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which it was written was no longer in use. The old manuscripts were in the Phænician character; for, the primitive form of Hebrew was “the language of Canaan” mentioned by Isaiah. At what exact period the Assyrian or Chaldean letter was substituted in its place is a disputed point. The Talmud informs us it was introduced by Ezra. “But,” says Professor W. Robertson Smith, “we know that this is a mistake, for the Samaritans, who did not possess the Pentateuch until fifty years after Ezra, received it in the old Phoenician letter, which they retain in a corrupted form down to the present day."1 In any case the change was not likely to assist the copyists. The continuous form of the ancient writing,—the absence of any break between either sentences or words, is affirmed by some and questioned by others. But the division into verses was an innovation, while that of chapters was not the work of the Jews at all; but was used for the first time in the thirteenth century. As to authorship, almost every book was without a name. The Pentateuch, it is true, was written on separate skins. No such distinction was conferred upon other books. It is therefore not to be wondered at that in the historical writings, indeed in the Pentateuch too, statements frequently occur under the name of the same writer, which directly contradict one another. Granting the most religious desire, on the part of the copyist, faithfully to reproduce a text thus obscured, how liable he must have been to err. If we picture to ourselves a musician whose proficiency was limited to flute-playing; and suppose such an one to set himself to reproduce a perfect transcript of the entire works of Beethoven from the crabbed autographic score, what havoc might we not expect him to make with the harmony ! Moreover, we have it upon Rabbinical authority, that the scribes purposely departed from the text wherever they held that to be incongruous or unseemly. Thus in Genesis xviii. 22, where we read, “The Lord still stood before Abraham,” they ventured to write, “ Abraham still stood before the Lord.” Nor in other respects was their editorial method based upon judicious principles. “If,” says Rabbi Wogue, “one must yield to Talmudic testimonies (Jerus. Tadníth, iv. 2; tr. Sôpherim, vi. 4), this work of restoration may not always have been conformable to the rules of a sound criticism. ‘Amongst many diverse readings for the same word,' say they, 'the one was adopted which occurred in the majority of exemplars;' whence it follows that regard was had to quantity, not to quality.” As increase in quantity must necessarily have been detrimental to quality, considerable progress must have been made in the direction of error.
i The Old Testament in the Jewish these instructive lectures. Professor Church. Those who are interested Smith is in the front rank of “learned in this subject will do well to read and believing criticism."
The most ancient Hebrew manuscript of the Old Testament extant is that of Odessa. This was once believed to date from the sixth century. Modern authorities now assign it to the ninth. It is admitted that for long before either period there had been complete uniformity in the Jewish Bible. If we are to assume that the Hebrew canon was closed at the time of the Septuagint, uniformity must be supposed to have existed ever since: for accuracy of reproduction, after the closing of the canon, became one of the most sacred of religious duties. “All the evidence of variations and quotations later than the first Christian century points to the received text as already existing practically as we have it, but we cannot follow its history beyond that time. On the contrary, there is abundant evidence that in earlier ages Hebrew MSS. differed as much as, or more than, MSS. of the New Testament.”1 The standard copy, therefore, whatever that may have been, is the Hebrew Bible “ as we have it." Here at last we approach the answer we are in search of. The final reply may be given in the words of Professor Smith
i The Old Testament in the Jewish Church.
“If the scribes were not the men to make a critical text, it is plain that they were also not in a position to choose, upon scientific principles, the very best extant MS.; but it is very probable that they selected an old and wellwritten copy, possibly one of those MSS. which were preserved in the court of the Temple. Between this copy and the original autographs of the Sacred Writers there must have been many a link. It may have been an old manuscript, but it was not an exorbitantly old one. Of that there are two proofs. In the first place, it was certainly written with the Square' or 'Chaldean' letters used in our modern Hebrew Bibles; but these letters are of Aramaic origin, and in old times the Hebrews used the quite different character called Phænician. . . . It is very doubtful whether there were any MSS. written in the Aramaic character before the third century B.C., and that, therefore, would be the earliest date to which we can refer the archetype of our present Hebrew copies.” 1
1 Ubi supra.
We have seen that, in the eyes of the Jews, the Pentateuch is the most sacred of the Scriptures. In so far as . this comparison derogates from the inspiration of the remainder of the Bible, such an estimate cannot be endorsed by the Christian. Nevertheless, for the main question of Revelation, as containing the history of Creation and of God's original covenant with man—as containing, in fact, the history of God Himself from His primary relation with this world—the books of Moses are entitled to the superior importance assigned to them by the Jews.
No attempt will be made here to enter into details of textual criticism, or into the nice points of Hebrew scholarship, upon which modern authorities have framed their conclusions. I shall simply allude to the broad results placed by common consent beyond the range of controversy. In tracing the old Hebrew text back to the time of Ezra (478 B.C.), it was made evident that, even supposing authentic manuscripts of the Mosaic books to have survived both the capture of the Ark by the Philistines and the destruction of the Temple by Nebuchadnezzar, the obstacles in the way of faithful reproduction were almost insuperable. It was also noted as somewhat singular that in so short a space as half a century, or little more, the Torâh, which was the tangible bond that united the Israelites to Jehovah, should have fallen into such utter disuse and oblivion. We shall now see there is ample proof to satisfy a dispassionate mind that the Pentateuch, as known to us, was not extant before the Exile, or till the time of Ezra : and
that the difficulties which then had to be overcome were, in some measure, labours of authorship as well as those of recension.
In the eighteenth year of the King Josiah (623 B.C.), while the Temple was undergoing repair, “Hilkiah the high priest said unto Shaphan the scribe, I have found the book of the Law in the house of the Lord” (2 Kings xxii. 8). What was this book thus suddenly brought to light? Was it the book of Exodus, or of Leviticus, or · Deuteronomy, or was it the whole Pentateuch ? That it was a discovery of the utmost moment, and that it created profound astonishment, is apparent from its effect upon Josiah. “It came to pass when the king had heard the words of the book of the Law, that he rent his clothes.”, A very superficial acquaintance with Bible history from the time of Joshua to the finding of the Torâh (a period covering over 800 years) is enough to convince one that the Law, as reproduced by Ezra—the Law as we have it—was as unknown to the divinely appointed Israelite leaders who immediately followed the Mosaic era, as it was to Samuel, David, Solomon, Isaiah, Amos, Micah, Hosea, or indeed as it was to Josiah himself. Let us contrast the present Torâh with the religious life of Israel for the thousand years between its institution under Ezra and the death of Joshua.
In Nehemiah xiii. the Law is spoken of as “the book of Moses," and from the reference to the Levitical code, here and elsewhere, we perceive that the religious system now enforced, included, not only that portion of the Law which is contained in Exodus and is repeated in Deuteronomy, but also that which relates to the priesthood. The newly discovered book therefore was the equivalent of our Pentateuch. Now, the one impression which forces itself upon us in the perusal of the non-historical books of the Pentateuch is that, the religion of the people of Israel was from beginning to end an intensely complicated Ritualism,