27 MAY 1882, Page 19

MR. ROBERTSON SMITH'S "PROPHETS OF ISRAEL."* LIKE revolutions generally, the

critical revolution is busily engaged in devouring its own children. Already those who

* The Prophets of Israel, and their Race in History to the C10143 of the Eighth C.nturg D.C. most Lectures, by W. Robertson Smith, M.A., LL.D. Edinburgh : A. and C. Ws*.

were in the van a dozen years ago are superseded and out of date. Such names as Ewald, Schrader, and Dillman have

become the Girondins of a new advance, which has found its Robespierre in Wellhausen. The position which Wellhausen has assumed has the merit of being definite. The lines are well

marked, and, perhaps, he himself may be inclined to think of it as final. In the words of Dr. Robertson Smith, the theory is the following :-

" The latest history in the Book of Chronicles presupposes the whole Pentateuch ; the main thread of the Book of Kings accepts the standard of the Book of Deuteronomy, but knows nothing of the Levitical legislation ; and older narratives now incorporated in the Kings—as, for example, the histories of Elijah and Elisha, which every one can see to be ancient and distinct documents—know nothing of the Denteronomic law of the one altar, and, like Elijah himself, are indifferent even to the worship of the golden calves. These older narratives, with the greater part of Samuel and Judges, accept as fitting and normal a stamp of worship closely modelled on the religion of the Patriarchs as it is depicted in Genesis, or based on the ancient law of Ex. xx., 24, where Jehovah promises to meet. with his people, and bless them at the altars of earth or unhewn stone which stand in all corners of the land, on every spot where Jehovah has set a memorial of his name."

Dr. Smith speaks of these conclusions as proven even to demon- stration. After a diligent study both of the writings of Dr.. Smith and of Wellhausen and others, we have, on the contrary, to say that, in our judgment, this reconstruction of the history . of Israel does not amount to a probability. It is to be noted that the Book of Chronicles does not imply or presuppose the whole Pentateuch. For, applying their own rule, the chronicler knows nothing of the Great Day of Atonement, and room must be left for a later development, after the chronicler has written.

But the existence of the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Septua- gint version fixes a limit beyond which no farther development is possible. Accordingly, we find that Kayser is disposed to bring down to a very late period indeed the independent exist- ence of the Samaritan Pentateuch, in order to leave room for such farther development of the Pentateuch as may be found necessary. Already there are signs of the advent of a critic who will be to Wellhausen what Wellhausen has been to Ewald. It is not necessary to state that any work from the pen of Dr. Robertson Smith is worthy of all respect and admiration. These lectures are able, scholarly, and most brilliant in literary execution. Fortunately, also, the greater part of these lectures is independent of the critical views which Dr. Smith has been led to bold. He has conferred a great boon on all readers of the Old Testament, by the way in which he has set the litera- ture in the frame of the history, and shown the historical genesis of the prophecies with which he has undertaken to deal. It is comparatively easy to do this for the period under review,. because the external history of that time is unusually full and detailed. We do not propose to analyse or describe the con- tents of these lectures. We should like to state here one or two

of the considerations which hinder us from accepting Dr..

Smith's view of the history of Israel, and of its literature. We say, then, that the rise of the prophets of the eighth century B.C. is to us utterly inexplicable, if we accept the statement of these lectures as true. Both the men and their teaching seem to us to require a long, national development, as preparation for the possibility of their existence. Dr. Smith reduces this preparation to a minimum, and in so doing seems to us to have emptied the previous history of Israel of a great part of its meaning. It is consistent in Wellhausen, who denies the existence of the Decalogue at the time of Moses, to affirm that ethical monotheism formed no part of Israel's early creed.

Evidently, the Decalogue presupposes ethical monotheism as its basis. We affirm so, even on the supposition that each of the " ten words" was originally contained in a single sentence. Dr. Smith has written in defence of the existence of the " ten words" in the time of Moses, and seemingly forgetful of his

singularly able article (Engl. Brit., art. " Decalogue "), he has written the first two lectures of this series altogether from the stand-point of Wellhausen. If the " ten words " do date from the sojourn at Sinai, we have also other conclusions fatal to the

theory propounded in these lectures. For one thing, the corner- stone of the hypothesis is knocked away. It will prove, for example, that a law may be in existence, and yet be systematic- ally ignored, and disobeyed by king, priest, and people. Now, the whole procedure of the present critical movement is based on the supposition that this is impossible. We should like to apply the principles expounded in these lectures to the elucida-

tion of a history of which it is possible to know more than we can know of the history of Israel. A partial and one-sided appli-

cation of it was made by Graf, when the happy thought occurred to him of comparing the chronicler to a Roman Catholic writer of the middle-ages, who, in describing the institutions of the Church of Rome, assumes that they all date from the Apostolic age. Let us make such an analysis of the life of the middle- ages as Wellhausen has made of the Historical Books of the Bible. Let us lay as much stress on heathen customs and viola- tions of law, and principles of worship unsanctioned by the New Testament, as he has laid on similar things in the history of Israel, and we shall gather together an overwhelming amount of evidence against the existence of the New Testament during all that period. Even if we take the popular customs of England with regard to the maypole, or of Scotland with regard to Halloweven, as these still exist, the same conclusion would be irresistibly drawn. Before we can endorse the method which the writer uses, we should like to test its use and its validity by a wider induction than this critical school has yet made.

Assuming for a time the attitude of Dr. Smith, and not con- troverting his results, let us see what demands it makes on our power of belief. We have the great mass of Old-Testament Literature hurled into the time of the Captivity, that is to say, into a time the history of which is altogether unknown to us. We have a series of unknown writers, historians, poets, prophets, busily engaged in recasting and developing the history and legis- lation of their people. The Deuteronomist, with a dramatic power unequalled in ancient literature, had set them the ex- ample. But the dramatic power of the Deuteronomist is utterly .cast into the shade by that displayed in the case of the non- Levitical writer who describes the apostacy of Israel on Sinai.

'The historical sections which set forth the events of Israel's sojourn at Sinai contrive somehow to give the impression that the revolution which, according to the critics, occu- pied a thousand years in its accomplishment, was literally accomplished within a few months at Sinai. It effects this with a due regard to historical probability, and a just appre- ciation of the adequacy of causes, and their exact correspond- ence to effects. When Israel arrived at Sinai, the patriarchal organisation, civil, religious, and priestly, was in actual exist- ence. Israel is a kingdom of priests,—a holy nation, a peculiar people. Young men sent by Moses offer sacrifices. The first legislation (Ex. xx. to xxiii.), proceeds on this footing, and an altar service suited to this state of things (Ex. xx., 24) is commanded.

But according to the representation of these historical sections, this legislation and altar service are superseded almost as soon as given. Israel is afraid to draw near to God, and cries for a mediator. This is the first step in the religious revolution.

Then came the apostacy, the making and the worshipping of 'the golden calves, and the demonstrated unfitness of Israel for

its high vocation. Hence the necessity for a special priest. hood, and a special altar service, and a special legislation, all of which is accordingly represented as given there and then at Sinai. If we had space to draw this out in detail, and to show minutely how this unknown writer has thrown himself into the past, has gauged the power of motive, and fitted adequate cause to fitting effect, we should be constrained to admit, on the critic's view, that the greatest dramatist in the world is not Shakespeare, but another. Nor is this all. Another historic section, recorded in the Book of Numbers, tells how this revolution was regarde 1 by the people. The story of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, told naturally; as it seems 'to be, reveals that there was great discontent among the people of the other tribes against the tribe of Levi, because they were shut out from the ancient priesthood of their race. The children of Reuben took their stand on the ancient constitu- tion of Israel, renewed as this was in the early days of Sinai. The holiness of the whole people was their watchword ; along with them was the company of Korah, who are represented as rebelling against the exclusive claim of Aaron to the high priesthood. This story forms a sequel so appropriate to the historical sections which describe the events of Sinai, and is so exactly suited to the circumstances, that our wonder at the extraordinary gifts of the unknown writers of the Exile passes all bounds. If we continue our study of the history, we shall find other matters equally wonderful. We shall find that the religious revolution at Sinai is represented as having been practically unregarded by the people. For a time, it was partly operative. But after the death of Joshua's generation, the people is represented as falling back into patriarchal ways, and even. falling into the ways of Canaan. But the religious transactions in Sinai were not forgotten. The vague memory

of them afloat among them was sufficient to induce them to prefer a Levite as a priest to one of themselves, when they could ob- tain one. We do not pursue this further. But we have surely said enough to justify us in asking from our critics some ade- quate explanation of such astounding literary ability, and such marvellous dramatic power. We venture to tell them that this ought to be their first task. They show a marvellous ignorance of the forces which mould and guide human character, of the laws of human imagination, and of the facts of human life,if they imagine that any amount of literary analysis of the documents of the Old Testament, or any comparison, however minute, of the legislations with the history, will enable them to dispense with this necessary task. The writers of the Old Testament and their representation of the history of Israel will maintain possession of the field, until the critics learn the secret of the marvellous verisimilitude of reality and appearance of historic truth which these writers have been able to impart to the writings of the Old Testament. Nor will diligent dissection of documents and minute analysis of the historical books ever lead them into pos- session of this open secret. They seem to us to be altogether on a false scent, and have followed their microscopic investiga- tions to such minuteness as to be unconscious of the greater difficulties which await their own solution of the problem. One of these we have briefly stated, and space prevents us from naming others. Weighted as the traditional view is with innumerable difficulties, it still makes a less demand on human belief than the view which Dr. Smith regards as demon- strated. The inevitable conclusion is, that the last word on Old- Testament criticism is not yet spoken. The final solution, if ever we have a final solution, will probably be as far removed from the view of Dr. Smith, as it will be removed from the traditional view. For notwithstanding the ability of its advocates, their acknowledged scholarship, and their undoubted love of truth, we must say that a theory which postulates the existence of unknown writers of the skill, deftness, and power of those of the Exile period, is, on the face of it, incredible.