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It is hoped that the title of this work will not be misconstrued to suggest a mere class room manual. The expression “Schools” covers a great variety of people, from university and other mature students to quite young people. It is for the particular teacher, or director of study, to discriminate the kind of instruction needed in each case.
But it is desirable that there should be some presentation of Scripture in literary form which may be used by all types of students. To furnish this has been the purpose of this and the companion New Testament volume.
The Old Testament is the portion of sacred literature that stands most in need of the principle upon which the Modern Reader's Bible is based—the representation of literary structure in the printed page. Here, in place of straightforward narrative or epistolary discussion, we encounter dramatic and lyric outpourings of high complexity, often in forms unfamiliar to the modern reader. Yet the literary form is an essential of interpretation: it is obvious that the very same sequence of words will produce on the mind quite different impressions according as the words are part of history or discourse or dialogue. Traditionally this difficulty has been met by detailed exegesis and notes. But annotation is interruption, and exegesis is at best a necessary evil, conflicting with the rapid play of thought which belongs to the highest literary style. It is certain that if the array of comments and helps which we associate with Bible study had been applied to the novels and short stories which have such a hold on the rising generation, these novels and stories would never have attained their popularity. Even the indication of chapter and verse divisions in ordinary Bibles is responsible for much of the neglect of Bible reading; such divisions are not allowed to appear in the text of the present work, though an Index at the end makes it easy to connect anything in the text with the traditional chapters and verses. On the other hand, when the literary structure is automatically reflected to the
eye in the printed page, great part of the necessity for notes disappears.
From the educational, as distinguished from the religious, point of view, the Old Testament is the most important part of the Bible. Our whole modern civilization and culture rests upon the coalescence, in the old Roman world, of Greek and Hebrew thought. We should look for a reflection of this in our higher education. Unfortunately our educational systems crystallized into their present forms when the Hellenic factor was being unduly emphasized. They do full justice to Greek Classics. But the corresponding Hebrew Classics they leave to religious study, that is to specialization; as a result these Biblical classics have fallen out of general culture, to the scandal of our higher education. Yet there is not a single point that can be urged as to the educational importance of the Greek Classics, which does not tell equally in favour of the Biblical Classics; it being assumed of course that these appear in their full literary dress, and not in the broken verses of medieval commentators. It may well happen that a reader who has been saturating himself with the imaginative flights of Isaiah or Habakkuk or Joel, may turn to his Pindar and be conscious of a drop, rather than a rise, in poetry.
But the word “classics” imperfectly describes the literature of the Old Testament. Unlike the Greek classics, which are independent works, the counterparts of these in the Bible link themselves one to another, making thus the higher unity of the Old Testament as a whole—the spiritual evolution of Israel as presented by itself. It is this feature of the Old Testament which the present volume specially emphasizes: the combination of historic outline, no more than is sufficient to bind other works together, with the higher literature of creative picture and discourse for emphasis. The teacher using this volume will do well to fasten first upon the unity of the whole, as presented in conspectus on page 8, and worked out in more detail in Chapter First. The subsequent chapters show the spirit of the whole, enlarging from simple story and song to the rich experience reflected in prophetic and lyric masterpieces. Finally, the poem that makes the last twenty-seven chapters of the traditional book of Isaiah brings the whole to a climax; it presents dramatically the nations of the world
summoned to the Bar of God to hear the Divine interpretation of history in the mission of Israel to the Nations. In this thought the whole of the Old Testament becomes a unity; and in this unity the Old Testament joins on to the New.
This volume, and the companion volume of the New Testament, have carried one step further than before the underlying principle of the Modern Reader's Bible. The great obstacle to the appreciation of Scripture in its traditional form has been the indiscriminate mixture of great and small, text and note, matter and appendix, poetry and prose. What was issued as the Modern Reader's Bible simply discriminated these to the eye of the reader, as is done in all other printed books. But in a work specifically intended for use in education it becomes possible to add to all this the device of selection and even of condensation. The purpose in the use of these is the same as before, to clear the perspective of what is being read, the less important being sometimes omitted to make the more important stand out. And there is less objection to the use of selection and condensation in the case of the Bible because the full text is in everybody's hand. The editor of these volumes has himself had a long experience as a teacher, in which he has seen many hundreds of university and other students turned from prejudice to enthusiasm for the Bible simply by its presentation in literary form. His counsel to his fellow teachers would be to concentrate their efforts on the simple and straightforward reading of Holy Scripture, unhampered even by explanation, in the way most other books are read. When this has been secured the Bible may be left to take care of itself.
RICHARD D. MOULTON. Tunbridge Wells,