The paradox of the ancient Hebrews, who disobeyed God when he was in their face, and scrupulously obeyed him when he had become more distant
Edward Gibbon’s endlessly snide and contemptuous treatment of religion, or rather of the Christian religion, is not pleasant. However, here is a passage of his about the Jewish religion which, while it is also snide and contemptuous, contains a genuinely amusing observation about the ancient Jews. It is from chapter 15 of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, “The progress of the Christian religion.”
This inflexible perseverance, which appeared so odious or so ridiculous to the ancient world, assumes a more awful character, since Providence has deigned to reveal to us the mysterious history of the chosen people. But the devout and even scrupulous attachment to the Mosaic religion, so conspicuous among the Jews who lived under the second temple, becomes still more surprising, if it is compared with the stubborn incredulity of their forefathers. When the law was given in thunder from Mount Sinai, when the tides of the ocean and the course of the planets were suspended for the convenience of the Israelites, and when temporal rewards and punishments were the immediate consequences of their piety or disobedience, they perpetually relapsed into rebellion against the visible majesty of their Divine King, placed the idols of the nations in the sanctuary of Jehovah, and imitated every fantastic ceremony that was practised in the tents of the Arabs, or in the cities of Phoenicia. As the protection of Heaven was deservedly withdrawn from the ungrateful race, their faith acquired a proportionable degree of vigor and purity. The contemporaries of Moses and Joshua had beheld with careless indifference the most amazing miracles. Under the pressure of every calamity, the belief of those miracles has preserved the Jews of a later period from the universal contagion of idolatry; and in contradiction to every known principle of the human mind, that singular people seems to have yielded a stronger and more ready assent to the traditions of their remote ancestors, than to the evidence of their own senses.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at October 28, 2010 09:00 AM | Send