Davidson, Samuel (DNB01)

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DAVIDSON, SAMUEL (1806–1899), theologian and biblical scholar, son of Abraham Davidson, was born in September 1806 at Kellswater, near Ballymena, co. Antrim, Ireland. Both his parents were of Scottish descent and presbyterians in religion. He was first sent for his education to the village school, where the master, James Darragh, was a man of unusual gifts and character, whose influence was never forgotten by Davidson. He next attended a school at Ballymena till 1824, when he became a student of the Royal Academical Institution, Belfast, with the view of entering the presbyterian ministry. His college course was distinguished, but interrupted by scholastic work at Londonderry and Liverpool. It was therefore not completed till 1832, and it was not till November 1833 that he was licensed to preach by the Ballymena presbytery. In 1835 the general synod of Ulster offered to Davidson the newly created post of professor of biblical criticism to the presbyterian students at the Belfast College, and he held the post till 1841. His remuneration, consisting mainly of students' fees, was at first very small. In 1838 he received from Aberdeen University the degree of LL.D. His first book, 'Lectures on Biblical Criticism'(Edinburgh), appeared in 1839, but he began to find himself out of sympathy with presbyterian views, and conceived that he 'discovered in the New Testament the outline of the independence of churches held by the congregational body in England.' He accordingly accepted an invitation made to him in 1842 to become a professor in the Lancashire Independent College then in process of establishment at Manchester. Before he left Ireland he had finished, after three years' work, 'Sacred Hermeneutics Developed and Applied' (Edinburgh). The book appeared in 1843, just when Davidson began his work at Manchester as professor of biblical literature and ecclesiastical history. In the summer of 1844 he paid the first of a series of visits to Germany, and made the acquaintance of Neander, Hupfield, Tholuck, and others beginning many friendships that lasted all his life. One result of this trip was the translation of two volumes of Gieseler's 'Compendium of Ecclesiastical History' (Edinburgh, 1846-7). In 1847 the congregational lecture in London was delivered by Davidson and published in 1848 as the 'Ecclesiastical Polity of the New Testament.' It was reprinted in 1854, contrary to the author's wish. His views had undergone considerable changes, but he was not allowed to rewrite his essay.

The change of views was no doubt connected with the circumstances that led to he resignation by Davidson of his professorship in 1857. His leisure at Manchester was given to the preparation of an 'Introduction to the New Testament.' Of this he first volume appeared in 1848, the second in 1849, and the last in 1851. After the publication of the first volume he received the degree of D.D. from the university of Halle. He also rewrote his first work and republished it in two volumes in 1852 as A Treatise on Biblical Criticism, exhibiting a Systematic View of that Subject.' In 1855 he published in London 'The Hebrew Text of the Old Testament, revised from critical sources, being an attempt to present a purer and more correct text than he received one of Van der Hooght.' The work was suggested by Hamilton's 'Codex Criticus.' Meanwhile Davidson had been consulted by Messrs. Longman, in 1854, with reference to the reissue of Home's well-known 'Introduction to the Sacred Scriptures.' After some discussion he undertook to rewrite the introduction to the Old Testament, and suggested Samuel Prideaux Tregelles [q. v.] as a scholar competent to deal similarly with the New Testament. Davidson's share appeared in October 1856 as part of vol. ii. of the tenth edition of Home's 'Introduction.' It was entitled The Text of the Old Testament Considered; with a Treatise on Sacred Interpretation, and a brief Introduction to the Old Testament Books and the Apocrypha.' At the November meeting of the Lancashire College committee it was stated that alarm had been taken in many quarters at the views expressed by Professor Davidson in the new 'Introduction.' A sub-committee was therefore appointed to report on Davidson's work. The report took some three months to prepare, as eleven hundred printed pages had to be read and considered. On hearing the report, the committee, in February 1857, requested Davidson to prepare 'such an explanation of parts of his book which are deemed objectionable, as may remove misunderstanding . . . conciliate opposition . . . make concession where concession may be justly due.' This explanation Davidson set about, and by May his pamphlet, 'Facts, Statements, and Explanations,' was in print. The committee declared these explanations 'far from satisfactory,' and after some correspondence Davidson resigned his post. The surrender of the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch was the chief heresy alleged, but in the controversy that followed he was accused of doctrinal unsoundness in several directions, and a charge of plagiarism from German writers made against him. These charges are summed up in a pamphlet which appeared in October 1857, entitled 'Dr. Davidson: his Heresies, Contradictions, and Plagiarisms. By Two Graduates.' The authors were E. Mellor and J. G. Rogers. On the other side appeared 'Dr. Davidson's Removal from the Professorship of Biblical Literature in the Lancashire Independent College, Manchester, on account of alleged Error in Doctrine,' London, 1860, by Thomas Nicholas. At the end of this pamphlet Bishop Thirlwall, Dean Alford, and Canon Cureton are quoted in Davidson's favour. A 'Detailed Narrative' of the whole proceedings is given in Davidson's 'Autobiography,' from the pen of J. Allanson Picton. As a statement of facts Mr. Picton's account was approved of by Davidson, but he preferred not to tell the story himself, perhaps because he never lost the feeling that he had been treated unjustly.

After his resignation many friends gathered round him, and a large testimonial, which finally reached 3,000l, was presented to him. He retired to Hatherlow, in Cheshire, and engaged himself in the education of pupils. In 1862, being elected scripture examiner in London University, he removed to London, and his life becomes a record of literary work and visits to the continent. It was much saddened by domestic bereavements. He lost three sons before the death of his wife in 1872, only one son and a daughter being left to him. In 1862 he became an occasional contributor to the 'Athenaeum,' and for three years, from 1871, he reviewed philosophical and theological books in the 'Westminster Review.' He died on 1 April 1898 and was buried in Hampstead new cemetery. He married in 1836 Anne Jane Kirkpatrick of Belfast.

His works after his retirement from Manchester were: 1. 'An Introduction to the Old Testament, Critical, Historical, and Theological,' 1862-3, 3 vols. 2. 'Fürst's Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon, translated from the German,' 1865; 4th edit. 1871. 3. 'An Introduction to the New Testament,' 1868, 2 vols.; 3rd edit. 1894. This was a version of No. 5 above. 4. 'On a Fresh Revision of the English Old Testament,' 1873. This essay was written for a projected second volume of 'Essays and Reviews,' which never saw the light. 5. 'The New Testament translated from the Critical Text of Von Tischendorf, with an Introduction on the Criticism, Translation, and Interpretation of the Book,' 1875; 2nd edit. 1876. 6. 'The Canon of the Bible,' 1877; 3rd edit. 1880. This is an enlargement of the article in the 'Encyclopaedia i Britannica.' 7. 'The Doctrine of the Last Things contained in the New Testament, compared with the Notions of the Jews and the Statements of Church Creeds,' 1882. He also contributed articles to Kitto's 'Cyclopædia,' to Smith's 'Dictionary of Biography and Mythology,' and to the ninth edition of the 'Encyclopaedia Britannica.'

[In 1899 the Autobiography and Diary of Samuel Davidson, with a selection of letters from English and German Divines, and an account of the Davidson Controversy of 1857, by J. Allanson Picton, M.A., was edited by his daughter, Anne Jane Davidson. It contains a list of his works. On the Davidson controversy Joseph Thompson's Jubilee Memorial History of the Lancashire College may be consulted. There are notices of Davidson in Men of the Time, 1891, and in earlier editions, and in the Supplement to Schaff and Herzog's Encyclopædia of Religious Knowledge, Edinburgh, 1887.]

R. B.