Nevertheless, we have maintained that the Israelites possessed, when they entered Canaan, a considerable body of legislation framed under the eye of Moses and bearing his name. Throughout the Book of Joshua this legislation is frequently referred to. If the Book of Joshua was, as we have assumed, originally connected with the first five books, constituting what is now called the Hexateuch, if these six books were put into their present form by the same writers, we should expect that the Mosaic legislation would be clearly traced through all these books.
But when we go forward in this history we come at once upon a remarkable fact. The Book of Judges, the Book of Ruth, and the two books of Samuel cover a period of Jewish history estimated in our common chronology at more than four hundred years, and in these four books there is no mention whatever of that Mosaic legislation which constituted, as we have supposed, the germ of the Pentateuch. The name of Moses is mentioned only six times in these four books; twice in the early chapters of the Judges in connection with the settlement of the kindred of his wife in Canaan; once in a reference to an order given by Moses that Hebron should be given to Caleb; twice in a single passage in I Samuel xii., where Moses and Aaron are referred to as leaders of the people out of Egyptian bondage, and once in Judges iii.4, where it is said that certain of the native races were left in Canaan, "to prove Israel by them, whether they would hearken to the commandments of the Lord which he commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses." This last is the only place in all these books where there is the faintest allusion to any legislation left to the Israelites by Moses; and this reference does not make it clear whether the "commandments" referred to were written or oral. The word "law" is not found in these four books. There is nothing in any of these books to indicate that the children of Israel possessed any written laws. There are, indeed, in Ruth and in the Judges frequent accounts of observances that are enjoined in the Pentateuch; and in Samuel we read of the tabernacle and the ark and the offering of sacrifices; the history tells us that some of the things commanded in the Mosaic law were observed during this period; but when we look in these books for any reference or appeal to the sacred writings of Moses, or to any other sacred writings, or to any laws or statutes or written ordinances for the government of the people, we look in vain. Samuel the Prophet anointed Saul and afterward David as Kings of Israel; but if, on these solemn occasions, he said anything about the writings of Moses or the law of Moses, the fact is not mentioned. The records afford us no ground for affirming that either Samuel or Saul was aware of the existence of such sacred writings.
This is a notable fact. That the written law of Moses should, for four centuries of Hebrew history, have disappeared so completely from notice that the historian did not find it necessary to make any allusion to it, is a circumstance that needs explanation.
It is true, as I have said, that during this period certain observances required by the law were kept more or less regularly. But it is also true that many of the most specific and solemn requirements of the law were neglected or violated during all these years by the holiest men. The Mosaic law utterly forbids the offering of sacrifices at any other place than the central sanctuary, the tabernacle or the temple; but the narrative of these early historical books shows all the saints and heroes of the earlier history building altars, and offering sacrifices freely in many places, with no apparent consciousness of transgression, -- nay, with the strongest assurance of the divine approval. "Samuel," says Professor Robertson Smith, "sacrifices on many high places, Saul builds altars, David and his son Solomon permit the worship at the high places to continue, and the historian recognizes this as legitimate because the temple was not yet built (I Kings iii.2-4). In Northern Israel this state of things was never changed. The high places were an established feature in the Kingdom of Ephraim, and Elijah himself declares that the destruction of the altars of Jehovah -- all illegitimate according to the Pentateuch -- is a breach of Jehovah's covenant." [Footnote: The Old Testament in the Jewish Church, pp.220, 221.]
According to the Levitical law it was positively unlawful for any person but the high priest ever to go into the innermost sanctuary, the holy of holies, where the ark of God was kept; and the high priest could go into that awful place but once a year. But we find the boy Samuel actually sleeping "in the temple of the Lord where the ark of the Lord was." The old version conceals this fact by a mistranslation. These are only a few of many violations of the Pentateuchal legislation which we find recorded in these books.
From the silence of these earlier histories concerning the law of Moses, and from these many transgressions, by the holiest men, of the positive requirements of the Pentateuchal legislation, the conclusion has been drawn by recent critics that the Pentateuchal legislation could not have been in existence during this period of history; that it must have been produced at a later day. It must be admitted that they make out a strong case. For reasons presented in the second chapter, I am unable to accept their theory. It is probable, however, that the code of laws in existence at this time was a limited and simple code -- no such elaborate ritual as that which we now find in the Pentateuch; and that those particular requirements with respect to which the earlier Judges and Samuel and David appear to behave themselves so disorderly, had not then been enacted.
Moreover, it seems to be necessary to admit that there was a surprising amount of popular ignorance respecting even those portions of the law which were then in existence. This is the astonishing phenomenon. Attempts are made to illustrate it by the ignorance of the Bible which prevailed among our own ancestors before the invention of printing; but no parallel can be found, as I believe, in the mediaeval history of Europe. It is true that many of the common people were altogether unfamiliar with the Bible in mediaeval times; but we cannot conceive of such a thing as that the priests, the learned men, and the leaders of the church at that time, should have been unaware of the existence of such a book.
On his death-bed David is said to have admonished Solomon (I Kings ii.3), that he should keep the statutes and commandments of the Lord, "according to that which is written in the law of Moses." This is the first reference to the Mosaic law which we find in connection with the history of David; the first mention of a written law since the death of Joshua, four centuries before. After this there are three other casual allusions to the law of Moses in the first book of Kings, and four in the second book. The books of Chronicles, which follow the Kings, contain frequent allusions to the law; but these books, as we shall see by and by, were written long afterward; and the tradition which they embody cannot be so safe a guide as that of the earlier histories. It is in Chronicles that we learn of the attempt which was made by one of the good kings of Judah, Jehoshaphat, to have certain princes, priests, and Levites appointed to teach the law; they went about the land, it is said, teaching the people, "and had the book of the law of Jehovah with them." I think that this is the first intimation, after the death of Moses, that the law delivered by him had been publicly taught or even read in connection with the ordinances of worship. The earlier narrative of Jehoshaphat's reign, which we find in the Book of the Kings, makes no allusion to this circumstance.
Nearly three hundred years after Jehoshaphat, and nearly five hundred years after David, the young King Josiah was reigning in Jerusalem. The temple had fallen into ruin, and the good king determined to have it repaired. Hilkiah, the high priest, who was rummaging among the rubbish of the dilapidated sanctuary, found there the Book of the Law of the Lord. The surprise which he manifests at this discovery, the trepidation of Shaphan the scribe, who hastens to tell the king about it, and the consternation of the king when he listens for the first time in his life to the reading of the book, and discovers how grievously its commandments have been disobeyed, form one of the most striking scenes of the old history. "How are we to explain," asks Dr. Perowne, "this surprise and alarm in the mind of Josiah, betraying, as it does, such utter ignorance of the Book of the Law and the severity of its threatenings, -- except on the supposition that as a written document it had well-nigh perished?" [Footnote: Smith's Bible Dictionary, art. "Pentateuch."] Undoubtedly "the Book of the Law" thus discovered was that body of legislation which lies at the heart of the Deuteronomic code; and this was never again lost sight of by the Jewish people. It was less than fifty years after this that Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the city and the temple and carried the people away into captivity. And it was not until their return from the Captivity, seventy years later, that these sacred writings began to assume that place of eminence in the religious system of the Jews which they have held in later times. The man by whom the Jews were taught to cherish and study these writings was Ezra, one of the returning exiles. This Ezra, the record says, "was a ready scribe in the law of Moses which the Lord God of Israel had given," and "he had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments." He it was, no doubt, who gave to these laws their last revision, and who put the Pentateuch substantially into the shape in which we have it now. Doubtless much was added at this time; ritual rules which had been handed down orally were written out and made part of the code; the Pentateuch, after the Exile, was a more elaborate law book than that which Hilkiah found in the old temple. Under the presidency of Ezra in Jerusalem, and in the days which followed, the Book of the Law was exalted; it was the standard of authority; it was read in the temple and explained in the synagogues; its writings were woven into all the thought and life of the people of Israel; there never has been a time since that day when the history of the reign of any king could have been written without mentioning the law of Moses; there never has been a decade when any adequate account of the life of the Jewish people could have been given which would not bring this book constantly into view.
This Book of the Law, as finally completed by Ezra and his co-laborers, was the foundation of the Hebrew Scriptures; it possessed a sacredness in the eyes of the Jews far higher than that pertaining to any other part of their writings. Next to this in age and importance was the great division of their Scriptures known by them as "The Prophets."
After the Book of the Law was given to the people with great solemnity, in the days of Ezra, and the public reading and explanation of it became a principal part of the worship of the Jews, it began to be noised abroad that there were certain other sacred writings worthy to be known and treasured. The only information we have concerning the beginning of this second collection is found in one of the apocryphal books, the second of Maccabees (ii.14), in which we are told that Neemias (Nehemiah), in "founding a library, gathered together the acts of the kings, and [the writings of] the prophets, and of David, and the epistles of the kings concerning the holy gifts." These last named documents are not now in existence. They appear to have been the letters and commissions of Babylonian and Persian kings respecting the return of the people to Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the temple. The other writings mentioned are, however, all known to us, and are included in our collection. It is not certain that Nehemiah began this collection; it may have been initiated before his day, and the "founding" of the library may have been only the work of providing for the preservation and arrangement of books already in his possession. This second collection of sacred writings, called The Prophets, was divided, as I have before stated, into the Earlier and the Later Prophets; the former subdivision containing the books of Joshua, [Footnote: Joshua, although originally a portion of the pentateuchal literature, was, about the time of the Exile, separated from the first five books, and put into this later collection.] Judges, Samuel, and Kings; the latter, the books which we now regard and class as the prophecies. Ruth was at first considered as a part of the Judges, and was included among the "Earlier Prophets," and Lamentations was appended to Jeremiah, and included among the "Later Prophets." These two books were afterward removed from this collection, for liturgical reasons, and placed in the third group of writings, of which we shall speak farther on.
It is probable that the prophetic writings proper were first collected; but it will be more convenient to speak first of the books known to the Jews as the "Earlier Prophets," and to us as the Old Testament Histories, -- Judges, Ruth, Samuel, and the Kings.
These books take up the history of Israel at the death of Joshua, and continue it to the time of the Captivity, a period of more than eight centuries. Some of the critics are inclined to connect them all together as successive volumes of one great history; but there is not much foundation for this judgment, and it is better to treat them separately.
The Book of Judges contains the annals of the Israelites after the death of Joshua, and covers a period of three or four centuries. It was a period of disorder and turbulence, -- the "Dark Ages" of Jewish history; when every man, as the record often says, "did that which was right in his own eyes." There is frequent mention of the keeping of various observances enjoined in the laws of Moses; but there is no express mention of these laws in the book. The story is chiefly occupied with the northern tribes; no mention is made of Judah after the third chapter; and it is largely a recital of the various wars of deliverance and defense waged by these northern Hebrews against the surrounding peoples, under certain leaders who arose, in a providential way, to take command of them.
The questions, Who wrote it? and When was it written? are not easily answered. It would appear that portions of it must have been written after the time of Saul, for the phrase, frequently repeated, "there was then no king in the land," looks back from a period when there was a king in the land. And it would appear that the first chapter must have been written before the middle of the reign of King David; for it tells us that the Jebusites had not yet been driven out of Jerusalem; that they still held that stronghold; while in 2 Samuel v.6, 7, we are told of the expulsion of the Jebusites by David, who made the place his capital from that time. The tradition that Samuel wrote the book rests on no adequate foundation.
The evidence that this book also was compiled, by some later writer, from various written documents, is abundant and convincing. There are two distinct introductions, one of which comprises the first chapter and five verses of the second, and the other of which occupies the remainder of the second chapter. The first of these begins thus: "And it came to pass after the death of Joshua that the children of Israel asked of the Lord, saying, Who shall go up for us against the Canaanites, to fight against them?" The second of these introductions begins by telling how Joshua sent the people away, after his farewell address, and goes on (ii.8) to say, "And Joshua the son of Nun the servant of the Lord died, being an hundred and ten years old." After recounting a number of events which happened, as it tells us, after the death of Joshua, the narrative goes on to give us as naively as possible an account of Joshua's death. If this were a consecutive narrative from the hand of one writer, inspired or otherwise, such an arrangement would be inexplicable; but if we have here a combination of two or more independent documents, the explanation is not difficult. It is a little puzzling, too, to find the circumstances of the death of Joshua repeated here, in almost the same words as those which we find in the Book of Joshua (xxiv.29-31). It would seem either that the writer of Joshua must have copied from Judges, or the writer of Judges from Joshua, or else that both copied from some older document this account of Joshua's death.
Another still more striking illustration of the manner in which these old books are constructed is found in the account given in the first chapter of the capture of Debir, by Caleb (i.11-15). Here it is expressly said that this capture took place after the death of Joshua, as a consequence of the leadership assigned by Jehovah to the tribe of Judah in this war against the Canaanites. But the same narrative, in the same words, is found in the Book of Joshua (xv.15-19), and here we are told no less explicitly that the incident happened during the lifetime of Joshua. There is no doubt that the incident happened; it is a simple and natural story, and carries the marks of credibility upon its face; but if it happened after the death of Joshua it did not happen before his death; one of these narrators borrowed the story from the other, or else both borrowed it from a common source; and one of them, certainly, put it in the wrong place, -- one of them must have been mistaken as to the time when it occurred. Such a mistake is of no consequence at all to one who holds a rational theory of inspiration; he expects to find in these old documents just such errors and misplacements; they do not in the least affect the true value of the book; but it must be obvious to any one that instances of this nature cannot be reconciled with the theory of an infallible book, which has been generally regarded as the only true theory.
The book is of the utmost value as showing us the state of morals and manners in that far-off time, and letting us see with what crude material the great ideas committed to Israel -- the unity and spirituality and righteousness of God -- were compelled to work themselves out.
The Book of Ruth, which was formerly, in the Jewish collections, regarded as a part of the Book of Judges, is a beautiful pastoral idyl of the same period. Its scene is laid in Judea, and it serves to show us that in the midst of all those turbulent ages there were quiet homes and gentle lives. No sweeter story can be found in any literature; maternal tenderness, filial affection, genuine chivalry, find in the book their typical representatives. The first sentence of the book gives us the approximate date of the incidents recorded: it was "in the days when the judges judged." The concluding verses give us the genealogy of King David, showing that Ruth was his great-grandmother; it must, therefore, have been written as late as the reign of David, -- probably much later; for it describes, as if they belonged to a remote antiquity, certain usages of the Jews which must needs have shaped themselves after the occupation of Canaan. Yet it could scarcely have been written so late as the Captivity, for the marriage of Ruth, who is a Moabitess, to Boaz, is mentioned as if it were a matter of course, with no hint of censure. In the latter days of Israel such an alliance of a Jew with a foreigner would have been regarded as highly reprehensible. Indeed the Deuteronomic law most stringently forbids all social relations with that particular tribe to which Ruth belonged. "An Ammonite or a Moabite shall not enter into the assembly of the Lord; even to the tenth generation shall none belonging to them enter into the assembly of the Lord for ever.... Thou shalt not seek their peace nor their prosperity all thy days for ever." (Deut. xxiii.3, 6.) But Ruth, the Moabitess, becomes the wife of one of the chief men of Bethlehem, with the applause of all the Bethlehemites, and the highest approval of the author of this narrative; nay, she becomes, in the fourth generation, the ancestress of the greatest of all the kings of Israel. This certainly shows that the people of Bethlehem did not know of the Deuteronomic law, for they were a God-fearing and a law-abiding people; and it also makes it probable that the incident occurred, and that the book which describes the incident was written, before this part of the Deuteronomic code was in existence. It is therefore valuable, not only as throwing light on the life of the people at that early period, but also as illustrating the growth of the pentateuchal literature.
The two Books of Samuel and the two Books of Kings appear in the Septuagint and in the Latin Vulgate as one work in four volumes, -- they are called the Four Books of Kings. In the recent Hebrew Bibles they are divided, however, as in our Bible, and bear the same names. They constitute, it is true, a continuous history; but the supposition that they were all written at one time and by one author is scarcely credible. The standpoint of the writer of the Kings is considerably shifted from that occupied by the writer of Samuel; we find ourselves in a new circle of ideas when we pass from the one book to the other.
The Books of Samuel are generally ascribed to Samuel as their author. This is a fair sample of that lazy traditionalism which Christian opinion has been constrained to follow. There is not the slightest reason for believing that the Books of Samuel were written by Samuel any more than that the Odyssey was written by Ulysses, or the Aeneid by Aeneas, or Bruce's Address by Bruce, or Paracelsus by Paracelsus, or St. Simeon Stylites by Simeon himself. Even in Bible books we do not hold that the Book of Esther was written by Esther, or the Book of Ruth by Ruth, or the Book of Job by Job, or the Books of Timothy by Timothy. The fact that Samuel's name is given to the book proves nothing as to its authorship. It may have been called Samuel because it begins with the story of Samuel. The Hebrews were apt to name their books by some word or fact at the beginning of them, as we have seen in their naming of the books of the Pentateuch.
It is true that certain facts are mentioned in this book of which Samuel would have better knowledge than any one else; and he is said to have made a record of certain events, (I Sam. x.25.) But his death is related in the first verse of the twenty-fifth chapter of First Samuel; and it is certain, therefore, that considerably more than half of the document ascribed to him must have been written by some one else.
As to the name of the writer we are wholly ignorant, and it is not easy to determine the date at which he wrote. If we regarded this as a continuous history from the hand of one writer, we should be compelled to ascribe it to a date somewhat later than the separation of the two kingdoms; for in I Sam. xxvii.6, we read of the present made by the king of Gath to David of the city of Ziklag, at the time when David was hiding from Saul; "wherefore," it is added, "Ziklag pertaineth unto the kings of Judah even unto this day." Now there were no "kings of Judah" until after the ten tribes seceded; Rehoboam was the first of the kings of Judah, therefore this must have been written after the time of Rehoboam. Doubtless this sentence was written after that time; and in all probability the books of Samuel did not receive their present form until some time after the secession of the ten tribes. The materials from which the writer composed the book are hinted at here and there; it is almost certain that here, as in the other books, old documents are combined by the author, and not always with the best editorial care. Several old songs are quoted: the "Song of Hannah," David's exquisite lament over Saul and Jonathan, which is known as "The Bow;" David's "Song of Deliverance," after he had escaped from Saul, which we find in the Psalter as the Eighteenth Psalm, and "The Last Words of David." The books contain a vivid narrative of the times of Eli and Samuel and Saul, and of the splendid reign of King David. No portion of the Old Testament has been more diligently studied, and the moral teaching of the books is clear and luminous. The ethical thoroughness of these writings when compared with almost any literature of equal antiquity is always remarkable. Take, as an example, the treatment which David receives at the hands of the writer. He is a great hero, the one grand figure of Hebrew history; but there is nothing of the demigod in this picture of him; his faults and crimes are exposed and denounced, and he gains our respect only by his hearty contrition and amendment. Verily the God of Israel whom this book reveals is a God who loveth righteousness and hateth iniquity.
The Books of the Kings were originally one book, and ought to have remained one. The manuscript was torn in two by some scribe or copyist long ago, in the middle of the story of the reign of King Ahaziah; the first word of Second Kings goes on without so much as taking breath, from the last word of First Kings. There is no excuse for this bisection of the narrative; it must be due to some accident, or to the arbitrary and unintelligent act of some person who paid no attention to the meaning of the document. As the Books of Samuel carry the history from the birth of Samuel down to the end of David's reign, so the Books of the Kings take up the story in the last days of David and carry it on to the time of the Exile, a period of four hundred and fifty years. The name of the author is concealed from us; there is a tradition, not altogether improbable, that it was written by the Prophet Jeremiah. If you will compare the last chapter of Second Kings with the last chapter of Jeremiah, you will discover that they are almost verbally the same. Here, again, if Jeremiah was not the author, either writer may have copied the passage from the other, or both may have taken it from some older book. But this passage gives us a note of time. It tells us that Evil-Merodach, king of Babylon, in the first year of his reign, released the captive king of Judah, Jehoiachin, from his long confinement, and gave him a seat at his own table. The book must have been written, then, after the beginning of the reign of Evil-Merodach; and there is plenty of history to show that his reign began 561 B.C. And inasmuch as the book gives no hint of the return of the Jews from their captivity, which began in 538 B.C., we may fairly conclude that the book was written some time between those dates. Let us suppose that Jeremiah wrote it; even he, as prophet of the Lord, certainly used the materials of history which had accumulated in the archives of the two nations.
It is evident that, after the establishment of the kingdom, considerable attention was paid to the preservation of the records of important national events. The kings kept chroniclers who not only preserved and edited old documents, but who wrote the annals of their own times. In I Kings xi.41, at the conclusion of the narrative of Solomon's reign, we read, "Now the rest of the acts of Solomon, and all that he did, and his wisdom, are they not written in the Book of the Acts of Solomon?" For his history of Jeroboam the writer refers in the same way to "The Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel," and for his history of Rehoboam to "The Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah." The same is true of the reigns of other kings. These were not, of course, our Books of Chronicles, for these were not written for two hundred years after the Book of Kings was finished. It is thus evident, as one modern writer has said, "that the author laboriously employed the materials within his reach, very much as a modern historian might do, and further that he was as much puzzled by chronological difficulties as a modern historian frequently is." [Footnote: Horton's Inspiration and the Bible, p.182.] Prophet or not, he took the materials at his hands, and put them together in this history.
The splendid but corrupt reign of the son of David; the secession of the ten tribes under Jeroboam; the hostile relations of the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah for two hundred and fifty years, by which both were weakened, and through unholy alliances corrupted, and the result of which was the final destruction of both, are described in this book in a spirited and evidently veracious manner. The two great prophets, Elijah and Elisha, are grand figures in this narrative; much of the story revolves around them. As witnesses for the righteous Jehovah they stand forth, warning, rebuking, counseling kings and people; the moral leadership by which Israel is chastened and corrected and led in the way of righteousness expresses itself largely through their ministry. The words of Lord Arthur Hervey, in Smith's "Bible Dictionary," none too strongly convey the historian's sense of the value of this part of the Old Testament: --
"Considering the conciseness of the narrative and the simplicity of the style, the amount of the knowledge which these books convey of the characters, conduct, and manners of kings and people during so long a period is truly wonderful. The insight which they give us into the aspect of Judah and Jerusalem, both natural and artificial, with the religious, military, and civil institutions of the people, their arts and manufactures, the state of education and learning among them, their resources, commerce, exploits, alliances, the causes of their decadence, and finally of their ruin, is most clear, interesting, and instructive. In a few brief sentences we acquire more accurate knowledge of the affairs of Egypt, Tyre, Syria, Assyria, Babylon, and other neighboring nations than had been preserved to us in all the other remains of antiquity up to the recent discoveries in hieroglyphical and cuneiform monuments." [Footnote: Vol. iii. p.1561, American Edition.]
The substantial historical veracity of these books has been confirmed in many ways by these very monuments to which Lord Hervey refers. And yet this substantial historical accuracy is found, as in other histories of the olden time, in the midst of many minor errors and discrepancies. It would seem as if Providence had taken the utmost pains to show us that the essential truth and the moral and religious value of this history could not be identified with any theory of verbal or even plenary inspiration.
Take, for example, some of the chronological items of this record. Mr. Horton's clear statement will bring a few of them before us: --
"The author seems to have been content, in dealing with an Israelite king, to give the date reckoned by the year of the reigning king in Judah just as he found it stated in the Israelite chronicles, and then to do the same in dealing with the dates of the reigning kings of Israel; but he did not consider whether the two chronicles harmonized. We may take some illustrations from the latter part of the work. Hoshea began to reign in Israel (2 Kings xv.30) in the twentieth year of Jotham the king of Judah. So far writes our author, following the records of the Northern Kingdom. For his next paragraph he turns to his records of the Southern Kingdom, and naively tells us that Jotham never reached a twentieth year, but only reigned sixteen years (xv.33); but even this is not the end of the difficulty; in chapter xvii. he goes back to the Northern Kingdom and tells us that Hoshea began to reign, not in Jotham's reign at all, but in the reign of Ahaz, Jotham's successor; and if now he had said, 'in the fourth year of Ahaz,' we might see our way through the perplexity, for the fourth year of Ahaz would, at any rate, be twenty years from the beginning of Jotham's reign, though Jotham himself had died after reigning sixteen years; but he says, not in the fourth, but 'in the twelfth year of Ahaz king of Judah.' We may give it up, and exclaim with the Speaker's commentator, 'The chronological confusion of the history, as it stands, is striking,' and then perhaps we may exclaim at the Speaker's commentator, that he and the like of him have given us so little account of these unmistakable phenomena, and the cause of them, in the history.
"One other illustration may suffice. King Ahaz, according to one authority, lived twenty years and then came to the throne and reigned for sixteen years. (2 Kings xvi.2.) At his death, therefore, Ahaz was thirty-six years of age. In that year he was succeeded by his son Hezekiah, who was twenty-five years of age. This would mean that King Ahaz was married at the age of ten, which, making all allowance for the earlier puberty of Eastern boys, does not seem probable; and the explanation is much more likely to be found in the chronological inaccuracies of our author, to which, if we have been observantly reading his book through, we shall by this time have become quite accustomed." [Footnote: Inspiration and the Bible, pp.189-191.]
Observe that we are not going to any hostile or foreign sources for these evidences of inaccuracy; we are simply letting the book tell its own story. Such phenomena as these appear throughout this history. They lie upon the very face of the narrative. Probably few of the readers of these pages have noted them. For myself, I must confess that I read the Bible through, from cover to cover, several times before I was thirty years old, but I had never observed these inaccuracies. The commentators, for the most part, -- the orthodox commentators, -- carefully keep these facts out of sight. Sometimes they attempt, indeed, to explain or reconcile them, but such explanations generally increase the incredibility of the narrative. The latest verdict of ultra-conservatism is that these dates and chronological notes are interpolated by some later hand; but this, too, is quite out of the question. The only true account of the matter is, that the author took these records from the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah and the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel, and pieced them together without noticing or caring whether they agreed. His mind was not fixed upon scientific accuracy of dates. He was thinking only of the great ethical and spiritual problems working themselves out in this history, -- of the question whether or not these kings "did that which was right in the sight of the Lord," and of the effects of their right doing and their evil doing upon the lives of the people. What difference, indeed, does it make to you and me whether Jotham reigned sixteen years or twenty years? It seems to me that these inaccuracies are suffered to lie upon the face of the narrative that our thoughts may be turned away from these details of the record to the great principles of morality and religion whose development it reveals to us.
These errors which appear upon the surface are obvious enough to any careful reader. But other facts, most important and suggestive, are brought to light when we compare these narratives of Samuel and Kings as we find them in the Hebrew text with the same narrative in the Greek text, the Septuagint. The Old Testament, as we have seen, was translated into the Greek language, for the benefit of those Jews who spoke only Greek, early in the third century before Christ. Undoubtedly it was a pretty faithful translation at the time when it was made. But a careful comparison of the two texts as they exist at the present time shows that considerable additions have been made to both of them; and that some changes and misplacements have occurred in both of them. Sometimes it is evident that the Hebrew is the more correct, because the story is more orderly and consistent; and sometimes it is equally evident that the Greek version, which, as you remember, was commonly used by our Lord and his apostles, is the better. This comparison gives us a vivid and convincing illustration of the freedom with which the text was handled by scribes and copyists; how bits of narrative -- most commonly legends and popular tales concerning the heroes of the nation -- were thrust into the text, sometimes quite breaking its continuity; they make it plain that that preternatural supervision of it, for the prevention of error, which we have frequently heard about, is itself a myth. It is in these books of Samuel and the Kings that these variations of the Septuagint from the Hebrew text are most frequent and most instructive.
In the story of David's introduction to Saul, for example, our version, following the Hebrew, tells us (I Sam. xvi.14-23), that when David was first made known to Saul he was "a mighty man of valor, and a man of war, and prudent in speech, and a comely person." He comes into Saul's household; Saul loves him greatly, and makes him his armor-bearer. In the next chapter David is represented as a mere lad, and it appears that Saul had never seen or heard of him. Indeed, he asks his general, Abner, who this stripling is. The contradiction in these narratives is palpable and irreconcilable. When we turn now to the Septuagint, we find that it omits from the seventeenth chapter verses 12-31 inclusive; also from the 55th verse to the end of the chapter and the first five verses of the next chapter. Taking out these passages, the main difficulties of the narrative are at once removed. It appears probable that these passages were not in the narrative when it was translated into Greek, but that they embodied a current and a very beautiful tradition about David which some later Hebrew transcriber ventured to incorporate into the text.
In the Books of the Kings the variations between these two versions are also extremely suggestive. You can see distinctly, as if it were done before your eyes, how supplementary matter has been inserted into the one text or the other, since the Greek translation was made. In the sixth chapter of First Kings, the Septuagint omits verses 11-14, which is an exhortation to Solomon, injected into the specifications respecting the temple building. Omit these verses, and the description goes on smoothly. Similarly in the ninth chapter of the same book the Septuagint omits verses 15-25. This passage breaks the connection; the narrative of Solomon's dealings with Hiram is consecutively told in the Greek version; in the Hebrew it is interrupted by this extraneous matter. You can readily see which is the original form of the writing.
Now what does all this signify? Of course it signifies most distinctly that this history must not be judged by the canons of modern historical criticism. Mr. Horton quotes some strenuous advocate of the traditional theory of the Bible as maintaining that "when God writes history he will be at least as accurate as Bishop Stubbs or Mr. Gardiner; and if we are to admit errors in his historical work, then why not in his plan of salvation and doctrine of atonement?" It is this kind of reasoning that drives intelligent men into infidelity. For the errors are here; they speak for themselves; nothing but a mole-eyed dogmatism can evade them; and if we link the great doctrines of the Bible with this dogma of the historical inerrancy of the Scriptures, they will all go down together.
But what, after all, do these errors amount to? What is the meaning and purport of this history? What are these writers trying to do? "It seems," says Mr. Horton, "as if their purpose was not so much to tell us what happened as to emphasize for us the lesson of what happened. It is applied history, rather than history pure and simple; and on this ground we can understand the tendency to irritation which critical historians sometimes betray in approaching it.... The prophetic historian would never dream, like a modern historian, of writing interminable monographs about a disputed name or a doubtful date; he might even take a story which rested on very doubtful authority, finding in it more that would suit his purpose than the bare and accurate statement of the fact which could be authenticated. The standpoint of the prophetic historian and of the scientific historian are wholly different; they cannot be judged by the same canons of criticism. ...To the prophetic eye the significance of all events seems to be in their relation to the will of God. The prophet may not always discern what the will of God is; he may interpret events in a quite inadequate manner. But his predominant thought makes itself felt; and consequently the study of these histories leaves us in a widely different frame of mind from that which Thucydides or Mr. Freeman would produce. We do not feel to know, perhaps, so accurately about the wars between Israel and Judah as we know about the wars between Athens and Sparta; we do not feel to know, perhaps, so much about the monarchy of Israel as we know about the Anglo-Norman monarchy; but, on the other hand, we seem to be more aware of God, we seem to recognize his hand controlling the wavering affairs of states, we seem to comprehend that obedience to his will is of more importance than any political consideration, and that in the long course of history disobedience to his will means national distress and national ruin. The study of scientific histories has its advantages; but it is not quite certain that these advantages are greater than those which the study of prophetic history yields. Perhaps, after all, the one fact of history is God's work in it; in which case the scientific histories, with all their learning, with all their toil, will look rather small by the side of these imperfect compositions which at least saw vividly and recognized faithfully the one fact."