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THE MODERN READER'S BIBLE FOR Schools is in two volumes, dealing respectively with the Old and the New Testament. The New Testament volume has already appeared. The Introduction to that volume contains explanations belonging to the work as a whole. It explains how what is called THE MODERN READER'S BIBLE is not a new translation, but is the ordinary Bible (revised version) so printed as to bring out to the eye the literary form and structure of each portion of Scripture, such structural presentation being essential, as in other books, for following the meaning of what is read. It has further been explained that the word “Schools” in the title of the present work is intended to cover a variety of readers, from classes of young people to students at a university, besides readers outside educational institutions who may be Bible students. The principles of the adaptation of THE MODERN READER'S BIBLE for such use have been indicated. There is first the omission of what in the full Bible is of the nature of documentary appendices, valuable for the specialist, but a serious interruption to reading for literary purposes. And in regard to the rest of the Bible, condensation has, in certain places, been used, minor passages being omitted to make the main drift stand out clear. The books constituting the New Testament, with what explanations seem necessary, make up the New Testament volume. The present volume deals exclusively with the Old Testament.
When from the literary point of view we approach the Old Testament, our first impression is of a library; a library of books by various authors, in various literary forms, and belonging to different periods. The literary student of this Old Testament will desire to form a clear idea of these books as independent literary works; just as a student of secular literature would desire to have a distinct conception of Browning, or Sophocles, or of the Iliad. This purpose has been kept in view throughout the present work. Besides direct explanation, it is hoped that the use of marginal titles and page headings will keep the separate books of Scripture clear to the
But it is an imperfect description of the Old Testament to speak of it merely as a library. The books have come to us from remote antiquity; those who initiated the collection of these books have
impressed upon them a certain arrangement, bringing out the interconnection of the separate books, and making the whole a literary unity--the religious development of the People of Israel as presented by themselves. To form a clear conception of the Old Testament as a whole is not less important than the appreciation of the separate books.
For such a conception of the whole we naturally turn first to the title—The Old Testament. The word has changed its meaning in modern English; in the language of our translators ‘Testament' was the equivalent of 'Covenant.' This word 'covenant' is a legal term expressing the relation between two parties, for example, between the vendor and the purchaser of an estate. Testament is devoted to the mutual relations between God and the ancient Nation of Israel; just as the New Testament—which first appears in one of the Old Testament books—deals with the relations between God and individual hearts.
When we study in detail the arrangement which seems to underlie the successive books, we find this arrangement undergoing a change about the middle of the Old Testament. The first half (more precisely, two-fifths) appears to be History. The rest seems to be made up of collections of various literary works.
From the Book of Genesis to the end of the Books of Kings we seem to be having continuous history of Israel. When, however, we examine more closely, we see that it is history blending with other literary forms. Fully to appreciate this point it is necessary to lay down a literary distinction not always observed. This is the distinction between History and Story. Both are narrative. History is narrative appealing to the sense of record and the connection of things. Story is narrative appealing to the imagination, the emotions, and the whole of our spiritual nature. There is a popular misunderstanding upon this point, which supposes History to be truth (by which is meant matter of fact), whereas Story is matter of imagination. But this will not bear examination. The parables of Jesus are story, not history; yet no one thinks of these parables as other than the highest truth. Matter of fact can be story, and imagination can be used to illuminate history. The distinction lies in the mode of presentation. When the narrative (as said before) appeals merely to the sense of record and the connection of
things we have history; to make story the imagination and the emotions must be touched.
When this distinction has been taken we can say that the earlier part of the Old Testament contains an alternation of History and Story; occasionally Song, or even Oratory, taking the place of Story. The point is lost in the traditional Bible, which has nothing to indicate literary structure; in the Modern Reader's Bible the use of a title for each story prepares the reader for the change of mental attitude required. We can now understand fully the literary character of this first half of the Old Testament. What appears on the surface to be History is in reality only historic outline, a framework holding together the literature of Story or Song, through which the spirit of the course of history is brought out. All this is a consideration of the highest literary importance. There can be no more potent way of dealing with history than thus to use the higher forms of literature to bring out the emphasis and the high lights of historic development. Quite apart from its sacred character the Old Testament would, from this consideration alone, be amongst the most important pieces of literature in the world.
When we turn to the latter half of the Old Testament, there is no difficulty in seeing its dominant purpose of collecting various literary works which have a place in the historic development of Israel. But the individual books do not always stand in the order which might have been expected. It must be remembered that the collection of books making up our Old Testament was accomplished by ancient Scribes working for the Hebrew people. Apparently, the position of particular books in the whole series is partly determined by the use of these books in the ritual of Hebrew religion. We are concerned here with the literary study of the Bible, and it seems legitimate so far to depart from the order of books in the traditional Bible as to restore the connectedness of the whole.
We find three collections of literary works. We have the collected Books of the Prophets; the collected Psalms and Lyrics of Israel; and the collected Books of Wisdom.
The first presents no difficulty. The sixteen Books of the Prophets follow immediately upon the historic outline that makes the earlier half of the Old Testament; the prophetic books supplement the later parts of that historic outline in the same way in
which, in the earlier parts, story and song were used to emphasize history.
In the collection of Lyrics, besides two isolated books of the Old Testament we have the great Book of Psalms. This is a miscellaneous collection of lyric poems, with no perceptible plan of arrangement. But certain of these psalms bear upon their surface indications of connection with great occasions of Israel's history. In the present work these psalms are transferred to appropriate places in the historic outline. The lyrics that remain suggest their own arrangement, an arrangement based upon grouping according to subject matter.
It is different when we come to the collected Books of Wisdom. Wisdom is the Scriptural name for philosophy; but, unlike the usage of that word in modern times, Biblical wisdom is limited to the philosophy of human life. Three books scattered through the Old Testament contain this wisdom: the Books of Job, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. To these it is desirable to add two books taken from what is known as the Apocrypha. The apocryphal bookswhich in earlier times used to stand between the Old and the New Testament differ from the books making up the Bible itself by a difference belonging to theology. Theologians have laid down that books of the Bible are authoritative in matters of religious faith, while the books constituting the Apocrypha are to be read only for edification. Such a distinction does not affect literary study. Two of the books of the Apocrypha, Ecclesiasticus and The Wisdom of Solomon, are not only of high literary interest, but also are essential for bringing out the connectedness and unity of wisdom literature. When we take the five Books of Wisdom together, we find that they disconnect themselves from the history of Israel. The wisdom they contain belongs to personal, not to national life. And the detailed study of these wisdom books suggests how they go outside the range of the Old Testament, and are intermediate between the Old and the New Testaments.
It might seem as if what has just been said would tend to impair the connectedness and unity of the Old Testament as a whole. But there is a consideration on the other side. The collected Books of the Prophets include a most important work of prophecy which in the traditional Bible is out of its proper place. It is an anonymous
book, and lacks even a subject-title. By some unexplained accident in the transmission of the Bible through the centuries this anonymous prophecy has been attached to the Book of Isaiah-of which it constitutes the last twenty-seven chapters. It is altogether unconnected with the Book of Isaiah; it belongs to a late age. The general drift of this great work of prophecy may be conveyed by giving a title, the Poem of “Zion Redeemed.” One feature of this prophecy is its bearing upon the interconnection of the Old Testament as a whole. The poem is dramatic; and one of its dramatic scenes presents the Nations of the world summoned to the Bar of God, to hear a Divine interpretation of all history. This interpretation of history is the indication by God of the Nation of Israel as his Servant; the service is to bring other nations to the knowledge of Israel's God. But Israel has been unfaithful to its high mission, and has fallen into the prison houses of Babylon; it has been delivered by the conquering career of Cyrus the Persian. It emerges from captivity reawakened to its high mission, and with this mission purified and exalted. The effect of this wonderful poem is to strike a unity through the different parts of the Old Testament, and to exhibit its underlying thought as a whole.
Enough has been said to explain the arrangement of the present work, which is an interpretation of the arrangement underlying the books of the Old Testament as they have come down to us, freeing the sequence of books from accidental variations. The First Chapter of this work contains the Historic Outline of the history of Israel; it is history interwoven with story and song. This is the earlier half of the Old Testament, supplemented by historic psalms from the collected lyrics. The Second Chapter deals with the change from the first to the second half of the Old Testament, the Transition from History to Literature. The Third Chapter contains the Books of the Prophets; the Fourth the collected Psalms and Lyrics. The Fifth Chapter deals with the Poem of Zion Redeemed, presenting this as the Climax of the Old Testament. Then the Sixth Chapter will deal with the collected Books of Wisdom, as Intermediate between the Old Testament and the New. Each chapter contains the essential parts of the Biblical books belonging to it, with what comment is necessary to make their interconnection clear. There will follow Notes, dealing with difficulties of detail.