The Ten Commandments
A book by Joseph Lewis
The Eighth Commandment
Just as there are children born with deformed limbs and crippled bones, so some are born with warped and distorted mentalities. As it would be the height of folly to force a child with physical deformities of sight, of speech or of limb to attempt to see, to speak or to walk as well as those who are physically normal, so it is equally absurd to expect those who are mentally deficient to behave like those who possess normal mentalities. No normal person would steal without some motive, and no normal person would steal if he knew that he would be caught, the stolen goods taken from him, and punishment inflicted for his act.
The ordinary thief steals for a reason. He thinks before he acts, and chooses the most profitable undertaking for the risks involved. But there are some people who have no reason to steal, and who know that the stolen article will be taken from them and restored to the rightful owner, who steal because they cannot help themselves. We call such persons "kleptomaniacs."
To the kleptomaniac, stealing is a compulsion, and precepts and advice are utterly useless against the irresistible desire that obsesses him. The kleptomaniac is no more responsible for his acts than is the crippled child who fails to walk as perfectly as the normal child. Scientific research in this field has confirmed this. In fact, in some forms of post-epileptic automatism the sufferer steals without knowing it, and is embarrassed and chagrined when he learns what he has done. Are the acts of kleptomaniacs to be condemned as thefts and in violation of this Commandment?
Many kleptomaniacs have a neurotic sexual complex. Stealing with them becomes a fetish of an almost ineradicable nature. Honest and scrupulous in all other dealings, they are unable to restrain themselves when confronted with the object that arouses their erotic desires. The articles stolen are shoes, caps, garters, gloves, pencils and other things.
Not all forms of kleptomania, however, arise from sexual neuroses, nor is it a respecter of social standing. It affects people in all walks of life and all classes of society -- the rich and the poor, the cultured and the uncultured, the educated and the ignorant. Persons of high social standing and of substantial wealth have been known to steal from their closest associates. Their acts generally do not come to public attention, but enough instances are recorded in the press to substantiate the above facts. Recently "a highly respected woman principal of a public school was revealed as a kleptomaniac who had been stealing personal belongings for several years from men and women connected with the Parent-Teachers Association. Almost invariably some minor belonging or small sum of money would disappear from the pocket of one of those at the parties. Most of the time the articles or cash were so unimportant no mention was made of it." [*34]
Particularly during pregnancy are women subject to these emotional disturbances. The following case has innumerable counterparts: A young married woman, on becoming pregnant, would experience a strong impulse to steal which she found difficult to repress; if she succeeded in repressing the impulses of theft, she began to vomit, undoubtedly owing to the conflict of reactions -- that of restraining her dishonest impulses or suffering digestive disturbances. [*35]
We do not have to go to the physician's laboratory to find cases of unusual and peculiar circumstances which prompt people to steal. The following is extremely interesting:
"Four times have expectant babies made Marion Hacket, twenty-seven, a criminal and sent her to jail. Four have been born in jail. Only two have lived. With bowed head she blamed her past misdeeds on her physical condition, which she said upset her mentally. A jury took pity on her when she told them that her fourth child had been born only a month and a half ago on Welfare Island, where she has been held awaiting trial on a second-degree larceny charge." [*36]
Dr. Grah, lately physician to the Ameer of Afghanistan, relates the case of a man whose right arm was chopped off as the penalty for stealing. Though he knew the severe punishment that would be exacted for a second offense, he stole again shortly after, was caught, and deprived of his left arm. Still unable to curb his propensity for stealing, he used the stumps of his arms and stole a cheap piece of earthenware. Easily apprehended, because the act had been committed in broad daylight before many people, he was convicted and sentenced to have his head cut off. [*37]
A female thief told the matron of a prison that she tried very hard to refrain from stealing; "but it wasn't to be. I was obliged to steal, or to watch for someone to steal from. I did try my best, but it couldn't be helped, and here I am. It wasn't my fault exactly, but I did try." [*38] A pickpocket said: "When I see anyone pass with a watch in his pocket, even though I have no need of money, I feel a real need to take it." Dostoievsky, the Russian novelist, tells of a thief who was devoted to him. He says: "He sometimes stole from me, but it was always involuntary; he scarcely ever borrowed from me, so evidently what attracted him was not money or other interested motive." [*39]
Recently a retired business man was arrested on charges of petty larceny. He was discovered taking small coins -- five and ten cent pieces -- from newsstands while the attendants were away. His acts become the more inexplicable because when questioned by the police he had more than $1,300.00 in his possession; in addition, his police record disclosed the fact that he had committed similar crimes on several other occasions! [*40]
Every day in the week persons charged with stealing, which was prompted by circumstances utterly beyond their control, are brought into the courtroom. The grave question is whether they are thieves by choice or necessity, and whether a voluntary or involuntary act of theft should be equally condemned and punished. The cold gray bars of a prison cell, even the threat of eternal damnation, cannot restrain those who have an uncontrollable obsession for taking what does not belong to them.
Is this Commandment to apply to each and every individual regardless of his mental or physical condition on the theory of "free will" -- that is, that each individual is fully cognizant of what is right and what is wrong and is therefore responsible for his acts? If man were a free agent, as religion tells us he is, he would be fortified against dishonest teachings by knowing instinctively their wrong implications. To apply this Commandment, with all its vengeful implications, to the kleptomaniac, is just as ridiculous as to tell an insane person not to talk irrationally. [**41] Precept and moral suasion to the kleptomaniac are utterly useless.
We cannot in justice condemn a person suffering from kleptomania any more than we can justifiably punish a man suffering from a disease which he contracted through no fault of his own. Kleptomania is recognized as a disease by the medical profession, and deserves the same careful medical attention as any of the other ills "that flesh is heir to." The mere existence of such a disease as kleptomania should be sufficient to invalidate the claim of religion that this Commandment is an inflexible precept applicable to all people, under all circumstances, at all times.
Stealing as a Taboo in Tribal Society
In analyzing the Sixth Commandment, we discovered that unless we knew exactly what was meant by the words, "Thou shalt not kill," the Commandment was meaningless. If literally interpreted, it would be impossible to observe, since some form of killing takes place every moment of the day, and will continue to take place as long as the present pattern of living prevails in which one form of life must subsist on the other. This premise is also applicable to the Eighth Commandment. For just as killing in some form takes place every moment of the day and night, so some form of "stealing" is committed.
Just as I have shown that the Sixth Commandment was based on the fear of blood pollution, so I shall prove that a similar taboo is the basis of this Commandment. This is borne out by the use of curses on a thief in the tribe who has escaped apprehension and thereby avoided punishment. Not only do we find Biblical references to support this practice, but it prevailed in other primitive societies.
Among the Samoans, when a theft has been committed in a garden, the owner shouts: "May fire blast the eyes of the person who has stolen my bananas." It is essentially an appeal to the god of the tribe to wreak vengeance on the culprit. A curse very often caused fear and consternation that few other things could produce. The usual curse among the Luang-Sermata was "Evil shall devour you! Lightning shall strike you!" And again, "May the thief be eaten by a white shark." [*42] The application of the curse in connection with thievery was also prevalent among the Arabs. They cursed the thief in order to recover the stolen goods. A taboo was always associated with a curse. [**43]
The Samoans also have a system for the enforcement of property rights. In the case of a theft, the injured party gives the priest a fee of mats. The priest places a curse on the thief; the latter, fearful of the fulfillment of the curse, deposits at the door of the priest an equivalent for the stolen property. [*44] Many superstitious people today believe they can punish a thief by this method.
In primitive times, it was extremely effective. Generally the curse invoked the threat of illness on the culprit, and as he, in the natural course of events, was bound sooner or later to become ill, he would confess and return the property for fear of further punishment. When the curse seemed ineffective, the priest, then as now, conveniently left the matter to God's judgment. [*45] The curse called down on him for stealing, and not the ethical implication of the act, was the effective deterrent to a thief in primitive times.
The primitive origin of this Commandment and its exclusive application to members within the tribe become apparent from a study of the laws and taboos of uncivilized societies.
Property rights are respected within each community, and severe penalties inflicted for violations. However, stealing from neighboring or enemy tribes was never considered ethically wrong. On the contrary, the most daring thief was considered the most honored member of the tribe.
Among the Mbayas the law, "Thou shalt not steal," applies only to tribesmen and allies, not to strangers and enemies. The Tehuelches of Patagonia, although honest among themselves, have no scruples in stealing from anyone outside the tribe. The Abipones, who never took anything from their own countrymen, used to rob and murder the Spaniards, whom they considered their enemies. The high standard of honesty which prevailed among the North American Indians did not apply to foreigners, especially white men, whom they thought it no shame to rob or cheat. A theft from a member of another band was no crime; a theft from one of their own band was the greatest of crimes.
If anything is stolen from his home during his absence, a Guiana Indian thinks that the article has been carried away by someone not of his own race. Among some Eskimos, it is believed that to steal boldly and adroitly from a stranger is an act of heroism. [*46]
Of the Greenlanders it is said that if they can purloin or even forcibly seize the property of another, it is a feather in their cap, while stealing from people of the same village or tribe is regarded as wrong. The Savage Islanders consider theft from a tribesman a vice, but theft from a member of another tribe a virtue. Among the Masai, the warriors and old men have a profound contempt for a thief, but they do not consider cattle-raiding from neighboring tribes stealing. The Arab was proud of robbing his enemies and of bringing away by stealth what he could not have taken by open force, [*47] yet if he stole from a tribesman he was dishonored.
Although the Bible is a veritable encyclopedia of stories of theft and murder, one instance will be sufficient to indicate that this Commandment was not intended as a moral precept of honesty. Moses tells the Children of Israel how to acquire the property of others in Exodus, Chapter 3, verses 21 and 22:
21. And I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and it shall come to pass that, when ye go, ye shall not go empty:
22. But every woman shall borrow of her neighbor, and of her that sojourneth in her house, jewels of silver and jewels of gold, and raiment; and ye shall put them upon your sons and upon your daughters; and ye shall spoil the Egyptians.
The Children of Israel faithfully carried out Moses' instructions and believed they were doing the will of their God when they deceived the Egyptians. As one writer has stated, [*48] this was not a momentary freak of fraudulence or a sudden succumbing to temptation, but was perpetrated under the firm belief that they were acting with the favor and approval of their God.
Why was such an event recorded with such shameless pride in the Bible? The answer is simply that at that time despoiling others was considered an achievement of tribal cunning. Today such acts are condemned as downright deception and thievery. This event is not only proof of the tribal concept of morality exhibited by the early Hebrews, but is also pertinent evidence that ethics develop by an evolutionary process.
Peoples of low moral standard do not have to wait for wars to practice deception. It has been definitely established that during the Middle Ages, throughout most of Europe, it seemed to be tacitly agreed that foreigners were created for the sole purpose of being robbed; [*49] and this, during the time that a particular religious belief held absolute dominance over the people in almost every department of human activity. The clannishness of religion accounts for many of the unnecessary ills of mankind. Once religious delusions have been eradicated and man devotes his energies to solving his own problems, many of the ills that affect us will vanish as if by magic.
Not only was stealing permissible in primitive societies, but it was a settled principle of conduct that the greater the degree of deception practiced on a "stranger," the more laudable was the transaction considered. The early Hebrews were no different in this respect from the Balantis of Africa, who punished with death a theft committed to the detriment of a tribesman, but encouraged and rewarded thievery from other tribes. [*50]
Knowing nothing of the moral value of honesty, the authors of the Bible cannot be credited with a comprehension of ethical ideals attained more than two thousand years after their time. We cannot, of course, condemn them for their tribal code. We merely believe that this primitive concept of moral conduct should not be imposed on a civilization whose cultural level is separated by an evolutionary progress of nearly thirty centuries.
The Sin of Stealing and the Removal of Landmarks
As previously stated, the primitive mentality knew nothing about ethics or ethical conduct as we understand these conceptions today. In view of this, what was the meaning of the words, "Thou shalt not steal"? Could they have originated as a curse for committing a particular theft?
The only method known in early Biblical times to determine the ownership of land was by the partition known as "landmarks," and to remove them was condemned as both stealing and a "sin." J. M. Powis Smith, [*51] noted Hebrew scholar, states that removing a neighbor's landmark was condemned by Hebrew law as a crime equivalent to land-stealing, and the noted legal authority, John M. Zane, states that the injunction, "Do not remove thy neighbor's landmark," became a curse in the minatory law. [*52]
Probably as significant as anything that might be adduced concerning the association of this Commandment with the removal of landmarks are the following Biblical quotations from Deuteronomy, Chapter 19, verse 14, and Chapter 27, verse 17:
Thou shalt not remove thy neighbor's landmark, which they of old time have sent in thine inheritance which thou shalt inherit in the land that the Lord thy God giveth thee to possess it.
Cursed be he that removeth his neighbor's landmark; and all the people shall say, Amen.
This belief was prevalent in nearly all primitive societies. Both among the ancient Greeks and Babylonians, landmarks were inscribed with curses on those who removed them. Among the latter is found this inscription: "Upon this man may the great gods Anu, Bel, Ea and Nuska look wrathfully, uproot his foundation and destroy his offspring." [*53]
Since removing a landmark was condemned as a theft and a sin, and since this is the only theft so condemned by the tribal Hebrews, one can well understand how this prohibition might have been restated in the words of the present Commandment. This is exceedingly pertinent when studied in the light of the fact that the Israelites were driven from their land, and a "landmark" no longer had any significance for them in their wanderings over the earth. How futile to have such a Commandment as part of the Decalogue when there was no land to protect, particularly when the reward for observing one of the Commandments was the Biblical Deity's guarantee of their long tenure on the land he supposedly had given them. The reward for observing this edict, as stated in the verses quoted above, is strikingly similar to that offered for the observance of the Fifth Commandment.
This Commandment, "Thou shalt not steal," seems to be but a restatement of the verses quoted above, and to have nothing whatever to do with the moral question of honesty as understood today. If this premise is correct, it is a taboo of primitive superstition and belongs in the same category as the previous ones.
Perhaps this is more understandable when analyzed in the light of Frazer's observation that "there may survive not a few old savage taboos which ... have maintained their credit long after the crude ideas out of which they sprang have been discarded by the progress of thought and knowledge." [*54]
Significant evidence in favor of this premise also lies in the fact that the language used in the Ninth and Tenth Commandments is identical in structure and meaning with the prohibition, "Thou shalt not remove thy neighbor's landmark." [**55] There is more, however, than similarity of expression involved in these Commandments. There is a continuity of thought in behalf of tribal solidarity, and a close relationship with the Fifth Commandment in the matter of reward. When the Children of Israel were driven from their land, the Commandment dealing with landmarks had to be changed. And since removing the landmark was condemned as stealing, it is easily understood how this taboo was restated in the words of the present Commandment to be applicable to other tribal thefts. There are no original sources to which one can refer for verification of this premise, but a study of early society and the Bible itself seem to make it indisputable. To restate ancient taboos in words of their original meaning has many difficulties, due to the limitations of language and the changing meanings of words. Many acts are placed in one classification that have many meanings, and require an explanation of the words applied to them to be properly understood. [*56] In using words dealing with ancient customs and beliefs, we are more than likely to misunderstand their actual meanings by confusing them with their present-day use, unless we are familiar with their anthropological derivations. There is no better example of the deficiency of language than this Commandment, which originally was never even remotely applicable to honest conduct in the present sense of the word. [*57]
In many primitive communities, removing a landmark has been regarded as a sinful act because of the nature of the taboo placed upon it. In the South Sea Islands, it is a common practice to protect property by making it taboo. Thus, any attempt to use it incurred the curse of the gods. [*58] In Polynesia, the mark of taboo on property often consists of a wooden image of a man stuck in the ground. The scarecrow which we so frequently see in fields and pastures is a survival of this taboo. In Samoa, all kinds of weird figures are used for the purpose of a taboo which acts as a powerful check on stealing, especially from fruit trees and plantations. Innumerable instances could be given, but one should suffice. The "cross-stick taboo" consisted of a stick suspended horizontally from the tree, and implied that any thief who touched the tree would catch a disease running right across his body which would remain fixed until he died. [*59] Of the Barotse we are told that when they do not want a thing touched, they spit on straws and stick them all about the object. When a Balonda has placed a beehive on a tree, he ties a "piece of medicine" round the trunk, which he believes will prove sufficient protection against thieves. Jacob of Edessa tells of a Syrian priest who wrote a curse and hung it on a tree so that nobody would dare to eat the fruit. It is said that in the early days of Islam a man reserved water for his own use by hanging some fringes of his red blanket on a tree beside it. [*60]
The natives of Timor in the Pacific Islands believe that a taboo is just as effective as traps and dogs in driving away thieves from their property. Among the Washambala, the owner of a field sometimes puts a stick in a banana leaf on the road, believing that anybody who enters the field without permission "will be subject to the curse of this charm."
The Wadahagga protect a doorless hut against burglars by placing a banana leaf over the threshold, and any maliciously inclined person who dares to step over it is supposed to become ill and die. [*61] The Akka "stick an arrow in a bunch of bananas still on the stalk to mark it as their own when ripe," and then not even the owner of the tree would think of touching the fruits claimed by another. When Brazilian Indians leave their huts, they often wind a piece of the same material round the latch of the door; sometimes they hang baskets, rags or flaps of bark on their landmarks.
Sympathetic-magic rites were not confined to aborigines. There was a province in Arabia where laying stones on an enemy's ground meant that the owner would be visited with fearful consequences if he cultivated the land. So great was the fear of such stones that nobody would go near a field where they were placed, and this practice was eventually condemned as a "sin." [*62]
The Etruscan placed the following curse on anyone who touched or displaced a boundary mark: such a person shall be condemned by the gods; his house shall disappear; his race shall be extinguished; his limbs shall be covered with ulcers and waste away; his land shall no longer produce fruits; hail, rust and fires of the dog-star shall destroy his harvests. "And," says Westermarck, "considering the important part played by blood as a conductor of imprecations, it is not improbable that the Roman ceremony of letting the blood of a sacrificial animal flow into the hole where a landmark was to be placed was intended to give efficacy to the curse. [*63]
In England, until very recently, the annual custom of "beating the hounds" was observed. This ceremony was accompanied by religious services during which a clergyman invoked a curse on anyone who trespassed on his neighbor's land, and blessings on him who regarded the landmarks. [*64]
In addition to the belief that the remover of a landmark will be cursed for his deed, there are many other superstitions associated with landmarks and their removal. In Teutonic and Scandinavian lands, it is believed that the Jack-o'-lantern is the ghost of a former remover of a landmark who now haunts it and the boundary lines. In popular Hindu belief, the ghost of a former proprietor will not allow the people of another village to encroach with impunity on a boundary. In South India, witches were believed to ride on a tiger around the boundaries of seven villages at night. In the Hebrides, blight could be removed from cattle by bringing the carcass of one near a boundary stream; the water from such a stream was used with silver to remove the curse of the evil eye. [*65]
The old inhabitants of Cumana, on the Caribbean Sea, used to mark off their plantations by a single cotton thread, believing that anybody tampering with this boundary mark would speedily die. A similar idea prevails among the Indians of the Amazon. In Ceylon, to prevent fruit from being stolen, the people hang up certain grotesque figures around the orchard and dedicate it to the devils, after which ceremony none of the native Ceylonese will dare even to touch the fruit on any account. On the landmarks of the ancient Babylonians, generally consisting of stone pillars in the form of phalli, imprecations were inscribed with appeals to various deities. [*66]
Even the Romans came under the influence of this taboo. Jupiter Terminalis was the god of boundaries. According to Roman tradition, Numa directed that everyone should mark the bounds of his landed property by stones consecrated to the god Jupiter, to whom sacrifices should be offered at the festival of the Terminalia. "If any person demolished or displaced these stones, he should be looked upon as devoted to this god, to the end that anybody might kill him as a sacrilegious person with impunity and without being defiled with guilt." [*67] That this prevailed among the Egyptians and was then considered stealing, is substantiated by Professor James H. Breasted, who shows it was stressed in the code of Amenemope, which long antedated the Mosaic precept. [*68]
In Greece, land boundaries were supposed to be protected by the god Zeus. This is mentioned by Plato in his "Laws": "Let no one shift the boundary line either of a fellow citizen who is a neighbor, or if he dwells at the extremity of the land, or any stranger which is conterminous with him. Everyone should be more willing to move the largest rock which is not a landmark, than the last stone which is the sworn mark of friendship and hatred between neighbors; for Zeus, the god of kindred, is witness of the citizen, and Zeus, the god of strangers, of the stranger, and, when aroused, terrible are the wars which they stir up. He who obeys the law will never know the fatal consequences of disobedience, but he who despises the law shall be liable to a double penalty, the first coming from the gods, and the second from the law." Such was the belief in nearly all ancient societies; the removal of landmarks constituted a "sin" in the sight of the gods and would be punished severely. In Palestine today, and even here among farm owners, the taboo still persists to such a degree that nobody dares to touch the piles of stone which are placed on the boundaries of landed property. [*69]
No group can survive without some regulations regarding the acquisition of those things on which life depends, and this is true even of the animal world. Property rights are as respected among animals as among men. Experience must have taught them that if one does not respect the rights of others within the group, others may not respect his rights, and therefore the animal that steals is punished.
Animals protect their food and other property in a manner similar to that of primitive man. Some rub their bodies against trees and other places which they seek to mark as their own. The individual body odor identifies the spot. The squirrel marks his food with his saliva. It is then unmistakably his and is then buried for future use. No other squirrel would dare appropriate that food unless he were prepared for a bitter struggle. [*70]
Bears have been known not only to mark trees with the odor of their bodies by rubbing against them, but to claw them in such a way that they leave a mark of identification. Woe to the animal that seeks to take away these possessions! A struggle to the death ensues. If a stronger animal seeks to wrest the property from a weaker one, the whole pack pounces on him, and he is either killed or driven off. That is the penalty the creature must pay for stealing another's "landmark." [**71] Animals do this without the inspired help of a Moses because honesty is a self-regulating force, not because of its inherent moral value, but because of the necessity for self-preservation.
Despite the fact that this Commandment, "Thou shalt not remove thy neighbor's landmark," was discarded when the Children of Israel were driven from the land of their forebears, the taboo associated with it was not so easily eradicated. The belief in its efficacy persisted long after its original purpose had been abandoned, and it was restated in the present words of this Commandment. This is evidenced by the transference of its application to the Hebrew custom of using the mezuzeh, which is still widespread among the orthodox. The mezuzeh is a small wooden, glass or metal case or tube containing a rectangular piece of parchment inscribed with a Bible passage from the Book of Deuteronomy, Chapter 6, verses 4 to 9, and Chapter 11, verses 13 to 21. The text had to be printed in twenty-two lines equally spaced in order to possess magical powers.
4. Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord:
5. And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.
6. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart.
7. And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.
8. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes.
9. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.
13. And it shall come to pass, if ye shall hearken diligently unto my commandments which I command you this day, to love the Lord your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.
14. That I will give you the rain of your land in his due season, the first rain and the latter rain, that thou mayest gather in thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil.
15. And I will send grass in thy fields for thy cattle, that thou mayest eat and be full.
16. Take heed to yourselves, that your heart be not deceived, and ye turn aside, and serve other gods, and worship them;
17 And then, the Lord's wrath be kindled against you, and he shut up the heaven, that there be no rain, and that the land yield not her fruit; and lest ye perish quickly from off the good land which the Lord giveth you.
18. Therefore shall ye lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul, and bind them for a sign upon your hand, that they may be as frontlets between your eyes.
19. And ye shall teach them your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.
20. And thou shalt write them upon the door posts of thine house, and upon thy gates:
21. That your days may be multiplied, and the days of your children, in the land which the Lord sware unto your fathers to give them, as the days of heaven upon the earth.
On the outer side of the parchment, near the top of the roll, is written the word "Shadday," the ancient name of the Hebrew God, which means "to overpower" and "to treat with violence" -- singularly appropriate in the apprehension of a thief. [*72] An opening is left in the case opposite the word. The mezuzeh is affixed in a slanting position to the upper part of the right-hand side of the doorpost as one enters the dwelling, the upper end of the box pointing inward and the lower one outward. Pious Jews kiss their fingers after they touch the mezuzeh, reciting, "May God keep my going out and my coming in from now on and evermore," [*73] meaning, in early Biblical language, "Mayst thou live long in the land that the Lord, thy God, giveth thee!"
The last verse of the quotation from Chapter 11, of the Book of Deuteronomy, emphasizes only too well why this Commandment dealing with landmarks fell into disuse. The Bible God's promise to the Children of Israel was never fulfilled. That the mezuzeh was not originally used for its present purpose is admitted by leading Hebrew authorities. [*74] The very name "mezuzeh" is the present Hebrew word for doorpost. During the tribal existence of the Children of Israel it probably either meant or was a synonym for landmark, since houses of the kind used today were unknown then, the tent being the common type of dwelling. It is quite likely that after the Israelites were driven from the land of their fathers, a new ceremonial use was found for this taboo and charm. They merely transferred the landmark to the doorpost, "ascribing [to it] the power of warding off from the house all harm from without" -- the identical purpose of the landmark. [*75] The use of the ancient name of the Hebrew God, "Shadday," is additional evidence that the mezuzeh is but a modern adaptation for the supposed magical protective powers attributed to the ancient taboo of the landmark. Modern enlightened Jews consider the mezuzeh a primitive superstition, and have abandoned its use.
Lacking the original reason for certain acts, it is naturally difficult to understand the particular motives that inspired them. When an investigation of their relationship to events of the same period is made, however, their origin and meaning become clear. Once direct evidence is lost, time builds an almost unbridgeable chasm between the past and the present, and it is only by piecing together subtle threads of evidence that the gap can be filled and the truth made as apparent as if the actual facts were at hand. Do we need a better illustration of this fact than Darwin's magnificent achievement in discovering the laws of evolution? When first announced, it seemed incredible that man and ape could have had a common ancestry, but when examined in the light of Darwin's findings concerning dormant physical characteristics, such as eyes, ears, hair, bones, instincts, etc., none but the mentally blind could refuse to accept the conclusions of the indisputable evidence amassed by this profound thinker.
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