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Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol III:
Tertullian: Part II: The Marcionites Charged God with Having Instigated the Hebrews to Spoil the Egyptians. Defence of the Divine Dispensation in that Matter.

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Chapter XX.—The Marcionites Charged God with Having Instigated the Hebrews to Spoil the Egyptians. Defence of the Divine Dispensation in that Matter.

But these “saucy cuttles” 2944 (of heretics) p. 313 under the figure of whom the law about things to be eaten 2945 prohibited this very kind of piscatory aliment, as soon as they find themselves confuted, eject the black venom of their blasphemy, and so spread about in all directions the object which (as is now plain) they severally have in view, when they put forth such assertions and protestations as shall obscure and tarnish the rekindled light 2946 of the Creator’s bounty. We will, however, follow their wicked design, even through these black clouds, and drag to light their tricks of dark calumny, laying to the Creator’s charge with especial emphasis the fraud and theft of gold and silver which the Hebrews were commanded by Him to practise against the Egyptians. Come, unhappy heretic, I cite even you as a witness; first look at the case of the two nations, and then you will form a judgment of the Author of the command.  The Egyptians put in a claim on the Hebrews for these gold and silver vessels. 2947 The Hebrews assert a counter claim, alleging that by the bond 2948 of their respective fathers, attested by the written engagement of both parties, there were due to them the arrears of that laborious slavery of theirs, for the bricks they had so painfully made, and the cities and palaces 2949 which they had built. What shall be your verdict, you discoverer 2950 of the most good God? That the Hebrews must admit the fraud, or the Egyptians the compensation? For they maintain that thus has the question been settled by the advocates on both sides, 2951 of the Egyptians demanding their vessels, and the Hebrews claiming the requital of their labours. But for all they say, 2952 the Egyptians justly renounced their restitution-claim then and there; while the Hebrews to this day, in spite of the Marcionites, re-assert their demand for even greater damages, 2953 insisting that, however large was their loan of the gold and silver, it would not be compensation enough, even if the labour of six hundred thousand men should be valued at only “a farthing” 2954 a day a piece. Which, however, were the more in number—those who claimed the vessel, or those who dwelt in the palaces and cities? Which, too, the greater—the grievance of the Egyptians against the Hebrews, or “the favour” 2955 which they displayed towards them? Were free men reduced to servile labour, in order that the Hebrews might simply proceed against the Egyptians by action at law for injuries; or in order that their officers might on their benches sit and exhibit their backs and shoulders shamefully mangled by the fierce application of the scourge? It was not by a few plates and cup—in all cases the property, no doubt, of still fewer rich men—that any one would pronounce that compensation should have been awarded to the Hebrews, but both by all the resources of these and by the contributions of all the people. 2956 If, therefore, the case of the Hebrews be a good one, the Creator’s case must likewise be a good one; that is to say, his command, when He both made the Egyptians unconsciously grateful, and also gave His own people their discharge in full 2957 at the time of their migration by the scanty comfort of a tacit requital of their long servitude. It was plainly less than their due which He commanded to be exacted. The Egyptians ought to have given back their men-children 2958 also to the Hebrews.



Sepiæ isti.  Pliny, in his Nat. Hist. ix. 29, says: “The males of the cuttles kind are spotted with sundry colours more dark and blackish, yes, and more firme and steady, than the female. If the female be smitted with the trout-speare, they will come to succour her; but she again is not so kind to them: for if the male be stricken, she will not stand to it, but runs away. But both of them, if they perceive that they be taken in such streights that they cannot escape, shed from them a certain black humor like to ink; and when the water therewith is troubled and made duskish, therein they hide themselves, and are no more seen” (Holland’s Translation, p. 250). Our epithet “saucy cuttle” comes from Shakespeare, 2 Henry iv 2, 4, where, however, the word seems employed in a different sense.


Deut. xiv.


Relucentem, “rekindled” by the confutation.


Vasa = the jewels and the raiment mentioned in Ex. iii. 22.


Nomine. [Here our author exhibits his tact as a jurisconsult.]






For a discussion of the spoiling of the Egyptians by the Israelites, the reader is referred to Calmet’s Commentary, on Ex. iii. 22, where he adduces, besides this passage of Tertullian, the opinions of Irenæus, adv. Hæres. iv. 49; Augustine, contra Faust. ii. 71; Theodoret, Quæst. in Exod. xxiii.; Clement of Alex. Stromat. i. 1; of Philo, De Vita Moysis, i.; Josephus, Antiqq. ii. 8, who says that “the Egyptians freely gave all to the Israelites;” of Melchior Canus, Loc. Theoll. i. 4. He also refers to the book of Wisdom, x. 17–20. These all substantially agree with our author. See also a full discussion in Selden, De Jure Nat. et Gentium, vii. 8, who quotes from the Gemara, Sanhedrin, c. ii. f. 91a; and Bereshith Rabba, par. 61 f., 68, col. 2, where such a tribunal as Tertullian refers to is mentioned as convened by Alexander the Great, who, after hearing the pleadings, gave his assent to the claims of the advocates of Israel.






Singulis nummis. [Clem. Alex. Strom. i. 23. Vol. II., p. 336, supra.]


Gratia Hebræorum, either a reference to Ex. iii. 21, or meaning, perhaps, “the unpaid services of the Hebrews.”


Popularium omnium.




Exod. 1:18, 22. [An ingenious and eloquent defence.]

Next: The Law of the Sabbath-Day Explained. The Eight Days' Procession Around Jericho. The Gathering of Sticks a Violation.

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