Page images
PDF
EPUB

CHAPTER XI.

GENERAL HISTORY, AND CONCLUSIONS THENCE

ELICITED.

In the fearful epochs of misery and war which followed, we find no further mention of woman individually; but, as an important evidence of the care which the Jewish religion took of females, we find Josephus, in his character of general (which he fulfilled infinitely better than that of historian), labouring with zeal and earnestness to protect the females from insult or outrage. In lawless nations, in times of such terrible evil, this would not have been thought of; whereas with the Hebrew patriot, surrounded as he was with many heavy cares and imminent dangers, it was the first consideration, and was never lost sight of throughout the whole of his career.

In glancing back over the period, which has detained us much longer than we anticipated, from the return from Babylon to the war, we cannot find a single evidence of the veracity or foundation of the charge of Jewish female degradation, nor in fact the workings of a single statute contradictory to the beautiful spirit of the law of Moses. All we have read, every female

racter brought forward, marks the superior social elevation and individual intellect of the Hebrew females, to the women of any of the surrounding nations. Nay, we see them occupying positions as wives and sisters of kings, higher and far more influential than they ever

did, or do, in any Gentile land. Instead of being sunk into mere nonentities, as, were they refused all spiritual privileges and temporal freedom, they must have been, we behold their influence, either for good or bad, as great and far-spreading as female influence ever was in any other either ancient or modern land. We cannot discern a trace of that social or domestic abasement which, had any either divine or human statute existed, must have been visible at a time when human nature was sunk to the lowest ebb. It is no longer Bibletimes, or inspired characters which we are considering. The nation was a holy nation no longer, having departed through her iniquities from the Lord. He had left her children to their own hearts; but, in the midst of evil, still the law and its beautiful ordinances lived and breathed in many noble hearts, and its atmosphere was still inhaled by the people, though its reviving sunlight had departed. Not in such a period could woman have taken her natural position, if any law had once existed to her abasement; but she simply retained that which she had always possessed, and this at the advent of Christianity.

Nor can we discern the faintest evidence of polygamy at this period. If we glance back to the return from Babylon, we must remark that every king and priest and prince is recorded as possessing but one wife. Simon, John Hyrcanus, Aristobulus I., Alexander Jannæusboth his sons, Aristobulus and Hyrcanus-Alexander, the father of Mariamne, her own two sons, and the other descendants of Herod, the wives of all of whom are mentioned, confirm both the legality and the custom of but one wife, at the very era when our opponents

[blocks in formation]

declare the religion of Jesus was absolutely needed to reform the abuses in the marriage state. “ Herod had ten wives," there will be many to exclaim, and bring history forward as their authority. With all due deference to them, we assert, ay, and will prove, that Herod had but three legal wives, and that just in the same way as adversaries of Christianity might, if they chose, declare that Charles II. had ten or twenty wives, and so believe Christianity permitted polygamy; so with an equal share of justice may the opponents of Judaism bring forward Herod as an evidence of the degradation of the Jewish religion, and its sanction of polygamy. The personal character of Herod, as well as his magnificence, indeed, much more strongly resembled the character of Henry VIII.: the similarity, in fact, between them on many points being so curious, that it might make an interesting historical parallel, though, in the violence of passion and power of remorse, Herod had the advantage; but we mention Charles II., simply to state, that he might just as well be looked upon as the representative of Christianity, as Herod of Judaism.

But now to prove that only three of his wives can be considered as legally wedded. Before he married Mariamne, or even made overtures for her hand, Herod divorced his first wife Doris, though she had already given him a son, and he had nothing to allege against her, but his own desire to forward his ambition, by a union with the Asmonaan line. Now if polygamy were the law and the custom of the land, why need he have taken the trouble of divorcing Doris ? Mariamne would equally have been his legal wife, her children equally his heirs; and though Doris might be the less

beloved, the law provided for her, even under such an emergency. But, notwithstanding all this, he divorced her before he married Mariamne ; and surely this alone would prove, that man had already, in some degree, made the advance contemplated, when the law interfered not with his private habits, and custom had already rendered the remission needless, although the laws for the offspring of divorced wives still rendered their births legal, and gave them their share of the inheritance. It is, in fact, from this, that Herod in his own person appears to have practised polygamy; but that only one wife had become the custom of the country is further proved by the historian, who mentions but one other public union. Two years after the execution of the Asmonæan princess, during which time he was too much tormented by mental remorse and physical disease, to think of taking another wife, Herod married another Mariamne, the daughter of Simon, an obscure individual, but of princely descent, and she enjoyed that dignity, such as it was, for twenty years, till, supposing her to be an accomplice in the conspiracy of Antipater against himself, he divorced her in the last year of his life and reign. Now of this second Mariamne, Josephus makes particular mention in his Antiquities (book xv. ch. 9, sect. 3), that to enable him to make her his wife, he elevated the rank of her father, thinking if he did not legally wed her, he would be stigmatised with cruelty and tyranny, qualities the semblance of which he wished to avoid.

There is no mention of his thus wedding any of his other (so called) wives; and, therefore, that he had them, and that their children were all considered legiti

mate, is not any proof of polygamy being then a national custom : for even granting Herod had publicly married the whole nine, it would not have weighed a single grain against the fact, that every other king, priest, or prince, mentioned since the return from Babylon, had but one. He was one who in every single act, set law, especially the Jewish law, at defiance. According to Gibbon, the wise and good emperor Charlemagne had also nine wives, but we do not therefore accuse Christians of favouring that doctrine; then why should we lay Herod's licentiousness, granting he proved it, which history denies rather than confirms, to the score of the holy religion which, though he professed, he certainly never practised?

In a careful and critical survey of the manners and customs of the Jews, between the return from Babylon and their final dispersion, we find nothing whatever, differing from the precepts of the early Christians. The apostles were themselves Jews, who wrote for the Gentiles, and condensed and simplified for them, the sublime morality of the Mosaic code. They do not preach a single precept, they do not proclaim a single truth, they do not give a single rule for social and domestic guidance, which we Hebrews had not known, and practised ages before they wrote—and wrote, in fact, from their own experience of Jewish manners and customs. The reverend collector of the “Old Paths" could have

little of Jewish history, or wilfully misinterpreted that which he did know, to make the extraordinary assertion that the introduction of monogamy belongs to Christianity alone. With very few exceptions, the actors of the New Testament are all Jews; and the domestic life there recorded of course reflects the Jewish

known very

« PreviousContinue »