The Origin and Permanent Value of the Old Testament Part 6

[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.



[Sidenote: _Real character and aims of the prophets_]

To understand and rightly interpret the prophetic writings of the Old Testament it is necessary to cast aside a false impression as to the character of the prophets which is widely prevalent. They were not foretellers, but forth-tellers. Instead of being vague dreamers, in imagination living far in the distant future, they were most emphatically men of their own times, enlightened and devoted patriots, social and ethical reformers, and spiritual teachers. Their characteristic note of conviction and authority was due to the fact that, on the one hand, they knew personally and distinctly the evils and needs of their nation, and that, on the other hand, their minds and hearts, ever open to receive the truth, were in vital touch with the Infinite. Thus, just as Aaron became Moses' prophet to the people, publicly proclaiming what the great leader imparted to him in private (Ex. vii. 1, 2), so the Hebrew prophets became Jehovah's heralds and ambassadors, announcing by word and life and act the divine will.

[Sidenote: _Influences that led the prophets to write down their sermons_]

While the historians were perfecting their histories certain prophets also were beginning to commit their sermons to writing. The oldest recorded address in the Old Testament is probably that of Amos at Bethel. His banishment from the northern kingdom under strict injunction not to prophesy there (Am. vii. 10-17) may well explain why he resorted to writing to give currency to his prophetic message, though, like Paul in later days, he undoubtedly regarded writing as an inferior substitute for the spoken word. Jeremiah appears to have preached twenty years before he dictated a line to his scribe Baruch, and then it was because he could not personally speak in the temple (xxxvi. 1-5). Sometimes complete sermons of the prophets are preserved, but more often we seem to have only extracts and epitomes. In some of the prophetic books, like that of Jeremiah, there are also popular reports of a prophetic address, and narrative sections, telling of the prophet's experience.

[Sidenote: _The editing of the earlier prophecies_]

Evidences of editing are very apparent in the earlier prophecies. Sudden interruptions, and verses or clauses, in which appear ideas and literary style very different from that of the immediate context, indicate that many of the prophecies have been supplemented by later notes, some explanatory and some hortatory. Other longer passages are intended to adjust the earlier teaching to later conditions and beliefs and so to adapt them to universal human needs that they are not limited to the hour and occasion of their first delivery. Some of these passages come from the hands of disciples of the prophets and often contain valuable additional data; others are from later prophetic editors and scribes. A detailed comparison, for example, of the Hebrew and Greek versions of Jeremiah quickly discloses wide variations of words, verses, and even long passages, added in one or the other text by later hands. All these additions testify to the deep interest felt by later generations in the earlier writings, even before they were assigned a final place in the canon. It is one of the important tasks of biblical scholars to distinguish the original from the additions and thus determine what were the teachings of each prophet and what are the contributions of later generations.

[Sidenote: _The background of Isaiah xl.-lv._]

Many of the later additions possess a value and authority entirely independent of that possessed by the prophet with whose writings they have been joined by their original authors or later editors. Thus the sublime chapters appended to the original sermons of Isaiah contain some of the noblest teachings in the Old Testament. The different themes and literary style; the frequent references to the Babylonians, not as distant allies, as in the days of Isaiah the son of Amoz, but as the hated oppressors of the Jews; the evidence that the prophet's readers are not exiles far from Judah; the many allusions to the conquests of Cyrus,--all these leave little doubt that chapters xl.-lv. were written in the latter part of the Babylonian or the first of the Persian period.

Interpreted in the light of this background, their thought and teachings become clear and luminous. Similarly, the varied evidence within the chapters themselves seems to indicate that Isaiah lvi.-lxvi. contain sermons directed to the struggling Jewish community in Palestine during the days following the rebuilding of the temple in 520 B.C.

[Sidenote: _The order and date of the prophetic books_]

The prophetic sermons, epistles, and apocalypses fall naturally into five great groups. The books prophets of the Assyrian period were Amos and Hosea, who between 750 and 734 B.C. preached to Northern Israel; also Isaiah and Micah, whose work lies between 740 and 680 B.C. Nahum's little prophecy, although much later, echoes the death-knell of the great Assyrian kingdom, which for two or three centuries dominated southwestern Asia. The prophets of Judah's decline were Zephaniah (about 628 B.C.), Jeremiah (628-690), and Habakkuk (609-605). To the same period belong Ezekiel's earlier sermons, delivered between 592 and 586, just before the final destruction of Jerusalem. The prophets of the Babylonian exile were Obadiah, whose original oracle belongs to its opening years; Ezekiel (xxv.-xlviii.), who continued to preach until 572 B.C., and the great prophet whose deathless messages ring through Isaiah xl.-lv. The prophets of the Persian period were Haggai and Zechariah, whose inspiring sermons kept alive the flagging zeal of those who rebuilt the second temple; the authors of Isaiah lvi.-lxvi.; the author of the little book of Malachi; and Joel. To this list we may perhaps add the prophet who has given us that noble protest, found in the much misunderstood book of Jonah, against the narrow and intolerant attitude of later Judaism toward foreigners.

[Sidenote: _Growth of anonymous and apocalyptic literature_]

With the exception of Ezekiel, Haggai, Zechariah, and Joel, all the prophecies which come from the centuries following the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. are anonymous. The worship of the authority of the past had begun, and there is evidence that the belief was gaining currency that the days of the prophets were past. Hence the natural tendency to resort to anonymous authorship or else to append a later message to an earlier prophecy. Chapters ix.-xiv. of the book of Zechariah illustrate this custom,--chapters which apparently come from the last Old Testament period, the Greek or Maccabean. The habit of presenting prophetic truth in the highly figurative, symbolic form, of the apocalypse also became prominent in later Judaism. This has already been noted in the study of the growth of the New Testament, and is illustrated by the book of Revelation. It was especially adapted to periods of religious persecution, for it enabled the prophet to convey his message of encouragement and consolation in language impressive and clear to his people, yet unintelligible to their foreign masters.

[Sidenote: _The historical background of the book of Daniel_]

To the mind of one who has carefully studied the book of Daniel in the light of the great crisis that came to the Jews as a result of the relentless persecutions of Antiochus Epiphanes, between the years 169 and 165 B.C., there remains little doubt that it is in this period the wonderful apocalypse finds its true setting and interpretation. The familiar examples of the heroic fidelity of Daniel and his friends to the demands of their religion and ritual were supremely well adapted to arouse a similar resistance toward the demands of a tyrant who was attempting to stamp out the Jewish, religion and transform the chosen people into a race of apostates. The visions found in the book trace rapidly, in succession, the history of the Babylonian, Median, Persian, and, last of all, the Greek kingdoms. The culmination is a minute description of the character and reign, of the tyrant Antiochus Epiphanes (xi. 21-45). He is clearly the little horn of chapter viii.

But suddenly, in the midst of the account of the persecutions, the descriptions become vague and general. Nor is there any reference to the success of the Maccabean uprising; instead, the prediction is made that Jehovah himself will soon come to establish his Messiah's kingdom.

[Sidenote: _Date of the book_]

The inference is, therefore, that the prophecy was written a short time before the rededication of the temple in 165 B.C. This conclusion is confirmed by many other indications. For example the language, in part Aramaic, is that of the Greek period. The mistakes regarding the final overthrow of the Babylonian empire, which was by Cyrus, not Darius, and brought about not by strategy, but as a result of the voluntary submission of the Babylonians, are identical with the errors current in Greek tradition of the same late period. Here, as in the early narratives of Genesis, a true prophet has utilized earlier stories as effective illustrations. He has also given in the common apocalyptic form an interpretation of the preceding four centuries of human history, and showed how through it all God's purpose was being realized, The book concludes with the firm assurance that those who now prove faithful are to be richly rewarded and to have a part in Ms coming Messianic kingdom.

[Sidenote: _The common motive actuating the prophets and the authors of the New Testament_]

Thus, from the minds of the prophets come the earliest writings of the Old Testament. They consist of exhortations, warnings, messages of encouragement, or else stories intended to illustrate a religious principle or to present, in concrete form, a prophetic ideal. The fundamental motive which produced them all was identical with that which led the disciples and apostles to write the Gospels and Epistles of the New. In the case of the historico-prophetic writings, like Samuel and Kings, the desire to inspire and mould the minds and wills of their readers was combined with the desire to preserve in permanent form a record of the events which, in their national history, revealed most clearly Jehovah's character and purpose. In this respect they correspond perfectly to the Gospels and Acts of the New Testament. It is easy to see, therefore, that kindred aims and ideals actuated these unknown prophetic writers and their later successors, Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

Their literary products differ only because their subject-matter is different. The one group records Jehovah's revelation of himself through the life of the Messianic nation, the other through the life of the perfect Messiah.

[Sidenote: _The New Testament the sequel of the prophetic writings_]

It is interesting to note, in conclusion, that from the point of view of the Old, all the literature of the New may be designated as prophetic.

Chapter end

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