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A Commentary on the New Testament
from the Talmud and Hebraica
Exercitations upon the Gospel of St. Matthew
3-5. Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the
meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
[Blessed, blessed, &c.] It is commanded, Deuteronomy 27, that, upon the
entrance of the people into the promised land, blessings and curses should be denounced
from the mounts Gerizim and Ebal: the curses being particularly reckoned up, but the
blessings not so. Which seems not to be without a mystery, since the law brought the curse
with it; but Christ, who should bring the blessing, was yet to come a great while hence.
Now he is present pronouncing the blessings, and that on a mountain. The Jewish writers do
thus relate that matter:
"Six tribes went up to the top of mount Gerizim, and six to the top of mount Ebal.
But the priests and the Levites stood below with the ark of the covenant. The priests
compassed the ark; the Levites compassed the priests; and the whole people of Israel stood
on one side and on that other: as it is said, 'All Israel and the elders,' &c. (Josh
8:33). Turning their faces to mouth Gerizim, they began with the blessing, 'Blessed is the
man that shall make no idol, or molten image,' &c. And both the one and the other
answered, Amen. Turning their faces to mount Ebal, they pronounced the curse, 'Cursed is
the man who shall make an idol, or molten image': and both the one and the other answered,
Amen. And so of the rest. And at last, turning their faces to Gerizim, they began with the
blessing, 'Blessed is the man who shall continue in all the words of the law'; and the
answer on both sides is, Amen. Turning their faces to Ebal, they pronounce the curse,
'Cursed is every one that shall not continue in all the words of the law': and the answer
from both sides is, Amen," &c.
In like manner Christ here, having begun with blessings, "Blessed, blessed,"
thundereth out curses, "Woe, woe," Luke 6:24-26.
That which many do comment concerning the octonary number of beatitudes hath too much
curiosity, and little benefit. It hath that which is like it among the Jews: for thus they
write; "There is a tradition from the school of R. Esaiah Ben Korcha, that twenty
blessings are pronounced in the Book of the Psalms, and in like manner twenty woes in the
Book of Isaiah. 'But I say,' saith Rabbi, 'that there are two-and-twenty blessings,
according to the number of the two-and-twenty letters.'"
"Abraham was blessed with seven blessings."
"These six are blessed, every one with six blessings, David, Daniel, and his three
companions, and king Messias."
8. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
[Blessed are the pure in heart.] Hearken, O Pharisee, all whose praise lies in
outward cleanness. How foolish is this boasting of a Jew! "Come and see, saith R.
Simeon Ben Eleazar, how far the purity of Israel extends itself: when it is not only
appointed, that a clean man eat not with an unclean woman; but [that an unclean man eat
not with an unclean man] that a Pharisee that hath the gonorrhea eat not with a common
person that hath the gonorrhea."
9. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
[Blessed are the peacemakers.] Making peace between neighbours is
numbered among those things which bring forth good fruit in this life, and benefit in the
life to come.
17. Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to
destroy, but to fulfil.
[Think not that I am come to destroy the law, &c.] I. It was the opinion of
the nation concerning the Messias, that he would bring in a new law, but not at all to the
prejudice or damage of Moses and the prophets: but that he would advance the Mosaic law to
the very highest pitch, and would fulfil those things that were foretold by the prophets,
and that according to the letter, even to the greatest pomp.
II. The scribes and Pharisees, therefore, snatch an occasion of cavilling against
Christ; and readily objected that he was not the true Messias, because he abolished the
doctrines of the traditions which they obtruded upon the people for Moses and the
III. He meets with this prejudice here and so onwards by many arguments, as namely, 1.
That he abolished not the law when he abolished traditions; for therefore he came that he
might fulfil the law. 2. That he asserts, that "not one iota shall perish from the
law." 3. That he brought in an observation of the law much more pure and excellent
than the Pharisaical observation of it was: which he confirms even to the end of the
chapter, explaining the law according to its genuine and spiritual sense.
18. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle
shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
[Verily, I say unto you.] I. Such an asseveration was usual to the nation,
though the syllables were something changed, "A certain matron said to R. Judah Bar
Allai, Thy face is like to a swineherd or a usurer. To whom he answered, In truth, both
are forbidden me." The Gloss there, "In truth is a manner of speech
used in swearing."
II. But our Saviour useth this phrase by the highest divine right. 1. Because he is
"Amen, the faithful witness," Revelation 3:14, 2 Corinthians 1:20: see also
Isaiah 65:16; and Kimchi there. 2. Because he published the gospel, the highest truth,
John 18:37, &c. 3. By this asseveration he doth well oppose his divine oracles against
the insolent madness of the traditional doctors, who did often vent their blasphemous and
frivolous tales under this seal, They speak in truth: and "wheresoever this is
said (say they), it is a tradition of Moses from Sinai."
[One jot.] The Jerusalem Gemarists speak almost to the same sense: "The
Book of Deuteronomy came and prostrated itself before God, and said, 'O Lord of the
universe, thou hast written in me thy law, but now a testament defective in some part is
defective in all. Behold, Solomon endeavours to root the letter Jod out of me' [to wit, in
this text, He shall not multiply wives, Deuteronomy 17:17]. The holy blessed God
answered, 'Solomon and a thousand such as he shall perish, but the least word shall not
perish out of thee.' R. Honna said in the name of R. Acha, The letter Jod which God took
out of the name of Sarai our mother, was given half to Sara and half to Abraham. A
tradition of R. Hoshaia: The letter Jod came and prostrated itself before God, and said,
'O eternal Lord, thou hast rooted me out of the name of that holy woman.' The blessed God
answered, 'Hitherto thou hast been in the name of a woman, and that in the end [viz. in
Sarai]; but henceforward thou shalt be in the name of a man, and that in the beginning.'
Hence is that which is written, 'And Moses called the name of Hoshea, Jehoshua.'" The
Babylonians also do relate this translation of the letter Jod out of the name of Sarai to
the name of Joshua, after this manner: "The letter Jod, saith God, which I took out
of the name of Sarai, stood and cried to me for very many years, How long will it be ere
Joshua arise? to whose name I have added it"...
There is a certain little city mentioned by name Derokreth, which, by reason of
the smallness of it, was called Jod in the Gloss. And there was a rabbin named Rabh Jod.
Of the letter Jod, see Midrash Tillin upon the hundred and fourteenth Psalm.
[One tittle.] It seems to denote the little heads or dashes of letters, whereby
the difference is made between letters of a form almost alike. The matter may be
illustrated by these examples, If it were Daleth, and a man should have formed it into
Resh [on the sabbath], or should have formed Resh into Daleth, he is guilty.
"It is written [Lev 22:32] Ye shall not profane my holy name: whosoever
shall change Cheth into He, destroys the world...It is written [Psa 150:6], Let every
spirit praise the Lord: whosoever changeth He into Cheth, destroys the world. It is
written [Jer 5:12], They lied against the Lord: whosoever changeth Beth into Caph,
destroys the world. It is written [1 Sam 2:2] There is none holy as the Lord:
whosoever changeth Caph into Beth, destroys the world. It is written [Deut 6:4], The
Lord our God is one Lord: he that changeth Daleth into Resh, destroys the world."
But that our Saviour, by jot and tittle, did not only understand the bare
letters, or the little marks that distinguished them, appears sufficiently from verse 19,
where he renders it, one of "these least commands": in which sense is that also
in the Jerusalem Gemara of Solomon's rooting out Jod, that is, evacuating that precept He
shall not multiply wives. And yet it appears enough hence, that our Saviour also so
far asserts the uncorrupt immortality and purity of the holy text, that no particle of the
sacred sense should perish, from the beginning of the law to the end of it.
To him that diligently considers these words of our Saviour, their opinion offers
itself, who suppose that the whole alphabet of the law, or rather the original character
of it is perished; namely, the Samaritan, in which they think the law was first given and
written; and that that Hebrew wherein we now read the Bible was substituted in its stead.
We shall not expatiate in the question; but let me, with the reader's good leave, produce
and consider some passages of the Talmud, whence, if I be not mistaken, Christians seem
first to have taken up this opinion.
The Jerusalem Talmud treats of this matter in these words: "R. Jochanan de Beth
Gubrin saith, There are four noble tongues which the world useth: the mother-tongue, for
singing; the Roman, for war; the Syriac, for mourning; the Hebrew, for elocution: and
there are some which add the Assyrian, for writing. The Assyrian hath writing [that is,
letters or characters], but a language it hath not. The Hebrew hath a language, but
writing it hath not. They chose to themselves the Hebrew language in the Assyrian
character. But why is it called the Assyrian? Because it is blessed (or direct)
in its writing. R. Levi saith, Because it came up into their hands out of
"A tradition. R. Josi saith, Ezra was fit, by whose hands the law might have been
given, but that the age of Moses prevented. But although the law was not given by his
hand, yet writing [that is, the forms of the letters] and the language were given by his
hand. 'And the writing of the epistle was writ in Syriac, and rendered in Syriac,' Ezra
4:7. 'And they could not read the writing,' Daniel 5:8. From whence is shown that the
writing [that is, the form of the characters and letters] was given that very same day. R.
Nathan saith: The law was given in breaking [that is, in letters more rude and more
disjoined]: and the matter is as R. Josi saith. Rabbi [Judah Haccodesh] saith, The law was
given in the Assyrian language; and when they sinned it was turned into breaking. And when
they were worthy in the days of Ezra, it was turned for them again into the Assyrian. I
show to-day, that I will render to you Mishneh, the doubled, or, as if he should
say the seconded (Zech 9:12). And he shall write for himself the Mishneh (the
doubled) of this law in a book (Deut 17:18), namely, in a writing that was to be
changed. R. Simeon Ben Eleazar saith, in the name of R. Eleazar Ben Parta, and he in the
name of R. Lazar the Hammodean, The law was given in Assyrian writing..." So the
Discourse is had of the same business in the Babylonian Talmud, and almost in the same
words, these being added over: The law was given to Israel in Hebrew writing, and in the
holy language. And it was given to them again in the days of Ezra, in Assyrian writing,
and the Syriac language. The Israelites chose to themselves the Assyrian writing, and the
holy language; and left the Hebrew writing and the Syriac language to ignorant persons.
But who are those idiots (or ignorant persons)? R. Chasda saith, The
Samaritans. And what is the Hebrew writing? R. Chasda saith...according to the Gloss,
"Great letters, such as those are which are writ in charms and upon doorposts."
That we may a little apprehend the meaning of the Rabbins, let it be observed,
I. That by 'the mother-tongue' (the Hebrew, Syriac, Roman, being named particularly) no
other certainly can be understood than the Greek, we have shown at the three-and-twentieth
verse of the first chapter...
Many nations were united into one language, that is, the old Syriac,--namely, the
Chaldeans, the Mesopotamians, the Assyrians, the Syrians. Of these some were the sons of
Sem and some of Ham. Though all had the same language, it is no wonder if all had not the
same letters. The Assyrians and Israelites refer their original to Sem; these had the
Assyrian writing: the sons of Ham that inhabited beyond Euphrates had another; perhaps
that which is now called by us the Samaritan, which it may be the sons of Ham the
III. That the law was given by Moses in Assyrian letters, is the opinion (as you see)
of some Talmudists; and that, indeed, the sounder by much. For to think that the divine
law was writ in characters proper to the cursed seed of Ham, is agreeable neither to the
dignity of the law, nor indeed to reason itself. They that assert the mother-writing was
Assyrian, do indeed confess that the characters of the law were changed; but this was done
by reason of the sin of the people, and through negligence. For when under the first
Temple the Israelites degenerated into Canaanitish manners, perhaps they used the letters
of the Canaanites, which were the same with those of the inhabitants beyond Euphrates.
These words of theirs put the matter out of doubt: "The law was given to Israel in
the Assyrian writing in the days of Moses: but when they sinned under the first Temple and
contemned the law, it was changed into breaking to them."
Therefore, according to these men's opinion, the Assyrian writing was the original of
the law, and endured and obtained unto the degenerate age under the first Temple. Then
they think it was changed into the writing used beyond Euphrates or the Samaritan; or, if
you will, the Canaanitish (if so be these were not one and the same); but by Ezra it was
at last restored into the original Assyrian.
Truly, I wonder that learned men should attribute so much to this tradition (for whence
else they have received their opinion, I do not understand), that they should think that
the primitive writing of the law was in Samaritan: seeing that which the Gemarists assert
concerning the changing of the characters rests upon so brittle and tottering a
foundation, that it is much more probable that there was no change at all (but that the
law was first writ in Assyrian by Moses, and in the Assyrian also by Ezra), because the
change cannot be built and established upon stronger arguments.
A second question might follow concerning Keri and Kethib: and a suspicion might also
arise, that the test of the law was not preserved perfect to one jot and one tittle,
when so many various readings do so frequently occur. Concerning this business we will
offer these few things only, that so we may return to our task:--
I. These things are delivered by tradition; "They found three books in the
court, the book Meoni, the book Zaatuti, and the book Hi. In one they found written,
'The eternal God is thy refuge': but in the two other they found it written, (Deut 33:27);
They approved [or confirmed] those two, but rejected that one"...
I do much suspect that these three books laid up in the court answered to the threefold
congregation of the Jews, namely, in Judea, Babylon, and Egypt, whence these copies might
be particularly taken. For, however that nation was scattered abroad almost throughout the
whole world, yet, by number and companies scarcely to be numbered, it more plentifully
increased in these three countries than any where else: in Judea, by those that returned
from Babylon; in Babylon, by those that returned not; and in Egypt, by the temple of
Onias. The two copies that agreed, I judge to be out of Judea and Babylon; that that
differed to be out of Egypt: and this last I suspect by this, that the word Zaatuti
smells of the Seventy interpreters, whom the Jews of Egypt might be judged, for the very
sake of the place, to favour more than any elsewhere. For it is asserted by the Jewish
writers that Zaatuti was one of those changes which the Septuagint brought into the sacred
II. It is therefore very probable, that the Keri and Kethib were compacted from the
comparing of the two copies of the greatest authority, that is, the Jewish and the
Babylonian: which when they differed from one another in so many places in certain little
dashes of writing, but little or nothing at all as to the sense, by very sound counsel
they provided that both should be reserved, so that both copies might have their worth
preserved, and the sacred text its purity and fulness, whilst not one jot nor one
title of it perished.
21. Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and
whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment:
[Ye have heard.] That is, ye have received it by tradition. If they have
heard [that is, learned by tradition], they speak to them. They learned by
hearing, that is, by tradition; a saying very frequent in Maimonides.
[That it was said by them of old time.] That is, "it is an old
tradition." For the particular passages of the law which are here cited by our
Saviour are not produced as the bare words of Moses, but was clothed in the Glosses of the
Scribes; which most plainly appears above the rest, verse 43, and sufficiently in this
first allegation, where those words, "Whosoever shall kill shall be guilty of the
judgment," do hold out the false paint of tradition, and, as we observe in the
following verses, such as misrepresents the law, and makes it of none effect. If it be
asked, why Christ makes mention of "those of old time?" it may be answered, that
the memory of the ancienter Fathers of the Traditions was venerable among the people.
Reverend was the name of the first good men, and the first wise men.
Therefore Christ chose to confute their doctrines and Glosses, that he might more clearly
prove the vanity of traditions, when he reproved their most famous men. But the sense
which we have produced is plain, and without any difficulty; as if he should say, "It
is an old tradition which hath obtained for many ages."
22. But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause
shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be
in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell
[But I say unto you.] But I say, the words of one that refutes or
determines a question, very frequently to be met with in the Hebrew writers. To this you
may lay that of Isaiah, chapter 2:3, "And he will teach us of his ways," &c.
Where Kimchi writes thus, This teacher is king Messias. And that of Zechariah,
chapter 11:8; where this great Shepherd destroys "three evil shepherds," namely,
the Pharisee, and the Sadducee, and the Essene.
[That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause, &c.] First let us
treat of the words, and then of the sentences.
[With his brother:] The Jewish schools do thus distinguish between a brother and
a neighbour; that a brother signifies an Israelite by nation and blood: a
neighbour, an Israelite in religion and worship, that is, a proselyte. The author of
Aruch, in the word A son of the covenant, writes thus; "The sons of the
covenant, these are Israel. And when the Scripture saith, 'If any one's ox gore the ox of
his neighbour,' it excludes all the heathen, in that it saith, 'of his neighbour.'"
Maimonides writes thus: "It is all one to kill an Israelite and a Canaanite servant:
for both, the punishment is death; but an Israelite who shall kill a
stranger-inhabitant shall not be punished with death, because it is said, 'Whosoever
shall proudly rise up against his neighbour to kill him' Exodus 21:14: and it is needless
to say he shall not be punished with death for killing a heathen." Where this is to
be noted, that heathens and stranger-in-habitants, who were not admitted to perfect and
complete proselytism, were not qualified with the title of neighbour, nor with any
But under the Gospel, where there is no distinction of nations or tribes, brother
is taken in the same latitude as among the Jews both brother and neighbour
were; that is, for all professing the gospel: and is contradistinguished to the heathen,
1 Corinthians 5:11, "If any one who is called a brother": and Matthew
18:15, "If thy brother sin against thee," &c., verse 17, "If he
hear not the church, let him be a heathen."
But neighbour is extended to all, even such as are strangers to our religion:
Luke 10:29,30, &c.
[He shall be guilty:] [W]ords signifying guilt or debt [are] to be
met with a thousand times in the Talmudists. Isaiah 24:23; "They shall be gathered
together, as captives are gathered into prison." Where R. Solomon speaks thus, Guilty
of hell unto hell: which agrees with the last clause of this verse.
[Of the council:] Of the Sanhedrim: that is, of the judgment, or tribunal
of the magistrate. For that judgment, in the clause before, is to be referred to
the judgment of God, will appear by what follows.
[Raca.] A word used by one that despiseth another in the highest scorn: very
usual in the Hebrew writers, and very common in the mouth of the nation.
"One returned to repentance: his wife said to him, Raca, if it be appointed
you to repent, the very girdle wherewith you gird yourself shall not be your own."
"A heathen said to an Israelite, Very suitable food is made ready for you at my
house. What is it? saith the other. To whom he replied, Swine's flesh. Raca (saith
the Jew), I must not eat of clean beasts with you."
"A king's daughter was married to a certain dirty fellow. He commands her to stand
by him as a mean servant, and to be his butler. To whom she said, Raca, I am a
"One of the scholars of R. Jochanan made sport with the teaching of his master:
but returning at last to a sober mind, Teach thou, O master, saith he, for thou art worthy
to teach: for I have found and seen that which thou hast taught. To whom he replied, Raca,
thou hadst not believed, unless thou hadst seen."
"A certain captain saluted a religious man praying in the way, but he saluted him
not again: he waited till he had done his prayer, and saith to him, Raca, it is
written in your law," &c.
[Into hell-fire.] The Jews do very usually express hell, or the place
of the damned, by the word Gehinnom, which might be shown in infinite examples;
the manner of speech being taken from the valley of Hinnom, a place infamous for
foul idolatry committed there; for the howlings of infants roasted to Moloch; filth
carried out thither; and for a fire that always was burning, and so most fit to represent
the horror of hell.
"There are three doors of Gehenna; one in the wilderness, as it is written, 'They
went down, and all that belonged to them, alive into hell' (Num 16:33). Another in the
sea, as it is written, 'Out of the belly of hell have I called; thou hast heard my voice'
(Jonah 2:2). The third in Jerusalem, as it is written, 'Thus saith the Lord, whose fire is
in Sion, and his furnace in Jerusalem,' Isaiah 31:9. The tradition of the school of R.
Ismael; 'Whose fire is in Sion,' this is the gate of Gehenna."
The Chaldee paraphrast upon Isaiah, chapter 33:14, Gehenna, eternal fire,
&c. The Gehenna of eternal fire.
We come now to the sentences and sense of the verse. A threefold punishment is adjudged
to a threefold wickedness. Judgment to him that is angry...without cause.
Judgment also, and that by the Sanhedrim, to him that calls Raca. Judgment of hell
to him that calleth Fool.
That which is here produced of the threefold Sanhedrim among the Jews pleases me not,
because, passing over other reasons, mention of the Sanhedrim is made only in the middle
How the judgment in the first clause is to be distinguished from the judgment of the
Sanhedrim in the second, will very easily appear from this Gloss and commentary of the
Talmudists, "Of not killing": "he is a manslayer, whosoever shall strike
his neighbour with a stone or iron, or thrust him into the water, or fire, whence he
cannot come out, so that he die, he is guilty. But if he shall thrust another into the
water or fire, whence he might come out, if he die, he is guiltless. A man sets a dog or
serpent on another, he is guiltless." See also the Babylonian Gemara there;
"Whosoever shall slay his neighbour with his own hand, striking him with his sword,
or with a stone, so that he kills him; or shall strangle or burn him so that he die, in
any manner whatsoever killing him in his own person; behold, such a one is to be put to
death by the Sanhedrim. But he that hires another by a reward to kill his neighbour, or
who sends his servants, and they kill him; or he that thrusts him violently upon a lion,
or upon some other beast, and the beast kill him; or he that kills himself, every one
of these is a shedder of blood, and the iniquity of manslaughter is in his hand, and
he is liable to death by the hand of God; but he is not to be punished with death
by the Sanhedrim."
Behold a double manslayer! Behold a double judgment! Now let the words of our Saviour
be applied to this Gloss of the ancients upon the law of murder: "Do ye hear,"
saith he, "What is said by the ancients, Whosoever shall kill, after what manner
soever a man shall kill him, whether by the hand of one that he hath hired, or by his
servants, or by setting a beast on him; he is guilty of the judgment of God, though not of
the judgment of the Sanhedrim: and whosoever shall kill his neighbour by himself, none
other interposing, this man is liable to the judgment of the Sanhedrim: but I say unto
you, That whosoever is rashly angry with his brother, this man is liable to the judgment
of God; and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, he is liable to the
These words of our Saviour, perhaps, we shall more truly understand by comparing some
more phrases and doctrines, very usual in the Jewish schools. Such as these, Absolved
from the judgment of men, but guilty in the judgment of Heaven, that is, of God.
Death by the Sanhedrim, and death by the hand of Heaven.
And in a word, cutting off, speaks vengeance by the hand of God. They are very
much deceived who understand...cutting off, of which there is very frequent mention
in the Holy Bible, concerning the cutting-off from the public assembly by
ecclesiastical censure, when as it means nothing else than cutting off by divine
vengeance. There is nothing more usual and common among the Hebrew canonists, than to
adjudge very many transgressions to cutting off, in that worn phrase..."If
he shall do this out of presumption, he is guilty of cutting off; but if he shall do
it out of ignorance, he is bound for a sacrifice for sin." When they adjudge a thing
or a guilty person to cutting off, they deliver and leaven him to the judgment of God;
nevertheless, a censure and punishment from the Sanhedrim sometimes is added, and
sometimes not. Which might be illustrated by infinite examples, but we are afraid of being
tedious. Let these two be enough on both sides.
I. Of mere delivering over to the judgment of God, without any punishment inflicted by
the Sanhedrim, those words speak, which were lately cited, "He is absolved from the
judgment of men, but liable to the judgment of Heaven."
II. Of the judgment of God and of the Sanhedrim joined together, these words in the
same place speak: "If he that is made guilty by the Sanhedrim be bound to make
restitution, Heaven [or God] doth not pardon him until he pay it." But he that bears
a punishment laid on him by the Sanhedrim is absolved from cutting off. "All persons
guilty of cutting off, when they are beaten are absolved from their cutting off: as it is
said, 'And thy brother become vile in thy sight.' When he shall be beaten, behold, he is
Liable or guilty even to the hell-fire. He had said, guilty of judgment
and of the council, before; but now he saith unto hell, and that in a higher
emphasis; as if he should have said, "Whosoever shall say to his brother, Fool,
shall be guilty of judgment, even unto the judgment of hell."
But what was there more grievous in the word fool, than in the word Raca?
Let king Solomon be the interpreter, who everywhere by a fool understands a wicked
and reprobate person; foolishness being opposed to spiritual wisdom. Raca
denotes indeed morosity, and lightness of manners and life: but fool
judgeth bitterly of the spiritual and eternal state, and decreeth a man to certain
destruction. Let the judgings and censures of the scribes and Pharisees concerning the
common people serve us instead of a lexicon. They did not only suffer themselves to be
styled wise men, but also arrogated it to themselves, as their merit and due. But
what do they say of the common people? "This people, that knoweth not the law, is
cursed," John 7:49.
You have a form of speaking, not much unlike this which is now under our hands: He
that calls his neighbour Servant, let him be in excommunication. The Gloss is,
"They therefore excommunicate him, because he vilified an Israelite: him, therefore,
they vilify in like manner." "If he call him bastard, let him be punished
with forty stripes. If wicked man, let it descend with him into his life":
that is, according to the Gloss, "into misery and penury."
After this manner, therefore, our Saviour suits a different punishment to different
sins by a most just parity, and a very equal compensation: to unjust anger, the just anger
and judgment of God; to public reproach, a public trial; and hell-fire to the censure that
adjudgeth another thither.
23. Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy
brother hath ought against thee;
[That thy brother hath ought against thee, &c.] ...that which the Jews
restrained only to pecuniary damages, Christ extends to all offences against our brother.
"He that offers an oblation, not restoring that which he had unjustly taken away,
does not do that which is his duty." And again; "He that steals any thing from
his neighbour, yea, though it be but a farthing, and swears falsely, is bound to
restitution, meeting the wronged party half way." See also Baal Turim upon Leviticus
"An oblation is not offered for a sin, unless that which is [wrongfully] taken
away, be first restored either to the owner or the priest." In like manner, "He
that swears falsely, either of the Pruta [small money], or what the Pruta
is worth, is bound to inquire after the owner, even as far as the islands in the sea, and
to make restitution."
Observe, how provision is here made for pecuniary damages only and bare restitution,
which might be done without a charitable mind and a brotherly heart. But Christ urgeth
charity, reconciliation of mind, and a pure desire of reunion with our offended brother;
and that not only in money matters, but in any other, and for whatever cause, wherein our
neighbour complains that he is grieved.
24. Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to
thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.
[Leave there thy gift before the altar.] This business was altogether unusual in
gifts offered at the altar, in such a cause. We read, indeed, of the drink-offering,
delayed after the sacrifice was offered: "For the wise men say, That a man is not
held in his sin, when the drink-offering is put off by some delay; because one may offer
his sacrifice to-day, but his drink-offering twenty days hence." We read also that
the oblation of a sacrifice presented even at the altar, in some cases hath not only been
delayed, but the sacrifice itself hath been rejected; that is, if, in that instant,
discovery was made, in sacrificing the best, either of a blemish, or of somewhat else,
whereby it became an illegal sacrifice; or if some uncleanness or other cause appeared in
the offerer, whereby he was rendered unfit for the present to offer a gift. Of which
things, causing the oblation of the sacrifice already presented at the altar to be
deferred, the Hebrew lawyers speak much. But among those things we do not meet at all with
this whereof our Saviour is here speaking: so that he seems to enjoin some new
matter,--and not new alone, but seemingly impossible. For the offended brother might
perhaps be absent in the furthest parts of the land of Israel, so that he could not be
spoke with, and his pardon asked in very many days after: and what shall become of the
beast in the mean time, which is left at the altar? It is a wonder indeed that our
Saviour, treating of the worship at the altar, should prescribe such a duty, which was
both unusual (in such a case) and next to impossible. But it is answered:--
I. It was a custom and a law among the Jews, that the sacrifices of particular men
should not presently, as soon as they were due, be brought to the altar, but that they
should be reserved to the feast next following, whatsoever that were, whether the
Passover, or Pentecost, or Tabernacles, to be then offered. "Teeming women, women
that have the gonorrhea, and men that have the gonorrhea, reserve their pigeons until they
go up to the feast."--"The oblations which were devoted before the feast shall
be offered at the feast: for its is said, These things shall ye do in their
solemnities," &c. But now all the Israelites were present at the feasts; and any
brother, against whom one had sinned, was not then far off from the altar. Unto which time
and custom of the nation it is equal to think Christ alluded.
II. He does silently chastise the curiosity used in deferring of a sacrifice brought
about lesser matters, when this that was greater was unregarded. And he teacheth, that God
is worshipped in vain without true charity to our brother. The same also, in effect, do
the Gemarists confess.
25. Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at
any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the
officer, and thou be cast into prison.
[Whilst thou art in the way with him.] That is, "while thou goest with him to
the magistrate," Luke 12:58; where there is a clear distinction between the
magistrate, and the judge: so that by magistrate, or ruler, one
may understand the judges in the lower Sanhedrims; by judge, the judges in the
highest. That allusion is here made to contentions about money matters, sufficiently
appears from the following words, verse 26; "Thou shalt by no means come out of
prison till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing." Now it was the business of the
bench, that consisted of three men, to judge of such matters.
The words, therefore, of the verse have this sense: 'Does your neighbour accuse you of
some damage, or of money that is due to him? and are ye now going in the way to the bench
of three to commence the suit? compound with your adversary, lest he compel you to some
higher tribunal, where your danger will be greater.' "For if the lender say to the
debtor, 'Let us go, that judgment may be had of our case from the chief Sanhedrim,' they
force the debtor to go up thence with him. In like manner, if any accuse another of
something taken away from him, or of some damage done him, and he that is the accuser will
have the higher Sanhedrim to judge of the suit; they force the debtor to go up thence with
him. And so it is done with all other things of that nature."
Before, Christ had argued from piety, that men should seek to be reconciled; now
he argues from prudence, and an honest care of a man's self.
[And the judge deliver thee to the officer.] A word answering to an
executioner, a whipper, among the Rabbins. Judges and officers shalt thou make thee
in all thy gates, Deuteronomy 16:18. ..."vergers and scourge-bearers [executioners]
who stand before the judges. These go through the lanes and streets and inns, and take
care about weights and measures; and scourge those that do amiss. But all their business
is by the order of the judges. Whomsoever they see doing evil, they bring before the
judges," &c. And Whosoever goes out into the street, let him reckon concerning
himself, as if he were already delivered over to the officer; that is, as the Gloss
hath it, "Contentions and contentious men will there be met with Gentiles and
Israelites: so that let him reckon concerning himself, as though he were already delivered
over to the officer, ready to lead him away before the judges." The Gloss upon Babyl.
Joma writes thus; "is the executioner of the Sanhedrim, whose office is to
26. Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast
paid the uttermost farthing.
[Farthing.] According to the Jerusalem Talmud, it is Kordiontes;
according to the Babylonian, Kontrik. For thus they write:
"Two assars make a pondion.
Two semisses make an assar.
Two farthings a semissis.
Two prutahs a farthing.
A pondion is in value two assars.
An assar is two semisses.
A semissis is two farthings.
A kontric, or a farthing, is two prutahs."
That which is here said by the Jerusalem Talmud, Two prutahs make a farthing, is
the very same thing that is said, Mark 12:42, Two mites, which make a farthing. A prutah
was the very least piece among coins. So Maimonides, That which is not worth a prutah,
is not to be reckoned among riches. Hence are those numberless passages in the
Talmudic Pandects relating to the prutah: "He that steals less than a prutah
is not bound to pay five-fold." "No land is bought for a price less than a prutah,"
that is, given as an earnest.
You have the value of these coins in the same Maimonides: "Selaa (saith he) is in
value four-pence: a penny, six meahs. Now a meah, in the days of Moses our master, was
called a gerah; it contains two pondions; a pondion, two assars; and a prutah is the
eighth part of an assar. The weight of a meah, which is also called a gerah, is sixteen
barleycorns. And the weight of an assar is four barleycorns. And the weight of a prutah is
half a barleycorn."
Luke hath, the last mite, chapter 12:59; that is, the last prutah, which was
the eighth part of the Italian assarius. Therefore, a farthing, was so called,
not that it was the fourth part of a penny, but the fourth part of an assar;
which how very small a part of a penny it was, we may observe by those things that are
said by both Gemaras in the place before cited.
"Six silver meahs make a penny.
A meah is worth two pondions.
A pondion is worth two assars."
Let this be noted by the way; a meah, which, as Maimonides before testifies, was
anciently called a gerah, was also commonly called zuz, in the Talmudists.
For as it is said here, six meahs of silver make a penny, so in Rambam, a penny
contains six zuzim.
The prutah, as it was the least piece of money among the Jews, so it seems to
have been a coin merely Jewish, not Roman. For although the Jews, being subjects to the
Romans, used Roman money, and thence, as our Saviour argues, confessed their subjection to
the Romans; yet they were permitted to use their own money, which appears by the common
use of the shekels and half-shekels among them: with good reason, therefore, one may hold
the farthing was the least Roman coin, and the prutah, the least Jewish.
Whilst our Saviour mentions both, he is not inconstant to his own speech, but speaks more
to the capacity of all.
27. Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit
[Ye have heard, that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit
adultery.] He citeth not the command or text of Moses, as barely delivered by Moses,
but as deformed by those of old time with such a gloss as almost evacuated all the force
of the command; for they interpreted it of the act of adultery only, and that with a
married woman. So the enumeration of the six hundred and thirteen precepts of the law, and
that, Exodus 20:14, 'Thou shalt not commit adultery,' hath these words, "This is the
thirty-fifth precept of the law, namely, That no man lie with another man's wife."
28. But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath
committed adultery with her already in his heart.
[Whosoever looketh upon a woman to lust after her, &c.] "He that
looketh upon a woman's heel, is as if he looked upon her belly: and he that looks upon her
belly, is as if he lay with her." And yet, It was Rabban Gamaliel's custom to look
upon women. And in the other Talmud; "He that looks upon the little finger of a
woman, is as if he looked upon her privy parts." And yet "Rabh Gidal and R.
Jochanan were wont to sit at the place of dipping, where the women were washed; and when
they were admonished by some of the danger of lasciviousness, R. Jochanan answered, 'I am
of the seed of Joseph, over whom an evil affection could not rule.'"
30. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for
it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy
whole body should be cast into hell.
[If thy right hand offend thee, cut it off.] See here Babyl. Niddah, fol. 13,
quite through. Among other things, R. Tarphon saith, "Whosoever brings his hand to
his modest parts, let his hand be cut off unto his navel." And a little after;
"It is better that his belly should be cleft in two, than that he should descend into
the well of corruption." The discourse is of moving the hand to the privy member,
that, by the handling it, it might be known whether the party had the gonorrhea, or no:
and yet they adjudge never so little handling it to cutting off the hand. Read the place,
if you have leisure.
31. It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing
[Whosoever putteth away his wife, let him giver her a bill of divorcement]
Notice is to be taken how our Saviour passeth into these words, namely, by using the
particle but. "But it hath been said." This particle hath this
emphasis in this place, that it whispers a silent objection, which is answered in the
following verse. Christ had said, "Whosoever looks upon a woman to lust after her
hath committed adultery already": but the Jewish lawyers said, "If any one sees
a woman which he is delighted withal above his wife, let him dismiss his wife and marry
Among the chapters of Talmudical doctrine, we meet with none concerning which it is
treated more largely, and more to a punctilio, than of divorces: and yet there the chief
care is not so much of a just cause of it as of the manner and form of doing it. To him
that turns over the book Gittin (as also, indeed, the whole Seder Nashim,
that part of the Talmud that treats of women), the diligence of the Masters about this
matter will appear such that they seem to have dwelt, not without some complacency, upon
this article above all others.
God, indeed, granted to that nation a law concerning divorces, Deuteronomy 24:1,
permitted only "for the hardness of their hearts," Matthew 19:8: in which
permission, nevertheless, they boast, as though it were indulged them by mere privilege.
When God had established that fatal law of punishing adultery by death (Deut 22), for the
terror of the people, and for their avoiding of that sin; the same merciful God foreseeing
also how hard (occasion being taken from this law) the issue of this might be to the
women, by reason of the roughness of the men; lusting, perhaps, after other women, and
loathing their own wives; he more graciously provided against such kind of wife-killing by
a law, mitigating the former, and allowed the putting away a wife in the same case,
concerning which that fatal law was given; namely, in the case of adultery. So that that
law of divorce, in the exhibition of it, implied their hearts to be hard; and, in the use
of it, they shewed them to be carnal. And yet hear them thus boasting of that law:
"The Lord of Israel saith, That he hateth putting away, Malachi 2:16. Through
the whole chapter, saith R. Chananiah in the name of R. Phineas, he is called the Lord of Hosts:
but here, of Israel, that it might appear that God subscribed not his name to
divorces, but only among the Israelites. As if he should say, 'To the Israelites I have
granted the putting way of wives; to the Gentiles I have not granted it.' R. Chaijah
Rabbah saith, Divorces are not granted to the nations of the world."
Some of them interpreted this law of Moses (as by right they ought to interpret it), of
the case of adultery only. "The school of Shamaai said, A wife is not to be divorced,
unless for filthiness [that is, adultery] only, because it is said, Because he hath
found filthy nakedness in her," that is, adultery.
"Rabh Papa said, If he find not adultery in her, what then? Rabba answered, When
the merciful God revealed concerning him that corrupted a maid, that it was not lawful for
him to put her away in his whole life (Deut 22:29), you are thence taught concerning the
matter propounded, that it is not lawful to put her away, if he shall not find filthiness
in his wife."
With the like honesty have some commented upon those words cited out of the prophet, For
he hateth putting away. "R. Jochanan saith, The putting away of a wife is
odious." Which others also have granted, indeed, of the first wife, but not of those
that a man took to himself over and above. For this is approved among them for a canon,
"Let no man put away his first wife unless for adultery." And "R. Eliezer
saith, For the divorcing of the first wife, even the altar itself sheds tears." Which
Gloss they fetch from thence, where it is said, "Let no man deal treacherously
towards the wife of his youth"; Malachi 2:15.
The Jews used polygamy, and the divorcing of their wives, with one and the same
license: and this, that they might have change, and all for the sake of lust. "It is
lawful (say they) to have many wives together, even as many as you will: but our wise men
have decreed, That no man have above four wives." But they restrained this, not so
much out of some principles of chastity, as that lest a man, being burdened with many
wives, might not be able to afford them food and clothing, and due benevolence: for thus
they comment concerning this bridle of polygamy.
For what causes they put away their wives there is no need to inquire; for this they
did for any cause of their own free will.
I. "It is commanded to divorce a wife that is not of good behavior, and who is not
modest as becomes a daughter of Israel." So they speak in Maimonides and Gittin in
the place above specified: where this also is added in the Gemarists: "R. Meir saith,
As men have their pleasures concerning their meat and their drink, so also concerning
their wives. This man takes out a fly found in his cup, and yet will not drink: after such
a manner did Papus Ben Judah carry himself: who, as often as he went forth, bolted the
doors and shut in his wife. Another takes out a fly found in his cup, and drinks up his
cup; that he doth, who sees his wife talking freely with her neighbours and kinsfolk, and
yet allows of it. And there is another, who, if he find a fly in his basket, eats it: and
this is the part of an evil man, who sees his wife going out, without a veil upon her
head, and with a bare neck, and sees her washing in the baths, where men are wont to wash,
and yet cares not for it; whereas by the law he is bound to put her away."
II. "If any man hate his wife, let him put her away": excepting only that
wife that he first married. In like manner, R. Judah thus interprets that of the prophet, If
he hate her, let him put her away. Which sense some versions, dangerously enough, have
followed. R. Solomon expresses the sense of that place thus: "It is commanded to put
away one's wife, if she obtain not favour in the eyes of her husband."
III. "The school of Hillel saith, If the wife cook her husband's food illy, by
over-salting or over-roasting it, she is to be put away."
IV. Yea, "If, by any stroke from the hand of God, she become dumb or
V. But not to relate all the things for which they pronounce a wife to be divorced
(among which they produce some things that modesty allows not to be repeated), let it be
enough to mention that of R. Akibah instead of all: "R. Akibah said, If any man sees
a woman handsomer than his own wife, he may put her away; because it is said, 'If she find
not favour in his eyes.'"
[Bill of divorce.] And, A bill of divorce, Matthew 19:7; and in the
Septuagint, Deuteronomy 24:1. Of which Beza thus; "This bill may seem to be called a
bill of divorce [as much as, departing away], not in respect of the wife put away,
as of the husband departing away form his wife." Something hard, and diametrically
contrary to the canonical doctrine of the Jews: for thus they write, "It is written
in the bill, Behold, thou art put away; Behold, thou art thrust away, &c. But if he
writes, I am not thy husband, or, I am not thy spouse, &c.; it is not a just bill: for
it is said, He shall put her away, not, He shall put himself away."
This bill is called by the Jews a bill of cutting off, and a bill of
expulsion, and an instrument, and an instrument of dismission, and letters
of forsaking, &c.
I. A wife might not be put away, unless a bill of divorce were given. "Therefore
it is called (saith Baal Turim) A bill of cutting off, because there is nothing
else that cuts her off from the husband. For although a wife were obtained three
ways" [of which see the Talmud], "yet there was no other way of dismissing her,
besides a bill of divorce."
II. "A wife was not put away, unless the husband were freely willing; for if he
were unwilling, it was not a divorce: but whether the wife were willing or unwilling, she
was to be divorced, if her husband would."
III. "A bill of divorce was written in twelve lines, neither more nor
less." R. Mordecai gives the reason of this number, in these words; "Let him
that writes a bill of divorce comprise it in twelve lines, according to the value
of the number of the letters in the word Get. But Rabh Saadias interprets, that the
bill of divorce should be written with the same number of lines wherein the books
of the law are separated. For four lines come between the Book of Genesis and the Book of
Exodus; four between the Book of Exodus and the Book of Leviticus; four between the Book
of Leviticus and the Book of Numbers. But the four between the Book of Numbers and
Deuteronomy are not reckoned, because that book is only a repetition of the law,"
IV. You have the copy of a bill of divorce in Alphesius upon Gittin, in this
A Bill of Divorce
"On the day of the week N., of the month of N., of the year of the world's
creation N., according to the computation by which we are wont to reckon in the province
N.; I, N., the son of N., and by what name soever I am called, of the city N., with the
greatest consent of my mind, and without any compulsion urging me, have put away,
dismissed, and expelled thee; thee, I say, N., the daughter of N., by what name soever
thou art called, of the city N., who heretofore wert my wife. But now I have dismissed
thee,--thee, I say, N., the daughter of N., by what name soever thou art called, of the
city N. So that thou art free, and in thine own power to marry whosoever shall please
thee; and let no man hinder thee, from this day forward even for ever. Thou art free,
therefore, for any man. And let this be to thee a bill of rejection from me, letters of
divorce, and a schedule of expulsion, according to the law of Moses and Israel.
REUBEN the son of Jacob witness.
ELIEZER the son of Gilead witness."
See also this form varied in some few words in Maimonides (Gerushin).
V. This bill, being confirmed with the husband's seal, and the subscription of
witnesses, was to be delivered into the hand of the wife, either by the husband himself,
or by some other deputed by him for this office: or the wife might deput somebody to
receive it in her stead.
VI. It was not to be delivered to the wife, but in the presence of two, who might read
the bill both before it was given into the hand of the wife and after: and when it was
given, the husband, if present, said thus, "Behold, this is a bill of divorce to
VII. The wife, thus dismissed, might, if she pleased, bring this bill to the Sanhedrim,
where it was enrolled among the records, if she desired it, in memory of the thing. The
dismissed person likewise might marry whom she would: if the husband had not put some stop
in the bill, by some clause forbidding it.
32. But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause
of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is
divorced committeth adultery.
[Whosoever shall put away his wife, &c.] I. Our Saviour does not abrogate
Moses' permission of divorces, but tolerates it, yet keeping it within the Mosaic bounds,
that is, in the case of adultery, condemning that liberty in the Jewish canons, which
allowed it for any cause.
II. Divorce was not commanded in the case of adultery, but permitted. Israelites were
compelled, sometimes even by whipping, to put away their wives, as appears in Maimonides
(Gerushin). But our Saviour, even in the case of adultery, does not impose a compulsion to
divorce, but indulgeth a license to do it.
III. "He that puts away his wife without the cause of fornication makes her commit
adultery": that is, if she commits adultery: or although she commit not adultery in
act, yet he is guilty of all the lustful motions of her that is put away; for he that
lustfully desires, is said "to commit adultery," verse 28.
33. Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not
forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths:
[It hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself,
&c.] The law forbids perjury, Leviticus 19:12, &c. To which the Fathers of the
Traditions reduced the whole sin of swearing, little caring for a rash oath. In this
chapter of oaths they doubly sinned:
I. That they were nothing at all solicitous about an oath, so that what was sworn were
not false. They do but little trouble themselves, what, how, how often, how rashly, you
swear, so that what you swear be true.
In the Talmudic tract Shevuoth, and in like manner in Maimonides, oaths are
distributed into these four ranks:
First, A promissory oath: when a man swore that he would do, or not do, this or
that, &c. And this was one of the twofold oaths, which were also fourfold; that
is, a negative or affirmative oath; and again, a negative or affirmative oath concerning
something past, or a negative or affirmative oath concerning something to come: namely,
when any one swears that he hath done this or that, or not done it; or that he will do
this or that, or that he will not do it. "Whosoever, therefore, swears any of these
four ways, and the thing is not as he swears, (for example, that he hath not cast a stone
into the sea, when he hath cast it; that he hath cast it, when he hath not; that he will
not eat, and yet eats; that he will eat, and yet eateth not,) behold, this is a false
oath, or perjury."
"Whosoever swears that he will not eat, and yet eats some things which are not
sufficiently fit to be eaten, this man is not guilty."
Secondly, A vain or a rash oath. This also is fourfold, but not in the
same manner as the former: 1. When they asserted that with an oath which was contrary to
most known truth; as, "If he should swear a man were a woman, a stone-pillar to be a
pillar of gold," &c.; or when any swore that was or was not, which was altogether
impossible; as, "that he saw a camel flying in the air." 2. When one asserted
that by an oath, concerning which there was no reason that any should doubt. For example,
that "Heaven is heaven, a stone is a stone," &c. 3. When a man swore that he
would do that which was altogether impossible; namely, "that he would not sleep for
three days and three nights; that he would taste nothing for a full week," &c. 4.
When any swore that he would abstain from that which was commanded; as, "that he
would not wear phylacteries," &c. These very examples are brought in the places
Thirdly, An oath concerning something left in trust: namely, when any swore
concerning something left in trust with him, that it was stolen or broke or lost, and not
embezzled by him, &c.
Fourthly, A testimonial oath, before a judge or magistrate.
In three of these kinds of swearing, care is taken only concerning the truth of the
thing sworn, not of the vanity of swearing.
They seemed, indeed, to make some provision against a vain and rash oath: namely, 1.
That he be beaten, who so swears, and become cursed: which Maimonides hints in the twelfth
chapter of the tract alleged: with whom the Jerusalem Gemarists do agree; "He that
swears two is two, let him be beaten for his vain oath." 2. They also added terror to
it from fearful examples, such as that is in the very same place. "There were
twenty-four assemblies in the south, and they were all destroyed for a vain
oath." And in the same tract, a woman buried her son for an oath, &c. Yet they
concluded vain oaths in so narrow a circle, that a man might swear a hundred thousand
times, and yet not come within the limits of the caution concerning vain swearing.
II. It was customary and usual among them to swear by the creatures; "If any swear
by heaven, by earth, by the sun, &c. although the mind of the swearer be under these
words to swear by Him who created them, yet this is not an oath. Or if any swear by some
of the prophets, or by some of the books of the Scripture, although the sense of the
swearer be to swear by Him that sent that prophet, or that gave that book, nevertheless
this is not an oath."
"If any adjure another by heaven or earth, he is not guilty."
They swore by Heaven. By Heaven so it is.
They swore by the Temple. "When turtles and young pigeons were sometimes sold at
Jerusalem for a penny of gold, Rabban Simeon Ben Gamaliel said, By this habitation
[that is, by this Temple] I will not rest this night, unless they be sold for a
penny of silver."
"R. Zechariah Ben Ketsab said, By this Temple, the hand of the woman
departed not out of my hand." "R. Jochanan said, By the Temple it is in
our hand," &c.
"Bava Ben Buta swore by the Temple in the end of the tract Cherithuth, and Rabban
Simeon Ben Gamaliel in the beginning; And so was the custom in Israel." Note
this, "so was the custom."
They swore by the city Jerusalem. "R. Judah saith, He that saith, 'By Jerusalem,'
saith nothing, unless with an intent purpose he shall vow towards Jerusalem." Where,
also, after two lines coming between those forms of swearing and vowing are added, "Jerusalem,
for Jerusalem, by Jerusalem. The Temple, for the Temple, by the Temple. The altar, for
the altar, by the altar. The lamb, for the lamb, by the lamb. The chambers of the Temple,
for the chambers of the Temple, by the chambers of the Temple. The wood, for the wood, by
the wood. The sacrifices on fire, for the sacrifices on fire, by the sacrifices on fire.
The dishes, for the dishes, by the dishes. By all these things, that I will do this to
They swore by their own heads. "One is bound to swear to his neighbour, and he
saith, Vow (or swear) to me by the life of thy head," &c.
34. But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne:
[Swear not at all.] In the tract Demai are some rules prescribed to a
religious man: among others, That he be not too much in swearing and laughing.
Where the Gloss of R. Solomon is this; "means this, Be not much in oaths,
although one should swear concerning things that are true: for in much swearing it is
impossible not to profane." Our Saviour, with good reason, binds his followers with a
straiter bond, permitting no place at all for a voluntary and arbitrary oath. The sense of
these words goes in the middle way, between the Jew, who allowed some place for an
arbitrary oath; and the Anabaptist, who allows none for a necessary one.
36. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white
[Thou canst not make one hair white or black.] That is, Thou canst not put on
gray hairs, or lay them aside.
37. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than
these cometh of evil.
[Let your communication be, Yea, yea; nay, nay.] In Hebrew, Giving and
receiving [that is, business] among the disciples of the wise men, Let it be
in truth and faith, by saying, Yes, yes; No, no: or, according to the very words, concerning
Yes, yes; concerning No, no.
"If it be said to a lunatic, Shall we write a bill of divorce for your wife? and
he nod with his head, they try thrice; and if he answer to No, no; and to Yes, yes;
they write it, and give it to his wife."
38. Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a
[Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, &c.] This law he
also cites, as clothed in the Gloss of the scribes, and now received in the Jewish
schools. But they resolved the law not into a just retaliation, but into a pecuniary
"Does any cut off the hand or foot of his neighbour? They value this according to
the example of selling a servant; computing at what price he would be sold before he was
maimed, and for how much less now he is maimed. And how much of the price is diminished,
so much is to be paid to the maimed person, as it is said, 'An eye for an eye,' &c. We
have received by tradition, that this is to be understood of pecuniary satisfaction. But
whereas it is said in the law, 'If a man cause a blemish in his neighbour, the same shall
be done to him' [Lev 24:19]; it means not that he should be maimed, as he hath maimed
another; but when he deserveth maiming, he deserveth to pay the damage to the person
maimed." They seemed, out of very great charity, to soften that severe law to
themselves, when, nevertheless, in the mean time, little care was taken of lively charity,
and of the forgiving an offence,--an open door being still left them to exaction and
revenge, which will appear in what follows.
39. But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on
thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
[Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek.] That the doctrine of Christ may
here more clearly shine out, let the Jewish doctrine be set against it; to which he
"Does any one give his neighbour a box on the ear? let him give him a shilling. R.
Judah in the name of R. Josi of Galilee saith, Let him give him a pound."
"Does he give him a blow upon the cheek? Let him give him two hundred zuzes:
if with the other hand, let him give four hundred." Compare with this passage verse
39: 'If any shall strike thee on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.'
"Does he twitch him by the ear; or does he pull off his hair; or does he
spit, so that his spittle falls upon him; or does he take away his coat" [note this
also, and compare verse 40 with it, 'He that will take away thy coat,' &c.]; "or
does he uncover a woman's head in public? Let him give four hundred zuzees."
They fetch the reason of so severe a mulct chiefly from the shame done him that is thus
injured, and from the disgrace of the thing itself; and, moreover, from the dignity of an
Israelite: which is declared at large by the Gemarists upon the words cited, and by
"Those mulcts [say they] are established and inflicted according to the dignity
of the person injured. But R. Akibah said, 'Even the poorest Israelites are to be esteemed
as though they were persons of quality divested of their estates, because they are the
sons of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.'"
Hence the entrance to our Saviour's doctrine lies easy: 1. He cites the law of
retaliation, that, by laying one against the other, Christian charity and forgiveness
might shine the clearer. 2. He mentions these particulars which seemed to be the most
unworthy, and not to be borne by the high quality of a Jew, that he might the more preach
up evangelical humility, and patience, and self-denial. But why was the law of retaliation
given, if at last it is melted down into this? On the same reason as the law of death was
given concerning adultery, namely, for terror, and to demonstrate what the sin was. Both
were to be softened by charity; this by forgiveness, that by a bill of divorce: or, if the
husband so pleased, by forgiveness also.
40. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy
[And if any will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, &c.] Coat,
that is, Talith. So in the words of the Talmud alleged, he takes his coat Of
this garment, thus the Rauch; Talith is a cloak: and why is it called Talith?
Because it is above all the garments; that is, because it is the outermost garment.
In this upper garment were woven in those fringes that were to put them in mind of the
law, of which there is mention Numbers 15:38. Hence is that, He that takes care of his
skirts deserves a good coat. Hereupon the disgrace was increased together with the
wrong, when that was taken away, concerning which they did not a little boast, nay, and in
which they placed no small religion: Matthew 23:5, an upper and an inward garment...
"If any give a poor man a penny to buy an inward garment, let him not buy a coat, nor
an upper garment." He lends him an inner garment and a coat.
41. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.
[And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, &c.] To him that had some
corporeal wrong done him were these five mulcts to be paid, according to the reason and
quality of the wrong: A mulct for maiming, if so be the party were maimed: a mulct
for pain, caused by the blow or wound given: a mulct for the cure of the
wound or blow; a mulct for the reproach brought upon him: and a mulct for ceasing,
when, being wounded or beaten, he kept his bed, and could not follow his business.
To the first, the first words of our Saviour, That ye resist not evil, seem to
relate: Do not so resist or rise up against an injurious person, as to require the law of
retaliation against him. The second and fourth, the words following seem to respect, viz.
'Whosoever smiteth thee, so that it cause pain and shame': and those words also, 'Him
that will take away thy coat.' To the last do these words under our hand refer, and to
the second certainly, if "some intolerable kind of service be propounded," which
the famous Beza asserts.
The word very usual among the Talmudists, whereby they denote accompanying him that
goes elsewhere, out of honour and respect, reaches not the sense of the word compel,
but is too soft and low for it. It is reckoned for a duty to accompany a dead corpse to
the grave, and a Rabbin departing somewhere. Hence is that story, "Germani, the
servant of R. Judah Nasi, willing to conduct R. Illa going away, met a mad
dog," &c. The footsteps of this civility we meet with among the Christians, Titus
3:13; John, Ep. 3 verse 6; they were marks of respect, love, and reverence: but that which
was required by the Jewish masters, out of arrogance and a supercilious authority, was to
be done to a Rabbin, as a Rabbin.
But to compel to go a mile, sounds harsher, and speaks not so much an impulse of
duty, as a compulsion of violence: and the Talmudists retain that very word Angaria,
and do show, by examples not a few, what it means. "It is reported of R. Eliazar Ben
Harsum, that his father bequeathed him a thousand cities on the dry land, and a thousand
ships on the sea: but yet he, every day carrying along with him a bottle of meal on his
shoulder, travelled from city to city, and from country to country, to learn the law. On a
certain day his servants met him, and angariate, compel him. He saith to them, 'I
beseech you, dismiss me, that I may go and learn the law.' They say to him, 'By the life
of R. Eliazar Ben Harsum, we will not dismiss you,'" &c. Where the Gloss is,
"Angariah is the service of the governor of the city; and he was here to serve
himself [for he was the lord of the city]. But they knew him not, but thought him to
belong to one of those his cities: for its was incumbent on them to attend on their
Again; "R. Eliezer saith, 'Why was Abraham our father punished, and why were his
sons afflicted in Egypt two hundred and ten years?' Because he 'angariavit,'
'compelled' the disciples of the wise men to go with him: as it is said he armed
his catechumens, or his trained, or instructed," Genesis 14:14.
The same almost is said of King Asa: "Rabba asked, Why was Asa punished [with
the gout]? Because he compelled the disciples of the wise men to go along with
him: as it is said, 'And Asa gathered together all Judah, none excepted,'" &c., 1
We meet with mention also of angariating cattle; "An ass is hired for a
hilly journey; but he that hireth him travels in the valley: although both be of the like
distance, that is, ten miles, if an ass dies, he who hired him is guilty, &c. But if
the ass were angariated, the hirer saith to the owner, Behold, take your beast to
yourself," &c. The Gooss is, "If he were angariated, that is, if
they take him for some work of the king," &c.
You see, then, whither the exhortation of our Saviour tends: 1. To patience under an
open injury, and for which there is no pretence, verse 39. 2. Under an injury, for which
some right and equity in law is pretended, verse 40. 3. Under an injury, compulsion, or
violence, patronized by the authority of a king, or of those that are above us.
43. Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate
[Thou shalt hate thine enemy.] Here those poisonous canons might be produced,
whereby they are trained up in eternal hatred against the Gentiles, and against Israelites
themselves, who do not, in every respect, walk with them in the same traditions and rites.
Let this one example be instead of very many, which are to be met with everywhere:
"The heretical Israelites, that is, they of Israel that worship idols, or who
transgress, to provoke God: also Epicurean Israelites, that is, Israelites who deny the
law and the prophets, are by precept to be slain, if any can slay them, and that openly;
but if not openly, you may compass their death secretly, and by subtilty." And a
little after (O! the extreme charity of the Jews towards the Gentiles); "But as to
the Gentiles, with whom we have no war, and likewise to the shepherds of smaller cattle,
and others of that sort, they do not so plot their death; but it is forbidden them to
deliver them from death if they are in danger of it." For instance; "A Jew sees
one of them fallen into the sea; let him by no means lift him out thence: for it is
written, 'Thou shalt not rise up against the blood of thy neighbour': but this is not thy
neighbour." And further; "An Israelite, who alone sees another Israelite
transgressing, and admonisheth him, if he repents not, is bound to hate him."
46. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the
publicans the same?
[Do not even the publicans the same?] How odious the publicans were to the
Jewish nation, especially those that were sprung of that nation, and how they reckoned
them the very worst of all mankind, appears many ways in the evangelists; and the very
same is their character in their own writers.
"It is not lawful to use the riches of such men, of whom it is presumed that they
were thieves; and of whom it is presumed that all their wealth was gotten by rapine; and
that all their business was the business of extortioners, such as publicans and robbers
are; nor is their money to be mingled with thine, because it is presumed to have been
gotten by rapine."
Among those who were neither fit to judge, nor to give a testimony in judgment, are
numbered the collectors of taxes, and the publicans.
Publicans are joined with cut-throats and robbers. "They swear to cut-throats,
to robbers and to publicans [invading their goods], This is an offering,
&c. He is known by his companion."
They were marked with such reproach, and that not without good reason; partly by reason
of their rapine, partly, that to the burden laid upon the nation they themselves added
"When are publicans to be reckoned for thieves? when he is a Gentile; or when of
himself he takes that office upon him; or when, being deputed by the king, he doth not
exact the set sum, but exacts according to his own will." Therefore the father of R.
Zeira is to be reputed for a rare person, who, being a publican for thirteen years, did
not make the burdens of the taxes heavier, but rather eased them.
"When the king laid a tax, to be exacted of the Jews, of each according to his
estate, these publicans, being deputed to proportion the thing, became respecters of
persons, burdening some and indulging others, and so became plunderers."
By how much the more grievous the heathen yoke was to the Jewish people, boasting
themselves a free nation, so much the more hateful to them was this kind of men; who,
though sprung of Jewish blood, yet rendered their yoke much more heavy by these rapines.
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