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Bible, whether it be history, or poetry, or prophecy, gospel or epistle, refers back both to the Pentateuch and to Hebrew history in later times; and is absolutely unintelligible without an acquaintance with the facts there related. Thus far, the Bible is its own best interpreter,—the only storehouse where the facts are all laid up.
But there are also in the Scriptures frequent allusions to the history of other nations besides the Jews. Egypt and Ethiopia, Persia and Assyria, Babylon and Phenicia, play no unimportant part upon the pages of the sacred record ; and an acquaintance with the facts of their history not only serves to illustrate the Holy Scriptures, but greatly to strengthen their authority. Indeed, no stronger testimony to the truth and authenticity of any ancient document can ever be expected or required, than exists in behalf of the Bible upon the walls of the vast temples of the Egyptian Thebes. We find there, for example, Sheshonk, the Shishak of the Scriptures, sculptured as a colossal figure with his name annexed, leading up rows of Jewish captives to present them to his god.* In this respect, the active spirit of the present age, in deciphering the sculptured monuments and writings of antiquity, is at the same time bringing out the strongest and most incontrovertible evidence, in behalf of the authenticity and claims of Holy Writ. And it is perhaps not too much to expect, that the illustrations and confirmations which have thus flashed upon us from the deciphering of the hieroglyphic writings, are but the precursors of others, to be yet developed from the wedge-formed inscriptions of the ancient Medes and Persians.
Not less in general importance to the interpreter, is the history of the Jewish people and the neighboring nations, during the interval of time between the Old Testament and the New. This whole period had a paramount influence in forming the character of the later Jews, and shaping their opinions on theological and moral subjects; and all these require to be well understood, in order to comprehend many of the allusions and much of the teaching in the New Testament, and judge of its force and adaptation to times, circumstances, and persons. In like manner, an acquaintance with the general history of the time of Christ and of the apostolic age, is absolutely essential for understanding the scope and foundation of their instruction and doctrines; and the history of the primitive church during the same age, serves to clear up much that must otherwise remain "hard to be understood,” in the writings of the great apostle of the Gentiles.
* 2 Chron. xii. 2—9.
VI. Intimately connected with the History of the Hebrew people, are their Antiquities so called, Ecclesiastical, Political, and Domestic. In respect to the Bible, it is perhaps an acquaintance with these, which constitutes the main and most essential qualification of the interpreter. It is this kind of knowledge, which, most of all, places him in the position of the Jews themselves; enables him to think as they thought, feel as they felt, judge as they judged, and understand as they understood. Indeed, allusion to these varied topics, is interwoven in the very texture of every page and almost every paragraph of the Bible.
The Ecclesiastical Antiquities have relation to the whole constitution and ritual of the Hebrew church under the Old Testament; to develop and establish which, as well as to sustain and purify them, was the primary object of a great portion of the Hebrew Scriptures. The New Testament indeed abrogates the ancient ceremonial law; but in order to know what is thus abrogated, we must first know what once existed; and be able to mark the distinction between that which, as the spirit, is of permanent obligation, and that which, as the letter, has been done away. We must learn too what came in place of these former institutions; and what was the constitution imposed upon the Christian church, its sanctions and its ordinances.
In the Political Antiquities of the Hebrews we are to look not only for a perpetual commentary and illustration of the sacred text; but also for the source of much that exists in modern legislation. The very peculiar character of a people governed by a theocracy; a nation of which God alone was king ; needs to be well understood, in order to embrace the full meaning of much of the Old Testament. In the New Testament likewise, the situation of this same people, pining under the galling yoke of foreign dominion; and all the complicated particulars of its government and administration under a foreign
manners and customs, their business and actions, their daily life and walk. These serve more than all else to bring us to a close personal acquaintance with that remarkable people; they enable us to be present with them in their houses, at their meals, in their affairs; to see them with their wives, their children, and their servants ; in their rising up and lying down; in their going out and coming in; in short, in every thing relating to the persons and employments of themselves and families. Without an acquaintance with all these particulars, the interpreter can never be thoroughly furnished for his work. Whạtever may be his qualifications in other respects, he can never enter fully into the meaning and spirit of very much of the sacred text.
It is greatly to be regretted, that this last branch, the Domese tic Antiquities of the Hebrews, is just that which has been most neglected. There are perhaps books enough on the Jewish ritual; but I know of only a single important work in the English language, and that a translation, which gives any thing like a complete view of the domestic life and manners of this people.
VII. It is not necessary to dwell here on the importance of a knowledge of Biblical Chronology. This is perhaps the branch of biblical learning, which of all others has been most readily acknowledged, and most extensively and ably cultivated in the English tongue, as is testified by the distinguished names of Usher, Newton, and Hales. Yet, after all, the difficulties are by no means wholly cleared up; and many of the results as to dates, can be regarded only as conjectural estimates. Hardly any two of the chronological systems agree throughout. Even in regard to the times, in which the several books of the New Testament were written, there exists great diversity of opinion and statement. All this does not affect, however, in the slightest degree, the question of their authority; it serves only to show that the biblical student has before him no light task, while he delves in the mists of gray antiquity, in search of some faint traces, which may serve as landmarks in the course of times and seasons.
VIII. A branch of biblical study which has excited comparatively little attention in English literature, and yet is one of great interest, is Biblical Geography. While geography in general, both historical and physical, has been cultivated with traversed and described by multitudes; while we have treatises from the highest names on the geography of Herodotus, and other ancient profane writers; the geography of the Holy Scriptures has remained unsettled and unexplored, and even the physical features of the Land of Promise are to this day in a great measure unknown. Strange as it may appear, even the efforts of British science in behalf of navigation, have not been extended to this quarter. While even the polar regions have been traversed and explored; while the results of exact surveys and soundings are laid down in the latest charts of the Red Sea, and those of the coasts of Asia Minor and Northern Africa; the coasts of Syria and Palestine, that land of the earliest history and deepest interest, have never been surveyed, and cannot be given on any map, on the basis of astronomical observation or scientific measurement. As the theatre of recent naval war, it is to be hoped that these coasts may no longer thus remain a reproach to nautical science.
Another strange fact appears in the history of biblical geogra. phy. I mean the circumstance, that of all the multitude of pilgrims and travellers who have thronged the Holy Land for the Jast five centuries, not one of them has gone thither with any reference to the geography of the Scriptures, or made the slightest preparation to qualify himself for instituting researches, or forming a judgment, on subjects falling within this important department. At least nothing of the kind has appeared before the public. The travellers have often been acute and observing men; but they have never inquired, in respect to the Holy Land, what was already known, or what was unknown ; what was certain or uncertain ; what was forgotten, or yet to be sought out. Hardly one has ever yet travelled with a sufficient knowledge of the Arabic language, to collect information for himself from the people of the land. The consequence has been, that travellers have mostly only listened to and reported the traditions and legends of the foreign monks; and no one has ever thought of seeking after what might yet remain among the common people.
These monastic traditions began early to take root and spring up; and as ages rolled on, they flourished more and more luxuriantly. The centuries of the crusades added to their number and strength; and then, and in later times, a mass of foreign tradition, which had thus foisted itself upon the Holy Land, spread itself over Christendom, until it has come to be received almost without doubt or question. Yet it frequently contradicts the express testimony of the Scriptures or of Josephus; and is, in fact, in itself worthless, unless when supported by collateral evidence. In looking down through the long period that has followed the labors of Eusebius and Jerome, in the fourth century, it is interesting, though painful, to perceive, how the light of truth has gradually become dim, and at length often been quenched in darkness. It is certain, that in the long interval between Eusebius and the crusades, very much was forgotten by the church, which still continued to exist among the common people; and in the subsequent period, the progress of oblivion has perhaps been hardly less rapid. Even within the last two centuries, so far as the convents and travellers in Palestine are concerned, I fear the cause of sacred geography can hardly be said to have greatly advanced.
Yet there can be no doubt, and I speak from personal experience, that there does exist among the native population of Palestine, the Arab Fellâhs of the villages and hamlets, a species of tradition, which is destined to throw great light upon the ancient topography of the land. I mean the preservation of the ancient names of places among the common people. This is a truly national and native tradition; not derived in any degree from the influence of foreign convents or masters; but drawn in by the peasant with his mother's milk, and deeply seated in the genius of the Semitic languages. Such names still exist in every part of Palestine; and we ourselves, in travelling through regions both visited and unvisited, were enabled to collect many such, of which apparently there has been no written mention since the fourth century.
We all recognize the benefit and importance of a knowledge of geography, in reading the current works of the day, and even the newspapers. Of how much higher importance must it then be, for the due understanding of the Scriptures; in which the physical and topographical features of the country are so distinctly and definitely traced out, that we, like other travellers, found the Bible to be the best, and only accurate guide-book in the Holy Land. The delineation of a place or region on plans