A Short Sketch of the Talmud's
The Hebrew word lamod signifies "to teach", and to "teach by example". The word example is always understood. To teach -- this is what is meant by tradition. It means that the child learns from his father. From this word we get the word Talmud.
We also have the word shanoh, which means "to learn," and gamor, which means having learned or having ceased to learn. The Talmud's are written on parchment or papyrus. The scroll is about twenty inches wide, and wound around a roller. From these Talmud's there have been many books written by the Jewish rabbis.
The most important is the Mishna. Its name indicates what it is--the Law. It contains the laws of all nations, or a part of the laws of the various nations of the earth, such as the Jewish Sanhedrim thought were compatible with the laws of God. Its principal teachings are what we would call the moral law of God--that is to say, anything is right if God says it is right, and this is the only reason why it is right. This work has been the great reference-book for the Jewish rabbis in all ages. It was translated and compiled by Hilllel, and is a very useful book for scholars.
The next in point of value is the Tosephta. This word in the Hebrew means "treatment, " and contains mainly the ritual of the temple service. It is a very extensive work, and is real1y a regulator of human life, containing the dealings of husband and wife, parent and child, master and pupil; in fact, it enters into all the details of life with such thoughtfulness and in such a beautiful style that it should be exceedingly interesting to the young. It certainly contains the finest system of morals in the world.
Then comes the Mechilta, which means "government" in the Hebrew language. This book tells of the organization of the Sanhedrim and its powers--both the greater and the less, the greater to be composed of seventy and the less of twenty-four. These two legislative bodies had jurisdiction of the whole of the Jewish commonwealth. Although they possessed great power, it was not absolute. There was another court that exercised the highest authority of the nation. This was the court of elders and priests. This court consisted of twelve men, and its chair- man was the high priest. It decided all appeals, and could not be appealed from. This is the court that tried Jesus of Nazareth; and although it was a court of appeals, it had exclusive jurisdiction of capital crimes.
I will give the form of a trial of an accused in this court, as it is given in Mechilta. At the time that Jesus was tried by this court the Jewish government had been deprived of its executive power. This was one of the concessions in the capitulation to Augustus Caesar. At this time the Roman Emperor's consent had to be obtained, though he had to use the Jewish soldiers; for the Romans had only one hundred soldiers at Jerusalem. They were continually engaged in war, and need ed all their soldiers at home. When an accused person was brought before this court of the high priests, they held a preliminary trial, in order, if possible, to force a plea. If they could not, the accused was sentenced and then sent to the Roman Authority, or governor, for his approval. The accused was then remanded to the high priest, and from him to the Sanhedrim, with the charges written out and the names of the witnesses by which they had been proved. If they approved the decision of the high priest, the prisoner was sent back to the High priest for his final trial. This court of twelve men was required by the Jewish law to fast and pray one whole day before the trial commenced; they were then required to bring the Urim and Thummim out of the holy place where they were kept, and to place them before the high priest. The high priest was closely veiled, so that no one could see him, thus representing God doing his work. Then there was what was called the lactees, consisting of two men, one of whom stood at the door of the court with a red flag in his hand, and the other sat on a white horse some distance on the road that led to the place of execution.
Each of these men continually cried the name of the criminal, his crime, and who were the witnesses, and called upon any person who knew anything in his favor to come forward and testify. After the testimony was taken the eleven men cast lots or voted, and their decision was shown to the high priest. As he was too holy to act by himself, but only as the mouthpiece of God, he went up to a basin or a ewer, as it is called by them, and washed his hands in token of the innocence of the court', thus testifying that the criminal's own action had brought condemnation on himself. As soon as the soldiers saw this, they took the man to the place of execution, and there stoned him till he was dead. Not one of them was allowed to speak, not even to whisper, while the execution was going on. Nothing was heard but the pelting of stones and the shrieks of the criminal. To my mind this would be a most awful mode of death, and one that would be likely to deter others from committing crime.
There was a law in the criminal code of the Romans, enacted by Meeleesen, a philosopher by nature, who taught that if a man was accused of a crime and was tried and found not guilty he should be publicly chastised. His reasons were that the man had acted improperly--so much so that he had created suspicion. This would seem to give license to an enemy to work mischief. But the same philosopher had a remedy at hand, and that was, that any man who accused another and failed to prove it by two witnesses should suffer the punishment the other would have suffered had he been proven guilty. After the whipping was over, the Roman officer washed his hands, thereby declaring that the actions of the man had produced his own chastisement. Thus, after Pilate had Jesus scourged he washed his hands, forever clearing the Roman government of the blood of Christ. The reader must remember that the sold- iers who brought Jesus from the court of the high priest were Jewish soldiers. They were acquainted with the Jewish custom of washing the hands to condemn. Hence, when they saw Pilate wash his hands they took it for granted that Jesus was to die. One might say that this would relieve the actors of responsibility in this matter. But if a man seeks to injure me, and I by my sagacity avert the injury he intended and change it into a blessing, would that change the guilty intention of the first party?
We also learn from the Mechilta that the Jewish commonwealth was divided into districts, such as Palestine, Galilee, Judea, and so on, Each of these states had its courts and legislatures, presided over by a high priest. This is the reason we have so many high priests spoken of in the New Testament history. These states were subdivided into smaller divisions, each of which was presided over by a magistrate who was an officiating priest. If any one will read the Mechilta, he will clearly see the government of the United States of North America; and as the laws of the Jewish nation were all dictated by the God of Heaven, we should appreciate them the more.
The Saphra means, in the Hebrew language, "corner-stone or foundation rock," which goes to show that all these laws were founded upon God's word or authority. This is quite an extended work, and is full of quotations from the various works of the ancient world. I would love to read this carefully for a year and give extracts to the people. I am sure that this little volume will so stir American scholars that these things will be brought before the reading world. But I would advise whoever does it not to trust to the printed copies of the Jewish rabbis, but go as I did to the original manuscript by Byzantium and get it as it was written by its author.
One more book I must call attention to, that is, the Siphri. This is more of a chronological and biographical work than anything else, and is by far the most valuable work of them all. It gives the history of the great events of all of them, and mentions the names of all the actors of those events, giving a detailed account of the birth, lineage, deaths, as well as all the wise sayings of such men as Abraham, Joshua, Moses, David, Solomon, and many others. I would like to give many extracts from this work. They would be of deep interest to the American people, as well as of great benefit to the young and rising generation. There is one extract I must give. It will be read with great interest by the Independent Order of Odd Fellows in America:
"Jacob had twelve sons; and when he saw that there were strife and dissatisfaction among them, he went and got him twelve sticks, and when he had bound them together with strong bands, he gave them to his eldest son, and asked him to break them. He tried, but could not. Then he gave them to the next, and so on until each one down to the youngest had tried to break them. And when they had all failed, the father took the bundle of sticks and untied them. He gave one to the eldest and told him to break it. He did so. And then he gave one to the next, and so on, till all the sticks were broken, and each one had done his part. And Jacob said, "Now, my sons, you must learn two lessons from this- The first lesson is, what neither one of you could do, you all combined can do; and the second lesson is, when you are bound together you cannot be broken!"
Besides these there are the Pesikta and Midrasham. These are all full of interesting items, sermons and extracts of sermons, and wise sayings of great men of all ages, the decisions of the great Sanhedrim on points of law and doctrine, and many other questions of great importance, and would be of deep interest to the readers of this day. Now, the reader must bear in mind that these several books that have been noticed are all taken from the Talmud of the Sanhedrim, which was made at Jerusalem. These books were compiled by Hillel the Second, soon after the destruction of the holy city, and were made so that if the scrolls should be destroyed they might be preserved in these. After these, other translations were made to relieve the necessity of the Jews in their dispersed conditions, such as
he Nagad, Kikhil, Midrash, and so on. But, remember, all these works were compiled from the original Talmud's by the Jewish priests, who, of course, would leave out everything that had a tendency to favor the Christian religion. In all such works we need not expect to find anything about Jesus of Nazareth. But this by no means proves that such records are not to be found. We must go to the original scrolls, and there we may expect to get the truth, as the following work will show.
Therefore let the reader read and judge for himself.