Page images

a diversity in the associated ideas classed under the appellatives, and consequently in the genius of the languages, wherever there is a diversity of character, in the nations which use them.

4. I am now going to exemplify another consequence of this doctrine, which is, that the language of the same people will vary from itself, or, to speak more properly, from what it was in a former period, when the people themselves undergo a material alteration from what they were, in any of the respects above mentioned. Indeed it is manifest that, if a nation should continue at the same precise degree of advancement in the sciences and arts, both elegant and useful, should undergo no variation, in their form of government, religion, and laws, and should have little or no intercourse with foreigners, their language and idiom would, in all essential characters, remain the same. These two, language and idiom, though often confounded, I have had occasion to discriminate before. The distinction deserves our attention the more, as some of the causes mentioned, operate more upon the one, and others more upon the other; and as one of them may be even totally altered, whilst the other is retained. This was accordingly the case with the Jewish nation.

$ 5. During the Babylonish captivity, the Jews scattered through the Assyrian provinces lost irre. coverably, in consequence of the mixture with stran. gers so much superior to them in number and consideration, their vernacular dialect. But, in consequence of their attachment to their religion (which included their polity and law); in consequence of their inviolable regard to their own customs, and of their detestation, both of the customs, and of the arts, of the heathen ; in consequence of their veneration for the sacred books, and their never hearing any other than a literal version of them in the public offices of religion, they still, in a great measure, preserved the idiom ; insomuch that, if the Chaldee of Jerusalem was not as different from the Chaldee of Babylon as the Greek of the synagogue was from the Greek of the classics, the only assignable reason perhaps is, that the idiom of the Hebrew and that of the Chaldee were originally more akin to each other, than the idiom of the Greek was to either. Now the idiom keeps a much firmer hold of the mind, than the words, which are mere sounds, do, and which, compared with the other, may be considered as but the body, the material part of a language, whereof the idiom is the soul.

Though the Jewish tongue therefore became different, their idiom was nearly the same. I ly so ; hence we infer, that the knowledge of the style and idiom of the Old Testament must throw light upon the New: but it was not entirely the same. Hence we conclude the utility of knowing the state of the rabbinical and traditionary learning of that peo- . ple in the days of our Saviour, this being the most effectual means of illustrating those particulars wherein the idiom of the New Testament differs from that of the Old. It was indeed impossible that such an intercourse with strangers as extirpated their language, should not be productive of some effect on their notions of things, sentiments, and manners. And changes produced in the sentiments and manners of a people, never fail to show themselves in their writings.

say near

6. But, if what happened during their captivity had some effect on these ; what followed after their return to Judea had a much greater. The persecutions they endured under the Grecian empire, on account of their religion, did, as is often the case, greatly endear it to them, and make them consider it in a light, in which (whatever may be said of individuals) they seem never as a nation to have considered it in before. It became more an object and a study to them. Sensible how little their perseverance secured them the temporal advantages held forth in the letter of the law, they became fond of attending to those spiritual and sublime interpretations, both of the law, and of the prophets, which served to fortify the mind against all secular losses and misfortunes, and inspire it with hope, in the immediate views of torture, and of death. Besides, the intercourse which, from the time of the Macedonian conquests, they unavoidably had with the Greeks, introduced insensibly, into their manner of treating religion, 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 religious peculiarities, both in doctrine, and in ceremonies, and their abhorrence of the ceremonies of other nations, with whom they would have no intercommunity 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 examining and comparing, they perceived, in a stronger light than ever, the inexpressible futility and absurdity of the mythology of the Greeks, and the noble simplicity, purity, and sublimity of their own theology. The spirit of inquiry begot among them, as might have been expected, the spirit of dogmatizing, 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 spirit 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 opinions 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 instructions, appears to me uncontrovertible.

4+ Heb, ix. 10.

« PreviousContinue »