Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

have shed over antediluvian history, neither would we set aside the testimonies of ancient profane literature. We think it of great consequence that both the one and the other should be employed in illustration and support of sacred history; and we have always regarded the connexion of these two sources of information, (the sacred and the profane,) as one of the most useful and important branches of ancient historical learning, as absolutely essential, indeed, to a thorough acquaintance with the world.

But if we consult our standard English authors in reference to this matter, we find so much discordance and contradiction in their plans, so great a want of unity and precision in their general teaching, that it would, perhaps, be difficult to point out any department of historical literature which needs more entire revision and improvement.

Dr. Prideaux, Dean of Norwich, first started on this path of useful labour, and in 1715 published the result of his researches under the title of “The Old and New Testament connected in the History of the Jews and neighbouring Nations, from the Declension of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah, to the Time of Christ.” In this valuable work the word “connected” is used in the sense of filling up a chasm, of uniting what had been previously disjoined. The object of the learned writer was to supply a history of the Jewish people and neighbouring nations, during the period that intervened between the close of the Old Testament history and the commencement of that of the New. The importance of such an investigation will not be doubted, and the manner in which it was accomplished by Prideaux demands our approval. Of its kind, it is a work of great excellence; but it will be seen at a glance that this is not the connexion to which we have referred as so necessary to a just and comprehensive acquaintance with the early ages of the world. What we desire is a connexion of the statements furnished by the collateral records of sacred and profane history, a combination in one general view of the teaching of both.

Shuckford first attempted this task in the year 1727. He tells us that the design of his undertaking was to set before the reader a view of the history of the world, from Adam to the dissolution of the Assyrian empire at the death of Sardanapalus, in the reigns of Ahaz, King of Judah, and Pekah, King of Israel. His object, therefore, seems to have been, to bring down his history to the period at which the work of the learned Dean commenced, that thus by their united labours the literature of the land might be supplied with a consecutive history of the world, drawn from both sacred and profane authorities, commencing at the Creation, and terminating at the birth of Christ. In his preface he hopes his performance may be of some service towards forming a judgment of the truth and exactness of the ancient Scripture history, by showing how far the old fragments of the heathen writers agree with it, and how much better and more authentic the account is which it (the Scripture history) gives of things where they differ from it. There can be no question that Shuckford brought much learning and ability to the task which he undertook ; but it may be doubted whether he accomplished it in a manner worthy of the great importance and interest of the subject. In the first place, the references to heathen traditions, monuments, and records, are not so copious as they might have been with advantage. It is, however, to be observed, that the researches of Sir William Jones and other Oriental scholars which have cast so much light on ancient sacred history were not then available: if they had been, he would certainly have rendered his work more complete in this particular. Then, the view which the writer gives of the religion of the ancient world, of the state of civilization, of the advancement of literature and the arts, and of the progress of idolatry, is very meager and imperfect. This is especially the case respecting the antediluvian period, as our readers may easily be convinced by the fact, that the history and religion, the civilization and literature, the entire account, indeed, sacred and profane, of this long and important portion of the world's history, are discussed and dismissed in twenty-nine octavo pages.

It is remote from our intention to depreciate the ability and the researches of that learned writer, and much more to detract from their value and importance. His work will ever maintain its place among the standards of our historical literature, and will be the resort of all the eager inquirers into the subject of which it treats. But it has always appeared to us, since we took any

interest in these matters, that a history of the early ages, somewhat on the plan of Shuckford, written in a decidedly religious spirit, containing a comprehensive view of the religion of the ancient world, of the progress of science and the state of civilization, embracing illustrations which have been supplied during the last half century, from Hindoo, Chinese, and other records, and containing more elaborate critical investigations into passages of Scripture bearing on the history of these several periods, the meaning of which has been controverted, would supply a great desideratum in this branch of learning. Such a work is that which we now introduce to our readers.

But it will be desirable, previously, to complete our sketch of the different works which have been written to connect and illustrate sacred and profane history. Dr. Shuckford did not live to complete his design, his work only extending to the death of Joshua. It is a curious feature in the history of English books, that every edition of this work has, prefixed to it, the original title-page of the author, embracing his whole design. The fact is, that he brought out the work in single volumes, having formed for each of them a general title, suited to all when completed.

To supply the deficiency occasioned by the death of Shuckford, Dr. Russell, in 1827, produced his valuable “ Connexion of Sacred and Profane History, from the Death of Joshua to the Decline of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah. Intended to complete the Works of Shuckford and Prideaux." The profound learning, great ability, and extensive research which are exhibited in this work, prove Dr. Russell to be no unworthy coadjutor of those learned writers.

Every one, however, who has studied the works of Shuckford, Russell, and Prideaux, must have felt embarrassed on a subject of great importance in all historical investigations; namely, the chronology of the several epochs and periods connected with the particular events of which they treat. Our readers are aware that the chronology of the early ages is disputed to the extent of about 1,500 years. In the works of these three authors, Shuckford adopts the abbreviated chronology of the Masorites, Russell is a strenuous defender of the Septuagint numbers, and Prideaux dismisses the subject with the following remarks :-“ The era from the creation of the world is of very common use in chronology ; but this I have rejected, because of the uncertainty of it, most chronologers following different opinions herein, some reckoning the time of the creation sooner, and some later, and scarce any two agreeing in the same year.” Thus, in the first part of this historical series, we have one set of chronological numbers, in the second part we have another, and as to the third we are left altogether in uncertainty. It will scarcely be denied that in these circumstances, a

[ocr errors]

series of historical works written on sound and uniform chronological principles is greatly needed; for, “in most cases, the study of ancient history resolves itself into a series of chronological disquisitions respecting the origin of nations and the relative antiquity of events.”*

The Christian student of history will find in these works another defect of more than equal magnitude. We refer to the absence of a thoroughly religious character which they present. It is not that the spirit which pervades them is anti-religious; but because, in consideration of the essential connexion of the subject with the entire scope of revelation, and especially with the great purposes of redeeming mercy, religious views are not adequately entertained and expressed. In illustration of this defect we may mention, that Shuckford, during the antediluvian portion of his history, makes no reference to those illustrations of the religion of that period which are furnished in the New Testament. We have not one word about the “faith” of Abel. Even the piety and translation of Enoch are dismissed in one sentence; his name being afterwards introduced in connexion with an obscure reference to a prophecy which is ascribed to him. And the “ faith” of Noah in building the ark, and his fidelity in warning the wicked antediluvians as a “preacher of righteousness,” are entirely overlooked. Thus the history is dry and spiritless, there is no religious interest thrown around the subject, no description of the principal personages that appeared in those early ages, as to their piety, or, indeed, as to the general influence which they exerted upon society.

The volume whose title-page we have now transcribed, is remarkably free from these defects. Its author needs not to be introduced to our readers ; for he has long been known to the literary public. Much as we admire the ability and research which appear in his “Religion of Ancient Britain,” we have no hesitation in recording our opinion, that the volume before us is not merely equal, (this would be no small praise,) but greatly superior, to it in all the constituents of a perfect history,--in all diligent and patient research, in completeness of arrangement, in comprehensiveness of detail, in the disposition of events, in descriptions of character, in impartiality of narration, in a candid representation of the views of opponents, and, what is of great importance, in sound philosophical reasoning and consequent justness of inferences. We have been truly surprised at the interest which our author has contrived to throw around the dry parts of his subject, and the vast mass of erudite criticism, sound theology, and historical and scientific information, (quite novel with regard to many of the topics discussed,) which he has managed to work up into a delightful narrative, diversified occasionally with didactic results and cogent argumentation. It is a book suitable both for the gentle and the simple ; both for the learned and the unlearned: indeed, it is unique with regard to the importance and compass of the subjects which it embraces, as well as with regard to the spirit in which they are treated.

But we must not longer withhold from our readers a participation in the enjoyment and instruction which we have ourselves derived from a perusal of Mr. Smith's admirable volume. We shall allow the author to introduce his own work, by transcribing the opening paragraph of his preface

Twenty years ago, the author of the trated view of the history of the early following pages deeply felt the want of a ages of the world, contained in the Mo. volume which should exhibit a concen- saic writings, and in the records and

* Dr. Russell.

traditions of heathen nations ; and which, religious, recognising throughout the suat the same time, should present this preme authority of holy Scripture and body of information in a manner truly the great principles of revealed religion.

A want similar to that to which Mr. Smith here refers has been felt by ourselves; and we are persuaded that before the appearance of this volume, no just and adequate view of the subject could have been obtained, without the most laborious and extended research into Egyptian, Persian, Hindoo, and Chinese literature ; without a profound acquaintance with the principal critical works that have appeared on the books of Genesis and Job ; or without a thorough investigation into the perplexing subject of the chronology of the ancient world, as discussed in the works of Ussher, Kennedy, and Blair, on the one hand, and in those of Vossius, Pezron, Jackson, Hales, and Russell on the other. Indeed, if all these productions, and others equally requisite, had been placed within the reach of a hard student, a year's reading would scarcely have sufficed to put him in possession of the information necessary to a complete mastery of the subject. Such an expenditure of time would be too great for ordinary students, to say nothing of the expense

which would be incurred by the purchase of the necessary works. But we have unintentionally interrupted our author, who goes on to say that

After long and diligent inquiry, he rally admitted by the learned.” This recould meet with no work of this descrip- mark led him to an enlarged course of tion, and was consequently compelled, reading, embracing the early history of for the satisfaction of his own mind, to the primitive nations, and the traditions commence a course of reading which em- and mythology of the Heathen world, braced the early portions of Scripture especially of such as tended in any dehistory, the difficulties of which he en- gree to its elucidation. Having, during deavoured to solve by a reference to the the progress of these investigations, careworks of the various commentators and bibe fully noted down his observations on the lical critics to which he had access. In this most important topics, he ultimately study he had not proceeded far, before he found that he had doue much toward was startled with the remark of an intelli- providing matter for such a volume as in gent friend with whom he was one day con- his earlier days he had so greatly needed. versing on the chronology and history of Notwithstanding the number of books the Pentateuch, and who, in reply to recently published on cognate subjects, some observation on the subject, said, he considers the want still to exist which “ However consistent with itself the chro- he had formerly so severely felt; and he nology of Scripture may be, it stands in has, therefore, to the best of his ability, direct opposition to the records of every endeavoured to supply the desideratum. ancient nation; and this is a fact gene

The work before us, though complete in itself, embraces only a part of our author's design. Two volumes are to follow, one treating of the History and Religion of the Jewish Commonwealth, from its Commencement to the Birth of Christ ; the other containing the collateral History and Religion of the Gentile Nations. Thus, while the work will contain three separate and independent treatises on different portions of history, each being complete within itself, the whole will form an Epitome of the History and Religion of the World, from the Creation to the Birth of Christ.” (Preface, p. iv.) We earnestly hope that the author's life will be spared, and that he will have health and leisure to accomplish his purpose : for we feel assured that if the design be filled up in the manner in which it has been begun, this historical series will be one of the most valuable and interesting in the English language.

The first hundred pages of this volume are occupied by a Dissertation on the Chronology and Learning of the Ancient World ; subjects which have

occasioned much controversy among literary men, and concerning each of which very opposite opinions have prevailed. We have already referred to the two grand systems of chronological numbers which have been severally supported by learned men; that which appears in the margin of our English Bibles, adopted from the Hebrew (Masorite) Scriptures, and that which is derived from the Septuagint version of the Old Testament, the accuracy of which has been maintained by our principal chronologers, and confirmed by the annals of all Oriental nations. The latter system increases the age of the world from the creation to the birth of Christ, by the addition of 1,437 years, making the entire period 5,441 years, instead of 4,004, which is the shorter computation. The abbreviated numbers were inserted in the margin of our English version of the Scriptures, by the united authority of Archbishop Ussher and Bishop Lloyd. No one would be bold enough to deny either the learning or the integrity of these distinguished Prelates ; but, after all, we must not receive the opinion of any man, especially on such a subject as this, without carefully examining the authority of the evidence which he adduces, and the soundness of the reasoning which he employs. Our readers may find the principal arguments in support of this scheme in Ussher's Chronologia Sacra, appended to his “ Annals.” It is remarkable that a man of the Archbishop's learning and research did not perceive that not only all antiquity, but inspiration also, is opposed to his system. The Septuagint numbers were in use before the birth of Christ, were, in respect to all the distinct periods to which they referred, adopted by the New-Testament writers, were confirmed by Josephus, and perpetuated by the early Christian Fathers; and it was not until the eighth century that the celebrated Bede sought to substitute the Rabbinical scheme in their stead. There can be no question that the Septuagint and Esdrine Scriptures originally corresponded as to their chronology; and it now seems to be placed beyond doubt, that the Masorite Jews corrupted the sacred text, in this particular especially, in the second century of the Christian era. It is clear, from the authority of Augustine, that they were suspected of having altered the generations and lives of the antediluvian patriarchs, though his opinion was, that the alteration originated from a wish to render the generations of these patriarchs more natural, and less disproportioned to the total length of their lives. But we cannot pursue this subject : we would rather refer our readers to Mr. Smith, who, after a lengthened investigation of the subject, has adopted the Septuagintal or extended scheme. The discussion is conducted with consummate ability, and th esult must, we think, be satisfactory to every unbiassed mind. We are of opinion, indeed, that the question was previously settled by Dr. Russell, the result of whuse researches into the subject is prefixed to the first volume of his “Connexion," a work to which Mr. Smith has acknowledged himself greatly indebted. Our author, however, has introduced other testimonies, and advanced additional arguments in support of the view which he has adopted. He has presented us, in fact, with an epitome of everything important which has been written on the subject, enriched with valuable observations of his own. In winding up the subject, Mr. Smith remarks :

The Reformers were easily induced to rature, adopted the Masorite numbers, consider the extended chronology as one the Reformed Church eagerly caught at of the errors handed down by Rome; the change, and, from that time until and therefore, when Archbishop Ussher, recently, the “Hebrew verity,” so called, in his great partiality for rabbinical lite. was defended with as much zeal as if

« VorigeDoorgaan »