The Origin and Permanent Value of the Old Testament Part 11

14): _though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it_ (the guilty land), _they would deliver simply their own lives their righteousness, saith the Lord Jehovah_ (_cf._ also xiv. 20). Evidently in Ezekiel's day these names represented three ancient worthies, each conspicuous for his superlative piety. The Hebrew word here used also indicates that the righteousness attributed to them was conformity to the demands of the ritual. This agrees closely with the representation of the prose version of the story found in Job i. ii. and xlii. 7-17; here the supreme illustration of Job's piety is that he repeatedly sacrifices burnt-offerings, whenever there is the least possibility that his sons have sinned (i. 4, 5). Also in describing his perfection (i.

1), the same unusual term is employed as in the priestly narrative of Genesis vi. 9, where Noah's righteousness is portrayed.

[Sidenote: _Original teaching and application of the prose story_]

It seems probable, therefore, that the ancient story of Job was committed to writing by some priest during the Babylonian exile. Since Job and his friends live out on the borders of the Arabian desert to the east or southeast of Palestine, it seems clear that the tradition came to the Hebrews originally from some foreign source; but in the prose form in which we find it in Job, it has been thoroughly naturalized, for Job is a faithful servant of Jehovah and the law. Ignoring for the moment the poetical sections (iii. 1 to xlii. 6), we find that the prose story has a direct, practical message for the broken-hearted exiles, crushed beneath an overpowering calamity. Jehovah is testing his servant people, as he tests Job in the story, to prove whether or not they _fear God for nought_ (i, 9). If they bear the test without complaint, as did Job, all their former possessions will be restored to them in double measure (xlii. 7-17).

[Sidenote: _The problem of the poetical sections of Job_]

This prose story has apparently been utilized and given a very different interpretation by a later poet-sage in whose ears rang Jeremiah's words of anguish, found in chapter xx. 14-18 of his prophecy (_cf_. Job iii.), and to whose ears came also the cry of the pious voiced in Malachi ii.

17: _Every one who does evil is good in the sight of Jehovah, and he delighteth in_ _them. Where is the God of justice_? The old solutions of the problem of evil were being openly discarded. _They who feared Jehovah_ were saying (iii, 13, 14), _It is vain to serve God; and what profit is it to have kept his charge or to have walked in funeral garb before Jehovah of hosts? Even now we must congratulate the arrogant; yea, they who work wickedness are entrenched; yea, they tempt God and escape!_ With a boldness and thoroughness that must have seemed to his contemporaries dangerous and heretical, the great poet-sage presents the problem in all its intensity.

[Sidenote: _The role of Job and his friends in presenting the problem_]

He adopts the popular story, utilizing it as his prologue and epilogue: but as we pass to chapter iii, the simple, pure Hebrew yields to sublime poetry, shot through with the words and idioms and ideas of a much later age. The designation of God is no longer _Jehovah_ but _El_ or _Eloah_ or _Shaddai_. The character of Job suddenly changes; instead of being the patient, submissive servant of the law, he boldly, almost defiantly, charges God with injustice. The role of the friends also changes, and they figure as champions of the Deity. In their successive speeches they present in detail the current dogmas and the popular explanations of suffering. In his replies Job points out their inapplicability to the supreme problem of which he is the embodiment. The action and progress in this great drama is within the mind of Job himself. By degrees he rises to a clear perception of the fact that he is innocent of any crime commensurate with the overwhelming series of calamities which have overtaken him; and he thus throws off the shackles of the ancient dogma.

From the seemingly cruel and unjust God who has brought this undeserved calamity upon him, he then appeals to the Infinite Being who is back of all phenomena.

[Sidenote: _The message of the book_]

The reply to this appeal, and the author's contribution to the eternal problem of evil, are found in xxxviii. I to xlii. 6. It is not a solution, but through the wonders of the natural world, it is a fuller revelation to the mind of Job, of the omnipotence, the omniscience, the wisdom, and the goodness of God. Even though he cannot discern the reason of his own suffering, he learns to know and to trust the wisdom and love of the Divine Ruler.

I had heard of this by the hearing of the ear; But now mine eye seeth thee (xlii. 5).

[Sidenote: _Teaching the Elihu passage xxxii-xxxvii_]

Faith triumphs over doubt, and the problem, though unsolved, sinks into comparative insignificance. Apparently another poet-sage has added, out of the depths of his own experience, his contribution to the problem of suffering in the speeches of Elihu (chapters xxxii-xxxvii). It is that suffering rightly borne becomes a blessing because it is one of God's ways of training his servants. This indeed is an expansion of the explanation urged by Eliphaz in v. 17, _Behold, happy is the man whom God correcteth_. While these speeches of Elihu are written in a different literary style and have, in fact, no vital connection with the original poem of Job, they nevertheless contain a great and intensely practical truth; they have rightly found a place in this marvellous book.

Similarly the sublime description of wisdom in chapter xxviii. makes good its title; it can, however, be studied best by itself apart from Job's impassioned protestations of his innocence (chapter xxix.).

[Sidenote: _Probable history of the book of Job_]

Thus the book of Job, like so many other Old Testament writings, has its own literary history. Somewhere and sometime, back in an early Semitic period, there doubtless lived a man, conspicuous for his virtue and prosperity. Upon him fell a misfortune so great and apparently undeserved that it made a deep impression, not only upon his contemporaries, but also upon the minds of later generations. Thus there grew up a common Semitic story of Job which was in time thoroughly naturalized in Israel. Probably a Jewish priest in the exile first committed it to writing in order to assure his fellow-sufferers that could they but be patient and submissive Jehovah would soon restore them to their former prosperity. The painful experiences that came to the Jews, especially to the pious, during the middle and latter part of the Persian period (sometime between 450 and 340 B.C.), convinced a poet- sage that the old interpretations of the meaning of suffering did not suffice. Accordingly into the heart of the familiar story of Job he injected his powerful, impassioned message. Later writers, inspired by his inspiring genius, added their contributions to the solution of the perennial problem. Hence by 200 B.C., at least, the book of Job was probably current in its present form.

[Sidenote: _Age and point of view of Ecclesiastes_]

The same ever-recurring, insistent questions regarding the moral value and meaning of life led another later wise man to embody the results of his observation and experience in what we now know as the book of Ecclesiastes. Although i. 16 and ii. 7, 9 clearly imply that many kings had already reigned in Jerusalem, the author seems to put his observations in the mouth of Solomon, the acknowledged patron of wisdom teaching. The evidence, however, that the book is one of the latest in the Old Testament is overwhelmingly conclusive. The language is that of an age when Hebrew had long ceased to be spoken. The life mirrored throughout is that of the luxurious, corrupt Greek period. If not directly, at least indirectly, it reflects the doctrines of the Stoics and the Epicureans. It was a crooked, sordid, weary world upon which its author looked. It is not strange that a vein of materialism and pessimism runs through his observations and maxims. _All is vanity_ is the dominant note, and yet light alternates with shadow. He loses faith in human nature; yet he does not give up his faith in God, though that faith is darkened by the desolateness of the outlook. While the book has practical religious teachings, perhaps its chief mission, after all, is vividly to portray the darkness just before the dawn of the belief in a future life and before the glorious rising of the Sun of Righteousness.

[Sidenote: _Significance of the later additions_]

Its teachings naturally called forth many protests, explanations, and supplements, and these have found the permanent place in the book that they rightfully deserve. Its fragmentary structure and abrupt transitions also made later insertions exceedingly easy. These are the simplest and the most natural explanation of the sharp contradictions that abound in the book (_cf. e.g_., ii. 22 and iii. 22, or iv. 2 and ix. 4, or iii. 16 and iii. 17, or viii. 14 and ix. 2, or iii. 1-9 and iii. 11). The preacher, whose painful experiences and prevailingly pessimistic teachings are the original basis of the book, appears to have been consistent throughout. He ends in xii. 8 with the same refrain, _Vanity of vanities; all is vanity!_ In a divine library like the Old Testament, reflecting every side of human thought and experience, such a book is not inappropriate. Its contradictions provoke thought; they beget also a true appreciation of the positive notes thus brought into dramatic contrast with the ground tones of pessimism which resound through all literature and history.



[Sidenote: _Nature of the Psalter_]

Corresponding to the book of Proverbs, itself a select library containing Israel's best gnomic literature, is the Psalter, the compendium of the nation's lyrical songs and hymns and prayers. It is the record of the soul experiences of the race. Its language is that of the heart, and its thoughts of common interest to worshipful humanity.

It reflects almost every phase of religious feeling: penitence, doubt, remorse, confession, fear, faith, hope, adoration, and praise. Even the unlovely emotion of hatred is frankly expressed in certain of the imprecatory psalms. The Psalms appeal to mankind in every age and land because, being so divine and yet so human, they rest on the foundations of universal experience. Whenever a heart is breaking with sorrow or pulsating with thanksgiving and adoration, its strongest emotions find adequate expression in the simple and yet sublime language of the Psalter.

[Sidenote: _Influence of the prophets upon it_]

In the familiar doings of Mary and Zacharias, found in the opening chapters of Luke, we may trace the beginnings of the hymn literature of the early Christian Church, a literature which later became one of the Church's most valued possessions. If the canon of the New Testament had been closed in 1000 instead of 400 A.D., its books would doubtless have included a hymnal which would have corresponded closely to the Psalter of the Old. Just as the Psalms represent the application of the great doctrines of the Hebrew prophets in the spiritual life of the community, so this new hymnal would represent the personal application of the teachings of Jesus and the apostles to the religious life of the Church and the individual. The Psalter is also what it is because its background is a period of stress and severe trial. In the hot furnace of affliction and persecution the psalmists learned to appreciate the truths which they so confidently and effectively proclaim. Then the spiritual teachings of the earlier prophets, which were contemptuously rejected by their contemporaries, were at last appropriated by the community. The Psalter as a whole appears, therefore, to be one of the latest and most precious fruits of the divine revelation recorded in the Old Testament.

[Sidenote: _Evidence of distinct collections of psalms_]

In its present form, the Psalter is divided into five books or collections. At the end of each collection there is a concluding doxology (xli., lxxii., lxxxix., cvi). The last psalm (cl.) serves as a concluding doxology, not only to the fifth collection, but also to the Psalter as a whole. Certain psalms are also reproduced in two different collections with only slight variations. For example, xiv. is practically identical with liii., except that in the first _Jehovah_ is always used as the designation of the Deity, and in liii. _Elohim_ or _God_; again Psalm xl. 13-17 is reproduced in lxx.; lvii. 7-11 and lx.

5-12 are together practically equivalent to cviii. These and kindred facts indicate that the Psalter, like the book of Proverbs, is made up of collections originally distinct. The division into exactly five groups appears to be comparatively late, and to be in imitation of the fivefold division of the Pentateuch.

[Sidenote: _The oldest collection_]

The genesis of the book of Proverbs is exceedingly helpful in tracing the closely analogous growth of the Psalter. The prevailing form of the superscriptions and the predominant use of the name _Jehovah_ or _Elohim_ also aid in this difficult task. Psalms i. and ii. are introductory to the entire book. Psalms iii-xli. all bear the Davidic superscription and use the designation _Jehovah_ two hundred and seventy-two times, but _Elohim_ only fifteen. The form and contents of these psalms, as well as their position, suggest that they are the oldest collection in the book. In the Greek version all the psalms of the collection found in li-lxxii., excepting Psalm lxvi., which is anonymous, and lxxii., which is attributed to Solomon, have also the Davidic superscription. Although certain subsequent psalms are ascribed to David, as, for example, lxxxvi., ci., and ciii., the close of the collection, is the significant epilogue (lxxii. 20), _the prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended._

[Sidenote: _Meaning and value of the superscriptions_ ]

Before the approximate date of these collections can be determined the significance of the Davidic title needs interpretation. In the Hebrew version, this title is borne by seventy-three psalms. Two are ascribed to Solomon (lxxii. and cxxvii.), one to Moses (xc.), and twenty-four to the members of the post-exilic guilds of temple singers. The superscriptions of the Greek and Syrian versions contain many variations from those in the Hebrew. This is probably due to the fact that superscriptions are usually added by later scribes in whose minds the question of authorship first became prominent. In earlier Hebrew the phrase commonly translated _Psalm of David_ would more naturally mean a _psalm for David_ or _dedicated_ or _attributed to David._ The latter appears to have been its original significance. Like the title, _Proverbs of Solomon,_ it was used to distinguish an ancient poem, which, being a psalm, was naturally ascribed to David, and to him later Judaism, in common with the New Testament writers, attributed all psalm literature. A detailed study of the superscriptions soon demonstrates that the majority of them represent only the conjectures of scribes who were guided by current traditions or suggestions embodied in the psalms themselves. In this manner, to Solomon, the builder of the temple, is ascribed Psalm cxxvii., because it refers to the building of the house in its opening verse. The Greek version even attributes to David Psalm xcvi., which, it states, was written _when the temple was being built after the captivity._

[Sidenote: _David's relation to the psalter_]

Since the superscriptions to the Psalter were only very late additions, the question still remains, What was the basis of the late Jewish tradition that makes David the father of the psalm literature, as was Solomon of the wisdom, Moses of the legal, and Enoch of the apocalyptical? The other Old Testament books give no direct answer. They tell us, however, that the warrior king was skilled in playing the lyre, and we are aware that to this, in antiquity, an improvised accompaniment was usually sung. We also have the account of David's touching elegies over the death of Saul and Jonathan and of Abner (II Sam. i., iii. 33, 34). Moreover, the early historical books vividly portray the faults of David, the limitations which he shared in common with his contemporaries, and his deeply religious spirit; but they leave the question of his relation to the Psalter to be settled by the testimony of the individual psalms. Here the evidence is not conclusive. It is clear that many of the psalms attributed by tradition to him were written in the clearer light of later prophetic teaching and amid very different circumstances from those which surrounded Israel's early king.

Still it would be dogmatic to assert that nothing from his lips is to be found in the Psalter; and to point out with assurance those passages and psalms which must be Davidic is quite as unwarrantable.

[Sidenote: _Evidence of pre-exilic elements in the Psalter_]

The Psalter is clearly the repository of that which was best in the earlier spiritual life and thought of the race. While there are no direct references to songs in connection with the pre-exilic Jewish temple, Amos (v. 23) found them in use at the sanctuary at Bethel; and from Psalm cxxxvii. 3, 4 it would appear that the exiles in Babylonia were acquainted with certain _songs of Zion_ or _songs of Jehovah_.

Treasured in the hearts of the people, and attributed, perhaps even by the time of the exile, as a whole to David, they constituted the basis of the earliest collections of psalms, which, as we have noted, practically without exception bear the Davidic superscription. The date of each individual psalm, however, must be determined independently on the basis of its own testimony, although the historical allusions are few and the data in many cases are far from decisive.

[Sidenote: _Approximate date of the earliest collections_]

Just when the earliest collections, found in iii.-xli. and li.-lxxii., were made is a comparatively unimportant yet difficult question to decide. Probably the rebuilding of the temple in 516 B.C. was one of the great incentives. The example of the Babylonians, who possessed a large and rich psalm literature, may also have exerted an indirect influence.

At least it is certain that the guilds of temple singers and the song service became increasingly prominent in the religious life of the Jewish community which grew up about the restored temple. The presence of alphabetical psalms, as, for example, ix., x., xxv., xxxiv., xxxvii., in the earliest collection suggests also the leisure of the exile. The historical background of many of these psalms is clearly the exile and the long period of distress that followed. They voice the experiences of the poor, struggling band of the pious, who, living in the midst of oppressors, found in Jehovah alone their refuge and their joy. Some of these psalms also reflect the prophetic teachings of Jeremiah (_e.g._, xvi., xxxix) and of Isaiah xl.-lxvi. In general their attitude toward sacrifice is that of the prophets:

For thou desirest not sacrifice; Else would I give it.

Thou delightest not in burnt offering.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.

Religion is defined in the terms of life and acts. Ceremonialism has not yet cast its chilling influence over the heart of the nation. Therefore the earliest collections may, with considerable assurance, be assigned to a date not later than the days of Nehemiah (about 400 B.C.).

[Sidenote: _Later collections_]

Psalms xlii.-l. and lxxiii-lxxxiii. constitute a collection of Levitical hymns. If we may follow the indications of their superscriptions, they consist of two originally distinct groups, the one, xlii.-xlix., associated with and possibly at first collected and preserved by the post-exilic guild of temple singers, known as the sons of Korah, and the other, l., lxxiii.-lxxxiii., similarly attributed to Asaph, the guild of temple singers, mentioned first in the writings of the Greek period. In these two groups the priests and Levites and the liturgy are prominent.

Psalms lxxxiv.-lxxxix. constitute a short Levitical supplement.

The remainder of the Psalter is also made up of originally smaller collections, as, for example, the Psalms of Ascent or the Pilgrim Psalms (cxx.-cxxxiv.), and the Hallelujah Psalms (cxi.-cxiii. and cxlvi.-cl.).

Some of the latter come perhaps from the Jews of the dispersion. Each collection appears to represent a fresh gleaning of the same or slightly different fields, incorporating ancient with contemporary psalms, and, as has been noted, not infrequently including some already found in earlier collections.

[Sidenote: _Completion of the Psalter_]

Certain of the psalms, such as lxxiv., lxxix., lxxxiii., seem clearly to reflect the horrors of the Maccabean struggle (169-165 B.C.). Later Jewish literature bears testimony that in the last two centuries before Christ psalm writing increased rather than decreased (_cf. e.g._, Psalms of Solomon). Certainly the experiences through which the Jews passed during the middle of the second century were of a nature to evoke psalms similar to those in the Psalter. The probabilities, therefore, are that the Psalter, in its final form, is, like the book of Daniel, one of the latest writings in the Old Testament. It was possibly during the prosperous reign of Simon, when the temple service was enriched and established on a new basis, that its canon was finally closed.

Chapter end

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