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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 19.djvu/429

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LITERARY NOTICES.

petence, they were of course zealous for the preservation of a correct and uniform text, and it was apparently by them that the text which we now have was fixed. The date of this fixing becomes important, and may be proved by incidental evidence. Down to the apostolic age there seem to have been manuscripts of the various books of the Old Testament in circulation which varied considerably from one another; this appears by the divergences from our received text both of the Septuagint Greek translation made in the third century b. c., and of the Samaritan Pentateuch dating from the fifth century b. c., as well as by other evidence. But all our present MSS., none of which is older than the ninth century a. d., present what is practically one and the same text—showing that they must have been made from one archetypal MS. This text is the same text as Jerome used in making his Latin version in the fifth century a. d.; and it may be traced back with some certainty to the second century a. d. There is, therefore, good reason to believe that in the first Christian century one MS.—probably one of the three which we are told were then preserved in the Temple—was taken as authoritative, and all official copies ordered to be thenceforth made from it, every other MS., showing a different text, being discredited or even suppressed. From that time the text was guarded with the most scrupulous care, copies being made by a guild named the Massorets (possessors of tradition), who did not venture to change even an accidental peculiarity of writing. But, as many centuries had elapsed between the original writing of the books and the determination of this received text in the post-apostolic age, many variations had of course grown up. By far the most ample evidence of these variations is that supplied by the Septuagint; and one of the most interesting parts of Professor Smith's book consists in his account of the relation between the present Hebrew text and this old Greek translation, which carries us back to forms of the text that afterward perished. In common with the bulk of recent scholars, he sets a high value on many of the Septuagint readings, conceiving that they often give passages in a simpler and earlier form than that of the established Hebrew, which has been injured by the amplifications of editors, or, in some few cases, altered by copyists who did not fully understand the old language. These variations are more numerous and important in the Prophets than in the Law, because the latter held so important a place in the services of public worship, where it was read through once in three years, that the copying of it was performed more accurately and a uniform text better preserved. The author then goes on to show how little reliance can be placed on some of the titles prefixed to the canonical books, and how many traces we find of the action of a succession of editors or rédacteurs in getting the books into their present shape. Explanations were added; one document was joined on to another; in some cases it would seem that a book was written by taking an old series of annals or official records and filling into it anecdotes and descriptions from some other source. Next the formation of the Old Testament canon is discussed; and it is shown how, as in the case of the New Testament, different views as to the canonicity of particular books were from time to time prevalent among the Jews down till the second century a. d. The tales which ascribe the settlement of a canon to Ezra or to Nehemiah are shown to rest on no foundation. The inclusion of some of the Apocryphal books in the Septuagint shows that among the Alexandrian Jews these books enjoyed a certain authority, and yet they are not quoted—y Philo, for instance—as if they stood on the same level with the Prophets; for there was a feeling, a true feeling, that the prophetic voices had come to an end a few generations after the return from Babylon, or as Josephus too precisely puts it, in the time of Artaxerxes I. These books are all comparatively late, and to modern criticism stand on quite a different footing from the Prophets, whose authority seems to have become early established. But grave doubts were long entertained as to some of what we now consider canonical books. Daniel and Esther were disputed in the apostolic age, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon not finally admitted till the time of Rabbi Akiba, who lived under Hadrian.

The second half of Professor Robertson Smith's book is devoted to an inquiry into