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BOSTON QUARTERLY REVIEW.
Art. I. - Academical Lectures on the Jewish Scrip
tures and Antiquities. By John GORHAM PALFREY, D. D., Professor of Biblical Literature in the University of Cambridge. Vol I. The last four Books of the Pentateuch. Boston: James Munroe & Co. 1838. 8vo. pp. xx. and 512.
This is the work of a scholar of ripe years, who has brought to the difficult task of explaining the Old Testament, a keen, scrutinizing intellect, habits of careful and impartial observation, and an iron diligence.
It is a work also on a subject on which English and American theological students have long needed a new work. The works on the same subject, which have been in common use among us, are of small value. Gray's Key to the Old Testament is too contemptible to be named among critical works. Every candid reader turns over its meagre pages, astonished at such condensation of weakness, stupidity, and superstition, - regretting that good paper should be perverted to such abuse.
The work of Mr. Horne* is of a different character,
* An Introduction to the critical Study and Knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, by Thomas Hartwell Horne, M. A. Fourth American edition. [!] Philadelphia, 1831. VOL. 1. NO. III.
and has some merits. Indeed he must have a rare sagacity in avoiding truth, who could write four goodly octavos without impinging upon it. He who shoots all day, though never so awkwardly, must sometimes hit the mark. The plan of his work appears to be better and more complete than that of Dr. Palfrey.
Mr. Horne states many facts, which it is necessary a scholar should know; but, at the same time, he makes so many errors, or mistakes, that none but the thorough scholar can use his work without danger of being misled.
The work of Dr. Graves on the Pentateuch is written with force and beauty. It was a valuable work, (for the English,) in its day; but it is liable to the same objection with the preceding work.
The capital fault of these three works, and of all others in our language, which treat upon the same subject, is this. They set out with false principles. Their chart is not accurate; their needle does not point to the north. With one consent, they regard the Scriptures as a peculiar work, demanding a peculiar interpretation to explain it. Assuming the complete inspiration of the books, they can see no error in them. “ They seek what they find, and find what they seek.” But if it be admitted, at the outset, that every line of the Old Testament was originally dictated by the Most High to the writer, it does not appear why the same criticism may not apply to it as to other ancient writings. Words are but vehicles of thought, whether uttered by God or man; as words, therefore, they must be interpreted. The same criticism, then, is to be applied to the writings of Moses and Aristotle. The genuine is to be separated from the spurious; the true from the false; the reasonable from the fantastic and absurd.
Dr. Palfrey, we are happy to find, has abjured these false principles of his predecessors. He starts from a different point; governs his course by different laws. The Books of the Old Testament are before him ; he professes to assume nothing more.
amines the works with the same impartial rigor he would exercise upon the writings of Hesiod or Hermias. If he concludes the books of Moses were written at the time alleged, it is because he sees what he esteems sufficient reason for that opinion. Does he credit the inspiration of a book or a passage, it is because he finds evidence which convinces him of the fact. This is his method; and though some may differ from his conclusions, or question their legitimacy, none can justly accuse him of begging the question at the outset, and revolving in the circle so well trodden by his predecessors.
He believes a revelation has been made to man in words, spoken in the Hebrew language. He sees no philosophical objections to such a belief. He considers the religious principle as the most important element in human nature ; but at the same time so weak, that, unlike all the other principles, it cannot be trusted to shift for itself, to discover the truth and adhere to it.
He sees no objection to a miracle, when there is occasion for one; and he finds such an occasion, whenever a new religious truth is needed, and is to be disclosed by God. He supposes that all religious truth must be revealed directly and immediately from God, as man is incapable of discovering it for himself. Every such revelation must be authenticated by a miracle, for without this authenticating miracle man could not distinguish, — in matters of religion, truth from falsehood. He defines a miracle, and makes its essence consist simply in its extraordinariness, that is, its rareness. Taking with him this standard, he justly concludes that miracles could not be continued, some maintain, — throughout the whole forty years of the Jew's pilgrimage in the wilderness, for they would cease to be rare, and by an easy process pass from miraculous to natural events.
Dr. Palfrey has at least done one service to biblical theology, by the work before us. He has laid down the principle, that in interpreting the Scriptures,
pp. 95, 96.
Truth should take precedence of Tradition, and that we should follow the dictates of the enlightened understanding, instead of the superstition of our fathers. In support of this assertion we refer to the following extracts. It has commonly been thought that the Jews were the only ancient nation blessed with a religion supernaturally revealed; but Dr. Palfrey says,
“I certainly would not venture to affirm * * * that the Jews were the only people of antiquity favored with a supernaturally revealed religion. Perhaps the most that with safety and modesty we could affirm upon the subject is this; that we have no sufficient evidence to show that any other nation has been so privileged. *** But this is not proof that he [God] never did make any other such revelation."
Some writers have fancied they were doing God service, by maintaining that the laws of Moses had no foundation in the existing customs of the Jews or the Egyptians. A great outcry was once made against Spencer, for attempting to show that the Egyptians and other nations observed similar laws before the time of Moses. But Dr. Palfrey makes some of his most important institutions grow out of the condition of the people, while in the desert.
“ To whom does it not occur, that the direction to the males of the nation to assemble three times in every year had its first occasion in the necessity of preserving the integrity of the people, by preventing those who had the care of flocks and herds from wandering, in their excursions, to too great a distance from the camp." - p. 87.
Again, he says,
“They (the festivals] brought the citizens amicably together in a great national Pic-nic; they did, not ostensibly, but only therefore the more effectually, the excellent office of our modern invention of Cattle Shows and Fairs." — p. 457, note.
The book of Judges he considers “filled up with marvels." Yet his predecessors would fain have us believe them all as gospel truths; even as they are mistranslated in our common version.
Some have pronounced the Mosaic legislation perfect; suitable for the largest empire. Dr. Palfrey calls it “a minute, detailed, (shall I say technical ?) discipline, only capable of being administered in a small community.” – p. 95.
Not only is every word of the law accounted inspired, by Horne and his coadjutors, but it is supposed to have a concealed spiritual meaning, quite independent of its literal sense. Dr. Palfrey differs, heaven wide, from these English Talmudists, — who have nothing of Moses, but his veil and his “slow tongue," — and recognises no meaning in a sentence which is not to be found out by the fair and common rules of interpretation. He has no mystical theories to develope, and therefore finds none in Moses. He is so far from believing that Moses was immediately inspired to write all the laws in these books, that he declares some of the most important regulations proceeded from Moses himself, or from his friends, and that others originated with him, and were, by a singular process, “ submitted for the divine approval," and then announced, “ as resting on the divine authority.” — pp. 145, 146. The impartial student of ancient history knows well that the words, “ The Lord spake,” have the same meaning with “Be it enacted,” prefixed to our statutes. Dr. Palfrey nowhere makes this assertion; but if, as he observes, the phrase, “He [God] buried him,” [Moses,] means simply, “ He was buried,” why may not the analogous formula, “God said,” mean simply, “ It was said ? " This construction is sometimes put upon it by the author himself. In one instance cited in this volume, (p. 146,) the same event is twice recorded; once it is said, “ And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, 'Send thou men that they may search the land of Canaan.'" But in Deuteronomy, where the same incident is related, it is written, “Ye came near unto me every one of you and said, 'We will send men before us and they shall
* See numerous instances in Horne ubi supra. Vol. II., Part. II., ch. ii., and in many other places.