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THE SCEPTICS OF THE
OLD TESTAMENT



THE SCEPTICS OF THE
OLD TESTAMENT

JOB KOHELETH AGUR



WITH ENGLISH TEXT TRANSLATED FOR THE FIRST

TIME FROM THE PRIMITIVE HEBREW AS RESTORED ON THE BASIS

OF RECENT PHILOLOGICAL DISCOVERIES



BY



E. J. DILLON

Late Professor of Comparative Philology and Ancient Armenian at the Imperial

University of KJiarkojf; Doctor of Oriental Languages of the University of

Louvain', Magistrand of the Oriental Faculty of the Imperial University

of St. Petersburg; Member of the Armenian Academy of Venice ',

Membre de la Societe Asiatique de Paris" &c. &>c.



LONDON

ISBISTER AND COMPANY LIMITED

15 & 16 TAVISTOCK STREET COVENT GARDEN
1895



Printed by BALLANTYNE, HANSON & Co.
London &* Edinburgh



To

ALEXANDER VASSILYEVITCH PASCHKOFF, M.A.
THE FOLLOWING PAGES

ARE
A FFE CTIONA TEL Y DEDICA TED



428548



DEDICATORY NOTE

My DEAR PASCHKOFF,

In the philosophical problems dealt with by the Sceptics
of the Old Testament, you will recognise the theme of our
numerous and pleasant discussions during the past sixteen years.
Three of these are indelibly engraven in my memory, and, if I
mistake not, in yours.

The first took place in St. Petersburg one soft Indian-summer's
evening, in a cosy room on the Gagarine Quay, from the windows
of which we looked out with admiration upon the blue expanse of
the Neva, as it reflected the burnished gold of the spire of the
Fortress church. At that time we gazed upon the wavelets of the
river and the wonders of the world from exactly the same angle
of vision.

The second of these memorable conversations occurred after the
lapse of nine years. We had met together in the old place, and
sauntering out one bitterly cold December evening resumed the
discussion, walking to and fro on the moonlit bank of the ice-bound
river, until evening merged into night and the moon sank beneath
the horizon, leaving us in total darkness, vainly desirous, like
Goethe, of " light, more light."

Our last exchange of views took place after six further years had
sped away, and we stood last August on the summit of the historic



viii DEDICATORY NOTE

Monchsberg, overlooking the final resting-place of the great
Paracelsus. The long and interesting discussions which we had
on that occasion, just before setting out in opposite directions, you
to the East and I to the West, neither of us is likely ever to forget.

It is in commemoration of these pleasant conversations, and more
especially of the good old times, now past for ever, when we looked
out upon the wavelets of the Neva and the wonders of the world
from the same angle of vision, that I ask you to allow me to
associate your name with this translation of the primitive texts of
the Sceptics of the Old Testament.

Yours affectionately,

E. J. DILLON.

TREBIZOND,
January 3, 1895.



PREFACE

CAREFUL perusal of this first English translation of
the primitive text of "Job," " Koheleth," and the
" Sayings of Agur " will, I doubt not, satisfy the most
orthodox reader that I am fully warranted in cha-
racterising their authors as Sceptics. The epithet, I
confess, may prove distasteful to many, but the truth, I
trust, will be welcome to all. It is not easy to under-
stand why any one who firmly believes that Providence
is continually educing good from evil should hesitate to
admit that it may in like manner allow sound moral
principles to be enshrined in doubtful or even erroneous
philosophical theories. Or, is trust in God to be made
dependent upon the confirmation or rejection by
physical science of, say, the Old Testament account of
the origin of the rainbow ? Agur, " Job " and
" Koheleth " had outgrown the intellectual husks which
a narrow, inadequate and erroneous account of God's
dealings with man had caused to form around the



x PREFACE

minds of their countrymen, and they had the moral
courage to put their words into harmony with their
thoughts. Clearly perceiving that, whatever the sacer-
dotal class might say to the contrary, the political
strength of the Hebrew people was spent and its
religious ideals exploded, they sought to shift the
centre of gravity from speculative theology to practical
morality.

The manner in which they adjusted their hopes,
fears, and aspirations to the new conditions, strikes the
keynote of their respective characters. " Job," looking
down upon the world from the tranquil heights of
genius, is manful, calm, resigned. " Koheleth," shudder-
ing at the gloom that envelops and the pain that
convulses all living beings, prefers death to life, and
freedom from suffering to "positive" pleasure; while
Agur, revealing the bitterness bred by dispelled illusions
and blasted hopes, administers a severe chastisement
to those who first called them into being. All three *
reject the dogma of retribution, the doctrine of eternal
life and belief in the coming of a Messiah, over and
above which they at times strip the notion of God of
its most essential attributes, reducing it to the shadow



* In Agur's case, this is but an inference from his first saying, but
an inference which few would think of calling in question.



PREFACE xi

of a mere metaphysical abstraction. This is why I
call them Sceptics.

" Job " and " Koheleth " emphatically deny that there
is any proof to be found of the so-called moral order in
the universe, and they unhesitatingly declare that
existence is an evil. They would have us there-
fore exchange our hopes for insight, and warn us
that even this is very circumscribed at best. For not
only is happiness a mockery, but knowledge is a
will-o'-the-wisp. Mankind resembles the bricklayer
and the hodman who help to raise an imposing edifice
without any knowledge of the general plan. And yet
the structure is the outcome of their labour. In like
manner this mysterious world is the work of man the
mirror of his will. As his will is, so are his acts, and
as his acts are, so is his world. Or as the ancient
Hindoos put it :

"Before the gods we bend our necks, and yet

within the toils of Fate
Entangled are the gods themselves. To Fate,

then, be all honour given.
Yet Fate itself can compass nought, 'tis but the

bringer of the meed
For every deed that we perform.
As then our acts shape our rewards, of what

avail are gods or Fate ?
Let honour therefore be decerned to deeds

alone."



xii PREFACE

But what, I have been frequently asked, will be the
effect of all this upon theology ? Are we to suppose
that the writings of these three Sceptics were admitted
into the Canon by mistake, and if not, shall we not
have to widen our definition of inspiration until it can
be made to include contributions which every Christian
must regard as heterodox ? An exhaustive reply to
this question would need a theological dissertation, for
which I have neither desire nor leisure. I may say,
however, that eminent theologians representing various
Christian denominations Roman Catholic, Greek
Orthodox, Anglican and Lutheran have assured me
that they could readily reconcile the dogmas of their
respective Churches with doctrines educible from the
primitive text of " Job," " Koheleth," and Agur, whose
ethics they are disposed to identify, in essentials, with
the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount. With the
ways and means by which they effect this reconciliation
I am not now concerned.

My object was neither to attack a religious dogma,
nor to provoke a theological controversy, but merely to
put the latest results of philological science within the
reach of him who reads as he runs. And I feel con-
fident that the reader who can appreciate the highest
forms of poetry, or who has anxiously pondered over




PREFACE



Xlll






the problems of God, immortality, the origin of evil, &c.,
will peruse the writings of " Job," " Koheleth " and
Agur with a lively interest, awakened, and sus-
tained not merely by the extrinsic value which they
possess as historical documents, but by their intrinsic
merits as precious contributions to the literature and
philosophy of the world.




E. J. DILLON.



CONSTANTINOPLE,
New Year's Day, 1895.



CONTENTS

Page

[E POEM OF JOB i

HEBREW PHILOSOPHY 3

THE PROBLEM OF THE POEM 9

JOB'S METHOD OF SOLVING THE PROBLEM . . 21

DATE OF THE COMPOSITION 35

THE TEXT AND ITS RECONSTRUCTION ... 43

INTERPOLATIONS 53

JOB'S THEOLOGICAL AND PHILOSOPHICAL CONCEP-
TIONS 6l

ANALYSIS OF THE POEM 69

KOHELETH 85

CONDITION OF THE TEXT 87

PRIMITIVE FORM OF THE BOOK QI

KOHELETH'S THEORY OF LIFE 99

PRACTICAL WISDOM 105

KOHELETH'S PHILOSOPHY OF LIFE .... 109

THE SOURCES OF KOHELETH'S PHILOSOPHY . . 117



xvi CONTENTS

AGUR THE AGNOSTIC 131

AGUR, SON OF YAKEH 133

FORM AND CONTENTS OF THE SAYINGS OF AGUR . 137

DATE OF COMPOSITION ...... 147

AGUR'S PHILOSOPHY 151

THE POEM OF JOB (TRANSLATION OF THE RESTORED

TEXT) 157

THE SPEAKER (TRANSLATION OF THE RESTORED

TEXT) 239

THE SAYINGS OF AGUR (TRANSLATION OF THE

RESTORED TEXT) 267

INDEX . . . .273



THE POEM OF JOB



HEBREW PHILOSOPHY

ACCORDING to a theory which was still in vogue a few
years ago, the ancient races of mankind were distin-
guished from each other no less by their intellectual
equipment than by their physical peculiarities. Thus
the Semites were supposed to be characterised, among
other things, by an inborn aptitude for historical
narrative and an utter lack of the mental suppleness,
ingenuity, and sharp incisive vision indispensable for
the study of the problems of philosophy; while their
neighbours, the Aryans, devoid of historical talent,
were held to be richly endowed with all the essential
qualities of mind needed for the cultivation of epic
poetry and abstruse metaphysics. This theory has
since been abandoned, and many of the alleged facts
that once seemed to support it have been shown to be
unwarranted assumptions. Thus, the conclusive proof,
supplied by Biblical criticism, of the untrustworthiness
of the historical books of the Old Testament, has
removed one alleged difference between Aryans and
Semites, while the discoveries which led to the re-
construction of the primitive poem of Job and of the
treatise of Koheleth have undermined the basis of the
other. For these two works deal exclusively with



4 SCEPTICS OF THE OLD TESTAMENT

philosophical problems, and, together with the Books of
Proverbs and Jesus Sirach, are the only remains that
have come down to us of the ethical and metaphysical
speculations of the ancient Hebrews whose descendants
have so materially contributed to further this much-
maligned branch of human knowledge. And if we may
judge by what we know of these two books, we have
ample grounds for regretting that numerous other philo-
sophical treatises which were written between the fourth
and the first centuries B.C. were deemed too abstruse,
too irrelevant, or too heterodox to find a place in the
Jewish Canon. 1 For the Book of Job is an unrivalled
masterpiece, the work of one in whom poetry was no
mere special faculty cultivated apart from his other
gifts, but the outcome of the harmonious wholeness of
healthy human nature, in which upright living, un-
trammelled thought, deep mental vision, and luxuriant
imagination combined to form the individual. Hence
the poem is a true reflex of the author's mind : it
dissolves and blends in harmonious union elements
that appeared not merely heterogeneous, but wholly
incompatible, and realises, with the concreteness of
history, the seemingly unattainable idea which Lucretius
had the mind to conceive but lacked the artistic hand
to execute; in a word, it is the fruit of the intimate
union of that philosophy which, reckless of results,



1 Job and Ecclesiastes were inserted in the Jewish and, one may
add, the Christian Canon, solely on the strength of passages which
the authors of these compositions never even saw, and which flatly
contradict the main theses of their works.




THE POEM OF JOB 5

dares to clip even angels' wings, and of the art which
possesses the secret of painting its unfading pictures
with the delicate tints of the rainbow. Rich fancy and
profound thought co-operate to produce a tertium quid
a visible proof that the beautiful is one with the true
for which neither literature nor philosophy possesses
a name. It is no wonder, then, that this unique poem,
which gives adequate utterance to abstract thought,
truly and forcibly states the doubts and misgivings
which harrow the souls of thinking men of all ages and
nations, and helps them to lift a corner of the veil of
delusion and get a glimpse of the darkness of the
everlasting Night beyond, should appeal to the reader
of the nineteenth century with much greater force than
to the Jews of olden times, who were accustomed to
gauge the sublimity of imaginative poetry and the
depth of philosophic speculation by the standard of
orthodoxy and the bias of nationality.

The Book of Job, from which Pope Gregory the
Great fancied he could piece together the entire system
of Catholic theology, and which Thomas of Aquin
regarded as a sober history, is now known to be a
regular poem, but, as Tennyson truly remarked, " the
greatest poem whether of ancient or modern times, "
and the diction of which even Luther instinctively felt
to be "magnificent and sublime as no other book of
Scripture." And it is exclusively in this light, as one
of the masterpieces of the world's literature, that it will
be considered in the following pages. Whatever re-
ligious significance it may be supposed to possess over
and above, as one of the canonical books of the



6 SCEPTICS OF THE OLD TESTAMENT

Hebrew and Christian Scriptures ; will, it is hoped,
remain unaffected by this treatment, which is least
of all controversial. The flowers that yield honey
to the bee likewise delight the bee-keeper with their
perfume and the poet with their colours, and there is no
adequate reason why the magic verse which strikes a
responsive chord in the soul of lovers of high art, and
starts a new train of ideas in the minds of serious
thinkers, should thereby lose any of the healing virtues
it may have heretofore possessed for the suffering souls
of the believing.

But viewed even as a mere work of art, it would be
hopeless to endeavour to press it into the frame of any
one of the received categories of literary composition,
as is evident from the fact that authorised and un-
authorised opinion on the subject has touched every
extreme, and still continues oscillating to-day. Many
commentators still treat it as a curious chapter of
old-world history narrated with scrupulous fidelity by
the hero or an eye-witness, others as a philosophical
dialogue; several scholars regard it as a genuine
drama, while not a few enthusiastically aver that it is
the only epic poem ever written by a Hebrew. In
truth, it partakes of the nature of each and every one
of these categories, and is yet circumscribed by the
laws and limits of none of them. In form, it is most
nearly akin to the drama, with which we should be
disposed to identify it if the characters of the prologue
and epilogue were introduced as dramatis personce in
action. But their doing and enduring are presupposed
as accomplished facts, and employed merely as a foil to



THE POEM OF JOB 7

the dialogues, which alone are the work of the author.
Perhaps the least erroneous way succinctly to describe
what in fact is a unicum would be to call it a psycho-
logical drama.

Koheleth, or the Preacher, is likewise a literary
puzzle which for centuries has baffled the efforts of
commentators and aroused the misgivings of theo-
logians. Regarded by many as a vade mecum of
materialists, by some as an eloquent sermon on the
fear of God, and by others as a summary of sceptical
philosophy, it is impossible to analyse and classify it
without having first eliminated all those numerous
later-date insertions which, without improving the
author's theology, utterly obscure his meaning and
entirely spoil his work. When, by the aid of
text criticism, we have succeeded in weeding it of
the parasitic growth of ages, we have still to allow
for the changing of places of numerous authentic
passages either by accident or design, the effects of
which are oftentimes quite as misleading as those
of the deliberate interpolations. The work thus
restored, although one, coherent and logical, is still
susceptible of various interpretations, according to the
point of view of the reader, none of which, however,
can ignore the significant fact that the sceptically ideal
basis of Koheleth's metaphysics is identical with that
of Buddha, Kant, and Schopenhauer, and admirably
harmonises with the ethics of Job and the pes-
simism of the New Testament.

The Sayings of Agur, on the contrary, tell their own
interesting story, without need of note or commentary,



8 SCEPTICS OF THE OLD TESTAMENT

to him who possesses a fair knowledge of Hebrew
grammar, and an average allowance of mother wit.
The lively versifier, the keenness of whose sense of
humour is excelled only by the bitterness of his satire,
could ill afford to be obscure. A member of the literary
fraternity which boasts the names of Lucian and Vol-
taire, a firm believer in the force of common sense and
rudimentary logic, Agur ridicules the theologians of his
day with a malicious cruelty which is explained, if not
warranted, by the pretensions of omniscience and the
practice of intolerance that provoked it. The unanswer-
able argument which Jahveh considered sufficient to
silence his servant Job, Agur deems effective against
the dogmatical doctors of his own day :

" Who has ascended into heaven and come down
again ?

#'*' t **'*

Such an one would I question about God : What
is his name ? "



THE PROBLEM OF THE POEM

PURGED of all later interpolations and restored as far
as possible to the form it received from the hand of
its author, thfi__ poem of Job is the most striking
presentation of the most obscure and fascinating
problem that ever puzzled and tortured the human
intellect : how to reconcile the existence of evil, not
merely with the fundamental dogmas of the ancient
Jewish faith, but with any form of Theism whatever.
Stated in the terms in which the poet whom for con-
venience sake we shall identify with his hero 1 mani-
festly conceived it, it is this : Can God be the creator of
all things and yet not be responsible for evil ? .,

The Infinite Being who laid the earth's foundation,
" shut in the sea with doors," whose voice is thunder
and whose creatures are all things that have being, is,
we trust, moral and good. But it is His omnipotence
that strikes us most forcibly. Almighty in theory, He
is all active in fact, and nothing that happens in the
universe is brought about even indirectly by any one
but Himself. There are no second causes at work, no
chance, no laws of nature, no subordinate agents,
nothing that is not the immediate manifestation of His

1 Although the former was a Jew and the latter a Gentile.



io SCEPTICS OF THE OLD TESTAMENT

free will. 1 This is evident to our senses. But what
is equally obvious is that His acts do not tally with His
attribute of goodness, and that no facts known or
imaginable can help us to bridge over the abyss
between the infinite justice ascribed to Him and the
crying wrongs that confront us in His universe,
whithersoever we turn. 2 His rule is such a congeries
of evils that even the just man often welcomes death
as a release, and Job himself with difficulty overcame
the temptation to end his sufferings by suicide. All
the cut-and-dried explanations of God's conduct offered
by His human advocates merely render the problem
more complicated. His professional apologists are
" weavers of lies," and contend for Him " with decep-
tion," and, worse than all else, He Himself has never
revealed to His creatures any truth more soothing than
the fact they set out with, that the problem is for ever
insoluble. Wisdom " is hid from the eyes of all living," 3

1 Cf. Translation, strophe ci. :

" Is not the soul of every living thing in his hand,

And the breath of all mankind ? "
Strophe civ. :

" With him is strength and wisdom,
The erring one and his error are his."

2 Strophe cxcii.-cxciii. :

" Look upon me and tremble,
And lay your hand upon your mouth !
When I remember I am dismayed,
And trembling taketh hold on my flesh."
Strophe ccxxi. :

11 Why do the times of judgment depend upon the

Almighty,

And yet they who know him do not see his days ?
8 Strophe ccxxxiv.



I



[E POEM OF JOB ii

and the dead are in "the land of darkness and of
gloom/' x whence there is no issue.

The theological views prevalent in the days of the
poet, as expounded by the three friends of Job, instead
of suggesting some way out of the difficulty were in
flagrant contradiction with fact. They appealed to the
traditional theory and insisted on having that accepted
as the reality. And it was one of the saddest theories
ever invented. Virtue was at best a mere matter of
business, one of the crudest forms of utilitarianism, a
bargain between Jahveh and His creatures. As
asceticism in ancient India was rewarded with the
spiritual gift of working miracles, so upright living was
followed in Judea by material wealth, prosperity, a
numerous progeny and all the good things that
seem to make life worth living. Such at least was the
theory, and those who were satisfied with their lot had
little temptation to find fault with it for the sake of
those who were not. In sober reality, however, the
obligation was very one-sided : Jahveh, who occasionally
failed to carry out His threats, observed or repudiated
His solemn promises as He thought fit, whereas those
among His creatures who faithfully fulfilled their part
of the contract were never sure of receiving their
stipulated wage in the promised coin. And at that
time none other was current : there was no future life
looming in the dim distance with intensified rewards
and punishments wherewith to redress the balance of
this. And it sadly needed redressing. The victims of

1 Strophe Ixxxix.



12 SCEPTICS OF THE OLD TESTAMENT

seeming injustice naturally felt that they were being
hardly dealt with. I And as if to make confusion worse
confounded, their neighbours, who had ridden rough-
shod over all law, human and divine, were frequently
exempt from misfortune, lived on the fat of the land,
and enjoyed a monopoly of the divine blessings. To
V Job, whose consciousness of his own righteousness
\ was clearer and less questionable than the justice of
his Creator, this theory of retribution seemed unworthy
L of belief.

The creation of this good God, then, is largely leavened
( with evil for which all things being the work of His
\ hands He, and He alone, is answerable. There was
no devil in those olden times upon whose broad shoul-
ders the responsibility for sickness, suffering, misery
and death could be conveniently shifted. The Satan or
Adversary is still one of the sons of God who, like all
his brethren, has free access to the council chamber of
the Most High, where he is wont to take a critical, some-
what cynical but not wholly incorrect view of motives
and of men. In the government of the world he has
neither hand nor part, and his interference in the affairs
of Job is the result of a special permission accorded him
by the Creator. God alone is the author of good and oj
evil, 1 and the thesis to be demonstrated by His profes-x
sional apologists consists in showing that the former is
the outflow of His mercy, and the latter the necessary
effect of His justice acting upon the depraved will of His

1 " The erring one and his error are his" (God's): strophe civ.
Cf. also strophe cvii.




THE POEM OF JOB 13

creatures. But the proof was not forthcoming. Per-
sonal suffering might reasonably be explained in many
cases as the meet and inevitable wage for wrong-doing ;
but assuredly not in all. Job himself was a striking
instance of unmerited punishment. Even Jahveh
solemnly declares him to be just and perfect ; and Job
was admittedly no solitary exception; he was the
type of a numerous class of righteous, wronged and
wretched mortals, unnamed and unknown :






" Omnes illacrymabiles ....
ignotique longa
Nocte, carent quia vate sacro.'



Job is ready to admit that God, no doubt, is just and
good in theory, but he cannot dissemble the obvious
fact that His works in the universe are neither ; indeed,^
if we may judge the tree by its fruits, His regime is the^/
rule of an oriental and almighty despot whose will and


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Online LibraryEmile Joseph DillonThe sceptics of the Old Testament, Job, Koheleth, Agur: with English text → online text (page 1 of 14)