiah, the priests, with few exceptions, are almost ignored in the national records. They took the188 colour of their opinions from the reigning kings, even in matters which were contrary to the whole extent and spirit of the Mosaic Code. Samuel, who was not a priest, nor even a Levite, performed every function of a priest, and of a high priest, all his life long.

3. Again, as we have seen, in spite of the positive distinctness of the Second Commandment, not only is the "calf-worship" established, with scarcely a protest, throughout the Northern Kingdom; but Solomon even ventures, without question or reproof, to place twelve oxen under his brazen sea, and to adorn the steps of his throne with golden lions.

4. Again, no ceremony was more awful, or more strikingly symbolical, in the later religion of Israel, than that of the Great Day of Atonement. It was the only appointed fast in the Jewish year,309309   ἡ νηστεία (Acts xxvii. 9); Philo, Lib. de Septenariis. a day so sacred that it acquired the name of Yoma, "the Day." Yet the Day of Atonement, with its arresting ceremonies and intense significance, is not so much as once mentioned outside the Levitical Code by a single prophet, or priest, or king. It is not even mentioned—which is exceedingly strange—in the post-exilic Books of Chronicles. Between the Book of Leviticus (with its supposed date of 1491 b.c.), down to the days of Philo, Josephus, and the New Testament, there is not so much as a hint of the observance of this central ceremony of the whole Levitic law! What is more perplexing is, that, in the ideal legislation of Ezekiel, where alone anything distantly resembling the Day of Atonement is alluded to (Ezek. xlv. 18-20), the time, manner, and circumstances are as absolutely different as if Ezekiel had never read the Levitic law at all.189 How would any prophet have dared to ignore or alter, without a word of reference or apology, a rite of Divine origin and immemorial sanctity, if he had been aware of its existence?

5. Nor is this only the case with the Day of Atonement. It seems certain that at Jerusalem there was not for centuries anything distantly resembling the due Levitic observance of the three great yearly feasts. Nehemiah, for instance, tells us in so many words that since the days of Joshua the son of Nun down to b.c. 445—perhaps for a thousand years—the Feast of Tabernacles had never been observed in the most characteristic of all its appointed rites—the dwelling in booths.310310   Neh. viii. 17.

6. Again, although there are slight allusions in some of the Prophets to "laws" and "statutes" and "commandments," their silence about, if not their absolute ignorance of, anything which resembles the Levitic legislation as a whole is a startling problem. Thus, even a late prophet like Jeremiah alludes, without a word of reprobation, to men cutting and making themselves bald for the dead (Jer. xvi. 6; comp. xli. 5) in a way which the Levitic law (Lev. xix. 28; Deut. xiv. 1) strenuously forbids.

7. Again, as is well known, there is a fundamental difference between the three codes as to the relative position of the priests and Levites. (i) In Exod. xix. 6 all Israel is regarded as "a kingdom of priests and an holy nation," and in Exod. xxiv. 5 the young men of the children of Israel "offer burnt offerings and sacrifice peace offerings." (ii) In Numb. iii. 44-51 the Levites are set aside for the service of the Tabernacle190 in place of the firstborn. But neither in "the Book of the Covenant" nor in Deuteronomy is there any distinction between the services of the priests and the Levites. (iii) In Deut. x. 8 every Levite may become a priest. All priestly functions are open to the Levites, and the arrangements for the Levites are wholly different from those of Numbers. (iv) But in the Priestly Code only the sons of Aaron are to be priests (Numb. vi. 22-27, xviii. 1-7; Lev. i. 5, 8). The Levites are to minister to them in more or less menial functions, and are permitted a share in the tithes, but not (as in Deut. xviii. 1) in the firstfruits. We have first identity of priests and Levites, then partial, then absolute separation.311311   Canon Cook in the Speaker's Commentary (Leviticus, p. 496) admits: "It is by no means unlikely there are insertions of a later date, which were written and sanctioned by the prophets and holy men who after the captivity arranged and edited the Scriptures of the Old Testament." The earliest trace of this degradation of the Levites is propounded as something quite new in Ezek. xliv. 10-16, which distinctly implies (see verse 13) that up to that time the Levites had enjoyed full priestly rites.

It must be admitted that these facts are not capable of easy explanation, nor is it strange that they have led the way to unexpected conclusions. We have to face the certainty that, for ages together, the Levitic law was not only a dead letter among the people for whom it was intended, but that its very existence does not seem to have been known. "For long periods," says Professor Robertson, "the people of Israel seem to have been as ignorant of their own religion as the people of Europe were of theirs in the Dark Ages."191312312   Book by Book, p. 7. But the problem, were we to pursue it into its details, is far more perplexing than can be accounted for by the very partial and misleading parallel which Professor Robertson adduces. The parallel would be nearer if, throughout the Dark Ages for a thousand years together, scarcely a single trace were to be found, even under the best popes and the most pious kings, and even in theologic and sacred literature, of so much as the existence of a New Testament, or of any observance of the most distinctive festivals and sacraments of Christianity. And this, as Professor Robertson knows, is infinitely far from being the case. It is true that an argument ex silentio may easily be pushed too far; but we cannot ignore it when it is so striking as this, and when it is also strengthened by so many positive and corroborative facts.

A solution of this phenomenon—which becomes most salient in the Book of Kings—is proposed by the criticism which has received the title of "The Higher Criticism," because it is historic and constructive, and rises above purely verbal elements. That solution is that the Pentateuch is not only a composite structure (which all would concede), but that it was written in very different ages, and that much of it is of very late origin. Critics of the latest school believe that it consists of three well-marked and entirely different codes of laws—namely, "the Book of the Covenant" (Exod. xx. 23-xxiii.); the "Deuteronomic Code," first brought into prominence in the reign of Josiah, and written shortly before that reign; and the "Levitical" or "Priestly Code," which comprises most of Exodus, and nearly all Leviticus, and was not introduced till after the Exile. This would be indeed a radical conclusion, and cannot yet be regarded as having been conclusively192 established. But so remarkable has been the rapidity with which the opinion of religious critics has advanced on the subject, that now even the strongest opponents of this extreme view admit that the existence of the three separate codes has been demonstrated, although they still think that all three may belong to the Mosaic age.313313   See Professor Robertson, Book by Book, p. 56. I quote Professor Robertson as one of the ablest and most competent opponents of extreme conclusions; but it does not seem to me that he touches on some of the arguments which constitute the main strength of the case against him. It is obvious, however, that this view leaves many of the difficulties entirely untouched. Criticism has not yet spoken her last word upon the subject, but we ought to take her views into account in considering the judgments pronounced by the historian of the Kings. They were judgments which, in their details, though not as regards broad moral principles, were based on the standpoint of a later age. The views of that later age must be discounted if we have to admit that some of the ritual innovations and legal transgressions of the kings were transgressions of laws of the very existence of which they were profoundly ignorant. That they were thus ignorant of them is not only implied throughout, but appears from the direct statements of the sacred historians.314314   See 2 Kings xxii. 11; Ezra ix. 1, 7; Neh. ix. 3.


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