Page images
PDF
EPUB

Scriptures. I am far from denying that classical knowledge is, even for this purpose, of real utility ; I say only, that it is not of so great utility as the other. It is well known that the Jews were distinguished by all Pagan antiquity, as a nation of the most extraordinary and peculiar manners; as absolutely incapable of coalescing with other people, being actuated, especially in matters where religion or politics were thought to be concerned, by the most unrelenting aversion to every thing foreign, and the most violent attachment to every thing national. We cannot have a clearer evidence of the justness of this character, than their remaining to this day a distinct people, who, though they have been for many ages scattered over the face of the earth, have never yet been blended in any country with the people amongst whom they live. They are, besides, the only wandering nation that ever existed, of which this can be affirmed,

| 3. Before the tribes of Judah and Benjamin returned from captivity in Babylon to the land of their fathers, their language, as was inevitable, had been adulterated, or rather changed, by their sojourning so long among strangers. They called it Hebrew, availing themselves of an ambiguous name '. It is accordingly always called Hebrew in the New Testament. This, though but a small circumstance, is characteristical of the people, who could not brook the avowal of changing their language, and adopting that of strangers, even when they could not avoid being conscious of the thing. The dialect which they then spoke might have been more properly styl. ed Chaldee, or even Syriac, than Hebrew. But to give it either of these appellations, had appeared to them as admitting what would always remind both themselves and others of their servitude. After the Macedonian conquests, and the division which the Grecian empire underwent among the commanders, on the death of their chief, Greek soon became the language of the people of rank through all the extensive dominions which had been subdued by Alexander. The persecutions with which the Jews were harrassed under Antiochus Epiphanes, concurring with several other causes, occasioned the dispersion of a great part of their nation throughout the provinces of Asia Minor, Assyria, Phenicia, Persia, Arabia, Lybia, and Egypt; which dispersion was in process of time extended to Achaia, Macedonia, and Italy. The unavoidable consequence of this was in a few ages, to all those who settled in distant lands, the total loss of that dialect which their fathers had brought out of Babylon into Palestine. But this is to be understood with the exception of the learned who studied the oriental languages by book. At length a complete version of the Scriptures of the Old Testament was made into Greek ;

* Hebrew was ambiguous, as it might denote either the language spoken on the other side of the river (that is Euphrates, which is commonly meant when no river is named) or the lan. guage of the people called Hebrews. Preface to Matthew's Gospel, $ 14, 15, 16, 17, 18.

a language which was then, and continued for many ages afterwards, in far more general use than any other. This is what is called the Septuagint or version of the Seventy (probably because approved by the Sanhedrim), which was begun (as has been said) by order of Ptolemy Philadelphus, king of Egypt, for the use of the Alexandrian library. At first no more than the Pentateuch was translated, which was soon followed by a version of the other books. This is doubtless the first translation that was attempted of the Sacred Writings.

$ 4. It will readily be imagined that all the Jews who inhabited Grecian cities, where the oriental tongues were unknown, would be solicitous to obtain copies of this translation. To excite in them this solicitude, patriotism would concur with piety, and indeed almost every motive that can operate upon

In one view their Bible was more to them than ours is to us. It is religion alone, I may say, that influences our regard ; whereas their sacred book contained not only their religious principles and holy ceremonies, but the whole body of their municipal laws. They contained an account of their political constitution, and their civil history, that part especially which is most interesting, the lives of their Patriarchs, and the gradual advancement of that family from which they gloried to be descended ; the history of their establishment as a

men.

2 See Lowth, De Sacra Poësi Hebræorum, Præl, viii.

[blocks in formation]

nation ; the exploits, victories, and conquests of their ancestors; the lives and atchievements of their kings and heroes, prophets and reformers. Nay, more, the Scriptures might also be justly considered as a collection of the writings, both prosaic and poetical, of all the most eminent authors their country had produced. A copy of such a version was therefore, in every view we can take of it, an inestimable treasure to every Jew who understood Greek, and could not read the original. And hence we may easily conceive that the copies would soon be greatly multiplied, and widely scattered.

$ 5. Let us attend to the consequences that would naturally follow. Wherever Greek was the mother. tongue, this version would come to be used not only in private in Jewish houses, but also in public in their schools and synagogues, in the explanation of the weekly lessons from the Law and the Prophets. The style of it would consequently soon become the standard of language to them on religious subjects. Hence would arise a certain uniformity in phraseology and idiom among the Grecian Jews, wherever dispersed, in regard to their religion and sacred rites, whatever were the particular dialects which prevailed in the places of their residence, and were used by them in conversing on ordinary matters.

À 6. That there was, in the time of the Apostles, a distinction made between those Jews who used the Greek language, and the Hebrews, or those who spoke the language of Palestine and of the ter

ritory of Babylon, which they affected to call Hebrew ; is manifest from the Acts oʻthe Apostles. There 3 we are informed, that there rose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in te daily ministration. That those Grecians were Jew, is evident from the history: for this happened h.ore Peter'was specially called to preach the gospel · Cornelius and his family, who were the first fruit f the Gentiles to Christ. Besides, though the vd Grecian made use of in our translation is şonymous with Greek, yet the term employed in 1e original is never applied in the New Testamento pagan Greeks, but solely to those Jews who had sided always or mostly in Grecian cities, and c-sequently whose common tongue was

rae Gentile Greeks are invariably called Greek. in Scrip

Ελληνες, whereas the term used in the Ioted is Ελληνιςαι, a word which even in place

al authors does not mean Greeks, but imitators clas ore

Greeks, or those who write or speak Greek ; ing a derivation from the word ελληνιζειν, to speak Greek, or imitate the Greeks.

The term occurs only thrice in the New Testament, that is in two other passages of the Acts beside that now quoted. One of these is where we are told that Saul, also called Paul, after his conversion, being at Jerusalem, disputed with the Grecians, rpos TV5 'Eaanvigas, who went about to slay him. This also happened before the conversion of Cornelius, and

[blocks in formation]

* Acts, ix. 29.

« PreviousContinue »