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prophets contain numerous predictions, respecting the heathen nations, which would be unintelligible, were it not for the light of profane history. During the captivity, the Jewish character would, of course, undergo considerable modifications; the Hebrew language would be corrupted by the introduction of new words and phrases, which cannot well be understood without a knowledge of the people among whom they originated, and all the ideas of a Jew who lived subsequently to that period would be tinged with a Babylonish or eastern colouring. To a commentator on the New Testament, an acquaintance with eastern history, from the return of the Jews from Babylon, down to the time of Christ, is of great importance. To this knowledge of general history must be added, a minute and thorough acquaintance with the Hebrew, Grecian and Roman antiquities. The geography and natural history of Palestine and the surrounding countries, with the philosophy, religious ceremonies, public and domestic usages, and the other minutiæ of real life, should be well understood. The meaning of a difficult passage is not unfrequently cleared of all obscurity by a knowledge of some matter which, regarded by itself, would be wholly unimportant. No interpreter will have proceeded far in his work, without experiencing the truth of this observation. : From the nature of the case, the light which history throws on the earlier parts of the Old Testament is much less than that which it sheds upon portions that were written at a later period, and especially upon the New Testament. We have indeed no history, on which we can rely as authentic, from the creation down to the captivity, except what is found in the Bible. The records to which we are so often referred for information respecting remote antiquity, are all of them of doubtsul authority, while many of them are known to be but fables. But it should be remembered, that a knowledge of eastern history as far back as five or six centuries before the Christian era, is a most valuable introduction to what is more remote. The customs, habits, and modes of thinking, which are found to have prevailed at the time when authentic history commences, may reasonably be supposed to have had an existence long before. In ancient times, and especially in eastern countries, change was a thing hardly known. The mantle of the father fell unrent upon the son, and generation after generation passed away with scarcely, a thought of innovation. So averse are the people of the East to any thing like change, that many usages which are recognized in the writings of Moses, and more especially in those of David and the prophets, still continue unimpaired among the present generation. The Arab in many places, where his religion has not transformed his whole character, is essentially the same as he was in the days when the
children of Israel passed through his coasts, on their way from Egypt to the promised land. · A want of historical knowledge has rendered well nigh void the labours of some acute and otherwise able commentators. This has been more particularly the case in regard to commentaries on the prophetic parts of scripture, where, more than any where else, the light of history is needed to keep one from running into strange and fanciful interpretations. Of the predictions contained in the prophets, not a few have already been fulfilled, and history points us to the time and circumstances of their fulfilment. Were our knowledge of the past more full and accurate, we should doubtless find that many predictions which are now supposed to have reference to events that are yet to come, have been long since accomplished. It is certain that not a few were accomplished in some few months or years from the time of their utterance, which have by many • commentators been referred to distant ages, and even to the end of the world. The various writings which have appeared on the Apocalypse, furnish an illustration of the truth of this remark. Most of the events to which reference is made in the former half of this book, have, in our opinion, already taken. place. That the seven seals were opened, and the seven vials poured out centuries ago, seems almost too plain, to a consistent interpreter, to require argument in defence of the position. And yet the majority of commentators who have come under our notice, have referred these representations to some far distant period in the future. How many glowing descriptions of the final judgment have been found in passages which were intended by the seer of Patmos to warn his contemporaries of scenes which their eyes were to behold before they had tasted death! Our views of the original design and meaning of this book may appear startling to some readers, but we believe they rest on the sure foundation of a correct interpretation.
There are two authors, with whom every one who undertakes to commenton the sacred writings, ought at the outset to make himself familiar. We refer to Philo Judæus and Flavius Josephus. The former of these was born some time before the birth of Christ, though the precise date of his birth has never been determined. He was of the sect of the Pharisees, and was deeply versed in the scriptures of the Old Testament, which he probably read in the Alexandrian version, being himself a Hellenistic Jew, and perhaps unacquainted with the Hebrew. The sentiments expressed in his works, and the phraseology which he employs, coincide in many instances with those of Paul and John in the New Testament; which may be accounted for by the fact, that he and they were accustomed to read the scriptures in the same translation of the Seventy. His writings contain
many quotations from the Old Testament, and were highly esteemed by the primitive church, as a repository of biblical knowledge. He gives us accounts of many customs among the Jews, of their opinions, as connected with the philosophy of the East, and of many facts respecting their condition under the Roman yoke, which throw great light on many passages of scripture.
Flavius Josephus every body knows as the animated and eloquent historian' of the Jews. He was of sacerdotal extraction, and received a liberal education among the Pharisees, after which he went to Rome, where he cultivated his talents to great advantage. He was born in the thirty-seventh year of our era, and of course occupied a position from which he could look back upon the long train of events which had transpired among the Jews from their earliest history down to the time when their national existence was whelmed in final destruction. He wrote a history of the war of the Jews against the Romans, in seven books; a work on Jewish antiquities, in twenty books; two books vindicating the antiquity of the Jewish nation, against Apion, and an account of his own life. In his work on Jewish antiquities, he begins with the origin of the world and comes down to the twelfth year of the reign of Nero, when the Jews began to rebel against the Romans. The writings of this author are a fountain of light to one who wishes to obtain a thorough knowledge of the Jewish scriptures; and the facts which he relates respecting the civil and religious state of his nation about the time of the Saviour, are a great assistance to a right understanding of numerous passages in the New Testament. His account of the destruction of Jerusalem, one of the most painful narratives within the compass of history, shows us the accomplishment of our Saviour's prediction respecting the fall of that great and populous city, and the utter subversion of the Jewish polity. Michaelis regards the works of Josephus, from the beginning of Herod's reign to the end of the Jewish Antiquities, as affording the best commentary on the gospels and the Acts of the apostles, to which the student can have access.
In addition to a large and philosophical acquaintance with profane history in general, from its earliest era, the sacred commentator should be deeply read in the writings of the Christian fathers and of the Jewish doctors. The works of the former, notwithstanding the rubbish which encumbers them, are a rich storehouse of biblical, historical, and philosophical information, which may be turned to great account by the modern expositor. Many of the Christian fathers were men of deep and comprehensive erudition, and, from the age in which they lived, possessed many facilities for interpreting the sacred writings, which, except as they have come down through their works, must be
lost to distant generations. The knowledge of antiquity, of facts, and of opinions to which allusion is frequently made in the inspired writings, was a great advantage to them in their labours of exposition. They were intimately acquainted with the original language of the New Testament, and could more easily take their stand by the writers, appreciate the peculiarities of their circumstances and condition, and enter into their sympathies, and the various local, national, and hereditary views and feelings, which would naturally work themselves into their writings. Not a few of them were indefatigable students of holy writ. They applied themselves to the reading of the scriptures with an intensity of thought and pious admiration of their contents, which it becomes us to imitate. Such men as Origen, Chrysostom (John), Jerome, Theodoret, and Augustine, bishop of Hippo, were no drones or sciolists in the work of sacred criticism. It was their delight to investigate the meaning of the spirit, as it was impressed upon the sacred pages; and though their warm imaginations and love of philosophy sometimes carried them into the regions of chimera, where they sported with their own fantastic creations, and regaled their spirits from other streams, and amid other flowers, than bloom or flow in the land of the pure word of God, yet they cultivated the field of sacred interpretation with an assiduity and wisdom which could not fail to yield a rich and valued harvest of historical and doctrinal information. In the exposition of many recondite passages, they went below the surface, they sunk the shaft deep into the sacred mine, and laid bare and dug up gold, which others may now gather and coin for modern use. The man of a keen eye and sound judgment may visit the land, wilderness though it be in some respects, of the Christian fathers, to great profit, and return laden with riches of biblical information, which can no where else be found.
The principal danger to be guarded against, in consulting the early commentators as helps to a better understanding of different parts of the bible, is that of being led into an excess of allegorical interpretation, and of allowing too much weight to their philosophical and theological theories. Facts they generally state correctly, and their philological criticisms are often able and judicious. It should always be borne in mind when consulting them on points of philology, that their knowledge of the Greek was far greater than of the Hebrew. With the latter, their acquaintance was generally small, and their writings on the Old Testament should generally be regarded as cominentāries on the version of the Seventy. Were we called upon to give our opinion, en masse, of the early fathers who commented on the sacred text, we should say with Luther, in VOL. XX.—NO. 39.
his commentary on Genesis ii., “ The labours of the fathers demand our veneration; they were great men, but yet they were liable to mistakes; and they have committed mistakes." The student of their pages needs to be both wary and docile, gathering up the good, and casting the bad away.
The writings of the Jewish doctors in which, as has been said, the sacred commentator should be versed, are the Targums, the Apocryphal writings of the Old Testament, the Talmud, and the works of some distinguished rabbins, who, in later ages, have written commentaries on the Jewish scriptures. The word Targum is of Chaldee origin, and signifies, generally, any version or explanation ; but it is now commonly used with reference to the versions or paraphrases of the Old Testament, which were made at different periods, in the Chaldee dialect. These versions or paraphrases, which are ten in number, give us the sum of the different parts of scripture in which they were written, as it was understood at different times by that peculiar people to whom the law was first given, and who, as Augustine observes, have been our librarians. The Targums of Onkelos, who is generally supposed to have been cotemporary with our Saviour, and of Jonathan ben Uzziel, concerning the time of whose birth there is some dispute, are most highly esteemed by the Jews, and receive from many of them a reverence which belongs only to the word of God. The former of these works, which comprises the Pentateuch, is written in a style of comparative purity, and is comparatively free from the idle legends which disgrace many of the Jewish writings. It is a version rather than a paraphrase, rendering the Hebrew text, word for word, with so much accuracy, that being set to the same musical notes with the original, it could be chanted in the same tone in the public assembly.'
The Targums are of great use to a better understanding both of the Old and New Testaments. As to the former, they vindicate the genuineness of the Hebrew text, where it has been charged with corruption. They give us the meaning of many words, in the Hebrew, which would otherwise be wholly doubtful, and hand down to us many of the ancient customs of the Jews, of which, without them, we should be ignorant. As to the New Testament, their principal use is in illustrating the phraseology, idioms, and turns of thought, which were peculiar to the age and country of the writers.
The Apocryphal books of the Old Testament, for which the world are indebted to the Alexandrian Jews and their descendants, are a valuable help to the sacred commentator, both as documents of history and as elucidating the style and phraseo