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Genesis 9: 6.
There are none so deaf as they who will not hear, none so blind as they who will not see. The text is indeed a difficult one, a grievously difficult one, for those who are determined not to receive from it the simple sense which lies upon the face of it.
Some have professed to think it satisfactorily set aside by being resolved into a mere prediction. But, even considered as a mere prediction, it would prove too much against them; since, coupled with the reason assigned, the predicted act of shedding the murderer's blood, would seem very plainly to be approved by God as proper and right.
Others, seeing this, have preferred the interpretation: "Whatsoever sheddeth man's blood, by man shall its blood be shed;" a translation, by the way, to which we have not the slightest objection, provided only it be rightly understood by the English readers. No critic of common sense, who could spell a Hebrew word, ever doubted that, in the original, the idea of man was included as the agent in the shedding of human blood; the term “whatsoever" was originally suggested in order to include the idea of the beast also, which was thought to be equally implied in the original; but some of the abolitionists who resort to this rendering, have been stupid enough to suppose that the idea of man as the shedder of blood was thereby excluded, and that in spite of the manifest exigences of the connection.1 The same acute in
1 See Chapin's Three Discourses, Boston, 1843, p. 17. Also O'Sullivan's Report, p. 27.
Mr. O'Sullivan ventures to allege, as his authority, "that profound and learned critic Michaelis of Göttingen, who, in his commentaries on the laws of Moses (ch. 4. art. 274) says expressly: 'the sixth verse must be rendered, not whosoever, but whatsoever sheddeth human blood.'' Now, turning to the Article referred to in Michaelis, we read as follows: "Whatsoever creature sheddeth human blood, be it man or beast, by man shall its blood, in like manner, be shed, Gen.9: 6; for, according to the tenor of the preceding verse, where beasts as well as men are mentioned, and where God had said that from men as well as beasts he would require the blood of man, not, indeed, immediately, but, as he himself expressly declares, by the instrumentality of man, to whom he assigns the duty of avenging it, the sixth verse is to be rendered not whosoever, but whatsoever sheddeth human blood, so as to include beasts AS WELL AS MAN." We have before us the 2d edition of O'Sullivan's Report, and Smith's Michaelis, Lond. ed. 1814. We are amazed at Mr. O'Sullivan's quotation from the "profound and learned critic of Göttingen." We have no respectful words by which to characterize such audacious garbling.
Our statements, in the text above, had been written before we saw Mr. O'Sul-' livan's Report or consulted Michaelis. The Report fell under our notice first, and when we saw the citation from Michaelis, we feared that we had expressed ourselves quite too strongly; but how great and agreeable was our surprise, on
terpreters insist upon the phrase, "At the hand of every man's brother will I require the life of man," as proving that man is not authorized to execute the judgment upon man, but God is to do it in propria persona; as though it was not said, "at the hand of every beast will I require it," also. Is God, then, to execute the judgment upon beasts in propria personá? Another thing is observable; these interpreters abandon the theory of a prediction in connection with the sixth verse, as soon as they think they can confine it to the punishment of beasts, apparently thinking it a sense intolerably jejune to suppose the Almighty to have solemnly announced to Noah and his sons the momentous prediction, that if a beast should shed human blood, the beast's blood would probably be shed likewise. The verb, therefore, they think to be imperative.
Others have contrived different, and still different ways of obtaining a sense to suit their purposes. We may not ascribe such efforts to dishonesty, but is it uncharitable to ascribe them to prejudice?
At length, none of the old hypotheses having given general satisfaction, a new hypothesis has just been broached;1 viz. that this statement to Noah contains no reference whatever to murder or manslaughter, but simply prohibits cannibalism! Against this crime, however, it seems to be acknowledged a punishment is denounced.
This hypothesis is put forth with an imposing display of various linguistic lore. Its sacred sense, laid up originally in the "sanctuary of the Essenes, the depositaries of the Jewish spiritual philosophy," [is not the Christian, the New Testament philosophy, spiritual enough?] and transferred thence, (by what cabalistic process one does not exactly understand,) into the "mystic" head of Monsieur D'Olivet, has been now at length raked up from some long forgotten essay, in which D'Olivet undertook to "restore the Hebrew language," by translating the spirit instead of the letter.
Such is the pedigree of the theory. We have heard before of spiritualizing texts of Scripture; but this is the first time we ever heard of applying this process in the very act of translation, of
turning to Michaelis, to find that his authority was altogether against the very opinion for which Mr. O'Sullivan quotes him, and precisely coïncident with our own views!
' Vide "Cannibalism, the crime prohibited in the ninth chapter of Genesis," by John W. Browne. Boston, 1846. Charles and John M. Spear, Publishers.
The New Version of this Passage.
substituting the spiritual sense to the entire exclusion of the literal sense, and thus getting rid of the latter altogether by rendering it nonexistent. This is a refinement and perfecting of the process of spiritualizing which is doubtless destined to work wonders. Who can tell what metamorphoses this process may not produce? What an entire revolution in the whole business and art of "correct translation?"
The present herald of this "spiritual" hypothesis, professes to have devoted himself to the study of the passage in question, after having first carefully divested his mind of all prejudices and prepossessions; and invites others to follow his example of unbiassed, childlike simplicity. Yet, in another place, he admits that he "presumed a mistranslation" in what he is pleased to call "James's Bible." That is to say, the only prejudice he had in his mind was, that, at all events, the sense of our present translation was not the true sense. Let others follow him thus divested of prejudice, and very likely they may reach the same results. Dr. Strauss, in his Leben Jesu, insists strongly upon his claims to the almost solitary honor of bringing to the criticism of the Gospels a mind swept perfectly clear of all prepossessions and assumptions; and then goes on to reduce the whole history of Jesus -that title-deed of man's salvation-to a mere myth, a pious fable! Let us not be charged with appealing to the odium theologicum. Indeed the throwing out of this charge commonly implies in the bosoms of those who make it, the existence of that very intolerant spirit which they assume in others and profess to rebuke. We do not mean to charge any one with being an infidel either openly or in disguise like Dr. Strauss. Surely a man may believe in antediluvian cannibalism and yet be an honest man and a good Christian. What we do mean to say is, that these claims of superior freedom from prejudice are mere idle talk, or something worse.1
Are this writer's notions of the origin of the Mosaic code to be inferred from the following passage? "If the law of degenerate,
1 We cannot forbear quoting one passage from the Essay containing this new theory; because it is so distinct an acknowledgment of the truth of our positions in regard to the general consent of Christians on the main subject of our present discussion. “It is to be taken,” says this writer, "that the great body of all persons who are inclined to orthodox views of religion, with the or thodox clergy at their head, sincerely believe capital punishment sanctioned by the express revelation of the voice of God in that chapter of Genesis. The shadow of this belief, more or less dark, as it may be, rests upon almost the whole heart of Christendom."
godless human society had not first assumed to punish crime with death, out of its own evil and fallen state, on the authority of its own passions and darkened heart, would this passage [in Genesis] ever have been resorted to as Divine sanction for that penalty?"
That he knows no human code, any more than we, which inflicted the penalty of death for murder, before the Mosaic was enacted, is clear from another passage, from which he thinks to draw various important inferences. "From the beginning of Genesis," he says, "down to the Mosaic code, from Cain down, no murder which is mentioned in the Bible, and there are several, is stated to have been punished with death."
Others, as well as he, have constructed long arguments to prove that, because God did not directly and personally carry into effect the laws, which, most expounders of the Scriptures declare, he made for inflicting on the murderer the penalty of death, therefore he never made such laws! As though any body had ever maintained that the Almighty constituted himself the direct executor of the commands which He addressed to others.
Dr. Cheever had suggested the idea that the principle of lenity, exhibited in God's treatment of Cain, had been so abused by the antediluvian world, that murder had become rife among the crimes the deeds of violence, which called aloud for the Divine vengeance. And this experiment of lenity having proved thus signally abortive, a severer course of administration was divinely instituted, immediately after the flood. This suggestion seems to have been a special offence to the abolitionists, over which they have stumbled headlong one and all. And no wonder. It threatened to take out of their mouths one of their most familiar topics of declamation. They have generally dismissed it with a sneer, as though Dr. Cheever, or any man in his senses, had suggested that God tried this experiment for His own instruction, and not for man's correction. Dr. Cheever doubtless meant that these gentlemen might learn something from the experiment themselves, not that God had learned anything from it.
But it is a mere assumption, they say. Suppose it is; is it not as good and as likely as some other assumptions, until it is disproved? It has some show of evidence; else, what means the infallible statement: "the earth was filled with violence?"
Now the author of this new theory of primitive cannibalism, though he cannot bring a solitary instance in point of fact to prove
1 Vide North American Review, Vol. LXII. p. 46.
The Correctness of the Common Version.
his theory—and Dr. Cheever has one, the instance of Lamechyet, having no longer any motive to reject the principle of interpretation on which Dr. Cheever's inference is founded, accepts it and enlarges its application. "But," says he, "what was this mystery of wickedness, this solemn all flesh had corrupted his way on the earth, and the earth was filled with violence, so that it must be drowned in the baptismal waters of a flood to cleanse it? May it not be this very thing? (i. e. antediluvian cannibalism). What could like this fill up the measure of all iniquity, and make an exterminating flood-baptism needful?"
In short, therefore, says this theory, it ought not to be a capital crime merely to kill a man; it is heaven-daring impiety to punish the mere murderer with death; the real crime consists in eating the man you have murdered; only abstain from the eating, and all is well; but whoever eats a man shall — be eaten in turn! This seems to be the only consistent sense to be made of all this learned and spiritual exegesis about primeval cannibalism, when the different parts of it are put together.
But in all seriousness, dismissing this novel theory, we beg leave to ask those who not only deny that the right to inflict capital punishment can be founded upon this text in Genesis, but who also maintain (as the abolitionists do, almost with one united voice) that the infliction of the penalty of death upon the murderer is as much murder as the act for which it was inflictedwe beg leave to ask them, what sense, on this theory of theirs, they make of the text, whether considered as a command or a mere prediction: "Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed, FOR in the image of God made he man?" According to this doctrine, it will be observed, if the first shedding was a crime, the second is equally so; and then comes in, as a reason for both, "for in the image of God made he man"!!
As to the question whether this passage do indeed contain a command or a prediction; it is perfectly clear, there is no occasion for appealing from the English "shall be shed" to the original, under the pretext that the original throws any new doubt or any new light on this particular point. It is true that the English language has another and more unequivocal form for the future; but it seems to be forgotten that it has also another and more unequivocal form for the imperative. The original language has no other form for either, and may therefore be understood here in either sense; and so may the English by which our translators have rendered it. How then would you get a more faithful trans