Among the Rabbis
Samuel's attention is absorbed by a man of very noble aspect, clear, healthful complexion; bright, black eyes; beard long and flowing, and rich with ointments; apparel well fitting, costly and suitable for the season. He slowly walks across the Priests' Court, his face turned to the ground, in company of three persons, one at each side, the third behind him. Every one in the court pays the greatest reverence to the party of four, and Samuel's face clearly shows signs of a suppressed curiosity.
"The anointed of the Lord, my son," says Zachary, "and the rightful successor of Aaron."
Samuel's look becomes more eager and interested than before. Much has he heard of the high priest in power; but he has never seen the representative of Jehovah upon earth.
"Is this Matthiah the son of Theophilus, the high priest?" he inquires in a low whisper.
"Thou sayest it, my son," replies Zachary; "thou seest before thee the successor of Simeon the son of Boethus the Alexandrian. The latter was deposed last year from his high priestly dignity, after holding it for about twenty years. Though the change was made by the arbitrary power of Herod, no single priest objected to it; all hated the intruder and the foreigner, raised to the exalted dignity through the lowest motives of passion and court intrigue."
"Must we not reverence him that sitteth in the chair of Aaron," rejoins Samuel, "though he be not entirely worthy of his place?"
"Truly," says Zachary, as if speaking to himself, "the simple believe every report and thus inherit folly. Hear, my son, the story of Simeon's elevation and fall, that thou mayest not judge thy elders rashly."
Lowering his tone so as to be heard by Samuel alone, Zachary rehearses the scandal which a little more than twenty years ago had filled Jerusalem and, indeed, the whole Jewish nation with anger and despair.
"Though Simeon himself was a citizen of Jerusalem, his father Boethus was a citizen of Alexandria, and a priest of great note there. Simeon's daughter was esteemed the most beautiful woman of her time, and when the people of Jerusalem began to speak much in her praise, Herod was affected with what was said of her. And when he saw the damsel, he was smitten with her beauty. Believing that by abusing her, he should be stigmatized for violence and tyranny, he thought it best to take her to wife. And since Simeon's dignity was too inferior to be allied to Herod, but still too considerable to be despised, the king governed his inclinations after the most crooked manner. In order to raise the standing of Simeon's family and make it more honorable, he immediately deprived Jesus the son of Phabes of the high priesthood, and conferred that dignity on Simeon, and then joined in affinity with him by marrying his daughter."
"How is the gold become dim!" exclaims Samuel; "how is the most pure gold changed! The stones of the sanctuary are poured out at the top of every street. The precious sons of Zion, comparable to fine gold, how are they esteemed as earthen pitchers, the work of the hands of the potter! But how did it come to pass that Herod respected not the creature of his own hand?"
"The high priest's daughter, the second Mariamne, was accused last year of having been conscious of Antipater's conspiracy against his father. Herod, therefore, divorced her and blotted the name of her son Herod Philip out of his testament, wherein he had been appointed as Herod's successor. And he took the high priesthood away from his father-in-law, Simeon the son of Boethus, and made Matthiah the son of Theophilus, who is born in Jerusalem, high priest in his place."
"Remember, O Lord, what is come upon us!" sighs Samuel; "behold and see our reproach. Our inheritance is turned to strangers, our houses unto aliens. We are orphans and fatherless, our mothers are as widows""But what manner of man is Matthiah?" continues Samuel after a momentary silence; "he does not even wear the phylacteries, and his fringes are hardly noticeable."
"My son," replies Zachary, "we are living under the rule of a half-pagan Idumean; it is only his despotic iron hand that prevents an uprising of the fermenting masses. Phylacteries and fringes might exasperate the tyrant, especially since six thousand of the men noted for a display of these signs refused to swear fidelity to Caesar and Herod. Their fine was, indeed, paid by the wife of Pheroras, Herod's brother, but a number of them were put to death not more than two years ago. Matthiah observes all the laws of purification scrupulously so far as they do not attract attention, and bring him into the immediate suspicion of Herod. Even on the last Day of Atonement he showed this faithfulness to an admirable degree. During the night, Matthiah seemed in a dream to have conversation with his wife. Though most anxious to officiate on that great occasion, because he had never before done so, and his future chance is very uncertain, he, nevertheless refrained from the sacerdotal service on that day, and allowed Joseph the son of Ellemus his kinsman to minister in his place."
"Would that faithfulness to the law were the girdle of our reins," rejoined Samuel; "but whither is the high priest going? Is there any special gate in the western wall of the court?"
"During the day," said Zachary, "Matthiah resides in his rooms near the Wood-Gate in the southwestern corner of the court. At night he stays in his residence on the southern side of Mount Zion."
Meanwhile Samuel and Zachary have left the Hall of Polished Stones, and passing across the eastern part of the Court of Priests, they proceed towards the Nicanor Gate. To Samuel's surprise, the priests who have taken part in the offering of the morning sacrifice and its preparation, are busy slaughtering a bullock in precisely the same manner in which they killed the lamb. Besides, there are several of lambs evidently waiting for their turn, and other priests are bringing a cage of pigeons, all to be sacrificed on the altar of burnt-offering.
At the gate itself stands Jochanan the son of Pinchas, surrounded by an eager but devout number of men. Near him stands a huge basket full of seals or counterfoils. A closer examination shows that the seals or checks, as we would call them, are of four kinds, corresponding to the four kinds of meat-offering required by the different sacrifices. Every one receives that counterfoil which answers the sum of money he pays to Jochanan. So soon as the desired check is obtained, the purchaser hands it to Achiah the over-seer of the drink-offering. The latter official redeems it by giving in return the due amount of drink-offering. Sacrificial turtle-doves and pigeons are procured in a similar manner from Petachiah the over-seer of the birds. The process is, however, not so complicated. Those who wish to offer such sacrifices drop the money requisite into one of the ordinary money-boxes in the treasury, whereupon Petachiah purchases the requisite sacrifices so soon as possible.
"Is it not written," remarks Samuel, "the one lamb shalt thou offer in the morning and the other lamb shalt thou offer at even? Why then are the priests still offering those numerous sacrifices which we see before us?"
"Besides the eleven public sacrifices prescribed by the law, my son, there are a number of private offerings either legally prescribed or left to the good will and generosity of the faithful. Some of these are burnt-offerings, others again sin and trespass-offerings, others meat-offerings, others again peace-offerings. Even the Gentiles are permitted to offer victims as holocausts, and to bring the accompanying meat and drink-offering, while the sacrifices that are obligatory, such as sin and trespass-offerings, and those succeeding issues and childbirth, cannot be offered by Gentiles."
"Do we sacrifice the abomination of the nations to the Lord our God?" inquired Samuel. "May we not say with Moses: Lo, shall we sacrifice the abomination of the Egyptians before their eyes, and will they not stone us?"
"Another passage of the law, my son, speaks even more explicitly than that to which thou referrest. 'Neither from the hand of a foreigner,' the law says, 'shall you offer the bread of your God of any of these; because the corruption is in them, there is a blemish in them; they shall not be accepted for you.' Still our Doctors have seen in this very text a reason for accepting the offerings of the Gentiles. The words 'any of these,' refer according to them to blemished animals; and since God has forbidden, they say, to accept blemished victims from the hand of foreigners, he grants the permission to accept from them animals that are fit to be offered on the altar."
"Is not this one of the lax interpretations put upon the law in the school of Hillel?" asked Samuel.
"Where Hillel is named, my son, there should be reverence upon the lips of the speaker. Besides, this explanation of the law is not new; Alexander the Great thus sacrificed in the Temple; Ptolemy III offered sacrifices in the same manner; Antiochus VII, though at open feud with our nation and in the very act of besieging our Holy City, on the Feast of Tabernacles sent sacrifices to the Temple with the view of disposing Jehovah in his favor. When Marcus Agrippa visited our city, about ten years ago, he presented a hecatomb to be offered to the Lord, and the very offerings which are now immolated, are sacrifices for Augustus. For he has ordained that in all time coming two lambs and a bullock must be offered every day at his expense in behalf of Caesar and the Roman people."
"Are then all the offerings which are now about to be presented to the Lord, gifts of the heathen and the Gentiles?" inquired Samuel.
"How canst thou ask such a question, seeing those women at the Gate of Nicanor, putting into the hand of the officiating priest the offerings for their purification and mingling their prayers and thanksgivings with the sacrificial service? now they are sprinkled with the sacrificial blood, and declared to be cleansed. The young mothers who linger at the uppermost step even after their purification is complete, wait to redeem their firstborn at the hand of the priest with five shekels of silver, and to have the two corresponding benedictions read over them, one for the happy event which has enriched the family with a firstborn, the other for the law of redemption."
For Samuel and Zachary this ceremony had not yet all the pious associations it has for us in these latter days. St. Luke's story of Mary's purification is yet to be accomplished: "And when the days of their purification according to the law of Moses were fulfilled, they brought him up to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord, as it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord, and to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons."
Now, another sight absorbs Samuel's attention. Often has he heard and read of the ceremonial for the cleansing of a leper, but now, for the first time, he sees the rite put in practice. Two priests enter by the Gate of Nicanor, the one carrying a vessel filled with sacrificial blood, the other holding part of the blood in the hollow of his hand. They come from the Chamber of Lepers in the Women's Court, where the healed leper has slain his trespass-offering, after laying his hands upon it. The blood has been caught up by the two priests as it welled forth from the victim's deadly wound. The priest who carries the vessel goes up to the altar, and pours the blood at its side. The second priest stands in the great court near the Gate of Nicanor, and awaits the arrival of the healed person who is bathing in the Lepers' Chamber. He now ascends the fifteen steps, and stands in the Gate, being not yet allowed to proceed any further. Bending his body, he thrusts his head into the great court, and the priest puts of the blood on the tip of his ear. Then the leper stretches his hand into the court, whereupon the priest anoints his thumb with the blood. In the third place, he thrusts his foot into the court, and the priest anoints the great toe with the sacrificial blood. After this, the priest takes the sacrificial log of oil and pours some of it into the hand of his colleague; then dipping his fingers into the oil, he sprinkles it seven times toward the Holy of Holies, dipping each time he sprinkles. Now he approaches the healed leper and on the spot where he has put the blood, he puts the oil, as it is written: "Upon the blood of the trespass offering." The remnant of the oil in the priest's hand, is poured upon the head of the leper for an atonement, and as soon as he pours it, the leper is atoned for.
"Do not lepers often lose their fingers and toes during the course of their infirmity?" inquires Samuel. "And if they do, how can they be cleansed?"
"In that case," answers Zachary, "the leper cannot ever be cleansed according to the view of Rabbi Jehudah. But Rabbi Eliezer is of opinion that the spots where the fingers and toes have been, must be anointed. Rabbi Simeon says: If the oil and blood be applied on the corresponding left side of the leper's body, it sufficeth. But all this will be fully explained in the Beth-ha-Midrash by Judas and Matthiah. They will also teach thee the ceremonial to be observed in offering the leper's sin and burnt-offering and the whole ritual accompanying the first stage of his cleansing."
Without delaying at the Gate of Nicanor, Zachary and Samuel join Matthiah who is about to go to the Beth-ha-Midrash where Judas is already surrounded by his numerous pupils. Passing across the Court of Women, they go through the Beautiful Gate, and then direct their steps to the Royal Porch. On the way, they speak about the multitude of sacrifices that are daily offered after the morning oblation has been brought. The time between the morning and evening service some times hardly suffices to perform the necessary work. Meanwhile, they approach the crowd of men and youths assembled in the Royal Porch to hear the wisdom of Judas and Matthiah.
"How do the masters teach?" Maimonides asks in one of his numerous treaties.
"The Doctor sits at the head, and the disciples around him in a crown, that all may see the Doctor and hear his words. Nor is the Doctor seated on a seat, and the disciples on the ground, but all are on seats, or all on the floor."
Though a passage in the Talmud has it that "from the days of Moses to Rabban Gamaliel they stood up to learn the Law; but when Rabban Gamaliel died, sickness came into the world, and they sat down to learn the Law," it is not easy to reconcile this sentence with other authorities on the same subject. "To sit at the feet of a teacher," was a proverbial expression among Zachary's contemporaries, as when Mary is said to have sat at the feet of Jesus, and St. Paul is placed at the feet of Gamaliel.
It is also a received maxim among the Jews, "place thyself in the dust at the feet of the wise." Philo has it that the children of the Essenes sat at the feet of the masters who interpreted the Law and explained its figurative sense. Even St. Ambrose, in his commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, maintains that "it is the tradition of the synagogue that they sit while they dispute, the elders in dignity on high chairs, those beneath them on low seats, and the last of all on mats upon the pavement."
The assembly in the Royal Porch surely surpasses in the venerable aspect of its members and their Rabbinic learning any other gathering on the face of the earth. Many of the men are advanced in years; immense beards cover their faces; their prominent noses are strikingly offset by their large black eyes, deeply shaded by bold brows; their demeanor is grave and dignified, even patriarchal.
Though Judas is seated in the place of the teacher, all present evidently pay the greatest reverence to a figure now shrunken and stooped almost to ghastliness. The folds of the white robe dropping from his shoulders indicate nothing but an angular skeleton. His head forms a splendid dome, the base of which is fringed by a few hairs, whiter than fine-drawn silver. His bald skull shines in the light with brilliancy; his temples are hollow, his eyes wan and dim, his nose pinched, his lower face muffled in a beard flowing and venerable like Aaron's. His hands are concealed in sleeves of striped silk and clasped upon his knees.
This is Hillel, the leader of the school opposed to that of Shammai. Forty years he has studied the Law, forty years he has taught the Law, and nearly forty years has he been the head of the college of scribes. Born of an exiled family in Babylon, which, despite its poverty, can trace its pedigree back to King David, he came with his brother Shebna to Jerusalem, in order to satisfy his thirst for knowledge in the capital of Jewish culture. He worked as a day-laborer, earning a tropaikon a day. One half of this meager earning, equivalent to half a denarius, had to suffice for the maintenance of his family, the other half he paid to the superintendent of the Beth-ha-Midarsh, the institution over which Shemaya and Abtalion presided. One day, having found no work, the superintendent refused him admission. But favored by darkness, Hillel climbed up to the window that had been opened through the wall, where he could hear and see all. The cold and ceaseless December snowit was in the month of Tebethsoon overpowered him; when the auroral column had risen, Shemaya said to Abtalion: "Dear Brother Abtalion, the hall is at other times well lighted by day; but to-day it is so dark it must be cloudy." Looking up, they discovered a human form in the window, and ascending, they actually found Hillel buried in the snow. Though it was the Sabbath-day, he was extricated, bathed and rubbed with oil and brought near the fire-side, for it was remarked: "He is worthy that on his account we desecrate the Sabbath-day."
The character of Hillel's doctrine is perhaps best described by contrasting it with that of Shammai, his illustrious and bitter opponent. In matters of legal casuistry the latter was a probabiliorist, while Hillel would be called a probabilist in to-day's terminology. Far reaching as this difference between the two great leaders may be, it does not touch Hillel's fundamental principles. Shammai spent the whole week meditating how he should spend the coming Sabbath so as to faithfully observe all the details of the law. The ceremonial enactments seemed to him more important than the moral precepts. A foreigner once appeared before him with the words: "Make a proselyte of me, but teach me the entire Law while I stand upon one leg." Shammai became angry and lifting the rod in his hand, he drove the intruder from his presence. The applicant addressed himself to Hillel with the same demand and the same condition. "Whatsoever you do not like yourself," said Hillel, "that abstain from doing to your neighborthis is the entire Law, and all the rest is comment. Go thou and learn this!" Hillel's mind was, therefore, not merely more adapted to the practical necessities of life, but was also gifted with a power of analysis and an intellectual perspective that would have done credit to a pupil of Aristotle.
Near by Hillel sits his son Simeon, by a number of authors identified with the Simeon of whom St. Luke speaks: "And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Ghost was in him. And he had received an answer from the Holy Ghost that he should not see death, before he had seen the Christ of the Lord."
There is also Hillel's grandson Gamaliel: we can imagine him saying with all the youthful pride of a successful Pharisee, in the language of the Book of Wisdom: "I shall have estimation among the multitude and honor with the elders, though I be young. I shall be found of a quick conceit in judgment, and shall be admired in the sight of great men. When I hold my tongue, they shall bide my leisure; and when I speak, they shall give ear unto me." It will be at his feet that Saul shall "make progress in the Jews religion above many of his contemporaries in his own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of his fathers." The same Gamaliel will advise the Sanhedrin concerning the Apostles: "Refrain from these men, and let them alone; for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to naught; but if it be of God, you cannot over throw it, lest perhaps you be found to fight against God."
But above all, there are Judas and Matthiah, the present leaders of the Beth-ha-Midrash. Samuel is presented to them as a new pupil, and Judas addresses him with the words of Jesus the son of Sirach: "The wise man will seek out the wisdom of all the ancients, and will be occupied in the prophets. He will keep the sayings of renowned men, and will enter withal into the subtilties of parables. He will search out the hidden meanings of proverbs, and will be conversant in the secrets of parables. He shall serve among great men, and appear before the governor. He shall pass into strange countries; for he shall try good and evil among men."
"Surely, Brother," here interrupts Matthiah, "thou art rather describing the fate of Samuel's father Ananiah, than predicting the course of our pupil and son. Ananiah truly hath appeared before governors, and passed into strange countries, and tried good and evil, and served among great men, after Josiah was put to death by the intrigues of Herod, because he preferred the love of the law to the service of the Idumean." And then addressing Samuel he added: "Even a fool, if he hold his peace, shall be counted wise; and if he close his lips, a man of understanding. Show us, my son, thy wisdom by the words of thy mouth."
"It ill becometh the young to speak in the assembly of the elders," replies Samuel. "All my wisdom is the wisdom of the foolish, which shows itself, in many questionsIs it not written: Thou shalt not make to thyself a graven thing, nor the likeness of anything that is in the heaven above or in the earth beneath, nor of those things that are in the waters under the earth? And still, I even now see a great golden eagle, fastened yonder over the principal entrance to Jehovah's Temple."
A sudden clap of thunder could have produced no more striking effect than is produced by Samuel's words. All the youths who are noted for their zeal of the Law, closely gather around Judas the son of Saripheus, and Matthiah the son of Margalothus. The more elderly men and those more inclined to leniency, draw close to the tripod of Hillel and his sons.
Judas, transported by the zeal of God's honor, begins to rouse the spirit of his audience as with so many darts of fire. "God's anger," he says, "is visibly shown by Herod's loathsome infirmity and the affliction that is even now reigning in his family. The love of the Law is better than the pleasures of life. Death cannot be avoided by any one born of woman. Wherefore should the sons of Moses sit vainly in the dark through a dull and nameless age, and without lot in noble deeds? The strife must be dared, and Jehovah will give the desired issue. Great danger alloweth not of cowardice. What can show greater virtue and bring more undying glory than the love of the Law. But the love of the Law undoes what is done against the Law, pulls down what is put up against the Law, destroys what is made contrary to the Law. Let then every son of Abraham and every disciple of Moses bestir himself to do away with the Roman abomination."
Hundreds of pupils who had hung upon the lips of Judas are about to break forth in youthful rashness to the Temple gate, each of them eager to be the first on the field of destruction. But the sound of the last words is still ringing in the Temple courts, when the voice of Hillel, feeble but high and piercing, arrests the excited multitude.
"The way of the fool is right in his own eyes," he says, "but he that is wise hearkeneth to counsels. A fool immediately showeth his anger, but he that dissembleth injuries, is wise. Is not God about to take Herod out of this life? why endanger our lives and jeopardize the welfare of our nation for the sake of a dead dog? the fire of God's judgment glows within the tyrant's bowels, and the water of vengeance encompasses his feet and his belly round about. The air refuses service in his breathing and is rotten within his nostrils, and the earth supplies only corruption for the support of his members. A little patient endurance will bring about what a hasty recourse to force will prevent for ever."
A number of Judas's followers prepare a dreadful attack on Hillel's adherents, but this unnerves even Judas and Matthiah. Their hatred of Herod and his gentile practices is great, but their love and reverence for the Patriarch Rabbi of Jerusalem is greater. The infuriated mob is soon pacified by the joined efforts of Matthiah and Judas, while most of Hillel's followers leave the Royal Porch for the Hall of Polished Stones where the Sanhedrin is about to hold its meeting.
The special disciples and followers of Hillel number eighty. Thirty of these are worthy to receive the Divine Spirit in the fulness of Moses; thirty are worthy to stop the sun like Joshua; twenty are middling. The greatest of all is Jonothan ben Uzziel, the least is Rabban Jochanan ben Zaccai. But even Jochanan has not forgotten a single text of the Scriptures, the Mishna, the Gemara, the Halachah,the Haggadah, nothing of tradition, of the comparisons, the illustrations and of whatever else belongs to Hillel's teaching. If this is true of the least, what must we expect of the greatest? When Jonathan ben Uzziel studied the Law, every bird of heaven that happened to fly over the place where he sat, was burnt to ashes. Even the angels gathered about him to hear his explanations of the Law.
Well had it been for the presidents of the Beth-ha-Midrash, had Hillel lived long enough to prevent another disturbance, occasioned by the disciples of Judas and Matthiah not a year after the period of which we now speak. A false report of Herod's death had been spread through the city and the Temple; so, in the middle of the day, the two Rabbis with their disciples pulled down the golden eagle and cut it into pieces with axes, while a great many people were in the Temple.
The king's captain, supposing there was question of open rebellion, came into the court with a band of soldiers, and fell upon the insurgents unexpectedly. No fewer than forty of the young men who had the courage to stay behind when the rest ran away, together with the authors of this bold attempt, Judas and Matthiah who thought it an ignominious thing to retire under such circumstances, were taken prisoners and led to the king. Being questioned about the destruction of the eagle, they boldly confessed: "What was contrived, we contrived, and what hath been performed, we performed it. We will undergo death, and all sorts of punishments which thou canst inflict upon us, with pleasure, since we are conscious that we die for our love to religion." Upon this, Herod deprived Matthiah the high priest of his office, since under his reign the disturbance had taken place, and the Rabbis Matthiah and Judas together with the forty youths he burnt alive.
So soon as Hillel's party leaves the porch, Judas and Matthiah begin to reorganize their demoralized pupils, and the question of the day is begun. Matthiah cannot attend long; for being a member of the Sanhedrin, he must be present at the ensuing meeting which is of supreme importance on account of the matter under consideration. Judas and a number of his disciples first recite the thirty-nine kinds of labor forbidden on the Sabbath day. Then the twenty-first of these works that of "making a knot," is discussed at full length. The preceding works have been considered on former occasions.
"Are there not many kinds of knots?" one of the more advanced disciples ventures to ask. "And are all knots without distinction forbidden on the Sabbath?"
"Thy question is too general," replies Judas. "Tell us plainly concerning which knot thou doubtest as to the guilt on the Sabbath day."
"Is guilt incurred by reason of a knot which can be untied with one hand?" the disciple continues.
"Guilt is not incurred by reason of a knot that can be untied with one hand," replies Judas; "because what is valid for the untying is valid for the tying. One hand incurs no guilt in the untying. Hence such a knot does not render guilty in the tying."
"Rabbi," says another disciple, "canst thou tell us which knots render one certainly guilty on the Sabbath day?"
"The knot of camel-drivers and that of sailors," answers Judas, "render one surely guilty on the Sabbath day; and as one is guilty by reason of tying, so also of untying them."
"Is it true, Rabbi," inquires a third one, "that a woman may on the Sabbath day tie up a slit in her shift?"
"A woman," replies Judas, "may not only tie the slit in her shift, but also the strings of her cap, those of her girdle, and the straps of her shoes and sandals."
"Suppose, Rabbi," says another disciple, "the skins of oil and wine open on the Sabbath day; what is one permitted to do?"
"An important question that, an important question," replies Judas. "We may tie on the Sabbath day the straps of wine and oil skins, as well as those of a pot with meat."
"Is any one free who ties on the Sabbath day a knot of the girdle?" is the anxious question of another disciple.
"He who ties a knot of the girdle on the Sabbath day, is free," replies Judas. "He who ties a pail over the well with the girdle on the Sabbath day, is free. He who ties a pail over the well with a rope on the Sabbath day, is guilty."
In a similar manner, all the other prohibited works are gone through and commented upon. He who extinguishes a light, because he is afraid of heathen, robbers, or the evil spirit, or for the sake of one sick, that he may sleep, is free. But if he does it to save the oil, the wick or the lamp, he is guilty. He who carries so much food as is equal in weight to a dry fig, or so much wine as is enough to mix in a goblet, or milk enough for one swallow, honey enough to put upon a wound, oil enough to anoint a small member, water enough to moisten one eye-salve, paper enough to write a custom-house notice upon, parchment enough to write the shortest portion of the Tephillin, ink enough to write two letters, reed enough to make a pen of, garments that do not properly belong to clothing, such as a coat of mail, a helmet or a sword, is guilty in all these instances. The question whether a cripple may go out with his wooden leg on the Sabbath, cannot be clearly solved. Some Rabbis are of the one, others of the opposite opinion.
Without following the interesting discussion concerning the burden-bearing on a Sabbath day, in case a fire should break out, we must accompany Matthiah, Zachary and Samuel to the Hall of Polished Stones. To-day, the Sanhedrin will pronounce judgment on the legal pedigree of a number of priests' sons, and on their fitness for the Temple service. Samuel expresses his surprise at the heated manner in which Hillel repressed the movement of the zealots. He infers that in his youthful days, Hillel must have been of an extremely passionate nature. Though Matthiah has, in the present case, been the apparent sufferer, he is fair enough to correct Samuel's inference. He even relates an anecdote which shows Hillel's character to be of quite the contrary nature.
A man in a public place at Jerusalem offered four hundred sus to him that should move Hillel to real anger. "I'll take you up," cried another. As it was Friday afternoon, Hillel was just engaged in washing and combing for the morrow. Without addressing him by his proper title, his tempter at the doorscreamed out, "Is Hillel here?"
Throwing his mantle about him, the latter hastened to the door and said: "My son, what can I do for you?"
"I have a question for you," said the tempter.
"Let us hear it, my son," replies Hillel.
"Why have the Babylonians such ugly, ballshaped heads?" asks the former.
"An important question this, my son," rejoins Hillel; "this comes from the lack of sensible midwives."
The stranger turned his back, and left for an hour. Coming back, he cries out as before: "Is Hillel here, is Hillel here?"
Wrapped in his mantle, the latter appears again at the door with the good-natured words: "My son, what can I do for you?"
"Why," asks the former, "have the Thermudians such small almond-shaped eyes?"
"An important question this, my son," says Hillel. "Because they inhabit broad sandy steppes."
The tempter renews his noise at the door after another hour, and Hillel comes a third time to the door, clad in his mantle.
"What is it, my son?" he asks with a smile.
"Why," asks the fellow, "have the Africans such broad flat feet?"
"An important question this, my son," replies Hillel; "it is because the Africans live in marshy countries."
The stranger rejoins: "I have many more questions, but I fear to provoke you."
Hillel drawing his mantle close about him, sits down by the tempter's side, and asks him to continue his questions.
"So you are that Hillel whom people call the prince of Israel?"
"Yes, my son," is the Rabbi's modest reply.
"Well, if you are, I hope there are very few like you."
"Why, my son," asks Hillel.
"Because I have lost four hundred sus on your account."
"Not so hasty, my son," replies Hillel; "it is better that you lose four hundred and again four hundred sus, than that Hillel lose his patience."
From May till October rain is unknown in Palestine; the sun shines with unclouded brightness day after day. Not even the coolness of the night finds enough of moisture in the hot summer air to chill into dew-drops. The heat becomes intense, the ground is hard, and vegetation would perish but for the moist west winds that blow every night from the sea. In spite of the growing heat, for the sun is now approaching the highest point in the heavens, there is a remarkable stir in and near the Hall of Polished Stones. Great numbers enter by the Wood Gate so as to approach the Gazith without passing through the Court of Women or the Court of Israel.
The arrival of the high priest in the assembly causes a sudden lull in the noisy conversation, and the underhand canvassing that has been going on for the last hour. The members of the Sanhedrin sit in a form like the half of a threshing floor. Matthiah the high priest and his assistant, the Sagan Joseph ben Ellem, walk up to the farthest end of the semicircular row of seats, and there Matthiah occupies the place of the president or Nasi, while Joseph ben Ellem is seated at his right, being the vice-president or Ab-beth-din for the time. The total number of the members, including the president and the vice-president, is seventy-one. At the two ends of the semicircle, facing the assembled Sanhedrin, are seated the two clerks of the court, one at the right extremity, and the other at the left. It is their duty to record the votes of the fathers. There also, in front of the court, sit three rows of disciples of the learned men, each of whom has his own special seat assigned to him.
Whenever a disciple is called to fill a vacant office of judge, one of those in the foremost row is chosen. His place is supplied by one from the second row, and a member from the third line is advanced to the second. Some one from the congregation is then chosen to fill the vacancy thus created in the third row. The newly chosen member does not, however, step directly into the place occupied by the one last promoted from the third row, but he is seated according to his condition. That all the members of the Sanhedrin are Jews of pure blood, is a matter of course. But the criminal judge above all must prove his legal extraction by the most trustworthy evidence. For the received maxim has it: "Any one is qualified to act as judge in civil causes. But none are competent to deal with criminal cases except priests, Levites and Israelites whose daughters it is lawful for priests to marry."
But it must not be imagined that by means of these provisions the Sanhedrin has been kept entirely free from corruption. Even the people's voice loudly attests the contrary. "What a scourge is the family of Boethus," they say; "may their lances perish!" "What a scourge is the family of Annas," will soon be added. "May their viper's hissing perish!" And another few years later it will be said: "What a scourge is the family of Ismael ben Phabi; may their fists perish! They themselves are high priests, their sons are treasurers, their sons-in-law are captains, their servants strike the people with rods."
According to the same testimony, the Temple court sent forth a loud cry on four different occasions. First it exclaimed: "Depart from hence, descendants of Heli; you sully the Temple of the Eternal." Then: "Depart from hence, Issachar of Kefar Barkai, who dost not respect any one but thyself, and profanest what is consecrated unto heaven." Thirdly: "Open wide, ye gates of the sanctuary! give access to Ismael ben Phabi, the disciple of the whimsical, that he may officiate in his functions." The fourth cry of the Temple sounded: "Expand, ye gates, and admit Ananias the son of Nebedaios, the disciple of the glutton, that he may sate himself with sacrificial meat."
In that august assembly, as it sits before us, we recognize three constituent elements, the college of priests, the college of scribes and the college of elders. Among the first class is, besides the high priest Matthiah and his assistant the Sagan Joseph ben Ellen, Abiathar the chief of Abijah's course. There, too, sits Matthiah the prefect of lots, and Joazar son of Simon Boethus, and Eleazar another son of Simon, and Annas who is so well known to us from the Gospels. Among his contemporaries, the latter passed as the most happy of men, though he earned also the name of a cruel and proud pontiff.
Among the scribes we recognize the famous Hillel and several of his pupils, such as Onkelos, Jonathan ben Uzziel, and Hillel's son Simeon. Joseph of Arimathea among the ancients will make himself renowned in the history of Jesus.
But it is especially among the disciples that we find a great number of members who will enter into close relation, friendly or hostile, with Jesus. Not to mention Joseph Caiphas, the principal agent in the judicial murder of Jesus, not to speak of the five sons of Annas and Simon Cantheras, we see there Gamaliel, Samuel Hakkaton, Chananias ben Chiskia, Jochanan ben Zaccai, the youthful Nicodemus and Ismael ben Phabi.
It must not astonish us to find so many members of the same family holding rank in this body of Jewish officials. For practically, the high priesthood at this period is vested in a few privileged families. Within the years 37 B. C. to 68 A. D. three of the high priests belonged to the family of Phabi, six to that of Boethus, eight to that of Annas, and three to the family of Kamith. Leaving Ananel a Babylonian of humble origin, Aristobulus the last of the Asmonaeans, and Phannias the high priest of the revolution period, out of account, there remain only five who can not be proved to have belonged to one or another of those families, though they may have done so.
It must also be kept in mind that all the principal priestly families belong to the Sadducees, while most of the scribes and elders are Pharisees. The former acknowledge only the written Thorah as binding, and reject the entire traditionary interpretation and further development of the law by the scribes. For "only what is written, is to be esteemed as legal. What has come down by the tradition of the fathers needs not be observed."
The specific legal differences between the two parties are of minor interest. In penal legislation the Sadducees are more severe than the Pharisees. The former always strictly adhere to the letter of the law, while the latter mitigate its severity by interpretation. The same is the case in questions of ritual.
The dogmatic tenets of the Sadducees are of greater consequence. They do not believe in the resurrection of the body, retribution in a future life, and any personal continuity of the individual after death. The existence of angels and spirits they entirely deny, and according to them "good and evil are at the choice of man, who can do the one or the other at his discretion."
But though the Sadducean high priests are at the head of the Sanhedrin, the decisive influence in public affairs is in the hands of the Pharisees. The latter have the bulk of the nation on their side, they exercise the greatest influence on the congregations, so that all the acts of public worship, prayers and sacrifices are performed according to their injunctions. Even the Sadducees, in their public acts, adhere to the regulations of the Pharisees, because otherwise the multitude would not tolerate them.
These different parties constituting the Sanhedrin, it cannot surprise us that precisely those questions are decided before it, which the scribes believe to belong to that body. A tribe charged with idolatry, a false prophet, or a high priest are to be tried only before the Court of the Seventy-one. A voluntary war is to be commenced only after the decision of the Seventy-one has been given in regard to it. There is to be no enlargement of the city or of the Temple courts, till after the Court of the Seventy-one has decided the matter. Superior courts for the tribes are to be instituted only when sanctioned by the Sanhedrin. A town that has been seduced into idolatry is to be dealt with only by the Court of the Seventy-one.
Accordingly the high priest may be tried by the Sanhedrin, though the king is as little amenable to its authority as he is at liberty to become one of its members. The New Testament gives us several particular instances of trials before the Sanhedrin. Here Jesus appears on the charge of blasphemy, Sts. Peter and John on the charges of being false prophets and deceivers of the people; St. Stephen is accused before this tribunal of being a blasphemer, and St. Paul of transgressing the Mosaic law.
To-day's business involves no criminal matter; it is rather sacred and inquisitive in its nature. A number of candidates have presented themselves for the priesthood, and their genealogies as well as their other qualifications must first be approved of by the Court of the Seventy-one. The high priest opens the meeting with a few words concerning the special business of the day.
"Our forefathers," he says, "made provision that the priestly families should continue unmixed and pure. For he who is a member of the priesthood must propagate of a wife of our nation, without having any regard to money or dignities. He must make scrutiny, and take his wife's genealogy from the ancient tables, and procure many witnesses to it. This is our law and practice not only in Judea, but wheresoever there lives anybody of our nation. For in Egypt, and at Babylon, and whithersoever our priests are scattered, exact catalogues of their marriages are kept. To Jerusalem they send the ancient names of their parents in writing, as well as those of their remoter ancestors, and signify also who are the witnesses. And if any war falls out, such as have fallen out a great many times, as when Antiochus Epiphanes made an invasion upon our country, or when Pompey the Great did so, those priests that survive him, compose new tables of genealogy out of the old records, and examine the circumstances of the women that remain. Those that have been captives are not admitted to the priests marriage, because they may have had intercourse with Gentiles. For the space of two thousand years we possess the names of our high priests from father to son, set down in our records, and if any of these have been trangressors of the rules, they have been prohibited to present themselves at the altar, and to be partakers of any of our purifications. To-day we are called upon to do according to the manner of our ancestors. Let the records of genealogy be inspected, and a worthy priesthood be prepared unto Jehovah."
"The law of God is clear and plain to every one: Whoever of thy seed throughout their families, hath a blemish, he shall not offer bread to his God, neither shall he approach to minister to him. If he be blind, if he be lame, if he have a little or a great or a crooked nose, if his foot or his hand be broken, if he be crook-backed or blear-eyed, or have a pearl in his eye, or a continual scab, or a dry scurf in his body, or a rupture. Whoever of the seed of Aaron the priest hath a blemish, he shall not approach to offer sacrifices to the Lord, nor bread to his God; he shall eat nevertheless of the loaves, that are offered in the sanctuary, yet so that he enter not within the veil, nor approach to the altar, because he hath a blemish, and he must not defile my sanctuary. I am the Lord who sanctify them."
Matthiah is evidently fatigued by his speech. Never before has he delivered so long an oration in public. Well satisfied with the performance of his arduous duty, he commands the secretaries to proceed with the list of candidates' names. So many as eighteen young men are about to undergo the double trial of their fitness for the sacerdotal office, the scrutiny into their genealogy and into their bodily qualifications for the ministry of the altar. Regarding seventeen of them there is no difficulty as to the first point to be established. Their fathers' names are inscribed in the archives of Jeshana at Zipporim, so that no further inquiry is needed, or their mothers are the daughters of priests who have ministered at the altar, or of Levites who have sung in the choir, or of members of the Sanhedrin. For it is a general rule that those whose ancestors have been public officials or almoners, are at liberty to marry one belonging to the priesthood without further inquiry. Samuel's case is not so clear; hence his genealogical register will be investigated, after it has been established whether the other seventeen are free from bodily blemish.
Had the Sadducees alone been in the Sanhedrin, this investigation would have been extremely simple. A look at the candidate's eye, nose, hand, foot and back, together with a general investigation into his health, would have sufficed to settle the question beyond all reasonable doubt. But as things now stand, the minute regulations of the scribes must be followed. There are more than one hundred and forty physical defects which disqualify the candidate permanently for the priestly office, and twenty-two which do so temporarily. If any one has a pointed skull, or is radish-headed, or has no occiput, or has a humpback with a bone in the hump, or is so bald as not to have any hair between his ears, or if he has no eyelashes or only one eyebrow, or if his eyebrows hang down over his eyelashes, or if he has double eyelashes, or has not enough of an elevation between his eyes to prevent their being blackened at the same time, if his eyes are higher or lower, or either of them is higher or lower than their ordinary place, or if he is squint-eyed, or cannot bear the light in his eyes, or if his eyes are of a different color, or if they are constantly running, or if the eyelashes have fallen off, or if he is ox-eyed, or goose-eyed, or if his body bears no proportion to his members, or if his nose is too long, or too small, or if his eyes are small, or spongelike, if his upper lip is larger than his lower lip, or vice versa, if he has no teeth, if his belly protrudes, or his navel stands out, if he be epileptic, or melancholy, or bowlegged, or knock-kneed, or if he be goose-footed, or left-handed, or have six fingers, or six toes, or is black, or red, or white, or deaf, or foolish, or a giant, or a dwarf, in all these cases he cannot minister at the altar. Other impediments we cannot here state, either because they refer to parts of the body which we may not mention, or because they are already comprised in the general irregularities thus far stated. The nose, e.g., must be of the length of the small finger; the degree of baldness too is accurately determined and a superfluous member always must be examined whether it is merely a fleshy excrescence or has a bone in it.
Besides these irregularities which prevent priests' sons forever from offering sacrifices or entering into the Holy Place, there are twenty-two temporary impediments. If any one has, e. g., married a slave or a captive, or one who gets her living by cheating trades, or by keeping inns, or a divorced woman, he cannot ascend the altar till he has bound himself by vow not to profit by such a marriage. With all these restrictions, it is easily understood why five of the seventeen candidates are declared unfit for the ministry of the altar. The emoluments of the priesthood they will indeed sharefor they belong to the sacerdotal clanbut its highest and proper duties they cannot ever hope to fulfill. Most of their life will be spent in the Wood Chamber situated in the Court of Women. There they will pick out the worm-eaten pieces of wood from among those that are sound and fit for the service of the altar of burnt-offering.
Finally, Samuel is called upon to undergo the twofold scrutiny. The secretary reads his name and the name of his father Ananiah the son of Josiah, who was slain by Herod together with forty-four other members of the Sanhedrin, the very year in which the king conquered the Holy City. They had been the most faithful adherents of Antigonus' party, and their fidelity was revenged even on their families; their wives and children. Had not Ananiah been accidentally out of the city at that time, he too would have been slain without mercy. It was only Zachary's generosity that prevented Ananiah's death and helped him in his flight to Babylon. During the reading of these brief items, the scribes and elders in the Sanhedrin show a considerable amount of anger and passion, while the Sadducean and Herodian members of the body are over awed by sentiments of fear and anxiety.
Matthiah the high priest even proposes to omit the investigation of Samuel's case fraught as it is with danger not only for himself but also for the august Council of the nation. Or is it not always expedient to sacrifice the welfare of the individual for that of the body? But the scribes and the Pharisees cry out against such a mode of proceeding, and unanimously insist on having Samuel's case examined. Abiathar suggests that the scrutiny might be undertaken at any rate, and if Samuel proves all necessary conditions satisfactorily, it must be left to his own discretion whether he will exercise the priestly functions. Herod may, in the meantime, be informed of all that has been done by the Seventy-one.
Though Abiathar does not speak through real sympathy for Samuel, but only to remove his youthful rival forever from the priestly functions and from the dignity of the Council, his advice pleases every one. For the scribes and Pharisees believe that they will be able to influence Herod in favor of Samuel, so that the latter will be allowed to perform the duties of his calling in safety. Regarding Samuel's genealogy down to his father there is no difficulty, his grandfather Josiah having ministered at the altar and having been a member of the Sanhedrin. Hence the only question to be discussed regards his mother's genealogy.
For "when a priest wants to marry the daughter of a priest, he must go back and find evidence with regard to four generations of mothers, and therefore, strictly speaking, with regard to eight mothers. These are, her own mother and her mother's mother; the mother of her maternal grandfather and her mother again; the mother of her father and her mother; the mother of her paternal grandfather and her mother again. If on the other hand, the woman he wants to marry, be simply a daughter of Levi or of Israel, he must go back a step farther."
Ananiah had married at Babylon, and had not been able to enter the genealogy of his wife in the registers at Jerusalem on account of Herod's persecution. Hence Samuel must now prove that his mother is of the race of Israel. He produces the document duly signed and formally credited by the Resh Gelutha of Babylon. The seals and signatures are examined by the leading members of the Sanhedrin, and the document is passed over to the secretary to be read aloud.
A great number of the members hardly pay attention to the reader; for them it is only a repetition of the legal formulas which they hear almost daily. Then, there is a sudden halt in the reading; the secretary nervously looks up and down the page, then reads again from the beginning, till he comes to the fatal place where the name of Ismeria, Samuel's mother, should be mentioned. But he has not been deceived. A blank space is all he can see. There may have been letters, in all probability there have been. But it is beyond the power of anyone to tell precisely what word occupied the blank space.
Samuel and Zachary look anxiously at the reader; the high priest demands an explanation. In answer the document is presented, and attention is drawn to the vacancy. There is a stir in the august assembly. Never before has a case of this kind occurred in the Hall of Polished Stones. Then Matthiah calls the assembly to order, and asks what should be done in this case.
Abiathar and the men of his party are of opinion that Samuel has attempted to deceive the Council and gain admission to the sacerdotal ranks by means of mutilated genealogical records. But this conjecture is so improbable that the whole college of scribes and elders protest against it unanimously.
Hillel rises and proposes that the question of forgery be deferred to another day. "To-day," he says, "it is our object to examine the genealogical records of the candidates for the priesthood. Our business is well-nigh concluded, excepting the case of Samuel. Since he has failed to prove the pure Jewish descent of his mother by means of written documents, he must prove the same by oral testimony. As for me, I have known not only Samuel's mother but also her ancestors for four generations. All of them were sons and daughters of Abraham, all were faithful followers of the law of Moses, all distinguished for their piety and reverence for Jehovah."
The assembly is highly impressed by Hillel's words, but the testimony of one witness, even of Hillel, is not valid in Jewish jurisprudence. Besides Hillel no one is old enough to testify from his personal knowledge of Samuel's ancestral line. There is a general call upon any one willing to render a testimony similar to Hillel's. Samuel's case is lost; no one rises, and the high priest, to Abiathar's delight, is about to call for the votes of the Seventy-one. Two young priests leave the hall and return immediately with a black garment. For if a candidate fails to prove his geneology, he is dressed in black and dismissed from the assembly, being at the same time for ever excluded from the ranks of the priesthood. If the candidate proves his geneology, but is excluded for any other irregularity, there is hope, at least, for his descendants to be admitted to the service of the altar. Before the votes are taken, Gamaliel rises among the scribes' disciples, and asks leave to suggest another means of proof. "If Samuel proves that his mother's mother or sister or brother occupies, or has occupied, a position which requires a legal purity of descent, his mother's genealogy too is sufficiently established."
Zachary has up to this time kept absolute silence. He now advances, pale as death, and the muscles of his face slightly quiver with excitement. Many thoughts and suspicions have passed through his mind, while the discussion has gone on. He could have pointed out the man who had tampered with the document, though Samuel has not yet told him that it has been in Obed's hands.
"Ananiah," he says, "married Ismeria the younger sister of my wife Elizabeth. Since I have been admitted to the service of the altar, having proved to the satisfaction of this assembly my wife's Israelitish origin, Samuel too must be received."
"We all know Elizabeth and Zachary," answers Abiathar. "In Elizabeth has been verified what the prophet Osee wrote of Ephraim: 'Give them, O Lord! What wilt thou give them? Give them a womb without children, and dry breasts. For the wickedness of their devices I will cast them forth out of my house, I will love them no more.' The husband is deprived of the creator's blessing, as he has failed to comply with the creator's precept. Our doctors tell us that the childless, the blind and the poor must be regarded as dead, like the lepers. What then availeth the testimony of the dead among the living, of the accursed of God in Jehovah's own council?"
Matthiah the prefect of lots, noticing Zachary's intense suffering, would have gladly defended the honor and good name of his friend. But for the present, Samuel's interest demands a different course of action.
"Whatever value we may set on Zachary's testimony," he says, "it is well known to most of us that Elizabeth and Ismeria are sisters, and that Elizabeth's genealogical record is above suspicion. In our votes we should, therefore, consider the truth of the fact rather than the channel through which its knowledge has come to us."
After Hillel has pointed out to the assembly that even a woman's testimony is valid, in case it is nothing else than an unmistakable evidence of a fact, the high priest calls for the votes of the members. Sanhedrist after Sanhedrist rises, beginning from the most dignified, and gives his vote in clear and precise terms, the secretaries keeping faithful record of the single votes.
All the scribes and ancients vote in favor of Samuel, while nearly all the priests' votes are against him. Abiathar has not even self-control enough to hide his annoyance and his fear. No sooner has he heard the result of the proceeding than he leaves the Hall of Polished Stones, to avoid the looks of the sympathetic and the questions of the curious. With eager steps he strides across the Court of Priests to find Obed in the Beth-Moked and profit by his counsel.
No one doubts as to the result of the second examination regarding Samuel's bodily qualifications. He is not only well proportioned, but surpasses in beauty of form all those who have been admitted to the priestly service for many years past.
So soon as Samuel's case is decided Zachary addresses him in the words of Jesus the son of Sirach: "He exalted Aaron his brother, and like to himself of the tribe of Levi; he made an everlasting covenant with him, and gave him the priesthood of the nation, and made him blessed in glory."
Samuel on recovering from his state of bewilderment and anxiety, answers in the words of the same inspired writer: "And he girded him about with a glorious girdle, and clothed him with a robe of glory, and crowned him with majestic attire."
Then, presenting the first two articles of the priestly dress to Samuel, Zachary still continues: "He put upon him a garment to the feet, and breeches, and an ephod, and he compassed him with many little bells of gold all round about."
At this moment Matthiah ends his undertone conversation with a venerable looking scribe, and approaches Samuel and Zachary. Handing the sacerdotal girdle to the happy youth, he continues in Zachary's strain: "He gave him a holy robe of gold, and blue, and purple, a woven work of a wiseman, endued with judgment and truth: of twisted scarlet the work of an artist, with precious stones cut and set in gold, and graven by the work of a lapidary for a memorial, according to the number of the tribes of Israel."
Finally, Zachary presents the priestly cap with the words: "And a crown of gold upon his mitre wherein was engraved Holiness, an ornament of honor: a work of power and lovely to the eyes for its beauty."
All the candidates who have stood the double test are dressed like Samuel and their names are properly inscribed in the priestly records. "He that overcometh the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life" (Rev 3:5).
About the Sixth Hour
The Hebrews, like the Greeks and Romans in their earlier history, ate sitting. A carpet was spread on which the meal was served. At a later period, however, particularly when Palestine came under the influence of Roman manners, the Jews reclined on cushions or couches. The custom of giving preference in point of seat or position to guests of high consideration appears to have been of ancient date. In the time of Jesus Christ the Pharisees, always eager for distinction, coveted the place of honor at meals and feasts. Women were not admitted to eat with men, but had their meals supplied in their private apartment. In Babylon and Persia, however, females mingled with males on festive occasions. In general, the manner of eating was similar to what it is in the East at the present day. Special care was taken of favored persons. Neither knives, forks nor spoons were employed for eating. The food was conveyed from the dish to the mouth by the right hand. The parties sat, with their legs bent under them, round a dish placed in the centre, and either took the flesh meat with their fingers from the dish, or dipped bits of their bread into the savory mess, and conveyed them to their mouths. This practice explains the language of our Lord: "He it is to whom I shall give a sop when I have dipped it." This presenting of food to a person is still customary, and was designed originally as a mark of distinction, the choice morsels being selected by the head of the family for the purpose. Drink was handed to each one of the guests in cups or goblets, and at a very ancient period, in a separate cup to each person. Hence the word cup is used as equivalent to what we term a man's lot or destiny. We find this use of the word even in our Lord's prayer in Gethsemane: "Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but thine be done."
Not only the inhabitants of the East, but the Greeks and Romans also, were in the habit of taking a slight dinner about ten or eleven o'clock of our time, which consisted chiefly of fruits, milk, cheese and similar kinds of nourishment. Their principal meal was about six or seven in the evening; their feasts were always appointed for supper-time. For the burning heat of noon in the eastern climate diminishes the appetite for food and suppresses the disposition to cheerfulness. The hands were washed before meals, as was rendered necessary by the method of eating. The gospels allude to this when they say: "Then there came to Jesus from Jerusalem Pharisees and scribes, saying: Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands, when they eat bread." Prayers also were offered before and after meals, and the Talmud has preserved us their short formula: "Blessed be thou, O Lord, our God, the king of the world, who hast produced this foodor this drinkfrom the earthor the vine."
When Matthiah and Zachary and Samuel entered the dining room of the Beth-Moked, nearly all the officiating priests of Abijah's course had finished their morning repast. The special and exceptional provision made for the support of the priesthood, was in accordance with their divine calling. Its principle is expressed by the words: "I am thy part and thine inheritance among the children of Israel," and its joyousness, when realized in its full meaning and application, finds vent in the words of the royal Psalmist: "Jehovah is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup; thou maintainest my lot. The lines are fallen to me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage."
Obed had thought it advisable to keep out of Samuel's sight; but from what the young priest tells Matthiah and Zachary about the actions and words of his tempter, they have not the slightest doubt as to his identity.
"Obed's description of our scanty resources," says Matthiah, "is a positive misrepresentation of the facts. Though we have no direct means of enriching ourselves in Jehovah's service, we never are in want of the necessities of life. There are as many as twenty-four sources from which we derive our support."
"And are all of these available to any member of the priesthood?" inquires Samuel. "It appears to me that those should receive most who labor most."
"The distribution of our resources does not depend on the amount of a priest's actual work," explains Matthiah, "but on his being in a place and condition to worthily partake of the holy. Ten of the priestly resources are available only in the Temple itself, four in Jerusalem, and the remaining ten throughout the Holy Land."
"Since thou hast begun thy explanation of this matter," interposes Zachary, "thou must continue it; I had great difficulty in understanding the distribution of our revenues as it now prevails, principally because my instructors imparted their lessons piecemeal."
"Know then, Samuel," continues Matthiah, "that in the Temple itself must be consumed the priests' part of the sin-offering; that of the trespass-offering for known and for doubtful trespasses; public peace-offerings; the leper's log of oil; the two Pentecostal loaves; the showbread; what is left of the meat-offering, and the omer at the Passover."
"Must then every priest in the Holy City take his meals in the Temple, if he desires to eat of the sacrificial revenues?" inquired Samuel.
"I have already mentioned, Samuel," replies Matthiah with some warmth, "that four of the sacrificial resources are available in any part of the Holy City. They are the firstlings of beasts, the Biccurim or the first natural products of the soil, the portion from the thank-offering and from the Nazarite's goat, and finally the skins of the sacrifices. It is superfluous to add that these latter are commonly utilized for other than culinary purposes."
"Are all the priests who do not reside in the Holy City equally well provided for?" asks Samuel.
"Any priest throughout the Holy Land," eagerly continues Matthiah, "may profit by five sources of revenue: the second tithe, the heave-offering of the dough, the first of the fleece and the priests' due of meat may be given to any priest. The priests of the course actually on duty have five more means of support: the redemption money for a first-born son, that for an ass, the 'sanctified field of possession,' what has been 'devoted' and restitution due to a stranger or proselyte made after the owner's death, are paid to the priests of the course ministeriug in the Temple."
"Is then no distinction made between priest and priest in the distribution?" again inquires Samuel.
"Two most important distinctions are observed in distributing the sacrificial revenues," continues Matthiah. "First, an unlettered priest may receive only the following dues: things 'devoted,' the first-born of cattle, the redemption of a son, that of an ass, the priests' due, the first of the wool, the 'oil of burning,' the ten things which must be used in the Temple, and the Biccurim; all the other revenues are not available to the unlettered. Secondly, the high priest has the right to take what portion of the offerings he chooses, and one half of the showbread every Sabbath."
While Matthiah thus explains to Samuel, the law regulating the distribution of the priestly revenues the little company has taken the simple refreshments served in the Beth-Moked. We have seen that no wine or other intoxicating drink could be had in the Temple. Besides the portions of the sacrifices due to the priests, there are almonds, grapes, figs and pomegranates. Zachary has paid little attention to all this variety of food; he is so absorbed in thought that Matthiah's and Samuel's rising escapes his notice.
"Hast thou not obtained thy heart's desire, Zachary?" Matthiah addresses the venerable old man. "What anxiety can thus possess thy troubled soul?"
"Gladly would I say with Israel our father: Now let me die; I see my house revived and my family perpetuated in the Temple service. But I have not told thee all, Matthiah. Samuel has torn the royal contract which was to unite him to Herod's niece in marriage."
"Did Obed present the royal document?" inquires Matthiah with some uneasiness.
"Even so, Brother," replies Zachary; "and what is more, the document was signed in my own handwriting, as Samuel testifies."
"It is hard to foresee the king's line of action, especially since his fearful disease has taken hold of him," says Matthiah. "In the course of time I shall be able to conciliate him, whatever his present state of mind may be. Meanwhile we must take the safest course, and keep Samuel concealed, lest he be harmed by Herod in a fit of anger."
With these words, surely not consoling for Zachary nor re-assuring for Samuel, Matthiah leaves the Beth-Moked with hurried steps, followed by his two companions.
So soon as Abiathar entered the Beth-Moked whither we saw him hasten after Samuel's election he passed to the department in which the furnaces were kept: here Obed waited for his coming according to agreement. The latter, leisurely seated on a piece of carpet, has in his mind again and again gone over the pain and the disappointment which Zachary and Samuel would feel at the illegality of the genealogical record, and at the consequent exclusion of Samuel from the priestly ranks. If anything could have augmented his demon-like sense of delight, it would have been the sight of Zachary's heart-broken figure and Samuel's countenance clouded with grief and despair. On seeing Abiathar's pallid look and agitated manner, Obed's sense of supreme comfort lessens instinctively, and he feels irritated at the chief priest's ingratitude.
"Like the chaff which the wind driveth away, the fool shall not stand in judgment, nor the rash man in the congregation of the wise," Abiathar greets Obed. "Thy want of forethought is the strength of thy enemies, and thy lack of prudence is the ruin of thy friends."
"Many a time," answers Obed, "hath thy tongue outrun thy judgment, and many a time hath my counsel corrected thy rashness. Instead of speaking bitter words, thou oughtest to lay open thy needs, and obtain the necessary help, if help may be had."
"The son of Ananiah hath been received among the ministering priests, and thou well understandest what will follow his admission."
"Were all the points of law observed?" inquires Obed as soon as he has somewhat recovered from his state of stupor brought on by Abiathar's communication.
"All has been done in legal form," the chief priest answers.
"Was the genealogical register read?" repeats Obed.
"The document was found defective," replies Abiathar; "but Hillel and Zachary testified, and their testimony prevailed."
"Abiathar," says Obed after a long pause, "there is one more expedient I shall try; if it fails, both of us are ruined and must leave this cursed city at once."
"So long as the Lord is on our side," Abiathar replies, "our contest will be victorious; Zachary's childlessness and his constant exclusion from the office of offering incense are to me sure signs of the Lord's anger against him."
"What Zachary's childlessness means, and how it is caused I know not," says Obed; "as to his exclusion from the office of incense, I well know its cause. For these many years have I managed to be among the number of those who are admitted to the lot for the burning of incense, with the intention of preventing Zachary's appointment for that office."
This revelation seemed to scandalize even the hardened Abiathar. Versed as he was in under-hand dealing and scheming, he had never thought of attempting anything of the kind Obed had intimated. But for the present, the chief priest could not signify any displeasure at his accomplice's way of acting. His services were too much needed just now. Hence Abiathar only replies: "Why dost thou tarry, if there is another way of saving thyself and me?"
"I cannot leave this place, Abiathar," Obed answers, "till the lot has been cast for this afternoon's incense offering. Were I to leave now, my careful vigilance of these many years might be all in vain."
"As to the lot for the burning of incense," Abiathar urges, "thou needest not fear. Matthiah the high priest has signified his intention of performing that duty himself in order to add more solemnity to the occasion of the new priests' admission."
While Abiathar was speaking, Obed approached the northern door of Beth-Moked, and passing into the Chel and the Court of Gentiles, he hurriedly directed his steps towards Herod's royal palace.
Meanwhile, Matthiah has led Zachary and Samuel to the Court of Women where he pauses for a short while as if reflecting on the safest place of concealment. Thirteen chests or trumpets for charitable contributions are placed around the walls within the simple colonnade. Here Jesus will see "the rich men casting their gifts into the treasury and a certain poor widow casting thither two mites." The chests are narrow at the mouth and wide at the bottom, shaped like trumpets, whence their name. Nine are for the receipt of what is legally due by worshippers; the other four are for strictly voluntary gifts.
Trumpets I. and II. are appropriated to the half-shekel Temple-tribute of the current and the past year. Into trumpet III. the women who have to bring turtledoves for a burnt-offering and a sin-offering drop their equivalent in money, which is daily taken out and a corresponding number of turtledoves is offered. Trumpet IV. similarly receives the value of the offerings of young pigeons. In trumpet V. contributions for the wood used in the Temple, in trumpet VI. for the incense, and in trumpet VII. for the golden vessels of the ministry are deposited. Into trumpet VIII. is cast what is left over from the money set aside for the purchase of sin-offerings, into the trumpets X., XI., XII. and XIII. are similarly cast the remnants of the money destined for the purchase of trespass-offerings, offerings of birds, the offering of the Nazarites, of the cleansed lepers, and voluntary offerings.
It is in this court that by the light of four huge candelabra each fifty cubits high, and burning on the evenings of the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus will declare: "I am the light of the world." From the shape of the money-chests Jesus will take his ironical allusion to the blowing of trumpets, when describing the conduct of those who, in their almsgiving, seek glory from men rather than the honor of God.
Besides these single money-chests, there is at the centre of the northern wall a room into which at certain times the contents of the trumpets are carried. Opposite this chamber, at the centre of the southern wall, is the Chamber of the Silent where devout persons secretly deposit money, afterwards secretly employed for educating children of the deserving poor.
Matthiah throws a glance at the money-chests and the treasury-chambers, but considers them unfit for hiding places. He next looks upon the doors on the western side of the Court of Women, one on either side of the stairs leading up to the Nicanor Gate. They open into subterraneous rooms under the Court of Israel, where the Levites keep their musical instruments. The apartments are sufficiently ample, and even cheerful; but so many persons have access to them, that no one can hide in them for any length of time without detection.
Zachary suggests one of the thirty-eight rooms or, at any rate, one of the apartments surrounding the Temple proper. But not to speak of the law that none may be seated in these apartments, Matthiah knows by experience, that in case of peril no place on the whole Temple Mount is more scrupulously searched than those very chambers.
Nothing else remains than to conceal Samuel in one of the four rooms, or rather unroofed squares of forty cubits, occupying the four corners of the Court of Women. In the northeastern corner is the Lepers' Chamber; its name is due to the fact that the lepers bathe in this room during the second stage of their purification. Before that period great precautions are taken to examine them thoroughly. The examination cannot be proceeded with early in the morning, nor "between the evenings," nor inside the house, nor on a cloudy day, nor yet during the glare of midday, but from 9 a. m. to 12 o clock noon, and from 1 p. m. to 3 p. m.; according to Rabbi Jehudah, only at 10 or 11 o clock a. m., and at 2 or 3 o'clock p. m. The examining priest must neither be blind of an eye, nor impaired in sight, nor may he pronounce as to the leprosy of his own kindred. Furthermore, judgment is not to be pronounced at the same time about two suspicious spots, whether on the same or on different persons.
The rights of purification are twofold. The first restores the leper to fellowship with the congregation, the other introduces him anew to communion with God. In both respects, the leper has been dead, and has come to life again. The priest having declared the former leper clean, a quarter of a log of living water is poured into an earthenware dish. Then two birds are taken, the Rabbis say two sparrows, of whom one is killed over the "living water," so that the blood may drop into it, after which the carcass is buried. Next, cedarwood, hyssop, and scarlet wool are taken and tied together, and dipped, along with the living bird, which is seized by the tips of his wings and of his tail, into the bloodstained water, when the person to be purified is sprinkled seven times on the back of his hand, or, according to others, on his forehead. Upon this the living bird is set free, neither towards the sea, nor towards the city, nor towards the wilderness, but towards the fields. Finally, the leper has all the hair on his body shorn with a razor, after which he washes his clothes and bathes, when he is clean, though still interdicted his house for seven days.
The first stage of the leper's purification is then completed, and a seven days' seclusion serves as preparation for the second stage. The former may take place anywhere, but the latter must take place in the sanctuary. It begins on the seventh day itself; the purified leper has first again all his hair shorn, washes his clothes, and bathes. Three classes require this legal tonsure; lepers, Nazarites and Levites at their consecration. On the eighth day the leper brings three sacrifices: a sin, a trespass, and a burnt-offering, and the poor bring a sin, and a burnt-offering of a bird. We have already seen how the victim is slain, and how its blood is caught up and sprinkled. From what has been said, it appears that the leper's room might have offered a safe hiding place, on account of the few persons who ever entered it; but at the same time, one ran the risk of defilement in it.
The chamber where the Nazarites polled their hair and cooked their peace-offering seemed better fitted to conceal Samuel, and Matthiah had walked a considerable distance towards the court's southeastern corner where the chamber was situated. The offerings of a Nazarite on the completion of his vow are explicitly described in the Book of Numbers (6:13-21). Along with the "ram without blemish for a peace-offering," he had to bring a "basket of unleavened bread, cakes of fine flour, mingled with oil, and wafers of unleavened bread anointed with oil," as well as the ordinary "meat offering and their drink-offerings." After the various sacrifices had been offered by the priest, the Nazarite retired to the chamber in Court of Women, where he boiled the flesh of his peace-offering, cut off his hair, and threw it into the fire under the caldron. If he had cut off his hair before coming to Jerusalem, he must still bring it with him, and cast it in the fire under the caldron. This may throw light on what we read in the Acts (18:18): "And Paul having tarried after this yet many days, took his leave of the brethren, and sailed thence for Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila; having shorn his head in Cenchreae; for he had a vow."
As Matthiah approaches the Nazarites' Chamber his pace becomes slower, and at last he stops. No one knows how long Samuel will have to be concealed, and under such circumstances a room into which so many strangers enter, is no safe hiding place.
Zachary points to the southwestern corner of the court where the oil and wine are kept for the drink-offerings. The old priest has frequently assisted the officer in charge of the apartment and knows from experience that concealment in the place is easily effected.
"Knowest thou Obed, our enemy?" Matthiah replies to Zachary's suggestions. And after a perceptible inward struggle, he continues: "Zachary, thus far I have left thee in ignorance about Obed's designs against thee and thy house. Since he has made new efforts and designed new plots, thou must know his malice in order to defend thyself and thine against him. It was Obed who betrayed thy father to the royal scouts, when he lay concealed in yonder chamber. Josiah's betrayer would have too easy a task, were we to conceal Samuel in the Chamber of Oil and Wine."
"The Lord is good," answers Zachary, "and ready to forgive, and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon him. But he also remembers and visits and takes vengeance on his persecutors; he takes them away in his long-suffering, and afflicts those who inflict reproach upon his faithful servants."
Meanwhile they have reached the northeastern corner of the court and entered the chamber in which the priests unfit for other than menial services, pick out the worm-eaten wood from that destined for the altar. It so happened that at the time considerable quantities were piled up in the square. For the Feast of Wood-Offering had taken place on the 15th of Ab (August 13), being the last of the nine occasions on which offerings of wood were brought to the Temple. As early as the time of Nehemiah it was ordained that the priests, the Levites and the people were at certain periods of the year to furnish the necessary supply of wood for the altar. All was arranged according to houses and families, the respective turns being determined by lot. At a later period, the general wood-offering took place only once a year on the above stated day; certain families had, however, the privilege of offering wood on other occasions.
On the first of Nisan wood was furnished by the family of Arach, of the tribe of Judah; on the twentieth of Tammus by the family of David, of the tribe of Judah; on the fifth of Ab by the family of Pareosh, of the tribe of Judah; on the seventh of Ab by the family of Jonadab the Rechabite; on the tenth of Ab by the family of Senaa, of the tribe of Benjamin; on the fifteenth of Ab by the family of Sattu, of the tribe of Judah; on the twentieth of Ab by the family of Pachath-Moab, of the tribe of Judah.
But on the fifteenth of Ab, along with the family of Sattu, all the people, even proselytes, slaves, Nethinin and bastards, but notably the priests and Levites were allowed to bring up wood; hence the day is called "the time of wood for the priests." From this fact and the other that five of the special seasons for wood-offerings fell in the month of Ab, the chamber in the northeastern corner is now fairly filled with material and thus affords ample opportunity for hiding in it. The month of Ab was chosen as the principal season for the wood-offerings, because the wood was then thought to be in the best condition. The fifteenth day of that month was called "the day on which the axe is broken," signifying that after that date no wood might be felled for the altar, though part of what had been felled before was brought up after the fifteenth. Another account differs somewhat from the one here given. Jeroboam or Antiochus Epiphanes or some unnamed monarch had prohibited the carrying of wood and of the first-fruits to Jerusalem, when certain specially devoted families braved the danger, and on the fifteenth of Ab secretly introduced wood into the Temple, in acknowledgment wherof the privilege was forever after conceded to their descendants.
The wood was first deposited in the Wood Room in the Court of Women, where, as has been already stated, that which was worm-eaten or otherwise unfit for the altar was picked out by the priests who were disqualified for other ministries. The rest was handed over to the priests who were Levitically qualified for the service of the altar, and by them stored in the Wood Room in the Court of Priests. The fifteenth of Ab was observed as a popular and joyous festival. On this occasion, the maidens went dressed in white, to dance and sing in the vineyards around Jerusalem, when an opportunity was offered to the young men to choose their companions for life. For on the fifteenth of Ab the prohibition was removed which prevented heiresses from marrying out of their own tribe. This concession was well fitted for the peculiar festival. When all Israel without any distinction of tribe and family appeared to make their offerings at Jerusalem, it was but fitting that they should be at liberty similarly to select their partners in life without the usual tribal limitations.
Visitors in the Wood Room did not attract much attention. The family pride of those employed in the place and the painful sense of their physical shortcomings, together with the frequency of visiting strangers or priests made it possible for our little group of friends to pass unnoticed. But they were not entirely unobserved. At the very time they entered the room, the venerable old scribe to whom Matthiah had spoken in the Hall of Polished Stones, came in by the Beautiful Gate, and followed his friends without delay. In the Wood Room he had indeed some difficulty in picking out the exact passage Matthiah had chosen; but suspecting his friend's purpose, he knew instinctively the hiding place intended for Samuel. Zachary has been looking anxiously around him, ever since they approached the place of concealment, and much to his alarm he sees the scribe follow them.
"All is lost, Matthiah," says Zachary; "behold the scribe following and watching us."
Matthiah walks up to his friend as soon as he recognizes him, and asks about the success of his errand.
"It is well; all is well," the scribe answers; "Herod is much pleased at seeing Samuel received among the ministering priesthood."
"But why then did he wish Samuel to enter the army, or to live at his court?" inquires Zachary, who has been anxiously listening to the words of the scribe.
"At first," the latter continues, "I could not understand Herod's surprise at hearing my report. But then I learned that Samuel's chance to be received among the priesthood had been represented to the king as entirely hopeless. His genealogical record, Salome had told him, was lost and no way was left Samuel to prove his priestly descent."
"This, too, is a scheme of Obed," observes Matthiah; "may he perish with his plot."
"The king spoke of other matters, that were riddles to me," the scribe continues. "Samuel's family might be raised by appointing him to the headship of Abijah's course, the king said, and by raising Zachary to the dignity of the council. To all this I paid but little attention, being anxious to bring you the good news."
"Shall I now be free to mingle among the ministering priests," expectantly inquires Samuel, "without being obliged to lie concealed in this Wood Room?"
"Samuel," says Matthiah, "all depends on Obed's course of action; could I but know our enemy's deceit, I should be able to advise thee prudently."
"I saw Obed at the gate of Salome's palace," the messenger interposes; "but little help will he obtain from his patroness to-day. She has left this very morning for Caesarea, to be present at the new play written by her favorite, Gallus."
"Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel," exclaim Zachary and Samuel with one accord; "for he hath visited and wrought redemption for his people."
"And now we know," continues Matthiah, "that the Lord can do all things, and that no purpose of his can be restrained. Who is this that hideth counsel without knowledge? Therefore have we often uttered that which we understood not, things too wonderful for us, which we knew not. Hear, O Lord, I beseech thee, and I will speak; I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto me. I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear; but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I loathe my words and repent in dust and ashes."
The Evening Sacrifice
The evening sacrifice is usually slain midway between the eighth and the ninth hour and offered between the ninth and tenth. It resembles in all respects the morning sacrifice, except that the lot is cast only for the burning of incense, and that the latter takes place not before, but after the pieces of sacrifice have been laid on the fire. The daily burnt-offering is, therefore, girt round with the offering of incense.
When the time requires it, the two priests appointed by the morning lot, fetch the sacrificial lamb from the Beth-Moked, inspect it, water it out of the golden bowl, fasten it to the second ring, but not, as in the morning, on the western, but on the eastern end of the court, cut its wind-pipe and gullet, and catch up its blood which is sprinkled in the perscribed manner. Then the victim is flayed and divided up into portions similar to those we have considered in the morning.
At this juncture the proceedings are suddenly interrupted. Obed who according to appointment must carry the two sides of the victim, can not be found anywhere. Some hasten to the Beth-Moked, others to the Hall of Polished Stones, others again pass through the different courts, but all are equally unsuccessful. Abiathar must, of course, be informed of Obed's irregularity. Unwelcome as the news and its bearer will be to the chief priest, Obed's friend and defender on all occasions, the head of the course must provide in this extremity a substitute for the absentee.
Abiathar has not dared to leave the furnace room in the Beth-Moked since Obed's disappearance. The more he thinks of his present condition and his future prospects, the gloomier and more irritated he becomes. If Josiah's family returns, his headship of Abijah's house will surely be lost; even if he should retain his position in the Sanhedrin, his family after him will not be admitted to that dignity, having no longer any title to it. But these are bright and hopeful views; what of his injustice done to Zachary these many years? what of Josiah's wealth which he has given into Obed's hands to pay him for his services? what above all, if his complicity with Obed's dark transactions should come to light? In that case, exclusion from the priesthood and the Sanhedrin, prison and death will probably be his lot. And where remains Obed all this time?
As if in answer to Abiathar's last question Abdiah enters the furnace room with the words: "Obed is absent from his post in the Court of Priests."
"I'll have thee whipped, thou villain," Abiathar shouts at Abdiah.
Imagining that the chief priest has not understood his report, Abdiah states again: "Some one must be appointed in Obed's place; he is absent from his post at the evening sacrifice."
Abiathar sees that above all, he must not betray himself to his colleagues; he quietly orders Abdiah to do Obed's duty at the sacrificial service, and turning away, continues his melancholy reflections.
Meanwhile the victim is divided, and the priests walking in procession carry its parts to the ascent of the altar, where they salt their respective portions. Then going to the Gazith, they expect the high priest Matthiah to join them. For they have been told that no lot will be cast for the burning of the incense, the high priest intending to perform that ceremony. At their arrival they find Matthiah indeed, seated in the Hall of Polished Stones, but near by stands Ben Achiah the Temple physician with medicines and refreshments. A look at the high priest shows that his ministry cannot be thought of to-day. Word must be sent to Abiathar about this unexpected occurrence; not as if the chief priest could appoint anyone to burn the incense. But his knowledge must give full legal force to the casting of lots, now rendered necessary.
A few moments before the messenger reaches the Beth-Moked, Obed has hurriedly entered by the northern gate and passed into the furnace room. "The accursed son of Ananiah has won the victory," he addresses Abiathar; "Salome, my last hope, has left the city, and Herod has resolved to deprive thee of thy headship of Abijah's course."
For a moment Abiathar stands upright, as if rooted to the ground; his eyes look vacant, his mental faculties seem extinct, and his bodily frame resembles an inanimate mass of brute matter rather than a living being. "Cursed be the day that gave me birth," exclaims Abiathar, "and cursed be the womb that bare me and the man who begat me."
"Thy words ill befit this occasion," remarks Obed; "thou well knowest that Herod never removes an official from his position without assigning sufficient reason for his way of acting. Usually, the same reason suffices for the unhappy man's imprisonment and death."
"Why remind me of this, villain? Or rather, why not picture to me the honor of disgrace, the pleasure of pain, the delight of torture, the concentrated life in the hour of death?"
"Because I do not wish thee to undergo all this," calmly replied Obed; "instant action on our part may prevent our final ruin. We must leave the city before the evening sacrifice is laid on the altar."
At this point of time the messenger arrives in the furnace room, announcing the high priest's sudden illness, and the consequent necessity of casting the lot for the burning of incense. Abiathar merely gives a sign that he has heard the message, but Obed's eyes roll in wild excitement. With all his practical wisdom, he is really crazed on the point of not allowing the lot to fall on Zachary. So soon as the messenger leaves, he turns to Abiathar and declares his intention of taking part in the casting of the lot.
"What of our safety before the end of the evening sacrifice?" Abiathar inquires full of fear and misgivings.
"It will be well," briefly answers Obed; "our enemy shall not burn the incense before we leave the city."
Despite Abiathar's earnest pleading not to leave him in this hour of distress, Obed hurriedly passes through the Court of Priests to the Hall of Polished Stones. He arrives at the very moment when the priests are forming the customary circle around Matthiah the prefect of lots. At Matthiah's bidding Obed is taken prisoner by the Temple police on two distinct charges. First, he has been absent from his post at the evening sacrifice, a misdemeanor punishable by flogging; secondly, he has presented himself at the casting of the lot for the burning of incense, though he is already appointed for an office incompatible with the incense offering. While Obed is still haggling with the Temple guard and appealing to Abiathar's decision at whose command he claims to have absented himself from his duty, Matthiah proceeds with the casting of the lot, and it falls on Zachary.
"O magnify the Lord with me," exclaims Zachary, "and let us exalt his name together. I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all fears. I looked unto him, and was lightened; and my face hath not been confounded. The poor man cries out, and the Lord hears him, and saves him out of all his troubles. The angel of the Lord encompasseth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them. O taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man that trusteth in him."
Meanwhile, the messengers sent to inform Matthiah the chief priest of Obed's detention and the charges brought against him, have hurried to the Beth-Moked, have passed through every room and apartment in the House of Stoves, but cannot find Abiathar anywhere. The latter, left alone by Obed, had considered it safer to leave the Temple Mount without delay. As to Obed, he might meet him in the city, or if they should not meet, it would be far easier to remain in safety without him than in his company. After the men had searched every corner and apartment of the Beth-Moked, they looked through its northern gate into the Chel where the chief priest was accustomed to walk at times. The Levite on guard informs them that Abiathar has left the Temple in great haste without speaking to any one in the courts.
When this news is delivered in the Gazith, Obed is at first fully overcome with the difficulty of his position. But his readiness to devise means and ways does not leave him even in this critical position. Though he himself is fully conversant with Abiathar's reasons for leaving the Temple, no one else is acquainted with them. Consequently he may during the evening safely urge his appeal to the chief priest's decision. As to the course of action to be followed later, new resources will present themselves as time wears on. Even if everything else fails, he always may appeal to Zachary's intercession, whom he has so signally befriended on the morning of that very day.
Meanwhile Zachary has selected Matthiah and Samuel as his assistants, and all the ministering priests proceed to the altar of burnt-offering. This is the time of day alluded to in the Acts where we read: "Peter and John went up together into the Temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour." Though the evening service is somewhat shorter than that of the morning, it lasts, at any rate, about an hour and a half, say till about four o'clock of our time. The law: "The one lamb shalt thou offer in the morning, and the other lamb shalt thou offer at even" is thus sufficiently complied with. After the evening sacrifice no other offering may be brought except on the eve of the Passover, when the evening sacrifice takes place two hours before the usual time.
What has been said, sufficiently defines the vague terms in which the time of the evening sacrifice is described in the Book of Numbers (28:4,8) as falling "between the two evenings," that is, between the darkness of gloaming and that of the night. Again, such admonitions as "to show forth faithfulness every night upon an instrument of ten strings and on the psaltery," and the call to those who "by the night stand in the house of the Lord" to "lift up their hands in the sanctuary and bless the Lord," and the appointment of the Levite singers for the night service, point one and all to the sacrifice offered up between the two evenings.
After arriving in the Court of Priests, Zachary's assistants take the censer filled with live coals from the proper fire of incense-offering, and the double incense boat, and preceded by the two ministers appointed to cleanse the altar of incense and fill the lamps on the candlestick, they walk in procession to the Holy Place. Zachary too, receives the triple admonition customary on this occasion, and then the Magrephah is sounded, calling priests, Levites and "stationary men" to their respective positions.
St. Luke relates this event in his usual simple and clear way: "There was in the days of Herod, king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abijah; and he had a wife of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. And they had no child, because that Elizabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years. Now it came to pass while he executed the priest's office his lot was to enter the Temple of the Lord and burn incense."
The high priest Matthiah has in the meantime sufficiently recovered to enter the Priests' Court; ascending the altar of burnt-offering he seats himself near the entrance to the priests' circuit. Part after part of the victim is carried up to the altar the high priest laying his hands on every portion presented. The single pieces are first thrown promiscuously on the fire, and then arranged in their proper position. While this happens, the four assistants leave Zachary in the Holy Place, and stand on the stairs of the Temple porch. When finally the smoke of the burnt-offering curls up to the throne of the Most High, the presiding priest gives the loud command: "Burn the incense." Zachary pours the precious material upon the live coals, distributing it in the perscribed manner.
"And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the hour of incense," lying prostrate on their faces before the Lord, with outspread hands. Throughout the vast Temple buildings deep silence rested on the worshipping multitude, while within the sanctuary itself the cloud of odors rose up before the Lord. St. John takes from this circumstance his description of the heavenly Jerusalem: "And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour. And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand."
Within the sanctuary Zachary lies on his face before the Lord, repeating in his innermost heart the longings of the prophet: "Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness: let the earth open, that they may bring forth salvation, and let her cause righteousness to spring up together; I the Lord have created it. Amen."
"Look down from heaven, and behold from the habitation of thy holinesss and of thy glory: where is thy zeal and thy mighty acts? the yearning of thy bowels and thy compassions are restrained toward me. For thou art our father, though Abraham knoweth us not, and Israel doth not acknowledge us: thou, O Lord, art our father; our redeemer from everlasting is thy name. O Lord, why dost thou make us to err from thy ways, and hardenest our heart from thy fear? Return for thy servant's sake, the tribes of thine inheritance. Thy holy people possessed it but a little while: our adversaries have trodden down thy sanctuary. We are become as they over whom thou never bearest rule; as they that were called by thy name. Amen."
In the ardor of his devotion Zachary adds a third prayer: "Oh that thou wouldst rend the heavens, that thou wouldst come down, that the mountains might flow down at thy presence; as when fire kindleth the brushwood, and the fire causeth the waters to boil: to make thy name known to thy adversaries, that the nations may tremble at thy presence! When thou didst terrible things which we looked not for, thou camest down, the mountains flowed down at thy presence. For from of old men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen a God beside thee, which worketh for him that waiteth for him. Thou meetest him that rejoiceth and worketh righteousness, those that remember thee in thy ways: behold, thou wast wroth, and we sinned: in them have we been of long time, and shall we be saved? For we are all become as one that is unclean, and all our righteousnesses are as a polluted garment: and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. And there is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee: for thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast consumed us by means of our iniquities. But now, O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand. Be not wroth very sore, O Lord, neither remember inquity forever: behold, look, we beseech thee, we are all thy people. Thy holy cities are become a wilderness, Zion is become a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation. Our holy and our beautiful house, where our fathers praised thee, is burned with fire; and all our pleasant things are laid waste. Wilt thou refrain thyself for these things, O Lord? Wilt thou hold thy peace, and afflict us very sore?"
"And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zacharias was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said unto him:
"Fear not, Zacharias, because thy supplication is heard, and thy wife, Elizabeth, shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth. For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and he shall drink no wine or strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb. And many of the children of Israel shall he turn unto the Lord their God. And he shall go before his face in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to walk in the wisdom of the just; to make ready for the Lord a people prepared for him."
And Zacharias said unto the angel: "Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years."
And the angel answering said unto him: "I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and I was sent to speak unto thee, and to bring thee these good tidings. And behold, thou shalt be silent and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall come to pass, because thou believedst not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season."
Before Zachary had recovered sufficiently to realize the angel's threat and promise fully, Gabriel has disappeared from sight. For he is"One of the Seven,"And the people were waiting for Zacharias, and they marvelled why he tarried in the Temple." The Jews were fully persuaded that castastrophes sometimes occurred not only for intrusion into the Temple, but for any irregularity in it. Did they not read in the Book of Leviticus: "And he shall put the incense upon the fire before the Lord, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercyseat that is upon the testimony, that he die not?" (16:13) According o the Talmud, they feared the displeasure of God, should they not discharge their duty in the Holy Place with all possible haste and earnestness.
Who in God's presence, nearest to his throne,
Stand ready at command, and are his eyes
That run through all the heavens, and down to earth,
Bear his swift errands over moist and dry,
O'er sea and land."
And when he came out to join his assistants on the steps of the porch and to pronounce the threefold blessing over the vast congregation of Israel, "he could not speak unto them, and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the Temple, and he continued making signs unto them, and remained dumb." The blessing having been pronounced by Zachary's companions, the people's and the high priest's meat-offering are laid on the fire, and the drink-offering is poured out. Then the Temple music ends the sacrificial day.
The last notes of the music have now died out, and the ministering priests are once more gathered in the Hall or Polished Stones. Though the sacerdotal work is not yet ended, Matthiah and Samuel are without difficulty excused for a short time in order to attend to Zachary's case. The latter appears to be changed into another being. A new light shines in his bright and joyful eye as he points up to heaven; his tall stature has lost its abject stoop, and filled with heaven-born courage he has assumed the bearing of the prophets of old.
At Matthiah's and Samuel's approach, Zachary grasps the roll of Isaiah's prophecies; looking hurriedly over its columns, he points out to his companions the consoling passage: "Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child; for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the Lord. Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations; spare not; lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes. For thou shalt spread abroad on the right hand and on the left; and thy seed shall possess the nations, and make the desolate cities to be inhabited. Fear not, for thou shalt not be ashamed; neither be thou confounded for thou shalt not be put to shame; for thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth, and the reproach of thy widowhood shalt thou remember no more. For thy Maker is thine husband; the Lord of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is thy redeemer; the God of the whole earth shall be called. For the Lord hath called thee as a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, even a wife of youth, when she is cast off, saith thy God. For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee. In overflowing wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy redeemer."
When Matthiah and Samuel had read the passage thus far, they looked at each other and understood Zachary's secret. Samuel embraces the old priest, and blesses the everlasting mercies of God. Matthiah laying down the roll of Isaiah, applies to Zachary those other words of the prophet: "Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. For, behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the peoples; but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee."
The worshippers have slowly retired, only a few lingering for private prayer, or tarrying in the marble porches. The short eastern day is fast ebbing away in the west, the sun sinking far over the mountains of Gibeon in that ocean across which the Light of the World is soon to send forth its undying rays. The ninety-three sacrificial implements which have served during the day, must be cleansed and deposited in their proper places. The accounts of the day have to be made up and checked. For the Levites in charge of collecting the tithes and of the other business details, purchase during the day in large quantities what every one who brings a sacrifice needs for meat and drink-offerings. This is a great accommodation for the pious worshipper, and an important source of revenue to the Temple. But the transactions need a careful and accurate supervision on the part of the higher priestly officials.
While the accounts are drawn up, the usual peace of the evening is considerably disturbed. All the money kept in an apartment of the Beth-Moked, together with the checks or counterfoil, has disappeared. No one but Abiathar has had access to the room during the day, and Abiathar has not yet returned from his mysterious errand into the city.
While the money question excites the priests in and near the Beth-Moked, another event disturbs the peace of those near the Gazith. Herod's royal guard is standing in the Court of Gentiles, and loudly demands the surrender of Obed. The king has been informed of Obed's deception, as well as of his forging a document sealed with his own royal ring. Despite the forger's entreaties and pleadings, the Temple police gladly surrenders the prisoner. For Abiathar is sure to avenge all the wrongs, real or imaginary, done to Obed. Though Samuel, after his elevation to the headship of Abijah's course, which will happen within the week, is not able to trace Abiathar's where abouts, his intercession with Herod is powerful enough to change Obed's sentence of death into that of perpetual exile.
Meanwhile, the new company of priests and Levites who are to conduct the services of the morrow are coming up from Ophel under the leadership of their respective elders. Those who have officiated are preparing to leave by another gate. They have put off their sandals and their priestly dress, depositing all in the appointed chambers. For sandals may be worn in the Temple, the priests being barefoot only during their actual service. Abiathar, the chief priest, being absent, the oldest member of the departing division of priests takes leave of the entering division in words reminding one of St. Paul's words at the end of his second letter to the Corinthians: "He that has caused his name to dwell in this house cause love, brotherhood, peace, and friendship to dwell among you."
As the family whose daily "ministration is ac complished" leaves the Temple, its massive gates are closed by the priests or Levites appointed for this duty; the keys are hung up in the hollow square, under the marble slab in the House of Stoves. And when the stars are shining on the deep blue eastern sky, the priests gather for pious conversation and to take their evening meal; sacrificial meats and the prepared first fruits supply the necessary refreshments. The twenty-four night watches, consisting of ten men each, have already been set, and the captain of the Temple, or the "man of the Temple Mount" has begun his rounds of inspection.
"Watchman, what of the night? watchman, what of the night? The morning cometh, and also the night. If ye will inquire, inquire! Return, come! How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace, that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion: Thy God reigneth! The voice of thy watchmen! they lift up the voice, together do they sing; for they shall see, eye to eye, when the Lord returneth to Zion. Break forth into joy, sing together, ye waste places of Jerusalem: for the Lord hath comforted his people, he hath redeemed Jerusalem. The Lord hath made bare his arm in the eyes of all nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God."
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