Page:EB1911 - Volume 03.djvu/872

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O.T. CANON]
851
BIBLE

and we could wish that more examples of them had been preserved.

The historical books of the Old Testament form two series: one, consisting of the books from Genesis to 2 Kings (exclusive of Ruth, which, as we have seen, forms in the Hebrew canon part of the Hagiographa), embracing the period from the Creation to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Chaldaeans in 586 B.C.; the other, comprising the books of Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah, beginning with Adam and ending with the second visit of Nehemiah to Jerusalem in 432 B.C. These two series differ from one another materially in scope and point of view, but in one respect they are both constructed upon a similar plan; no entire book in either series consists of a single, original work; but older writings, or sources, have been combined by a compiler—or sometimes, in stages, by a succession of compilers—in such a manner that the points of juncture are often clearly discernible, and the sources are in consequence capable of being separated from one another. The authors of the Hebrew historical books, as we now have them, do not, as a rule, as a modern author would do, rewrite the matter in their own language; they excerpt from pre-existing documents such passages as are suitable to their purpose, and incorporate them in their work, sometimes adding at the same time matter of their own. Hebrew writers, however, exhibit usually such strongly marked individualities of style that the documents or sources, thus combined, can generally be distinguished from each other, and from the comments or other additions of the compiler, without difficulty. The literary differences are, moreover, often accompanied by differences of treatment, or representation of the history, which, where they exist, confirm independently the conclusions of the literary analysis. Although, however, the historical books generally are constructed upon similar principles, the method on which these principles have been applied is not quite the same in all cases. Sometimes, for instance, the excerpts from the older documents form long and complete narratives; in other cases (as in the account of the Flood) they consist of a number of short passages, taken alternately from two older narratives, and dovetailed together to make a continuous story; in the books of Judges and Kings the compiler has fitted together a series of older narratives in a framework supplied by himself; the Pentateuch and book of Joshua (which form a literary whole, and are now often spoken of together as the Hexateuch) have passed through more stages than the books just mentioned, and their literary structure is more complex.

The Hexateuch (Gen.-Josh.).—The traditions current among the Israelites respecting the origins and early history of their nation—the patriarchal period, and the times of Moses and Joshua—were probably first cast into a written form in the 10th or 9th century B.C. by a prophet living in Judah, who, from the almost exclusive use in his narrative of the sacred name “Jahveh” (“Jehovah”),—or, as we now commonly write it, Yahweh,—is referred to among scholars by the abbreviation “J.” This writer, who is characterized by a singularly bright and picturesque style, and also by deep religious feeling and insight, begins his narrative with the account of the creation of man from the dust, and tells of the first sin and its consequences (Gen. ii. 4b-iii. 24); then he gives an account of the early growth of civilization (Gen. iv.), of the Flood (parts of Gen. vi.-viii.), and the origin of different languages (xi. 1-9); afterwards in a series of vivid pictures he gives the story, as tradition told it, of the patriarchs, of Moses and the Exodus, of the journey through the wilderness, and the conquest of Canaan. It would occupy too much space to give here a complete list of the passages belonging to “J”; but examples of his narrative (with the exception here and there of a verse or two belonging to one of the other sources described below) are to be found, for instance, in Gen. xii., xiii., xviii.-xix. (the visit of the three angels to Abraham, and the judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah), xxiv. (Abraham’s servant sent to find a wife for Isaac), xxvii. 1-45 (Jacob obtaining his father’s blessing), xxxii., xliii., xliv. (parts of the history of Joseph); Ex. iv.-v. (mostly), viii. 20-ix. 7, x. 1-11, xxxiii. 12-xxxiv. 26 (including, in xxxiv. 17-26, a group of regulations, of a simple, undeveloped character, on various religious observances); Num. x. 29-36, and most of Num. xi.

Somewhat later than “J,” another writer, commonly referred to as “E,” from his preference for the name Elohim (“God”) rather than “Jehovah,” living apparently in the northern kingdom, wrote down the traditions of the past as they were current in northern Israel, in a style resembling generally that of “J,” but not quite as bright and vivid, and marked by small differences of expression and representation. The first traces of “E” are found in the life of Abraham, in parts of Gen. xv.; examples of other passages belonging to this source are:—Gen. xx. 1-17, xxi. 8-32, xxii. 1-14, xl.-xlii. and xlv. (except a few isolated passages); Ex. xviii., xx.-xxiii. (including the decalogue—in its original, terser form, without the explanatory additions now attached to several of the commandments—and the collection of laws, known as the “Book of the Covenant,” in xxi.-xxiii.), xxxii., xxxiii. 7-11; Num. xii., most of Num. xxii.-xxiv. (the history of Balaam); Josh. xxiv. “E” thus covers substantially the same ground as “J,” and gives often a parallel, though somewhat divergent, version of the same events. The laws contained in Ex. xx. 23-xxiii. 19 were no doubt taken by “E” from a pre-existing source; with the regulations referred to above as incorporated in “J” (Ex. xxxiv. 17-26), they form the oldest legislation of the Hebrews that we possess; they consist principally of civil ordinances, suited to regulate the life of a community living under simple conditions of society, and chiefly occupied in agriculture, but partly also of elementary regulations respecting religious observances (altars, sacrifices, festivals, &c.).

Not long, probably, after the fall of the northern kingdom in 722 B.C., a prophet of Judah conceived the plan of compiling a comprehensive history of the traditions of his people. For this purpose he selected extracts from the two narratives, “J” and “E,” and combined them together into a single narrative, introducing in some places additions of his own. This combined narrative is commonly known as “JE.” As distinguished from the Priestly Narrative (to be mentioned presently), it has a distinctly prophetical character; it treats the history from the standpoint of the prophets, and the religious ideas characteristic of the prophets often find expression in it. Most of the best-known narratives of the patriarchal and Mosaic ages belong to “JE.” His style, especially in the parts belonging to “J,” is graphic and picturesque, the descriptions are vivid and abound in detail and colloquy, and both emotion and religious feeling are warmly and sympathetically expressed in it.

Deuteronomy.—In the 7th century B.C., during the reign of either Manasseh or Josiah, the narrative of “JE” was enlarged by the addition of the discourses of Deuteronomy. These discourses purport to be addresses delivered by Moses to the assembled people, shortly before his death, in the land of Moab, opposite to Jericho. There was probably some tradition of a farewell address delivered by Moses, and the writer of Deuteronomy gave this tradition form and substance. In impressive and persuasive oratory he sets before Israel, in a form adapted to the needs of the age in which he lived, the fundamental principles which Moses had taught. Yahweh was Israel’s only god, who tolerated no other god beside Himself, and who claimed to be the sole object of the Israelite’s reverence. This is the fundamental thought which is insisted on and developed in Deuteronomy with great eloquence and power. The truths on which the writer loves to dwell are the sole godhead of Yahweh, His spirituality (ch. iv.), His choice of Israel, and the love and faithfulness which He had shown towards it, by redeeming it from slavery in Egypt, and planting it in a free and fertile land; from which are deduced the great practical duties of loyal and loving devotion to Him, an uncompromising repudiation of all false gods, the rejection of all heathen practices, a cheerful and ready obedience to His will, and a warm-hearted and generous attitude towards man. Love of God is the primary spring of human duty (vi. 5). In the course of his argument (especially in chs. xii.-xxvi.), the writer takes up most of the laws, both civil