The Old Testament and Modern Criticism

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Old Testament and Biblical Criticism

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  • 5/13/2015 TheOldTestamentandModernCriticism

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    TheChristianViewoftheOldTestamentFrederickCarlEiselenNocarefulobservercandoubtthatmoderncriticismhasexertedamarkedinfluenceupontheattitudeofmanyChristianpeopletowardtheBible.Boththoseinsympathywithnewideasandthoseopposedtothemfrequentlyspeakofthecrisiswhichthiscriticismhasbroughtabout."Itdoesseem,"saysJohnE.McFadyen,abelieverinthemethodsandresultsofmoderncriticism,"thattheChurchtodayinallherbranchesisfacetofacewithacrisisofthemostseriouskind."[1]Ontheotherhand,JohnSmith,adeterminedopponentofcriticism,writesconcerningtheconclusionsofthelatter:"Theyconflictwiththeprofoundestcertitudesofthefaith,mustinevitablyalterthefoundationonwhichfromthebeginningourholyreligionhasstoodbeforetheworld,and,consequently,sofarasatheorycan,mustobstructhermissionandabridgeherinfluence."[2]Whetherthecrisisisasacuteasishereimpliedornot,thereseemstobemuchconcernamongdevoutbelieversintheBibleaboutthebearingofmoderncriticismuponthevalueofthebooktheydearlylove.Inthenature{67}ofthecase,limitationofspaceforbidsanexhaustivediscussionofthisinterestingsubjecthere.Thereare,however,threequestionswhichareworthyof

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    TheOldTestamentandModernCriticism

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    seriousconsideration:(1)Whatismoderncriticism?(2)Whatarethemoreimportantconclusionsofcriticismthathavesecuredwiderecognition?(3)Whatisthebearingoftheseconclusions,iftrue,upontheChristianviewoftheOldTestament?

    What,then,isbiblicalcriticism?ItisdefinedbyNashas"thefreestudyofallthefacts,"[3]whichdefinitionMcFadyenexpandssoastoread,"thefreeandreverentstudyofallthebiblicalfacts."[4]Criticismisstudy,whichmeanscarefulinvestigationratherthansuperficialreadingfollowedbyhastyorunfoundedconclusions.Theinvestigationisfreeinthesensethatthoughitisnotdisrespectfultotraditionalbeliefs,itisnotpreventedbythemfrommarkingoutnewpathsifthefactssodemand.Itisreverentbecauseitdealswithabookthathasplayedauniquepartinthereligiouslifeandthoughtofmanycenturies,andhasbeenreceivedasabookinwhichthevoiceofGodmaybeheard.Itisprimarilyastudyofthefactspresentedbythebook,notoftheoriesorspeculations,thoughinthestudyofthesefactsmuchmaybelearnedfromthetheoriesofthepast,andthestudymaygiverisetonewtheories.Inordertobe{68}thoroughlyscientific,itmusthavedueregardforallthefactsinthecase.ForconveniencesakeithasbecomecustomarytodistinguishfourphasesofOldTestament,orbiblical,criticism:(1)TextualCriticism(2)LinguisticCriticism(3)LiteraryCriticismand(4)HistoricalCriticism.

    ClosestudentsoftheHebrewtextoftheOldTestamenthavebeencompelledtoadmitthateventheoldestHebrewmanuscriptsnowknownarenotfreefromerrorsandblemishes,anditistheofficeoftextualcriticismtoremovesucherrorsbytheuseofalllegitimatemethodsandmeansandtorestoretheipsissimaverbaoftheauthor.Thepresenceofcorruptionsinthetextisestablishedbyfactslikethese:(1)Therearepassagesinwhichthetextasitstandscannotbetranslatedwithoutviolencetothelawsofgrammar,or,whichareirreconcilablewiththecontextorwithotherpassages.Forexample,in1Sam.3.1theAuthorizedVersionreads,"Saulreignedoneyear,andwhenhehadreignedtwoyearsoverIsrael."ThistranslationdoesviolencetothelawsofHebrewgrammar.TheHebrewreads,literally,"ThesonofayearwasSaulinhisreigning,"whichmayberendered,"Saulwasayearoldwhenhebegantoreign."ThenarrativesconcerningeventsinthelifeofSaulbeforehebecamekingmakeitclearthatthisstatementisnotcorrect.Perhapsthescribe,inwritingthe{69}formula,whichistheusualformulaforstatinga

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    king'sageathisaccession,leftaspaceforthenumeraltobefilledinlater,andforgottheomissionorthenumeralhasaccidentallydroppedout.Inthiscase,itisthedutyoftextualcriticismtosupply,ifpossible,theageofSaulwhenhewasmadeking.Intheabsenceofallexternalevidencethetextualcriticmustfallbackuponconjecture.ThisthetranslatorsoftheRevisedVersiondid,forintheEnglishRevisedVersionwefindinbracketstheword"thirty,"intheAmericanRevisedVersion"forty."Inthisspecialcasetheassuredresultsoftextualcriticismarepurelynegative,inthattheyhaveestablishedthefactthatthepresenttextcannotbecorrect.Theattempttorestoretheoriginaltextrestsuponconjecture.(2)Parallelpassagesdifferinsuchamannerastomakeitcertainthatthevariationsarelargelyduetotextualcorruption.AgoodillustrationisseeninPsa.18,whencomparedwith2Sam.22.Thesetwopassageswereundoubtedlyidenticalinthebeginningbuteventheoldestexistingmanuscriptsshowmorethanseventyvariantsbetweenthetwochapters.(3)SomeoftheancientversionscontainreadingswhichoftenbearastrongstampofprobabilityandremoveorlessenthedifficultiesoftheHebrewtext.Forexample,inJosh.9.4,wheretheHebrewreads,"Andthey{70}wentandmadeasiftheyhadbeenambassadors,"theSeptuagintreads,"Andtheywentandprovisionedthemselves."Thelatterreadingissupportedbynearlyalltheancientversions,andseemsmoreprobablethanthatoftheHebrewtext.AnotherillustrationofasimilarcharacterisfoundinPsa.22.16c,whichistranslatedbyboththeAuthorizedandtheRevisedVersion,"Theypiercedmyhandsandmyfeet."This,however,isnotatranslationoftheHebrewatall,foritreads,"Likealion,myhandsandmyfeet."InthiscasetheNewTestament,aswellastheLatinandSyriactranslations,supportsthereadingoftheSeptuagint.Passageslikethese,inwhichthetexthasevidentlysufferedinthecourseoftransmission,mightbemultipliedahundredfold,anditisgenerallyconsideredalegitimateambitiontoattempttherestorationoftheHebrewtexttoitsoriginalform.

    Linguisticcriticismdealswithdifficultandobscurepassages.Sometimesthemeaningofsinglewordsorphrasesisuncertain,as,forexample,inIsa.53.1,whichreads,intheAuthorizedVersion,"Whohathbelievedourreport?"Themargingivesasalternativesfor"report"thewords"doctrine"and"hearing."TheRevisedVersionreads,"Whohathbelievedourmessage?"withamarginalnote,"Or,thatwhichwehaveheard."Informthewordtranslated"message"{71}isapassiveparticiple,meaning,literally,"thatwhichhasbeenheard."Surely,noonewould

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    consider"report,""doctrine,""hearing,""message,"etc.,synonymous.Itisthedutyoflinguisticcriticismtodeterminetheexactmeaningoftheword.Sometimesgrammaticalconstructionsareambiguous.VeryfamiliararethewordsinIsa.6.3,"Holy,holy,holy,isJehovahofhosts:thewholeearthisfullofhisglory."Themarginsuggestsasanalternativeforthelastclause,"thefullnessofthewholeearthishisglory,"whichmightmeansomethingentirelydifferentfromtheordinaryrendering.Thereareotherpassages,someamongthesublimestpropheticutterances,inwhichitisbynomeansclearwhetherthereferenceistothepastortothepresentortothefuture.Thereis,indeed,plentyofroomforthemostpainstakingworkofthelinguisticcritic.

    TheliterarycriticismconcernsitselfwiththeliteraryhistoryofOldTestamentbooks.TheBiblemaybemorethanahumanproduction,butinoutwardformithastheappearanceofanordinaryworkofliteratureand,sofarasitshistoryasacollectionofliteraryproductionsisconcerned,ithasnotescapedthefortunesormisfortunesofotherancientliteraryworks.Itisawellknownfactthatextrabiblicalbooks,religiousandsecular,havecomedownfromthe{72}distantpastbearingthenamesofmenwhocannothavebeentheirauthorsforexample,theGospelofPeter,ortheAscensionofIsaiah.Someancientbookshavebeeninterpolatedandaddedtofromtimetotimeforexample,theSibyllineOracles,thereligiousbooksoftheHindus.Someancientbooksarecompilationsratherthanoriginalproductionsforexample,theDiatessaronofTatian,orthereligiousbooksoftheBabylonians,whichgiveabundantevidenceofcompilation.ThediscoveriesofthesephenomenainextrabiblicalbooksnaturallyraisedthequestionwhethersimilarphenomenamightnotbefoundinthebooksoftheOldTestament.ItisthedutyofliterarycriticismtothrowlightonthesequestionstodecidewhetheralltheOldTestamentbooksarerightlyascribedtothemenwhosenamestheybear,whethertheyareoriginalproductionsorcompilationsfromearliermaterial,andwhetheranyofthebookshavereceivedadditionsorinterpolationsinthecourseoftheirliteraryhistory.

    Handinhandwithliterarycriticismgoeshistoricalcriticism.ThestudentofOldTestamenthistoryseekstotracethedevelopmentofthehistoryofIsraelbycombininginascientificmannerthehistoricalmaterialscatteredthroughouttheOldTestament.Indoingthisheiscompelledtodeterminethevalueofthesources{73}fromwhichhegathersinformation.Todothisisthedutyofhistoricalcriticism.Itinquires,forexample,whethertherecordsare

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    approximatelycontemporaneouswiththeeventstheyrecordifso,whetherthewriterswerequalifiedtoobservetheeventsaccurately,ortorecordandinterpretthemcorrectlyand,iftheaccountswerewrittenaconsiderabletimesubsequenttotheeventsrecorded,whethertheywerecoloredinanywaybythebeliefsandpracticesofthetimeinwhichtheywerewrittenorcompiled.ThislineofinvestigationisalmostthrustupontheBiblestudentbyacomparisonofthebooksofKingswiththebooksofChronicles,whichinmanyportionscoverthesamegroundandyet,therearemarkeddifferencesbetweenthedescriptionsofthetwo.

    Thesearethedifferentphasesofcriticism.Ordinarily,however,onlytwokindsaredistinguished:thelower,ortextualcriticism,andthehighercriticism.Theaimsoftextualcriticismaredescribedabove.Thehighercriticismcombinesthefunctionsofliteraryandhistoricalcriticism,whilelinguisticcriticismisconsideredapartofexegesisorinterpretation,notaseparatebranchofBiblestudy.Thelegitimacyoftextualcriticismisuniversallyrecognized.Itsimportancein