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Dillon, Emile Joseph / The Sceptics of the Old Testament: Job - Koheleth - Agur
Produced by David Starner, Thomas Berger
and the Distributed Prooreaders team.



with English text translated for the first time from the primitive Hebrew
as restored on the basis of recent philological discoveries.


E. J. Dillon

Late Professor of Comparative Philology and Ancient Armenian at the
Imperial University of Kharkoff; Doctor of Oriental Languages of the
University of Louvain; Magistrand of the Oriental Faculty of the Imperial
University of St. Petersburg; Member of the Armenian Academy of Venice;
Membre de la Société Asiatique de Paris, &c. &c.

* * * * *


* * * * *


_My Dear Paschkoff,

In the philosophical problems dealt with by the Sceptics of the Old
Testament, you will recognise the theme of our numerous and pleasant
discussions during the past sixteen years. Three of these are indelibly
engraven in my memory, and, if I mistake not, in yours.

The first took place in St. Petersburg one soft Indian-summer's evening,
in a cosy room on the Gagarine Quay, from the windows of which we looked
out with admiration upon the blue expanse of the Neva, as it reflected
the burnished gold of the spire of the Fortress church. At that time we
gazed upon the wavelets of the river and the wonders of the world from
exactly the same angle of vision.

The second of these memorable conversations occurred after the lapse of
nine years. We had met together in the old place, and sauntering out one
bitterly cold December evening resumed the discussion, walking to and fro
on the moonlit bank of the ice-bound river, until evening merged into
night and the moon sank beneath the horizon, leaving us in total
darkness, vainly desirous, like Goethe, of "light, more light."

Our last exchange of views took place after six further years had sped
away, and we stood last August on the summit of the historic Mönchsberg,
overlooking the final resting-place of the great Paracelsus. The long and
interesting discussions which we had on that occasion, just before
setting out in opposite directions, you to the East and I to the West,
neither of us is likely ever to forget.

It is in commemoration of these pleasant conversations, and more
especially of the good old times, now past for ever, when we looked out
upon the wavelets of the Neva and the wonders of the world from the same
angle of vision, that I ask you to allow me to associate your name with
this translation of the primitive texts of the Sceptics of the Old

Yours affectionately,


TREBIZOND, January 3, 1895._

* * * * *


A careful perusal of this first English translation of the primitive text
of "Job," "Koheleth," and the "Sayings of Agur" will, I doubt not,
satisfy the most orthodox reader that I am fully warranted in
characterising their authors as Sceptics. The epithet, I confess, may
prove distasteful to many, but the truth, I trust, will be welcome to
all. It is not easy to understand why any one who firmly believes that
Providence is continually educing good from evil should hesitate to admit
that it may in like manner allow sound moral principles to be enshrined
in doubtful or even erroneous philosophical theories. Or, is trust in God
to be made dependent upon the confirmation or rejection by physical
science of, say, the Old Testament account of the origin of the rainbow?
Agur, "Job" and "Koheleth" had outgrown the intellectual husks which a
narrow, inadequate and erroneous account of God's dealings with man had
caused to form around the minds of their countrymen, and they had the
moral courage to put their words into harmony with their thoughts.
Clearly perceiving that, whatever the sacerdotal class might say to the
contrary, the political strength of the Hebrew people was spent and its
religious ideals exploded, they sought to shift the centre of gravity
from speculative theology to practical morality.

The manner in which they adjusted their hopes, fears, and aspirations to
the new conditions, strikes the keynote of their respective characters.
"Job," looking down upon the world from the tranquil heights of genius,
is manful, calm, resigned. "Koheleth," shuddering at the gloom that
envelops and the pain that convulses all living beings, prefers death to
life, and freedom from suffering to "positive" pleasure; while Agur,
revealing the bitterness bred by dispelled illusions and blasted hopes,
administers a severe chastisement to those who first called them into
being. All three[1] reject the dogma of retribution, the doctrine of
eternal life and belief in the coming of a Messiah, over and above which
they at times strip the notion of God of its most essential attributes,
reducing it to the shadow of a mere metaphysical abstraction. This is why
I call them Sceptics.

"Job" and "Koheleth" emphatically deny that there is any proof to be
found of the so-called moral order in the universe, and they
unhesitatingly declare that existence is an evil. They would have us
therefore exchange our hopes for insight, and warn us that even this is
very circumscribed at best. For not only is happiness a mockery, but
knowledge is a will-o'-the-wisp. Mankind resembles the bricklayer and the
hodman who help to raise an imposing edifice without any knowledge of the
general plan. And yet the structure is the outcome of their labour. In
like manner this mysterious world is the work of man--the mirror of his
will. As his will is, so are his acts, and as his acts are, so is his
world. Or as the ancient Hindoos put it:

"Before the gods we bend our necks, and yet
within the toils of Fate
Entangled are the gods themselves. To Fate,
then, be all honour given.
Yet Fate itself can compass nought, 'tis but the
bringer of the meed
For every deed that we perform.
As then our acts shape our rewards, of what
avail are gods or Fate?
Let honour therefore be decerned to deeds

But what, I have been frequently asked, will be the effect of all this
upon theology? Are we to suppose that the writings of these three
Sceptics were admitted into the Canon by mistake, and if not, shall we
not have to widen our definition of inspiration until it can be made to
include contributions which every Christian must regard as heterodox? An
exhaustive reply to this question would need a theological dissertation,
for which I have neither desire nor leisure. I may say, however, that
eminent theologians representing various Christian denominations--Roman
Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Anglican and Lutheran--have assured me that
they could readily reconcile the dogmas of their respective Churches with
doctrines educible from the primitive text of "Job," "Koheleth," and
Agur, whose ethics they are disposed to identify, in essentials, with the
teachings of the Sermon on the Mount. With the ways and means by which
they effect this reconciliation I am not now concerned.

My object was neither to attack a religious dogma, nor to provoke a
theological controversy, but merely to put the latest results of
philological science within the reach of him who reads as he runs. And I
feel confident that the reader who can appreciate the highest forms of
poetry, or who has anxiously pondered over the problems of God,
immortality, the origin of evil, &c., will peruse the writings of "Job,"
"Koheleth" and Agur with a lively interest, awakened, and sustained not
merely by the extrinsic value which they possess as historical documents,
but by their intrinsic merits as precious contributions to the literature
and philosophy of the world.


CONSTANTINOPLE, _New Year's Day, 1895._


[1] In Agur's case, this is but an inference from his first saying, but
an inference which few would think of calling in question.

* * * * *










* * * * *


According to a theory which was still in vogue a few years ago, the
ancient races of mankind were distinguished from each other no less by
their intellectual equipment than by their physical peculiarities. Thus
the Semites were supposed to be characterised, among other things, by an
inborn aptitude for historical narrative and an utter lack of the mental
suppleness, ingenuity, and sharp incisive vision indispensable for the
study of the problems of philosophy; while their neighbours, the Aryans,
devoid of historical talent, were held to be richly endowed with all the
essential qualities of mind needed for the cultivation of epic poetry and
abstruse metaphysics. This theory has since been abandoned, and many of
the alleged facts that once seemed to support it have been shown to be
unwarranted assumptions. Thus, the conclusive proof, supplied by Biblical
criticism, of the untrustworthiness of the historical books of the Old
Testament, has removed one alleged difference between Aryans and Semites,
while the discoveries which led to the reconstruction of the primitive
poem of Job and of the treatise of Koheleth have undermined the basis of
the other. For these two works deal exclusively with philosophical
problems, and, together with the Books of Proverbs and Jesus Sirach, are
the only remains that have come down to us of the ethical and
metaphysical speculations of the ancient Hebrews whose descendants have
so materially contributed to further this much-maligned branch of human
knowledge. And if we may judge by what we know of these two books, we
have ample grounds for regretting that numerous other philosophical
treatises which were written between the fourth and the first centuries
B.C. were deemed too abstruse, too irrelevant, or too heterodox to find a
place in the Jewish Canon.[2] For the Book of Job is an unrivalled
masterpiece, the work of one in whom poetry was no mere special faculty
cultivated apart from his other gifts, but the outcome of the harmonious
wholeness of healthy human nature, in which upright living, untrammelled
thought, deep mental vision, and luxuriant imagination combined to form
the individual. Hence the poem is a true reflex of the author's mind: it
dissolves and blends in harmonious union elements that appeared not
merely heterogeneous, but wholly incompatible, and realises, with the
concreteness of history, the seemingly unattainable idea which Lucretius
had the mind to conceive but lacked the artistic hand to execute; in a
word, it is the fruit of the intimate union of that philosophy which,
reckless of results, dares to clip even angels' wings, and of the art
which possesses the secret of painting its unfading pictures with the
delicate tints of the rainbow. Rich fancy and profound thought co-operate
to produce a _tertium quid_--a visible proof that the beautiful is
one with the true--for which neither literature nor philosophy possesses
a name. It is no wonder, then, that this unique poem, which gives
adequate utterance to abstract thought, truly and forcibly states the
doubts and misgivings which harrow the souls of thinking men of all ages
and nations, and helps them to lift a corner of the veil of delusion and
get a glimpse of the darkness of the everlasting Night beyond, should
appeal to the reader of the nineteenth century with much greater force
than to the Jews of olden times, who were accustomed to gauge the
sublimity of imaginative poetry and the depth of philosophic speculation
by the standard of orthodoxy and the bias of nationality.

The Book of Job, from which Pope Gregory the Great fancied he could piece
together the entire system of Catholic theology, and which Thomas of
Aquin regarded as a sober history, is now known to be a regular poem,
but, as Tennyson truly remarked, "the greatest poem whether of ancient or
modern times," and the diction of which even Luther instinctively felt to
be "magnificent and sublime as no other book of Scripture." And it is
exclusively in this light, as one of the masterpieces of the world's
literature, that it will be considered in the following pages. Whatever
religious significance it may be supposed to possess over and above, as
one of the canonical books of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, will,
it is hoped, remain unaffected by this treatment, which is least of all
controversial. The flowers that yield honey to the bee likewise delight
the bee-keeper with their perfume and the poet with their colours, and
there is no adequate reason why the magic verse which strikes a
responsive chord in the soul of lovers of high art, and starts a new
train of ideas in the minds of serious thinkers, should thereby lose any
of the healing virtues it may have heretofore possessed for the suffering
souls of the believing.

But viewed even as a mere work of art, it would be hopeless to endeavour
to press it into the frame of any one of the received categories of
literary composition, as is evident from the fact that authorised and
unauthorised opinion on the subject has touched every extreme, and still
continues oscillating to-day. Many commentators still treat it as a
curious chapter of old-world history narrated with scrupulous fidelity by
the hero or an eye-witness, others as a philosophical dialogue; several
scholars regard it as a genuine drama, while not a few enthusiastically
aver that it is the only epic poem ever written by a Hebrew. In truth, it
partakes of the nature of each and every one of these categories, and is
yet circumscribed by the laws and limits of none of them. In form, it is
most nearly akin to the drama, with which we should be disposed to
identify it if the characters of the prologue and epilogue were
introduced as _dramatis personae_ in action. But their doing and
enduring are presupposed as accomplished facts, and employed merely as a
foil to the dialogues, which alone are the work of the author. Perhaps
the least erroneous way succinctly to describe what in fact is a
_unicum_ would be to call it a psychological drama.

Koheleth, or the Preacher, is likewise a literary puzzle which for
centuries has baffled the efforts of commentators and aroused the
misgivings of theologians. Regarded by many as a _vade mecum_ of
materialists, by some as an eloquent sermon on the fear of God, and by
others as a summary of sceptical philosophy, it is impossible to analyse
and classify it without having first eliminated all those numerous
later-date insertions which, without improving the author's theology,
utterly obscure his meaning and entirely spoil his work. When, by the aid
of text criticism, we have succeeded in weeding it of the parasitic
growth of ages, we have still to allow for the changing of places of
numerous authentic passages either by accident or design, the effects of
which are oftentimes quite as misleading as those of the deliberate
interpolations. The work thus restored, although one, coherent and
logical, is still susceptible of various interpretations, according to
the point of view of the reader, none of which, however, can ignore the
significant fact that the sceptically ideal basis of Koheleth's
metaphysics is identical with that of Buddha, Kant, and Schopenhauer, and
admirably harmonises with the ethics of Job and the pessimism of the New

The Sayings of Agur, on the contrary, tell their own interesting story,
without need of note or commentary, to him who possesses a fair knowledge
of Hebrew grammar, and an average allowance of mother wit. The lively
versifier, the keenness of whose sense of humour is excelled only by the
bitterness of his satire, could ill afford to be obscure. A member of the
literary fraternity which boasts the names of Lucian and Voltaire, a firm
believer in the force of common sense and rudimentary logic, Agur
ridicules the theologians of his day with a malicious cruelty which is
explained, if not warranted, by the pretensions of omniscience and the
practice of intolerance that provoked it. The unanswerable argument which
Jahveh considered sufficient to silence his servant Job, Agur deems
effective against the dogmatical doctors of his own day:

"Who has ascended into heaven and come down again?

* * * * *

Such an one would I question about God: What is his name?"


[2] Job and Ecclesiastes were inserted in the Jewish and, one may add,
the Christian Canon, solely on the strength of passages which the
authors of these compositions never even saw, and which flatly
contradict the main theses of their works.

* * * * *


Purged of all later interpolations and restored as far as possible to the
form it received from the hand of its author, the poem of Job is the most
striking presentation of the most obscure and fascinating problem that
ever puzzled and tortured the human intellect: how to reconcile the
existence of evil, not merely with the fundamental dogmas of the ancient
Jewish faith, but with any form of Theism whatever. Stated in the terms
in which the poet--whom for convenience sake we shall identify with his
hero[3] manifestly conceived it, it is this: Can God be the creator of
all things and yet not be responsible for evil?

The Infinite Being who laid the earth's foundation, "shut in the sea with
doors," whose voice is thunder and whose creatures are all things that
have being, is, we trust, moral and good. But it is His omnipotence that
strikes us most forcibly. Almighty in theory, He is all active in fact,
and nothing that happens in the universe is brought about even indirectly
by any one but Himself. There are no second causes at work, no chance, no
laws of nature, no subordinate agents, nothing that is not the immediate
manifestation of His free will.[4] This is evident to our senses. But
what is equally obvious is that His acts do not tally with His attribute
of goodness, and that no facts known or imaginable can help us to bridge
over the abyss between the infinite justice ascribed to Him and the
crying wrongs that confront us in His universe, whithersoever we turn.[5]
His rule is such a congeries of evils that even the just man often
welcomes death as a release, and Job himself with difficulty overcame the
temptation to end his sufferings by suicide. All the cut-and-dried
explanations of God's conduct offered by His human advocates merely
render the problem more complicated. His professional apologists are
"weavers of lies," and contend for Him "with deception," and, worse than
all else, He Himself has never revealed to His creatures any truth more
soothing than the fact they set out with, that the problem is for ever
insoluble. Wisdom "is hid from the eyes of all living,"[6] and the dead
are in "the land of darkness and of gloom,"[7] whence there is no issue.

The theological views prevalent in the days of the poet, as expounded by
the three friends of Job, instead of suggesting some way out of the
difficulty were in flagrant contradiction with fact. They appealed to the
traditional theory and insisted on having that accepted as the reality.
And it was one of the saddest theories ever invented. Virtue was at best
a mere matter of business, one of the crudest forms of utilitarianism, a
bargain between Jahveh and His creatures. As asceticism in ancient India
was rewarded with the spiritual gift of working miracles, so upright
living was followed in Judea by material wealth, prosperity, a numerous
progeny and all the good things that seem to make life worth living. Such
at least was the theory, and those who were satisfied with their lot had
little temptation to find fault with it for the sake of those who were
not. In sober reality, however, the obligation was very one-sided:
Jahveh, who occasionally failed to carry out His threats, observed or
repudiated His solemn promises as He thought fit, whereas those among His
creatures who faithfully fulfilled their part of the contract were never
sure of receiving their stipulated wage in the promised coin. And at that
time none other was current: there was no future life looming in the dim
distance with intensified rewards and punishments wherewith to redress
the balance of this. And it sadly needed redressing. The victims of
seeming injustice naturally felt that they were being hardly dealt with.
And as if to make confusion worse confounded, their neighbours, who had
ridden roughshod over all law, human and divine, were frequently exempt
from misfortune, lived on the fat of the land, and enjoyed a monopoly of
the divine blessings. To Job, whose consciousness of his own
righteousness was clearer and less questionable than the justice of his
Creator, this theory of retribution seemed unworthy of belief.

The creation of this good God, then, is largely leavened with evil for
which--all things being the work of His hands--He, and He alone, is
answerable. There was no devil in those olden times upon whose broad
shoulders the responsibility for sickness, suffering, misery and death
could be conveniently shifted. The Satan or Adversary is still one of the
sons of God who, like all his brethren, has free access to the council
chamber of the Most High, where he is wont to take a critical, somewhat
cynical but not wholly incorrect view of motives and of men. In the
government of the world he has neither hand nor part, and his
interference in the affairs of Job is the result of a special permission
accorded him by the Creator. God alone is the author of good _and of
evil_,[8] and the thesis to be demonstrated by His professional
apologists consists in showing that the former is the outflow of His
mercy, and the latter the necessary effect of His justice acting upon the
depraved will of His creatures. But the proof was not forthcoming.
Personal suffering might reasonably be explained in many cases as the
meet and inevitable wage for wrong-doing; but assuredly not in all. Job
himself was a striking instance of unmerited punishment. Even Jahveh
solemnly declares him to be just and perfect; and Job was admittedly no
solitary exception; he was the type of a numerous class of righteous,
wronged and wretched mortals, unnamed and unknown:

"Omnes illacrymabiles....
ignotique longa
Nocte, carent quia vate sacro."

Job is ready to admit that God, no doubt, is just and good in theory, but
he cannot dissemble the obvious fact that His works in the universe are
neither; indeed, if we may judge the tree by its fruits, His
_régime_ is the rule of an oriental and almighty despot whose will
and pleasure is the sole moral law. And that will is too often
undistinguishable from malice of the blackest kind. Thus

"He destroyeth the upright and the wicked,
When his scourge slayeth at unawares.
He scoffeth at the trial of the innocent;
The earth is given into the hand of the wicked."

In a word, the poet proclaims that the current theories of traditional
theology were disembodied, not incarnate in the moral order of the world,
had, in fact, nowhere taken root.

The two most specious arguments with which it was sought to prop up this
tottering theological system consisted in maintaining that the wicked are
often punished and the good recompensed in their offspring--a kind of
spiritual entail in which the tenant for life is denied the usufruct for
the sake of heirs he never knew--and that such individual claims as were
left unadjusted by this curious arrangement were merged in those of the
community at large and should be held to be settled in full as long as
the weal of the nation was assured. In other words, the individual sows
and his offspring or the nation reaps the harvest. But Job rejects both
pleas as illusory and immoral, besides which, they leave the frequent
prosperity of the unrighteous unexplained. "Wherefore," he asks, "do the
wicked live, become old, yea wax mighty in strength?" The reply that the
fathers having eaten sour grapes, the children's teeth will be set on
edge, is, he contends, no answer to the objection; it merely intensifies
it. For he who sows should reap, and he who sins should suffer. After
death the most terrible punishment meted out to the posterity of
criminals is powerless to affect their mouldering dust. That, surely,
cannot be accepted as a vindication of justice, human or divine.

"Ye say: God hoards punishment for the children.
Let him rather requite the wicked himself that he may feel it!
His own eyes should behold his downfall,
And he himself should drain the Almighty's wrath.
If his sons are honoured, he will not know it;
And if dishonoured, he will not perceive it.
Only in his own flesh doth he feel pain,
And for his own soul will he lament."

As to the latter argument, that the well-being of the nation was a
settlement in full of the individual's claims to happiness, it was
equally irrelevant, even had the principle underlying it been confirmed
by experience. Granting that a certain wholesale kind of equity was
administered, why must the individual suffer for no fault of his own?
Wherein lies the justice of a Being who, credited with omnipotence,
permits that by a sweep of the wild hurricane of disaster, "green leaves
with yellow mixed are torn away"?

But the contention that, viewing the individual merely as a unit of the
aggregate, justice would be found to be dealt out fairly on the whole,
ran counter to experience. The facts were dead against it. The Hebrew
nation had fared as badly among neighbouring states as Job among his
friends and countrymen. In this respect the sorely tried individual was
the type of his nation. The destruction of the kingdom of Samaria which
had occurred nearly two hundred years before and the captivity of Judah,
which was not yet at an end, gave its death-blow to the theory. "The
tents of robbers prosper and they that provoke Shaddai[9] are secure."

In truth, there was but one issue out of the difficulty: divine justice
might not be bounded by time or space; the law of compensation might have
a larger field than our earth for its arena; a future life might afford
"time" and opportunity to right the wrongs of the present, and all end
well in the best of future worlds. This explanation would have set doubts
at rest and settled the question for at least two thousand years; and it
seemed such a necessary postulate to the fathers of the Church, who
viewed the matter in the light of Christian revelation, that they
actually put into Job's mouth the words which he would have uttered had
he lived in their own days and been a member of the true fold. And they
effected this with a pious recklessness of artistic results and of
elementary logic that speaks better for their intentions than for their
aesthetic taste. In truth, Job knows absolutely nothing of a future life,
and his friends, equally unenlightened, see nothing for it but to
"discourse wickedly for God," and "utter lies on His behalf."[10] There
was, in fact, no third course. Indeed, if the hero or his friends had
even suspected the possibility of a solution based upon a life beyond the
tomb, the problem on which the book is founded would not have existed. To
ground, therefore, the doctrines of the Resurrection, the Atonement, &c.,
upon alleged passages of the poem of Job is tantamount to inferring the
squareness of a circle from its perfect rotundity. In the Authorised
Version of the Bible the famous verses, which have probably played a more
important part in the intellectual history of mankind than all the books
of the Old Testament put together, run thus: "For I know _that_ my
redeemer liveth, and _that_ he shall stand at the latter _day_
upon the earth: and _though_ after my skin _worms_ destroy this
_body_, yet in my flesh shall I see God: whom I shall see for
myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; _though_ my
reins be consumed within me."[11]

Now this, it is hardly necessary to say, is not a translation from the
poem nor from any known text of it, but the embodiment of the salutary
beliefs of well-intentioned theologians--of St. Jerome among others--
momentarily forgetful of the passage: "Will ye speak wickedly for God?"
The Christian conception of a Redeemer would, had he but known it, have
proved balm to the heart of the despairing hero. As a matter of mere
fact, his own hope at that critical moment was less sublime and very much
less Christian: the coming of an avenger who would punish his enemies and
rehabilitate his name. It was the one worldly and vain longing that still
bound him to the earth. Other people demanded happiness as their reward
for virtue, too often undistinguishable from vice; Job challenged the
express approval of the Deity, asked only that he should not be
confounded with vulgar sinners. The typical perfect man, struck down with
a loathsome disease, doomed to a horrible death, alone in his misery,
derided by his enemies, and, worse than all, loathed as a common criminal
by those near and dear to him, gives his friends and enemies, society and
theologians, the lie emphatic--nay, he goes the length of affirming that
God Himself has, failed in His duty towards him. "Know, then, that God
hath wronged me."[12] His conscience, however, tells him that inasmuch as
there is such a thing as eternal justice, a time will come when the truth
will be proclaimed and his honour fully vindicated; Shaddai will then
yearn for the work of His hands, but it will be too late, "For now I must
lay myself down in the dust; and Thou shalt seek me, but I shall not be."
And it is to this conviction, not to a belief in future retribution, that
the hero gives utterance in the memorable passage in question:

"But I know that my avenger liveth,
Though it be at the end upon my dust;
My witness will avenge these things,
And a curse alight upon mine enemies."

He knows nothing whatever of the subsistence of our cumbrous clods of
clay after they have become the food of worms and pismires; indeed, he is
absolutely certain that by the sleep of death

"we end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to."

And he emphasises his views in a way that should have given food for
wholesome reflection to his commentators.

"There is a future for the tree,
And hope remaineth to the palm;
Cut down, it will sprout again,
And its tender branch will not cease.

"Though its roots wax old in the earth,
And its stock lie buried in mould,
Yet through vapour of water will it bud,
And put forth boughs like a plant.

"But man dieth and lieth outstretched;
He giveth up the ghost, where is he then?
He lieth down and riseth not up;
Till heaven be no more he shall not awake."[13]

Nothing could well be further removed from the comforting hope of a
future life, the resurrection of the body, and eternal rewards, than this
unshaken belief that Death is our sole redeemer from the terrible evils
of life.


[3] Although the former was a Jew and the latter a Gentile.

[4] _Cf._ Translation, strophe ci.:

"Is not the soul of every living thing in his hand,
And the breath of all mankind?"

Strophe civ.:

"With him is strength and wisdom,
The erring one and his error are his."

[5] Strophe cxcii.-cxciii.:

"Look upon me and tremble,
And lay your hand upon your mouth!
When I remember I am dismayed,
And trembling taketh hold on my flesh."

Strophe ccxxi.:

"Why do the times of judgment depend upon the Almighty,
And yet they who know him do not see his days?

[6] Strophe ccxxxiv.

[7] Strophe lxxxix.

[8] "The erring one and his error are his" (God's): strophe civ. _Cf_.
also strophe cvii.

[9] God.

[10] Strophe cxi.

[11] Job xix. 25-27. The Revised Version gives the passage as follows:
"But I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand up at
the last upon the earth: and after my skin hath been thus destroyed,
yet from my flesh shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself, and
mine eyes shall behold, and not another."

[12] Strophe clxix.

[13] Job, strophes cxxiv.-cxxvi. of my English translation.

* * * * *


It is perhaps hardly necessary to point out that the doctrine of eternal
pains and rewards as laid down by the Christian Church, unless reinforced
by faith, neither solves the problem nor simplifies it. If the truth must
be told, it seems to unenlightened reason to entangle it more hopelessly
than before. In simple terms and in its broadest aspect the question may
be stated as follows: God created man under conditions of His own
choosing which necessarily led to the life-long misery of countless
millions upon earth and their never-ending torments in hell. To the
question, Did He know the inevitable effect of His creative act, the
answer is, God is omniscient. To the query, Could He have selected other
and more humane conditions of existence for His creature--conditions so
adjusted that, either with or without probation, man would have been
ultimately happy? the reply is, God is almighty.

Involuntarily, then, the question forces itself upon us, Is He all-good?
Can that Being be deemed good who, moved by no necessity, free to create
or to abstain from creating, at liberty to create for happiness or for
misery, calls mankind into existence under such conditions and
surroundings that myriads are miserable, so unutterably miserable, that,
compared with their tortures, the wretch bleeding and quivering on the
wheel is lolling in the lap of enjoyment? Why did God make man under such
conditions? Or at least how are we to reconcile His having done so with
His attribute of goodness? To this question there are many replies but no
answer, the former being merely attempts to explain the chronic effects
of the primordial ethical poison commonly called original sin.

Job's main objection to the theological theories in vogue among his
contemporaries, and, indeed, to all conceivable explanations of the
difficulty, is far more weighty than at first sight appears. Everything,
he tells us--if anything--is the work of God's hands; and as pain,
suffering, evil, are everywhere predominant, it is not easy to understand
in what sense God can be said to be good. The poet does not formulate the
argument, of which this is the gist, in very precise terms, nor press it
home to its last conclusions. But he leaves no doubt about his meaning.
Some men are relatively good by nature, others wicked; but all men were
created by God and act in accordance with the disposition they received
from Him. If that disposition or character brought forth sin and evil,
these then are God's work, not man's, and He alone is responsible
therefor. The individual who performs an act through an agent is rightly
deemed to have done it himself. A man, therefore, who, being free to do a
certain thing or to leave it undone, and perfectly aware of the nature of
its necessary consequences, performs it, is held to be answerable for the
results, should they prove mischievous. Much greater is his
responsibility if, instead of being restricted to the choice between
undertaking a work certain to prove pernicious and abstaining from it, he
was free to select a third course and to accomplish it in such a way that
the result would not be evil, but unmixed good. In this case it would
hardly seem possible to exonerate the doer from a charge of wanton
malice, diabolic in degree. And such is the position in which many
theologians seem--to those who view things in the light of reason--to
have placed God Himself. It was open to Him, they maintain, to create or
to refrain from creating. Having declared for the former alternative, He
is chargeable with the consequences. The consequences, however, need not
have been evil; He might, had He so willed it, have endowed His creature
with such qualities and placed him in such surroundings that, without
ceasing to be man, he would never have fallen at all. Yet it did not
please Him to adopt that course. This admission, rationalists urge, is
conclusive as to the origin of sin and evil.

But the arguments are not yet exhausted. Even then the Creator might have
made everything right by an act which it seems impossible to distinguish
from elementary justice. Had He regarded the first man who brought sin
into the world as a mere individual, and treated him as such--and this,
theologians assure us, He could easily have done[14]--He might have
punished him as an individual, and the matter would have been at an end.
But instead of this, He contemplated him as the type and representative
of the human race, and decreed that his sin should, like a subtle
spiritual poison, infect the soul of every man coming into the world. In
other words, God, who is supposed to hate evil so profoundly that He
damns for ever in hell a man guilty of one single "mortal" transgression,
enacted that if one sin were committed it should be needlessly made to
engender myriads of other sins, and that the tiny seed of evil which was
first thrown upon the earth by His creature in a moment of pardonable
weakness, and might have so easily been trampled out, should take root,
sprout up and grow into a vast Upas tree whose poisonous branches
overshadow all creation. This proposition, it is contended, explicitly
taxes God, if not with the sole authorship of sin and evil, at least with
the moral responsibility for propagating it. And this is the prevailing
view among modern apologists.

As to the origin of evil, it is to be sought for, theologians have
discovered, in the free will with which God endowed man. This, they
allege, shifts all the responsibility on the human creature because,
instead of evil, he might have chosen good. Unfortunately, the same
argument would seem to apply to the Creator Himself.[15] He, too, being
omnipotent, might have chosen good instead of evil subjects, and created
human beings whose acts would have been blameless and virtuous, their
will remaining what it is. Further, not having done this and having
needlessly allowed an abyss to be made by sin between Himself and the
first man, it was still open to Him to have abstained from widening it
until it became an impassable gulf between Himself and the entire human
race. But He did not abstain; instead of localising, He deliberately and
wantonly spread the evil, and the ruin that overwhelmed all mankind
cannot therefore be said to have sprung from the will of the race, but
from His own. Again, the interposition of a free will between God and
evil, it is urged, affords no real solution of the problem, for the
question still remains, why were the workings of that free will evil and
not good? Obviously because such was its God-created nature; for the
action of outward circumstances upon the will neither builds up nor
modifies this nature, but simply discloses it to our view.

These ideas were adopted, developed and defended by a few of the most
profound Christian philosophers of the early Church, and most ably of all
by Scotus Erigena,[16] who held that the origin of evil which cannot be
sought for in God must not be placed _in the free will of man_,
because the latter hypothesis would still leave the responsibility with
the Creator, the human will being His own handiwork.

At the root of this argument lies yet another consideration upon which
unbelieving thinkers rely still more: it is drawn from the alleged
incompatibility between the conception of a created being and free will,
and will be noticed presently.

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