Joseph McCabe (1867-1955) was one of the most prolific authors of all time. He was brought up as a Roman Catholic, worked on Latin documents, and made himself very well-informed about Christianity, but turned against it. But he was extremely naive about Jews; bear this in mind.

Click for Detailed notes on McCabe - scroll down for selections from A Rationalist Encyclopaedia (1948).

Here's the full A Rationalist Encyclopaedia (about 1.3 MBytes; Word format; includes notes on some of its limits)

Hebrews, The.

J. McCabe, Rationalists Encyclopaedia

Prof. C. Roth says, in his Short History of the Jewish People (1936), that "nothing in literature is quite so conservative as Jewish historiography." He seems to illustrate his own criticism when he proceeds to accept as historical the stories of Moses, Joshua, Saul, David, and Solomon (and his "magnificent temple"); and the great majority of manuals of the history of the Hebrews, Jews, or Israelites before the eighth century B.C. certainly incur that reproach. Fortunately, the only interest of the Rationalist, as such, in the Hebrews is their claim that they were more advanced than other ancient nations in regard to religion and ethics, and this claim is completely destroyed by the dates which are now assigned for their religious-ethical books. The claim was formulated at a time when the various monotheistic periods and the high ethic of Egypt and Babylonia, long before the appearance of the first Hebrew prophets in the eighth century, were unknown, and it ought not now to be advanced by any serious writer. A score of articles in this Encyclopaedia tell the facts, and a summary will be found under the title Old Testament. On the strict lines of modern history we know nothing about the Hebrews before the fourteenth century B.C., when the "Amarna Letters" - dispatches of Egyptian officials to their Court - speak of trouble in Palestine with the "Habiru." This is interpreted "the folk from across the river" and is understood to refer to Semitic invaders or marauders from the desert, amongst whom we may agree to include the ancestors of the Jews. However many tribes of them may have been in Palestine at that time - experts conclude that they drifted in at various dates between 1500 and 1000 - they had not, as far as we know, any common name or political cohesion, but the Greek form of the name which the Egyptians gave them, the Hebrews, came to be their common denomination and, for the early part of their history, seems preferable to Israelites (which assumes that the absurd legend of Jacob in Genesis is true) or Jews (which occurs late even in the Old Testament). Archaeological research has up to the present - and it has been so thorough that new finds are unlikely - not discovered a sojourn of any of these tribes in Egypt, much less a common origin of them in North Arabia or Sumeria. Even H. H. Rowley's Israel's Sojourn in Egypt (published by the Rylands Library, 1938) is a strained and feeble attempt to find traces of them in Egypt, and all such claims are rejected or disputed by Egyptologists. There is, as Prof. Kastein says, far too prompt a disposition to say, now that the divinity of the Old Testament is discarded, that its early stories are "doubtless based upon a tradition which the Hebrews had." No one questions that the Hebrews would, like other peoples, have traditions of the tribe; nor are we interested in the extent to which unimportant statements in these presumed traditions are verified. But the stories of Abraham and his singular descendants, of Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David, and Solomon, have not been thus vindicated and may be part of the rich fabrications of the final "redactors" of the Old Testament or, like our story of King Arthur, fictional expansions of a dim recollection of primitive sheiks. As to the local colouring which is sometimes said to give credibility to such stories as that of Joseph, a Jew writing long afterwards would have access to literature that provided it - as it is obviously provided in the pleasant story of Joseph and Potiphar's wife from the Egyptian "Tale of Two Brothers" - and Egyptologists find even more instances of false colouring than of correct details. The leading experts broadly conclude that, as is suggested by the Old Testament itself, the Hebrews mingled with the Canaanites and shared their cults and their vices. The large and prominent nose which distinguishes about 75 per cent. of the Jewish race was not a Semitic trait, but a feature of the Hittites , who had already mixed with the Canaanites. Then, the authorities say, at some period which cannot be determined, a group of tribes came in from the desert with the cult of a strange god named something like Jahveh, apparently a mountain or sky-god. In the region from which they came - it is a widely accepted speculation that they got their deity from the Kenites near Sinai - the priests seem to have had a monopoly of the cult of this god, as sometimes happened, but here we have to be on guard against a tendency to wish to prove that the tribes were from the first monotheistic, which is very disputable. However that may be, the Old Testament, even after all the manipulations of the Ezra school, clearly shows that in the historical period down to the time of Josiah the Hebrews shared the polytheism of their neighbours, particularly the worship of phallic nature-deities and sacred prostitution. The violent and crude language of the prophets about their "whoring" testifies to this, and the fact that the priests were so bitter against the prophets confirms it. A mountain or sky-god is in the evolution of religion very apt to develop into a guardian of morals, but the ethical note which is most prominent in the "half-savage morality," as Bishop Barnes calls it, of the prophets , justice, is rather in the nature of what preachers now call Bolshevism. The adoption of the civilized ways of their neighbours had led to the appearance of rich merchants and luxuries, and it is against the contrast of this wealth with the general poverty that the prophets inveigh. We do not, as a rule, call it a sublime morality when a spokesman of the poor rails against the rich. If the prophets represent the highest moral level of the Hebrews in the eighth and seventh centuries, as we are told, it is clearly far below the level exhibited in the Hammurabi Code , more than a thousand years earlier, or the Maxims of Ptah-hotep , centuries before that. For the development which is dramatically and untruthfully crystallized in the story of the finding of the Law under Josiah (620) see Deuteronomy. By this date the Hebrews were in close contact with the older and higher civilizations, and the rise of the ethical note in their literature is an elementary historical phenomenon. The myth of the Hebrew "genius for morality and religion," which was substituted for the myth of revelation and inspiration, is based upon the old practice now confined to the Fundamentalists, of dating the Hebrew books according to the plan of the fraudulent final revision of them [See Ezra.] Later came the influence on the Hebrews of the Persians - the extent and date of this are much disputed - and of the Greeks, but the canon was closed in the fourth century and further book-writing forbidden by the zealots, so that the gradual education of the Hebrews in the higher morality is not so clearly traced; and the caricature of the ideals of the Scribes and Pharisees in the anti-Judaic Gospels helps to sustain the illusion of the less educated readers that a notable and abrupt moral advance appears in the teaching attributed to Jesus. It is, however, clear from many sources - the general adoption by the Hebrews of the idea of immortality, the religious revolt on moral grounds of the Jews of the Dispersal, the appearance of the Essenes and Therapeuts, the development in Jerusalem itself which culminates in the teaching of the Hillel school, etc. - that the Hebrew nation, now in touch through the Dispersal with all the best cultures from Alexandria to Persia, shared the general moral advance of the civilized world in the few centuries before Christ instead of remaining, as the Gospels suggest, in a narrow traditional groove from which a revolutionary Jesus would have to jolt them. [See Dispersal; Gospels; Jesus; Parables; Talmud; etc.] For the further history, in so far as Rationalism is interested in it, see Jews. For the settlement of the Hebrews in Palestine see T. J. Meek, Hebrew Origins (1936); for the later period Prof C. Guignebert, The Jewish World in the Time of Jesus (Engl. trans. 1939); for the Christian Era, J. R. Marcus, The Jew in the Mediaeval World (1938), and M. Raisin, A History of the Jews in Modern Times (1919). Not only Graetz's classical Popular History of the Jews Engl. trans., 6 vols., 1930), but most of the more recent manuals by Hebrew scholars (Kastein's History and Destiny of the Jews, 1933, Goodman's History of the Jews, 6 ed., 1939, Prof. Baron's Social and Religious History of the Jews, 3 vols., 1937, etc.) admit too much mythology in the first section.


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