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follows next to Ezra, was another of the returned persons; and who, it is also probable, wrote the account of the same affair, in the book that bears his name. But those accounts are nothing to us, nor to any other persons, unless it be to the Jews, as a part of the history of their nation; and there is just as much of the word of God in those books as there is in any of the histories of France, or Ra pin's History of England, or the history of any other country.
But even in matters of historical record, neither of those. writers are to be depended upon. In the second chapter of Ezra, the writer gives a list of the tribes and families, and of the precise number of souls of each that returned from Babylon to Jerusalem; and this enrolment of the persons so returned, appears to have been one of the prin cipal objects for writing the book; but in this there is an error that destroys the intention of the undertaking.
The writer begins his enrolment in the following manner chap. ii. ver. 3, "The children of Parosh, two thousand one hundred seventy and four." Verse 4, "The children of Shephatiah, three hundred seventy and two," And in this manner he proceeds through all the families; and in the 64th verse, he makes a total, and says, the whole congregation together was forty and two thousand three hundred and threescore.
But whoever will take the trouble of casting up the several particulars, will find that the total is but 29.818; so that the error is 12,542 (4). What certainty then can there be in the Bible for any thing?
Nehemiah in like manner, gives a list of the returned families, and of the number of each family. He begins as in Ezra, by saying, chap. vii. ver. 8, "The children of Parosh, two thousand three hundred and seventy-two;' and so on through all the families. The list differs in several of the particulars from that of Ezra. In the 66th verse, Nehemiah makes a total, and says, as Ezra had said,
(4) Particulars of the families from the second chapter of Ezra. Chap. ii. Bt. forw. 11,577 Ver. 3 2172 Ver. 13 666 2056
Bt. forw. 15,783 Bt. forw. 19,444
"The whole congregation together was forty and two thousand three hundred and threescore." But the particulars of this list make a total but of 31,089, so that the erro here is 11,271. These writers may do well enough for Bible-makers, but not for any thing where truth and exactness is necessary. The next book in course is the book of Esther. If Madam Esther thought it any honour to offer herself as a kept mistress to Ahasuerus, or as a rival to Queen Vashty, who had refused to come to a drunken king, in the midst of a drunken company, to be made a show of (for the account says, they had been drinking seven days, and were merry,) let Esther and Mordecai look to that, it is no business of ours; at least, it is none of mine; besides which, the story has a great deal the appearance of being fabulous, and is also anonymous. I pass on to the book of Job.
The book of Job differs in character from all the books we have hitherto passed over. Treachery and murder make no part of this book; it is the meditations of a mind strongly impressed with the vicissitudes of human life, and by turns sinking under, and struggling against the pressure. It is a highly wrought composition, between willing submission and involuntary discontent; and shews man, as he sometimes is, more disposed to be resigned than he is capable of being. Patience has but a small share in the character of the person of whom the book treats; on the contrary, his grief is often impetuous; but he still endeavours to keep a guard upon it, and seems determined, in the midst of accumulating ills, to impose upon himself the hard duty of contentment.
I have spoken in a respectful manner of the book of Job in the former part of the Age of Reason, but without knowing at that time what I have learned since; which is, that from all the evidence which can be collected, the book of Job does not belong to the Bible.
I have seen the opinion of two Hebrew commentators, Abenezra and Spinosa, upon this subject; they both say that the book of Job carries no internal evidence of being an Hebrew book; that the genius of the composition, and the drama of the piece, are not Hebrew; that it has been translated from another language into Hebrew, and that the author of the book was a Gentile; that the character represented under the name of Satan (which is the first and only time this name is mentioned in the Bible) does not correspond to any Hebrew idea; and that the two convocations which the Deity is supposed to have made of those, whom the poem calls sons of God, and the familiarity which this supposed Satan is stated to have with the Deity, are in the same case.
It may also be observed, that the book shews itself to be
books, which it was as impossible they should write, as that a man should walk in the procession at his own funeral.
The Book of Proverbs. These, like the Psalms, are a collection, and that from authors belonging to other nations than those of the Jewish nation, as I have shewn in the observations upon the Book of Job; besides which, some of the proverbs ascribed to Solomon, did not appear till two hundred and fifty years after the death of Solomon; for it is said in the 1st verse of the 25th chapter, "These are also proverbs of Solomon, which the men of Hezekiah, king of Judah, copied out." It was two hundred and fifty years from the time of Solomon to the time of Hezekiah. When a man is famous and his name is abroad, he is made the putative father of things he never said or did; and this, inest probably, has been the case with Solomen. It appears to have been the fashion of that day to make proverbs, as it is now to make jest-books, and father them upon those who never saw them.
The Book of Ecclesiastes, or the Preacher, is also ascribed to Solomon, and that with much reason, if not with truth. It is written as the solitary reflection of a worn-out debauchee, such as Solomon was, who looking back on scenes he can no longer enjoy, cries out, ill is vanity! A great deal of the metaphor and of the sentiment is obscure, most probably by translation; but enough is left to shew they were strongly pointed in the original (6). From what is transmitted to us of the character of Solomon, he was witty, ostentatious, dissolute, and at last melancholy. He lived fast, and died, tired of the world, at the age of fiftyeight years.
Seven hundred wives, and three hundred concubines, are worse than none; and however it may carry with it the appearance of heightened enjoyment, it defeats all the felicity of affection, by leaving it no point to fix upon divided love is never happy. This was the case with Solomon; and if he could not, with all his pretensions to wisdom, discover it before-hand, he merited, unpitied, the mortification he afterwards endured. In this point of view, his preaching is unnecessary, because, to know the consequences, it is only necessary to know the cause. ven hundred wives, and three hundred concubines, would have stood in place of the whole book. It was needless after this to say, that all was vanity and vexation of spirit; for it is impossible to derive happiness from the company of those whom we deprive of happiness.
To be happy in old age, it is necessary that we accustom
(6) Those that look out of the window shall be darkened, is an obscure figure translation for loss of sight.
ourselves to objects that can accompany the mind all the way through life, and that we take the rest as good in their day. The mere man of pleasure is iniserable in old age; and the mere drudge in business is but little better: whereas, natural philosophy, mathematical and mechanical science, are a continual source of tranquil pleasure; and in spite of the gloomy dogmas of priests, and of superstition, the study of those things is the study of the true theology; it teaches man to know and to admire the Creator, for the principles of science are in the creation, and are unchangeable, and of divine origin.
Those who knew Benjamin Franklin will recollect, that his mind was ever young; his temper ever serene: science, that never grows grey, was always his mistress. He was never without an object, for when we cease to have an object, we become like an invalid in an hospital waiting for death.
Solomon's Songs are amorous and foolish enough, but which wrinkled fanaticism has called divine. The compilers of the Bible have placed these songs after the book of Ecclesiastes; and the chronologists have affixed to them the æra of 1014 years before Christ, at which time Solomon, according to the same chronology, was nineteen years of age, and was then forming his seraglio of wives and concubines. The Bible-makers and the chronologists should have managed this matter a little better, and either have said nothing about the time, or chosen a time less inconsistent with the supposed divinity of those songs; for Solomon was then in the honey-inoon of one thousand debaucheries.
It should also have occurred to them, that as he wrote, if he did write the book of Ecclesiastes, long after these songs, and in which he exclaims, that all is vanity and vexation of spirit; that he included those songs in that description. This is the more probable, because he says, I got or somebody for him, Ecclesiastes, chap ii. v. 8, me men singers, and women singers, (most probably to sing. those songs) and musical instruments of all sorts; and be hold (ver. 11.) all was vanity and vexation of spirit." The compilers, however, have done their work but by halves; for as they have given us the songs, they should have given us the tunes, that we might sing them.
The books, called the books of the Prophets, fill up all the remaining part of the Bible; they are sixteen in number, beginning with Isaiah, and ending with Malachi; of which I have given you a list, in the observations upon Chronicles. Of these sixteen prophets, all of whom except the three last, lived within the time the books of Kings and Chronicles were written; two only, Isaiah and Jesemiah, are mentioned in the history of those books. I shall begin
6. P. II.
with those two, reserving what I have to say on the general character of the men called prophets to another part of the work.
Whoever will take the trouble of reading the book as cribed to Isaiah, will find it one of the most wild and dis orderly compositions ever put together; it has neither be ginning, middle, nor end; and, except a short historical. part, and a few sketches of history in two or three of the first chapters, is one continued incoherent, bombastical rant, fall of extravagant metaphor, without application, and destitute of meaning; a school-boy would scarcely have been excusable for writing such stuff; it is (at least in translation) that kind of composition and false taste, that is properly called prose run mad.
The historical part begins at the 56th chapter, and is continued to the end of the 39th chapter. It relates to some matters that are said to have passed during the reign of Hezekiah, king of Judah, at which time Isaiah lived. This fragment of history begins and ends abruptly; it has not the least connection with the chapter that precedes it, nor with that which follows it, nor with any other in the book. It is probable that Isaiah wrote this fragment himself, because he was an actor in the circumstances it treats of; but, except this part, there are scarcely two chapters that have any connection with each other; one is entitled, at the beginning of the first verse, the burden of Babylon; another, the burden of Moab; another the burden of Da maseus; another, the burden of Egypt; another, the bur den of the Desart of the Sea; another, the burden of the Valley of Vision; as you would say, the story of the Knight of the Burning Mountain, the story of Cinderella, or the Children in the Wood, &c. &c.
I have already shewn, in the instance of the two last verses of Chronicles, and the three first in Ezra, that the compilers of the Bible mixed and confounded the writings of different authors with each other, which alone, were there no other cause, is sufficient to destroy the at henticity of any compilation, because it is more than presumptive evidence that the compilers are ignorant who the au thors were. A very glaring instance of this occurs in the book ascribed to Isaiah, the latter part of the 44th chapter, and the beginning of the 45th, so far from having been written by Isaiah, could only have been written by some person who lived, at least, an hundred and fifty years after Isaiah was dead.
These chapters a. e a compliment to Cyrus, who permit ted the Jews to return to Jerusalem from the Babylonian captivity, to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple, as is stated in Ezra. The last verse of the 44th chapter, and the be ginning of the 45th are in the following words; That