THE PEOPLE WEPT
The first people to feel the impact of this "Mosaic Law" which the Levites were developing in Babylon were the Samaritans, who in 538 BC warmly welcomed the Judahites returning to Jerusalem and in token of friendship offered to help rebuild the temple, destroyed by the Babylonians in 596 BC. At the Levites' order the Samaritans were brusquely repulsed and at this affront became hostile, so that the restoration of the temple was delayed until 520 BC. (The feud against the Samaritans continued throughout the centuries to the present time, when they have been reduced to a few score or dozen souls).
The friendly approach shows that the new "Law" of the Judeans was unknown to their neighbours, who were taken by surprise by this rebuff. It seems to have been just as little known to, or understood by the Judeans themselves, at that period. The books of the Law were still being compiled in Babylon and, despite anything the priests may have told them, they clearly did not at that time realize that they were to be racially, as well as religiously, debarred from their fellow men.
The repulse of the Samaritans gave the first hint of what was to follow. The Samaritans were Israelites, probably infused with other blood. They practised Jehovah-worship but did not recognize the supremacy of Jerusalem and on that account alone would have incurred the hatred of the Levites, who probably saw in them the danger of an Israelite revival and absorption of Judah. Thus the Samaritans were put under the major ban; even by taking a piece of bread from a Samaritan a Judahite broke all the statutes and judgments of the Levites and abominably defiled himself.
After this first clash with their neighbours, the Judeans looked around them at ruined and depopulated Jerusalem. None of them, unless they were ancients, can have known it before. They were few in number: those who "returned" numbered about forty thousand, which was perhaps a tenth or twentieth of the total, for centuries self-dispersed in other lands.
It was not a happy or triumphant return for these people, though it was a major political success for the priesthood. The Levites met the same difficulty as the Zionists in 1903, 1929 and 1953: the chosen people did not want to go to the promised land. Moreover, the leaders did not intend to head "the return"; they wished to stay in Babylon (as the Zionist leaders today wish to stay in New York).
The solution found in 538 BC was similar to the one found in 1946: the zealots were ready to go, and a hapless few, who were too poor to choose, were rounded up to accompany them. Those who desired the privilege of remaining in Babylon (under their own prince, the Exilarch, in his own capital!) were mulcted in fines (just as the wealthy Jews of America are pressed today to provide funds for the Zionist state).
The Jewish nation was already and finally dispersed; obviously it could never again be reassembled in Canaan. That was a fact, unalterable and permanent; "from the exile the nation did not return, but a religious sect only", says Professor Wellhausen. But this symbolic "return" was of the utmost importance to the priesthood in establishing its mystic power over the scattered mass. It could be held up as the proof that "the Law" was true and valid, and that the destiny of the "special people" was to destroy and dominate.
The "return" meant quite different things to the few who returned and to the many who watched from the dispersion. To the few it meant the possibility to practise Jehovah-worship in the way and on the spot prescribed by "the Law". To the many it was a triumph of Judahite nationalism and the portent of the final triumph foreseen by the Law.
This watching mass had seen the means by which the success had been achieved, the conqueror undone and overthrown, and the "captivity" transformed into the "return". Segregation had proved effective, and the chief methods of enforcing this segregation were the ghetto and the synagogue. The ghetto (essentially a Levitical concept) had been tried out in Babylon, in the form of the closed-community in which the Judahites lived.
The collective reading of the law had also proved to be an effective substitute for the ritual of worship which, under the Law, could be performed only at the temple in Jerusalem (this was the beginning of the synagogue). The institutions of the ghetto and the synagogue were adopted by the communities of the dispersion, and gave them a feeling of union with the exiled Judahites and the returned Judeans.
Thus the "religious sect" which "returned" to an unknown Jerusalem was also the core of the nation-within-nations, state-within-states. The priesthood had shown itself able to maintain its theocracy without a territory of its own and under a foreign king. It had ruled its followers under its own Law; and of this Law as it was first imposed in exile on the Judahites in Babylon Dr. Kastein says: "Instead of the constitution of the defunct state, communal autonomy was established, and, instead of the power of the state, there came into being another power, more reliable and more enduring: the stern and inexorable regime enforced by the obligation to render unquestioning obedience to the regulations of the ritual."
The words deserve careful study; many of "the regulations of the ritual" have been quoted in this book. The Levites had succeeded, in "captivity" and on foreign soil, in "enforcing" a "stern and inexorable regime". The achievement is unique, and it has been a continuing one, from that time to our day.
"Strangers" are usually puzzled to imagine any means by which the ruling sect could keep so firm a hold over a community scattered about the world. This power is based, ultimately, on terror and fear. Its mysteries are kept hidden from the stranger, but by diligent study he may gain some idea of them.
The weapon of excommunication is a dreaded one, and the fear which it
inspires rests to some extent on the literal Judaist's belief in the physical efficacy of the curses enumerated in Deuteronomy and other books; the Jewish Encyclopaedia testifies to this continuing belief. In this matter there is a strong resemblance to the African Native's belief that he will die if he is "tagati'd", and to the American Negro's fear of voodooist spells. Casting out of the fold is a much-feared penalty (and in the past was often a lethal one), of which examples may be found in the literature of our day.
Also, for pious (or for that matter superstitious) Judaists the Torah-Talmud is the only Law, and if they submit formally to the laws of countries where they dwell, it is with this inner reservation. Under that only-Law the priesthood wields all judicial and magisterial powers (and often has had these formally delegated to it by governments), and literally the Law includes capital punishment on numerous counts; in practice the priesthood in closed-communities of the dispersion has often exacted that penalty.
The Jerusalem to which a few returned was far from Babylon, in those times, and after their first coup (the repulse of the Samaritans' offer of friendship) the Levites apparently found themselves unable, from a distance, to restrain the normal impulses of human kind. The Judahites, in their impoverished fragment of land, began to settle down and intermarry with their neighbours for all that. They broke no law comprehended by them. The books of the Law were still being compiled in Babylon; they knew about Solomon's hundreds of wives and Moses's Midianite father-in-law, but did not yet know that Moses had been resurrected in order to exterminate all the Midianites save the virgins. Thus they married their neighbours' sons and daughters and this natural intermingling continued for about eighty years after the return.
During that period the Levites in Babylon completed the Law, the impact of which all nations have felt ever since. Ezekiel of the High Priest's family was its chief architect and probably all five books of the Law, as they have come down, bear his mark. He was the founding-father of intolerance, of racialism and vengeance as a religion, and of murder in the name of God.
The book of Ezekiel is the most significant of all the Old Testament books. It is more significant than even Deuteronomy, Leviticus and Numbers because it seems to be the fountainhead from which the dark ideas of those books of the Law first sprang. For instance, the student of the curses enumerated in Deuteronomy is bound to suspect that the deity in whose name they were uttered was of diabolic nature, not divine; the name, "God", in the sense which has been given to it, cannot be coupled with such menaces. In Ezekiel's book the student finds this suspicion expressly confirmed. Ezekiel puts into the very mouth of God the statement that he had made evil laws in order to inspire misery and fear! This appears in chapter 20 and gives the key to the whole mystery of "the Mosaic Law" .
In this passage Ezekiel appears to be answering Jeremiah's attack on the
Levites in the matter of sacrificing the firstborn: "And they have built the high places to burn their sons and daughters in the fire; which I commanded not, neither came it into my heart". Ezekiel is not much concerned about the lot of the sons and daughters but is clearly enraged by the charge that the Lord had not commanded the sacrifice of the firstborn, when the scribes had repeatedly ascribed this command to him. His retort is concerned only to show that God had so commanded and thus to justify the priesthood; the admission that the commandment was evil is casual and nonchalant, as if this were of no importance:
"I am the Lord your God; walk in my statutes and keep my judgments, and do them….Notwithstanding the children rebelled against me; they walked not in my statutes, neither kept my judgments to do them…. then I said, I would pour out my fury upon them, to accomplish my anger against them in the wilderness….Wherefore I gave them also statutes that were not good and judgments whereby they should not live; And I polluted them in their own gifts, in that they caused to pass through the fire all that openeth the womb, that I might make them desolate, to the end that they might know that I am the Lord."
The ruling of Christian theologians, that the Old Testament is of "equal divine authority" with the New, presumably includes this passage! Ezekiel, in his day, forbade any protest by quickly adding, "And shall I be enquired of by you, O house of Israel? As I live, saith the Lord, I will not be enquired of by you".
Ezekiel experienced the Fall of Judah and the removal of the sect to Babylon, so that his book is in parts an eye-witness account of events. Its other, "prophetic" parts show this founding-father of literal Judaism to have been a man of dark, even demoniac obsessions; indeed, parts of the book of Ezekiel probably could not be publicly printed as anything but Scripture.
Early in it he portrays (in words which he also attributes to the Lord God) a siege of Jerusalem in which he, Ezekiel, to atone "for the iniquity of the people", is commanded to eat human excrement baked before his eyes. At his plea, that he has always scrupulously observed the dietary laws and never taken anything abominable in his mouth, this is mitigated to cow's dung. Then he threatens trangressors with cannibalism, a curse on which the Levites laid marked stress:
". . . the fathers shall eat the sons in the midst of thee and the sons shall eat their fathers…. a third part shall fall by the sword…. and I will scatter a third part unto all the winds….famine and evil beasts…. pestilence and blood….."
All this is to be the retribution for non-observance, not for evil deeds. Pages of cursings follow and Jehovah promises to use the Gentiles as the rod of chastisement: "Wherefore I will bring the worst of the heathen,.. and they shall possess your houses".
Portraying what will happen to those who worship "other gods", Ezekiel in a characteristic vision sees "them that have charge over the city" (Jerusalem) "draw near, every man with his destroying weapon in his hand," One, with a
writer's inkhorn by his side, is commanded by the Lord, "go through the midst of Jerusalem and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof" (these are the zealots in "observance"). The foreheads having been marked, Ezekiel quotes the Lord, "in my hearing", as saying to the men, "Go ye through the city and smite; let not your eye spare, neither have ye pity; slay utterly old and young, both maids, and little children and women; but come not near any man upon whom is the mark . . . and they went forth and slew in the city".
After Ezekiel's time men may have thought it wise to be seen sighing and crying in Jerusalem; hence, perhaps, the Wailing Wall. Chapter on chapter of menaces follow, always with the alluring proviso that if the transgressors turn from their wickedness towards observance, even worse things will then be visited on the heathen:
"I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land…. And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God…. Assemble yourselves, and come; gather yourselves on every side to my sacrifice that I do sacrifice for you, even a great sacrifice for you, even a great sacrifice upon the mountains of Israel, that ye may eat flesh and drink blood. Ye shall eat the flesh of the mighty, and drink the blood of the princes of the earth…. And ye shall eat fat till ye be full, and drink blood till ye be drunken…. and I will set my glory among the heathen, and all the heathen shall see my judgment that I have executed, and my hand that I have laid upon them".
While the school of scribes founded by Ezekiel continued for eighty years, in Babylon, to compile their Law, the repatriated Judahites in Jerusalem gradually developed normal relationships with their neighbours. They had never known the regime of bigotry and exclusion which was being prepared for them in Babylon. Many of the people still prayed to "other gods" for rain, crops, sun and herds, and to Jehovah in tribal feuds.
Then, in 458 BC, the Levites struck.
Their Law was ready, which was not by itself of much importance. The Persian King was ready to enforce it for them, and that was of the greatest importance, then and up to the present moment. For the first time the ruling sect accomplished the wonder which they have since repeatedly achieved: by some means they induced a foreign ruler, who was their ostensible master and to all outer appearances a mighty potentate in his own right, to put his soldiers and money at their disposal.
On this day in 458 BC the Judahites in Jerusalem were finally cut off from mankind and enslaved in a way they never knew in Babylon. This was the true "start of the affair". The story is told in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, the Levitical emissaries from Babylon who were sent to Jerusalem to enforce Ezekiel's law.
Ezra of the high priesthood came from Babylon to Jerusalem with some 1500 followers. He came in the name of the Persian King Artaxerxes the Longhanded, with Persian soldiers and Persian gold. He arrived just as Dr. Chaim Weizmann arrived in Palestine in 1917, supported by British arms and British gold, and in 1947, supported by American money and power. Ezra was in legal form a Persian emissary (Dr. Weizmann, a Russian-born Jew, was in legal form a British emissary in 1917).
What means the sect found to bend King Artaxerxes to its will, none can now discover; after King Cyrus, he was the second potentate to play a puppet's part and in our century this readiness has become a strict qualification for public life.
Ezra brought the new racial Law with him. He enforced it first among his own travelling companions, allowing only those to accompany him who could prove that they were Judahites by descent, or Levites. When he reached Jerusalem he was "filled with horror and dismay" (Dr. Kastein) by the prevalence of mixed marriages. The Judahites were finding happiness in their fashion; "by tolerating miscegenation with neighbouring tribes they had established peaceful relations based on family ties".
Dr. Kastein (who was equally horrified by this picture many centuries afterwards) has to admit that the Judahites by this intermingling "observed their tradition as it was understood at the time" and broke no law known to them. Ezra brought Ezekiel's new Law, which once more supplanted the old "tradition". In his status as emissary of the Persian king he had the Jerusalemites assembled and told them that all mixed marriages were to be dissolved; thenceforth "strangers" and everything foreign were to be rigorously excluded. A commission of elders was set up to undo all the wedlocks forged and thus to destroy the "peaceful relations based on family ties".
Dr. Kastein says that "Ezra's measure was undoubtedly reactionary; it raised to the dignity of a law an enactment which at that time was not included in the Torah" (which the Levites, in Babylon, were still writing down). Dr. Kastein's use of the word "dignity" is of interest in this connection; his book was published, in Berlin, in the year, twenty-four centuries later, when Hitler enacted exactly the same kind of law; it was then called "infamous" by the Zionists, and the armies of the West, reversing the role of the Persian soldiers of 458 BC, were mobilized to destroy it!
The effect of this deed was the natural one, in 458 BC as in 1917 AD: the neighbouring peoples were affronted and alarmed by the unheard-of innovation. They saw the threat to themselves and they attacked Jerusalem, tearing down the symbols of the inferiority imputed to them: its walls. By that time Ezra, like any Twentieth Century Zionist, had evidently returned to his home abroad, for once more the artificial structure began to crumble and natural tendencies were resumed: intermarriage began again and led anew to "peaceful relations based on family ties". Only force can prevent this from happening.
After thirteen years, in 445 BC, the elders in Babylon struck again. Nehemiah was another figure, as typical of our century as of that time in Babylon. He was of Judahite descent and stood high in the Persian king's favour (as Zionist "advisers" today habitually stand at the right hand of British Prime Ministers and American Presidents; the parallel could not be much closer). He was cupbearer to Artaxerxes himself. He arrived from Babylon in Jerusalem with dictatorial power and enough men and money to re-wall the city (at Persian expense; the parallel with today continues), and it thus became the first true ghetto. It was an empty one, and when the walls were ready Nehemiah ordered that one in ten of the Judahites be chosen by lot to reside in it.
Race thus became the supreme, though still unwritten tenet of the Law. Jehovah-worshippers who could not satisfy Persian officials and the Levite elders of their descent from Judah, Benjamin or Levi were rejected "with horror" (Dr. Kastein). Every man had to establish "the undisputed purity of his stock" from the registers of births (Hitler's Twentieth Century edict about the Aryan grandmothers was less extreme).
Then, in 444 BC, Nehemiah had Ezra embody the ban on mixed marriages in the Torah, so that at last what had been done became part of the much-amended "Law" (and David and Solomon presumably were posthumously cast out of the fold). The heads of clans and families were assembled and required to sign a pledge that they and their peoples would keep all the statutes and judgments of the Torah, with special emphasis on this new one.
In Leviticus the necessary insertion was made: "I have severed you from other people that ye should be mine". Thenceforth no Judahite might marry outside the clan, under penalty of death; every man who married a foreign woman committed a sin against God (Nehemiah, 13.27; this is the law in the Zionist state today). "Strangers" were forbidden to enter the city, so that the Judahites "might be purified from everything foreign".
Nehemiah and Ezra were both eye-witnesses. Nehemiah is the ideal, unchallengeable narrator: he was there, he was the dictator, his was the deed. He says that when Ezra for the first time read this new Law to the Jerusalemites:
"All the people wept when they heard the words of the Law".
These twelve words of contemporary journalism bring the scene as clearly before today's reader as if it had occurred twenty-four hours, not twenty-four centuries ago. He sees the weeping, ghettoized throng of 444 BC through the eyes of the man who, with Persian warriors at his side, forced them into their first true captivity, the spiritual one which thereafter was to enclose any man who called himself "Jew".
Nehemiah remained twelve years in Jerusalem and then returned to the Babylonian court. At once the artificial structure he had set up in Jerusalem began to disintegrate, so that some years later he descended again on the city, where once more mixed marriages had occurred. He "forcibly dissolved" these,
also setting "the severest penalties" on further transgressions of the kind. Next, "with a view to applying rigorously the selective principle, he again carefully studied the register of births" and ejected all, including even Aaronite families, in whose descent the slightest flaw could be detected. Last, he "ruthlessly purged" the community of all who had failed in "unquestioning and unhesitating allegiance to the established order and the law" and made the entire people renew their pledge.
This is known as "the New Covenant" (as Deuteronomy was the Second Law; these qualifying words are the milestones of the supplanting heresy). It had to be signed, at Levite order and under Persian duress, by every man in Jerusalem singly, as if it were a business contract. Then Nehemiah finally departed for Babylon, his home, having "completed the task of isolation" and "left behind him a community which, agreed as it now was on all fundamental questions, was able to fend for itself. He had organized their everyday life for them and built up their spiritual foundations". These words are Dr. Kastein's; the reader has seen, also in his words, by what means these Jerusalemites were brought to "agree on all fundamental questions".
By this time about four hundred years had passed since the repudiation of Judah by Israel, and three hundred since the Assyrian conquest of Israel. This period of time the Levites had used to complete the perversion of the older tradition, to put their racio-religious Law in writing, and at last to clamp it, like shackles, on the Judahites in the little Persian province of Judea. They had succeeded in setting up their fantastic, tribal creed and in establishing their little theocracy. They had started the catalytic agent on its journey through the centuries.
For more than a hundred generations, since that day when the New Covenant was enforced by Persian arms, and the people who had wept were compelled to sign it anew, a mass of human beings, changing in blood but closely or loosely held in the bonds of this Law, have carried its burden and inheritance, in spiritual isolation from the rest of mankind. The singular paradox remains: though their enchainment was devised by the Levites the chains were Persian. On that day as ever since, though the fanatical sect has dictated their continuing captivity, foreign arms and foreign money have kept them in it.
Where does responsibility lie between those who incite to a deed and those who commit it? If the answer is that the greater and final responsibility lies with the perpetrator, then the verdict of history is incontestably, though strangely, that responsibility for the heresy of Judaism lies with the Gentiles, who from the time of the Persian kings to this century have done the bidding of the sect that devised it.
It was a heresy: On the day when King Artaxerxes's soldiers forced the Jerusalemites to sign Ezekiel's New Covenant, the perversion of the earlier Israelite tradition was made complete and the affirmation of God was supplanted
by the denial of God.
No resemblance remained between the God of the moral commandments and Ezekiel's malevolent deity who boasted that he commanded men to kill their firstborn in order to keep them in awe of himself! This was not revealed God, but a man-made deity, the incarnation of primitive tribalism. What those ancient people signed under duress, in the New Covenant, was either the formal denial of God or the formal claim that God was Judah, and this in fact is the claim expressly made in many Zionist utterances of our time, so that the heresy is openly avowed:
"God is absorbed in the nationalism of Israel. He becomes the national ethos . . . He creates the world in the Hebrew language. He is the National God" (Rabbi Solomon Goldman).
"We and God grew up together. . . We have a national God. . . We believe that God is a Jew, that there is no English or American God" (Mr. Maurice Samuel).
"It was not God who willed these people and their meaning. It was this people who willed this God and this meaning" (Dr. Kastein).
These statements are explicit, and such phrases are easy to pen in this century, in New York or Chicago, London or Berlin. But at the start of this affair, as Nehemiah recorded:
"All the people wept when they heard the words of the Law" and since that day it has given very many cause to weep.