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and Tuum, and things of less consequence.* The chief judge was the king, according to the saying of the people to Samuel, Give us a king to judge us.t
The place where the judges kept their court was the gate of the city : for as all the Israelites were husbandmen, who went out in the morning to their work, and came not in again till night, the city-gate was the place where most people met. We must not wonder that they wrought in the fields, and abode in the cities. They were not such as the chief cities of our provinces, which can hardly be maintained by the produce of twenty or thirty leagues round them. They were only the habitations of as many labourers as were necessary to cultivate the ground nearest hand. Whence it came that, the land being full of inhabitants, their cities were very numerous. The tribe of Judah only reckoned a hundred and fifteen to their share, I when they took possession of it, besides those that were built afterwards; and each city, had villages dependent upon it. .
They must certainly then be small, and very near one another, like common towns, weil built and walled in, having, in other respects, every thing that is to be found in the country.
The public place for doing business among the Greeks and Romans was the market-place, or exchange, for the same reason, because they were all merchants. In our ancestors' time the vassals of each lord met in the court of his cas,
tle, and thence comes the expression, the Courts of Princes. As princes live more retired in the east, affairs are transacted at the gate of their seraglio; and this custom of making one's court at the palace gate has been practised ever since the times of the antient kings of Persia, as we see by several passages in the book of Esther.*.
The gate of the city was the place for doing all public and private business ever since the times of the patriarchs. Abraham purchased his burying place in the presence of all those that entered into the gate of the city of Hebron.t When Hamor and his son Sichem, who ran away with Dinah, purposed to make an alliance with the Israelites, it was at the citygates that they spake of it to the people. We see the manner of these public acts, with all the particulars, in the story of Ruth. Boaz, designing to marry her, was to have another person's right in her, who was a pearer relation, given up to him. For this purpose, he sits at the gate of Bethlehem, and seeing this kinsman pass by, he stops him: then he takes ten of the elders of the city, and after they were all sat down, he explained his pretensions to them, and got the acknowledgment which he desired from his relation, with all the formality prescribed by the law; which was to pull off his shoe. He took not only the elders, but all the people, for witnesses, which shews a great number of spectators had got together: nor is it unlikely, that curiosity made the people stop as
they passed by. Their business was seldom in great haste, they were all acquainted, and all related, so it was natural for them to be concerned about each other's affairs.
Perhaps they took these acts down in writing: but the Scripture does not take notice of any, except, in Jeremiah, a little before the destruction of Jerusalem. In Tobit there is mention made of a bond for money lent, of a marriage contract, and an instrument of covenants made upon the same account.* In Jeremiah, there is a contract upon a purchase. The law of Moses prescribes no writing, except in case of divorce. But if they had not made use of any writings in those early times, their contracts would have been very safe, since they were made in so public a manner. If the kinsman of Boaz should have denied that he had given up his right, all the inhabitants of Bethlehem could have convicted him of a falsehood. Some of them were present at it, and others must have heard of it immediately after.
It was a long time before the custom of putting private contracts into writing was introduced among the Romans, as appears by the verbal obligation which they called stipulation. They were not afraid of an action wanting proof, when they had pronounced a certain solemn form in the public market-place among all the people, and taken some particular citizens to witness it, who were of reputable condition and unblemished character. These transactions were full as public as those among us, that are done
* Tob. vii. 14. + Jer. xxxii. 10.
Deut. xxiv. 1.
in private houses before a public notary, who often knows neither party, or before the townclerk and two hack witnesses.
We may suppose the gate with the Hebrews was the same thing as the square, or marketplace, with the Romans. The market for provisions was held at the city-gate. Elisha foretold that victuals should be sold cheap the day after, in the gate of Samaria.* This gate had a square, which must have been a large one, because king Ahab assembled four hundred false prophets there. I suppose it was the same in other cities, and that these gates had some building with seats for the judges and elders: for it is said, that Boaz went up to the gate,' and sat down there : and when David heard that Absalom was dead, he went up to the chamber over the gate, to weep there.t This chamber might be the place for private deliberations. Even in the temple of Jerusalem causes were tried at one of the gates, and the judges held their assizes there. I After all these examples, it is not to be wondered that the Scripture uses the word gate so often, to signify judgment, or the public council of each city, or the city itself, or the state; and that, in the Gospel, the gates of hell signify the kingdom or power of the devil.
But as open and fairly as we may think the Israclites transacted their affaire, it must not be imagined that they had no frauds and rogueries, unjust prosecutions, or false accusations. These are evils inseparable from the corruption of hu
* 2 Kings vii. 1.
+ 2 Sam. xviii. 33.
Jer, xxvi. 10.
man nature; and the more spirit and vivacity men naturally have, the more are they subject to them: but these evils are more peculiarly the growth of great cities. When David fled from Jerusalem upon Absalom's rebellion, he represents fury and discord going about day and night within the walls thereof, mischief and sorrow in the midst of it, and deceit and guile in her streets.* The prophets are full of such reproaches: only one may imagine these evils were less common than they are now, because there were fewer .lawyers among them. .. . As temporal affairs, as well as spiritual, were governed by the law of God, there was no distinction of tribunals: the same judges decided cases of conscience, and determined civil or criminal causes. Thus they had occasion for but few different offices and officers, in comparison of what we see in the present day. For we account it an incredible thing to be only a private man, and to have no other employment than improving our festate, or governing our family. Every body is desirous of some public post, to enjoy honours, prerogatives, and privileges: and employments are considered as trades which are a livelihood, or as titles of distinction. But if we were to examine what public offices only are really necessary, and the business done in them, we should find that a very few persons would be sufficient to execute them, and have spare time enough besides for their private affairs.
This was the practice among all the people * Psalm iv. 10, &c.