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Pentateuch must be placed higher than Gesenius has placed it; for the history of manuscripts will not justify the supposition, that changes so numerous, and undesigned (as he admits most of them to be), could have taken place in so short a period ; or that the various recensions of the Hebrew text could have differed so much, in so short a time, by the ordinary process of copying for circulation.
But we are aware, that we are now treading on sacred ground. If our suggestions are well founded, then must it follow, that in the time of Ezra, and previously to his time, there existed recensions of the Jewish Scriptures, which differed, in some respects, very considerably from each other. From this conclusion many will spontaneously revolt. All, who have not made sacred criticism a study, will be agitated with some unnecessary and ill grounded fears. For ourselves, we are fully convinced, first, that the position can be rendered highly probable ; and next, that it is no more dangerous than many other positions, which all enlightened critics of the present day admit.
It is probable ; because, as we have already endeavored to show, the actual state of the Septuagint and Samaritan Codices renders it necessary to admit the position. Moreover, the Jews have, from the most ancient times, uniformly held a tradition, that Ezra with his associates, whom they style the great Synagogue, restored the law and the prophets, that is, renewed and corrected the copies of them, which had become erroneous during the captivity. Certainly there is nothing at all improbable in this tradition. The corrected copies were the originals, probably, of our present Masoretic recension, which has in every age been in the keeping and under the inspection of the most learned Jews. The Samaritan copy, and that from which the Septuagint was translated, most probably belonged to the recension in common use among the Jews, and which, having been often copied and by unskilful hands, had come to differ in very many places from the corrected recension of Ezra.
How far back some of the errors in this common recension may be dated, it is difficult to say ; but in all probability more or less of them must be traced even to the very first copies taken from the original autographs. Such we know to have been the case, as is now universally admitted, in respect to the early copies of the New Testament. . Is the Old Testament under a more watchful and efficient Providence than the New ? Or has it ever been so ? Nothing but the belief of a miraculous aid, VOL. XXII. -NO. 51.
imparted to every copyist of the Hebrew Scriptures, can stand in the
of admitting the fact as we have stated it; and with such a belief, after several hundred thousand different readings have been actually selected from the manuscripts of the old Testament, it would not be worth our while to expostulate.
In justice, however, to this subject, and to allay the fears of well meaning men, who are not experienced in matters of criticism, and therefore often exposed to be agitated with groundless fears, we must say a few words with respect to the dangers of the position that has been now discussed.
A great part of it is evidently imaginary. For out of some eight hundred thousand various readings, about seven hundred and ninetynine thousand are of just about as much importance to the sense of the Hebrew Scriptures, as the question in English orthography is, whether the word honour shall be spelled with u or without it. Of the remainder, some change the sense of particular passages or expressions ; or omit particular words and phrases; or insert them; but not one doctrine of religion is changed ; not one precept is taken away ; not one important fact is altered, by the whole of the various readings collectively taken. This is clearly the case, in respect to the various readings which are found in the Samaritan and Septuagint, if we except the very few cases of alterations in them, which plainly are the result of design, and which belong to more modern times. There is no ground then to fear for the safety of the Scriptures, on account of any legitimate criticism to which the text may be subjected. The common law has a maxim, which is the result of common sense, and must ever be approved by it; which is, De minimis non curat lex. Another maxim too it has, equally applicable to the subject before us, namely, Qui hæret in literâ, hæret in cortice. All those, who suppose that the Scripture depends on a word or a letter, so essentially that it is not Scripture is either be changed or omitted, must, if they will be consistent, abandon the whole Bible, in which many changes of this kind, it is past all question, have actually taken place. The critic wonders not that so many have taken place, but that no more have been experienced.
It is sometimes said, that he who knows nothing, fears nothing. We believe this is occasionally true. But we apprehend the proverb would have come much nearer to a true statement of what usually happens, if it had been thus ; "he who knows nothing, fears every thing.' In innumerable cases do we see this verified. It is quite applicable to the subject of various readings in the Scriptures. The first attempt to compare manuscripts and collect these readings, was denounced as something horribly profane and dangerous. Yet the comparison went on. Next, it was admitted to be right in respect to the New Testament, but very wrong in regard to the Old; every word, and letter, and vowel point, and accent of which, Buxtorf roundly asserted, are identically the same, all the world over. More than eight hundred thousand various readings actually collected have dissipated this illusion, and taught how groundless the fears of those were, who were altogether inexperienced in the criticism of the sacred text. Do Christians love and honor the Bible or its contents less now, than before the age of criticism? Let the present attitude of the Christian world answer this question.
Jerome, long ago, had shrewdness enough to say, that the scripture was not the shell, but the nut;' by which he meant, that the sentiment of the Bible is the word of God, while the costume, that is, the words in which this sentiment is conveyed, was of minor importance.
So the apostles and so the Savior thought, for they have, in a multitude of cases (indeed, in almost all the appeals recorded in the New Testament), appealed to the authority of the Old Testament, by quoting the Septuagint version of it; a version incomparably more incorrect, and differing from the original Hebrew in innumerably more places, than the very worst version made in any modern times. But, de minimis non curat lex ; a truly noble maxim; yet one which superstition or ignorance knows not well how either to use or to estimate.
There is, then, no more danger, in supposing that very early there were different recensions of the Hebrew Scriptures, than in supposing, that there are different ones of the Scriptures of the New Testament, which all now admit; for it is not a matter of opinion and judgment, but of fact. The Bible, spreading through the whole earth, and becoming the rule of life and salvation to all nations, is, at least, as important now, as it was when only one small nation admitted its claims. It is surely no more an objection, then, against the watchful care of Providence over the church and the records of its holy religion, to admit that divers recensions of the Scriptures existed at an early age, than to admit that they now exist.
Thus much for the danger of the principle, which we have admitted. We will now add, that if those who cherish any apprehensions of the kind which we have endeavored to remove, will faithfully examine the Hebrew Scriptures as they now stand, they will find discrepancies in the recensions of the same compositions, which stand inserted in different places of the sacred records. Let them compare, for example, 2 Samuel xxii, and Psalm xviii ; Psalm xiv, and Psalm liii; Psalm cv, and i Chronicles xvi. 7, seq. If this do not satisfy them, we will point them to some more appalling comparisons, which they may make by reading Ezra ii, in connexion with Nehemiah vii. 6, seq. It were very easy to extend the same kind of comparisons to a multitude of places in the books of Kings and Chronicles, where the result would be the same. Those who have examined such matters, never can doubt how they stand; it is only those who have not examined them, that pronounce a judgment which has its foundation only in their own theological views, or depends on reasoning à priori. Facts cannot be denied ; nor can facts be theorized away.
In the end, which is the safer way, in respect to the interests of truth and religion; to assume positions on mere doctrinal grounds, and established only by reasoning à priori, which will be overthrown by the careful examination of facts; or to examine facts first, and then to make out positions that are not liable to be overthrown? The first method may wear the appearance of zeal and deep concern for the honor of the Bible; but zeal without knowledge is not very auspicious to the best interests of the truth. The fact is, too, that in many cases of such zeal, it amounts to very little more than a cloak to cover ignorance of a matter, which men have not studied, and which it gives them pain to see that others have. How prone men are to regard that as worthless, which they do not possess, or to decry it, and make it obnoxious, need not be proved, after all the facts which lie before the world relative to such matters.
For our part, we believe that truth needs no concealment; and that, at the present day, it admits none. The Bible has nothing to fear from examination. It has ever been illustrated and confirmed by it. We doubt not it will be still more so. But all pious fraud, all • expurgatory indexes,' all suppression of facts and truths of any kind, only prove injurious, at last, to the cause, which they are designed to aid. This is a sufficient reason for abjuring them forever ; not to insist on the disingenuousness, which is implied in every artifice of this nature.
The fact, that various readings are found, not only in different classes of manuscripts, which have come down to us through different channels, but in cases where the same original documents are inserted in different places of the same class of manuscripts, is proved beyond contradiction. The first, by the actual comparison of manuscripts; the second, by a comparison of such parts of Scriptures as we have last alluded to above. Such a comparison may be extended very much farther, indeed to a great portion of the books of Chronicles, by reading them in connexion with the parallel passages in the books of Kings, and other parts of the Old Testament. Jahn's Hebrew Bible is not only the best, but the only work, which will enable one to do this without any trouble, as he has disposed of the whole books of the Chronicles in the way of harmony with other parts of Scripture. One thorough perusal and study of this, will effectually cure any sober man of all extravagant positions and theories about the letters and apexes of the Bible, and probably of all extravagant notions about verbal inspiration. Those who have never examined, are the only persons to be confident in such minima as these ; those who have, pass by them in silence.
But we are diverging from our way, and hasten to return. We have only one topic more, respecting the Samaritan Pentateuch, which remains briefly to be touched.
It will be understood, of course, by every scholar who knows anything of the Samaritan Pentateuch, that it is not in the Samaritan dialect, but in the proper Hebrew tongue, like the Pentateuch in our Hebrew bibles, except that it is written in the old Hebrew character, which the Samaritans have always retained, with only slight variations. Of this document, and this only, have we hitherto spoken, whenever the Samaritan Pentateuch has been named. But we come now to state, that there is a translation of the Hebrew Samaritan Pentateuch into the proper Samaritan dialect, which is a medium between the Hebrew and the Aramæan languages. This version is very ancient; having been made at least before the time of Origen, and not improbably near the commencement of th~ Christian era. literal, and close to the original; and what is very remarkable, is almost exactly the counterpart of the original Hebrew Samaritan codex, as it now exists, with all its various readings. This shows, in a degree really surprising, how very carefully and accurately the Hebrew Pentateuch has been copied and preserved by the Samaritans, from the ancient times in which their
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