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i.e.the reading the Gemara, has a virtue than which there is none attend more excellent." Nay, they go to the impious length of saye lost ing, “ That he who is employed in the study of the Bible and o wrh nothing else, does but waste his time.” They maintain, that secon if the declarations of this oral law be ever so inconsistent with
common sense, they must be received with implicit . Ty faith—“ You must not depart from them," says Rabbi Sol. in suho Jarchi, “if they should assert that your right hand is your lishe left, or your left your right.” And in the Talmud it is taught, n wij “That to sin against the words of the Scribes, is far more begu grievous than to sin against the words of the Law.” “My The son, attend rather to the words of the scribes, than to the nd the words of the law.” 66 The text of the Bible is like water, but - Bo the Mishna is like wine;" with many other similar comparisons.
Without the oral law, they assert, that the written law relay mains in perfect darkness; for, say they, “There are many Tá things in Scripture which are contradictory, and which can in men no way be reconciled but by the oral law, which Moses reisht ceived on Mount Sinai.” In conformity with these sentiments ne is the conduct of the Jews until this day. Their learned men etimo spend almost all their time in poring over the Talmud; and Latahe, among them, who knows most of the contents of this mon
strous farrago of lies and nonsense, is esteemed the most in learned man. In consequence of their implicit faith in this
oral law, it becomes almost useless to reason with the Jews out of the Scriptures of the Old Testament. It is a matter of real importance, therefore, to show that this whole fabric rests on a sandy foundation; and to demonstrate that there is no evidence whatsoever that any such law was ever given to Moses, on Sinai. To this subject, therefore, I would now solicit the attention of the reader.
Here, then, let it be observed, that we have no controversy with the Jews concerning the written law, moral, ceremonial, or political; nor do we deny that Moses received from God, on Mount Sinai, some explication of the written law. But what we maintain is, that this exposition did not form a second distinct law; that it was not the same as the oral law of the Jews contained in the Talmud; that it was not received by Moses in a distinct form from the written law, and attended with a prohibition to commit it to writing.
In support of these positions, we solicit the attention of the impartial reader to the following arguments:
1. There is not the slightest mention of any such law in all the sacred records; neither of its original communication to
Moses, nor of its transmission to posterity, in the way pretended by the Jews. Now, we ask, is it probable that if such a law had been given, there should never have been any hint of the matter, nor the least reference to it, in the whole Bible ? Certainly, this total silence of Scripture is very little favourable to the doctrine of an oral law. Maimonides does indeed pretend to find a reference to it in Exodus xxiv, 12, “I will give thee," saith the Lord, “a law and commandments." By the first of these he understands the written law, and by the last the oral. But if he had only attended to the words next ensuing, he would never have adduced this text in confirmation of an oral law; “which I have written that thou mayest teach them.” And we know that it is very common to express the written law by both these terms, as well several others of the same import. Now, if no record exists of such a law having been given to Moses, how can we, at this late period, be satisfied of the fact? If it never was heard of for more than two thousand years afterwards, what evidence is there that it ever existed ?
2. Again, we know that, in the time of King Josiah, the written law, which had been lost, was found again. How great was the consternation of the pious king and his court on this occasion! How memorable the history of this fact! But what became of the oral law during this period? Is it reasonable to think that this would remain uninjured, through successive ages of idolatry, when the written law was so entirely rejected ? If they had forgotten what was in their written law, would they be likely to retain that which was oral? If the written law was lost, would the traditionary law be preserved ? And if this was at any time lost, how could it be recovered ? Not from the written law, for this does not contain it; not from the memory of man, for the supposition is, that it was thence obliterated. If then, this law, by any chance, was once lost, it is manifest that it could never be recovered but by divine revelation. And, when we survey the history of the Jews, is it conceivable that such a body of law as that contained in the Talmud, immensely larger than the written law, could have been preserved entire, through so many generations, merely by oral communication? The Jews, indeed, amuse us with a fable on this subject. They tell us that while the Israelites mourned on account of the death of Moses, they forgot three thousand of these traditions, which were recovered by the ingenuity of Othniel the son of Kenaz. This is ridiculous enough. What a heap of traditions must that have been,
from which three thousand could be lost at once! And how profound the genius of Othniel, which was able to bring to light such a multitude of precepts, after they had been completely forgotten! But the proof of this fact is more ludicrous still. It is derived from Joshua xv, 16, 17, “ And Caleb said, he that smiteth Kirjath-Sepher, and taketh it, to him will I give Achsah my daughter to wife. And Othniel the son of Kenaz, the brother of Caleb, took it; and he gave him Achsah his daughter to wife.”
The unlearned reader should be informed that “ KirjathSepher” means, "the city of the book.”
But who retained the oral law, safely preserved in his memory, during the long reign of Manasseh, and during the reign of Amon, and of Josiah ? Where was that law during the seventy years' captivity in Babylon? Have we not a word to inform us of the fate of this law in all the histories of those times? What is there not a hint concerning the preservation of a deposit so precious as this law is pretended to be ? We must say again, that this continued silence of Scripture, through a period of so many hundred years, speaks little in favour of the unwritten law.
3. The Jews again inform us, that this law was prohibited to be written: but whence do they derive the proof of this assertion ? Let the evidence, if there be any, be produced. Must we have recourse to the oral law itself for testimony ?
But why then is it now written, and has been for more than fifteen hundred years? In the Talmud it is said, “ The words of the written law it is not lawful for you to commit to oral tradition; nor the words of the oral law to writing.” And Sol. JARCHI says, “ Neither is it lawful to write the oral law.” Now we say, there was a law containing such a prohibition, or there was not. If the former, then the Talmudists have transgressed a positive precept of this law, in committing it to writing: if the latter, then their Talmud and their Rabbies speak falsely. Let them choose, in this dilemma.
4. But it can be proved, that whatever laws Moses received from God, the same he was commanded “to write.” It is said, “ And Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord. And Moses wrote all the words of the Lord.”
And again it is said, “ And the Lord said to Moses, write thou these words: for after the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with thee and with Israel."† And it is worthy of particular obseryation, that wherever the people are called upon to * Exod. xxiy, 3, 4.
| xxxiv, 27.
Be it so.
obey the law of the Lord, no mention is made of any other than the written law. Thus Moses, when his end approached, made a speech unto the people; after which it is added, “ And Moses wrote this law, and delivered it unto the priests, the sons of Levi, which bare the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and unto all the elders of Israel. And Moses commanded them saying, at the end of every seven years, in the solemnity of the year of release, in the feast of tabernacles, when all Israel is come to appear before the Lord thy God, in the place which he shall choose, thou shalt read it before all Israel in their hearing."
Here, observe, there is no mention of any other but the written law. There is no direction to repeat the oral law at this time of leisure; but surely it was more necessary to command the people to do this, if there had been such a law, than to hear the written law, which they might read from time to time.
In the time of Ahaz, the sacred historian informs us, “ That the Lord testified against Israel, and against Judah, by all the prophets, and by all the seers, saying, turn ye from your evil ways, and keep my commandments and my statutes, according to all the law which I commanded your fathers, and which I sent unto you by my servants the prophets.”+
Now it is very manifest, that the law which they are reproved for breaking, was the written law; for in the same chapter we have the following exhortation: “ And the statutes, and the ordinances, and the law, and the commandment, which he wrote for you, ye shall observe to do for evermore.” |
The prophets continually refer the people “ to the law and to the testimony,” and declare, “if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.”
When Jehoshaphat set about reforming and instructing the people, and set on foot an important mission, consisting of princes and Levites to teach them, they confined themselves to what was written in the Scriptures: “ And they taught in Judah, and had the book of the law of the Lord with them, and went about throughout all the cities of Judah, and taught the people." I
So also Ezra, when he instructed the people who had returned from Babylon, made use of no other than the written law: “ And Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation, both of men and women, and all that could hear with understanding.–And he read therein before the street, that was before the water-gate, from the morning until mid-day, before the men and the women, and those that could under• Deut. xxxi, 9, 10. † 2 Kings, xvii, 13, 37. # 2 Chron. xvii, 9.
stand: and the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law. And Ezra the scribe stood upon a pulpit of wood, which they had made for the purpose.”
“And Ezra opened the book in sight of all the people; and when he opened it, all the peoole stood up.”—And the priests and "the Levites caused the people to understand the Law.”—“So they read in the book, in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused the people to understand the reading.
5. Besides, the written law is pronounced to be perfect, so that nothing need, or could be added to it; therefore the oral law was superfluous. “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul.”+ 6 Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you."
It is not a valid objection which they bring against this argument, that Christians add the gospel to the law; for this is not, properly speaking, a new law. The gospel is a promise of grace and salvation. The precepts of the law are, indeed, specially employed in the gospel, to a purpose for which they were not originally intended; s but the gospel, in whatever light it may be viewed, is committed to writing, and no part of it left to depend on oral tradition.
6. In the numerous exhortations and injunctions of Almighty God, recorded in the Old Testament, there is not an instance of any one being commanded to do any thing not contained in the written law, which proves, that either there was no other law in existence, or that obedience to it was not required; and if obedience was not required, then, certainly, there was no law.
Moreover, many of the Jews themselves concur with us, in rejecting the oral law. The chief advocates of traditions were the Pharisees, who arose out of the schools of Hillel and Shammai, that lived after the times of the Maccabees. On this subject we have the testimony of Jerome, who says, “ Shammai and Hillel, from whom arose the Scribes and Pharisees, not long before the birth of Christ; the first of whom was called the dissipator, and the last, profane; because, by their tradi
* Neh. viü, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8.
† Psalm xix, 7. | Deut. iv, 2.
$ Note K. | It would be tedious to refer to all the texts in which commands and exhortations are given, but the reader may consult the following:-Deut. x, 12, 13; xi, 32; xxvii, 1; xxx, 20; xxxi, 9; xxxii, 45, 46. Josh, i, 7; xxiii, 6. 2 Kings, xiv, 6. 2 Chron. XXV, 4; xxx, 16.