Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

musical service of the temple entertain too limited views of the object ; * besides that this supposition is irreconcilable with the fact of its having probably originated from private collections. A religious use, however, was undoubtedly the aim by which the collectors were guided, at least in general. Ps. xlv., which is so entirely secular, must be considered as an accidental exception, unless we are indebted for its insertion to the allegorical method of interpretation, which may also have been the means of preserving from destruction the Song of Solomon.

“In the mode of dividing and numbering the several psalms, the Hebrew manuscripts, and the Seventy and Vulgate, occasionally differ from the printed Hebrew text. In many manuscripts, the first psalm is numbered with the second, and in like manner the forty-second with the forty-third, and the one hundred and sixteenth with the one hundred and seventeenth. On the other hand, a new psalm is commenced with Ps. cxviii. 5; indeed, Ps. cxviii. is divided in some manuscripts into three psalms. The Seventy also formerly numbered the first psalm with the second; and they still differ in common with the Vulgate from the ordinary method of enumeration, after the tenth psalm, inasmuch as they join together psalms ninth and tenth, and thus fall one number or psalm behind the Hebrew text, as far as to the one hundred and fortyseventh psalm, which they separate into two, and thus return back once more to the old enumeration. They also unite Ps. cxiv. with Ps. cxv., but immediately afterwards divide Ps. cxvi. into two, so that this difference is cancelled on the spot. It is necessary to be acquainted with this different mode of numbering, because the Fathers quote by it. The Seventy have besides an apocryphal psalm cli., on the victory of David over Goliah.”

V. MEANS OF UNDERSTANDING THE PSALMS.

In order that the Psalms may be understood in the fulness of their meaning, beauty, and spirit, the most important directions to an English reader are these three.

* Comp. Eichhorn, § 626.

1. Gain some knowledge of Jewish antiquities. Be so familiar with the history, the manners and customs, the climate and scenery, and the modes of thinking and feeling of the Hebrews, that you may receive such impressions from the sacred poetry as would be received by an enlightened inhabitant of ancient Jerusalem. “ It is not enough,” says Bishop Lowth, “ to be acquainted with the language of this people, their manners, discipline, rites, and ceremonies; we must even investigate their inmost sentiments, the manner and connection of their thoughts ; in one word, we must see all things with their eyes, estimate all things by their opinions. We must endeavour as much as possible to read Hebrew as the Hebrews would have read it." For this object, they who have less taste for the simple and immethodical narrative of the sacred historians may be referred to the more elaborate, but popular and interesting, history of the Jews by Milman. For consultation, every one who wishes to understand his Bible should own Jahn’s Biblical Archæology, which has been translated in this country

2. In addition to a general knowledge of the Jewish history and antiquities, it is of great use to ascertain the subject, the occasion, and the author of the psalm. It is true that these points can rarely be discovered with any considerable degree of cer inty. Many of the captions prefixed to the psalms in this translation must be regarded in the light of theories or conjectures. As such, however, they may be regarded as useful. We may be more able to comprehend the sentiment and feel the spirit of a psalm, if we only assign to it an occasion similar to that for which it was composed. At best, however, as has been remarked by Bishop Lowth,“ much of the harmony, propriety, and elegance of the sacred poetry must pass unperceived by us, who can only form distant conjectures of the general design, but are totally ignorant of the particular application.” The following remarks of Michaelis are also highly deserving of consideration.

6. There are some,' says he,“ who undertake to explain the Psalms from the historical parts of Scripture, as if every occurrence were known to them, and as if nothing had occurred during the reign of David which

was not committed to writing. This, however, considering the extreme brevity of the sacred history, and the number and magnitude of the facts which it relates, must of course be very far from the truth. The causes and motives of many wars are not at all adverted to, the battles that are related are few, and those the principal. Who can doubt, though ever so inexperienced in military affairs, that many things occurred which are not mentioned, between the desertion of Jerusalem by David, and that famous battle which extinguished the rebellion of Absalom? They, who will not allow that they are ignorant of a great part of the Jewish history, will be apt to explain more of the psalms upon the same principle, and as relating to the same facts, than they ought ; whence the poetry will appear tame and languid, abounding in words, but with little variety of description or sentiment.

Others have recourse to mystical interpretations, or convert those historical passages which they do not understand into prophecies. Into none of these errors would mankind have fallen, but through the persuasion that the whole history of the Jews was minutely detailed to them, and that there were no circumstances with which they were unacquainted.”

3. It is of the utmost consequence to attend to the characteristics of the language and structure of Hebrew poetry. In order to avoid important errors, the reader of Hebrew poetry must especially keep in mind one of its features, by which it is distinguished from the poetry of the Western world, namely, its boldness in the use of figurative and metaphorical language. Many mistakes have arisen from interpreting the language of Eastern hyperbole in too strict a sense. As an instance of the kind of language to which I refer, I may mention the eighteenth psalm, from verse ninth to the eighteenth. The simple fact that God aided David and the Israelites in battle is the foundation of this magnificent description. The Supreme Being is represented as interposing in the midst of a tempest, and the tempest itself is described in language extremely hyperbolical. Compare Hab. iii. 3, &c.

As an instance of error arising from the neglect of this characteristic of Hebrew poetry, it may be mentioned that several

learned critics have gravely undertaken to explain what habitation David could provide for Jehovah in a single day; that is, before he literally gave sleep to his eyes, or slumber to his eyelids. From inattention to the same thing, Psalm li. 5 has been made to convey a meaning at war with the attributes of God, with common sense, and with other portions of the sacred volume.

In regard to the construction of Hebrew poetry, so far as quantity is concerned, we are entirely ignorant. It is true, that now and then a scholar has arisen who thought he could perceive the measures of Greek and Latin verse in the productions of the Hebrew poets. Josephus, too, speaks of the trimeters and pentameters of David. St. Jerome, also, observes, — “If any one doubt that the Hebrews employed similar measures to those of Horace, Pindar, Alcæus, and Sappho, let him read Philo, Josephus, Origen, and Eusebius, and find by their testimony whether my assertion be true.” But the ears of a vast majority of Hebrew scholars have not been able to detect any such measures in Hebrew poetry, nor to distinguish it from prose, so far as mere sound, or quantity, is concerned. That, in the ancient mode of pronouncing the Hebrew language, such measures existed, it is not necessary to deny. But if the ears of ninety-nine in a hundred are to be trusted, it is impossible to discover them. *

What is obvious in the sacred poetry is a division into lines of nearly equal length, or containing nearly the same number of syllables, two of which lines generally form a verse, or complete a sentence. In several compositions, the initial letters of the successive lines or stanzas follow the order of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. This is the case with seven of the psalms, four chapters of the Lamentations of Jeremiah, and the last chapter of Proverbs, from the tenth verse to the end.

But the most important feature in the construction of Hebrew verse is as obvious in a translation as in the original. It is what

* For a good view of this subject, see the Introduction to De Wette's Commentary on the Psalms, and the works to which he refers. A translation of it may be found in the Biblical Repository for July, 1833.

may be called a rhythm of sentiment. A period is divided into members, generally two, but sometimes more, which, as it were, balance each other by thought corresponding to thought in repetition, in amplification, in reply, or in contrast. | This feature of Hebrew poetry is called parallelism. The illustration of it constitutes the great merit of Dr. Lowth. A more complete view of its varieties has been given by De Wette, in his Introduction to the Psalms, which I shall in substance transcribe.*

The Hebrew rhythm, namely, the parallelism of members, is nothing more nor less than a rhythmical proportion, and that of the simplest sort, between the larger sections or members of a period, the smaller being neglected. Nothing is more simple than the symmetry, the proportion between two parts of a whole, — the proportion between several begins to require more ingenuity and calculation. Thus, the relation between parallel lines is the simplest that we can conceive to exist between different lines; the triangle, the square, already begin to be more complex, and the circle is the most perfect of all figures. It might also be remarked, that every period consisting of two propositions forms a whole, and suffices for a full expression of the voice and satisfying of the ear; while a single proposition is insufficient for either. The breast is still elevated, the ear continues to listen, and yet there is nothing more to be said, nothing more to be heard. In fact, the parallelism of members seems to be a fundamental law of rhythm. It obviously lies at the foundation of the rhyme, where one verse is made to answer to the other.' The more complicated forms of rhyme, in the stanza, sonnet, &c., were invented at a comparatively later period; but even in these the law of parallelism may still be detected ; at least, the ottave rime and the sonnet naturally fall into two divisions, each answering to the other.t In like manner, the relation of the hexameter and pentameter is that of parallelism, and even the lyric strophes admit perhaps of

* See Biblical Repository for 1833, p. 494.

+ In the former, the two concluding verses are parallel to the first six, and in the second there is the same relation between the first eight and the last six verses.

« ПредишнаНапред »