Page images
PDF
EPUB

from the original seems to have been as constant a law in the literary world as it is in the natural. Both prose and poetry suffered from it. We may be grateful, however, to the later Masoretic school, not only for putting a stop to such variation, but also for having abstained from attempting to undo the mischief which had been already done. Had they 'harmonized and restored 'the text, including idioms, spelling, and numeration, the loss would have been serious.

On reviewing the substantial and textual variations between A. and B., the problem as to the original text becomes increasingly difficult. Shall we lay all the fault of variations on the original writers ? or shall we attribute it to late copyists ? How many of them are unintentional ? and how many are deliberate, if not systematic? No solution wholly commends itself to the mind. We may safely say that neither A. nor B., as we now have them, represents the original MS. The text of the LXX shows us that many of the variations which we observe must have existed in the copies possessed by the Greek translators, whilst others have grown up in later days. One thing is clear ; the original writer of B. allowed himself great latitude in following A., and perhaps the text of A. had already begun to suffer before it was made use of by the Chronicler, though we can hardly imagine that it had been often copied out before his time. On the other hand, strict accuracy in reproduction was evidently not to be had in those days. It should be added that many of the variations to which attention is directed are more or less analogous with those contained in early MSS. of the New Testament. The conclusion we come to is that a large amount of responsibility for the state of the text of both A. and B. must be borne by the scribes who lived in the centuries immediately before and after the Christian era. Since the rise of the Masoretic school the text with all its blemishes has been practically stereotyped ; and it remains a task for the modern critical school to point out the nature and cause of the existing variations, and to suggest the best method of approaching a text more exactly representing the original. Professor Driver's work on the Books of Samuel in many respects furnishes us with an example of what is needed to be done in this direction.

The most serious matter for reflection remains to be stated ;

if so many corruptions of the text are found in both A. and B. in places where we can compare them, we can hardly avoid the conclusion that other parts of the Old Testament have been subjected to the same law of decay. If B. frequently gives us an older text of A. than our present copies or even the MSS. of the LXX afford, so that we can often correct A. by means of B., what are we to say of the other parts of the Old Testament which are not given to us in duplicate ? Without hastily setting down every inconsistency as a false reading, we must be prepared to acknowledge that there may be-nay, there must be—a considerable amount of textual corruption in all the books, and we must give due credit to the LXX as frequently suggesting the true reading. Father Houbigant’s great effort to amend the Hebrew by means of the LXX, even if fanciful at times, was a step in the right direction.

A word of caution must be added with regard to many of the variations which have been discussed. The critic is at first sight inclined to regard as textual corruptions or different readings what are probably deliberate dialectal or verbal changes. Many a time we are tempted to correct a text and bring it into uniformity with its fellows, in forgetfulness of the fact that the Hebrew writers love variation and delight in playing on words and sentences. Thus, in the forty-second Psalm we read (verse 5), 'Hope thou in God, for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance ;' and further down (verse 11), · Hope thou in God, for I shall yet praise him who is the health of my countenance and my God.' A Western critic instinctively desires to correct the former verse in the light of the latter, which reappears in the next Psalm ; but it is unreasonable to touch the Hebrew on such a ground. Ancient hymn-writers knew what they were about and varied their words accordingly. Compare the ends of the verses in Bonar's well-known hymn, “A few more years shall roll.'

$ 3. Method of Compilation. Turning from the subject of text to that of compilation, it is interesting to observe the way in which distinct sets of materials give way, from time to time, to substantial agreement, and that, in its turn, speedily develops into literal identity. B. (whether he was an individual or whether the

work sprang from a school of writers) manifestly had before him the work we call A., either in its present or (as is more probable) in a somewhat enlarged form. A. is undoubtedly the work of a school rather than of an individual, and may be compared in this respect with our Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which was evidently a growth under the hands of a monastic order. We owe A. to the great prophetic school. There was an order and succession of prophets from Samuel onwards, largely, but perhaps not wholly, of the Levitical tribe, whose business, amongst other things, was to record certain aspects of the history of Israel. The books are in the true sense of the word prophetic and written by those who were moved by the Spirit of God. Hence the Jews regarded them as the works of the earlier prophets,' and Christians esteem them as inspired and as authoritative, at any rate so far as concerns their special domain. There were always secular official writers, recorders, registrars, and scribes, who would write annals, genealogies, and similar documents, and all their works would be stored up in the king's courts. But the prophetic and historical works were of another order altogether, and the contributions of the various prophets (either the original MSS. or copies) would sooner or later find their way to the Temple archives. This would be the case not only with the Judean writings, but also with those that had to do with the northern kingdom. The whole land was very small and communications were constant except in times of civil war. Elijah's letter to the king of Judah and Hezekiah's letters to the northern tribes are illustrations of this.

The prophetic and contemporary materials which form A., and which from an historical point of view are of supreme value, had apparently been threaded together into a continuous narrative before the work of B. was taken in hand, though B. had a traditional knowledge of the names of the different authors which otherwise we should have lost. It was no slight task which the editor of the A, materials had to perform. We may regard him as the residuary legatee of the propheticohistorical school, and as such he must have had before him a number of rolls bearing the names of Samuel and other writers, some representing the southern kingdom and some the northern, all written in the same tone and more or less in

the same style, though some would naturally be more provincial than others. These materials he would have to harmonize, and to arrange in chronological order. In this he would be guided not only by traditional knowledge, but also by means of official lists and annals of kings, which may have been somewhat similar to the well-known Assyrian canon, though probably much more detailed. He would then have to weld the various writings into a connected narrative which should keep the history of the two kingdoms running side by side without confusion. The more this wonderful feat is examined the more it will be admired. At length the whole was accomplished, in the age and possibly under the direction of Jeremiah or his scribe Baruch. The city Tahpanhes, which was Jeremiah's adopted home in Egypt, is now known to have been a centre of literary activity and the meeting-place of Eastern and Greek civilization. Copies of A. (in full or slightly condensed) could easily have been made and sent to the captives on the Tigris, Euphrates, and Chebar; and we can imagine the interest with which they would be read. The last verses of A. referring to the days of Evil Merodach would be appended to one of these copies in the East and to an Eastern copy of Jeremiah at the same time.

The work of B., the Chronicler, must now be considered.

In the first place B., who may be taken for convenience as a single writer, discards as far as practicable all the record of A. which precedes the death of Saul and all the later part of the record which has to do with the history of the northern kingdom. He concentrates his attention on the history of the southern kingdom. His business is to trace the line of David and his kingdom from its beginning to his own time, or at least to the Return. Accordingly the Books of A. and B. begin to run parallel at the account of Saul's death. This narrative has its natural place in A., but how does it stand in B.? It is preceded by nine chapters of a genealogical character, based partly on older Biblical documents, and running down from Adam to the Captivity period, and even beyond it. These chapters are not wholly consecutive, but are of the nature of extracts from state and family archives. They deserve the most patient study, both because of their contents, and because of their peculiarities in spelling, arrangement, and date.

B.'s attention is now concentrated on the reign of David. He gives a few extracts from A., leaving out a great many incidents, and inserting from other sources various documents bearing on the internal administration of the kingdom and on the priestly and Levitical ordinances. There were no doubt sacred as well as secular recorders and registrars in those days. Samuel, Nathan, and Gad had formed (if they had not followed) a precedent for sacred historical writing (1 Chron. 29. 29) which the priests and Levites were not slow to imitate, and from the extant records which had passed on from their times B. must have completed his narrative.

B. gives next to no additional matter for the reign of Solomon, and omits a great deal of A.'s record; but from the time of the disruption he is decidedly more full than A., as may be seen by examining the reigns of Rehoboam, Abijah, Asa, Jehoshaphat, Jehoram, and almost all the other kings up to the death of Josiah. After the time of this king the story became very much abbreviated. The additional matter in all these sections is very much of one character, and tends to bring out the prophetic together with the Levitical element in the history, the house of Asaph being particularly conspicuous The work may be compared in this respect with the AngloSaxon Chronicle, which so frequently emphasizes the monastic element in English history. A lesson of confidence in God is constantly being impressed on the reader, and the need of loyal obedience to His Word is shown to be the secret of national prosperity.

Thus it comes to pass that B.'s history of the southern kingdom is fuller than A.'s; but there is one remarkable exception, viz. the narrative of Sennacherib's invasion. B. gives only a slight sketch of it. But if two full accounts were already in existence, one in the Books of Kings and the other in the appendix to the first part of Isaiah, that would be a sufficient reason for B.'s abbreviation. There is a somewhat similar phenomenon in the case of the narrative of the capture of Jerusalem. A. gives a detailed account, and it is reproduced as an appendix to Jeremiah ; B. consequently only gives the briefest outline.

The closing verses of the Chronicles overlap the opening sentences of Ezra, that is to say of the Jeshua-Zerubbabel

« PreviousContinue »