Open main menu
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
864
[O.T. CRITICISM
BIBLE

by Wellhausen and in Holland by Kuenen. In 1891 Dr Driver published his Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament (6th ed., 1897); less popular in form than Smith’s lectures, it was a more systematic and comprehensive survey of the whole field of the literary criticism of the Old Testament. The position of the author as regius professor of Hebrew at Oxford and canon of Christ Church in succession to Pusey, and his well-established reputation as a profound Hebrew scholar, commanded wide attention; the qualities of the book itself—its marked sobriety, its careful discrimination between the differing degrees of probability attaching to various conclusions and suggestions, and in general its soundness of method—rapidly extended the understanding of what Old Testament criticism is and commanded acceptance of the well-established conclusions.

No less rapid has been the change in America during the same period, nor less numerous the scholars well equipped to pursue the detailed investigation involved in critical study or those who have shown ability in popular presentations of the critical standpoint.[1] Pre-eminent amongst these is C. A. Briggs, whose influence has been due in part to a large and varied body of work (Biblical Study, 1883, and many articles and volumes since) and in part to his organization of united critical, international and interconfessional labour, the chief fruits of which have been the Hebrew Lexicon (based on Gesenius, and edited by F. Brown, one of the most eminent of American scholars, S. R. Driver and himself), and the International Critical Commentary. Other important works in which English and American scholars have co-operated are the Encyclopaedia Biblica (1899-1903) and Hastings’ Bible Dictionary (1898-1904)—the latter less radical, but yet on the whole based on acceptance of the fundamental positions of Vatke, Graf, Wellhausen. Between either of these and Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible (1863) yawns a great gulf. Space forbids any attempt to sketch here the special growth of criticism in other countries, such as France, where the brilliant genius of Renan was in part devoted to the Old Testament, or within the Roman Catholic Church, which possesses in Père Lagrange, for example, a deservedly influential critical scholar, and in the Revue Biblique an organ which devotes much attention to the critical study of the Old Testament.

Rapid and extensive as has been the spread of critical methods, there have not been lacking anticritica. Many of these have been not only apologetic, but unscholarly; that is, however, not the case with all. In Dr James Orr’s learned work, The Problem of the Old Testament considered with reference to Recent Criticism (1906), the author’s chief aim is to prove insecure the fundamental positions of the now dominant school of criticism.

In view of extensive misconception occasioned by many of these anticritica, it needs to be pointed out that terms like “criticism,” “higher criticism,” “critics” are often loosely used: criticism is a method, its results are many. Again, many of the results or conclusions of criticism are mutually independent, while others are interrelated and depend for their validity on the validity of others. For example, among the generally or largely accepted critical conclusions are these: (1) Moses is not the author of the whole Pentateuch; (2) Isaiah is not the author of Is. xl.-lxvi.; (3) the book of Daniel was written in the 2nd century B.C.; (4) the Priestly Code is post-exilic; (5) most of the Psalms are post-exilic. Now 1, 2, 3 are absolutely independent—if 1 were proved false, 2 and 3 would still stand; and so with 2 and 3; so also 2 and 3 could be proved false without in any way affecting the validity of 4. On the other hand, if 1 were disproved, 4 would immediately fall through, and the strength of 5 would be weakened (as it would also by the disproof of 2), because the argument for the date of many Psalms is derived from religious ideas and the significance of these varies greatly according as the Priestly Code is held to be early or late. In view of the number of critical conclusions and the mutual independence of many of them, “higher criticism” can only be overthrown by proving the application of criticism to the Old Testament to be in itself unlawful, or else by proving the falseness or inconclusiveness of all its mutually independent judgments one by one. On examination, the authors of anticritica are generally found to disown, tacitly or openly, the first of these alternatives; for example, Prof. Sayce, who frequently takes the field against the “higher criticism,” and denies, without, however, disproving, the validity of the literary analysis of the Hexateuch, nevertheless himself asserts that “no one can study the Pentateuch ... without perceiving that it is a compilation, and that its author, or authors, has made use of a large variety of older materials,” and that “it has probably received its final shape at the hands of Ezra” (Early History of the Hebrews, 129 and 134). This is significant enough; Prof. Sayce, the most brilliant and distinguished of the “anti-critics,” does not really reoccupy the position of the “able and pious men” of the mid-19th century, to whom “even to speak of any portion of the Bible as a history” was “an outrage upon religion” (Stanley, Jewish Church, Preface); these may still have pious, but they have no longer scholarly successors. Prof. Sayce travels farther back, it is true, but on critical lines: he abandons the Pentateuchal criticism of the 20th century, to reoccupy the critical position of Hobbes, Spinoza and Simon in the 17th century—whether reasonably or not must here be left an open question.

Briefly, in conclusion, it remains to consider the relation of Archaeology to Criticism, partly because it is frequently asserted in the loose language just discussed that Archaeology has overthrown Criticism, or in Archeology and Criticism. particular the “higher criticism,” and partly because Archaeology has stimulated and forced to the front certain important critical questions.

More especially since the middle of the 19th century the decipherment of Egyptian and Assyrian inscriptions and systematic excavation in Palestine and other parts of the East have supplied a multitude of new facts bearing more or less directly on the Old Testament. What has been the general effect of these new facts on traditional theories or critical conclusions?

(1) Literary Criticism.—No discovery has yielded any direct testimony as to the authorship of any book of the Bible, or as to the mode or date of its composition. Any documentary analysis of the Pentateuch may be right or wrong; but archaeology contributes nothing either one way or another as to the answer. On the other hand, archaeology has in some cases greatly strengthened the critical judgment that certain writings (e.g. Daniel, the story of Joseph in Genesis) are not contemporary with the events described.

(2) Historical Criticism.—Here the gain has been more direct; e.g. the Assyrian inscriptions have furnished independent evidence of the relations of certain Hebrew kings (Ahab, Jehu, Ahaz) with the Assyrians, and thus supported more or less completely the evidence of the Old Testament on these points: they have also served to clear up in part the confused chronology of the Hebrews as given in the books of Kings. But above all archaeology has immensely increased our knowledge of the nations among which Israel was placed, and of the political powers which from time to time held Palestine in subjection. In this way archaeology has greatly helped to bring the history of Israel into relation with the history of the ancient East, and in so doing has raised important questions as to the origin of Hebrew culture. For example, the recent discovery of the Code of Khammurabi, which contains some remarkable resemblances to the Pentateuchal codes, raises the question of the relation of Hebrew to Babylonian law. On the other hand, there are certain great historical questions which have been greatly affected by criticism, but on which archaeology has hitherto shed no light. For example, much as archaeology has increased our knowledge of the conditions obtaining in Palestine before the Hebrew invasion, it has so far contributed nothing to our knowledge of the Hebrew nation before that time beyond the statement in the now famous stele of Merenptah (Mineptah) (c. 1270 B.C.), discovered in 1896, “Ysirael is desolated, its seed is not,” and a few possible but vague and uncertain

  1. For details see an article in the Zeitschr. für d. altest. Wissenschaft for 1889, pp. 246-302, on “Alttestamentliche Studien in Amerika,” by G. F. Moore, who has himself since done much distinguished and influential critical work.