Page images
PDF
EPUB

vored of gross superstition. In short, you can scarcely name any kind of superstitious absurdity practised in the pagan world, which is not particularly reprobated and barred in the Jewish laws.

How false and injurious then is the representation of many writers, that this system is a most degrading, oppressive, and detestable superstition ! The conclusion of the celebrated author abovenamed is infinitely more just and enlightened ; who pronounces the great object of this institution to be “ the most worthy that can be conceived,” and declares, that " considering all the circumstances of the antient Jews and of neighbouring nations, their system was the best possible one, as much superior to any of human invention, as the works of nature excel those of art.”

[ocr errors]

LECTURE IV.

Hebrew constitution adapted to secure the freedom and happiness of

its subjects. Hebrew government originally a free and equal republic. Fundamental laws required, that the territory should be equally divided, that estates should be bolden as a freehold from God himself ; and that they should never afterward be alienated, but descend in perpetual succession. Agrarian law, or pear of Jubilee. Military regulations. Population encouraged. General government for the common safety and happiness.

In considering the civil government of the antient Jews, we have shown that its primary object was the preservation of the true religion in that nation, and consequently in the world. We have also seen that the leading provisions of this government were excellently adapted to this design. The other object of the Hebrew policy was the temporal freedom and happiness of its subjects. These outward blessings indeed would naturally, as well as by divine promise, result from their faithful adherance to the pious and virtuous principles prescribed in their law. But besides the salutary influence of these principles, their whole political constitution was eminently fitted to the same beneficent end. This will fully appear from a brief survey of their form of government, as appointed by Jehovah, and delineated by his servant Moses.

As property is the usual source of power, and consequently of civil authority ; hence every government receives its complexion from the manner, in which its lands or other possessions are distributed to its several members. If the prince, as in some eastern communities, be

proprietor of the territory, he will of course be absolute; since the tenants of the soil will in this case hold it at his arbitrary will, and thus must feel a servile dependence on his pleasure. If the property be shared by a few men, and the great body of the people hold it under them ; these few will constitute a ruling nobility, who will really concentrate the authority of the nation. But if the property be divided in a nearly equal manner among all the members of the society, these will naturally possess both its physical and civil power, whatever be the form of their political union.

If we apply these remarks to our present subject, we shall find that the Hebrew government was originally a free and equal republic. According to the mean computation of the most accurate authors, the territory of Canaan settled by God on the Jewish nation, though a small country, contained at least fourteen millions of acrés ; which, divided among six hundred thousand

people, the estimated number of that nation, will give to each

property of twenty one acres, after reserving more than a million acres for public uses. This distribution of property, under a constitution, which animated and dignified industrious, simple, and frugal manners, and in a period of the world, when such modes of life were honorable, would secure to each virtuous Israelite a decent, comfortable, and independent support, especially in a climate and country so propitious as those of Judea. At the same time this provision was so modëfate, as to preclude in the best manner the baneful vices of idleness and luxury; and every man's circumstances would forcibly recommend the opposite virtues.

As the most effectual securities for the permanent freedom and parity of the Jewish government, and the equal

person the

[ocr errors]

rights and property of its subjects, the wisdom of the divine Framer enacted the following fundamental laws ;that the territory should be equally divided to the several members of the community ; that every man should hold his estate as a freehold immediately from God himself, without any tenure of service or vassalage to intermediate lords ; and that the estates thus settled upon the several families should never afterwards be alienated from them, but descend by an indefeasible entail in perpetual succession. The first article, viz. the division of the land, was ordered to be carried into effect with the utmost exactness, under the inspection of the high priest, the judge, and one of the princes of the tribe. The manner of this division was by lot ; and it was so con ducted, that each tribe and family received their share by themselves. To use the modern style, every tribe lived together in the same county, and the members of every family occupied the same town or vicinity. To prevent the distinction of tribes from being confounded, their sons and daughters were not permitted to marry into any other tribe but their own.

The celebrated Harrington justly describes the process of dividing their territory by lot, in the following manner.

There were two urns, one containing the names of the tribes, the other the names of those parcels of lands, which they were to draw, Accordingly the name of a tribe, for example of Benjamin, being drawn out of one urn, to that name a parcel was drawn out of the other, for instance, the country lying between Jericho and Bethlehem. This being done, the prince of that tribe chose in what place he would take his agreed proportion ; for our author supposes the chiefs of tribes and of families had a larger assignment of land on account of their quality and power. After this, the remainder of the parcel was subdivided according to the number of families in said tribe ; and these subdivided parcels being put in one urn, and the names of the fathers of families in the other, each house or family drew its particular lot. Every patriarch or head of a house then selected his proportion of this lot ; and the rest was again subdivided according to the number of names in each family. If these were more than the lot would supply at twenty one acres per man, the defect was filled up by additions from the next parcel ; and if they were fewer, the overplus was transferred to the next division. Thus, in a manner similar to the drawing of modern lotteries, an accurate division of the land of Canaan by lot was both practicable and easy.

This original equality of landed property was an instance of wise policy on many accounts. birth to general economy and diligence, it secured to every citizen a free, easy, and honorable condition.

It nourished the spirit, the virtues, and the blessings of agricultural life, in opposition to the evils, which grow out of foreign commerce and conquest. It precluded or powerfully checked every ambitious invasion of the public liberty ; for no person in the nation possessed, or could legally acquire such property, as would enable or encourage him to oppress his fellow subjects. As none had great wealth, by which to corrupt others; so very few could be so poor, as to become the easy prey of corruption. It could never be in the power of one or a few men to force the community into subjection to their ambitious views ; for the aggregate power possessed by the numerous freeholders of the several tribes was a mighty þarrier against all such usurpations. In short, the arrangement before us was fitted to create and maintain a

While it gave

« PreviousContinue »