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LECTURE XIV.

THE first office of an interpreter is the investigation of single words: for he must understand the elements, of which a sentence is composed, before he can judge of their combination. Now in all languages words are only signs. When they are spoken, they are signs to the hearer of what was thought by the speaker: when they are written, they are signs to the reader of what was thought by the writer. The interpretation therefore of any word, whether written by an ancient or by a modern author, must depend on the following question; What notion did the author himself affix to that word, when he committed it to writing? Consequently, all our inquiries into the meaning of a word in any particular passage, inquiries which sometimes diverge in numerous directions, must be all brought at last to concentre in that single point, the notion affixed to it in that passage by the author,

The discovery of this notion will be attended with greater or less difficulty, according to the relative situation of the reader to the author. If the

latter uses the same language, which is spoken by the former, and writes on a familiar subject, he will be readily understood, because he employs expressions, of which the meaning is determined by usage equally known to both parties. In such cases, the reader, unless he has a previous desire of perverting the author's meaning, will commonly understand the words, as they were intended to be understood they will really be signs to the reader, of what was thought by the writer. If, instead of writing on a familiar subject, he writes on matters of science, the difficulty of interpretation will indeed be increased; but this additional difficulty will not be of that description, which creates ambiguity. The words will still perform their functions with exactness for the definitions, which are used in science, prevent all misunderstanding. The Elements of Euclid will be understood, in every age and nation, precisely in the same sense, as they were understood by the author. In works composed on morality and religion, where mixed modes, which are not easily defined, are the objects of contemplation, it is always more difficult to ascertain an author's meaning, however attentive he himself may have been to the choice of his expressions. But in works of fancy and imagination, where, even in the author's own mind, precision and discrimination are frequently overlooked in the combinations of poetic imagery, occasional ambiguity will unavoid ably take place in the interpretation of his words,

If the work, which we undertake to interpret, is written in a foreign language, we shall not only have to encounter the preceding difficulties, according to their several gradations, but the additional difficulty of understanding the language itself. If indeed it be a modern language, and, beside the assistance derived from grammars and dictionaries, the reader has the advantage of conversing with those, whose language it is, the words of that language may gradually become to him as familiar signs, as the words of his own language. But if the work, which we undertake to interpret, is written in a dead language, an accumulation of difficulty will take place, according to the extent or the scantiness of the means, which we possess, of discovering the meaning of the words, which are extant in that language. This is a kind of difficulty, entirely distinct from that, which attends what is commonly called the learning of a dead language. A dead language, which can be acquired only by grammar and lexicon, is more or less easily learnt, according to the paucity or abundance of its words, the simplicity or variety of its inflexions, and the clearness or intricacy of its construction. Hence the Hebrew language is more easily learnt, than the Greek yet the examples, in which it is difficult to ascertain with precision the meaning of words, are more frequent in the former, than in the latter. A passage may be easily construed,

yet not easily understood. When the structure of a sentence is involved in no obscurity, we can easily put together, by the help of a Lexicon, a set of words in one language, corresponding to a set of words in another. But the correspondence will not necessarily be such, that the meaning, expressed by the translator, shall be the meaning intended by the author. The meaning of words is purely conventional; their connexion with the notions, which they convey, is founded in the practice or the usage of those, who speak the language, to which the words belong. In a living language this usage is known from conversation. But in a dead language it can be discovered only by reading: and therefore the fewer books we have in that language, the more circumscribed will be our means of discovering what was the usage of it, when it was spoken. Now the Old Testament is the only work, which remains, in the antient Hebrew nor have we any thing like a Lexicon or Glossary composed, while it was a living language. Indeed it ceased to be a living language so long ago as the Babylonish Captivity; for Jerusalem was re-built by Jews, who were born in Chaldea, and who returned to the country of their ancestors with the language of their conquerors.

It is a matter therefore of great importance to the interpretation of the Hebrew Bible, to know the sources, from which we derive our knowledge of the Hebrew language. It is true, that we have

the advantage of an English translation, as well in the Old Testament, as in the New: but no man would wholly confide in a modern translation, who had the means of understanding the original. At any rate, it is of consequence to know how far our translators themselves were in possession of those means, because this knowledge must determine the degree of confidence to be placed in them. Let us consider therefore in the first instance what were the primary sources, from which the knowledge of Hebrew was drawn; and in the next place let us inquire into those, which had the chief influence on our modern translations.

As Chaldee was the language spoken by the Jews of Jerusalem after the Babylonish Captivity, they gradually translated the Hebrew Scriptures, or at least the greatest part of them, into that languge. While Chaldee was spoken in the southern part of Palestine, Syriac was the language of Galilee. Now we have a Syriac translation of the whole Hebrew Bible, as well as of the Greek Testament. Since then we have Chaldee and Syriac translations from the Hebrew, they are sources, from which we derive a knowledge of the Hebrew. It is true that Chaldee and Syriac have themselves long ceased to be spoken, if we except perhaps some villages of Palestine, where it is said, that a remnant of them is still preserved. But we have the means of ascertaining the sense of Syriac words from the writings of the Syrian Fathers, especially as some of

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