Henry Preserved Smith.

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THE PLIMPTON P E E S S • N R W D • M A S S • U • S • A


THIS book does not claim to be a history of Biblical inter-
pretation. It is an attempt to illustrate certain ways in
which the Old Testament part of our Bible has been treated
in the course of the Christian centuries. Since almost every
theologian, Jewish or Christian, has directly or indirectly com-
mented on the Scriptures, a complete history of this branch of
science would seem to be beyond the powers of any one man.
The index to Diestel's work, a work to which I have often
referred, shows that he consulted nearly fourteen hundred differ-
ent authors. The result is to bewilder rather than to help the
inquirer. Some account of the main currents of thought in
this department can be gathered, I venture to hope, from the
following pages.




I. Hebrew Literary Methods 3

II. Legalistic Interpretation 14

HI. The Triumph of Allegory 33

IV. Scholasticism Dominant ^g

V. Luther's Appeal ^3

VI. Protest and Reaction 84

VII. Attempt of the Federal School 94

VIII. Rise of a More Historical View 102

IX. The Influence of Pietism 112

X. Endeavors after a Biblical Theology 120

XI. The Bishop's Problem 128

XII. The Significance of Wellhausen 136

XIII. Historical Interpretation 143


II. sacrificial WORSHIP 1 49

m. THE priesthood 153



XTV.-SoME Survivals i68

XV. Apocalyptic Vagaries 176

Bibliographical Note 193

Index 195




^th an ancient book we need to enter into

^authorXtnind. This means that we must know his

ei^iromarent, his habits of thought, and his purpose h

fing. ywhere the object of our study is a collecjiern of

dtings, like the/one we know as the Old TestameaO^^Tnust

eiji^avor to understand each of the contribj

"^tand the whole movement of which this^jg^ltection is tnjg monu-

■ ment wemust bring the

tion> '6f time and sp^Ggr-^'^'^^ process thus iddicated
^. - efiticism.^

These truism^^ plai^V i»it*lv LluMieed^f criti(5rsm for a

the necessity
Ranted. As^-gc^jnatter of fact, however,
Eion, has been made to critical
investigation bi this Book, and this on two grounds. In the
first place a tesidition has attached itself to it, and this tradi-
tion is interwoven with certain religious experiences. To dis-
turb the tradition seems to threaten religion, and religion is
rightly regarded as one of man's most precious possessions. In
the second place, Hebrew literary methods are so unlike those
to which we are accustomed that when described by the critic
they are met with incredulity. It is thought to be absurd to
affirm that men made books in the way in which the critics

^ Criticism of the text of an ancient document, which aims to recover its
original wording is of course of primary importance, but it is not here under



discover the Hebrew books to have been made. What this
is is now a matter of common knowledge. For one thing it
is pointed out that the ancient author was so careless of his
reputation that he took no pains to attach his name to his
work. Unless Ezekiel be an exception, no one of the Old
Testament writers is known to us by name. To us, to whom
the fame of authorship is dear, this is almost incomprehensible.
We should place the crown of laurel on the head of the poet
of the book of Job as readily as we place it on the brow of
the poet of the Iliad. He has cheated us of the opportunity,
and himself of a monument more enduring than bronze, by
preserving his anonymity. Moreover, when the Bible is pre-
sented to us as an authoritative code we are tempted to think
that its authorship should be certified in some official way.
A Protestant theologian advanced the theory that the various
books of the Old Testament as soon as they were written were
posted in a conspicuous place in the temple that all the people
might take knowledge of them, and that when sufficient oppor-
tunity had been given they were taken down by the priests
and carefully preserved in the archives. Needless to say, the
theory has no support in the documents themselves, which are
as careless about notarial authorization as they are about

In answer to the not unnatural demand for some sort of
security on this head a tradition early arose which endeavored
to assign the Biblical books to certain men whose names are
made known to us in the books themselves. A post-biblical
Jewish document'- affirms that Moses wrote his own book,
the section concerning Balaam, and Job; Joshua wrote his own
book, and the last eight verses of the Pentateuch, which relate
Moses' death, though some of the Rabbis thought that
Moses wrote this also at the divine dictation; Samuel wrote
his own book, Ruth, and Judges; David wrote the book of
Psalms at the hands of the ten elders — Adam the first, Mel-
chizedek, Abraham, Moses, Heman, Jeduthun, Asaph, and
the three sons of Korah ; Jeremiah wrote his own book, Kings,

- Babylonian Talmud, Baba Bathra, 14b and isa.


and Lamentations; Hezekiah and his company wrote Isaiah,
Proverbs, Song of Songs, and Koheleth; the men of the Great
Assembly wrote Ezekiel, the Twelve (Minor Prophets), Daniel,
and Esther; Ezra wrote the genealogies in Chronicles down to
his own time.

It is obvious from the date of this document, as well as
from the absurdity of some of its statements, that it rests on no
historical data. What could be less rational than to say that
David wrote Psalms 'at the hands' of Adam, Abraham, Mel-
chizedek, and Moses, all of whom lived long before his own
time? The absurdity is a little less if we suppose the Rabbis
meant that the books were edited rather than written by these
worthies, and something of the kind may have been in their
thought. In any case the tradition is simply the product of a
desire to give the Hebrew books authority by attaching them
to the names of men prominent in the history of their own
people. The only result of our study of it is to throw us back
onto the internal evidence of the books themselves.

Examination of the books and their comparison with each
other brings one fact to light almost at a glance. This is that
at least some of the books are the result of a compilatory
process. Putting the two parallel narratives of Kings and
Chronicles side by side we see that the later author has bor-
rowed freely from his predecessor. He did not do what a mod-
ern writer would have done — work up the material taken from
his sources into a homogeneous story. He took considerable
blocks of the history of Kings, copying word for word. Be-
tween these sections he inserted other material, the most of it
quite different in style and tone from the earlier matter. In
other words, the Chronicler follows the method which the critics
think they discover in other Old Testament books, the method
which has met with objurgation and ridicule as if no sensible
man would use it. Undoubtedly it is difficult for a modern
author to recognize this method as legitimate. But we must
remember that the idea of literary property was unknown,
that is, it had not dawned on men's minds that the originator
of a book had a right to forbid any one's making what use of


it he pleased. The book was the property of the man who
bought it, and it never occurred to the Chronicler that any
objection could be raised to his treating the earlier narrative
as he thought fit. What he actually did is visualized in the
Polychrome edition of the Hebrew text, where the blocks of
red color show the material taken from the earlier source, the
Chronicler's additions being left white. Any one can produce
the same effect by using a red pencil on the passages parallel to
the book of Kings.

The question naturally suggests itself whether if the book
of Kings had perished we could still be sure that the Chron-
icler had followed this method of compilation. The answer
cannot be doubtful. The sections inserted by him differ
markedly from those which he borrowed. The rule is the
general rule of literary criticism, namely, that difference of
style indicates different authors. It is indeed true that in
some cases a single writer uses different styles. But it is also
true that each of his styles has the marks of his own person-
ality. We can think of no reason why the Chronicler should
use two different styles in adjacent paragraphs of his narra-
tive. Had the book of Kings perished we should have been
able to point out with certainty the material taken from it.

Any one who has doubts on this head should look carefully
at the concluding chapters of the book of Judges, and compare
the story in chapters xvii and xviii with the one that follows in
xix and xx. The whole tone and atmosphere of the first is un-
like what we find in the second. In each case there is a
wrong committed. But Micah when he loses his sacred
objects has no recourse. A few friends and kinsmen are all
that he can rally to his aid. In the other case the whole na-
tion rises as one man to punish the wrong-doer. Four hun-
dred thousand warriors assemble, lose twenty-two thousand
in one battle and eighteen thousand in another without being
discouraged, and in their turn kill twenty-five thousand Ben-
jamites. In the story of Micah on the other hand a band of
six hundred warriors are all that one of the tribes can muster
for a foray. With the historicity of either account we are not


now concerned. The sole point is that the contrast in tone is
sufficient to convince us that the two narratives were written
by different men.

Moreover a little consideration will show that neither one
of these stories fits into the scheme of the book to which they
are appended. The author or rather compiler of the book of
Judges had a very distinct motive in putting his book into
shape. He was teaching his people a lesson of loyalty to their
God. His theory of history is that as long as Israel was faith-
ful to its God it was prospered, but that when it fell away
to the worship of the local Baals and Astartes the people were
delivered into the hand of the oppressors. Deliverance came
when they repented, and it came in the person of a divinely
commissioned leader and hero. The hero-stories in the book
are the examples to prove the thesis. But whatever we may
think of the force of these hero-stories, it is clear that the
two incidents we have been considering do not fit into the
scheme. Neither in the case of Micah nor in that of the Levite
and his concubine is there any question of the Baals and
Astartes, nor is there any mention of backsliding and de-

What we have discovered, without any special bias towards
the higher criticism, is that at least four hands have been at
work in this book of Judges. There was first the collector of
the original hero-stories. Then came the theologian who made
the stories tributary to his theory of backsliding and revival.
Two appendices were added, each of which had its peculiar
point of view. The book of Judges is not an isolated case.
Most of the Hebrew books which have come down to us show
similar phenomena. Even in the latest period we find that
editors or copyists did not hesitate to treat the texts in their
hands with great freedom. The books of Daniel, Esther, and
Ezra, had sections inserted in them which are preserved in
the Greek version, but which the Hebrew texts escaped. And
lest we suppose that the Old Testament is peculiar in this
respect we may notice that Arabic literatures gives conspicu-
ous examples of exactly the same procedure. We are told


also that in Europe in the Middle Age "authors borrowed lit-
erally with great freedom and embodied fragments of other
writers or whole books in their own works." Further we read
that they did not scrutinize closely the statements of their
predecessors; what had once been handed down they usually
accepted as good.^

That the books of the Old Testament were treated with
great freedom, even after they were regarded as in some
sense authoritative, may be illustrated by later writings. A
book which is entitled Biblical Antiquities of Philo, though
not by Philo Judseus, is composed in the way illustrated by
Chronicles. The author rewrites the history from Adam to
the death of Saul, and in doing so he takes paragraphs from
the Biblical text and fills in between them with other matter,
either derived from tradition or the product of his own imagi-
nation. The process is visualized for us in the translation, by
printing the Biblical material in italics, and the additional
matter in Roman type.* The result is quite similar to what we
observe in the Polychrome edition of Chronicles. Equally
striking is the lesson taught by the so-called Book of Jubilees.
The author of this book was not satisfied with the history of the
earlier times recorded in the book of Genesis, though doubt-
less he regarded that book as divinely given. For one thing
he wanted a more exact chronology, and he carefully reckoned
the Jubilee periods (of forty-nine years each) from the cre-
ation onwards, dating each event of the narrative by the
years within its Jubilee period. In the second place, he sup-
plied information which he thought ought to be given in con-
nection with the events recorded by the Biblical writer. Thus
he tells us that the angels were created on the first day of the
creative week, Moses having neglected this item. He knows the
names of Adam's daughters as well as of his sons, gives Abra-
ham's dying address, and a legend about his boyhood. He
even goes so far as to justify those actions of the Patriarchs

3 Vincent, J. M., Historical Research (N. Y., 1911), p. iii.
* Biblical Antiquities of Philo, translated from the Latin by M. R. James,
London, 1917.


which the earlier narrative condemns. The slaughter of the
men of Shechem now appears as a praiseworthy act, ordained
in heaven, and it is made the occasion for enforcing the
strictest prohibition of intermarriage with gentiles. The book
in fact traces Levi's claim to the priesthood to his zeal in
this matter, thus antedating a Mosaic ordinance. Pure Judaism
is further favored by the statement that the two highest
classes of angels were created circumcised. The Sabbath was
observed by the Creator — so much we learn from the earlier
narrative; but Jubilees makes the more definite declaration:
"He gave us (the angels) the Sabbath as a sign that we should
labor six days and rest from all labor on the seventh; and He
enjoined upon all the angels of the Presence and all the angels
of sanctity that they should observe the Sabbath with Him,
both in heaven and on the earth." The post-exilic Jewish
interest in the observance of the Law comes out in the recon-
struction of the lives of the Patriarchs. Since the author
cannot think these fathers of the race less pious than their
descendants he carries the Mosaic ordinances back into the
earlier time. Noah observes Pentecost; Abraham keeps both
this feast and Tabernacles ; the Day of Atonement is known to
the sons of Jacob. Most significant is the introduction of the
evil spirit Mastema to relieve God of responsibility when Abra-
ham's faith is to be put to the test. The evil one, we read,
came before God and said: "Abraham loves his son Isaac and
delights in him above all things; command him to offer him
as a burnt-offering and thou wilt see whether he will carry out
thy command." The tendency is the same which induced the
author of Chronicles to make Satan incite David to sin, instead
of attributing the temptation to the God of Israel.^

Other examples might easily be found to show the Hebrew
method even down to the Christian era. Note also that the
authors of this period do not hesitate to attribute their writ-
ings to ancient worthies. Thus the book of Enoch claims to

5 The Book of Jubilees, translated from the Ethiopic text by R. H. Charles,
London, 1917. Although the complete book is preserved only in Ethiopic there
is no doubt that it was originally written in Hebrew.


have an antediluvian patriarch as its author, and the book of
Jubilees claims to have been revealed to Moses by an angel.
Our judgment of the writers may easily be too severe. The
underlying motive was sincerely religious. This is true both
of the post-biblical writings and of the Biblical books them-
selves. Interest in history as history was unknown. The aim
was to edify the reader. But the religious motive has two
sides. For one thing, it seeks its justification in the past, and
on this side it is conservative. But on the other hand religion
cannot exempt itself from the law of change. Perhaps it would
be more exact to say that the forms of thought with which
religion associates itself change from generation to generation.
Abraham was a sincere worshipper of God. But the idea which
he had of God was certainly different from that of a twen-
tieth century Christian or Jew. The religious teacher has a
double task; he wishes to preserve the monuments in Vv^hich
religion has expressed itself in the past, and at the same time
to make them teach lessons appropriate to the present. The
Chronicler, to whom we may return for a moment, is an illus-
tration. He wished to preserve the history of his nation be-
cause it was the nation favored by God. The part favored by
God, however, was Judah alone. He therefore preserved the
earlier narrative so far as it related the story of Judah, but
left out all that concerned the northern kingdom alone. At the
same time he found the history defective in that it did not
bring out more clearly the matter which was to him of prime
importance. This was the temple and its services. The most
significant of the insertions which he makes in the narrative
are those which tell of the Levites. In contrast with the book
of Kings he emphasizes the presence of this guild at the re-
moval of the Ark. He describes at length their complicated
organization, and ascribes it to David — something of which
the earlier narrative is ignorant. He makes Jehoshaphat send
them out as teachers of the Law, and they even furnish the
army of the priest Jehoiada when he secures the coronation of
the young king Jehoash and the death of Athaliah — in this
case in flat contradiction to the earlier narrative.


The Chronicler is adduced here not because he was an ex-
ception to the rule, but because he illustrates a tendency which
we can trace in almost, if not quite all, the historical books,
We have already seen that the author of Judges has his own re-
ligious thesis to establish, and that he did it by using earlier
material which came to his hand. In some cases it is plain
that a story has been rewritten to correct what the author
regards as an erroneous view. Thus in the books of Samuel
we have two accounts of the coronation of Saul. In one we
read that the king was a gift of God's grace for the deliverance
of the people (I Sam. ix and x). But another writer judged
that this could not be, since Saul turned out to be a failure.
He therefore wrote another account and represented the
demand for a king as evidence of the incurable waywardness
of the people (I Sam. viii and xii). Any one who will com-
pare the two sections will convince himself that they cannot
come from the same hand. And if it be said that, if the con-
tradiction in point of view is as clear as it seems to us, an
editor would not have combined the stories, we reply that this
is where religious conservatism comes in. A devout man who
possessed both documents could not bring himself to let either
one be lost and therefore combined them. Probably if he
reflected on the discrepancies he was able to satisfy himself
with harmonistic h3^otheses such as commentators delight in
to the present day.

Another example would seem to be even more convincing,
were it not for the spell laid upon us by traditional views.
This is the story of the creation. We can hardly doubt that
an early writer began his story with the statement: "In the
day that Yahweh made earth and heaven no plant of the field
was yet in the earth, and no herb of the field had yet sprung
up, for Yahweh had not caused it to rain on the earth, and
there was no man to till the ground" (Gen. ii:4b, 5). He
then went on with the delightful account of the Garden. To
him there was nothing unworthy of the divinity in supposing
Him to plant a garden, to mold man of clay, to experiment with
the animals before discovering the right companion for man,


to walk in His garden in the cool of evening, to cross-question
the man to find out what he had done, and to be jealous of the
man's becoming "like God" in knowing good and evil. But
in later times this anthropomorphic God was not appreciated,
and the work of creation had to be represented differently.
For this reason we have the account which we now read in
the first chapter of the Bible. According to this the divine
fiat is enough to bring the light into being, to separate land
and water, to make the land produce plants, and the sea bring
forth its swarming inhabitants. It is altogether probable that
the writer of this cosmogony would have been willing to see
his account displace the other. But again religious conserva-
tism, for which we cannot be too grateful, refused to let either
one perish, and combined them in the form in which they have
been read for more than two thousand years.

It is not the purpose of the present essay to trace this process
through the Old Testament. The delicate work of analysis
has, however, been done by many scholars, and although they
differ in detail, the results are in their main lines well estab-
lished. What is of present interest to us is that the Old Testa-
ment literature was up to a certain point of time in a fluid
state. Editors and copyists did not hesitate to supplement
and revise their text in order to suit it to the time in which
they lived. But there did come a date when this rewriting of
ancient material and compilation from the various elements
stopped. Apparently it was only after the fall of Jerusalem
in the first century of our era that the scribes awoke to the
danger of having the sacred volumes treated in the old irrespon-
sible way. The Canon was then closed; that is, the collection
of books was set apart as something sacred, which could not be
increased or diminished^' To prevent contamination, rules
were drawn up for the copyists so that at least the copies
officially authorized for use in the public service should con-
tain the text handed down by the fathers. But although the
conservative tendency seemed thus to triumph, religious ideas
continued to change under the influence of the spirit of the
age. How then could the ancient document continue to edify


^ the new generation? The answer is given by the commentaries.
The text of the Book is sacrosanct. It must be handed on in
the^form which it has assumed. But it can be explained in a
n ew sense so a s to^t the Jdeas„of.a_ new time. The history of
interpretation shows the interplay of the two forces which
wrought in the compilation of the books. Conservatism at-
tempts to hold onto the tradition embodied in the text, and
progressive thought endeavors to read new meanings into the _
old words. The process had already begun in the Biblical
period, for the Chronicler refers to the Midrash of the book of
Kings. But Midrash, as we shall see, was the technical term
for a commentary. To give some illustrations of the method
in which the commentators have done their work is the pur-
pose of these essays.

The »esult of our study will undoubtedly be to show that
many attempts to explain the sense of an old Testament pass-
age have really explained it away; and we may be tempted to

Taccept the statement sometimes made that the Church has
' never really understood its Bible. In this sweeping form the

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Online LibraryHenry Preserved SmithEssays in Biblical interpretation → online text (page 1 of 17)