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“ Who would depise a nation which had amongst them such women ?" asks the scriptural text; but who, in tracing the history of that nation, can deny that it was to " such women" under Heaven, as much as to its men, that it owed the conservation of that intellectual principle, of that moral force, which, at remote intervals, rescued the stiffnecked generations of Israel from the evils into which their fierce passions and unyielding self-sufficiency, that “ hardness of heart," against which “the Lord testified, by all the prophets and by all the seers,” continually plunged them.
But it was in vain that the sacred city of the Hebrews was rebuilt—that their glorious temple was re-edified that their altars were again blazoned with the treasures of ages, and smoked with the offerings of tributary nations. It was in vain that the magnificent ceremonies of their picturesque and imposing ritual, as prescribed by Moses, were celebrated with a pomp and circumstance worthy of the reign of Solomon. It was in vain that their hereditary priesthood was called to preside at their altars, that their learned scribe and priest, Ezra, reassembled them at the gate of the Temple, and read to them their ancient laws, “the laws of Moses."* It was in vain that, revering their great antiquity, even Pagan potentates respected their religion and their laws, and that the most powerful kings of tragedy was represented at Saint Cyr, is said to have bowed to this application. Racine always denied that there was a key to Esther ; but says a writer of the times—“les gens les plus sages virent Louis XIV. dans Assuerus, Louvois dans Aman, Montespan dans Wasthi, et Maintenon dans Esther.” Among the epigrams of the day, which this tragedy gave rise to, was the following:
“ La persecution des juifs
Aux Jesuites et aux Bigots.”
the earth restored them to the land of their promise and inheritance,* and to the unrestrained celebration of their religious ceremonies : a people are not to be saved from without. National greatness, like national liberty, is not extrinsic, nor accidental. It is the inherent spirit, the vital energy, (which give unity of purpose to a people), that can alone preserve them as a nation.
The Jews were hastening to the climax of their most awful and prophetic story, through moral debasement and political slavery; their long and successive captivities in Babylon and in Persia had enfeebled and degraded them; and their alliances with the daughters of a “strange god” had broken up that social union—the great secret of political concentration and national strength-so long preserved by their own women. They had lived too long in lands where women were slaves, and men polygamists, to respect the intellectual resources and moral influence of their own spiritual mothers and wives ; and the last of their prophets, the last of the “messengers of the Lord of Hosts,” (to use his own emphatic expression), closes the sacred volume of scriptural history, by denouncing their corruption and their crimes, and by attributing “ the tribulation” which followed, to their violence, their injustice, and their faithlessness to their women.
“ Judah hath dealt treacherously! and an abomination is committed in Israel and in Jerusalem ! for Judah hath profaned the holiness of the Lord, which he loved, and hath married the daughter of a strange god.
“ The Lord will cut off the man that doeth this, the master, and the scholar, out of the tabernacles of Jacob, and him that offereth an offering unto the Lord of Hosts ;
* Alexander showed the same predilection for the Jews, which the sovereigns of Persia had always testified. After his conquest of the Persian Empire, and while he was still enraged at the fidelity of this people to Darius, he marched against Jerusalem full of direful purpose. But the sacred and imposing procession which met him in the suburbs, appalled his imagination, and secured his protection. The priests, in their pontifical habits and white vestments, led by the grand sacrificer in an ephod of azure blue, enriched with gold, his head crowned with a tiara of pure gold, on which was written the name of God, went forth through an avenue strewed with flowers, and followed by the people. Alexander came forward to salute the high priest, and to adore the august name engraved on his tiara, &c.—Josephus, book xi, chap. 8.
“ And this have ye done again ; covering the altar of the Lord with tears, with weeping, and with crying out, insomuch that he regardeth not the offering any more, nor receiveth it with good will at your hand.
“ Yet ye say, wherefore ? Because the Lord hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously; yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant.
“ And did he not make (ye) one? Yet had he the resi. due of the spirit! And wherefore one ? that he might seek a godly seed ! therefore take heed of your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth.'
As Moses wound up his divine mission on Mount Horeb with his law on female inheritance, so closes the sacred volume of holy writ as it began—with woman,-her intel. lectual influence, and her social importance :-a glorious and imperishable record in her favour, to which nature and revelation have both set their seal; and which man, by all his physical supremacy, and by all his artificial combinations, his unjust laws, and puerile fictions, cannot cancel, or invalidate.
The Women of the Hebrews. Under the Greek and Roman Dominion.
The Women of the Asmonean Dynasty. The Alexandras.
From Cyrus to Artaxerxes, there had at various intervals been manifested, on the part of the Persian monarchs, a desire to restore the Israelites to their ancient land of promise ; and in conformity to the advice of Cyrus, (found among his archives in the castle of Ecbatana in Media,) Darius had permitted the captive Jews to return to Palestine, under the conduct of their own hereditary sovereign, Zorobabel, King of Judah, of the race of Davidof But if the Jews were not slow to avail themselves of their emancipation, still of the multitudes which marched out of the gates of Babylon, “ to the music of lutes and cymbals," a considerable number returned to the Persian capital,* leaving but a portion of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin to proceed to the desolated city of David. In the succeed. ing reign, Ezra, the most considerable of the sacrificers, who, with the high priest Joachim, had remained in Babylon, accompanied à fresh reinforcement of Israelites to people the deserted streets, and re-edify the crumbled walls of Jerusalem. The influence of Esther with Artaxerxes completed the restoration of the two tribes to the land of their inheritance: the other ten remained beyond the Euphrates.
* Malachi, chap. ii., verses 11, 12, 13, 14, 15.
† A question being proposed by Darius to his Magi and other Persian and Median sages, namely, which power was strongest, that of kings, wine, women, or truth, the courtly philosophers gave their answer in favour of the two former: Zorobabel, who was also questioned, decided for women and truth, and justified his answer with such logic and elo. quence, that Darius took him into special favour, and permitted his return to Palestine at the head of his people.-Josephus, book xi. cha p. iv.
In these several journeys from all parts of Persia to Jerusalem, the women abandoned the homes of their ha. bitual affections, in numbers disproportionate to those of the men,t many of whom, and particularly the Levites, were accompanied by “ strange women,” in violation of the law, notwithstanding that it had so often brought down the reproofs of their prophets and leaders. From this offence, even the priesthood was not exempt.
Energized and kept together by the zeal and eloquence of Zorobabel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Zachariah, the Jews, after much opposition on the part of all the neighbouring states, rebuilt the walls of their ancient city and their august temple ; 9 and they once again solemnized their religious festivals, and offered their “ Holocaust according to the law :" “the grand sacrificers, the Levites, and the rest of the people, made an offering to the Lord for the sins of the tribes, one hundred bulls, two hundred sheep, four hundred lambs, and twelve goats."
Thus released from captivity by those who had led them captive, and restored to the land of their fathers, in spite of the remonstrances of their “adversaries,”-thus left unrestrained, by the tolerant worshippers of the sun, to the free exercise of their own ancient religion, the sacerdotal order of Israel proceeded to establish a government, which their own historian denominates an “ aristocratic theocracy.” The grand sacrificer, or high priest, as. sumed for himself, as prince and pontiff, the sovereign authority; and, while he adopted the pontifical ephod, he bound his brow with the sacred tiara, irradiated with the graven name of God. Appointing “ porters, singers, and Levites for the service of the temple,” he restored to their fullest splendour those magnificent ceremonies and solemn rites, to which the pagan kings of the earth bowed in reverential wonder :*-rites and ceremonies preserved to the present day, under various modifications, throughout the Christian world, from Rome to Canterbury, from the gorgeous shrines of the Greek church in St. Petersburg, to the rude altar of the humble mass-house, in Catholic Ireland !
* Josephus, book xi. chap. iv. † Josephus says they amounted, with their children, to forty thousand. | Ezra, chap. i. ♡ Ibid. v. vi. Josephus, book iv. Ezra, chap. iv.
Under the theo-republican form of government of ancient Israel, (from Moses to the last of the Judges, a period of five hundred years) the people had shown frequent resistance to the power of the priesthood ; their monarchy, also, which existed five hundred and thirty-two years, from Saul to the captivity, had been frequently disturbed by the popular jealousy against priestly interference in temporal affairs : and now, when a theocratic government was thus set up on the return from the Persian captivity, a similar jealousy appears to have excited, from the first, a similar hostility on the part of the laity of all classes.
Even the chiefs of the tribes, joined by “ Noadiah the prophetess,” (one of those patriot female seers, who strug. gled to the last in behalf of the independence of the people), continued to resist the power of the theocracy; and a “ secret intelligence was established between the enemies,” (as the neighbouring hostile states were called) and the nobles of Judah, to oppose the priesthood.
Nehemiah,t also, and Ezra denounced the Levites for violating the law of Moses, and returning from Persia with
* Nehemiah, chap. vi.
| Ibid. chap. xiii. Josephus, vol. ii.