Page images
PDF
EPUB

tion ever does preclude this? Are we informed of nothing when we are told that God made all things? And if it should be added out of nothing, would not this be accounted additional information, and not the removal of any obscurity in the foregoing ? Would we not judge in the same manner, should a man, after acquainting us that he had built his house, add, that it was of marble, seventy feet long, and three stories high? yet there would be still scope for further inquiry, and further information. Is a man told nothing who is not told every thing? And is every word obscure or ambiguous, that does not convey all the information that can be given upon the subject ?. This way of proving, adopted by our learned critic, is indeed a novelty of its kind.

Ø 8. Another of his examples is the word x2 tsaba", rendered by the Seventy xoguos, in the Vulgate ornatus, and by our translators host. Though this word be admitted to be equivocal taken by itself, as most nouns in every language are, its import in this passage is clearly ascertained by the context to be metaphorical. Whether therefore it be rendered host with the English interpreters, xoguos with the Greek, or ornatus with the Latin, it makes no conceivable variation in the sense. Nobody, in reading our translation, ever thinks of an army of men, in the literal acceptation, mustered in the sky. Nor is the

51 Gen, ii, i. The whole verse is in the common version ; Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and aļl the bost of them. VOL. 1.

20

diversity at all material, when the purport of the whole sentence is considered, between the different versions which have been given of the two Hebrew words 170 thohu and 1,72 bohu 52. All concur in making them expressive of a chaos.

$3

$ 9. As to the version which, according to him, may be given to the three first verses of Genesis making of five or six simple sentences, one complex period, little more is necessary, than to remark that its very want of simplicity in such a book, written in so early an age, is a very strong presumption against it, being not less unsuited to the time of the historian, than it is to the genius of the language. In what respect he could call it literal, or agreeable to the grammatical sense, I do not know ; since it evi- . dently departs from the ordinary import, as well as the usual construction of the words, and that not

52 Rendered in the English translation, without form and void, Gen, i. 2. 53 The version is, Avant

que

Dieu crea le ciel et la terre, que la terre etoit sans forme, &c. que les tenebres etoient, &c. 5k et que l'esprit de Dieu, &c. Dieu dit que la lumiere soit,&c. Literally in English, Before that God created the heavens and the earth, that the earth was without form and void, that dark. ness was upon the face of the deep, and that the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters ; God said, Let there be light, and there was light. Hist. Crit. de V. T. liv. iii. ch. iii. He mentions also another rendering : Au commencement que, 8c. But this seems only a more awkward way of expressing the same thing.

for giving light to a passage otherwise obscure (which may reasonably excuse a small deviation from the letter), but for involving in darkness what is expressed perspicuously. It is, besides, quite arbitrary. The copulative is thrice rendered “ Que,that; the fourth time it is omitted ; and what follows is in the perfect of the indicative, the preceding clauses being in the potential or subjunctive mood. Now I may venture to affirm, that no conceivable reason can be assigned why this clause should be made choice of for the direct affirmation, and not of any of those preceding or following in the paragraph.

Add to all this, that to make f'wXg2 bereshith, a conjunction, and render it "priusquam,avant que, is not only without, but against Biblical authority. n'oxy beginning, is a very common noun, and joined with the prepositive , signifying in, occurs in four places beside this. In these it is uniformly rendered as here, ev apxn in the Septuagint, and in principio in the Vulgate, and cannot, in a consistenсу with the words connected, be rendered otherwise. In the Targum or Chaldee paraphrase of Onkelos on the books of Moses, which in point of antiquity comes next to the Septuagint, it is rendered 7'27pa, in principiis, in conformity to every other known translation.

The opinion of Grotius and some learned Rabbies, unsupported by either argument or example, nay, in manifest contradiction to both, is here of no weight. Scriptural usage alone must decide the question. These commentators, (with all deference to

their erudition and abilities be it spoken) being comparatively modern, cannot be considered as ultimate judges on a question depending entirely on an ancient use, whereof all the evidences that were remaining in their time, remain still, and are as open to our examination, as they were to theirs. In other points where there may happen to be in Scripture an allusion to customs or ceremonies, retained by the Jews, but unknown to us, the case is different. But nothing of this kind is pretended here. It is therefore needless to enter further into particulars.What has been produced above will serve for a specimen of the evidence, brought by Father Simon, of the obscurity of the Hebrew Scriptures. And I imagine that, by the like arguments, I might undertake to prove any writing, ancient or modern, to be vague, ambiguous, and obscure.

§ 10. That some things, however, in the sacred history, not of great consequence, are ambiguous, and some things obscure, it was never my intention to question. But such things are to be found, in every composition, in every language. Indeed, as the word perspicuous is a relative term (for that may be perspicuous to one which is obscure to another), it must be allowed also that the dead languages have, in this respect, a disadvantage, which is always the greater, the less the language is known. As to the multiplicity of meanings sometimes affixed to single words, one would be at a loss to say what tongue, ancient or modern, is most chargeable with this ble

mish. Any person accustomed to consult lexicons will readily assent to what I say. In regard to English (in which we know that it is not impossible to write both unambiguously and perspicuously), if we recur to Johnson's valuable Dictionary for the signification of the most common terms, both nouns and verbs, and overlook, for a moment, our acquaintance with the tongue, confirmed by long and uninterrupted habit, we shall be surprised that people can write intelligibly in it, and be apt to imagine that, in every period, nay, in every line, a reader will be perplexed in selecting the proper, out of such an immense variety of meanings as are given to the different words 54. In this view of things the explanation of a simple sentence will appear like the solution of a riddle.

§ 11. But no sooner do we return to practice, than these imaginations, founded merely on a theoretical and partial view of the subject, totally disappear. Nothing can be more pertinent, or better founded, than the remark of Mr. Le Clerc, “ That a word “ which is equivocal by itself, is often so clearly li“ mited to a particular signification by the strain of

54 Thus to the noun word Johnson assigns 12 significations -to power 13, and to foot 16. The verb to make has, accord. ing to him, 66 meanings, to put 80, and to take, which is both neuter and active, has 134. This is but a small specimen in nouns and verbs; the observation may be as amply illustrated in the other parts of speech.

« PreviousContinue »