The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
FROM THE MANGER IN BETHLEHEM TO THE BAPTISM IN
THE PERSONAL HISTORY OF HEROD
THE TWO WORLDS IN JERUSALEM
It is an intensely painful history,1
in the course of which Herod made his way to the throne. We look back nearly
two and a half centuries to where, with the empire of Alexander, Palestine fell
to his successors. For nearly a century and a half it continued the
battle-field of the Egyptian and Syrian kings (the Ptolemies and the
Seleucidæ). At last it was a corrupt High-Priesthood - with which virtually the
government of the land had all along lain - that betrayed Israel's precious
trust. The great-grandson of so noble a figure in Jewish history as Simon the
Just (compare Ecclus. 1.) bought from the Syrians the High-Priestly office of
his brother, adopted the heathen name Jason, and sought to Grecianise the people.
The sacred office fell, if possible, even lower when, through bribery, it was
transferred to his brother Menelaus. Then followed the brief period of the
terrible persecutions of Antiochus Epiphanes, when Judaism was all but
exterminated in Palestine. The glorious uprising of the Maccabees called forth
all the national elements left in Israel, and kindled afresh the smouldering
religious feeling. It seemed like a revival of Old Testament times. And when
Judas the Maccabee, with a band so inferior in numbers and discipline, defeated
the best of the Syrian soldiery, led by its ablest generals, and, on the
anniversary of its desecration by heathen rites, set up again the great altar
of burnt-offering, it appeared as if a new Theocracy were to be inaugurated. The
ceremonial of that feast of the new 'dedication of the Temple,' when each night
the number of lights grew larger in the winter's darkness, seemed symbolic of
what was before Israel. But the Maccabees were not the Messiah; nor yet the
kingdom, which their sword would have restored - that of Heaven, with its
blessings and peace. If ever, Israel might then have learned what Saviour to
The period even of promise was more brief than might have been
expected. The fervour and purity of the movement ceased almost with its
success. It was certainly never the golden age of Israel - not even among those
who remained faithful to its God - which those seem to imagine who, forgetful
of its history and contests, would trace to it so much that is most precious and
spiritual in the Old Testament. It may have been the pressure of circumstances,
but it was anything but a pious, or even a 'happy' thought2
of Judas the Maccabee, to seek the alliance of the Romans. From their entrance
on the scene dates the decline of Israel's national cause. For a time, indeed -
though after varying fortunes of war - all seemed prosperous. The Maccabees
became both High-Priests and Kings. But party strife and worldliness, ambition
and corruption, and Grecianism on the throne, soon brought their sequel in the
decline of morale and vigour, and led to the decay and decadence of the
Maccabean house. It is a story as old as the Old Testament, and as wide as the
history of the world. Contention for the throne among the Maccabees led to the
interference of the foreigner. When, after capturing Jerusalem, and violating
the sanctity of the Temple, although not plundering its treasures, Pompey
placed Hyrcanus II. in the possession of the High-Priesthood, the last of the
was virtually shorn of power. The country was now tributary to Rome, and
subject to the Governor of Syria. Even the shadow of political power passed
from the feeble hands of Hyrcanus when, shortly afterwards, Gabinius (one of
the Roman governors) divided the land into five districts, independent of each
2. So Schürer in his Neutestam. Zeitgesch.
3. A table of the Maccabean and Herodian families is given in Appendix VI.
But already a person had appeared on the stage of Jewish
affairs, who was to give them their last decisive turn. About fifty years
before this, the district of Idumæa had been conquered by the Maccabean King Hyrcanus
I., and its inhabitants forced to adopt Judaism. By this Idumæa we are not,
however, to understand the ancient or Eastern Edom, which was now in the hands
of the Nabataeans, but parts of Southern Palestine which the Edomites had
occupied since the Babylonian Exile, and especially a small district on the
northern and eastern boundary of Judæa, and below Samaria.4
After it became Judæan, its administration was entrusted to a governor. In the
reign of the last of the Maccabees this office devolved on one Antipater, a man
of equal cunning and determination. He successfully interfered in the unhappy
dispute for the crown, which was at last decided by the sword of Pompey.
Antipater took the part of the utterly weak Hyrcanus in that contest with his
energetic brother Aristobulus. He soon became the virtual ruler, and Hyrcanus
II. only a puppet in his hands. From the accession of Judas Maccabæus, in 166 b.c., to the year 63 b.c., when Jerusalem was taken by
Pompey, only about a century had elapsed. Other twenty-four years, and the last
of the Maccabees had given place to the son of Antipater: Herod, surnamed the
4. Comp. 1 Macc. vi. 31.
The settlement of Pompey did not prove lasting. Aristobulus,
the brother and defeated rival of Hyrcanus, was still alive, and his sons were
even more energetic than he. The risings attempted by them, the interference of
the Parthians on behalf of those who were hostile to Rome, and, lastly, the
contentions for supremacy in Rome itself, made this period one of confusion,
turmoil, and constant warfare in Palestine. When Pompey was finally defeated by
Cæsar, the prospects of Antipater and Hycanus seemed dark. But they quickly
changed sides; and timely help given to Cæsar in Egypt brought to Antipater the
title of Procurator of Judæa, while Hycanus was left in the High-Priesthood,
and, at least, nominal head of the people. The two sons of Antipater were now
made governors: the elder, Phasaelus, of Jerusalem; the younger, Herod, only
twenty-five years old, of Galilee. Here he displayed the energy and determination
which were his characteristics, in crushing a guerilla warfare, of which the
deeper springs were probably nationalist. The execution of its leader brought
Herod a summons to appear before the Great Sanhedrin of Jerusalem, for having
arrogated to himself the power of life and death. He came, but arrayed in
purple, surrounded by a body-guard, and supported by the express direction of
the Roman Governor to Hyrcanus, that he was to be acquitted. Even so he would
have fallen a victim to the apprehensions of the Sanhedrin - only too well
grounded - had he not been persuaded to withdrawn from the city. He returned at
the head of an army, and was with difficulty persuaded by his father to spare
Jerusalem. Meantime Cæsar had named him Governor of Cœlesyria.
On the murder of Cæsar, and the possession of Syria by Cassius,
Antipater and Herod again changed sides. But they rendered such substantial
service as to secure favour, and Herod was continued in the position conferred
on him by Cæsar. Antipater was, indeed, poisoned by a rival, but his sons Herod
and Phasaelus repressed and extinguished all opposition. When the battle of
Philippi placed the Roman world in the hands of Antony and Octavius, the former
obtained Asia. Once more the Idumæans knew how to gain the new ruler, and
Phasaelus and Herod were named Tetrarchs of Judæa. Afterwards, when Antony was
held in the toils of Cleopatra, matters seemed, indeed, to assume a different
aspect. The Parthians entered the land, in support of the rival Maccabean prince
Antigonus, the son of Aristobulus. By treachery, Phasaelus and Hyrcanus were
induced to go to the Parthian camp, and made captives. Phasaelus shortly
afterwards destroyed himself in his prison,5
while Hyrcanus was deprived of his ears, to unfit him for the High-Priestly
office. And so Antigonus for a short time succeeded both to the High-Priesthood
and royalty in Jerusalem. Meantime Herod, who had in vain warned his brother
and Hyrcanus against the Parthian, had been able to make his escape from
Jerusalem. His family he left to the defence of his brother Joseph, in the
inaccessible fortress of Masada; himself fled into Arabia, and finally made his
way to Rome. There he succeeded, not only with Antony, but obtained the consent
of Octavius, and was proclaimed by the Senate King of Judæa. A sacrifice on the
Capitol, and a banquet by Antony, celebrated the accession of the new successor
5. By dashing out his brains against the prison walls.
But he had yet to conquer his kingdom. At first he made way by
the help of the Romans. Such success, however, as he had gained, was more than
lost during his brief absence on a visit to Antony. Joseph, the brother of
Herod, was defeated and slain, and Galilee, which had been subdued, revolted
again. But the aid which the Romans rendered, after Herod's return from Antony,
was much more hearty, and his losses were more than retrieved. Soon all
Palestine, with the exception of Jerusalem, was in his hands. While laying
siege to it, he went to Samaria, there to wed the beautiful Maccabean princess
Mariamme, who had been betrothed to him five years before.6
That ill-fated Queen, and her elder brother Aristobulus, united in themselves
the two rival branches of the Maccabean family. Their father was Alexander, the
eldest son of Aristobulus, and brother of that Antigonus whom Herod now
besieged in Jerusalem; and their mother, Alexandra, the daughter of Hyrcanus
II. The uncle of Mariamme was not long able to hold out against the combined
forces of Rome and Herod. The carnage was terrible. When Herod, by rich
presents, at length induced the Romans to leave Jerusalem, they took Antigonus
with them. By desire of Herod he was executed.
6. He had previously been married to one Doris, the issue of the marriage being a son, Antipater.
This was the first of the Maccabees who fell victim to his
jealousy and cruelty. The history which now follows is one of sickening
carnage. The next to experience his vengeance were the principal adherents in
Jerusalem of his rival Antigonus. Forty-five of the noblest and richest were
executed. His next step was to appoint an obscure Babylonian to the
High-Priesthood. This awakened the active hostility of Alexandra, the mother of
Marimme, Herod's wife. The Maccabean princess claimed the High-Priesthood for
her son Aristobulus. Her intrigues with Cleopatra - and through her with Antony
- and the entreaties of Mariamme, the only being whom Herod loved, though in
his own mad way, prevailed. At the age of seventeen Aristobulus was made
High-Priest. But Herod, who well knew the hatred and contempt of the Maccabean
members of his family, had his mother-in-law watched, a precaution increased
after the vain attempt of Alexandra to have herself and her son removed in
coffins from Jerusalem, to flee to Cleopatra. Soon the jealousy and suspicions
of Herod were raised to murderous madness, by the acclamations which greeted
the young Aristobulus at the Feast of Tabernacles. So dangerous a Maccabean
rival must be got rid of; and, by secret order of Herod, Aristobulus was
drowned while bathing. His mother denounced the murderer, and her influence
with Cleopatra, who also hated Herod, led to his being summoned before Antony.
Once more bribery, indeed, prevailed; but other troubles awaited Herod.
When obeying the summons of Antony, Herod had committed the
government to his uncle Joseph, who was also his brother-in-law, having wedded
Salome, the sister of Herod. His mad jealousy had prompted him to direct that,
in case of his condemnation, Mariamme was to be killed, that she might not
become the wife of another. Unfortunately, Joseph told this to Mariamme, to
show how much she was loved. But on the return of Herod, the infamous Salome
accused her old husband of impropriety with Mariamme. When it appeared that
Joseph had told the Queen of his commission, Herod, regarding it as confirming
his sister's charge, ordered him to be executed, without even a hearing.
External complications of the gravest kind now supervened. Herod had to cede to
Cleopatra the districts of Phoenice and Philistia, and that of Jericho with its
rich balsam plantations. Then the dissensions between Antony and Octavius
involved him, in the cause of the former, in a war with Arabia, whose king had
failed to pay tribute to Cleopatra. Herod was victorious; but he had now to
reckon with another master. The battle of Actium7
decided the fate on Antony, and Herod had to make his peace with Octavius.
Happily, he was able to do good service to the new cause, ere presenting
himself before Augustus. But, in order to be secure from all possible rivals,
he had the aged Hyrcanus II. executed, on pretence of intrigues with the Arabs.
Herod was successful with Augustus; and when, in the following summer, he
furnished him supplies on his march to Egypt, he was rewarded by a substantial
addition of territory.
7. 31 b.c.
When about to appear before Augustus, Herod had entrusted to
one Soemus the charge of Mariamme, with the same fatal directions as formerly
to Joseph. Again Mariamme learnt the secret; again the old calumnies were
raised - this time not only by Salome, but also by Kypros, Herod's mother; and
again Herod imagined he had found corroborative evidence. Soemus was slain
without a hearing, and the beautiful Mariamme executed after a mock trail. The
most fearful paroxysm of remorse, passion, and longing for his murdered wife
now seized the tyrant, and brought him to the brink of the grave. Alexandra,
the mother of Mariamme, deemed the moment favorable for her plots - but she was
discovered, and executed. Of the Maccabean race there now remained only distant
members, the sons of Babas, who had found an asylum with Costobarus, the
Governor of Idumæa, who had wedded Salome after the death of her first husband.
Tired of him, as she had been of Joseph, Salome denounced her second husband;
and Costobarus, as well as the sons of Babas, fell victims to Herod. Thus
perished the family of the Maccabees.
The hand of the maddened tyrant was next turned against his own
family. Of his ten wives, we mention only those whose children occupy a place
in this history. The son of Doris was Antipater; those of the Maccabean
Mariamme, Alexander and Aristobulus; another Mariamme, whose father Herod had
made High-Priest, bore him a son named Herod (a name which other of the sons
shared); Malthake, a Samaritan, was the mother of Archelaus and Herod Antipas;
and, lastly, Cleopatra of Jerusalem bore Philip. The sons of the Maccabean
princess, as heirs presumptive, were sent to Rome for their education. On this
occasion Herod received, as reward for many services, the country east of the
Jordan, and was allowed to appoint his still remaining brother, Pheroras,
Tetrarch of Peræa. On their return from Rome the young princes were married:
Alexander to a daughter of the King of Cappadocia, and Aristobulus to his
cousin Berenice, the daughter of Salome. But neither kinship, nor the yet
nearer relation in which Aristobulus now stood to her, could extinguish the
hatred of Salome towards the dead Maccabean princess or her children. Nor did
the young princes, in their pride of descent, disguise their feelings towards
the house of their father. At first, Herod gave not heed to the denunciations
of his sister. Presently he yielded to vague apprehensions. As a first step,
Antipater, the son of Doris, was recalled from exile, and sent to Rome for
education. So the breach became open; and Herod took his sons to Italy, to lay
formal accusation against them before Augustus. The wise counsels of the
Emperor restored peace for a time. But Antipater now returned to Palestine, and
joined his calumnies to those of Salome. Once more the King of Cappadocia
succeeded in reconciling Herod and his sons. But in the end the intrigues of
Salome, Antipater, and of an infamous foreigner who had made his way at Court,
prevailed. Alexander and Aristobulus were imprisoned, and an accusation of high
treason laid against them before the Emperor. Augustus gave Herod full powers,
but advised the convocation of a mixed tribunal of Jews and Romans to try the
case. As might have been expected, the two princes were condemned to death, and
when some old soldiers ventured to intercede for them, 300 of the supposed
adherents of the cause were cut down, and the two princes strangled in prison.
This happened in Samaria, where, thirty years before, Herod had wedded their
Antipater was now the heir presumptive. But, impatient of the
throne, he plotted with Herod's brother, Pheroras, against his father. Again
Salome denounced her nephew and her brother. Antipater withdrew to Rome; but
when, after the death of Pheraras, Herod obtained indubitable evidence that his
son had plotted against his life, he lured Antipater to Palestine, where on his
arrival he was cast into prison. All that was needed was the permission of
Augustus for his execution. It arrived, and was carried out only five days
before the death of Herod himself. So ended a reign almost unparalleled for
reckless cruelty and bloodshed, in which the murder of the Innocents in
Bethlehem formed but so trifling an episode among the many deeds of blood, as
to have seemed not deserving of record on the page of the Jewish historian.
But we can understand the feelings of the people towards such a
King. They hated the Idumæan; they detested his semi-heathen reign; they
abhorred his deeds of cruelty. the King had surrounded himself with foreign
councillors, and was protected by foreign mercenaries from Thracia, Germany,
and Gaul.8 So long as
he lived, no woman's honour was safe, no man's life secure. An army of
all-powerful spies pervaded Jerusalem - nay, the King himself was said to stoop
to that office.9
If pique or private enmity led to denunciation, the torture would extract any
confession from the most innocent. What his relation to Judaism had been, may
easily be inferred. He would be a Jew - even build the Temple, advocate the
cause of the Jews in other lands, and, in a certain sense, conform to the Law
of Judaism. In building the Temple, he was so anxious to conciliate national
prejudice, that the Sanctuary itself was entrusted to the workmanship of
priests only. Nor did he ever intrude into the Holy Place, nor interfere with
any functions of the priesthood. None of his coins bear devices which could
have shocked popular feeling, nor did any of the buildings he erected in
Jerusalem exhibit any forbidden emblems. The Sanhedrin did exist during his
reign,10 though it
must have been shorn of all real power, and its activity confined to
ecclesiastical, or semi-ecclesiastical, causes. Strangest of all, he seems to
have had at least the passive support of two of the greatest Rabbis - the
Pollio and Sameas of Josephus11
- supposed to represent those great figures in Jewish tradition, Abtalion and
We can but conjecture, that they preferred even his rule to what had preceded;
and hoped it might lead to a Roman Protectorate, which would leave Judæa
practically independent, or rather under Rabbinic rule.
8. Jos. Ant. xvii. 8. 3.
9. Ant. xv. 10. 4.
the discussion of this question in Wieseler, Beitr. pp. 215 &c.
xiv. 9. 4; xv. 1. 1, 10. 4.
12. Ab. i. 10, 11.
13. Even their recorded fundamental principles bear this out. That of Shemajah was:
'Love labour, hate lordship, and do not push forward to the authorities.' That
of Abtalion was: 'Ye sages, be careful in your words, lest perchance ye incur
banishment, and are exiled to a place of bad waters, and the disciples who
follow you drink of them and die, and so in the end the name of God be
It was also under the government of Herod, that Hillel and Shammai
lived and taught in Jerusalem:14
the two, whom tradition designates as 'the fathers of old.'15
Both gave their names to 'schools,' whose direction was generally different -
not unfrequently, it seems, chiefly for the sake of opposition. But it is not
correct to describe the former as consistently the more liberal and mild.16
The teaching of both was supposed to have been declared by the 'Voice from
Heaven' (the Bath-Qol) as 'the words of the living God;' yet the Law was
to be henceforth according to the teaching of Hillel.17
But to us Hillel is so intensely interesting, not merely as the mild and
gentle, nor only as the earnest student who came from Babylon to learn in the
Academies of Jerusalem; who would support his family on a third of his scanty
wages as a day labourer, that he might pay for entrance into the schools; and
whose zeal and merits were only discovered when, after a severe night, in
which, from poverty, he had been unable to gain admittance into the Academy,
his benumbed form was taken down from the window-sill, to which he had crept up
not to lose aught of the precious instruction. And for his sake did they gladly
break on that Sabbath the sacred rest. Nor do we think of him, as tradition
fables him - the descendant of David,18
possessed of every great quality of body, mind, and heart; nor yet as the
second Ezra, whose learning placed him at the head of the Sanhedrin, who laid
down the principles afterwards applied and developed by Rabbinism, and who was
the real founder of traditionalism. Still less do we think of him, as he is
falsely represented by some: as he whose principles closely resemble the
teaching of Jesus, or, according to certain writers, were its source. By the
side of Jesus we think of him otherwise than this. We remember that, in his
extreme old age and near his end, he may have presided over that meeting of
Sanhedrin which, in answer to Herod's inquiry, pointed to Bethlehem as the
birthplace of the Messiah.1920
We think of him also as the grandfather of that Gamaliel, at whose feet Saul of
Tarsus sat. And to us he is the representative Jewish reformer, in the spirit
of those times, and in the sense of restoring rather than removing; while we
think of Jesus as the Messiah of Israel, in the sense of bringing the Kingdom
of God to all men, and opening it to all believers.
Hillel and Shammai see the article in Herzog's Real-Encyklop.; that in Hamburger's;
Delitzsch, Jesus u. Hillel. and books on Jewish history generally.
15. Eduj. 1. 4.
number of points on which the ordinances of Hillel were more severe than those
of Shammai are enumerated in Eduj. iv. 1-12; v. 1-4; Ber. 36 a, end.
Comp. also Ber. R. 1.
17. Jer. Ber. 3 b, lines 3 and 2 from bottom.
18. Ber. R. 98.
19. St. Matt. ii. 4.
20. On the chronology of the life of Hillel &c., see also Schmilg, Ueb. d.
Entsteh. &c. der Megillath Taanith, especially p. 34. Hillel is said to
have become Chief of the Sanhedrin in 30 b.c.,
and to have held the office for forty years. These numbers, however, are no doubt somewhat exaggerated.
And so there were two worlds in Jerusalem, side by side. On the
one hand, was Grecianism with its theatre and amphitheatre; foreigners filling
the Court, and crowding the city; foreign tendencies and ways, from the foreign
King downwards. On the other hand, was the old Jewish world, becoming now set
and ossified in the Schools of Hillel and Shammai, and overshadowed by Temple
and Synagogue. And each was pursuing its course, by the side of the other. If
Herod had everywhere his spies, the Jewish law provided its two police
magistrates in Jerusalem, the only judges who received renumeration.2122
If Herod judged cruelly and despotically, the Sanhedrin weighed most
deliberately, the balance always inclining to mercy. If Greek was the language
of the court and camp, and indeed must have been understood and spoken by most
in the land, the language of the people, spoken also by Christ and His
Apostles, was a dialect of the ancient Hebrew, the Western or Palestinian
Aramaic.23 It seems
strange, that this could ever have been doubted.24
A Jewish Messiah Who would urge His claim upon Israel in Greek, seems almost a
contradiction in terms. We know, that the language of the Temple and the
Synagogue was Hebrew, and that the addresses of the Rabbis had to be 'targumed'
into the vernacular Aramæan - and can we believe that, in a Hebrew service, the
Messiah could have risen to address the people in Greek, or that He would have
argued with the Pharisees and Scribes in that tongue, especially remembering
that its study was actually forbidden by the Rabbis?25
21. Jer. Kethub. 35 c; Kethub. 104 b.
22. The police laws of the Rabbis might well serve us as a model for all similar legislation.
the same time I can scarcely agree with Delitzsch and others, that this was the
dialect called Sursi. The latter was rather Syriac. Comp. Levy,
Roberts has advocated, with great ingenuity, the view that Christ and
His Apostles used the Greek language. See especially his 'Discussions on the
Gospels.' The Roman Catholic Church sometimes maintained, that Jesus and His
disciples spoke Latin, and in 1822 a work appeared by Black to prove
that the N.T. Greek showed a Latin origin.
a full statement of the arguments on this subject we refer the student to Böhl,
Forsch. n. e. Volksbibel z. Zeit Jesu, pp. 4-28; to the latter work by the same
writer (Aittestam. Citate im N. Test.); to a very interesting article by
Professor Delitzsch in the 'Daheim' for 1874 (No. 27); to Buxtorf,
sub Gelil; to J. D. Goldberg, 'The Language of Christ'; but especially
to F. de Rossi, Della lingua prop. di Cristo (Parma 1772).
Indeed, it was a peculiar mixture of two worlds in Jerusalem:
not only of the Grecian and the Jewish, but of piety and frivolity also. The
devotion of the people and the liberality of the rich were unbounded. Fortunes
were lavished on the support of Jewish learning, the promotion of piety, or the
advance of the national cause. Thousands of votive offerings, and the costly
gifts in the Temple, bore evidence of this. Priestly avarice had artificially
raised the price of sacrificial animals, a rich man would bring into the Temple
at his own cost the number requisite for the poor. Charity was not only
open-handed, but most delicate, and one who had been in good circumstances
would actually be enabled to live according to his former station.26
Then these Jerusalemites - townspeople, as they called themselves - were so
polished, so witty, so pleasant. There was a tact in their social intercourse,
and a considerateness and delicacy in their public arrangements and provisions,
nowhere else to be found. Their very language was different. There was a
quicker, shorter, 'lighter' (Lishna Qalila).28
And their hospitality, especially at festive seasons, was unlimited. No one
considered his house his own, and no stranger or pilgrim but found reception.
And how much there was to be seen and heard in those luxuriously furnished
houses, and at those sumptuous entertainments! In the women's apartments,
friends from the country would see every novelty in dress, adornment, and
jewellery, and have the benefit of examining themselves in looking-glasses. To
be sure, as being womanish vanity, their use was interdicted to men, except it
were to the members of the family of the President of the Sanhedrin, on account
of their intercourse with those in authority, just as for the same reason they
were allowed to learn Greek.29
Nor might even women look in the glass on the Sabbath.30
But that could only apply to those carried in the hand, since one might be tempted,
on the holy day, to do such servile work as to pull out a grey hair with the
pincers attached to the end of the glass; but not to a glass fixed in the lid
of a basket;31 nor to
such as hung on the wall.32
And then the lady-visitor might get anything in Jerusalem; from a false tooth
to an Arabian veil, a Persian shawl, or an Indian dress!
26. Thus Hillel was said to have hired a horse, and even an outrunner, for a decayed rich man.
27. Bemid. R. 14; ed. Warsh. p. 59 a.
28. Baba K.
29. Jer.Shabb. 7 d.
30. Shabb. 149 a.
31. Kel. xiv. 6.
32. Tos. Shabb. xiii. ed. Zuckerm. p. 130.
While the women so learned Jerusalem manners in the inner
apartments, the men would converse on the news of the day, or on politics. For
the Jerusalemites had friends and correspondents in the most distant parts of
the world, and letters were carried by special messengers,33
in a kind of post-bag. Nay, there seem to have been some sort of
receiving-offices in towns,34
and even something resembling our parcel-post.35
And, strange as it may sound, even a species of newspapers, or broadsheets,
appears to have been circulating (Mikhtabhin), not allowed, however, on
the Sabbath, unless they treated of public affairs.36
33. Shabb. x. 4.
34. Shabb. 19 a.
35. Rosh haSh. 9 b.
36. Tos. Shabb. xviii.
Of course, it is difficult accurately to determine which of these
things were in use in the earliest times, or else introduced at a later period.
Perhaps, however, it was safer to bring them into a picture of Jewish society.
Undoubted, and, alas, too painful evidence comes to us of the luxuriousness of
Jerusalem at that time, and of the moral corruption to which it led. It seems
only too clear, that such commentations as the Talmud37
gives of Is. iii. 16-24, in regard to the manners and modes of attraction
practised by a certain class of the female population in Jerusalem, applied to
a far later period than that of the prophet. With this agrees only too well the
recorded covert lascivious expressions used by the men, which gives a
lamentable picture of the state of morals of many in the city,38
and the notices of the indecent dress worn not only by women,39
but even by corrupt High-Priestly youths. Nor do the exaggerated descriptions
of what the Midrash on Lamentations40
describes as the dignity of the Jerusalemites; of the wealth which they
lavished on their marriages; of the ceremony which insisted on repeated
invitations to the guests to a banquet, and that men inferior in rank should
not be bidden to it; of the dress in which they appeared; the manner in which
the dishes were served, the wine in white crystal vases; and the punishment of
the cook who had failed in his duty, and which was to be commensurate to the
dignity of the party - give a better impression of the great world in
37. Shabb. 62 b.
38. Comp. Shabb. 62 b, last line and first of 63 a.
39. Kel. xxiv. 16; xxviii. 9.
40. On ch. iv 2.
And yet it was the City of God, over whose destruction not only
the Patriarch and Moses, but the Angelic hosts - nay, the Almighty Himself and
His Shekhinah - had made bitterest lamentation.41
The City of the Prophets, also, since each of them whose birthplace had not
been mentioned, must be regarded as having sprung from it.42
Equally, even more, marked, but now for joy and triumph, would be the hour of
Jerusalem's uprising, when it would welcome its Messiah. Oh, when would He
come? In the feverish excitement of expectancy they were only too ready to
listen to the voice of any pretender, however coarse and clumsy the imposture.
Yet He was at hand - even now coming: only quite other than the Messiah of
their dreams. 'He came unto His own, and His own received Him not. But as many
as received Him, to them gave He power to become children of God, even to them
that believe on His Name.'
the Introduction to the Midrash on Lamentations. But some of the descriptions
are so painful - even blasphemous - that we do not venture on quotation.