The Hidden Books Of Judaism by James Hastings 1911
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Esoteric doctrines and books do not belong properly to the Isr. religion. Their home is in heathenism, from which, however, they gained a foothold from time to time in Judaism. The occult lore connected with sorcery and magic lurked beneath the surface of old Israel's religious life, but was condemned by law and prophets. No priestly religion, indeed, can be without a partly esoteric priestly tradition respecting rites, their form, and perhaps their meaning. But it was a characteristic of Judaism that it was based upon a priestly law made public and openly adopted by the people (Neh 8-10). Yet Judaism did not escape from the charm which mystery exerts over the human mind. It was esp. in the after developments of OT wisdom literature under Hellenic influence, on the one side, and of OT prophetic literature, under Persian and Babylonian influence, on the other, that the idea of the superior religious value of hidden things, mysteriously disclosed to the favoured few, took possession of the Jewish mind. Even Jesus, son of Sirach, the Palestinian, finds it the chief task of the wise man to discover the 'apocrypha,' the hidden things, of wisdom and of God, and thinks that the hidden things of the world are greater than the manifest. 'Apocrypha' was for him a word of honour. But it was especially in Hellenic circles that the love of hidden things was cultivated. Philo presents the results of his deepest study and reflexion, and of his highest insight, in the form of an exposition of the Pentateuch, making of this a hidden book, which only the initiated could understand.
There was, however, another way in which the love of hidden things, and reverence for antiquity could be adjusted. Instead of hidden meanings in openly published books, it was possible to think of private teachings, by the side of the public, committed by patriarch or prophet to the few, and handed on to the present in a secret tradition, or a hidden book. This was the procedure of those Palestinian Jews who were interested in the secrets of the future, and in prophecy. The beginnings of the production of hidden books along this line can be easily traced. If a prophet committed the record of openly spoken predictions to the keeping of his disciples, to await the time of their fulfilment, it would not be strange if he should give them fuller knowledge for which the public was not prepared. The Book of Daniel is represented as having been 'shut up and sealed' by its author, until, long after its writing, the time came for its publication. This may well be called 'the fundamental passage for the conception of apocrypha.' Daniel appears as the publication of a book hitherto hidden. The justification of the claim lies in the revelation of the mysteries of Israel's future which it contains, and in the mysterious manner in which the revelation is made in visions, through angels. It is, indeed, in part, an interpretation of the hidden sense of Jer 25:11 & 29:10 (Dn 9), but the interpretation is given by an angel. The way was prepared for Daniel by the later prophets, in whom the vision of hidden things plays an increasingly important part. Ezekiel's vision (ch. 1) became the favourite and fruitful study of Jews who loved mysteries. Zechariah contains similar material. But the chief development of apocalyptical literature followed Daniel. Great numbers of books were put forth during the century, before and the century after Christ, in the name of patriarchs or prophets, as books that had been hidden. They contain especially disclosures of the mysteries of the spirit world, of the future of Israel, and of the abode and fortunes of the dead. In one of these books the tradition is related that Ezra was inspired to dictate to his scribes the sacred books that had been burned at the destruction of Jews. 'In forty days they wrote ninety-four books. And when the forty days were ended, the Most High spoke, saying: The earlier books that thou hast written, publish openly, and let the worthy and the unworthy read them; but the last seventy thou shalt keep, that thou mayest deliver them to the wise of thy people; for in them is the spring of understanding and the fountain of wisdom and the stream of knowledge' (2 Es 14: 44-47). In the 70 esoteric books, valued more highly by the writer than the 24 books of open scripture, we have the original conception of apocrypha. The character of these books may be accurately known from those that have survived, e.g. Enoch, Assumption of Moses (in part), the Apocalypse of Baruch, and 2 Esdras itself. Their material is largely foreign to Israelite traditions, and was commonly felt to be so. Yet traditional it must, in the nature of the case, have been, and only in a very limited degree the free invention of the writers. That its source is, in an important measure, to be found in the Babylonian and Persian religions, is highly probable.
If we ask in what circles of Judaism these books, or the writings or traditions that lie behind them, were current, various lines of evidence point toward the obscure sect of the Essenes. They possessed a secret lore and hidden books, and took oath to disclose none of their doctrines to others, and 'to preserve equally both the books of their sect and the names of the angels.' In regard to the contents of their secret books we are not left wholly in the dark. Jos. says that the Essenes derived from the study of 'the writings of the ancients,' a knowledge of the healing properties of plants and stones, and that by reading 'the holy books' they were able to foretell future things. He also ascribes to them an elaborate doctrine of the pre
-existence of souls, and of the lot of good and bad souls after death. When, therefore, we find in books like Enoch, the Assumptio Mosis, and 4 Ezr, disclosures of the secrets of nature and of history, lists of angels, descriptions of heaven and hell, and of the experiences of the soul after death, beside other Essenic marks, such as the praise of asceticism and the unfavourable estimate of the second temple, the opinion seems not unfounded that 'their secrets literature was perhaps in no small degree made use of in the Pseudepigrapha, and has through them been indirectly handed down to us' (Wellhausen). To attribute the apocalyptical literature exclusively to Essenism, however, as Jewish scholars wish to do, is without historical justification. It is true that a relationship of Essenism with Zoroastrianism is probable (Lightfoot, Colossians; Cheyne, Expository Times, ii. 202-8,248-53; Bampton Lect. pp. 417-21, 445-49); and Zoroastrianism treasured secret books, some of which certain Christian Gnostics claimed to possess. It is probable also that the foreign (heathen) character of these books was felt by many, since Judaism never gave these books official sanction; and no apocalypse after Daniel was preserved in Hebrew. Nevertheless, the foreign elements here dominant reach far back into OT literature; and, on the other hand, Essenism was much more closely related to Pharisaism than to Zoroastrianism, being, in the first place, 'only Pharisaism in the superlative' (Schurer). If the Essenes are to be understood historically as simply more consistent protestants against the high-priesthood of the Maccabaean princes than the Pharisees,—carrying their protest to the point of refusing all participation in the temple service,— then in the Hasidaeans of 1 Mac 2:42; 7:12 we have the roots of both Pharisaism and Essenism, and the Book of Daniel would stand near the beginning of each. The Messianic hope is the genuinely Jewish element in the apocalypses. That this had a far larger place in the mind of the Pharisee during the two centuries preceding the destruction of Jerusalem than it had after that event,—and esp. after Akiba's death,—is evident to all but Jewish scholars, who are apt to judge of the whole post-exilic period by the Talmud. The apocalyptical literature in question was, then, in all probability valued and cultivated by Pharisees, certainly by some circles of Pharisees, as well as by Essenes. Indeed, in spite of its rejection by rabbinical Judaism, germs of it survived, and afterwards came to new life, in the late Jewish Kabbala, or secret philosophy (12th cent.).
It is a striking fact that while official Judaism rejected these hidden books, and declared for the exclusive recognition of the 24 books of the Canon, it yet proceeded to claim for itself the possession of an oral law which Moses delivered to Joshua when he gave the Pentateuch, openly to Israel, and which passed on through the hands of the elders, the prophets, the men of the Great Synagogue, to an unbroken succession of scribes (Pirke Aboth), until it came to writing in the Mishna, and then in the Talmud. By the theory of a secret tradition the scribes sought to give their law the authority of Moses, and yet account for its late appearance.
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