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The hypothesis of a secondary or mystical sense in the writings of the Old Testament is totally unsupported. The writers themselves do not pretend to have more than one meaning, which in most cases is a very intelligible one, relating to events near their own times. A very striking and continuous correspondence with the history of Jesus might seem to justify such an hypothesis ; but it has been shewn that there is no such correspondence, the coincidences being only few and imperfect.
Let us now examine more at length the prophecies most relied on by Christians, viz. the 53d chapter of Isaiah, and the book of Daniel..
lian; but he himself will be killed by the giant Armillus, a pseudoMessiah or Antichrist. Afterwards shall appear the second Messiah, the son of David, accompanied by Elijah; he is to kill Armillus, restore Jerusalem, destroy all the enemies of Judah, and raise the dead. At his banquet, the Leviathan will form the first course, God having killed and salted him for that purpose: the Behemoth will be served up for meat; and the fowl will consist of the bird Bariuchne, whose wings, when opened, cover the sun, and one of whose eggs having fallen, drowned sixty cities. This fable gave rise to a formulary of oath common among the Jews, “If I lie, let me never eat of the wild ox, i. e. the behemoth.";
ON THE PROPHECIES OF ISAIAH.
The Jewish sacred writings were burnt or dispersed at the time of the captivity, and afterwards collected together again, as is generally agreed, by Ezra.* In the second book of Maccabees we read that “ Nehemiah founded a library, and gathered together the acts of the kings, and the prophets, and of David, and the epistles of the kings, about 445 B. C.,) concerning the holy gifts," 2 Macc. ii. 13. This collection was doubtless that made by Ezra the priest, who was more qualified for such a task than the viceroy himself, and it appears to have been the first regular compilation of the Prophets and Psalms. But since Nehemiah or Ezra had to deal with a miscellaneous collection, written at different times within the six centuries before their time, it is probable that there were some pieces of which they could not ascertain the exact date or authorship, and which consequently they might have placed under a wrong name.
Between the time of Ezra and that of the Septuagint translation, (B.C.
* The Christian fathers generally believed that Ezra was divinely inspired to republish the lost and corrupted writings. Iren. contra Hær. l. iii. xxi. 2. “The scriptures having been corrupted during the captivity under Nebuchadnezzar, and the Jews having returned after seventy years into their country, afterwards, in the time of Artaxerxes, God inspired Ezra to remember all the discourses of the former prophets, and to restore to the people the law of Moses."
277,) it is allowed that the Jews were careless about the custody and transcription of their sacred books.* Josephus, in his account of the Septuagint, makes Ptolemy's librarian say to the king, “And I let you know that we want the books of the Hebrew legislation, with some others; for they are written in the Hebrew characters, and are to us unknown. It hath also happened to them that they have been transcribed more carelessly than they should have been, because they have not had hitherto royal care taken about them.” Ant. xii. ii. 4. This applied to the law; but the prophets were quite as likely to be transcribed carelessly. Moreover, the sacred books were again dispersed under Antiochus Epiphanes, and rearranged by Judas Maccabæus (about 165 B. C.).
It is not surprising, then, that the prophetic writings have come down to us in a disorderly state, and that parts of one author's writings are found mixed with those of another.
The book of Isaiah appears to be a mixture of this kind. The first thirty-nine chapters contain much that was probably written by Isaiah himself, viz. the threatenings against Babylon, Moab, Tyre, &c., and the fragments of the history of Ahaz and Hezekiah, which must be parts of some larger and connected work of Isaiah; for it is said, 2 Chron. xxvi. 22, “Now the rest of the acts of Uzziah, first and last, did Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz, write;" yet there is none of the history of Uzziah in the present book of Isaiah. The thirty-ninth chapter ends abruptly in the midst of the history of Hezekiah, and the fortieth begins abruptly with the words, “ Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people, saith
” The rest of the book, from these words, appears to be
* Immo et Buxtorfius hoc est confessus, Judæos a tempore Esdræ negligentiores fuisse circa textum Hebræum, et non curiosos circa lectionem veram.-Kennicott Diss. Gen. sect. 19.
one connected exhortation to the Jews on their return from captivity under Zerubbabel, B. C. 536. It seems to be the work of some patriotic Israelite about that time, in order to inspire the people with zeal and courage to restore their nationality, according to the permission of Cyrus. For if we compare the account of this memorable event in Ezra with these last 27 chapters of Isaiah, we find the latter expressing exactly the feelings natural to a Jew on such an occasion. They speak throughout of the long sufferings undergone by Israel in punishment of the nation's sins, and of the glorious prospect opening upon them; of the assistance rendered by the Gentiles in restoring them to their country, which agrees with the decree of Cyrus, Ezra i. 4–6; of the fall of their old enemy Babylon; and Cyrus himself is twice mentioned by name, xliv. 28; xlv. 1. There are many comparisons between the God of Israel and idols, and intimations that the true God was becoming known to the Gentiles by means of his servant Jacob; which agrees with the desire of the neighbouring nations to join with the Jews in rebuilding the temple, Ezra iv. 2. It may be answered, that all this might have been written by Isaiah in the spirit of prophecy, two hundred years previously; but of this there is no proof beyond the fact that it has been found since the time of Maccabæus in the miscellaneous collection called Isaiah ; therefore it is more probable that these chapters were written by some one contemporary with the events and persons which he describes.
The prevailing idea is that Jacob or Israel, the personification of the Jewish nation, is the chosen servant of God; that throughout all his vicissitudes he is specially protected by Him; and that his late sufferings were owing to the nation's sins. I will extract some passages which have a bearing upon those usually interpreted of Christ.
Isaiah xli. 2 : “Who raised up the righteous man from the east, called him to his foot, gave the nations before him, and made him rule over kings? He gave them as the dust to his sword, and as driven stubble to his bow.”
By comparing this with xlv. 1-3, Cyrus appears to be the person intended. Persia or Elam lay to the east of Babylon.
Ver. 8 : “But thou, Israel, art my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham, my friend. . . . . 10, Fear thou not, for I am with thee; be not dismayed, for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee, yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness."
Here there can be no doubt who the servant is, viz. the Jewish people, considered figuratively as one man, their ancestor Jacob.
Isaiah xlii. 1: “ Behold my servant whom I uphold, mine elect in whom my soul delighteth : I have put my spirit upon him; he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles."
Matthew has applied this to Jesus, xii. 18. Grotius* and Rosenmüllerf think it should be understood of Isaiah himself. The similarity of the description, however, would lead one to suppose that the servant here is the same as the one in the preceding chapter, viz. Jacob. And the Septuagint surely settles the point, for it inserts the name, “ Jacob is my servant, I will uphold him ; Israel is my elect,” &c. The vanity of the Gentiles' gods had just been described, and now Jacob is shewn to be a light to lighten the Gentiles, by making known to them his God.
* Annot. in Esaiam.
+ Scholia. Rosenmüller considers xl. 6, 27; xli. 1, 8, 25; xlii. 1, 14; xlviii. 16; li. 1; lxi. 1; to refer to the prophet himself. But he allows, in his note on xlix. 3, that he fluctuated long between that interpretation and the one which refers the passage to the whole Jewish people.