Page images



WHEN the zealous reformer of the higher education, who represents North Lancashire, has sufficiently remodelled the ancient Universities, he will probably resign to them the care of English theological studies. But meanwhile he seeks to repair their deficiency in courage or learned activity by naturalizing the results of recent German researches in illustration of the Hebrew literature. Under his editorial auspices, and with preface and additions from his pen, appears a well-executed translation of Professor Von Bohlen's Genesis. In many respects, the book is happily adapted to Mr. Heywood's purpose, of familiarizing English readers with a less uncritical and unhistorical treatment of Scripture than tenacity of dogma allows to prevail at home. The first eleven chapters of Genesis (which is the limit of the commentary) have the charm of a very various interest, carrying wonder and curiosity in every direction,-ethnological, scientific, linguistic, historical, religious. The critic brings the stores of extensive Oriental reading to the elucidation of his text. He possesses whatever art of style or arrangement is needful to an attractive book; and his work is avowedly written, not chiefly to advance Biblical knowledge among the learned, but to distribute it among the schools and families of the educated classes. On the other hand, it is perhaps unfortunate that a treatise intended to procure favour for the mythic criticism should be deeply pledged to a very questionable opinion respecting the origin and date of the book with which it deals. Von Bohlen assigns the composition of Genesis to a time unsteadily described as almost as late as the exile (I. 311), and elsewhere (II. 161) as subsequent to the exile; and, with equal critical paradox, considers the Book of Deuteronomy (which he supposes to have been Hilkiah's forgery in order to work upon Josiah) as the oldest part of the Pentateuch. Could this relative order be proved-nay, were it ascertained that the first book did not precede the fifth by a vast interval-we should never trust the indications of language again. The author's main evidence of so late an origin for Genesis is found in the narrative of the Flood; in the assigned duration of which he detects an acquaintance with the solar year. The beginning of the crisis being referred to the seventeenth day of the second month, and its close to the twenty-seventh day of the corresponding month in the next year, the interval exceeded the com

*"Introduction to the Book of Genesis, with a Commentary on the opening portion. From the German of Dr. Peter Von Bohlen, Ïate Professor of Oriental Languages and Literature in the University of Königsberg." Edited by James Heywood, M.P., F.R.S. London. Chapman, 1855.

plete lunar year (which the Hebrews used) by eleven days, or nearly so. This, however, exactly makes the solar year of 365 days, with which, therefore, the duration of the event was intended in the original myth to coincide. Confirmation of the conjecture is found in the mention of "150 days" and of "five months " (Genesis viii. 3, 4) as equivalent terms, betraying an acquaintance with the month of thirty days, characteristic of the solar reckoning, instead of the proper lunar cycle of twenty-eight days. How, then, could a Hebrew compiler have stumbled upon these vestiges of a reckoning other than his own? The locality of the legend supplies the answer. The legend is evidently Mesopotamian, shown to be so by the references to Shinar and Ararat, by the cypress-wood and bitumen of the ark, and other indications. Now it is precisely here that Nabonassar introduced the use of the solar year, B.c. 747. Not, therefore, till after that time could a narrative with this feature in it have arisen. It is further argued, that, in order to assign the rains to the right months for such a phenomenon, the year must be understood as beginning in the autumn, which was the Babylonian method, and was first adopted by the Jews after the captivity. Neither of these arguments has any real base; and Mr. Heywood has very properly corrected their statements by inserting a critique of Professor Tuch's. The round numbers in Genesis viii. fail to establish any reference to the solar year; and if they did, Egypt supplied an older source of familiarity with this reckoning. There is every reason to suppose that, in the narrative of the Flood (if founded on Mesopotamian physical phenomena), the year is meant to be commenced in the Hebrew way, from the spring equinox. And if it were otherwise, we know nothing of the Babylonian year, or of any change of the Jewish reckoning after the captivity, except in the adoption for the months of new names, which, moreover, are not of Chaldean but of Persian origin. In general, Von Bohlen's acumen appears to us more ethnological than chronological; and his tracing of the myths of Genesis to Central Asia is skilful and probable. His appreciation of the interior spirit of the Jewish literature is less conspicuous than his perception of its exterior affinities and analogies; and his book is the production of an Orientalist, to whom Hebrew studies were incidental, rather than of a Hebraist (like Ewald), drawing to his own centre the illustrative treasures of cognate languages and civilizations.

It cannot be exactly said that Christian literature, like Jewish, has its præ-historical period, opening the same boundless field for conjectural combinations that is presented by the antecedents of the Hebrew nation; and yet, though the formation of the church falls wholly within an age of authentic records and intellectual culture, it is surprising how many undetermined, and probably irresolvable, problems lie around the incunabula of Christendom. No one, we suppose, unless previously habituated to the dim light of theological criticism, has ever risen from the study of Lardner's Credibility," or Jeremiah Jones' "New and Full Method,"-to say nothing of De Wette or Credner,-without painfully feeling the


disproportion between the expenditure of learning and the gain in positive result. The assemblage of probabilities, shaded off from full certainty to free conjecture, respecting the precise age and origin of the New Testament writings, is very far from sustaining the sense of secure authority with which, prior to such study, the mind is accustomed to repose on Scripture. How much too high is the tone of ecclesiastical assumption and teaching upon this subject, becomes strikingly evident the moment an attempt is deliberately made to exhibit its warrant in historical evidence. Such an attempt-made, too, in a spirit of candour, and with sufficient apparatus of learning-is Mr. Westcott's "History of the Canon of the New Testament," one of the new Cambridge Theological manuals. The author's purpose is to trace to the sub-apostolic age the idea and use of a written rule of faith; to identify that written rule with our present New Testament; and to show how, after the time of Hegesippus, the books, previously in separate circulation or process of gradual collection, were detached as a whole from the mass of ecclesiastical literature, till, in the period after Diocletian's persecution, the usage of the church was defined and ratified by councils. It does not fall within the scope of the treatise to compare the books inter se, or touch upon their separate history and claims, but only to treat of them as a collection, and under the assumption of their unity. Mr. Westcott, in short, writes the history, not either of living persons or of tangible products, but of that shadowy thing, church authority; and, taking for granted that it must always have existed somewhere, he embodies it, first, in the apostles themselves; next, in apostolical tradition; and finally, as the immediate disciples of the apostles passed away, in the New Testament. The author carries into the execution of this design a careful and painstaking scholarship; and in the course of his work checks, by the exercise of good critical judgment, some of the more hasty of Schwegler's decisions. But the design itself appears to us unhappily conceived, and incapable of successful execution. The idea of "a canon," or authoritative rule, being of later date than the writings to which the term is applied, and arising only as an after-thought, fixed upon them when their place had been settled, is no proper clue to their earliest relations, much less to their genesis. The "History of the Canon " must either commence with the date when the group of writings existed as an authoritative whole, and tell us its travels and adventures afterwards; in which case no light is thrown on the ulterior period and process of growth; or it must go beyond the limits of its title, and investigate the formation of the canon; and, in this case, it is quite impossible to take the New Testament as a whole, and shun the inquiry into the separate origin of the particular books. Mr. Westcott's book is neither the one nor the other. If you want to know what became of the New Testament after it had assumed a recog

* "A General Survey of the History of the Canon of the New Testament during the first four Centuries." By Brooke Foss Westcott, M.A., late Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. Cambridge. Macmillan, 1855.

nized unity, his history does not help you. If you want to know the birth and fortunes of each book on its way into the collection, this also he declines to tell; for it concerns the parts and not the whole. The only thing he really gives you is, the history of the several books' estimation in the world, from the first notices of them to the time when their repute was fixed. Considered as a list of testimonials in favour of the canonical writings, our author's work deserves the praise of great diligence and manifest conscientiousness. Unfortunately, neither the nature nor the amount of this external attestation is such as to lead to any very satisfactory result, apart from the interior analyses and general survey of early thought and opinion, which Mr. Westcott declines. For instance, the first period of which he treats (A.D. 70-170) is that within which all the disputed literary dates are included; the most hesitating critics admitting that St. Paul's greater epistles were prior to the opening, and the fourth gospel to the close, of this interval. Indeed, it is within the first half of this century that the interest, for our ques tion of authenticity, practically concentrates itself; for, if a gospel or epistle does not declare its existence before that boundary (A.D. 120) be passed, it matters little to its authority whether its first attestation be a few years earlier or later. What, then, do we gain when all the apostolic fathers have passed through the witness-box? At most, a testimony to the Pauline epistles, excluding Thessalonians, Colossians, Titus, and Philemon, to Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, 1 John; no testimony to any of our gospels; references to the outline of Christ's history, but no citations from his discourses, and no notice of his miracles. We say "at most," because, to obtain even this result, the epistles of Ignatius (shorter recension) and Polycarp are treated as genuine, against the judgment of critics. like Hilgenfeld, who assigns them to a date as low down as A.D. 168. If these are excluded, the evidence limits itself to four or perhaps five of the epistles. The historical books have to wait for their witnesses till it is too late to prove, in this way, their character as contemporary records; and the whole stress of the investigation is necessarily thrown upon the contents of the books in relation to the general history of the early church. Even the next period (A D. 120-170) does not at once relieve the long silence respecting the gospels; the anonymous Memoirs" of Justin Martyr, with their curious textual deviations from our evangelists, presenting an intermediate phenomenon, suitable neither to the non-existence nor to the completed existence of our present gospels. Mr. Westcott resists this inference, and accepts Justin's citations as references to our synoptic gospels. We find no new element in his argument; but he states the facts correctly, and enables his readers to check his conclusions by re-combining the evidence, if they will. His book, indeed, is throughout a serviceable repository of selected facts bearing on the earliest literature of Christianity. Weak as an argument, and too inorganic for a history, it is useful as a critical catalogue of citations and testimonies from the various sections of Christendom in the first four centuries.


We confess to a certain feeling of satisfied expectation when a prize essay turns out to be a sufficiently dreary affair. Especially when it undertakes to establish the most solemn truths, we cannot but be aware of an incongruity between the incentive and the product; and rejoice that success should reserve itself for some higher inspiration, and prove to be beyond the command of human will. Some such consolation as this, we think, every reader of the first Burnett Prize Essay * will require; for a heavier task than the conquest of these two volumes we have not encountered since we laid down the last production of M. Comte. When we multiply in our imagination this treatise by 208 (the number of competitive essays sent in), we are affected with the profoundest compassion for the adjudicators, and can only hope that, after their labours, exhausted nature is permitted, by Mr. Burnett's will, to fall back on a handsome retiring pension. With Mr. Thompson's fundamental principles we are not greatly at issue, though often wishing for more precision in their expression and directness in their application. His attempt to retrace his way back to the actual psychological source of our faith in God, rather than to "underpin" it by an artificial logical construction, is every way praiseworthy. In fixing also upon the "principle of causality" as a real source and justification of the belief, he remains, we apprehend, on the right track. Further, in drawing the notion of cause from the act and experience of perception, as immediately giving to us the antithesis of self and other than self, he resorts, in our judgment, to its proper seat. So far he has Sir W. Hamilton for his guide, and walks securely. It is at the next step, when, from the dualistic relation between the Self and Nature, he passes to the third existence, God, that his movement appears to waver and his eye scarcely to see its way. The Ego, he says, is simple; the non-Ego is diverse: the simple may stand of itself, as if its own cause; the diverse, on the other hand, requires, by the law of causality, to be gathered up into a comprehending unity. Over and above the distinct cause demanded by each separate perception, there is needed also an all-embracing cause giving oneness to the multifarious contents of the whole sphere opened by perception. This higher term of causation is the Infinite Self-existing God. In this view we pass out, at two stages, from ourselves; first, into Nature, thence to God, who is the source of the objective world, as, again, the objective world is of our perceptions.

There are, therefore, two sorts of causation; one, merely secondary and material and unintelligent; the other, primary and spiritual; both, found for us by one and the same "principle of causality," at two successive pulsations; both, satisfying its demands; and the second being wanted only because the first is a plurality instead of a unity. Had it then been otherwise; had we been landed, not upon a

"Christian Theism: The Testimony of Reason and Revelation to the Existence and Character of the Supreme Being." By Robert Anchor Thompson, M.A., In two volumes. London. Rivingtons, 1855.

« PreviousContinue »