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“ the discourse, as to leave no room for doubt."* Nor has Simon paid a due regard to this most evident truth, though he pretends, in answering that writer, to have been aware of it 55. He could not otherwise have run into such exaggerations as these: “ The signification of the greater part of the Hebrew “ words is entirely uncertain ;” and “a translator “cannot say absolutely, that his interpretation ex.
presses truly what is contained in the original, " there being always ground to doubt, because there “ are other meanings which are equally probable ;” absurdities, which it were easy to confute from his own work, were this the proper place.
$ 12. It may be asked in reply, But is not the poverty of the Hebrew tongue, of which the obscurity and the ambiguity seem to be the natural consequences, acknowledged by all impartial critics ? In some sense it is, and I have acknowledged it very amply : but it deserves our notice, that much more has been inferred from this than there is foundation for. The language of a people little advanced in civilization, amongst whom knowledge of any kind has made but inconsiderable progress, and the arts of life are yet rude and imperfect, can hardly be supposed copious. But it is not sufficiently weighed, on the other hand, that, if their words be few, their ideas are few in proportion. Words multiply with the OC
53 Reponse aux Sentimens de quelques Theol. de Holl. ch, wi.
casions for employing them. And if, in modern languages, we have thousands of names, to which we can find none in Hebrew corresponding, we shall discover, upon inquiry, that the Hebrews were ignorant of the things to which those names are affixed by us as the signs.
Knowledge precedes, language follows. No people have names for things unknown and unimagined, about which they can have no conversation. If they be well supplied in signs for expressing those things with which they are, either in reality, or in imagination, acquainted, their language, considered relatively to the needs of the people who use it, may be termed copious; though, compared with the languages of more intelligent and civilized nations, it be accounted scanty. This is a scantiness, which might Occasion difficulty to a stranger attempting to translate into it the writings of a more polished and improved people, who have more ideas as well as words, but would never be felt by the natives; nor would it hurt, in the least, the clearness of their narratives, concerning those matters which fall within the sphere of their knowledge. There is no defect of signs for all the things which they can speak or write about, and it can never affect the perspicuity of what they do say, that they have no signs for those things whereof they have nothing to say, because they know nothing about them.
Nay, it may be reasonably inferred that, in what is called a scanty language, where the signs are few, because the things to be signified are few, there is a
greater probability of precision than in a copious language, where the requisite signs are much more numerous, by reason of the multiplicity of things to be represented by them. The least deviation from order will be observed in a small company, which would be overlooked in a crowd. The source of much false reasoning on this head, is the tendency people have to imagine that, with the same extent of subject which might have employed the pen of an ancient Greek, the Hebrews had perhaps not one fourth part of their number of words. Had this been the case, the words must indeed have been used very indefinitely. But as the case really stood, it is not so easy to decide, whether the terms (those especially for which there is most occasion in narrative) be more vague in their signification in Hebrew, than in other fanguages.
§ 13. But, to descend from abstract reasoning to matters of fact, which in subjects of this kind, are more convincing, “ It is false,” says Le Clerc, “ that “ there is always ground to doubt whether the sense “ which one gives to the Hebrew words be the true
sense; for, in spite of all the ambiguities of the “ Hebrew tongue, all the interpreters of Scripture, “ ancient and modern, agree with regard to the
greater part of the history, and of the Jewish re
ligion.” Le Clerc is rather modest in his assertions : but in fact he was too much of Simon's opi. nion on this article, as appears particularly from his
Prolegomena to the Pentateuch so. Otherwise he might have justly asserted that the points rendered doubtful by the obscurity or the ambiguity of the text, bear not to those which are evident, the proportion of one to an hundred in number, and not of one to a thousand in importance. Let it be observed that I speak only of the doubts arising from the obscurity of Scripture ; for, as to those which may be started by curiosity concerning circumstances not mentioned, such doubts are, on every subject, sacred and prophane, innumerable. But in questions of this sort, it is a maxim with every true and consistent Protestant, that the faith of a Christian is not concerned.
Simon's reply is affectedly evasive. At the same time that it, in fact, includes a concession subversive of the principles he had advanced, it is far short of what every person of reflection must see to be the truth. He tells us that “ he never doubted, that one “ might understand Hebrew well enough to know “ in gross and in general, the Biblical histories; but ss this general and confused knowledge does not sufŚ fice for fixing the mind in what regards the articles " of our belief 57.” Now what this author meant by
56 Dissert. I. chap. vi. 67 66 Mr. Simon n'a jamais douté qu'on n'eut assez de con. 55 noissance de la langue Hebraïque pour savoir en gros et en 66 general les histoires de la Bible. Mais cette connoissance 66 generale et confuse ne suffit pas pour arrêter l'esprit dans ce 56 qui regarde les points de nötre creance.” Reponse aux Sentimens de quelq. Theolog. de Holl. ch. xvi.
vol. I. 21
knowing in gross and in general, (which is a more vague expression than any I remember in the Pentateuch), I will not attempt to explain ; but it is not in my power to conceive any kind of knowledge, gross or pure, general or special, deducible from a writing wherein “ there is always ground to doubt whether “ the sense assigned be the true sense, because there " are other meanings which are equally probable.” There is in these positions a manifest contradiction. When the probabilities in the opposite scales balance cach other, there can result no knowledge, no nor even a reasonable opinion. The mind is in total suspense between the contrary, but equal, evidences.
§ 14. But, to be more particular ; what historical point of moment recorded in Genesis, is interpreted differently by Jews of any denomination, Pharisees, Sadducees, Karaites, Rabbinists, or even Samaritans? Let it be observed that I speak only of their literal or grammatical interpretations of the acknowledged text, and neither of their interpolations, nor of their mystical expositions and allegories, which are as various as men's imaginations : for with these it is cvident that the perspicuity of the tongue is no way concerned. Or is there one material difference, in what concerns the history, among Christians of adverse sects, Greeks, Romanists, and Protestants; or cven betwecen Jews and Christians ? This book has been translated into a great many languages, ancient and modern, into those of Asia, Africa, and Europe, Is not every thing that can be denominated an event