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THE

CHRISTIAN DISCIPLE.

NEW SERIES—No. 16.

For July and August, 1821.

HERDER'S LETTERS.

LETTER VI.

Translation of the blessings of Jacob and Moses, and a parallel between

them; with illustrations of some obscure passages.

You wish to see the other brothers, as well as Judah, standing at their father's bed-side : let it be so then, though it will be found here and there no easy matter.* [Genesis xlix.]

Gather yourselves together, I will announce to you
What shall befall you in the days to come.
Gather yourselves together and hear, ye sons of Jacob,
Hear

your father Israel.

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Reuben, my first born,
Thou, my might, the first fruits of my strength !
The excellence of thy dignity, the excellence of thy power,
Goes by thee like the swelling waves ;
Thou art the first no more !
For thou didst ascend the bed of thy father,
Thou didst defile, when thou ascended’st, my couch.

* A great deal has been written, in the way of minute verbal criticism, upon Jacob's blessing. Any thing of this would, of course, be out of place in a journal like ours. The translator has, therefore, omitted the notes of his author to this letter; since the scholar will not need them, and to the greater part of our readers they would be unintelligible. The view which Herder gives of this celebrated portion of the Old Testament is popular and very beautiful. It is not necessary, however, to suppose that the patriarch, as he was expiring, actually pronounced all this benediction, at least in its present form It might, and probably did, receive the shape iu which we now find it, from some bard of after times. New Series-vol. III.

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Think with what language the father must begin. . With what a sigh for departed vigour and youth does he, after a moment, reject Reuben, the father's first joy, as to the crown of his race; to take away that crown at once and forever from bis dishonoured head!

Simeon and Levi, brothers are they!
Murderers' weapons were their swords.
My heart was not in their counsel,
My soul shuddered at their bloody plot,
When full of rage they slaughtered the valiant,
When full of revenge they unnerved the noble steer.
Cursed be their malicious anger ;
Cursed their implacable wrath!
I will divide them in Jacob,
Scatter them in Israel.

Another bitter recollection; which would be unintelligible but for the history that has been fortunately preserved in the 34th chapter of Genesis. In conformity to this I translate the valiant (i. e. man) and steer literally, without altering the text. They first unnerved the noble steer, cut, as it were, his sinews, and then it was easy to slay him : thirsting after his blood, they enticed him to submit to the pain of circumcision, that they might then unite to destroy him. The soul of Jacob even now so revolted from the cruelty, that he thought it dangerous for them, even in the latest generations, to dwell together: he therefore divided them.

The blessing of Judah I have already given : it sounds proudly after the three first, and the father himself seems to rouse and exalt himself as he utters it: it is therefore that the images roll along so majestically slow. But how can 1, in my own language, give even the name of Judah the meaning which it has in the original? It is praises; and his brethren were to praise him. The first word, the very sound of his name, inspires the father. I go on to Zebulon:

Zebulon ! at the sea coast sball he dwell!
At the coast of ships, the border leaning upon Sidon.
Issachar! a bony ass,
Who reposes between two troughs.
He sees the rest is good,
The land around is pleasant,
And bows his shoulder to bear,
And serves at the water-courses.

Is not the short address to Zebulon like an open, wide seaprospect; and the character of Issachar, on the contrary, even to the tone and measure, the very quietness of the beast of burthen whose name suits him ; who is so well pleased with the situation of his land, that he looks about him tranquilly, and forgets his load? I need not say any thing to you, who have read Homer, of the peaceable character of the ass: but if you would read his newer and most beautiful encomium, you must turn to Buffon's Natural History. (The Judge.) Dan shall judge his people

Like any other of the tribes of Israel.
A snake will Dan be in the way,
A darting snake* in the foot-path.
She biteth the horse's heels,
So that backward the rider falleth.

There is no reason for showing from the history, whether reference is here had to the idolatry which sprung up in the tribe of Dan, or to Antichrist who should come forth from it. It appears to me that we are here to consider nothing as spoken of but the cupning and stratagem, which lay in Dan's name and character, and by means of which his posterity were to overthrow horse and man; i. e. the most powerful enemies. The prophecy has been fulfilled, since Dan came into possession of a land full of hills and narrow valleys, full of caves and foot-paths, where he could display that artifice which has always been of admirable avail in war, and especially in defence. The confirmation of Dan in his rank and consequence, and the sceptre of a tribe with the other brothers, relates to the circumstances of his birth. He was the son of Rachel's maid, and her first born : (Gen. xxx. 6.) Jacob thus ennobles and legitimates him, as it were, in the name of all his brothers, alluding at the same time to his name and character; since he probably, on account of his sagacious counsels, stood deservedly high in their estimation. Now follows an abrupt sigh, on the connexion of which, with this place, I have nothing to decide.

In thy help I trust, O Jehovah !

Is it a mere pause, a softly respired sigh from the enfeebled father? Or is it a glance into the land of the patriarchs, with the

* The cerastes is commonly understood.

+ We would not withhold from our readers the names of some of these worthy interpreters, if we could find who any of them were.

wish of a gentle departure, and a deliverance in future extremity, according to the description of the dwelling-place of Dan? Or, finally, is Jacob reminded, by what he pronounces concerning Dan, of similar circumstances, contrivances, and rescues of his own life, and thanks God for the assistance that was lent? See what I have said elsewhere on this point.*

GAD, (the host.)
Hosts fall upon him ;
He falleth upon them in the rear.

The triple paranomasia, it is impossible to translate.t

From Asher cometh bread rich with oil,
It is he who giveth dainties for kings.

This image was probably suggested by Asher's dexterity and mode of life. We know from the story of Isaac's transaction with Esau and Jacob, how much in those old simple shepherdtimes, the preparing of rich and savoury food was valued; and that the sons' hands did not consider this as a task beneath them. It is not unlikely that Asher particularly recommended himself in this way to his father; and this furnished the ground of the description of his land. Nothing is more entirely in the pastoral spirit than this simplicity of incidental circumstances.

Naphthali is a spreading terebinth,
Which shoots out beautiful branches,

This reading, which is found in all the ancient versions, and which Bochart, I think, was the first to bring into usage, is certainly superiour to the common one, and suits the connexion best: still I could almost wish, for the sake of the beauty of the other image, that it could be consistently retained,

* We are referred to the “ spirit of the Hebrew poetry,” The opinion expressed there is this : “ It seems to me that these words receive a pretty clear meaning from the connexion in which they stand. The land of Judæa was exposed on the north side to its most powerful and menacing inroads, as the history of all its invasions and troubles shows :--and there Dan was to dwell! there must Jehovah help the people, or they were lost. The paternal seer therefore hoped for divine aid, as with this sigb he looked deep into the necessities of the land of his children.”

f Critics have been fond of seeking out many meanings in the name of Gad. Herder, in the work just alluded to, speaks of a fourfold paranomasia here. This, however, seems mere trifling. Gad means a troop, and it means also successful; and there is no need of looking after any further signification.

There follows after many small stars, a beautiful and brilliant evening star, Joseph : only he is here and there overcast by the covering of words as with clouds.

The bough of a fruitful mother is Joseph,
The bough of a fruitful one by a fountain ;
Her young

branches shout over the wall.

So I should be disposed to read, with the countenance of the Samaritan and Arabic, instead of the common reading, which has neither grain natical consistency nor harmony of meaning: I have therefore readily held in the first line to the memory of Joseph's mother, the beloved Rachel. She is compared to a vine,-a common image of female fruitfulness (Ps. cxxviii. 3, &c.)—which is planted by a fountain. She indeed bore his father but two sons; but in Joseph she bore many; whose young twigs, the grand children of Jacob, climb up the wall like cheerful tendrils.

Jacob now quits this image, and on account of the peculiar adventures of Joseph, adopts another. The fair Joseph was not permitted to shoot forth in peace : hard fortunes were waiting for bim :

They distressed him and shot at him
And hated him,—the archers :
Still his bow remained firm,
His hands and arms were strengthened.
By the hands of the mighty God of Jacob,
By the name of him who watched over Israel upon his stone,
By thy father's God who helped thee !
By the Almighty who further blesseth thee :-
Blessings of the heavens above,
Blessings of the deep beneath,
Blessings of the breasts and the womb.

The blessings of thy father ascend far
Above the blessings of my fathers,
Up to the charms of the primeval hills :
They will come upon Joseph's head,

Upon the crown of the prince among his brethren. I know of nothing that surpasses the lofty strain of this blessing, which Moses in his own, imitates, but cannot excel. Joseph stands there as an envied and persecuted man in the company of his brethren: they hated him, and shot at him bitter arrows : he, one against a multitude, stands firm, his bow-string faithful, bis hand dexterous, his arm strong and agile. Can a

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