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- The Emancipation of Massachusetts - 6/65 -
which he offered as an inducement for docility could be obtained, at so cheap a rate, in no other way. All Moses' moral teaching amounted, therefore, to this--"It pays to be obedient and good." No argument could have been better adapted to Babylonish society, and it seems to have answered nearly as well with the Israelites, which proves that they stood on nearly the same intellectual plane. The chief difficulty with which Moses had to contend was that his countrymen did not thoroughly believe in him, nor in the efficacy of his motor. They always were tempted to try experiments with other motors which were operated by other prophets and by other peoples who were, apparently, as prosperous as they, or even more so. His trouble was not that his followers were nomads unprepared for a sedentary life or a moral law like his, or unable to appreciate the value of the property of a people further advanced in civilization than they were. The Amalekites would have responded to no such system of bribery as Moses offered the Israelites, who did respond with intelligence, if not always with enthusiasm.
The same is true of the Mosaic legislation which Dr. Budde curtly dismisses as impossible to have come from Moses, [Footnote: _Religion of Israel to the Exile_, 31.] as presupposing a knowledge of a settled agricultural life, which "Israel did not reach until after Moses' death."
All this is an assumption of fact unsupported by evidence; but quite the contrary, as we can see by an examination of the law in question. Whatever may have been the date of the establishment of the cities of refuge, I suppose that it will not be seriously denied that the law of the covenant as laid down in Exodus XX, 1, Numbers XXXV, 6, is at least as old as the age of Moses, in principle, if not in words; and this legal principle is quite inconsistent with, if not directly antagonistic to, all the prejudices and regulations, moral, religious, or civil, of a pure nomadic society, since it presupposes a social condition which, if adopted, would be fatal to a nomad society.
The true nomad knows no criminal law save the law of the blood feud, which is the law of revenge, and which prevailed among the Hebrews much earlier. In the early Saxon law it was expressed by the apothegm "_Factum reputabitur pro volunte_." The act implies the intent. That is to say, the tribe is an enlarged family who, since they have no collective system of sovereignty which gives them common protection by an organized police, and courts with power to enforce process, have no option but to protect each other. Therefore, it is incumbent on each member of the tribe or family to avenge an injury to any other member, whether the injury be accidental or otherwise; and to be himself the judge of what amounts to an injury. Such a condition prevailed among the Hebrews at a very early period; "And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them: ... at the hand of every man's brother will I require the life of man. Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed." [Footnote: Gen. IX, 1, 5, 6.] These customs and the type of thought which sustain them are very tenacious and change slowly. Moses could not have altered the nomadic customs of thought and of blood revenge, had he tried, more than could Canute. It would have been impossible. The advent of a civilized conception of the law is the work of centuries as the history of England proves.
We know not how long ago it was that the law of the blood feud was fully recognized in England, but it had already been shaken at the conquest, and its death-blow was given it by the Church, which had begun to tire of the responsibility entailed by the trial by ordeal or miracle, and the obloquy which it involved, at a relatively early date. For the purposes of the Church and the uses of confession it was more convenient to regard crime or tort, as did the Romans; as a mental condition, dependent altogether upon the state of the mind or "animus." Malice in the eye of the Church was the virus which poisoned the otherwise innocent act, and made the thought alone punishable. Indeed, this conception is one which has not yet been completely established even in the modern law. The first signs of such a revolution in jurisprudence only began to appear in England some seven centuries ago. As Mr. Maitland has observed in his _History of English Law_, [Footnote: Vol. II, 476.] "We receive a shock of surprise when we meet with a maxim which has troubled our modern lawyers, namely, _Reum nonfacit nisi mens rea_, in the middle of the _Leges Henrici_." That is to say somewhere about the year 1118 A.D. This maxim was taken bodily out of a sermon of Saint Augustine, which accounts for it, but at that time the Church had another process to suggest by which she asserted her authority. She threw the responsibility for detecting guilt, in cases of doubt, upon God. By the ordeal, if a homicide, for example, were committed, and the accused denied his guilt, he was summoned to appear, and then, after a solemn reference to God by the ecclesiastics in charge, he was caused either to carry a red-hot iron bar a certain distance or to plunge his arms in boiling water. If he were found, after a certain length of time, during which his arms were bandaged, to have been injured, he was held to have been guilty. If he had escaped unhurt he was innocent. Gradually, however, the ordeal began to fall into ridicule. William Rufus gibed at it, for of fifty men sent to the ordeal of iron, under the sacred charge of the clerks, all escaped, which certainly, as Mr. Maitland intimates, looks as if the officiating ecclesiastics had an interest in the result. [Footnote: _History of English Law_, II, 599, note 2.] At length, by the Lateran Council of 1215, the Church put an end to the institution, but long afterward it found its upholders. For example, the _Mirror_, written in the reign of Edward I (circa 1285) complained, "It is an abuse that proofs and compurgations be not by the miracle of God where other proof faileth." Nor was the principle that "attempts" to commit indictable offences are crimes, established as law, until at least the time of the Star Chamber, before its abolition in the seventeenth century. Though doubtless it is the law to-day. [Footnote: Stephen, _Digest of the Criminal Law_, 192.] And this, although the means used may have been impossible. Moreover, the doctrine is still in process of enlargement.
Very convincing conclusions may be drawn from these facts. The subject is obscure and difficult, but if the inception of the process of breaking down the right of enforcing the blood feud be fixed provisionally toward the middle of the tenth century,--and this date is early enough,--the movement of thought cannot be said to have attained anything like ultimate results before at least the year 1321 when a case is cited wherein a man was held guilty because he had attempted to kill his master, and the "_volunias in isto casu reputabitur pro facto_."
Measuring by this standard five hundred years is a short enough period to estimate the time necessary for a community to pass from the stage when the blood feud is recognized as unquestioned law, to the status involved in the administration of the cities of refuge, for in these cities not only the mental condition is provided for as a legitimate defence, but the defence of negligence is made admissible in a secular court.
"These six cities shall be a refuge, both for the children of Israel, and for the stranger, and for the sojourner among them; that every one that killeth any person unawares may flee thither....
"If he thrust him of hatred, or hurl at him by laying of wait that he die;
"Or in enmity smite him with his hand, that he die: he that smote him shall surely be put to death; for he is a murderer: the revenger of blood shall slay the murderer, when he meeteth him.
"But if he thrust him suddenly without enmity, or have cast upon him anything without laying of wait,
"Or with any stone, wherewith a man may die, seeing him not, and cast it upon him, that he die, and was not his enemy, neither sought his harm:
"Then the congregation shall judge between the slayer and the revenger of blood according to these judgments:
"And the congregation shall deliver the slayer out of the hand of the revenger of blood, and the congregation shall restore him to the city of his refuge, whither he was fled."... [Footnote: Numbers XXXV, 15, 20-25.]
Here we have a defendant in a case of homicide setting up the defence that the killing happened through an accident, but an accident not caused by criminal negligence, and this defence is to be tried by the congregation, which is tantamount to trial by jury. It is not left to God, under the oversight of the Church; and this is precisely our own system at the present day. We now come to the inferences to be drawn from these facts. Supposing that the Israelites when they migrated to Egypt, in the time of Joseph, were in the condition of pure nomads among whom the blood feud was fully recognized as law, an interval of four or five hundred years, such as they are supposed to have passed in Goshen would bring them to the exodus. Now, assuming that the Israelites during those four centuries, when they lived among civilized neighbors and under civilized law, made an intellectual movement corresponding in velocity to the movement the English made after the conquest, they would have been, about the time when the cities of refuge were created, in the position described in Numbers, which is what we should expect assuming the Biblical tradition to be true.
To us the important question is not whether a certain piece of the supposed Mosaic legislation actually went into effect during the life of Moses, for that is relatively immaterial, but whether the Biblical narrative is, on the whole, worthy of credence, and this correlation of dates gives the strongest possible evidence in its favor. Very possibly, perhaps it may even be said certainly, the order in which events occurred may have been transposed, but, taken as a whole, it is impossible to resist the inference that the Bible story is excellent history and that, due allowance being made for the prejudice of the various scribes who wrote the Pentateuch in favor of the miraculous, where Moses was concerned, the Biblical record is good and trustworthy history, and frank at that;--much superior to quantities of modern documents which we accept without question.
Of all the achievements of Moses' life none equals the exodus itself, either in brilliancy or success. How it was possible for Moses, with the assistance he had at command, to marshal and move a column of a million or a million and a half of men, women, and children, without discipline or cohesion, and encumbered with their baggage, beside their cattle, is an insoluble mystery. "And the children of Israel did according to the word of Moses; and they borrowed of the Egyptians jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment: ... And they spoiled the Egyptians. And the children of Israel journeyed from Ramses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand on foot that were men, beside children. And a mixed multitude went up also with them; and flocks and herds, even very much cattle." They started from Ramses and Succoth.
The position of Ramses has been identified; that of Succoth is more questionable. Ramses and Pithom were fortified places, built by the Israelites for Ramses II, of the Nineteenth Dynasty, but apparently Succoth was the last halting-place before coming to the difficult ground which was overflowed by the sea.
The crossing was made at night, but it is hard to understand how, even under the most favorable conditions of weather, such a vast and confused multitude of women and children could have made the march in darkness with an active enemy pursuing, without loss of life or material. Indeed, even at that day the movement seemed to the actors so unparalleled that it always passed for a miracle, and its perfect success gave Moses more reputation with the Israelites and more practical influence over them than anything else he ever did, or indeed than all his other works together. "And Israel saw that great work which the Lord did upon the Egyptians: and the people feared the Lord and believed the Lord and his servant Moses."
"And Miriam, the prophetess, the sister of Aaron; and all the women went after her with timbrels and with dances." Now Miriam was in general none too loyal a follower of her younger brother, but that day, or rather
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