Page images
PDF
EPUB

5. During the Babylonish captivity, the Jews scattered through the Assyrian provinces lost irrecoverably, in consequence of the

mixture with strangers so much superior to them in pumber and V consideration, their vernacular dialect. But, in consequence of

their attachment to their religion, (which included their polity and law); in consequence of their inviolable regard to their own customs, and of their detestation both of the customs and of the arts of the heathen; in consequence of their veneration for the sacred books, and their never hearing any other than a literal version of them in the public offices of religion—they still, in a great measure, preserved the idiom ; insomuch, that if the Chaldee of Jerusalem was not as different from the Chaldee of Babylon as the Greek of the synagogue was from the Greek of the classics, the only assignable reason perhaps is, that the idiom of the Hebrew and that of the Chaldee were originally more akin to each other, than the idiom of the Greek was to either. Now the idiom keeps a much firmer hold of the mind than the words, which are mere sounds, do, and which, compared with the other, may be considered as but the body, the material part of a language, whereof the idiom is the soul.

Though the Jewish tongue therefore became different, their idiom was nearly the same. I say nearly so; hence we infer, that the knowledge of the style and idiom of the Old Testament must throw light upon the New: but it was not entirely the same. Hence we conclude the utility of knowing the state of the rabbinical and traditionary learning of that people in the days of our Saviour, this being the most effectual means of illustrating those particulars wherein the idiom of the New Testament differs from that of the Old. It was indeed impossible that such an intercourse with strangers as extirpated their language, should not be productive of some effect on their notions of things, sentiments, and manners. And changes produced in the sentiments and manners of a people, never fail to show themselves in their writings.

6. But, if what happened during their captivity had some effect on these, what followed after their return to Judea had a much great

The persecutions they endured under the Grecian empire on account of their religion, did, as is often the case, greatly endear it to them, and make them consider it in a light in which (whatever may be said of individuals) they seem never as a nation to have considered it in before. It became more an object and a study to them. Sensible bow little their perseverance secured to them the temporal advantages held forth in the letter of the law, they became fond of attending to those spiritual and sublime interpretations both of the Law and of the Prophets, which served to fortify the mind against all secular losses and misfortunes, and inspire it with hope in the immediate views of torture and of death. Besides, the intercourse which, from the time of the Macedonian conquests, they unavoidably had with the Greeks, introduced insensibly, into their manner of treating religion, an infusion of the philosophic spirit, with which they had before been utterly unacquainted.

er.

The Greeks were perhaps the most inquisitive, the most ingevious, and the most disputatious people that ever appeared upon the earth. The uncommon importance which the Jews attributed to their religious peculiarities, both in doctrine and in ceremonies, and their abhorrence of the ceremonies of other nations, with whom they would have no intercommunity in worship, could not fail to provoke the scrutiny and contradiction of a people at once so acute and so conceited as the Greeks. The Jews also, in self-defence, began to scrutinize and argue. On examining and comparing they perceived, in a stronger light than ever, the inexpressible futility and absurdity of the mythology of the Greeks, and the noble simplicity, purity, and sublimity of their own theology. The spirit of inquiry begot among them, as might have been expected, the spirit of dogmatizing; a spirit quite unknown to their ancestors, though many centuries had elapsed from their establishment in Canaan to the period of which I am speaking. One of the first consequences of the dogmatical spirit was a division into factions and sects.

In this state we find them in the days of our Lord; the whole nation being split into Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes. Now, of such party distinctions there is not a single vestige in the Old Testament. The dogmatists on the different sides would have recourse to different theories, the theories would give rise to particular phrases, by which the peculiar opinions of the partisans would be expressed, and even to particular applications of the words and phrases to which they had been accustomed before. Hence the usefulness of understanding their differences, and tenets, and manner of expounding sacred writ.

7. But though the differences in opinions, and modes of exposition, which prevailed in the different sects, do not much affect the style of the historical part of the New Testament, which in its nature gives less occasion for introducing subtleties in speculation, and was written by men who, from their education, cannot be supposed to have entered much into the polemical discussions of those days, they may reasonably be supposed to affect the style of the epistolary writings, especially of Paul, who was an adept in all the Jewish learning of the age. Indeed we learn from Philo, Josephus, and the talmudical writers, that their literati, at that period, were become fond of assigning a moral significance and purpose to all the ritual observances of the law, and of applying the words and phrases relating to these in a certain figurative and mystical manner. That in their mode of application they would often be whimsical, I do not deny; but that the New Testament itself gives ground to think that their ceremonies and carnal ordinances as the apostle calls them, (Heb. 9: 10,) were intended to adumbrate some spiritual and more important instructions, appears to me uncontrovertible.

But whatever be in this, it must be allowed to be a matter of some moment, that we form a right notion of the different dogmas and prevailing taste of the time. The reason is evident. The sacred writers, in addressing those of their own nation, would doubtless, in order to be understood, adapt themselves, as their great Master had done before ther, to the prevailing idiom and phraseology. Now, this is to be learned only from the common usages, and from the reigning modes of thinking and reasoning, which distinguished the people in that age and nation.

PART III.

THE DIFFICULTIES FOUND IN TRANSLATING THE SCRIPTURES.

It can scarcely admit a doubt, that as every language has in it something peculiar, and as the people of every nation have customs, rites, and manners, wherein they are singular, each tongue will have its special difficulties, which will always be the greater to strangers, the more remote the customs, rites, and manners of the nation are from the customs, rites, and manners of other nations ; for, in the same proportion, the genius of the tongue will differ from that of other tongues. If so, it is no wonder that the distinguishing particularity of the Jews in constitution, sentiments, ceremonies, and laws, should render it more difficult to translate with justness from their language, than to translate from the language of any people, who, in all the respects afore-mentioned, do not so remarkably disfer from others.

It may be proper here to point out more particularly, where difficulties of his kind will be found principally to lie. It is evident that they will not at all affect the construction of the sentences, or the inflections of the words. The analogy of the language, and its whole grammatical structure, may be very simple, and easily acquired, whatever be the customs of the people, or how extraordinary soever they may appear to us. Further, simple narration is not that kind of writing which will be much affected by those difficulties. The nouns which occur in it are generally of the first class, mentioned in the preceding part of this dissertation. And in these, from the principles formerly explained, the interpreter will not'often meet with any thing to retard his progress. If the narrative be of matters which concern the community at large, as in civil bistory, there will no doubt be frequent recourse to the words of the third class. But in regard to these, the method of adopting the original term, established by universal practice, and founded in necessity, whereby translators extricate themselves when correspondent terms cannot be found, does in effect remove the difficulty. And even when words of the second class occur, as will sometimes happen, there is a greater probability that the context will ascertain their meaning in an historical work, than there is where they occur in any other kind of writing, such as the didactic, the declamatory, the proverbial or aphoristic, and the argumentative.

This is the first difficulty proper to be mentioned, arising from difference of manners; a difficulty which cannot be said to affect the sacred writings peculiarly, otherwise than in degree. It is always the harder to reach in a version the precise signification of the words of the original, the wider the distance is, in sentiments and manners, between the nation in whose language the book is written, and the nation into whose language it is to be translated.

2. The second difficulty I shall take notice of arises from the penury of words in the ancient oriental languages, at least in the Hebrew -- a natural consequence of the simplicity of the people, the little proficiency made by them in sciences and arts, and their early withdrawing themselves on account of religion from the people of other nations. The fewer the words are in any language, the more extensive commonly is the signification given to every word ; and the more extensive the signification of a word is, there is the greater risk of its being misunderstood in any particular application ; besides, the fewness of words obliges writers of enlarged minds, for the sake of supplying the deficiency, frequently to recur to metaphor, synecdoche, metonymy, catachresis, and other rhetorical tropes. These, accordingly, are always found to abound most in the scantiest tongues. Now the frequent use of tropes occasions an unavoidable obscurity, and sometimes ambiguity, in the expression.

3. A third difficulty arises from the penury of books extant in the genuine ancient Hebrew, there being no more than the books of the Old Testament, and not even all these. When we consider the manner in which the knowledge of any language, even of our native tongue, is acquired, we find it is solely by attending to the several ways in which words are used in a vast variety of occurrences and applications, that the precise meaning is ascertained. As it is principally from conversation in our mother-tongue, or in any living language which we learn from those who speak it, that we have occasson to observe this variety, so it is only in books that we have occasion to observe it, when employed in the acquisition of a dead language. Consequently, the fewer the books are, there is the greater risk of mistaking the sense, especially of those words which do not frequently occur. This has given rise to doubts about the meaning of some words, even of the first class, to wit, the names of a few natural objects, as plants, animals, and precious stones,

[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors]

which occur but rarely in Scripture, and solely in passages where sufficient light cannot be had from the context.

4. It may indeed be said, that as the writers of the New Testament employed not the Hebrew but the Greek language in their compositions, neither of the two remarks last mentioned can affect them, however they may affect the penmen of the Old. The Greek is indeed a most copious language, and the books written in it are very numerous. But whoever would argue in this manner, must have forgotten what has been fully evinced in the former dissertation, that though the words, the inflection, and the construction in the books of the New Testament are Greek, the idiom is strictly Hebraical; or at least he must not bare reflected on the inevitable consequences of this doctrine, one of which is, that the Hebraistic Greek, or Greek of the synagogue, as it has been called, will in a great measure, labor under the same inconveniences and defects with the tongue on which its idiom is formed. Another consequence is, that the scarcity of books in the language which is the parent of the idiom, is, in effect, a scarcity of the lights that are necessary, or at least convenient, for the easier discovery of the peculiarities of the idiomatic tongue formed

upon it. The reason of both is obvious; it is from that language we must learn the import of the phrases, and even sometimes of particular words, which otherwise would often prove unintelligible.

5. The fourth difficulty which the interpreter of the Bible has to encounter, arises from the nature of the prophetic style, a style highly figurative, or, as some critics have thought proper to denominate it, symbolical. The symbolic or typical is, in my apprehension, very much akin to what may be called the allegoric style. There is, however, this difference: the symbols employed in prophecy have, like the Egyptian hieroglyphics, acquired a customary interpretation from the established use in that mode of writing, and are seldom or never varied; whereas the allegory is more at the discretion of the writer. One consequence of this is, that in the former there is not required the same exactness of resemblance between the symbols, or the types and their antitypes, as is required in allegory. The reason is obvious; The usual application supplies the defects in the first; whereas, in the second, it is solely by an accuracy of resemblance that an allegory can be distinguished from a riddle.

This difficulty, however, in the prophetic style, may be said more strictly to affect the expounder of the sacred oracles than the translator.' For in this mode of writing there are two senses exhibited to the intelligent reader ; first, the literal, and then the figurative : for as the words are intended to be the vehicle of the literal sense to the man who understands the language, so the literal sense is intended to be the vehicle of the figurative, to the man whose under

[merged small][ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »