Prolegomena to the History of Ancient Israel, by Julius Wellhausen, , at sacred-texts.com
The exiled Jews were not scattered all over Chaldæa, but were allowed to remain together in families and clans. Many of them, notwithstanding this circumstance, must have lapsed and become merged in the surrounding heathenism; but many also continued faithful to Jehovah and to Israel. They laboured under much depression and sadness, groaning under the wrath of Jehovah, who had rejected His people and cancelled His covenant. They were lying under a sort of vast interdict; they could not celebrate any sacrifice or keep any feast; they could only observe days of fasting and humiliation, and such rites as had no inseparable connection with the holy land. The observance of the Sabbath, and the practice of the rite of circumcision, acquired much greater importance than they formerly possessed as signs of a common religion. The meetings on the Sabbath day out of which the synagogues were afterwards developed appear to have first come into use during this period; perhaps also even then it had become customary to read aloud from the prophetic writings which set forth that all had happened in the providence of God, and moreover that the days of adversity were not to last for ever.
Matters improved somewhat as Cyrus entered upon his victorious career. Was he the man in whom the Messianic prophecies had found their fulfilment? The majority were unwilling to think so. For it was out of Israel (they argued) that the Messiah was to proceed who should establish the kingdom of God upon the ruins of the kingdoms of the world; the restitution effected by means of a Persian could only be regarded as a passing incident in the course of an historical process that had its goal entirely elsewhere. This doubt was met by more than one prophetical writer, and especially by the great anonymous author to whom we are indebted for Isa. xl.-lxvi. "Away with sorrow; deliverance is at the door! Is it a humiliating thing that Israel should owe its freedom to a Persian? Nay, is it not rather a proof of the world-wide sway of the God of Jacob that He should thus summon His instruments from the ends of the earth? Who else than Jehovah could have thus sent Cyrus? Surely not the false gods which he has destroyed? Jehovah alone it was who foretold and foreknew the things which are now coming to pass,—because long ago He had prearranged and predetermined them, and they are now being executed in accordance
with his plan. Rejoice therefore in the prospect of your near deliverance; prepare yourselves for the new era; gird yourselves for the return to your homes." It is to be observed, as characteristic in this prophecy, how the idea of Jehovah as God alone and God over all—in constantly recurring lyrical parenthesis he is praised as the author of the world and of all nature—is yet placed in positive relation to Israel alone, and that upon the principle that Israel is in exclusive possession of the universal truth, which cannot perish with Israel, but must through the instrumentality of Israel, become the common possession of the whole world. "There is no God but Jehovah, and Israel is his prophet."
For many years the Persian monarch put the patience of the Jews to the proof; Jehovah's judgment upon the Chaldæans, instead of advancing, seemed to recede. At length, however, their hopes were realised; in the year 538 Cyrus brought the empire of Babylon to an end, and gave the exiles leave to seek their fatherland once more. This permission was not made use of by all, or even by a majority. The number of those who returned is stated at 42,360; whether women and children are included in this figure is uncertain. On arriving at their destination, after the difficult march through the desert, they did not spread themselves over the whole of Judah, but settled chiefly in the neighbourhood of Jerusalem. The Calebites, for example, who previously had had their settlements in and around Hebron, now settled in Bethlehem and in the district of Ephrath. They found it necessary to concentrate themselves in face of a threatened admixture of doubtful elements. From all sides people belonging to the surrounding nations had pressed into the depopulated territory of Judah. Not only had they annexed the border territories—where, for example, the Edomites or Idumæans held the whole of the Negeb as far as to Hebron; they had effected lodgments everywhere, and—as the Ammonites, Ashdodites, and especially the Samaritans—had amalgamated with the older Jewish population, a residue of which had remained in the country in spite of all that had happened. These half-breed "pagani" (Amme haareç, ὄχλοι) gave a friendly reception to the returning exiles (Bne haggola); particularly did the Samaritans show themselves anxious to make common cause with them. But they were met with no reciprocal cordiality. The lesson of religious isolation which the children of the captivity had learned in Babylon, they did not forget on their return to
their home. Here also they lived as in a strange land. Not the native of Judæa, but the man who could trace his descent from the exiles in Babylon, was reckoned as belonging to their community.
The first decennia after the return of the exiles, during which they were occupied in adjusting themselves to their new homes, were passed under a variety of adverse circumstances and by no means either in joyousness or security. Were these then the Messianic times which, it had been foretold, were to dawn at the close of their captivity? They did not at all events answer the expectations which had been formed. A settlement had been again obtained, it was true, in the fatherland; but the Persian yoke pressed now more heavily than ever the Babylonian had done. The sins of God's people seemed still unforgiven, their period of bond-service not yet at an end. A slight improvement, as is shown by the prophecies of Haggai and Zechariah, followed when in the year 520 the obstacles disappeared which until then had stood in the way of the rebuilding of the temple; the work then begun was completed in 516. Inasmuch as the Jews were now nothing more than a religious community, based upon the traditions of a national existence that had ceased, the rebuilding of the temple, naturally, was for them an event of supreme importance.
The law of the new theocracy was the Book of Deuteronomy; this was the foundation on which the structure was to be built. But the force of circumstances, and the spirit of the age, had even before and during the exile exerted a modifying influence upon that legislative code; and it continued to do so still. At first a "son of David" had continued to stand at the head of the Bne haggola, but this last relic of the old monarchy soon had to give way to a Persian governor who was under the control of the satrap of trans-Euphratic Syria, and whose principal business was the collection of revenue. Thenceforward the sole national chief was Joshua the high priest, on whom, accordingly, the political representation also of the community naturally devolved. In the circumstances as they then were no other arrangement was possible. The way had been paved for it long before in so far as the Assyrians had destroyed the kingdom of Israel, while in the kingdom of Judah which survived it the religious cultus had greater importance attached to it than political affairs, and also inasmuch as in point of fact the practical issue of the prophetic reformation sketched in Deuteronomy had been to make the temple the national centre still
more than formerly. The hierocracy towards which Ezekiel had already opened the way was simply inevitable. It took the form of a monarchy of the high priest, he having stepped into the place formerly occupied by the theocratic king. As his peers and at his side stood the members of his clan, the Levites of the old Jerusalem, who traced their descent from Zadok (Sadduk); the common Levites held a much lower rank, so far as they had maintained their priestly rank at all and had not been degraded, in accordance with Ezekiel's law (chap. xliv.), to the position of mere temple servitors. "Levite," once the title of honour bestowed on all priests, became more and more confined to members of the second order of the clergy.
Meanwhile no improvement was taking place in the condition of the Jewish colonists. They were poor; they had incurred the hostility of their neighbours by their exclusiveness; the Persian Government was suspicious; the incipient decline of the great kingdom was accompanied with specially unpleasant consequences so far as Palestine was concerned (Megabyzus). All this naturally tended to produce in the community a certain laxity and depression. To what purpose (it was asked) all this religious strictness, which led to so much that was unpleasant? Why all this zeal for Jehovah, who refused to be mollified by it? It is a significant fact that the upper ranks of the priesthood were least of all concerned to counteract this tendency. Their priesthood was less to them than the predominance which was based upon it; they looked upon the neighbouring ethnarchs as their equals, and maintained relations of friendship with them. The general community was only following their example when it also began to mingle with the Amme haareç.
The danger of Judaism merging into heathenism was imminent. But it was averted by a new accession from without. In the year 458 Ezra the scribe, with a great number of his compatriots, set out from Babylon, for the purpose of reinforcing the Jewish element in Palestine. The Jews of Babylon were more happily situated than their Palestinian brethren, and it was comparatively easy for them to take up a separatist attitude, because they were surrounded by heathenism not partial but entire. They were no great losers from the circumstance that they were precluded from participating directly in the life of the ecclesiastical community; the Torah had long ago become separated from the people, and was now an independent abstraction following a career of
its own. Babylonia was the place where a further codification of the law had been placed alongside of Deuteronomy. Ezekiel had led the way in reducing to theory and to writing the sacred praxis of his time; in this he was followed by an entire school; in their exile the Levites turned scribes. Since then Babylon continued to be the home of the Torah; and, while in Palestine itself the practice was becoming laxer, their literary study had gradually intensified the strictness and distinctive peculiarities of Judaism. And now there came to Palestine a Babylonian scribe having the law of his God in his hand, and armed with authority from the Persian king to proceed upon the basis of this law with a reformation of the community.
Ezra did not set about introducing the new law immediately on his arrival in Judæa In the first instance he concentrated his attention on the task of effecting a strict separation between the Bne haggola and the heathen or half-heathen inhabitants. So much he could accomplish upon the basis of Deuteronomy, but it was long before he gave publicity to the law which he himself had brought. Why he hesitated so long it is impossible to say; between the seventh and the twentieth year of Artaxerxes Longimanus (458-445 B.C.) there is a great hiatus in the narrative of the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. The main reason appears to have been that, in spite of the good will of the Persian king, Ezra had not the vigorous support of the local authorities. But this was indispensably necessary in order to secure recognition for a new law.
At last, in 445, it fell to the lot of a Jew, who also shared the views of Ezra, Nehemiah ben Hakkelejah, 1 the cupbearer and the favourite of Artaxerxes, to be sent as Persian governor to Judæa. After he had freed the community from external pressure with vigour and success, and brought it into more tolerable outward circumstances, the business of introducing the new law-book was next proceeded with; in this Ezra and Nehemiah plainly acted in concert.
On the first of Tisri—the year is unfortunately not given, but it cannot have been earlier than 444 B.C.—the promulgation of the law began at a great gathering in Jerusalem; Ezra, supported by the Levites, was present. Towards the end of the month, the concluding act took place, in which the community became solemnly bound by the contents
of the law. Special prominence was given to those provisions with which the people were directly concerned, particularly those which related to the dues payable by the laity to the priests.
The covenant which hitherto had rested on Deuteronomy was thus expanded into a covenant based upon the entire Pentateuch. Substantially at least Ezra's law-book, in the form in which it became the Magna Charta of Judaism in or about the year 444, must be regarded as practically identical with our Pentateuch, although many minor amendments and very considerable additions may have been made at a later date.
The character of the post-Deuteronomic legislation (Priestly Code) is chiefly marked, in its external aspects, by the immense extension of the dues payable to the priests, and by the sharp distinction made between the descendants of Aaron and the common Levites; this last feature is to be traced historically to the circumstance that after the Deuteronomic reformation the legal equality between the Levites who until then had ministered at the "high places" and the priests of the temple at Jerusalem was not de facto recognised. Internally, it is mainly characterised by its ideal of Levitical holiness, the way in which it everywhere surrounds life with purificatory and propitiatory ceremonies, and its prevailing reference of sacrifice to sin. Noteworthy also is the manner in which everything is regarded from the point of view of Jerusalem, a feature which comes much more boldly into prominence here than in Deuteronomy; the nation and the temple are strictly speaking identified. That externalisation towards which the prophetical movement, in order to become practical, had already been tending in Deuteronomy finally achieved its acme in the legislation of Ezra; a new artificial Israel was the result; but, after all, the old would have pleased an Amos better. At the same time it must be remembered that the kernel needed a shell. It was a necessity that Judaism should incrust itself in this manner; without those hard and ossified forms the preservation of its essential elements would have proved impossible. At a time when all nationalities, and at the same time all bonds of religion and national customs, were beginning to be broken up in the seeming cosmos and real chaos of the Græco-Roman empire, the Jews stood out like a rock in the midst of the ocean. When the natural conditions of independent nationality all failed them, they nevertheless artificially maintained it with an energy truly marvellous, and thereby
preserved for themselves, and at the same time for the whole world, an eternal good.
As regards the subsequent history of the Jewish community under the Persian domination, we have almost no information. The high priest in Nehemiah's time was Eliashib, son of Joiakim and grandson of Joshua, the patriarchal head of the sons of Zadok, who had returned from Babylon; he was succeeded in the direct line by Joiada, Johanan, and Jaddua (Neh. xii. 10, 11, 22); the last-named was in office at the time of Alexander the Great (Josephus, Ant., xi. 8). Palestine was the province which suffered most severely of all from the storms which marked the last days of the sinking Persian empire, and it is hardly likely that the Jews escaped their force; we know definitely, however, of only one episode, in which the Persian general Bagoses interfered in a disagreeable controversy about the high-priesthood (cir. 375).
To this period also (and not, as Josephus states, to the time of Alexander) belongs the constitution of the Samaritan community on an independent footing by Manasseh, a Jewish priest of rank. He was expelled from Jerusalem by Nehemiah in 432, for refusing to separate from his alien wife. He took shelter with his father-in-law Sanballat, the Samaritan prince, who built him a temple on Mount Gerizim near Shechem, where he organised a Samaritan church and a Samaritan worship, on the Jerusalem model, and on the basis of a but slightly modified Jerusalem Pentateuch. If the Samaritans had hitherto exerted, themselves to the utmost to obtain admission into the fellowship of the Jews, they henceforward were as averse to have anything to do with these as these were to have any dealings with them; the temple on Mount Gerizim was now the symbol of their independence as a distinct religious sect. For the Jews this was a great advantage, as they had no longer to dread the danger of syncretism. They could now quite confidently admit the Amme haareç into their communion, in the assurance of assimilating them without any risk of the opposite process taking place. The Judaizing process began first with the country districts immediately surrounding Jerusalem, and then extended to Galilee and many portions of Peræa. In connection with it, the Hebrew language, which hitherto had been firmly retained by the Bne haggola, now began to yield to the Aramaic, and to hold its own only as a sacred speech.
496:1 According to the present punctuation this name is Hakalja (Hachaljah), but such a pronunciation is inadmissible; it has no possible etymology, the language having no such word as hakal. The name in its correct form means "Wait upon Jehovah."