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books of the Old Testament, pertaining to them as severally comprehended in an authoritative Canon. I cannot thus confound Ecclesiastes, or the Canticles, with Exodus. For aught that I can learn, that which, a priori, would be strongly probable, actually took place; and, after the period of the composition of all those books, concerning which a question could now arise, single books, or different partial collections of books, were in different Jewish hands, being severally held in different degrees of esteem by different persons; the Law, for instance, being received by all, and the books of the Maccabees, for instance, being prized and sought by some, and not by others. I find no way to avoid the opinion, that, as in the New Testament collection, so in the Old, the several books are to be judged on their several and independent grounds of evidence; and that, further, the mere circumstance of being excluded from the established Canon, and stigmatized by the title of Apocryphal, should not prevent other books from having their claims considered. I find nothing in history to simplify the labor of a critic on the Jewish scriptures, by satisfying him, that, by mere force of being found embraced in the now received collection, a book is to be acknowledged for an authoritative teacher of faith or practice. This is what, I conceive, he has first to ascertain, before he is justified to proceed upon it as
TEXT OF THE OLD TESTAMENT.
THE TEXT OF THE LAW SUBJECT TO BE VITIATED BY COPYISTS, PREVIOUSLY TO THE SEPARATION OF THE KINGDOMS.
INFORMATION RESPECTING ITS EARLY CONDITION TO BE DERIVED FROM THE SAMARITAN PENTATEUCH. - CONTROVERSY RESPECTING THE ORIGIN
THE SAMARITAN Copy. - HISTORY OF THE TEXT, TO THE TIME OF Ezra, — OF THE ALEXANDRINE Version, - OF ORIGEN,
THE MASORITES, THE INVENTION OF PRINTING. PRINTED EDITIONS. – IMPOSSIBILITY OF FORMING A WHOLE CRITICAL Text. RECAPITULATION OF
The condition of the Text of the Old Testament, in respect to genuineness and purity, presents another important inquiry to the interpreter of its contents.
We know nothing of any critical labors expended upon the Text, before the third century of the Christian era. Up to that time, and, in a less degree, for a much longer period, as will presently appear, it was exposed to those chances of corruption, through mistakes, and possibly through design of transcribers, which are known to have taken effect on other ancient writings. Nor is there any reason to suppose, that divine Providence protected the books of the Old Testament, by means independent of human care, any more than that it so protected the books of the New Testament, which we know, however, not to have been dispensed, in this respect, from the common lot of writings frequently transcribed.
For the purpose of the present investigation, we may safely assume, what in its proper place I shall maintain, that the books attributed to Moses were, in fact, substantially his production ; since, if any one should determine otherwise, our results would be no further affected in his mind, than that, proposing a later date for the origin of those writings, he would understand them to have been subject to dangers of corruption through a less time. For the same reason, I may be permitted, for the present, to suppose the general correctness of the common opinion, respecting the succession in which the other parts of the Old Testament collection were composed.
At the close of the book of Deuteronomy* we read, that Moses, having “made an end of writing the words of the Law in a book, until they were finished,” committed the volume to the Levites, directing them to lay it up, by or “ in the side of the ark of the covenant of the Lord,” to remain there, after his death, " for a witness," against the people, when they should violate its provisions. As the national code, it was of course fit that it should be deposited, under responsible public charge, at that place which was at once the political centre of the nation, and which, from its religious sanctity, would extend to it the most effectual protection.
Were copies early multiplied? This is a question, which we can answer only on grounds of probability ; but I think it must be allowed that these are extremely strong. There was no policy, requiring that the people should be kept in ignorance of the contents of the law. On the contrary, as it was designed for the constant regulation of their conduct, means were expressly prescribed for its periodical promulgation to them.f There was no policy, requiring that its use should be restricted to oral communication through the priests. On the contrary, it was prescribed as a duty for every king, when Israel should assume a royal government, to make a copy, with his own hand, on his accession to the throne.* A great familiarity with it was urged upon the people at large, in terms which imply, that a disposition to study it with all possible aids would not only not be thwarted, but be commended and encouraged.t Magistrates were not to execute their trusts at the central seat of authority alone; they were dispersed among the cities of all the tribes ;and the homes of the Levites, whose whole official function consisted in the administration of the religious law, were to be in separate communities, remote from the tabernacle. It appears to the last degree improbable, that numerous copies of the Law would not be provided, at least for the use of those numerous classes of persons, on whose intelligent application of it, so much, by its own provisions, was made to depend.
xxxi. 24 - 27.
+ Deut, xxxi. 10 - 13.
If copies from Moses' autograph were made, one is safe in saying, on the ground of universal experience, that, made with whatever care, they were not immaculate; and that the list of errors was increased with each successive transcription. An exact, undeviating, written copy of a composition of considerable length, if we may not call it an impossible achievement, is probably a work of which no example exists. An amanuensis, intending to give a strict representation of an existing manuscript, is deceived by his eye; or by his ear, if he writes from dictation; or he omits, or repeats a word or a passage, where successive words or passages have similar endings or beginnings; or, having read a clause, he trusts his memory while he writes it, and erroneously puts down a word synonymous with the original, or of similar sound; or, observing that he has omitted a word or a phrase, he subjoins it, rather than deface his copy, and thus produces a transposition; or, finding in the margin of the page, from which he is transcribing, a remark which, in the first instance, was only a gloss, he mistakes it for an omission, which the previous transcriber had accidentally made, and had thus supplied, and accordingly adopts it into the body of his own text.
* Deut. xvii. 18-20.
+ Ibid. vi. 6-9; xi. 18 - 21.
These are some of the most common mistakes, universally incident to transcription from a written page. A transcriber of bolder genius will venture on the correction of what strike him as deviations, for instance, from good grammar or rhetoric, presuming them to have been errors of the copyist whose work is before him; or he will introduce illustrations, or more full or satisfactory expressions, from some other book, or some different part of the same; or he will add a few words by way of explanation; or, for the better information of his readers, he will modernize words, especially proper names; or he will even go so far as to change an expression for some other, which, through convictions of his own, appears to him better to represent the author's views, conforming it to what, when the scriptures are the writings in question, is called the analogy of the faith.
How far, and in what comparative degrees, these and the like causes of error affected the early copies of the writings of Moses, supposing that copies were made, we have now very inadequate means of determining. I only add, that, apart from such always operative causes of accidental error as have been named, it would be unreasonable to suppose that the obligation of a copyist simply to present an exact transcript of his original, (without any action of his own mind, except to the end of securing such identity,) could have been felt in those