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Fragments of a Faith Forgotten

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Author Topic: Fragments of a Faith Forgotten  (Read 1183 times)
Peggie Welles
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« Reply #15 on: January 25, 2009, 01:19:32 am »

their own needs and to the conviction that Israel was the Chosen of God. This expectation was for long entirely of a material nature; they looked for a king who should restore them to freedom and tread under foot the nations of the world, when he would reign for one thousand years in Jerusalem. All this was to be effected by the direct interposition of Yahweh, their God. For some four hundred years, up to the final destruction of Jerusalem by Titus, we are presented with the spectacle of a most determined struggle for freedom; for the Jews were ever disappointed of their hopes, and had to submit to the successive overlordship of Greece and Rome. But hope ever sprang up again and again after every new disappointment, and we find in their literature the record of a determined opposition to the conqueror, fanned into fever heat by the fiery exhortations and denunciations of a pseudoprophetical character which has no parallel in the history of the world. If in the Greek genius was centred the struggle for the freedom of the intellect, in the Jewish nation was centred the struggle for personal freedom; and in the Roman Empire, after the destruction of Jerusalem, Jewry finally became the centre of all disaffection and revolutionary ideas.

At the back of all of this was the peculiarly Pharisaism exclusive faith which the Jew had evolved, and which from a Roman point of view constituted him "the hater of mankind." But this fanatical Zealotism, although it was directly nourished by the more unbalanced pronouncements of the religious writers and prophets, became more and more distasteful

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to the better elements in the nation. These better elements we find represented by the more spiritual views that by degrees worked into the sacred literature, and the nation was gradually leavened by Pharisaism, which, though running to the extreme of minute ceremonial and the most elaborate rules of external purity, was nevertheless a most potent factor in the widening of the religious horizon. The external side of Pharisaism is fairly well known to us; but the inner side of this great movement, to which all the most learned of the Jews belonged, is but little understood.

Pharisaism was in course of time divided into numerous schools, the strictest of which led the life of rigid internal purity. Leading such a life, it could not but be that their ideas became of a more spiritual nature; indeed Pharisaism had its origin in Babylon, and it represented the main stream of Chaldæan and Persian influence on Jewry.

Along this line of tradition we find gradually evolved a far more spiritual view of the Messiah- doctrine; The Chassidim and Essenes. Israel was not the physical nation of the Jews, but the Elect of God chosen out of all nations; the servants of God were those who served Him with their hearts and not with their lips; the God of this Israel abhorred their blood sacrifices.

But such views as these, although they indirectly influenced the public scripture of the nation, could not be boldly declared among a people that had ever stoned its prophets and delighted in blood-sacrifice. Such views could only be safely discussed in private, and we find numerous records of the

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existence of schools of Chassidim and those whom Josephus calls Essenes, among whom were the most pure and learned of the Jews, the "Rabbis of the South," living apart and in retirement.

These schools and communities seem to have looked back to the stern physical discipline of the Schools of the Prophets on the one hand, and to have been in contact with the spiritual ideas of the Babylonian wisdom-discipline on the other.

In Babylon we see how one of the nation's seers The Inner Schools. contacted part of the Chaldæan wisdom-tradition, and the famous "Vision of Ezekiel" was subsequently invoked as canonical authority for all that range of ideas which we find revived so many hundreds of years later in Mediæval Kabalism. But in order to understand the nature of the studies and inner experiences of the members of these mystic schools of Chassidim and their imitators, it is necessary to have a critical acquaintance with non-canonical Jewish writings, especially the wisdom-literature and those numerous apocrypha, and apocalypses, and apologies for unfulfilled prophecy--a mass of pseudepigraphs which were so busily produced in the last centuries preceding our era and in its earliest centuries. It is true we possess only the fragmentary remains of this once enormous literature, most probably only the works that were written for general circulation, and principally by those members of these communities who were still obsessed by the Zealot conception of Israel; but enough remains to fill in some very necessary outlines of the background of the Gnosis, and to enable us to realise how

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earnestly men were striving for a purer life and greater knowledge of God in those early days.

These mystic schools of Jewish theosophy had an enormous influence on nascent Christianity; the innermost schools influenced the inner schools of Christendom, and the general literature of the intermediate circles left a deep mark on general Christianity.

Most of these mystic schools and communities, whether of Greek or Egyptian or Jewish descent, when they came in contact with each other, gave and received. True that some of them refused to mix in person or doctrine, and there were rigidly conservative mystic schools of all three lines of descent; others, however, if not in their corporate capacity, at any rate in the persons of their individual members, gave and received, and so modified their preconceptions and enlarged their horizon. Indeed, in the last two centuries prior to and first two centuries of our era there was an enormous enthusiasm for syncretism and syntheticism among the members of such schools, the effects of which are plainly traceable in the fragments of the Gnosis preserved to us by the polemical citations of the heresiologists of later orthodoxy.



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