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The language of the scriptures is highly figu. rative. It abounds with allusions and metaphors, and from this source obtains many of its beauties. The objects of nature, and the manners of nations, are introduced to diversify and adorn the sacred page; and many of the boldest and finest images, which are there to be found, are formed upon established customs. Such passages, when first delivered, were easily understood and fully comprehended, and came to the mind with an energy which gave them certain effect. If a similar influence do not accompany them to persons whose residence is in distant climes and ages, it is because they are unacquainted with such circumstances as are therein alluded to, or because they suffer their own habits and manners to prepossess the mind with disaffection, to every thing discordant from its own particular and favourite modes. If we desire to understand the word of God as it was originally revealed, we must not fail to advert to its peculiarities, and especially those of the description in question. It will be found absolutely impossible to develope the meaning of many passages, without recurring to the customs with which they are connected ; and these, when brought forward, will remove the abstruseness which was supposed to attend the subject, and give it a just and clear representation.
The accumulated labours of biblical critics have succeeded in clearing up many dificulties;
but in some instances they have failed, and have left the inquirer bewildered and perplexed. The reason why they have not done better has been the want of a proper attention to oriental customs. Commentators in general have not suf. ficiently availed themselves of the assistance of travellers into the East. It is but rarely that any materials are drawn from their journals to elucidate the scriptures. The few instances which occur of this sort, discover how happily they may be explained by this method, and excite our surprise and regret at the neglect of it.
A spirit of inquiry and research seems to have animated those persons, who, during the two last centuries, explored the regions of the East. Many of them were men of considerable natural talents, acquired learning, and true religion. While they indulged a laudable curiosity in collecting information on general subjects, they did not neglect sacred literature. By their industry the geogra. phy, natural history, religious ceremonies, and miscellaneous customs of the Bible and the eastern nations have been compared and explained, and that essentially to the advantage of the former.
But with regard to these writers it must be observed, that many excellent things of the kind here adverted to are only incidentally mentioned. Some observations which they have made are capable of an application which did not present itself to their minds; so that in addition to a num. ber of passages which they have professedly explained, select portions of their works may be brought into the same service. To collect these scattered fragments, and make a proper use of them, is certainly a laborious work : it has however, been ably executed by the late Mr. Harmer; his Observations on divers Passages of Scripture are well known and highly esteemed. It must be acknowledged to his praise, that he led the way in this department of literature, and has contributed as much as any one man to disseini. nate the true knowledge of many parts of holy writ. But his work is too copious for general utility : it will never fail to be read by the scholar; but it cannot be expected that the generality of christians can derive much benefit from that, which from its extent is almost inaccessible to many persons. it must also be admitted that some of the subjects which are there discussed may be dispensed with, as not being of much interest or importance. The style is sometimes prolix, and difficult of conception, and the ar. -rangement is certainly capable of improvement. On the whole, the book would be more valuable if it were more select in its subjects and compressed in its language. This object long appear. ed so important, that I determined to execute an abridgment of these observations for my own private use ; but upon further reflection and ad
vice, I was induced to undertake the compila. tion of a volume to include the substance of the best writers of this class. The production now offered to the public is the fruit of the resolution just mentioned.
. I have endeavoured to select from Mr. Harmer's Observations whatever appeared important and interesting. This has not indeed been done in the form of a regular abridgment; but after extracting such materials as appeared suitabl, I have inserted them in those places, where, according to the passages prefixed to each of the articles, they ought to stand. This method I apprehend to be new, and not before attempted, but I hope will prove both agreeable and useful. -Asitis the avowed intention of each article to ex. plain some passage, it is proper that it should be inserted at length, and in a manner so conspicuous as at once to attract the attention of the reader.
To the materials collected from Mr. Harmer, have been added some very important remarks from Shaw, Pococke, Russell, Bruce, and other eminent writers. It is admitted that many of these things have repeatedly passed through the press; but as the valuable observations which have been made by travellers and critics lie in. terspersed in separate and expensive publica, tions, a compendious selection of them appeared very desirable, and is here accomplished.
But many of the following observations are original : they are not however particularly distinguished from the rest. I must here avail myself of an opportunity to acknowledge my obli. gations to Mr. Gillingwater, of Harleston in Norfolk, for the very liberal manner in which he favoured me with the use of his manuscript papers. They consist of additions to, and corrections of Mr. Harmer's observations, and were communicated to that gentleman with a view to assist him in the farther prosecution of his work; but it was too late, as the fourth and last volume was then nearly completed at the press, and in a single instance only towards the close of it was any use made of these materials. From this col.. le&tion I have made many extracts, and have en. riched this volume with several new articles on subjects which had not before been discussed. In the progress of my work I have also derived very considerable assistance from many valuable books furnished by James Brown, Esq. of St. Albans, for which I acknowledge myself greatly obliged, and especially for his very careful correction of the manuscript before it went to the press.
That this work might be rendered acceptable to the scholar, and those who have inclination to consult the sources from whence the information it contains is drawn, the authorities in most in. stances have been very particularly inserted. It