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keep thy law,”) if we were to infer, from the analogy alluded to, that understanding meant help, we should have reached a good sense, but it would not be the true one.
Such instances show, at a glance, the caution with which aid from the cognate dialects should be sought. Yet they do not disprove the great value, which such assistance may possess. It may confirm the evidence of one or more versions, against the opposing authority of others, which are abstractly of more consideration. It may furnish a sense, where, from mere defect of information concerning a word, a text has remained unintelligible. And particularly, it may often supply the links, by which a secondary sense is connected with a primary, when otherwise that connexion would be imperceptible.
Some of the statements, which have now been made, cannot have failed to make manifest the unreasonableness of those, who demand that the Old Testament should be interpreted with the same fulness as the New, or who press with equal confidence their own interpretations of its language. It is out of the question for any man to suppose, that he can be acquainted with Hebrew as familiarly and thoroughly, as he may be acquainted with Greek and Latin. We have not so much as the rudest grammar, or lexicon, or version, proceeding from the times when any man knew Hebrew as one knows his vernacular tongue. We have not an extended Hebrew literature, so that, by comparing various connexions in which the same word is used, we may arrive, by long approximation, at its varieties and minutiæ of sense. On the contrary, the total remains of it are collected in one volume of no great bulk, in which, of course, numerous words occur but a few times, and many not more than once, while some, it is
not unlikely, are mere errors of transcription, which it is now too late to correct. It was besides a language, in some respects, of very inartificial, and, we must needs say, incomplete construction, leaving room, in its forms, for great latitude of interpretation ; or, if that latitude was not in reality so great as to us it seems, then it was restricted by devices, which we at this distant time are unable to detect. The limitation, in the forms of the verbs, to three moods and two tenses, may be specified as a prominent imperfection of the kind of which I speak.*
But even that knowledge of a language, which so partially, from unavoidable circumstances, we possess of the Hebrew, is clearly far from being all, which an interpreter wants for the entirely satisfactory execution of his work, or all, which, in the present instance, we are precluded from obtaining. There are no side lights thrown for us upon the social and intellectual condition and habits of the Jewish people, by the writers of other nations. With very few exceptions, and those not of a nature to afford us any aid, the earliest monuments of profane literature are hardly earlier than the latest in their sacred collection. What we would know of the growth and complexion of opinions, necessarily referred to more or less in these writings throughout, we must learn, as best we may, from themselves. Their own brief sketch of the national history is all, on that subject, which is accessible to an interpreter, when he would inform himself, for uses so important to his task, concerning the feelings of the people, and the
« Fatendum est eum conari σχεδίη περάαν μέγα κύμα θαλάσσης, qui sperat se, subsidiis memoratis adjutum, mediocrem adepturum cognitionem Hebraicæ linguæ ; hoc est, se eam ita intellecturum, ut omnibus in locis, aut saltem plurimis, Veteris Testamenti, possit certo sibi persuadere se æque intelligere quid Scriptores sacri velint, ac olim, dum vivebant, ab Hebræorum vulgo intelligebatur.” Clerici Ars Critica, P. I. cap. 4, § 3.
sources of illustration and allusion to which their writers would spontaneously have recourse. All that can be known concerning those characteristic national habits of thought, which dictate the whole form and taste of composition, must be gathered from the same inadequate materials.
Yet more ; we not only want this knowledge respecting the individual nation in question, in order to the best interpretation of its literary remains, but we lack it even in relation to that age of the world's history. And if the habits of expression, and the force of the same forms of speech, differ materially, and differ arbitrarily, as we know they do, in different cotemporaneous branches of the same family of nations, and that too where the modern link of commerce unites them, much more do they differ in distant ages, between nations of as different temperament, culture, and condition as the Orientals and the modern civilized states; and especially may marked peculiarities be reasonably looked for among those, all whose thoughts and habits were of domestic, isolated origin.
A careful interpreter will not forget this; nor, by insisting that he must present distinct statements, will he be led to take up with error, where he is under no necessity of taking up with any thing worse than igno
Does any one think it reason for dissatisfaction, that (if what has been urged be just) God, in his providence, has left us so much less capable of interpreting completely and minutely the records of the old covenant, than those of the new ? He ought to reverse the statement, and be grateful, that, profitable and interesting study as the old dispensation may be, still, as the old, as to its direct authority, is superseded and obsolete, and the new is our authoritative guide in all matters of faith and duty, we are possessed of such superior facilities for the exposition of the latter.
CANON OF THE OLD TESTAMENT.
CURRENT ViewS RESPECTING AN OLD TESTAMENT Canon. — ITS SUPPOSED FORMATION BY EZRA, AND THE MEN OF THE GREAT SYNA
QUESTIONS RESPECTING THE FACT OF SUCH A COLLECTION, AND PRINCIPLES OBSERVED IN MAKING IT.— EXTENT OF THE COLLECTION RENDERED IN THE ALEXANDRINE VERSION. – Books MENTIONED BY Philo. — EVIDENCE FROM THE NEW TESTAMENT, FROM JOSEPHUS, FROM Melito, FROM ORIGEN,
THE FOURTH CENTURY, - FROM JEROME, THE Talmud. — CONCLUSION FROM THE WHOLE INQUIRY.
The current opinion of Protestant Christians respecting the Canon of the Old Testament is as follows:
Thirty-nine Jewish books, now extant in Hebrew, (with the exception of two, parts of which are in Chaldee,) were recognised by the Jews, while they retained a national existence, as containing the revelations, or the authoritative record of the revelations, which God had made to their race. All these books possess, if not an equal, yet a peculiar character of sacredness, which, being shared by no other Jewish writings, makes a broad distinction between them, and the books and portions of books, which are called Apocryphal. And precisely this collection of canonical books, and neither more, nor fewer, nor different, are referred to in the New Testament writings, under the names of “the Holy Scriptures,” “the Law and Prophets,” and “the Law, Prophets, and Psalms."
It has even been extensively believed, that Ezra, on the return from the captivity, made a collection of books ascribed by him to divinely authorized writers, and
placed it in the people's hands, to be their guide of faith and practice.* Had we any credible historical testimony to such a transaction, it would be of the first importance. But we have none whatever. Nor indeed, is it possible that it could have occurred in respect to the whole collection now received, inasmuch as part of it is allowed, on all hands, to have been composed after Ezra's time.
Again ; there is a Jewish fable, that the Canon, as above described, was completed and arranged by a body of men, called the “Men of the Great Synagogue.” † Had it been so, interesting questions would arise, respecting the authority and the qualifications of those individuals for such a work; respecting the amount of necessary information which they possessed, and the degree of good judgment which they exercised. But no such body as the Men of the Great Synagogue is known in authentic history. The phrase seems to have been first used by the Talmudists for the leading men of the first three centuries after the return from Babylon, when spoken of collectively, and so gradually to have come to be used for a supposed associated council of
Two questions present themselves as of great importance in this connexion. 1. Was a Jewish Canon, a collection of books consisting of so many, and no more, ever settled by the Jews during the time of their national existence ; that is, while they could do it intelligently? And if so, then, 2. On what principles was it settled ?
* See Prideaux's Connexions, Vol. II. Part. I. Book 5. Year 446, B. C.
† Prideaux (Ibid., B. C. 292) approves the view, that the two books of Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, and Malachi, were inserted into the Canon by Simon the Just, whom, after Maimonides and other rabbies, he calls the last of the Great Synagogue.