Page images
[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

ligion, an infusion of the philosophic spirit, with
which they had before been utterly unacquainted.

The Greeks were perhaps the most inquisitive, the
most ingenious, and the most disputatious, people
that ever appeared upon the earth. The uncommon
importance which the Jews attributed to their reli-
gious peculiarities, both in doctrine, and in ceremo-
nies, and their abhorrence of the ceremonies of other
nations, with whom they would have no intercom-
munity in worship, could not fail to provoke the
scrutiny and contradiction of a people at once so acute
and so conceited as the Greeks. The Jews also, in
self-defence, began to scrutinize and argue. On ex-
amining and comparing, they perceived, in a stron-
ger light than ever, the inexpressible futility and ab-
surdity of the mythology of the Greeks, and the no-
ble simplicity, purity, and sublimity of their own
theology. The spirit of inquiry begot among them,
as might have been expected, the spirit of dogmatiz-
ing, a spirit quite unknown to their ancestors, though
many centuries had elapsed from their establishment
in Canaan, to the period of which I am speaking.
One of the first consequences of the dogmatical spi-
rit was a division into factions and sects.

In this state we find them, in the days of our Lord; the whole nation being split into Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes. Now, of such party distinctions there is not a single vestige in the Old Testament. The dogmatists, on the different sides, would have recourse to different theories, the theories would give .rise to particular phrases, by which the peculiar opi

[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

nions of the partizans would be expressed, and even to particular applications of the words and phrases to which they had been accustomed before. Hence the usefulness of understanding their differences, and tenets, and manner of expounding sacred writ.

7. But, though the differences in opinions, and modes of exposition, which prevailed in the different sects, do not much affect the style of the historical part of the New Testament, which, in its nature, gives less occasion for introducing subtleties in speculation, and was written by men who, from their education, cannot be supposed to have entered much into the polemical discussions of those days; they may reasonably be supposed to affect the style of the epistolary writings, especially of Paul, who was an adept in all the Jewish learning of the age. Indeed we learn from Philo, Josephus, and the talmudical writers, that their literati, at that period, were become fond of assigning a moral significance and purpose to all the ritual observances of the law, and of applying the words and phrases relating to these, in a certain figurative and mystical manner. That, in their mode of application, they would often be whimsical, I do not deny; but that the New Testament itself gives ground to think that their ceremonies and carnal ordinances, as the Apostle calls them“, were intended to adumbrate some spiritual and more important in, structions, appears to me uncontrovertible.

44 Heb. ix, 10.





But whatever be in this, it must be allowed to be a matter of some moment, that we form a right notion of the different dogmas and prevailing taste of the time. The reason is evident. The sacred writers, in addressing those of their own nation, would doubtless, in order to be understood, adapt themselves, as their great Master had done before them, to the prevailing idiom and phraseology. Now, this is to be learned only from the common usages, and from the reigning modes of thinking and reasoning, which distinguished the people in that age and nation.

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]


P fr

[merged small][ocr errors]
[merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

It can scarcely admit a doubt that, as every language has in it something peculiar, and as the people of every nation have customs, rites, and manners wherein they are singular ; each tongue will have its special difficulties; which will always be the greater to strangers, the more remote the customs, rites, and manners of the nation are, from the customs, rites, and manners of other nations : for, in the same proportion, the genius of the tongue will differ from that of other tongues. If so, it is no wonder that the distinguishing particularity of the Jews in constitution, sentiments, ceremonies, and laws, should render it more difficult to translate, with justness,

may be

from their language, than to translate from the language of any people who, in all the respects afore. mentioned, do not so remarkably differ from others. It


here to point out, more particularly, where difficulties of this kind will be found principally to lie. It is evident that they will not at all affect the construction of the sentences, or the inAections of the words. The analogy of the language, and its whole grammatical structure, may be very simple, and easily acquired, whatever be the customs of the people, or how extraordinary soever they may appear to us. Further, simple narration is not that kind of writing which will be much affected by those difficulties. The nouns which occur in it are generally of the first class, mentioned in the preceding part of this Dissertation. And in these, from the principles formerly explained, the interpreter will not often meet with any thing to retard his progress. If the narrative be of matters which concern the community at large, as in civil history, there will no doubt be frequent recourse to the words of the third class. But in regard to these, the method of adopting the original term, established by universal practice, and founded in necessity, whereby translators extricate themselves when correspondent terms cannot be found, does in effect re. move the difficulty. And even when words of the second class occur, as will sometimes happen, there is a greater probability that the context will ascertain their meaning in an historical work, than there is where they occur in any other kind of writing,



[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

such as the didactic, the declamatory, the proverbial, or aphoristic, and the argumentative.

This is the first difficulty proper to be mentioned, arising from difference of manners, a difficulty which cannot be said to affect the sacred writings peculiarly otherwise than in degree. It is always the harder to reach, in a version, the precise signification of the words of the original, the wider the distance is in sentiments and manners, between the nation in whose language the book is written, and the nation into whose language it is to be translated.

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

2. The second difficulty I shall take notice of, arises from the penury of words in the ancient oriental languages, at least in the Hebrew, a natural consequence of the simplicity of the people, the little proficiency. made by them in sciences and arts, and their early withdrawing themselves, on account of religion, from the people of other nations. The fewer the words are, in any language, the more extensive commonly is the signification given to every word; and the more extensive the signification of a word is, there is the greater risk of its being misunderstood, in any particular application ; besides, the fewness of words obliges writers of enlarged minds, for the sake of supplying the deficiency, frequently to recur to metaphor, synecdoche, metonymy, catachresis, and other rhetorical tropes. These, accordingly, are always

found to abound most in the scantiest tongues. Now the frequent use of tropes occasions an unavoid


« PreviousContinue »