PEOPLE OF THE LAW

Necessary though his drastic measures were, Ezra presented to the Jews a delicate problem of balance with which they were unprepared to cope. How could they remain aloof, uncontaminated, without nurturing contempt toward their neighbors? How could they bring the promised blessing to all nations if they harbored a bigoted hatred of them?

That some at least tended to err on the narrow side is evidenced by the last of the historical books of the Old Testament, First and Second Chronicles and Ezra. In these books, written as a unit, the unknown author (who some believe to be Ezra himself) sketches with strong, sweeping strokes the history of Israel from Adam to David and his descendants, not so much in terms of happenings as of people. On a huge canvas the opening chapters of scarcely interrupted "begats" paint the restless, growing world with the Hebrews always in the center. From Adam through Noah, Abraham and Judah the line runs straight to David, not according to man's will or law but according to righteousness, spiritual worth. Reuben, Jacob's firstborn, forfeited his birthright by immorality; Ephraim, whom the aging Jacob especially consecrated, lost his by rebellion. The Northern kingdom is practically disregarded by the Chronicler as having "rebelled against the house of David unto this day."

For Judah prevailed above his brethren, and of him came
the chief ruler; but was the birthright was Joseph's:...
(I Chronicles 5:2)

David the ruler established the temple; he set in order the priests, the Levites and singers, and the modes of true worship that would serve Judaism even after the temple was gone. Righteousness, according to the Chronicler, was the only criterion of success. Disregard of right activity must bring misery and misfortune.

The author lifted whole passages from his sources, I and II Samuel, I and II Kings, and the memoirs of Ezra and Nehemiah, and a dozen other works now lost. (This was at that time the mark of a competent writer, not plagiarism, as we would call it today.) At times he exaggerated tenfold the number of victims slain, of captives taken or animals sacrificed, not to mislead but to highlight his central theme, the glory and sanctity of God, of the house of Judah, of the temple and of the priests and Levites.

Incidentally, the Chronicler introduced a new figure into Judaism.

For well over a hundred years, the Jews had lived under the benign rule of Persian kings, disciples of the prophet Zoroaster (Zarathustra). As has been noted these kings regarded all local gods, Israel's Yahweh as well as Marduk and the multiple other deities, as representatives of the all-encompassing god Ahura-Mazda. Beneath this universal god two powers, Light and Goodness and Darkness and Evil, were pictured as being forever at war and Satan became identified as the emissary of evil. We see the influence of this belief in a report concerning David. In II Samuel we read:

the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he
moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and
Judah. (II Samuel 24:1)

But the Chronicler writes:

And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to
number Israel. (I Chronicles 21:1)

Satan, the Devil, totally unknown to Moses, slips into Judaism and will slink into Christianity as the relentless opponent of the omnipotent only God.

The emphasis by the Chronicler on ancestry gave those Jews who qualified as the "restored remnant" a sense of confidence and solidarity. Thereby Judah attained a religious identity that would survive, but she shut herself out from the world.

The world however could not be excluded. Growing facilities and occasions for trade and gradual mastering of the sea generated wider commercial ventures and closer relations with neighboring peoples, bringing inevitable echoes of thought broadened by the rise of logic and reason. In Athens, Socrates and Plato were challenging dogmatism and blind traditionalism, and their philosophy was carried swiftly along the routes of trade. Thoughtful, articulate Jews were moved to raise their voices in opposition to Judah's isolationism.