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ART. V.-MURPHY'S COMMENTARY.*
The amount of time, talent and learning which has been expended upon Commentaries intended to bring out the meaning and impress the teachings of the Bible, singles out that volume from all other books, and constitutes a striking confession of its importance and its power over the minds of men. To sneer at a volume which has so stirred human thought and left its traces upon the civilization and literature of every age, betrays only the weakness of presumption or the audacity of irreverence and recklessness. And the testimonies of this sort are steadily multiplying and gaining in power. Never before was there so much of eminent scholarship devoted to the object of making the Bible appear a plain teacher, an authoritative exponent of the law of human life, and a pledge of God's presence and inspiration in the submissive and believing soul. And the intense effort made by those who would, if possible, undermine human confidence in the sacred volume, now in one form and now in another, indicates the importance which skeptics are attaching to the question whether the Bible is to be accepted for what it purports to be, or stripped of its sanctity and reduced to the level of mere human composition. The superior value of modern Commentaries over the earlier expositions, appears largely in two features. They are based upon a fuller understanding of the text; and they often yield us the fruit of much patient study over some specific and limited portion of the Divine Word, to which the author has devoted special attention, and to the interpretation of which he brings a special adaptation of powers.
Dr. Murphy has not mistaken his sphere in giving himself to the study and exposition of the Pentateuch. He comes to it with a true critic's analysis, with a ripe scholar's learning,
*A CRITICAL AND EXIGETICAL COMMENTARY ON THE GENESIS AND EXODUS. With a new translation. By J. G. Murphy, D. D., T. C. D. Professor of Hebrew, Belfast. With a Preface by J. P. Thompson, D. D., New York. Boston: Draper & Halliday. 1867. Two vols. Octavo. pp. 535, 385.
and with a devout believer's heart. He has read Colenso, and seen and felt the full force of what Colenso has urged in the form of difficulties and objections against the ancient narrative. But he finds far more serious difficulties in the
of cepting the Bishop's denials than in assenting to Moses's declarations. He admits the alleged variations in style, but is compelled by critical considerations to reject the theory which makes the Pentateuch only the crystallization of floating historic and legendary fragments into a sort of regular narrative, without authority and self-consistency. He sees in Moses a distinct person,
and not a mere myth or name ; and he recognizes him as an inspired historian rather than an unskilful and inartistic compiler. He admits gratefully the noble achievements of science; but he does not believe that all the wisdom was born or is likely to die with the geologists. He has carefully read what the students in the department of Antiquities have to say, and the deductions of the physiologists have never been dismissed with a sneer ; but he argues strongly for the generally received chronology, which makes the creation of Adam date back only about four thousand years. He sees and rejoices in a general and comprehensive order, along whose line the great work of Providence proceeds, making the higher life succeed the lower, and interpreting the idea of progress by the march of events ; but he is no believer in the theory of Development as it has been lately brought forward, and he holds most tenaciously to the doctrine of special interpositions, and to the reality and the need of miracles. Few men discern more frequently than he a deep spiritual meaning in the external history of the chosen people, or in the exceptional work of Divine power among men ; but he finds something more than allegory in the reported talks of God with men, and he will not barter his faith in the doctrine of a personal God, who is real Ruler among the nations, for any poetic parody upon the ancient life, however beautiful or ingenious, which makes the laws of nature stand in the place of the Hebrew Jehovah, or puts pantheism instead of Evangelical Christianity.
The theological views to which the commentary of Dr. Murphy lends its support can be readily inferred from what has been stated. But the chief merit of the work does not appear in its mere orthodoxy. The author has a stalwart vigor in his mind, a philosophical clearness and comprehensiveness of statement, a style remarkably clear, compact and forcible, a capacity to condense a mass of suggestive thought into a brief paragraph and make an epigram hold the germ of a treatise, and when occasion requires, can employ a wit which really illuminates his discussion, and wield a quiet satire without detracting at all from the gravity of his theme, or the manliness of his method. His translations are sometimes eminently literal, and he bestows special attention upon such passages as contain either verbal or grammatical difficulties, and they denote a critical acquaintance with the latest results of philological and hermeneutical study. He deals with the geological difficulties which are alleged in opposition to the Mosaic account of the creation and the deluge, and adopts, in the main, the theory so ably argued by Dr. J. Pye Smith,—which regards the language of Scripture the language of the people of common life and of appearance, and which supposes that the creation, described in the first chapter of Genesis, and the deluge of Noah, are local in their area, and are only parts of the great work of upheaval and renewal which has been carried forward through all the geological ages. He supposes that the writer, here as elsewhere, “presents each change as it would appear to an ordinary spectator standing on the earth,” and suggests that "it was not the object or the effect of divine revelation to anticipate science" on the points over which geologists have sought to make up an issue with the record of Moses. And he has laid down a very important principle, deserving of regard and calculated to suggest caution to not a few audacious critics, when he says :
“ We cannot found the slightest inference upon a passage which we do not understand, nor affirm a single discrepancy until we have made all reasonable inquiry whether it really exists, and what is its precise nature and amount." The new translation, while sometimes intensely literal that the reader may see just precisely the philological grounds upon which a given interpretation rests, is generally made to approach as nearly as “practicable to the common version and suggests a revision of that version quite as
much as anything else. The author translates and expounds as a scholar, though he makes no secret of the fact that he is a Christian believer, and avows the fact that his critical study has both vindicated and fortified his faith. He does not belong at all to the rationalistic school of criticism, and he is manifestly disinclined to join any Broad Church into which he cannot car
his thoroughly evangelical convictions and have them respected.
On the whole, we have seen no commentary on the first two books in the Pentateuch which may be more strongly commended than this for its ability, its fairness, and careful analysis, its eminently reasonable and common sense expositions, its rigid confinement of itself to its own legitimate work, its suggestive hints, its manly tone, its mingling of reverence with fearlessness, and especially for its vigorous and attractive style. It appears at an opportune period. It will fittingly rebuke the flippant tone which superficial minds are inclined to employ when speaking of the Old Testament Scriptures, by unfolding the meaning of that special providential training to which God subjected the Jewish people, and by its repeated exposure of the blunders into which an untaught but egotistic criticism has been led. One feels braced up in mind and heart by an hour's study of these volumes as the use of a wholesome tonic or the breathing of mountain air in August braces the nerves. Light will be found falling upon many an obscure passage, and the difficulties which have hung around an incident or statement will lessen or disappear, as the author's explanations are studied ; but especially will the mind itself be put into a more vital sympathy with the writer and with the narrative as the work is appropriated by the reader, and so the soul itself will become in part the interpreter of the record made for the purpose of perfecting its life.
The method of exposition adopted will at once commend itself as being philosophical, natural and effective. The general arrangement and division of topics in the book are first brought forward ; then, at the head of each section a few prominent words are quoted and briefly expounded for the benefit especially of persons who may have some knowledge of the Hebrew ;
the translation then follows; and at last comes the commentary, aiming to explain the facts recorded, indicate their moral bearing and unfold the great principles of ethical and theological truth to which they stand especially related. In this orderly way the work of the author is carried forward ; and the strength is expended upon the real difficulties instead of being used up in emphasizing what is obvious and undisputed.
A few extracts from the volumes will indicate the qualities of the work which Dr. Murphy has done, and exhibit the vigorous and epigrammatic style in which he is capable of writing. The following paragraphs which deal with the first verse in the Bible,—“ In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”—are in their way very admirable, and give us words worthy to be spoken over that great sentence with which the Scriptural revelation opens.
It assumes the existence of God; for it is he who in the beginning creates. It assumes his eternity ; for he is before all things ; and as nothing comes from nothing, he himself must have always been. It implies his omnipotence; for he creates the universe of things. It implies his absolute freedom ; for he begins a new course of action. It implies his infinite wisdom ; for a kosmos, an order of matter and mind, can only come from a being of absolute intelligence. It implies his essential goodness; for the Sole, Eternal, Almighty, All-wise and All-sufficient Being has no reason, no motive, and no capacity for evil. It presumes him to be beyond all limit of time and place; as he is before all time and place.
This simple sentence denies atheism ; for it assumes the being of God. It denies polytheism, and, among its various forms, the doctrine of two eternal principles, the one good and the other evil; for it confesses the one Eternal Creator. It denies materialism ; for it asserts the creation of matter. It denies pantheism ; for it assumes the existence of God before all things and apart from them. It denies fatalism ; for it involves, the freedom of the Eternal Being.
This verse forms an integral part of the narrative; and not a mere heading as some have imagined. This is abundantly evident from the following reasons.
1. It has the form of a narrative, not of a superscription. 2. The conjunctive particle connects the second verse with it ; which could not be if it were heading. 3. The very next sentence speaks of the earth as al