Sidor som bilder
PDF
ePub

V.

HISTORICAL OUTLINE

OF

THE PROGRESS OF BIBLICAL CRITICISM, AND SUCCESSION OF

SACRED LITERATURE.

As the Mosaic Law was the foundation not only of the Theology but of the Jurisprudence of the Hebrews, a body of authorized interpreters and administrators, distinct from the priesthood, must have been formed at a very early period, for nothing but the superintendence of sacrifices and other religious ceremonies was exclusively entrusted to the tribe of Levi. The earlier prophets appear to have been for the most part authorized expounders or interpreters of the Law; they founded schools and academies in which their disciples went through a course of legal instruction, and by these institutions they protected the Mosaic code from the encroachments of royalty after the establishment of monarchy. After the destruction of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, and the leading away of the Jews into captivity, the schools of the prophets fell into oblivion, nor was any attempt made to revive them when the Jews were again restored to their native land. In their stead a kind of legal colleges was established, attended by professional lawyers, who took the name of Scribes, or Doctors of the Law, and who early began to claim the honorary title of Rabbi, or Master, not merely from their immediate followers, but from the nation at large. They undertook to decide by analogy the various cases and points which had been left unsettled by the Mosaic code, and soon began to claim for their decisions, an authority equal to that of the written word itself. In very many instances, they referred and explained away the simplest injunctions of the Pentateuch, so that Our Lord Jesus Christ justly reproached them with making void the commandments of God. by their traditions,

During the captivity the pure Hebrew language had been corrupted by a large admixture of words from the Chaldee and other cognate tongues, so that it was necessary to employ interpreters when the Scripture was read to the people. But the reading itself was a work of some difficulty:. like the Semitic family of languages to which it belongs, the Hebrew has a very imperfect alphabet; every letter is in fact a consonant, and must consequently have been used as a syllable, in order to supply the deficiency of vowels. So long as the language continued to be spoken, the proper vowel sounds to be supplied were rendered so familiar to the ear by constant practice as to present little difficulty; but when it ceased to be popularly used, the knowledge of the sounds to be supplied could only be obtained by tradition. This tradition was named by the Jews 7700 Massorah, from 700 masar, “to deliver," and those who professed acquaintance with it were denominated Masorites. They engaged not only to preserve the correct pronunciation, but also to guard the purity of the sacred text; they accurately counted the number of letters in the different books, and founded strange speculations on any accidental varieties in their shape. It is now impossible to determine when, or by whom, the canon of the Old Testament was formed, but as it has been universally recognised by the Jewish and Christian churches, its authority may be said to be established by universal consent. The labours of the Masorites could not have begun until that canon had been established, and we may therefore date the formation of their school somewhere about the time of the first translation of the Old Testament into Greek, previous to which the Jewish canon must unquestionably have been settled.

The vocalization of the Hebrew text became more and more perplexing as the language fell into desuetude, and there is evidence to prove that the Masorites tried various expedients to remedy the deficiency of vowels before they devised the present cumbrous system of points. The Reverend Dr. Wall, of Trinity College, Dublin, one of the first Hebraists and Biblical scholars of the age. contends that their first attempt was to use the letters mnemonically, called Ehevi, that is x 77 9 and , as vowels, in imitation of the Greeks, who, on receiving letters from the Phænicians, gave vocal powers to the corresponding letters, A, H, Y, and I, adding O instead of the guttural y. The learned doctor has collected convincing evidence that this attempt was made, but it must have been soon abandoned, for the introduction of these vocalizing letters would have subverted the whole of the grammatical analogies of the Hebrew language, and in fact, those traces of the attempt which

1420

THE PROGRESS OF BIBLICAL CRITICISM,

still remain in the text, are declared by Dr. Wall to be the chief sources of the discrepancies between the standard Hebrew text and the Septuagint version.

The translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek by the Jews of Alexandria, opened its treasures of ancient literature to the philosophers and learned men who had collected at the court of the Ptolemies, and among other labours of the Alexandrian school, we find traces of early efforts to harmonize the Scriptural narratives with the records of profane antiquity. Attention was thus directed to the important subject of Biblical Chronology, but it was not reduced into a definite system until it engaged the attention of Eusebius and other Fathers of the Christian church. The Targums of Onkelos and Jonathan, both nearly cotemporary with Our Saviour's advent, were translations, or rather paraphrases of the Bible in Chaldee, and, being made exclusively for the use of Jews, belong rather to the history of Biblical interpretation than of Biblical criticism.

The city of Alexandria contained the most motley miscellany of nations, religions, and sects that had ever been assembled in one city;—the various schools of philosophy in Greece,-the speculations of the Oriental sages,—the traditions of the ancient Egyptian priesthood,—the classic mythology of the Hellenic poets,—the Dualism of Persia,—the Pantheism of Central Asia,—and the revealed religion of the Jews, had each their representatives and partisans in this great market-place of the world, where not only goods, but also opinions and doctrines, were often changed and mixed together during the course of several centuries. The sublime investigations of Plato, clothed in language of unrivalled eloquence, won a common homage from all these diversities of creed and racej each endeavoured to harmonize more or less of the Platonic doctrines with his own peculiar system, and had recourse to mysticism and allegorical interpretation for the purpose of reconciling differences Manifest traces of this spirit of Eclecticism, or, as it is sometimes called, Neo-Platonism, may be found in the writings of Philo, a learned Jew of the Pharisaic sect, who flourished at Alexandria about the time when Christianity first began to be generally promulgated. He was a Hellenistic Jew, most probably ignorant of the Hebrew language, and therefore acquainted with the Old Testament only through the medium of the Septuagint version; he was an ardent admirer of Plato's philosophy, and was strongly opposed to the spirit of exclusiveness which characterized the Jewish people. His liberal sentiments, expressed in eloquent language, rendered him a great favourite with the Fathers of the Christian church, and his sentiments concerning the Logos, or WORD, bear so close a resemblance to those of the Evangelist St. John, as to have given rise to the erroneous opinion entertained by some eminent men that he was really a Christian.

Flavius Josephus, the eminent historian of the Jewish Wars, deserves honourable mention in the annals of Biblical criticism, for his spirited vindication of the antiquity of the Jewish people, against some obscure calumniator named Apion. His candour and fairness as a historian have rendered his writings acceptable and valuable to Christian readers, but for the same reason he is unpopular amongst the Jews, notwithstanding his strong attachment to Pharisaical principles.

The rapid progress of Christianity after the destruction of Jerusalem, and the dispersion of the Jewish nation, induced the Rabbis to consult on the best means for preventing the total extirpation of Judaism, which was sure to follow from the oblivion into which their traditions or oral laws were beginning to fall. The essential principle of Judaism then, and now, was that the oral law was co-equal in antiquity and authority to the written law of the Pentateuch. But now, when the central authority at Jerusalem was destroyed, the dispersed synagogues and individual Jews had no recognised body for determining the authenticity and obligation of these traditions, or choosing between the contradictory decisions of different Rabbis. The task of collecting these traditions was undertaken by Rabbi Judah, the Holy, about the commencement of the second century after Christ. As Moses had given to the Jews the Mikra, or “ written law, designed to be read,” so Rabbi Judah undertook to supply them with the Mishna, or “traditional law to be orally repeated.” The great object of the Mishna was to keep the Jews a distinct and separate people, by prescribing to them an infinite number of minute ordinances regulating every action of private and public life, and fixing rules of conduct in almost every possible contingency which could occur between the cradle and the grave. In process of time a number of additional traditional observances arising from rabbinical decisions on disputed cases were superadded to the different sections of the Mishna, and these being collected in a later age were called Gemaras, or “supplements," the most celebrated of which were the Gemaras of Jerusalem and of Babylon. The Mishna and Gemara together received the name of Talmud (q. v.) or “general body of instruction for the Jewish people."

AND SUCCESSION OF SACRED LITERATURE.

1421

Viewed as a portion of Biblical criticism, the Talmud is utterly contemptible. Its language, particularly in the Gemara, is a barbarous compound of all the Semitic dialects, with a sprinkling of the Greek, Latin, and Gothic languages; it has not, and cannot have a grammar, for its authors affected to despise all laws of analogy and rules of grammar, pretending, like the fanatics of most ages, that their barbarous ignorance was an additional proof of their inspiration. It is, however, not without its value to the Biblical student, for the Mishna contains a fair summary of the Jewish traditions as they existed in the age of Gospel history; and the Gemara is the best guide to the creed of modern Judaism. As a specimen of its contents we shall translate part of a passage relating to the Watches of the Night, or intervals at which the prayer, or rather confession of faith, called Shema, should be offered. It derives its name from the first word you Shema, or “Hear,” being, indeed, the well-known passage in Deuteronomy, beginning “ Hear, O Israel, the Lord thy God is our Lord,” to the repetition of which, at stated times, great importance has always been attached by the Rabbins. In the Talmudic discussion of these proper seasons we find the following strange narrative.

“Rabbi Isaac, the son of Samuel, said in the name of another Rabbi, There are three watches in the night, and in each of these the Holy One (Jehovah), on whose name be blessings, sits down and roars like a lion, and says, Woe is me, who have desolated my house, burned my temple, and exiled my children among the nations of the earth. Rabbi Jose said, One day while I was travelling I went into the ruins of Jerusalem to pray; Elias, of blessed memory, came there, stopped at the door, and waited until I had finished my prayer. When I had concluded he said, Peace be upon thee, Rabbi; to which I replied, Peace be with thee, Rabbi and Mori (doctor); he asked me, Why, my child, have you come into this ruin? I said, To pray. He replied, You might have prayed on your road. I said, I feared to be interrupted by the passengers. He replied, You might have said the short prayer. I thus learned three things from him, 1. that it was unnecessary to enter into a ruin; 2. that it was lawful to pray on a road; and 3. that it was permitted to use the short prayer. But Elias continuing to converse with me, said, What voice have you heard in this ruin? I replied, that I had heard the Bath Kol, (literally, the daughter of the voice;' but by the Jews used to signify the voice of the Holy Spirit,') moaning like a wood-pigeon, and saying, Woe is me who have desolated my house, burned my temple, and dispersed my children among the nations of the earth. Then Elias resumed : I swear by your life, and the life of your head, that it is not only at this hour that the Divine voice thus speaks, but it repeats the same thing three times every day; and not only that, but as often as the Jews go into their synagogues and schools, and make the proper responses at prayer, so often the Holy One, blessed be his name, shakes his head, and says, Happy is the king who is thus honoured in his house! How foolish is the Father that exiled such children! How sad it is for such children to be exiled from the table of their Father!"

It would be easy to quote from the Gemara specimens of blasphemous nonsense still more offensive, but this passage is quite sufficient to show how erroneous is the common belief that the Talmud is a repertory of valuable Biblical information. It deserves also to be remarked that the Rabbis were the original devisers of those strange systems of cosmology and geography which were eagerly adopted by the monks of the middle ages. For instance, in order to prove that the earth is a fixed and immovable plain, over which the firmament inexplicably revolves, the Talmud tells us that Rabba, the son of Chandra, having got to the top of a very high chimney, allowed his breadbasket to be caught by a hook in one of the windows of the firmament, and could not recover it until the same hour on the next day, when that identical window was again over his head. Similar to this is the commentary on the building of Babel by Ægidius de Columna, who asserted that the sons of Noah designed their tower to reach up to one of these windows of the firmament through which they might climb upon the solid sphere of heaven, if the earth should again be exposed to the ravages of a flood.

Several translations of the Old Testament into Greek were made by Jewish writers or by Ebionite Christians, during the second century of our era. Origen, a celebrated Christian teacher of Alexandria, may be said to have laid the foundation of Biblical criticism by collating these several versions, and comparing them with the original Hebrew. He wrote some very valuable commentaries on the Scripture, but like Philo-Judæus, he adopted the mystical system of interpretation, and endeavoured to establish an union between heathen philosophy and Christian doctrine. He was the first who raised the controversy respecting predestination and free-will; his critical explanations

1422

THE PROGRESS OF BIBLICAL CRITICISM,

indeed are too intimately blended with doctrinal and philosophic expositions, and hence he opened the way to a long series of controversies in which Biblical criticism was utterly forgotten.

Though Ephrem Syrus, who flourished in the fourth century, is not so renowned as Origen, he produced a much more decisive effect on the Biblical criticism of his own and of succeeding ages. He was the first who attempted to lay down, with authority, a system of Biblical cosmology and geography, which was implicitly adopted by the Greek and Oriental Christians, and the effects of which are not yet obliterated in the Western churches. He taught that the earth was a large plain. surrounded by the ocean, beyond which Paradise was placed, and rendered by the intervening water for ever inaccessible to mankind. Regarding the Bible as a perfect system of natural philosophy, he deduced from it what he was pleased to term the certain and sacred principles of all sciences, and then applied these principles again to the interpretation of the Bible itself. From this unfortunate confusion between science and theology, the Byzantine writers never recovered; they tried to make their own conjectural deductions from Scripture the basis both of natural and civil history, of geography, and of most other sciences; so negligent were they of the information to be derived from other sources, that Malalas, in his Paschal Chronicle, actually declares that Great Britain is a city built by Claudius Cæsar on the borders of the Ocean!

To the influence of Ephrem Syrus and his followers must mainly be attributed the countless treatises, by which Biblical literature has been disfigured, on the site of the Garden of Eden, on the condition, geographical and physical, of the antediluvian world ; and on the peopling of the world by the descendants of Noah. As these subjects have not yet been quite discarded, it may be necessary, in a few words, to point out the utter fallacy of every investigation respecting them.

The Scriptural narrative declares that when our first parents were expelled from the Garden of Eden, their return to it was supernaturally prevented by a flaming sword, which prevented any approach to this paradise of delight. As there is no record that this impediment was ever removed previous to the Deluge, it is clear that it must have prevented the access of Adam's posterity to this favoured spot, and consequently that all knowledge of the locality must, in the course of time, hare been obliterated. It is certain that no spot exists upon the earth now, fulfilling the conditions of the Scriptural description of the four rivers by which the garden was watered. It would be absurd indeed to expect it, for such a cataclysm as the Deluge must have so changed the physical aspect of the entire country, as to render all former localities utterly incapable of being recognised. The Scripture itself not obscurely indicates that this was the case ; it shows that Noah and his family came out of the ark into what was to them absolutely a new world. They made no effort to locate themselves in their ancient habitations, clearly because every trace of them was obliterated; and they abstained from any attempt to seek for the terrestrial paradise, because they felt assured that every trace of it must have been swept away from the face of the earth by the Deluge.

The preceding observations sufficiently show the absurdity of every attempt to construct a system of antediluvian geography; our only source for such a system must be the Scripture, which is all but entirely silent on the subject. All the changes on the earth's surface which can plausibly be assigned to this last great cataclysm indicate that it must have changed the entire physical aspect of everything within the sphere of its influence; the straits which separate Europe from Asia, the British Islands from the Continent, Sicily from Italy, Ceylon from India, and many others, seem to show that they were formed by some sudden disruption of the land occasioned by the rush of some enormous body of water. It would be presumptuous to assert that these great disruptions all took place at the period of the universal Deluge; but they afford indisputable evidence that at some distant period the distribution of land and sea on the surface of the earth was different from what it is at present, and that we have no existing records by which we can determine the nature or extent of the changes that have been wrought. A treatise on the situation of Eden, or any other point of antediluvian geography, must be as fanciful and as essentially absurd as the well-known Essay on the Geography and Topography of Hell, written by Ægidius de Columna at the close of the thirteenth century, and illustrated with maps and elevations, for the accuracy of which the worthy monk was as ready to vouch as any antediluvian geographer of the present day.

The Moral Commentaries on Scripture produced by the Greek Fathers, particularly those of St. Chrysostom and Gregory Nazianzen, must not be included in the censure passed upon their physical disser'ations. The Homilies of Chrysostom contain a body of theology not unworthy of a prelate whose el que ce procured him the na ne of John “with the golden mouth." Gregory

AND SUCCESSION OF SACRED LITERATURE.

1423

Nazianzen's Orations, particularly that on “ The duty of loving the poor," are replete with afectionate warning and gentle rebuke, well suited to the character of a Christian prelate.

Closely connected with this subject is the attempt made by the Byzantines to christianize the literature of ancient Greece, an attempt in which Gregory Nazianzen occupied a conspicuous place. The first effort to unite the grace of classic composition with the discussion of sacred subjects was made by a Jew of Alexandria, named Ezekiel, about the middle of the second century. He constructed a tragedy, according to regular dramatic rule, on the history of Moses. Although the language is disfigured by many barbarisms, and the laws of metre violated without scruple, many passages in Ezekiel's tragedy possess considerable merit. We shall translate one as a specimen. MOSES RELATES HIS DREAM TO JETHRO.

In low obeisance; as I counted them I dreamed that I beheld a mighty throne,

They seemed a host: I started in affright: Based upon earth, but mounting up to heav'n;

And woke from sleep.
On it there sat a more than human form,

JETHRO INTERPRETS THE DREAM.
A crown and sceptre of pure gold he bore,
And leftwards sat; but to the vacant right

Stranger ! thy God has promis’d mighty things; Pointing, he beckoned. I approached the throne ;

Would that I lived when such events befal! He yielded up his sceptre ; bade me sit,

Thou shalt dethrone a mighty king, and take Placed on my head his golden crown, and then

A nation's captaincy as thy reward. Freely gave up his throne. Now far beneath

And as thou saw'st the wide terrestrial globe I saw the rolling earth, the vast profound

And all beneath and all above the heavens, And heaven's cærulean azure gemmed with stars;

A mighty prophet thou shalt be, and know

What's past, what's present, and what is to come. Then at my feet a thousand stars there fell

A Christian tragedy very similar in style to that of Ezekiel, was written about the year 362 by Apollinarius of Alexandria, the author of several other tragedies, comedies, and odes, which have long since sunk into oblivion. His principal drama, the Christus Patiens, has been falsely attributed to Gregory Nazianzen ; it is very little known even to scholars, and we shall therefore translate a specimen, selecting the speech which the Virgin Mary is supposed to make when the Roman soldier strikes his lance into the side of the suffering Redeemer.

Alas! alas! alas!
I saw, ye maids, one of the numerous guards,
Who broke the robbers' legs, uplift his lance,
And thrust the point into my darling's heart.
I fear some new calamity impends,
And I must see the body of my son
Spurn’d and insulted by the vile and base ;
Alas, me wretched!
But, oh! what awful prodigy is this?
Behold, what's streaming from the wounded dead !
A double fountain from his side is gushing: -
A sanguine stream is one, the other clear
As mountain rill. See, both together spring
Soon as the Roman spear has reached his heart.
And he who gave the wound, with awe overwhelmed,
Shuddering, I know not why, shouts out aloud,
“ The victim I have struck is God's own Son."
Behold him suppliant bow before the cross,
And beat his breast, and grasp the very earth
Where he had fixed his blood-stained cruel spear;
And lo! he catches at the mingled stream,
And rubs it as an ointment to his eye,

To purify his vision with its power. Gregory Nazianzen's contributions to the Christian literature of the Greek church were verv numerous, and some of them possess considerable poetic merit. They have never been translated, and it appears to be no unacceptable service to furnish English readerss with a few specimens of an interesting school of sacred literature, with the very existence of which they are unacquainted, and which, indeed, is scarcely known by name to the majority of scholars. The following is a pretty literal translation of

Her faithful maids, a late-exulting band,
GREGORY'S LAMENT FOR HIS SOUL.

Dissolved in tears around their mistress stand,
How often we behold the new-made bride

Drop tear for tear, respond to every groan, Find grief invade her hour of joy and pride,

And aggravate her sorrows by their own. And see her spouse in manhood's brightest bloom,

How oft we see the tender mother wild, Reft from her arms to moulder in the tomb.

Follow the bier that bears a favourite child,

« FöregåendeFortsätt »