Transcriber's Note: Footnotes are placed at the end of the relevant paragraph. In Chapters I and II, the printed "Mitra" was changed to "Mithra" to match other occurrences in the text, which predominate. In Chapter II, the notation ă represents the letter a with breve. Also, an instance in the original text of the word "JHVH" in the Hebrew alphabet has been changed to the Roman.
THE LORDS OF THE GHOSTLAND
A History of the Ideal
By EDGAR SALTUS
"Errons, les doigts unis, dans l'Alhambra du songe." Renee Vivien
NEW YORK MITCHELL KENNERLEY MCMVII
COPYRIGHT, 1907 BY EDGAR SALTUS
The Plimpton Press Norwood Mass. USA.
By Mr. Saltus
HISTORIA AMORIS IMPERIAL PURPLE MARY MAGDALEN THE POMPS OF SATAN THE PERFUME OF EROS VANITY SQUARE
THE LORDS OF THE GHOSTLAND
I Brahma 7
II Ormuzd 39
III Amon-Ra 60
IV Bel-Marduk 81
V Jehovah 109
VI Zeus 140
VII Jupiter 166
VIII The Nec Plus Ultra 189
THE LORDS OF THE GHOSTLAND
The ideal is the essence of poetry. In the virginal innocence of the world, poetry was a term that meant discourse of the gods. A world grown grey has learned to regard the gods as diseases of language. Conceived, it may be, in fevers of fancy, perhaps, originally, they were but deified words. Yet, it is as children of beauty and of dream that they remain.
"Mortal has made the immortal," the Rig-Veda explicitly declares. The making was surely slow. In tracing the genealogy of the divine, it has been found that its root was fear. The root, dispersed by light, ultimately dissolved. But, meanwhile, it founded religion, which, revealed in storm and panic, for prophets had ignorance and dread. The gods were not then. There were demons only, more exactly there were diabolized expressions invented to denominate natural phenomena and whatever else perturbed. It was in the evolution of the demoniac that the divine appeared. Through one of time's unmeasurable gaps there floated the idea that perhaps the phenomena that alarmed were but the unconscious agents of superior minds. At the suggestion, irresistibly a dramatization of nature began in which the gods were born, swarms of them, nebulous, wayward, uncertain, that, through further gaps, became concrete, became occasionally reducible to two great divinities, earth and sky, whose union was imagined—a hymen which the rain suggested—and from which broader conceptions proceeded and grander gods emerged.
The most poetic of these are perhaps the Hindu. At the heraldings of newer gods, the lords of other ghostlands have, after battling violently, swooned utterly away. But though many a fresher faith has been brandished at them, apathetically, in serene indifference, the princes of the Aryan sky endure.
It is their poetry that has preserved them. To their creators poetry was abundantly dispensed. To no other people have myths been as frankly transparent. To none other, save only their cousins the Persians, have fancies more luminous occurred. The Persians so polished their dreams that they entranced the world that was. Poets can do no more. The Hindus too were poets. They were children as well. Their first lisp, the first recorded stammer of Indo-European speech, is audible still in the Rig-Veda, a bundle of hymns tied together, four thousand years ago, for the greater glory of Fire. The worship of the latter led to that of the Sun and ignited the antique altars. It flamed in Persia, lit perhaps the shrine of Vesta, afterward dazzled the Incas, igniting, meanwhile, not altars merely, but purgatory itself.
In Persia, where it illuminated the face of Ormuzd, its beneficence is told in the Avesta, a work of such holiness that it was polluted if seen. In the Rig-Veda, there are verses which were subsequently accounted so sacred that if a soudra overheard them the ignominy of his caste was effaced.
The verses, the work of shepherds who were singers, are invocations to the dawn, to the first flushes of the morning, to the skies' heightening hues, and the vermillion moment when the devouring Asiatic sun appears. There are other themes, minor melodies, but the chief inspiration is light.
To primitive shepherds the approach of darkness was the coming of death. The dawn, which they were never wholly sure would reappear, was resurrection. They welcomed it with cries which the Veda preserves, which the Avesta retains and the Eddas repeat. The potent forces that produced night, the powers potenter still that routed it, they regarded as beings whose moods genuflexions could affect. In perhaps the same spirit that Frenchmen assisted at a lever du roi, and Englishmen attend a prince's levee, the Aryan breakfasted on song and sacrifice. It was an homage to the rising sun.
The sun was deva. The Sanskrit root div, from which the word is derived, produced deus, devi, divinities—numberless, accursed, adored, or forgot. The common term applied to all abstractions that are and have been worshipped, means That which shines and the name which, in the early Orient, signified a star, designates the Deity in the Occident to-day.
Apologetically, Tertullian, a Christian Father, remarked: "Some think our God is the Sun." There were excuses perhaps for those that did. Adonai, a Hebrew term for the Almighty, is a plural. It means lords. But the lords indicated were Baalim who were Lords of the Sun. Moreover, when the early Christians prayed, they turned to the East. Their holy day was, as the holy day of Christendom still is, Sunday, day of the Sun, an expression that comes from the Norse, on whom also shone the light of the Aryan deva.
To shepherds who, in seeking pasture for their flocks, were seeking also pasture for their souls, the deva became Indra. They had other gods. There was Agni, fire; Varuna, the sky; Maruts, the tempest. There was Mithra, day, and Yama, death. There were still others, infantile, undulant, fluid, not infrequently ridiculous also. But it was Indra for whom the dew and honey of the morning hymns were spread. It was Indra who, emerging from darkness, made the earth after his image, decorated the sky with constellations and wrapped the universe in space. It was he who poured indifferently on just and unjust the triple torrent of splendour, light, and life.
Indra was triple. Triple Indra, the Veda says. In that description is the preface to a theogony of which Hesiod wrote the final page. It was the germ of sacred dynasties that ruled the Aryan and the Occidental skies. From it came the grandiose gods of Greece and Rome. From it also came the paler deities of the Norse. Meanwhile ages fled. Life nomad and patriarchal ceased. From forest and plain, temples arose; from hymns, interpretations; from prayer, metaphysics; for always man has tried to analyze the divine, always too, at some halt in life, he has looked back and found it absent.
In meditation it was discerned that Indra was an effect, not the cause. It was discerned also that that cause was not predicable of the gods who, in their undulance and fluidity, suggested ceaseless transformations and consequently something that is transformed.
The idea, patiently elaborated, resulted in a drainage of the fluid myths and the exteriorisation of a being entirely abstract. Designated first as Brahmanaspati, Lord of Prayer, afterward more simply as Brahma, he was assumed to have been asleep in the secret places of the sky, from which, on awakening, he created what is.
The conception, ideal itself, was not, however, ideal enough. The labour of creating was construed as a blemish on the splendour of the Supreme. It was held that the Soul of Things could but loll, majestic and inert, on a lotos of azure. Then, above Brahma, was lifted Brahm, a god neuter and indeclinable; neuter as having no part in life, indeclinable because unique.
There was the apex of the world's most poetic creed, one distinguished over all others in having no founder, unless a heavenly inspiration be so regarded. But the apex required a climax. Inspiration provided it.
The forms of matter and of man, the glittering apsaras of the vermillion dawns, Indra himself, these and all things else were construed into a bubble that Brahm had blown. The semblance of reality in which men occur and, with them, the days of their temporal breath, was attributed not to the actual but to Maya—the magic of a high god's longing for something other than himself, something that should contrast with his eternal solitude and fill the voids of his infinite ennui. From that longing came the bubble, a phantom universe, the mirage of a god's desire. Earth; sea and sky; all that in them is, all that has been and shall be, are but the changing convolutions of a dream.
In that dream there descended a scale of beings, above whom were set three great lords, Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver, and Siva the Destroyer, collectively the Tri-murti, the Hindu trinity expressed in the mystically ineffable syllable Om. Between the trinity and man came other gods, a whole host, powers of light and powers of darkness, the divine and the demoniac fused in a hierarchy surprising but not everlasting. Eventually the dream shall cease, the bubble break, the universe collapse, the heavens be folded like a tent, the Tri-murti dissolved, and in space will rest but the Soul of Things, at whose will atoms shall reassemble and forms unite, dis-unite and reappear, depart and return, endlessly, in recurring cycles.
That conception, the basis perhaps of the theory of cosmological days, is perhaps also itself but a dream, yet one that, however defective, has a beauty which must have been too fair. Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, originally regarded as emanations of the ideal, became concrete. Consorts were found for them. From infinity they were lodged in idols. A worship sensuous when not grotesque ensued, from which the ideal took flight.
That was the work of the clergy. Brahmanism is also. The archaic conflict between light and darkness, the triumph of the former over the latter, diminished, at their hands, into the figurative. That is only reasonable. It was only reasonable also that they should claim the triumph as their own. Without them the gods could do nothing. They would not even be. In the Rig-Veda and the Vedas generally they are transparent. The subsequent evolution of the Paramatma, the Tri-murti and the hierarchy, had, for culmination, the apotheosis of a priesthood that had invented them and who, for the invention, deserved the apotheosis which they claimed and got. They were priests that were poets, and poets that were seers. But they were not sorcerers. They could not provide successors equal to themselves. It was the later clergy that pulled poetry from the infinite, stuffed it into idols and prostituted it to nameless shames.
In the Bhagavad-Gita it is written: "Nothing is greater than I. In scriptures I am prayer. I am perfume in flowers, brilliance in light. I am life and its source. I am the soul of creation. I am the beginning and the end. I am the Divine."
That is Brahm. Ormuzd has faded. Zeus has passed. Jupiter has gone. With them the divinities of Egypt and the lords of the Chaldean sky have been reabsorbed and forgot. Brahm still is. The cohorts of Cyrus might pray Ormuzd to peer where he glowed. There, the phalanxes of Alexander might raise altars to Zeus. Parthians and Tatars might dispute the land and the god. Muhammadans could bring their Allah and Christians their creed. Indifferently Brahm has dreamed, knowing that he has all time as these all have their day.
The conception of that apathy, grandiose in itself and marvellous in its persistence, was due to unknown poets that had in them the true souffle of the real ideal. But that also demanded a climax. They produced it in the theory that the afflictions of this life are due to transgressions in another.
From afflictions death, they taught, is not a release, for the reason that there is no death. There is but absorption in Brahm. Yet that consummation cannot occur until all transgressions, past and present, have been expiated and the soul, lifted from the eddies of migration, becomes Brahm himself.
To be absorbed, to be Brahm, to be God, is an ambition, certainly vertiginous yet as surely divine. But to succeed, consciousness of success must be lost. A mortal cannot attain divinity until annihilation is complete. To become God nothing must be left of man. To loose, then, every bond, to be freed from every tie, to retire from finite things, to mount to and sink in the immutable, to see Death die, was and is the Hindu ideal.
Of the elect, that is. Of the higher castes, of the priest, of the prince. But not of the people. The ideal was not for them, salvation either. It was idle even to think about it. Set in hell, they had to return here until in some one of the twenty-four lakhs of birth which the chain of migrations comports, and which to saint and soudra were alike dispensed, they arrived here in the purple. Then only was the opportunity theirs to rescale a sky that was reserved for prelates and rajahs.
Suddenly, to the pariah, to the hopeless, to those who outcast in hell were outcast from heaven, an erect and facile ladder to that sky was brought. The Buddha furnished it. If he did not, a college of dissidents assumed that he had, and in his name indicated a stairway which, set among the people, all might mount and at whose summit gods actually materialized.
To those who believe in the Dalai Lama—there are millions that have believed, there are millions that do—he is not a vicar of the divine, he is himself divine, a god in a tenement of flesh who, as such, though he die, immediately is reincarnated; a god therefore always present among his people, whose history is a continuous gospel. In contemporaneous Italy, a peasant may aspire to the papacy. In the uplands of Asia, men have loftier ambitions. There they may become Buddha, who perhaps never was, except in legend.
In the Lalita Vistara the legend unfolds. In the strophes of the poem one may assist at the Buddha's birth, an event which is said to have occurred at Kapilavastu. Oriental geography is unacquainted with the place. With the thing even Occidental philosophy is familiar. Kapilavastu means the substance of Kapila. The substance is atheism.
History has its hesitancies. Often it stammers uncertainly. But its earliest pages agree in representing Kapila as the initial religious rebel. Kapila was the first to declare the divine a human and invalid conjecture. The announcement, with its prefaces and deductions, is contained in the Sankhya Karika, a system of rationalism, still read in India, where it is known as the godless tract.
In the Orient, existence is usually a sordid nightmare when it does not happen to be a golden dream. Kapila taught that it was a prison from which release could be had only through intellectual development. That is Kapilavastu, the substance of Kapila, where the Buddha was born. In the Lalita Vistara it is fairyland.
There, Gotama the Buddha is the Prince Charming of a sovereign house. But a prince who developed into a nihilist prior to re-becoming the god that anteriorly he had been. It was while in heaven that he selected Maya, a ranee, to be his mother. It was surrounded by the heavenly that he appeared. The fields foamed with flowers. The skies flamed with faces. In the air apsaras floated, fanning themselves with peacocks' tails. The galleries of the palace festooned themselves with pearls. On the terraces a rain of perfume fell. In the parterres Maya strolled. A tree bent and bowed to her. Touching a branch with her hand she looked up and yawned. Painlessly from her immaculate breast Gotama issued. An immense lotos sprouted to receive him. To cover him a parasol dropped from above. He, however, already occupied, was contemplating space, the myriad worlds, the myriad lives, and announced himself their saviour. At once a deluge of roses descended. The effulgence of a hundred thousand colours shone. A spasm of delight pulsated. Sorrow and anger, envy and fear, fled and fainted. From the zenith came a murmur of voices, the sound of dancing, the kiss of timbril and of lute.
That is Oriental poetry. Oriental philosophy is less ornate. From the former the Buddha could not have come. From the latter he probably did, if not in flesh at least in spirit. To that spirit antiquity was indebted, as modernity is equally, for the doctrines of a teacher known variously as Gotama the Enlightened and Sakya the Sage. Whether or not the teacher himself existed is, therefore, unimportant. The existence of the Christ has been doubted. But the doctrines of both survive. They do more, they enchant. Occasionally they seem to combine. The Gospels have obviously nothing in common with the Lalita Vistara, which is an apocryphal novel of uncertain date. The resemblance that is reflected comes from the Tripitaka, the Three Baskets that constitute the evangels of the Buddhist faith.
In an appendix to the Mahavaggo, it is stated that disciples of Gotama, who knew his sermons and his parables by heart, determined the canon "after his death." The expression might mean anything. But a ponderable antiquity is otherwise shown. Asoko, a Hindu emperor, sent an embassy to Ptolemy Philadelphos. The circumstance was set forth bilingually on various heights. In another inscription Asoko recommended the study of the Tripitaka and mentioned titles of the books. Ptolemy Philadelphos reigned at Alexandria in the early part of the third century B.C. The Tripitaka must therefore have existed then. But the thirty-seventh year of Asoko's reign was, in a third inscription, counted as the two hundred and fifty-seventh from the Buddha's death, a reckoning which makes them much older. Their existence, however, as a fourth inscription shows, was oral. Transmitted for hundreds of years by trained schools of reciters, it was during a synod that occurred in the first quarter of the first century before Christ that, finally, they were written.
In them it is recited that Maya, the mother of Gotama, was immaculate. According to St. Matthew, Maria, the mother of Jesus, was also. Previously, in each instance, the coming of a Messiah had been foretold. The infant Jesus was visited by magi. The infant Buddha was visited by kings. Afterward, neither Jesus or Gotama wrote. But both preached charity, chastity, poverty, humility, and abnegation of self. Both fasted in a wilderness. Both were tempted by a devil. Both announced a second advent. Both were transfigured. Both died in the open air. At the death of each there was an earthquake. Both healed the sick. Both were the light of a world which both said would cease to be.
According to Luke, a courtesan visited Jesus and had her sins remitted. According to the Mahavaggo, Gotama was visited by a harlot whom he instructed in things divine. In Matthew, Jesus is depicted as a glutton and a wine-bibber. In the Mahavaggo, the picture of Gotama is the same. In Matthew it is written; "Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust doth consume and where thieves break through and steal." The Khuddakapatho says: "Righteousness is a treasure which no man can steal. It is a treasure that abideth alway." In Luke it is written: "As ye would that men should do unto you, do ye also unto them." The Dhammaphada say: "Put yourself in the place of others, do as you would be done by."
[Footnote 1: Luke vii. 37-50. Sacred Books of the East, xi. 30.]
[Footnote 2: Matthew xi, 19. S. B. E. xiii. 92.]
[Footnote 3: Matthew vi. 19. S. B. E. x. 191.]
[Footnote 4: Luke vi. 31. S. B. E. x. 36.]
The miracle of walking on the water, that of the money-bearing fish, the story of the Woman at the Well, the proclamation of an unpardonable sin, even the mediaeval myth of the Wandering Jew, may have originated in Buddhist legend.
[Footnote 5: Cf. Edmunds: Buddhist and Christian Gospels.]
Pious minds have been disturbed by these similitudes. The resemblance between Maya and Maria has perplexed. The perhaps uncertain likeness of Gotama to Jesus has occasioned irreverent doubts. But the parallelisms may be fortuitous. Probably they are. Even otherwise they but enhance the sororal beauties of faiths which if cognate are quite distinct. Then too the penetrating charm of the parables and sermons of the Buddha fades before the perfection of the sermons and parables of the Christ. The birth, ministry, transfiguration, and passing of Gotama are marvels which, however exquisite, the wholly spiritual apparitions of the Lord efface.
Other similarities, such as they are, may without impropriety, perhaps, be attributed to the ideals progressus. Hindu and Chaldean beliefs constitute the two primal inspirational faiths. From the one, Buddhism and Zoroasterism developed. From the other the creed of Israel and possibly that of Egypt came. Religions that followed were afterthoughts of the divine. They were revelations sometimes more intelligible, in one instance inexpressibly more luminous, yet invariably reminiscent of an anterior light.
The light of contemporaneous Buddhism is that of Catholicism—heaven deducted, a heaven, that is, of ceaseless Magnificats. The latter conception is Christian. But it was Persian first. Otherwise, in common with the Church, Buddhism has saints, censers, litanies, tonsures, holy water, fasts, and confession. Barring confession, the extreme antiquity of which has been attested, the other rites and ceremonies are, it may be, borrowed, but not the high morality, the altruism, the renunciation and effacement of self, which Buddhists no longer very scrupulously observe, perhaps, but which their religion was the first to instil.
Buddhism originally had neither rites nor ritual. It was merely a mendicant order in which one tried to do what is right, with, for reward, the hope of Pratscha-Paramita, the peace that is beyond all knowledge and which Nirvana provides. That peace is—or was—the complete absence of anything, extinction utter and everlasting, a state of absolute non-existence which no whim of Brahm may disturb.
Buddhism denied Brahm and every tenet of Brahmanism, save only that which concerned the immedicable misery of life. Of final deliverance there was in Brahmanism no known mode. None at least that was exoteric. Brahmanism rolled man ceaselessly through all forms of existence, from the elementary to the divine, and even from the latter, even when he was absorbed in Brahm, flung him out and back into a fresh circle of unavoidable births.
The theory is horrible. In the horrible occasionally is the sublime. To Gotama it was merely absurd. He blew on it. Abruptly, the categories of the infinite, the infant gods, shapes divine and demoniac, the entire phantasmagoria of metempsychosis, seemed really absorbed and Brahm himself ablated. For a moment the skies, sterilized by a breath, seemingly were vacant. Actually they were never more peopled. Behind the pall, tossed on an antique faith, new gods were crouching and waiting. Buddhistic atheism had resulted but in the production of an earlier New Testament. From the depths of the ideal, swarms of bedecked and bejewelled divinities escorted Brahm back to a lotos of azure. Coincidentally Gotama, enthroned in the zenith, contemplated clusters of gods that dangled through twenty-eight abodes of bliss which other poets created.
In demonstrable triumph the Buddha was then, as he has been since, even if previously his existence had been omitted. But though he never were, there nevertheless occurred a social revolution of which he was the nominal originator and which, had it not been diverted into other realms, might have resulted in Brahm's entire extinction.
Wolves do not devour each other. Ideals should not either. The Oriental heavens were wide enough to serve as fastnesses for two sets of hostile, germane, and ineffably poetic aberrations. There was room even for more. There always should be. Of the divine one can have never enough.
The gospel according to Sakya the Eremite is divine. It is divine in its limitless compassion, and though compassion, when analyzed, becomes but egotism in an etherialized form, yet the gospel had other attractions. In demonstrating that life is evil, that rebirth is evil too, that to be born even a god is evil still,—in demonstrating these things, while insisting that all else, Buddhism included, is but vanity, it fractured the charm of error in which man had been confined.
Sakya saw men born and reborn in hell. He saw them ignorant, as humanity has always been, unaware of their abjection as men are to-day, and over the gulfs of existence, through the torrents of rebirth, he offered to ferry them. But in the ferrying they had to aid. The aid consisted in the rigorous observance of every virtue that Christianity afterward professed. Therein is the beauty of Buddhism. Its profundity resided in a revelation that everything human perishes except actions and the consequences that ensue. To orthodox India its tenets were as heretical as those of Christianity were to the Jews. Nonetheless the doctrine became popular. But doctrines once popularized lose their nobility. The degeneracy of Buddhism is due to Cathay.
To the Hindu life was an incident between two eternities, an episode in the string of deaths and rebirths. To Mongolians it was a unique experience. They had no knowledge of the supersensible, no suspicion of the ideal. Among them Buddhism operated a conversion. It stimulated a thirst for the divine.
The thirst is unquenchable. Buddhism, in its simple severity, could not even attempt to slake it. But on its simplicity a priesthood shook parures. Its severity was cloaked with mantles of gold. The founder, an atheist who had denied the gods, was transformed into one. About him a host of divinities was strung. The most violently nihilistic of doctrines was fanned into an idolatry puerile and meek. Nirvana became Elysium, and a religion which began as a heresy culminated in a superstition. That is the history of creeds.
"The purest of thoughts is that which concerns the beginning of things."
So Ormuzd instructed Zarathrustra.
"And what was there at the beginning?" the prophet asked.
"There was light and the living Word." Long later the statement was repeated in the Gospel attributed to John. Originally it occurred in the course of a conversation that the Avesta reports. In a similar manner Exodus provides a revelation which Moses received. There Jehovah said: 'ehyeh 'ăsher 'ehyeh. In the Avesta Ormuzd said: ahmi yad ahmi. Word for word the declarations are identical. Each means I am that I am.
[Footnote 6: Avesta (Anquetil-Duperron), i. 393].
[Footnote 7: Avesta, Hormazd Yasht.]
[Footnote 8: Exodus iii. 14.]
The conformity of the pronouncements may be fortuitous. Their relative priority uncertain chronology obscures. The date that orthodoxy has assigned to Moses is about 1500 B.C. Plutarch said that Zarathrustra lived five thousand years before the fall of Troy. Both dates are perhaps questionable. But a possible hypothesis philology provides. The term Jehovah is a seventeenth-century expansion of the Hebrew Jhvh, now usually written Jahveh and commonly translated: He who causes to be. The original rendering of Ormuzd is Ahura-mazda. Ahura means living and mazdao creator. The period when Exodus was written is probably post-exilic. The period when the Avesta was completed is assumed to be pre-Cyrian. It was at the junction of the two epochs that Iran and Israel met.
But, however the pronouncements may conform, however also they may confuse, the one reported in Exodus is alone exact. In subsequent metamorphoses the name might fade, the deity remained. Whereas, save to diminishing Parsis, Ormuzd, once omnipotent throughout the Persian sky, has gone. A time, though, there was, when from his throne in the ideal he menaced the apathy of Brahm, the majesty of Zeus, when even from the death of deaths he might have ejected Buddha and, supreme in the Orient, ruled also in the West. Salamis prevented that. But one may wonder whether the conquest had not already been effected, whether for that matter the results are not apparent still. Brahma, Ormuzd, Zeus, Jupiter, are but different conceptions of a primal idea. They are four great gods diversely represented yet originally identical, and whose attributes Jahveh, in his ascensions, perhaps absorbed.
Ormuzd represented purity and light. For his worship no temple was necessary, barely a shrine, never an image. In his celestial court were parikas, the glittering bayaderes of love that a later faith called peris, but his sole consorts were Prayers. About him and them gathered amshaspands and izeds, angels and seraphs, the winged host of loveliness that in Babylon enthralled the Jews who returned from captivity escorted by them. The allurement of their charm, enchanting then, enchants the world to-day. There has been little that is more poetic, except perhaps Ormuzd himself, who symbolized whatever is blinding in beauty, particularly the sun's effulgence, the radiance of light.
The light endures, though the god has gone. Yet at the time, aloof in clear ether and aloft, he resplended in a sovereignty that only Ahriman disputed.
Ahriman has been more steadfast than Ormuzd. He too captivated the captive Hebrews. The latter adopted him and called him Satan, as they also adopted one of his minor legates, Ashmodai—transformed by the Vulgate into Asmodeus—a little jealous devil who, in the apocryphal Tobit, strangled husbands on their bridal nights. Ahriman, his master, represented everything that was the opposite of Ormuzd. Ahriman dwelt in darkness, Ormuzd in light. Ormuzd was primate of purity; Ahriman, prince of whatever is base. One had angels and archangels for aids, the other fiends and demons. Between their forces war was constant. Each strove for the soul of man. But after death, when, in the balance, the deeds of the defunct were weighed, there appeared a golden-eyed redeemer, Mithra, who so closely resembled the Christ that the world hesitated, for a moment, between them.
It was because of these conceptions that Persia dreamed of conquering the West. At Marathon and at Salamis that illusion was looted. History tells of the cohorts that descended there. It relates further what they did. But of what they thought there is no record. It was, perhaps, too obvious. Ormuzd, god of light and, in the Orient, god of the day, was, in the darker and duller Occident, menaced there also by Ahriman. Politically the expedition is not very explicable. Considered from a religious standpoint the motive is clear. But though the Persian forces could not uphold their light in Greece, higher forces projected it far beyond, to the remote north, to a south that was still remoter.
Originally the light was Vedic. It was identical with that of Agni, of Indra and of Varuna. But while these, without subsidence, passed, absorbed by Brahm, the light of Iran, deflecting, persisted, and so potently that it lit the Teutonic sky, glows still in Christendom, after refracting perhaps in Inca temples. Its revelation is due to Zarathrustra.
Zarathrustra, commonly written Zoroaster, is a name translatable into "star of gold" and also into "keeper of old camels." Probably it was first employed to designate an imaginary prophet, and then a series of spiritual though actual successors by whom, in the course of centuries, the Avesta was evolved. Otherwise Zarathrustra and Gotama are brothers in Brahmanaspati. Both had virgin mothers. In the lives of both miracles are common. The advent of Zarathrustra was accounted the ruin of demons. When he was born he laughed aloud. As a child he slept in flames. As a man he walked on water. Before prodigies such as these fiends fell like autumn leaves. Hence, on the part of the devil, an attempt to seduce him from the divine. Mairya, the demon of death, offered him, as Mara offered Gotama, as Satan offered Jesus, the empire of the earth. Zarathrustra rebuked the devil first with stones, then with pious words. From him, as from the Buddha and the Christ, abashed the tempter retreated.
[Footnote 9: Darmestetter: Ormazd et Ahriman.]
That victory over evil, the Parsis to-day regard as the capital event in the history of the world. It was the immediate prelude to the revelation of the Law which Ormuzd vouchsafed to his prophet.
The revelation occurred on a mountain, in the course of conversations, during which Zarathrustra questioned and Ormuzd, in the voice of heaven, replied. So was the Law proclaimed in India. There Mithra and Varuna sang it through the sky. The expression is notable, for the song of the sky is thunder and the theophany that of Sinai. There is another rapprochement in Babylonian lore and a third in the Eddas, where it is related that to Sigurd the secret of the runes was sung.
[Footnote 10: Rig-Veda, i. 151.]
Meanwhile, the revelation completed and proclaimed, Zarathrustra died as miraculously as he was born, foretelling, as he went, the coming of a messiah, his own son, Coshyos—the delayed fruit of an immaculate hymen that is not to be fecund until the end of time—but who, at the consummation of the ages, will rejuvenate the world, affranchise it from death, vanquish Ahriman, terminate the struggle between good and evil, purify hell and fill it full with glory. Then the dead shall rise and immortality be universal.
[Footnote 11: Zamyad Yasht. xix. 89 sq.]
Zoroaster is obviously mythical. The Buddha is also. But precisely as the Buddhist scriptures exist, so also do the Zoroastrian. They do more. Frequently they enlighten, occasionally they exalt. Written in gold on perfumed leather, the original edition, limited to two copies, was so sacred that it was sullied if seen. Burned with the palace of Persepolis—which Alexander, the Great Sinner, in a drunken orgy, destroyed—only fragments of the fargards remain. These tell of creation, effected in six epochs, and of a pairi-daeza.
Delitzsch voluminously asked: Wo lag das Paradies? There it is. There is the primal paradise. In it Ormuzd put Mashya, the first man, and Mashyana, the first woman, whom Ahriman, in the form of a serpent, seduced. Thereafter ensued the struggle in which all have or will participate, one that, extending beyond the limits of the visible world, arrays seasons and spirits and the senses of man in a conflict of good and evil that can end only when, from the depths of the dawn, radiant in the vermillion sky, Coshyos, hero of the resurrection, triumphantly appears.
The parallel between this romance and subsequent poetry is curious. In Chaldea, before the fargards were, the story of Creation, of Eden, and of the fall had been told. In Egypt, before the Avesta was written, the resurrection and the life were known. Similar legends and prospects may or may not represent an autonomous development of Iranian thought. The successors of the problematic Zarathrustra, the line of magi who wrote and taught in his name, may have gathered the tales and theories elsewhere. In the creed which they instituted there is a trinity. India had one, Egypt another, Babylonia a third. Babylonia had even three of them. But in Mithra, Iran had a redeemer that no other creed possessed. In Coshyos was a saviour, virgin born, who nowhere else was imagined. In Mara, Buddhism had a Satan. The Persian Ahriman is Satan himself. Babylon had angels and cherubs. In Iran there were guardian angels, there were archangels with flaming swords, there were fairies, there were goblins, the celestial, the poetic, the demoniac combined. Zoroasterism may or may not have had a past, it is perhaps evident that it had a future.
An inscription chiselled in the red granite of Ekbatana describes Ormuzd as creator of heaven and earth. In the Veda the description of Indra is identical. It was applied equally to Jahveh in Judea. But above Jahveh, Kabbalists discerned En Soph. Above Indra metaphysicians discovered Brahma. Similarly the Persian magi found that Ormuzd, however perfect, was not perfect enough and, from the depths of the ideal, they disclosed Zervan Akerene, the Eternal, from whom all things come and to whom all return.
[Footnote 12: R. V. x. 3. "Indra created heaven and earth."]
That conception is not reached in the Avesta. It is in the Bundahish, a work which, while much later, is based on earlier traditions, memories it may be, of antediluvian legends brought from the summits of upper Asia by Djemschid, the fabulous Abraham of the Persians of whom Zarathrustra was the Moses. But in default of the Eternal, the Avesta contains pictures of enduring charm.
Among these is a highly poetic pastel that displays the soul of man surprised in the first post-mortem ambuscades. There a figure, beautiful or revolting, cries at him: "I am thyself, the image of thine earthly life."
If that life has been beautiful, the soul of man, led by itself, is conducted to heaven. Otherwise, led still by itself, it descended to Drujo-demana, the House of Destruction, where, fed on insults and offal, it waited till its sins were destroyed. The waiting might be long. It was not everlasting. There was Mithra to intercede. Besides, evil was regarded but as a shadow on the surface of things. In the seventh epoch of creation, a period yet to be, the age which Coshyos is to usher, the shadow will fade. The wicked, purified of their wickedness, will be received among the blessed. Even Ahriman is to be converted. In that definite triumph of light over darkness is the resurrection and the life, life in Garo-demana, literally House of Hymns, a pre-Christian heaven, yet strictly Christian, where, to the trumpetings of angels, hosannahs are ceaselessly sung.
[Footnote 13: Yasht. xxviii. 10, xxxiv. 2.]
John—or, more exactly, his homonym—was perhaps acquainted with that idea, as he may have been with other theories that the Avesta contains. But the possibility is a detail. It is the idea that counts. Behind it is the unique character of this doctrine which, in eliminating evil, converted even Satan.
Satan seldom gets his due. He was the first artist and has remained the greatest. In creating evil he fashioned what is a luxury and a necessity combined. Evil is the counterpart of excellence. Both have their roots in nature. One could not be destroyed without the other. For every form of evil there is a corresponding form of good. Virtue would be meaningless were it not for vice. Honour would have no nobility were it not for shame. If ever evil be banished from the scheme of things, life could have no savour and joy no delight. Happiness and unhappiness would be synonymous terms.
It is for this reason that scoffers have mocked at heaven. Heaven may be very different from what has been fancied. But the theory of it, however unphilosophic, which Zoroasterism supplied, carried with it a creed not of tears but of smiles, a religion of lofty tolerance, one in which the demonology barely alarmed, for redemption was assured, and so fully that on earth melancholy was accounted a folly.
Though tolerant, it could be austere. Meanness, thanklessness, loquaciousness, jealousy, an unbecoming attire, evil thoughts, whatever is sensual, whatever is coarse, any promenade in mud actual or metaphorical, severely it condemned. Particularly was avarice censured. "There are many who do not like to give," Ormuzd, in the Vendidad, confided to Zarathrustra. The high god added: "Ahriman awaits them."
Ahriman awaited also the harlot who, elsewhere, at that period, was holy. Yet in lapses, confession and repentance sufficed for remission, provided that in praying for forgiveness the sinner forgave those that had sinned against him. If he lacked the time, were he dying, a priest might yet save him with words whispered in the ear. That was the extreme unction, hardly administrable, however, in case of wilful omission of the darun, which was communion.
This sacrament, the most mystic of the Church, was observed by the Incas, who also confessed, also atoned, who, like the Buddhists, were baptized, but who, like the Persians, worshipped the sun and, with perhaps a finer instinct of what the beautiful truly is, worshipped too the rainbow.
[Footnote 14: Garcilasso: Commentarios reales.]
Huraken, the winged and feathered serpent-god of the Toltecs, was adored in temples that upheld a cross. The Incas lacked that symbol. But they had a Satan. They had also the expectation of a saviour, belief in whom could alone have consoled for the advent of Pizarro. Over what highways of sea or sky, the living Word, which Ormuzd spoke, reached them, there has been no somnambulist of history to divine. But in the splendour that Cuzco was, in the golden temples of the town of gold, along the scarlet lanes where sacred peacocks strolled and girls more sacred still—vestals whom Pizarro's soldiers raped—in that City of the Sun, the Word re-echoed. The mystery of it, reported back to the Holy Office, was declared an artifice of the devil.
Less mysteriously, through the obvious vehicle of cognate speech, it reached the Norse, stirred the scalds, who repeated it in the Eddie sagas. Loki and his inferior fiends are, as there represented, quite as black as Ahriman and his cohorts. The conflict of good and evil is almost as fully dire. But Odin is a colourless reflection of Ormuzd. The aesir, the angels of the Scandinavian sky, are paler than the izeds. The figure of Baldr, the redeemer, faints beside that of Mithra. Valhalla, though perhaps less fatiguing than Garo-demana, was more trite in its wassails than the latter in its hymns.
What these abstractions lacked was not the Logos but the light. However brilliantly the Iranian sun might glow, in the sullen north its rays were lost. The mists, obscuring it, made Valhalla dim and set the gods in twilight. It stirred the scalds to runes but not to inspiration. There is none in the Eddas. Nor was there any in the Nibelungen, until the light, almost extinct, burst suddenly in the flaming scores of Wagner.
Transformed by ages and by man, yet lifted at last from their secular slumber, the Persian myths achieved there their Occidental apotheosis, and, it may be, on steps of song, mounted to the ideal where Zervan Akerene muses.
"I am all that is, has been and shall be. No mortal has lifted my veil."
That pronouncement, graven on the statue of Isis, confounded Egypt, condemning her mysteriously for some sin, anterior and unknown, to ignorance of the divine, leaving her, in default of revelation, to worship what she would, jackals, hyenas, cats, hawks, the ibis; beasts and birds. Yet to the people, whose minds were as naked as their bodies, and who, in addition, were slaves, there must have been something very superior in the lords of the desert and the air. Obviously they were wise. Among them were some that knew in advance the change of the seasons. Others, indifferent to man and independent of him, migrated over highways known but to them. The senses of all were keyed to vibrations. They heard the inaudible, saw the invisible, and, though they had a language of their own, when questioned never replied. To slaves, clearly they were gods.
Not to the priests, however. They knew better. They but affected belief in divinities that had perhaps emigrated from the enigmas of geography and who were polychrome as the skies they had crossed. Fashioned in stone, these gods were dog-headed or longly beaked. Some, though, were alive. In temples were saurians on purple carpets, bulls draped with spangled shawls, hawks on shimmering perches, that little gold chains detained. Among gods of this character, the Sphinx, in its role of eternal spectre, must have seemed the ideal. Others were nearly sublime. Particularly there was Ausar.
Ausar, called commonly Osiris, died for man. In an attempt to preserve harmony, in a struggle with the real spirit of actual evil which discord is, Osiris was slain. Being a god he arose from the dead. The latter thereafter he judged.
The people knew little, if anything, concerning him. They knew little if anything at all. They had a menagerie and a full consciousness of their own insignificance. That sufficed. In all of carnal Africa, the priest alone possessed what then was truth and of which a part is theology now.
Egypt, in which the evangels began, millennia before they were written, knew no genesis. Her history, sculptured in hieroglyphics, was cut on pages of stone. It awoke in the falling of cataracts. It ended with simoons in sand. The books that tell of it are pyramids, obelisks, necropoles; constructions colossal and enigmatic; the granite epitaphs of finite things. To-day, in the shattered temples, from which all other gods are gone, one divinity still lingers. It is Silence.
In Iran sorrow was a folly. In Egypt speech was a sin. Apis could bellow, Anubis bark; man might not even stutter. It was in the submission of dumb obedience that the palpable eternities of the pyramids were piled. Yet in that darkness was light, in silence was the Word. But to behold and to hear was possible only in sanctuaries reserved to the elect. The gods too had their castes. The lowest only were fellahin fit to worship. On the lips of the others the priests held always a finger. Crocodiles were less distant, hyenas more approachable, and the Egyptian, barred from the divine, found it on earth. He prayed to scorpions, sang hymns to scarabs, coaxed the jackal with psalms; with dances he placated the ibis. It was ridiculous but human. He too would have a part, however insensate, in the dreams of all mankind.
Yet, had he looked not down but up, he would have lifted at least a fringe of the Isian veil. The sun, taken as a symbol only, the symbol of life, death, and resurrection—phases which its rising, setting, and return suggest—was the deity, the one really existing god. Nominally, figuratively, even concretely, there were others; a whole host, a hierarchy vaster than the Aryans knew; a great crowd of divinities less grandiose than gaudy, that swarmed in space, strolled through the dawns and dusk, thronged the temples, eyed the quick, confronted the dead. They were but appearances, mere masks, expressions, hypostases, eidolons of Ra.
Ra was the celestial pharaoh. But not originally. Originally he was part of a triad which itself was part of a triple trinity. Ra then was but one divinity among many gods. These ultimately lost themselves in him so indistinguishably that there are litanies in which the names of seventy-five of them are used in addressing him. Regarded as the unbegotten begetter of the first beginning, he succeeded in achieving the incomprehensible. He became triune and remained unique. He was Osiris, he was Isis, he was Horus. At once father, mother, and son, he fecundated, conceived, produced, and was.
From him gods and goddesses emanated in sidereal fireworks that illuminated the heavens, dazzled the earth, then melted into each other, faded away or, occasionally, flared afresh in a glare dispelling and persistent. Among these latter was Amon. Glimmering primarily in provincial obscurity at Thebes, the thin fire of his shrine mounted spirally to Ra, fused its flames with his, expanding and uniting so inseparably with them, that the two became one. Amon means hidden; Amon-Ra, the hidden light.
In the infinite, time is not. In heaven there is no chronology. The date of any god's accession to supremacy there is, consequently, apart from mortal ken. None the less that of Amon-Ra is known. At the beginning of the earthly reign of Amonhoteph III., an edict, scrupulously executed throughout Egypt, determined, on monument and wall, the substitution of Amon-Ra's name for that of previously superior gods.
The pharaohnate of Amonhoteph began about 1500 B.C. It is from that period, therefore, that dates the divinity's accession to the pharaohnate of the skies. There is, or should be, a reason for all things. There is one for that. Amonhoteph regarded himself as Amon's son. It was one of the traits of the pharaohs, as it was also of the Incas, to believe, or at least to assert, that their fathers, therefore themselves, were divine. As a consequence of the idea they prayed to their own images and likened their palaces to inns.
Originally foreigners, invaders from Akkad or Sumer, the pharaohs first conquered, then surprised. It was they that embanked the Nile, turned morasses into meadows and piled the pyramids. More exactly, it was by their commands that these miracles were contrived. To the neolithic people whom they subjugated their divinity was clear. So elsewhere was that of the kings of Akkad. Like them, like the Incas, the pharaohs were of the solar race and so remained from the first dynasty to the Greek conquest, when Alexander, to legitimatize his sovereignty, had himself acknowledged as Amon's son.
The ceremony had its precedents. An inscription in eulogy of the great Rameses states that Amon, when possessing the pharaohs august mother, engendered him as a god. On a wall of the Temple of Luxor an earlier inscription sets forth that the god of Thebes, incarnating himself in the person of Thotmes IV., appeared in his divine form to the pharaoh's queen, who, at sight of his beauty, conceived.
It was therefore not in the beast alone, but in man, that divinity revealed itself in Egypt. That in Judea a similar revelation should have been withheld until after the Roman occupation is hardly explicable on the theory, general among scholars, that Moses is not a historical character, for an identical revelation had been received in Babylonia where Israel twice loitered. Moreover, a curious parallelism exists between post-Mosaic prophecy and Egyptian clairvoyance. In a papyrus of the Thotmes III. epoch—about 1600 B.C.—it is written: "The people of the age of the son of man shall rejoice and establish his name forever. They shall be removed from evil and the wicked shall humble their mouths." In commenting the passage an Egyptologist noted that the words son of man are a literal translation of the original si-n-sa. But already in Akkad a similar prophecy had been uttered. It may be, therefore, that it was in Babylon that Israel first heard it.
[Footnote 15: Sayce: Guifford Lectures.]
[Footnote 16: Jastrow: The Dibbara Epic.]
The doctrine of a trinity, common to almost all antique beliefs, was a blasphemy to the Jews. The belief in immortality, also prevalent, though less general, was to them an abomination. The miracle of divine descent they were perhaps too practical to accept. There was no room in their creed for the dogma of future rewards and punishments, and that, together with other articles of the Christian faith, Egypt's elect professed.
The slaves and mongrels that constituted the bulk of the population were not instructed in these things and would not have understood them if they had been. In Babylonia education was compulsory. In Egypt it was an art, a gift, mysterious in itself, reserved to the few. To the Egyptian, religion consisted in paraded symbols, in avenues of sphinxes, in forests of obelisks, in pharaohs seated colossally before the temple doors, in inscriptions that told indistinguishably of theomorphic men and anthropomorphic gods, and in a belief in the divinity of bulls and hawks.
These latter had their uses. In transformations elsewhere effected, the sacred bull may have become a golden calf, the golden hawk a sacred dove. In Egypt they were otherwise serviceable. The worship of them, of other birds and beasts, of insects and vipers as well, ecclesiastically indorsed, hid the myth of metempsychosis.
Of that the people knew nothing. When they died they ceased to be. Even mummification, usually supposed to have been general, was not for them. Down to an epoch relatively late it was a privilege reserved to priests and princes. When the commonalty were embalmed it was with the opulent design that, in a future existence, they should serve their masters as they had in this. Embalming was a preparation for the Judgment Day. Of that the people knew nothing either. It was even unlawful that concerning it they should be apprised.
In the Louvre is a statue of Ptah-meh, high priest of Memphis. On it are the significant words: "Nothing was hidden from him." A passage of Zosimus states that what was hidden it was illicit to reveal, except, Jamblicus explained, to those whose discretion a long novitiate had assured. To such only was disclosed the secret that life is death in a land of darkness, and death is life in a land of light.
It was because of this that the pharaohs seated themselves colossally before the temple doors. It was because of it that their palaces were inns and their tombs were homes. It was because of it that their sepulchres were built for eternity and the tenements of their souls placed there embalmed. It was because of this that the triumphs of men were inscribed in the halls of the gods. Instead of seeking to be absorbed, it was their own inextinguishable individuality that they endeavoured to assert. Tombs, tenements, triumphs, these all were preparations for the Land of Light.
The land was Alu, the asphodel meadows of the celestial Nile that wound through the Milky Way. To reach it a passport, vise'd by Osiris, sufficed. The first draft of that passport was held to have been written on tablets of alabaster, in letters of lapis lazuli, by an eidolon of Ra, who, known in Egypt as Thoth, elsewhere was Hermes Thrice the Greatest.
At Memphis, Hermes was regarded as representing the personification of divine wisdom, or, more exactly perhaps, the inventive power of the human mind. A little library of forty-two books—which a patricist saw, but not being initiate could not read—was attributed to him. The books contained the entire hieratic belief. Fragments that are held to have survived in an extant Greek novel are obviously Egyptian, but as obviously Alexandrine and neo-platonic. In the editio princeps Pheidias is mentioned. Mention of Michel Angelo would have been less anachronistic. The original books are gone, all of them, forever, perhaps, save one, chapters of which are as old as the fourth dynasty and, it may be, are still older. Pyramid texts of the fifth dynasty show that there then existed what to-day is termed The Book of the Dead, a copy of which, put in a mummy's arms, was a talisman for the soul in the Court of Amenti, a passport thence to the Land of Light.
[Footnote 17: Clemens Alexandrinos: Stromata vi.]
"There is no book like it, man hath not spoken it, earth hath not heard it"—very truthfully it recites of itself. One copy, known as the Louvre Papyrus, presents the Divine Comedy, as primarily conceived and illustrated by an archaic Dore. Text and vignettes display the tribunal where the souls of the dead are judged.
In the foreground is an altar. Adjacent is a figure, half griffon, half chimera, the Beast of Amenti, perhaps too of the Apocalypse. Beyond, an ape poises a pair of scales. For balance is an ostrich feather. Above are the spirits of fate. At the left Osiris is enthroned. From a balcony his assessors lean. At the right is the entrance. There the disembodied, ushered by Truth, appears and, in homages and genuflections, affirms negatively the decalogue; protesting before the Master of Eternity that there is no evil in him; praying the dwellers in Amenti that he may cross the dark way; declaring to each that he has not committed the particular sin over which they preside.
"O Eater of Spirits gone out of the windows of Alu! O Master of the Faces!" he variously calls. "O the One who associates the Splendours! O the Glowing Feet gone out of the Night! I did not lie. I did not kill. I have not been anxious. I did not talk abundantly. I made no one weep. No heart have I harmed."
The assessors listen. "I have not been anxious. I made no one weep. No heart have I harmed." These abstentions, graces now, were virtues then, and so efficacious that they perhaps sufficed, as rightly they should, for absolution.
But while the assessors listen and Osiris looks gravely on, no one accuses. It is conscience in its nakedness, conscience exposed there where all may see it, where for the first time perhaps it truly sees itself, and seeing realizes what there is in it of evil and what of good, it is that which protests.
Still the assessors listen. Orthodoxy on the part of the respondent is to them a minor thing. What they require is that he shall have been merciful to his fellow creatures, true to himself. Only when it is proven that he has done his duty to man, is he permitted to show that he has done his duty to gods.
The appeal continues: "I fed the hungry, clothed the naked, I gave water to them that thirsted. O ye that dwell in Amenti! I am unpolluted, I am pure."
But is it true? The scales decide. The heart of the respondent is weighed. If heavy, out it is cast to pass with him again through life's infernal circles. But, if light as the feather in the balance and therefore equal with truth, it is restored to the body, which then resurrects and, in the bark of the Sun, sails the celestial Nile to Ra and the Land of Light.
That singer gone out of Amenti, actually, like Osiris, rose from the dead. The picture which a papyrus forty centuries old presents, is the dream of a vision that Michel Angelo displayed, a sketch for a papal fresco. Such indeed was the conformity between the underlying conceptions, that, at almost the first monition, Isis, whose veil no mortal had raised, lifted it from her black breast and suckled there the infant Jesus. Then, presently, in temples that had teemed, the silence of the desert brooded. The tide of life retreated, an entire theogony vanished, exorcised, both of them, by the sign of the cross.
At sight of the unimagined emblem, a priesthood who in secret sanctuaries had evolved nearly all but that, flung themselves into crypts beneath, pulled the walls down after them, burying unembalmed the arcana of a creed whose spirit still is immortal.
In Egypt, then, only tombs and necropoles survived. But it is legendary that, in the solitudes of the Thebaid, dispossessed eidolons of Ra, appearing in the shape of chimeras, terrified anchorites, to whom, with vengeful eyes, they indicated their ruined altars.
The inscriptions of Assyrian kings have, many of them, the monotony of hell. Made of boasts and shrieks, they recite the capture and sack of cities; the torrents of blood with which, like wool, the streets were dyed; the flaming pyramids of prisoners; the groans of men impaled; the cries of ravished women.
The inscriptions are not all infernal. Those that relate to Assurbanipal—vulgarly, Sandanapallos,—are even ornate. But Assurbanipal, while probably fiendish and certainly crapulous, was clearly literary besides. From the spoil of sacked cities this bibliofilou took libraries, the myths and epics of creation, sacred texts from Eridu and Ur, volumes in the extinct tongues of Akkad and Sumer, first editions of the Book of God.
These, re-edited in cuneiform and kept conveniently on the second floor of his palace, fell with Nineveh, where, until recently recovered, for millennia they lay. Additionally, from shelves set up in the days of Khammurabi—the Amraphel of Genesis—Nippur has yielded ghostly tablets and Borsippa treasuries of Babylonian ken.
These, the eldest revelations of the divine, are the last that man has deciphered. The altars and people that heard them first, the marble temples, the ivory palaces, the murderous throngs, are dust. The entire civilization from which they came has vanished. Yet, traced with a wooden reed on squares of clay, are flights of little arrows, from which, magically, it all returns. Miraculously with these books a world revives. Fashioned, some of them, at an epoch that in biblical chronology is anterior to man, they tell of creation, of the serpent, the fall and the deluge. At the gates of paradise you see man dying, poisoned by the tree of life. Before Genesis was, already it had been written.
In the Chaldean Book of the Beginnings creation was effected in successive acts. According to the epic of it, humanity's primal home was a paradise where ten impressive persons—the models, it may be, of antediluvian patriarchs—reigned interminably, agreeably also, finally sinfully as well. In punishment a deluge swept them away. From the flood there escaped one man who separated a mythical from an heroic age. In the latter epoch, beings descended from demons built Nineveh and Babylon; organized human existence; invented arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and the calendar; counted the planets; numbered the days of the year, divided them into months and weeks; established the Sabbath; decorated the skies with the signs of the zodiac, instituting, in the interim, colleges of savants and priests. These speculated on the origin of things, attributed it to spontaneous generation, the descent of man to evolution, entertaining the vulgar meanwhile with tales of gods and ghosts.
[Footnote 18: Lenormant: Les Origines. Schrader: Die Keilenschriften. Smith: Chaldean Genesis.]
The cosmological texts now available were not written then. They are drawn from others that were. But there is a vignette that probably is of that age. It represents a man and a woman stretching their hands to a tree. Behind the woman writhes a snake. The tree, known as the holy cedar of Eridu, the fruit of which stimulated desire, is described in an epic that recites the adventures of Gilgames.
Gilgames was the national hero of Chaldea. The story of his loves with Ishtar is repeated in the Samson and Delilah myth. Ishtar, described in an Assyrian inscription as Our Lady of Girdles, was the original Venus, as Gilgames was perhaps the prototype of Hercules. The legend of his labours is represented on a seal of Sargon of Akkad, a king who ruled fifty-seven hundred years ago.
In the epic, Gilgames, betrayed by Ishtar, tried to find out how not to die. In trying he reached a garden, guarded by cherubim, where the holy cedar was. There he learned that one being only could teach him to be immortal, and that being, Adra-Khasis, had been translated to the Land of the Silver Sky. Adra-Khasis, was the Chaldean Noah. Gilgames sought him and the story of the deluge follows. But with a difference. On the seventh day, Adra-Khasis released from his ark a dove that returned, finally a raven that did not. Then he looked out, and looking, shrieked. Every one had perished.
Noah was less emotional, or, if equally compassionate, the fact is not recited. Apart from that detail and one other, the story of the flood is common to all folklore. Even the Aztecs knew of it. Probably it originated in the matrix of nations which the table-land of Asia was. But only in Chaldean myth, and subsequently in Hebrew legend, was the flood ascribed to sin.
Gilgames' quest, meanwhile, could not have been wholly vain. In an archaic inscription it is stated that the city of Erech was built in olden times by the deified Gilgames.
[Footnote 19: Proc. S. B. A. xvi. 13-15.]
How old the olden times may have been is conjectural. Modern science has put the advent of man sixty million years ago. Chaldean chronology is less spacious. But its traditions stretched back a hundred thousand years. The traditions were probably imaginary. Even so, in the morning of the world, already there were ancient cities. There was Nippur, one of whose gods, El Lil, was lord of ghosts. There was Eridu, where Ea was lord of man. There was Ur, where Sin was lord of the moon. There were other divinities. There was Enmesara, lord of the land whence none return, and Makhir, god of dreams.
There were many more like the latter, so many that their sanctuaries made the realm a holy land, but one which, administratively, was an aggregate of principalities that Sargon, nearly six thousand years ago, combined. Ultimately, from sheer age, the empire tottered. It would have fallen had not Khammurabi surged. What Sargon made, Khammurabi solidified. Between their colossal figures two millennia stretch. These giants are distinct. None the less, across the ages they seem to fuse, suggestively, not together, but into another person.
Sargon has descended through time clothed in a little of the poetry which garments nation builders. But the poetry is not a mantle for the imaginary. In the British Museum is a marble ball that he dedicated to a god. Paris has the seal of his librarian. Copies of his annals are extant. In these it is related that, when a child, his mother put him in a basket of rushes and set him adrift on the Euphrates. Presently he was rescued. Afterward he became a leader of men.
[Footnote 20: Collection de Clerq. pl. 5, no. 46.]
[Footnote 21: Cuneiform Insc. W. A. iv. 34.]
Khammurabi was also a leader. He was a legislator as well. Sargon united principalities, Khammurabi their shrines. From one came the nation, from the other the god. It is in this way that they fuse. To the composite, if it be one, history added a heightening touch.
The Khammurabi legislation came from Bel, who, originally, was a local sun-god of Nippur. There he was regarded as the possessor of the Chaldean Urim and Thummin, the tablets of destiny with which he cast the fates of men. In the mythology of Babylonia these tablets were stolen by the god of storms, who kept them in his thunder fastness. Among the forked flames of the lightning there they were recovered by Bel, who revealed the law to Khammurabi.
The theophany is perhaps similar to that of Sinai. But perhaps, too, it is better attested. A diorite block, found at Susa in 1902, has the law engraved on it. On the summit, a bas-relief displays the god disclosing the statutes to the king.
There are other analogies. Sinai was named after Sin, who, though but a moon-god, was previously held supreme for the reason that, in primitive Babylonia, the lunar year preceded the solar. The sanctuary of the moon-god was Ur, of which Abraham was emir. He was more, perhaps. Sarratu, from which Sarai comes, was the title of the moon-goddess. In Genesis, Sarai is Abraham's wife. Abraham is a derivative of Aburamu, which was one of the moon's many names.
[Footnote 22: Sayce: Guifford Lectures.]
Among these, one in particular has since been identified with Jahveh. In addition, a clay tablet of the age of Khammurabi, now in the British Museum, has on it:
That flight of arrows, being interpreted, means: Jave ilu, Jahveh is god.
[Footnote 23: Delitzch: Babel und Bibel.]
Other texts show that a title of Bel was Masu, a word that letter for letter is the same as the Hebrew Mosheh or Moses.
[Footnote 24: Records of the Past, i. 91.]
It is in this way that Sargon and Khammurabi fuse. Meanwhile the title Masu, or hero, was not confined to Bel. It was given also to Marduk, the tutelary god of Babylon, from whom local monotheism proceeded.
That monotheism, in appearance relatively modern, actually was archaic. The Chaldean savants knew of but one really existing god. To them, all others were his emanations. The deus exsuperantissimus was represented by a single stroke of the reed, a sign that in its vagueness left him formless and incommunicable, therefore unworshipable, hence without a temple, unless Bab-ili, Babylon, the Gate of God, may be so construed.
The name of the deity, fastidiously concealed from the vulgar, was, in English, One. Not after, or beneath, or above, but before him, a trinity swung like a screen. From it, for pendant, another trinity dangled. From the latter fell a third. Below these glories were the coruscations of an entire nation of inferior gods. The latter, as well as the former, all of them, were but the fireworks of One. He alone was. The rest, like Makhir, were gods of dream. To the savants, that is; to the magi and seers. To the people the sidereal triads and planetary divinities throned in the Silver Sky augustly real, equally august, and in that celestial equality remained, until Khammurabi gave precedence to Bel, who as Marduk, Bel or Baal Marduk, Lord Marduk, became supreme.
Before Bel, then, the other gods faded as the Elohim did before Jahveh, with the possible difference that there were more to fade—sixty-five thousand, Assurnatsipal, in an inscription, declared. Over that army Bel-Marduk acquired the title, perhaps significant, of Bel-Kissat, Lord of Hosts. Yet it was less as a usurper than as an absorber that the ascension was achieved. Bel but mounted above his former peers and from the superior height drew their attributes to himself. It was sacrilege none the less. As such it alienated the clergy and enraged the plebs. Begun under Khammurabi and completed under Nabonidos, it was the reason why, during the latter's reign, orthodox Babylon received Cyrus not as a foe but a friend.
From the spoliation, meanwhile, no nebulousness resulted. Bel was distinctly anthropomorphic. His earthly plaisance was the Home of the Height, a seven-floored mountain of masonry, a rainbow pyramid of enamelled brick. At the top was a dome. There, in a glittering chamber, on a dazzling couch, he appeared. Elsewhere, in the vermillion recesses of a neighbouring chapel, that winged bulls guarded and frescoed monsters adorned, once a year he also appeared, and, above the mercy seat, on an alabaster throne, sat, or was supposed to sit, contemplating the tablets of destiny, determining when men should die.
To the Greeks, the future lay in the lap of the gods. To the Babylonians the gods alone possessed it, as alone also they possessed the present and the past. They had all time as all men have their day. That day was here and it was brief. Death was a descent to Aralu, the land whence none return, a region of the underworld, called also Shualu, where the departed were nourished on dust. Dust they were and to dust they returned.
Extinction was not a punishment or even a reward, it was a law. Punishment was visited on the transgressor here, as here also the piety of the righteous was rewarded. When death came, just and unjust fared alike. The Aryan and Egyptian belief in immortality had no place in this creed, and consequently it had none either in Israel, where Sheol was a replica of Shualu. To the Semites of Babylonia and Kanaan, the gods alone were immortal, and immortal beings would be gods. Man could not become divine while his deities were still human.
Exceptionally, exceptional beings such as Gilgames and Adra-Khasis might be translated to the land of the Silver Sky, as Elijah was translated to heaven, but otherwise the only mortals that could reach it were kings, for a king, in becoming sovereign, became, ipso facto, celestial. As such, ages later, Alexander had himself worshipped, and it was in imitation of his apotheosis that the subsequent Caesars declared themselves gods. Yet precisely as the latter were man-made deities, so the Babylonian Baalim were very similar to human kings.
For their hunger was cream, oil, dates, the flesh of ewe lambs. For their nostrils was the perfume of prayers and of psalms; for their passions the virginity of girls. Originally the first born of men were also given them, but while, with higher culture, that sacrifice was abolished, the sacred harlotry, over which Ishtar presided, remained. Judaism omitted to incorporate that, but in Kanaan, which Babylonia profoundly influenced, it was general and, though reviled by Israel, was tempting even, and perhaps particularly, to Solomon.
[Footnote 25: 1 Kings xi. 5. "Solomon went after Ashtoreth."]
The latter's temple was similar to Bel's, from which the Hebraic ritual, terms of the Law, the Torah itself, may have proceeded, as, it may be, the Sabbath did also. On a tablet recovered from the library of Assurbanipal it is written: "The seventh day is a fast day, a lucky day, a sabbatuv"—literally, a day of rest for the heart.
[Footnote 26: Cuneiform Insc. W. A. ii. 32.]
In Aralu that day never ceased; the dead there, buried, Herodotos said, in honey, were unresurrectably dead, dead to the earth, dead to the Silver Sky. Yet though that was an article of faith, through a paradox profoundly poetic, there was a belief equally general, in ghosts, in hobgoblins, in men with the faces of ravens, in others with the bodies of scorpions, and in the post-mortem persistence of girls that died pure.
These latter, in searching for someone whom they might seduce, must have afterward wandered into the presence of St. Anthony. Perhaps, too, it was they who, as succubi, emotionalized the dreams of monks. Yet, in view of Ishtar, they could not have been very numerous in Babylon where, however, they had a queen, Lilit, the Lilith of the Talmud, Adam's vampire wife, who conceived with him shapes of sin. In these also the Babylonians believed, and naively they represented them in forms so revolting that the sight of their own image alarmed them away.
From these shapes or, more exactly, from sin itself, it was very properly held that all diseases came. Medicine consequently was a branch of religion. The physician was a priest. He asked the patient: Have you shed your neighbour's blood? Have you approached your neighbour's wife? Have you stolen your neighbour's garment? Or is it that you have failed to clothe the naked? According to the responses he prescribed.
[Footnote 27: IV. R. 50-53. Cf. Delitzch: op. cit.]
But the priest who was a physician was also a wizard. He peeped and muttered, or, more subtly, provided enchanted philters in which simples had been dissolved. These devices failing, there was a series of incantations, the Ritual of the Whispered Charm, in which the most potent conjuration was the incommunicable name. To that all things yielded, even the gods. But like the Shem of the Jews, it was probably never wholly uttered, because, save to the magi, not wholly known. In the formulae of the necromancers it is omitted, though in practice it may have been pronounced.
[Footnote 28: Lenormant: La Magie chez les Chaldeens.]
Even that is doubtful. A knowledge of it conferred powers similar to those that have been attributed to the Christ, and which the Sadducees ascribed to his knowledge of the tetragrammation. A knowledge of the Babylonian Shem was as potent. It served not only men but gods. Ishtar, for purposes of her own, wanted to get into Aralu. In the recovered epic of her descent, imperiously she demanded entrance:
Porter, open thy door. Open thy door that I may enter. If thou dost not open thy door, I will attack it, I will break down the bars, I will cause the dead to rise and devour the living.
[Footnote 29: Records of the Past.]
Ishtar was admitted. But Aralu was the land whence none return. Once in, she could not get out until, ultimately, the incommunicable name was uttered. The epic says that, in the interim, there was on earth neither love nor loving. In possible connection with which incantations have been found, deprecating "the consecrated harlots with rebellious hearts that have abandoned the holy places."
[Footnote 30: Lenormant: op. cit.]
In addition to the Ritual of the Whispered Charm, there was the Illumination of Bel, an encyclopaedia of astrology in seventy-two volumes which the suburban library of Borsippa contained. During the captivity many Jews must have gone there. In the large light halls they were free to read whatever they liked, religion, history, science, the romance of all three. The books, catalogued and numbered, were ranged on shelves. One had but to ask. The service was gratis.
Babylon, then, prismatic and learned, was the most respectable place on earth. For ten thousand years man had there consulted the stars. But though respectable, it was also equivocal. During a period equally long—or brief—the girls of the city had loosed their girdles for Ishtar and yielded themselves to anyone, stranger or neighbour, that asked. In the service of the goddess their brothers occasionally feigned that they too were girls. Meanwhile, from the summit of a seven-floored pyramid, mortals contemplated the divine.
Beneath was cosmopolis, the golden cup that, in the words of Jeremiah, made the whole world drunk. Seated immensely on the twin banks of the Euphrates—banks that bridges above and tunnels beneath interjoined—Babylon more nearly resembled a walled nation than a fortified town. Within the gates, in an enclosure ample and noble, a space that exceeded a hundred square miles, an area sufficient for Paris quintupled, observatories and palaces rose above the roar of human tides that swept in waves through the wide boulevards, surged over the quays, flooded the gardens, eddied through the open-air lupanar, circled among statues of gods and bulls, poured out of the hundred gates, or broke against the polychrome walls and seethed back in the avenues, along which, to the high flourishes of military bands, passed armed hoplites, merchants in long robes, cloaked bedouins, Kelts in bearskins, priests in spangled dresses, tiara'd princes, burdened slaves, kings discrowned, furtive forms—prostitutes, pederasts, human wolves, vermin, sheep—the flux and reflux of the gigantic city.
In that ocean, the captive Jews, if captive they were, rolled, lost as a handful of salt spilt in the sea. Yet, from the depths, a few had swum up and, filtering adroitly, had reached the dignity of high place. One was pontiff. Others were viceroys. In addition to being pontiff, Daniel was chancellor of the realm. Ezra was rector of the university. As pontiff of a college of wizards, Daniel may have known the future. As Minister of Wisdom, Ezra may have known, what is quite as difficult, the past. For the moment there was but the present. Over it ruled Belshazzar.
Yet, ruler though he was, there were powers potenter than his own: Baalim, outraged at the elevation of a parvenu god; a priesthood consequently disaffected; and, without, at the gates, the foe.
It would have been interesting to have assisted at the final festival when, beneath cyclopean arches, in the sunlight of clustered candelabra, amid the glitter of gold and white teeth, among the fair sultanas that were strewn like flowers through the throne-room of the imperial court, Belshazzar lay, smiling, amused rather than annoyed at the impudent menace of Cyrus.
Babylon was impregnable. He knew it. But the subtle Jews, the indignant gods, the alienated priests to whom the Persian was a redeemer, of these he did not think. Daniel had indeed warned him and, vaguely, he had promised something which he had since forgot.
Beyond, an orchestra was playing. Further yet, columns upheld a ceiling so lofty that it was lost. On the adjacent wall was a frieze of curious and chimerical beasts. Belshazzar was looking at them. In their dumb stupidity was a suggestion of the foe. The suggestion amused. Smiling still he raised a cup. Abruptly, before it could reach his lips, it fell with a clatter on the lapis lazuli of the floor beneath. Before him, on that wall, beneath those beasts, the necromancy of the priesthood had projected an armless, fluidic hand that mounted, descended, tracing with a forefinger the three luminous hierograms of his doom.
The story, a little drama, was, with the tale concerning Nebuchadnezzar, that of Daniel, and other novels quite as strange, evolved long later in the wide leisures of Jerusalem. The fluidic hand did not appear. Even had it zigzagged there was no Belshazzar to frighten.
Only the doom was real. Cyrus was clothed with it. To the trumpetings of heralds and the sheen of angels' wings, triumphantly he came. Then, presently, by royal decree, the Jews, manumitted and released, retraced their steps, burdened with spoil; with the lore of two distinct civilizations, which, fusing in the great square letters of the Pentateuch, was to become the poetry of all mankind.
Babylon, ultimately, with her goblin gods and harlot goddess, sank into her own Aralu. Nourished there on dust, Lilit, with the sister vampires of eternal night, fed on her.
A camel's-hair tent set in the desert was the first cathedral, the earliest cloister of latest ideals. Set not in one desert merely but in two, in the infinite of time as well as in that of space, there was about it a limitlessness in which the past could sleep, the future awake, and into which all things, the human, the divine, gods and romance, could enter.
The human came first. Then the gods. Then romance. The divine was their triple expansion. It was an after growth, in other lands, that tears had watered. In the desert it was unimagined. Only the gods had been conceived.
The gods were many and yet but one. Though plural they were singular. The subjects of impersonal verbs, they represented the pronoun in such expressions as: it rains; it thunders. "It" was Elohim. Already among nomad Semites monotheism had begun. Yet with this distinction. Each tribe had separate sets of Its that guided, guarded, and scourged. Omnipresent but not omnipotent, any humiliation to the family that they had in charge humiliated them. It made them angry, therefore vindictive, consequently unjust. It may be that they were not very ethical. Perhaps the bedouins were not either. Man fashions his god in proportion to his intelligence. That of the nomad was slender. He lacked, what the Aryan shepherd possessed, the ability for mythological invention. The defect was due to his speech, which did not lend itself to the deification of epithets. Even had it done so, it is probable that his mode of life would have rendered the paraphernalia of polytheism impossible. People constantly moving from place to place could not be cumbered with idols. The Elohim were, therefore, a convenience for travellers and an unidolatrous monotheism a necessity which the absence of vehicles imposed. On the other hand, given every facility, it is presumable that the result would have been the same. Mythology is the mother of poetry. Idolatry is the father of art. Neither could appeal to a people to whom delicacy was an unknown god. Had it been known and a fetish, they could not have become the practical people that they are. Even then they were shrewd. Their Elohim might alarm but never delude. Israel was uncheatable even in dream.
Originally emigrants from Arabia, the nomads reached Syria, some directly, others circuitously, by way of Padan-Aram and across the Euphrates, whence perhaps their name of Ibrim or Hebrews—Those from beyond. In the journey Babel and Ur must have detained. These cities, with their culture relatively deep and their observatories equally high, became, in after days, a source of legend, of wonder, of hatred, perhaps of revelation as well.
At the time the nomads had no cosmogony or theories. The Chaldeans had both. There was a story of creation, another of antediluvian kings and of the punishment that overtook them. There was also a story of an emir of Ur, an old man who had benevolently killed an animal instead of his son. The story, like the others, must have impressed. In after years the old man became Abraham, a great person, who had conversed with the Elohim and whose descendants they were.
The story of creation also impressed. It was enlightening and comprehensible. The parallel theory of spontaneous generation and the progressive evolution of the species which the magi entertained, they probably never heard. Even otherwise it was too complex for minds as yet untutored. The fables alone appealed. Mentally compressed into portable shape, carried along, handed down, their origin afterward forgotten, they became the traditions of a nation, which, eminently conservative, preserved what it found, among other things the name, perhaps inharmonious, of Jhvh.
[Footnote 31: Renan: Histoire du peuple d'Israel. Kuenen: De Godsdienst van Israel.]
That name, since found on an inscription of Sargon, appears to have been the title of a local god of Sinai, whom the nomads may have identified with Elohim, particularly, perhaps, since he presided over thunder, the phenomenon that alarmed them most and which, in consequence, inspired the greatest awe. That awe they put into the name, the pronunciation of which, like the origin of their traditions, they afterward forgot. In subsequent rabbinical writings it became Shem, the Name; Shemhammephoresh, the Revealed Name, uttered but once a year, on the day of Atonement, by the high priest in the Holy of Holies. Mention of it by anyone else was deemed a capital offence, though, permissibly, it might be rendered El Shaddai, the Almighty. That term the Septuagint translated into [Greek: ho Kyrios], a Greek form, in the singular, of the Aramaic plural Adonai, which means Baalim, or sun lords.
That form the Vulgate gave as Dominus and posterior theology as God. The latter term, common to all Teutonic tongues, has no known meaning. It designates that which, to the limited intelligence of man, has been, and must be, incomprehensible. But the original term Jhvh, which, in the seventeenth century, was developed into Jehovah, yet which, the vowels being wholly conjectural, might have been developed into anything else, clearly appealed to wayfarers to whom Chaldean science was a book that remained closed until Nebuchadnezzar blew their descendants back into the miraculous Babel of their youth.
Meanwhile, apart from the name—now generally written Jahveh—apart too from the fables and the enduring detestation which the colossal city inspired, probably but one other thing impressed, and that was the observance of the Sabbath. To a people whose public works were executed by forced labour, such a day was a necessity. To vagrants it was not, and, though the custom interested, it was not adopted by them until their existence from nomad had become fixed.
At this latter period they were in Kanaan. Whether in the interval a tribe, the Beni-Israel, went down into Egypt, is a subject on which Continental scholarship has its doubts. The early life of the tribe's leader and legislator is usually associated with Rameses II., a pharaoh of the XIX. dynasty. But it has been found that incidents connected with Moses must apparently have occurred, if they occurred at all, at a period not earlier than the XXVI. dynasty, which constitutes a minimum difference of seven hundred years. Yet, in view of the decalogue, with its curious analogy to the negative confession in the Book of the Dead; in view also of a practice surgical and possibly hygienic which, customary among the Egyptians, was adopted by the Jews; in view, further, of ceremonies and symbols peculiarly Egyptian that were also absorbed, a sojourn in Goshen there may have been.
The spoiling of the Egyptians, a roguery on which Israel afterward prided herself, is a trait perhaps too typical to be lightly dismissed. On the other hand, if Moses were, which is at least problematic, and if, in addition to being, he was both the nephew of a pharaoh and the son-in-law of a priest, as such one to whom, in either quality, the arcana of the creed would be revealed, it becomes curious that nowhere in the Pentateuch is there any doctrine of a future life. Of the entire story, it may be that only the journey into the Sinaiatic peninsula is true, and of that there probably remained but tradition, on which history was based much later, by writers who had only surmises concerning the time and circumstances in which it occurred.
Yet equally with the roguery, Moses may have been. Seen through modern criticism his figure fades though his name persists. To that name the Septuagint tried to give an Egyptian flavour. In their version it is always [Greek: Mouses], a compound derived from the Egyptian mo, water, and uses, saved from, or Saved-from-the-water. Per contra, the Hebrew form Mosheh is, as already indicated, the same as the Babylonian Masu, a term which means at once leader and litterateur, in addition to being the cognomen of a god.
[Footnote 32: Josephus: Antiq. ii. 9.]
[Footnote 33: Sayce: The Religion of the Babylonians.]
Moses is said to have led his people out of bondage. He was the writer to whom the Pentateuch has been ascribed. But he was also a prophet. In Babylon, the god of prophecy was Nebo. It was on Mount Nebo that Jahveh commanded the prophet of Israel to die. Moreover, the divinity that had Masu for cognomen was, as is shown by a Babylonian text, the primitive god of the sun at Nippur, but the sun at noon, at the period of its greatest effulgence, at the hour when it wars with whatever opposes, when it wars as Jahveh did, or as the latter may be assumed to have warred, since Isaiah represented him as a mighty man, roaring at his enemies, exciting the fury of the fight, marching personally to the conflict, and, in the Fourth Roll of the Law (Numbers), there is mention of a book entitled: The Wars of Jahveh.
Whether, then, Moses is but a composite of things Babylonian fused in an effort to show a link between a god and a people, is conjectural. But it is also immaterial. The one instructive fact is that, in a retrospect, the god, immediately after the exodus, became dictator.
Yet even in the later age, when the retrospect was effected, conceptions were evidently immature. On one occasion the god met Moses, tried to kill him, but finally let him go. The picture is that of a personal struggle. Again, the spectacle of his back which he vouchsafed to Moses is construable only as an arriere-pensee, unless it be profound philosophy, unless it be taken that the face of God represents Providence, to see which would be to behold the future, whereas the back disclosed the past.
[Footnote 34: Exodus iv. 24-26.]
It is, however, hardly probable that that construction occurred to the editors of the Pentateuch, who, elsewhere, represented Jahveh as a butcher, insatiable, jealous, vindictive, treacherous, and vain, one that consigned all nations other than Israel to ruin and whom a poet represented trampling people in anger, making them drunk with his fury, and defiling his raiment with blood.
[Footnote 35: Isaiah lxiii. 1-6.]
But in the period related in Exodus, Jahveh was but the tutelary god of an itinerant tribe that, in its gipsy lack of territorial possessions, was not even a nation. Like his people he too was a vagrant. Like them he had no home. Other gods had temples and altars. He lacked so much as a shrine. In prefigurement of the Wandering Jew, each day he moved on. The threats of a land that never smiled were reflected in his face. The sight of him was death. Certainly he was terrible.
This conception, corrected by later writers, was otherwise revised. In the interim Jahveh himself was transformed. He became El, the god; presently El Shaddai, God Almighty. In the ascension former traits disappeared. He developed into the deity of emphatic right. Morality, hitherto absent from religion, entered into it. Israel, who perhaps had been careless, who, like Solomon, had followed Ishtar, became austere. Thereafter, Judaism, of which Christianity and Muhammadanism were the after thoughts, was destined to represent almost the sum total of the human conscience.
But in Kanaan, during the rude beginnings, though Jahveh was jealous, Ishtar, known locally as Ashtoreth, allured. Conjointly with Baal, the indigenous term for Bel, circumadjacently she ruled. The propitiatory rites of these fair gods were debauchery and infanticide, the loosening of the girdles of girls, the thrusting of children into fires. It may be that these ceremonies at first amazed the Hebrews. But conscientiously they adopted them, less perhaps through zeal than politeness; because, in this curious epoch, on entering a country it was thought only civil to serve the divinities that were there, in accordance with the ritual that pleased them.
With the mere mortal inhabitants, Israel was less ceremonious. Commanded by Jahveh to kill, extermination was but an act of piety. It was then, perhaps, that the Wars of Jahveh were sung, a paean that must have been resonant with cries, with the death-rattle of kingdoms, with the shouts of the invading host. From the breast-plates of the chosen, the terror of Sinai gleamed. Men could not see their faces and live. The moon was their servant. To aid them the sun stood still. They encroached, they slaughtered, they quelled. In the conquest a nation was born. From that bloody cradle the God of Humanity came. But around and about it was vacancy. In emerging from one solitude the Jews created another. They have never left it. The desert which they made destined them to be alone on this earth, as their god was to be solitary in heaven.
Meanwhile there had been no kings in Israel. With the nation royalty came. David followed Saul. After him was Solomon. It is presumably at this period that traditions, orally transmitted from a past relatively remote, were first put in writing. Previously it is conjectural if the Jews could write. If they could, it is uncertain whether they made any use of the ability other than in the possible compilation of toledoth, such as the Book of the Generations of Adam and the Wars of Jahveh, works that, later, may have served as data for the Pentateuch. Even then, the compositions must have been crude, and such rolls as existed may have been lost when Nebuchadnezzar overturned Jerusalem.
Presumably, it was not until the post-exilic period that, under the editorship perhaps of Ezra, the definitive edition of the Torah was produced. This supposition existing texts support. In Genesis (xxxvii. 31) it is written: "These are the kings of Edom before there reigned any king over the children of Israel." The passage shows, if it shows anything, that there were, or had been, kings in Israel at the time when the passage itself was written. It is, therefore, at least post-Davidic. In Genesis another passage (xlix. 10) says: "The sceptre shall not pass from Judah until Shiloh come." Judah was the tribe that became pre-eminent in Israel after the captivity. The passage is therefore post-exilic, consequently so is Genesis, and obviously the rest of the Pentateuch as well. Or, if not obviously, perhaps demonstrably. In II Esdras xiv. 22-48 it is stated that the writer, a candle of understanding in his heart, and aided by five swift scribes, recomposed the Law, which, previously burned, was known to none.
The burning referred to is what may, perhaps, be termed religious fiction. Barring toledoth and related data that may have been lost, the Law had almost certainly not existed before, and this post-exilic romance concerning it was evolved in a laudable effort to show its Mosaic source. What is true of the Law is, in a measure, true of the Prophets. None of them anterior to Cyrus, all are later than Alexander. Spiritually very near to Christianity, chronologically they are neighbourly too. If not divinely inspired, they at least disclosed the ideal.
Previously the ideal had not perhaps been very apparent. Apart from secessions, rebellions, concussions, convulsions that deified Hatred until Jahveh, in the person of Nebuchadnezzar, talked Assyrian, and then, in the person of Cyrus, talked Zend, the god of Israel, even in Israel, was not unique. He had a home, his first, the Temple, built gorgeously by Solomon, where invisibly, mysteriously, perhaps terribly, beneath the wings of cherubim that rose from the depths of the Holy of Holies, he dwelled. But the shrine, however ornate, was not the only one. There were other altars, other gods; the plentiful sanctuaries of Ashera, of Moloch and of Baal. On the adjacent hilltops the phallus stood. In the neighbouring groves the kisses of Ishtar consumed.
The Lady of Girdles was worshipped there not by men and women only, but by girls with girls; by others too, not in couples, but singly, girls who in their solitary devotions had instruments for aid. Religion, as yet, had but the slightest connection with morality, a circumstance explicable perhaps by the fact that it resumed the ethnical conscience of a race. Between the altar of El Shaddai and the shrines of other gods there were many differences, of which geography was the least. Jahveh, from a tutelary god, had indeed become the national divinity of a chosen people. But the Moabites were the chosen people of Chemos; the Ammonites were the chosen people of Rimmon; the Babylonians were the chosen people of Bel. The title conferred no distinction. As a consequence, to differentiate Jahveh from all other gods, and Israel from all other people, to make the one unique and the other pontiff and shepherd of the nations of the world, became the dream of anonymous poets, one that prophets, sometimes equally anonymous, proclaimed. It was the prophets that reviled the false gods, denounced the abominations of Ishtar, and purified the Israelite heart. While nothing discernible, or even imaginable, menaced, however slightly, the great empires of that day, the prophets were the first to realize that the Orient was dead. When the Christ announced that the end of the world was at hand, he but reiterated anterior predictions that presently were fulfilled. A world did end. That of antiquity ceased to be.