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The Origin and Permanent Value of the Old Testament Part 12

[Sidenote: _The book of Lamentations_]

The fact that they all gather about a definite event in Israel's history, and probably antedate the majority of the psalms in the Psalter, explains why the little collection of lyrical poems, known as the book of Lamentations, never found a place beside the kindred psalms (_e.g._, Pss. xlii., xliii) in the larger book. Their theme is the Babylonian exile and the horrors and distress that it brought to the scattered members of the Jewish race. Their aim is prophetic, that is, to point out and confess the guilt of the nation and its dire consequences. They reflect the teachings of both Jeremiah and Ezekiel.

While it is not strange that later tradition attributed the collection to the first of these prophets, its contents do not support the conjecture. Four out of the five poems are alphabetical, and distinctly different points of view are represented. Chapters ii. and iv. probably come from the middle of the Babylonian exile, and to the remainder must be assigned a still later period.

[Sidenote: _The national and individual element in the Psalter_]

The Psalter, with its natural appendix, the book of Lamentations, was the song and prayer book of the Jewish community. A majority of the psalms, and especially those in the latter part of the book, were doubtless originally intended for liturgical use. Many, particularly where the first person singular is used, are to be interpreted collectively, for here, as often in the book of Lamentations, the psalmist is speaking in behalf of the community. Others have been adapted to liturgical ends. But in the final analysis it is the experience and emotions of the individual soul that find expression throughout all the psalms. Since these experiences and emotions were shared in common by all right-minded members of the community, it was natural that they should in time be employed in the liturgy.

[Sidenote: _E pluribus unum_]

Again, as we review the history of the Psalter, we are impressed with the many sides of Israel's life and human experience that it represents.

Not one, but perhaps fifty or a hundred, inspired souls, laymen, prophets, priests, sages, kings, and warriors, have each clothed the divine truth that came to them or to their generation in exquisite language and imagery, and given it thus to their race and humanity.

Successive editors have collected and combined the noblest of these psalms, and the Psalter is the result. The exact date of each psalmist and editor is comparatively unimportant, for though differing widely in origin and theme, they are all bound together by a common purpose and a common belief in the reality and the immediate presence of God. All nature and history and life are to them but the manifestation of his justice and mercy and love. In direct communion with the God whom they personally knew, they found the consolation and peace and joy that passeth all understanding, even though the heathen raged and their foes plundered and taunted them. To that same haven of rest they still pilot the world's storm-tossed mariners.

XIII

THE FORMATION OF THE OLD TESTAMENT CANON

[Sidenote: _Israel's literature at the beginning of the fourth century before Christ_]

Could we have studied the scriptures of the Israelitish race about 400 B.C., we should have classified them under four great divisions: (1) The prophetic writings, represented by the combined early Judean, Ephraimite, and late prophetic or Deuteronomic narratives, and their continuation in Samuel and Kings, together with the earlier and exilic prophecies; (2) the legal, represented by the majority of the Old Testament laws, combined with the late priestly history; (3) the wisdom, represented by the older small collections of proverbs; (4) the devotional or liturgical, represented by Lamentations and the earlier collections of psalms.

[Sidenote: _The combining of the prophetic and priestly histories_]

Even before all the Old Testament books were written, the work of canonization began; before the first large canon was adopted, the prophetic and priestly narratives, and with them the earlier and later laws, were combined. This amalgamation was the work of a late priestly editor. The Pentateuch and its immediate sequel, Joshua, is the result.

[Sidenote: _The method of combining_]

A study of these books makes clear the editor's method. Naturally he gave the late priestly versions the precedence. He placed, therefore, its version of the creation first,--a position that it well deserves.

Probably as a result of this arrangement the older and more primitive prophetic version of Genesis ii. 4a-25 was somewhat abridged, for it begins with the picture of a level plain, watered by a daily mist, and is immediately followed by the account of the creation of man. Genesis iii. and iv. are taken entirely from the prophetic, and practically all of v. from the priestly, group of narratives. Confronted by two variant versions of the flood, he joined them together into a closely knit narrative; but all the elements of both versions are so faithfully preserved that when they are again separated, behold! the two originally complete and self-consistent versions reappear. The story of Noah, the first vineyard-keeper, in ix. 20-27, is taken entirely from the prophetic history, but in x. two distinct lists of the nations are joined together. All the story of the tower of Babel in xi. 1-9 is from the prophetic, while the genealogical list in the remainder of the chapter is from the priestly history. The patriarchal and subsequent narratives are likewise combined with, the same remarkable skill.

[Sidenote: _Later biblical analogies_]

Thus the first six Old Testament books were given their final form. The method in general was the same as that followed by the authors of the First and Third Gospels in their use of Matthew's Sayings of Jesus and the original Mark narrative, or by the authors of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles in their citations from the older sources. In his close fusion of three or four parallel narratives the editor's work resembled most closely that of Tatian, who thus combined the four Gospels in his _Diatessaron_. So far as we are able to observe, the final editor of the Hexateuch preserved, like Tatian, most of the material in his older sources, except where a parallel version verbally duplicated another.

The prophetic and priestly narratives also followed lines so distinctly different that cases of duplication were comparatively few.

[Sidenote: _Deep significance of the work of the later editors_]

To the latest editor of the early narratives we owe the preservation of some or the oldest and most valuable sections of the Old Testament. In that age and land of perishable writing materials, the prevailing method of compilation was one of the effective means whereby the important portions of primitive records were handed down in practically their original form. It is well that we are beginning to understand its significance in the realization of the divine purpose. Important beyond words, although often overlooked, were the services of the faithful editors who without the slightest desire for personal glory or reward, other than the perpetuation of truth, carefully selected, condensed, and combined material gleaned from earlier and fuller sources. To them is due the marvellous preservation of our Old Testament, To the honored role of the prophets and apostles, therefore, let us add the anonymous redactors.

[Sidenote: _Date of the beginning of the cannonization of the Law_]

The final editors were the immediate precursors of those who formed the successive canons of the Old Testament. Indeed, between the work of the former and the latter there is no clear line of demarcation. A period shortly after 400 B. c. is the date usually accepted for the work of the final editor of the Pentateuch; the canonization of the law, which included these five books, is dated between 400 and 300 B.C. The real canonization of Israel's laws had, however, begun much earlier. The primitive decalogue, represented by Exodus xxxiv., and probably from the first associated with Moses, appears, in the earliest periods of Israel's history, to have enjoyed a canonical authority. The primitive accounts, in Exodus xix., of the establishment of the covenant by Jehovah with his people mark the real beginning of the process of canonization,--a process, that is, of attributing to certain laws a unique and commanding authority.

[Sidenote: _Popular acceptance and promulgation of the earlier codes_]

Likewise the successive civil, humane, and ceremonial decalogues appear from the days of the united kingdom to have occupied a similar position.

Primarily this was probably due to the fact that each was based upon a divine _torah_ or decision, received from Jehovah through the priestly oracle. The public reading and promulgation of the Deuteronomic laws in the days of Josiah, with the attestation of the prophets and the solemn adoption by the people, was an act of canonization far more formal than the final acceptance of the New Testament writings by the Council of Carthage.

[Sidenote: _Adoption of the late priestly law_]

The next great stage in the canonization of the law is recorded in Nehemiah x. Then the representatives of the Jewish community _entered into a solemn obligation and took oath to walk in God's law, which was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe to do all the commands of Jehovah our Lord and his ordinances and his statutes_ (v. 29.) This action appears to be the historical basis of the fanciful and incredible Jewish traditions concerning the work of the Great Synagogue and the authority of Ezra. The new law thus adopted was evidently the one gradually developed and finally formulated by the Jewish priests in Babylonia. It was accepted, as was the earlier Deuteronomic code, because it met the needs and appealed to the moral and religions sense of those by whom it was adopted.

[Sidenote: _Acceptance of the completed Torah_]

To set completely aside the Deuteronomic lawbook and the primitive decalogue of Exodus xx.-xxiii., already in force among the Jews of Palestine, was impossible and unnecessary. Hence, as we have noted, it was the task of some editor of the next generation to combine these and the earlier prophetic histories with the late priestly law and its accompanying history. Naturally this whole collection was still called the _Torah_ or _Law_ and was at once accepted as canonical by the Jews.

This step was also most natural because their interests all centred about the ritual, and for two centuries the dominant tendency had been to exalt the sanctity of the written law.

[Sidenote: _Date of the final canonization of the Law_]

It is possible to fix approximately the date of this first edition of the Old Testament writings, since the Samaritans adopted and still retain simply the Pentateuch and an abbreviated edition of Joshua as their scriptures. Although Josephus, following a late Jewish tradition, dates the Samaritan schism at about 330 B.C., the contemporary evidence of Nehemiah xiii. 28 suggests that it was not long after 400. It is therefore safe to conclude that by 350 B.C. the first five books of our Old Testament had not only been singled out of the larger literature of the race, but were regarded as possessing a unique sanctity and authority.

[Sidenote: _Principles of canonization_]

As the name _Law_ suggests, the chief reason for this was the fact that these five books embodied laws long since accepted as binding. The second reason was probably because they were by current tradition ascribed to Moses. The third, and not the least, was, doubtless, because they met the need felt by the community for a unified and authoritative system of laws and for an authentic record of the earlier history of their race, especially that concerning the origin of their beloved institutions.

[Sidenote: _Evidence that the Law was first canonized_]

The priority of the canon of the law is also proved by the fact that, although it contains some of the later Old Testament writings, it stands first, not only in position but in the esteem of the Jewish race.

Furthermore, it became in time the designation of all the Old Testament canonical writings. The term _Law_ is thus used in the New Testament (_e.g._, John x. 34, xii. 34; I Cor. xiv. 21), in the Talmud, and by the rabbis, indicating that the later groups of historical, prophetic, and poetical books were simply regarded as supplements.

[Sidenote: _Canonization of the prophetic writings_]

The history of the canonization of the next group, known as the _Prophets_, is very obscurely recorded, and this largely because it reached its culmination in the Greek period, concerning which we have only the most meagre information. Here analogy with the history of the New Testament is helpful. The same influences which led the early Christians to add the Epistles and Acts undoubtedly operated upon the minds of the Jews. The Law represented only a limited period in their national and religious history. But the addition of the early prophetic and legal histories to the detailed laws prepared the way for the expansion of the canon. This included first, the four historical books, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings, with the exception of Ruth. These were designated as the _Former Prophets_. Thus even the later Jews recognized their true character and authorship. The second division of the _Prophets_ included Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Book of the Twelve, which contained the minor prophets.

[Sidenote: _Evidence that the historico-prophetic books were first added to the Law_]

The order of the book and the probabilities of the situation suggest that the _Former Prophets_, since they were the immediate sequel of the prophetic histories of the Pentateuch, and recorded the deeds of such heroes as David, Solomon, and Isaiah, were added first. That they also bear the marks of late priestly revision, is direct evidence of the esteem in which they were held by the late priestly school that completed the canon of the Law. They therefore may have been added as early as 300 B.C. They were certainly known to the author of Chronicles, as his many quotations from them show, although it is difficult to see how he would have felt as free as he does to substitute the testimony of later tradition, if they were regarded as equally sacred with the Law.

[Sidenote: _Reverence for the prophetic word_]

The reference to the prediction of Jeremiah, in the opening verse of Ezra, suggests the reverence with which the author of Chronicles regarded the words of this prophet. The post-exilic Jews never ceased to revere the prophetic word. The popular belief, current in the Greek period, that the prophets had ceased to speak only deepened their reverence for the teachings of Moses' successors (Deut. xviii. 15-19).

The devotion of the later scribes is evinced by the scores of glosses which they have added to the older prophecies. It is manifest, therefore, how strong was the tendency, even in priestly circles, to add the Prophets to the Law.

[Sidenote: _Date of completion of the prophetic canon_]

The process was probably gradual and perhaps not complete until the Jews had learned fully to appreciate the value of their ancient Scriptures, after martyrs had died for the sacred writings during the Maccabean struggle. Aside from supplements made to older books, as, for example, Zechariah ix.-xiv., the canon of the prophets was probably closed not later than 200 B.C. From direct evidence it is clear that the book of Daniel (written about 165 B.C.) did not find a place in this canon. It is also significant that in the prologue to the Greek version of Ben Sira or Ecclesiasticus (132 B.C.) the translator refers repeatedly--as though they were then regarded as of equal authority--to the _Law and the Prophets and the rest of the books_, or to _the other books of the fathers_. But most significant of all, Ben Sira, who wrote about 190 B.C., includes in his list of Israel's heroes (xliv.-l.) not only those mentioned in the _Torah_, but also David, Solomon, Hezekiah, and the chief characters in the _Former Prophets_. Furthermore, Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ezekiel are introduced in their proper settings, and the panegyric closes with a reference to the twelve prophets collectively, indicating that Ben Sira was also acquainted with the _Latter Prophets_ as a group.

[Sidenote: _The beginning of the last stage in the canonization of the Old Testament_]

The reference to _the rest of the books_ in the prologue to Ben Sira indicates that even before 130 B.C. certain other writings had been joined to the canon of the Law. Ben Sira himself, to judge from his description of David (_cf_. xlvii. 8, 9, and I Chron. 25), Zerubbabel, Joshua, and Nehemiah, was acquainted with the books of Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah. Chapter xlvii. 8 apparently contains an allusion to a hymn-book attributed to David. Evidently he was also familiar with the book of Proverbs, including its introductory chapters. Thus we have a glimpse of the beginning of that third stage in the canonization of the Old Testament which, as in the case of the New, continued for fully three centuries.

[Sidenote: _Canonization of the Psalter and Lamentations_]

The Psalter doubtless passed through different stages of canonization, as did the Old Testament itself. The earliest collection was, in the beginning, probably made for liturgical purposes, and its adoption in the service of the temple was practically equivalent to canonization.

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