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for these seven ewe lambs shalt thou take of my hand, that they may be a witness unto me that I have digged this well.” This was accompanied with the solemnity of an oath, for it is added, “ Wherefore he called that place Beershebah, because there they sware both of them. Thus they made a covenant at Beershebah.”& The same form of ratification continues to be used among the Arabian shepherds ; of which the following instance is given by Mr. Bruce :-“ Medicines and advice being given on my part, faith and protection pledged on theirs, two bushels of wheat, and SEVEN SHEEP were carried down to the boat ; nor could we decline their kindness, as refusing a present in that country, is just as great an affront as coming into the presence of a superior without any present
Contracts were frequently ratified by oath. The common form of swearing was by lifting up the right hand ; it was the form which Abraham used, and was so general in his time, that the phrase, to lift up the right hand, was equivalent to swearing by God: “ And Abram said unto the king of Sodom, I have lifted up mine hand unto the Lord, the most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth, that I will not take from a thread even to a shoelatchet, and that I will not take any thing that is thine, lest thou shouldst say, I have made Abram rich."i In the same form Jehovah was pleased to bind himself by oath: “For I lift up my hand to heaven, and say, I live for ever.” So when he promised to bring the people of Israel into Canaan, he is said to lift up his hand. This form of swearing, by stretching out and lifting up the right hand, the Greeks and Romans derived from the nations of Asia. Thus Agamemnon swears in Homer:
8 Gen. xxi, 28.
i Gen. xiv, 22.
- το σκεπτρον ανασχεθε σασι θεοισιν. IĮ. lib. vii, 1. 412. “ To all the gods his sceptre he uplifts.” In the same manner, Virgil makes the king of Latium plight his faith to Æneas and his followers: “ Then thus Latinus raising his eyes to heaven, succeeds, and to the stars stretches forth his right hand :" “ Suscipiens coelum, tenditque ad sidera dextram.”
Æn. xii, 1, 196. To give additional solemnity to his oath, he touched the altar before which he stood :
“ Tango aras, mediosque ignes et numina testor.” Bishop Patrick alleges, that it was the custom of all nations to touch the altar when they made a solemn oath, calling God to witness the truth of what they said, and to punish them if they did not speak the truth ; and he supposes, that Solomon alludes to this practice, in his prayer at the dedication of the temple: “ If any man trespass against his neighbour, and an oath be laid upon him, to cause him to swear, and the oath come before thine altar in this house." But the royal suppliant says not one word about touching the altar; but clearly refers to the general practice of standing before it, for his words literally are: And the oath come (992in 3D%) before the face of thine altar. In imitation of God's ancient people, many of the surrounding nations, among whom Livy and other celebrated writers of antiquity mention the Athenians, the Carthaginians, and the Romans, were accustomed to stand before the altar when they made oath ;' but it does not appear they laid their hand upon it, and by consequence, no argument from the sacred text, nor even from the customs of these nations, can be drawn for the superstitious practice of laying the hand upon the gospels and kissing them, instead of the solemn form authorised by God himself, of lifting up the right hand to heaven. It is pretended, however, by some writers, that to put the hand
* See another instance, Il. lib. xix, l. 254, 255.
Cic. Fam. vii, 1, 12. Liv. xxi, 45 ; xxii, 53.
upon the throne, was in some countries a ceremony that attended a solemn oath, and that Moses alludes to this custom in these words: “ Because the Lord has sworn, (or literally, because the hand of the Lord is upon the throne,) that he will have war with Amalek, from generation to generation.” But these words are susceptible of a very different meaning, which has not escaped the notice of some valuable commentators: For he said, Because his hand hath been against the throne of the Lord, therefore, will he have war with Amalek, from generation to generation. The prophet is there giving a reason of the perpetual war which Jehovah had just proclaimed against that devoted race; their hand had been against the throne of the Lord, that is, they had attacked the people whom he had chosen, and among whom he had planted his throne; disregarding, or probably treating with contempt, the miraculous signs of the divine presence which led the way, and warranted the operations of Israel; they attempted to stop their progress, and defeat the promise of Heaven ; therefore they dared to lift their hand against the throne of God himself, and were for their presumption, doomed to the destruction which they intended for others. Hence, the custom of laying the hand upon the gospels, as an appeal to God, if not the contrivance of modern superstition, is derived from the practice of some obscure Gentile nation, and has no claim whatever to a more reputable origin.
m Exod. xvii, 16.
A very ancient form of swearing was by putting the hand under the thigh. After this manner, the patriarch Abraham took an oath of his servant before he sent him. to Padan-aram, to procure a wife for his son Isaac. It has been supposed, that Abraham required this, because his eyes were so dim with age, that he could not discern whether his servant raised his hand according to the com. mon form, it being stated in the preceding verse, that he was old and well stricken in age. But the sacred historian makes no mention of the dimness of Abraham's sight, nor did the patriarch himself assign this as the reason of his command. It is more probable, that if it was not a distinct form of swearing, it was a very common part of the solemnity, an idea which the words of the text appear to favour : “ Abraham said unto the eldest servant of his house, that ruled over all that he had ; Put, I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh ; and I will make thee swear by the Lord, the God of heaven, and the God of the earth.” Under the same form, the patriarch Jacob long afterwards took an oath of his beloved son Joseph, to bury him with his fathers, in the land of Canaan. It seems therefore, to have been a circumstance required in swearing, by the established custom of those times. This conclusion receives no little support from the present mode of swearing among the Mahommedan Arabs, that live in tents, which nearly corresponds with the patriarchal form; they put their left hand underneath, and their right hand over the Koran. Whether in the patriarchal ages, they placed one hand under the thigh, and the other above it, cannot now be ascertained : it is not improbable, they put the left hand under the thigh, and stretched out the right hand to heaven. Mr. Harmer thinks, that the
* Gen. xxiv, 2, 3; and xlvii, 29.
posterity of the patriarchs being described as coming out of the thigh, this ceremony was expressive of their faith in the promises of Jehovah, to bless all the nations of the earth by means of one that was to descend from Abraham."
A very solemn method of taking an oath in the east is by joining hands, uttering at the same time a curse upon the false swearer.
To this form the wise man probably alludes in that proverb : “ Though hand join in hand”— though they ratify their agreement by oath -“ the wicked shall not be unpunished, but the seed of the righteous shall be delivered.”p This form of swearing is still observed in Egypt and the vicinity ; for when Mr. Bruce was at Shekh Ammer, he entreated the protection of the governor in prosecuting his journey, when the great people, who were assembled, came, and after joining hands, repeated a kind of prayer, of about two minutes long, by which they declared themselves and their children accursed, if ever they lifted up their hands against him in the tell, or field, in the desert; or in case that he or his should fly to them for refuge, if they did not protect them at the risk of their lives, their families, and their fortunes ; or, as they emphatically expressed it, to the death of the last male child among them. The inspired writer has recorded an instance of this form of swearing in the history of Jehu : “ And when he was departed
• Harmer's Observ. vol. iv, p. 248. p Proy. xi, 21.
4 Bruce's Travels, vol. i, p. 148. VOL. III.