Prolegomena to the History of Ancient Israel, by Julius Wellhausen, , at sacred-texts.com
Isaiah was so completely a prophet that even his wife was called the prophetess after him. No such title could have been bestowed on the wife of either Amos or Hosea. But what distinguished him more than anything else from those predecessors was that his position was not, like theirs, apart from the government; he sat close to the helm, and took a very real part in directing the course of the vessel. He was more positive and practical than they; he wished to make his influence felt, and when for the moment he was unsuccessful in this so far as the great whole of the state was concerned, he busied himself in gathering round him a small circle of like-minded persons on whom his hope for the future rested. Now that Israel had been destroyed, he wished at all events to save Judah. The lofty ideality of his faith (ii. 1 seq.) did not hinder him from calling in the aid of practical means for this end. But the current of his activities was by the circumstances of the case directed into a channel in which after his death they continued to flow towards a goal which had hardly been contemplated by himself.
The political importance of the people of Jehovah was reduced to a minimum when Judah only was left. Already at an earlier period in that kingdom the sacred had come to be of more importance than the secular; much more was this the case under the suzerainty of Assyria. The circumstances of the time themselves urged that the religion of Israel should divest itself of all politico-national character; but Isaiah also did his best to further this end. It was his most zealous endeavour to hold king and people aloof from every patriotic movement; to him the true religious attitude was one of quietness and sitting still, non-intervention in political affairs, concentration on the problems of internal government. But he was compelled to leave over for the coming Messiah (xi. 1 seq.) that reformation in legal and social matters which seemed to him so necessary; all that he could bring the secular rulers of his country to undertake was a reform in worship. This was the most easily solved of the problems alluded to above, and it was also that which most closely corresponded to the character of the kingdom of Judah. Thus it came about that the reform of the theocracy which
had been contemplated by Isaiah led to its transformation into an ecclesiastical state. No less influential in effecting a radical change in the old popular religion was Isaiah's doctrine which identified the true Israel with the holy remnant which alone should emerge from the crisis unconsumed. For that remnant was more than a mere object of hope; it actually stood before him in the persons of that little group of pious individuals gathered around him. Isaiah founded no "ecclesiola in ecclesia" indeed, but certainly an "ecclesia in civitate Dei." Now began that distinction between the true Israel and the Israel according to the flesh, that bipartite division of the nation which became so important in later times. As head and founder of the prophetic party in Judah, Isaiah was, involuntarily, the man who took the first steps towards the institution of the church.
The catastrophe which befell the army of Sennacherib had no very great effect upon the external affairs of Judah. Sennacherib indeed, being busy in the east, was unable to retrieve the loss he had sustained, but his son Esarhaddon, who succeeded him in 681, resumed the Egyptian war with better success. He made himself master of the Nile valley, and brought the Ethiopians into submission. That the petty kingdoms of Palestine returned to the old relations of dependence is to be taken as a matter of course. Judah appears to have resumed the yoke voluntarily, but the Samaritans only after force had been applied; they were afterwards deported, whereupon the deserted country was occupied by foreign colonists, who, however, accepted the cultus of the god of the land.
That Manasseh ben Hezekiah should have again come under Assyrian suzerainty appears at that time to have made but little impression; since the time of Ahaz Judah had been accustomed to this relation. The Book of Kings speaks only of internal affairs under the reign of Manasseh. According to it, he was a bad ruler, who permitted, and even caused, innocent blood to flow like water. But what was of greater consequence for the future, he took up an attitude of hostility towards the prophetic party of reform, and put himself on the side of the reaction which would fain bring back to the place of honour the old popular half-pagan conception of Jehovah, as against the pure and holy God whom the prophets worshipped. The revulsion manifested itself as the reform had done, chiefly in matters of worship. The old idolatrous furniture of the sanctuaries was reinstated in its place, and new
frippery was imported from all quarters, especially from Assyria and Babylon, to renovate the old religion; with Jehovah was now associated a "queen of heaven." Yet, as usual, the restoration did more than merely bring back the old order of things. What at an earlier period had been mere naïveté now became superstition, and could hold its ground only by having imparted to it artificially a deeper meaning which was itself borrowed from the prophetical circle of ideas. Again, earnestness superseded the old joyousness of the cultus; this now had reference principally to sin and its atonement. Value was attached to services rendered to the Deity, just in proportion to their hardness and unnaturalness; at this period it was that the old precept to sacrifice to Jehovah the male that opens the matrix was extended to children. The counter-reformation was far from being unaffected by the preceding reformation, although it understood religious earnestness in quite another sense, and sought, not to eliminate heathenism from the cultus, but to animate it with new life. On the other hand, the reaction was, in the end, found to have left distinct traces of its influence in the ultimate issue of the reformation.
We possess one document dating from Manasseh's time in Micah vi. 1-vii. 6. Here, where the lawlessness and utter disregard of every moral restraint in Judah are set in a hideous light, the prophetic point of view, as contrasted with the new refinements in worship, attains also its simplest and purest expression. Perhaps to this period the Decalogue also, which is so eloquently silent in regard to cultus, is to be assigned. Jehovah demands nothing for Himself, all that He asks is only for men; this is here the fundamental law of the theocracy.
Manasseh's life was a long one, and his son Amon walked in his ways. The latter died after a brief reign, and with his death a new era for Judah began. It was introduced by the great catastrophe in which the Assyrian empire came to an end. The sovereignty of the world was beginning to pass out of the hands of the Semites into those of the Aryans. Phraortes of Media indeed was unsuccessful in his attempt against the Assyrians, but Cyaxares beat them and proceeded to besiege their capital. The Scythian invasion of Media and Western Asia (c. 630) at this juncture gave them another respite of more than twenty years; but even it tended to break in pieces the great, loosely-compacted monarchy.
[paragraph continues] The provinces became gradually disintegrated, and the kingdom shrivelled up till it covered no more than the land of Asshur. 1
The inroad of the Scythians aroused to energy again the voice of prophecy which had been dumb during the very sinful but not very animated period of Manasseh's reign. Zephaniah and Jeremiah threatened with the mysterious northern foe, just as Amos and Hosea had formerly done with the Assyrians. The Scythians actually did invade Palestine in 626 (the 13th year of Josiah), and penetrated as far as to Egypt; but their course lay along the shore line, and they left Judah untouched. This danger that had come so near and yet passed them by, this instance of a prophetic threatening that had come to pass and yet been mercifully averted, made a powerful impression upon the people of Judah; public opinion went through a revolution in favour of the reforming party which was able to gain for itself the support also of the young king Josiah ben Amon. The circumstances were favourable for coming forward with a comprehensive programme for a reconstruction of the theocracy. In the year 621 (the eighteenth of Josiah) Deuteronomy was discovered, accepted, and carried into effect.
The Deuteronomic legislation is designed for the reformation, by no means of the cultus alone, but at least quite as much of the civil relations of life. The social interest is placed above the cultus, inasmuch as everywhere humane ends are assigned for the rites and offerings. In this it is plainly seen that Deuteronomy is the progeny of the prophetic spirit. Still more plainly does this appear in the motifs of the legislation; according to these, Jehovah is the only God, whose service demands the whole heart and every energy; He has entered into a covenant with Israel, but upon fundamental conditions that, as contained in the Decalogue, are purely moral and of absolute universality. Nowhere does the fundamental religious thought of prophecy find clearer expression than in Deuteronomy,—the thought that Jehovah
asks nothing for Himself, but asks it as a religious duty that man should render to man what is right, that His will lies not in any unknown height, but in the moral sphere which is known and understood by all. 1
But the result of the innovation did not correspond exactly to its prophetic origin. Prophecy died when its precepts attained to the force of laws; the prophetic ideas lost their purity when they became practical. Whatever may have been contemplated, only provisional regulations actually admitted of being carried, and even these only in co-operation with the king and the priests, and with due regard to the capacity of the masses. The final outcome of the Deuteronomic reformation was principally that the cultus of Jehovah was limited to Jerusalem and abolished everywhere else,—such was the popular and practical form of prophetic monotheism. The importance of the Salomonic temple was thereby increased in the highest degree, and so also the influence of the priests of Jerusalem, the sons of Zadok, who now in point of fact got rid entirely of their rivals, the priests of the country districts.
487:1 Our knowledge of the events of the second half of the 7th century has remained singularly imperfect hitherto, notwithstanding the importance of the changes they wrought on the face of the ancient world. The account given above is that of Herodotus (i. 103-106), and there the matter must rest until really authentic sources shall have been brought to light. With regard to the final siege of Nineveh, our chief informant is Ctesias as quoted by Diodorus (ii. 26, 27). Whether the prophecy of Nahum relates to the last siege is doubtful (in spite of ii. 7, and the oracle given in Diodorus, ὅτι τὴν Νῖνον οὐδεὶς ἑλεῖ κατὰ κράτος ἐὰν μὴ πρότερον ὁ ποταμὸς τῇ πόλει γένηται πολέμιος, inasmuch as Nahum (i. 9) expressly speaks of the siege alluded to by him as the first, saying, "the trouble shall not rise up the second time."
488:1 The commandments which I command thee are not unattainable for thee, neither are they far off; not in heaven so that one might say, Who can climb up into heaven and bring them down, and tell us them that we might do them! not beyond the sea so that one might say, Who shall go over the sea, and fetch them, and tell us them that we might do them!—but the matter lies very near thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart, so that thou canst do it (Deut. xxx. 11-14).