Page images

factory exposition of the book of religious instruction is possible without a sound conception of the spiritual nature of man, and of faith in God as the means of religious life and growth. It is also to be observed that the Holy Scriptures are the accretion

of a literature that covers some sixteen centuries, and Yariety of subJect matter and represents various authors and times of composition. style.

These books embody biography, history, law, ritualq psalmody, drama, proverbs, prophecy, apocalypses, and epistles. Some were written by kings, others by shepherds, and prophets, and fishermen, One writer was a taxgatherer, another a tentmaker, an. other a physician. They lived and wrote at various periods, some of them centuries apart from others, and their places of residence were also far separate, as Arabia, Palestine, Babylon, Persia, Asia Minor, Greece, and Rome. The antiquities and varying civilizations of different nations are imaged in these books, and when the name of an author is not known, it is usually not difficult to ascertain approximately, from his statements or allusions, the time and circumstances of his writing. The obvious result is that the Bible comprises a great diversity of literature, and the larger portion of it calls for special hermeneutics in its interpretation.

It is an important part of the province of Special Hermeneutics to Distinction set forth the distinction between the essential thought

of a writer and the form in which it is clothed. No lit

tle confusion has been introduced into biblical exposition by reason of a failure to make this discrimination. The faithful and true interpreter must imbibe the spirit of the author whom he would expound. If he would understand and explain Isaiah, he must not only transport himself into the age in which that prophet lived, but must also become possessed of some measure of his emotion when he bewailed the abominations of his time. And when, for example, the son of Amoz portrays the sinful nation as diseased in head and heart, and declares that from the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness, but rather wounds, and bruises, and raw sores (Isa. i, 6), we are not to insist on the full significance of each particular word. Such doleful utterances, even of inspired prophets, are likely to contain elements of oriental hyperbole, and may, at times, be coloured by the speaker's own despondency. A notable instance of this kind is the language of Elijah in 1 Kings xix, 10 (comp. verse 18), and it is probable that other prophets, although not fleeing for their lives, have sometimes expressed their heart-sorrow in a similar strain. When Isaiah in the name of Jehovah denounces the burnt offerings of Israel as an abomination (Isa. i, 11-14), we are not to rush to the conclusion that his language is

between substance and form.

[blocks in formation]

equivalent to a condemnation of animal sacrifices in general, nor does it warrant the opinion that the ritual of the sanctuary was not of divine appointment. The passage in Jer. vii, 21-26 has troubled some critics because of its apparent conflict with the recorded history of the exodus; but is not its real import best apprehended when we recognize it, not as a prosaic statement of historical fact, to be literally understood, but as an impassioned outburst of prophetic inspiration, designed to emphasize the utter worthlessness of sacrifice when made a substitute for obedience ? Special Hermeneutics aims to find the proper analysis and import of such language of emotion. It must take cognizance both of the spirit and the forms of human speech, and distinguish correctly between them. In like manner must it treat of all which is special or peculiar in the Holy Scriptures, and which, accordingly, differentiates these writings from other compositions of men.'

Biblical Hermeneutics is a department of General Hermeneutics, and, as we have seen, calls in the main for the application of the general principles required in the interpretation of all literature. But as so large a portion of the Bible is composed of poetry and prophecy, and contains so many examples of parable, allegory, type, and symbol, it is proper in treating the science of biblical interpretation to devote more space to Special than to General Hermeneutics. Parables, allegories, types, and symbols, have their peculiar laws, and grammatico-historical interpretation must give attention to rhetorical form and prophetic symbolism, as well as to the laws of grammar and the facts of history.

The principles of Special Hermeneutics must be gathered from a faithful study of the Bible itself. We must observe the methods which the sacred writers followed. Naked own best interpropositions or formulated rules will be of little value preter. unless supported and illustrated by self-verifying examples. It is worthy of note that the Scriptures furnish numerous instances of the interpretation of dreams, visions, types, symbols, and parables. In such examples we are to find our principles and laws of exposition. The Holy Soripture is no Delphic oracle, to bewilder the heart by utterances of double meaning. Taken as a whole, and allowed to speak for itself, the Bible will be found to be its own best interpreter.

1 The very peculiarities of the Bible have undoubtedly contributed largely to their enduring power over the human heart. “This volume," says “Phelps, has never numbered among its believers a fourth part of the human race, yet it has swayed a greater amount of mind than any other volume the world has known. It has the singular faculty of attracting to itself the thinkers of the world, either as friends or foes, always and every-where.”—Men and Books, p. 239, New York, 1882.

The Bible its




Much of the Old Testament is composed in a style and form of lanOld Testament guage far above that of simple prose. The historical largely poeti- books abound in spirited addresses, odes, lyrics, psalms, cal.

and fragments of song. The books of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon, are highly poetical, and the prophetical books ('100% D'x']), later prophets of Hebrew Canon) are mainly of the same order. Nearly one half of the Old Testament is written in this poetic style. But the poetry of the Hebrews has peculiarities as marked and distinct from that of other nations as the language itself is different from other families of languages. Its metre is not that of syllables, but of sentences and sentiments. Properly speaking, Hebrew poetry knows nothing Not metrical in

of metrical feet and versification analogous to the poet

ical form of the Indo-European tongues. The learned and ingenious attempts of some scholars to construct a system of Hebrew metres are now generally regarded as failures. There are discernible an elevated style, a harmony and parallelism of sentences, a sonorous flow of graphic words, an artificial arrangement of clauses, repetitions, transpositions, and rhetorical antitheses, which constitute the life of poetry. But the form is nowhere that of syllabic metre.' Some scholars have supposed that, since the Hebrew became a dead language, the ancient pronunciation is so utterly lost that it is therefore impossible now to discover or restore its ancient metres. But this, at best, is a doubtful hypothesis, and has all probabilities against it.

1 On the subject of Hebrew poetry, see Lowth, Sacred Poetry of the Hebrews, in Latin, with notes of Michaelis, Rosenmüller, and others (Oxford, 1828), and English Translation, edited by Stowe (Andover, 1829), and the Preliminary Dissertation to his Isaiah; Bellerman, Versuch über die Metrik der Hebräer (Berlin, 1813); Saal. schutz, Form der hebräischen Poesie nebst einer Abhandlung über die Musik der Hebräer (Konigsb., 1825), and the same author's Form und Geist der hebräischen Poesie (1853); Ewald, die poetischen Bücher des alten Bundes, vol. i, Translated by Nicholson in Kitto's Journal of Sacred Literature for Jan. and April, 1848; Herder, Spirit of Hebrew Poetry, English Translation, in two vols., by James Marsh (Burl.' ington, Vt., 1833); Isaac Taylor, The Spirit of Hebrew Poetry (Phila., 1873); De Wette, Introduction to his Commentar über die Psalmen, pp. 32–63.



Parallelism the


The distinguishing feature of Hebrew poetry is now generally acknowledged to be the parallelism of members. This would be a very natural form for such short and vivid distinguishing sentences as characterize Hebrew syntax. Let the soul be filled with deep emotion; let burning passions move the heart, and sparkle in the eye, and speak loudly in the voice, and the simple sentences of Hebrew prose would spontaneously take poetic form. In illustration of this we may instance the exciting controversy of Jacob and Laban in Gen. xxxi. The whole chapter is like a passage from an ancient epic; but when we read the speeches of Laban and Jacob we seem to feel the wild throbbings of their human passions. The speeches are not cast in the artificial harmony of parallelism which appears in the poetical books; but we shall best observe their force by presenting them in the following form. After seven days' hot pursuit, Laban overtakes Jacob in Mount Gilead, and assails him thus:

What hast thou done?
And thou hast stolen my heart,
And hast carried off my daughters
As captives of the sword.
Why didst thou hide thyself to flee?
And thou hast stolen me,
And thou didst not inform me,
And I would have sent thee away with joy,
And with songs, with timbrel and with harp.
And thou didst not permit me to kiss my sons and my daughters!
Now hast thou played the fool-to do!
It is to the God of


To do with you an evil.
But the God of your father
Yesternight said to me, saying:
Guard thyself from speaking with Jacob from good to evil.
And now, going thou hast gone;
For longing thou hast longed for the house of thy father.
Why hast thou stolen my gods ? Verses 26–30.

After the goods have been searched, and no gods found, “Jacob was wroth, and chode with Laban,” and uttered his pent-up emo. tion in the following style:

What my trespass,
What my sin,
That thou hast been burning after me?
For thou hast been feeling all my vessels;
What hast thou found of all the vessels of thy house?

Place here -
Before my brethren and thy brethren,
And let them decide between us two.
This twenty year I with thee;
Thy ewes and thy goats have not been bereft,
And the rams of thy flock have I not eaten.
The torn I brought not to thee;
I atoned for it.
Of my hand didst thou demand it,
Stolen by day,
Or stolen by night.
I have been
In the day heat devoured me,
And cold in the night,
And my sleep fled from my eyes.
This to me twenty year in thy house.
I served thee fourteen year for two of thy daughters,
And six years for thy flock;
And thou hast changed my wages ten parts.
Unless the God of my father,
The God of Abraham and the fear of Isaac, were for me,
That now empty thou hadst sent me away.
The affliction and the labour of my hands
God has seen,
And he was judging yesternight. Verses 36-42.

This may not be poetry, in the strict sense; but it is certainly not the language of common prose. The rapidity of movement, the emotion, the broken lines, and the abrupt transitions, serve to show how a language of such peculiar structure as the Hebrew might early and naturally develop a poetic form, whose distinguishing feature would be a harmony of successive sentences, or some artificial concord or contrast of different sentiments, rather than syllabic versification. Untrammeled by metric limitations, the Hebrew poet enjoyed a peculiar freedom, and could utter the moving sentiments of passion in a great variety of forms. We cannot too strongly emphasize the fact that some structural

form is essential to all poetry. The elements of poetry

are invention, inspiration, and expressive form. But all possible genius for invention, and all the inspiration of most fervent passion, would go for nothing without some suitable mould in which to set them forth. When the creations of genius and inspiration have taken a monumental form in language, that form becomes an essential part of the whole. Hence the impossibility of translating the poetry of Homer, or Virgil, or David, into Eng.

Form essential to poetry.

« PreviousContinue »