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ON THE TEXT AND VERSIONS OF THE HOLY SCRIPTURES.
N the prosecution of our periodical work occasions will continually arise for referring to the different versions of Holy Scripture, especially the early ones. As frequent will be our necessity for appealing to the fathers of the church, as witnesses to facts, as authorities in questions of doctrine, and as guides in matters of criticism. We therefore deem it good to give a general view of the principles which regulate our study of the Scriptures; first, by some remarks on the Hebrew and Greek originals; secondly, by a short history of those translations to which we shall most often refer, with our own estimate of their several merits; thirdly, by a hasty survey of the state of learning in the successive ages of the church. We shall thus see the integrity of the original texts; the sufficient means we possess for interpreting them; and ascertain what portion of learning the different fathers retained, and, consequently, know how far they are severally competent to decide in questions of criticism. Veracity constitutes a good witness to facts; judgment must be added to veracity, for deciding in doctrine; and, where both these are found in a man, if learning be deficient, he is entitled to no attention whatever in critical inquiries. We have often felt the necessity of these distinctions, when the authority of good men has been brought forward in support of disputable doctrine or of mistaken interpretation; and while we give its full value to piety in its own sphere, we deny that in criticism it has any claim to be listened to, beyond what it derives from the learning which accompanies it.
The Hebrew Scriptures are the fountain-head of revelation; like the waters of the rock Horeb, which came forth abundantly and followed the wandering of Israel (Exod. xvii. 6; 1 Cor. x. 4), retaining their freshness and purity to the end. A student of ancient literature, knowing the innumerable losses and corruptions which have befallen other writings, is struck with the remarkable
contrast which the Hebrew Scriptures present; these having been kept so entire and pure from the earliest antiquity. We at first piously and properly resolve their preservation into the providence of God; and this, to many minds, is a sufficient account of the phenomenon. But there are others who find both pleasure and profit in tracing out those secondary means which have been made subservient to a great purpose of God; and such discussions ought never to be undervalued, as they are intelligible to the natural man, and leave the unbeliever and the sceptic "without excuse. The Hebrew language, like the Jewish people, is a standing miracle, witnessing to the truth of God. The four Gentile monarchies have successively swept over the land of Judea, appearing to carry destruction in their course. Assyria, Persia, Greece, and Rome, where are they? Their national distinctions are gone, their languages are dead; their memorial remains only in the pages of history. But the Jews, on whom all their rage was directed, whom they scattered to the winds of heaven, not only still subsist, but retain their identity unbroken-nationality, language, ordinances unaltered-waiting only the restoration to their own land to become in all respects the same people as when Zion stood in palmy state. Two thousand years of oppression, under their last and most cruel persecutors, have not broken them down as a people, nor amalgamated their language with other tongues. This unbending character of the Jews was directed to the preservation of the Scriptures, by men raised up and qualified by God for that purpose,-the earlier Prophets, before the Babylonish captivity; Ezekiel and Daniel during its continuance; Ezra, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, afterwards. Till the coming of our Lord we are certain they had suffered no loss. "The Pharisees sit in Moses' seat; all, therefore, whatsoever they bid you observe, observe and do (Matt. xxiii. 2). "One jot or tittle shall in no wise pass from the law" (Matt. v. 18). The Hebrew Scriptures thus continuing pure till the New-Testament Scriptures were completed, and being by them authenticated, we shall point out some of the means which the providence of God has appointed for guarding them against human error since the Apostolic times, and which justify us in concluding that no material corruption could take place. The extensive collations of Kennicott and De Rossi confirm this conclusion, and shew that no errors have crept in affecting faith or doctrine, and that the mistakes of transcribers affect not the general integrity of the text.
Among the secondary means by which the Hebrew text has been preserved from corruption, we give the first place to the size and distinctness of its characters. We maintain that the Old Testament was from the beginning written in the square Hebrew character of the present day; a character incomparably the most noble of
any in use, and worthy of being thought that which was inscribed on the tables of stone by the finger of God. But here a question arises for though all are agreed that the present square character is as old as the time of Ezra, yet many men of name have argued that he first employed it in writing the Scriptures, and that before his time they were written in the Samaritan character. This opinion they derive from the assertion of Jerome, in his preface to Kings," that Ezra found other letters, which we still use; whereas till his time the Samaritan and Hebrew characters, were the same;" and the statement of Eusebius in his Chronicon, "that Esdras collected the holy Scriptures, and, that they might not be mingled with the Samaritans, changed the Jewish letters." These statements they think are confirmed to demonstration by coins, said to be of high antiquity, bearing inscriptions in Samaritan characters. Before we shew the fallacy of these arguments, we must state the facts of the case: First, we have the whole Scripture in the square Hebrew, while the Pentateuch only is extant in the Samaritan; Secondly, in this fragment of God's word there are innumerable errors of transcription, from interchanging and 7, and , and ; changes easily accounted for on the supposition that the original was Hebrew, where the letters have much resemblance, but utterly inexplicable on the supposition of a Samaritan original, where these interchanged characters have no such similarity* Thirdly, the coins are all of doubtful antiquity, and on the best of them the characters are so very barbarous that it is not easy to say whether they meant to imitate the Hebrew or the Samaritan character. But compare the two characters together, and we ask, whether it be probable that the barbarous Samaritan could have been the source whence the grand Hebrew character was derived. That the Hebrew might degenerate into the Samaritan, is a perfectly natural supposition; but that the distorted Samaritan could be the source of the simple and regular Hebrew, appears to us a preposterous idea. Moreover, let us see from Scripture what the character of these Samaritans was. "At the beginning of their dwelling there, they feared not the Lord" (2 Kings xvii. 25): "Then one of the priests, whom they had carried away from Samaria, came and dwelt in Bethel, and taught them how they should fear the Lord: howbeit, every nation made gods of their own" (ver. 28). "So these nations feared the Lord and served their graven images, both their children and their children's children; as did their fathers, so do they unto this day" (ver. 41). Is this the kind of people among
This unanswerable argument, which Eyre presses upon Usher, Walton has vainly endeavoured to meet in his Proleg. 371, where he fully grants the innumerable errors of the Samaritan Pentateuch.
whom we may expect to find the original Scriptures? The truth we believe to have been this, that the Israelites, like all the other early nations, had a sacred character which was only employed in religion, and a less exact character for the ordinary business of life. The square Hebrew we believe to have been their sacred character, and that one like the Samaritan they used in civil affairs. We may grant that during the Babylonish captivity the people had forgotten, or much corrupted, their language; while we maintain that among the priests and prophets the Hebrew was preserved in its purity. Jeremiah, putting words into the mouth of the Jews for addressing the Chaldeans, has one verse in Chaldee (x. 11), but he sent them letters to Babylon in pure Hebrew (Jer. li. 60.) Ezekiel was contemporary both with Jeremiah and Daniel. Daniel knew by books that the captivity predicted by Jeremiah was accomplished. (Dan. ix. 2.) And Ezra was a scribe of the law of the God of heaven. (Ezra vii. 12.) All those parts of Daniel which were meant for the Jewish people, are pure Hebrew; and those parts only in the Chaldee dialect which relate to the affairs of Chaldea. The sacred books, we maintain, had not been changed; for it was their remaining pure, while the language of the people had grown corrupt, which made it necessary to give " the sense, and cause them to understand the reading." (Neh. viii. 8.) If Ezra read from a book whose language they had well-nigh forgotten, interpretation was a necessary work; but if he had already translated the book into a language with which they were familiar, simply reading it would suffice, and the interpretation might have been spared, as superfluous. Nor is it at all likely that Ezra would have so accommodated it to the people, his object being to bring them back to the Lord; and he would seek to direct their thoughts wholly to the law of Moses and the language of their fathers, not to wean them from it. From the time of Ezra, the Syriac seems to have been the common character in Palestine; and to almost as early a period we can trace back the Rabbinical character: both of these are regularly derived from the Hebrew and if we suppose Jerome to have meant some character similar to these, which Ezra invented for civil affairs, all difficulty vanishes, and we can reconcile those passages in his writings which on the ordinary hypothesis appear contradictory; for he uniformly quotes from the Hebrew as the original, and speaks slightingly of the Samaritan.
The argument derived from coins may be more briefly dispatched. If these coins are genuine, and there was a sacred and common character in use at the same time, those stamped with the sacred character might be shekels of the sanctuary; the others, ordinary shekels; and Kircher says (Gymnasio Hieroglyph. p. 97), that some have both kinds of character on
the same coin. But we exceedingly doubt the validity of any argument drawn from Hebrew coins, as we have not been able to obtain a sight of one which did not at once appear manifestly spurious; and an intelligent London collector, in conversation with us, said that he had never seen a genuine one; and thought, moreover, that a coin called Shekel never existed, but that it was a denomination of weight only, like the ounce. Spanheim at first thought them all counterfeit; but in the edition 1706 he says he had since seen some which appeared genuine; yet he denies that any of those, which have the least pretensions to authenticity, are of higher antiquity than the time of the Maccabees, and says, the character they bear is that used in civil affairs at that time. The letters are so little like any known character, that it is difficult to fix on their prototype; it may have been the Hebrew distorted; or they may be barbarous imitations of the barbarous Samaritan. Most of them are gross counterfeits: many give Moses the ram's horn, and some have the Vulgate blunder, "cornuta esset facies !!!" Yet this very argument from coins has been that most confidently relied on for inferring the superior antiquity of the Samaritan character! (Capellus, p. 38.)-We have only hastily gone over a small portion of this very extensive branch of the inquiry; and should not have touched upon it at all, but that we are quite convinced of the fallacy of the common opinions on this subject; and it is satisfactory to be assured that the Scriptures we now possess are identical in form, as well as in substance, with those books dictated by the Holy Spirit. But, though very satisfactory to know this, it is not a question of vital importance; for we know most assuredly that the Hebrew Scriptures were written in their present form in the time of our Lord; and, being stamped with His sanction, they have to us, who are Christians, all the weight of Divine authority.
Next to the perfection of the character itself, we are disposed to place the Masoretic punctuation, as presenting an effectual barrier against the corruption of the Hebrew text. We believe the points and accents to be as old as the time of Ezra, if not an integral part of the language from the beginning. But we are content to wave this discussion, and only to assume, what no sane man can deny, and what Capellus and Brian Walton fully conceded, namely, that the points do every where define and fix the true sense of Scripture, and that without them we should probably have lost the knowledge of Hebrew in the miseries and ignorance of the dark ages. Capellus, b. i. c. 17, p. 182, says of the Masoretes," Quo nomine certe nos jam multum eis debemus, vel Deo potius referre gratias, qui homines illos ad id excitavit, eisque hoc studium indidit. Nam in eo opere felicissime certe laborarunt, ita ut jam notularum illarum