by Douglas Reed
The friendly approach shows that the new “Law” of the Judeans was unknown to their neighbours, who were taken by surprise by this rebuff. It seems to have been just as little known to, or understood by the Judeans themselves, at that period. The books of the Law were still being compiled in
The repulse of the Samaritans gave the first hint of what was to follow. The Samaritans were Israelites, probably infused with other blood. They practised Jehovah-worship but did not recognize the supremacy of
After this first clash with their neighbours, the Judeans looked around them at ruined and depopulated
It was not a happy or triumphant return for these people, though it was a major political success for the priesthood. The Levites met the same difficulty as the Zionists in 1903, 1929 and 1953: the chosen people did not want to go to the promised land. Moreover, the leaders did not intend to head “the return”; they wished to stay in
The solution found in 538 BC was similar to the one found in 1946: the zealots were ready to go, and a hapless few, who were too poor to choose, were rounded up to accompany them. Those who desired the privilege of remaining in
The Jewish nation was already and finally dispersed; obviously it could never again be reassembled in
The “return” meant quite different things to the few who returned and to the many who watched from the dispersion. To the few it meant the possibility to practise Jehovah-worship in the way and on the spot prescribed by “the Law.” To the many it was a triumph of Judahite nationalism and the portent of the final triumph foreseen by the Law.
This watching mass had seen the means by which the success had been achieved, the conqueror undone and overthrown, and the “captivity” transformed into the “return.” Segregation had proved effective, and the chief methods of enforcing this segregation were the ghetto and the synagogue. The ghetto (essentially a Levitical concept) had been tried out in
The collective reading of the law had also proved to be an effective substitute for the ritual of worship which, under the Law, could be performed only at the temple in
Thus the “religious sect” which “returned” to an unknown
The words deserve careful study; many of “the regulations of the ritual” have been quoted in this book. The Levites had succeeded, in “captivity” and on foreign soil, in “enforcing” a “stern and inexorable regime.” The achievement is unique, and it has been a continuing one, from that time to our day.
“Strangers” are usually puzzled to imagine any means by which the ruling sect could keep so firm a hold over a community scattered about the world. This power is based, ultimately, on terror and fear. Its mysteries are kept hidden from the stranger, but by diligent study he may gain some idea of them.
The weapon of excommunication is a dreaded one, and the fear which it
inspires rests to some extent on the literal Judaist's belief in the physical efficacy of the curses enumerated in Deuteronomy and other books; the Jewish Encyclopaedia testifies to this continuing belief. In this matter there is a strong resemblance to the African Native's belief that he will die if he is “tagati'd,” and to the American Negro's fear of voodooist spells. Casting out of the fold is a much-feared penalty (and in the past was often a lethal one), of which examples may be found in the literature of our day.
Also, for pious (or for that matter superstitious) Judaists the Torah-Talmud is the only Law, and if they submit formally to the laws of countries where they dwell, it is with this inner reservation. Under that only-Law the priesthood wields all judicial and magisterial powers (and often has had these formally delegated to it by governments), and literally the Law includes capital punishment on numerous counts; in practice the priesthood in closed-communities of the dispersion has often exacted that penalty.
During that period the Levites in
The book of Ezekiel is the most significant of all the Old Testament books. It is more significant than even Deuteronomy, Leviticus and Numbers because it seems to be the fountainhead from which the dark ideas of those books of the Law first sprang. For instance, the student of the curses enumerated in Deuteronomy is bound to suspect that the deity in whose name they were uttered was of diabolic nature, not divine; the name, “God,” in the sense which has been given to it, cannot be coupled with such menaces. In Ezekiel's book the student finds this suspicion expressly confirmed. Ezekiel puts into the very mouth of God the statement that he had made evil laws in order to inspire misery and fear! This appears in chapter 20 and gives the key to the whole mystery of “the Mosaic Law.”
In this passage Ezekiel appears to be answering Jeremiah's attack on the
Levites in the matter of sacrificing the firstborn: “And they have built the high places to burn their sons and daughters in the fire; which I commanded not, neither came it into my heart.” Ezekiel is not much concerned about the lot of the sons and daughters but is clearly enraged by the charge that the Lord had not commanded the sacrifice of the firstborn, when the scribes had repeatedly ascribed this command to him. His retort is concerned only to show that God had so commanded and thus to justify the priesthood; the admission that the commandment was evil is casual and nonchalant, as if this were of no importance:
“I am the Lord your God; walk in my statutes and keep my judgments, and do them….Notwithstanding the children rebelled against me; they walked not in my statutes, neither kept my judgments to do them…. then I said, I would pour out my fury upon them, to accomplish my anger against them in the wilderness….Wherefore I gave them also statutes that were not good and judgments whereby they should not live; And I polluted them in their own gifts, in that they caused to pass through the fire all that openeth the womb, that I might make them desolate, to the end that they might know that I am the Lord.”
The ruling of Christian theologians, that the Old Testament is of “equal divine authority” with the New, presumably includes this passage! Ezekiel, in his day, forbade any protest by quickly adding, “And shall I be enquired of by you, O house of
Ezekiel experienced the Fall of Judah and the removal of the sect to
Early in it he portrays (in words which he also attributes to the Lord God) a siege of
All this is to be the retribution for non-observance, not for evil deeds. Pages of cursings follow and Jehovah promises to use the Gentiles as the rod of chastisement: “Wherefore I will bring the worst of the heathen … and they shall possess your houses.”
Portraying what will happen to those who worship “other gods,” Ezekiel in a characteristic vision sees “them that have charge over the city” (Jerusalem) “draw near, every man with his destroying weapon in his hand,” One, with a
writer's inkhorn by his side, is commanded by the Lord, “go through the midst of Jerusalem and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof” (these are the zealots in “observance”). The foreheads having been marked, Ezekiel quotes the Lord, “in my hearing,” as saying to the men, “Go ye through the city and smite; let not your eye spare, neither have ye pity; slay utterly old and young, both maids, and little children and women; but come not near any man upon whom is the mark … and they went forth and slew in the city.”
After Ezekiel's time men may have thought it wise to be seen sighing and crying in
“I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land…. And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God…. Assemble yourselves, and come; gather yourselves on every side to my sacrifice that I do sacrifice for you, even a great sacrifice for you, even a great sacrifice upon the mountains of
While the school of scribes founded by Ezekiel continued for eighty years, in
Then, in 458 BC, the Levites struck.
Their Law was ready, which was not by itself of much importance. The Persian King was ready to enforce it for them, and that was of the greatest importance, then and up to the present moment. For the first time the ruling sect accomplished the wonder which they have since repeatedly achieved: by some means they induced a foreign ruler, who was their ostensible master and to all outer appearances a mighty potentate in his own right, to put his soldiers and money at their disposal.
On this day in 458 BC the Judahites in
Ezra of the high priesthood came from
What means the sect found to bend King Artaxerxes to its will, none can now discover; after King Cyrus, he was the second potentate to play a puppet's part and in our century this readiness has become a strict qualification for public life.
Ezra brought the new racial Law with him. He enforced it first among his own travelling companions, allowing only those to accompany him who could prove that they were Judahites by descent, or Levites. When he reached
Dr. Kastein (who was equally horrified by this picture many centuries afterwards) has to admit that the Judahites by this intermingling “observed their tradition as it was understood at the time” and broke no law known to them. Ezra brought Ezekiel's new Law, which once more supplanted the old “tradition.” In his status as emissary of the Persian king he had the Jerusalemites assembled and told them that all mixed marriages were to be dissolved; thenceforth “strangers” and everything foreign were to be rigorously excluded. A commission of elders was set up to undo all the wedlocks forged and thus to destroy the “peaceful relations based on family ties.”
Dr. Kastein says that “Ezra's measure was undoubtedly reactionary; it raised to the dignity of a law an enactment which at that time was not included in the Torah” (which the Levites, in
The effect of this deed was the natural one, in 458 BC as in 1917 AD: the neighbouring peoples were affronted and alarmed by the unheard-of innovation. They saw the threat to themselves and they attacked
After thirteen years, in 445 BC, the elders in
Race thus became the supreme, though still unwritten tenet of the Law. Jehovah-worshippers who could not satisfy Persian officials and the Levite elders of their descent from Judah, Benjamin or Levi were rejected “with horror” (Dr. Kastein). Every man had to establish “the undisputed purity of his stock” from the registers of births (Hitler's Twentieth Century edict about the Aryan grandmothers was less extreme).
Then, in 444 BC, Nehemiah had Ezra embody the ban on mixed marriages in the Torah, so that at last what had been done became part of the much-amended “Law” (and David and Solomon presumably were posthumously cast out of the fold). The heads of clans and families were assembled and required to sign a pledge that they and their peoples would keep all the statutes and judgments of the Torah, with special emphasis on this new one.
In Leviticus the necessary insertion was made: “I have severed you from other people that ye should be mine.” Thenceforth no Judahite might marry outside the clan, under penalty of death; every man who married a foreign woman committed a sin against God (Nehemiah, 13.27; this is the law in the Zionist state today). “Strangers” were forbidden to enter the city, so that the Judahites “might be purified from everything foreign.”
Nehemiah and Ezra were both eye-witnesses. Nehemiah is the ideal, unchallengeable narrator: he was there, he was the dictator, his was the deed. He says that when Ezra for the first time read this new Law to the Jerusalemites:
“All the people wept when they heard the words of the Law.”
These twelve words of contemporary journalism bring the scene as clearly before today's reader as if it had occurred twenty-four hours, not twenty-four centuries ago. He sees the weeping, ghettoized throng of 444 BC through the eyes of the man who, with Persian warriors at his side, forced them into their first true captivity, the spiritual one which thereafter was to enclose any man who called himself “Jew.”
Nehemiah remained twelve years in
also setting “the severest penalties” on further transgressions of the kind. Next, “with a view to applying rigorously the selective principle, he again carefully studied the register of births” and ejected all, including even Aaronite families, in whose descent the slightest flaw could be detected. Last, he “ruthlessly purged” the community of all who had failed in “unquestioning and unhesitating allegiance to the established order and the law” and made the entire people renew their pledge.
This is known as “the New Covenant” (as Deuteronomy was the Second Law; these qualifying words are the milestones of the supplanting heresy). It had to be signed, at Levite order and under Persian duress, by every man in
By this time about four hundred years had passed since the repudiation of
For more than a hundred generations, since that day when the New Covenant was enforced by Persian arms, and the people who had wept were compelled to sign it anew, a mass of human beings, changing in blood but closely or loosely held in the bonds of this Law, have carried its burden and inheritance, in spiritual isolation from the rest of mankind. The singular paradox remains: though their enchainment was devised by the Levites the chains were Persian. On that day as ever since, though the fanatical sect has dictated their continuing captivity, foreign arms and foreign money have kept them in it.
Where does responsibility lie between those who incite to a deed and those who commit it? If the answer is that the greater and final responsibility lies with the perpetrator, then the verdict of history is incontestably, though strangely, that responsibility for the heresy of Judaism lies with the Gentiles, who from the time of the Persian kings to this century have done the bidding of the sect that devised it.
It was a heresy: On the day when King Artaxerxes's soldiers forced the Jerusalemites to sign Ezekiel's New Covenant, the perversion of the earlier Israelite tradition was made complete and the affirmation of God was supplanted
by the denial of God.
No resemblance remained between the God of the moral commandments and Ezekiel's malevolent deity who boasted that he commanded men to kill their firstborn in order to keep them in awe of himself! This was not revealed God, but a man-made deity, the incarnation of primitive tribalism. What those ancient people signed under duress, in the New Covenant, was either the formal denial of God or the formal claim that God was
“God is absorbed in the nationalism of
“We and God grew up together … We have a national God … We believe that God is a Jew, that there is no English or American God” (Mr. Maurice Samuel).
“It was not God who willed these people and their meaning. It was this people who willed this God and this meaning” (Dr. Kastein).
These statements are explicit, and such phrases are easy to pen in this century, in
“All the people wept when they heard the words of the Law” and since that day it has given very many cause to weep.