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Bishop Colenso's examination of the Pentateuch examined ; with an appendix online

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Only give some careful attention to this part of the
volume you are examining, and I am quite sure you
wdll therein find the strongest reasons for believing that
not only "professedly,^^ but actually, it "comes from
the Holy and blessed One, the Father and Faithful
Creator of Mankind.'^

One really cannot understand how such an obvious
explanation of his own, and his convert^ s difficulties, in
this instance, did not instantly relieve what Dr. Colenso
calls (p. 10) " the great strain upon the cord which then



THE PENTATEUCH EXAMINED. 99

bound him to the ordinary belief in the historical
veracity of the Pentateuch/' Alas ! since then, that
cord has snapped in twain altogether ; and how thank-
ful " is he (p. 143) that (in consequence) he is no longer
obliged to believe ... in the story related in Numb,
xxxi/' concerning the war upon the Midianites. This
is the only circumstance connected with the conquest
which Dr. Colenso brings forward among the considera-
tions, "most of which," he believes, " will be new to the
majority of his readers, as he freely admits they were to
himself till within a comparatively recent period." And
we must, therefore, conclude that he claims some origin-
ality for his comments on this '^ story." Here, however,
I am unfeignedly soriy to inform him that, more than
sixty years ago, his predecessor in the examination of
the Pentateuch, to whom I before referred, not only
comments in his own style upon Moses' "incredible
statement" in this instance, but actually uses, and
more than once, his own peculiar epithets in doing so.
Thomas Paine, too, tells us [Age of Reason, Part II.)
that, in this account, he finds Moses delivering an order
"to butcher the boys, to massacre the mothers, and
debauch the daughters." (Compare Colenso, p, 144.)
And for this " butchery " he calls Moses a " detest-
able villain,'^ just as our Bishop connects it with
Nena Sahib and the "tragedy of Cawnpore."

So much for the novelty of Dr. Colenso's com-
ments upon the "story." Another of our Bishops
wrote in his answer to that earlier examiner of the



100 COLENSO^S EXAMINATION OF

Pentateucli : " I see notliing in this proceeding {i. e.,
as it is actually described, and taking into account all
tlie circumstances connected with it), but good policy-
combined with mercy. The young men might have
become dangerous avengers of what they would esteem
their country's wrongs ; the mothers might have again
allured the Israelites to the love of licentious pleasures
and the practice of idolatry, and brought another
plague upon the congregation ; but the young maidens,
not being polluted by the flagitious habits of their
motliers, nor likely to create disturbance by rebellion,
were kept alive. You give a different turn to the
matter ; you say ^ that 32,000 women children were
consigned to debauchery by the order of Moses.'
Prove this, and I will allow that Moses was the horrid
monster you make him ; prove this, and I will allow
that the Bible is what you call it — a book of lies,
wickedness, and blasphemy; prove this, or, excuse my
warmth if I say to you, what Paul said to Elymas the
sorcerer .... I did not when I began, think that I
should have been moved to this severity of rebuke by any
thing you could have written ; but when so gross a mis-
representation is made of God's proceedings, coolness
would be a crime. The women children were not
reserved for the purpose of debauchery, but of slavery.
A custom, indeed, abhorrent from our manners, but
everywhere practised in former times, and still practised
in countries where the benignity of the Christian
religion has not softened the ferocity of human nature.



THE PENTATEUCH EXAMINED. 101

You here admit a part of the account given in the
Bible respecting the expedition against Midian, to be
a true account ; it is not unreasonable to desire that
you will admit the whole^ or show sufficient reason
why you admit one part and reject the other. I will
mention the part to which you have paid no attention.
The Israelitish army consisted but of .... a mere
handful when opposed to the people of Midian, Yet_,
when the officers made a muster of their troops after
their return from the war^ they found that they had not
lost a single man. This circumstance struck them as
so decisive an evidence of God^s interposition, that
out of the spoils they had taken they offered ^ an
oblation to the Lord, an atonement for their souls.'
Do but believe what the ' captains of thousands ' and
the ^ captains of hundreds ' believed at the time when
these things happened, and we shall never more hear
of your objections to the Bible from its account of the
wars of Moses.'' "^

IV. Here at length we reach the " general con-
sideration with respect to the statements in the Bible
which touch upon geology and other sciences." I
need not remind you how numerously, and with what
an offensive purpose, such considerations are scattered
throughout this volume, as, for example, where we are
told (p. vii.) that '^^ now he (Dr. Colenso) knew for
^^ Watson's Apology^ etc., pp. 82-86.



102



certain that a universal deluge such as the Bible
manifestly speaks of, could not possibly have taken
place in the way described in the book of Genesis/^

Upon this, and similar difficulties, I would remark ;
— (1) that, as in the instance thus quoted, all of them
are advanced in relation to one, and that always the
most rigid, not to say the narrowest, interpretation of
the passages in question ; and (2), that Dr. Colenso
brings them forward as if the scientific testimonies he
refers to (see pp. viii, and xxiv) were uniform and
harmonious. But is this indeed the case ? We have
already fathomed the depths of our examiner^s inquiries
into most of the questions about which he has written
with such confidence ; and, though he has not given
us the same means of testing his geological attainments,
he seems to write as if he were ignorant of the fact,
that, on many fundamental points bearing on the
relations of geology to Scripture, the professors of this
science are signally at variance. Such, for example,
is the question whether the Mosaic period in the
earth^s history was, or was not, ushered in by any
great catastrophe. From an immense induction of
instances, D^Orbigny, in opposition to views received
until very recently, appears to have established the
fact that it was ; and that, " after the latest of many
previous catastrophes, when the last strata of the
tertiary period were deposited, the most recent exertion
of creative power took place, and the globe was peopled



THE PENTATEUCH EXAMINED. 103

with the tribes which now inhabit it, inckiding the
human race." Thus the latest conclusion of geo-
logists appears to bring them into nearer agreement
with the testimony of Moses. And that there is, in
fact, no discrepancy between " Genesis and Geology "
is well known to be the opinion of men whose honesty,
as well as their competency, to speak on such a subject
is beyond all question. The adjustment of this con-
troversy, however, lies beyond my purpose, nor indeed
have I any anxiety about the matter, for reasons that
will appear in the following extract from an admirable
paper by the late De Quincey, which I would strongly
recommend to Dr. Colenso's notice.

" It is made impossible for Scripture to teach falsely, by
the simple fact that Scripture on such subjects will not con-
descend to teach at all. The Bible adopts the erroneous lan-
guage of men (which, at any rate, it must do in order to make
itself understood) not by way of sanctioning a theory, but by
way of using a fact. The Bible, for instance, i/ses (postulates)
the phenomena of day and night, of summer and winter ; and
in relation to their causes, speaks by the same popular and in-
accurate language which is current for ordinary purposes, even
amongst the most scientific of astronomers. For the man of
science, equally with the populace, talks of the sun as rising
and setting, as having finished half his day's journey, &c., and,
without pedantry, could not in many cases talk otherwise.
But the results which are all that concern Scripture, are
equally true, whether accounted for by one hypothesis which
is philosophically just, or by another which is popular and
erring.

" In geology and cosmology the case is stronger. Here there
is no opening for a compliance even with language that is
erroneous; for no language at all is current upon subjects



104 COLENSO^S EXAMINATION OF

that have never engaged the popular attention. Here, where
there is no such stream of apparent phenomena running coun-
ter (as in astronomy there is) to the real phenomena, neither
is there any popular language opposed to the scientific. The
whole are abstruse speculations, even as regards their objects,
nor dreamed of as possibilities, either in their true aspects, or
their false aspects, till modern times. The Scriptures, there-
fore, nowhere allude to such sciences, either as taking the
shape of histories, applied to processes current and in move-
ment, or as taking the shape of theories applied to processes
past and accomplished. The Mosaic cosmogony, indeed, gives
the succession of natural births ; and probably the general out-
line of such a succession will be more and more confirmed as

geology advances

" God by a Hebrew prophet is sublimely described as the

Revealer. . . But of what is He the Revealer ? Not surely of
those things which He has enabled man to reveal for himself?
but of those things which, were it not for special light from
heaven, must eternally remain sealed up in inaccessible dark-
ness. On this principle we should all laugh at a revealed
cookery. But essentially the same ridicule, not more, and
not less, applies to a revealed astronomy, or a revealed geology.
As a fact there is no such astronomy or geology : as a possi-
bility, by the a priori argument which I have used (viz. that
a revelation on such fields would counteract other machineries
of Providence) there can be no such astronomy or geology in
the Bible. Consequentl}^ there is none. Consequently there
can be no schism or feud upon these subjects between the
Bible and the philosophies outside." "

In regard to the probability of which this writer
speaks_, as to the agreement of the " general outhne of
the succession '^ described by Moses, with the conclu-
sions of science, — this, as you know, has been wonder-
fully realised. The inspired language, viewed in this
=^' Miscellanies^ (1st ed.), &c. pp. 206-208.



THE PENTATEUCH EXAMINED. 105

character, is signally, may we not say miraculously,
conformed to facts on wliicli all men of science are ac-
cordant. As, for example, (1) in its describing the
creation of light before the manifestation of the sun ;
and (2) in its representation of the orders of existence
according to the relative succession in which all geo-
logists now agree to represent them. If Moses had
told us that '' God created the sun,'' and then " light
was,'' as if light were indeed wholly dependent on the
emission of the solar rays ; or, again, if he had in any
way interchanged the order in which he has actually
presented the vegetable, the reptilian, and the mamma-
lian orders ; then, undoubtedly, we should have been
troubled by instances of palpable discrepancy, between
the two Records, in the Word and in the World. But
how different is the case as it actually exists ! It is
the same in other instances, so that we may confidently
say that, so far as science can be permitted to give
any depositions on the subject, it has not yet evoked
any testimony that need disturb our assurance that
here, as in all his pages, this " holy man of God " only
spake as he was '' moved by the Holy Ghost."

If we cannot affirm more than the absence of that
contradiction which our assailant has alleged in this
instance, this is sufficient for my purpose at this
point. Though, indeed, I believe that in this, as in
the instances we have examined in* detail, much more
than this silent accordance will be discovered by those
who take up the sacred volume in the spirit in which it



106 COLENSO'S EXAMINATION OF

justly claims to be received. Such persons will — nay,
they continually do^ tell us that they discern an agrees
ment which is ever strengthening between their assur-
ance of the Divine origin of Scripture, and their views,
in relation to all parts of it, of what science has surely
learned. In other words, they find, in this instance, as
in those we have above investigated, that alleged diffi-
culties have been converted into proofs, and confirma-
tion.

And let me say in conclusion, that by this experi-
ence we are again reminded of the true method wherein
we should conduct the controversy with all forms of un-
belief such as that which is brought before us in this
volume. That is to say, it plainly teaches us that, instead
of immediately replying to any of these casual random
assaults on detached passages of Scripture, we should
begin by showing that before they can be considered,
there are previous questions which under the strongest
necessity must be first determined: the character in
which the whole volume is put forward, its claims and
its sanctions, must be ascertained before these diffi-
culties of detail can be treated, — nay, before they can be
understood. I think it has been shown in these pages,
that this method brings into view presumptions and
evidences, in the light of which difficulties such as the
one consideration insisted on with any effect in this
cruel and foolish volume — absolutely disappear. And
such will be the case in regard to all similar difficulties.
"They one and all," says the author of Restoration



THE PENTATEUCH EXAMINED. 107

of Belief, " derive any semblance of importance which
they possess, from misapprehending the true principle
of Biblical interpretation. Until this is understood, it
would seem not merely a waste of time to follow and
reply to these futi]e cavils, but a logical mistake/^ In
the same manner he again remarks, " In dealing wdth
imperfectly instructed readers, it is always an easy task
to dislodge materials that have no cement, and to strew
the ground with the ruins of a structure which has not
settled down on its foundations, and has no coherence.
Because it is so easy to do this, writers who are im-
patient to win notoriety, and who would fain be fol-
lowed by troops of disciples, address themselves with-
out scruple to those w^hose consent, when obtained, has
no value ; and whose plaudits should make a wise and
sincere man blush /^"^

Such writers there will alw^ays be, and alas ! in,
places w^here of all others we should least expect to
find them. But w^ords fail us if we try to describe the
ignominiousness of the work, in which the ignorance
of the uninstructed, and the disadvantages of the
neglected, are thus needful for their success. You will
naturally judge, from what you know I have elsewhere
written at length upon this subject,^^ that I here use the
word " disadvantages,^^ in view of what I do not shrink
from calling the needless blemishes and obscm-ities that
rest on our English version of the Scriptures. Only

^ Restoration of Belief ^ pp. v., vi., 18.

^^ Scripture Studies, pp. ix.-xvii., 381-386.



108

let these occasions of difficulty be removed, and then
the guilty assailants of our faith and hopes will be de-
prived of the chief instrument whereby they effect the
mischief that is done by them : they will then be
bereft of the main agency, which, in awful forgetful -
ness of the woe denounced by Christ Himself, they
employ in raising stumbling-blocks that may cause the
overthrow of many for whom He died.



APPENDIX.



" Here, then, assuming the identity of our Scriptures of the
Old Testament with those ivritings as they existed in the days of
Christ,'" p. 14.— Of course it is not the absolute identity, word
for word, of any existing recension of the Old Testament
Scriptures with the sacred text, as it was read by our Lord,
which is here assumed. Such identity evidently is impos-
sible on account of the errors and faithlessness of copyists,
and of the manifold other causes of imperfection to which all
ancient documents are liable in their transmission. But that
the actual differences are so inconsiderable, that they need not
be taken account of so as seriously to qualify the above assump-
tion, will appear from these considerations, viz., (1), That
the Masoretic text, which may be called the textus receptus of
the Old Testament, was edited by men in whose mutual
jealousies we have a security that in the main it was correctly
given by them. And (2), That, as our means of correction
in cases where there is reason to doubt the integrity of their
text, we have (a), The old Jewish versions, of which some,
e.g., the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Septuagint, and the
Targums, were made centuries before the Masoretic recen-
sion was put forward ; (iS), The Christian versions, such as the
Syriac and the Vulgate, which also long preceded that recen-
sion ; and (7), Quotations from writers more ancient than the
Masorites. By the use of these means of correction we can
assure ourselves, in any single instance, that we are reading,
as nearly as is needful, or desirable, the very language of the
sacred text, as it existed in the time of Christ, and to which He
referred when He spake of The Scriptures. And here one



110 APPENDIX.

cannot help expressing the wish that such a recension of
the entu-e Old Testament were undertaken by the Church.
Our want of it is one of the causes which call such volumes as
this of Dr. Colenso's into existence.

P. 63. I here append some examples, taken from Dean
Graves' Lectures on the Pentateuch^ and from Blunt's Un-
designed Coincidences^ &c., of the " internal evidences " alluded
to. Thus writes Dean Graves (Lect. iii.) : —

". . . . There are coincidences of a less obvious nature, more
circuitous and indirect, wdiich occur in the statement of par-
ticular facts, and deserve to be accurately attended to, as sup-
plying still more decisive characters of truth and authenticity.
In delivering rules about the leprosy, it is said (Lev. xiv. 34),
' When ye be come into the land of Canaan, which I give
you for a possession, and I put the plague of leprosy in a
house of the land of your possession,' ye shall do thus and
thus. I notice this instance, because that a house is spoken of,
not at all with a design to mark the circumstance of their not
yet being come into the land of their possession, but is of
necessity introduced fropi the nature of the case. The subject
here is the discovery and the purification of leprosy. As to
this, particular directions are given with respect to a house^
but nothing is said of a tent; whereas, with regard to the
impurity contracted by the presence of a dead body, all the
directions relate to a tent, and nothing is said of a house.
Now, this difference is, by a little attention, easily accounted
for ; the writer applies the rule about the purification from a
dead body, to the object then most familiar with him, a
tent. And as its lying in a house would produce no effect
different from its lying in a tent, and require no difference of
purification, he says nothing about a house, but leaves the
nature of the thing to suggest the regulation when it should
become necessary. Whereas, in detailing the rules for dis-
covering and purifying the leprosy, all the materials of which
tents are made, wool, and canvas, and leather, are particu-
larised, as exhibiting each of them peculiar symptoms of the



APPENDIX. Ill

plague; and this being done, it was unnecessary to say any-
thing of a tent itself; but, as the materials of a house were
quite different, and the appearances of infection in it peculiar,
this required a particular specification. All this has the
appearance of reality, and is exactly the way in which an
eye-witness would have spoken ; but it is such a difference as
a writer of fiction would scarcely have thought of. ... .

"Different circumstances occur in the detail of other
directions, which seem to supply more decisive characters of
truth and authenticity, because they display coincidences more
minute, or more circuitous and indirect. Thus it is men-
tioned that Aaron, as High Priest, and his family, had charge
of the Ark of the Lord and the furniture of the Holy of
Holies; but they were to be carried, during the progress of
each march, by an inferior family; and the writer remarks,
these were not to approach them until 'Aaron and his sons
had made an end of covering them, at the commencement of
the journey.' (Num. iv. 15). What forger or mere com-
piler would have thought of such a circumstance ?

" A coincidence still more remarkable on this subject is
the following: — In the third and fourth chapters of iSTumbers,
the parts of the Tabernacle to be carried by each family of
the Levites, on the march, are minutely specified. The fifth
and sixth are taken up with a detail of laws entirely uncon-
nected with this subject ; the seventh begins with relating
that the different princes of Israel made an offering of six
covered waggons and twelve oxen, which Moses employed to
carry the Tabernacle, and distributed to two families of the
Levites, ' according to their service ;' (for the third were to
carry the part assigned to them, the furniture of the Holy of
Holies, upon their shoulders); to one are assigned two, to
another four waggons. The reason of this inequality is not
specified ; but, on turning back, we find that the family to
which the four waggons are assigned, had been appointed to
carry the solid, and therefore heavy, parts of the Tabernacle,
its boards, and bars, and pillars ; while that family to which
the two waggons are assigned, was appointed to carry the



112 APPENDIX.

lighter, its curtains and coverings, its hangings and cords.
Such a coincidence as this is extremely natural, if Moses,
who directed this matter, recorded it; but is it not wholly
improbable that a forger or compiler should think of detailing
such minute particulars at all, or, if he did, should detail
them in such a manner as this ? The more minute and appa-
rently unimportant such coincidences as these are, the more
unlikely is it they should arise from anything but reality.

"Another coincidence of a somewhat similar nature is the
following : — In the second chapter of the Book of Numbers
the writer describes the division of the twelve tribes into four
camps, the number of each tribe, and the total number in each
camp. He fixes the position each was to take round the Taber-
nacle, and the order of their march ; and he directs that the
Tabernacle, with the camp of the Levites, should set forward
between the second and third camps. But in the tenth chapter
occurs what seems at first a direct contradiction to this ; for, it
is said, that after the first camp had set forward, then the
Tabernacle was taken down ; and the sons of Gershon, and the
sons of Merari, set forward, bearing the Tabernacle ; and after-
wards the second camp, or standard of the children of
Reuben. But this apparent contradiction is reconciled a few
verses after, when we find that, though the less sacred parts of
the Tabernacle, the outside tent and its apparatus, set out
between the first and second camp, yet the sanctuary, or Holy
of Holies, with its furniture and the ark of the altar, did not
set out till after the second camp, as the direction required.
And the reason of the separation is assigned — that those who
bore the outside tabernacle might set it up, and thus prepare
for the reception of the sanctuary against it came. Would a
forger or compiler who lived when these marches had wholly
ceased, and the Israelites had fixed in the land of their inherit-
ance, have thought of such a circumstance as this ? "

In his Undesigned Coincidences^ &c., after detailing many
similar examples, Blunt writes (pp. 95-106): — "I doubt not
that many examples of coincidence without design in the writ-



APPENDIX. 113

ings of Moses have escaped me, which others may detect, as one
eye will often see what another has overlooked. Still I cannot
account for the number and nature of those which I have been
able to produce on any other principle than the veracity of
the narrative which presents them. Accident could not have
touched upon truth so often ; design could not have touched
upon it so artlessly ; the less so, because these coincidences do
not discover themselves in certain detached and isolated pass-


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Online LibraryGeorge Smith DrewBishop Colenso's examination of the Pentateuch examined ; with an appendix → online text (page 8 of 12)