15 MAY 1880, Page 14



A NEW commentary on Isaiah reminds us of that description in Mr. Carlyle's Barter Besartus of the worth of a true Book. Such a Book, which may be given to the world once in two or three centuries, is (he says) like some great perennial tree, to which men go on pilgrimage from all lands, to find shelter under its branches, and which every year puts forth new leaves and fruits,. that is to say, commentaries, essays, pamphlets. Some of these live and perish in a single season, while others leave behind them seeds with the promise of new life in them. Such a Book is the Book of the Prophecies of Isaiah. Few books have deserved, and few have had, such a host of commentaries, generation after generation. The list which Gesenius gave, fifty years ago, in the exhaustive fashion of the critics of his day, was enormous, and the additions that must now be made to it are very great, both for number and for worth. And if we were to attempt to classify as well as to enumerate them all, we should find our- selves involved in as many ramifications as was Polonius, when he attempted to state to Hamlet the various kinds of acting which the players could present. There are the theological

• The Prophesies of Isaiah. A New Translation, with Commentary and Appendices. by the Rev. T. K. Chops., M.A. Vol. I. London : C. Kegan Paul and Co. 1880.

commentaries, of which those of Titringa, Alexander, and Delitzsch may be taken as the best specimens, while they are replete, indeed, with every kind of learning, as well as the properly theological ; the purely literary commentary of Bishop Lowth ; the historical and literary commentaries, such as those of Gesenius, Rosenmiiller, Hitzig, and Knobel ; those in which the writers—as Ewald, Strachey, Stanley, and Bunsen— endeavour to bring all these elements into the light of that com- parative philosophy which would find the relation of the Hebrew nation and its religion to that of the other nations in the divine government of the world. And then there are the monographs and quasi-monographs of Caspari, Hengstenberg, Hiivernick, Plump- tre, and a host of others, in which we must include the marginalia of Grotins and the sermons of Maurice. Each class of com- mentaries, indeed, runs into the others more or less; and especially should we find it difficult to say precisely where to place the volume of Mr. Cheyne now before us. In his earlier work, published ten years since—The Book of Isaiah, Chronologically Arranged—Mr. Cheyne followed Ewald. almost entirely in his dealings with the test, while his learning was his own ; but now, with that reasonable inconsistency which every wise man recognises as the growth of knowledge, he tells us, "That since writing that work, the author's views have been modified on some of the critical questions at issue. The difficulty and com- plication of these questions are much greater than he supposed." He says, too, that those ten years "have been years to him fruitful of results both in study and in inner experience, and he would fain hope that not only has his knowledge increased, but his mental and spiritual vision been purified and enlarged." And he has learnt that there is more than he had formerly seen to be said in "justification of a distinctly Christian exegesis, i.e., one which interprets prophecy in the light of fulfil- ment, and develops the germs of doctrine in a New Testament sense." There is, we believe, a translation, by one of the old- fashioned rationalists, of Vitringa's learned commentary on Isaiah, "with all the unsatisfactory (that is, Christian) theology left out ;" but Mr. Cheyne has, with more wisdom as well as more humility, seen that this Christian theology brings to bear upon the Hebrew prophets a light without which it is impos- sible to understand them aright. Still he has by no means wholly abandoned his old position of free criticism as wrong or worthless. It is one of the merits of this Commentary that it does not dogmatically assume and assert either a rationalist or an orthodox system of interpretation, as though the other had nothing to be said for it. Nor does Mr. Cheyne fall into the mistake of saying (as Mr. Matthew Arnold does) that, as re- gards the most perplexing of all the critical questions relating to the Book of Isaiah—that of the authorship of the later .chapters—it is immaterial to our appreciation of them whether

we believe them to have been written by Isaiah or not. He more justly says :—" Sad it is that from the only admissible point of view—the philological—the problem of their date and literary origin still remains unsettled ; for, until we know under what circumstances a prophecy was written, por- tions at least of the exegesis cannot but remain vague and obscure." We could wish, indeed, that he had stated the problem more fully than he has done, and still more that he had been able to throw some new light upon it, and to make at least some farther approximation than has yet been made towards its solution. Still, it is something to have it .clearly recognised by so religious as well as learned a clergy- man as Mr. Cheyne, that the question exists, and that it is a question which cannot be settled off-band, either by a servile belief in miraculous predictions for which there is inadequate justification, nor yet by the dogmatic assertion of a later author- ship, in spite of all the literary and critical objections to such assertion.

The student, properly so called, of the Book of Isaiah, will not confine himself to one commentary ; but for those readers, and those writers of sermons, who have not time, nor perhaps inclination, for making more than a cursory acquaintance with the subject, there can hardly be a better commentary than this before us. To apply Goethe's illustration, if it does not con- tain much seed-corn, much profound and pregnant thought, it is at least good wholesome bread, nourishing and satisfying for the day. And it has at this moment—for in this respect it must presently be more or less superseded by wider knowledge —a special value, as giving some of the latest facts and conclu- sions of the Assyriologists as to the connection of Hebrew and Assyrian history at the period to which Isaiah's prophecies belong. Until the recent discovery of the palaces, the bas- reliefs, the bulls, and the annals of Sargon, which show him

to have been one of the greatest, perhaps the greatest, of the Assyrian kings, the learned commentators had doubted whether, in spite of the mention of his name by Isaiah, he had any proper royal existence,—whether he was not either a mere general, or else Shalmaueser under another name. But now we have not only his own account of that siege of Ashdod which Isaiah mentions,but notices of his invasion of Judah which throw a new light upon other passages of the prophet which had hitherto been supposed to refer to that of Sennacherib. The cuneiform inscriptions, too, have shown that it was not so impossible as the older rationalists supposed, but, on the con- trary, quite certain, that Isaiah might know of Babylon and of the Chaldieans, as well as of Nineveh and the Assyrians. But it is by the discovery of the so-called Assyrian Canon, with its precise chronology, that still more important questions are raised.

No one who has an eye or feeling for such things can doubt that the Book of Isaiah, as we now have it, is an epic whole, comparable for the unity of its "beginning, middle, and end," with the Iliad or the Morte d'Arthur. And till the Assyrian Canon threatened to prove the belief an illusion, it seemed that this epic arrangement might be properly attributed to Isaiah him- self. But it is hard not to accept this Canon, with all its in- ternal evidence of precision and accuracy, its correspondence with the more detailed annals of the several kings, its mention of an eclipse, which Mr. Hind has calculated and found to have actually occurred at the given date, and its agreement with the Canon of Ptolemy. And then we must conclude that it was not the invasion of Sennacherib, but that of Sargon, which happened in the fourteenth year of flezekiah's reign; that Sennacherib's invasion was in Hezekiah's twenty-fourth year; and that the illness of Hezekiah and the embassy from Merodach-Baladan also belong to the earlier date. And, if so, we shall be obliged to refer the arrangement of the book to a later time, and to admit that the compiler of this, as well as of the Book of Kings, was not accurate as to his own chronology. All this Mr. Cheyne has discussed, though, we think, not so clearly as Mr. George Smith had previously done in his Assyrian Eponym Canon, to which Mr. Cheyne does not refer.

Mr. Cheyne has given a new translation, which is, of course, an important part of his interpretation of the text, wherever it had been obscured by previous mistranslation ; while such mis- translations imply that the text is there difficult, and needs elucidation. But we could wish that the learned commentator had never departed from the Authorised Translation, where there was no real error to correct. To him who reads the Hebrew with this translation as a help, it is no advantage—gives no additional explanation of the text—to find, at the beginning of the first chapter, the bald phrase, "Sons 1 have made great and high, and they have broken away from me," instead of the fine, rhythmical English,—" I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me." To the student of the Hebrew there is no advantage, to the mere English reader there is absolute disadvantage, in such a new translation.

Except in the case of actual errors, it may be safely asserted that any change from the Authorised Version will almost always be a

change for the worse. No one now can write such English as that is. Mr. Matthew Arnold and Sir Edward Strachey have laid down this principle in making their versions, which are good just in SS far as they have kept to it, and bad wherever they depart from it.