The coincidence of moral and aesthetic values in the Old Testament
Page, Willard Ainsworth
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This study of the Old Testament has revealed the close relation of moral and aesthetic values in the Hebrew Bible; indeed their combination as expressed by a Psalmist, "Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness." The problem of the dissertation has been to determine as nearly as possible the reality of God by emphasizing the coincidence of beauty and goodness; aesthetic and moral values. The results show that the goodness of God is revealed through the aspiration of human souls creating an artistic portrayal of God's kingdom. Leslie has translated Psalm 145:21, "May my mouth speak a praise song of the Lord; so that all flesh may bless his holy name." A distinction has been made between National morals, and Individual morals. The former contain J, E, the Eighth Century prophets, Deuteronomy and the P Code; the latter, S, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, the Holiness Code, Deutero-Isaiah, Job and the Psalms. The two great national epics in the Pentateuch, J and E, emphasized in magnificent language Yahweh's concern for Israel. In these documents national moral values are dependent upon Yahweh's regard for the nation. In the patriarchal age nothing mars the idyllic beauty and high morality of life. "The oldest extant monument of Hebrew literature," according to G. F. Moore is the Song of Deborah (Judges 5), a beautiful poem singing the nation's praise for Yahweh's protection. Closely connected with the moral values of God in these documents is the beauty of language. J, in particular, may be compared with Homer's Iliad. In E literary art is exemplified in the beautiful story of Joseph and his brothers. An aesthetic value introduced by E is that of ritual, or the beauty of worship. Three prophets of the Eighth Century, Amos, Hosea, and Isaiah expand God's moral concerns by stressing His universal character. His jurisdiction includes all nations, and not Israel alone. These prophets not merely proclaimed moral ideals, but took advantage of aesthetic values. They were men of artistic genius. Duncan Black MacDonald has called attention to the fact that in our extant Hebrew literature there is no specific word for poet, and that a poet was akin to the prophet. The love story of Hosea is a poetic symbol created with great daring to emphasize the moral value of the faithfulness of Israel to Yahweh. With the beauty of poetic expression Isaiah put forth the belief that not by material forces, and not by economic necessity does mankind endure and progress, but by spiritual forces; and that wherever these essentially moral values are not in the ascendency, the life of nations is doomed to destruction. He was the first to make clear that trust in God meant for a nation righteous government--conformity with the divine standard of holiness (Is. 5:16). An aesthetic value contained in Isaiah is his splendid literary style. Driver has said that his poetical genius is superb, and McFadyen says that the book is full of fine poetry. The moral values set forth in Deuteronomy are clothed in the aesthetic values of homiletic eloquence. J had shown that, under the leadership and guidance of Yahweh, the nation prospered. In the eighth century the prophets had painted a picture of doom. Prosperity had reduced the nation to a low moral standard, and ultimately to unfaithfulness to its God. False and unreal warship of strange gods, oppression of the poor and needy, and a low spiritual regard for any good cause led the prophetic voices to sound the warning of national ruin. Deuteronomy's attempt at a compromise between prophetic theology and ethics, and priestly ritual was successful. The beauty of sincere worship and the high moral values required in life and ritual are the basis of the divine covenant with the people. Aesthetic values in the Priest's Code take into account the beauty of the Temple and the beauty of worship. It was the purpose of the Priestly writers to create a holy people unto the Lord, and they were surely aware of the mysteries of beauty surrounding the personality of their God, and believed individuals capable of approaching the great aesthetic and moral values of God through mystical legalism and the pageantry of sacred drama. Characteristic in the classification of individual moral values is the stress laid upon primitive philosophical speculation. The S document belongs in such a classification. The poetic element in S may be recognized in the fact that the writer, as representing the whole human race, has thrown himself into an imagined situation, and describes what man in general would have thought, felt, said, or done, in that situation. An understanding of this document from an aesthetic point of view takes into account the soil of poetry out of which legends grow. Similarly, in the case of the sacrifice of Isaac (reported by the E document) the important matter is not to establish certain historical facts, but to impart to the hearer the heartrending grief of the father who is commanded to sacrifice his child by his own hand, and then his boundless gratitude and joy when God's mercy releases him from that grievous trial. The artist paints pictures or fashions statues. He reaches out with his hand and uses material at his command to create a picture or mould an image. Jeremiah was such an artist and took inward feelings for his material. He wove his emotions into a pattern in which every human element was given spiritual beauty. In his devotional writing we see a man overcome by human fear and resentment achieving victory through God's love. Jeremiah's "Confessions" are beautiful in their expression of the immediate reality of God: their historical significance lies in the fact that they mark the beginning of a new type of poetry which attains its peak in the Psalms. Moral and aesthetic values in this prophet's teaching can hardly be separated. In proclaiming the nearness of God, he releases the tension between the forces of good and evil. In his own soul he has discovered that through communion with his God he has gained victory over himself, renewed consecration to his mission, and received indomitable strength and ineffable joy. In the realm of beauty there is yet another answer to the critical problem of Ezekiel started in 1900 by R. Kraetzschmar. William H. Brownlee says, "The prophet had a normal personality. His messages were primarily ethical...His sermons were indited in masterful poetry." Moral and aesthetic values are combined at the very beginning of Ezekiel's book. His call brings together the majesty and splendor of God, and the morality and beauty of God as it melts into a human soul. The full realization and appreciation of this call offers a basis for determining whether Ezekiel was a religious fanatic, as some have called him, or a creative genius in the realm of aesthetic symbolism, as this dissertation contends. A practical application of the beauty of holiness occurs in Ezekiel's plan for restoring the community and the worship. The abundant moral values in the Holiness Code are concerned with the program of Judaism in regard to the individual. The conception of holiness here contains elements of both beauty and morality. Ceremonial purity will allow men to come into the presence of God. The main purpose of this code is to enable the individual to see in the beauty of worship a creative work giving to the world a vision of the unseen. Chapter 26 (Leviticus) is a masterpiece of composition, and of zeal to create clean hearts. The Servant Passages of Deutero-Isaiah embody a beautiful message intended to bring hope and faith to a despairing people. The author expanded the idea of holiness to include God's activity on behalf of all those who are helpless. Here an artist is interpreting his vision of God for all humanity as the assurance that the universal God plans to save struggling humanity. The goal of aesthetic language is to communicate images and feelings. Job illustrates what an outstanding literary artist can do with a perplexing moral problem. There is a close connection in this book between moral values and aesthetic values. Its author has superbly demonstrated that supreme artistic creation thrives only on the soil of moral nobility. Job may not have been able to repair his tragic life, but be beheld the glory and majesty of the Creator. The Psalter is the climax of moral and aesthetic values in the Old Testament. Beautiful religious poems are found among the Psalms. Moral values are clearly defined for the Psalmists maintain that Yahweh is more concerned with moral conduct--the beauty of holiness--than in burnt offerings (Ps. 51:16) . Aside from the appreciation of these values, there are elements of beauty in the poetic rhythm, alphabetic acrostics, metaphoric language, noble diction, and deep emotions. Thus are beauty and goodness variously combined in the Hebrew Bible .
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Boston University
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