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tells her the secret, lies down to sleep with his head upon her lap, to awake, his vow broken, his locks shaven, his strength gone, and himself an easy prey to his enemies. In servitude he learns that lesson of self-denial which he would learn nowhere else, grinds away in the prison-house of his foes, little by little gathers his strength, and in one last barbaric yet heroic effort brings down the temple of the Philistines' god, Dagon, upon himself and upon the worshipers assembled to exult over him.
This story, found anywhere but in Hebrew literature, we should assume to be that half-fiction, half-history of which such stories in primitive literature are always composed; not only we should, we do assume it to be such; for the story of Samson in Hebrew literature and the story of Hercules in Greek literature remarkably parallel each other.1 To the same Semitic origin both names are traced by linguists.
men of extraordinary strength; of both specifically the same traditions are told; both slay a lion with their own hands; both suffer death, though in different ways, at the hands of their treacherous wives. One, a captive in Philistia, summoned to make sport for his enemies, pulls down the Temple of Dagon, and buries himself and the Philistines under its ruins; the other, a captive in Egypt, led forth to be sacrificed to Jupiter, breaks the bands which bind him, and
1 See the parallel traced in detail by Professor George F. Moore in his commentary on Judges, The International Critical Commentary, pp. 364, 365.
slays the priests and scatters the assemblage. Even the custom of tying a lighted torch between two foxes in the circus, in memory of the damage once done the harvest-fields, was long kept up in Greece - a singular witness to the extent of this athlete's reputation. The modern or literary critic of the Bible, whose point of view is that given in the first article of this series, sees no reason for thinking that the same substantial stories are fiction when found in Greek literature and history when found in Hebrew literature. The value of the stories does not depend upon their historical vraisemblance; their value is in their ethical significance. The lesson of the life is plain: muscular strength mated to moral weakness never makes a hero; the man who lacks self-control can never be the deliverer or the true leader of a people.
SOME HEBREW STORIES RETOLD
THAT fiction was deliberately used for didactic purposes in the parable by the Hebrew is doubted by none; there is no reason to doubt that it was half consciously used by story-tellers in folk-lore; and if we judge of Hebrew literature by the ordinary literary standards, it is equally clear that it was sometimes artistically used by skillful storytellers for the entertainment and inspiration of their readers. Two notable illustrations of such use are afforded, one by an Idyl of the Common People, and the other by a Historical Romance. The first, although it describes scenes taking place prior to the organization of Israel as a kingdom, was almost certainly written after the return from the exile.
In their captivity the children of Israel had learned to hate the heathen with hatred so strong that it finds expression in the phrase, “ Happy is he that shall take thy little ones and dash them against the stones." 2 With this not unnatural spirit in their hearts they return to the holy land; in the period of their colonization a new patriotism is born, — narrow, intense, bigoted, yet genuine. The laws against any fellowship with foreigners are revised, if indeed they are not now first enacted; especially marriage with foreigners is condemned by the priests with great vehemence. Then it is that some unknown dramatist writes the story of Ruth.2
1 The place of Ruth in the Biblical genealogies (Ruth iv. 22; Matt. i. 5) indicates very clearly that there is an historical background for this story, as its structure indicates very clearly that it is in its spirit and form a work of fiction.
2 Psalm cxxxvii. 9.
A Jew and his wife, driven by famine from Judea, seek refuge in Moab, a heathen country. Two sons are born to them, and two daughters-inlaw come into the home. Then the husband dies, the sons die, and the widow and her two daughtersin-law, both Moabites, are left. In her poverty Naomi's thoughts return to the land of her fathers, and she resolves to return thither. The daughters start to go back with her. She pleads with them to leave her. “Can I furnish you husbands?" she says.
i Ezra ix. 11, 12; x. 10–17; Neh. xiii. 23–27.
2 I accept, partly for the reasons implied in the above passage, a post-exilic date for the Book of Ruth, though the date is confessedly uncertain ; Dr. Driver places it prior to the exile. Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament, p. 455.
Dr. W. Robertson Smith's argument appears to me weighty if not conclusive in favor of the later date: “If the book had been known at the time when the history from Judges to Kings was edited, it could hardly have been excluded from the collection ; the ancestry of David was of greater interest than that of Saul, which is given in 1 Sam. ix. 1, whereas the old history named no ancestor of David beyond his father Jesse. In truth the book of Ruth does not offer itself as a document written soon after the period to which it refers; it presents itself as dealing with times far back (Ruth i. 1), and takes obvious delight in depicting details of antique life and obsolete usages; it views the rude and stormy period before the institution of the kingship through the softening atmosphere of time, which imparts to the scene a gentle sweetness very different from the harsher color of the old narratives of the book of Judges. In the language, too, there is a good deal that makes for and nothing that makes against a date subsequent to the captivity, and the very designation of a period of Hebrew history as the days of the Judges' is based on the Deuteronomistic additions to the book of Judges (ii. 16 sq.) and does not occur till the period of the exile.” Encyclopædia Britannica, article Ruth.
“I am too old. And were I to marry and to have sons, you could not tarry till they grew. Go back, and leave me to my wretchedness.” One yields. The other, in an ever-memorable address, insists on casting in her lot with her mother-in-law: “ Whither thou goest, I will go ; where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God shall be my God.” 1
So they come, mother and daughter-in-law, in want and wretchedness, to the land from which the mother had gone forth some years before. It is the time of the barley harvest. An ancient Jewish law provides that when men are reaping in their fields they shall leave the chance wheat which falls for the poor to glean. This is not, it appears, a dead letter; and Ruth goes out into the barley harvest-field to glean for herself and her mother. She happens to light upon the field of Boaz, and begins gleaning, having first asked permission, which is granted her. Boaz seems to me to have
1 Ruth i. 16.
2 Deut. xxiv. 19–22; probably a local custom before it was framed into a law. See chapter on The Book of the Covenant.