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JTTLT, 1907 


I. Introduction. 

Josephus says: " Theophrastus shows knowledge of 
Jewish customs when he says the laws of the Tyrians 
prevent the swearing of foreign oaths; and among them 
with some others he reckons the oath called Corban. Now 
this will be found among no people save only the Jews, 
and it means (as one might say), being translated out of 
the language of the Hebrews, gift of God V There is no 
indication that this is a grudging admission wrung from 
the apologist of Judaism by a triumphant opponent. It 
is regarded as a piece of indisputable evidence, that the 
historian named was acquainted with Jewish customs. 

Elsewhere Josephus implies that the formula was used 
by those who vowed themselves to God in accordance with 
the directions of the Levitical code 2 . "And those who 
name themselves Corban to God (now this signifies gift in 
the language of the Greeks), if they wish to be released 3 
from the service must pay down money to the priests, . . . 
but, in the case of such as have less than the requisite 
fixed sum of money 4 , it is lawful for the priests to decide 

1 Josephus against Apion, i. §§ i66f. (Niese). 

2 Lev. xxvii. i. 3 a<j>iio8ai. * See Lev. xxvii. i. 


as they will 1 ." Here Corban ia a vow of self-devotion 
from which a man may be released in accordance with the 

The most famous example of the full formula is found 
in a passage of the Gospel according to St. Mark 2 . 
There it is said that under certain conditions certain of 
the Scribes refused to release their disciples from this 
vow. Hence it has been inferred that this refusal was 
upheld by all Scribes under all conditions, and that the 
ruling was condemned by Eabbi Jesus of Nazareth and 
by him alone. It would be more in accordance with 
facts to say that, with the exception of Jesus himself, 
and Philo, and perhaps such zealots for the Law as the 
scholars of Shammai, every Eabbi of the time would have 
dissolved the vow in the circumstances specified, whether 
the man wished to be dispensed from it or not. The 
view that the Corban was a favourite device for evading 
a fundamental commandment, at which the priests or the 
Scribes connived — for a consideration, and which Jesus 
pilloried as it deserved, is a striking example of the 
exegesis which is dominated and directed by religious 
prejudice. The Rabbi has better right than the scholar, 
who accepts this tradition of the commentators, to say of 
his opponent in this cause, tantum religio potuit suadere 
malorwm. But, since this view is prevalent and has pro- 
voked certain doubts about the authenticity and historicity 
of the narrative, it will be well to look a little at the 
life of the times, before we proceed to examine it in detail. 

It is a far cry to the Palestine, in which Herod's temple 
was still a-building. The Christian Evangelists are not 
concerned to expound questions of Jewish Law, even if 
they had listened to them and have reported them with 
more patience than Gallio the pro-consul. To under- 
stand their narratives one must return — as best one may 
— to the land and the time, where and when these 

1 Josephus, Ant., iv, § 73 (Niese). 2 vii. 1-12. 


things were done. The way is not easy; but there 
is a way. Doubtless the destruction of Jerusalem is 
a great gulf fixed between the present and the distant 
past. Doubtless the disciples of Jesus and the disciples of 
the Pharisees have long ago dissolved the partnership, to 
which the records of the Acts of the Apostles and the 
traditions — notably that which relates to James the 
brother of Jesus — bear witness. But Philo Judaeus will 
lead the student back to contemporary Alexandria; and 
thence he may go up to Jerusalem for the feasts, if he will. 
For though the guide wear the motley garb of an eclectic 
Greek philosopher, his heart and mind are the mind and 
heart of a Rabbi. Cucullua ncm facit monachwm. For all 
his allegorizing and idealism, Philo's teaching is such as 
Shammai and Aqiba might have applauded or inspired. 
His devotion to the Nation and the doctrines of the Pharisees 
.s as unquestionable as that of Saul who is also called Paul. 
Both had experienced the truth, to which Josephus gave 
verbal assent and expression, that the sect of the Pharisees 
has an essential affinity with Stoicism. 

Israel was in captivity, but not now in a strange land. 
Out of Egypt they had been led into Canaan. From 
Canaan they had been expelled, as Adam from Eden. To 
Canaan they had been restored — but only to be oppressed 
again, and that in the land which the Lord their God had 
given them. Surely this was the sorest punishment of all. 
The promises remained. They were unrealized because the 
conditions were unfulfilled. To take refuge in apocalyptic 
dreams was a counsel of despair and unfaith. Remains the 
Law — as it is written through the prophet Micah : "He 
hath showed thee, O man, what is good ; and what doth 
the Lord require of thee, but to do justly and to love 
mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God ? V 

1 Mic. vi. 8. The saying is imitated by Jesus ben Sira (Ecclus.) and 
echoed by Jesus of Nazareth (Matt, xxiii. 23). It seems to have been 
adopted by some of the Pharisees as an adequate compendium of the law 
{Maccoth, 24 b). 

S s a 


The rulers and nobles had for the most part made a 
covenant with the powers of this world and were content 
to offer lip-service to their rightful Lord. God had with- 
drawn himself — if indeed he had ever interfered in human 
affairs. For all practical purposes man was the masterless 
charioteer of his own life 1 . Such it would seem were 
principles of the Sadducean caste. They derived from the 
Hellenizers the art of plucking the roses and with them 
all the charm and joy of brave sublunary things. God's 
People were enslaved and enchained ; but their great men 
could wear their fetters with a grace, and take their ease in 
a desecrated Zion. As for the mysteries of God, they knew 
them not ; neither hoped they for the wages of righteous- 
ness, nor discerned a reward for blameless souls. Eeasoning 
with themselves, but not aright, they said : " Our life is 
short and tedious, and in the death of a man there is no 
remedy: neither was there any man known to have 
returned from the grave. Come on, therefore, let us enjoy 
the good things that are present. Let us lie in wait for the 
righteous man, because he is of disservice to us 2 ." 

With these enemies of the Righteous we are not now 
concerned. But in this description of them we find one 
outstanding characteristic of the spirit of the age: the 
present is the child of the past and must correspond to it. 
There is a proverb " As is the mother, so is her daughter 3 ." 
So the Sage who wrote in the name of Solomon described 
what was present to him in terms of the past which is 
recorded in Scripture. And we shall do well to follow his 
example. For at best we cannot have all the bare facts — 
valeant quantum — which represent the dry bones and 
fossilized remains of the age with which we are concerned. 
But we know something of the ways in which men thought 
and reasoned ; and the Scriptures on which they fed their 
minds are extant. We set aside then the comparison of 
the sects of the Jews to the sects of Greek philosophers 

1 Eoelus. a See Wisd. of Sol. ii. * Ezek. xvi. 44. 


upon which Josephus relied and look rather for a prophecy 
which shall supply appropriate categories. 

It is written in the book of the prophet Isaiah : — " From 
the uttermost part of the earth have we heard songs, glory 
to the righteous. But I said, Leanness to me, leanness 
to me, woe is me! the treacherous dealers have dealt 
treacherously ; yea, the treacherous dealers have dealt very 
treacherously. . . . And it shall come to pass that he who 
fleeth from the noise of the fear shall fall into the pit, and 
he that cometh up out of the midst of the pit . . .V 

What is this second leanness 1 Theodotion suggests that 
it is the secret which the fugitive sought in his flight. 

Over against the Sadducees stood the Essenes, who fled 
into the wilderness. They shared the Hope of emancipation 
and consolation; but they were content to stand by and 
see what Almighty God would do. In the wilderness they 
might prepare and purify themselves against his visitation. 
So they might intercede then for the common folk, of 
whom they now despaired. They fled, while flight was 
possible, from the leanness to the secret. Though the 
curse of emaciation befall the people, it may be only 
a mystery, warning and promise in one, foreboding the 
^Restoration of all things. 

But the land was not peopled only by such as abused 
or forewent the good things that were present. The 
treacherous dealers were there, and the prophet who said, 
"My leanness, my leanness" — and fled. But with them 
were the Pharisees, who neither betrayed nor abandoned 
the people. In Palestine and from the uttermost parts of 
the earth there were voices to hear, singing, " Glory to the 
righteous," and again, " Hope to the righteous," since the 
glory tarried. Thus and thus was the prophecy of Isaiah 
fulfilled. The people were blind and foolish, babes in fine. 
But guides and instructors and teachers were at hand to be 
the light of them that were in darkness 2 . 

1 Isa. xxiv. 16. 

2 See Bom. ii. 19 f. for these titles of the Kabbis. 


Separating themselves from all impurity, the Pharisees 
went about among the masses, calling them to repentance 
and amendment of life) that they might be deserving of 
mercy. If Israel could but keep the commandments, 
God's promise was due to be fulfilled and the coming 
age should come. 

It was a hard saying, almost a mockery. The way of 
virtue is rough ; stumbling-blocks are many. Falls are 
inevitable — but not failure. The reward of a precept is 
a precept, and the reward of complete obedience is life. 
The Law of Moses contained many commandments framed 
for different stages in the history of the Nation. Considered 
as a whole, it was inconsistent with itself. And who could 
remember all its requirements — to say nothing of the 
indispensable obedience ? It is written : " All things 
cannot be in a man, for the son of man is not immortal." 
But it is written again : " There is forgiveness with thee, 
that thou mayest be feared." Without the forgiveness 
of God true piety was impossible. All we stumble much. 
Failing forgiveness, we must needs despair and proceed to 
add sin to sin, as being already banned. And the Law 
has provided means of atonement for all sins of ignorance. 
It is only the man who sins with a high hand that is 
without the pale. And this is the man who is conscious 
of all the commandments relevant to the action which he 
contemplates, and performs it with deliberate intention. 
An ordinary man may be distracted by natural affection 
or worldly cares from the service of Jehovah. For such 
there is and there was forgiveness, so he sin — if sin he 
must — in ignorance. He must be reproved and convicted ; 
but if being convicted he show repentance, he will avoid 
wilful sin, for which there is no remedy. 

This conviction and generally the direction of the people 
was the function of the Scribes of the Pharisees. No matter 
that for long no faithful prophet had appeared. The Sages 
and the Scribes were also God's Apostles. They had followed 
the prophets in their insistence upon the general principles 


of the Law, and in their proper persons they had inherited 
and developed a system of case law, whose observance 
should preclude the transgression of the earlier Torah. 

The men of the Great Synagogue said three things : " Be 
deliberate in judgment, and raise up many disciples, and 
make a fence to Torah V R. Aqiba said : " Tradition is 
a fence to Torah." The point is developed by Philo 
with characteristic amplitude. As a practical moralist 
he accepted without hesitation the principle that humanly 
speaking this tradition is of more immediate importance 
than the Law itself, whose corollary and safeguard it is. 

" Moreover also, this profitable precept was added to the 
code, 'Disturb not boundaries of the neighbour which 
they that were before thee set.' This law it would seem 
. . . does not only contemplate the removal of covetousness, 
but also the keeping of the ancient customs. For customs 
(e07j) are unwritten laws, dogmas (decisions) of men of old 
not engraved on pillars and parchments, which moths 
destroy, but upon souls of those who share the same polity. 
For children ought to inherit from parents (apart from 
their property) the ancestral customs, in which they were 
educated and with which they have lived from their very 
cradles, and not to despise them because the tradition 
thereof is unwritten. For he that obeys the written laws 
does not deserve praise, being admonished by compulsion 
and fear of punishment ; but he that abides by the unwritten 
laws, displaying a voluntary virtue, is worthy of eulogies 2 ." 

Now in respect of both these things, conditions of forgive- 
ness and directions for right conduct, there was room for 
diversity of opinion. In the first case, the Temple and 
its priests were not always accessible ; therefore some 
substitute was necessary. In the second case, different 
Rabbis took different views of the relative importance of 

1 Pirqe Aboth, init. 

2 Philo, Be lustiUa (De Specc. Legg., iv), ii, p. 360 f. m (ed. Conn and 
Wendland, vol. V, p. 24a). 


conflicting precepts. Moreover, the standard to which 
appeal lay was itself also, like the unwritten tradition, the 
product of a long life, and that the life of a nation ; though 
the Scribes wished rather to reconcile than to recognize its 
inconsistencies. The result was that the pious were split up 
into different schools, and said — to take typical examples : 
" I am of Shammai and I of Hillel." But Shammai and 
Hillel, John Baptist and Jesus, had a common aim — to 
secure obedience to the revealed will of God. So far and 
so long as the means were subordinated to that end, their 
disciples were of one accord together. After all, the means 
which they prescribed were, to all appearance, command- 
ments of men. One said this and another that; but of all 
such "philosophical precepts and exhortations" Philo can 
say : " God asks of thee, Mind, nothing heavy and various 
or hard (Moepyov), but quite a simple thing and easy. It is 
to love him as benefactor, or else to fear him at least as 
ruler and lord, and to go by all roads that lead to accept- 
able worship, and to serve him, not as by the way, but 
with all the soul filled with the love of God, and to embrace 
his commandments, and to honour justice. . . . Which of 
these duties is difficult or troublesome % x " 

Such were the Pharisees, the champions of the Tradition 
and the real rulers of the people at this time. Ascetic 
and yet lenient in the exercise of their power, they were 
devoted to the Law. For the sake of the Hope, whose 
fulfilment depended upon the observance of God's will, they 
were ready to co-operate with the advocates of any method 
of enforcing it. God used instruments in the past in order 
to accomplish his purpose for his people. Not all his 
servants were to the mind of the Pharisees. But to the 
other characteristics of the Stoics, which they shared, they 
added the habit of suspending their judgment, until some 
proof should be given whether such and such a thing were 
of God or not. 

1 Philo, ii. 357 m, De Vict, Offer. Compare Matt. xi. 28 f. 


The narrative of the controversy, if such it can be called, 
which is permanently associated with Corban presents other 
features of interest, which are not without importance for 
the proper understanding of the situation. It is preserved 
by the first and the second of the four Evangelists, and the 
third recounts a similar incident which leads up to the 
same teaching about real as contrasted with external purity. 
This teaching does not enter into the scope of the present 
article : it is sufficient to note here that such insistence on 
the requisite significance of sacraments is common in the 
writings of the prophets and in the tradition of the 

The account given in the Gospel according to St. Matthew 
presents some rearrangement of the original, and, though 
clearly secondary, is worth some consideration. 

" Then there come to Jesus from Jerusalem Pharisees and 
scribes, saying, Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition 
of the elders ? for they do not wash their hands when they 
eat bread. But he answered and said to them, And why do 
ye transgress the commandment of God for your tradition ? 
For God said, Honour the father and the mother ; and, He 
that curseth father or mother, let him die the death. But 
ye say, Whoso say to the father or the mother, Gift be the 
profit thou mightest have had of me, he shall not honour the 
father of him 1 . So ye have invalidated the word (law) of 
God for your tradition. Hypocrites 2 , well did Isaiah 3 
prophesy concerning you, saying, 

1 The Sinaitic Syriac converts the formula from that of a vow into that 
of an oath : — "Corban if thou shalt be profited from me," i. e. "I swear 
by the Gift which is upon the altar that thou shalt not be profited from 
me.'' The Curetonian Syriac has "my offering thou shalt he profited 
from me,'' in apparent agreement with the old Latin version donum 
meum prqficiet tibi. In this case we have to consider one who says and 
does not. Compare Jas. ii. 15 f. : "If a brother or sister be naked, and in 
lack of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Go in peace, be ye 
warmed and filled ; and yet ye give them not the things needful to the 
body ; what doth it profit ? " 

2 Syr. Kespecters of persons. * Isa. xxix. 13. 


This people honoureth me with the lips, 

but their heart is far away from me. 
But vainly do they worship me, 

teaching doctrines commandments of men 1 ." 

From the question propounded it appears that there 
were already disciples of Jesus in Jerusalem, with whom 
the Pharisees were ready to fraternize. The Gospels 
attributed to St. Luke and St. John bear out the inference ; 
and even when the scandal of a crucified Messiah had 
alienated the many, James can say to Paul, " Thou seest, 
brother, how many myriads there are among the Jews of 
them that have believed and all are zealots for the law 2 ." 
The statement is so incredible, that it must be fact and not 
fiction ; and it is supported by Paul's reference to Christians 
who avoided persecution from the Jews by insisting upon 
the circumcision of their Gentile converts 3 . 

The reply of Jesus deals with the transgression of the tradi- 
tion generally without apparent reference to the particular 
case adduced. It is implied that the tradition of the elders 
is not of such paramount authority as the Pharisees main- 
tained. Jesus speaks as a Sadducee among Pharisees ; and 
suggests to them that, as transgressors of God's Law, they 
have no right to arraign the transgressors of mere human 
traditions. The Law does not support their requirement of 
ceremonial purity, and their conduct has been denounced 
by the prophet Isaiah. No defence or justification of the 
conduct alleged is offered by Jesus. For the original 
narrative we must go to Mark. 

to 1 - 

II. Jewish Sacramental Meals. 

So far as it can be determined, the beginning of the 
original narrative would seem to have been as follows : — 

" And there gather to him the Pharisees and some of 
the scribes, being come from Jerusalem, and having seen 

1 Matt. xv. 1-9. 2 Acts xxi. 20. 3 Gal. vi. 12. 


some of his disciples that with common hands they eat 
the loaves. And they ask him, Why walk not thy 
disciples after the tradition of the elders, but with 
common hands they eat the loaf?" 

For the sake of Gentile readers two notes were added : — 
(i) the explanation of common : — " that is unwashen." 
(ii) a summary of that part of the tradition which con- 
cerns purifications: — "For the Pharisees and all the Jews 
except with the fist they wash the hands do not eat, 
holding the tradition of the elders. And from market, 
except they bathe, they do not eat. And other many 
things there are which they received to hold, washings 
of cups, and pitchers and pots 1 ." 

The former gloss is adopted by Matthew in place of the 
original phrase. The latter appears to be based upon the 
parallel incident recorded by Luke 2 , in which it is said : 
"Ye Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and the 

This ruling of the Scribes, that one should wash one's 
hands before eating bread, has no certain warrant of 
Scripture ; and even after the destruction of the Temple 
it was not always regarded as a matter of obligation. 
There is no need therefore to follow the later copyists, 
Western and Syrian, in assuming that the conduct of 
Jesus' disciples was censured or condemned 4 by these 

It is true that God requires cleanness or innocency 
in his people ; and that clean hands are the outward and 
visible sign which should accompany and betoken a pure 
heart. So, for example, the Psalmist puts cleanness of 

1 Of "/dp iaptaatot iced it&vTts ol 'lovScuoi, kav pelj Tvy/iy vbf/covrai t<Js x*Tpas, 
0\>K iaOloviTi, Kpatovvres rijv napASoaiv ranr -upta^vrkposv KaX Sorb ayopas, icW 
pi) pairriowvTai, oiiK iaffiovai' Kal dX\a iroAAd lartv & mpiKafiov KparUSi, 
PavTurnobs norr/plcar teal ^tarmv kcu. x a ^ K ^ a >" (Mark vii. 3 f.). 

a Luke xi. 37-42. 3 ToO itorijpiov xai tov irivaKos. 

4 The "Eeceived Text" adds ipi/mf/curro, Codex Bezae xark-yvmaav at the 
end of Mark Yii. 2. 


hands as the equivalent of righteousness, which is obedience 
to all the judgments and statutes of the Lord. 

" Jehovah rewards me according to my righteousness ; 

" According to the cleanness of my hands returns to me. 

" Because I have kept the ways of Jehovah, 

" And have not acted wickedly (in departing) from my 

But the actual ablution is only required of priests, when 
they approach the altar, and of persons who are about to 
partake of a sacrificial meal. So it is written : " And 
Moses and Aaron and his sons washed their hands and 
feet, when they went into the tent of meeting, and when 
they came near the altar 2 " ; and again : " Samuel said to 
the elders of Bethlehem . . . Sanctify yourselves and come 
with me to the sacrifice 3 ." 

Special precepts * might be found, which convey the 
general principle to those who can pierce beneath the 
surface ; but the excessive repetition of rites and cere- 
monies is apt to lead to mere formalism and a neglect of 
their significance. The Rabbis and the Sages, therefore, did 
not regard this practice as a universal duty, incumbent 
upon all at this time, but left it as a matter which each 
man should decide for himself. 

It is said in the treatise entitled Blessings : " We have 
learned that to wash oneself before meals is optional, but 
to do so after meals is obligatory : to wash oneself before 
meals is an interruption, but not so after meals. What 
does this interruption mean ? According to R. Jacob ben 
Aha, it means that one should wash twice. R. Samuel 
ben Isaac asked: 'Why do they insist so strongly upon 
the accomplishment of an action which has just been 
stated to be optional ? ' ' It is of importance,' says 
R. Jacob ben Idi, 'for it happened once that pork was 
given to a man to eat as not seeing him wash himself 

1 Ps. xviii. 21 f. Compare Ps. xxiv. 4, where Briggs (J. C. C, ad loc.) 
suspects interpolation of hands, and Job ix. 30 ; xvii. 9. 

2 Exod. xl. 31 f. » 1 Sam. xvi. 8. * e.g. Lev. xv. n. 


before the meals. . . . Others say that three persons died 
as a consequence of this negligence 1 .'" 

The story of the Jew who omitted to wash his hands 
before eating, and was therefore given pork to eat, is told 
more fully in the Bemidbar Mabba 2 . It seems legitimate 
to infer from it that the practice arose in the time of the 
persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes ; and that to wash one's 
hands and to repeat the appropriate blessing before a meal 
had come to be the characteristic mark of a devout Jew. 

But in view of the admitted discrepancy of rulings on 
this point of the Halacha, the question is rather why did 
the Pharisees or some of the Scribes or both incline to insist 
upon it as a duty. Apparently they had witnessed the 
extraordinary sanctity of the disciples of Jesus in Jerusa- 
lem, and by their present errand recognized the authority 
of the Prophet of Nazareth. That the Law was inconsistent 
with itself they knew. The prophets, the sages, and the 
scribes in turn had repealed its provisions. A teacher whom 
some regarded as a faithful prophet was within his rights, 
if he had really repealed this prescription of the Tradition. 
If the ritual act of hand- washing had lost its significance 
and connotation of inward purity, it were better abolished ; 
as another prophet had said, " Eend your hearts, and not 
your garments." 

These Pharisees and these Scribes do not justify the 
custom to which they adhered. Its purpose and origin 
were presumably matter of common knowledge. It was 
the duty of the father and the teacher to explain why 
such and such rites were observed in Israel. But now the 
student is left without instruction to rediscover the cause 
of the practice for himself. 

From the passages of Scripture already cited, it would 
appear that the duty was binding only upon such as were 

1 Jerusalem Talmud Berakhoth, VIII, Gemara. 

2 § xx : on Numbers xxiv. 3, He took up his parable and said. " Halacha, 
He that hath eaten without washing his hands, of what does he become 
guilty ? Our Babbis have taught : — the washing of the hands before the 
meal is optional, but after the meal it is a duty." 


in some respect of a priestly character, and upon them and 
others at such times as they were preparing for a sacrificial 

Pharisees and Nazarenes — at any rate those who resided 
at Jerusalem — naturally spent their lives in the service of 
Jehovah. So far they shared the priestly function and 
character, and could not free themselves from the require- 
ments of the current priestly code. If then the meal, to 
which reference is made, were in any sort sacrificial, those 
who partook of it must first wash their hands. Jesus, the 
Pharisees would assume, had presumably given a dispensa- 
tion to his disciples in respect of this custom as in that of 

It is unnecessary to cite later conceptions, whether Jewish 
or Christian, of the table as an altar and the ordinary meal 
as a sacrament 1 . It would be easy to reply that this evidence 
was not valid for the time, when the temple of Jerusalem 
was standing. None the less it must be urged that there 
were Jews in foreign parts and outside the Holy City who 
could not always go up to the central sanctuary when they 
wished to enter the presence of God. The benediction of 
of the meal required preparation of heart, if not always of 
hand, at all times. And if God provided the food, he was 
in some sort the giver of the feast and was recognized as 
present there, if only in the person of a hypothetical priest. 

Apart from such general considerations, there is definite 
evidence that ordinary meals, or those to which guests were 
invited, were regarded as equivalent to sacrificial meals. It 
is written in the Law : " And this shall be the right of the 
priests from the people, from them that sacrifice the sacrifice, 
whether ox or sheep ; he shall give to the priest the shoulder, 
the two cheeks, and the maw 2 ." 

1 Mr. Abrahams adds the note, " That the table became so regarded in 
later Judaism is undeniable, and some Jewish customs still prevalent 
are based on the idea that the meal — especially the Sabbath meal — is a 
sacrifice and a sacrament." 

2 Dout. xviii. 3. 


The language points unmistakably to a sacrificial meal ; 
but Philo and Josephus agree with the Kabbis in extending 
the statute, and therefore the formula sacrifice the sacrifice, 
to meals which had no specifically religious purpose. Thus 
Philo says, " From those things which are sacrificed (slaugh- 
tered) away from the altar for the sake of flesh-eating, three 
things are enjoined to be given to the priest, arm, cheek, and 
what is called the maw V 

And again : " Moses teaches by examples. He begins by 
admonishing and chastening the appetite of the belly ; for 
he assumed that men would never give the rein to the other 
lusts or appetites, but would restrain them because the eldest 
and chief of them all had learned to obey the laws of tem- 
perance. ... So he bridled the desire both of eating and of 
drinking, by precepts which are conducive to self-control 
and to philanthropy, and, the greatest of all, to piety. . . . 
He enjoins that no one taste anything at all before he 
separate 2 the firstfruits 3 ." 

From this it follows that any and every meal must be 
shared with God himself in the person of his priests, and 
thus becomes a means of communion between God and his 
worshippers, which is independent of the Temple and the 
Temple-worship. When the Temple was destroyed, all sur- 
viving rites and ceremonies inevitably rose in importance, 
and were enforced as equivalent substitutes for the system 
of sacrifices, which necessarily ceased. Hence the pious 
custom practised by the righteous became the duty of 
every Jew who deserved the name, as in the days of the 
persecution. Bread is a term wide enough to cover all 
food. It is a Rabbinic commonplace that all eating of bread 
is to be understood of the study of Torah. Gatherings are 
properly for the sake of feasting *. The food is that which 
God created for men to partake of with thanksgiving ; for 
it is sanctified by means of God's word and supplication 5 . 

1 ii, p. 235 m. 2 Suucptvat. ' ii, p. 351; it, 

4 ow&yuv means elsewhere, if not in Mark, 1. c, to entertain. 
* 1 Tim. iv. 4. 


So in his prison the Rabbi Aqiba will go thirsty, that he 
may sanctify himself for his scanty meal. So the Christians 
of Corinth must realize that they gather together to eat the 
feast of the Lord God, and must conduct accordingly, for 
fear of what penalties they may incur if they neglect the 
requisite discrimination of the firstfruits 1 . 

It is written in the Law : " Sanctify yourselves therefore, 
and be ye holy 2 ." Two purifications are required. It is 
a duty to wash one's hands before and after a meal. For 
the meal is the substitute for the sacrifice of the Peace 
Offering, which is also the sacrifice of salvation 3 . And it 
is written again : " This is the law of the sacrifice of peace 
offerings. ... If he offer it for a thanksgiving, then he 
shall offer with the sacrifice of thanksgiving unleavened 
cakes . . . and beside the cakes . . . leavened bread .... 
but the soul that eateth of the flesh of the sacrifice of 
peace offerings, that pertain unto the Lord, having his 
uncleanness upon him, even that soul shall be cut off 
from his people 4 ." On the other hand, if the meal have 
no sacred character, the unclean and the clean may eat 
thereof 5 ; thus there was no need for the washing of 
hands, benediction, or discrimination. 

Mark's phrases, the loaves and the loaf or the bread 6 
perhaps bewray his consciousness that the celebration of 
the Holy Communion was based upon an extant practice 
of the Pharisees. But whether he knew it or not, it seems 
a plausible conclusion, from the evidence available, that in 
the Assembly of the home for the meal — whether all daily 
meals or one of them, or one meal in each week — the 
Pharisees had found something to supplement the Assembly 
of the House of Assembly as an adequate alternative to the 
Temple of Jerusalem. 

1 1 Cor. xi. 20-30. a Lev. xx. 7. 

3 LXX, ti}s Svaias rov aarrjpiov. 

1 Lev. vii. 11 ff. 5 Deut. xii. 15, 22. 

• robs aprovs (Mark vii. 2), rbv aprov (Mark vii. 5). 


III. The Law oe God and the Precepts op Men. 

" Jesus saith to them, Well did Isaiah prophesy of you 
(as it is written), This people with the lips honoureth me, 
but the heart of them is far away from me ; but in vain 
they xvorship me, teaching teachings commandments of 
men. [Leaving the commandment of God, ye retain the 
tradition of men *.] " 

The requirement that the hands should be washed as a 
religious duty before any or any particular meal involves 
a multiplication of observances and a potential supersession 
of the worship at Jerusalem. Similar conditions and causes 
had produced similar results at an earlier time in the his- 
tory of Israel. With bitter irony the prophet Amos had 
said to those who forsook and belittled the central sanc- 
tuary: "Come to Bethel and transgress, to Gilgal and 
multiply transgressions; and bring your sacrifices every 
morning and your tithes every three days, and offer a 
sacrifice of thanksgiving of that which is leavened, and 
proclaim freewill offerings and publish them ; for this liketh 
you, O ye children of Israel, saith the Lord God 2 ." 

Ceremonies and acts of ritual have no value in them- 
selves. To multiply them beyond what is written is to 
transgress ; for it implies that their performance is in 
itself meritorious. But men need ritual for their souls' 

1 Mark vii. 6-8, Westcott and Hort edit the text thus : 6 Si einev avrois 
KaXats kirpO(t>f)Ttv<rev 'Haaias vtpl {i/xaiv tu>v inro/cptraiv, &$ yiypatrrai on 
OStos & Xabs rots \tiKeaiv fit «/*§, 

■fj Si KtipSia avrwv iroppa dir«x« &n kpov' 
p6.Tr)V Si ciPovTcd ixe, 

StSaatiovTes SiSaa/taKias ivToW/iaTa dvBpimaiv' 
atplvrts rip> IvroXty rov 8tov fcpareiTt rip/ itapaSoaiv rwv avQp&rnoiv, But 
the Sinaitic Syriac omits rum vttok/mtw (only here in St. Mark), which 
Christian copyists would he only too ready to insert. Codex Bezae 
omits &s yiypairrai on, which is at any rate obviously parenthetic : com- 
pare its addition of and said which is supported by the Sinaitio Syriac. 
8 Amos iv. 46. 
VOL. XIX. T t 


sake. The service of the Synagogue could not wholly 
replace the worship of the Temple. The ministry of the 
word, to adopt phrases which belong to the Nazarene sect 
of Judaism, must be supplemented by the ministry of tables, 
if God is to be accessible otherwhen than on Sabbath 
and elsewhere than in Synagogue. Even, perhaps par- 
ticularly, those who could find their way to the Temple at 
more than the necessary seasons feel the need of additional 
means of grace. So the men who succeeded Moses and the 
prophets provided the props and satisfactions of piety, 
which were lacking, for men's sake. True, such things 
were the teaching of men, but what else is Torah 
itself? The only difference is that the authors of the 
Law were men who had acquired sanctity because they 
lived so long ago. Now — in the first century of the current 
era — as then, it was true that tnentem mortalia tangunt. 
The guides of the people inspired directly or indirectly 
endeavour to cope with human needs. 

The text of this prophecy of Isaiah is that of the Sep- 
tuagint 1 , whose language is faithfully reproduced, and not 
that of the Masoretic Hebrew 2 . The original triplet has 
been adapted — probably not now for the first time — for the 
purposes of separate quotation. In particular the prefatory 
formula the Lord said seems to be disregarded. 

The Scripture was indeed a text, to which both Pharisee 
and Sadducee might well appeal in their controversies about 
the validity of the Oral Tradition. If such it be — a proof- 
text and no more — the extent to which its original context 
is contemplated by Jesus must remain a doubtful question. 
It can hardly be excluded absolutely. Jesus might wish 
to correct erroneous conclusions derived from it in its 

1 Koi elirtv Kvpws 'Eyyifa fioi 5 \abs otros iv t$ oro/ian airov teat iv rots 
Xfiteoiv airrav TifiSbaiv yx, i) Si icapBia airmv troppai airlxu &r' i/iov' i/Arrpv 
Si ak&ovrai /*« SiSatTKOVTfs evrdKitara avOpi/iraiv ical Sifiaamkias. 

* Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draws near | with 
its mouth and with its lips they honour me and its heart it removed from 
me I and their fear of me is a commandment of men which hath been 


naked form. And possibly he actually adduced more of 
the preface or the sequel, which his reporters omitted as 
irrelevant or superfluous. At least he may have advised 
the Scribes to read the whole section for their guidance. 

The preface speaks of a time when men shall be drunken, 
not with wine, but with a spirit of stupor 1 . It is a time 
when " All vision is become unto you as the words of 
a book that is sealed, which men deliver unto one that 
is learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee, and he saith, 
I cannot, for it is sealed V It is a time when "all they 
that watch for iniquity are cut off, that make a man an 
offender by a word . . . and turn aside the just with 
a thing of nought 3 ." 

It is not merely the case that the actual proof-text 
is an obvious weapon to use. Its original context squares 
with the situation as Paul conceived it, and Jesus before 
him 4 . 

That the teachers of the people were dependent upon the 
written word of God for their enlightenment was no fault 
of their own. They had found as yet no faithful prophet 
and were shut up to the painful task of interpretation of 
Scripture. Perforce they taught " every man his neighbour 
and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord 5 ." Not 
yet was the promise of the new covenant fulfilled. Only 
in the coming age would God write his law in the heart 
of his children, so that all should know him from the 
least of them unto the greatest of them. 

The closing verse of this first section of Jesus' reply 
is omitted by the Sinaitic Syriac version and also by 
Matthew. It appears to be a doublet of the opening of 
the second section and is repeated in another form at its 
close. The accretion may be due to different translations 
of the original saying, or more probably to the collocation 
of correspondent Scriptures which constitutes primitive 
exegesis. The disciples of Jesus believed the Scripture 

1 Compare Kom. xi. 8. 2 Isa. xxix. n. ' Isa. xxix. 20 f. 

* Rom. xi. 8 ; 1 Cor. i. 19 ; compare John xii, 40. 5 Jer. xxxi. (xxxviii) 31 ff. 

T t % 


and the word which Jesus said 1 : they understood the 
sayings when they had correlated them to the oracles of 
the earlier prophets. 

In consequence of this interpolation the usual Marcan 
and Talmudic formula and he was saying has been inserted. 
The Imperfect tense denotes that in the Evangelist's opinion 
the chief point of the incident is not yet reached. The 
vivid Present is used only of the original question 2 and 
of the private instruction of the disciples 3 . 

The original saying in its original form would seem 
to be — 

" Ye leave the commandment of God to establish 

your tradition^." 

It is the link between Isaiah's prophecy and the appeal 
to a current ruling of some scribes. The tradition is " the 
commandments of men," to which Isaiah referred. The 
scribes leave the commandment of God, by refusing to 
give their disciples leave to obey it 6 . This paronomasia 
has become obscured in the Greek text, which is now 
received by all ; but may be restored with the help of 
the preceding doublet and the Sinaitic Syriac. 

The substitution of ye annul (aOenire) for ye leave 
(d^iere) might be the result of scribal error: t and ei are 
practically indistinguishable, and cf> is easily confused with 6. 
But a prophecy of Ezekiel, the titular Son of Man, offers 
a more plausible explanation. It is written: "And there 
came a word of Jehovah unto me, saying, Son of man, say 
unto her, Thou art a land which is not cleansed . . . and 
her priests have annulled my law 6 , and have profaned 
my holy things: between holy and profane they did not 
distinguish, neither have they showed difference between 
unclean and clean 7 ." 

1 John ii. 22. 2 Mark vii. 5. 3 Mark vii. 18. 

1 , A<pitTe tt)v hvroXty tov Oeov tva tt)v napaSoaiv bfiwv ar^ffrjre. 
6 Mark vii. 8 a<pivTes rr)v evToXTp tov 0tov KpareiTt rty irapaOoffiv to/v 
dvOpanrav (from avOpiiveiv of Isa., 1. c). 

Ezek. xxii. 23 ff. ' 1XX, sai ol Upets }fikTt\oav rbv vofiov fiov. 


This prophecy was not adduced by Jesus ; for on a 
superficial view it was absolutely inappropriate. The 
distinction between clean and unclean had now been 
carried to an excess, if excess he possible. The Sabbaths 
of God were observed with the utmost exactitude. The 
very name of God was preserved from profanation by all 
the devices which human ingenuity could suggest. Men had 
been found by God and for God, who should fence a fence 
and stand in the gap before God for the land \ The fence 
maker was surely the Rabbi, as the Greek translator 
implies by his rendering : — " a man of right behaviour and 
standing before the Lord completely in the crisis of the 
land, that he destroy it not utterly 2 ." 

It is noteworthy that neither Jesus nor even the subterra- 
nean interpreter of his Saying sees fit to apply to the 
scribes as yet the denunciation of their order by Jeremiah. 
At the end when the keepers of the vineyard determined 
to slay him who claimed to be the heir, a parable is spoken 
and a parable is performed, in which trace^ of this pro- 
phecy may be found. God's vineyard is to be taken from 
the rulers of Israel ; and the fig-tree, that has nothing but 
leaves, is blighted. As it is written : " How do ye say, 
We are wise, and the law of the Lord is with us 1 Vain 
hath become the false pen of the scribes. The sages are 
shamed . . . because they repudiated the law of ihe Lord. 
. . . Therefore I will give . . . their fields to the heirs, and 
they shall gather their fruits, saith the Lord. . . . There are 
no figs on the fig-trees, and the leaves have fallen off 3 ." 

Here, however, there is no denunciation; only a state- 
ment of fact. Tradition conflicts with the Law. What of 
that 3 In the exercise of the authority committed to them, 
the Scribes, like Jesus himself, were ready to repeal what 

1 See Ezek. xxii. 26, 30. 

2 Ezek. xxii. 30, LXX, avSpa &va<rTp«p6iitvov dpBZs nal iarara ttpb irpooumov 
fiov bX.o<sx*p&s iv Katpa tjjs t?s tov /m) tis t£\os IfaXet^cu avrffV. 

3 Jer. viii. 8 ff., LXX. The omission of 10 b-ia is perhaps an example 
of the Expurgation with which Justin taxes Trypho. 


was said to them of old. Had not the Psalmist set aside 
the whole system of sacrifices 1 ? Had not Jeremiah foreseen 
a new Covenant 2 ? 

If Moses and Aaron were to be superseded, it was 
a small thing that as a punishment a man should be 
debarred from the performance and therein from the 
reward of "the fii'st commandment with promise." For 
this saying is connected with what follows rather than 
with what precedes. "Upon the seat of Moses," Jesus 
said to the crowds and to his disciples, "the Scribes 
and the Pharisees have sat them down. All things 
therefore whatsoever they say to you, do and observe 3 . " 

And in reference to the minutiae of the Tradition, which 
seem to us the meticulous requirements of a wanton 
pedantry, he said again, The Scribes tithe mint and anise 
and cummin. Nothing is so small that their Law neglects 
it. In their attention to trifles they tend to lose sight 
of the great essential principles involved. They are right 
to do as they do, but not to forsake justice, mercy, and 
faith K 

So Philo, his contemporary, who strove more suo to 
proclaim the inward significance of the Law and to fulfil 
it, insists that apprehension of the spirit does not warrant 
neglect of the letter. Like the good Christian, the good 
Jew must provide things honest in the sight of all men— as 
the Pharisees did. There is a virtue in a consensus of 
opinion and some truth in the proverb, Vox populi vox 
Dei. Not for nought do the Pharisees of any religion — 
hypocrites though they may be — perform their rites and 
ceremonies so as to be seen by men for an example. The 
fourth gift promised to Abraham (Gen. xii. 2) is greatness 
of name. . . . He who both is and appeal's good is truly 
happy and really great of name. One should provide for 
fair fame (-npovoi]T£ov . . . evfanCas) as for a great thing and 

1 Ps. xv. 6-8 ; see Epistle to the Hebrews, x. 5-9. 

a Jer. xxxi. 31-4 ; see Heb. viii. 7-13. 

3 Matt, xxiii. 1-3. * Matt, xxiii. 23. 


beneficial to the life in (lit. with) the body. It comes to 
almost all who with joyful contentment (<rvv acr/xewo-^o) 
Kivovm) disturb none of the existing ordinances, but keep 
the ancestral polity carefully. For there are some who, 
regarding the literal laws as symbols of spiritual things, 
have elaborated some overmuch while they lightly slighted 
others. Such I should blame for their levity. For they 
ought to care for both the more exact search for invisible 
things and also for blameless husbandry of the manifest. 
But now, as in a desert, they live alone by themselves or 
have become bodiless souls knowing neither city, nor 
village, nor home, nor, in a word, any company of men 
at all ; they peer over what is apparent to the many, and 
seek truth naked as it is in itself. But the sacred word 
teaches them to have regard for a good reputation and not 
to relax (\few) any of the things contained in the customs 
which divine (Qecrniarioi) and greater men than those of our 
time decreed. 

The Sabbath may be a lesson of teaching about the 
power belonging to the uncreated and of rest from labour 
and inactivity of the creature. But let us not therefore loose 
the legislation concerned with it as to light a fire, or till 
the ground, or carry burdens, or lay accusations, or go to 
law, or demand back deposits, or exact loans, or do the 
other things which are commanded on non-feast days. 

Nor yet because the feast is a symbol of the soul's 
gladness and of thanksgiving to God should we renounce 
the assemblies at the seasons of the year. 

Nor yet because circumcision signifies the excision of 
pleasure and all passions, and the destruction of impious 
opinion wherein the mind supposed itself competent to 
beget of itself, may we destroy the law laid down for 
circumcision. Since we shall neglect the ritual of the 
sanctuary and ten thousand other things if we take heed 
only to that which is indicated by means of allegories. 

We must regard the literal sense as like a body and the 
others like soul. ... If we keep the one, the other, of which 


the first is symbol, will be more clearly recognized, and 
forbye we shall escape censure and accusation from the 

Seest thou not that even to Abraham the sage it saith that 
both great goods and small accrue. . . . The former corre- 
spond to the laws of nature, the latter to made laws 1 . 
The self-taught Isaac prays for the lover of wisdom that 
he may receive both spiritual and material good things 2 
(Gen. xxvii. 38). 


" And he was saying to them, Ye do well that ye leave 
the commandment of God, that ye may establish your 
tradition 3 . For Moses said, Honour thy father and thy 
mother j and, He that curseth father or mother let him 
surely die : but ye say, If a man say to the father or the 
mother, Corban he the profit thou mightest have had of 
me — no longer do ye let him leave to do anything to the 
father or the mother [making of none effect the word of 
God by the tradition which ye delivered; and many 
such-like things ye do~\ 4 ." 

The preface has already been discussed. It remains here 
to notice that the law infringed is described as the com- 
mandment of God or the word of God, although it is cited 
with the formula Moses said. His description agrees with 
ancient and modern usage. It is written, God spake these 
words and said. And Philo speaks of the Ten Oracles as 
"those which God Himself pronounced without prophet 
or interpreter 5 ." 

1 Demigr. Air. (ed. Cohn and Wendland, vol. II, §§ 86-94). 

2 Ibid., § 101 (ed. Cohn and Wendland, vol. II, p. 28S), p. 452 m. 

3 Ka\Sis is generally regarded as bitterly ironical (so 2 Cor. xi. 4). The 
rendering given is that of the Sinaitic Syriac : compare Jer. i. 12 rawn 
nwr, LXX, Ka\itis tuipa/cas. 

i Mark vii. 10-13. 

5 Be Specc. Legg., iii, § 7. 


The conclusion is not necessarily a mere doublet of the 
preface like its predecessor. The Scribes by their ruling 
did actually invalidate the law in question so as to nullify 
the promise which it contained \ 

So at long last we reach the appeal to the practice of 
Corban. At the outset it must be noticed that Jesus breaks 
off suddenly in his account of the action which is taken 
by the persons addressed in the specified circumstances. 
Such abruptness — an anacoluthon — as the grammarians 
call it — is commonly the sign of intense emotion. "Ye 
say . . ." What do they say ? We are not told — only that 
it comes to this : " Ye no longer permit him to do any- 
thing to father or mother." 

What then is the feeling which arrests and interrupts 
the utterance? The common answer seems to be indig- 
nation such as any pious Jew would feel at the neglect 
of the honour due to parents. But if any one inclines to 
accept this view let him hear the words of Jesus : " He 
said to another, Follow me. But ho said, Permit me first 
to bury my father. He said to him, Let the dead bury 
their dead, but do thou proclaim the kingdom of God. 
Moreover another said, I will follow thee, Lord, but first 
permit me to take leave of my household. Jesus said to 
him, No one who has put his hand to the plough and 
looks behind is fit for the kingdom of God 2 ." 

And again, "When multitudes were going with him he 
turned and said to them, He that cometh unto me and 
hateth not father and mother and brothers and sisters and 
wife and sons, my disciple he cannot be 3 ." 

This renunciation is required by the Law of the High 
Priest and the Nazirite. He must so far as possible be 
removed from human infirmity. Like tbe fugitive Levite 
he must renounce his kindred. A priest may defile him- 

1 Cf. Gal. iii. 17 Sia9^jKt]v irpoKeKvpai/ievrjv uird tov 0eov 5 . . . vo/tos ovk disvpoi 
ds t& Karapr/rjacu. ri)v kmyyehlav. 

2 Luke ix. 59 ff. 

3 Luke xiv. 25 f. Matthew (x. 37) mitigates the severity of the demand. 


self for his mother, father, son, daughter, brother, and virgin 
sister ; but not the high priest \ 

So Philo 2 : " The high priest he withdrew from all 
mourning. And reasonably enough. For the services of 
the other priests one can perform in place of another, so 
that even if some are mourning none of the customary 
rites is omitted. But the services of the high priest none 
is permitted to do. For which cause he must remain 
always undefiled without touching a dead body, in order 
that he may be ready at the fitting seasons and perform 
without let or hindrance the prayers and sacrifices on 
behalf of the world. 

" And apart from this, being allotted to God, and having 
become the leader of the holy order, he ought to be 
alienated from all created things. He must not be so 
overcome by affection for parents, or children, or brethren, 
as to postpone any of the holy rites, which were better 
done immediately. The commandments of the law design 
that he become superior to pity, and live always without 
grief. For the law wishes him to partake of a greater 
nature that belongs to man as he approaches nearer to 
the divine nature, being, if one must say the truth, midway 
between both, that through this sort of intermediary men 
may appease God, and God using a kind of underling may 
extend and supply his graces to mankind." 

Jesus then required of his disciples that they should 
devote their lives absolutely to the service of God. This 
sacrifice of human affections he had made himself. 

The first-bom son of his mother, he belonged as such to 
God. " They brought him up to Jerusalem to present 
him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, 
Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to 

1 Lev. xxi : N.B. omission of wife. Compare Deut. xxxiii. 9 (father, 
mother, brethren, children), and Matt. x. 37 (father, mother, son, 
daughter), with Luke xiv. 26 (father, mother, wife, children, brethren, 
and sisters). Compare 1 Cor. vii. 32 £f. 

2 De Monorchia, ii. 12 (p. 230 m). 


the Lord) and to offer sacrifice, according to that which is 
said in the law of the Lord, a pair of doves or two young 
pigeons 1 ." And when the parents brought in the child 
Jesus that they might do according to the custom of the 
Law, Symeon, a just and pious man, who was expecting 
the consolation of Israel, took him in his arms, and under 
the influence of the Holy Spirit acclaimed him as Messiah 2 . 
The story suggests unmistakably that this child could 
not be redeemed by any sacrifice. Nevertheless, it is 
said that " they accomplished all that was according to the 
law of the Lord V This general statement may be held to 
override the impression produced by the description of 
their errand and of the intervention of Symeon and Hanna, 
Even so the next and final tradition preserved in Luke's 
Infancy Gospel proves that the child held himself to be 

" And his parents went every year to Jerusalem at the 
feast of the passover. And when he was twelve years old, 
they went up after the custom of the feast ; and when they 
had fulfilled the days, as they were returning, the boy 
Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem ; and his parents 
knew it not; but supposing him to be in the company, 
they went a day's journey; and they sought for him 
among their kinsfolk and acquaintance: and when they 
found him not, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking for 
him. And it came to pass, after three days they found 
him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both 
hearing them, and asking them questions: and all that 
heard him were amazed at his understanding and his 
answers. And when they saw him, they were astonished : 
and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus 
dealt with us ? behold, thy father and I sought thee sor- 
rowing. And he said unto them, How is it that ye 
sought me? wist ye not that I must be in my Father's 

1 Luke ii. 23 f. 2 Luke ii. 25 ff. 3 Luke ii. 39. 


Different opinions may be held with regard to the value 
of these narratives. If their historicity is denied, one might 
suggest that fiction must be more obviously in keeping 
with the supposed character of its hero than fact, which is 
apt to be irrelevant and inconvenient. In any case, Jesus 
repudiated his mother and his brethren at a later time, 
and commanded his disciples to obey the Scribes' directions. 

The inference is irresistible. For his life or for a term of 
years Jesus of Nazareth had vowed himself to the service 
of the Kingdom of Heaven. Circumstances had changed ; 
say, the husband of his mother died. He had consulted — 
once more — with the doctors of Jerusalem, if haply he might 
be released from the vow. He had no clearness in the 
matter, nor had they. Scripture all but shouts outright 
that vows must be performed. Had he said to his mother, 
" Corban be the good thou mightest have had of me " ? 
So he must say at Cana of Galilee, " Woman, what have 
I to do with thee ? My time is not yet come 1 ." If his vow 
was only for a term of years, did he set his face to go up to 
Jerusalem at the last, because the time had come that he 
should pay his vow ? Certainly death pays all debts ; and, 
dying, Jesus gave his mother a son in place of himself who 
was found and lost at once. 

Whether this be a valid explanation of the intense 
feeling which is evident in the broken saying of Jesus or 
not, at least the conjecture suggests one case, in which the 
formula of interdiction of advantage would be pronounced 
by a son to his parent or parents. If a man believed him- 
self to be a prophet of God, whether sanctified from the 
womb, like Elijah, or called later to the office, like Elisha, 
he must needs say farewell of his father and mother. If 
for any reason, however apparently good, he desired to be 
absolved from the vow of service to God, the Sages or 
Scribes, to whom he must appeal in so weighty a case, had 
to choose between their human instincts and the dictates of 
the Law, between the honour of God and the honour of 

1 John ii. 4. 


parents. The problem rarely occurred, but it was impressive 
and difficult enough to become an academic question for 
the schools. And it is hard to justify any other answer 
than that given by the Scribes to whom Jesus refers. True, 
they cannot have been Pharisees of the ordinary type ; for 
the Pharisees were notorious for their leniency. Perhaps 
they were Scribes of the Sadducees, or shared the unswerv- 
ing and unflinching devotion to the honour of God which 
characterized the school of Shammai. At any rate, if a man 
(as Josephus says) named himself Corban he could not be 
released from his vow before the expiration of the term, 
if any term were specified. It is written in the Law, "When 
thou shalt vow a vow unto Jehovah thy God thou shalt not 
delay to pay it ; for Jehovah thy God will surely require it 
of thee, and it will be sin in thee V And the Preacher 
says, " It is good that thou make no vow, rather than that 
thou shouldest vow and pay not. Give not thy mouth to 
make thy flesh to sin, and say not before the messenger of 
God, It was an error 2 ." 

It is said in the Mishna of the treatise Chagigah 3 that 
" the rules concerning the dissolving of vows fly about in 
the air and there is nothing upon which they can rest." 
But in the Gemara a Baraita is appended which gives 
some passages of Scripture to which various Rabbis 
appealed in support of their various decisions. "Rabbi 
Eliezer says they have something upon which they may 
rest, for it is said 'when bs shall separate,' 'when he 
shall separate' twice. Onu separation has to do with 
binding and one separation with dissolving." This 
interpretation of the repeated phrase is disallowed by 
R. Tarphon on the ground that " the state of the Nazirite 
is not given except on condition of separation 4 ." 

1 Deut. xxiii. 21-23 ; compare Num. xxx. 2 Eccles. v. 4-6. 

3 Streane's translation, p. 47. 

4 Ibid., p. 48. See Lev. xxvii. 2 ; Num. vi. 2. The precise meaning 
of the expression is uncertain. Gray renders : When any man or woman 
shall discharge a vow, with the note, that this, to discharge or accomplish 


The fact is that the justification of the dissolution or 
remission of a vow taxed the ingenuity of the Rabbis to 
the utmost. As men they felt that it was necessary in 
certain circumstances. As God's ministers they felt that 
even so it was contrary to the honour of God. The point 
at issue is the sanctity of the vow. Herein Scripture 
conflicted with Scripture, and only God, some thought 
with Philo, could resolve the controversy. "There are 
some who say that they will not have so-and-so or so-and-so 
to share board or roof with them, or again that they 
will not confer any benefit upon so-and-so or receive 
anything from him till death. And sometimes even after 
the death they are still irreconcileable, refusing in wills 
even to the dead bodies the performance of the customary 
offices. Such I would counsel to conciliate the Deity with 
prayers and sacrifices that they may win some treatment of 
the soul-sicknesses, which no man is competent to heal V 

For Philo vows are of the nature of a sacrament which 
is vitiated by any change of purpose in the mind of the 
person who makes the vow. So commenting on the 
Scripture, " And God blessed the seventh day and hallowed 
it," he says : — 

"The characters formed according to the seventh and 
truly divine light God blesses and straightway declares 
holy. For he that deserves blessing (6 evXoyia-Tos) and he 
that is holy are near akin to each other. Therefore of him 
that vowed the great vow it saith, that if a sudden turning 
swoop down and defile the mind no longer shall he be 
holy 2 ." 

And again, commenting on the vrordfound in the passage 
" Noah found grace before the Lord God," he distinguishes 

a vow, is a sense which satisfies all passages, though how it was acquired 
is not clear. Numbers I. C. C, pp. 61 and 64. 

1 Philo, ii, 273 m. 

a p. 46 m. The reference is to Nam. vi. 9, " And if any man die very 
suddenly beside him and he defile the head of his separation " ; but Philo 
substitutes his spiritual interpretation for the actual letter. 


between finding (eijpe<n$) and recovery (avevpe<n$), and 
says : — 

" Of the former the regulations of the great vow are the 
clearest example. A vow is a request for good things from 
God ; but the great vow is to reckon God in himself alone 
as the cause of good things apart from the co-operation of 
any secondary cause which appears to bestow any advan- 
tage — such as the soil as fertile, the rains as giving in- 
crease to seeds and plants, the air as capable of nourishing 
them, agriculture as cause of crops, or physic as cause of 
health, or marriage as cause of birth of children. For all 
these secondary causes by God's power admit of changes 
and turnings, so that often they produce abnormal and 
extraordinary results. Him therefore Moses pronounces 
holy who nourisheth the hair of his head, meaning the man 
who increases the summary shoots of virtue's decisions in 
his mind, and in a manner wears his hair long and prides 
himself thereon. But sometimes he flings them off when a 
whirlwind, so to say, swoops down upon the soul, and 
snatches away all its noble thoughts. Now this whirlwind 
is a certain unconscious turning, which suddenly pollutes 
the mind and is called death. Nevertheless he puts it 
away in its turn, and being cleansed takes up and remem- 
bers what he had forgotten, and finds what he cast 
away. . . . 1 " 

But Philo describes those who take this vow as " having 
become by excess of misanthropy unsociable and aloof in 
nature " ; and in his treatise on Right-swearing he clearly 
deprecates the practice. In this he agrees with R. Aqiba, 
who summed the sense of Scripture in two sayings; — 
" Vows are a fence to purity 2 ," and " Be not rash in vows 
lest thou violate oaths 3 ." The Jews of Alexandria, like 
the Jews of Galilee, were apparently given to much 
swearing ; and the Rabbis were concerned to eradicate 
this fault. Even the solemn formula of the Nazirite vow 

1 p. 285 m (ed, Cohn and Wendland, vol. II, p. 75). 

a Bacher, Ag. Pal. Tann., i. 276. 3 Bacher, op. cit., p. 280. 


had become a mere oath uttered vainly and with no 
righteous purpose. In such circumstances the refusal of 
absolution, carrying with it exclusion from the promise 
of life, was the proper penalty. Moses said, "He that 
curseth or dishonoureth father or mother must die." Jesus 
himself cited the Scripture, and did not plead for any 
mitigation of the sentence. 

So Philo : " Him that sweareth vainly in an unjust 
cause, God, who is gracious in nature, will never free from 
guilt — for such an one is unclean and foul — though he 
escape punishment from men. But he will never go scot- 
free, for there are thousands of watchers, zealots for the 
Lord, exact guardians of the ancestral customs." 

Here then is a clue to the connexion of Jesus' reply 
with the original question. His disciples are ceremonially 
unclean ; and so are the disciples of the Pharisees. " These 


proverb has it. " Some have such easiness in the matter 
of swearing that passing by all created things they dare to 
run up in their speech to the maker and father of the 
universe, without first examining places if they be profane 
or sacred, times if they be suitable, themselves if they be 
clean in body or soul, matters if they be important, or needs 
if they be urgent. No, as the saying goes, with unwashen 
hands 1 , confounding everything, they swear as if it were 
necessary, since nature provided them with a tongue, to use 
it loosed and unbridled for illegitimate ends 2 ." 

The multiplication of religious observances is a danger. 
Familiarity may breed contempt in the case of meals as in 
the case of vows. The Scribes were witnesses to the 
danger which existed in respect of the latter. The mea- 
sures which they adopted accord with the saying of Jesus, 

1 Compare Hesiod, Works and Days, 724-6 : 

fafii for' i£ jjovs Ai'J KelPe/iev cuffoira oTvov 

Xepvi" &viirroiaiv firjS' &\Xois aOavarourtv 

oi yap rolye uXiovoiv mroTiTiovai 54 r' apas. 

8 Tlfpl tiopxias ii. 


" But I say to you " — whatever more lenient teachers may 
say — "every idle word which men shall speak, they shall 
give account concerning it in the day of judgment. For 
out of thy words thou shalt be justified and out of thy 
words thou shalt be condemned 1 ." 

Jesus will have nothing to do with the charitable expe- 
dients devised by the Pharisees for the relief of their 
disciples : — " Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, 
Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing ; but 
whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a 
debtor. Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the 
gold, or the temple that hath sanctified the gold ? And, 
Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but 
whosoever shall swear by the gift that is upon it, he is a 
debtor. Ye blind : for whether is greater, the gift, or the 
altar that sanctifieth the gift? He therefore that sweareth 
by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon. 
And he that sweareth by the temple, sweareth by it, and 
by him that dwelleth therein. And he that sweareth by 
the heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him 
that sitteth thereon V 

To refrain altogether from swearing is the only safe 
course : — " Again, ye have heard that it was said to them 
of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt 
perform unto the Lord thine oaths : but I say unto you, 
Swear not at all; neither by the heaven, for it is the 
throne of God ; nor by the earth, for it is the footstool of 
his feet ; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great 
King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, for thou 
canst not make one hair white or black. But let your 
speech be, Yea, yea ; Nay, nay : and whatsoever is more 
than these is of the evil one 3 ." 

It remains to examine briefly the details of this descrip- 
tion of the conflict between the ancient and the modern 

1 Matt. xii. 36 f. a Matt, xxiii. 16-22. 3 Matt. vi. 33-37. 



The former of the two sayings of Moses is the text 
by which the Rabbis of the school of Eliezer would seek 
to open the way for the dissolution of the vow. "Were 
you," they would say to the penitent delinquent, " conscious 
of this chief commandment, when you made the vow from 
which you seek release ? " It is indeed incredible that a 
Jew should have been able to forget the honour of parents. 
But anger, as Philo says, is a despotic mistress; and the 
Pharisees were indulgent to human infirmity. 

The second saying of Moses lays down the penalty 
proper to the infringement of the first. But according to 
Mark it was quoted in the form he that curseth (bbpv) 
instead of he that dishonoured (rbp'o). The difference 
between the Hebrew words is slight enough ; but to curse 
is clearly a greater crime than to dishonour. If the Greek 
represent faithfully the form of words used by Jesus, the 
offence of the penitent is even more unpardonable. He 
has interdicted himself from the honour of parents, and 
has also prostituted the Corban formula, using it not 
merely as an oath, but as a curse. It is a breach of the 
third and the fourth commandments in one. "If a man 
revile those whom he ought to bless or in any other way 
do anything to the dishonour of parents, let him die V 

The formula of interdiction of benefits as given by Mark 
is a literal translation of that quoted in the treatise 
Nedarim. There is a story of a man in Bethhoron, who 
pronounced it against his father, and repented. The vow 
was irrevocable ; and he was overreached by the friend 
-whom he employed to evade it. Such a case is quite 
exceptional. It was the duty of parents to provide for 
their children, not of children to provide for their parents. 
But the benefits for which a parent naturally looks to his 
son must not be restricted too rigidly to maintenance. 
There are other practical proofs of the right honouring of 
father and mother a . 

Nevertheless, when Philo refers to such as make this vow 

1 Philo. 2 See Ecclus. iii. 


he mentions only husband, father, and ruler. " If these," 
he says, "pronounce the nurture due to wife, son, and 
subject sacred, they must withhold it. It is no longer theirs. 
If they repent or correct what they said, then their life also 
is forfeit 1 ." 

If a vow be meant in this saying of Jesus, we are shut 
up to the case of the Nazirite or quasi-Nazirite. If the 
formula be used as a mere oath or curse, we must consider 
the case of a man who, in spite of this sin, has prospered 
while his father fell into want. Once more Philo comes 
to our aid and states a case in point. 

One of the richer class lately embraced an extravagant 
and luxurious life. An old kinsman or a friend of his 
father came and admonished him, counselling him to 
change his mode of life in the direction of a greater 
seemliness and austerity. Angered immeasurably at the 
counsel, he swore that he would be as contentious as his 
betters — that so long as he had the means he would never 
economize, in town or country, in his travels on land or on 
water, but always and everywhere he would display his 
wealth 2 . 

Suppose that the father lived and had only given his son 
the portion of the inheritance which belonged to him — and 
you have the Parable of the Prodigal Son 3 with another 
ending to serve as an example. 

It is written in the Law : " And it shall come to pass, 
when your children shall say unto you, What mean ye by 
this service? that ye shall say, It is the sacrifice of the 
Lord's passover, who passed over the houses of the children 
of Israel in Egypt, when he smote the Egyptians and 
delivered our houses." This is the function of the child to 
get and to keep a firm hold upon the significance of 
familiar ceremonies, lest they become mere ceremonies and 
nothing more. And this is also the function of Jesus, 

1 Philo apud Euseb. Prep. Ev., viii. 7. 

2 Philo, ii, 273 m. s Luke xv. 11 ff. 



who thanked God that his secrets were revealed unto 
babes and sucklings. " Vere scire est per causas scire." 

Like Socrates at Athens, Jesus went about stirring men, 
confronting them with their inconsistencies, and compelling 
them to answer the question, What mean ye by this ser- 
vice — and this — and this ? 

There is a Baraita — an Agraphon 1 : On the same day, 
Jesus, seeing one working on the Sabbath, said to him, 
Man, if thou knowest what thou dost blessed art 
thou ; but, if thou knowest not, cursed art thou, and 
a transgressor of the law. 

J. H. A. Hart. 

1 Found in Codex Bezae, Luke vi. 5.