History as Past Ethics: An Introduction to the History of Morals

By Philip Van Ness Myers | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IX
THE MORAL EVOLUTION IN ISRAEL: AN IDEAL OF OBEDIENCE TO A REVEALED LAW

I. THE RELIGIOUS BASIS OF HEBREW MORALITY

To the pious Hebrew the rainbow, which to the esthetic Greek was merely the beautiful pathway of Iris, the messenger of Olympus, was Yahweh's bow hung out from the dark retreating thundercloud as a sign of righteous anger spent and the pledge of a divine covenant and promise. In this ethical interpretation by the Hebrew spirit of this portent is foretokened the history and mission of ancient Israel. It was her allotted task to interpret in ethical terms the phenomena of the world of nature and the drama of human life and history. And it was her happy lot to become the teacher to mankind of the truth of an alone and righteous God, and to be the creator of a moral ideal which is to-day the highest ethical standard of all the races of the Western world, and the most vital moral force at work in universal history.

Introductory; Israel's historic task a moral one

In the short account which we shall give of Hebrew morality we shall adopt a mode of treatment somewhat different from that followed in describing the moral systems of the peoples already passed in review, for the reason that in the case of the ancient Hebrews the historical material is sufficiently abundant to enable us to trace step by step the development of the ethical ideal and to watch the gradual clarification of the moral consciousness of the race.1 Hence,

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1
"The whole history of the religion of Israel is a history of the development of the moral consciousness, and consequently of the deepening and widening of the opposition between that which ought to be and that which is."-- EDWARD CAIRD, The Evolution of Religion ( 1894), vol. ii, p. 92.

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