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phet's words, spiritual, mystical, allegorical, analogical, or the like, they must all entirely depend on the literal sense. This is the only foundation upon which such interpretations can be securely raised; and if this is not firmly and well established, all that is built upon it will fall to the ground.
For example ; if 90 xin), Isa. li. 20. does not signify ws osvthcov ijpe neplov, like parboiled bete, as the LXX render it, but like an oryx (a large fierce wild beast) in the toils; what becomes of Theodoret's explication of this image? Koebendov TES Às oeuthsou ημιεφθον] Εδειξεν αυτων δια μεν του ύπνου το ραθυμον, δια δε του λαχανου To avevógov. According to this interpretation, the Prophet would express the drowsiness and flaccidity, the slothfulness and want of spirit, of his countrymen: whereas his idea was impotent rage, and obstinate violence, subdued by a superior power; the Jews taken in the snares of their own wickedness, struggling in vain, till, overspent and exhausted, they sink under the weight of God's judgments. And Procopius's explication of the same passage, according to the rendering of the words by Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion, which is probably the true one, is almost as foreign to the purpose: “He compares, saith he, the people of Jerusalem to the oryx, that is, to a bird ; because they are taken in the shares of the devil, and therefore - are delivered over to wrath.” Such strange and absurd deduc
tions of notions and ideas, foreign to the author's drift and design, will often arise from the invention of commentators who have nothing but an inaccurate translation to work upon. This was the case of the generality of the Fathers of the Christian Church who wrote comments on the Old Testament: and it is no wonder, that we find them of little service in leading us into the true meaning and the deep sense of the prophetical writings.
It being then a translator's indispensable duty faithfully and religiously to express the sense of his author, he ought to take great care that he proceed upon just principles of criticism, in a rational method of interpretation; and that the copy from which he translates be accurate and perfect in itself, or corrected as carefully as possible by the best authorities, and on the clear:est result of critical inquiry.
The method of studying the Scriptures of the Old Testament has been very defective hitherto in both these respects. Beside the difficulties attending it, arising from the nature of the thing itself, from the language in which it is written, and the condition in which it is come down to us through so many ages ; what we have of it being the scanty relics of a language formerly copious, and consequently the true meaning of many words and phrases being obscure and dubious, and perhaps incapable of being clearly ascertained ; beside these impediments, necessarily inherent in the subject, others have been thrown in the way of our progress in the study of these writings, from prejudice, and an ill-founded opinion of the authority of the Jews, both as interpreters and conservators of them.
The Masoretic punctuation, by which the pronunciation of the language is given, the forms of the several parts of speech, the construction of the words, the distribution and limits of the sentences, and the connexion of the several members are fixed, is in effect an interpretation of the Hebrew text made by the Jews of late ages, probably not earlier than the eighth century; and may be considered as their translation of the Old Testament. Where the words unpointed are capable of various meanings, according as they may be variously pronounced and constructed, the Jews by their pointing have determined them to one meaning and construction; and the sense which they thus give, is their sense of the passage : just as the rendering of a translator into another language in his sense; that is, the sense in which in his opinion the original words are to be taken; and it has no other authority than what arises from its being agreeable to the rules of just interpretation. But because in the languages of Europe the vowels are essential parts of written words, a notion was too hastily taken up by the learned, at the revival of letters, when the original Scriptures began to be more carefully examined, that the vowel points were necessary appendages of the Hebrew letters, and therefore coeval with them; at least, that they became absolutely necessary when the Hebrew was become a dead language, and must have been added by Ezra, who collected and formed the canon of the Old Testament, in regard to all the books of it in his time extant. On this supposition, the points have been considered as part of the Hebrew text, and as giving the meaning of it on no less than divine authority. Accordingly our public translations in the modern tongues for the use of the church among Protestants, and so likewise the modern Latin translations, are for the most part close copies of the Hebrew pointed text, and are in reality only versions at second hand, translations of the Jews' interpretation of the Old Testament. We do not deny the usefulness of this interpretation, nor would we be thought to detract from its merit by setting it in this light: it is perhaps, upon the whole, preferable to any one of the ancient versions; it has probably the great advantage of having been formed upon a traditionary explanation of the text, and of being generally agreeable to that sense of Scripture which passed current, and was commonly received by the Jewish nation in ancient times; and it has certainly been of great service to the moderns, in leading them into the knowledge of the Hebrew tongue. But they would have made a much better use of it, and a greater progress in
the explication of the Scriptures of the Old Testament, had they consulted it, without absolutely submitting to its authority; had they considered it as an assistant, not as an infallible guide.
To what a length an opinion lightly taken up, and embraced with a full assent, without due examination, may be carried, we may see in another example of much the same kind. The learned of the Church of Rome, who have taken the liberty of giving translations of Scripture in the modern languages, have for the most part subjected and devoted themselves to a prejudice equally groundless and absurd. The Council of Trent declared the Latin translation of the Scriptures called the Vul. gate, which had been for many ages in use in their church, to be authentic-a very ambiguous term, which ought to have been more precisely defined than the Fathers of this Council chose to define it. Upon this ground many contended, that the Vulgate version was dictated by the Holy Spirit ; at least was providentially guarded against all error; was consequently of divine authority, and more to be regarded than even the original Hebrew and Greek texts. And in effect the decree of the Council, however limited and moderated by the explanation of some of their more judicious divines, has given to the Vulgate such a high degree of authority, that, in this instance at least, the translation has taken place of the original : for these translators, instead of the Hebrew and Greek texts, profess to translate the Vulgate. Indeed, when they find the Vulgate very notoriously deficient in expressing the sense, they do the original Scriptures the honour of consulting them, and take the liberty, by following them, of departing from their authentic guide ; but in general the Vulgate is their original text, and they give us a translation of a translation ; by which second transfusion of the Holy Scriptures into another tongue, still more of the original sense must be lost, and more of the genuine spirit must evaporate.
The other prejudice, which has stood in the way, and obstructed our progress in the true understanding of The Old Testament-a prejudice even more unreasonable than the former, is the notion that has prevailed of the great care and skill of the Jews in preserving the text, and transmitting it down to the present times pure, and entirely free from all mistakes, as it came from the hands of the authors. In opposition to which opinion it has been often observed, that such a perfect degree of integrity no human skill or care could warrant; it must imply no less than a constant miraculous superintendence of divine Providence, to guide the hand of the copyist, and to guard him from error, in respect to every transcript that has been made
through so long a succession of ages. And it is universally acknowledged, that Almighty God has not thought such a miraculous interposition necessary in regard to the Scriptures of the New Testament, at least of equal authority and importance with those of the Old: we plainly see, that he has not exempted them from the common lot of other books; the copies of these, as well as of other ancient writings, differing in some degree from one another, so that no one of them has any just pretension to be a perfect and entire copy, truly and precisely representing in every word and letter the originals, as they came from the hands of the several authors. All writings transmitted to us, like these, from early times, the original copies of which have long ago perished, have suffered in their passage to us by the mistakes of many transcribers through whose hands we have received them; errors continually accumulating in proportion to the number of transcripts, and the stream generally becoming more impure, the more distant it is from the source. Now, the Hebrew writings of the Old Testament being for much the greater part the most ancient of any; instead of finding them absolutely perfect, we may reasonably expect to find, that they have suffered in this respect more than others of less antiquity generally have done.
But beside this common source of errors, there is a circumstance very unfavourable in this respect to these writings in particular, which makes them peculiarly liable to mistakes in transcribing ; that is, the great similitude which some letters bear to others in the Hebrew alphabet; such as ) to..), 7 to 7, it to N, 2 to 3 ;), , and ), to one another; more perhaps than are to be found in any other alphabet whatsoever; and in so great a degree of likeness, that they are hardly distinguishable even in some printed copies; and not only these letters, but others likewise beside these, are not easily distinguished from one another in many manuscripts. This must have been a perpetual cause of frequent mistakes; of which, in regard to the two first pairs of letters above noted, there are many undeniable examples ; insomuch that a change of one of the similar letters for the other, when it remarkably clears up the sense, may be fairly allowed to criticism, even without any other authority than that of the context to support it.
But to these natural sources of error, as we may call them, the Jewish copyists have added others, by some absurd practices which they have adopted in transcribing :-such as their consulting more the fair appearance of their copy than the correctness of it; by wilfully leaving mistakes uncorrected, lest by erasing they should diminish the beauty and the value of the transcript; (for instance, when they had written a word, or part of a word, wrongly, and immediately saw their mistake, they
left the mistake uncorrected, and wrote the word anew after it): their scrupulous regard to the evenness and fulness of their lines; which induced them to cut off from the ends of lines a letter or letters, for which there was not sufficient room, (for they never divided a word so that the parts of it should belong to two lines), and to add to the ends of lines letters wholly insignificant, by way of expletives, to fill up a vacant space : their custom of writing part of a word at the end of a line, where there was not room for the whole, and then giving the whole word at the beginning of the next line. These, and some other like practices, manifestly tended to multiply mistakes : they were so many traps and snares laid in the way of future transcribers, and must have given occasion to frequent errors.
These circumstances considered, it would be the most astonishing of all miracles, if, notwithstanding the acknowledged fallibility of transcribers, and their proneness to error from the nature of the subject itself on which they were employed, the Hebrew writings of the Old Testament had come down to us through their hands absolutely pure, and free from all mistakes whatsoever.
If it be asked, what then is the real condition of the present Hebrew text; and of what sort, and in what number, are the mistakes which we must acknowledge to be found in it? it is answered, That the condition of the Hebrew text is such as, from the nature of the thing, the antiquity of the writings themselves, the want of due care, or critical skill, (in which latter at least the Jews have been exceedingly deficient), might in all reason have been expected ; that the mistakes are frequent, and of various kinds; of letters, words, and sentences ; by variation, omission, transposition; such as often injure the beauty and elegance, embarrass the construction, alter or obscure the sense, and sometimes render it quite unintelligible. If it be objected, that a concession so large as this is, tends to invalidate the authority of Scripture; that it gives up in effect the certainty and authenticity of the doctrines contained in it, and exposes our religion naked and defenceless to the assaults of its enemies;
this, I think, is a vain and groundless apprehension. Casual errors may blemish parts, but do not destroy, or much alter, the whole. If the Iliad or the Æneid had come down to us with more errors in all the copies than are to be found in the worst manuscript now extant of either, without doubt many particular passages would have lost much of their beauty; in many the sense would have been greatly injured ; in some rendered wholly unintelligible ; but the plan of the poem in the whole and in its parts, the fable, the mythology, the machinery, the characters, the great constituent parts, would still have been visible and