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The Ground already Covered.
The graded series has already treated nearly the whole of the Bible.
First, we have the Old Testament Narratives, dealing mainly with the Pentateuch and Joshua, and carrying the early history of Israel down to the time when prophecy makes its appearance in the person of Amos.
Then The Story of Israel takes up the thread, and surveys the record as preserved for us in the Book of Kings and in the writings of the great prophets, from the appearance of Amos to the great restoration under Nehemiah in the middle of the fifth century before Christ. It then, in more rapid survey, carries us on to the building of the temple by Herod the Great, and ends with a sketch of the time of Jesus.
Great Thoughts of Israel treats of the wonderful literature which arose between the return from captivity and the time of Herod. Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes, Chronicles, Ruth, Esther, Jonah, Daniel, and those two gems of the Apocrypha, Ecclesiasticus and the Wisdom of Solomon, are all reviewed.
Then come Scenes from the Life of Jesus, and the Leaflets for Teachers which supplement this series. Together they treat of the Gospel narratives, and present an outline of the simple life which underlies the later elaboration which is so prominent in the Bible records.
The Teaching of Jesus covers the same ground from a different point of view and is followed by The Beginning of Christianity, with its account of Paul and his work.
The Present Course.
The lessons this winter propose to glance at the Bible as a whole, and to consider more in detail particular passages from all its varied contents, which stand out because of their special value and beauty. The selection has been largely determined by the necessity of avoiding ground already covered in previous courses. As a result, a great deal of attention has been given to extracts from the Epistles.
An endeavor has also been made to present the variety which is one of the most marked characteristics of the Bible.
and to leave no part unrepresented. The most noteworthy exception is the Book of Psalms. But, as this has had a course by itself, prepared by Mr. Fenn, it was thought wise to leave that noble collection of the religious songs of Israel to him. Plan of the Lessons.
Each lesson will commence with the passage under consideration printed in full. These passages have of course in many cases had to be curtailed by the omission of unessential matter, and in one or two instances two passages from different parts of the book have been put together.
The translation followed is that of the revised version, the only version universally accessible which is fairly accurate and still preserves to a very great extent the unparalleled rhythm of the great translation we know as the Authorized Version, Here and there the alternative reading of the margin has been preferred as giving greater clearness; and in one or two cases a conjunction has been added or deleted, so as to enable the passage under consideration to run smoothly and consecutively.
The series will open with two lessons on the Old Testament as a whole. Preceding the selections from the New Testament come two lessons surveying in the same way the New Testament books.
The Result Aimed at.
The course ought to afford us a general idea of the nature and origin of the books which, as a collected whole, we call the Bible. It ought also to help us to know for ourselves some of its noblest passages, and to gain a fresh sense of its power.
These lessons will, of course, rely much on the historical and other matter already published, to which constant reference will be made; and they may lead us to feel how the general treatment of the books naturally leads up to the more detailed study which in some thirty selected instances this series attempts.
If this course results in a better understanding of what the Bible is, and even in small measure in a closer acquaintance with some of the memorable utterances it contains, it will prove a fitting supplement to the series of lessons already issued. But more even than these it seems to afford material rich in suggestions for that "instruction in righteousness" which is ever the main aim of our Sunday-schools.
WHAT IS THE OLD TESTAMENT? Part L
I. The Inspiration of the Bible.
The old theory of inspiration declared that the Bible was written as no other book ever was. God dictated it, so to speak, by direct revelation to the writers; and it was, therefore, perfect and without mistake throughout. No one had a right to question its authority.
This, it was said, was claimed by the Bible itself. "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God." Its pious use was thought to be commended by Jesus himself when he said, "Search the Scriptures." Unfortunately, neither of these sayings really occurs in the Bible. (See 2 Tim. iii. 16 and John v. 39, R. V.)
In addition, the more men began to investigate the real nature of the Bible, the more absurd any such position became. They found in it contradictions of all kinds. They found commands attributed to God which were worthy only of halfcivilized men. They found statements which corresponded to men's early ideas of the universe which our fuller knowledge has shown to be impossible. They discovered, also, that in the Bible, close beside writings of the highest spiritual character, there is much that is of little value to religion.
The result is that to-day we are coming to look upon the Bible as a collection of Hebrew literature, some of it early and quite unspiritual, bearing all the marks of the rude ideas which gave it birth: some of it worthy to take its place with the most splendid achievements of the human spirit, and calculated to create and foster, as no other literature has done, the noblest ideals of religion and of human life. It is in this sense that parts of the Bible are inspired, because they kindle the inspiration of high ideals.
II. The Contents of the Old Testament.
When we look at the list at the beginning of our Bibles, we see that the Old Testament, as we call it, contains thirty-nine books. There is nothing to show us what their nature is, and
from reading the list over we should gain only the faintest notion as to their subjects. There is, however, a rough arrangement, if we look for it carefully. The first eighteen books are supposed to be history. Then come the four poetical books. The remainder are the writings of the prophets.
But, when we ask how the Jews divided these books, we find something quite different. To them the first five books alone were sacred in the highest sense. They were "The Law." We speak of them as the Pentateuch.
The next division was called "The Prophets." It was made up of two divisions, each consisting of four parts. Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings formed the first part. (The division of Samuel and Kings into two parts each was not recognized.) The second comprised Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the group of twelve minor prophets,
The remaining books were all classed together, as of lesser value, and were not thought of as Scripture at all, in the sense in which the Law was so regarded.
It is well for us to keep this division in mind, for it helps us to distinguish better the great classes of literature which are all gathered together in the Bible.
In this lesson we shall glance at the Law and the four historical books which form the first division of the "Prophets." Then in the next lesson we shall point out the character of the remaining books.
III. The Pentateuch and Joshua.
For our purpose we have to class Joshua along with the Pentateuch, because, as we shall see, these six books form one whole.
We must remember, too, that books were not written in those days as they are now. They were compiled. An early history and a later history were woven together to make one book. Then some one, wishing to have a still more complete account, pieced into this the contents of another account. Later corrections and alterations were made, till at last we have a complex patchwork, which we are sometimes able to separate into its different parts with considerable certainty.
The Hexateuch (as we call the Pentateuch and Joshua) is a compilation of this kind. It is woven together out of three great documents.
First we have the collection of early stories and laws, or
rather usages, which we call the early book of Hebrew history. Technically, it is called "JE," because it is itself made up of two earlier collections by writers of whom one uses the name Jahweh for God and the other Elohim. The initial letters of these, J and E, are used for the compilers, and JE for their combined work.
This early book contains nearly all the brightly written stories of earliest times with which we are familiar.
Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Noah, Lot, the vivid picture of the Garden of Eden, the story of the flood, the narrative of the tower of Babel, all belong to it. It is the book of the traditions of early days as men told them at the feasts some eight hundred years before Christ, and reaches back still further into the wonderful land of legend before Hebrew history began.
Second is the law book which Josiah made the law of the land in 621. The kernel of this is in our present Book of Deuteronomy. But, when it was combined with the earlier sacred collection, the compiler made alterations to allow his narrative to fit into what seemed its proper place in the new volume he was compiling.
Third comes the great book of the history of Israel from the beginning, as the later people of the law introduced after the captivity regarded it. It is formal, artificial, full of the countless details of legislation which we find most fully in Leviticus. We call it "P," the priestly law book. It grew to completion only after the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, and was not combined with the earlier books JE and D till later still. When these were all pieced together to make one whole, the result was the great compilation which lies before us in the first six books of our Bible. It contains very varied material,scraps of early songs, myths about the patriarchs, collections of decisions which governed the relations of the wandering nomads before they settled in Palestine, sometimes two or three versions of the same story; and, holding it all together, the book of the great ritualists of the later temple.
IV. Judges, Samuel, and Kings.
Here, too, we have a history woven together of many strands, legends of the wild times before Israel became united; portions, too, of records of the time of Samuel and David, which read as though they could not have been written