As we follow the narrative, confirmatory evidence of what had preceded springs up at almost every step. It is quite in accordance with the abrupt departure of Jesus from Capernaum, and its motives, that when, so far from finding rest and privacy at Bethsaida (east of the Jordan), a greater multitude than ever had there gathered around Him, which would fain have proclaimed Him King, He resolved on immediate return to the western shore, with the view of seeking a quieter retreat, even though it were in ‘the coasts of Tyre and Sidon.’ 1 According to St. Mark, 2 the Master had directed the disciples to make for the other Bethsaida, or ‘Fisherton,’ on the western shore of the Lake. 3 Remembering how common the corresponding name is in our own country, 4 and that fishing was the main industry along the shores of the Lake, we need not wonder at the existence of more than one Beth-Saida, or ‘Fisherton.’ 5 Nor yet does it seem strange, that the site should be lost of what, probably, except for the fishing, was quite an unimportant place. By the testimony both of Josephus and the Rabbis, the shores of Gennesaret were thickly studded with little towns, villages, and hamlets, which have all perished without leaving a trace, while even of the largest the ruins are few and inconsiderable. We would, however, hazard a geographical conjecture. From the fact that St. Mark 6 names Bethsaida, and St. John 7 Capernaum, as the original destination of the boat, we would infer that Bethsaida was the fishing quarter of, or rather close to, Capernaum, even as we so often find in our own country a ‘Fisherton’ adjacent to larger towns. With this would agree the circumstance, that no traces of an ancient harbour have been discovered at Tell Hûm, the site of Capernaum. 8 Further, it would explain, how Peter and Andrew, who, according to St. John, 9 were of Bethsaida, are described by St. Mark 10 as having their home in Capernaum. It also deserves notice, that, as regards the house of St. Peter, St. Mark, who was so intimately connected with him, names Capernaum, while St. John, who was his fellow-townsman. names Bethsaida, and that the reverse difference obtains between the two Evangelists in regard to the direction of the ship. This also suggests, that in a sense – as regarded the fishermen – the names were interchangeable, or rather, that Bethsaida was the ‘Fisherton’ of Capernaum.
A superficial reader might object that, in the circumstances, we would scarcely have expected Christ and His disciples to have returned at once to the immediate neighbourhood of Capernaum, if not to that city itself. But a fuller knowledge of the circumstances will not only, as so often, convert the supposed difficulty into most important confirmatory evidence, but supply some deeply interesting details. The apparently trivial notice, that (at least) the concluding part of the Discourses, immediately on the return to Capernaum, was spoken by Christ ‘in Synagogue,’ 12 13 enables us not only to localise this address, but to fix the exact succession of events. If this Discourse was spoken ‘in Synagogue,’ it must have been (as will be shown) on the Jewish Sabbath. Reckoning backwards, we arrive at the conclusion, that Jesus with His disciples left Capernaum for Bethsaida-Julias on a Thursday; that the miraculous feeding of the multitude took place on Thursday evening; the passage of the disciples to the other side, and the walking of Christ on the sea, as well as the failure of Peter’s faith, in the night of Thursday to Friday; the passage of the people to Capernaum in search of Jesus, 14 with all that followed, on the Friday; and, lastly, the final Discourses of Christ on the Saturday in Capernaum and in the Synagogue.
Two inferences will appear from this chronological arrangement. First, when our Lord had retraced His steps from the eastern shore in search of rest and retirement, it was so close on the Jewish Sabbath (Friday), that He was almost obliged to return to Capernaum to spend the holy day there, before undertaking the further journey to ‘the coasts of Tyre and Sidon.’ And on the Sabbath no actual danger, either from Herod Antipas or the Pharisees, need have been apprehended. Thus (as before indicated), the sudden return to Capernaum, so far from constituting a difficulty, serves as confirmation of the previous narrative. Again, we cannot but perceive a peculiar correspondence of dates. Mark here: The miraculous breaking of Bread at Bethsaida on a Thursday evening; the breaking of Bread at the Last Supper on a Thursday evening; the attempt to proclaim Him King, and the betrayal; Peter’s bold assertion, and the failure of his faith, each in the night from Thursday to Friday; and, lastly, Christ’s walking on the angry, storm-tossed waves, and commanding them, and bringing the boat that bore His disciples safe to land, and His victory and triumph over Death and him that had the power of Death.
These, surely, are more than coincidences; and in this respect also may this history be regarded as symbolic. As we read it, Christ directed the disciples to steer for Bethsaida, the ‘Fisherton’ of Capernaum, But, apart from the latter suggestion, we gather from the expressions used, 15 that the boat which bore the disciples had drifted out of its course – probably owing to the wind – and touched land, not where they had intended, but at Gennesaret, where they moored it. There can be no question, that by this term is meant ‘the plain of Gennesaret,’ the richness and beauty of which Josephus 16 and the Rabbis 17 describe in such glowing language. To this day it bears marks of having been the most favoured spot in this favoured region. Travelling northwards from Tiberias along the Lake, we follow, for about five or six miles, a narrow ledge of land shut in by mountains, when we reach the home of the Magdalene, the ancient Magdala (the modern Mejdel). Right over against us, on the other side, is Kersa (Gerasa), the scene of the great miracle. On leaving Magdala the mountains recede, and form an amphitheatre plain, more than a mile wide, and four or five miles long. This is ‘the land of Gennesaret’ (el Ghuweir). We pass across the ‘Valley of Doves,’ which intersects it about one mile to the north of Magdala, and pursue our journey over the well-watered plain, till, after somewhat more than an hour, we reach its northern boundary, a little beyond Khân Minyeh. The latter has, in accordance with tradition, been regarded by some as representing Bethsaida, 18 but seems both too far from the Lake, and too much south of Capernaum, to answer the requirements.
No sooner had the well-known boat, which bore Jesus and His disciples, been run up the gravel-beach in the early morning of that Friday, than His Presence must have become known throughout the district, all the more that the boatmen would soon spread the story of the miraculous occurrences of the preceding evening and night. With Eastern rapidity the tidings would pass along, and from all the country around the sick were brought on their pallets, if they might but touch the border of His garment. Nor could such touch, even though the outcome of an imperfect faith, be in vain – for He, Whose garment they sought leave to touch, was the God-Man, the Conqueror of Death, the Source and Spring of all Life. And so it was where He landed, and all the way up to Bethsaida and Capernaum. 19 20
In what followed, we can still trace the succession of events, though there are considerable difficulties as to their precise order. Thus we are expressly told, that those from ‘the other side’ ‘came to Capernaum’ on ‘the day following’ the miraculous feeding, and that one of the subsequent Discourses, of which the outline is preserved, was delivered ‘in Synagogue.’ As this could only have been done either on a Sabbath or Feast-Day (in this instance, the Passover 23), it follows, that in any case a day must have intervened between their arrival at Capernaum and the Discourse in Synagogue. Again, it is almost impossible to believe that it could have been on the Passover day (15th Nisan). 24 For we cannot imagine, that any large number would have left their homes and festive preparations on the Eve of the Pascha (14th Nisan), not to speak of the circumstance that in Galilee, differently from Judæa, all labour, including, of course, that of a journey across the Lake, was intermitted on the Eve of the Passover. 25 Similarly, it is almost impossible to believe, that so many festive pilgrims would have been assembled till late in the evening preceding the 14th Nisan so far from Jerusalem as Bethsaida-Julias, since it would have been impossible after that to reach the city and Temple in time for the feast. It, therefore, only remains to regard the Synagogue-service at which Christ preached as that of an ordinary Sabbath, and the arrival of the multitude as having taken place on Friday in the forenoon.
Again, from the place which the narrative occupies in the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark, as well as from certain internal evidence, it seems difficult to doubt, that the reproof of the Pharisees and Scribes on the subject of ‘the unwashed hands,’ 26 was not administered immediately after the miraculous feeding and the night of miracles. We cannot, however, feel equally sure, which of the two preceded the other: the Discourse in Capernaum, 27 or the Reproof of the Pharisees. 28 Several reasons have determined us to regard the Reproof as having preceded the Discourse. Without entering on a detailed discussion, the simple reading of the two sections will lead to the instinctive conclusion, that such a Discourse could not have been followed by such cavil and such Reproof, while it seems in the right order of things, that the Reproof which led to the ‘offence’ of the Pharisees, and apparently the withdrawal of some in the outer circle of discipleship, 29 should have been followed by the positive teaching of the Discourse, which in turn resulted in the going back of many who had been in the inner circle of disciples. 30
In these circumstances, we venture to suggest the following as the succession of events. Early on the Friday morning the boat which bore Jesus and His disciples grated on the sandy beach of the plain of Gennesaret. As the tidings spread of His arrival and of the miracles which had so lately been witnessed, the people from the neighbouring villages and towns flocked around Him, and brought their sick for the healing touch. So the greater part of the forenoon passed. Meantime, while they moved, as the concourse of the people by the way would allow, the first tidings of all this must have reached the neighbouring Capernaum. This brought immediately on the scene those Pharisees and Scribes ‘who had come from Jerusalem’ on purpose to watch, and, if possible, to compass the destruction on Jesus. As we conceive it, they met the Lord and His disciples on their way to Capernaum. Possibly they overtook them, as they rested by the way, and the disciples, or some of them, were partaking of some food – perhaps, some of the consecrated Bread of the previous evening. The Reproof of Christ would be administered there; then the Lord would, not only for their teaching, but for the purposes immediately to be indicated, turn to the multitude; 31 next would follow the remark of the disciples and the reply of the Lord, spoken, probably, when they were again on the way; 32 and, lastly, the final explanation of Christ, after they had entered the house at Capernaum. 33 In all probability a part of what is recorded in St. John vi. 24, &c. occurred also about the same time; the rest on the Sabbath which followed.
Although the cavil of the Jerusalem Scribes may have been occasioned by seeing some of the disciples eating without first having washed their hands, we cannot banish the impression that it reflected on the miraculously provided meal of the previous evening, when thousands had sat down to food without the previous observance of the Rabbinic ordinance. Neither in that case, nor in the present, had the Master interposed. He was, therefore, guilty of participation in their offence. So this was all which these Pharisees and Scribes could see in the miracle of Christ’s feeding the Multitude – that it had not been done according to Law! Most strange as it may seem, yet in the past history of the Church, and, perhaps, sometimes also in the present, this has been the only thing which some men have seen in the miraculous working of the Christ! Perhaps we should not wonder that the miracle itself made no deeper impression, since even the disciples ‘understood not’ (by reasoning) ‘about the loaves’ – however they may have accounted for it in a manner which might seem to them reasonable. But, in another aspect, the objection of the Scribes was not a mere cavil. In truth, it represented one of the great charges which the Pharisees brought against Jesus, and which determined them to seek His destruction.
It has already been shown, that they accounted for the miracles of Christ as wrought by the power of Satan, whose special representative – almost incarnation – they declared Jesus to be. This would not only turn the evidential force of these signs into an argument against Christ, but vindicate the resistance of the Pharisees to His claims. The second charge against Jesus was, that He was ‘not of God;’ that He was ‘a sinner.’ 34 If this could be established, it would, of course, prove that He was not the Messiah, but a deceiver who misled the people, and whom it was the duty of the Sanhedrin to unmask and arrest. The way in which they attempted to establish this, perhaps persuaded themselves that it was so, was by proving that He sanctioned in others, and Himself committed, breaches of the traditional law; which, according to their fundamental principles, involved heavier guilt than sins against the revealed Law of Moses. The third and last charge against Jesus, which finally decided the action of the Council, could only be fully made at the close of His career. It might be formulated so as to meet the views of either the Pharisees or Sadducees. To the former it might be presented as a blasphemous claim to equality with God – the Very Son of the Living God. To the Sadducees it would appear as a movement on the part of a most dangerous enthusiast – if honest and self-deceived, all the more dangerous; one of those pseudo-Messiahs who led away the ignorant, superstitious, and excitable people; and which, if unchecked, would result in persecutions and terrible vengeance by the Romans, and in loss of the last remnants of their national independence. To each of these three charges, of which we are now watching the opening or development, there was (from the then standpoint) only one answer: Faith in His Person. And in our time, also, this is the final answer to all difficulties and objections. To this faith Jesus was now leading His disciples, till, fully realised in the great confession of Peter, it became, and has ever since proved, the Rock on which that Church is built, against which the very gates of Hades cannot prevail.
It was in support of the second of these charges, that the Scribes now blamed the Master for allowing His disciples to eat without having previously washed, or, as St. Mark – indicating, as we shall see, in the word the origin of the custom – expresses it with graphic accuracy: ‘with common hands.’ 35 Once more we have to mark, how minutely conversant the Gospel narratives are with Jewish Law and practice. This will best appear from a brief account of this ‘tradition of the elders,’ 36 the more needful that important differences prevail even among learned Jewish authorities, due probably to the circumstance that the brief Mishnic Tractate devoted to the subject 37 has no Gemara attached to it, and also largely treats of other matters. At the outset we have this confirmation of the Gospel language, that this practice is expressly admitted to have been, not a Law of Moses, but ‘a tradition of the elders.’ 38 Still, and perhaps on this very account, it was so strictly enjoined, that to neglect it was like being guilty of gross carnal defilement. Its omission would lead to temporal destruction, 39 or, at least, to poverty. 40 Bread eaten with unwashen hands was as if it had been filth. 41 Indeed, a Rabbi who had held this command in contempt was actually buried in excommunication. 42 Thus, from their point of view, the charge of the Scribes against the disciples, so far from being exaggerated, is most moderately worded by the Evangelists. In fact, although at one time it had only been one of the marks of a Pharisee, yet at a later period to wash before eating was regarded as affording the ready means of recognising a Jew.
It is somewhat more difficult to account for the origin of the ordinance. So far as indicated, it seems to have been first enjoined in order to ensure that sacred offerings should not be eaten in defilement. When once it became an ordinance of the elders, this was, of course, regarded as sufficient ground for obedience. 45 Presently, Scriptural support was sought for it.
Some based it on the original ordinance of purification in Lev. xv. 11; 46 while others saw in the words 47 ‘Sanctify yourselves,’ the command to wash before meat; in the command, ‘Be ye holy,’ that of washing after meat; while the final clause, ‘for I am the Lord your God,’ was regarded as enjoining ‘the grace at meat.’ 48 For, soon it was not merely a washing before, but also after meals. The former alone was, however, regarded as ‘a commandment’ (Mitsvah), the other only as ‘a duty’ (Chobhah), which some, indeed, explained on sanitary grounds, as there might be left about the hands what might prove injurious to the eyes. 49 50 Accordingly, soldiers might, in the urgency of campaigning, neglect the washing before, but they ought to be careful about that after meat. By-and-by, the more rigorous actually washed between the courses, although this was declared to be purely voluntary. 51 This washing before meals is regarded by some as referred to in Talmudic writings by the expression ‘the first waters’ (Mayim rishonim), while what is called ‘the second’ (sheniyim), or ‘the other,’ ‘later,’ or ‘afterwaters’ (Mayim acharonim), is supposed to represent the washing after meals.
But there is another and more important aspect of the expression, which leads us to describe the rite itself. The distinctive designation for it is Netilath Yadayim, 52 literally, the lifting of the hands; while for the washing before meat the term Meshi or Mesha 53 is also used, which literally means ‘to rub.’ Both these terms point to the manner of the rite. The first question here was, whether ‘second tithe,’ prepared first-fruits (Terumah), or even common food (Chullin), or else, ‘holy’ i.e. sacrificial food, was to be partaken of. In the latter case a complete immersion of the hands (‘baptism,’ Tebhilath Yadayim), and not merely a Netilath, or ‘uplifting,’ was prescribed. 54 The latter was really an affusion. As the purifications were so frequent, and care had to be taken that the water had not been used for other purposes, or something fallen into it that might discolour or defile it, large vessels or jars were generally kept for the purpose. These might be of any material, although stone is specially mentioned. 55 It was the practice to draw water out of these with what was called a natla, antila, or antelaya, 56 very often of glass, which must hold (at least) a quarter of a log 57 – a measure equal to one and a half ‘egg-shells.’ For, no less quantity than this might be used for affusion. The water was poured on both hands, which must be free of anything covering them, such as gravel, mortar, &c. The hands were lifted up, so as to make the water run to the wrist, in order to ensure that the whole hand was washed, and that the water polluted by the hand did not again run down the fingers. Similarly, each hand was rubbed with the other (the first), provided the hand that rubbed had been affused: otherwise, the rubbing might be done against the head, or even against a wall. But there was one point on which special stress was laid. In the ‘first affusion,’ which was all that originally was required when the hands were Levitically ‘defiled,’ the water had to run down to the wrist 58 (qrepela, or qrepeha d(a- lappereq, or ad happereq). If the water remained short of the wrist (chuts lappereq), the hands were not clean. 59 Accordingly, the words of St. Mark 60 can only mean that the Pharisees eat not ‘except they wash their hands to the wrist.’ 61
Allusion has already been made to what are called ‘the first’ and ‘the second,’ or ‘other’ ‘waters.’ But, in their original meaning, these terms referred to something else than washing before and after meals. The hands were deemed capable of contracting Levitical defilement, which, in certain cases, might even render the whole body ‘unclean.’ If the hands were ‘defiled,’ two affusions were required: the first, or ‘first waters’ (mayim rishonim) to remove the defilement, and the ‘second,’ or ‘after waters’ (mayim sheniyim or acharonim) to wash away the waters that had contracted the defilement of the hands. Accordingly, on the affusion of the first waters the hands were elevated, and the water made to run down at the wrist, while at the second waters the hands were depressed, so that the water might run off by the finger points and tips. By-and-by, it became the practice to have two affusions, whenever Terumah (prepared first-fruits) was to be eaten, and at last even when ordinary food (Chullin) was partaken of. The modern Jews have three affusions, and accompany the rite with a special benediction.
This idea of the ‘defilement of the hands’ received a very curious application. According to one of the eighteen decrees, which, as we shall presently show, date before the time of Christ, the Roll of the Pentateuch in the Temple defiled all kinds of meat that touched it. The alleged reason for this decree was, that the priests were wont to keep the Terumah (preserved first-fruits) close to the Roll of the Law, on which account the latter was injured by mice. The Rabbinic ordinance was intended to avert this danger. 62 63 To increase this precaution, it was next laid down as a principle, that all that renders the Terumah unfit, also defiles the hands. 64 Hence, the Holy Scriptures defiled not only the food but the hands that touched them, and this not merely in the Temple, but anywhere, while it was also explained that the Holy Scriptures included the whole of the inspired writings – the Law, Prophets, and Hagiographa. This gave rise to interesting discussions, whether the Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, or Esther were to be regarded as ‘defiling the hands,’ that is, as part of the Canon. The ultimate decision was in favour of these books: ‘all the holy writings defile the hands; the Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes defile the hands.’ 65 Nay, so far were sequences carried, that even a small portion of the Scriptures was declared to defile the hands if it contained eighty-five letters, because the smallest ‘section’ (Parashah) in the Law 66 consisted of exactly that number. Even the Phylacteries, because they contained portions of the sacred text, the very leather straps by which they were bound to the head and arm – nay, the blank margins around the text of the Scriptures, or at the beginning and end of sections, were declared to defile the hands.
From this exposition it will be understood what importance the Scribes attached to the rite which the disciples had neglected. Yet at a later period Pharisaism, with characteristic ingenuity, found a way of evading even this obligation, by laying down what we would call the Popish (or semi-Popish) principle of ‘intention.’ It was ruled, that if anyone had performed the rite of handwashing in the morning, ‘with intention’ that it should apply to the meals of the whole day, this was (with certain precautions) valid. 69 But at the time of which we write the original ordinance was quite new. This touches one of the most important, but also most intricate questions in the history of Jewish dogmas. Jewish tradition traced, indeed, the command of washing the hands before eating – at least of sacrificial offerings – to Solomon, 70 in acknowledgment of which ‘the voice from heaven’ (Bath-Qol) had been heard to utter Prov. 23 v 15 and 27 v 11. But the earliest trace of this custom occurs in a portion of the Sibylline Books, which dates from about 160 b.c., 71 where we find an allusion to the practice of continually washing the hands, in connection with prayer and thanksgiving. 72 It was reserved for Hillel and Shammai, the two great rival teachers and heroes of Jewish traditionalism, immediately before Christ, to fix the Rabbinic ordinance about the washing of hands (Netilath Yadayim), as previously described. This was one of the few points on which they were agreed, 73 and hence emphatically ‘a tradition of the Elders,’ since these two teachers bear, in Rabbinic writings, each the designation of ‘the Elder.’ 74 Then followed a period of developing traditionalism, and hatred of all that was Gentile. The tradition of the Elders was not yet so established as to command absolute and universal obedience, while the disputes of Hillel and Shammai, who seemed almost on principle to have taken divergent views on every question, must have disturbed the minds of many. We have an account of a stormy meeting between the two Schools, attended even with bloodshed. The story is so confusedly, and so differently told in the Jerusalem 75 and in the Babylon Talmud, 76 that it is difficult to form a clear view of what really occurred. Thus much, however, appears – that the Shammaites had a majority of votes, and that ‘eighteen decrees’ were passed in which the two Schools agreed, while on other eighteen questions (perhaps a round number) the Shammaites carried their views by a majority, and yet other eighteen remained undecided. Each of the Schools spoke of that day according to its party-results. The Shammaites (such as Rabbi Eliezer) extolled it as that on which the measure of the Law had been filled up to the full, 77 while the Hillelites (like Rabbi Joshua) deplored, that on that day water had been poured into a vessel full of oil, by which some of the more precious fluid had been split. In general, the tendency of these eighteen decrees was of the most violently anti-Gentile, intolerant, and exclusive character. Yet such value was attached to them, that, while any other decree of the sages might be altered by a more grave, learned, and authoritative assembly, these eighteen decrees might not under any circumstances, be modified. 78 But, besides these eighteen decrees, the two Schools on that day 79 agreed in solemnly re-enacting ‘the decrees about the Book (the copy of the Law), and the hands’. The Babylon Talmud 80 notes that the latter decree, though first made by Hillel and Shammai, ‘the Elders,’ was not universally carried out until re-enacted by their colleges. It is important to notice, that this ‘Decree’ dates from the time just before, and was finally carried into force in the very days of Christ. This fully accounts for the zeal which the Scribes displayed – and explains ‘the extreme minuteness of details’ with which St. Mark ‘calls attention’ to this Pharisaic practice. 81 For, it was an express Rabbinic principle 82 that, if an ordinance had been only recently re-enacted, it might not be called in question or ‘invalidated’. Thus it will be seen, that the language employed by the Evangelist affords most valuable indirect confirmation of the trustworthiness of his Gospel, as not only showing intimate familiarity with the minutiæ of Jewish ‘tradition,’ but giving prominence to what was then a present controversy – and all this the more, that it needs intimate knowledge of that Law even fully to understand the language of the Evangelist.
After this full exposition, it can only be necessary to refer in briefest manner to those other observances which orthodox Judaism had ‘received to hold.’ They connect themselves with those eighteen decrees, intended to separate the Jew from all contact with Gentiles. Any contact with a heathen, even the touch of his dress, might involve such defilement, that on coming from the market the orthodox Jew would have to immerse. Only those who know the complicated arrangements about the defilements of vessels that were in any part, however small, hollow, as these are described in the Mishnah (Tractate Kelim), can form an adequate idea of the painful minuteness with which every little detail is treated. Earthen vessels that had contracted impurity were to be broken; those of wood, horn, glass, or brass immersed; while, if vessels were bought of Gentiles, they were (as the case might be) to be immersed, put into boiling water, purged with fire, or at least polished. 84
Let us now try to realise the attitude of Christ in regard to these ordinances about purification, and seek to understand the reason of His bearing. That, in replying to the charge of the Scribes against His disciples, He neither vindicated their conduct, nor apologised for their breach of the Rabbinic ordinances, implied at least an attitude of indifference towards traditionalism. This is the more noticeable, since, as we know, the ordinances of the Scribes were declared more precious, 85 86 and of more binding importance than those of Holy Scripture itself. 87 But, even so, the question might arise, why Christ should have provoked such hostility by placing Himself in marked antagonism to what, after all, was indifferent in itself. The answer to this inquiry will require a disclosure of that aspect of Rabbinism which, from its painfulness, has hitherto been avoided. Yet it is necessary not only in itself, but as showing the infinite distance between Christ and the teaching of the Synagogue. It has already been told, how Rabbinism, in the madness of its self-exaltation, represented God as busying Himself by day with the study of the Scriptures, and by night with that of the Mishnah; 88 and how, in the heavenly Sanhedrin, over which the Almighty presided, the Rabbis sat in the order of their greatness, and the Halakhah was discussed, and decisions taken in accordance with it. 89 Terrible as this sounds, it is not nearly all. Anthropomorphism of the coarsest kind is carried beyond the verge of profanity, when God is represented as spending the last three hours of every day in playing with Leviathan, 90 and it is discussed, how, since the destruction of Jerusalem, God no longer laughs, but weeps, and that, in a secret place of His own, according to Jer. xiii. 17. 91 Nay, Jer. xxv. 30 is profanely misinterpreted as implying that, in His grief over the destruction of the Temple, the Almighty roars like a lion in each of the three watches of the night. 92 The two tears which He drops into the sea are the cause of earthquakes; although other, though not less coarsely realistic, explanations are offered of this phenomenon. 93
Sentiments like these, which occur in different Rabbinic writings, cannot be explained away by any ingenuity of allegorical interpretation. There are others, equally painful, as regards the anger of the Almighty, which, as kindling specially in the morning, when the sun-worshippers offer their prayers, renders it even dangerous for an individual Israelite to say certain prayers on the morning of New Year’s Day, on which the throne is set for judgment. 94 Such realistic anthropomorphism, combined with the extravagant ideas of the eternal and heavenly reality of Rabbinism and Rabbinic ordinances, help us to understand, how the Almighty was actually represented as saying prayers. This is proved from Is. lvi. 7. Sublime through the language of these prayers is, we cannot but notice that the all covering mercy, for which He is represented as pleading, is extended only to Israel. 95 It is even more terrible to read of God wearing the Tallith, 96 or that He puts on the Phylacteries, which is deduced from Is. lxii. 8. That this also is connected with the vain-glorious boasting of Israel, appears from the passage supposed to be enclosed in these Phylacteries. We know that in the ordinary Phylacteries these are: Exod. 13 v 1-10 ; 10-16; Deut. 6 v 4-10 ; 11 v 13-22. In the Divine Phylacteries they were: 1 Chron. 17 v 21 ; Deut. 4 v 7-8 ; 33 v 29; 4 v 34; 26 v19. Only one other point must be mentioned as connected with Purifications. To these also the Almighty is supposed to submit. Thus He was purified by Aaron, when He had contracted defilement by descending into Egypt. This is deduced from Lev. xvi. 16. Similarly, He immersed in a bath of fire, 99 after the defilement of the burial of Moses.
These painful details, most reluctantly given, are certainly not intended to raise or strengthen ignorant prejudices against Israel, to whom ‘blindness in part’ has truly happened; far less to encourage the wicked spirit of contempt and persecution which is characteristic, not of believing, but of negative theology. But they will explain, how Jesus could not have assumed merely an attitude of indifference towards traditionalism. For, even if such sentiments were represented as a later development, they are the outcome of a direction, of which that of Jesus was the very opposite, and to which it was antagonistic. But, if Jesus was not sent of God – not the Messiah – whence this wonderful contrast of highest spirituality in what He taught of God as our Father, and of His Kingdom as that over the hearts of all men? The attitude of antagonism to traditionalism was never more pronounced than in what He said in reply to the charge of neglect of the ordinance about ‘the washing of hands.’ Here it must be remembered, that it was an admitted Rabbinic principle that, while the ordinances of Scripture required no confirmation, those of the Scribes needed such, 100 and that no Halakhah (traditional law) might contradict Scripture. 101 When Christ, therefore, next proceeded to show, that in a very important point – nay, in ‘many such like things’ – the Halakhah was utterly incompatible with Scripture, that, indeed, they made ‘void the Word of God’ by their traditions which they had received, 102 He dealt the heaviest blow to traditionalism. Rabbinism stood self-condemned; on its own showing, it was to be rejected as incompatible with the Word of God.
It is not so easy to understand, why the Lord should, out of ‘many such things,’ have selected in illustration the Rabbinic ordinance concerning vows, as in certain circumstances, contravening the fifth commandment. Of course, the ‘Ten
Words’ were the Holy of Holies of the Law; nor was there any obligation more rigidly observed – indeed, carried in practice almost to the verge of absurdity 103 – than that of honour to parents. In both respects, then, this was a specially vulnerable point, and it might well be argued that, if in this Law Rabbinic ordinances came into conflict with the demands of God’s Word, the essential contrariety between them must, indeed, be great. Still, we feel as if this were not all. Was there any special instance in view, in which the Rabbinic law about votive offerings had led to such abuse? Or was it only, that at this festive season the Galilean pilgrims would carry with them to Jerusalem their votive offerings? Or, could the Rabbinic ordinances about ‘the sanctification of the hands’ (Yadayim) have recalled to the Lord another Rabbinic application of the word ‘hand’ (yad) in connection with votive offerings? It is at least sufficiently curious to find mention here, and it will afford the opportunity of briefly explaining, what to a candid reader may seem almost inexplicable in the Jewish legal practice to which Christ refers.
At the outset it must be admitted, that Rabbinism did not encourage the practice of promiscuous vowing. As we view it, it belongs, at best, to a lower and legal standpoint. In this respect Rabbi Akiba put it concisely, in one of his truest sayings: ‘Vows are a hedge to abstinence.’ 104 On the other hand, if regarded as a kind of return for benefits received, or as a promise attaching to our prayers, a vow – unless it form part of our absolute and entire self-surrender – partakes either of work-righteousness, or appears almost a kind of religious gambling. And so the Jewish proverb has it: ‘In the hour of need a vow; in time of ease excess.’ 105 Towards such work-righteousness and religious gambling the Eastern, and especially the Rabbinic Jew, would be particularly inclined. But even the Rabbis saw that its encouragement would lead to the profanation of what was holy; to rash, idle, and wrong vows; and to the worst and most demoralising kind of perjury, as inconvenient consequences made themselves felt. Of many sayings, condemnatory of the practice, one will suffice to mark the general feeling: ‘He who makes a vow, even if he keeps it, deserves the name of wicked.’ 106 Nevertheless, the practice must have attained terrible proportions, whether as regards the number of vows, the lightness with which they were made, or the kind of things which became their object. The larger part of the Mishnic Tractate on ‘Vows’ (Nedarim, in eleven chapters) describes what expressions were to be regarded as equivalent to vows, and what would either legally invalidate and annul a vow, or leave it binding. And here we learn, that those who were of full age, and not in a position of dependence (such as wives) would make almost any kind of vows, such as that they would not lie down to sleep, not speak to their wives or children, not have intercourse with their brethren, and even things more wrong or foolish – all of which were solemnly treated as binding on the conscience. Similarly, it was not necessary to use the express words of vowing. Not only the word ‘Qorban’ [Korban], ‘given to God’, but any similar expression, such as Qonakh, or Qonam 107 (the latter also a Phoenician expression, and probably an equivalent for Qeyam, ‘let it be established’) would suffice; the mention of anything laid upon the altar (though not of the altar itself). such as the wood, or the fire, would constitute a vow, 108 nay, the repetition of the form which generally followed on the votive Qonam or Qorban had binding force, even though not preceded by these terms. Thus, if a man said: ‘That I eat or taste of such a thing,’ it constituted a vow, which bound him not to eat or taste it, because the common formula was: ‘Qorban (or Qonam) that I eat or drink, or do such a thing,’ and the omission of the votive word did not invalidate a vow, if it were otherwise regularly expressed. 109
It is in explaining this strange provision, intended both to uphold the solemnity of vows, and to discourage the rash use of words, that the Talmud 110 makes use of the word ‘hand’ in a connection which we have supposed might, by association of ideas, have suggested to Christ the contrast between what the Bible and what the Rabbis regarded as ‘sanctified hands,’ and hence between the commands of God and the traditions of the Elders. For the Talmud explains that, when a man simply says: ‘That (or if) I eat or taste such a thing,’ it is imputed as a vow, and he may not eat or taste of it, ‘because the hand is on the Qorban’ 111 – the mere touch of Qorban had sanctified it, and put it beyond his reach, just as if it had been laid on the altar itself. Here, then, was a contrast. According to the Rabbis, the touch of ‘a common’ hand defiled God’s good gift of meat, while the touch of ‘a sanctified’ hand in rash or wicked words might render it impossible to give anything to a parent, and so involve the grossest breach of the Fifth Commandment! Such, according to Rabbinic Law, was the ‘common’ and such the ‘sanctifying’ touch of the hands – and did such traditionalism not truly ‘make void the Word of God’?
A few further particulars may serve to set this in clearer light. It must not be thought that the pronunciation of the votive word ‘Qorban,’ although meaning ‘a gift,’ or ‘given to God,’ necessarily dedicated a thing to the Temple. The meaning might simply be, and generally was, that it was to be regarded like Qorban – that is, that in regard to the person or persons named, the thing termed was to be considered as if it were Qorban, laid on the altar, and put entirely out of their reach. For, although included under the one name, there were really two kinds of vows: those of consecration to God, and those of personal obligation 112 – and the latter were the most frequent.
To continue. The legal distinction between a vow, an oath, and ‘the ban,’ are clearly marked both in reason and in Jewish Law. The oath was an absolute, the vow a conditional undertaking – their difference being marked even by this, that the language of a vow ran thus: ‘That’ or ‘if’ ‘I or another do such a thing,’ ‘if I eat;’ 113 while that of the oath was a simple affirmation or negation, 114 ‘I shall not eat.’ 115 On the other hand, the ‘ban’ might refer to one of three things: those dedicated for the use of the priesthood, those dedicated to God, or else to a sentence pronounced by the Sanhedrin. 116 In any case it was not lawful to ‘ban’ the whole of one’s property, nor even one class of one’s property (such as all one’s sheep), nor yet what could not, in the fullest sense, be called one’s property, such as a child, a Hebrew slave, or a purchased field, which had to be restored in the Year of Jubilee; while an inherited field, if banned, would go in perpetuity for the use of the priesthood. Similarly, the Law limited vows. Those intended to incite to an act (as on the part of one who sold a thing), or by way of exaggeration, or in cases of mistake, and, lastly, vows which circumstances rendered impossible, were declared null. To these four classes the Mishnah added those made to escape murder, robbery, and the exactions of the publican. If a vow was regarded as rash or wrong, attempts were made 117 to open a door for repentance. 118 Absolutions from a vow might be obtained before a ‘sage,’ or, in his absence, before three laymen, 119 when all obligations became null and void. At the same time the Mishnah 120 admits, that this power of absolving from vows was a tradition hanging, as it were, in the air, 121 since it received little (or, as Maimonides puts it, no) support from Scripture. 122
There can be no doubt, that the words of Christ referred to such vows of personal obligation. By these a person might bind himself in regard to men or things, or else put that which was another’s out of his own reach, or that which was his own out of the reach of another, and this as completely as if the thing or things had been Qorban, a gift given to God. Thus, by simply saying, ‘Qorban,’ or ‘Qorban, that by which I might be profited by thee,’ a person bound himself never to touch, taste, or have anything that belonged to the person so addressed. Similarly, by saying ‘Qorban, that by which thou mightest be profited by me,’ he would prevent the person so addressed from ever deriving any benefit from that which belonged to him. And so stringent was the ordinance that (almost in the words of Christ) it is expressly stated that such a vow was binding, even if what was vowed involved a breach of the Law. 123 It cannot be denied that such vows, in regard to parents, would be binding, and that they were actually made. 124 Indeed, the question is discussed in the Mishnah in so many words, whether ‘honour of father and mother’ 125 constituted a ground for invalidating a vow, and decided in the negative against a solitary dissenting voice. 126 And if doubt should still exist, a case is related in the Mishnah, 127 in which a father was thus shut out by the vow of his son from anything by which he might be profited by him. Thus the charge brought by Christ is in fullest accordance with the facts of the case. More than this, the manner in which it is put by St. Mark shows the most intimate knowledge of Jewish customs and law. For, the seemingly inappropriate addition to our Lord’s mention of the Fifth Commandment of the words: ‘He that revileth father or mother, he shall (let him) surely die,’ 129 is not only explained but vindicated by the common usage of the Rabbis, 130 to mention along with a command the penalty attaching to its breach, so as to indicate the importance which Scripture attached to it. On the other hand, the words of St. Mark: ‘Qorban (that is to say, gift (viz., to God)) that by which thou mightest be profited by me,’ are a most exact transcription into Greek of the common formula of vowing, as given in the Mishnah and Talmud (yli hnehene ht@af)a#e Nb@afr:qaf). 131
But Christ did not merely show the hypocrisy of the system of traditionalism in conjoining in the name of religion the greatest outward punctiliousness with the grossest breach of real duty. Never, alas! was that aspect of prophecy, which in the present saw the future, more clearly vindicated than as the words of Isaiah to Israel now appeared in their final fulfilment: ‘This people honoureth Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. Howbeit, in vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.’ 132 But in thus setting forth for the first time the real character of traditionalism, and setting Himself in open opposition to its fundamental principles, the Christ enunciated also for the first time the fundamental principle of His own interpretation of the Law. That Law was not a system of externalism, in which outward things affected the inner man. It was moral and addressed itself to man as a moral being – to his heart and conscience. As the spring of all moral action was within, so the mode of affecting it would be inward. Not from without inwards, but from within outwards: such was the principle of the new Kingdom, as setting forth the Law in its fullness and fulfilling it. ‘There is nothing from without the 133 man, that, entering into him, can defile him; but the things which proceed out of the man, those are they that defile the man.’ 134 Not only negatively, but positively, was this the fundamental principle of Christian practice in direct contrast to that of Pharisaic Judaism. It is in this essential contrariety of principle, rather than in any details, that the unspeakable difference between Christ and all contemporary teachers appears. Nor is even this all. For, the principle laid down by Christ concerning that which entereth from without and that which cometh from within, covers, in its full application, not only the principle of Christian liberty in regard to the Mosaic Law, but touches far deeper and permanent questions, affecting not only the Jew, but all men and to all times.
As we read it, the discussion, to which such full reference has been made, had taken place between the Scribes and the Lord, while the multitude perhaps stood aside. But when enunciating the grand principle of what constituted real defilement, ‘He called to Him the multitude.’ 135 It was probably while pursuing their way to Capernaum, when this conversation had taken place, that His disciples afterwards reported, that the Pharisees had been offended by that saying of His to the multitude. Even this implies the weakness of the disciples: that they were not only influenced by the good or evil opinion of these religious leaders of the people, but in some measure sympathised with their views. All this is qu