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either natural or moral, which explained them to me: and in perusing the different translations, which the greatest part of the translators of the Bible had made, I observed that every one of them, (to render the expositions as they thought more intelligible) used such expressions as would accommodate the phrase to the places where they wrote, which did not only many times pervert the text, but often rendered the sense obscure, and sometimes absurd also. In fine, consulting the commentators upon such kind of passages, I found very strange mistakes in them; and that they had all along guessed at the sense,
and did but grope (as in the dark) in the search of it; and from these reflections I took a resolution to make my remarks upon many passages of the scripture, persuading myself that they would be equally agreeable and profitable for use. And the learned, to whom I communicated my design, encouraged me very much (by their commendations) to proceed in it; and more especiaily when I informed them, that it is not in Asia as in our Europe, where there are frequent changes, more or less, in the form of things, as the habits, buildings, gardens, and the like.
In the East they are constant in all things: the habits are at this day in the same manner as in the precedent ages, so that one may reasonably believe, that in that part of the world the exterior forms of things, (as
their manners and customs) are the same now as they were two thousand years since, except in such changes as may have been introduced by religion, which are nevertheless very inconsiderable." (Preface to Travels in Persia, p. vi.)
The language of the scriptures is highly figurative. It abounds with allusions and metaphors, and from this source obtains many of its beauties. The objects of nature, and the manners of nations, are introduced to diversify and adorn the sacred page;
and many of the boldest and finest images, which are there to be found, are formed upon established customs. Such passages, when first delivered, were easily understood and fully comprehended, and came to the mind with an energy which gave them certain effect. If a similar influence do not accompany them to persons whose residence is in distant climes and ages, it is because they are unacquainted with such circumstances as are therein alluded to, or because they suffer their own habits and manners to prepossess the mind with disaffection, to every thing discordant from its own particular and favourite modes. If we desire to understand the word of God as it was originally revealed, we must not fail to advert to its peculiarities, and especially those of the description in question. It will be found absolutely impossible to develope the meaning of many passages, without recurring to the customs with which they are connected ; and these, when brought forward, will remove the abstruseness which was supposed to attend the subject, and give it a just and clear representation,
The accumulated labours of biblical critics have succeeded in clearing up many difficulties; but in some instances they have failed, and have left the enquirer bewildered and perplexed. The reason they have not done better has been the want of a proper attention to oriental customs. Commentators in general have not sufficiently availed themselves of the assistance of travellers into the East. It is but rarely that any materials are drawn from their journals to elucidate the scriptures. The few instances which occur of this sort, discover how happily they may be explained by this method, and excite our surprise and regret at the neglect of it.
A spirit of inquiry and research seems to have animated those persons, who, during the two last centuries, explored the regions of the East. Many of them were men of considerable natural talents, and acquired learning. While they indulged a laudable curiosity in collecting information on general subjects, they did not neglect sacred literature. By their industry the geography,
natural history, religious ceremonies, and miscellaneous customs of the Bible and the eastern nations have been compared and explained, and that essentially to the advantage of the former.
But with regard to these writers it must be observed, that many excellent things of the kind here adverted to are only incidentally mentioned. Some observations which they have made are capable of an application which did not present itself to their ininds; so that in addition to a number of passages which they have professedly explained, select portions of their works may be brought into the same service. To collect these scattered fragments, and make a proper use of them, is certainly a laborious work: it has, however, been ably executed by the late Mr. Harmer; his Observations on divers Passages of Scripture are well known and highly esteemed. It must be acknowledged to his praise, that he led
in this department of literature, and has contributed as much as any one man to disseminate the true knowledge of many parts of holy writ. But his work is too copious for general utility: it will never fail to be read by the scholar ; but it cannot be expected that the generality of christians can derive much benefit from that, which from its extent is almost inaccessible to many persons. It must also be admitted that
some of the subjects which are there discussed may be dispensed with, as not being of much importance. The style is sometimes prolix, and difficult of conception, and the arrangement is certainly capable of improvement. On the whole, the book would be more valuable if it were more select in its subjects and compressed in its language. This object long appeared so important, that I determined to execute an abridgment of these observations for my own private use; but upon further reflection, I was induced to undertake the compilation of a volume to include the substance of the best writers of this class. The production now offered to the public is the fruit of that resolution.
I have endeavoured to select from Mr. Harmer's Observations whatever appeared important and interesting. This has not indeed been done in the form of a regular abridgment; but after extracting such materials as appeared suitable, I have inserted them in those places, where, according to the passages prefixed to each of the articles, they ought to stand. This method I apprehend to be new, and not before attempted, but I hope will prove both agreeable and useful. As it is the avowed intention of each article to explain some passage, it is proper, that it should be inserted at length, and in a manner