By Professor Willis J Beecher, D.D.,
Auburn, N. Y.
THE LAW IN THE TIMES OF EZRA AND NEHEMIAH.
No one disputes that Ezra and men associated with him had something very important to do with the existence of the Hexateuch, in its present form. Postbiblical tradition testifies very abundantly to this, making Ezra the second giver of the law, and counting his work on the law inferior only to that of Moses. The New Testament and Ecclesiasticus are indeed silent concerning this tradition, but the books of Ezra and Nehemiah confirm it. See Ezra 7:6, 10, 11, 12, 21, 14, 23, 25, 26; 10:3; Neh. 8:1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 9, 13, 14, 18; 9:3, 13, 14, 26, 29, 34; 10:29, 30, 35, 37 (28, 29, 34 36); 12:26, 36, 44; 13:1, 3.
But what was the actual work done on the Hexateuch by Ezra and his associates? Did they simply preserve authenticated copies, and call attention to the laws, and procure the enforcement of them? Or did they themselves originally write most of the Priestcode, and compile the Hexateuch as a whole? Or is the truth somewhere between these extremes? To answer these questions is to solve the whole problem of Hexateuchal criticism. At present we have only to do with that part of the answer which is found in the direct statements made in the accounts of the work of Ezra and Nehemiah.
No one disputes that, according to the accounts, these two men possessed in written form the legislation which they promulgated and enforced. This might be proved, if necessary, by the passages just cited, and by Neh. 8:3, 5, 15.
No one disputes that the men of Nehemiah's great convocation were in possession of the historical statements contained in the Hexateuch and in the books of Judges, Samuel, and Kings, in the order in which these books now contain them.1
No one disputes that the narrative of the times of Ezra and Nehemiah represents that the Hexateuchal legislation as a whole was then in existence. If proof is demanded for this fact, it will be abundantly found in the earlier and later parts of this article.
No one disputes that this narrative refers the legislation of which it speaks very prominently to Moses, and thus claims that it was, in the main, in existence from the times of Moses.2 This is limited, however, by the fact that these men sometimes also ascribe to "the prophets" the authoritative precepts to which they appeal.3 Apparently, they regard Moses as the first and greatest of the law-bringing prophets, having authority because he is "the man of God," Ezra 3:2. This point will presently receive further attention.
This testimony is very explicit. If it is simply true and historical it settles the question. How are we to regard it? Is it trustworthy history? or incompetent history? or fiction? Is there any theory of the matter that can be reconciled with the idea that the Priestcode was mainly written in the times of Ezra and Nehemiah?
1. The hypothesis that these men greatly changed and supplemented the ancient writings which they edited does not seem to me, at the outset, violently improbable. Even the hypothesis of changes and additions so great that the attributing of the laws to Moses is rather by figure of speech than in actual fact, does not seem to me so absurd as to be utterly unworthy of investigation. Neither of these hypotheses necessarily amounts to a charge of untruthfulness or of pious fraud as against the record we have. But the presumption is against both the hypotheses, and both must be rejected unless sustained by sufficient proof; and the second is exceedingly improbable, because contrary to the usual phenomena of human history.
2. On examining the accounts of Ezra and Nehemiah, we should expect to find one class of phenomena in case the Hexateuchal legislation was then really ancient, and a different class of phenomena in case they themselves had just originated much of this legislation, baptizing it by an ancient name. It may be, therefore, that such an examination will indicate in which way we ought to interpret the testimony.
If the Hexateuch was then not less ancient than the other pre-exilic sacred writings they possessed, we should expect that these men, in the use they make of it, would not very sharply distinguish it from the other writings. On the other hand, if they themselves had just compiled the Hexateuch into a code, for the purpose of giving character to the Judaism of their times, the new law-book would be, in their minds, sharply distinct from all other writings. As a matter of fact, they betray no consciousness of any such distinction; in the use they make of the sacred writings, the Hexateuch and the other books simply run together, with no drawing of any border line. We find here no such distinction between the law and the prophets, or between Moses and the prophets, as appears in the Jewish and Christian fathers of the later times, or even in the New Testament, or Josephus, or Ecclesiasticus.
If the Hexateuch was really ancient, in their times, we might expect to find them appealing to it in common with the other ancient sacred writings, for authority for the laws they were endeavoring to enforce; if it was a new law-book, just prepared by themselves, and having sacred sanction, we should expect to find that they had included in it all that they regarded as necessary for the times, so that their appeal would be almost exclusively to the new law-book, and not much to the other Scriptures. Actually, they appeal to the other Scriptures about as much as to the Hexateuch. Indeed, the institutions they foster are, to a very large extent, those not mentioned in the Hexateuch, but mentioned in the other books; notably in the books that treat of the times of David and Solomon.
If the Hexateuchal legislation was then really ancient, we should expect that, when they came to enforce it, they would supplement it by such specifications and additional regulations as the changed condition of the times required; on the other hand, if it was a law-book prepared by themselves, we should expect that they would put all such specifications and new regulations into the law-book itself, and would on no account admit any other legislation than that of the law-book. In fact, the accounts represent that they made new regulations in regard to almost every legal point they touched.
By way of illustrating these principles, let us examine a few of the phenomena.
Their mode of quoting the older Scriptures.—Their habit of intermingling the Hexateuch, in their citations, with the other books, has already been illustrated by the fact that they appeal to the prophets as well as to Moses, and by the fact that the historical recapitulation in Neh. 9 passes on, without a break, from the history recorded in the first six books of the Bible to that contained in the following books. It might be further illustrated by most of the instances that are cited for other purposes in the remainder of this paper. For the present, we confine our notice to one illustration--that found in Neh. I:5-11. In this passage are five citations from Deuteronomy, and three from Solomon's prayer at the dedication of the temple, intermingled in the following order:1:5 cites Deut. 10:17, and 7:9; 1:6 cites 2 Chron. 6:40, cf. 7:15; I Kgs. 8:29, 52; 1:7 cites a current Pentateuchal phrase; 1:8, 9 is a resumé of Deut. 4:25-31, or Deut. 28:64 and 30:1-5, modified by I Kgs. 8:46-50, especially 48, or 2 Chron. 6:36-39, especially 38; 1:10 cites Deut. 9:26; 1:11 cites I Kgs. 8:50.
Sacred persons.—In the times of Ezra and Nehemiah, we find the high priest, priests, and Levites, substantially as in the Hexateuch, if we allow the accounts in Deuteronomy and Joshua to supplement those of the Priestcode. Otherwise, '" the priests, the sons of Aaron," of Exodus and Leviticus are greatly unlike the postexilic priests, being very few in number, and the close blood relatives of the high priest. But the Gibeonites of the Hexateuch (Josh. 9:27) have disappeared, and in their stead we have Nethinim, and perhaps other temple servants, in a service that is said to date back to David's time, Ezra 8:20 et al. We further have "captains of the priests and Levites," Ezra 8:29; 10:5; and singers and gatekeepers, Ezra 7:7, 24; Neh. 7:1, et al., none of them anywhere mentioned in the Hexateuch. It is quite incredible that the usage described in the Priestcode would have differed so from the usage then existing, if the Priestcode had then only just been produced.
The one sanctuary and the sacred year.—In Ezra 7:15; Neh. 1:9, etc., the history of these times recognizes the Pentateuchal doctrine of a central sanctuary. In Neh. Jo:34 (33) are mentioned the continual burnt offering, the new moons, the sabbaths, and the appointed feasts. In these and other ways the sacred year of the Pentateuch is sufficiently, though not very fully, recognized. The sabbath is mentioned many times in Neh. 9:14; 10:32 (31) seq.; 13:15 seq., traffic on that day being the especial practice rebuked; this renders it significant that traffic does not appear among the many specifications of sabbath-breaking that are given in the Hexateuch. Such specifications are numerous; if they had been prepared in the times of Nehemiah, and for these times, they certainly would not have omitted the one point that peculiarly fits these times.
The feast of Tabernacles.—Probably it is fair to assume that the first day of the seventh month, Neh. 8:1, 2, was observed as the " memorial of blowing of trumpets," Lev. 23; 24; Num. 29:1, though the account in Nehemiah says nothing of this. But the reading of the law on this day, 1-8, and the gathering of the second day, with its study of the law, 13, are both extra-Hexateuchal. In the absence of information, we may assume that the day of Atonement was celebrated on the tenth day, according to Lev. 23:27; Num. 29:7-11. The narrative in Nehemiah specifically informs us that the feast of Tabernacles was kept the seven days required by the law, with the "solemn assembly " on the eighth day; and that the people dwelt in booths according to the law.4 But the proclamation to go out into the mountain country and gather branches, Neh. 8:15, is not in the Hexateuch, but is an innovation of Nehemiah's, as are also some of the other details that are mentioned. And in Neh. 8:17, we are definitely informed that this celebration of the feast differed from any that had ever previously been held.5 It should further be noticed that the sending of portions as a festival custom appears only in Neh. 8:10, 12; Esth. 9:19, 22, and possibly 2 Chron. 31:19. There is no hint of it in the Hexateuch, though there may possibly be in I Sam. 1:4, 5.
The public reading of the book of the law.—Such reading, at the feast of Tabernacles, Neh. 8:18, and perhaps 13:1, was according to Deut. 31:10-13, provided we assume that the first year of Nehemiah was " the year of release," at " the end of seven years." In Neh. 8:2, 3, the reading is in the public assembly (qahal), and before women as well as men, as required by the precept in Deuteronomy. The portion said to have been read, Neh. 13:1, is from Deuteronomy; very likely, the same is true of the reading of 8:1 seq., since the weeping there spoken of would very naturally attend the threats made in Deuteronomy. The precept concerning the dwelling in booths, Neh. 8:14, is, of course, not from Deuteronomy, but that was brought to light, not by the public reading in the congregation, but by special instruction given to certain selected persons, 8:13. On the whole it seems probable that the directions given in Deuteronomy were followed, as far as they went; bxt the account in Nehemiah mentions many particulars not provided for in Deuteronomy: the reading on the first day of the month, the special instruction on the second day, the reading at the fast, the twenty-fourth day, 9:3, and the whole ritual of the reading, including the " tower of wood," the priests on either hand, the standing of the people, the blessing by the reader, the response by the people, the explaining by the Levites, 8:4-9. If the Priestcode had then just been written, largely for the purpose of supplementing Deuteronomy by giving details of ritual, is it likely that it would be thus silent in regard to all these regulations?
Sacred services.—In Neh. 10:33-40; Ezra 7:16, 17; 8:28, 35; 9:4, 5; 10:19, et al., are mentioned the shewbread, the burnt offering, the sin offering, the trespass offering, the meal offering, the drink offering, the tithes, the first fruits, the firstlings, free will offerings of more than one sort, the fact that the priests and the sacred vessels are holy to Jehovah, and, in fine, so full a list of the Pentateuchal sacred services as to justify us in inferring that the whole Pentateuchal system of worship was in operation. But the variations mentioned are very considerable, and that though the whole space given to these matters extends only to a few sentences. " The evening meal offering" is spoken of in Ezra 9:4, 5 in a way that can hardly be paralleled in the Pentateuch. In Neh. 10:35 seq., several details are added to the Pentateuchal precepts in regard to tithes and first fruits, and a new precept given for bringing these " unto the chambers." The yearly poll-tax of one-third of a shekel for temple expenses, Neh. 10:33 (32), is new, being an entirely different thing from the half shekel tax of Ex. 30:11 seq.; 38:25 seq., which was paid once for all, and was used for building, and not for current expenses. The wood offering, and the casting of lots for it, Neh. 10:35 (34), are entirely new.
These differences of detail would be significant, even if they stood alone. But in addition to these is the fact that the public religious services on which most stress is laid, in the times of Ezra and Nehemiah, are of a kind that do not appear at all in the Hexateuch. The solemn entering into oath of Neh. 10:30 (29) might indirectly find precedent in Deut. 29:11 seq., though nothing of the kind is indicated by either the circumstances or the phraseology. But the sealing of Neh. 10:1, 2 (9:38; 10:1), as a public religious act, has no parallel in the Hexateuch. Prominent among the religious services of the times of Ezra and Nehemiah is public fasting, with wearing of sackcloth, and earth upon the head, Ezra 8:23; Neh. 9:1; nothing of the kind is required in the Pentateuchal legislation. Similar statements might be made in regard to public prayer, and in regard to the responsive services connected with the reading of the law, Neh. 8 and 9, e. g. And the one religious service more prominent in these accounts than any other is choral singing and music, Ezra 10:24; Neh. 10:29, 40 (28, 39); 11:22, 23; 12:27, 28, 29, 36, 42-47; 13:5, 10; no service of song of this sort is provided for in the Pentateuchal ritual, though song is often mentioned in the early history, and even choral singing (see Ex. 15:20, 21) is known. Indeed, the song service of Nehemiah's time is specifically referred to the times of David and Asaph, Neh. 11:17, 22; 12:24, 35, 36, 45, 46.
And yet the Priestcode is a book of ritualistic details. Is it likely that men wrote this book for the purpose of regulating the ritual of their times, and yet omitted from it all these important matters in the ritual of their times?
Usury, the redemption of Israelites sold to foreigners, and the year of release.—On the supposition that the first year of Nehemiah was the year of release, and perhaps even without this supposition, what is said in Neh. 5, and in Neh. 10:32 (3), fits well enough the precepts given in Ex. 23:11; 22:25-27; Lev. 25; Deut. 15:1-11, etc. There are some resemblances of phraseology which seem to show that reference to these passages in the Pentateuch was intended. But even in this case, the precept used is to be found in the other sacred books, as well as in the Hexateuch.
Separation from the peoples of the countries.—In this central reform of the times of Ezra and Nehemiah, the two prominent points are the exclusion of foreigners from the qahal, or national assembly, and the refusal of intermarriage. The exclusion from the assembly (see Neh. 13:1-3, citing Deut. 23:3-6, and see also Neh. 2:20, et al.) may fairly be said to be based on the precept in Deuteronomy, as interpreted by the general tenor of the Pentateuchal legislation, with its requirement that Israel should be a people set apart to Jehovah.
The case is somewhat different regarding the marriages with foreign women. When this offence is spoken of briefly, in Ezra and Nehemiah, it is simply described as taking foreign wives, Ezra 10:2, 10, 11, 14, 17, 18, 44; Neh. 13:27. But marriages with foreign women are not, in these terms, forbidden in the Hexateuch, while they are disapproved in I Kgs. 11:1, 8, and probably in Prov. 2:16; 5:20; 6:24; 7:5; 20:16; 23:27; 27:13. Moreover, I Kgs. 11:1, 8 is definitely cited in Neh. 13:26. In the passages in Ezra and Nehemiah where the offence is further defined, the appeal is to the prophets, as well as to the law, Ezra 9:11; 10:3; Neh. 10:29-3I (28-30). The phraseology cited is partly from the Hexateuch, and partly from the other Scriptures, Ezra 9:1, 2, 10-12, etc. The Hexateuchal precepts appealed to originally cover only the case of the Canaanite tribes, and apply to the other peoples to whom Ezra and Nehemiah apply them, only when interpreted by the other Scriptures, or by Ezra and Nehemiah themselves. See Deut. 7:1-4; Ex. 34:16; Josh. 23:12; I Kgs. 11; 1, 2. Surely, if the Hexateuchal laws had just been re-edited, and part of them just written, they would have been made to fit the cases in hand, and would not have needed to be extended by usage and interpretation, in order to make them apply to those cases. This consideration has all the more force, when we find that the Hexateuch provides no penalty or remedy for the offence, but leaves that to be done by Ezra and Nehemiah themselves.
It cannot be necessary to pursue the argument farther. Evidently, the books of Ezra and Nehemiah represent the whole body of the Hexateuchal legislation as ancient when Ezra and Nehemiah lived. Distinctly, they regard these men, not as the originators of that legislation, but as students, promulgators, and possibly revisers of it.
1) Neh. 9:6-8 summarizes from Genesis, 9-20 from Exodus and Numbers, 20-22 from Numbers and Deuteronomy, 23-25 from Joshua, 26-31 from Judges, Samuel, and I Kings, and 32-35 from 2 Kings.
2) "We have not kept the commandments, etc., which thou didst command Moses thy servant. Remember, I pray, the word which thou didst command Moses thy servant, saying," Neh. 1:7, 8.
"And upon Mount Sinai thou camest down, and spakest with them from heaven, . . . and didst command to them commandments and statutes and law, by the hand of thy servant Moses," Neh. 9:13, 14.
"And they found written in the law which Jehovah commanded by the hand of Moses that the sons of Israel should dwell in the booths . . . and they dwelt in the booths; for thus the sons of Israel had not done, from the days of Joshua the son of Nun unto that day," Neh. 8:14, 17.
See also Ezra 7:6; Neh. 8:1; 10:29; 13:1, and cf. Ezra 3:2; 6:18, and the fact that these accounts speak of the history continuously from the times of Moses.
3) "For we have forsaken thy commandments which thou didst command by the hand of thy servants the prophets, saying: The land . . . is an impure land," etc., Ezra 9:11.
"They cast thy law behind their back, and slew thy prophets," Neh. 9:26.
"And thou didst testify with them by thy Spirit, by the hand of thy prophets," 9:30.
4) "The sons of Israel shall dwell in booths," etc., Neh. 8:14, is cited, with slight verbal changes, from Lev. 23:42. Some of the trees specified in Neh. 8:15, though not all, are those specified in Lev. 23:40.
5) "For from the days of Jeshua the son of Nun unto that day, the sons of Israel had not done thus." The word ken, thus, is made emphatic by being thrown out of its natural place. It is very strange that some have understood this sentence as affirming that they had never before dwelt in booths at the feast; the affirmation clearly is that they had' never before so managed the matter of the booths as they did at this time; and this implies the previous existence of the custom.