History of the Interpretation.

This History, as to its essential features, might, a priori, be sketched with tolerable certainty. From the nature of the case, we could scarcely expect that the Jews should have adopted views altogether erroneous as to the subject of the prophecy in question; for the Messiah appears in it, not in His humiliation, but in His glory -- rich in gifts and blessings, and Pelagian self-delusion will, a priori, return an affirmative answer to the question as to whether one is called to partake in them. But, on the other hand, the prophecy contains a twofold ground of offence which had to be removed, and explained away at any [Pg 491] expense. One of these, the eternity of the Messiah -- which was in contradiction to the popular notions, and conceivable only from a knowledge of His Godhead -- could not but exist at all times; while the second of these -- the birth at Bethlehem -- made its appearance, and exercised its influence, only after the birth of Christ. That this should be set aside, was demanded by two causes. First, there was the desire of depriving the Christians of the proof, which they derived from the birth at Bethlehem, for the proposition that He who had appeared was also He who was promised. And, secondly, there was the difficulty of any longer deriving from Bethlehem the descent of Christ, after, by an ordinance of Hadrian (compare Reland, S.647), all the Jews had been expelled from Bethlehem and its neighbourhood. This difficulty was strongly urged against them by Christian controversialists; compare Tertullian cont. Jud. c. xiii., "How then can the Ruler be descended from Judah, and how can He come forth from Bethlehem, as, in the present day, there is not one of Israel left there, of whose family Christ may be born?" The actual history furnishes facts and details which only confirm and enlarge what, in its essential features, we have sketched a priori.

1. The reference to the Messiah was, at all times, not the private opinion of a few scholars, but was publicly received, and acknowledged with perfect unanimity. As respects the time of Christ, this is obvious from Matt. ii.5. According to that passage, the whole Sanhedrim, when officially interrogated as to the birth-place of the Messiah, supposed this explanation to be the only correct one. But if this proof required a corroboration, it might be derived from John vii.41, 42. In that passage, several who erroneously supposed Christ to be a native of Galilee, objected to His being the Messiah on the ground that Scripture says: [Greek: hoti ek tou spermatos Dabid kai apo Bethleem tes komes, hopou en Dabid, ho Christos erchetai.] But even after Christ had appeared, the interest in depriving the Christians at once of the arguments which, in their controversies, they derived from this passage, was not sufficiently strong to blind the Jews to the evident indications contained in this passage, or to induce them to deprive themselves of the sweet hope which it afforded. This, it is true, would be the case nevertheless, if we were to rely upon, and believe in the assertion of Chrysostom (Hom. 7, [Pg 492] in Matt. c.2, in Nov. Test., t. i. p.80, ed. Frcf.): "Some of them, in their impudence, assert that this prophecy has a reference to Zerubbabel;" of Theodoret (on this passage): "The Jews have tried to refer this to Zerubbabel, which evidently fights against the truth;" of Theophylact (on Matt. ii.); and of Euthymius Zigabenus (in iv. Evang. t.1, p.61, ed. Mat.). But the supposition is here forced upon us -- a supposition which, in another case also (compare remarks on Zech. ix.9, 10), we must acknowledge to be well-founded -- that the Fathers, having in their controversies with the Jews sometimes met a reference to Zerubbabel, forced it upon the Jews, even when the latter themselves refused it. And there can be the less difficulty in admitting this supposition, as the apparently fourfold testimony may be easily reduced to a single one,, viz., to that of Chrysostom. If these statements had any truth in them, some traces, at least, of this interpretation must be found among the Jews themselves. This, however, is not the case. All the Jewish interpreters adhere to the Messianic interpretation, and in this they are headed by the Chaldee, who paraphrases the words [Hebrew: mmK li ica] in this way: [Hebrew: mnK qdmi ipq mwiHa], i.e., From thee Messiah shall go out before me.

2. A twofold method has been tried to remove the first ground of objection mentioned above. In ancient times, they gave their full sense to the words, "Of (or from) the days of eternity," but substituted the name of the Messiah for His person. This we meet with as early as in the Chaldee, who says: [Hebrew: dwmih amir mlqdmiN mivmi elma], i.e., "Whose name is said (or called) from the days of old, from the days of eternity." Thus also the Pirke R. Elieser, ch. iii., where, with a reference to the passage before us, the name of the Messiah is mentioned among the seven things created before the world existed, viz., along with the Law, Hell, Paradise, the Throne of Glory, the Temple, Repentance; compare Schoettgen ii. S.213. According to Eisenmenger i. S.317, the same, with some change, is found in the Talmud, Tract. Pesachim, fol.54, col. i., and Nedarim f.39, c.2. We cannot, in that explanation by the Chaldee, understand "name" in its emphatic signification, in which it often occurs in Scripture, viz., as an expression and image of the substance, -- a signification in which the "name" of the Messiah would be equivalent to "the glory of the Messiah," or to "the Messiah [Pg 493] in His glory." This is evident from the [Hebrew: amir], i.e., "said" or "spoken," of the Chaldee, which does not allow of our thinking of the creation of a substance; and not less from the consideration, that if this signification of "name" were assumed, the aim and object which he had in view in substituting "name" for "person" at all, would have been missed. The name of the Messiah expresses His nature, the idea of His existence. The creation or pronouncing of this name marks, accordingly, the rise of this idea in God, -- His forming the decree of redemption by the Messiah. By this explanation -- which we again meet with, afterwards, in Calvin, and which we shall then consider more minutely -- a mere existence in thought, was substituted for the real existence of the Messiah, -- His predestination, for His pre-existence. -- But in aftertimes they came still further down. To supply "the name," was too arbitrary to admit of their resting satisfied with such an explanation. Almost unanimously they now came to the supposition, that the words of the passage under consideration merely marked the descent of the Messiah from the ancient, royal house of David. Thus Abenezra: "All this is said of David; the words also, 'His goings out are of old,' refer to David." Aberbanel (Praec. Sal. p.62): "The goings out of the family from which that Ruler is to be descended are of old, and of the days of eternity, i.e., of the seed of David, and the rod of Jesse, which is of Bethlehem-Judah." On the similar expositions of Kimchi and others, compare Frischmuth l.c., and Wichmannshausen, Dissert. on the pass., Wittenb.1722, S.6 ff. We could not urge against this exposition that [Hebrew: mvcavt] is erroneously understood either as "going out," or, as "family;" and that, in the latter signification, the usus loquendi, as well as the evident reference to [Hebrew: ica], are disregarded. For that might be given up, and yet the explanation would stand as to its substance. Even then, it might be translated: "His goings out (in the signification of 'places of going out') are the days of old, the days of eternity," i.e., the very ancient times; so that there would be ascribed to the time something which belongs to that which exists in it, viz., to the family of David. But the following reason is decisive against it. Every one will admit that the eternal origin of the Messiah forms a far more suitable contrast with His temporal origin from Bethlehem, than His descent from the ancient family of [Pg 494] David. The latter would come into consideration here, only on account of its antiquity; a reference to its dignity is not made by even a single word, nor is the family itself mentioned at all in the text; but the attribute of antiquity, and that alone, is nevertheless taken from it, and ascribed to the Messiah. But now, we cannot at all see what pre-eminence in this respect the family of David enjoyed above other families, and how, therefore, it could have been an honour for the Messiah to be descended from it. How strange would, according to this explanation, be the words, "of the days of eternity," which, as a climax, are added to, "of days of old!" What reason could there have existed for the prophet to exalt, by a hyperbolical expression, a limited time to eternity? As regards His human origin, the Messiah had not the slightest advantage over other mortals, as far as the age of the family was concerned. What, then, was the use of such a hyperbole in a matter which, in this connection, was of no consequence, and which could not in any way serve for His exaltation? It is just this, however, which after all is required by the contrast. What kind of consolation would thereby have been afforded to the people? Certainly no one doubted that the Messiah would have parents, and ancestors reaching back to a hoar antiquity. But was there anything gained by this, since He had it only in common with the lowest and feeblest among the people? How does this shallow, unmeaning, and yet so much pretending contrast in reference to the Messiah, suit the other contrast in reference to Bethlehem, which is so brilliant and exalted? And now what reason is there for preferring that explanation which is so unnatural, to the other, which is so natural, so obvious, which presents a contrast so beautiful, and opens up to the Covenant-people a source of consolation so rich? Is it this, perhaps, that the eternity of the Messiah is not mentioned anywhere else in the Old Testament? But the eternity of the Messiah is only a single feature of His divine nature, and just that feature which, according to the context, came here into special consideration. Caspari very correctly remarks: "The prophet pointed out just the feature of the pre-existence, and of the eternal existence of the Messiah, and these only, because the announcement of His origin from the little Bethlehem led just to this, and to this alone." The intimation of the divine nature of the Messiah is, [Pg 495] however, as old as the Messianic prediction in general; compare, concerning this, my remarks on Gen. xlix.10. In a more definite shape, and in a more distinct form, it appears as early as in the Messianic Psalms. But it is found, in sharply defined outlines, in Isaiah, and specially in ix.5, where, just as in the passage before us, the divine glory of the Messiah is contrasted with the lower aspect of His existence; and the closer the points of contact are between Isaiah and Micah, the less can we refuse to acknowledge such here. This circumstance also must prevent us from doing so, that immediately afterwards, in ver.3 (4), the divine dignity and nature of the Messiah meet us anew. This passage requires, as its foundation, the one upon which we are now commenting. Moreover, the eternity which, in contrast with His birth in time, is here ascribed to the Messiah, corresponds with the eternity of His existence and dominion after His birth, which is repeatedly ascribed to the Messiah, and, most prominently, in Is. ix.5, where He receives the name "Father of eternity," i.e., He who will be Father in all eternity. -- Some one, perhaps, would infer from the subjoined words, "of the days," that [Hebrew: evlM] is here to be understood in a limited sense. But who does not know that, when eternity is predicated in contrast with a limited duration of time, just to make the contrast the more striking, those measures of time, which are properly applicable to the latter only, are transferred to the former? For in order to be able to compare things, a certain resemblance between them must necessarily be first established. Thus in Dan. vii.9, God is called "the Ancient of Days;" thus it is said of Him in Ps. cii.28, "Thy years have no end;" and the New Testament frequently speaks in the same way of eternal times. We are, in our thoughts, generally so much bound to time, that we can conceive of eternity only as "time without time." It cannot by any means be satisfactorily or incontrovertibly proved from vii.14, 20, that [Hebrew: qdM] and [Hebrew: imi evlM] here designate merely the ancient time. All which that passage proves is, that such a sense is possible -- and this, no one probably has ever doubted -- but not that it is applicable in this connection. If the connection be considered, Prov. viii.22, 23, will then be acknowledged to be parallel, -- a passage in which the eternal existence of Wisdom is spoken of in a similar manner.

3. That, in the prophecy under consideration, Bethlehem is [Pg 496] marked out as the birth-place of the Messiah, was held as an undoubted truth by the ancient Jews. This appears from the confident reply of the Sanhedrim to the question of Herod as to the birth-place of Christ. And it is not less evident from John vii.42. The circumstance that, after the tumult raised by Barcochba, not only Jerusalem, but Bethlehem also, was, by the Emperor Adrian, interdicted to the Jews as a residence, renders it probable that this interpretation was not given up immediately after the death of Christ. But even after this edict of Adrian, and after the difficulty had appeared in all its force, they did not, for a considerable time, venture to assert that the prophecy knew nothing of Bethlehem as the birth-place of the Messiah. It is with the later Rabbinical interpreters only, who were better skilled in the art of distorting, that this assertion is found. The ancient Jews endeavoured to evade the difficulty by the fable, dressed up in various ways, that the Messiah was indeed born at Bethlehem, on the day of the destruction of the temple, but that, on account of the sins of the people. He was afterwards carried away by a storm, and had, since that time, remained, unknown and concealed, in various places. Thus speak the Talmud, the very ancient commentary on Lamentations, Echa Rabbati, and the very old commentary on Genesis, Breshith Rabba (compare the passages in Raim. Martini, S.348-50; Carpzovius and Frischmuth, l.c.). Indeed, we can trace this fiction still farther back. Closely connected with it is the explanation of [Hebrew: epl bt-civN] by "darkness of the daughter of Zion" ([Hebrew: cpl] being confounded with [Hebrew: apl]), i.e., hidden on account of Zion. This explanation is found as early as in Jonathan. The concealment of the Messiah is only an isolated feature of this fiction. The fiction itself, indeed, has its roots, not only in the passage under review, but also in the endeavour to remove the contradiction between the destruction of the temple, and the firm expectation of the Messiah's appearing during the time of its existence, -- an expectation founded on passages of the Old Testament. This concealment of the Messiah is mentioned as early as in the Dialogus cum Tryphone (No.8 Bened. Ven.; compare also p.114): "Christ, even if he be born, and exist anywhere, is unknown, and neither manifests himself in any way, nor has he any power until Elijah come, etc." In order to be convinced that, at the time when this book was composed, [Pg 497] and hence in the second century, the fiction was already fully developed, we need only compare the account in Breshith Rabba. After Elijah, at the time of the birth of the Messiah, had visited his mother in Bethlehem Judah, and consoled her who was afflicted on account of the destruction of the temple, which was contemporaneous with her delivery, he withdraws. "After five years had elapsed, he said, I will go and see the Saviour of Israel, whether he be nursed up in the manner of kings or of ministering angels. He went and found the woman standing at the door of her house, and said to her: My daughter, in what state is that boy? And she answered him: Rabbi, did I not tell thee that it is a bad thing to nurse him, because, on the day on which he was born, the temple was destroyed? But this is not all; for he has feet and walks not, he has eyes and sees not, he has ears and hears not, he has a mouth and does not speak at all, and there he lies like a stone."

The Rabbinical interpreters felt, however, that this fiction, being destitute of all warrant, was of no use to them in their controversies with Christians; and it was to these that their view was chiefly directed. Hence they sought to remove the difficulty by means of the interpretation; and as all had the same interest, the result was that the distorted explanation became as generally prevalent, as the correct one had formerly been. Kimchi, Abenezra, Abendana, Abarbanel, and, in general, all the later Rabbins (compare the passages in Wichmannsh. l. c. S.9), maintain that Bethlehem is mentioned here as the birth-place of the Messiah indirectly only, -- in so far only as the Messiah was to be descended from David the Bethlehemite. There cannot well be a prepossession in favour of this exposition. The circumstance that, formerly, no one ever thought that it was even possible to explain the passage under review in any other way than that, in it, Bethlehem is spoken of as the birth-place of the Messiah, and that this exposition was discovered and introduced, only at a time when the other could no longer be received, raises, a priori, strong suspicions against it. And this suspicion is fully confirmed by a closer examination. Caeteris paribus, that explanation which here finds Bethlehem mentioned as the birth-place of the Messiah, would deserve the preference, even for this reason, that the passage, as thus understood, fills up a blank [Pg 498] in the Messianic prophecy, -- and that from the whole analogy, we are led to expect that no such blank would be left. Should the family from which Christ was to descend, the time at which He was to appear, the part of the country which was pre-eminently to enjoy His blessings, and so many other things concerning Him, have been so minutely foretold, and not the place where He was to be born? Even the question of Herod, [Greek: pou ho Christos gennatai]; shows how much reason we have, a priori, to expect such a prediction. He supposes that, as a matter of course, the birth-place of the Messiah must have been determined in the Old Testament; he only inquires about the place where. But the matter is not so, that there could be any choice at all betwixt the two explanations. If we suppose that it is only the descent of the Messiah from the family of David which is here announced, the contrast between the natural littleness of Bethlehem, and its divine greatness, would be very far from being appropriate. After the family of David had, for centuries, resided and ruled at Jerusalem, the natural littleness of Bethlehem came very little into further consideration. It was not this which could render improbable the appearance of the Messiah. It was only the downfall of Jerusalem, and the destruction of the King's Castle, which were in opposition to the belief in the Messiah's appearance. And, in like manner, the glory, resulting from His appearance, was not imparted to Bethlehem, but to Zion. Hence it is that, in iv.8, where the prophet wishes to declare the descent of the Messiah from the family of David, he contrasts the glorification of Zion, and especially of the King's Castle, with its previous degradation. -- Further -- There is not a single instance to be found of a place, in which the ancestors of some one resided centuries ago, being spoken of as the place of his descent. Is there a single passage in which Bethlehem is mentioned as the native place of any of the kings from the Davidic dynasty who were born at Jerusalem, or as the native place of Zerubbabel who was born at Babylon? For further details concerning this argument, Huetius, dem. Evang. p 579 ed. Amstel. 1680, maybe compared. -- Further -- The relation of the passage under review to the parallel passage Is. viii.23 (ix.1) must not be overlooked. As in the latter text, the province is marked out which, by the appearance of the Messiah, is to be raised from the deepest degradation [Pg 499] to the highest glory, so, in the passage under consideration, the place is designated. -- Finally -- If any doubt yet remained, it must surely be removed by the fulfilment, -- by the fact that Christ was actually born at Bethlehem; and this so much the more, that this fact cannot be looked upon as an accidental circumstance, for Bethlehem was not the residence of His parents.

But the Jews endeavoured, in another way, to wrest from Christian controversialists the advantage afforded by this passage. They denied altogether that Christ was born at Bethlehem. Thus Abr. Peritsol (compare Eisenmenger, l. c. S.259): "Since they called Him Jesus the Nazarene, and not Jesus the Bethlehemite, it is to be inferred that He was born at Nazareth, as it is written in the Targum of Jerusalem." Upon this point, however, there existed no unanimity among them. David Gans, in the Book Zemach David, mentions, without any remark, Bethlehem as the birth-place of the Messiah (S.105 of Vorst's translation).


The conviction that Christ is the subject of the prophecy under consideration was so much the prevailing one in the Christian Church, that the mention of any of its defenders is altogether superfluous. It were more interesting to learn who were the opponents of it. The assertion of Huetius, l. c., that Chrysostom, Theophylact, and Euthymius Zigabenus attempted an explanation by which it was referred to Zerubbabel, rests on a misapprehension resulting from want of memory. Huetius himself ascribes to them that very view which they most decidedly oppose as the one alleged to be held by the Jews. But this interpretation was actually advanced by Theodorus of Mopsueste, whose exegetical tendencies it admirably suited. Along with several other interpretations, it was condemned by the Council at Rome, under Pope Vigilius; compare H. Prado on Ezek. prooem. Sect. 3, and Hippol. a Lapide in prophet. min. prooem., and in the remarks on this passage. The immediate successor of Theodorus was Grotius. His book de veritate relig. Christ. -- where in i.5, Sec.17 (p.266, ed. Oxon.1820), he proves [Pg 500] against the Jews the Messianic dignity of Christ, from the circumstance that He was, in accordance with the passage, born at Bethlehem -- might, indeed, entitle us to infer that he was not confirmed in this opinion. But perhaps he only imagined that, in a popular work, he needed not to be so careful, and that, even according to his own views, he had retained a certain right to this use of the passage, inasmuch as he considered Zerubbabel as a type of Christ, and the birth of the latter at Bethlehem as an outward representation of His descent from the Davidic family. It was at the commencement of the Rationalistic period, when an easier mode of evading the reference to Christ had not as yet been discovered, that the reference to Zerubbabel was seized upon. It is found in Dathe and Kuehnoel (Mess. Weissagungen, S.88). The latter, however, changed his opinion (compare Commentary on Matt. ii.), after such a mode had been discovered, by referring the prophecy to the ideal Christ. From that time onwards, the reference to the ideal Christ is found in almost all the Rationalistic interpreters. The distinctness with which the marks here given, viz., the birth in time at Bethlehem, and the eternity of the origin, lead to the historical Christ; and the difficulty of explaining these when the prophecy is referred to the ideal Messiah, are rendered sufficiently evident by the efforts which all these interpreters, without exception, have made to explain these marks away. Who does not discover, in these very efforts, a confession of their force, on the supposition that they can be, as they have already been, demonstrated to have an actual existence? God Himself has borne witness by facts against this explanation; for He ordered the circumstance in such a manner that, by the birth of Christ at Bethlehem, the prophecy was fulfilled. But how can a fulfilment be spoken of by those who do not believe in prophecy, but see in it human conjectures only, since the very idea of prophecy necessarily implies divine inspiration? How should God have impressed His own seal upon mere human conjectures, as He would have done by effecting an apparent fulfilment? He would Himself have surely become the author of error by so doing. Finally, -- We shall afterwards see that, in the New Testament, this passage has been explained in the strictest sense, of the historical Christ; and the attempts of the Rationalistic interpreters to divest that [Pg 501] quotation of its import, will furnish us with a proof, that it is not truth for which they are concerned, but the removal only, at any rate and cost, of a fact which is irreconcilable with their system. All that has been advanced by them (e.g., by Justi and Ammon) against the reference to the historical Christ, rests on their misapprehension of Christ's Regal office. The Regal office of Christ is by no means a poetical image, but the most real among all kingly offices; yea. His kingdom is that from which all others derive their existence and reality. It rests, further, on their ignorance as regards the final history of the Messianic kingdom. Of the whole history of Christ, they know a single fragment only, viz.. His first appearance in His humiliation; and even this they know, and can know, only very imperfectly. His invisible dominion existing even now, they do not recognise, because it is beheld with the eye of faith only; and His future visible manifestation of it they do not believe, because they have not experienced in their own hearts the invisible power of Christ, which is a pledge and earnest of this visible success. It rests, finally, on their ignorance of the prophetic vision, which necessarily requires that the kingdom of God under the Old Testament should serve as a substratum for the description of the kingdom of Christ. It can be demonstrated, from the intimations contained in this passage, in which the Messiah appears in His glory, how little it is contradictory to others, in which He is represented in His lowest humiliation. Through humiliation to glory, -- this is the proposition which lies at the foundation of the announcements of the prophet concerning the destinies of the Covenant-people, and which he distinctly expresses in regard to Bethlehem. That this proposition is applicable to the Head not less than to the members, -- to Him who was born, not less than to the place where He was born, appears from the circumstance that He was to be born at the time of the deepest degradation of the Davidic dynasty, iv.8, and not at Jerusalem, where His Royal ancestors resided, but at Bethlehem.

2. As regards the last words of this verse, the same twofold false interpretation which we noticed among Jewish interpreters, is found among Christian expositors also. One of these, which, besides in other Jewish interpreters, occurs in Jarchi ("and His goings out, etc.; just as in Ps. lxxii.17, it was said that His name [Pg 502] should continue as long as the sun; -- thus Jonathan also translated it"), changes the eternal origin of Christ into an eternal predestination. This view was held by Calvin: "These words," he says, "signify that the rising of the Prince who was to rule the nations would not be something sudden, but long ago decreed by God. I know that some pertinaciously insist that the prophet speaks here of Christ's eternal essence, and as far as I am concerned, I willingly acknowledge that Christ's eternal Godhead is here proved to us; but as we shall never succeed in convincing the Jews of this, I prefer to hold that the words of the prophet signify that Christ would not thus suddenly proceed from Bethlehem, as if God had formerly decreed nothing concerning Him." He speaks indeed of his "willingly acknowledging;" but that he was not very much in earnest in his willingness, appears from what follows: "Others advance a new and ingenious view," etc. It is only from the relation of Calvin to the earlier interpreters, that we can account for his advancing an exposition so very arbitrary. These had, ad majorem Dei gloriam, advanced a multitude of forced expositions. Calvin, who very properly hated such interpretations ("I do not like such distorted explanations," he says, in his commentary on Joel ii.), always regarded them with suspicion; and whensoever there was the appearance of any motive which may possibly have guided them in adopting a certain explanation, he himself, rather than concur with them, falls upon the most unnatural explanations in return. The best refutation of his exposition is to be found in Pococke. It is absurd to suppose that the actual going forth of Christ from Bethlehem is here contrasted with one which is merely imaginary, -- the action, with a mere decree. It is without any analogy that some one should be designated as actually existing, or going forth, who exists merely in the divine foreknowledge, or the divine predestination. -- The other view, which regards the last words of this verse as referring to the Messiah's descent from the ancient family of David, is found among all interpreters who, from some cause, were prevented from adopting the sound one. It is thus with the Socinians (compare, e.g., Volkel de vera religione, l.5, c.2), some of whom, in order the more surely to set aside a passage so damaging to their system, supposed that, according to its proper sense, it did not refer to Christ at all; e.g., Jo. Crellius, who, in his exposition of Matt. ii., asserts that it refers indefinitely to [Pg 503] some one of the family of David who, after the Babylonish captivity, was to rule the nation. It is thus with Grotius also, who says: "He (Zerubbabel) has his origin from the days of old, from ancient times, i.e., he has descended from a house, illustrious from ancient times, and governing for five hundred years." Thus it is with all the Rationalistic interpreters. Among recent faithful Christian expositors, Jahn also (Vatic. Mess. 2, p.147) has been led away to the adoption of this opinion. But that he felt strongly, at least, one of the difficulties which stood in its way, viz., that if the reference to the family of David be assumed, it is the mere age of the family, apart from every preference on the ground of its dignity, which is mentioned to magnify the Messiah -- appears from the strange exegetical process which he employs for the purpose of removing it. He supplies at the end, celebris est: -- "His origin or His family (thus he erroneously explains [Hebrew: mvcativ]) is celebrated from ancient times." One may see in this case how much, in particulars, an individual still remains dependent upon a community, even although, upon the whole, he may have freed himself from such dependence. For it is certainly from this dependence alone that the fact can be accounted for, that this commentator rejected an exposition which must have been to him the most agreeable, which has everything in its favour, and nothing against it, -- and chose another instead, the nakedness of which he was obliged to cover as well as he could, while, in so doing, he was violating his exegetical convictions. Ewald also permits himself to introduce into the passage what is necessary for the sense which he has made up his mind to adopt. In place of the simple antiquity, he puts: "Descended from the ancient, venerable royal family of David." The view taken by Hofmann is peculiar: "He comes from the family of David, just as it had happened long ago, when that family still belonged to the community of Bethlehem, -- from the community of Bethlehem does He come." Weiss. u. Erf. 1, S.251. In order to get at this rather superfluous repetition, he has substituted the manner in which the family of David formerly existed, for "the days of old, and eternity." The "origins" (this is the sense which he gives to [Hebrew: mvcativ]) cannot be attributed to that portion only of David's family which dwelt at Bethlehem; for He was descended from them indirectly only, through the royal family of David.

[Pg 504]

3. The Jewish assertion, that in the prophecy there is no allusion to the birth at Bethlehem of Him who was to come, could not fail to be repeated by Grotius and his supporters, inasmuch as Zerubbabel was not born at Bethlehem. "Zerubbabel," he says, "is rightly said to have been born at Bethlehem, because he was of the family of David which had its origin there." This is, in like manner, repeated by the Rationalistic interpreters, in order to avoid the too close coincidence of the prophecy with the actual history of Christ, e.g., by Paulus and Strauss (both, in their "Life of Jesus"), and by Hitzig. It is remarkable, however, that, in order the more securely to attain this object, some have gone so far even as to follow the example of several Jews, and of the infamous Bodinus (de abditis rerum sublimium arcanis, l.5, compare the refutation by Huetius, l.c. p.701), and to characterize the evangelical account concerning the birth of Christ at Bethlehem as unworthy of credit. Such has been the case with Ammon especially.

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