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CHAPTER IV.

On the Literature and Religious Usages of the Ancient

Hebrews.

Obscurity of the Subject_Learning issued from the Levitical Col

leges_Schools of the Prophets_Music and Poetry_Meaning of the Term Prophecy-Illustrated by References to the Old Testament and to the New-The Power of Prediction not confined to those bred in the Schools—Race of False Prophets_Their Malignity and Deceit-Micaiah and Ahab-Charge against Jeremiah the Prophet-Criterion to distinguish True from False Prophets -The Canonical Writings of the Prophets--Literature of Prophets–Sublime Nature of their Compositions–Examples from Psalms and Prophetical Writings-Humane and Liberal SpiritCare used to keep alive the Knowledge of the Law-Evils arising from the Division of Israel and Judah_Ezra collects the Ancient Books—Schools of Prophets similar to Convents-Sciences --AStronomy-Division of Time, Days, Months, and Years—Sabbaths and New Moons-Jewish Festivals—Passover--PentecostFeast of Tabernacles_Of Trumpets-Jubilee—Daughters of Zelophedad - Feast of Dedication_Minor Anniversaries-Solemn Character of Hebrew Learning-Its easy Adaptation to Christianity_Superior to the Literature of all other Ancient Nations.

THERE is no subject on which greater obscurity prevails than that of the learning and schools of the Hebrews, prior to their return from the Babylonian captivity. The wise institution of Moses, which provided for the maintenance of Levitical towns in all the tribes, secured at least a hereditary knowledge of the law, including both its civil and its spiritual enactments. It is extremely probable, therefore, that all the varieties of literary attain

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ment which might be deemed necessary, either for the discharge of professional duties or for the ornament of private life, were derived from those seminaries, and partook largely of their general character and spirit. An examination of the scanty remains of that remote period will justify, to a considerable extent, the conjecture now made. It will appear that the poetry, the ethics, the oratory, the music, and even the physical science, cultivated in the time of Samuel and David, bore a close relation to the original object of the Levitical colleges, and were meant to promote the principles of religion and morality, no less than of that singular patriotism which made the Hebrew delight in his separation from all the other nations of the earth.

Our attention is first attracted by the several allusions which are scattered over the earlier books of the Old Testament to the Schools of the Prophets. These were establishments, obviously intended to prepare young men for certain offices analogous to those which are discharged in our days by the different orders of the clergy; maintained in some de. gree at the public expense ; and placed under the superintendence of persons who were distinguished for their gravity and high endowments. The principal studies pursued in these convents appear to have been poetry and music, the elements of which were necessary to the young prophet when he was called to take a part in the worship of Jehovah. In the book of Samuel we find the pupils performing on psalteries, tabrets, and harps; and in the first section of the Chronicles it is said that the sons of Asaph, of Heman, and of Jeduthun, prophesied with harps, with psalteries and with cymbals. For

the same reason Miriam the sister of Moses is called a prophetess. When preparing to chant her song of triumph, upon the destruction of the Egyptians at the Red Sea, “ she took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances.”

On a similar ground is the expression to be interpreted when used by St Paul in the eleventh chapter of his First Epistle to the Corinthians. “ Every woman praying or prophesying with her head uncovered, dishonoureth her head;" that is, every female who takes a part in the devotions of the Christian Church--the supplications and the praises,—ought, according to the practice of eastern nations, to have her face concealed in a veil, as becoming the modesty of her sex in a mixed congregation. The term prophesy, in this instance, must be restricted to the use of psalmody, because exposition or exhortation in public was not permitted to the women, who were not allowed to speak or even to ask a question in a place of worship. Nay, the same apostle applies the title of prophet to those persons among the heathen who composed or uttered songs in praise of their gods. In his Epistle to Titus, he alludes to the people of Crete in these words,“ one of themselves, even a prophet of their own, has said, the Cretans were always liars.” And every classical scholar is perfectly aware that in the language of pagan antiquity a poet and a prophet were synonymous appellations.

But the function of the prophet was not confined to the duty of praise and thanksgiving; it also implied the ability to expound and enforce the principles of the Mosaical Law. He was entitled to

exhort and entreat; and we accordingly find that the greater portion of the prophetical writings consist of remonstrances, rebukes, threatenings, and expostulations. In order to be a prophet, in the Hebrew sense of the expression, it was not necessary to be endowed with the power of foreseeing future events. It is true that the holy men, through whom the Al. mighty thought meet to reveal his intentions relative to the church, were usually selected from the order of persons now described. But there were several exceptions, among whom stood pre-eminent the eloquent Daniel and the pathetic Amos. To prophesy, therefore, in the later times of the Hebrew commonwealth, meant most generally the explication and enforcement of Divine truth, an import of the term which was extended into the era of the New Testament, when the more recondite sense of the phrase was almost entirely laid aside.

In truth, it should seem that even before the days of Samuel the opinions, or rather perhaps the popular notions connected with the name and offices of a prophet, had undergone some change, and began to point to higher objects. Saul, when employed in seeking his father's asses, had journeyed so far from home that he despaired of finding his way thither; and when he was come to the land of Zuph he said to his servant, “ come, and let us return; lest my father leave caring for the asses, and take thought for us. And he said unto him, behold now, there is in this city a man of God, and he is an honourable man; all that he saith cometh surely to pass : now let us go thither; peradventure he can show us our way that we should go. Then said Saul to his servant, but, behold, if we go, what shall we bring the man? for the bread is spent in our vessels, and there is not a present to bring to the man of God: what have we? And the servant answered Saul again, and said, behold, I have here at hand the fourth part of a shekel of silver; that will I give to the man of God to tell us our way. (Beforetime in Israel, when a man went to inquire of God, thus he spake, come, and let us go to the seer: for he that is now called a prophet, was beforetime called a seer.) Then said Saul to his servant, well said ; come, let us go. So they went unto the city where the man of God was.”*

The description of soothsayer whom Saul and his servant had resolved to consult is very common in all lands at a certain stage of knowledge and civili.. zation,-a personage who without much reliance on divine aid could amuse the curiosity of a rustic and perplex his ignorance with an ambiguous answer. But the age of Samuel required more solid qualifications in the prophets, and hence the term seer had already given way to that of expounder or master of eloquence and wisdom. The expedient suggested by the attendant of the son of Kish was very natural, and quite consistent with his rank and habits; while the easy acquiescence which he obtained from his master denotes the simplicity of ancient times, not less than the untutored state of mind in which the future King of Israel had left his parent's dwelling. Before he mounted the throne, however, he was sent to acquire the elements of learning among the sons of the prophets ; whom, in a short time, he accompanied in their pious exer

* 1 Samuel ix. 5-11.

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