His 'Geschichte des Volkes Israel', the result of thirty years' labour, was epoch-making in that branch of research. While in every line it bears the marks of intense individuality, it is at the same time a product highly characteristic of the age, and even of the decade, in which it appeared. If it is obviously the outcome of immense learning on the part of its author, it is no less manifestly the result of the speculations and researches of many laborious predecessors in all departments of history, theology, and philosophy.
Taking up the idea of a divine education of the human race, which Lessing and Herder had made so familiar to the modern mind, and firmly believing that to each of the leading nations of antiquity a special task had been providentially assigned, Ewald felt no difficulty about Israel's place in universal history or about the problem which that race had been called upon to solve. The history of Israel, according to him, is simply the history of the manner in which the one true religion really and truly came into the possession of humankind. Other nations had indeed attempted the highest problems in religion; but Israel alone, in the providence of God, had succeeded, for Israel alone had been inspired. Such is the supreme meaning of that national history which began with the exodus and culminated in the appearance of Christ.
The historical interval that separated these two events is treated as naturally dividing itself into three great periods: those of Moses, David, and Ezra. The periods are externally indicated by the successive names of the chosen people: Hebrews, Israelites, and Jews. The events prior to the exodus are relegated by Ewald to a preliminary chapter of primitive history, and the events of the apostolic and postapostolic age are treated as a kind of appendix. The entire construction of the history is based on a critical examination and chronological arrangement of the available documents. Ewald's work is a storehouse of learning and increasingly recognized as a work of rare genius.
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