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4. A Fragment from the Plague.

In the above exposition we have omitted two very curious verses, 9 and 10, which are held by some critics to interrupt the current of the chapter, and to reflect an entirely different kind of calamity from that which it predicts. I do not think these critics right, for reasons I am about to give; but the verses are so remarkable that it is most convenient to treat them by themselves apart from the rest of the chapter. Here they are, with the verse immediately in front of them.

I am loathing the pride of Jacob, and his palaces I hate. And I will give up a city and its fulness to ...(perhaps siege or pestilence?). And it shall come to pass, if there be left ten men in one house, and they die,336336   Here there is evidently a gap in the text. The LXX. insert καὶ ὑπολειφθήσονται οἱ κατάλοιποι; perhaps therefore the text originally ran and the survivors die. ... that his cousin337337   Or uncle—that is, a distant relative, presumably because all the near ones are dead. and the man to burn him shall lift him to bring the body338338   Literally bones. out of the house, and they shall say to one who is in the recesses of the house,339339   LXX. τοῖς προεστηκόσι: evidently in ignorance of the reading or the meaning. Are there any more with thee? And he shall say, Not one ... and they shall say, Hush! (for one must not make mention of the name of Jehovah).

This grim fragment is obscure in its relation to the179 context. But the death of even so large a household as ten—the funeral left to a distant relation—the disposal of the bodies by burning instead of the burial customary among the Hebrews340340   The burning of a body was regarded, as we have seen (Amos ii. 1), as a great sacrilege; and was practised, outside times of pestilence only in cases of great criminals: Lev. xx. 14; xxi. 9; Josh. vii. 25. Doughty (Arabia Deserta, 68) mentions a case in which, in Medina, a Persian pilgrim was burned to death by an angry crowd for defiling Mohammed's tomb.—sufficiently reflect the kind of calamity. It is a weird little bit of memory, the recollection of an eye-witness, from one of those great pestilences which, during the first half of the eighth century, happened not seldom in Western Asia.341341   The Assyrian inscriptions record at least three—in 803, 765, 759. But what does it do here? Wellhausen says that there is nothing to lead up to the incident; that before it the chapter speaks, not of pestilence, but only of political destruction by an enemy. This is not accurate. The phrase immediately preceding may mean either I will shut up a city and its fulness, in which case a siege is meant, and a siege was the possibility both of famine and pestilence; or I will give up the city and its fulness..., in which case a word or two may have been dropped, as words have undoubtedly been dropped at the end of the next verse, and one ought perhaps to add to the pestilence.342342   As in Psalm lxxviii. 50. הִסְגִּיר, to give up, is so seldom used absolutely (Deut. xxxii. 30 is poetry and elliptic) that we may well believe it was followed by words signifying to what the city was to be given up. The latter alternative is the more probable, and this may be one of the passages, already alluded to,343343   Pp. 141 f. in which the want of connection with the preceding verses is to be explained, not upon the favourite theory that there has been a violent180 intrusion into the text, but upon the too much neglected hypothesis that some words have been lost.

The uncertainty of the text, however, does not weaken the impression of its ghastly realism: the unclean and haunted house; the kinsman and the body-burner afraid to search through the infected rooms, and calling in muffled voice to the single survivor crouching in some far corner of them, Are there any more with thee? his reply, None—himself the next! Yet these details are not the most weird. Over all hangs a terror darker than the pestilence. Shall there be evil in a city and Jehovah not have done it? Such, as we have heard from Amos, was the settled faith of the age. But in times of woe it was held with an awful and a craven superstition. The whole of life was believed to be overhung with loose accumulations of Divine anger. And as in some fatal hollow in the high Alps, where any noise may bring down the impending masses of snow, and the fearful traveller hurries along in silence, so the men of that superstitious age feared, when an evil like the plague was imminent, even to utter the Deity's name, lest it should loosen some avalanche of His wrath. And he said, Hush! for, adds the comment, one must not make mention of the name of Jehovah.

This reveals another side of the popular religion which Amos has been attacking. We have seen it as the sheer superstition of routine; but we now know that it was a routine broken by panic. The God who in times of peace was propitiated by regular supplies of savoury sacrifice and flattery, is conceived, when His wrath is roused and imminent, as kept quiet only by the silence of its miserable objects. The false peace of ritual is tempered by panic.


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