Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

mise that although they differed in these respects, as in every thing else, from the surrounding nations, they must have had some diversions peculiar to themselves. In inquiring into their nature it will be seen that they were of a loftier character and even of more frequent occurrence than those of the Pagans, to which they scarcely bore more resemblance than to the pastimes of the existing generation.

Game-law3, that remnant of a barbarous age which forms the grossest outrage upon modern civilization, were unknown to the Israelites : whatever they found in their fields they might without scruple consider as their property, and hunt, catch, or kill as they chose, with no other restriction upon this common and natural right than such as was imposed by the limitations of the seventh year. Whatever grew in that year on the fallow land was for the game,* which was then to be left unmolested. From the dense population, and the scarcity of cover in Palestine, it is probable, notwithstanding this measure for its preservation, that among a nation of farmers, all equally licensed for its destruction, it would soon become too scarce to afford amusement in its pursuit. Certain it is that -field-sports, in the ordinary acceptation of that term, seem to have been little practised by the ancient Jews. Some of the common objects of the chase, such for instance as the hare, being pronounced unclean by the law, and placed among the prohibited meats, could not be eaten, although they might be destroyed as depredators. From the expression of Moses, that oxen, sheep, and goats throughout Palestine might be eaten even as the hart and the roe, we may conclude that these latter animals furnished the chief prey of the sports

The Jewish legislator, however, gives no ordinance for the regulation of the chase, nor do his writings afford any clew by which his intentions in this respect can be divined. Perhaps he considered the matter too trilling to deserve special regulation : perhaps he held it better adapted for local policy than for any general law, except that of the sabbatical year.

Anxiety to prevent the extirpation of the game, combined with that humanity towards animals which forms so prominent and honourable a feature of the Mosaic law,

man.

* Exod. xxiii. 2. Lev xxv. 7.

dictated, however, several minor directions not altogether irrelevant to this point. It is the command of Moses, that if a person find a bird's nest in the way, whether in a tree or on the ground, though he may take the eggs or the young, he shall not take the mother, but always allow her to escape. From analogy we might perhaps in fer that no one durst kill the hind either when pregnant or when suckling the fawn. Both these rules are observed by modern sportsmen as necessary for the renewal of the game; but as there was no privi. leged class among the Jews interested in preserving it for their own amusement; as they were, on the contrary, mostly farmers who woull be benefited by its extinction, we may safely conclude that if it did not altogether disappear, it soon became too scarce to allow the existence of such a character as a mere sportsman : an inference supported by the general silence of the Bible upon this subject.

A law so delicate in its humane injunctions, so averse even from an appearance of cruelty, that it forbade the Jews from seething the kid in its mother's milk,* would of course be understood even without any express injunction, as prohibitory of horse-racing, the bating of beasts, animal combats, and similar barbarous pastimes. Still more imperatively would it be held to interdict those savage sports where human beings destroyed one another for the gratification of a brutal populace. Gladiatorial games and the brutalizing scenes of the arena were abhorred by the Jews, not only as infractions of their peculiar law, but as being utterly repugnant to the common law of nature. The struggle of the twenty-four combatants, whom Abner and Joab caused to play before them until they were all unnaturally murdered, bears some resemblance, indeed, to a gladiatorial combat ; but as it occurred in the presence of two hostile armies, it should rather perhaps be viewed as a challenge between an equal number of champions selected from the hostile ranks. From arts and literature the early Hebrews appear to have derived no amusement whatever. Owing to a mistaken interpretation of the decalogue, they held statuary and painting to be flagrant offences in the sight of the Lord, as having an idolatrous tendency. No theatre, no circus, no hippodrome, no gallery, nor odeum, was to be found within the walls of Jerusalem or in the whole terri tory of Palestine; until in the latter days of the nation, when the corruption, degeneracy, and neglect of every sacred injunction that disgraced the reign of Herod led them to ac!opt many of the heathen practices, and prepared the way for the final downfall of the people.

* This law, though doubtless calculated to prevent cruelty, bore refer ence chiefly to a g. oss and idolatrous practice among the Canaanites.

In what then, it may be asked, consisted the sports and pastimes of the Jews, since they refused, with such an inflexible obstinacy, to adopt those of other nations, and do not appear to have possessed any public shows or amusements of their own? It will not be difficult to answer this question, if we recollect ihat as religion was the source of all their institutions, and the observance of its injunctions the chief public duty they had to perform, they must liave derived from it their pleasures as well as their occupations. The sacred ceremonies which, exclusively of the pomp of sacrifice, the perfume of rich odours, and a stately display of gorgeously-attired processionists in the courts of their venerated temple, and in the presence of a whole assembled people, combined the attractions of male and female dancers with all the enchantments of the most exquisite musicians and singers, were not only incoinparably more grand, imposing, and magnificent, as a mere spectacle, than

any theatrical exhibition that the world could produce, but appealed to the heart while they delighted the eye, gratified the soul as well as the sense, awakened feelings of patriotism as well as of religion, and by uniting the splendours of earth to the glorious hopes of heaven, constituted a union of fascinations which no sensitive or pious Jew could have contemplated without an ecstasy of delight. Well might the people of the Lord, whose highest duties were thus enlivened and sweetened by a public festival, and whose pleasures were sanctified and exalted by religious associations, look down with contempt on the cruel sports and vulgar pastimes of the heathen.“ So long as the Hebrew people retained their attachment to their religion, they remained satisfied with the festivals and stately celebrations that it afforded ; and not until all classes were desecrated by a general impiety, did they consent to adopt the games and amusements of their Roman conquerors. This innovation seems to have been first openly practised in the time of the Maccabees, when Jason, a Hellenised Jew, having

ܪ

procured himself to be illegally made high-priest, “ Forthwith brought his own nation to the Greekish faction, and brought up new customs against the law; for he built gladly a place of exercise under the tower itself, and brought the chief young men under his subjection, and made them wear a hat. Now such was the height of Greek fashions, and increase of heathenish manners, through the exceeding profaneness of Jason, that ungodly wretch and no highpriest, that the priests had no courage to serve any more at the altar ; but despising the temple, and neglecting the sacrifices, hastened to be partakers of the unlawful allowance in the place of exercise, after the game of discus called them forth."* Herod subsequently completed what Jason had begun, building a hippodrome even within the walls of the Holy City, and another at Cæsarea.

It would be a wide error to suppose, with the ancient Pagans, that because the Jews had no other public diversions than those furnished by their sacred ceremonies, they must be necessarily a gloomy, saturnine, and unsocial people. A directly contrary inference would be justified by the character of their religion, which was essentially as festive and joyous as that of the pagans, and infinitely more so than would be deemed consistent with the notions of modern puritans and rigorists, or even with the interests of state policy.

At a time when we are abolishing our holydays, and many well-meaning hut mistaken people are anxious to restrict, as much as possible, the few diversions and the scanty hours of relaxation allowed to the labouring classes, it may not be uninstructive to exhibit a statement of the whole number of Sabbaths and other holydays which Moses prescribed to the Israelites. In a year of twelve moons the following holydays were ordered to be kept : 1. Twelve new moons

12 days 2. The Feast of the Passover

7 3. The Pentecost

7 4. The great Day of Atonement

1 5. The Feast of Tabernacles

[ocr errors]

in all 35 days; but of these thirty-five days five would fall, taking one year

* 2 Maccabees iv. 10-14.

with another, upon the weekly Sabbath, and must therefore be deducted from the total number; and besides, among the thirty-five holydays there were but eight festal Sabbaths on which they durst not work.

“According therefore to the Mosaic law, if we reckon fifty-two weekly Sabbaths, and thirty holydays, the Israelites kept eighty-two sacred days in the year; namely, fifty-nine on which there was an entire cessation from labour, and twenty-three wherein they might work if they chose, and on some of which indeed their greatest traffic occurred. Of fast-days there was only one, and that too, we should remark, in a southern climate, where fasting is easier and more common than with us."*

Besides these there were other festivals, not of Mosaic appointment; of which sort appears to have been the yearly festival, when the young women of Shiloh danced by the highway-side (Judg. xxi. 19). It is probable that other cities as well as Jerusalem had their particular holydays: and we might almost conclude that family festivals were not unusual, since Jonathan, to apologize for David's absence from the royal table, pretended that he had been obliged to attend a family sacrifice at Bethlehem. This indeed was not true; but the practice must have been common, or Jonathan would not have resorted to such a pretext. Among the feasts instituted in addition to those enjoined by Moses, we may notice the feast of Purim, or lots, appointed by Esther and Mordecai to commemorate the deliverance of the Jews from the massacre which Haman had by lot determined against them, and in the celebration of which that arch enemy of their race was treated with ridiculous indignities, not altogether dissimilar from those which we heap upon the effigy of Guy Fawkes. Of a more rational nature was the Festival of the Dedication, instituted by Judas Maccabeus, to commemorate the recovery of the Temple from the Syro-grecians, and its renewed dedication to the service of the true God. This feast, which was observed in other places as well as at Jerusalem, lasted eight days, which we must add, as well as those consumed in the wild festivities of the Purim, to the eighty-two holydays already enumerated, making altogether above a fourth part of the year

* See Michaelis, art. 201 ; a learned writer, to whose commentarios the author acknowledges his obligations in this brief sketch.

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »