Book 2, Part 2
15. But now, since Apollonius Molo, and Lysimachus, and some others, write treatises about our lawgiver Moses, and about our laws, which are neither just nor true, and this partly out of ignorance, but chiefly out of ill-will to us, while they calumniate Moses as an impostor and deceiver, and pretend that our laws teach us wickedness, but nothing that is virtuous, I have a mind to discourse briefly, according to my ability, about our whole constitution of government, and about the particular branches of it. For I suppose it will thence become evident, that the laws we have given us are disposed after the best manner for the advancement of piety, for mutual communion with one another, for a general love of mankind, as also for justice, and for sustaining labors with fortitude, and for a contempt of death. And I beg of those that shall peruse this writing of mine, to read it without partiality; for it is not my purpose to write an encomium upon ourselves, but I shall esteem this as a most just apology for us, and taken from those our laws, according to which we lead our lives, against the many and the lying objections that have been made against us. Moreover, since this Apollonius does not do like Apion, and lay a continued accusation against us, but does it only by starts, and up and clown his discourse, while he sometimes reproaches us as atheists, and man-haters, and sometimes hits us in the teeth with our want of courage, and yet sometimes, on the contrary, accuses us of too great boldness and madness in our conduct; nay, he says that we are the weakest of all the barbarians, and that this is the reason why we are the only people who have made no improvements in human life; now I think I shall have then sufficiently disproved all these his allegations, when it shall appear that our laws enjoin the very reverse of what he says, and that we very carefully observe those laws ourselves. And if I he compelled to make mention of the laws of other nations, that are contrary to ours, those ought deservedly to thank themselves for it, who have pretended to depreciate our laws in comparison of their own; nor will there, I think, be any room after that for them to pretend either that we have no such laws ourselves, an epitome of which I will present to the reader, or that we do not, above all men, continue in the observation of them.
16. To begin then a good way backward, I would advance this, in the first place, that those who have been admirers of good order, and of living under common laws, and who began to introduce them, may well have this testimony that they are better than other men, both for moderation and such virtue as is agreeable to nature. Indeed their endeavor was to have every thing they ordained believed to be very ancient, that they might not be thought to imitate others, but might appear to have delivered a regular way of living to others after them. Since then this is the case, the excellency of a legislator is seen in providing for the people’s living after the best manner, and in prevailing with those that are to use the laws he ordains for them, to have a good opinion of them, and in obliging the multitude to persevere in them, and to make no changes in them, neither in prosperity nor adversity. Now I venture to say, that our legislator is the most ancient of all the legislators whom we have ally where heard of; for as for the Lycurguses, and Solons, and Zaleucus Locrensis, and all those legislators who are so admired by the Greeks, they seem to be of yesterday, if compared with our legislator, insomuch as the very name of a law was not so much as known in old times among the Grecians. Homer is a witness to the truth of this observation, who never uses that term in all his poems; for indeed there was then no such thing among them, but the multitude was governed by wise maxims, and by the injunctions of their king. It was also a long time that they continued in the use of these unwritten customs, although they were always changing them upon several occasions. But for our legislator, who was of so much greater antiquity than the rest, (as even those that speak against us upon all occasions do always confess,) he exhibited himself to the people as their best governor and counselor, and included in his legislation the entire conduct of their lives, and prevailed with them to receive it, and brought it so to pass, that those that were made acquainted with his laws did most carefully observe them.
17. But let us consider his first and greatest work; for when it was resolved on by our forefathers to leave Egypt, and return to their own country, this Moses took the many tell thousands that were of the people, and saved them out of many desperate distresses, and brought them home in safety. And certainly it was here necessary to travel over a country without water, and full of sand, to overcome their enemies, and, during these battles, to preserve their children, and their wives, and their prey; on all which occasions he became an excellent general of an army, and a most prudent counselor, and one that took the truest care of them all; he also so brought it about, that the whole multitude depended upon him. And while he had them always obedient to what he enjoined, he made no manner of use of his authority for his own private advantage, which is the usual time when governors gain great powers to themselves, and pave the way for tyranny, and accustom the multitude to live very dissolutely; whereas, when our legislator was in so great authority, he, on the contrary, thought he ought to have regard to piety, and to show his great good-will to the people; and by this means he thought he might show the great degree of virtue that was in him, and might procure the most lasting security to those who had made him their governor. When he had therefore come to such a good resolution, and had performed such wonderful exploits, we had just reason to look upon ourselves as having him for a divine governor and counselor. And when he had first persuaded himself (17) that his actions and designs were agreeable to God’s will, he thought it his duty to impress, above all things, that notion upon the multitude; for those who have once believed that God is the inspector of their lives, will not permit themselves in any sin. And this is the character of our legislator: he was no impostor, no deceiver, as his revilers say, though unjustly, but such a one as they brag Minos (18) to have been among the Greeks, and other legislators after him; for some of them suppose that they had their laws from Jupiter, while Minos said that the revelation of his laws was to be referred to Apollo, and his oracle at Delphi, whether they really thought they were so derived, or supposed, however, that they could persuade the people easily that so it was. But which of these it was who made the best laws, and which had the greatest reason to believe that God was their author, it will be easy, upon comparing those laws themselves together, to determine; for it is time that we come to that point. (19) Now there are innumerable differences in the particular customs and laws that are among all mankind, which a man may briefly reduce under the following heads: Some legislators have permitted their governments to be under monarchies, others put them under oligarchies, and others under a republican form; but our legislator had no regard to any of these forms, but he ordained our government to be what, by a strained expression, may be termed a Theocracy, (20) by ascribing the authority and the power to God, and by persuading all the people to have a regard to him, as the author of all the good things that were enjoyed either in common by all mankind, or by each one in particular, and of all that they themselves obtained by praying to him in their greatest difficulties. He informed them that it was impossible to escape God’s observation, even in any of our outward actions, or in any of our inward thoughts. Moreover, he represented God as unbegotten, (21) and immutable, through all eternity, superior to all mortal conceptions in pulchritude; and, though known to us by his power, yet unknown to us as to his essence. I do not now explain how these notions of God are the sentiments of the wisest among the Grecians, and how they were taught them upon the principles that he afforded them. However, they testify, with great assurance, that these notions are just, and agreeable to the nature of God, and to his majesty; for Pythagoras, and Anaxagoras, and Plato, and the Stoic philosophers that succeeded them, and almost all the rest, are of the same sentiments, and had the same notions of the nature of God; yet durst not these men disclose those true notions to more than a few, because the body of the people were prejudiced with other opinions beforehand. But our legislator, who made his actions agree to his laws, did not only prevail with those that were his contemporaries to agree with these his notions, but so firmly imprinted this faith in God upon all their posterity, that it never could be removed. The reason why the constitution of this legislation was ever better directed to the utility of all than other legislations were, is this, that Moses did not make religion a part of virtue, but he saw and he ordained other virtues to be parts of religion; I mean justice, and fortitude, and temperance, and a universal agreement of the members of the community with one another; for all our actions and studies, and all our words, [in Moses’s settlement,] have a reference to piety towards God; for he hath left none of these in suspense, or undetermined. For there are two ways of coining at any sort of learning and a moral conduct of life; the one is by instruction in words, the other by practical exercises. Now other lawgivers have separated these two ways in their opinions, and choosing one of those ways of instruction, or that which best pleased every one of them, neglected the other. Thus did the Lacedemonians and the Cretians teach by practical exercises, but not by words; while the Athenians, and almost all the other Grecians, made laws about what was to be done, or left undone, but had no regard to the exercising them thereto in practice.
18. But for our legislator, he very carefully joined these two methods of instruction together; for he neither left these practical exercises to go on without verbal instruction, nor did he permit the hearing of the law to proceed without the exercises for practice; but beginning immediately from the earliest infancy, and the appointment of every one’s diet, he left nothing of the very smallest consequence to be done at the pleasure and disposal of the person himself. Accordingly, he made a fixed rule of law what sorts of food they should abstain from, and what sorts they should make use of; as also, what communion they should have with others what great diligence they should use in their occupations, and what times of rest should be interposed, that, by living under that law as under a father and a master, we might be guilty of no sin, neither voluntary nor out of ignorance; for he did not suffer the guilt of ignorance to go on without punishment, but demonstrated the law to be the best and the most necessary instruction of all others, permitting the people to leave off their other employments, and to assemble together for the hearing of the law, and learning it exactly, and this not once or twice, or oftener, but every week; which thing all the other legislators seem to have neglected.
19. And indeed the greatest part of mankind are so far from living according to their own laws, that they hardly know them; but when they have sinned, they learn from others that they have transgressed the law. Those also who are in the highest and principal posts of the government, confess they are not acquainted with those laws, and are obliged to take such persons for their assessors in public administrations as profess to have skill in those laws; but for our people, if any body do but ask any one of them about our laws, he will more readily tell them all than he will tell his own name, and this in consequence of our having learned them immediately as soon as ever we became sensible of any thing, and of our having them as it were engraven on our souls. Our transgressors of them are but few, and it is impossible, when any do offend, to escape punishment.
20. And this very thing it is that principally creates such a wonderful agreement of minds amongst us all; for this entire agreement of ours in all our notions concerning God, and our having no difference in our course of life and manners, procures among us the most excellent concord of these our manners that is any where among mankind; for no other people but the Jews have avoided all discourses about God that any way contradict one another, which yet are frequent among other nations; and this is true not only among ordinary persons, according as every one is affected, but some of the philosophers have been insolent enough to indulge such contradictions, while some of them have undertaken to use such words as entirely take away the nature of God, as others of them have taken away his providence over mankind. Nor can any one perceive amongst us any difference in the conduct of our lives, but all our works are common to us all. We have one sort of discourse concerning God, which is conformable to our law, and affirms that he sees all things; as also we have but one way of speaking concerning the conduct of our lives, that all other things ought to have piety for their end; and this any body may hear from our women, and servants themselves.
21. And, indeed, hence hath arisen that accusation which some make against us, that we have not produced men that have been the inventors of new operations, or of new ways of speaking; for others think it a fine thing to persevere in nothing that has been delivered down from their forefathers, and these testify it to be an instance of the sharpest wisdom when these men venture to transgress those traditions; whereas we, on the contrary, suppose it to be our only wisdom and virtue to admit no actions nor supposals that are contrary to our original laws; which procedure of ours is a just and sure sign that our law is admirably constituted; for such laws as are not thus well made are convicted upon trial to want amendment.
22. But while we are ourselves persuaded that our law was made agreeably to the will of God, it would be impious for us not to observe the same; for what is there in it that any body would change? and what can be invented that is better? or what can we take out of other people’s laws that will exceed it? Perhaps some would have the entire settlement of our government altered. And where shall we find a better or more righteous constitution than ours, while this makes us esteem God to be the Governor of the universe, and permits the priests in general to be the administrators of the principal affairs, and withal intrusts the government over the other priests to the chief high priest himself? which priests our legislator, at their first appointment, did not advance to that dignity for their riches, or any abundance of other possessions, or any plenty they had as the gifts of fortune; but he intrusted the principal management of Divine worship to those that exceeded others in an ability to persuade men, and in prudence of conduct. These men had the main care of the law and of the other parts of the people’s conduct committed to them; for they were the priests who were ordained to be the inspectors of all, and the judges in doubtful cases, and the punishers of those that were condemned to suffer punishment.
23. What form of government then can be more holy than this? what more worthy kind of worship can be paid to God than we pay, where the entire body of the people are prepared for religion, where an extraordinary degree of care is required in the priests, and where the whole polity is so ordered as if it were a certain religious solemnity? For what things foreigners, when they solemnize such festivals, are not able to observe for a few days’ time, and call them Mysteries and Sacred Ceremonies, we observe with great pleasure and an unshaken resolution during our whole lives. What are the things then that we are commanded or forbidden? They are simple, and easily known. The first command is concerning God, and affirms that God contains all things, and is a Being every way perfect and happy, self-sufficient, and supplying all other beings; the beginning, the middle, and the end of all things. He is manifest in his works and benefits, and more conspicuous than any other being whatsoever; but as to his form and magnitude, he is most obscure. All materials, let them be ever so costly, are unworthy to compose an image for him, and all arts are unartful to express the notion we ought to have of him. We can neither see nor think of any thing like him, nor is it agreeable to piety to form a resemblance of him. We see his works, the light, the heaven, the earth, the sun and the moon, the waters, the generations of animals, the productions of fruits. These things hath God made, not with hands, nor with labor, nor as wanting the assistance of any to cooperate with him; but as his will resolved they should be made and be good also, they were made and became good immediately. All men ought to follow this Being, and to worship him in the exercise of virtue; for this way of worship of God is the most holy of all others.
24. There ought also to be but one temple for one God; for likeness is the constant foundation of agreement. This temple ought to be common to all men, because he is the common God of all men. High priests are to be continually about his worship, over whom he that is the first by his birth is to be their ruler perpetually. His business must be to offer sacrifices to God, together with those priests that are joined with him, to see that the laws be observed, to determine controversies, and to punish those that are convicted of injustice; while he that does not submit to him shall be subject to the same punishment, as if he had been guilty of impiety towards God himself. When we offer sacrifices to him, we do it not in order to surfeit ourselves, or to be drunken; for such excesses are against the will of God, and would be an occasion of injuries and of luxury; but by keeping ourselves sober, orderly, and ready for our other occupations, and being more temperate than others. And for our duty at the sacrifices (22) themselves, we ought, in the first place, to pray for the common welfare of all, and after that for our own; for we are made for fellowship one with another, and he who prefers the common good before what is peculiar to himself is above all acceptable to God. And let our prayers and supplications be made humbly to God, not [so much] that he would give us what is good, (for he hath already given that of his own accord, and hath proposed the same publicly to all,) as that we may duly receive it, and when we have received it, may preserve it. Now the law has appointed several purifications at our sacrifices, whereby we are cleansed after a funeral, after what sometimes happens to us in bed, and after accompanying with our wives, and upon many other occasions, which it would be too long now to set down. And this is our doctrine concerning God and his worship, and is the same that the law appoints for our practice.
25. But, then, what are our laws about marriage? That law owns no other mixture of sexes but that which nature hath appointed, of a man with his wife, and that this be used only for the procreation of children. But it abhors the mixture of a male with a male; and if any one do that, death is its punishment. It commands us also, when we marry, not to have regard to portion, nor to take a woman by violence, nor to persuade her deceitfully and knavishly; but to demand her in marriage of him who hath power to dispose of her, and is fit to give her away by the nearness of his kindred; for, says the Scripture, ”A woman is inferior to her husband in all things.. (23) Let her, therefore, be obedient to him; not so that he should abuse her, but that she may acknowledge her duty to her husband; for God hath given the authority to the husband. A husband, therefore, is to lie only with his wife whom he hath married; but to have to do with another man’s wife is a wicked thing, which, if any one ventures upon, death is inevitably his punishment: no more can he avoid the same who forces a virgin betrothed to another man, or entices another man’s wife. The law, moreover, enjoins us to bring up all our offspring, and forbids women to cause abortion of what is begotten, or to destroy it afterward; and if any woman appears to have so done, she will be a murderer of her child, by destroying a living creature, and diminishing human kind; if any one, therefore, proceeds to such fornication or murder, he cannot be clean. Moreover, the law enjoins, that after the man and wife have lain together in a regular way, they shall bathe themselves; for there is a defilement contracted thereby, both in soul and body, as if they had gone into another country; for indeed the soul, by being united to the body, is subject to miseries, and is not freed therefrom again but by death; on which account the law requires this purification to be entirely performed.
26. Nay, indeed, the law does not permit us to make festivals at the births of our children, and thereby afford occasion of drinking to excess; but it ordains that the very beginning of our education should be immediately directed to sobriety. It also commands us to bring those children up in learning, and to exercise them in the laws, and make them acquainted with the acts of their predecessors, in order to their imitation of them, and that they might be nourished up in the laws from their infancy, and might neither transgress them, nor have any pretense for their ignorance of them.
27. Our law hath also taken care of the decent burial of the dead, but without any extravagant expenses for their funerals, and without the erection of any illustrious monuments for them; but hath ordered that their nearest relations should perform their obsequies; and hath showed it to be regular, that all who pass by when any one is buried should accompany the funeral, and join in the lamentation. It also ordains that the house and its inhabitants should be purified after the funeral is over, that every one may thence learn to keep at a great distance from the thoughts of being pure, if he hath been once guilty of murder.
28. The law ordains also, that parents should be honored immediately after God himself, and delivers that son who does not requite them for the benefits he hath received from them, but is deficient on any such occasion, to be stoned. It also says that the young men should pay due respect to every elder, since God is the eldest of all beings. It does not give leave to conceal any thing from our friends, because that is not true friendship which will not commit all things to their fidelity: it also forbids the revelation of secrets, even though an enmity arise between them. If any judge takes bribes, his punishment is death: he that overlooks one that offers him a petition, and this when he is able to relieve him, he is a guilty person. What is not by any one intrusted to another ought not to be required back again. No one is to touch another’s goods. He that lends money must not demand usury for its loan. These, and many more of the like sort, are the rules that unite us in the bands of society one with another.
29. It will be also worth our while to see what equity our legislator would have us exercise in our intercourse with strangers; for it will thence appear that he made the best provision he possibly could, both that we should not dissolve our own constitution, nor show any envious mind towards those that would cultivate a friendship with us. Accordingly, our legislator admits all those that have a mind to observe our laws so to do; and this after a friendly manner, as esteeming that a true union which not only extends to our own stock, but to those that would live after the same manner with us; yet does he not allow those that come to us by accident only to be admitted into communion with us.
30. However, there are other things which our legislator ordained for us beforehand, which of necessity we ought to do in common to all men; as to afford fire, and water, and food to such as want it; to show them the roads; not to let any one lie unburied. He also would have us treat those that are esteemed our enemies with moderation; for he doth not allow us to set their country on fire, nor permit us to cut down those trees that bear fruit; nay, further, he forbids us to spoil those that have been slain in war. He hath also provided for such as are taken captive, that they may not be injured, and especially that the women may not be abused. Indeed he hath taught us gentleness and humanity so effectually, that he hath not despised the care of brute beasts, by permitting no other than a regular use of them, and forbidding any other; and if any of them come to our houses, like supplicants, we are forbidden to slay them; nor may we kill the dams, together with their young ones; but we are obliged, even in an enemy’s country, to spare and not kill those creatures that labor for mankind. Thus hath our lawgiver contrived to teach us an equitable conduct every way, by using us to such laws as instruct us therein; while at the same time he hath ordained that such as break these laws should be punished, without the allowance of any excuse whatsoever.
31. Now the greatest part of offenses with us are capital; as if any one be guilty of adultery; if any one force a virgin; if any one be so impudent as to attempt sodomy with a male; or if, upon another’s making an attempt upon him, he submits to be so used. There is also a law for slaves of the like nature, that can never be avoided. Moreover, if any one cheats another in measures or weights, or makes a knavish bargain and sale, in order to cheat another; if any one steals what belongs to another, and takes what he never deposited; all these have punishments allotted them; not such as are met with among other nations, but more severe ones. And as for attempts of unjust behavior towards parents, or for impiety against God, though they be not actually accomplished, the offenders are destroyed immediately. However, the reward for such as live exactly according to the laws is not silver or gold; it is not a garland of olive branches or of small age, nor any such public sign of commendation; but every good man hath his own conscience bearing witness to himself, and by virtue of our legislator’s prophetic spirit, and of the firm security God himself affords such a one, he believes that God hath made this grant to those that observe these laws, even though they be obliged readily to die for them, that they shall come into being again, and at a certain revolution of things shall receive a better life than they had enjoyed before. Nor would I venture to write thus at this time, were it not well known to all by our actions that many of our people have many a time bravely resolved to endure any sufferings, rather than speak one word against our law.
32. Nay, indeed, in case it had so fallen out, that our nation had not been so thoroughly known among all men as they are, and our voluntary submission to our laws had not been so open and manifest as it is, but that somebody had pretended to have written these laws himself, and had read them to the Greeks, or had pretended that he had met with men out of the limits of the known world, that had such reverent notions of God, and had continued a long time in the firm observance of such laws as ours, I cannot but suppose that all men would admire them on a reflection upon the frequent changes they had therein been themselves subject to; and this while those that have attempted to write somewhat of the same kind for politic government, and for laws, are accused as composing monstrous things, and are said to have undertaken an impossible task upon them. And here I will say nothing of those other philosophers who have undertaken any thing of this nature in their writings. But even Plato himself, who is so admired by the Greeks on account of that gravity in his manners, and force in his words, and that ability he had to persuade men beyond all other philosophers, is little better than laughed at and exposed to ridicule on that account, by those that pretend to sagacity in political affairs; although he that shall diligently peruse his writings will find his precepts to be somewhat gentle, and pretty near to the customs of the generality of mankind. Nay, Plato himself confesseth that it is not safe to publish the true notion concerning God among the ignorant multitude. Yet do some men look upon Plato’s discourses as no better than certain idle words set off with great artifice. However, they admire Lycurgus as the principal lawgiver, and all men celebrate Sparta for having continued in the firm observance of his laws for a very long time. So far then we have gained, that it is to be confessed a mark of virtue to submit to laws. (24) But then let such as admire this in the Lacedemonians compare that duration of theirs with more than two thousand years which our political government hath continued; and let them further consider, that though the Lacedemonians did seem to observe their laws exactly while they enjoyed their liberty, yet that when they underwent a change of their fortune, they forgot almost all those laws; while we, having been under ten thousand changes in our fortune by the changes that happened among the kings of Asia, have never betrayed our laws under the most pressing distresses we have been in; nor have we neglected them either out of sloth or for a livelihood. (25) if any one will consider it, the difficulties and labors laid upon us have been greater than what appears to have been borne by the Lacedemonian fortitude, while they neither ploughed their land, nor exercised any trades, but lived in their own city, free from all such pains-taking, in the enjoyment of plenty, and using such exercises as might improve their bodies, while they made use of other men as their servants for all the necessaries of life, and had their food prepared for them by the others; and these good and humane actions they do for no other purpose but this, that by their actions and their sufferings they may be able to conquer all those against whom they make war. I need not add this, that they have not been fully able to observe their laws; for not only a few single persons, but multitudes of them, have in heaps neglected those laws, and have delivered themselves, together with their arms, into the hands of their enemies.
33. Now as for ourselves, I venture to say that no one can tell of so many; nay, not of more than one or two that have betrayed our laws, no, not out of fear of death itself; I do not mean such an easy death as happens in battles, but that which comes with bodily torments, and seems to be the severest kind of death of all others. Now I think those that have conquered us have put us to such deaths, not out of their hatred to us when they had subdued us, but rather out of their desire of seeing a surprising sight, which is this, whether there be such men in the world who believe that no evil is to them so great as to be compelled to do or to speak any thing contrary to their own laws. Nor ought men to wonder at us, if we are more courageous in dying for our laws than all other men are; for other men do not easily submit to the easier things in which we are instituted; I mean working with our hands, and eating but little, and being contented to eat and drink, not at random, or at every one’s pleasure, or being under inviolable rules in lying with our wives, in magnificent furniture, and again in the observation of our times of rest; while those that can use their swords in war, and can put their enemies to flight when they attack them, cannot bear to submit to such laws about their way of living: whereas our being accustomed willingly to submit to laws in these instances, renders us fit to show our fortitude upon other occasions also.
34. Yet do the Lysimachi and the Molones, and some other writers, (unskillful sophists as they are, and the deceivers of young men,) reproach us as the vilest of all mankind. Now I have no mind to make an inquiry into the laws of other nations; for the custom of our country is to keep our own laws, but not to bring accusations against the laws of others. And indeed our legislator hath expressly forbidden us to laugh at and revile those that are esteemed gods by other people? on account of the very name of God ascribed to them. But since our antagonists think to run us down upon the comparison of their religion and ours, it is not possible to keep silence here, especially while what I shall say to confute these men will not be now first said, but hath been already said by many, and these of the highest reputation also; for who is there among those that have been admired among the Greeks for wisdom, who hath not greatly blamed both the most famous poets, and most celebrated legislators, for spreading such notions originally among the body of the people concerning the gods? such as these, that they may be allowed to be as numerous as they have a mind to have them; that they are begotten one by another, and that after all the kinds of generation you can imagine. They also distinguish them in their places and ways of living as they would distinguish several sorts of animals; as some to be under the earth; as some to be in the sea; and the ancientest of them all to be bound in hell; and for those to whom they have allotted heaven, they have set over them one, who in title is their father, but in his actions a tyrant and a lord; whence it came to pass that his wife, and brother, and daughter (which daughter he brought forth from his own head) made a conspiracy against him to seize upon him and confine hint, as he had himself seized upon and confined his own father before.
35. And justly have the wisest men thought these notions deserved severe rebukes; they also laugh at them for determining that we ought to believe some of the gods to be beardless and young, and others of them to be old, and to have beards accordingly; that some are set to trades; that one god is a smith, and another goddess is a weaver; that one god is a warrior, and fights with men; that some of them are harpers, or delight in archery; and besides, that mutual seditions arise among them, and that they quarrel about men, and this so far, that they not only lay hands upon one another, but that they are wounded by men, and lament, and take on for such their afflictions. But what is the grossest of all in point of lasciviousness, are those unbounded lusts ascribed to almost all of them, and their amours; which how can it be other than a most absurd supposal, especially when it reaches to the male gods, and to the female goddesses also? Moreover, the chief of all their gods, and their first father himself, overlooks those goddesses whom he hath deluded and begotten with child, and suffers them to be kept in prison, or drowned in the sea. He is also so bound up by fate, that he cannot save his own offspring, nor can he bear their deaths without shedding of tears. These are fine things indeed! as are the rest that follow. Adulteries truly are so impudently looked on in heaven by the gods, that some of them have confessed they envied those that were found in the very act. And why should they not do so, when the eldest of them, who is their king also, hath not been able to restrain himself in the violence of his lust, from lying with his wife, so long as they might get into their bedchamber? Now some of the gods are servants to men, and will sometimes be builders for a reward, and sometimes will be shepherds; while others of them, like malefactors, are bound in a prison of brass. And what sober person is there who would not be provoked at such stories, and rebuke those that forged them, and condemn the great silliness of those that admit them for true? Nay, others there are that have advanced a certain timorousness and fear, as also madness and fraud, and any other of the vilest passions, into the nature and form of gods, and have persuaded whole cities to offer sacrifices to the better sort of them; on which account they have been absolutely forced to esteem some gods as the givers of good things, and to call others of them averters of evil. They also endeavor to move them, as they would the vilest of men, by gifts and presents, as looking for nothing else than to receive some great mischief from them, unless they pay them such wages.
36. Wherefore it deserves our inquiry what should be the occasion of this unjust management, and of these scandals about the Deity. And truly I suppose it to be derived from the imperfect knowledge the heathen legislators had at first of the true nature of God; nor did they explain to the people even so far as they did comprehend of it: nor did they compose the other parts of their political settlements according to it, but omitted it as a thing of very little consequence, and gave leave both to the poets to introduce what gods they pleased, and those subject to all sorts of passions, and to the orators to procure political decrees from the people for the admission of such foreign gods as they thought proper. The painters also, and statuaries of Greece, had herein great power, as each of them could contrive a shape [proper for a god]; the one to be formed out of clay, and the other by making a bare picture of such a one. But those workmen that were principally admired, had the use of ivory and of gold as the constant materials for their new statues [whereby it comes to pass that some temples are quite deserted, while others are in great esteem, and adorned with all the rites of all kinds of purification]. Besides this, the first gods, who have long flourished in the honors done them, are now grown old [while those that flourished after them are come in their room as a second rank, that I may speak the most honorably of them I can]: nay, certain other gods there are who are newly introduced, and newly worshipped [as we, by way of digression, have said already, and yet have left their places of worship desolate]; and for their temples, some of them are already left desolate, and others are built anew, according to the pleasure of men; whereas they ought to have their opinion about God, and that worship which is due to him, always and immutably the same.
37. But now, this Apollonius Molo was one of these foolish and proud men. However, nothing that I have said was unknown to those that were real philosophers among the Greeks, nor were they unacquainted with those frigid pretensions of allegories [which had been alleged for such things]; on which account they justly despised them, but have still agreed with us as to the true and becoming notions of God; whence it was that Plato would not have political settlements admit to of any one of the other poets, and dismisses even Homer himself, with a garland on his head, and with ointment poured upon him, and this because he should not destroy the right notions of God with his fables. Nay, Plato principally imitated our legislator in this point, that he enjoined his citizens to have he main regard to this precept, ”That every one of them should learn their laws accurately.” He also ordained, that they should not admit of foreigners intermixing with their own people at random; and provided that the commonwealth should keep itself pure, and consist of such only as persevered in their own laws. Apollonius Molo did no way consider this, when he made it one branch of his accusation against us, that we do not admit of such as have different notions about God, nor will we have fellowship with those that choose to observe a way of living different from ourselves, yet is not this method peculiar to us, but common to all other men; not among the ordinary Grecians only, but among such of those Grecians as are of the greatest reputation among them. Moreover, the Lacedemonians continued in their way of expelling foreigners, and would not indeed give leave to their own people to travel abroad, as suspecting that those two things would introduce a dissolution of their own laws: and perhaps there may be some reason to blame the rigid severity of the Lacedemonians, for they bestowed the privilege of their city on no foreigners, nor indeed would give leave to them to stay among them; whereas we, though we do not think fit to imitate other institutions, yet do we willingly admit of those that desire to partake of ours, which, I think, I may reckon to be a plain indication of our humanity, and at the same time of our magnanimity also.
38. But I shall say no more of the Lacedemonians. As for the Athenians, who glory in having made their city to be common to all men, what their behavior was Apollonius did not know, while they punished those that did but speak one word contrary to the laws about the gods, without any mercy; for on what other account was it that Socrates was put to death by them? For certainly he neither betrayed their city to its enemies, nor was he guilty of any sacrilege with regard to any of their temples; but it was on this account, that he swore certain new oaths (26) and that he affirmed either in earnest, or, as some say, only in jest, that a certain demon used to make signs to him [what he should not do]. For these reasons he was condemned to drink poison, and kill himself. His accuser also complained that he corrupted the young men, by inducing them to despise the political settlement and laws of their city: and thus was Socrates, the citizen of Athens, punished. There was also Anaxagoras, who, although he was of Clazomente, was within a few suffrages of being condemned to die, because he said the sun, which the Athenians thought to be a god, was a ball of fire. They also made this public proclamation,” That they would give a talent to any one who would kill Diagoras of Melos,” because it was reported of him that he laughed at their mysteries. Protagoras also, who was thought to have written somewhat that was not owned for truth by the Athenians about the gods, had been seized upon, and put to death, if he had not fled away immediately. Nor need we at all wonder that they thus treated such considerable men, when they did not spare even women also; for they very lately slew a certain priestess, because she was accused by somebody that she initiated people into the worship of strange gods, it having been forbidden so to do by one of their laws; and a capital punishment had been decreed to such as introduced a strange god; it being manifest, that they who make use of such a law do not believe those of other nations to be really gods, otherwise they had not envied themselves the advantage of more gods than they already had. And this was the happy administration of the affairs of the Athenians! Now as to the Scythians, they take a pleasure in killing men, and differ but little from brute beasts; yet do they think it reasonable to have their institutions observed. They also slew Anacharsis, a person greatly admired for his wisdom among the Greeks, when he returned to them, because he appeared to come fraught with Grecian customs. One may also find many to have been punished among the Persians, on the very same account. And to be sure Apollonius was greatly pleased with the laws of the Persians, and was an admirer of them, because the Greeks enjoyed the advantage of their courage, and had the very same opinion about the gods which they had. This last was exemplified in the temples which they burnt, and their courage in coming, and almost entirely enslaving the Grecians. However, Apollonius has imitated all the Persian institutions, and that by his offering violence to other men’s wives, and gelding his own sons. Now, with us, it is a capital crime, if any one does thus abuse even a brute beast; and as for us, neither hath the fear of our governors, nor a desire of following what other nations have in so great esteem, been able to withdraw us from our own laws; nor have we exerted our courage in raising up wars to increase our wealth, but only for the observation of our laws; and when we with patience bear other losses, yet when any persons would compel us to break our laws, then it is that we choose to go to war, though it be beyond our ability to pursue it, and bear the greatest calamities to the last with much fortitude. And, indeed, what reason can there be why we should desire to imitate the laws of other nations, while we see they are not observed by their own legislators (27) And why do not the Lacedemonians think of abolishing that form of their government which suffers them not to associate with any others, as well as their contempt of matrimony? And why do not the Eleans and Thebans abolish that unnatural and impudent lust, which makes them lie with males? For they will not show a sufficient sign of their repentance of what they of old thought to be very excellent, and very advantageous in their practices, unless they entirely avoid all such actions for the time to come: nay, such things are inserted into the body of their laws, and had once such a power among the Greeks, that they ascribed these sodomitical practices to the gods themselves, as a part of their good character; and indeed it was according to the same manner that the gods married their own sisters. This the Greeks contrived as an apology for their own absurd and unnatural pleasures.
39. I omit to speak concerning punishments, and how many ways of escaping them the greatest part of the legislators have afforded malefactors, by ordaining that, for adulteries, fines in money should be allowed, and for corrupting (28) [virgins] they need only marry them as also what excuses they may have in denying the facts, if any one attempts to inquire into them; for amongst most other nations it is a studied art how men may transgress their laws; but no such thing is permitted amongst us; for though we be deprived of our wealth, of our cities, or of the other advantages we have, our law continues immortal; nor can any Jew go so far from his own country, nor be so aftrighted at the severest lord, as not to be more aftrighted at the law than at him. If, therefore, this be the disposition we are under, with regard to the excellency of our laws, let our enemies make us this concession, that our laws are most excellent; and if still they imagine, that though we so firmly adhere to them, yet are they bad laws notwithstanding, what penalties then do they deserve to undergo who do not observe their own laws, which they esteem so far superior to them? Whereas, therefore, length of time is esteemed to be the truest touchstone in all cases, I would make that a testimonial of the excellency of our laws, and of that belief thereby delivered to us concerning God. For as there hath been a very long time for this comparison, if any one will but compare its duration with the duration of the laws made by other legislators, he will find our legislator to have been the ancientest of them all.
40. We have already demonstrated that our laws have been such as have always inspired admiration and imitation into all other men; nay, the earliest Grecian philosophers, though in appearance they observed the laws of their own countries, yet did they, in their actions, and their philosophic doctrines, follow our legislator, and instructed men to live sparingly, and to have friendly communication one with another. Nay, further, the multitude of mankind itself have had a great inclination of a long time to follow our religious observances; for there is not any city of the Grecians, nor any of the barbarians, nor any nation whatsoever, whither our custom of resting on the seventh day hath not come, and by which our fasts and lighting up lamps, and many of our prohibitions as to our food, are not observed; they also endeavor to imitate our mutual concord with one another, and the charitable distribution of our goods, and our diligence in our trades, and our fortitude in undergoing the distresses we are in, on account of our laws; and, what is here matter of the greatest admiration, our law hath no bait of pleasure to allure men to it, but it prevails by its own force; and as God himself pervades all the world, so hath our law passed through all the world also. So that if any one will but reflect on his own country, and his own family, he will have reason to give credit to what I say. It is therefore but just, either to condemn all mankind of indulging a wicked disposition, when they have been so desirous of imitating laws that are to them foreign and evil in themselves, rather than following laws of their own that are of a better character, or else our accusers must leave off their spite against us. Nor are we guilty of any envious behavior towards them, when we honor our own legislator, and believe what he, by his prophetic authority, hath taught us concerning God. For though we should not be able ourselves to understand the excellency of our own laws, yet would the great multitude of those that desire to imitate them, justify us, in greatly valuing ourselves upon them.
41. But as for the [distinct] political laws by which we are governed, I have delivered them accurately in my books of Antiquities; and have only mentioned them now, so far as was necessary to my present purpose, without proposing to myself either to blame the laws of other nations, or to make an encomium upon our own; but in order to convict those that have written about us unjustly, and in an impudent affectation of disguising the truth. And now I think I have sufficiently completed what I proposed in writing these books. For whereas our accusers have pretended that our nation are a people of very late original, I have demonstrated that they are exceeding ancient; for I have produced as witnesses thereto many ancient writers, who have made mention of us in their books, while they had said that no such writer had so done. Moreover, they had said that we were sprung from the Egyptians, while I have proved that we came from another country into Egypt: while they had told lies of us, as if we were expelled thence on account of diseases on our bodies, it has appeared, on the contrary, that we returned to our country by our own choice, and with sound and strong bodies. Those accusers reproached our legislator as a vile fellow; whereas God in old time bare witness to his virtuous conduct; and since that testimony of God, time itself hath been discovered to have borne witness to the same thing.
42. As to the laws themselves, more words are unnecessary, for they are visible in their own nature, and appear to teach not impiety, but the truest piety in the world. They do not make men hate one another, but encourage people to communicate what they have to one another freely; they are enemies to injustice, they take care of righteousness, they banish idleness and expensive living, and instruct men to be content with what they have, and to be laborious in their calling; they forbid men to make war from a desire of getting more, but make men courageous in defending the laws; they are inexorable in punishing malefactors; they admit no sophistry of words, but are always established by actions themselves, which actions we ever propose as surer demonstrations than what is contained in writing only: on which account I am so bold as to say that we are become the teachers of other men, in the greatest number of things, and those of the most excellent nature only; for what is more excellent than inviolable piety? what is more just than submission to laws? and what is more advantageous than mutual love and concord? and this so far that we are to be neither divided by calamities, nor to become injurious and seditious in prosperity; but to contemn death when we are in war, and in peace to apply ourselves to our mechanical occupations, or to our tillage of the ground; while we in all things and all ways are satisfied that God is the inspector and governor of our actions. If these precepts had either been written at first, or more exactly kept by any others before us, we should have owed them thanks as disciples owe to their masters; but if it be visible that we have made use of them more than any other men, and if we have demonstrated that the original invention of them is our own, let the Apions, and the Molons, with all the rest of those that delight in lies and reproaches, stand confuted; but let this and the foregoing book be dedicated to thee, Epaphroditus, who art so great a lover of truth, and by thy means to those that have been in like manner desirous to be acquainted with the affairs of our nation.
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