By the blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea, on the coast of Egypt, lies Alexandria, a busy and prosperous city of to-day.
You remember the great conqueror, Alexander, and how nation after nation had been forced to submit to him, until all the then-known world owned him for its emperor? He built this city, and called it after his own name.
About a hundred years before the days of Antiochus (of whom we read in our last chapter) a company of Jews were living in Alexandria, then a rich and beautiful city, with its stately palaces and temples of white marble, its beautiful gardens, and groves of graceful palm-trees.
After the death of Alexander, the Greek kings of Egypt delighted to live in the new city, and in the old Greek books we can yet read of the splendid processions and festivals held in its streets year by year.
At this time Alexandria drew all the merchants of the world to her markets; and her harbour was constantly filled with ships laden with silver, amber, and copper; while caravans were arriving daily, bringing jewels and rich silks from China, India, and the cities of the far East.
The Jews of Alexandria were not treated as foreigners, but as good subjects and citizens, by the Greek rulers of Egypt, and therefore as the years passed they grew rich and honoured in their beautiful home. Their children, however, seldom if ever heard Hebrew spoken; for all the Jews of Alexandria, for convenience' sake, spoke Greek like their neighbours.
But, although these Jews lived in a heathen city where they read nothing but Greek books, and heard Greek spoken all day long, they did not forget their God. They longed as earnestly as ever to hear about Him, and to read in His Book; but what was to be done? Only a few of the elder Jews could read Hebrew, and their children could not understand one word of the language. Must the little ones, therefore, grow up in ignorance of the Word of God?
This was impossible. Here in the heathen city of Alexandria the Scriptures would be the only safeguard of Jewish boys and girls. 'If the language of our children is Greek, then the Bible must be translated into Greek, so that they all can understand it.' So said these Jewish parents.
This was a wonderful proof of the Bible's living power. The Jews had changed their language and their country. Thousands of the cleverest books ever written were within their reach -- for Alexandria had at this time the largest library in the world -- yet all this made no difference; without the written Word of God, they could not exist.
Some writers say that Ptolemy Philadelphus, the king of Egypt of that time, having heard the Jews speak of their Book, and wishing to have a copy of it to place in his great library, sent all the way to Jerusalem for seventy learned scribes who should translate the Book into Greek.
Now, however, it is believed that the Jews of Alexandria did the work entirely themselves, although their Greek Bible is still called the 'Septuagint' -- that is, 'The Scriptures of the Seventy' -- in memory of the old tradition.
[Illustration: FRAGMENT OF THE 'SEPTUAGINT' -- THE OLD TESTAMENT IN ANCIENT GREEK, THE FIRST WRITTEN TRANSLATION OF THE BIBLE EVER MADE]
Gradually, as the years passed, the Greek language spread to other nations, until at last it became, as we have seen, the leading language of the world. Even to-day, as you know, this old Greek tongue is taught in many of our schools and colleges, and those who can read it tell us that there is no language so beautiful; none with words so sweet to the ear, nor in which such deep thoughts can be expressed.
Thus we see how God used the learning of the heathen Greeks to make His Book known to the world!
For hundreds of years the Bible had been a Book for the people of Israel alone; but now, as the time drew near when the Son of God Himself should come to the world -- that the world by Him might be saved -- the Scriptures, which had since the days of Moses spoken of His coming, were sent out to the nations by God Himself in order to prepare the way.
The Jews of old divided all dwellers on the earth into two classes: the Jews -- that is, themselves; the Gentiles -- that is, all the other nations.
But now the wall of separation was to be broken down, and the words of the Prophet Isaiah were to be fulfilled, 'The Gentiles shall come to Thy light.' (Isaiah Ix.3.)
Now that God's Holy Word had been translated into Greek, the one language which every man of those days wished to learn, the message could ring through all the Gentile cities: 'A King, a Saviour, is coming; be ready to meet Him!'
So the Scriptures went forth, north, south, east, and west, and we think they reached to that far eastern city in which those three wise men lived who afterwards travelled to Bethlehem, seeking the Messiah, and saying, 'Where is He that is born King of the Jews?' (Matthew ii.2.)
The Bible had indeed taken a strong leap forward now!
For long centuries it had been like a tiny stream flowing through a dry land, and reaching only a few people. Now it had become as a river of truth, ever growing deeper and wider, guided by God in all its wanderings across the earth.
The Bible was now no longer locked up in a language which was already half-forgotten. With this Greek translation its world-wide work had begun!
But while the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures was becoming an open door through which the people of many lands could draw nearer to God, a second witness to the truth of God's Book was hidden away in Samaria.
For the Samaritans had their own copies of the Books of the Law, and kept them closely shut up among their own people for hundreds of years.
It is impossible now to give the actual date when the Samaritans began to use a different copy of the Scriptures from the Jews. The Israelitish city of Samaria was captured by Sargon, king of Assyria, in 722 B.C.; but although he carried away the most important inhabitants captive, a great number of the poorer people remained on the land, and when Sargon filled the country with new and heathen settlers, so many marriages took place between the two races that the Children of Israel lost their old name and were known to the Jews of Judah as 'Samaritans.'
Yet the Samaritans still clung to the Jews' religion, and the separation did not probably become complete until Nehemiah expelled all those Jews from Jerusalem who had married heathen wives. (Nehemiah xiii.23-30.)
Now Josephus, the Jewish historian, tells us that among these exiles was a man named Manasseh, a grandson of the high priest, and that, indignant at being cast out, he fled to Samaria. Here he determined to set up a separate worship of Jehovah, and, having obtained permission from the king of Persia to erect a Temple, he built a Holy Place on Mount Gerizim, which became the centre of a new form of religion.
It is thought that Manasseh had carried away a copy of the Books of the Law from Jerusalem, and by means of certain alterations in the words he made it appear that God had chosen Mount Gerizim in Samaria for the site of His House, instead of Mount Moriah in Jerusalem.
Now at this time all the Jews still wrote in the ancient style, forming their letters as we see them on the Moabite Stone; but not long afterwards they adopted the square letters of Hebrew writing such as are still in use to-day.
The Samaritans, however, in their hatred of everything Jewish, refused to follow their example. The Jews had cut them off, and they would take nothing from the Jews; they would keep to the old style of letters; they would not allow a single word of the Books of the Prophets or the Psalms or History Books to have a place among their sacred writings. The Jews accepted these Books as inspired; therefore the Samaritans rejected them.
Thus Jewish pride and Samaritan littleness raised a terrible barrier between the two nations, which grew more hopeless every year.
[Illustration: THE SAMARITAN BOOK OF THE LAW AT NABLOUS]
Yet these hidden Samaritan documents, falsified as they had been, have had a work to do for God's Word within comparatively recent times.
For in the year 1616 A.D., just as some people were beginning to attack the Bible, and to declare that they could find no evidence that the Old Testament was so ancient after all, the world was suddenly startled to hear of a great discovery -- an ancient copy of the Law had been found in Syria.
Other copies soon afterwards came to light: the world had rediscovered the Samaritan Bible!
At Nablous, in Samaria, known in Old Testament times as Shechem, a traveller was allowed to look at the oldest Samaritan copy of the altered books of the Law. Its queer letter signs are traced on parchment rolls, which are said to have been formed from the skins of rams offered in sacrifice. They are kept in a silver cylinder, covered with crimson satin, heavily embroidered with gold.
But out of this discovery a new difficulty arose. Some of the critics decided that this was the original copy written by Moses, and therefore more correct than the Jewish Scriptures. They would have done better to wait, and to have trusted the Bible a little more.
True, the discovery was of great importance, for these documents proved beyond all doubt that the Book of the Law dated back to a time when the ancient form of letters were still in use, and so they bore a strong witness to the great age of the first five Books of our Bible.
But learned scholars were soon able to prove that the oldest Samaritan copy was probably not older than the tenth or eleventh century of our era, and that the form of the letters was so ancient merely because the Samaritans refused to imitate the improved Jewish writing. A hundred years ago, for instance, books with long 's's' were printed in England; but the old form of letter was tiresome to read, and is now entirely out of date.
Now the Samaritans had not only refused to accept the new and improved form of letters -- they had rejected as well all the fresh light and inspiration which God was continually giving to His people through the Holy prophets. According to the Samaritans, Moses was the only true prophet. Thus they cut themselves adrift from further light, and little by little the nations had dwindled away.
Yet because so many of the Samaritans in the time of Christ were faithful to the measure of light they had, and kept alive in their hearts the hope of a coming Messiah, God made for them a wonderful way of escape.
Every Bible reader knows and loves that beautiful scene by the well of Sychar, in Samaria, where the Saviour began by asking a woman for water to drink, and ended by explaining to her some of the deepest truths of God's Kingdom.
We understand now why the woman was so surprised that a Jew should condescend to speak to her, and why the Jews would have 'no dealings with the Samaritans.' As we have seen, a great barrier divided her from all ordinary Jewish teachers -- she had been taught to believe in an altered Bible.
Not merely a different translation, remember, for the Bible should be the same in every language, but a Book of the Law in which some of the words had been changed and the original meaning destroyed.
So the woman said to our Lord, 'Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.' (John iv.20.)
The Saviour had not said so, but she felt sure that He, as a Jew, would certainly contradict the old traditions of his countrymen.
But the Lord Jesus Christ had come to show the world that it was no longer a question of this mountain or that. Such matters had been but a shadow of the good things to come. 'God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.' (John iv.24.)
With these words Jesus, the Messiah, for whom both Jews and Samaritans were waiting, threw down the barrier of ages, and united the two nations in a spiritual worship.