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ingenuity of the Jewish doctors, and of the manner in which they employed it.
The nature and design of scriptural commentary would hardly be learned from an examination of the numerous and ponderous tomes that have, in past ages, assumed this title. The principle of induction applied to the works which have appeared under this comprehensive name, would lead to the conclusion that the commentator was a sort of privileged being, allowed to select his own subjects and treat them in his own way, and then dignify them with the title of notes or comments on the Bible. One professed commentator has made it his principal object to teach some favourite system of metaphysics ; another, to make what are termed practical observations, or in other words to preach a sermon on paper; a third has spent his strength in vindicating the supposed classical purity of the style of his author; another, in framing analogies between the natural and spiritual, showing that the literal meaning of all scripture has a hidden counterpart in the realm of the supernatural ; while perhaps the majority, if we reckon from the age succeeding that of the Christian fathers, have endeavoured to do little more than collect, arrange, and comment upon what others have said before them.
'The question, however, as to the nature and object of sacred commentary, seems at length to be nearly settled by the concurrent voice of scholars and divines. Its nature is that of disquisition; its object is elucidation. The etymology of the word reveals its original meaning, which is essentially the same as the one attached to it by most modern writers. To comment on an author is to follow along in the train of his thoughts, to accompany his mind, in order to interpret and illustrate whatever, in the thoughts he designed to express, he himself has left unintelligible or obscure to the common reader. The business of the sacred commentator is, according to Professor Hahn, who has written ably on the subject of interpretation, to deduce from the holy scriptures the very sense which the writers of them intended to contey, and to exhibit, in a perspicuous manner, the thoughts which the author connected with his words and intended lo express by them. His efforts must therefore be directed, first, to the investigation of the meaning of his author, and then, to the explanation of this meaning to the ready apprehension of the reader. He must endeavour to transfer to the mind of the reader, the identical conceptions of the writer. The thought should be the same, not only in its substance or outline, but, as far as possible, in vividness, and in all its peculiarity of colouring. It should also be so exhibited as to be conceived by the reader under the same relations, with the various modifications and limitations under which it was viewed by the writer at the VOL. XX.NO. 39.
time of writing. This last, that the thoughts be presented under their original relations and limitations, is absolutely essential to any thing like a faithful transference of the sentiments of a writer to another mind, since the same thought, seen in different connections and under different modifications, may give rise to sentiments, by way of inference, which are wholly at variance with the sentiments of the author. A want of attention to this fact has been the source of innumerable mistakes in religion.. Men have alighted upon some important thought in the Bible, and without any regard to the limitations under which it was apprehended by the writer, have begun to draw their own inferences and push their own conclusions, till they have found themselves dashed and wrecked on the hidden rocks of destructive error. In addition to a mere development of the meaning of the
may sometimes be incumbent on the sacred commentator to remark on the consistency, or apparent discrepance, between the passage under consideration and other parts of the same writer, or of the sacred volume. Every inspired writer must be consistent with himself, and as the whole Bible was composed under the infallible guidance of the same spirit, all its parts must harmonize with each other. Their exact and beautiful agreement, however, is not always obvious; it may lie beyond the ken of one who has for years been a laborious student of the Bible; so that the commentator, who, by his investigations, has come clearly to see it, should not withhold the light he has gained, and which the mind of his reader spontaneously craves.
The question has sometimes been asked, whether a commentator upon the Bible ought to bring out his theological sentiments in a work, the professed object of which is simply to give the meaning of the sacred text. So far as the practical effect is concerned, it matters not how we' answer this question ; for no man, who has the ability to write a commentary, will be restrained from acting his own pleasure in a matter of which he must be acknowledged to be the best judge. We should say, however, that in our opinion, discussions on knotty points of doctrine should never be introduced into a work intended simply to explain scripture; and that, when it is necessary for the commentator to theologize, in order to develope the meaning of any particular passage, or vindicate the consistency of different and apparently conflicting passages, he had better not incorporate his remarks with the body of his work, but throw them into the form of dissertations, or notes, at the end. That a writer's theological opinions should in no respect modify his interpretation of scripture, is plainly impossible; and so far as they modify it, he must make them known, as a part of the explana
tion. A believer in the Copernican system would put a different meaning upon the account of the sun and moon standing still that the people of God might have time to complete their victory, from what would be put upon it by the man who believed that the earth was the centre of the planetary system, and the heavenly bodies wheeled their way around it; and no one, it is presumed, would censure him for avowing his astronomical creed and turning it to account in the business of interpretation.
It is easily seen, that the office of the sacred commentator is one of no ordinary difficulty, and requires the union of many rare and costly qualifications. A great part of the writings which he is to interpret, originally appeared in a language which has been dead for two thousand years, and of which, in its purity, no considerable specimen remains, excepting the Old Testament. The state of the world, the customs of society, the habits of thought and modes of expression peculiar to the times and country of the writers, were so different from anything to which we, in this distant age, are accustomed, that we are obliged, if we would understand their meaning, and enter into their spirit, to transfer ourselves back to the days of Moses and the prophets, and take up our abode, for the time being, on the soil which they trod, and under the sky by which they were canopied. We must leave the modern city, and wander far beyond the plains and hills of modern civilization, until we find ourselves in a country of flocks and vineyards, surrounded by a people whose thoughts are cast in the mould of nature, whose language is the unstudied expression of feeling, whose government is a theocracy, and whose general condition is entirely unaffected by the thousand circumstances peculiar to a more artificial state of society. We must, in a manner, relinquish our identity, and become Jews; feel as they felt, reason as they reasoned, and subject ourselves to all the various influences which would unavoidably act upon the mind of a descendant of Abraham, and give a colouring to all his thoughts.
The first and most important qualification for commenting upon the scriptures, is undoubtedly a familiar acquaintance with the languages and dialects, in which they were originally written. A deficiency here can in no way be compensated ; since it is impossible to study an author to advantage, to investigate and decide upon his meaning in the more difficult parts of his writings, through the medium of a translation, or with only a partial acquaintance with his native tongue. A general knowledge, as it is termed, of the Greek and Hebrew,—that is, such a knowledge of these languages as will enable one to read critically a chapter in the old or New Testament, with the aid of a lexicon and grammar, is not to be despised ; it may
be sufficient for the general student of the sacred volume; but it will by no means answer the purposes of the commentator. He undertakes to teach others; it is his business to ascertain for himself the precise meaning of his author, and he cannot with any safety trust implicitly to what others have written before him. Lexicons and grammars are in many instances but blind and bewildering guides, and in no case are they a proper substitute, in the examination of a difficult phrase, for a practical knowledge of a language. The commentator on the Greek and Hebrew scriptures should be so farniliar with those tongues as to be able to think in them, or to re-imbody the thoughts which he has received from them in their original native costume.
Besides this intimate knowledge of the original languages and dialects of the scriptures, the commentator should possess some acquaintance with the cognate languages and dialects. A thorough knowledge of the Hebrew requires no inconsiderable knowledge of the Arabic and other Shemitish languages; and a knowledge of the Greek of the New Testament pre-supposes an acquaintance, not only with the ancient Greek as preserved in the Grecian classics, but also with the Hebrew and Aramaean languages. This last, which was a current, if not the principal language among the Jews of Palestine in the time of the Saviour, would of course infuse its peculiarities more or less into the writings of the evangelists and other apostles; and as the writers themselves were Hebrews, educated in the religion of their fathers, and from their infancy accustomed to listen to regular lessons from the law and the prophets, their thoughts, and modes of expression would partake strongly of a Hebrew colouring: To a practised reader of the Old Testament in the original, the writers of the New seem almost to have written in the language of their forefathers. The words are Greek, but the conception, the imagery, the turn of expression, the whole contour of their manner, are highly Hebraistic. When you are among these writers, you are among Hebrews, who, though they speak a tongue unknown in the days of Israel's prosperity, have inherited the thoughts and feelings, and nearly all the constitutional peculiarities, of their remote ancestors. It is not therefore to be supposed, that you will be able to converse with them to the greatest advantage; to discover, in their intended significancy, their peculiar shades of meaning, or enter at all into their sympathies, if you have never conversed with their fathers in their native tongue.
In consulting the cognate languages as helps to a correct understanding of the sacred text, great care should be taken lest we be led into error by too much reliance on etymologies, or merely verbal and literal resemblances. Minds which have a natural or acquired fondness for philological pursuits, are
always in danger of pushing real analogies too far, and of bringing to their aid such as are only imaginary. When we have been poring over a dark passage for days or weeks, and like the mariner who has been long looking in vain for land, become almost discouraged, nothing is more gratifying, than to believe that we have found a clue, which will guide us out of the labyrinth of our difficulties, in some happily discovered root or cognate of the particular word or words which we have found so obstinate. In such a case we are ready to grasp at a shadow, and treat it with all the respect which belongs to a veritable man, who had heard of our troubles, and kindly came to our assistance. It is sometimes not a little amusing to observe the dexterity with which certain critics handle their far-fetched etymologies, and the results to which they suffer themselves to be led by these ignes fatui. One commentator, for instance, finding it difficult to believe that it was a literal serpent that addressed the fatal words of temptation to our mother Eve in paradise, because this animal never could have walked erect, as it is implied he did, in the sentence, upon thy belly shalt thou
and on account of some other difficulties attending the narration, has recourse to the Arabic, where he finds a root to the doubtful word in question, which at once solves the whole difficulty. The word translated serpent means a creature of the ape or satyrus kind, and ought to have been rendered monkey, or ouran outang. The whole riddle is at an end. An'ape may have walked erect—he may have been accustomed to express his feelings in human language, or by some chattering noise resembling words, and what is not less important, may literally have been more subtil, or wise, than all the beasts of the field; which could never have been said of the animal which has, for so many ages, been regarded as the instrument of the temptation. Such a discovery had been worthy the days of Monboddo, and it is passing strange, that human ingenuity did not reach it before the nineteenth century!
Another requisite in a commentator on scripture, is that he be a man of deep historical research. He needs to have unrolled the records, not only of the Jews, but of all the neighbouring and cotemporaneous nations. He should be especially familiar, so far as familiarity is practicable, with the history of Egypt, and of those proud monarchies which lay north and east of Palestine, and which the Almighty so often employed as instruments in scourging his offending people. The Jews for a long time had commercial intercourse with the Egyptians, Arabians, and Phænicians. They were almost incessantly at war with the neighbouring nations, until they had filled up the measure of their iniquities, and were given into bondage to the Assyrians and Babylonians. The writings of several of the