ePub 版

stages of their history Hebrews, Israelites, and Jews. During this race's unique national experience this literature, as put into form by its poets, sages, historians, and prophets, embodied its sanest thinking and far-reaching ideals; was in fact the education and making of that peculiarly gifted people.

The basis of this literature, its underlying tissue, is historic and prophetic. That is to say, nearly all the works preserved to us are pretty directly concerned with this people's national experience; not indeed in the mere annalistic or political sense, but as discerning its inner meanings, as related to the elemental claims of God and duty and destiny. This it is which gives the literature its hold on succeeding times and peoples; for of all ancient races the Hebrew race was preëminent for the depth, the clearness, and the intensity of its spiritual intuitions. Its numerous writers, whoever they were, had in large and like degree the poet's and prophet's endowment of

such large discourse, Looking before and after ; and this was their undying gift to humanity.

The literature surviving to us in the Bible covers, in its composition, a period from about 1250 B.c.1 to about In its His

100 A.D. In its literary development this long toric Setting period falls naturally into three stages, which in our present study are considered in three books.

NOTE. The Starting Point. This period of about 1350 years is reckoned from the Song of Deborah, Judges v, perhaps the earliest literary piece which as a whole can be taken as contemporaneous with its event, to the completion of the Gospels, which may be put at about 100 A.D. The Song of Miriam at the Red Sea, Exod. xv, is in part as old as its event, and there are other early fragments which will be noted in their place; but the Song of Deborah makes a convenient starting point alike in history and in literature, from which we can reckon both backwards and forwards.

1 For the dates in Old Testament chronology I follow mostly those given in Kautszch's " Literature of the Old Testament.”

1. Its earliest works, which we read as quoted bits of song and parable more or less fragmentary, embedded in its later compiled history, date from a time when the Hebrew people, newly delivered from Egyptian bondage, were struggling for foothold and independence in the land of Canaan. With the organization of the monarchy under David and Solomon a corresponding literary impulse was awakened, which, increasing in breadth, diffusion, and conscious art, followed the fortunes of the state through the rise and decline of the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah, determined the various lines of literary utterance and form, and reached the vigor of its formative period at about the time of the Chaldean exile, in the beginning of the sixth century before Christ. It is during this period that the literature interacts most intimately with the history of the nation. We have named this period “The Formative Centuries.”

2. Through the subsequent centuries of life under foreign dominance, until the coming of Christ, during which period the national interest subsisted largely on the glories of its past, the activities of men of letters were directed to compiling, revising, and completing the works which the preexilic period had as it were left in the rough ; molding them into more matured and self-conscious literary forms; and coördinating them into a canon for educational and devotional uses. In this period. the prophet and creative historian is succeeded by the scholar and scribe. Its literary evolution is traced under the name "The People of a Book ”; the book in question being the Old Testament, as a collection of laws, prophecies, histories, poems, and didactic precepts.

3. With the Old Testament, the Jewish canon, the Biblical literature of a race is closed, but it contains many intimations of unfinality and presages of a larger consummation. The new era opens, seventy years before the break-up of the Jewish state, with the coming of Jesus. Then later, under the vitalizing power of his ministry and personality, a new literature gradually rises, related to the old as fulfillment to promise, as realization to hope and symbol; a literature which from Jewish and ethnical becomes Christian and universal. Thus out of the literature of a race is developed the literature of humanity, which all races and ages can appropriate. The latest works of this new type of utterance date from about a generation after the destruction of Jerusalem and the downfall of the Jewish state, which event occurred A.D. 70. We consider this period under the name "The People of the Way.”

At every stage, until the coming of Jesus, the Biblical literature is closely inwoven with national and race affairs; a running accompaniment of Hebrew history, especially of its wider and more imaginative stage called Israelite, enforcing its spiritual values for present and future. After Jesus' coming it ignores the affairs of state, being concerned with the facts and values of the new order which, through his ministry and the activities of his apostles, is gaining foothold and power in the larger world. The ideas of this new Christian order it not only sets forth in their own intrinsic light but coördinates at every step with the values that the past through its history and culture has revealed.

The fact that this body of literature has so laid hold on the universal heart of man as to have become the Bible, the

revered book of counsel and authority for the with Nations most enlightened nations of the world, and to

have been, as it still is, a main factor of their greatness, rouses inquiry as to what causes could have been great enough to produce so immense an effect. The thought of the factors concerned in it — land, history, people yields at first consideration only a sense of discrepancy. It was a small and sequestered land, a dim and out-of-the-way history, a people quite undistinguished for arts or learning, and never great in conquest or statecraft. To explain the

In its Touch

and Times

power of their literature much has been made, and rightly, of divine superintendence and inspiration. But the divine accommodates itself to human methods and means, and these we can measure. And if these in themselves do not suffice to fill out the solution, we can at least note what part they play and what points they reach in the problem.

To gauge so tremendous an effect, however, we must take in a somewhat commensurate scope of historic and spiritual forces. The Biblical literature was secreted from many centuries of time, and interacted with the most spacious human issues. Its power to naturalize itself among all peoples and ages was well and truly earned. How this was, let a few words of summary attempt to show.

The land from which we get the Bible was indeed small; "the least of all lands" it has been called ; but being just at the meeting-place of three continents, and traversed by the main international routes of travel, traffic, and war, it was for the play of historic forces focal and pivotal. No other ancient land was so favorably situated to be the laboratory for the working out of a world purpose. The period covered by the literature may be described in the large as that millennium of antiquity which witnessed the evolution of a world order out of primitive chaos and anarchy. It was that momentous era during which, as in a huge melting-pot, multitudes of turbulent tribes with their warring gods and confused religions were first gradually subdued in the rude unity of great unwieldy monarchies, - Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, Persia, Greece, and eventually, through the organizing genius of the Romans, amalgamated in a world-wide merger of empire. It was, in other words, the embryotic


1 " Palestine was, in a very real sense, the physical centre of those movements of history from which the modern world has grown.” W. R. Smith, " Prophets of the Old Testament,” p. 338. The Jewish and Christian Scriptures had their origin ... at the meeting-place of the great tides of human thought, the centuries-long interchange of experience and ideas.” — Geden, "Introduction to the Hebrew Bible," p. 353.


period in the birth of a general human civilization. The same period, in its fitting time, witnessed the rise and diffusion of Greek arts and culture, the spread of commerce, and the opening comity of racial intercourse. Thus all around this little land of Palestine, as well as within it, a field was being prepared and spiritual forces were concentrating themselves as if toward the fulfillment of some vast design.

And there at the center of things, involved with the rest, dwelt a peculiarly gifted people, who as monarchy succeeded monarchy came successively into intimate relations with them all; not indeed as a conquering or favored people, but rather as tributary and despised, yet distinguished from others by the intrinsic superiority of their spiritual insight and their educated conscience. This set them apart by themselves, as had indeed been prophesied of them,

Lo, it is a people that dwelleth alone,
And shall not be reckoned among the nations (Num. xxiii, 9),

and yet by that higher spiritual endowment gave them function and mission as a central repository of religious light and moral law for the guidance of all nations. Of this distinction their foremost prophets became aware and deduced its ideal before their captivity and dispersion;1 the ideal became real only through the consummation afforded by the greatest personage of their history, Jesus Christ.

As a nation planted in the midst among other and more powerful ones, and later as a people dispersed abroad and tributary at home, the Israelites were exposed successively to the influence of all the great civilizations of the ancient world; meeting each, too, just when its power was in its prime. This contact doubtless did much to enlarge and liberalize their own religious culture; made them to a degree receptive of ideas on which they and other nations

1 Cf. Isa. ii, 2-4.

« 上一頁繼續 »