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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.


By James Darmesteter (1849–1894)

From ‘Selected Essays’

JUDAISM has not made the miraculous the basis of its dogma, nor installed the supernatural as a permanent factor in the progress of events. Its miracles, from the time of the Middle Ages, are but a poetic detail, a legendary recital, a picturesque decoration; and its cosmogony, borrowed in haste from Babylon by the last compiler of the Bible, with the stories of the apple and the serpent, over which so many Christian generations have labored, never greatly disturbed the imagination of the rabbis, nor weighed very heavily upon the thought of the Jewish philosophers. Its rites were never “an instrument of faith,” an expedient to “lull” rebellious thought into faith; they are merely cherished customs, a symbol of the family, of transitory value, and destined to disappear when there shall be but one family in a world converted to the one truth. Set aside all these miracles, all these rites, and behind them will be found the two great dogmas which, ever since the prophets, constitute the whole of Judaism—the Divine unity and Messianism; unity of law throughout the world, and the terrestrial triumph of justice in humanity. These are the two dogmas which at the present time illuminate humanity in its progress, both in the scientific and social order of things, and which are termed in modern parlance unity of forces and belief in progress.

For this reason, Judaism is the only religion that has never entered into conflict, and never can, with either science or social progress, and that has witnessed, and still witnesses, all their conquests without a sense of fear. These are not hostile forces that it accepts or submits to merely from a spirit of toleration or policy, in order to save the remains of its power by a compromise. They are old friendly voices, which it recognizes and salutes with joy; for it has heard them resound for centuries already, in the axioms of free thought and in the cry of the suffering heart. For this reason the Jews, in all the countries which have entered upon the new path, have begun to take a share in all the great works of civilization, in the triple field of science, of art, and of action; and that share, far from being an insignificant one, is out of all proportion to the brief time that has elapsed since their enfranchisement.

Does this mean that Judaism should nurse dreams of ambition, and think of realizing one day that “invisible church of the future” invoked by some in prayer? This would be an illusion, whether on the part of a narrow sectarian, or on that of an enlightened individual. The truth however remains, that the Jewish spirit can still be a factor in this world, making for the highest science, for unending progress; and that the mission of the Bible is not yet complete. The Bible is not responsible for the partial miscarriage of Christianity, due to the compromises made by its organizers, who, in their too great zeal to conquer and convert Paganism, were themselves converted by it. But everything in Christianity which comes in a direct line from Judaism lives, and will live; and it is Judaism which through Christianity has cast into the old polytheistic world, to ferment there until the end of time, the sentiment of unity, and an impatience to bring about charity and justice. The reign of the Bible, and also of the Evangelists in so far as they were inspired by the Bible, can become established only in proportion as the positive religions connected with it lose their power. Great religions outlive their altars and their priests. Hellenism, abolished, counts less skeptics to-day than in the days of Socrates and Anaxagoras. The gods of Homer died when Phidias carved them in marble, and now they are immortally enthroned in the thought and heart of Europe. The Cross may crumble into dust, but there were words spoken under its shadow in Galilee, the echo of which will forever vibrate in the human conscience. And when the nation who made the Bible shall have disappeared,—the race and the cult,—though leaving no visible trace of its passage upon earth, its imprint will remain in the depth of the heart of generations, who will, unconsciously perhaps, live upon what has thus been implanted in their breasts. Humanity, as it is fashioned in the dreams of those who desire to be called freethinkers, may with the lips deny the Bible and its work; but humanity can never deny it in its heart, without the sacrifice of the best that it contains, faith in unity and hope for justice, and without a relapse into the mythology and the “might makes right” of thirty centuries ago.