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the interpretation and use of Scripture, they were not immediately The Reformers. interested in literary and historical criticism, nor concerned to challenge the whole body of traditional lore on these matters. At the same time we can see from Luther’s attitude how the doctrine of the Reformers (unlike that of the Protestant scholastics who came later) admitted considerable freedom, in particular with reference to the extent of the canon, but also to several questions of higher criticism. Thus it is to Luther a matter of indifference whether or not Moses wrote the Pentateuch; the books of Chronicles he definitely pronounces less credible than those of Kings, and he considers that the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Hosea probably owe their present form to later hands. Carlstadt again definitely denied the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch on the ground that Moses could not have written the account of his own death and yet that Deut. xxxiv. cannot be separated from the rest of the Pentateuch. The later scholastic Protestant doctrine of verbal infallibility necessarily encouraged critical reaction and proved a widely extended retarding force far down into the 19th century. Nevertheless criticism advanced by slow degrees among individuals, now in the Roman Church, now in the number of those who sat loosely to the restrictions of either Roman or Protestant authority, and now among Protestant scholars and theologians.

It would be impossible to refer here even briefly to all these, and it may be more useful to select for somewhat full description, as showing what could be achieved by, and what limitations beset, even a critical spirit in the 17th Hobbes. century, the survey of the origin of the Old Testament given by one such individual—Thomas Hobbes in his Leviathan[1] (published 1651) c. xxxiii. As far as possible this survey shall be cited verbatim:—

“Who were the original writers of the several books of Holy Scripture has not been made evident by any sufficient testimony of other history, which is the only proof of matter of fact; nor can be, by any argument of natural reason: for reason serves only to convince the truth, not of fact, but of consequence. The light therefore that must guide us in this question, must be that which is held out unto us from the books themselves: and this light, though it shew us not the author of every book, yet it is not unuseful to give us knowledge of the time wherein they were written.”

“And first, for the Pentateuch.... We read (Deut. xxxiv. 6) concerning the sepulchre of Moses ‘that no man knoweth of his sepulchre to this day’; that is, to the day wherein those words were written. It is therefore manifest that these words were written after his interment. For it were a strange interpretation to say Moses spake of his own sepulchre, though by prophecy, that it was not found to that day wherein he was yet living.” The suggestion that the last chapter only, not the whole Pentateuch, was written later, is met by Hobbes by reference to Gen. xii. 6 (“the Canaanite was then in the land”) and Num. xxi. 14 (citation from a book relating the acts of Moses at the Red Sea and in Moab) and the conclusion reached that “the five books of Moses were written after his time, though how long after is not so manifest.”

“But though Moses did not compile those books entirely, and in the form we have them, yet he wrote all that which he is there said to have written: as, for example, the volume of the Law” contained “as it seemeth” in Deut. xi.-xxvii, “and this is that Law which ... having been lost, was long time after found again by Hilkiah and sent to King Josias (2 Kings xxii. 8).”

The books of Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Samuel are proved much later than the times recorded in them by the numerous passages which speak of customs, conditions, &c., remaining “unto this day,” and Judges in particular by xviii. 30, “where it said that ‘Jonathan and his sons were priests to the tribe of Dan, until the day of the captivity of the land.’”

As for Kings and Chronicles, “besides the places which mention such monuments as, the writer saith, remained till his own days” (Hobbes here cites thirteen from Kings, two from Chron.), “it is argument sufficient that they were written after the captivity in Babylon, that the history of them is continued till that time. For the facts registered are always more ancient than the register; and much more ancient than such books as make mention of and quote the register, as these books do in divers places.”

Ezra and Nehemiah were written after, Esther during, or after, the captivity; Job, which is not a history but a philosophical poem, at an uncertain date. The Psalms were written mostly by David, but “some of them after the return from the captivity, as the 137th and 126th, whereby it is manifest that the psalter was compiled and put into the form it now hath, after the return of the Jews from Babylon.” The compilation of Proverbs is later than any of those whose proverbs are therein contained; but Ecclesiastes and Canticles are wholly Solomon’s except the titles. There is little noticeable in Hobbes’ dating of the prophets, though he considers it “not apparent” whether Amos wrote, as well as composed, his prophecy, or whether Jeremiah and the other prophets of the time of Josiah and Ezekiel, Daniel, Haggai and Zechariah, who lived in the captivity, edited the prophecies ascribed to them. He concludes: “But considering the inscriptions, or titles of their books, it is manifest enough that the whole Scripture of the Old Testament was set forth in the form we have it after the return of the Jews from their captivity in Babylon and before the time of Ptolemaeus Philadelphus.”

Except in strangely making Zephaniah contemporary with Isaiah, Hobbes’ conclusions, in so far as they differ from the traditional views, have been confirmed by the more thorough criticism of subsequent scholars. But apart from the special conclusions, the opening and closing considerations contain clear and important statements which still hold good. No fresh discoveries since the time of Hobbes have furnished any “testimony of other history” to the origin of the books of the Old Testament: this must still be determined by the statements and internal evidence of the Old Testament itself, and a deeper criticism has given to the final consideration that the Old Testament received its present form after the Exile a far greater significance than Hobbes perhaps guessed.

But the limitations of Hobbes’ literary criticism judged from our present standpoint are great. The considerations from which he acutely and accurately draws far-reaching and important conclusions might be suggested by a very superficial examination of the literature; they involve, for example, no special philological knowledge. The effect of a deeper criticism has been (a) to give a more powerful support to some of Hobbes’ conclusions; (b) to show that works (e.g. Ecclesiastes) whose traditional antiquity is left unquestioned by him are in reality of far more recent origin; (c) to eliminate the earlier sources or elements in the writings which Hobbes was content to date mainly or as a whole by their latest elements (e.g. Pentateuch, Judges, Kings), and thus to give to these earlier sources an historical value higher than that which would be safely attributed to them as indistinguishable parts of a late compilation.

Hobbes argues in the case of the Pentateuch that two authors are distinguishable—Moses and a much later compiler and editor. Spinoza, whose conclusions in his Tractatus theologicopoliticus (1671), c. viii. ix., had in general much in common with Hobbes, drew attention in particular to the confused mixture of law and narrative in the Pentateuch, the occurrence of duplicate narratives and chronological incongruities. Father Simon in his Histoire critique du Vieux Testament (1682) also argues that the Pentateuch is the work of more than one author, and makes an important advance towards a systematic analysis of the separate elements by observing that the style varies, being sometimes very curt and sometimes very copious “although the variety of the matter does not require it.” But none of these makes any attempt to carry through a continuous analysis.

The first attempt of this kind is that of a French Catholic physician, Jean Astruc. In a work published anonymously in 1753 under the title of Conjectures sur les mémoires originaux dont il paroît que Moyse s’est servi pour composer le livre de la Genèse, he argued that in Genesis and Astruc. Ex. i. ii. Moses had used different documents, and that of these the two chief were distinguished by their use of different divine names—Elohim and Yahweh; by the use of this clue he gave a detailed analysis of the passages belonging to the several documents. Astruc’s criteria were too slight to give to all the details of his analysis anything approaching a final analysis; but later criticism has shown that his criteria, so far as they went, were valid, and his results, broadly speaking, sound though incomplete: and, moreover, they have abundantly justified his really important fundamental theory that the documents used by the compiler of the Pentateuch have been incorporated so much as they lay before him that we can get

  1. In what follows the actual quotations are from his English work; some of the summaries take account of the brief expansions in his later Latin version.