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stances of the greatest publicity, involving vastly more chances of detection than would accompany its commission at the husband's home, in some remote part of the country, where he was surrounded only by inferiors and dependents. Who, plotting against another's life, would think of consummating his crime in the most public place of his country, under the attentive eye of its hierarchy, in the sanctuary of God?
The adjuncts, here attached to this practice, seem to have been designed to accomplish its disuse; and, in this connexion, it is a fact worthy of notice, that, throughout the subsequent history, not a single instance is recorded of the ordeal in question having been applied. The arrangements, prescribed in such detail, appear, indeed, to have taken away from a jealous husband all motive for resorting to the process. If he had proof of his wife's guilt, of course there was no occasion for resorting to it. She was then to be stoned immediately on conviction. If he could find no better basis for the charge, than in his own uncharitable imagination, he would, on all common principles of action, sooner suppress it, than expose his fancied dishonor in the most public manner possible, and, at the same time, subject himself, in order to do so, to burdensome expenses; for at least he must make a journey to the sanctuary with his wife, even if the expenses there of the pompous process he had demanded, amounted to no more than the cost of the "offering of jealousy.” If he believed or fancied her guilty, but without proof, he had an easier, cheaper, and on all accounts more satisfactory remedy in a simple divorce, for which, effected by his own unquestioned act, sufficient liberty was allowed.
On the other hand, the public manner in which the trial was now directed to be made, if made at all, added to the superstitious view already entertained by the
people of its efficacy, would tend, almost unavoidably, to prevent its use. The apprehension of being subjected to it, operating on sensitive minds, would go far to prevent any freedoms of behaviour, which might excite a jealous feeling. And a guilty woman would hardly allow herself even to be brought to the trial; for, apart from the fear of the actual supernatural infliction, she could not flatter herself that she would be so far proof against the awful solemnities of the scene and ritual, as not to betray her guilt ; she could not be sure, that through a designedly complicated and protracted ceremonial, so arranged in all respects as to work upon her fancy and her fears, - her face, contrary to all Oriental habit, exposed to public view, - her courage would hold out to carry her through such a scene, not betraying her guilty secret by a faintness or a blush. She would sooner, by a timely confession of the crime, throw herself on the mercy of him whom she had wronged. She would then, at worst, only meet a little earlier, and with much less exposure, the death,* which in any event must be her doom; while, if she became her own accuser, there would be some hope of forgiveness, and of that concealment of her crime, which, if detection were to follow on a public investigation, would be no longer possible.t
* I am not even certain that death could be inflicted for any crime merely confessed by the perpetrator. The Law required, as we shall see, that, in capital execution, the witnesses should take the lead.
† Further, submission to this ordeal was, for aught that appears, an entirely voluntary act on the woman's part, and such has in fact been the view of the later Jews. Of course, a person conscious of guilt would not take the risk of it. If there was proof of her supposed offence, the ordeal would not be proposed to her. If there was no proof, she would reject it, and rather brave the only consequence she could then incur, that of divorce. Maimonides' notion of the use of this ordeal was, that it secured domestic quiet, by influencing a wife to avoid all occasions of displeasure on her husband's part. “ Istud enim permovet omnem mulierem
If the wife, in the courage of her innocence, were to offer herself to the trial, it would naturally make the husband ashamed of his doubts, or at least unwilling to commit himself by proclaiming them in so conspicuous a manner; the rather, as, if he should obtain no confirmation of them, he would necessarily expose himself to severe reproach for having groundlessly resorted to so extreme a measure. And a single instance of the trial having been resorted to, without resulting in any confirmation of the suspicions entertained, — which must be the consequence, unless there were both guilt, and a supernatural visitation of it, — would probably deter, for a long period, from any repetition of the experiment.
But it will still be said, that an express declaration is made, of a supernatural punishment of the sin. Here is the stress of the question. And for myself, I entertain little doubt that the words convey a different sense from what has been ascribed to them. I understand them to refer to the infliction, which the superstition of the time anticipated from the ordeal of jealousy, when taken by a guilty person, and to declare, that, at all events, it is not to be looked for till all the ceremonies previously prescribed shall be gone through ; — not that it will take place then, but that it will not take place before.f And this view, I conceive, is strikingly con
viro junctam, ut exactissimè sibi caveat, ne cor mariti sui ægritudine afficiat, propter metum aquarum mulieris declinantis. Nam etiam inno. centes mulieres pleræque, et quæ benè sibi sunt consciæ, omnibus suis facultatibus actionem illam ignominiosam redimerent, quinimò mortem jucundiorem haberent, quàm publicam illam ignominiam, quâ caput mulieris discooperiebatur, capilli detondebantur, vestimenta usque ad pectus dilacerabantur, atque ita ligata in Sanctuario in conspectu omnium virorum et mulierum, totiusque Synedrii magni sistebatur. Ob hujus ergo rei timorem magni et exitiales morbi ordinem domesticum destruentes impediti fuerunt.” — “More Nebochim,” pars 3, cap. 49, p. 499.
† This is no unusual form of speech. Compare e. g. Matt. xviii. 17, where every one understands, not that we are in duty bound to treat a VOL. I.
firmed by the fact, that there is no direction to stone the criminal, whose conviction, supposing it to have supernaturally taken place, would have exposed her to that last sentence of the Law. If it be supernatural conviction which is here spoken of, it is impossible to explain why the crime, aggravated by the effrontery with which its denial had been persisted in, and made so notorious by the manner of its detection, should be punished merely by disease and shame, instead of that death which the Law denounced against it.
A similar remark is perhaps more manifestly just respecting the provisions for the Nazarite vow in the next chapter. Here is no new institution, but the regulation of an old usage, mainly, as it would seem, for the purpose of rendering it inconvenient, burdensome, costly, and thereby infrequent. It is not mentioned as a new institution, but the contrary. “When either man or woman shall separate themselves to vow a vow of a Nazarite,” &c.* It was an observance to which the Jews, from fashion, fancy, or old association, were addicted. It did not require to be absolutely forbidden. But it had no good claim to be encouraged. A Jew, therefore, might make the vow, if he would; but, if he
person a heathen man and a publican,” under the circumstances described, but that it will be time enough to do so when those circumstances have occurred; that we are not to do it before. — And after all, in a matter so peculiar, a question of translation might well be raised. Other considerations apart, it would be altogether unsafe to build an important theory upon a passage of such dubious rendering. The verb in the last clause of verse 21, (repeated in verses 22 and 27,) translated in our version “swell,” occurs nowhere else, and it is out of the question to say that we are sure of its meaning; and the word rendered “rot,” is simply the common verb signifying fall, (997,) and might be understood of the faintness consequent on agitation. I am, however, proposing no new translation, but only urging that we cannot defend that which is received, with sufficient confidence to found upon it any important conclusion. See pp. 17, 18.
Rather, “shall signalize himself” by such a vow, shall wish to attract attention by it. Compare Lev. xxvii. 2, and the remark on it, p. 308.
made it, he must pay for it; so that this use, at least, his will-worship would have, that it would tend to the more liberal support of the ecclesiastical estate. Besides refraining from all inebriating liquor, and from every natural or manufactured product of the vine, and letting his hair grow long, observances which probably belonged to the ancient institution,* a Nazarite, under the present regulation, must refrain from mourning, even for his nearest relatives ; if, by accident, he should approach a dead body during the term of his vow, he must present an offering, and begin, all over again, the series of his consecrated days; and when the term specified in his vow had expired, he must repair to the Tabernacle, and offer costly sacrifices of all the different kinds.f I can only see, in the spirit of these arrangements, a purpose to obstruct, in two different ways, a propensity to the ostentations of will-worship. A vow, which no one was under obligation to make, must now be made, if at all, at the expense of considerable time and trouble, at serious pecuniary cost, and under the inconvenience of all the anxiety which would be felt lest the accident of a contracted impurity should require a new beginning of the consecrated term. There is a principle of human nature, — the pride of sanctity, – which would overcome all this difficulty, and be even stimulated by it. And against this, too, an effectual precaution is taken. The impulse of the ostentatious devotee would naturally be, to signalize his self-denial in the view of others, by making his vow for a long term. But here the Law met him on his own ground. It prescribed costly offerings at the sanctuary, which, how
* Numb. vi. 3 - 5.
† vi. 6-21. † The case of Paul, (Acts xxi. 23, 24, 26,) shows, that the poor, if they made this vow, brought themselves under the embarrassment of depending upon charity for its execution.