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- The Emancipation of Massachusetts - 2/65 -


and the Mosaic civilization broke down at this point, which is, indeed, the chasm which has engulfed every progressive civilization since the dawn of time. And the value of the story as an illustration of scientific history is its familiarity, for no Christian child lives who has not been brought up on it.

We have all forgotten when we first learned how the Jews came to migrate to Egypt during the years of the famine, when Joseph had become the minister of Pharaoh through his acuteness in reading dreams. Also how, after their settlement in the land of Goshen,--which is the Egyptian province lying at the end of the ancient caravan road, which Abraham travelled, leading from Palestine to the banks of the Nile, and which had been the trade route, or path of least resistance, between Asia and Africa, probably for ages before the earliest of human traditions,--they prospered exceedingly. But at length they fell into a species of bondage which lasted several centuries, during which they multiplied so rapidly that they finally raised in the Egyptian government a fear of their domination. Nor, considering subsequent events, was this apprehension unreasonable. At all events the Egyptian government is represented, as a measure of self-protection, as proposing to kill male Jewish babies in order to reduce the Jewish military strength; and it was precisely at this juncture that Moses was born, Moses, indeed, escaped the fate which menaced him, but only by a narrow chance, and he was nourished by his mother in an atmosphere of hate which tinged his whole life, causing him always to feel to the Egyptians as the slave feels to his master. After birth the mother hid the child as long as possible, but when she could conceal the infant no longer she platted a basket of reeds, smeared it with pitch, and set it adrift in the Nile, where it was likely to be found, leaving her eldest daughter, named Miriam, to watch over it. Presently Pharaoh's daughter came, as was her habit, to the river to bathe, as Moses's mother expected that she would, and there she noticed the "ark" floating among the bulrushes. She had it brought her, and, noticing Miriam, she caused the girl to engage her mother, whom Miriam pointed out to her, as a nurse. Taking pity on the baby the kind-hearted princess adopted it and brought it up as she would had it been her own, and, as the child grew, she came to love the boy, and had him educated with care, and this education must be kept in mind since the future of Moses as a man turned upon it. For Moses was most peculiarly a creation of his age and of his environment; if, indeed, he may not be considered as an incarnation of Jewish thought gradually shaped during many centuries of priestly development.

According to tradition, Moses from childhood was of great personal beauty, so much so that passers by would turn to look at him, and this early promise was fulfilled as he grew to be a man. Tall and dignified, with long, shaggy hair and beard, of a reddish hue tinged with gray, he is described as "wise as beautiful." Educated by his foster-mother as a priest at Heliopolis, he was taught the whole range of Chaldean and Assyrian literature, as well as the Egyptian, and thus became acquainted with all the traditions of oriental magic: which, just at that period, was in its fullest development. Consequently, Moses must have been familiar with the ancient doctrines of Zoroaster.

Men who stood thus, and had such an education, were called Wise Men, Magi, or Magicians, and had great influence, not so much as priests of a God, as enchanters who dealt with the supernatural as a profession. Daniel, for example, belonged to this class. He was one of three captive Jews whom Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, gave in charge to the master of his eunuchs, to whom he should teach the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans. Daniel, very shortly, by his natural ability, brought himself and his comrades into favor with the chief eunuch, who finally presented them to Nebuchadnezzar, who conversed with them and found them "ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers that were in all his realm."

The end of it was, of course, that Nebuchadnezzar dreamed a dream which he forgot when he awoke and he summoned "the magicians, and the astrologers, and the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans, for to shew the king his dreams," but they could not unless he told it them. This vexed the king, who declared that unless they should tell him his dream with the interpretation thereof, they should be cut in pieces. So the decree went forth that all "the wise men" of Babylon should be slain, and they sought Daniel and his fellows to slay them. Therefore, it appears that together with its privileges and advantages the profession of magic was dangerous in those ages. Daniel, on this occasion, according to the tradition, succeeded in revealing and interpreting the dream; and, in return, Nebuchadnezzar made Daniel a great man, chief governor of the province of Babylon.

Precisely a similar tale is told of Joseph, who, having been sold by his brethren to Midianitish merchantmen with camels, bearing spices and balm, journeying along the ancient caravan road toward Egypt, was in turn sold by them to Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh's guard.

And Joseph rose in Potiphar's service, and after many alternations of fortune was brought before Pharaoh, as Daniel had been before Nebuchadnezzar, and because he interpreted Pharaoh's dream acceptably, he was made "ruler over all the land of Egypt" and so ultimately became the ancestor whom Moses most venerated and whose bones he took with him when he set out upon the exodus.

It is true also that Josephus has preserved an idle tale that Moses was given command of an Egyptian army with which he made a successful campaign against the Ethiopians, but it is unworthy of credit and may be neglected. His bringing up was indeed the reverse of military. So much so that probably far the most important part of his education lay in acquiring those arts which conduce to the deception of others, such deceptions as jugglers have always practised in snake-charming and the like, or in gaining control of another's senses by processes akin to hypnotism;-- processes which have been used by the priestly class and their familiars from the dawn of time. In especial there was one miracle performed by the Magi, on which not only they, but Moses himself, appear to have set great store, and on which Moses seemed always inclined to fall back, when hard pressed to assert his authority. They pretended to make fire descend onto their altars by means of magical ceremonies. [Footnote: Lenormant, _Chaldean Magic_, 226.] Nevertheless, amidst all these ancient eastern civilizations, the strongest hold which the priests or sorcerers held over, and the greatest influence which they exercised upon, others, lay in their relations to disease, for there they were supposed to be potent. For example, in Chaldea, diseases were held to be the work of demons, to be feared in proportion as they were powerful and malignant, and to be restrained by incantations and exorcisms. Among these demons the one, perhaps most dreaded, was called Namtar, the genius of the plague. Moses was, of course, thoroughly familiar with all these branches of learning, for the relations of Egypt were then and for many centuries had been, intimate with Mesopotamia. Whatever aspect the philosophy may have, which Moses taught after middle life touching the theory of the religion in which he believed, Moses had from early childhood been nurtured in these Mesopotamian beliefs and traditions, and to them--or, at least, toward them--he always tended to revert in moments of stress. Without bearing this fundamental premise in mind, Moses in active life can hardly be understood, for it was on this foundation that his theories of cause and effect were based.

As M. Lenormant has justly and truly observed, go back as far as we will in Egyptian religion, we find there, as a foundation, or first cause, the idea of a divine unity,--a single God, who had no beginning and was to have no end of days,--the primary cause of all. [Footnote: _Chaldean Magic_, 79.] It is true that this idea of unity was early obscured by confounding the energy with its manifestations. Consequently a polytheism was engendered which embraced all nature. Gods and demons struggled for control and in turn were struggled with. In Egypt, in Media, in Chaldea, in Persia, there were wise men, sorcerers, and magicians who sought to put this science into practice, and among this fellowship Moses must always rank foremost. Before, however, entering upon the consideration of Moses, as a necromancer, as a scientist, as a statesman, as a priest, or as a commander, we should first glance at the authorities which tell his history.

Scholars are now pretty well agreed that Moses and Aaron were men who actually lived and worked probably about the time attributed to them by tradition. That is to say, under the reign of Ramses II, of the Nineteenth Egyptian dynasty who reigned, as it is computed, from 1348 to 1281 B.C., and under whom the exodus occurred. Nevertheless, no very direct or conclusive evidence having as yet been discovered touching these events among Egyptian documents, we are obliged, in the main, to draw our information from the Hebrew record, which, for the most part, is contained in the Pentateuch, or the first five books of the Bible.

Possibly no historical documents have ever been subjected to a severer or more minute criticism than have these books during the last two centuries. It is safe to say that no important passage and perhaps no paragraph has escaped the most searching and patient analysis by the acutest and most highly trained of minds; but as yet, so far as the science of history is concerned, the results have been disappointing. The order in which events occurred may have been successfully questioned and the sequence of the story rearranged hypothetically; but, in general, it has to be admitted that the weight of all the evidence obtained from the monuments of contemporary peoples has been to confirm the reliability of the Biblical narrative. For example, no one longer doubts that Joseph was actually a Hebrew, who rose, through merit, to the highest offices of state under an Egyptian monarch, and who conceived and successfully carried into execution a comprehensive agrarian policy which had the effect of transferring the landed estates of the great feudal aristocracy to the crown, and of completely changing Egyptian tenures. Nor does any one question, at this day, the reality of the power which the Biblical writers ascribed to the Empire of the Hittites. Under such conditions the course of the commentator is clear. He should treat the Jewish record as reliable, except where it frankly accepts the miracle as a demonstrated fact, and even then regard the miracle as an important and most suggestive part of the great Jewish epic, which always has had, and always must have, a capital influence on human thought.

The Pentateuch has, indeed, been demonstrated to be a compilation of several chronicles arranged by different writers at different times, and blended into a unity under different degrees of pressure, but now, as the book stands, it is as authentic a record as could be wished of the workings of the Mosaic mind and of the minds of those of his followers who supported him in his pilgrimage, and who made so much of his task possible, as he in fact accomplished.

Moses, himself, but for the irascibility of his temper, might have lived and died, contented and unknown, within the shadow of the Egyptian court. The princess who befriended him as a baby would probably have been true to him to the end, in which case he would have lived wealthy, contented, and happy and would have died overfed and unknown. Destiny, however, had planned it otherwise.

The Hebrews were harshly treated after the death of Joseph, and fell into a quasi-bondage in which they were forced to labor, and this species of tyranny irritated Moses, who seems to have been brought up under his mother's influence. At all events, one day Moses chanced to see an Egyptian beating a Jew, which must have been a common enough sight, but a sight which revolted him. Whereupon Moses, thinking himself alone, slew the Egyptian and hid his body in the sand. Moses, however, was not alone. A day or so later he again happened to see two men fighting, whereupon he again interfered, enjoining the one who was in the wrong to desist. Whereupon the man whom he checked turned fiercely on him and said, "Who made thee a prince and a judge over us? Intendest thou to kill me, as thou killedst the Egyptian?"


The Emancipation of Massachusetts - 2/65

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