[Classics] Foundations of Christianity

8. The Jews after the Exile

The Exile

On the surface, With the destruction of Jerusalem, Judah had met with the same fate as the ten tribes of Israel after the destruction of Samaria. But what made Israel disappear from history, raised Judah from obscurity to one of the most powerful factors in world history, because its greater distance from Assyria, the natural strength of Jerusalem and the incursions of the northern nomads caused Jerusalem to fall 135 years later than Samaria.

The Jews were subjected for four generations more than the ten tribes to those influences we have discussed, which stimulate national fanaticism to its extreme. That factor alone made the Jews go into exile with a national feeling far stronger than that of their northern brothers. Another circumstance working in the same direction was that Judah was recruited essentially from a single large city with its surrounding territory, whereas the northern kingdom was a conglomerate of ten tribes which had not grown very close together. Judah was a much more unified and coherent mass than Israel.

Nevertheless the Judeans too would have lost their nationality in exile if they had remained under foreign rule as long as the ten tribes. The exile abroad may long for his old country and not strike roots in his new dwelling-place. Exile may even deepen his national feeling. In children born in exile, and growing up in the new conditions, aware of the old conditions only through their fathers’ tales, it is rare for that national feeling to be as intense, unless it is continually kept alive by absence of rights or mistreatment in the new country or the hope of speedy return to the homeland. The third generation hardly knows its nationality unless it is discriminated against and forcibly set apart from the rest of the population as a peculiar and inferior nation, and subject to oppression and mistreatment.

This does not seem to have been the case with the deportees to Assyria and Babylonia, and the Jews might well have lost their nationality and been taken up into the Babylonians if they had stayed among them longer than for three generations. But soon after the destruction of Jerusalem the victor’s empire began to totter, and the exiles gained new hope of returning to the land of their fathers soon; and in the course of the second generation the hope was fulfilled, and the Jews were allowed to return to Jerusalem from Babylon. For the peoples pressing from the north against Mesopotamia that had put an end to Assyria were still unquiet. The most powerful among them proved to be the nomad people of the Persians, who wiped out the two heirs of the Assyrian predominance, the empires of the Medes and of the Babylonians; the Persians not only restored the Assyrian-Babylonian empire in new form, but enormously enlarged it by conquering Egypt and Asia Minor. They created a military organization and a civil administration that for the first time constituted a solid foundation for a world empire, held it together and kept a lasting peace within it.

The conquerors of Babylon had no reason for keeping from their homes the people that Babylon had conquered and taken into exile. In 538 Babylon was taken by the Persians without a blow being struck, a sign of how weak it felt itself to be; and within only a year Cyrus, the Persian king, permitted the Jews to return. Their exile had lasted not quite fifty years, and yet so many had already become accustomed to the new conditions that only a part took advantage of the permission, while many remained in Babylon, where they felt more at home. That would indicate how little chance there would have been of Judah’s avoiding complete disappearance if Jerusalem had had the same fate as Samaria; if 180 years rather than fifty had elapsed between its destruction and the fall of Babylon.

Short as the Jewish exile was, it brought sweeping changes in Judaism, making possible the full development and reinforcement of a series of tendencies that had previously been produced by conditions in Judah and which now assumed most peculiar forms in virtue of the most peculiar situation in which Judaism was placed from this time on.

It persisted as a nation while in exile, but a nation without farmers, a nation with an exclusively urban population. That constitutes one of the most important characteristics of Judaism down to the present day, and is the basis of its most essential “racial” characteristics, which actually are nothing more than the qualities of the city-dweller, carried to an extreme point by long city life and the absence of fresh additions to the population from the peasantry. This is a point I referred to as far back as 1890. [14] The return from exile to Palestine had only a minor and superficial effect on this state of affairs, as we shall see.

The Jews were not merely a nation of city-dwellers, but also a nation of traders. Industry was not highly developed in Judah, as we have seen; it was just enough for simple household purposes. This was a disadvantage among the Babylonians with their advanced technology. Military service and administration were not open to the Jews because of the loss of their independence: what other livelihood was left open to the city-dwellers than trade?

It had always played a large part in the life of Palestine; in exile it must have been their chief way of earning a living.

With the growth of trade there must have come a growth in the sharpness of their intelligence, of mathematical sense, of the capacity for reflection and abstraction. At the same time the national misfortune gave this increased keenness nobler objects than personal profit. In exile the fellow-countrymen came still closer together; the feeling of belonging is stronger when contrasted with the foreigner, for the individual feels himself weaker and more imperilled. Social feeling, ethical emotion became stronger and filled the Jewish acuteness with the most profound thought about the causes of the national misfortune and the means of raising the nation up again.

Another powerful stimulus to Jewish thought must have been the magnificence of the city of Babylon with its millions of inhabitants, its world-wide trade, its ancient culture, its science and philosophy. Just as in the first half of the last century a stay in the Babylon on the Seine elevated German thinkers and spurred them to their highest and best works, so must staying in the Babylon on the Euphrates in the sixth century B.C. have affected the Jews from Jerusalem and burst open their horizon.

In Babylon, however, as in all the Oriental commercial centers that were not situated on the Mediterranean coast but inland, science remained mixed up with religion and bound to it, for reasons we have pointed out. In Judaism too, all the new strong impressions came through in religious form. In fact religion necessarily came even more into the foreground for the Jews because after the loss of their national independence the common national cult was the only bond that still held any authority over the entire nation. The tribal organization seems to have received new strength in exile, after the national government had ceased to exist. [15] But clannishness and its separatism are not enough to hold a nation together. It was in religion that Judah now sought the conservation and salvation of its nation and the leadership of the nation now fell to the priesthood.

The priesthood of Judea borrowed the pretensions of the Babylonian hierarchy, and also adopted many of their religious notions. A whole series of legends in the Bible are of Babylonian origin: for example, the Creation of the world, Paradise, the Fall, the Tower of Babel, the Deluge. The strict observance of the Sabbath is equally Babylonian. It was stressed for the first time during the Exile.

“The emphasis that Ezekiel puts on the reverence for the Sabbath is something quite new. No earlier prophet this way; for Jeremiah 17, verses 19f. is spurious.” [16]

Even after the return from the Exile, in the fifth century, the enforcement of the Sabbath rest was a matter of the greatest difficulty, “since it went too strongly against the old customs.” [17]

It may be safely assumed, although there is no direct evidence, that the Jewish priesthood learned not only popular legends and customs from the lofty Babylonian hierarchy, but also a higher, more spiritual conception of the divinity.

The notion the Israelites had of God was long a very crude one. No matter how much pains later collectors and editors and revisers of the old stories took to clear them of all traces of paganism, there are still some left in the version of these stories that has come down to us.

Let us take for example the stories about Jacob. Not only does his god help him in all sorts of dubious affairs, but he gets involved in a wrestling match with Jacob, in which the god is vanquished by the man:

“And there wrestled a man with him (Jacob) until the breaking of the day. And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him. And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me. And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob. And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed. And Jacob asked him, and said, Tell me, J pray thee, thy name. And he said, Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? And he blest him there. And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.” (Genesis 32, verses 24 to 30).

The Great Unknown with whom Jacob wrestled victoriously and from whom he extorted a blessing was thus a god, mastered by a man, just as gods and men fight in the Iliad. But when Diomedes succeeds in wounding Ares, it is with the help of Pallas Athene. Jacob disposes of his god without the aid of any other god.

In contrast to the naive ideas of God among the Israelites, many of the priests among the civilized peoples that surrounded them had attained monotheism, at least in their secret teachings.

This once found drastic expression among the Egyptians. “We are not now in a position to give in detail and follow in chronological sequence all the vagaries of speculation and all the phases of the intellectual development of the Egyptians. The final conclusion is that for the secret doctrine even Horus and Re, the son and the father, are completely identical, that the god begets himself by his own mother, the goddess of Heaven, and she too in turn is by a creation of the one eternal god. This doctrine is first expressed clearly and unequivocally with all its consequences at the beginning of the New Empire (after the expulsion of the Hyksos, in the fifteenth century); but it had begun to spread after the end of the sixth dynasty (about the year 2500), and during the Middle Kingdom the fundamental concepts are already fixed ... The starting-point of the new doctrine is Anu, the city of the sun (Heliopolis).” [18]

This doctrine remained esoteric, but it came to practical application once. This happened before the Hebrews had entered into Canaan, under Amenhotep IV, in the fourteenth century. It seems that this ruler came into conflict with the priesthood, whose wealth and power threatened to overwhelm him. He knew no other way of protecting himself from them than taking their esoteric doctrine seriously, compelling the cult of the one god and bitterly persecuting all the other gods, which amounted in practice to confiscating the enormous wealth of their colleges of priests.

We do not have the details of this struggle between hierarchy and monarchy. It was long-drawn out, but a century after Amenhotep IV, the priesthood had won a complete victory and completely restored the old cults.

The whole incident shows how far monotheistic ideas had developed in the secret priestly doctrines of the centers of civilization in the ancient Orient. We have no reason to presume that the priests of Babylon were more backward than those of Egypt, whom they matched in all the arts and sciences. Thus Jeremias too speaks of a “latent monotheism” in Babylon. Marduk, the creator of heaven and earth, was also the lord of gods, whom he “pastures like sheep”, that is, the various gods were only particular forms in which the one god appeared. Thus a Babylonian text says of the various gods: “Ninib: Marduk of Strength. Nergal: Marduk of Battle. Eel: Marduk of Rule. Nabu: Marduk of Commerce. Sin: Marduk Illuminator of the Night. Samas: Marduk of Justice. Addu: Marduk of Rain.”

Just at the time of the Jewish Exile, when a sort of monotheism was becoming predominant among the Persians, now in contact with Babylon, there are signs that “in Babylonia too the germ of a monotheism had been planted, which must have had a strong similarity to the Pharaonic sun-cult of Amenophis IV (Amenhotep). At any rate, in an inscription dating from just before the fall of Babylon, and quite in accordance with the importance of the moon cult in Babylon, the moon god appears in a role like that of the sun god for Amenophis IV.” [19]

The colleges of priests in Babylon and Egypt had a vital interest in keeping their ultimate monotheistic views from the people, since their entire power and wealth rested on the traditional polytheistic cult; but it was a different matter with the priesthood of the fetish of the covenant at Jerusalem.

Even before the destruction of Jerusalem this fetish had gained greatly in significance, ever since Samaria had been destroyed and the northern kingdom of Israel overthrown. Jerusalem was now the only large city of the Israelitish nationality; the lands around it were relatively unimportant in comparison. The prestige of the fetish of the covenant which had long, even before David perhaps, been great in Israel and particularly in the tribe of Judah, must now have overshadowed and obscured all the other shrines of the people, as Jerusalem overshadowed all the other towns of Judah. Likewise the priesthood of this fetish must have achieved a dominant position with respect to the other priests in the land. There was a struggle between the rural clergy and the priests of the capital which ended, perhaps even before the Exile, with the fetish of Jerusalem obtaining a monopoly. That at least is the meaning of the story of Deuteronomy, the “Book of the Doctrine”, which a priest is said to have “discovered” in the Temple in 621. It contains the divine command to demolish all the shrines outside of Jerusalem, an order which King Josiah faithfully obeyed:

“And he put down the idolatrous priests, whom the kings of Judah had ordained to burn incense in the high places in the cities of Judah, and in the places round about Jerusalem; them also that burned incense unto Baal, to the sun, and to the moon, and to the planets and to all the host of heaven ... And he brought all the priests out of the cities of Judah, and defiled the high places where the priests had burned incense, from Geba to Beersheba ... Moreover the altar that was at Bethel, and the high place which Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin, had made, both that altar and the high place he brake down and burned the high place, and stamped it small to powder ...” II Kings 23, verses 5f.)

Not only the shrines of strange gods but even those of Jahveh himself, the oldest of his altars, were thus profaned and annihilated.

Perhaps this whole story, like so many others in the Bible, is but a fiction made up after the Exile, an attempt to justify actions taken after the Exile by representing them as repetitions of earlier proceedings, by inventing precedents or at least grossly exaggerating them. It may be assumed, at any rate, that there were rivalries between the priests of the capital and those of the provinces even before the Exile, occasionally ending in the closing down of inconvenient competitive shrines. It was easy for the Jews in exile, among whom those from Jerusalem predominated, to accept the monopolistic position of the Temple at Jerusalem. Under the influence of Babylonian philosophy and their own national catastrophe, and perhaps of the Persian religion, which developed in a similar direction at much the same time as the Jewish religion and came into contact with it, stimulating it and perhaps receiving stimulation from it as well – under all these influences the efforts of the priests to create a monopoly for their fetish took the form of an ethical monotheism in which Jahveh was no longer merely the particular tribal god of Israel but the only god in the world, the personification of the good, the sum and substance of all morality.

Thus, when the Jews returned to Jerusalem from captivity, their religion had developed so highly and become so spiritual that the crude religious ideas and practices of the Jewish peasants who had been left behind must have seemed to them no more than revolting heathen abominations. If it had not yet taken place, it was now possible for the priests and masters of Jerusalem to see to it that these competitive provincial cults were done away with and the monopoly of the Jerusalem hierarchy permanently established.

Thus Jewish monotheism arose. It was ethical in nature, like that of the Platonic philosophy, for example. But among the Jews the new concept of the deity did not arise outside of religion, as with the Greeks; it was not propounded by a class standing outside the priesthood. Thus the one God did not appear as a new god, standing above and outside of the old world of gods, but as a reduction of the old society of gods to a single most powerful god, standing closest to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, that is to the old warrior, ethical, tribal and local god, Jahveh.

This introduced a number of knotty contradictions into the Jewish religion. As an ethical god Jahveh is God of all mankind, since good and bad are concepts that are taken as absolute, as valid for all men alike. And as an ethical god, as personification of the moral idea, the one God is everywhere, as morality is considered to be universally valid. But for Babylonian Judaism religion and the Jahveh cult were also their strongest national link; and any possibility of reestablishing their national independence was inseparably linked to the reconstruction of Jerusalem. The erection of the Temple in Jerusalem, and then its preservation, became the watchword which brought the Jewish nation together. The priesthood of this temple had become the highest national authority of the Jews, the class that had every interest in maintaining the ritual monopoly of this temple. Thus there was a remarkable amalgam of the high philosophical abstraction of a single omnipresent God, who requires not sacrifices, but only for a pure heart and a life free from sin, with the old primitive fetishism which localized the god in a particular place, the only place where the deity could be successfully influenced by entreaties of all sorts. The Temple of Jerusalem remained the exclusive seat of Jahveh, to which every pious Jew had to turn in his longing.

There was another contradiction, just as bizarre, in the fact that God as the epitome of the moral requirements which are the same for all men now became the God of all men, and yet remained the Jewish tribal god. The attempt was made to solve the contradiction by saying that God was to be sure the God of all men, and that all men were bound to love and worship him, but that the Jews were the only people that he had chosen to bear witness to this love and worship, to whom he had revealed his majesty, leaving the Gentiles in blindness. It was precisely during the Exile, in the time of deepest humiliation and desperation, that this proud supremacy over the rest of mankind appeared. Formerly Israel had been a nation like other nations, and Jahveh a god like the other gods; perhaps stronger than the other gods, in the way that one gave one’s own nation pre-eminence over other nations, but still not the only real God, and Israel not alone in possession of the truth.

“The God of Israel was not the Almighty, but only the most powerful among the gods. He was on the same plane with them and had to battle against them; Chemosh and Dagon and Hadad were in every way comparable with him, less powerful but no less real. ‘Wilt not thou possess that which Chemosh thy god giveth thee to possess?’ Jephtha warns the neighbors who have crossed the border, ‘So whomsoever the Lord our God shall drive out from before us, them will we possess.’ The domains of the gods were separate like those of the peoples, and one god had no right in the land of another.” [20]

But now it is quite different. The author of Isaiah, chapters 40ff., who wrote at the end of the Exile or shortly thereafter, has Jahveh proclaim:

“I am the Lord [Jahveh]; that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images ... Sing unto the Lord a new song, and his praise from the end of the earth, ye that go down to the sea, and all that is therein, the isles, and the inhabitants thereof. Let the wilderness and the cities thereof lift up their voice, the villages that Kedar doth inhabit: let the inhabitants of the rock sing, let them shout from the top of the mountains. Let them give glory unto the Lord, and declare his praise in the islands.” [21]

Here there is no limitation to Palestine or Jerusalem. But the same author has Jahveh say:

“But thou, Israel, art my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend. Thou whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, and called thee from the chief men thereof, and said unto thee, Thou art my servant; I have chosen thee, and not cast thee away. Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God ... They that war against thee shall be as nothing, and as a thing of nought. For I the Lord thy God will hold thy right hand ... The first [viz., the Lord] shall say to Zion, Behold, behold them: and I will give to Jerusalem one that bringeth good tidings.” [22]

These are strange contradictions, but contradictions which come out of life, out of the contradictory position of the Jews in Babylon. There they had been placed within a new civilization which revolutionized their whole way of thinking, while all the conditions of their lives drove them to conserve their old traditions as the only way to conserve their national existence, which had become so especially dear to them; for a difficult position lasting for centuries had developed their national feeling to an unusually marked degree.

The task of the thinkers of Judaism was to combine the new ethics with the old fetishism and to reconcile the narrow views of a little mountain people with the knowledge of the world and of life achieved by the broad civilisation centering around Babylon. And this reconciliation was to take place on the level of religion, that is of traditional beliefs. The task was hence to show that the new things were not new but old, that the new truth of the foreigners, to which one could not close his eyes, was neither new nor foreign, but an authentic Jewish possession, by recognizing and accepting which the Jews would not lose their nationality in the Babylonian melting-pot, but would emerge a stronger and firmer people.

This was a task well suited to sharpen the wits and develop the art of interpretation and hair-splitting, which from this point on reached such a high degree of perfection among the Jews. It also gave the historical literature of the Jews its specific character.

This process, one which has often occurred, was described by Marx in the Introduction to the Critique of Political Economy, in discussing the views of the eighteenth century on the state of nature in the following terms:

“The individual and isolated hunter and fisher who forms the starting point with Smith and Ricardo, belongs to the insipid illusions of the Eighteenth Century. They are Robinsonades, which do not by ally means represent, as students of the history of civilisation imagine, a reaction against over-refinement and a return to a misunderstood natural life. They are no more based on such a naturalism than is Rousseau’s Contrat Social, which makes naturally independent individuals come in contact and have intercourse by contract. They are the fiction and only the aesthetic fiction of the small and great Robinsonades. They are, moreover, the anticipation of ‘bourgeois society’, which had been in course of development since the Sixteenth Century and made gigantic strides towards maturity in the Eighteenth. In this society of free competition the individual appears free from the bonds of nature, etc., which in former epochs of history made him a part of a definite, limited human conglomeration. To the prophets of the Eighteenth Century, on whose shoulders Smith and Ricardo are still standing, this Eighteenth Century individual, constituting the joint product of the dissolution of the feudal form of society and of the new forces of production which had developed since the Sixteenth Century, appears as an ideal whose existence belongs to the past; not as result of history, but as its starting point. Since that individual appeared to be in conformity with nature and corresponded to their conception of human nature, he was regarded not as a product of history, but of nature. This illusion is characteristic of every new epoch.”

This was the illusion of those thinkers too who during the Exile and after it developed the notion of monotheism and theocracy in Judaism. The idea did not seem to them to be one which had arisen in the course of history, but as something laid down from the beginning, not a “historical result,” but the “initial point of history.” History itself was now taken in the same sense, and it was the more easily adapted to the new needs; the more it was based on merely oral tradition, the less it was documented. The belief in the one God and the domination of Israel by the priests of Jahveh was now transposed to the beginnings of Israel’s history; the polytheism and fetishism, which could not be denied, were explained away as later apostasy from the faith of the fathers, not as their original faith, which in fact it was.

And this view had another great advantage, that there was something exceptionally consoling about it, as there was about the self-proclamation of Israel as the chosen people of God. If Jahveh were only the tribal god of Israel, the disasters of his people would signify so many disasters to its god, since he would have turned out to be the weaker in battle with other gods; and in that case there would be every reason to despair of Jahveh and his priests. It was something else again if there was no other god but Jahveh, if he had chosen the Israelites above the other peoples and they repaid him with ingratitude and apostasy. Now all the tribulations of Israel and Judah appeared merely as merited punishment for their sins and their disregard for the priests of Jahveh, as proofs not of the weakness but of the strength of God, who is not mocked with impunity. But in this there lay the basis for the conviction that God would once more have mercy on his people, rescue and deliver it, if it only would hold fast to the true faith in him and in his priests and prophets. If the life of the nation were not to disappear, such a faith was needed, given the hopelessness of the situation of the tiny people, the “worm Jacob” (Isaiah 41, verse 14) among the hostile and powerful communities.

Only by a supernatural, superhuman, divine power, a savior sent by God, only by the Messiah could Judah still be saved, freed and finally made ruler over the nations that now abused it. The belief in the Messiah arrives at the same time as monotheism and is closely connected with it. Precisely for this reason the Messiah is not thought of as God, but as a man sent by God. He was to establish an earthly kingdom, not a heavenly kingdom (for Jewish thought was not as abstract as all that), a Jewish kingdom. In fact Cyrus, who released the Jews from Babylonia and sent them back to Jerusalem, is already designated as the Lord’s anointed, Messiah, Christ (Isaiah 45, verse 1).

This transformation in Jewish thinking could not have been carried out all at once nor peacefully; it started in the Exile but could not have ended there. We must suppose that there were violent polemics after the fashion of the prophets, profound doubts and searchings after the fashion of the book of Job, and historical accounts after the fashion of the various components of the Pentateuch, which were written at about that time.

It was only long after the Exile that this revolutionary period came to a close. Certain dogmatic, ritual, legal and historical views emerged victorious and were recognized as correct by the priesthood, which had become the rulers of the people, and by the mass of the people themselves. Certain writings, which agreed with these views, were now labeled as primordial and sacred, and handed down to posterity as such. In the process radical “revisions,” eliminations and interpolations had to be made in order to bring some sort of unity into the various components of this contradictory body of literature in which the old and the new, things correctly understood and things misunderstood, the genuine and the spurious stood side by side in inextricable confusion. Despite all this “editorial work” there is still fortunately enough of the original material left in the end product, the “old Testament,” for us to be able to distinguish, under the luxuriant undergrowth of forgeries, at least the general character of the old Hebrew community before the Exile, a community of which the new Judaism was not only the continuation but also the complete contradiction.

The Jewish Diaspora

In the year 588 B.C., the Babylonian Jews received permission from Cyrus to return to Jerusalem. We have seen that by no means all of them took advantage of this privilege. How could they all make a living there? The city was in ruins, and some time was needed until it was made habitable and fortified, and the Temple of Jahveh restored. Even then it did not by any means give all the Jews the hope of a livelihood. Then as now the peasant often moved to the city, but the transition from city-dwelling to farming is hard and rare.

The Jews had probably not acquired industrial skill in Babylon; perhaps they were not there long enough. Judea achieved no political autonomy, remaining dependent on foreign conquerors, first the Persians, then Alexander the Great, the Greeks, and finally, after a brief interval of independence and various disastrous convulsions, the Romans. None of the conditions existed in Judea for a military monarchy gaining wealth by subjugating and plundering weaker neighbors.

If there was not much to be got by the Jews in farming, industry or military service on their return from the Exile, the majority of them had no other occupation open to them but trade, as in Babylon. They took to it with a vigor arising out of the mental abilities and knowledge needed for trade that they had developed over the centuries.

However, since the Babylonian captivity there had been revolutionary changes in politics and commerce that were fateful for the commercial position of Palestine. Peasant farming and handicrafts are highly conservative occupations.

Technical advances in these occupations occur rarely, and are slow to be adopted so long as the stimulus of competition is lacking, as it is under primitive conditions, and so long as in the normal course of events, that is if there are no bad harvests, droughts, wars and such catastrophes, the worker who labors in the traditional way is sure of his bread, whereas the new and untried may lead to failures and losses.

As a rule technical advances in peasant agriculture and the handicrafts do not arise in those fields themselves, but in trade, which brings new products and procedures from abroad that arouse thought and in the end produce new profitable crops and methods.

Trade is much less conservative. Of necessity it rises above local and professional narrowness and is critical of home traditions, because it can compare them with what has been achieved in other places under different conditions. In addition, the merchant is subject to competition, sooner than the farmer or the artisan, because he encounters competitors from many nations in the great centers of commerce. He continually has to look for something new, and above all for improved means of communication and travel and for broader fields of trade connections. Until agriculture and industry become capitalistic and are put on a scientific footing, trade is the only revolutionary factor in the economy. This is especially true of sea-borne commerce. Navigation makes it possible to cover greater distances and bring more different peoples into contact with each other than commerce by land does. At first the sea separates peoples more, and makes their development more independent of others and more individualized. When navigation develops and the hitherto isolated peoples come into contact with each other, the contrasts and contradictions are often sharper than in the case of land trading. Navigation too requires higher technical development; sea-borne commerce comes much later than trade by land, for building a seaworthy ship calls for a much greater mastery of nature than say taming a camel or a donkey. On the other hand, the great profits of maritime commerce, which can only be obtained on the basis of a highly developed shipbuilding technique, are one of the strongest incentives to perfect this technique. There is perhaps no other field in which ancient technology developed so early and registered such triumphs as in shipbuilding.

Navigation however does not hamper commerce on land, but furthers it. If a city port is to prosper, it needs as a rule to be supported by a region furnishing the goods to be shipped and in turn absorbing the goods brought in by the ships. It must strive to develop land communications along with navigation; but the latter becomes more and more important until it is the decisive factor, and land commerce is subordinate to it. If the routes of navigation change, the land routes must change accordingly.

The first long-distance seafarers in the Mediterranean came from Phoenicia, which lay between the old civilized countries on the Nile and the Euphrates and participated in the intercourse between them. It was on the Mediterranean, as Egypt was; but the Egyptians were led to agriculture rather than to navigation by the very nature of their land, whose fertility is inexhaustible thanks to the annual inundations by the Nile. Moreover the Egyptians did not have the necessary timber, nor the pressure of need, which in the early stages is the only whip that could make men brave the dangers of the open sea. The river navigation of the Egyptians reached a high point of development, but on the sea they did not go beyond coastal shipping over short distances. They developed agriculture and industry, especially weaving, and their commerce flourished, but they did not go abroad as traders, but waited for the foreigners to come to them with their wares. The desert and the sea remained alien elements to them.

The Phoenicians on the other hand lived on a seacoast that forced them to the sea; it was so close to the mountains and gave such meager plowlands that farming had to be eked out with fishing, while the mountain slopes supplied excellent timber for ships. These were conditions that led the Phoenicians to take to the sea. Their situation among industrially developed regions gave them the stimulus to prolong their fishing voyages into trading voyages at sea. In this way they became the transporters of Indian, Arabian, Babylonian and Egyptian products, especially textiles and spices, to the West, from which they brought products of different kinds, chiefly metals.

In time dangerous competitors arose in the Greeks, who inhabited islands and coasts whose fields were as barren as those of Phoenicia, so that they too were driven to fishing and seafaring. Their shipping kept increasing and became more and more dangerous to the Phoenicians. At first the Greeks tried to bypass the Phoenicians and win new ways to the Orient. They entered the Black Sea; from these ports commerce with India was established through Central Asia. At the same time they tried to make connections with Egypt and open it to sea-borne commerce. Shortly before the time of the Babylonian captivity of the Jews the Ionians and Carians succeeded in this undertaking. From the Lime of Psammetichus (663) they were firmly established in Egypt and their traders flooded into it. Under Amasis (569 to 525) they acquired a region on the Western branch of the Nile in order to found a port city of their own, Naukratis. This was to be the sole center of Greek commerce. Soon after, Egypt fell to the Persians (525), as had Babylonia. But the situation of the Greeks in Egypt did not suffer as a result. On the contrary, foreigners now had the right to trade freely in all of Egypt, and the lion’s share of the profits went to the Greeks. As soon as the Persian regime grew feeble, as the military spirit of the former nomad nation softened in city life, the Egyptians rose and tried to win their independence once more, and succeeded for a while (from 404 to 342). This was possible only because of the aid of the Greeks, who had grown so strong meanwhile that they had beaten back the mighty Persians on land and at sea, and along with them pushed back their vassals, the Phoenicians. Under Alexander of Macedon Greece took the offensive (from 334 on) against the Persian Empire, annexed it and put a final end to the glory of the Phoenician cities, which had long been in decline.

Palestine’s commerce had fallen off even earlier than Phoenicia’s; world trade had turned from the Palestinian routes, the exports of India as well as those of Babylonia, Arabia, Ethiopia and Egypt Palestine, as the borderland between Egypt and Syria, remained the theatre in which the wars between the masters of Syria and those of Egypt took place, but the trade between these regions now went by sea, bypassing the land. Palestine had lost all the advantages of its central position and kept all the disadvantages. At the same time that the mass of the Jews were driven more and more to trade as their only means of support, the chances of doing business in their own country kept shrinking.

Since business did not come to them, they were forced to go out after business abroad, among those nations which did not produce a commercial class of their own but had foreigners come to them as traders. There were not a few such nations. In countries where agriculture supported the mass of the people without needing to be supplemented by nomadic cattle-raising or by fishing, and the aristocracy satisfied their drive for expansion by piling up latifundia at home and making war abroad, people preferred to have traders come to them rather than go abroad themselves to fetch foreign goods. That was the attitude of the Egyptians and of the Romans, as we have seen. In both countries the traders were aliens, chiefly Greeks and Jews. They prospered most in such lands.

Now we have the Diaspora, the dispersion of the Jews outside of their own homeland, just after the Babylonian Exile, precisely when they were allowed to return home. This dispersion was not the result of an act of violence, like the fall of Jerusalem, but of an imperceptible revolution that began at that time, a change in trade routes.

Their largest groups accumulated where the flow of trade was strongest and where the greatest wealth came together, in Alexandria and later in Rome. There the Jews increased not only in number but in wealth and power. Their strong national feeling gave them a strong cohesion, too, that was all the more effective in times like those just preceding Christ, when society was falling apart more widely and more intensively, and the general bonds of society were dissolving. And since the Jews were to be found in all the commercial centers of the Hellenic and Roman civilized world of that time, their internal cohesion extended over all those regions, forming an internationale which gave powerful support to its members wherever they might happen to be. If we add to this the commercial abilities they had developed over so many centuries, and which after the Exile were necessarily sharpened, we can understand the growth of their power and wealth.

Mommsen says of Alexandria that it “was almost as much a city of Jews as of Greeks; the Jewish community there was at least the equal of that of Jerusalem in number, wealth, ability and organization. At the beginning of the Empire there were reckoned to be a million Jews among 8 million Egyptians, and their influence presumably was greater than in that proportion ... They and only they were allowed to form a community within the community, so to speak, and have a certain degree of self-rule while the other aliens were ruled by civil authorities.”

“‘The Jews,’ Strabo says, ‘have a national chief of their own in Alexandria, who presides over the people and decides lawsuits and regulates contracts and arrangements as if he were the ruler of an independent community.’ This took place because the Jews claimed that such a special jurisdiction was required by their nationality or, what amounts to the same thing, their religion. In addition, the general government ordinances took the national and religious feeling of the Jews into account on an extensive scale and where possible helped them by means of exemptions. Congregating helped in this respect too; in Alexandria, for example, two of the five districts of the city were chiefly inhabited by Jews.” [23] The Alexandrian Jews achieved not only wealth but also prestige and influence over the rulers of the world. For example, an important role was played by the tax farmer of the Arabian side of the Nile, the alabarch [or, arabarch] Alexander. Agrippa, who later became king of Judea, borrowed 200,000 drachmas from him in the days of Tiberius. Alexander gave him 5 talents in cash and a letter for payment of the rest in Dikaearchia. [24] This shows the close commercial relations between the Jews of Alexandria and those of Italy. There was a strong Jewish community in Dikaearchia, or Puteoli, near Naples. Josephus further reports of the same Alexandrian Jew: “He, the Emperor Claudius, released the alabarch Alexander Lysimachus, his old good friend, who had been guardian of his mother Antonia and imprisoned by Caius in anger. This man’s son Marcus later married Berenice, daughter of King Agrippa.” [25]

What was true of Alexandria also applied to Antioch: “In the capital of Syria, as in that of Egypt, a certain communal independence and privileged position was granted the Jews, and their position as centers of the Jewish Diaspora is not the least important cause for the development of both cities.” [26] In Rome the presence of Jews may be traced back to the second century 13.C. In 139 B.C. the Roman foreign praetor expelled Jews who had allowed Italian proselytes at their Sabbath. These Jews might have been members of an embassy sent by Simon Maccabee to gain the good-will of the Romans and who took advantage of the opportunity to make propaganda for their religion. We soon find Jews settled in Rome, however, and the Jewish community there was considerably reinforced when Pompey took Jerusalem in 63 B.C. He brought many Jewish prisoners to Rome, who then continued to live there as slaves or as freedmen. The community won considerable influence. About the year 60 Cicero complained that their power was felt even in the Forum. Their power increased under Caesar. Mommsen describes the situation as follows:

“How large the Jewish population was in Rome itself even before Caesar and what a close association of fellow-countrymen they formed, is shown by the remark of a writer of the time, that a governor should think twice before interfering with the Jews of his province, since he would surely have to pay for it by being booed on his return by the rabble of the capital. This Jewry, although not the most cheerful spot in the not at all cheerful picture of the amalgam of peoples of that time, was nevertheless an historical factor evolving in the natural course of events; the statesman could not deny its existence or combat it, and instead Caesar, like his forerunner Alexander of Macedon, understood it and gave it all possible aid. Alexander, the founder of Alexandrian Jewry did almost as much for their nation as did David when he built the Temple; Caesar aided the Jews in Alexandria and in Rome through special favors and privileges and in particular protected their cult against the local Greek and Roman priests. The two great men did not of course have any idea of putting the Jewish nation on the same level as the Hellenic or the Italo-Hellenic. But the Jew, who has not received the Pandora’s gift of political organization, as the Occidental Westerner has, and is basically indifferent toward the state; who moreover is just as unwilling to give up the core of his national characteristics as he is ready to wrap that core in the trappings of any nationality and comply with the ways of the alien folk up to a certain point – just for these reasons the Jew was particularly suited to a state that was founded on the ruins of a hundred city-states and had to be fitted out with a rather abstract and decrepit nationality. Even in the ancient world Judaism was an active ferment of cosmopolitanism and national decomposition and to that extent preeminently entitled to membership in Caesar’s state, whose city was really nothing more than world citizenship and whose nationality basically only humanity.” [27]

Mommsen manages here to squeeze three kinds of professorial views of history into a couple of lines. First, the notion that monarchs make history, that a decree or two of Alexander the Great were what created the Jewish community of Alexandria, and not anything like the change of the trade routes, that had given rise to a large Jewish community in Egypt well before Alexander and developed and strengthened it after Alexander. Or shall we assume that the entire world-wide trade of Egypt lasting many centuries, was created by a passing idea of the Macedonian conqueror as he passed through that country?

Along with this superstitious belief in royal decrees marches race superstition: the peoples of the West have been given by nature, as a racial capacity, the “Pandora’s gift” of political organisation, something presumably lacking in Jews from birth. Nature, that is, creates political capabilities out of its own viscera before there is any such thing as politics, and distributes them arbitrarily among the various “races,” whatever that term may be supposed to signify. This mystical whim of nature seems all the more ridiculous in this context when we recall that until the Exile the Jews had and made use of just as large a share of the “Pandora’s gift” of political organization as other nations of their degree of social evolution. It was only the pressure of external conditions that deprived them of their state and along with it of the materials for a political organization.

On top of the monarchistic and “scientific” concepts of history there comes a third ideology, which holds that military leaders and organizers of states act in accordance with trains of thought of the kind that German professors contrive in their studies. The unscrupulous swindler and adventurer Caesar is said to have desired to create an abstract nationality of world citizenship and humanity, and recognized the Jews as the most useful instrument to that end and hence favored them!

Even if Caesar had said things of the sort, they should not have been taken at once as representing his actual thoughts. No more so than, let us say, the phrases of Napoleon should be taken at face value. Liberal professors of the time in which Mommsen wrote his Roman history were easily captivated by Napoleonic phrasemaking, but that was not the basis of their political strength. Caesar in fact never voiced anything at all like such ideas. Caesars always dealt exclusively in phrases that were fashionable anti could be used for demagogy among credulous proletarians or credulous professors.

The fact that Caesar not only tolerated the Jews but favored them has a much simpler explanation, if not so noble a one, in his eternal debts and his eternal greed for money. Money had become the decisive power in the state. The reason that Caesar protected the Jews and gave them privileges was that they had money and hence were useful to him and could be still more useful in the future, and not that their racial characteristics could be applied to the creation of an “abstract decrepit” nationality.

They appreciated his favor, and deeply mourned his death. “At the great public funeral he was mourned by the foreign residents [of Rome], each nation in its own way, especially the Jews, who even came to view the bier several nights in a row.” [28]

Augustus too appreciated the importance of the Jews. “Under Augustus, the communities of the Near East attempted to call up their Jewish fellow-citizens for military service on the same basis as the others and not to allow them the observance of the Sabbath any longer; Agrippa however decided against this and upheld the status quo in the Jews’ favor, or rather perhaps now made legally binding for the first time what had previously been a privilege granted by individual governors or communities of Greek provinces, namely the exemption of the Jews from military service and the Sabbath privilege. Augustus further directed the governor of Asia not to apply to the Jews the strict imperial laws against societies and meetings ... Augustus showed himself kindly disposed toward the Jewish colony in the suburbs of Rome across the Tiber, and allowed those who had refrained from sharing in his donations because of the Sabbath to claim their part on another day.” [29]

The Jews in Rome must have been extremely numerous at that time. In the year 3 B.C. a Jewish delegation to Augustus included over 8000. Quite recently numerous Jewish burial places have been discovered in Rome.

Incidentally, although trade was their chief calling, not all Jews abroad were traders. Where many of them lived together, Jewish artisans too were busy. Jewish physicians are mentioned in inscriptions from Ephesus and Venosa. [30] Josephus tells us even of a Jewish court actor in Rome: “In Dikaearchia, or Puteoli as the Italians call it, I became the friend of the actor (mimologos) Aliturus, who was of Jewish origin and very well liked by Nero. Through him I became acquainted with the Empress Poppaea.” [31]

The Jewish Propaganda

Until the Exile the people of Israel had not increased in any exceptional degree. Not more than other peoples. After the Exile however it grew incredibly. Now the promise of Jahveh was fulfilled, which was said to have been imparted to Abraham:

“That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” [32]

This promise, like virtually all the prophecies in the Bible, was fabricated after the state of affairs it foresaw was already present-like the prophecies that some divinely favored heroes enunciate in modern historical dramas. What Jahveh set before Abraham could only have been written down after the Exile, for only then does the statement make sense. Then however it fits very well. Jewry did increase surprisingly, so that it was able to make itself at home in all the important cities of the Mediterranean world, “possess the gates of his enemies” and keep its trade going, “bless all nations of the earth.”

The geographer Strabo, writing about the time of Christ’s birth, said of the Jews: “This people is already in every city, and it is hard to find a place on the inhabited earth that has not received this nation and is not [financially] dominated by it.” This rapid increase of the Jewish population is in part to be attributed to the great fertility of the Jews. But this too is not a special characteristic of their race – or else it would always have been present – but a particular property of the class they now represented with distinction, the merchants.

Not only does every form of society have its law of population, but so does each class within a given society. For example, the modern wage proletariat increases rapidly thanks to the fact that proletarians, male and female alike, early become economically independent and have the opportunity of having their children employed early too; in addition, the proletarians have no inheritance to divide up which might induce them to limit the number of their children.

The law of increase for settled farmers is different. In places where they find free land, as is generally the case when they occupy a country heretofore inhabited by hunters or herdsmen, they increase rapidly, for the conditions under which they live are far more favorable to bringing up children than let us say those of nomad hunters with their uncertain food supplies and lack of any milk supply other than mothers’ milk, so that mothers are compelled to give suck to their children for several years. The farmer produces adequate, regular food, and the cow he raises gives copious milk, more than the cow of the nomad herdsmen, which wastes so much energy in searching for fodder.

But cultivable land and fields are limited, and can be restricted by private property even more than they already are by nature. In addition the technical development of agriculture is usually extremely slow. Accordingly there comes sooner or later to a farming nation the time when there is no more new land on which to establish new homes and families. That forces the farmers, if their excess progeny does not find an outlet in another field, such as military service or city industry, artificially to limit the number of their children. Peasants in this situation are the Malthusian ideal.

But even mere private property in land can have the same effect even if not all the cultivable land has been put into use. Possessing land now gives power: the more land one owns, the more power and wealth in society one has at his disposal. The landowner’s endeavor is now to increase his holdings, and since the land area is a fixed quantity and can not be enlarged, landed property call only be increased by putting together already existing properties. The law of inheritance may hinder or foster this accumulation: further it by marriages in which both parties inherit land, which they combine, or hinder it when a property is divided among several heirs. The point comes for large landowners, as for peasants, when they either limit their offspring as much as possible in order to keep their properties large, or disinherit all the offspring but one. When the sharing of the inheritance among the children remains the rule, private property in land leads sooner or later to limitation of offspring on the part of the landowners, and under some conditions to the constant shrinkage of the numbers of the class. This was one of the reasons for the depopulation of the Roman Empire, which was based essentially on agriculture.

The fertility of the Jewish families was a vivid contrast. The Jews were no longer a people among whom agriculture was predominant. The large majority were tradespeople, capitalists. Capital, however, can be increased, unlike land. If trade is prosperous, capital may grow faster than the tradespeople’s offspring, so that although the number increases rapidly, each individual is richer. The centuries after the Exile up to the early years of the Empire were times in which trade expanded enormously. The exploitation of the workers engaged in agriculture – slaves, tenants, peasants – mounted rapidly, and the sphere of their exploitation expanded at the same time. The exploitation of the mines increased, at least until the supply of fresh slaves began to give out. In the end, as we have seen, that led to the decline of agriculture, the depopulation of the land, and finally to the exhaustion of the military power and hence of the supply of fresh slaves, which could only come from constant successful wars; and all this amounted to the decline of milling as well. But it was long before these results were felt, and until then the accumulation of wealth in a few hands went forward together with the ruin of the population as the luxury of the wealthy swelled. Trade however was at that time primarily trade in luxuries. Means of transport were ill-developed; cheap transportation in bulk was only in its infancy. The grain trade from Egypt to Italy had a certain importance, but in general luxury articles were the main items of commerce. Modern commerce is primarily devoted to the production and consumption of great masses; formerly commerce served the arrogance and extravagance of a small number of exploiters. Today it depends on the growth of mass consumption; formerly it depended on the growth of exploitation and wastefulness. It never found more favorable conditions for this than in the period from the founding of the Persian Empire to the first Caesars. The change in the routes of commerce hit Palestine hard, but gave new life to trade in general from the Euphrates and the Nile to the Danube and the Rhine, from India to Britain. Nations whose economic basis was agriculture might well decline and be depopulated in that era; but a people of merchants would profit and would not have to restrain its natural increase at all, especially if there were no external obstacles restraining it.

But no matter how high we set the natural fertility of the Jews, that by itself would not suffice to explain the swift increase in Jewry. It was supplemented by its propaganda power.

The fact that a nation should increase by religious propaganda is something as extraordinary as the historical position of Judaism itself.

Originally the Jews were held together by ties of blood, as were other peoples. The kingdom replaced the gentile organization by the territorial union, the state and its districts. This bond lapsed with the transplantation into exile, and the return to Jerusalem put it back into effect for only a small fraction of the nation. The larger and constantly increasing part of it lived outside of the Jewish national state, abroad, not only temporarily, like the merchants of other nations, but permanently. As a result yet another bond of nationality was lost, community of language. The Jews living abroad had to speak the language of the land, and after several generations had lived there the younger ones spoke only the language of the land and forgot the language of the homeland. Even in the third century B.C. the holy scriptures of the Jews were translated into Greek, since few of the Alexandrian Jews understood Hebrew any longer. Perhaps too as a means of propaganda among the Greeks. Greek became the language of current Jewish literature, and also the language of the Jewish people, even in Italy. “The various Jewish communities in Rome had to some extent common burial places, of which five are known; up to now. The inscriptions are overwhelmingly in Greek, although partially in a vernacular which is almost unintelligible: there are some in Latin too, but none in Hebrew.” [33] Not even the Jews in Palestine were able to maintain Hebrew; they adopted the language of the surrounding population, Aramaic.

Centuries before the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, Hebrew had already ceased to be a living language. It was no longer of use as a means of communication among fellow-countrymen, but merely a way of access to the holy scriptures of olden times – scriptures to be sure which were mistakenly thought to go back many centuries and millennia, since actually they had been fairly recently put together from old remnants and new inventions.

This religion, ostensibly revealed to the forefathers of Israel and actually formed in the Exile and after, became, along with commercial relations, the firmest bond of Judaism, the only feature distinguishing it from the other nations.

But the one God of this religion was no longer one among many tribal gods; he was the only God of the world, a God for all men, whose commandments held for all men. The Jews differed from the others only in that they had learned of Him, while the others in their blindness knew nothing of Him. Knowledge of this God was now the mark of Judaism: anyone who knew him and accepted his commandments belonged to the elect of God, and was a Jew.

This monotheism made it logically possible to broaden the sphere of Judaism by propaganda for it, but this possibility might have come to nothing if it had not coincided with the drive of Judaism to expand. The tininess of the Jewish people had led it to the deepest humiliation, but it had not gone under. It had weathered the heaviest storms and had solid ground under its feet once more, and now was beginning to acquire wealth and power in the most diverse regions. That gave them the proud assurance that they really were the chosen people, really called upon at some time to rule over the other peoples. But no matter how it might count on its God and the Messiah it expected from God, it had to admit to itself that its chances were hopeless so long as it was so tiny a folk among the millions of Gentiles, whose enormous superiority in numbers they realized even more clearly as the radius of their commercial relationships expanded. The stronger their desire for power and position, the more they had to try to increase the number of their fellow-countrymen by winning supporters among foreign peoples. Accordingly, Judaism developed a powerful tendency toward expansion during the last centuries before the destruction of Jerusalem.

For the inhabitants of the Jewish state the most direct way to this end was forcible conversion. Subjugation of a people was nothing uncommon. Where the Jews did it, they now tried to impose their religion as well. This took place in the era of the Maccabees and their successors, say from 165 to 63 B.C., when the fall of the Syrian Empire gave the Jewish people some elbow room for a while, which they used not only to shake off the Syrian yoke but to extend their own territories. Galilee was conquered in this period; previously it had not been Jewish, as Schürer has proved. [34] Idumea and the country east of the Jordan were subjugated, and a foothold was even gained on the coast, at Joffa. There was nothing exceptional about such a policy of conquest; what was unusual was that it became a policy of religious expansion. The inhabitants of the newly-conquered regions had to adopt as their own the god who was worshiped in the Temple at Jerusalem; they had to make pilgrimages to Jerusalem to worship Him, paying the Temple fee in the process, and were required to set themselves apart from the other nations by circumcision and the peculiar Jewish ritual prescriptions.

Such proceedings were totally unheard of in the ancient world, where as a rule the conqueror left the conquered complete freedom of religion and customs, merely exacting taxes to the limit of endurance.

This mode of extending Judaism was possible only temporarily, so long as the power of the Syrians was too weak and that of the Romans not yet near enough to contain Judah’s military advances. Even before Pompey occupied Jerusalem the advance of the Jews in Palestine had come to a halt. Then the dominance of the Romans put a powerful curb on the forcible method of expanding the Jewish religious brotherhood.

From that point on the Jews threw themselves energetically into the alternative method of enlarging their religious community, the way of peaceful propaganda. At the time this too was an unprecedented phenomenon. Even before Christianity, Judaism manifested the same sort of zeal for instruction, with considerable success. It was thoroughly understandable, if not very logical, for the Christians to blame the Jews for this zeal, which they exercised so vigorously on behalf of their own religion:

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass land and sea to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves” (Matthew 28, verse 15). It is competition that speaks in so Christian a manner.

Mere material interest alone would attract many an adherent to Judaism from the “heathen” world. There must have been not a few to whom it was very attractive to be a partner in such a widespread and flourishing trading company. Wherever a Jew came, he could count on being energetically supported and helped by his brothers in belief.

But there were still other considerations that lent Judaism its propagandistic power. We have seen how a state of mind favorable to ethical monotheism grows out of urban life once it reaches a certain extension. But the monotheism of the philosophers was in opposition to the traditional religion, or at the very least outside its domain. It called for independent thought. But the same social developments that favored monotheistic ideas led, as we have seen, to the decadence of state and society, to an increasing sense of insecurity on the part of the individual, to a growing need for stable authority; in the realm of world outlooks, this meant the need for religion, which is presented to the individual as a complete and fixed product of a super-human authority, instead of philosophy, which leaves the individual on his own resources.

Among the peoples of ancient civilization only two, the Persians and the Jews, because of special circumstances, arrived at monotheism not as a philosophy but as a religion. Both religions made considerable progress among the Hellenistic peoples and then in the Roman Empire. But Judaism was driven to greater zeal for conversion by its gloomy national situation, and in Alexandria it came into intimate contact with Greek philosophy.

Thus Judaism was best able to offer what was wanted to the minds of the declining ancient world, who doubted their traditional gods but lacked the strength to construct on their account a view of the world without gods or with but a single God; and all the more so because it tied belief in the one primeval ethical force to belief in a savior to come, for whom all the world was thirsting.

Among the many religions that came together in the Roman world empire the Jewish was the one best suited to the thoughts and needs of the time. It was not superior to the philosophy of the “heathen” but to their religions – no wonder that the Jews felt far superior to the Gentiles and that the number of their supporters grew rapidly. “Judaism wins over all men,” says the Alexandrian Jew Philo, “and exhorts them to virtue; barbarians, Hellenes, men of the mainland and men of the islands, the nations of the East like those of the West, Europeans, Asiatics, the peoples of the world.” He expected Judaism to become the religion of the world. This was at the time of Christ. [35]

We have pointed out above that as early as 139 B.C. in Rome itself Jews were expelled for making Italian proselytes. It was reported from Antioch that the larger part of the Jewish community there consisted of converted Jews (rather than born Jews). It must have been so in many other cities as well. This fact alone proves how preposterous it is to try to derive the characteristics of the Jews from their race.

Even kings went over to Judaism: Izates, king of the country of Adiabene in Assyria was led to Judaism by some female Jewish proselytes, as had his mother Helena. His zeal went so far that he had himself circumcised, although his Jewish teacher advised against it, lest he endanger his position. His brothers went over to Judaism too. All this took place in the time of Tiberius and Claudius.

Lovely Jewish women brought many another king to Judaism.

Thus King Aziz of Emesa adopted Judaism in order to marry Drusilla, sister of Agrippa II. She did not repay his devotion very well, for she gave up her royal husband for a Roman procurator, Felix. Her sister Berenice was no better. King Polemon had had himself circumcised for her sake; but the looseness of his wife disgusted him not only with her but with her religion. Madame Berenice was able to console herself. She was used to changing men. First she had married a certain Marcus, and after his death her uncle Herod. When he died too, she lived with her brother Aprippa until she married the Polemon mentioned above. Finally she attained to the position of mistress of the Emperor Titus.

Though this lady was untrue to her people, there were many others who embraced Judaism, among them Nero’s wife Poppaea Sabina, of whom it is said that she became a zealous Jew, though her moral life was not affected thereby.

Josephus relates that the inhabitants of the city of Damascus had decided at the beginning of the Jewish uprising under Nero to wipe out the Jews living in the city. “They were only afraid of their wives, who were almost all devoted to the Jewish religion. Accordingly the men kept their design secret. The plot succeeded. They killed ten thousand Jews in one hour.” [36]

The forms of adherence to Judaism differed widely. The most zealous of the new converts adopted it in tote. Their acceptance involved three procedures: circumcision, then baptismal immersion to cleanse them of heathen sinfulness, and last a sacrificial victim.

But not all the converts could make up their minds to follow all the precepts of Judaism without exception. We have seen how contradictory a thing it was, how it combined a highly enlightened international monotheism with a very narrow tribal monotheism, a pure ethics with a frightened grip on traditional rites; along with ideas that seemed very modern and magnificent to men of that time there were conceptions that seemed very peculiar, even repugnant, to a Hellene or a Roman, and that made social intercourse with non-Jews very difficult for members of the Jewish community. Among these latter were the dietary laws, circumcision and the strict observance of the Sabbath, which often assumed the most extreme forms.

We learn from Juvenal that the fireless cooker, which is touted today as the latest discovery in housekeeping, was known to the ancient Jews. On the eve of the Sabbath they put their victuals in baskets stuffed with hay, to keep them warm. It is said that there was no Jewish household without such a basket. This already indicates the difficulties involved in strict observance of the Sabbath. But it was carried so far on occasions that it was ruinous to the Jews. In wartime, pious Jews who were attacked on a Sabbath neither defended themselves nor fled, but let themselves be cut down in order not to violate God’s commandment.

There were not many who were capable of such a degree of fanaticism and faith in God. But even a less thorough-going compliance with the Jewish law was too much for many people. There were, along with those who entered into the Jewish community and assumed all the obligations of the Jewish law, many who shared the Jewish worship of God and frequented the synagogues, but did not observe the rites and prescriptions. Among the Jews outside of Palestine there were many who did not attach much value to these precepts. Often they let it go at the worship of the true God and faith in the Messiah to come, got along without circumcision and were content if the new-won friend cleansed himself of sin by immersion.

These “pious” (sebomenoi) associates of the Jews constituted the majority of the heathen who turned to Judaism. They were at first the most important area for recruiting the Christian communities, as soon as these communities spread beyond Jerusalem.


Great though the propagandist power of Judaism was, it clearly did not affect all classes in the same way. Many must have been repelled by it. This was particularly true of the landholders, whose conservatism and narrow parochialism is most opposed to the restlessness and internationalism of the merchant. Moreover, a part of the merchant’s profits was made at their expense; the merchant tried to reduce the prices of what he bought from them and drive up the price of those things they bought from him. The large landowners always got along very well with usury capital; we have seen that they early derived great strength from usury. As a rule however they were hostile to trade.

But the industrialists who produced for export were likewise hostile to the merchants, as home craftsmen today are against the contractors.

This hostility to trade was turned primarily against the Jews, who held so fast to their nationality, and who, while not differing from their neighbors in speech, clung tenaciously to their traditional national customs, which were now fused with the religion which was their one national tie and which was so astonishing to the mass of the population outside of Palestine. Like anything exotic, these peculiarities would only have aroused the ridicule of the mob except that they were the marks of a class that like all merchants lives by exploitation and held tightly together in close international association against the rest of the population, growing in wealth and privileges while the rest grew poorer and more devoid of rights: under these circumstances they aroused enmity.

We can see from Tacitus the effect that Judaism had on the other nations. He says: “Moses introduced new customs contrary to those of the rest of mankind. There everything is profane that is sacred for us; and what is repugnant to us is permitted among them.” Among such customs he mentions abstinence from pork, frequent fasting, and the Sabbath.

“Whatever may have been the origin of these religious customs, they defend them on the grounds of their great antiquity. Other disgusting and horrible institutions received support from their depravity: for they got to the point where the worst people were untrue to their ancestral religion and brought them contributions and offerings: in this way the wealth of the Jews increased; and also because they practice the strictest honesty and helpfulness toward each other, but bitter enmity toward everyone else. They go apart from the others at their meals and will not sleep with women of other faiths, while among themselves there is nothing that is not permitted. They introduced circumcision to make a difference between themselves and other men. Those who go over to them undergo circumcision too, and the first thing they are indoctrinated with is contempt for the gods, renunciation of the fatherland, neglect of their parents, children and brothers. Their object in this is to increase their numbers, and doing away with offspring seems to them a crime. The souls of those who die in battle or on the scaffold for their religion are believed by them to be immortal: hence their urge to beget children and their contempt of death.”

Tacitus then speaks of their rejection of all worship of images and concludes: “The customs of the Jews are absurd and squalid.” [37] The satirists were fond of scoffing at the Jews; jokes directed at them always had a receptive audience.

In his fourteenth satire Juvenal shows how the example of the parents affects the children. A bad example is set by a father with inclinations toward Judaism:

“You find people to whom fate has given fathers that observe the Sabbath. Such people pray only to the clouds and the divinity of heaven. They believe that pork is no different from human flesh, because their father abstains from pork. Soon they dispose of their fore-skin and condemn the laws of the Romans. Instead they learn, follow and honor Jewish law, everything that Moses hands down in his mysterious scroll. They will not show the way to anybody who asks them unless he is of the same faith; when people are thirsty, they will lead only the circumcised to the spring. That is the effect of the father for whom every seventh day was one for idling, on which he abstained from any sign of life.” [38]

As social discontent rose, anti-Semitism increased. Even then it was already the handiest and safest means of showing exasperation over the decline of state and society. It was too dangerous to attack the aristocrats and owners of latifundia, the usurers and the generals, let alone the despots on the throne; but the Jews, despite their privileges, were ill-protected by the government.

At the beginnings of the Empire, when the pauperization of the peasantry was well on its way and large masses of the lumpenproletariat assembled in the large cities, eager for loot, there were regular pogroms from time to time.

Mommsen gives us a vivid picture of one of these Jew-baitings, which occurred under the emperor Gaius Caligula (37-41 A.D.), more or less at the time at which the death of Christ is said to have taken place:

“A grandson of Herod I and the fair Mariamne, named Agrippa after the protector and friend of his grandfather Herod, perhaps the prettiest and most degenerate of the many princelings living in Rome, but yet, or perhaps therefore, the favorite and childhood friend of the new emperor; a man hitherto known only for his dissoluteness and his debts, had got from his protector, to whom he was the first to bring the news of the death of Tiberius, the gift of one of the little Jewish principalities that was vacant, and with it the title of king. In the year 38 on his way to his new dominions he arrived at the city of Alexandria, where a few months previously he had tried, as an absconding debtor, to get a loan from Jewish bankers. When he appeared in royal robes with a troop of gaudily-uniformed guards, it was natural that the non-Jewish inhabitants of the scandal- and ridicule-loving city, who had no particular fondness for the Jews anyway, should start a parody; and it went further than that, to a fearful pogrom. The Jewish houses which were singly located and not in groups were robbed and burned, the Jewish ships in the harbor were plundered, and the Jews found in non-Jewish districts were manhandled and beaten up. But the Jew-baiters did not venture to attack the Jewish districts by force. Their leaders hit upon the idea of making the synagogues, which were the principal object of attack, or at least those that still were standing, into temples of the new ruler, and to set up statues of him in all of them, with a statue on a quadriga for the chief synagogue. The emperor Gaius believed himself to be a genuine god in the flesh, in so far as his crazy mind was able to function; this was known to everyone, including the Jews and the governor. His name was Avilius Flaccus, a brave man and an excellent administrator under Tiberius, but now crippled by the disfavor of the new emperor and in constant fear of recall and prosecution; he therefore was not above making use of the occasion to reestablish himself. He not only did not issue a decree to prevent the installation of the statues in the synagogues, but took part in the Jew-baiting himself. He ordered the Sabbath done away with. He declared further in his proclamation that these tolerated aliens had without permission taken possession of the best parts of the city; they were confined to a single one of the five districts and all the other Jewish houses were handed over to the mob, while the ejected tenants were put on the streets without a roof over their heads. No protest was even listened to; thirty-eight members of the council of elders, which at that time headed the Jews instead of the ethnarch, were publicly flogged in the circus in view of the entire population. Four hundred houses lay in ruins; trade and exchange stopped; the factories were still. The only recourse was to the emperor. Two delegations from Alexandria came to him. The Jewish group was headed by Philo, a scholar of the neo-Judaic school and rather timid than bold, although he stood up stoutly for his kind in this emergency; the anti-Semites were headed by Apion, also an Alexandrian scholar and author, the ‘world-bell’, as the emperor Tiberius called him, full of big words and bigger lies, of loudest omniscience and unconditional self-confidence, knowing men, or if not men at least their worthlessness, a veteran master of oratory and betrayal, quick-witted, clever, shameless and implicitly loyal. It was clear from the beginning how the affair would turn out; the emperor admitted the parties as he was inspecting the gardens, but instead of hearing the suppliants, he asked them derisive questions; the anti-Semites, violating all etiquette, laughed out loud; and the emperor, being in a good mood, went no further than to regret that these otherwise good people were so unfortunately constituted as not to be able to understand his innate divine nature; in this he was undoubtedly in earnest. So Apion won and wherever the anti-Semites wanted to they turned the synagogues into temples of Gaius.” [39]

In Rome itself the military forces at hand were too strong, and the emperors too much opposed to any sort of popular commotion, for any such scenes to take place there. But as soon as the imperial power was consolidated and the Caesars no longer needed the Jews, they felt a distaste for them. Given their suspicion of any union, even the most harmless, this international religious organization must have grated on their nerves.

Persecutions of the Jews, already under way in the reign of Tiberius, are explained by Josephus as follows: “There was a Jew in Rome, a thoroughly godless man, who had been guilty of many misdeeds in his own country and had fled in fear of punishment. He pretended to be a teacher of the Mosaic law, got together with three accomplices and convinced Fulvia, a noble lady who had adopted the Jewish faith and was taking instruction from him, that she should send a gift of gold and purple to the Temple at Jerusalem. When they got it from the lady, they used it for themselves, as had been their intention. Saturninus, Fulvia’s husband, complained at her request to the emperor Tiberius, his friend, and the emperor ordered all Jews out of Rome at once. Four thousand of them were made soldiers and sent to Sardinia.” [40]

The account is interesting as showing the inclination of noble ladies in Roman society towards Judaism. If the incident was really the occasion for such severe measures against all the Roman Jewry, it was certainly not the whole cause. It would have been enough to punish the guilty, if there had not been a feeling of hostility against all Judaism. Gaius Caligula, we have seen, was equally hostile. Under Claudius (41 to 54 A.D.) the Jews were banished from Rome once more, because, as Suetonius says (Claudius, chap. 25) they were causing unrest under the leadership of a certain Chrestos. This Chrestos was not a Jew by birth, but a converted Greek. Here too evidences of anti-Semitism go along with evidences of the propaganda power of Judaism.


With the attitude of both ruling classes and the masses of the people thus set against them, it is clear that the Jews, despite all the great progress they were making abroad and the increasing impossibility of thriving in the home-land, would always look back with longing to Jerusalem and its surrounding country, the only corner on earth where they were masters in their own house, at least to a certain extent, where all the inhabitants were Jews: the only corner on earth from which the promised great Jewish kingdom could start and on which the expected Messiah could found the dominion of Judaism.

Jerusalem remained the center and capital of Judaism; they grew together. It became a rich city once more, a big city with perhaps 200,000 inhabitants; but, unlike the days of David and Solomon, it no longer derived its greatness and wealth from military might or the trade of the peoples of Palestine, but only from the temple of Jehovah. Every Jew, wherever he might live, had to contribute to its upkeep and pay a double drachma every year as temple tax, which was sent to Jerusalem.

Many additional and exceptional gifts flowed in toward the shrine. Not all of them were intercepted, like the precious offering of which the four Jewish embezzlers swindled Fulvia, in Josephus story. But in addition every pious Jew had the obligation of making the pilgrimage at least once in his life to the place where his God lived and where alone He would accept offerings. The synagogues of the Jews in the various cities outside of Jerusalem were only places of assembly and prayer, and schools, but not temples in which sacrifices were offered to Jehovah.

The temple taxes and the pilgrims must have brought quantities of money into Jerusalem and given employment to many men. Directly or indirectly the Jehovah cult in Jerusalem supported not only the priests of the temple and the scribes, but also the shopkeepers and money-changers, the craftsmen, the peasants, farmers, herdsmen and fishermen of Judea and Galilee, who found an excellent market in Jerusalem for their wheat and their honey, their lambs and kids, and for the fish they caught in the coastal waters or on the Sea of Chinnereth in Galilee, and brought to Jerusalem dried or salted. If Jesus found buyers and sellers in the Temple, money-changers and those that sold doves, this was thoroughly in keeping with the function of the Temple in the life of Jerusalem.

What was inserted into the Jewish literature as the condition of their ancestors was actually the case in the days in which this literature came into being: now all Jewry literally lived on the worship of Jahveh, and ruin menaced them if this worship fell off, or even took on different forms. There were attempts to set up other shrines of Jahveh outside of Jerusalem.

A certain Onias, the son of a Jewish High Priest, built a temple of Jahveh in Egypt under Ptolemy Philopator (173-146 B.C.), with the support of the king, who hoped that the Egyptian Jews would be more loyal subjects if they had a temple of their own in his country.

But the new temple never amounted to much, precisely because it aimed at affirming the loyalty of the Jews of Egypt. In Egypt they were and remained aliens, a tolerated minority: how could a Messiah arise there to bring their people independence and national greatness? And belief in the Messiah was one of the strongest factors in the Jahveh cult.

There was much more unpleasantness over a rival temple not far from Jerusalem on Mt. Gerizim near Shechem, built by the sect of Samaritans in the time of Alexander the Great according to Josephus, a century earlier according to Schürer; there the Samaritans practiced their Jahveh cult. It is no wonder that there was the bitterest enmity between the two competitors. But the older enterprise was too rich and reputable for the newcomer to do it serious damage. Despite all the propaganda of the Samaritans they did not grow as fast as the Jews who looked to the seat of their god in Jerusalem.

The menace to the monopoly of Jerusalem made its inhabitants watch even more zealously over the “purity” of its cult and oppose even more fanatically any attempt to change anything in it. Hence the religious fanaticism and intolerance of the Jews of Jerusalem, so unlike the religious broad-mindedness of the other peoples at that time. For the others their gods were a means of explaining mysterious events, a source of comfort and help in situations in which human powers seemed to fail. For the Palestinian Jews their God was the means from which they derived their existence. He was for the whole people what other gods were only for their priests. Priestly fanaticism became in Palestine the fanaticism of the whole population.

But although they were like one man in defending the Jahveh cult, in opposing anyone who dared to infringe it, it was nevertheless subjected to class contradictions from which even Jerusalem was not spared. Every class sought to please Jahveh and protect His Temple in its own way. Each regarded the coming Messiah in a different way.

The Sadducees

In the eighth chapter of the second book of his history of the Jewish war, Josephus reported that there were three trends of thought among the Jews: the Pharisees, the Sadducees and the Essenes. Of the first two he says:

“As for the other two sects, the Pharisees are thought to construe the Law most strictly. They were the first to form a sect. They believe that everything is determined by fate and God. In their opinion it does depend on man whether he does good or evil, but fate has an influence on it too. As to the human soul they believe it to be immortal, the souls of the good entering into new bodies while those of the wicked are tortured with eternal torments.

“The other sect is the Sadducees. These deny any efficacy to fate and say that God is not responsible for anyone’s doing good or evil; that is entirely up to man, who can in accordance with his free will do the one and refrain from the other. They deny also that souls are immortal and that there is punishment or reward after death.

“The Pharisees are helpful and try to live in unison with the mass of the people. The Sadducees are severe even to each other, and hard toward their countrymen as well as toward foreigners.”

In this passage the sects appear as representatives of different religious views. But although up to now Jewish history has been studied almost exclusively by theologians, for whom religion is everything and class antagonisms nothing, even they have found that the contradiction between Sadducees and Pharisees was basically not a religious one, but a class contradiction, one that may be compared with the contradiction between the nobility and the Third Estate before the French Revolution.

The Sadducees represented the priestly nobility that had got hold of the power in the Jewish state and exercise it first under Persian domination and then under the successors of Alexander the Great. This group had unrestricted sway in the Temple and hence in Jerusalem and over all of Judaism. They received all the taxes that came to the Temple, which were not small. Up to the Exile the revenues of the priesthood were modest and irregular; after it, they grew mightily. We have mentioned the tax of the double drachma (or half-shekel, about 40 cents) that every male Jew, rich or poor, over the age of two had to send to the Temple. Then there were the presents coming in. How much money came to them can be seen from the fact that Mithridates once confiscated on the island of Cos 800 talents destined for the Temple. [41]

Cicero says in the speech (59 B.C.) in defence of Flaccus, who had been governor of the province of Asia two years previously: “Since the money of the Jews is exported year after year from Italy and all the provinces to Jerusalem, Flaccus decreed that no money might be exported [to Jerusalem] from the province of Asia [Western Asia Minor].” Cicero goes on to relate how Flaccus confiscated money collected for the temple in various places in Asia Minor, a hundred pounds of gold in Apamea alone.

In addition there were the sacrifices. Formerly those who offered up victims had eaten them themselves in a joyous feast, and the priests were merely partakers. After the Exile the share of those making the offerings became smaller and smaller, and the share of the priests larger and larger. What had been a gift to a festival of joy, which the giver himself consumed in merry company, pleasing not only God but himself as well, now became a tax in kind, which God claimed for himself, that is, his priests.

These taxes yielded more and more. In addition to the sacrifices in beasts and other edibles, which came more and more to be the sole appanage of the priests, there were the tithes, the tax of a tenth part of all crops as well as every first-born animal. The first-born of “clean” animals, cattle, sheep, goats, that is, those that were eaten, were delivered in natura in the house of God. “Unclean” animals, horses, asses, camels, were to be redeemed for money. So were the first male birth of human beings; these cost five shekels.

We find a clear summary of what the Jewish priesthood took from the people – and this increased later on; thus the third part of a shekel was soon raised to half a shekel-in the book of Nehemiah to, verse 32f.:

“Also we made ordinances for us, to charge ourselves yearly with the third part of a shekel for the service of the house of our God.... And we cast the lots among the priests, the Levites, and the people, for the wood offering, to bring it into the house of our God, after the houses of our fathers, at times appointed year by year, to burn upon the altar of the Lord our God, as it is written in the law; and to bring the first fruits of our ground, and the first fruits of all fruit of all trees, year by year, unto the house of the Lord; Also the firstborn of our sons, and of our cattle, as it is written in the law, and the firstlings of our herds and of our flocks, to bring to the house of our God, unto the priests that minister in the house of our God; And that we should bring the first fruits of our dough, and our offerings, and the fruit of all manner of trees, of wine and of oil, unto the priests, to the chambers of the house of our God; and the tithes of our ground unto the Levites, that the same Levites might have the tithes in all the cities of our tillage. And the priest the son of Aaron shall be with the Levites, when the Levites take tithes: and the Levites shall bring up the tithe of the tithes unto the house of our God, to the chambers, into the treasure house. For the children of Israel and the children of Levi shall bring the offering of the corn, of the new wine, and the oil, unto the chambers, where are the vessels of the sanctuary, and the priests that minister, and the porters, and the singers: and we will not forsake the house of our God.”

We see that this temple was not the same sort of thing as a church, let us say. It had huge warehouses in which huge quantities of goods in bulk were stored up, as well as gold and silver. Accordingly it was strongly fortified and well guarded. Like the pagan temples it was a place where money and property were especially safe; and like them it was used by the public as a place to deposit valuables. This function of a safe-deposit vault, we may be sure, was not performed gratis by Jahveh.

It is certain that the wealth of the priesthood of Jerusalem grew enormously.

Marcus Crassus, the fellow-conspirator of Caesar, took advantage of this fact when he went on his robber expedition against the Parthians. On the way he took with him the treasures of the Jewish Temple.

“When Crassus was preparing to move against the Parthians, he came to Judea and took all the money from the Temple that Pompey had left, 2,000 talents, together with all the uncoined gold, to the amount of 8,000 talents. Finally he stole a bar of gold weighing three hundred minae; among us a mina weighs two and a half pounds.” [42]

All that amounts to something like twelve million dollars. Nevertheless, the Temple was soon full of gold once more.

The priesthood was determined by birth; it constituted a hereditary aristocracy. According to Josephus (Against Apion, I, 22), who bases himself on Hecataeus, there were “1500 Jewish priests, who received the tithes and governed the community.”

Even among them there grew up a division into a lower and a higher aristocracy. Certain families succeeded in getting the entire power of government permanently into their own hands, in order to increase their wealth, and that in turn increased their influence. They formed a closely-knit clique which always named the high priests from among its ranks. They reinforced their rule by using mercenary soldiers and defended it against the other priests, whom they managed to dominate.

Thus Josephus tells us: “about this time King Agrippa gave the high priesthood to Ismael, who was a son of Phadi. However, the high priests came into conflict with the priests and leaders of the people in Jerusalem. Each of them got together a crowd of the most desperate and turbulent people, and was their leader. Occasionally they would come to words, revile each other and throw stones. Nobody restrained them; violence was committed as if there were no laws in the city. Finally the high priests became so insolent that they even ventured to send servants into the granaries and have the tithes due the priests removed, so that some priests even died of starvation.” [43]

To be sure, things reached this stage only when the Jewish community was already approaching its end. From the very beginning, however, the priestly aristocracy set itself above the mass of the people, and adopted views and tendencies that were opposed to those of the people, especially to those of the Jewish population of Palestine. That is particularly clear in the field of foreign policy.

We have seen that Palestine, because of its geographical position, was always under foreign rule or at least under the menace of it. There were two ways to ward it off or mitigate it: diplomacy or armed rebellion.

So long as the Persian empire lasted, neither of these alternatives was very promising, but the situation changed after Alexander had destroyed that empire. The new state which he set up in its place fell apart after his death, and a Syrian-Babylonian kingdom fought as before against an Egyptian kingdom for the mastery of Israel. Now both were ruled by Greek dynasties, the Seleucids and the Ptolemies, and both increasingly Greek in spirit.

It was not possible to defeat either of these powers by military means. But there was the possibility of winning by shrewd diplomacy, by joining the stronger and getting a privileged position as part of its empire. That however could not be achieved by xenophobia and aversion to the superior Hellenic civilization and its ways. On the contrary, it was imperative to adopt this civilization. The aristocracy of Jerusalem was led to this step by its greater knowledge of external affairs, an advantage it had over the rest of the population by virtue of its social position and official functions. The plastic arts and the arts of the enjoyment of life were not advanced in Palestine, while the Greeks had brought them to a level which no other people at that time or for many centuries thereafter could equal. The rulers of all nations, even those of victorious Rome, borrowed the forms of splendor and pleasure from Greece; the Greek way became the way of life of all exploiters, as the French way was to do in the eighteenth century in Europe. The more intense the exploitation of Jewry by its aristocracy became and the more wealth the aristocrats obtained, the more eager they were for Hellenic culture.

The first book of the Maccabees complains with respect to the period of Antiochus Epiphanes (175-164 B.C.): “In those days there arose worthless men in Israel; they convinced many, saying: let us then unite like brothers with the nations about us! For since we have separated from them much woe has come upon us! Such talk pleased them, and some of the people said they would go to the king; he gave them permission to introduce the ways of the heathen. So they built a Gymnasium in Jerusalem – (a school for athletics, where the athletes exercised naked), after the fashion of the Gentiles, replaced the foreskin and were unfaithful to the holy covenant, but rather allied themselves with the heathen and sold themselves to them, to do evil.”

So mad were these evil men, that put on artificial foreskins, that they also renounced their Jewish names and replaced them by Greek ones. A high priest Jesus called himself Jason, another high priest Jakim became Alcimos, a Manesseh became Menelaus.

The masses of the people of Judah resented this encouragement of Hellenic ways. We have several times pointed out how undeveloped industry and art were in Judea. The penetration of the Hellenic influence meant that foreign products drove out the native. The Hellene too always came as oppressor and exploiter, even if he now came as Syrian or Egyptian king. Judah, already pumped dry by its own aristocracy, was bitter about the tribute it had to pay to the alien monarchs and their officials. The aristocrats managed now and then to get out of it themselves by having themselves appointed as representatives and tax-collectors for the foreign masters. Usury at the expense of those oppressed by taxes would add to their own riches. The people had to bear the entire weight of foreign rule.

Even under the Persians similar things had occurred, as is shown by a vivid description made by the Jew Nehemiah, whom the King Artaxerxes appointed his governor in Judea (445 B.C.). He reports his own activity in glowing terms, “in relieving the distress caused among the poor by exactions of the aristocracy and on his own unselfishness as governor.”

Self-praise of this sort is not uncommon in ancient documents, especially of the Orient. We can not take it for granted that the official in question really rendered such services to the people as he boasts of. One thing however is proved by such statements: the way in which governors and nobles as a rule bled and oppressed the people. Nehemiah would not have boasted of his actions if they had not been an exception. Nobody will go about proclaiming he has not stolen any silver spoons except in a society in which such thefts were the rule.

Under the Syrian and Egyptian kings the taxes of Palestine were farmed. As a rule the high priest was the tax farmer, but now and then he had rivals among his colleagues, causing discord among the estimable body of priests.

The mass of the people in Judea thus had much better reason to oppose alien domination than the aristocracy, which profited by it. Their rage against the foreigners was intensified by their ignorance as to the power relationships that existed. The mass of the Jews in Palestine was not aware of the overwhelming might of their opponents. For all these reasons they held diplomacy in contempt and called for forcible action to gain freedom from the foreign yoke. But only this, not the yoke of the aristocracy as well. The aristocracy lay just as heavy on the people; but did not the people get their whole livelihood in Jerusalem and its surroundings from the Temple, from the importance of its cultus and its priesthood? Therefore, their indignation over their poverty had to concentrate entirely on the foreign oppressors. Democracy turned into chauvinism.

A fortunate combination of circumstances made it possible that for once an uprising of the little nation against its powerful masters was crowned with success. This occurred at a time, as we have shown, when the kingdom of the Seleucids was shaken to its foundations by civil wars and was in complete decline, as was that of the Ptolemies, and both of them at continual odds with each other, with the subjection of both to the Romans, the new masters of East and West, close at hand.

Like every declining regime, that of the Seleucids increased its pressure, which naturally produced counter-pressure. Jewish patriotism became more and more rebellious, finding its nucleus and leadership in the organization of the Assideans.

This group also produced the book of Daniel (between 167 and 164 B.C.), an agitational work which predicted to the oppressed that Israel would soon rise and free itself. It would be its own savior, its own Messiah. This was the first of a series of Messianic propaganda works announcing the defeat of the alien domination and the victory of Judaism, its salvation and its rule over the nations of the earth.

In the book of Daniel this thought still finds democratic expression. The Messiah in it is still the people itself. The Messiah is “the people of the saints of the most High”. “And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.”

This Messianic prophecy soon seemed to be brilliantly fulfilled. The guerrilla warfare against the oppressor kept increasing in scale, until successful partisan leaders of the house of the Asmoneans, with Judas Maccabaeus the first among them, were able to stand up successfully in the opean field to Syrian troops, and finally to win Jerusalem which was under Syrian occupation. Judea became free and even extended its frontiers. After Judas Maccabaeus had fallen (160 B.C.), his brother Simon did what many generals of the democracy have done before and since after winning freedom for their people in war: he made use of the victory to put the crown on his own head. Or rather, he allowed the people to put it on his head. A great assembly of priests and people decided he should be high priest, commander-in-chief and prince (archierusstrategos, and ethnarchos) (141 B.C.). Thus Simon became the founder of the Asmonean dynasty.

He knew how insecure the newly-won independence was, for he hurried to look for external support. In the year 189 we see an embassy from him at Rome to ask the Romans to guarantee the territory of the Jews. This was the embassy of which we recounted that several members were expelled from Rome for making proselytes.

The embassy however achieved its purpose. Simon did not suspect that it would not be long before Judea’s new friends would be their most dangerous enemies, and put an end to the Jewish state for good. As long as the civil wars raged among the rulers of Rome, the fate of Judea fluctuated up and down. Pompey conquered Jerusalem in 63 B.C., took many prisoners of war, whom he sent to Rome as slaves, restricted the Jewish domain to Judea, Galilee and Peraea, and imposed a tax on the Jews. Crassus looted the Temple in 54. After his defeat the Jews rose against the Romans in Galilee and were put down, many of the prisoners being sold as slaves. Caesar treated the Jews better, and was even friendly with them. The civil wars after his death laid Judea waste along with other regions and put heavy burdens on it. When Augustus finally emerged victorious, he was as favorable to the Jews as Caesar had been, but Judea remained subject to the Romans, occupied by Roman troops; it was under the supervision and finally under the direct administration of Roman officials; and we have seen how these rascals acted in the provinces and bled them white. Hatred for the Romans grew fiercer and fiercer, especially in the mass of the population. The puppet kings and priestly aristocracy tried to ingratiate themselves with the new Roman masters as they had with the Greeks before the Maccabean uprising, no matter how bitterly many of them may have hated the aliens in their hearts. But their party, the Sadducees, had less and less power compared to the democratic party of the patriots, the Pharisees.

As early as the year too B.C. Josephus writes in his Antiquities: “The rich were on the side of the Sadducees, the mass of the people supported the Pharisees” (XIII, 10, 6).

And of the time of Herod (also the time of Christ) he reports:

“The sect of the Sadducees was supported by only a few, although they are the noblest in the land. However, the affairs of the state are not conducted as they wish. As soon as they come to public office, they must, willy-nilly, act according to the views of the Pharisees, otherwise the common people would not tolerate them” (Ibid., XVIII, 1, 4).

The Pharisees became more and more the spiritual rulers of the Jewish people, in the place of the clerical aristocracy.

The Pharisees

We learned above, during the Maccabean wars, of the “pious”, the Assideans. Some decades later, under John Hyrcanus (135 to 104 B.C.), this doctrine is represented by the Pharisees, and the opposing doctrine by the Sadducees.

It is not certain where the latter got their name; perhaps from the Priest Zadok, after whom the priesthood was called the clan of Zadokites. The Pharisees (Perushim), that is, those set apart, called themselves “comrades” (khaberim) or colleagues.

On one occasion Josephus specifies that they were six thousand strong, a considerable political organization for so small a country. He reports, dealing with the time of Herod (37 to 4 B.C.):

“At that time there were men among the Jews who were proud that they strictly observed the law of their fathers, and believed that God loved them especially. The women in particular supported this group. These people were called Pharisees. They were very powerful and were the first to oppose the king, but were shrewd and cautious and bided their time, when they wanted to make an insurrection. When the whole Jewish people promised under oath to be loyal to the emperor [Augustus] and obey the king [Herod], these men refused to take the oath, and they were more than six thousand.” [44]

Herod, the cruel tyrant, who ordinarily was very free with executions did not dare to punish this refusal of the oath of allegiance severely; a sign of how powerful he thought the influence of the Pharisees on the masses of the people.

The Pharisees became the spiritual directors of the masses; and among them the dominant group was the “scribes”, or men learned in the scriptures, who are always coupled with them in the New Testament, the rabbis (rabbi – my lord, monsieur).

Originally the class of intellectuals was among the Jews, as everywhere in the Orient, the caste of priests. But the story of the Jewish aristocracy was the same as that of any aristocracy: the richer they became, the more they neglected the functions that were the basis of their privileged position. They barely went through the most obvious external rites to which they were obligated. They neglected scientific, literary, legislative and judicial labor more and more, with the result that these functions were almost entirely performed by educated elements from the people.

The law-giving and judicial activity was especially important. The states of the ancient Orient had no legislative assemblies. All law was customary law, primordial law. It is true that social evolution continues, bringing with it new relationships and new problems which require new legal norms; but the feeling that the law is eternally the same, stemming from God, is so deeply rooted in the minds of the people that the new law gains recognition more quickly if it takes the form of customary law, traditional law, which has existed from times immemorial and is only reappearing, because it had been forgotten and neglected.

The simplest way for the ruling classes to make new law count as old law in this manner is to forge documents.

The priesthood of Judah made copious use of this expedient, as we have seen. That was fairly easy to do so long as the masses of the people were confronted with a single ruling class as experts and guardians of the religious heritage, something which in the Orient embraced all knowledge beyond the rudimentary. However, when a new class with literary education arose alongside the old priesthood, both of them found it more difficult to present an innovation as something that Moses or some other ancient authority had created. The rival class now was keeping close watch.

In the last two centuries before the destruction of Jerusalem there is a continuous series of attempts by the rabbis to break the rigid canon of the holy scriptures set up by the priesthood and to enlarge it by new literary productions which would count as ancient and be as highly considered as the former ones. They did not succeed, however.

Josephus examines the credibility of the Jewish scriptures in his book against Apion (I, 7 and 8): “For it is not everybody that has the right to write as he pleases, but that belongs to the prophets alone, who have reliably set down the things of the past, by God’s inspiration, as well as a true account of the circumstances of their times. Hence we do not have thousands of books, which contradict and conflict with each other, but only twenty-two books, which recount what has taken place since the beginning of the world, and are justly held to be divine”; namely, the five books of Moses, thirteen books of the prophets, who cover the time from the death of Moses to Artaxerxes, and four books of Psalms and sayings.

“From Artaxerxes down to our time everything has been described and set down, but it is not so trustworthy ... How highly we value our scriptures can be seen from the fact that over so long a period no one ventured to add or take away anything, or make any changes.”

In Josephus’ time this was undoubtedly true. The more difficult it became to alter the existing law, which was fixed in this body of literature, the more the innovators were compelled to make the law fit the new needs by the process of exegesis. The holy scriptures of the Jews were especially suited to this treatment, since they were not all of a piece, but literary precipitates from the most diverse epochs and social conditions. They contained legends of the earliest Bedouin era together with the highly cultivated urban sagacity of Babylon, all put together in a post-Babylonian priestly version, often a very clumsy and obtuse one in which the crudest contradictions lie side by side. Anything could be proved from a “law” of this sort if a man had a keen enough mind and a good enough memory to learn all the passages of the law by heart and have them at his fingertips. This was precisely the extent of rabbinical wisdom. They did not undertake to study life, but to drive into their students’ heads an exact knowledge of the sacred writings and to bring their disputatiousness and subtlety in exegesis to its highest point. Without being aware of it, they were of course influenced by the life around them, but the longer the rabbinical wisdom of the schools developed the more it ceased to be a means of understanding life and hence mastering it, and became on the one hand the art of outwitting everybody, even the Lord God himself, by amazing legalistic pettifogging and chicanery, and on the other of consoling and edifying oneself in any situation by a pious quotation. This learning contributed nothing to knowledge of the world, and became more and more ignorant of the world. This became obvious in the wars that ended with the destruction of Jerusalem.

The shrewd, worldly-wise Sadducees were perfectly well aware of the power relationships of their time. They knew it was impossible to ward off the Romans. The Pharisees however strove all the harder to shake the Roman yoke off by force as it lay heavier on Judea and was driving the people to desperation. The Maccabean insurrection had furnished a brilliant example of how a people can and should defend its freedom against a tyrant.

The expectation of the Messiah had been a strong support for that insurrection, and the success of the insurrection had reinforced the expectation, which grew with the intensity of the desire to shake off the Roman yoke. The Romans were, it is true, more dangerous opponents than the decadent kingdom of the Syrians, and confidence in the self-activity of the peoples had lost ground all over the ancient world since the time of the Maccabees. What were called the Roman civil wars were actually nothing but the competition of individual successful generals for world domination. Likewise, the concept of the Messiah was no longer identified with the Jewish people in its struggle for self-liberation; it now took the form of a mighty war hero, sent by God to save and deliver the tormented people of the chosen saints from trial and tribulation.

Without such a miraculous leader even the most fanatical Pharisees considered it impossible to get rid of the oppressors. But they did not count on him alone. They proudly calculated how the number of their supporters was growing in the Empire, especially among the neighboring nations, and how strong they were in Alexandria, in Babylon, Damascus, Antioch. Would not they come to the aid of the hard-pressed homeland when it rose? And if a single city like Rome could succeed in winning world mastery, why should it necessarily be impossible for the great and proud Jerusalem?

The basis of the Revelation of John is a Jewish agitational pamphlet in the manner of the book of Daniel. It was probably composed during the period when Vespasian and then Titus were besieging Jerusalem. It prophesies a duel between Rome and Jerusalem. Rome is the woman that sitteth on seven mountains, “Babylon, the mother of harlots and abominations,” with whom “the kings of the earth have committed fornication,” and through the abundance of whose delicacies “the merchants of the earth are waxed rich” (chapters 17 and 18). This city will fall, judgment will be passed on her, “the merchants of the earth shall weep and mourn over her: for no man buyeth their merchandise any more;” the holy city of Jerusalem will take her place, “and the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honor to it” (chap. 21, verse 24).

To naive minds, ignorant of the power of Rome, Jerusalem might well have seemed to be a dangerous rival.

Josephus reports that under Nero the priests once counted the throng of people in Jerusalem at the Passover feast. “The priests counted 256,500 Passover paschal lambs. Now at least ten sat at a table per lamb. Sometimes those at table came to twenty per lamb. If only ten persons are counted to each lamb we come to about 2,700,000 persons,” not counting the impure and the unbelievers, who were not allowed to partake of the Passover feast. [45]

Although Josephus refers to an enumeration here, the figure he gives seems incredible, even if we assume that among the two and a half million men there were many countrymen from around Jerusalem who did not require food or lodging in Jerusalem. Transport of foodstuffs in bulk from any considerable distance was possible only by water in those days. The large cities were all on navigable rivers or by the sea. In the case of Jerusalem there could be no question of water transport. The sea and the Jordan were far distant, and the Jordan is not navigable. Such a mass of humanity could not even have found enough water to drink in Jerusalem. The city depended partly on rain water that was caught in cisterns.

What Josephus says in the same place to the effect that 1,100,000 Jews died in Jerusalem during the siege leading up to its destruction, is equally incredible.

The figure Tacitus gives is considerably smaller. [46] The besieged, of all ages and sexes, are said to have amounted to 600,000. Since many were shut up in the city who did not usually live there, half this number may be taken perhaps as the average population in the last decades before its destruction; even if we took only a third, that was quite a respectable population for a city of those times. Josephus’ figures show, however, how this throng was magnified in the imagination of the Jewish people.

At any rate, no matter how large and strong Jerusalem may have been, it had no chance of victory without outside help. The Jews counted on such help. But they forgot that the Jewish population outside of Palestine was purely urban, in fact metropolitan, and everywhere a minority. At that time, however, even more than later, it was only the peasant who was capable of prolonged military service. The urban masses of shopkeepers, home craftsmen and proletarians could not make up any army that could stand up to trained troops in the open field. There were indeed cases of Jewish unrest outside of Palestine during the last great insurrection in Palestine, but they never amounted to an action in aid of Jerusalem.

Unless a Messiah worked wonders, any Jewish uprising was hopeless. The more rebellious the situation became in Judea, the more ardently the expectation of the Messiah was cultivated among the Pharisees. The Sadducees took quite a skeptical attitude toward the expectation of the Messiah, and toward the doctrine of the resurrection that was closely linked with it.

As with the rest of their mythology, the ideas of the Israelites as to the condition of man after death contained nothing that distinguished them from other peoples on the same level of civilization. The fact that the dead appear in dreams led to the assumption that the dead person still leads a personal existence, though one which is shadowy and without a body. And it must have been the placing of the deceased in a dark grave that gave the idea that his shadowy existence was connected with a dark subterranean place. The joy and pleasure of life could not conceive that the end of life could mean anything but the end of all pleasure and joy, or that the shadow life of the dead could be anything but joyless and gloomy.

We find these conceptions originally among the Israelites as among the ancient Greeks. The Greek Hades corresponded to the Israelite Sheol, a place deep in the earth, of blackest night, well-guarded to keep the deceased who have descended there from ever returning. The shade of Achilles in Homer complains that a living laborer is better off than a dead prince, and the preacher Solomon in Ecclesiastes (a book written during the time of the Maccabees) continues: “A living dog is better than a dead lion,” “The dead know not anything, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion in anything that is done under the sun.”

So the dead have no reward. Whether they were godless or just, the same fate comes to them all in the lower world. Joy and pleasure are only to be had during life.

“Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works. Let thy garments be always white; and let thy head lack no ointment. Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity, which he hath given thee under the sun, all the days of thy vanity: for that is thy portion in this life, and in thy labor which thou takest under the sun. Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.” (Ecclesiastes 9, verses 7 to 10.)

In this there speaks a quite “Hellenic” joy in life, but also a quite “pagan” view of death. These were the old Jewish conceptions, preserved by the Sadducees. However, conceptions of an opposite sort were already arising at the time of Ecclesiastes the Preacher.

The love of life corresponded to popular feeling in a period when the peasantry was healthy and flourishing. After the decline of the peasantry, the aristocracy could still feel joy in reality, in life, and even intensify them into a quest for pleasure; but such feelings were lost to the lower classes in their tortured existence. Still, they had not yet reached the point of despairing of the possibility of improving their conditions. The more wretched these became, the more desperately they clung to the hope of the revolution that would bring them a better life and with it joy in life. The Messiah was that revolution, which increasingly had to rely on superhuman forces and miracles as the relations of real forces turned against the exploited and tormented masses.

The growth of the belief in miracles and confidence in the miraculous power of the coming Messiah was paralleled by a similar increase in the mass of sufferings and sacrifices, of the martyrs who succumbed in the struggle. Were they all to have hoped and persevered in vain? Were the most devoted and boldest champions of the Messiah to be excluded from the splendid life that his victory would bring to the chosen? Were those who, for the sake of the saints and the chosen, had given up all enjoyment of life, and even life itself, to have no reward? Were they to lead a shadowy existence of sorrow in Sheol while their victorious comrades in Jerusalem ruled the world and enjoyed its pleasures?

If the Messiah was credited with the power to conquer Rome, he could be trusted to dispose of death too. For the dead to arise was not then looked upon as something impossible.

The idea thus arose that the champions of Judaism who had fallen in the struggle would arise from their graves in the fullness of the flesh after the victory, and begin a new life of joy and pleasure. It was not a question of the immortality of the soul, but a resuscitation of the body to very real delights in triumphant Jerusalem. Abundant wine-drinking figured largely in these expectations; and the joys of love were not forgotten. Josephus tells of a eunuch of Herod who was won over by the Pharisees because they promised that the Messiah would give him the power of copulating and begetting children. [47]

If the Messiah was credited with such powers to reward his faithful, he would naturally be given the power of punishment as well. The thought that the martyrs should go unrewarded must have been intolerable; and equally so the notion that all their persecutors, dying happily, should escape their vengence and lead the same unfeeling existence in the lower world as the shades of the just. Their bodies too had to be resurrected by the Messiah and given over to horrible tortures.

This did not originally imply by any means the resuscitation of all the dead. The resurrection would signify the close of the struggle for Jerusalem’s independence and world dominion. It would only involve those of the dead who had fought on one side or the other. Thus the book of Daniel says about the victory of Judaism: “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (12, verse 2).

The so-called Revelation of St. John comes from the same intellectual milieu, as we have seen. In the Christian revision that has come down to us there are two resurrections. The first is not at all that of all men, but only of the martyrs (the Christian martyrs, of course, in the traditional version), who are awaked to a life of a thousand years on this earth: “... the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished” (20, verses 4 and 5).

The belief in resurrection was a battle slogan. Born of the fanaticism of a long and furious struggle with an enemy of superior power, and only to be explained in this way, it had the power of sustaining and reinforcing that fanaticism.

The counterpart of this belief in the non-Jewish world was a desire for immortality on the part of men, a desire that had nothing in common with the needs of the struggle, but came instead from tired resignation. This was the source of the wide propagation of the philosophical ideas of immortality in Platonism and Pythagoreanism. But a much more concrete and vital effect was produced by the Pharisees’ hope of resurrection on the credulous masses of that era, untrained as they were in abstract thinking. They gladly shared in a hope which they translated from the Jewish terms into terms which suited their own particular conditions.

The doctrine of resurrection was one of the chief sources of the propaganda successes of Judaism up to the destruction of Jerusalem. That destruction however killed off the majority of those who had confidently expected the Messiah to arrive soon, and it shook the belief in his speedy coming among the other Jews. Messianic expectation was no longer a factor in practical politics in Judaism; it became a pious wish, a doleful longing. Simultaneously the Pharisees’ belief in resurrection lost its roots in Jewish thought. It was preserved, along with the belief in the Messiah, only in the Christian community, which thus took over from the Pharisees a part of their best propaganda.

However, the Christian community won even more strength from the proletarian elements in Jewry than from the bourgeois democrats, if we may use the term.

The Zealots

The Pharisees represented the mass of the people as opposed to the clerical aristocracy. But this mass, more or less like the Third Estate in France before the great revolution, was made up of very disparate elements with very different interests, different degrees of willingness and ability to fight.

That was true also for the Jews outside of Palestine. They were an exclusively urban population, that got its living principally from trade and banking operations, tax-farming and so forth; but it would be a great mistake to think it consisted exclusively of rich merchants and bankers. We have already pointed out how much more capricious trade is than farming or craftsmanship. That was even more applicable then than now; navigation was more primitive and piracy rife. And how many livelihoods were ruined by the civil wars!

But although there must have been many Jews who had been rich and became poor, there must have been many more who never managed to get rich. Trade may have been the field in which they had the best opportunities, under the given circumstances; that did not mean that everybody had the capital for large-scale commerce. The trade of most of them must have been small shopkeeping or peddling.

They could also engage in such crafts as did not require great artistic ability or taste. Where Jews congregated in numbers, the special nature of their manners and customs must have created the need for many craftsmen of their own faith. When we read that a million out of the eight million inhabitants of Egypt were Jews, they could not all have made a living in trade. Actually, Jewish industries in Alexandria are mentioned as well. Jewish artisans are reported in other cities too.

In many cities, especially in Rome, there must have been a good number of Jewish slaves and hence freedmen. Their continual unsuccessful wars and insurrection kept furnishing new prisoners, who were sold into slavery. Out of these groups grew a layer of lumpenproletarians who must have been very numerous in some regions. For example the Jewish beggars were a notable part of the proletarians of Rome. At one point Martial describes the street life of the capital. Among the artisans working out in the street, the procession of priests, the jugglers and peddlers, he mentions also the Jewish boy sent out to beg by his mother. Juvenal speaks in his third satire of the grove of Egeria, which “is leased to the Jews now, whose entire household effects consist of a basket and a bundle of hay; for every tree must bring us profit now. The beggars have the woods, the Muses are driven out.” [48]

This is testimony stemming from the era after the destruction of Jerusalem, from the reign of Domitian, who had driven the Jews out of Rome and allowed them to stay in the grove on payment of a poll tax. It proves at least the presence of a great number of Jewish beggars in Rome.

The principal goal of the wandering of the Jewish beggars must certainly have been Jerusalem. There they felt at home and need not fear being ridiculed or mistreated by a hostile or uncomprehending populace. There too were assembled prosperous pilgrims from all the corners of the earth, in great numbers and with their religious feelings and charitableness at their height.

There was no great city in Christ’s time that did not have a numerous lumpenproletariat. After Rome, Jerusalem must have had the largest number of such proletarians, at least relatively; for both these cities drew on the whole Empire. The artisans were very close to this proletariat, as we have seen; they were as a rule nothing more than home workers, and these people even today count as proletarians. They easily came to make common cause with beggars and porters.

Where such propertyless strata of the people come together in large numbers, they turn out to be especially combative. They have nothing to lose; their social position is unendurable and they have nothing to gain by being patient. Awareness of their great numbers makes them bold. In addition, it was hard for the army to make its superiority count in the narrow, tortuous streets of that time. The city proletarians were not worth much in military service in open battle, but were excellent in street-fighting. This was shown by events in Alexandria and in Jerusalem.

In Jerusalem this proletariat had a lust for battle that was lacking in the propertied people and intellectuals who went to make up the ranks of the Pharisees. In normal times, it is true, the proletarians let themselves be led by the Pharisees; but as the opposition between Jerusalem and Rome came to a head and the time of decision came closer, the Pharisees became increasingly cautious and timid, and increasingly in conflict with the proletariat which was pushing forward.

The latter got powerful support from the peasant population of Galilee, where the peasants with their tiny holdings and the herdsmen had been bled white by taxes and usury, and driven into debt slavery or expropriated, as throughout the Roman Empire. Some of them must have come to Jerusalem, increasing the city’s proletariat. But the most energetic of the desperate expropriated peasants must have taken to insurrection and banditry, as elsewhere in the empire. The proximity of the deserts, that kept Bedouin habits alive, made their fight easier, furnishing many hiding places that nobody but a native would know. Galilee, with its broken terrain, full of caves, was itself an aid in the trade of banditry. The flag under which the bandits fought was the expectation of the Messiah. Robber chiefs declared themselves to be the Messiah, or at least his forerunners, and fanatics who felt themselves called to be prophets or the Messiah became robber chiefs.

The robbers of Galilee and the proletarians of Jerusalem were in close contact and gave each other mutual support, and finally formed a party in common against the Pharisees, the party of the Zealots. The opposition between the two groups resembles in many ways the contrast between Girondins and Jacobins.

The link between the proletarians of Jerusalem and the armed bands of Galilee comes to the fore in the days of Christ.

During Herod’s last illness (4 B.C.) the people of Jerusalem rose in revolt against his innovations; above all the indignation was directed against a golden eagle that Herod had had put up over the Temple. The riot was put down by arms. But after Herod’s death the people rose again, at Passover, so violently that the troops of Archelaus, Herod’s son, had to spill much blood before the insurrection was quelled. Three thousand Jews were slain. Even that did not quiet the belligerency of the people of Jerusalem. When Archelaus went to Rome to be confirmed there as King, the people rose again. Now the Romans intervened. Varus, the same man who later fell fighting against the Cherusci in Germany, was governor of Syria at the time. He hurried to Jerusalem, suppressed the insurrection, and then returned to Antioch leaving a legion in Jerusalem under the procurator Sabinus. Sabinus had such full confidence in his military power that he pushed the Jews to the wall, plundering and robbing at will. That put the fat in the fire. At Pentecost many people assembled in Jerusalem, especially Galileans. They were strong enough to encircle and besiege the Roman legion together with the mercenaries that Herod had recruited and left as a heritage to his son. The Romans vainly made sorties in which they killed many Jews; the besiegers did not weaken. They succeeded in getting a part of Herod’s troops over to their side.

At the same time the insurrection spread to the country. The brigands of Galilee now got strong detachments of recruits, and made up whole armies. Their leaders had themselves called Kings of the Jews, that is Messiah. Especially prominent among them was Judas, whose father Hezekiah had been a famous bandit and executed as such (47 B.C.). In Peraea Simon, a former slave of Herod, got together a band; a third force was commanded by the shepherd Athronges.

The Romans suppressed the revolt with great difficulty, after Varus had come to the relief of the legion besieged in Jerusalem with two legions and many auxiliaries. There was an unspeakable slaughter and pillage; two thousand of the prisoners were crucified and many others sold into slavery.

This was about the time in which the birth of Christ is set.

There was quiet for several years, but not for long. In the year 6 A.D. Judea came under direct Roman rule. The first measure taken by the Romans was a census for tax-collecting purposes. In answer, there was a new attempt at insurrection by Judas the Galilean, the same who had been so prominent in the uprising ten years earlier. He got together with the Pharisee Sadduk, who was to incite the people of Jerusalem. The attempt failed, but it led to the break between masses of the common people and the rebellious Galileans on the one hand, and the Pharisees on the other. They had been together in the rebellion of 4 B.C. Now the Pharisees had had enough, and the party of the Zealots arose in opposition to them. From that time to the destruction of Jerusalem, the fires of insurrection were never completely extinguished in Galilee and Judea.

Josephus, from his Pharisaical standpoint, reports on this: “Thereafter Judas, a Gaulanite from the city of Gamala, with the aid of Sadduk, a Pharisee, incited the people to rebellion. They convinced the people they would be slaves if they submitted to having their property appraised, and they should protect their freedom. They pointed out that in this way they not only would keep their property, but achieve still greater happiness, for they would win great honor and fame by their boldness. God would not help them unless they took vigorous decisions and spared no pains to carry them into execution. The people willingly listened to this and were all heartened to bold deeds.

“One can hardly express how much evil these two men did among the people. There was no wickedness they did not cause. They aroused one war after another. Constant violence ruled among them; anyone who spoke up against them paid for it with his life. Bandits ran riot in the land. The noblest people were done away with on the pretext of saving freedom; actually the motive was greed and the desire to appropriate their property. There followed repeated disorders and general bloodshed; in part the people of the country raged against each other, and one party tried to put the other down; in part external enemies slaughtered them. Finally famine was added to everything else, breaking all bonds and driving the cities to the extreme of ruin, until finally the Temple of God was reduced to ashes by enemies. So the innovations and changes of old customs brought the mutineers themselves to ruin. In this way Judas and Sadduk, who introduced a fourth doctrine and won many supporters for themselves, not only disturbed the state in their own time, but also left the way open for all the subsequent evil by means of this new doctrine, which had been unknown up to that time.... The younger people who supported them brought us to destruction” (Antiquities, XVIII, 1,1).

At the end of the same chapter, however, Josephus speaks with far more respect of the same Zealots whom he despises so at its beginning: “The fourth of these doctrines [along with those of the Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes] was introduced by Judas the Galilean. His supporters were with the Pharisees in everything except that they showed a stubborn love of liberty and declared that God alone should be recognized as lord and prince. They will much rather suffer the greatest tortures and let their friends and relations be tortured than call a man their lord. I will not go into details on this subject, since it is sufficiently well known how stubborn they have proved to be in these matters. I am not afraid that I will not be believed, but rather that I will not be able to find words enough to describe with what heroism and what firmness they suffer the greatest tortures. This madness attacked the whole people like an epidemic when the procurator Gessius Florus (64 to 66 A.D.) abused his power so against them that he drove them to desperation and revolt against the Romans.”

As the Roman yoke became more oppressive and the desperation of the Jewish masses more intense, the more they abandoned the Pharisees and took to Zealotism. At the same time the latter manifested strange by-products.

One of these was ecstatic enthusiasm. Knowledge was not a characteristic of the ancient proletariat, nor was the thirst for knowledge. Subject, more than any other class of people, to social forces they did not understand and which appeared to them as sinister; more than any other class desperate, in a situation in which men grasp at any straw; they were especially given to belief in miracles. Deeply affected by Messianic prophecies, they were more inclined than any other groups to complete misunderstanding of real conditions and to the expectation of the impossible.

Every fanatic who proclaimed himself a Messiah and promised to free the people by his miracles found supporters. One such was the prophet Theudas under the procurator Fadus (from 44 A.D. on), who led a throng of people to the River Jordan, where they were dispersed by the cavalry of Fadus. Theudas was captured and beheaded.

Under the procurator Felix (52 to 60 A.D.) fanaticism went still further:

“There was a band of rascals who did not indeed murder people but had godless ideas and kept the city [Jerusalem] restless and unsafe. For they were seductive deceivers who preached all sorts of innovations as divine revelations and moved the people to riot. They led the people out into the desert and pretended that God would let them see a sign of freedom. Since Felix assumed that this was the beginning of the uprising, he sent soldiers against them, cavalry as well as infantry, and a great number were killed.

“Still greater misfortune was brought upon the Jews by a false prophet from Egypt [that means an Egyptian Jew – K.K.]. He was a sorcerer and by his magic managed to get himself considered a prophet. He led astray some 30,000 people who supported him. He led them out of the desert to the so-called Mount of Olives in order to break into Jerusalem from there, overcome the Roman garrison and establish dominion over the people. As soon as Felix got wind of his project, he went against him with the Roman soldiers and all of the people who were willing to take steps for the common good, and gave battle to him. The Egyptian escaped with only a few of his mob. Most were taken, the rest hiding in the country.

“Hardly had this unrest been stilled than a new plague broke out, just as in a sick and infected body. Some sorcerers and murderers got together and won a great following. They called on everyone to demand freedom and threatened those with death who would be obedient subjects to the Roman authority from that time on, saying: Those must be freed against their will who voluntarily bow under the yoke of slavery.

“They went all through the Jewish land, plundered the houses of the rich, burned the villages, and behaved so abominably that because of them the whole Jewish people was oppressed. And from day to day this ruinous disease spread.” [49]

Within Jerusalem itself open rebellion against the Roman army was not easy, and the most embittered enemies of the established order took to assassination. Under the procurator Felix, under whom the bandits and fanatics teemed, there also was organised a sect of terrorists. Explosives were unknown, and the favorite weapon of the terrorists was a curved dagger hidden under the cloak; they were called sicarii after this dagger (sica).

The desperate frenzy of all these champions of the popular cause was only the inevitable answer to the shameless brutality of the oppressors of the people. This is how Josephus, who witnessed all these events, describes the actions of the last two procurators who ruled Judea before the destruction of Jerusalem:

“Festus obtained the office of procurator (60 to 62 A.D.). He seriously combated the bandits who infested the Jewish land, and captured and killed many of them. His successor Albinus (62 to 64 A.D.) did not follow his example, unfortunately. There was no crime and no sin too great for him not to have done and practiced it. He not only embezzled public monies in the administration, but laid hold of the private property of the subjects and took it by force for himself. He loaded the people with huge and unjust taxes. For money he set free the robbers that the city authorities or his own predecessors in office had put in prison, and only those remained prisoners who could not pay. This increased the boldness of the revolutionaries in Jerusalem. The rich got so far with presents and gifts to Albinus that he winked at their having a suite following them. The masses, however, who do not love quiet, began to attach themselves to such people, because Albinus favored them. Accordingly every rascal surrounded himself with a band and let his mercenaries plunder and rob all the good citizens. Those who were robbed kept quiet, and those who had not been robbed yet flattered the rowdies for fear the like would happen to them. No one could complain, for the pressure was too great. Thus the seed of the destruction of our city was planted.

“Although Albinus acted so disgracefully and wickedly, his successor Gessius Florus (64-66) went far beyond him, so that in a comparison of the two Albinus would still seem the better. For Albinus committed his misdeeds in secret and was able to put a good face on everything. The other one did everything openly, as if he sought his glory in mistreating our people. He robbed, he plundered, he punished and conducted himself as if he had not been sent as procurator but as executioner, to torture the Jews. Where he should have used mercy, he used terror. He was shameless and false into the bargain, and there was nobody who could have found more ruses for deceiving people than he did. He was not satisfied with bleeding private individuals white and profiting by their ruin. He plundered whole cities and ruined the entire people. All that was lacking was for him to proclaim publicly: robbery and theft are allowed at will, so long as he gets his share. Thus it came about that the whole land was devastated, and many left their fatherland and went abroad.” [50]

Under Florus the situation finally led to the great uprising in which the whole people rose with all its might against its tormentors. When Florus went so far as to try to rob the Temple, in May 66, Jerusalem went wild, or rather, the lower classes in Jerusalem went wild. The majority of those who owned property, Pharisees as well as Sadducees, feared the uprising and desired peace. With the rebellion against the Romans civil war began as well. The war party won. The peace party was defeated in streetfighting, but the Roman garrison in Jerusalem was forced to withdraw and was cut down on the way.

The combat morale of the insurgents was so great that they succeeded in routing a relief column of 30,000 men led by the Syrian legate Cestius Gallus.

The Jews all over Palestine rose in insurrection, and those outside of Palestine as well. The mutiny of the Jews in Alexandria required the dispatch of all the military forces of the Romans in Egypt.

There was of course no possibility that Rome could be overthrown by the Jews whose forces were too weak and too exclusively urban. It might however have compelled Rome to spare Judea a little longer, if the rebels had gone at once vigorously on the offensive, following up the successes they had won. Circumstances soon came to their aid. In the second year of the Jewish War the soldiers in the Western part of the Empirerose against Nero, and the battles of the legions against each other continued after his death (June 9, 68 A.D.); Vespasian, commander-in-chief of the army that was engaged in subduing Judea, gave more attention to the events in the West, where the throne was at stake, than to the little local war.

The one small chance the rebels had was passed by. It was to be sure the lower classes that had declared war on the Romans and put down the Jewish peace party, but the wealthy and educated still had enough influence to get the conduct of the war against the Romans into their hands. That meant that it was waged only with a faint heart, not with the purpose of wiping out the enemy but only to stand up to him. The rebels finally saw how lukewarm their leaders were in the fight, and the Zealots were then able to get the leadership into their own hands.

“In the fanatical popular party the unsuccessful course of events was ascribed – not without reason – to the lack of energy in the conduct of the war thus far. The men of the people bent all their efforts to getting control of the situation themselves and supplanting the previous leaders. Since the latter did not give up their control willingly, a fearfully bloody civil war resulted in Jerusalem in the winter of 67/68 A.D., with scenes of horror that are to be seen nowhere else except in the first French Revolution.” [51]

The comparison with the French Revolution will strike every observer of these events. However, for France the Reign of Terror was a means of saving the revolution and making it capable of advancing victoriously against all of Europe; for Jerusalem any such outcome was impossible in the very nature of the situation. The reign of terror of the lower classes came too late in fact even to win a short reprieve for the Jewish state, whose days were numbered; it would only prolong the battle, increase the suffering, make the rage of the eventual victor more atrocious. But it could also give the world a monument of fortitude, heroism and devotion that stands out all the more impressively against the filth of the general cowardice and self-seeking of that era.

It was not all the Jews of Jerusalem who continued the hopeless struggle against the overpowering enemy for another three years, until September 70 A.D. in the stoutest, most resolute and resourceful of defenses, covering every inch of ground with corpses before giving up, and finally, weakened by hunger and disease, finding their graves in the burning ruins. The priests, the scribes, the merchant princes had for the most part fled to places of safety at the beginning of the siege. It was the small artisans and shopkeepers and proletarians of Jerusalem that became the heroes of their nation, in conjunction with the proletarianized peasants of Galilee who had forced their way into Jerusalem.

Such was the atmosphere in which the Christian community came into being. It does not by any means offer the smiling picture of Christ’s surroundings drawn by Renan in his Life of Jesus; Renan based his conception, not on the social conditions of the time, but on the picturesque impressions the modern tourist in Galilee receives. Hence Renan is able to assure us in his romance about Jesus that in Jesus’ time this fair land “abounded in plenty, joy and well-being,” so that “every history of the origin of Christianity becomes a charming idyll.”

As charming as the lovely month of May 1871 in Paris.

The Essenes

It must however be conceded that in the midst of the spectacle of woe and blood that constitutes the history of Judea in the epoch of Christ, there is one phenomenon which gives the impression of a peaceful idyll. This is the order of the Essenes or Essaeans, which arose about the year 150 B.C., according to Josephus and lasted until the destruction of Jerusalem. [52] From that point on the order disappears from history.

Like the Zealots, it was obviously of proletarian origin; but its nature was quite different. The Zealots did not develop any social structure of their own. They differed from the Pharisees not in the goal, but in the means, the harshness and violence with which they sought to reach it. If the goal had been attained and Jerusalem enthroned as mistress of the world in the place of Rome, with all the riches of the Roman people going to the Jews, then there would be an end to all sorts of hardship for all classes. In this way nationalism seemed to make socialism unnecessary, even for the proletarians. What was characteristically proletarian in the Zealots was the energy and fanaticism of their patriotism.

But not all the proletarians were willing to wait until the Messiah should inaugurate the new, world-ruling Jerusalem. Many sought to improve their position at once, and since politics did not seem to promise any speedy assistance, they took to economic organization.

This must have been the sort of thinking that led to the foundation of Essenianism. We have no evidence on the point.

The nature of the organisation clearly indicates that it was an outspoken communism. They lived in common dwellings, 4000 strong in the time of Josephus, in various villages and rural cities of Judea.

“They live there together,” Philo says of them, “organized by corporations and clubs for friendship and dining (kata thasous, hetairias kai syssitia poioumenoi), and regularly occupied in labors for the community.

“None of them desires to have property of his own, neither a house nor a slave nor a piece of land nor herds nor whatever else constitutes wealth. But they put everything together indiscriminately, and all of them use it in common.

“The money they earn by their labor in various ways they hand over to an elected administrator. Out of it he buys what is needed, and gives them ample food and whatever else is needed for life.”

It might be inferred from this that each man produced for himself or worked for wages.

Josephus describes their life as follows:

“After this [the morning prayer] they are dismissed by their chiefs and each goes to the work he has learned, and when they have diligently labored until the fifth hour [counting from sunrise, about eleven o’clock] they come together at a stated place, gird themselves with white cloths and wash their bodies in cold water. After this purification they go into the refectory, into which no one has entry who is not a member of their sect. When they have sat down in silence, the baker puts bread before each man and the cook sets a dish before each with one kind of food. Then a priest blesses the food; and it is not permitted to taste anything before prayer. At the end of the midday meal they give thanks again, and thus before and after eating they praise God, the giver of all food. Then they put off their mantles like sacred clothing and go to work again until evening. Supper is taken in the same way as dinner, and when guests come [members of the order from elsewhere, since strangers were not allowed in the refectory – K.K.], they too sit at table with them. Neither outcries nor disorder sully the house, and when they converse, one speaks after the other, not all at once, so that people who are not of their order feel the quiet in the house as mysteriously impressive. The cause of their quiet life is their constant moderation, for they eat and drink no more than is required for maintaining their life.

“In general they do no work except on the instructions of their chiefs, with the exception that they may be free in showing sympathy and helpfulness. Whenever an emergency requires it, any one of them may assist those who need and deserve help, or bring food to the poor. But they may not contribute anything to their friends or relatives without the consent of their chief.”

Their communism was carried to an extreme. It extended to their clothing. Philo says:

“Not only food, but clothing as well is in common with them. For there are heavy cloaks prepared for the winter, and light outer garments for summer, so that every man may make use of them as he will. For what one has counts as the property of all, and what all of them have counts as everyman’s.”

They rejected slavery. Farming was their chief occupation, but they also engaged in crafts. Only the manufacture of luxury articles and weapons of war was forbidden, along with trade.

The basis of their whole communistic system was community of consumption, not social production. There is some talk of the latter too, but it is only a question of work that brings in money for individuals either for wages or for goods sold, in either case the work is done outside the social organization. All the members of the order however have their lodging and meals in common. That is what holds them together, above all. It is communism of common housekeeping. This requires giving up separate housekeeping, separate families and separate marriages.

Actually we find, in every organization which rests on the basis of a communism of consumption and community housekeeping that separate marriage causes difficulties and an effort is made to eliminate it. This may be done in two ways that apparently are mutually exclusive, the sharpest extremes of sexual relationships, greatest chastity and greatest “looseness”. And yet both ways are equally likely to be followed by communistic organizations of the sort in question. From the Essenes down through all the Christian communistic sects to the colonies of the communistic sects in the United States in our times, we can see that all of them are against marriage, but are just as likely to incline to community of women as to celibacy.

This would be unthinkable if it were merely ideological considerations that had brought people to this communism and its superstructure of ideas. It is easily explainable on the basis of its economic conditions.

Most of the Essenes rejected all contact with women.

“They reject marriage, but adopt strange children while they are still young and teachable, consider them as their own children and instruct them in their ways and customs. It is not that they would do away with or forbid marriage or the reproduction of the species. But they say that the unchastity of women must be guarded against, since none of them is satisfied with one man alone.”

That is what Josephus says in the eighth chapter of the second book of his history of the Jewish War, from which these quotations on the Essenes have been taken. But in the eighteenth book of his Jewish Antiquities, chapter one, he says on the same question :

“They do not take wives and hold no slaves. They hold that the latter is unjust, and the first would give rise to disputes.”

In both places it is only practical considerations, not asceticism, that is the basis of opposition to marriage. Josephus knew the Essenes from his own observations. He had been successively with the Sadducees. Essenes and Pharisees until he stayed finally with the latter.

Thus Josephus is in an excellent position to tell us the basis of the Essenes’ hostility to marriage. That is not to say that what he says constitutes the ultimate cause; for we must constantly distinguish between the arguments someone adduces to justify his actions and the psychological motives that actually cause those actions. Very few men are clearly aware of these motives. It is a favorite procedure of our historians however to take the arguments that are handed down to them as the actual motives of the historical events and relations. They reject investigation into the actual motives as arbitrary “constructions,” that is they demand that our knowledge of history should never reach a higher point of view than it had at the time from which our sources come. All of the enormous body of facts that has been accumulated since then, which enables us to separate what is essential and typical in the most diverse historical phenomena from what is unessential and accidental, and to discover the actual motives of men behind what they profess – all this, they would say, is to be ignored.

Anyone who knows the history of communism will realize at once that it was not the nature of women, but the nature of communistic housekeeping that poisoned marriage for the Essenes. When many males and females lived together in a common household, the temptation to infidelity and jealous quarrels was too near at hand. If this sort of housekeeping was not to be abandoned either men would have to stop living with women or monogamy would have to be eliminated.

Not all the Essenes took the first way. Josephus reports in the previously cited eighth chapter of the second book on the Jewish War:

“There is still another sort of Essenes, who are in thorough accord with the previous ones in their way of living, their manners and rules, but differ from them in the matter of marriage. For they say, that those who refrain from marital relations would deprive life of its most important function (meros), reproduction would constantly decrease and the human race would soon die out, if everyone thought as they did. These people have the custom of trying (dokimazontes) wives for three years. If they have shown after three purifications that they are fit to bear children, they marry them. As soon as one is pregnant, her husband no longer sleeps with her. That is to show that they enter into marriage not for the sake of sensual pleasure, but only for the sake of producing children.”

The passage is not quite clear; but it says at least that these marriages of the Essenes were very different from the customary ones. The “trying” of wives does not seem conceivable except on the presumption of a sort of community of wives.

Out of the ideological superstructure that was built on these social foundations, one thought should be particularly stressed, namely, the Essenes’ assertion of the unfreedom of the will, in opposition to the Sadducees, who taught the freedom of the will, and to the Pharisees, who took an intermediate position.

“When the Pharisees say that everything happens in accordance with fate, they do not do away with the free will of man, but say that it pleased God to bring to pass a mixture as it were between the decree of fate and that of men, who will to do good or evil.” [53]

“The Essenes on the other hand ascribe everything to fate. They hold that nothing can happen to man that is not decreed by fate. The Sadducees will have none of fate. They say there is no such thing, and it does not determine the lot of men. They ascribe everything to the free will of man, so that he has himself to thank if something good happens to him; while unhappy experiences are to be considered as results of his own folly.” [54]

These divergent views would seem to arise out of pure thought. We already know, however, that each of these tendencies represents a different class. And when we understand history, we find that very often ruling classes incline to assume the freedom of the will, and still more often the oppressed classes uphold the idea of its unfreedom.

This is not difficult to understand. The ruling classes feel themselves free to do what they please, or to refrain from action. That comes not merely from their powerful position but also from the small number of their members. Regularity appears only in the mass, where the different deviations from the norm cancel each other out. The smaller the number of individuals observed, the greater the weight of the personal and fortuitous as compared with the general and typical. In the case of a monarch the latter seems to be entirely abolished.

The rulers thus easily come to consider themselves as raised above social influences, which appear to men, so long as they are not understood, as an occult power, as fate. The ruling classes feel themselves driven however to attribute freedom of the will not only to themselves but to those who are ruled. The misery of the exploited appears to them as the fault of the exploited themselves, every offence that they commit as a wanton misdeed, that arises from mere personal joy in evil and calls for rigorous punishment.

Assuming freedom of the will makes it easier for the ruling classes to carry out their function of judging and holding down the oppressed classes while feeling moral superiority and indignation, a factor which undoubtedly makes them more energetic in their task.

The mass of the poor and the harried, however, find that at every step they are the slaves of circumstances, of fate; its decrees are incomprehensible to them, but at any rate it is more powerful than they. It comes bitterly home to them what a mockery it is when the prosperous tell them to be the artisans of their own fortune. They try in vain to escape from the conditions that oppress them. And they realize that this happens not merely to isolated individuals among them, but that each of them drags the same chain after him. They see very clearly that not only their actions and the success of those actions, but their feelings and thoughts and hence their will are dependent on their circumstances.

It may seem queer that the Pharisees, in view of their intermediate social position, should accept freedom of the will and natural necessity at one and the same time. But almost two thousand years after them the great philosopher Rant did the same thing.

We need not here examine the rest of the ideological superstructure which arose on the basis of the Essenian social structure, although this is precisely what historians in the main are concerned with. For that gives them the opportunity to make profound explanations of the derivation of Essenianism from Parseeism or Buddhism or Pythagoreanism or some other ism.

That does not answer the question of the actual roots of Essenianism. Social tendencies within a people always arise out of actual needs within that people, and not through mere imitation of foreign models. It is possible to learn from other countries or other times, certainly, but people take from these sources only what they can use, what corresponds to a need. For example, the only reason why Roman law found such acceptance in Germany after the Renaissance was that it fitted in so well with the needs of strong rising classes, the absolute monarchy and the merchants. Naturally one does not go to the trouble of inventing a new tool when an existing one is ready to hand. The fact that a tool comes from abroad does not answer the question of why it finds application; that can only be explained by actual needs in the people themselves.

All the influences from Parseeism, Buddhism or Pythagoreanism that may have had an effect on Essenianism are dubious at best; there is no proof that any of them affected it directly. The similarities may very well arise from the fact that all of them arose under fairly similar conditions, which led to similar attempts at salvation in each case.

One would be most tempted to infer a connection between the Pythagoreans and the Essenes. Josephus says in fact (Antiquities, XV, 10, 4) that the Essenes lived in a way that was very similar to that of the Pythagoreans. But one might raise the question whether the Essenes learned from the Pythagoreans or vice versa. Josephus says to be sure (Against Apion, I, 22) that Pythagoras himself adopted Jewish conceptions and put them out as his own, but that is mere bragging to glorify Judaism, and is probably based on some forgery or other. Actually we know almost nothing certain about Pythagoras. It is only long after his death that information about him begins to be more abundant; and there are more bits, and in more detail, and more incredible, the further we go from the time in which he lived. We pointed out at the beginning that Pythagoras was treated like Jesus. He became an ideal figure, credited with everything expected of an ethical model, as well as a miracle-maker and prophet who showed his divine mission by the most astonishing feats. It was precisely because nothing definite was known of him that it was possible to attribute to him and put into his mouth anything that was desired.

Even the way of life said to have been introduced by Pythagoras, much like that of the Essenes, with community of property, is probably of relatively recent origin, perhaps no older than that of the Essenes.

This Pythagoreanism probably originated in Alexandria. [55]

There a link with Judaism was quite likely, and the transmission of Pythagorean conceptions to Palestine not at all out of the question. The reverse too was possible. Finally, it may be that both drew on a common source: Egyptian practice. In Egypt the advanced social development had already led, relatively early, to cloister-like institutions.

Its old civilization had long been declining, and as a result revulsion against private property and the pleasures of life together with Eight from the world had set in earlier than in the other parts of the Roman Empire; nowhere was such a course of action easier to put into execution than in Egypt, where the desert reaches up to the edge of civilization. Elsewhere anyone fleeing from the great city found private property in the country too, and in its most oppressive form, private property in land. He either had to withdraw into wildernesses many miles away from civilization, which only the most strenuous efforts could make habitable, a labor that the city-dweller is least of all capable of.

In the Egyptian desert, as in any desert, there was no private property in land. It was not hard to live there: the climate did not require any great outlay on buildings, clothing and heating to protect one from the weather. Moreover, it was so close to the city that the hermit could easily get the necessities of life from friends, or even fetch himself by walking a few hours.

Accordingly Egypt had begun early to produce a monk-like group of hermits. Then neo-Pythagoreanism arose in Alexandria, and finally in the fourth century of our era Christian monasticism got its start there. But Alexandrian Judaism as well had its own peculiar monastic order, the Therapeutae.

The treatise On the Contemplative Life in which Philo reports on them has been said to be spurious, but in this case the suspicion is groundless.

Like the sage, he says, they renounce their property, which they divide among their relatives and friends; they leave their brothers, children, wives, parents, friends and native city, and find their true home in union with others of like mind. These associations are to be found in many parts of Egypt, especially near Alexandria. Here each lives by himself in a simple cell, near to those of the others, where he spends the time in pious contemplation. Their food is very simple, bread, salt and water. On the Sabbath they come together for pious lectures and singing, men and women in a common hall, but the sexes separated by a partition. They reject meat-eating, wine and slavery. There is nothing said, however, about work on their part. They must have lived by alms from friends and admirers.

It is quite possible that Alexandrian Jews brought the notions of the Therapeutae to Palestine and thereby influenced Essenianism. And yet the two are fundamentally different. The Therapeutae live in contemplative idleness on others’ labor, the Essenes work diligently and earn so much that they not only support themselves but have a surplus to share with the needy. Both reject private property, but the Therapeutae have nothing at all to do with the goods of the world. They hate work as much as pleasure, they renounce means of production as they do means of consumption, and hence distribute their property among friends and relatives. The Essenes labor, and for that they need means of production; accordingly their members do not distribute what they own among friends, but collect them in a fund for common use.

Since they worked, they had to be able-bodied and eat well. Rigid asceticism is impossible for men who have work to do.

The difference between the Therapeutae and still more the neo-Pythagoreans, who for the most part merely prated about asceticism, withdrawal from the world, and giving up property, on the one hand, and the Essenes on the other points up the contrast between the Jewry of Palestine and of the rest of the civilized world of the Roman Empire at the time in which Christianity arose. In Essenianism we see the same vigor that we observe in the Zealots and that raises the Judaism of that era so far above the cowardly dejection of the other civilized nations, who fled from pleasure and temptation because they were afraid of struggle. Even the communistic tendencies among them had a cowardly and ascetic character.

What made Essenianism possible was the vigor of Judaism, but not that alone. There are other factors which brought it about that it was precisely Judaism that produced this unique phenomenon.

In general, we find in the last century before Christ that along with mass poverty there also increases the effort of the proletarians and their friends to relieve the misery by organized effort. Meals in common, the last remnant of primitive communism, are at the same time the initial point of the new communism.

Under Judaism the need for cohesion and mutual aid was especially strong. Fellow-countrymen abroad clung together more closely than at home, and no one was more homeless and was more constantly in foreign parts than the Jew outside of Judea. Thus the Jews were marked by a mutual helpfulness that was as striking as their segregation from the non-Jews. In a single phrase Tacitus emphasizes both their hostile hatred against all others and their constant gentleness toward one another. [56]

They also seem to have clung with especial stubbornness to their associations with meals in common. There is no other explanation for the fact that Caesar, who forbade all associations that had not come down from antiquity, permitted the Jewish ones.

“Although in all other cases he required the permission of the Senate for the formation of independent corporate bodies with their own funds, he immediately permitted the formation all over the Empire of Jewish associations with common meals and corporate property. In view of the desire, widespread at that time, for belonging to societies, which the state so feared and persecuted, this toleration of Jewish religious societies led many pagans to apply for membership in the Jewish associations as so-called Godfearing men, a request that was easily granted.” [57]

Such an association of proletarians would be very likely to take on a purely communistic character. But it was not easy for it to go much beyond meals in common out of a common fund, under urban conditions. Nor was there much incentive to go further. At that time, in the southern countries, clothing did not play an important part in the budget of proletarians; it served more for display than as protection against the weather. For sleeping quarters the proletarian of the city looked for some nook or corner. Finally, earning a living scattered them to the farthest ends of the city whether they begged or stole or peddled or were porters, or however it was they got by.

The common meal of the society, to which each brought his share and in which every member shared, whether he had been in a position to contribute something or not, was the strongest link that held the society together, and the most effective way of insuring the individual against the vicissitudes of life, which can so easily destroy the destitute.

In the country, household and occupation are inseparable. Meals in common presuppose a common dwelling and a common economy. Large agricultural estates were not rare at that time: operated by slaves to some extent, but also enlarged communistic families and lodging associations are found at this stage of development.

Palestine was by now the only region where Judaism still had a peasantry, and this we have seen to have been in constant and close connection with the metropolis of Jerusalem and its proletariat. It was easy for communistic tendencies, which were nearer to the heart of the Jewish proletariat than to any other proletariat of that time, to extend to the open country and there take the form that marks the Essenian doctrine.

The economic basis of the organization of the Essenes was peasant agriculture. “They are all engaged in farming,” says Josephus, with some exaggeration (Antiquities, XVIII, 1,5).

Such an organization on the land could last only as long as it was tolerated by the state. There was no way in which a productive commune could exist as a secret society, especially in the country.

Essenianism was therefore linked up with the preservation of Jewish freedom. When that was lost, it too had to go under. It was not suited to an existence in great cities outside of Palestine, as an illicit society.

Nevertheless the great city of Jerusalem was to develop a form of organization that proved to be more adaptable than ally other to the needs of the urban proletariat all over the Empire, and in the end better adapted than any other to the needs of the Empire itself.

This organization started in Judaism and spread over all the Empire, and incorporated all the elements of the new way of feeling and thinking that had arisen out of the social transformation and decay of that time.

We now go on to consider this organization: the Christian community.


14. Das JudentumNeue Zeit, VIII, p.23f.

15. See Frank Buhl, Die sozialen Verhältnisse der Israeliten, p.43.

16. B. Stade, Geschichte des Volkes Israel, II, p.17.

17. Ibid., p.187.

18. Ed. Meyer, Geschichte des alten Aegypten, p.192f.

19. This note is missing – MIA.

20. Wellhausen, op. cit., p.32.

21. Isaiah 42, verses 8 to 12.

22. Isaiah 41, verses 8 to 27.

23. Mommsen, Römische Geschichte, V, p.489-92.

24. Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, 18, 6, 3.

25. Ibid., 19, 5, 1.

26. Mommsen, Römische Geschichte, V, p.456.

27. Mommsen, Römische Geschichte, III, p.549-551.

28. Suetonius, Julius Caesar, chap. 84.

29. Mommsen, Römische Geschichte, V, p.497f.

30. Schürer, Geschichte des jüdischen Volkes, III. 90.

31. Josephus, Autobiography.

32. Genesis 22, verses 17 and 18.

33. Friedlinder, Sittengeschichte Roms, II, 519.

34. Geschichte des jüdischen Volkes, II, p.5.

35. Cf. the Book of Tobit 14, verses 6 and 7.

36. Jewish War, II, 20, 2.

37. Histories, V, 5.

38. Satires, XIV, 96 to 105.

39. Mommsen, Römische Geschichte, V, p.515f.

40. Antiquities, XVIII, 3, 5.

41. Josephus, Antiquities, XIV, 7. 1 Talent – $1200.

42. Josephus, Antiquities, X1V, 7.

43. Jewish Antiquities, XX, 8, 8; cf. 9, 2.

44. Antiquities, XVII, 2, 4.

45. Jewish War, VI, 9, 3.

46. Histories, V, l3.

47. Antiquities, XVII, 2, 4.

48. Juvenal, Satires, III, 13-16.

49. Josephus, Jewish War, II, l3, 4 to 6.

50. Jewish War, II, 14, 1, 2.

51. Schürer, Geschichte des jüdischen Volkes, I, 617.

52. Josephus writes “Essenes”, Philo “Essaeans”. The word is a Hellenized form of the Syrian chase (Hebrew, chasid), pious. The plural of the word has two forms, chasen and chasuja.

53. Josephus, Antiquities, XVIII, 1, 3.

54. Antiquities, XIII, 5, 9.

55. On this question and the Pythagoreans in general, cf. Zeller, Philosophie der Griechen, volumes I and III.

56. Histories, V, 5.

57. O. Holtzmann, Das Ende des jüdischen Staatswesens und die Entstehung des Christentums, 1888, p.460.

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