Fanaticism





We will now glance at the encampment of the Hebrew warriors, upon a

wild expanse of undulating ground, in view of the towers of Bethsura, a

strong fortress rebuilt by the Edomite settlers on the site of that

raised in former times by Rehoboam. Bethsura is now garrisoned by the

Syrians, and its environs occupied by the countless tents of their

mighty host.



On a small rising ground near the centre of the Hebrew camp stands, as

on a rostrum, an old Jew clad in a camel-hair garment, with long gray

unkempt hair hanging over his shoulders. His manner is excited, his

gestures vehement, and the shrill accents of his voice are so raised as

to be heard to a considerable distance. A gradually increasing circle

of listeners gathers around him--stern, weather-beaten men, who have

toiled and suffered much for their faith. What marvel if with some of

these warriors religion have darkened into fanaticism, courage

degenerated into savage fierceness? It is the tendency of war,

especially if it be of a guerrilla character, to inflame the passions

and harden the heart. Only terrible necessity can justify the

unnatural strife which arms man against his brother man. Even the most

noble struggle in which patriot can engage in defence of his country's

freedom, draws along with it terrible evils, of which a vast amount of

human suffering is not perhaps the greatest.



"Yea, I do charge you, Joab, I do charge you, O son of Ahijah, with

having brought a spy, a traitor, into our camp!" almost shrieked the

wild orator Jasher, as he pointed with his shrivelled finger at the

sturdy muleteer, who stood in the innermost rank of the circle. "Was

not this Greek, by your own showing, present at the martyrdom of the

blessed saint Solomona?--was he not tried for his life at her grave,

where he was discovered coiling like a serpent in the darkness?--is he

not one of a race of idolaters, worshippers of images made by man's

hand?"



"All that I can say," replied Joab, doggedly, "is, that whatever

Lycidas may have been, he is not an idolater now."



"Who are you that you should judge, you Nabal, you son of folly?"

exclaimed the excited orator. "Mark you, men of Judah, mark you the

blindness that falls on some men--ay, even on a reputed saint like the

Lady Hadassah! Joab has learned from her handmaiden the astounding

fact that for months this Lycidas, this viper, was nurtured and tended

in her home, as if he had been a son of Abraham! Doubtless it was this

act of worse than folly on the part of Hadassah that drew down a

judgment on her and her house. Mark what followed. The warmed viper

escapes from her dwelling, and the next day--ay, the very next

day--Syrian dogs beset the house of Salathiel as he celebrates the holy

Feast! Who guided them thither?" The question was asked with

passionate energy, and the feelings of the speaker were evidently

beginning to communicate themselves to the audience. "Who then lay a

bleeding corpse on the threshold, slain by the murderous Syrians?"

continued Jasher, with yet fiercer action; "who but Abishai, the brave,

the faithful, he who had denounced the viper, and had sought, but in

vain, to crush it--it was he who fell at last a victim to its

treacherous sting!" Jasher ended his peroration with a hissing sound

from between his clinched teeth, and the caldron of human feelings

around him began, as it were, to seethe and boil. Fanaticism stops not

to weigh evidence, or to listen to reason. Joab could hardly make his

voice heard amidst the roar of angry voices that was rising around him.



"Lycidas was present and helped at the burial of the Lady Hadassah; he

has risked his life to protect her daughter," cried the honest defender

of the Greek.



"Ha! ha! how much he risked we know not, but we can well guess what he

would win!" exclaimed Jasher, with a look of withering scorn. "He has

crept into the favour of a foolish girl, who forgets the traditions of

her people, who cares not for the afflictions of Jacob, who prefers a

goodly person"--the old man's features writhed with the fierceness of

his satire--"to all that a child of Abraham should regard with

reverence and honour! But what can we expect from the daughter of a

perjured traitor, an apostate? Had she not Abner for a father, and can

we expect otherwise than that she should disgrace her family, her

tribe, her nation, by wedding an accursed Gentile, a detestable Greek?"



"Never! never!" yelled out a hundred fierce voices. And one of the

crowd shouted aloud, "I would rather slay her with my own hand, were

she my own daughter!"



"I cannot believe Lycidas false!" cried out Joab, at the risk of

drawing the tempest of rage upon himself.



"You cannot believe him false, you son of the nether millstone!"

screamed out the furious Jasher, stamping with passion; "as if you were

a match for a wily Greek, born in that idolatrous, base, ungrateful

Athens, that banished her only good citizen, and poisoned her only wise

one!" The fierce prejudices of race were only too easily aroused in

that assembly of Hebrew warriors, and if Jasher were blamed by some of

his auditors, it was for allowing that any Athenian could be either

wise or good.



"Yet hear me for a moment--I must be heard," cried Joab, straining his

voice to its loudest pitch, yet scarcely able to make his words

audible; "Lycidas has been admitted into the Covenant by our priests;

he can give proofs--"



"Who talks of proofs?" exclaimed Jasher, stamping again on the earth.

"Did you never hear of the proofs given by Zopyrus? Know you not how

Babylon, the golden city, fell under the sword of Darius? Zopyrus,

minion of that king, fled to the city which he was besieging, showed

its defenders his ghastly hurts--nose, ears shorn off--and pointed to

the bleeding wounds as _proofs_ that Darius the tyrant, by inflicting

such injuries upon him, had won a right to his deathless hatred.[1]

The Babylonians believed the proofs, they received the impostor, and ye

know the result. Babylon fell, not because the courage of her

defenders quailed, or famine thinned their numbers; not because the

enemy stormed at her wall, or pestilence raged within it; but because

she had received, and believed, and trusted a traitor, who had

sacrificed his own members to gain the opportunity of destroying those

who put faith in his honour! Hebrews! a Zopyrus has now come into our

camp! Will ye open your arms, or draw your swords, to receive him?"



A wild yell of fury arose from the listening throng, so fierce, so

loud, that it drew towards the spot Hebrews from all parts of the

encampment. It drew amongst others the young proselyte, who came eager

to know the cause of the noise and excitement, quite unconscious that

it was in any way connected with himself. As Lycidas made towards the

centre of the crowd, it divided to let him pass into the immediate

presence of Jasher, his accuser and self-constituted judge, and then

ominously closed in behind him, so as to prevent the possibility of his

retreat.



Lycidas had come amongst the Hebrew warriors with all the frank

confidence of a volunteer into their ranks; and the Greek's first

emotion was that of amazement, when he found himself suddenly the

object of universal indignation and hatred. There was no mistaking the

expression of the angry eyes that glared upon him from every direction,

nor the gestures of hands raising javelins on high, or unsheathing keen

glittering blades.



"Here he is, the traitor, the Gentile, led hither to die the death he

deserves!" exclaimed Jasher.



"What mean ye, Hebrews--friends? Slay me not unheard!" cried Lycidas,

raising on high his voice and his hand. "I am a proselyte; I renounce

my false gods,--"



"He has their very effigies on his arm!" yelled out Jasher, pointing

with frenzied action to the silver bracelet of Pollux worn by the

Greek, on which had been fashioned heads of Apollo and Diana encircled

with rays.



Here was evidence deemed conclusive; nothing further was needed. "He

dies! he dies!" was the almost unanimous cry. The life of Lycidas had

not been in greater peril when he had been discovered at the midnight

burial, or when he had wrestled with Abishai on the edge of the cliff.

In a few moments the young Greek would have lain a shapeless trampled

corpse beneath his murderers' feet, when the one word "Forbear!"

uttered in a loud, clear voice whose tones of command had been heard

above the din of battle, stayed hands uplifted to destroy; and with the

exclamation, "Maccabeus! the prince!" the throng fell back on either

side, and through the ranks of his followers the leader strode into the

centre of the circle. One glance sufficed to inform him sufficiently

of the nature of the disturbance; he saw that he had arrived on the

spot barely in time to save his Athenian rival from being torn in

pieces by the crowd.



"What means this tumult? shame on ye!" exclaimed Maccabeus, sternly

surveying the excited throng.



"We would execute righteous judgment on a Greek--an idolater--a spy!"

cried Jasher, pointing at Lycidas, but with less impassioned gesture;

for the fanatic quailed in the presence of Maccabeus, who was the one

man on earth whom he feared.



"He is a Greek, but neither idolater nor spy," said the prince. "He is

one of a gallant people who fought bravely for their own independence,

and can sympathize with our love of freedom. He has come to offer us

the aid of his arm; shame on ye thus to requite him."



"I doubt but he will play us false," muttered one of the warriors,

giving voice to the thoughts of the rest.



"We shall soon have an opportunity of settling all such doubts," said

Maccabeus; "we shall attack the enemy at noon, and then shall this

Greek prove in the battle whether he be false man or true."



The prospect of so soon closing with the enemy was sufficient to turn

the attention of every Hebrew warrior present to something of more

stirring interest than the fate of a solitary stranger. Jasher,

however, would not so easily let his intended victim go free.



"He's an Achan!" exclaimed the fanatic; "if he fight amongst us, he

will bring a curse on our arms!"



"He is a proselyte," replied Maccabeus in a loud voice, which was heard

to the farthest edge of the crowd; "our priests and elders have

received him--and I receive him--as a Hebrew by adoption, companion in

arms, a brother in the faith!"



The words of the prince were received with respectful submission, if

not with satisfaction. Maccabeus was regarded with enthusiasm by his

followers, not only as a gallant and successful leader, but as one

whose prudence they could trust, and whose piety they must honour. No

man dare lay a finger upon him over whom the chief had thrown the

shield of his powerful protection.



Lycidas felt that for the second time he owed his life to Judas

Maccabeus. There was a gush of warm gratitude towards his preserver in

the heart of the young Athenian; but something in the manner of the

prince told Lycidas that he would not listen to thanks, that the

expression of the Greek's sense of deep obligation would be regarded as

an intrusion. Lycidas therefore, compelled, as it were, to silence,

could only with fervour ask Heaven for an opportunity of showing his

gratitude in the coming fight by actions more forcible than words.



"Now, sound the trumpets to arms," exclaimed Maccabeus, "and gather my

troops together. If God give us the victory to-day, the way to

Jerusalem itself will be open before us! Here will I marshal our ranks

for the fight." Maccabeus strode to the summit of the rising ground

from which Jasher had just been addressing the crowd, and beckoned to

his standard-bearer to plant his banner behind him, where it could be

seen from all parts of the camp. Here, with folded arms, Maccabeus

watched the movements of his warriors as, at the signal-call of the

trumpet-blast, they hastened from every quarter to be marshalled in

battle-array, by their respective captains, under the eye of their

great commander. With rapid precision the columns were formed; but

before they moved on to the attack, Maccabeus, in brief but earnest

supplication, besought the Divine blessing on their arms.







[1] The student of history need not be reminded that the fall of

Babylon through the stratagem of Zopyrus was quite distinct from and

subsequent to its conquest by Cyrus. (See Rollins's "Ancient History.")





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