« PreviousContinue »
tension of the law. The marriage of cousins is not forbidden; and yet if this were the design of the law, it ought to have been forbidden rather than most of those which are specified. As there is therefore good reason to believe that this is not the design of the law, all conclusions drawn from the supposition that it is, must be without foundation.
Is it then still urged, as an objection to the interpretation which has been given, that it leaves some cases unprohibited, in which, in the circumstances of modern society, it is evidently undesirable and improper that the marriage relation should be formed? It is admitted that it does; but it is claimed that this cannot invalidate the interpretation, if it rests otherwise on substantial reasons. We have no right to set up a modern standard to interpret the Mosaic law by. Why indeed should we expect the law of incest in that code, to be better suited to the circumstances of modern Christian society than the more general law of marriage? Surely no one contends for an interpretation of that law, which would render it suited to our case. In a certain case of very frequent occurrence in our day, a man was required by that law to marry his brother's widow. Does any one think that law ought to be enforced now?
The Levitical law did not even prohibit polygamy. It is indeed claimed by Dr. Sereno E. Dwight, that polygamy is forbidden in Leviticus 18: 18. "Neither shalt thou take a wife to her sister to vex her, to uncover her nakedness, besides the other in her life-time." Dr. Dwight deserves great credit for the acute and unanswerable philological argument, by which he has proved, that to take a wife to her sister, means to take one wife to another, that is, to take a second wife in addition to one he already had. But it will be observed that the thing forbidden is not the taking of a second wife in the life-time of the first, but it is the doing of it "to vex her." It is not a general prohibition of polygamy, but a prohibition of it in a particular case, implying of course that in other cases it was permitted.* Indeed, how can any one entertain
* We take the liberty of inserting here an extract from the communication of "Omicron," in the New York Observer of August 6, 1842, generally attributed to Dr. E. Robinson.ED.
"The philological difficulty above alluded to, is perhaps
the idea that David and Solomon, and others, in taking a plurality of wives, were acting in direct violation of the known letter of the divine law? It is claimed by some that the king
not less real. The phrase, a woman to her sister,' does indeed occur no less than eight times elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible, in the general meaning one to another;' but only of inanimate objects in the feminine gender, viz. of the curtains, loops, and tenons of the tabernacle, Exod. xxvi. 3 bis. 5, 6, 17; and of the wings of the living creatures, Ezek. i. 9, 23, iii. 13. The like phrase in the masculine, 'a man to his brother,' occurs in all about twenty times; mostly of men, but also in a few instances of inanimate objects or insects, as Exod. xxv. 20; Joel ii. 8. But it is to be remarked, that in every such instance, this phrase, whether masculine or femi. nine, has a reciprocal distributive power; that is, a number of persons or things are said to do or be so and so one to another. A plural nominative invariably precedes, connected with a plural verb; and then the action or relation of this verb is by this phrase marked as reciprocal and mutual among the individuals comprised in the plural nominative. Thus : 'the children of Israel said one to another,' Exod. xvi. 15, and often. So Abraham and Lot' separated themselves one from the other,' Gen. xiii. 11; Neh. iv. 19; Isa. ix. 19, in the Heb. they shall not spare one another.' Hagg. ii. 22, And the horses and their riders shall come down, each by the sword of the other,' i. e. they shall destroy one another. So of the other examples. This, then, is the idiom; and to this idiom the passage in Levit. xviii. 18, has no relation. There is nothing distributive nor reciprocal implied in it. The phrase here refers only to the object of the verb; upon which object no trace of mutual or reciprocal action passes over. To bring it in any degree under the idiom, it should at least read thus: Wives (na-shim) one to another thou shalt not take;' and even then it would be unlike any other instance. But further, the suffixes attached in the singular to the subsequent words [her nakedness, besides her, in her life.time,] show decisively, that such a solution is inadmissible; and these of themselves limit the words to two specific individuals, who have here no mutual action one upon the other, in the same literal sense as in the preceding verses, viz. a wife to her sister.
was forbidden to practise polygamy in Deut. 17: 17, where, speaking of the king whom the Israelites should set over them, it is said, "Neither shall he multiply wives to himself that his heart turn not away." By looking back to the 16th verse it will be seen that he is forbidden to multiply horses; does this mean that he should have but one horse? No more does the prohibition to multiply wives, imply that he should have but one wife. Indeed, the giving of such a charge to a pepole in reference to their king, implies the existence and toleration of polygamy. How would such a charge sound given to a king of England or France, or to a President of the United States?
It is then undeniable that the Levitical law of marriage is, as a whole, inadequate to the necessities and unsuited to the circumstances of modern Christian society. The idea of introducing it as our code, would be revolting to every mind. Is it then an objection to an interpretation of a particular part
"It may also be remarked, as a fact of no little importance in this connection, that all the ancient versions adhere like. wise to this literal and obvious interpretation; as the Chaldee Targum of Onkelos, made about the time of our Saviour, and the Samaritan and Syriac versions made not long afterwards. As to these, it might indeed be replied, that they merely follow the cognate Hebrew idiom, and therefore decide nothing. But the oldest version of all, made two or three centuries before Christ, and into a language not cognate, I mean the Septuagint, is certainly not liable to any such reply, and is nevertheless the most decisive of all. This version, in all the other eight instances of the feminine phrase, renders it ' one to another,' by means of some form of the Greek words Erspos heteros, or åλλɛλv allelon; but here in Levit. xviii. 18, it gives to the same phrase the literal sense, 'A wife to her sister thou shalt not take,” γυναῖκα ἐπ ̓ ἀδελφῃ αὐτῆς οὐ λήψῃ It would be in vain in this case to say, either that the Seventy had before them a different text; or that they did not understand their own language and its idioms; or that they were unacquainted with the manner in which their fathers interpreted the Mosaic law.
"It appears to me, therefore, that we are compelled, by all sound laws of interpretation, to understand thi 18th verse of a wife's sister, and of her alone."
of that law, namely, the law of incest, that it is not suited to our circumstances? What reason had we to expect it to be better adapted to our necessities, than the more general law of marriage, of which it is a part? The writer promised at the outset not to discuss this point, any further than it should be found to be involved in the question of interpretation. But it is appropriate here to ask the reader, if the whole Levitical law of marriage, including that of incest, does not bear pretty clear marks of having been intended for the Jewish state, rather than for universality or perpetuity?
Is it still asked what is our security against incestuous marriages? It may be answered, that it certainly is not in forcing an interpretation on the laws of Moses which they will not bear. Any who may be found engaged in such an effort, will prove in the end to have been poor defenders of public morals. The truth seems to be, that our safe reliance for the purity and sound morality of Christian nations, on many points of great importance, lies, not in any specific divine enactment, but on the enlightened and benevolent general morality of the gospel, and on the obvious inexpediency and injurious tendency of certain acts and usages; and to this general class we should refer both polygamy and incest. They are proved bad, by the common experience of the civilized world-the civil law condemns them—and there are no indications of any disposition to throw down the barriers which are erected around them. These barriers are defended by the voice of nature, and cherished by the sentiments of civilized man. It is admitted, for example, that there is no law, human or divine, against the intermarriage of first cousins; and yet in this country such marriages are rare, and the common sentiments of the people are decidedly against them. Still stronger will be found to be the prevailing popular voice against the intermarriage of those nearer blood relatives which in two or three instances are not prohibited by the Levitical law, as we have interpreted it; nor while the morality of the Bible continues, in any degree, to influence our legislation, is there any danger that the law of the land will cease to forbid them. Here it would seem that wise men, wise rulers, and most of all, wise and righteous ecclesiastical judges, should be content to let the question rest. The suggestion may not be out of place, that it would be well for ecclesiastical judicatories who are governing the church of Christ, and trying to bind
the consciences of mankind, by a law of incest, professing to derive its authority from the Levitical code, and yet covering about twice as many cases as the Levitical law ever embraced, to see to it that they be not found to lord it over God's heritage. It is time for them so to modify their laws on this subject, as to be more consonant with the law which they profess to enforce, and to do this as speedily as possible, that some reparation may be made to the good men who are already suffering under the execution of a law, which God never enacted, and that no more victims may be immolated to this system of intolerance and oppression.
THE NECESSITY FOR EDUCATION SOCIETIES.
By B. B. Edwards, Professor in the Theol. Sem., Andover.
This world appears to be a state of discipline for men in an associated capacity. Societies of Christians meet with the same trials with which as individuals they are beset. The same hard warfare is to be encountered, the same sleepless vigilance to be maintained. Alternate sunshine and storm are alike experienced; and it is sometimes equally difficult to ascertain the cause of adverse providences. Not unfrequently the lowliest and the most delicate flower in the valley is crushed. How often God's wrath lieth hard upon some gentle, loving and broken-hearted creature, who had been already trained in the school of sorrow, and who of all others seemed least to need any further trial. A cause exists, but it is behind the clouds. So of a public institution. It seemed essential to, or intimately connected with, the progress of Christianity. God had set the seal of his approbation upon it, by repeatedly dispensing the gifts of his grace. Those who directed its affairs were wise and upright men. It had gained that general confidence which was the best token of the integrity of its guardians, and the use fulness of its labors. Suddenly it is plunged into affliction. Without any apparent adequate cause, it is subjected to a series of embarrassments which menace its total ruin. It has