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THE PROSPECTIVE REVIEW.
ART. I.—HEBREW HISTORY.
A History of the Hebrew Monarchy, from the Administra
tion of Samuel to the Babylonish Captivity. London: John Chapman, 1847.
We heartily welcome the appearance of this book. Its bold views and unreserved statement of facts will doubtless give offence in some quarters : but for the sake of truth and reason, and not least of a pure and spiritual Christianity, we rejoice that so able and vigorous an attempt has been made to supply a deficiency in our historical literature, which Mr. Milman's work, liberal and enlightened in many respects, no longer adequately meets. It gives expression, we are persuaded, to surmises that have haunted many a thoughtful mind; and any one acquainted with the present state of knowledge and inquiry, might have safely predicted, that a work of this description under some form or other must ere long have been given to the public.
In the volume before us, traces of the new spirit imparted to historical inquiries by Niebuhr, are very perceptible. Great minds bursting with some prolific idea, scatter far and wide the seeds of thought which light and fructify on regions far remote from that where the original fruit was matured. They spread around them a crop of kindred products, and give the age in which they flourish, a colour and fragrance of its own. Niebuhr's was one of these potential and self-multiplying minds. He put a new life into history. His doubts were the provocatives of fresh knowledge. And whatever may be the judgment of posterity on the soundness and absolute worth of his own
CHRISTIAN TEACHER.—No. 39.
researches, his spirit will live in the results of manifold inquiries which but for his quickening influence would never have been instituted. Here is the evidence of his genius: this is the true basis of his fame.
We take it to be the special function of the historical school which Niebuhr created, to trace out the great parallelisms of manners, institutions and opinion in the different periods of civilization, and to show men how the records of the past may be translated intelligibly into the conceptions of the present-to convert history, as it were, into a series of moral equations, where the unknown symbols are collected on one side of the operation, and rendered into their known equivalents on the other. Principles strictly identical are disguised from us by the changing forms in which they are clothed. A law, an usage, a mode of action, a form of speech—then becomes intelligible to us, when we are made to see what it corresponds to, in the state of society to which we ourselves belong. We are then able to realise it, when we can trace it up through the mass of dead words in which it is enveloped by the lexicographer or the antiquary, to some living experience of our daily life or universal principle of our common humanity. We must read the past in the light of the present; and as that light increases, the past will need to be continually re-read. The past is a dim page--and dimmer the more remote-on which remain but a few of the characters with which it was once inscribed, hard to decypher, as well from their strange and uncouth shape, as from the frequent absence of the connecting signs. We encounter only relics and fragments, which we cannot read off at once into their modern equi. valents, but must attack in repeated trials, till with the occasional aid of conjecture and divination, we can piece together the disjointed members into the coherence of their original structure. This remark does not of course apply with the same strength to those periods which possess abundant contemporary records; but it is true more or less of the whole of history. It is a work of interpretation, and will be read differently by different minds. We are not however to suppose, that truth is unattainable: it may be reached by successive approximations. For the laws of nature are unchanging; and the mind that has familiarised itself by science with the constant se
quences of events, has acquired a vast power for recovering the lost knowledge of former ages. As it can infer from a single fact, the certain co-existence of many other facts, it will often read an entire history where the less instructed would discern but a solitary event. The principles already ascertained of Morals and Social Economy, and those still more remarkable which are daily evolved by the inquiries of Statistics—to say nothing of the demonstrated truths of Physical Science-furnish powerful implements for the cultivation of the field of history, which will obtain richer results the more their use is perfected; and, applied to periods hitherto exempted from the scrutiny of a rational criticism, must lead to some conclusions for which the general reader is
leadied from this and, a richer resation of the furnish not prepsome conclus.crutiny ofcd to periodthe more
The author of the History of the Hebrew Monarchy has brought a very acute mind, familiar with knowledge that lies beyond the range of ordinary scholarship, to the task of combining and interpreting the antique and fragmentary records, which contain the only materials for his work. The facts so elicited, he has read in the clear light of modern intelligence and humanity, and without hesitation or disguise has estimated at their just moral value. He judges the civilisation of the Hebrews, as he would that of any other people, by a Christian standard. Perceiving distinctly the important part assigned to this remarkable race in the general development of human progress, sympathising deeply with the spiritual wisdom and earnestness of their prophetic teachers, and, in a striking passage at the commencement of his book, emphatically declaring his conviction, that pure and undefiled religion is the noblest, the most blessed, the most valuable of all God's countless gifts,'*-the writer has nevertheless clearly seen, that this most ancient and curious history, to be understood, must not be read with a blind subjection to the religious views of its immediate authors, and that in interpreting their language, we must constantly make allowance for the religious prepossessions which give a colour to their representation of facts.t A small criti. cism may take exception to certain of his statements and views : but a work should be tried by the soundness of its general principles and the truth of its final conclusion; and in regard to these, the ground which he has occupied, seems to us unassailable. We do not by this mean to insinuate, that his work is wanting in accuracy of detail. On the contrary (and we speak after an attentive perusal, and a constant comparison of the Biblical passages criticised) we should say, it is distinguished by its accuracy, and the singular clearness and penetration, with which inconsistencies in the original narrative are brought out, and 'minute points of chronology discussed.* But so bigottedly are the minds of most persons inured to a literal acceptance of the Old Testament record, and so ready is the imputation of inaccuracy, rashness, levity to any deviation from it, not supported by the fullest and most undeniable proof, that it becomes necessary to claim beforehand for every earnest inquirer in this field, that privilege of conjecture and free combination, which is admitted in all other history, and without which the entire truth can never be known.
* Preface, p. vii.
+ The Author throughout his work gives numerous examples of the spirit of sacerdotal prejudice and exaggeration which pervades the Books of Chronicles, and is the more conspicuous when compared with the calmer statements in those of Samuel and Kings. The peculiarity of Chronicles must always have struck an attentive reader :--but we believe the first writer in modern times, who subjected it to a careful critical analysis, and traced it to its probable cause, was De Wette, in his · Kritischer Versuch über die Glaubwürdigkeit der Bücher der Chronik, etc.
A great assumption is involved in the popular prejudice on this subject. It must first be shown, that the literal interpretation, taking the naked facts just as they are given us—necessarily secures the truth, and that any other would certainly involve error. To insist on the Biblical history being exempted from criticism, implies a suspicion that it cannot endure the test. Where the business is, as in all ancient history, to construct an intelligible whole out of fragments, the free play of enlightened theory is indis. pensable to the discovery of truth. Some failurés, some mistakes must be pardoned in the eager pursuit of it.
* The Author has elaborated the chronology of his subject, we might almost say, with a superfluous care : for the chronological data of the Old Testament are exceedingly loose and uncertain, and hardly afford a basis for the construction of a consistent scheme. In an Appendix to Chapter IV., he has proposed a method of getting rid of the two interregna, which are generally assumed to have elapsed, one between Jeroboam II. and Zachariah, the other between Pekah and Hoshea.