This work of Graetz was the first comprehensive attempt to write the history of the Jews as the history of a living people and from a Jewish point of view. With deep feeling, he describes the struggle of Jews and of Judaism for survival, their uniqueness, the sufferings of the Exile, and the courage of the martyrs, and in contrast, the cruelty of the enemies of Israel and its persecutors throughout the ages. The writing of such a Jewish history in German for a public which in its vast majority identified itself with German nationalism and Christian culture was a heroic achievement.
English readers, to whom the forefathers of the Jews of today—the patriarchs, heroes, and men of God—are familiar characters, will the better understand the miracle which is exhibited in the history of the Jews during three thousand years. The continuance of the Jewish race until the present day is a marvel not to be overlooked even by those who deny the existence of miracles, and who only see in the most astounding events, both natural and preternatural, the logical results of cause and effect. Here we observe a phenomenon, which has developed and asserted itself in spite of all laws of nature, and we behold a culture which, notwithstanding unspeakable hostility against its exponents, has nevertheless profoundly modified the organism of nations.
It is the heartfelt aspiration of the author that “The History of the Jews, from the Earliest Times to the Present Day,” in its English garb, may attain its object by putting an end to the hostile bearing against the Jewish race, so that it may no longer be begrudged the peculiar sphere whereto it has been predestined through the events and sorrows of thousands of years, and that it may be permitted to fulfill its appointed mission without molestation.
This translation, in five volumes, is not a mere excerpt of the “Geschichte der Juden” (like the author's “Volksthümliche Geschichte der Juden”), but a condensed reproduction of the entire eleven volumes. But the foot-notes have been omitted, so as to render the present work less voluminous for the general reader. Historical students are usually acquainted with the German language, and can read the notes in the original.
In this English edition the “History of the Present Day” is brought down to 1870, while the original only goes as far as the memorable events of 1848. The last volume will contain a survey of the entire history of the Jewish nation, together with a comprehensive index of names and events.
The first volume covers the period from the entry of Israelite tribes into the land of Canaan to the settlement of the Judeans in Egypt.
Jewish historian and Bible scholar. Graetz was born in Xions (Ksiaz), Poznan, the son of a butcher. From 1831 to 1836 he pursued rabbinic studies in Wolstein (now Wolsztyn) near Poznan. There Graetz taught himself French and Latin and avidly read general literature. This brought him to a spiritual crisis, but reading S. R. Hirsch`s "Nineteen Letters on Judaism" in 1836 restored his faith. He accepted Hirsch`s invitation to continue his studies in the latter`s home and under his guidance. Eventually their relationship cooled; he left Oldenburg in 1840 and worked as a private tutor in Ostrow. In 1842 he obtained special permission to study at Breslau University. As no Jew could obtain a Ph.D. at Breslau, Graetz presented his thesis to the University of Jena. This work was later published under the title Gnostizismus und Judentum (1846). By then Graetz had come under the influence of Z. Frankel, and it was he who initiated a letter of congratulations to Frankel for leaving the second Rabbinical Conference (Frankfort, 1845) in protest, after the majority had decided against prayers in Hebrew. Graetz now became a contributor to Frankel`s Zeitschrift fuer die religioesen Interessen des Judentums, in which, among others, he published his programmatic "Konstruktion der juedischen Geschichte" (1846).
Graetz failed to obtain a position as rabbi and preacher because of his lack of talent as an orator. After obtaining a teaching diploma, he was appointed head teacher of the orthodox religious school of the Breslau community, and in 1850, at Hirsch`s recommendation, of the Jewish school of Lundenburg, Moravia. As a result of intrigues within the local community, he left Lundenburg in 1852 for Berlin, where during the following winter he lectured on Jewish history to theological students. He then began to contribute to the Monatsschrift fuer Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judentums, which Frankel had founded in 1851 and which he later edited himself (1869–88). He also completed the fourth volume (dealing with the talmudic period and the first to be published) of his Geschichte der Juden von den aeltesten Zeiten bis zur Gegenwart ("History of the Jews...," 1853). In 1853 Graetz was appointed lecturer in Jewish history and Bible at the newly founded Jewish Theological Seminary of Breslau, and in 1869 was made honorary professor at the University of Breslau.
THE EARLIEST PERIOD.
OCCUPATION OF THE LAND OF CANAAN.
ELI AND SAMUEL. (1100?–1067 B. C. E.)
THE APOGEE. (1067–1055 B. C. E.)
DAVID AND ISHBOSHETH. (1055–1035 B. C. E.)
DAVID. (1035–1015 B. C. E.)
SOLOMON. (1015–977 B. C. E.)
SECESSION OF THE TRIBES. (977–887 B. C. E.)
THE HOUSE OF DAVID AND THE JEHUIDES. (887–805 B. C. E.)
END OF THE HOUSE OF JEHU AND THE TIME OF UZZIAH. (805–758 B. C. E.)
THE DOWNFALL OF THE KINGDOM OF THE TEN TRIBES; THE HOUSE OF DAVID, AND THE INTERVENTION OF THE ASSYRIANS. (758–740 B. C. E.)
THE END OF THE KINGDOM OF THE TEN TRIBES, AND THE HOUSE OF DAVID. (739–696 B. C. E.)
THE LAST KINGS OF JUDAH. (695–608 B. C. E.)
END OF THE KINGDOM OF JUDAH. (608–586 B. C. E.)
THE CONSEQUENCES OF THE DESTRUCTION. (586–572 B. C. E.)
THE BABYLONIAN EXILE. (572–537 B. C. E.)
THE RETURN FROM BABYLON, THE NEW COMMUNITY IN JUDÆA, EZRA AND NEHEMIAH. (537–420 B. C. E.)
THE SOPHERIC AGE. (420–300 B. C. E.)
SIMON THE JUST AND HIS DESCENDANTS. (300–175 B. C. E.)
THE TYRANNICAL CONVERSION TO HELLENISM AND THE ELEVATION OF THE MACCABEES. (175–166 B. C. E.)
VICTORIES AND DEATH OF JUDAS MACCABÆUS; JONATHAN THE HASMONÆAN. (165–143 B. C. E.)
THE JUDEANS IN ALEXANDRIA AND THE GOVERNMENT OF SIMON. (160–135 B. C. E.)
David had left affairs in Israel in such perfect order that his successor, unless he were a fool or a knave, or the victim of evil advice, would have but little trouble in governing. Solomon, however, carried David's work still further. He shed such lustre upon Israel that even the most distant generations basked in the light that emanated from his wise rule. Indeed, a king who solidifies and increases, if he does not actually found, the greatness of the State; who permits his people the enjoyment of peace; who sheds the bounties of plenty over his land, driving poverty away from the meanest hovel; who opens up new channels for the development of his people's powers, and who thus increases and strengthens them; a king who has the intelligence to arouse his subjects to exercise their mental gifts, and cultivate their love of the beautiful; who, by his material and spiritual creations, elevates his country to the dignity of a model State, such as had never been before him and scarcely ever after him;—such a monarch assuredly deserves the high praise which posterity has accorded to him. Carried away by the greatness of his deeds—for all these grand characteristics were strikingly prominent in Solomon—men shut their eyes to his weaknesses, and considered them the inevitable result of human imperfection. In the first place he strove to preserve peace for his country, though his father had left him ample means for making fresh conquests. He was called the king of peace—“Shelomo.” By giving to his people the comforts of prosperity, he widened its horizon, and raised its self-respect. He ruled it with wisdom and justice, and decided with strict impartiality all contests between individuals as well as tribes. He increased the number of towns, and secured the safety of the roads and of the caravans. He filled the city of Jerusalem with splendour, and built therein a magnificent temple in honour of God. He himself cultivated the fine arts and poetry, and thereby endowed them with fresh attractions in the eyes of the people. Lastly, he set great aims before the nation, and was rightly called the wise king.
History, the impartial arbitress, cannot, however, be blinded by his dazzling virtues to the blemishes which attach to his government, and which must be accounted the cause of the unfortunate breach which commenced when his grave was scarcely closed. The beginning of Solomon's rule was not free from stains of blood, and its end was clouded with mists, which dimmed its brightness; his love of splendour became injurious to morality; it made him despotic, and imposed a burden on the people, which it bore for a considerable time, but shook off at the first favourable opportunity. Solomon converted the kingly power into an autocracy, under which every will had to be subservient to his. But these blemishes were entirely hidden by the greatness of the achievements under his rule. It is impossible now to decide how far the responsibility of Solomon for these evils goes, how much of the blame rests with his too officious servants, and to what extent their existence must be attributed to the irresistible force of circumstances, to which the exalted and the lowly alike must submit. It is the curse of crowned heads that the worthiest wearer of a crown, in order to consolidate his power, is induced to take steps which his conscience would under other circumstances condemn, and the misdeeds of his servants are also added to his account.
Solomon was young—scarcely twenty—when he ascended the throne. After his accession, whilst visiting the altar at Gibeon, we are told, he had a vision in which God asked him to express the innermost wish of his heart, with the promise that it should be fulfilled. He did not choose long life, nor riches, nor honour, nor the death of his enemies; but he chose wisdom, in order that he might rule his people with justice. In fact, this wisdom, this power of entering into the feelings and minds of the dissenting parties who appeared before him, of seizing on the true state of the case in spite of exaggeration and subtle arguments, Solomon possessed to an extraordinary degree. The Solomonic judgment is well known. By giving a verdict which was well adapted to reveal the real feeling of a mother, he recognised, in a dispute between two women for the possession of a child, on which side was truth, on which side falsehood. “Cut the child in half,” he said. But its real mother could not accept this decision, and offered rather to give up her child. He was determined that no one in his kingdom should suffer from injustice. Though he may not have been the first that uttered the saying, “through justice a throne is established,” yet it was a maxim after his own heart.
The wisdom of Solomon is also displayed to great advantage in another direction, namely, in his poetic productions. These were chiefly allegorical poems (Mashal); in them he caused the lofty cedars of Lebanon, and the lowly creeping wall plants, to appear as the emblems of what is highest and humblest, quadrupeds, birds of the air, reptiles, and even dumb fish are given voice and speech. Each of these fables probably ended with an appropriate moral lesson. It has been related that Solomon composed three thousand of such fables and five thousand songs or proverbs.
But Solomon was by no means the originator of this style of fiction. Long before him such compositions had been common among the Israelites. Standing on Mount Gerizim, Jotham, the son of the Judge Gideon, addressed the misguided people of Shechem in an ingenious parable. The prophet Nathan had disguised his exhortation to David respecting his sin with Bathsheba in the form of a parable. But though not the inventor of this branch of poetry, Solomon is still deserving of praise for devoting the time left unoccupied by the cares of government to its further development. His rare qualities of mind were displayed in yet another direction. In some of his compositions he delineates types of persons and things by means of allusions, the hidden meaning of which is left to guessing. Such enigmas, presented in a poetic form, were in those days the favourite diversions of social gatherings and feasts, and Solomon possessed remarkable ingenuity in devising these recreations of the human mind.
He was, however, guilty of errors, the greater part of which arose from an exaggerated idea of his royal dignity, and from imitating the kings of the neighbouring states of Tyre and Egypt, with whom he was in constant intercourse. He claimed for himself a prerogative almost impious in a mortal, namely, that of being considered identical with the State,—all interests were to centre in him, and all else was to be of comparatively little importance. Solomon's wisdom ran aground on this rock. The truth of Samuel's prediction, at the time of the election of a ruler, was better proven by the wise king than by his predecessors.
Unfortunately Solomon was a younger son, to whom the throne had been allotted contrary to the ordinary laws of succession, whilst Adonijah, whom a portion of the people had recognised as king, was considered the rightful heir. So long as the latter lived, Solomon's government could not be on a firm basis, and he could never feel himself secure. Adonijah, therefore, had to be removed; the leader of the body guard, Benaiah, forcibly entered his house, and killed him. As an excuse for this act of violence, it was asserted that Adonijah had attempted to win the hand of Abishag, the young widow of David, and thus had revealed his traitorous intention of contesting his brother's right to the throne. No sooner had he fallen than Joab, the former adherent of Adonijah, feared that a similar fate would overtake him. This exemplary general, who had contributed so considerably to the aggrandisement of the people of Israel and the power of the house of David, fled to the altar on Mount Zion, and clung to it, hoping to escape death. Benaiah, however, refused to respect his place of refuge, and shed his blood at the altar. In order to excuse this crime, it was given out that David himself, on his deathbed, had impressed on his successor the duty of revenging the death of Abner and Amasa. Joab, who had killed them in times of peace, was not to be allowed, in spite of his venerable age, to die in peace.
It is uncertain whether Benaiah was Solomon's evil adviser, or merely his instrument. Joab's death was the cause of great joy amongst the enemies of Israel, and aroused in them the courage to plan a rebellion. Adonijah's priestly partisan, Abiathar, whom Solomon did not dare touch, was deprived of his office as high priest, and Zadok was made the sole head of the priesthood, and his descendants, invested with that dignity, maintained it for over a thousand years, whilst the offspring of Abiathar were neglected.—The Benjamite Shimei, who had pursued David with execrations on his flight from Jerusalem, was also executed, and it was only through this threefold deed of blood that Solomon's throne appears to have gained stability.
Solomon then directed his attention to the formation of a court of the greatest magnificence, such as was befitting the powerful king whose commands were obeyed from the boundaries of Egypt to the banks of the Euphrates. In those days many wives were considered a necessary adjunct to the king's dignity; David had about sixteen wives, but this was an insignificant number as compared with that of the kings of Egypt and Phœnicia, whom Solomon had taken for his pattern. It was only in compliance with this common but corrupt practice that Solomon formed an immense harem. His first wife was Naamah (the beautiful), an Ammonite princess; he also had other wives from the Moabite and Aramæan courts, and even from those of the Hittite and Caananite kings; but what most gratified his pride was that the Egyptian king Psusennes gave him his daughter in marriage. Solomon thought that in acting thus he had taken a wise step, and that his country and his dynasty would be benefited by the alliance. But the result proved the contrary. The daughter of Psusennes was naturally received with every mark of attention in the Israelitish capital; she became the first queen in Solomon's harem, but it seemed to him a disgrace that he could not place a magnificent palace at the disposal of this queen. What was the cedar palace built by David on Mount Zion, when compared with the gigantic edifices and labyrinthine palaces of the kings of Egypt? Solomon, therefore, determined to build a palace worthy of her.
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