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apparent, without having suffered any essential diminution of their greatness, Of all the precious remains of antiquity, perhaps Aristotle's Treatise on Poetry is come down to us as much injured by time as any: As it has been greatly mutilated in the whole, some considerable members of it being lost; so the parts remaining have suffered in proportion, and many passages are rendered very obscure, probably by the imperfection and frequent mistakes of the copies now extant. Yet, notwithstanding these disadvantages, this treatise, so much injured by time and so mutilated, still continues to be the great code of criticism; the fundamental principles of which are plainly deducible from it: we still have recourse to it for the rules and laws of epic and dramatic poetry, and the imperfection of the copy does not at all impeach the authority of the legislator. Important and fundamental doctrines do not wholly depend on single passages; an universal harmony runs through the Holy Scriptures; the parts mutually support each other, and supply one another's deficiencies and obscurities. Superficial damages and partial defects may greatly diminish the beauty of the edifice, without injuring its strength, and bringing on utter ruin and destruction.*
* “ Librariorum discordiam ostendunt varia exemplaria, in quibus idem locus aliter atque aliter legitur. Sed ea discordia offendere nos non debet; primum, quia autorum non est, sed librariorum, quorum culpam præstare autores nec possunt nec debent. Deinde, quia plerumque ejusmodi discordia unius aut alterius verbi est, in quo nihil læditur sententia; aut si quid forte læditur, aliunde corrigi potest; quandoquidem autorum sententiæ non semper ex singulis verbis superstitiosius observandis, sed plerumque ex orationis tenore, ant similium locorum observatione, aut mentis ratiocinatione sunt investigandæ, Ac tales librariorum discordiæ etiam in profanis autoribus inveniuntur; ut in Platone, in Aristotele, in Homero, in Cicerone, in Virgilio, et cæteris. Quamvis enim summo in pretio semper fuerint apud gentiles hi autores, summaque cum diligentia describi soliti, tamen caveri non potuit, quin multa Scripturæ menda et discrepantiæ annorum longitudine obrepserint; nec tamen ea res studiosos deterret; nec facit, ut qui libri Ciceronis habentur, ji aut non boni, aut non Ciceronis esse ducantur: sicut enim detorti aut etiam decussi ramuli agricolam non offendunt, nec arborem vitiant, quippe quæ ramorum infinita multitudine sic abundet, ut tantulam jacturam alibi sine ullo detrimento resarciat; ita si in autore pauculis in locis simile quidpiam usu venit, id nec bonum lectorem offendit, nec autorem vitiat. Manet enim ipsa stirps, et, ut ita loquar, corpus autoris, ex cujus perpetuo tenore dictorumque ubertate percipi possunt sine ullo detrimento fructus pleni,
Ad scrupulum eorum, qui metuunt, ne, si hoc concessum fuerit, labascat sacrarum literarum autoritas, hoc respondeo; non esse scriptorum autoritatem in paucis quibusdam verbis, quæ vitiari detrahive potuerunt, sed in perpetuo orationis tenore, qui mansit incorruptus, positam. Itaque quemadmodum Cicero apud sui studiosos nihilo minoris est autoritatis propter paucula quædam mutilata aut depravata, quam esset, si id non accidisset; ita debet et sacrarum literarum autoritati nihil detrahi, si quid in eis tale, quale ostendimus, contigit.” Sebast. Çastelļio, quoted by Wetstein, Nov, Test. tom. ii. p. 856,
• The copies of the Holy Scriptures of the Old Testament being then subject, like all other ancient writings, to mistakes arising from the unskilfulness or inattention of transcribers--a plain matter of fact, which cannot be denied, and needs not be palliated; it is to be considered, what remedy can be applied in this case; how such mistakes can be corrected upon certain or highly probable grounds ? Now the case being the same, the method which has been used with good effect in correcting the ancient Greek and Latin authors, ought in all reason to be applied to the Hebrew writings. At the revival of literature, critics and editors, finding the Greek and Latin authors full of mistakes, set about correcting them, by procuring different copies, and the best that they could meet with : these they compared together, and the mistakes not being the same in all, one copy corrected another; and thus they easily got rid of such errors as had not obtained possession in all the copies : and generally the more copies they had to compare, the more errors were corrected, and the more perfect the text was rendered. This, which common sense dictated in the first place as necessary to be done, in order to the removing of difficulties in reading ancient Greek and Latin authors, we have had recourse to in the last place in regard to the ancient Hebrew writers. Hebrew manuscripts have at length been consulted and collated, notwithstanding the unaccountable opinion which prevailed, that they all exactly agreed with one another, and formed precisely one uniform text. An infinite number of variations have been collected, from above six hundred manuscripts, and some ancient printed editions, collated or consulted in most parts of Europe; and have been in part published, and the publication of the whole will I hope soon be completed, by the learned Dr Kennicott, in his edition of the Hebrew Bible with various readings—a work the greatest and most important that has been undertaken and accomplished since the revival of letters.
But the Hebrew text of the Old Testament, compared with the text of ancient Greek and Latin authors, has in one respect greatly the disadvantage. There are manuscripts of the latter, which are much nearer in time to the age of the author; and have suffered much less in proportion to the shorter space of time intervening. For example, the Medicean manuscript of Virgil was written probably within four or five hundred years after the time of the poet; whereas the oldest of the Hebrew manuscripts now known to be extant, do not come within many centuries of the times of the several authors-not nearer than about fourteen centuries to the age of Ezra, one of the latest of them, who is supposed to have revised the books of the Old Testament then extant, and to have reduced them to a perfect and correct standard: so that we can hardly expect much more from this vast collection of variations, taken in themselves as correctors of the text, exclusively of other consequences, than to be able by their means to discharge and eliminate the errors that have been gathering and accumulating in the copies for about a thousand years past; and to give us now as good and correct a text as was commonly current among the Jews, or might easily have been obtained, so long ago. Indeed, some of the oldest manuscripts, from which these variations have been collected, may possibly be faithful transcripts of select manuscripts at that time very ancient, and so may really carry us nearer to the age of Ezra; but this is an advantage which we cannot be assured of, and upon which we must not presume. But to get so far nearer to the source, as we plainly do by the assistance of manuscripts, though of comparatively late date, is an advantage by no means inconsiderable, or lightly to be regarded.
On the other hand, we have a great advantage in regard to the Hebrew text, which the Greek and Latin authors generally want, and which in some degree makes up for the defect of age in the present Hebrew manuscripts; that is, from the several ancient versions of the Old Testament in different languages, made in much earlier times, and from manuscripts in all probability much more correct and perfect than any now extant. These versions, for the most part, being evidently intended for exact literal renderings of the Hebrew text, may be considered in some respect as representatives of the manuscripts from which they were taken: and when the version gives a sense better in itself, and more agreeable to the context than the Hebrew text offers, and at the same time answerable to a word or words similar to those of the Hebrew text, and only differing from it by the change of one or more similar letters, or by the different position of the same letters, or by some other inconsiderable variation; we have good reason' to believe, that the similar Hebrew words answering to the version, were indeed the very reading that stood in the manuscript from which the translation was made. To add strength to this way of reasoning, it is to be observed, that the manuscripts now extant frequently confirm such supposed reading of those manuscripts from which the ancient versions were taken, in opposition to the authority of the present printed Hebrew text; and make the collection of variations, now preparing for the public, of the highest importance; as they give a new evidence of the fidelity of the ancient versions, and set them upon a footing of authority which they never could obtain before. They were looked upon as the work of wild and licentious interpreters, who often departed from the text, which they undertook to render, without any good reason, and only followed their own fancy and caprice. The present Hebrew manuscripts so often justify the versions in such passages, that we cannot but conclude, that in many others likewise the difference of the version from the present original is not to be imputed to the licentiousness of the translator, but to the carelessness of the Hebrew copyist; and this affords a just and reasonable ground for correcting the Hebrew text on the authority of the ancient versions.
But the assistance of manuscripts and ancient versions united will be found very insufficient perfectly to correct the Hebrew text. Passages will sometimes occur, in which neither the one nor the other give any satisfactory sense ; which has been occasioned probably by very ancient mistakes of the copy, antecedent to the date of the oldest of them. On these occasions, translators are put to great difficulties, through which they force their way as well as they can ; they invent new meanings for words and phrases, and put us off either with what makes no sense at all, or with a sense that apparently does not arise out of the words of the text. The renderings of such desperate places, when they carry any sense with them, are manifestly conjectural : and full as much so, as the conjectures of the critic who hazards an alteration of the text itself. The fairest way of proceeding in these cases seems to be, to confess the difficulty, and to lay it before the reader; and to leave it to his judgment to decide, whether the conjectural rendering, or the conjectural emendation, be more agreeable to the context, to the exigence of the place, to parallel and similar passages, to the rules and genius of the language, and to the laws of sound and temperate criticism.
The condition of the present text of Isaiah in particular is answerable to the representation above given of the Hebrew text in general. It is, I presume, considerably injured, and stands in need of frequent emendation. Nothing is more apt to affect, and sometimes utterly to destroy, the meaning of a sentence, than the omission of a word ; than which no sort of mistake is more frequent. I reckon, that in the book of Isaiah, the words omitted in different places amount to the number of fifty. I mean whole words, not including particles, prepositions, and pronouns affixed: and I speak of such as I am well persuaded are real omissions ; much the greater part of which, I flatter myself, the reader will find supplied in the Translation and Notes, with a good degree of probability, from manuscripts and ancient versions. Beside these, there are some other places in which I suspect some omission, though there may be no evidence to
prove it. If there be any truth in this account of words omitted, the reader will easily suppose, that mistakes of other kinds must be frequent in proportion, and amount altogether to a considerable number.
The manuscripts and ancient versions afford the proper means of remedying these and other defects of the present copy. It is manifest, that the ancient interpreters had before them copies of the Hebrew text different in many places from that which passes current at present: and the manuscripts even now extant frequently vary from that, and from one another. Neither is there any one manuscript or edition whatever that has the least pretension to a superior authority, so as to claim to be a standard to which the rest ought to be reduced. A true text, as far as it is possible to recover it, is to be gathered from the manuscripts now extant, and from the evidence furnished by the ancient versions of the readings of manuscripts of much earlier times. This being the case, the first care of the translator should be, especially in places obscure and difficult, to consider whether the words which he is to render be indeed the genuine words of the Prophet, and to ascertain, as far as may be, the true reading of the text.
The ancient versions above mentioned as the principal sources of emendation, and highly useful in rectifying as well as in explaining the Hebrew text, are contained in the London Polyglott.
The Greek version, commonly called the Septuagint, or of the seventy interpreters, probably made by different hands, (the number of them uncertain), and at different times, as the exigence of the Jewish church at Alexandria and in other parts of Egypt required, is of the first authority, and of the greatest use in correcting the Hebrew text; as being the most ancient of all-and as the copy, from which it was translated, appears to have been free from many errors, which afterwards by degrees got into the text. But the version of Isaiah is not so old as that of the Pentateuch by a hundred years and more; having been made, in all probability, after the time of Antiochus Epiphanes, when the reading of the Prophets in the Jewish synagogues began to be practised ; and even after the building of Onias's temple, to favour which there seems to have been some artifice employed in a certain passage of Isaiah* in this version. And it unfortunately happens, that Isaiah has had the hard fate to meet with a translator very unworthy of him, there being hardly any book of the Old Testament so ill rendered in that version as this of Isaiah. Add to this, that the version of
* Chap. xix. 18. See the Note there.