Invasion of the Bible Snatchers: Ray Comfort’s ‘Scientific Facts in the Bible’ – Hand Washing and Running Water

“When the one with a discharge is cleansed of his discharge, he shall count seven days for his cleansing: he shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in fresh water, and he shall be clean” (Leviticus 15:13).


To see other posts in this series, please go to the series’ page.

Ray Comfort continues to amaze and astound with his inept reading of biblical texts in his book Scientific Facts in the Bible.1 Quoting Leviticus 15:3 he writes,

The Bible states that when dealing with disease, hands should be washed under running water. Up until the 1800s doctors washed their hands in a basin of still water, leaving invisible germs and resulting in the death of multitudes. We now know that doctors must wash their hands under running water. The Encyclopedia Britannica documents that in 1845, Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis in Vienna was horrified at the terrible death rate of women who gave birth in hospitals. As many as 30 percent died after giving birth. Semmelweis noted that doctors would examine the bodies of patients who had died, then go straight to the next ward and examine expectant mothers. This was their normal practice, because the presence of microscopic diseases was unknown. Semmelweis insisted that doctors wash their hands before examinations, and the death rate immediately dropped to 2 percent.2

Comfort’s recounting of Ignaz Semmelweis is more or less accurate and so there is no need to address it. Instead our focus will be on Comfort’s (mis)understanding of the regulations found in Leviticus 15:13. Comfort’s central claim is that “[t]he Bible states that when dealing with disease, hands should be washed under running water.” Is Comfort correct? Is this evidence of advanced epidemiological knowledge in the Priestly text of Leviticus?

Determining the Context

Leviticus 15 is primarily about what ordinary people are to do when they have some ritual impurity. The text is divided into two basic categories: male genital discharges (15:2b-18) and female genital discharges (15:19-30). These two categories can be further subdivided.

  • Male genital discharges (15:2b-18)
    • Abnormal genital discharges (15:2b-15)
    • Normal genital discharges (15:16-18)
  • Female genital discharges (15:19-30)
    • Normal genital discharges (15:19-24)
    • Abnormal genital discharges (15:25-30)

Regardless of gender, for normal genital discharges there is no sacrifice required. Instead those experiencing such discharges are unclean for a specific period of time: “until the evening” for males and seven days for females. If a man and woman engage in sexual intercourse and the male achieves orgasm then both of them are unclean until the evening.

Things are quite different for abnormal genital discharges. If a woman experiences a “discharge of blood” that is not part of her normal menstrual cycle or if her menstruation lasts longer than it normally does she remains unclean and all she has touched are considered unclean as well. Once her discharge has ceased, she is to count seven days before she can be considered clean. Then on the eighth day she is to take either two turtledoves or two pigeons to the priest at the tabernacle so he can offer up a sin offering and a burnt offering to “make atonement on her behalf before the LORD for her unclean discharge” (15:30).

Similarly, males who experiencing an abnormal genital discharge are considered unclean during the period of discharge. Once the discharge has ceased he is to count seven days, wash his clothes, and “bathe his body in fresh water” before he is considered clean. Then on the eighth day he is to take two turtledoves or two pigeons to the priest at the tabernacle so he can offer up a sin offering and a burnt offering to “make atonement on his behalf before the LORD for his discharge” (15:15).

The role of mayim ḥyym 

As noted earlier, Comfort capitalizes on the phrase rendered in the NKJV as “running water” (mayim ḥyym). Literally, mayim ḥyym is “living waters” with ḥyym functioning adjectivally to mayimTo what is mayim ḥyym referring? The NRSV renders the phrase as “fresh water” which doesn’t truly capture what is being said here. The NKJV is much closer to the Hebrew in this regard. But considering that modern plumbing was not a feature available to ancient Israel, what exactly does running water entail?

The key is what we read in Leviticus 14:5: “The priest shall command that one of the birds be slaughtered over fresh water [mayim ḥyym] in an earthen vessel.” In context, the passage is describing what must be done to declare and make one with a skin disease ṭāhēr – “clean.” Normally such a slaughter would take place at the tent of meeting but because of the nature of skin disease everything happened outside the camp to avoid spreading the infection. As part of the ritual, a priest would take one of two birds that were brought for the ritual and slaughter it over a vessel containing mayim ḥyym. But how can it be considered running water if it is in a container? Well, it depends on how it got to be there. If it came from an underground source like a well (cf. Genesis 26:19) or from a river or stream then it was suitable for use.3 Such water could be stored in a vessel for later use in rituals as it was considered mayim ḥyymIn other words, if the water was taken from a source that was flowing then it was deemed appropriate for use. It did not matter that in a container like the earthen vessel it was no longer flowing.

Let’s return then to Leviticus 15:13. When the texts says that the one with the genital discharge is to “bathe his body in mayim ḥyym” it isn’t saying necessarily that he must wash in water that is currently flowing. Rather, the water must have come from a source that was, i.e. a river or an Artesian well. Water in an earthen vessel as we read in Leviticus 14:5 is still considered mayim ḥyym even though it is no longer flowing.

Another Failure

And so yet again Comfort has misunderstood the biblical text, this time by failing to look at surrounding context and how mayim ḥyym is used.

NOTES

1 Ray Comfort, Scientific Facts in the Bible (Living Waters Publications, 2016).

2 Ibid., 6.

3 John E. Hartley, Leviticus, WBC vol. 4 (Zondervan, 1992), 195.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

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Invasion of the Bible Snatchers: Ray Comfort’s ‘Scientific Facts in the Bible’ – The Life of the Flesh

“If anyone of the house of Israel or of the aliens who reside among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood, and will cut that person off from the people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you for making atonement for your lives on the altar; for, as life, it is the blood that makes atonement” (Leviticus 17:11).


To see other posts in this series, please go to the series’ page.

We have already seen how spectacularly weak Comfort’s approach to the biblical texts tends to be. And not only does he routinely misunderstand the Bible, he also exhibits a less than rudimentary knowledge of science. In the twenty-first century, both are without excuse. Biblical scholarship and science are clicks away on the Internet and so for Comfort to make the errors that he does reveals either one who argues in bad faith or one who simply wishes to remain in his cognitive bubble. Comfort may somehow fall into both camps.

The next claim Comfort makes in Scientific Facts in the Bible is that Levitical law revealed that

blood is the source of life. Up until 200 years ago, sick people were “bled,” and many died because of the practice. We now know that blood is the source of life. If you lose your blood, you will lose your life.1

As support for this, Comfort quotes Leviticus 17:11 – “For the life of the flesh is in the blood.” But does this text support Comfort’s claim? And is it really a sign that the Bible contains advanced scientific knowledge?

The Importance of Blood 

Human blood is actually a mixture of a variety of organic structures including plasma, white blood cells, and red blood cells. Red blood cells are what give blood its color as the hemoglobin on them binds with iron which then binds with oxygen which causes oxidation. And this brings us to the primary purpose of blood: oxygenation. When you breathe in oxygen, the blood pumping through your body absorbs it in the lungs and transports it to all the cells in your body via capillaries. The oxygen in turn is processed by the cells’ mitochondria which turn that oxygen into energy for those cells. If you are deprived of oxygen you die because your cells’ mitochondria are not provided with what they need to produce energy to keep those cells alive.2 

But ancient people had no idea what red blood cells were, let alone things like oxygen molecules or mitochondria. But they did know that if you slit the throat of a sacrificial animal or stabbed your enemy in the chest with your sword that the resultant loss of blood invariably meant the loss of life. Humanity quickly learned that blood was vital to the life of an organism. The reason for this was because it was how the gods had created humanity. The Babylonian creation epic Enuma Elish describes how Marduk, the one who defeated Tiamat, plans to create humanity telling the gods, “Let me put blood together, and make bones too. Let me set up primeval man: Man shall be his name.”3 Then at the prompting of the Igigi (i.e. the great gods), Marduk uses the blood of Qingu, a warrior of Tiamat, to create mankind.4

Blood Eating in Priestly Literature

The association between blood and life is strongly correlated by the biblical authors. In the original creation envisioned by the Priestly author (i.e. Genesis 1:1-2:4a), humanity and the animal kingdom were not permitted to consume meat (Genesis 1:29-30). But this changed as humanity became more corrupt and the earth became “filled with violence” (Genesis 7:12), causing God to destroy the world with a Flood save for Noah and his family. This reset on the creative order brings with it new rules and regulations that in some ways parallel those of the original order. One key difference between the original and the reset is that humanity was now allowed to consume meat (Genesis 9:3) but comes with a prohibition: “Only, you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood” (Genesis 9:4).

Other P literature reiterates this prohibition. In Leviticus 3 we read of the “sacrifice of well-being” (Hebrew, zebaḥ šĕlāmîm) wherein an Israelite offers an unblemished animal at the tent of meeting. The Aaronid priests take the blood of the animal and dash it on the sides of the altar and then the animal is burned such that its fat and blood are wholly consumed. After going through the protocols for various kinds of animals, P says this, “It shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations, in all your settlements: you must not eat any fat or any blood” (Leviticus 3:17). Why? Because P knows the prohibition given by God to Noah: “Only, you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood” (Genesis 9:4). The zebaḥ šĕlāmîm was not intended to be one of expiation but rather was meant to be a way to provide consumable meat to the Israelites.5

Further instructions for the zebaḥ šĕlāmîm are given in Leviticus 7. There we again read a prohibition against consuming blood. But this time is comes with a warning “You must not eat any blood whatever, either of bird or of animal, in any of your settlements. Any one of you who eats any blood shall be cut off from your kind” (Leviticus 7:26-27). The penalty for consuming blood is to be “cut off” (Hebrew, krt), that is, die prematurely.6 

Blood Eating in the Holiness Code

Having observed certain differences in themes and vocabulary between Leviticus 17-26 and the rest of the book, many scholars have dubbed that section as deriving from a separate source and call it “the Holiness Code” (H).7 Within it are a variety of regulations that were intended to set Israel apart from its neighbors, to make them qōdeš (“holy”).8

“The LORD spoke to Moses saying: Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy [qĕdōšîm], for I the LORD your God am holy [qādôš]” (19:2; cf. 20:7, 20:26).

It is within the first chapter of H that we see the text at the center of our inquiry in this post. Let’s briefly consider the context of the words of Leviticus 17:11.

If we were to outline Leviticus 17 we would notice a pattern.9

  • Introduction (17:1-2)
    • Prohibition (17:3-7)
      • Animals eligible for sacrifice must be sacrificed at the tent of meeting (17:3-4) so that Israel might stop offering sacrifices to goat-demons (17:5-7).
      • Both Israelites and resident aliens must not sacrifice to anyone but Yahweh at the tent of meeting (17:8-9)
        • Central Prohibition (17:10-12)
          • The blood of all animals is not to be consumed (17:10) because the blood is functions as a ransom for human life in sacrifice (17:11-12).
      • Reiteration of Central Prohibition (17:13-14)
        • The blood of game is not to be consumed because blood is life (17:13-14).
    • Regulating governing consuming carcasses (17:15-16)
      • The regulation (17:15)
      • Consequences for disobedience (17:16)

As the outline suggests, 17:10-12

is…the axis upon which the chapter revolves. 

The merest glance at the content leads to the same conclusion: all five paragraphs [of Leviticus 17] deal with the legitimate and correct manner of disposing of the blood of those animals which may be eaten. The first two speak of sacrificeable animals – which, in the view of this chapter, must indeed be sacrificed – and the last two speak of animals which, though they may be eaten, may not be sacrificed. At the center, between the first two and the last two, stands the axiom upon which all four depend: that partaking of blood is prohibited. The first two lead to this axiom and provide its rationale; the last two derive from this axiom and implement it.10 

And the rationale for the central prohibition of 17:10-12 is this: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you for making atonement for your lives on the altar; for, as life, it is the blood that makes atonement” (17:11).

So why does the Levitical law prohibit the consuming of blood? Because blood was not intended for consumption but for the making of atonement. To eat blood is to use it in an inordinate way.  That’s what lies behind the prohibition. It has absolutely nothing to do with any advanced scientific revelation that blood is the body’s oxygen transport system. It had to do with the observation that 1) the loss of blood leads to death and 2) the claim of the Priestly author that blood in animals is that which atones for sin. In other words, the claim is religious, having to do with the sacrificial cult and not scientific, having to do with the composition of blood and its biological function.

Sorry, Ray. You’re wrong again.

NOTES

1 Ray Comfort, Scientific Facts in the Bible (Living Waters Publications, 2016), 5.

2 For an excellent overview of blood, see Chris Cooper, Blood: A Very Short Introduction, e-book (OUP, 2016), 68-113.

3 The Epic of Creation, Tablet VI, in Stephanie Dalley (translator), Myths from Mesopotamia: Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others (OUP, 1989), 260.

4 Ibid., 261.

5 Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus 1-16: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (Doubleday, 1991), 222.

6 Gordon J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus, NICOT, e-book (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979), 42.

7 See Henry T. C. Sun, “Holiness Code,” in David N. Freedman (editor), Anchor Bible Dictionary (Doubleday, 1992), 3:256-257.

8 See H. P. Müller, “קדש qdš holy,” in Ernst Jenni and Claus Westermann (editors) and Mark E. Biddle (translator), Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament (Hendrickson Publishers, 1997), 3:1103-1118.

9 Adapted from Milgrom, Leviticus 17-22: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, The Anchor Bible (Doubleday, 2000), 1449.

10 Baruch J. Schwartz, “The Prohibitions Concerning the ‘Eating’ of Blood in Leviticus 17,” in Gary A. Anderson and Saul M. Olyan, Priesthood and Cult in Ancient Israel (Sheffield Academic Press, 1991), 43.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

The Weekly Roundup – 2.22.19

“The stories of the ancestors of the Israelites do not come from any one period but developed over time. It is best to see the ancestors as composite characters.” – John McDermott

  • Bart Ehrman asks and answers the question “Why does it matter if Mark’s Gospel was written first?” What it boils down to is that once we realize Mark’s Gospel was in all likelihood the first of the Synoptics to have been written we then have a framework with which to interpret Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels. They must have edited Mark’s Gospel for some reason. If we can deduce what those reasons were then we “have some purchase on the question of what [their] ultimate concerns and objectives were.”
  • Related to Ehrman’s piece, a post over at Broken Oracles discusses the redaction of Mark 14:47 in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Both try to resolve Markan ambiguity about the moral nature of the violent action undertaken by the anonymous disciple with particular additions. It is an interesting example of Markan priority at work.
  • Over a decade and a half ago John McDermott’s Reading the Pentateuch was published and its first chapter laid out the case for why it cannot be read as “strict history.” Some of that first chapter is available online. McDermott discusses the historical Abraham, the Exodus, and more.
  • Bradley Bowen at Secular Outpost wrote an introduction to a series making the case for atheism. In that post he briefly discusses strong vs. weak theism as well as type 1 atheism vs. type 2. As he defines it, atheism is at its core a rejection of theism and there may be a variety of reasons for which a person rejects theism.
  • Scholars have long observed that the Gospel of John appears to have gone through different stages of redaction. Back in 2015, Paul D. on his blog Is That in the Biblepublished a post examining the reasons why scholars think this. His discussion centers on two kinds of aporia or contradictory texts: geographical and chronological. This piece provides an excellent summary for the evidence of Johannine redaction.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

The Weekly Roundup – 2.1.19

“I propose the final edition of Genesis is the result of a similar process by an editor of the Holiness school of pre-exilic Israel, who combined and organized these various materials into a continuous and meaningful whole.” – Bill T. Arnold


  • Over on her blog @thclosetatheist has posted her review of Lee Strobel’s book The Case for a Creator. It is a rather scathing indictment of Strobel’s tendency to parade as a skeptic despite going all-in for theism. She refers to Strobel’s creating “the illusion of skepticism” and how often his toughest objections to those he interviews are nothing more than things like “Amazing, tell me more,” etc. She also points out that Strobel doesn’t interview top scholars or scientists in their respective fields but those who have some degree of popularity in the world of evangelicalism. This is Strobel’s habit and one seen clearly even in his latest book The Case for Miracles. (I mean, he interviews J. Warner Wallace, for crying out loud!)
  • @StudyofChrist, whose ability to produce excellent content on YouTube sickens me, discusses some more ways in which many have sought to reconcile the Matthean and Lukan genealogies of Jesus, including the notion that Joseph was adopted by Heli, the possibility of Leviarite marriage being a factor, and the problems with Julius Africanus’ take. Finally, @StudyofChrist concludes that the best approach is to “embrace the differences” between the two genealogies and recognize that there are theological motives in play. I second that motion!
  • Rachel Martin at NPR recently conducted an interview with Robert Alter on his magnum opus, his translation of the entire Tanakh. I’ve read Alter’s The Five Books of Moses and it was insightful, readable, and beautiful. I’ve also read significant portions of his translation of Job and loved what I read there as well. So as soon as I move I plan on getting his translation of the Hebrew Bible.
  • Phil Long, whose work I highlighted last week on Acts, has a short post on “The Times of Refreshing” found in Acts 3:20. He notes that the phrase is a “Second Temple Period way of describing the eschatological kingdom” and brings up a variety of texts – biblical and extrabiblical – that point to the age of the eschatological reign of God in the world.
  • Over a decade ago biblical scholar Bill Arnold wrote about his view of the composition of the book of Genesis in his 2009 commentary on it. A shortened summary of his take entitled “Reflections on the Composition of Genesis” demonstrates that Arnold is in general agreement with the findings of the Documentary Hypothesis that the text of Genesis is made up of three sources: J (Yahwist), E (Elohist), and P (Priestly). He compares the creation of Genesis to the creation of the Synoptic Gospels wherein both written and oral sources were brought together to form a coherent whole.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

Musings on Mark: The Markan Jesus on Divorce

“Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her….”
– Jesus


In Mark 10:1-12 we read of an encounter between “some Pharisees” and Jesus over the question of divorce. They ask him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” (10:2, NRSV) to which Jesus replies, “What did Moses command you?” (10:3) They then tell Jesus that Moses said it was permissible to divorce one’s wife if you produce a “certificate of dismissal” (10:4). What did that entail?

Moses and Divorce

Deuteronomy 24:1-4 gives us the answer.

Suppose a man enters into marriage with a woman, but she does not please him because he finds something objectionable about her, and so he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house; she then leaves his house and goes off to become another man’s wife. Then suppose the second man dislikes her, writes her a bill of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house (or the second man who married her dies); her first husband, who sent her away, is not permitted to take her again to be his wife after she has been defiled; for that would be abhorrent to the LORD, and you shall not bring guilt on the land that the LORD your God is giving you as a possession.

So if a man found something “objectionable” about his wife, he could then write a certificate of divorce and send her away. But what constitutes objectionable? Simply put, we don’t know.

The “objectionable thing” is vague, and perhaps deliberately so. This law is less interested in the technicalities of the bill of divorce than it is in the correct disposition of the former wife’s sexuality.1

Whatever it was, by the time of Jesus there were some groups who contended a wife who couldn’t cook was one who could be divorced while others claimed that divorce was only permissible on the grounds of sexual immorality.2 

Having been put away by her husband, the woman is free to marry again (24:2). However, if her new husband “dislikes her” then he too can write a bill of divorce and put her away (24:3). But is this woman free to return to her first husband? No, because “she has been defiled” and such an act “would be abhorrent to the LORD” and would “bring guilt on the land” (24:4).

Back to “The Beginning”

Jesus acknowledges the Pharisees’ words about Moses but it isn’t a concession. He tells them that it was “[b]ecause of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you” (10:5). Well what does that mean? A heart that is “hard” refers to a disposition of stubbornness. But how does that fit with regards to Moses and the giving of this law? It seems that Jesus understands Deuteronomy 24:1-4 “as a temporary concession by God to the spiritual weakness of the people.”3 In other words, divorce was permitted but it “was never envisaged in the divine purpose.”4 Instead, God’s design was life-long partnership:

But from the beginning of creation, “God made them male and female.” “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate (10:6-9).

Jesus is echoing the words of both the Priestly account of humanity’s creation (Genesis 1:27) and the Yahwist’s account (Genesis 2:24). His appeal to these texts serves his point that “what God has joined together, let no one separate” (10:9). How? Because it was God who made them two separate beings (Genesis 1:27) but then, through the act of marriage and physical consummation, they “become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). And since marriage was God’s idea “from the beginning of creation,” only he can separate the two that have become one.

Divorce and Remarriage

But if this wasn’t obvious from his exchange with the Pharisees, Jesus is even more blunt in private with the disciples (10:10).

Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery (24:11-12).

If you divorce your spouse and marry someone else you have violated the commandment of God (Exodus 20:14). Why? Because the now-divorced couple are still one flesh. Therefore, a remarriage means a union that violates that one flesh. This is in stark contrast with the Deuteronomic law which stated marriage was permissible after divorce.

So if we ask the Markan Jesus, “Is divorce permissible?” his answer would be a resounding “No!” Why? Because marriage is a union of one flesh that no one can separate. Not Moses. Not a certificate of divorce. No one. Only God.


NOTES

1 Douglas A. Knight and Amy-Jill Levine, The Meaning of the Bible: What the Jewish Scriptures and Christian Old Testament Can Teach Us (HarperOne, 2011), 315.

2 Gordon J. Wenham, “Divorce,” in Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan, editors, The Oxford Companion to the Bible (OUP, 1993), 170.

3 John R. Donahue and Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of Mark, Sacra Pagina (The Liturgical Press, 2002), 294.

4 R.T. France, The Gospel of Mark, NIGTC (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002), 391.

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Michael D. Coogan: The Deuteronomic School

Michael D. Coogan, The Old Testament: A Historical and Literary Introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures, third edition (OUP, 2014), 186.

The Deuteronomic school, as we have seen, had connections with both the Levitical priesthood and the prophets. It continued to revise its core text, the book of Deuteronomy, as Israel’s circumstances changed from autonomous nation to people in exile. It also produced the Deuteronomistic History, the interpretive narrative of Israel’s history in the Promised Land based on the ideals of the book of Deuteronomy, an extended work covering the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings. The Deuteronomistic History was itself revised several times, much like the book of Deuteronomy….

Michael D. Coogan: Deuteronomy and the Law of the King

Michael D. Coogan, The Old Testament: A Historical and Literary Introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures, third edition (OUP, 2014), 183-184.

The “law of the king” [Deuteronomy 17:14-20] seems to have been written with specific kings in mind, especially as they are described in the book of Kings. The extravagant acquisition of horses and gold and an enormous harem especially coincides with the description of Solomon’s reign (see 1 Kings 3.1; 4.26; 9.28; 10.14-11.8), but trade and alliances with Egypt are mentioned of other kings, and a harem was an ordinary part of the royal establishment.

The Deuteronomic “law of the king” thus critiques the extravagances of the kings belonging to the dynasty established by David, and also by the ideology attached to that dynasty, in which the king was the adopted son of God and the essential intermediary between God and the people, and in which God had made an unconditional covenant guaranteeing the dynasty in perpetuity….

For the authors of Deuteronomy, writing during the period of the monarchy, although kingship was a divinely sanctioned institution, it was to be severely limited. God’s blessing for the people depended not on the king but on the entire nation’s observance of its covenant with God. The Deuteronomists, in other words, advocated a reform in which the ideals of the premonarchic period would be combined with the realities of the monarchy. Like many of the prophets, they were reactionaries, but their nostalgia for the past was translated into a detailed program for the present and future.