- Paperback: 460 pages
- Publisher: Pomona Press (January 1, 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1406788228
- ISBN-13: 978-1406788228
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The Old Testament in the Jewish Church - Twelve Lectures on Biblical Criticism Paperback – January 1, 2007
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He wrote in the Preface of this 1881 book (2nd edition 1892), “The great value of historical criticism is that it makes the Old Testament more real to us. Christianity can never separate itself from its historical basis on the Religion of Israel: the revelation of God in Christ cannot be divorced from the earlier revelations on which our Lord built… and in an age when all are interested in historical research, no apologetic can prevent thoughtful minds from drifting away from faith if the historical study of the Old Covenant is condemned by the Church and left in the hands of unbelievers… The old method of explaining difficulties and reconciling apparent contradictions would no longer be tolerated in dealing with other books, and men ask themselves whether our Christian faith, the most precious gift of truth which God has given us, can safely base its defense on arguments that bring no sense of reality to the mind… The increasing influence of critical views among earnest students of the Bible is not to be explained on the Manichean theory that new views commend themselves to mankind in proportion as they ignore God…. Criticism is a reality and a force because it unfolds a living and consistent picture of the Old Dispensation…”
He explains, “Historical criticism may be defined without special reference to the Bible… The critical study of ancient documents means… the careful sifting of their origin and meaning in the light of history. The first principle of criticism is that every book bears the stamp of the time and circumstances in which it was produced… the true critic has for his business, not to destroy, but to build up. The critic is an interpreter, but one who has a larger view of this task than the man of mere grammars and dictionaries… In this process the occasional destruction of some traditional opinion is a mere incident.” (Pg. 16-17)
He says of the original/earliest manuscripts of the Bible, “in various MSS [manuscripts], words, clauses, and sentences are inserted or omitted, and sometimes the insertions change the whole meaning of a passage. In one of two instances a complete paragraph appears in some copies, and is left out in others. The titles in particular offer great variations… Such changes as these show that the copyists of these times did not proceed exactly like law clerks copying a deed. They made additions from parallel passages, they wrote things upon the margin which afterwards got into the text; and when copying from a rubbed or blotted page, they sometimes had to guess at a word. In these and other ways mistakes came in and were perpetuated; and it takes the best scholarship… to determine the true reading in each case, and to eliminate all corruptions.” (Pg. 55)
He points out, “In the Book of Kings reference is habitually made, for certain particulars in the political history of each reign, to the official chronicles of the sovereigns of Judah and Israel, and in 2 Sam 1:18 a poem of David is quoted from the Book of Jashar, which is also cited in Joshua 10:13. But for the mass of the narrative of the Earlier Prophets (Joshua-Kings) the compilers give no indication of the sources from which they worked.” (Pg. 93)
He notes, “Modern critics … maintain that various prophecies… are not the composition of the prophets to whose works they are traditionally reckoned. It is not argued that these pieces are spurious works palmed off under a false name. They are accepted as genuine writings of true prophets, but it is maintained that they style and other characters, above all the historical situation which they presuppose, show that they are not the work of the hand and age to which current tradition refers them. Thus in the case of Isaiah 40-66, it is pointed out that the prophet addresses his words of consolation and exhortation to Israel in its Babylonian exile… Accordingly it is admitted by those who still argue for Isaiah as the author of Isa 41-66 that that great prophet in his later years must have been supernaturally transported out of his own historical surroundings, and set, as it were, in vision, in the midst of the community of the Captivity, that he might write a word or prophetic exhortation… for the future generation of Babylonian exiles.” (Pg. 98-99)
He points out, “the Bible does in certain cases give two accounts of the same series of occurrences, and… both accounts cannot be followed… An example … is supplied by the two accounts of the conquest of Canaan. According to Joshua 10 the conquest of all southern Canaan from Gibeon to Kadesh-barnea was effected in a single campaign, undertaken by Joshua… immediately after the defeat of the five kings before Gibeon. The conquest was complete, for the enemy was exterminated, not a soul being left alive. But according to Judges 1, the land of Judah was conquered not by all Israel under Joshua, but by Judah and Simeon alone… we learn from Judges 1:1 that the separate campaign of Judah and Simeon took place after the death of Joshua. Yet the events of the campaign included the taking of Hebron and Debir, which, according to the other account, had been already taken by Joshua, and their inhabitants utterly destroyed… In Judges 1… the conquest of Canaan it represented as a very gradual process, carried out by each tribe fighting for its own hand; whereas the Book of Joshua depicts a series of great campaigns in which all Israel fought as a united host, with the result the that Canaanites were swept out of existence… and their vacant lands divided by lot among the tribes. It is impossible that both these accounts can be correct… Plainly we have here two accounts of the conquest, which … have been united only in the most artificial manner by the note of time… which has been inserted by a later hand in Judges 1:1… in Judges is the plain historical version, while the other has this characteristic mark of a later and less authoritative narrative.” (Pg. 129-131)
He adds, “we are told in 1 Kings 15:14, 22:43, that Asa and Jehoshaphat did not abolish the high places. The Chronicler, on the other contrary, says that they did abolish them (2 Chron 14:5, 17:6)---a flat contradiction.” (Pg. 141) He goes on, “the Chronicler is no authority in any point that touches difference of usage between his own time and that of the old monarchy; but further, he does not hesitate to make material changes in the tenor of narrative that do not agree with is doctrine of the uniformity of religious institutions before and after the Exile… In 2 Kings 23, Josiah’s actions against the high places in represented as taking place in the eighteenth year of this reign, as the immediate result of his repentance on hearing the words of the Law found in the Temple, and in pursuance of the covenant of reformation made on that occasion. But in 2 Chron 34, the reformation begins in Josiah’s twelfth year, that is, as soon as he emerged from minority [i.e., he was nineteen years old]… the Chronicler felt that there must be a mistake in the account… That the result of this is to put the solemn repentance and covenant of reformation ten years after the reformation itself is an inconsistency which seems never to have struck him.” (Pg. 144-145)
He observes, “Another evidence that the first three books of the Psalter contain collections formed by more than one editor, lies in the names of God. Books I, IV and V of the Psalter use the names of God in the same way as most other parts of the Old Testament, where Jehovah is the prevailing term…But in the greater part of Books II and III (Ps. 42-83), the name of Jehovah is rare, and Elohim takes its place… Clearly this is no accident. The Psalms in which the name Elohim is habitually used instead of Jehovah hang together…” (Pg. 198)
He summarizes, “It is no longer possible to treat the psalms as a record of David’s spiritual life through all the steps of his checkered career. But if we lose an imaginary autobiography of one Old Testament saint, we gain in its place something far truer and far richer in religious lessons; a lively image of the experience of the Old Testament church set forth by the mouth of many witnesses, and extending through the vicissitudes of a long history. There is nothing in this change to impoverish the devotional use of the Psalms… No sober commentator is now found to maintain the traditional titles in their integrity; and it is puerile to try to conserve the traditional position by throwing this and that title overboard, instead of frankly facing the whole critical problem… till we have got a clear insight into the whole history of the Psalter…” (Pg. 224-225)
He asserts, “The result of this survey is that, through the whole period from the Judges to Ezekiel, the Law in its finished system and fundamental theories was never the rule of Israel’s worship, and its observance was never the condition of the experience of Jehovah’s grace… the Levitical tradition as a whole had as little force in the central sanctuary as with the mass of the people… A dim consciousness of this witness of history is preserved in the fantastic tradition that the Law was lost, and was restored by Ezra. In truth the people of Jehovah never lived under the Law, and the dispensation of Divine grace never followed its pattern, till Israel had ceased to be a nation. The history of Israel refuses to be measured by the traditional theory as to the origin and function of the Pentateuch.” (Pg. 276-277)
He states, “People who have not understood the Old Testament are accustomed to say that this is either literally true or a lie; that the Pentateuch is either the literary work of Moses, or else a barefaced imposture. The reverent and thoughtful student… will not willingly accept this statement of the question. If we are tied up to make a choice between these two alternatives, it is impossible to deny that all the historical evidence that has come before us points in the direction of the second. If our present Pentateuch was written by Moses, it was lost as completely as any book could be. The prophets know the history of Moses and the patriarchs, they know that Moses is the founder of the Torah, but they do not know that complete system which we have been accustomed to suppose his work. And the priests of Shiloh and the Temple do not know the very parts of the Torah which would have done most to raise their authority and influence. At the time of Josiah a book of the Law is found, but it is still not the whole Pentateuch, for it does not contain the full Levitical system… It is plain that no thinking man can be asked to accept the Pentateuch as the composition of Moses without some evidence to that effect… By insisting that the whole Pentateuch is one work of Moses and all of equal date, the traditional view cuts off all possibility of proof that its kernel is Mosaic…. It is useless to appeal to the doctrine of inspiration for help in such a strait; for all sound apologetic admits that the proof that a book is credible must precede belief that it is inspired.” (Pg. 311-312)
He suggests, “It is always for the interest of truth to discuss historical questions by purely historical methods, without allowing theological questions to come in till the historical analysis is complete. This, indeed, is the chief reason why scholars indifferent to the religious value of the Bible have often done good service by their philological and historical studies… it is a wholesome exercise to see how the Bible history presents itself to men who approach the Bible from an altogether different point of view. It is easier to correct the errors of a rationalism with which we have no sympathy, than to lay aside prejudices deeply interwoven with our most cherished and truest convictions.” (Pg. 314)
He points out, “The Pentateuch… does not profess to be written by Moses, but only notes from time to time that he wrote down certain special things (Ex `17:14, 24:4, 34:27; Num 33:2; Deut 31:9/22/24) These notices of what Moses himself wrote are so far from proving him the author of the whole Pentateuch that they rather point in the opposite direction. What he wrote is distinguished from the mass of the text, and he himself is habitually spoken of in the third person… One asks for proof that any Hebrew ever wrote of himself in the third person, and particularly that Moses would write such a verse as Numbers 12:3, ‘The man Moses was very meek above all men living.’” (Pg. 323-324)
He acknowledges, “the assumption… that Exodus 24:3-7, Exodus 34:27-28 and Deut 5:2-22 present a consistent account of the Covenant at Sinai will not bear closer examination… We are so accustomed to look on the Ten Words written on the tables of stone as the very foundation-stone of the Mosaic law that it is hard for us to realize that in ancient Israel there were two opinions as to what these Words were; and, for my own part, I confess that I have struggled as long as I could to explain the discrepancy away. But the thing is too plain to be denied, and the hypothesis which I once ventured to advance that Exodus 34:10-26 may have got out of its true place at some stage in the redaction of the Pentateuch does not help matters. For… it would still have to be admitted that the editor … identified this little code of religious observances with the Ten Words.” (Pg. 335-336)
He concludes, “I know of no attempt, on the part of apologists for tradition, to meet directly the historical arguments that establish the fundamental doctrine of modern criticism, the late date of the Priests’ Code… But explaining things away is a process that has no place in fair historical inquiry, though unfortunately it has long played a great part in Biblical interpretation… This is not the place for a discussion of theological principles; it is enough to observe that there is a very long step between the doctrine that the Bible is a sure rule of faith and life, and the inference that every historical statement of a Biblical book is necessarily free from error… [The traditionalists’] own positive argument for believing that all the Pentateuchal laws date from Moses is admittedly theological rather than historical… God has given us intellects to judge of historical evidence, and He has preserved to us in the Bible ample materials for deciding the date of the Pentateuchal laws and narratives by strict historical methods. And as He has thus put it in our power to learn what the actual course of Providence has been, I decline to be led into an a priori argument as to what it ought to have been.” (Pg. 421-422)
Although scholarship has certainly progressed since Smith’s book was written, this book still has more than strictly “historical” interest to serious students of the Bible.