Very similar influences were at work in producing and shaping both the Old and the New Testaments; only in the history of the older Scriptures still other forces can be distinguished. Moreover, the Old Testament contains a much greater variety of literature. It is also significant that, while some of the New Testament books began to be canonized less than a century after they were written, there is clear evidence that many of the Old Testament writings were in existence several centuries before they were gathered together into a canon and thus crystallized into their final form. The inevitable result is that they bear the marks of much more elaborate editorial revision than those of the New. It is, however, not the aim of the present work to trace this complex process of revision in detail, nor to give the cumulative evidence and the many data and reasons that lead to each conclusion. These can be studied in any modern Old Testament introduction or in the volumes of the present writer's Student's Old Testament.
[Sidenote: The present classification of the Old Testament books]
In their present form, the books of the Old Testament, like those of the New, fall into three classes. The first includes the historical books. In the Old, corresponding to the four Gospels and Acts of the New, are found the books from Genesis through Esther. Next in order, in the Old, stand the poetical books, from Job through the Song of Songs, with which the New Testament has no analogy except the liturgical hymns connected with the nativity, preserved in the opening chapters of Matthew and Luke. The third group in the Old Testament includes the prophecies from Isaiah through Malachi.
[Sidenote: Close correspondence between the Old Testament prophecies and the New Testament apocalypses and epistles]
One book in this group, Daniel, and portions of Ezekiel and Joel, are analogous to the New Testament Apocalypse, but otherwise the prophetic books correspond closely in character and contents to the epistles of the New. Both are direct messages to contemporaries of the prophets and apostles, and both deal with then existing conditions. Both consist of practical warnings, exhortations, advice, and encouragement. The form is simply incidental. The prophets of Jehovah preached, and then they or their disciples wrote down the words which they had addressed to their countrymen. When they could not reach with their voices all in whom they were interested, the prophets, like the apostles, committed their teachings to writing and sent them forth as tracts (cf. Jer. xxxvi.). At other times, when they could not go in person, they wrote letters. Thus, for example, the twenty-ninth chapter of the prophecy of Jeremiah opens with the interesting superscription:
Now these are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem unto the residue of the elders of the captivity, and to the priests, and to the prophets, and to all the people, whom Nebuchadrezzar had carried away captive from Jerusalem to Babylon; by the hand of Elasah the son of Shaphan, and Gemariah the son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent unto Babylon to Nebuchadrezzar.
If it were not for this superscription, no one would suspect from the nature of the letter which follows that it was anything other than a regular spoken or written prophecy. Its contents and spirit are exactly parallel to those of Paul's epistles. Undoubtedly many prophecies were never delivered orally, but were originally written like Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians, and sent out as circular letters. The Babylonian exile scattered the Jews so widely that the exilic and post-exilic prophets depended almost entirely upon this method of reaching their countrymen and thus became writers of epistles.
[Sidenote: The oldest literature poetry]
Like the Epistles in the New, certain of the prophecies, -- as, for example, those of Amos, Hosea, and Isaiah, -- are among the earliest writings of the Old Testament. But in the light of modern biblical study, it has become apparent that prose was not the earliest form of expression among the Hebrews, In this respect their literary history is parallel with that of other early peoples; for first they treasured their thought in heroic song and ballad. While they were nomads, wandering in the desert, and also while they were struggling for the possession of Canaan, they had little time or motive for cultivating the literary art. The popular songs which were sung beside the camp-fires, at the recurring festivals, and as the Hebrews advanced in battle against their foes, were the earliest records of their past. There is evidence that many of the primitive narratives now found in the opening chapters of Genesis were also once current in poetical form. In some cases the poetic structure has been preserved.
[Sidenote: Israel's early song-books]
The earliest collections of writings referred to in the Old Testament bear the suggestive titles, The Book of the Upright (i.e., Israel), and, The Book of the Wars of Jehovah. From the quotations which we have from them it is clear that they consisted of collections of songs, recounting the exploits of Israel's heroes and the signal victories of the race.
[Sidenote: The Song of Deborah]
That stirring paean of victory known as the Song of Deborah was perhaps once found in the Book of the Wars of Jehovah. It is one of the oldest pieces of literature in the Old Testament, and breathes the heroic spirit of the primitive age from which it comes. Through the eyes of the poet one views the different scenes in the mighty conflict. [Footnote: The translation is from "The Student's Old Testament," Vol. I., pp.320-323.]
That the leaders took the lead in Israel,
[Sidenote: Advent of Jehovah]
Jehovah, when thou wentest forth from Seir,
[Sidenote: Conditions before the war]
In the days of Shamgar the son of Anath,
* * * * *
[Sidenote: The rally about Deborah and Barak]
Then the people of Jehovah went down to the gates, crying, "Arise, arise, Deborah,
[Sidenote: The cowards who remained at home]
By the brooks of Reuben great were the resolves!
[Sidenote: The battle and defeat of the Canaanites]
Zebulun was a people who exposed their lives to deadly peril, And Napthali on the heights of the open field.
[Sidenote: David's dirge over Saul and Jonathan]
In the Book of the Upright is included that
[Sidenote: The greatness of the calamity]
Weep, O Judah!
Tell it not in Gath,
[Sidenote: Bravery and attractiveness of the fallen]
From the blood of the slain,
Saul and Jonathan, the beloved and the lovely!
[Sidenote: Saul's services to Israel]
Daughters of Israel, weep over Saul,
[Sidenote: David's love for Jonathan]
Jonathan, in thy death hast thou wounded me!
How have the mighty fallen,
[Sidenote: The blessing of Jacob]
The so-called Blessing of Jacob (Gen. xlix, 2-27) is a poetical delineation of the strength and weakness of the different tribes of Israel with references to specific events in their history. These historical allusions suggest that it probably comes from the reigns of David and Solomon, when the tribes were for the first time all united under a common rule and had passed through certain of the experiences alluded to in the poem.
[Sidenote: Israel's heritage of oral traditions]
The Israelitish race was supremely rich in possessing not only many ancient songs, but also a large body of oral traditions which had long been handed down from father to son or else treasured by the story-tellers and by the priests of the ancient sanctuaries. Many of these traditions were inherited from their Semitic ancestors, and, in the light of recently discovered Babylonian literature, can be traced back far beyond the days of Abraham and Moses. Some were originally the possessions of certain nomadic tribes; others recorded the early experiences of their ancestors or told of the achievements of early heroes. In the process of continuous retelling, all unnecessary details had been eliminated and the really dramatic and essential elements emphasized, until they attained their present simple, graphic form, which fascinates young and old alike.
[Sidenote: Value of these oral traditions]
The superlative value of these varied traditions is apparent. They were the links which bound later generations to their prehistoric past. Incidentally, in the characteristic language of Semitic tradition, they preserved the memory of many important events in their early tribal history. They are also the illuminating record of the primitive beliefs, customs, and aspirations of their Semitic ancestors. Subject as they inevitably were to the idealizing tendency, they became in time the concrete embodiment of the noblest ideals of later generations. Thus they presented before the kindled imagination of each succeeding age, in the character and achievements of their traditional ancestors, those ideals of courage, perseverance, and piety which contributed much toward making the Israelites the chosen people that they were.
[Sidenote: Influences that led to the writing of history]
In time this growing heritage of traditions became too great for even the remarkable Oriental memory to retain. Meantime the Hebrews had also acquired that system of writing which they learned from their more civilized neighbors the Canaanites and Phoenicians. From, the days of Solomon, scribes were to be found in court and temple, and probably among the prophetic guilds; although the common people, as in the same land to-day, doubtless had little knowledge of the literary art. While the nation was struggling for the soil of Canaan, or enjoying the full tide of victory and achievement that came under the leadership of David, there was no time or incentive to write history. But with the quieter days of Solomon's reign, and the contrasting period of national decline that followed his death, the incentive to take up the pen and record the departed glories became strong. With a large body of definite oral traditions dealing with all the important men and events of the earlier periods, the task of the historian was chiefly that of writing down and coordinating what was already at hand.
[Sidenote: The early Judean prophetic history]
The oldest Hebrew history that has been preserved in the Old Testament was the work of an unknown Judean prophet or group of prophets who lived and labored probably during the latter part of the ninth century before Christ. This history corresponds closely in relative age and aim to Mark's graphic narrative of the chief facts in the life of Jesus. The motive which influenced the earliest historians both of the Old and New Testaments to write was primarily the religious significance of the events which they thus recorded. This early Judean prophetic history (technically known as J) begins with the account of the creation of man from the dust by the hand of Jehovah, and tells of the first sin and its dire consequences (Gen. ii.4 to iii.24); then it gives an ancient list of those who stood as the fathers of nomads, of musicians and workers in metal (Gen. iv.1, l6b-26). This is followed by the primitive stories of the sons of God and the daughters of men (Gen. vi.1-4), of Noah the first vineyard-keeper (ix.20-27), and of the tower of Babel and the origin of different languages (xi.1-9). In a series of more or less closely connected narratives the character and experiences of the patriarchs, the life of the Hebrews in Egypt and the wilderness, and the settlement in Canaan are presented. Its basis for the history of the united kingdom was for the most part the wonderfully graphic group of Saul and David stories which occupy the bulk of the books of Samuel. Thus this remarkable early Judean prophetic history begins with the creation of the universe and man and concludes with the creation of the Hebrew empire.
[Sidenote: Its unity and characteristics]
In its present Old Testament form it has been closely combined with other histories, just as Mark's narrative is largely reproduced in Matthew and Luke; but when, it is separated from the later narratives its unity and completeness are astounding. Almost without a break it presents the chief characters and events of Israel's history in their relations to each other. The same peculiar vocabulary, the use of Jehovah as the designation of the Deity, the same vivid, flowing narrative style, the same simple, naive, primitive conception of Jehovah, the same patriotic interest in the history of the race, and the same emphasis upon the vital religious significance of men and facts, characterize every section of this narrative and make comparatively easy the task of separating it from the other histories with which it has been joined.
[Sidenote: The early Ephraimite prophetic history]
A little later, sometime about the middle of the eighth century before Christ, a prophet or group of prophets in Northern Israel devoted themselves to the similar task of writing the history of Israel from the point of view of the northern kingdom. Since this state is called Ephraim by Hosea and other writers of the North, its history may be designated as the early Ephraimite prophetic (technically known as E). Naturally its author or authors utilized as the basis of their work the oral traditions current in the North. Sometimes these are closely parallel, and sometimes they vary widely in order and representation from the Judean versions. In general the variations are similar, although somewhat greater than those between the parallel narratives of Matthew and Luke.
[Sidenote: Its characteristics]
Marked peculiarities in vocabulary and literary style distinguish this northern history from the Judean. Since Elohim or God is consistently used to describe the Deity, it has sometimes been called the Elohistic history. Interest inclines to the sanctuaries and heroes and events prominent in the life of the North. In that land which produced a Samuel, an Elijah, an Elisha, and an Hosea, it was natural that especial emphasis should be placed on the role of the prophet. Throughout these narratives he is portrayed as the dominant figure, moulding the history as God's representative. Abraham and Moses are here conceived of as prophets, and the Ephraimite history of their age is largely devoted to a portrayal of their prophetic activity.
[Sidenote: Its scope]
The interests of later editors who combined these early prophetic histories, as we now find them in the Old Testament, were centred in the Judean, and hence they have introduced citations from the Ephraimite narratives chiefly to supplement the older history. Possibly it never was as complete as that of the South. At present it begins with Abraham and traces the parallel history of the patriarchs and the life of the Hebrews in Egypt and the wilderness. Its account of the conquest, is somewhat fuller, probably because Joshua was a northern leader. It also preserves many of the stories of the heroes in the book of Judges. With these the citations from the early Ephraimite prophetic history seem to disappear, but the opening stories in the book of Samuel, regarding the great prophet whose name was given to the book, apparently come from the pen of later disciples of this same Ephraimite group of prophets.
[Sidenote: Later editorial supplementing and combination of the two histories]
The eighth and seventh centuries before Christ were periods of intense prophetic activity both in the North and the South. It was natural, therefore, that these early prophetic histories should be supplemented by the disciples of the original historians. Traditions that possessed a permanent historical or religious value, as, for example, the familiar story of Cain and Abel (Gen. iv.2-16), and the earlier of the two accounts of the flood, were thus added. Also when in 722 B.C. the northern kingdom fell and its literary heritage passed to Judah, it was most natural that a prophetic editor, recognizing the valuable elements in each, and the difficulties presented by the existence of the two variant versions of the same events, should combine the two, and furthermore that, in the days of few manuscripts, the older originals should be lost and only the combined history survive. To-day we find this in turn incorporated in the still later composite history extending from Genesis through Samuel.
[Sidenote: Method of combining]
The later editor's method of uniting his sources is exceedingly interesting, and is analogous in many ways to the methods followed in the citations in Matthew and Luke from their common sources, the original Mark and Matthew's Sayings of Jesus. Where the two versions were closely parallel, as in the account of Jacob's deception of his father Isaac, or the story of the spies, the two are completely amalgamated; short passages, verses, and parts of verses are taken in turn from each. In other cases the editor introduced the different versions -- as, for example, the two accounts of the flight of Hagar -- into different settings. From subsequent allusions to two versions, of which only one survives in the Old Testament, it is to be inferred that sometimes he simply preserved the fuller, usually the Judean. As a rule, however, there is clear evidence that he made every effort to retain all that he found in his original sources, even though the resulting composite narrative contained many inconsistencies.
[Sidenote: Practical value of the rediscovery of the original histories]
To the careful student, seeking to recover the original narratives in their primal unity, these inconsistencies are guides as valuable as the fossils and stratification of the earth are to the geologist intent upon tracing the earth's past history. Guided by these variations and the distinctive peculiarities in vocabulary, literary style, point of view, religious conceptions, and purpose of each of the groups of narratives, Old Testament scholars have rediscovered these two original histories; and with their recovery the great majority of seeming inconsistencies and many perplexing problems fade into insignificance. Supplementing each other, as do the earliest Gospels, these two independent histories present with new definiteness and authority the essential facts in Israel's early political, social and religious life. Like eye-witnesses, they testify to the still more significant fact that from the first God was revealing his character and will through a unique race.
[Sidenote: The brief late prophetic history]
A third survey of the period beginning with the sojourn in Egypt and concluding with the conquest of the east-Jordan land is found in the introduction to the book of Deuteronomy. It is the prologue to the laws that follow, appropriately and effectively placed in the mouth of the pioneer prophet Moses. A comparison quickly demonstrates that it is in reality a brief summary of the older histories, and especially of the early Ephraimite prophetic. Like the Gospel of Matthew, its aim is not merely to present historical facts, but to illustrate and establish a thesis. The thesis is that Jehovah has personally led his people, and that when they have been faithful to him they have prospered, but when they have disobeyed calamity has overtaken, them. The message is distinctly prophetic; and to distinguish this third history, which was probably written near the close of the seventh century before Christ, from the earlier, it may be designated as the late prophetic or Deuteronomic history (technically represented by D).
[Sidenote: Comparison of the Old with the New Testament histories]
These three prophetic histories correspond strikingly to the three synoptic Gospels: Mark, Luke and Matthew. The essential differences in their literary history are that they come, not from a single limited group of writers and a brief quarter century, but represent the work of many hands and at least two hundred and fifty years of literary activity. Two, at least, of these histories, are no longer extant in their original form, but only as they have been quoted verbatim by later historians and closely amalgamated. Similarly, as is well known, Tatian, the pupil of Justin Martyr, in the middle of the second Christian century, did for the four Gospels precisely what an Old Testament editor did for the two early prophetic histories, -- he combined them into one composite, continuous narrative. By joining passages and verses and parts of verses taken from the different Gospels, by omitting verbal duplicates, by rearranging in some cases and by occasionally adding a word or phrase to join dissimilar parts, Tatian produced a marvellous mosaic gospel, known as the Diatessaron. All of the Fourth Gospel is thus preserved, and most of the first three. So successfully was the work done that the volume was widely used throughout the Eastern Church. If, as once seemed possible, it had completely supplanted the original four Gospels, the literary history of these would have been a repetition of that of the earliest Old Testament records.
[Sidenote: The dominant motive of the prophetic historians.]
It is very important to note that the motive which led the prophetic historians to commit to writing the earlier traditions of their race was not primarily historical. Like the author of the Fourth Gospel, they selected their material chiefly with a view to enforcing certain important religious truths. If an ancient Semitic tradition illustrated their point, they divested it of its heathen clothing and, irrespective of its origin, pressed it into service. For example, it seems clear that the elements which enter into the story of the Garden of Eden and man's fall were current, with variations, among the ancient Babylonians centuries before the Hebrews inherited them from their Semitic ancestors. The early prophet who wrote the second and third chapters of Genesis appreciated their value as illustrations, and made them the medium for imparting some of the most important spiritual truths ever conveyed to mankind. Like the preachers or moral teachers of to-day, the first question the prophets asked about a popular story was not, Is it absolutely historical or scientifically exact? but, Does it illustrate the vital point to be impressed? Undoubtedly Israel's heritage of oral traditions was far greater than is suggested by the narratives of the Old Testament; but only those which individually and collectively enforced some important religious truth, were utilized. Just as Jesus drew his illustrations from nature and human life about him, so these earlier spiritual teachers, with equal tact, took their illustrations from the familiar atmosphere of song and story and national tradition in which their readers lived. A secondary purpose, which they obviously had in view, was also to remove from certain of the popular tales the immoral implications which still clung to them from their heathen past, and to reconsecrate them to a diviner end.
[Sidenote: The permanent and vital value of these narratives]
Questions of relative date and historical accuracy concern the historian, but they should not obscure the greater value of these narratives. To the majority of us, who turn to the Old Testament simply as the record of divine revelation and as a guide to life, the essential thing is to put ourselves into touch with these ancient prophets, who taught by illustration as well as by direct address, and ask, What was the ethical or spiritual truth that illumined their souls and finds concrete expression and illustration through these primitive stories? To discuss the literal historicity of the story of the Garden of Eden is as absurd as to seek to discover who was the sower who went forth to sow or the Samaritan who went down to Jericho. Even, if no member of the despised Samaritan race ever followed in the footsteps of an hypocritical Levite along the rocky road to Jericho and succored a needy human being, the vital truth abides. Not until we cease to focus our gaze on the comparatively unimportant, can we discern the great spiritual messages of these early narratives.
[Sidenote: The sequel to the early prophetic histories]
The sequel to the great prophetic histories which underlie the Old Testament books, from Genesis through Samuel, is in the books of Kings. These carry the record of Israel's life down to the Babylonian exile. The opening chapters of First Kings contain the conclusion of the Judean prophetic David stories. Fortunately the rest of the biblical history to the exile was largely compiled from much earlier sources. As in most of the historical writings, the later editors, also, quoted verbatim from these earlier records and histories, so that in many cases we have the testimony of almost contemporary witnesses. The titles of certain of these earlier books are given: The Book of the Acts of Solomon, The Chronicles of the Kings of Israel, and The Chronicles of the Kings of Judah.
[Sidenote: Earlier sources quoted by the editor of Kings]
A careful study of the books of Kings suggests many other ancient sources. For the reign of Solomon, state annals, temple records, and popular Solomon traditions appear to have been utilized. The graphic account of the division of the Hebrew empire was probably drawn from an early Jeroboam history. In the latter part of First Kings appear citations from an early Ahab history and a group of Ephraimite Elijah stories. The political data throughout First and Second Kings were probably drawn from the annals of the northern and southern kingdoms. Furthermore, in II Kings ii.-viii. appear long quotations from two cycles of Elisha stories, centring, respectively, about the ancient northern sanctuary of Gilgal, near Shiloh, and about Samaria. The rest of the book includes citations from sources which may be designated as a prophetic Jehu history, temple records, a Hezekiah history, and a group of Isaiah stories.
[Sidenote: Influences that produced this later prophetic history]
These valuable quotations the late prophetic editor of Kings has arranged in chronological order and fitted into a framework which gives the length of each reign and the date of accession of the different kings, according to the chronology of the other Hebrew kingdom. To this data he adds a personal judgment upon the policy of each ruler, thereby revealing his prophetic spirit. History is to him, as to every true prophet, a supreme illustration of fundamental spiritual principles. Clearly the influence that led him to compile and edit his great work was his recognition of the fact that the record of Israel's national experience as a whole was of deep religious import. The same motive undoubtedly guided him in the selection of material from his great variety of sources. Only that which was essential was presented. Thus he, or a later editor of his book, traced Israel's remarkable history down to the middle of the Babylonian exile (560 B.C.), and completed that wonderful chain of prophetic narratives which record and interpret the first great chapter of divine revelation through the chosen race.