Pagan Christs, by John M. Robertson, , at sacred-texts.com
If we look first to the vogue of Biblical Judaism in Palestine, we have to note that from the consummation of the Return the cult was jealously closed not only to the people of Samaria, who presumed to worship a Yahweh on their own sacred hill, but to the country people around who had been left behind by the Assyrian conqueror. 2 The sociological conditions were thus such that, when the first force of the new conditions was spent, intellectual anchylosis was bound to set in. The learned class, devotedly absorbed in a literature regarded as divinely inspired, must rapidly become in general incapable of new thought; and their religious philosophy could of itself make no further progress. This is what is seen to take place. But for their traditional rejection of imagesa principle in which they had been encouraged by the Mazdeans whom they had met at Babylonthey would even have reverted by that path to normal polytheism. As it was, remaining peculiar in this respect, they did but think of their God as an imageless yet anthropomorphite being who made his home in their temple and either ignored or detested the neighbour nations which had idols.
[paragraph continues] Save for higher speculations which could not appeal to the majority even of the student class, they made no progress towards a consistent and comprehensive monotheism.
What extension of speculative thought occurred was rather in the direction of dualism. The doctrine of the Adversary, developed either from the Persian Ahriman or the Babylonian figure of the Goat-God, 1 or else from both, begins to figure in the later writings; and, once dramatically installed in the brilliant book of Job, was sure to figure more and more in the general consciousness. All the while, the normal eastern ideas of multitudinous angels and evil spirits had never been absent, though they were denounced when associated with other cults; and in point of general superstition there can have been little to choose between Jew and Gentile. 2 On the side of the belief in angels, again, the very desire to spiritualise and elevate the deity of the older traditions led to the imagining of new divine beings. Among the Samaritans, who, setting out with a Pentateuch, developed quite as much zeal as had the Judeans for the God of Israel, the expression "angel of God" or "angels of God" was frequently substituted for "God" or "Gods" in Genesis; and the Chaldee paraphrasts did as much, at times adding further "the word of the Lord" or "the Shekinah" as a compromise where "angel" seemed inadequate. 3 Similarly the later Jews read "angels of God" where their sacred books inconveniently spoke of "Gods." 4 In the book of Nehemiah, yet again, we have the mention of the "Good Spirit" of God, 5 an idea apparently derived from Mazdeism, 6 and sure to set up a special divine concept. Such conceptions in all likelihood grew up by way of analogy from the phenomena of monarchical government 7 in which the "word" or "hands" or "eye" of the autocrat became names for his chief functionaries or representatives.
It would be hard to show that a "monotheism" which really accepted, as absolutely as any polytheism, a vast plurality of divine beings, had any moral or spiritual efficacy in virtue of merely setting forth a tyranny of a Supreme God over hosts of angels, with a rebel party included, rather than a kind of feudal family oligarchy like that of Olympus, in which the Chief God is partially thwarted by
the others. The difference is much more one of political habit and outlook than of either ethic or philosophy. The Jews derived from Babylon the idea of a Creator-God; 1 and if that be the valuable principle in monotheism their polytheistic kindred are entitled to the credit. So with the idea of a Supreme-God: 2 the Hebrew specialty lay solely in putting a greater distance between God and Angels than did the Mesopotamian, and in rejecting (for the time being) the notions of triads and of a divine family. So little difference was there between the two states of mind that the Christian Fathers freely applied the term "Gods" to the Angels of the Judæo-Christian system. 3 For the rest, it is significant that the beginnings alike of rational science and of rational ethics were made, not among the Hebrew monotheists, but among Babylonian and Greek polytheists, who went far in cosmic and moral philosophy while the post-exilic Jews were devotees of a God whose passionate and capricious will took the place of both natural and moral law.
A "consistent, remorseless, naked monotheism," in short, never prevailed among the Jews any more than in any other people. Such a concept, save in the case of scattered thinkers, as often Gentiles as Jews, has never doctrinally or conceptually flourished till the rise of modern Deism, Islam having in turn capitulated to the notion of inferior good and evil spirits. Some small and isolated communities in antiquity probably approached nearer than the Jews ever did to the bare notion of a single (tribal) God, without "sons," or angels, or a Chosen One, and without an Adversary; and the ancient pantheists, tending as pantheism usually does to repass into theism, at times reached in that way a far purer form of monotheism 4 than that of the Hebrew books.
While the creed, despite its rooted traditionalism, was thus of its own nature lapsing into new indirect forms of polytheism, the secular problem of political life was no more being solved in Jewry than elsewhere. In the day of the Restoration we already find the rich taking usury from the poor; 5 and in the last of the canonical prophets we find crudely indicated the pressure of that deep doubt as to the God's good government which makes the theme of the book of Job. That the faithful deceive the deity and each other,
and that many despair of Yahweh's rule 1such are the testimonies of the closing pages of the Old Testament. Only the cohesive power of ceremonialism, the unchanging pressure of popular superstition, andlast, but certainly not leastthe economic success of the shrine, maintained the priestly State. There had presumably now begun among the dispersed Jews the rule of sending gifts to the temple, a practice which in a later age made an economic basis for a whole order of rabbins and scribes; and on the same basis there would be partly maintained a considerable population of pauper devotees. Under such circumstances the high-priest, another Babylonian adaptation, was practically what the king had been in the past; and the post was intrigued for, and at a pinch murdered for, 2 like any other eastern throne.
One indirect result of the priestly policy was the development of the faculty of the Jews for prospering in other lands. Placed as they were, a small community among great States, it behoved them, like the Dutch of to-day, to be linguists for the sake of their commerce; and when the post-exilic priesthood, like that of post-Reformation Scotland, found their account in teaching their people to read the sacred books, they were at once preparing them to succeed among the less-schooled populations around and creating an abnormal tie between the dispersed ones and the sacred city.
But, on the other hand, the surrounding cultures could not but affect the Jewish. On the Persian overlordship followed the Macedonian; and where the similar Persian creed had failed to do more than modify the Jewish, the manifold Greek culture which spread under the Seleucids and the Ptolemies penetrated Syrian life in all directions. In that world of chronic strife and deteriorating character, where already all men had attained the fatal temper, seen later at large in decadent Rome, of acquiescence in the rule of the most successful commander as such, the tranquil cynicism of Greek cosmopolitan culture was as appropriate in Jewry as elsewhere. So far did the assimilation go that the hierarchy at length was definitely faced by a Hellenising party, convinced of the futility of the tribal religion, even as the pre-exilic Yahwists had been; and high-priests were found to take the bribes and do the work of heathenism. There was, as we have seen, no moral or philosophic elevation in the Judaic cult to countervail intellectually such a movement; and had not Antiochus Epiphanes, in a spirit of fanaticism wholly alien to the general policy of the Diadochi, proceeded to coerce and outrage
the zealots of Jerusalem, their worship would have dwindled very much as it did in the old time. But that act elicited the singular genius of the Maccabean family, under whom the desperate tenacity of the most devoted part of the race at length triumphed over its foes to the point of re-establishing a State in which the king was priest, as previously the priest had been king. In the face of such a consummation, all the promises and pretensions of the old cult seemed newly justified; and a newly exultant faith emerged.
85:2 2 Kings xxiv, 14; xxv, 11-12.
86:1 Cp. Christianity and Mythology, Part III, Div. i, § 10. The vision of the high-priest Joshua (Zech. iii, 1, 2) standing before "the angel of the Lord" (originally, no doubt, "the Lord," as in v. 2) with "the Satan" (= the Accuser or Adversary) on the right hand to accuse him, seems to me clearly Babylonian and not Persian.
86:2 See refs, in A Short History of Freethought, i, 120.
86:3 G. L. Bauer, Theology of the Old Testament, Eng. tr. 1837, p. 5.
86:4 Cp. Ps. xcvii, 7, 9, and Heb. i, 6.
86:5 Neh. ix, 20.
86:6 See below, Part III, § 5.
86:7 Cp. Jastrow, Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, p. 433.
87:1 Cp. Jastrow, pp. 433-4, 441-2; Sayce, pp. 142, 205. "The knowledge that there is a supreme spiritual Being, unique in his nature, Creator and upholder of all things, is wholly wanting to ancient Israel" (Stade, Geschichte des Volkes Israel, p. 428).
87:2 Sayce pp. 122-129, 187
87:3 See the point full set forth in J. A. Farrer's Paganism and Christianity, ch. i. Cp. Supernatural Religion, ed. 1902, in 71-80.
87:4 Le Page Renouf, while pronouncing that the Egyptian doctrine of the one and only God "stopped short in Pantheism" (Hibbert Lectures, p. 230), admits that Egyptian doctrine better meets the definition of Cardinal Newman than any other (Id. pp. 215-216).
87:5 Neh, v, 6.
88:1 Malachi i, 7-8. 14; ii, 8-10, 17; iii, 5, 8-14.
88:2 Josephus, 11 Antiq. vii, 41.