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REVIEW OF ROBINSON'S BIBLICAL RESEARCHES.
By Rev. Charles Hall, New-York, one of the Secretaries of the American Home
Biblical Researches in Palestine, Mount Sinai and Arabia Pe
træa. A Journal of Travels in the year 1838, by E. Robinson and E. Smith, undertaken in reference to Biblical Geography. Drawn up from the Original Diaries, with Historical Illustrations, by Edward Robinson, D. D., Professor of Biblical Literature in the Union Theological Seminary, New York, Author of a Greek and English Lexicon of the New Testament, etc. With new Maps and Plans, in Five Sheets. In Three Volumes, 8vo. Boston: Crocker & Brewster. New-York: Jonathan Leavitt. London: John Murray. Halle: Waisenhausbuchhandlung. pp. 599, 679, 721.
PALESTINE is the subject of associations more sacred and interesting than any other section of the globe. Whenever our thoughts recur to the origin and spread of the human race, or to the great leading facts connected with that revelation on which our religion is founded, the imagination flies at once to that hoary land, which God selected as the dwelling place of his chosen people. The classic countries of Greece and Italy awaken in our minds an enduring interest by the scientific renown of their sons, and by the splendor of their arts, which still glows amid the ruins of their former greatness. And yet, compared with Palestine, what have Greece and Italy done for the great interests of man? Their influence on the character and destiny of succeeding ages might all have been spared, and yet the nations have been fired with the love of liberty by the orators of other lands, or polished by the arts and letters of another race.
“The present condition of the world,” it has been justly said, “ might not have been materially different from what it is, had Alexander never been born, and had Julius Cæsar died in his cradle.” But the influence of Palestine on the welfare of the human family is indipensable. Her seers, prophets and people were set, first, to promulgate the principles of God's government of men, and then, to illustrate its operation in their own history. The land were they dwelt is, therefore, intimately related to the past condition of our world, and also extends its influence through the present, down to all future ages, and has no other limits, either in space or time, than the limits of human existence. From that small territory agencies have gone forth, excelling in their results those of all other lands. It is no wonder, then, that, by the common consent of all Christendom, it is held to be sacred. What recollections come crowding upon the mind, as we review its history! In that country, and those immediately adjacent, are comprised the localities of most of the stupendous events which attended the creation, the fall and the redemption of the race. It was on those venerable mountains and in those sequestered vallies, that Jehovah came down to talk with men. There miracles were wrought; there prophesy was uttered and fulfilled. There are Sinai and Horeb, speaking of God's majesty and holy law; and there were Shiloh and Zion, with the altar and the mercy seat. There Abraham fed his flocks, David led forth his victorious armies, and Jesus magnified the law and made it honorable. Almost at a single glance, the eye of the pilgrim may take in Bethlehem whence the Saviour was born, Calvary where he died, and Olivet whence he ascended up on high. Over those wavy hills and quiet vales of Galilee, Samaria and Judea, he went, in many a weary journey, down to the hour when he declared the completion of the stupendous work which the Father gave him to do, by exclaiming : “It is finished.”
But it is not only because of these associations, that Palestine attracts to itself so much of our regard; it is found that the more we become acquainted with the geography, the natural history, the existing population and customs of that land, the better we understand the meaning, and enjoy the beauties of the Holy Scriptures. While the people and manners of the western nations
able to change, with every new form of social organization or political revolution, the Orientals remain, in many respects, as they were three thousand years ago. Although the Macedonian destroyer swept over the plains of Asia, and after him came the eagle of Rome, yet both Macedon and Rome are as if they had not been. They have been blotted out from among the nations, while the people of Palestine and Arabia, whom they conquered, survive their destroyers; and their genius, the idioms of their languages, and their social customs seem
endowed with a kind of immortality, where every thing else is tending to alteration and decay.
The report of these customs has shed light on many passages of the Holy Scriptures which would be otherwise unintelligible. Since the principle of historical interpretation has gained the ascendency, commentators manifest an increasing readiness to avail thernselves of this class of facts. Illustrations drawn froin the geography, natural history and customs of countries mentioned in the Bible are not only admirably adapted to interest the minds of the common people, but also rank high among the legitimate means of interpretation, and even among the evidences that the sacred books are indeed the productions of the writers and the periods to which they profess to belong.
Is it not surprising, therefore, that for some years past, the public has shown a disposition to patronize all works which profess to afford the means of explaining the Scriptures by oriental allusions ? The journal of the traveller, the portfolio of the artist and the cabinet of the antiquary have been explored for materials which might be available for this purpose. These have been furnished to the public, with every variety of letter-press and of pictorial embellishment, from the paragraph of a newspaper to the elaborate dictionary, and from the coarseest wood-cuts to the finest engravings; and in all these forms have met with a liberal patronage.
In view of this favorable appreciation of works professing to illustrate the word of God, it is a matter of regret that our authentic materials for this purpose are yet so scanty. We would not undervalue the learned labors of such writers as Calmet and his editors; but would rather express our obligations to them for showing, by what they have done, the value of this species of research, and the probable importance of the similar results which are yet to be developed. After all that has been accomplished, it is still true, that our knowledge of Palestine has been supplied mainly by ignorant monks or credulous pilgrims, or by travellers who either had little sympathy with revelation, or who visited the Holy Land under disadvantages that forbade the acquisition of such information as the biblical interpreter requires. Almost all that has been believed on such authority has needed to be verified by fresh investigation. It is not enough that a reported fact seems to be just what it should be to explain some text of the Bible; both the fact itself and the original of the text need to be considered on the spot to which SECOND SERIES, VOL. VI. NO. II.
they refer, by one who unites in himself the eye to observe and the learning and judgment to apply what he observes. As an illustration of the doubtful character of the facts which have been adduced to explain scriptural allusions, take the following : A popular lecturer on Palestine, not long since, told his audiences in all parts of the United States, that the passage in Jer. 49: 19* is finely illustrated by the annual overflow of the Jordan, which compels the lion and other animals to escape to the higher lands adjoining. And to make the fact more impressive and give it a scientific air, it was said that this occurs at the very time of the year mentioned in Josh. 3: 15, and is caused by the melting of the snows on Mount Hermon. But unfortunately for this beautiful exposition, it turns out, on the testimony of respectable witnesses, that neither the phenomenon nor the cause assigned for it takes place as asserted. Of course the true exposition of the passages referred to must be sought in some criticism on the original, or some other topographical fact to be developed by future research, or, perhaps, by both of these processes carried on together by some competent individual. The proper application of a large share of the names of plants and animals mentioned in the Scriptures is yet to be determined by an accurate study of the natural history of the East ; e. g. the original word for chamois, Deut. 14: 5; bittern, Isa. 14: 23; rose, Cant. 2: 1; mulberry, 2 Sam. 5: 23, 24; mustard, Matt. 13: 31, 32, etc. Of all the places mentioned in Scripture, how few have been identified with modern sites, and, consequently, how much remains to be accomplished by the learning and zeal of the future traveller. It would be easy to fill a volume with an enumeration of particulars requiring the union, in the same person, of profound scholarship with a personal observation of the physical and social condition of the eastern shores of the Mediterranean; and each of these particulars, if successfully investigated, would impart new significancy to some passage of the word of truth.
The reasons why this field of profitable inquiry has remained so long unexplored in the manner it deserves are easily given. Previous to the Reformation, the habit of receiving the exposition of the Scriptures on the authority of the church repressed
* “He shall come up like a lion from the swellings of Jordan upon the habitation of the strong."
the spirit of original investigation. Intimately associated with this authority were the legends of saints, the tales of pilgrims and the traditions of monasteries in the Holy Land; so that scholars had scarcely the courage or the disposition to doubt what came to them through such pious channels. After the emancipation of the western church from this intellectual thraldom, there were two chief causes for neglecting the exposition of the Bible by the modern condition of Palestine. First, were the personal danger to be encountered, and the obstacles thrown in the way of investigation by the haughty jealousy of the Mohammedan masters of the country. Again, the friends of the truth were engrossed with its defence against Popery, but more especially with the work of ascertaining the sacred text itself
. It was an era of the collation of manuscripts, various readings of polyglotts and verbal criticism. In the providence of God, the intellect of the Protestant world was then waked up to intense interest and indefatigable labor in this department of sacred learning, so that succeeding generations of biblical students are relieved from most of the literary toil of their predecessors, and may give themselves unreservedly to the work of interpretation.
That more exact and extended accounts of Palestine and the surrounding regions are greatly to be desired, for the exposition of the Scriptures, will be evident from a brief survey of the materials which have hitherto been made available for this purpose.
The first class of writers on the Holy Land, to whom we are indebted for illustrations of the sacred writings, are those who flourished prior to A. D. 400. Among these Josephus is the most important, on account of the number and variety of his facts and allusions. There are also the Onomasticon of Eusebius and Jerome, a brief gazeteer of places mentioned in the Bible, together with other writings of the latter; the geographical writings of Ptolemy; the Peutinger Table, a map of the military roads of the empire, referred to the time of Theodosius the Great; the Talmud, and also the Jerusalem and other itineraries. These, if not all, are certainly the most important materials furnished by. that period to which we naturally look for the most authentic notices of Palestine and the most recent and uncorrupted traditions. And these sources of information are indeed invaluable, so far as they go, for the hints which they furnish to guide the modern inquirer and to test his results. How