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This peculiar conformation of sentences; short, concise, with frequent pauses and regular intervals, divided into pairs, for the most part, of corresponding lines; is the most evident characteristic now remaining of poetry among
the Hebrews, as distinguished from prose: and this, I suppose, is what is implied in the name mizmor ;* which I understand to be the
proper name for verse; that is, for numerous, rhythmical, or metrical language. This form made their verse peculiarly fit for music and dance; which with them were the usual concomitants of poetry, on occasions of public joy, and in the most solemn offices of religion.t Both their dance and song were on such occasions performed by two choirsf taking their parts alternately in each: the regular form of the stanzas, chiefly distichal, and the parallelism of the lines, were excellently well suited to this purpose, and fell in naturally with the movements of the body, of the voice, and of the instruments, and with the division of the parts between the two sets of performers.
But, beside the poetical structure of the sentences, there are other indications of verse in the poetical and prophetical parts of the Hebrew Scriptures: such are peculiarities of language; unusual and foreign words; phrases, and forms of words, uncommon in prose; bold eliptical expression; frequent and abrupt change of persons; and a use of the tenses out of the common order; and lastly, the poetical dialect, consisting chiefly in certain anomalies peculiar to poetry; in letters and syllables added to the ends of words; a kind of license commonly permitted to poetry in every language. But as these cannot be explained by a few examples, nor perfectly understood without some knowledge of Hebrew; I must beg leave to refer the learned reader, who would
noin. 72 signifies to cut, to prune, to sing, to play on a musical instrument. Casura is the common idea, which prevails in all.
+ See Exod. xv. 20, 21. 2 Sam. vi. 14. 16.
1 Sce 1 Sam. xviii. 6, 7. Ezra iii. 11. Neh. xii. 24. and Philo's Observations (slepi rewpyras) on the Song at the Red Sea.
inquire further into this subject, to what I have said upon it in another place;* or rather to recommend it to bis own observation, in reading the sacred poets in their own language.
Thus far of the genuine form and character of the prophet's composition, which it has been the translator's endeavour closely to follow, and as exactly to express, as the difference of the languages would permit: in which indeed he has had great advantage in the habit, which our language has acquired, of expressing with ease, and not without elegance, Hebrew ideas and Hebrew forms of speaking, from our constant use of a close verbal translation of both the Old and New Testament; which has by degrees moulded our language into such a conformity with that of the original Scriptures, that it can upon occasion assume the Hebrew character without appearing altogether forced and unnatural. It remains to say something of the translation in regard to its fidelity; and of the principles of interpretation, by which the translator has been guided in the prosecution of it.
The first and principal business of a translator is, to give the plain literal and grammatical sense of his author; the obvious meaning of his words, phrases, and sentences, and to express them in the language into which he translates, as far as may be, in equivalent words, phrases, and sentences. Whatever indulgence may be allowed him in other respects; however excusable he may be, if he fail of attaining the elegance, the spirit, the sublimity of his author (which will generally be in some degree the case, if his author excels at all in those qualities), want of fidelity admits of no excuse, and is entitled to no indulgence. This is peculiarly so in subjects of high importance, such as the holy Scriptures, in which so much depends on the phrase and expression; and particularly in the prophetical books of Scripture, where from the letter are often deduced deep and recondite senses, which
+ De Sacra Poësi Hebræorum, Prælect, iii. xiv, xv.
must owe all their weight and solidity to the just and accurate interpretation of the words of the prophecy. For whatever senses are supposed to be included in the prophet's words, spiritual, mystical, allegorical, analogical, or the like, they must all entirely depend on the
This is the only foundation upon which such interpretations can be securely raised; and if this is not firmly and well established, all that is built upon it will fall to the ground.
For example; if po niny, Isa. li. 20. does not signify ws devidov neplov, “like parboiled bete,' as the Septuagint render it; but ' like an oryx' (a large, fierce wild beast) ' in the toils;' what becomes of Theodoret's explication of this image! Καθευδοντες ως σευτλιον ημιεφθον] Εδειξεν αυτών δια μεν του υπνου το ραθυμον, δια δε του λαχάνου 70 avavępov. According to this interpretation, the prophet would express the drowsiness and flaccidity, the slothfulness and want of spirit, of his countrymen. Whereas his idea was impotent rage, and obstinate violence, subdued by a superior power; the Jews taken in the snares of their own wickedness, struggling in vain, till overspent and exhausted they sink under the weight of God's judgments. And Procopius's explication of the same passage, according to the rendering of the words by Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion, which is probably the true one, is almost as foreign to the purpose: “ He compares, saith he, the people of Jerusalem to the oryx, that is, to a bird; because they are taken in the spares of the devil, and therefore are delivered over to wrath.” Such strange and absurd deductions of notions and ideas, foreign to the author's drift and design, will often arise from the invention of commentators, who have nothing but an inaccurate translation to work upon. This was the case of the generality of the fathers of the Christian church, who wrote comments on the Old Testament: and it is no wonder, that we find them of little
service in leading us into the true meaning, and the deep sense, of the prophetical writings.
It being then a translator's indispensable duty, faithfully and religiously to express the sense of his author, he ought to take great care that he proceed upon just principles of criticism, in a rational method of interpretation; and that the copy from which he translates be accurate and perfect in itself, or corrected as carefully as possible by the best authorities, and on the clearest result of critical inquiry.
The method of studying the Scriptures of the Old Testament has been very defective hitherto in both these respects. Beside the difficulties attending it, arising from the nature of the thing itself; from the language in which it is written; and the condition in which it is come down to us through so many ages; what we have of it being the scanty relics of a language formerly copious, and consequently the true meaning of many words and phrases being obscure and dubious, and perhaps incapable of being clearly ascertained : beside these impediments necessarily inherent in the subject, others have been thrown in the way of our progress in the study of these writings, from prejudice, and an ill-founded opinion of the authority of the Jews, both as interpreters and conservators of them.
The Masoretic punctuation, by which the pronunciation of the language is given, the forms of the several parts of speech, the construction of the words, the distribution and limits of the sentences, and the connexion of the several members, are fixed, is in effect an interpretation of the Hebrew text made by the Jews of late ages, probably not earlier than the eighth century; and may be considered as their translation of the Old Testament. Where the words unpointed are capable of various meanings, according as they may be variously pronounced and constructed, the Jews by their pointing
have determined them to one meaning and construction; and the sense, which they thus give, is their sense of the passage: just as the rendering of a translator into another language is his sense : that is, the sense in which in his opinion the original words are to be taken; and it has no other authority, than what arises from its being agreeable to the rules of just interpretation. But because in the languages of Europe the vowels are essential parts of written words, a notion was too hastily taken up by the learned at the revival of letters, when the original Scriptures began to be more carefully examined, that the vowel points were necessary appendages of the Hebrew letters, and therefore coeval with them; at least, that they became absolutely necessary, when the Hebrew was become a dead language, and must have been added by Ezra, who collected and formed the canon of the Old Testament, in regard to all the books of it in his time extant. On this supposition the points have been considered as part of the Hebrew text, and as giving the meaning of it on no less than divine authority. Accordingly our public translations in the modern tongues for the use of the Church among Protestants, and so likewise the modern Latin translations, are for the most part elose copies of the Hebrew pointed text, and are in réality only versions at second hand, translations of the Jews' interpretation of the Old Testament. We do not deny the usefulness of this interpretation, nor would we be thought to detract from its merit by setting it in this light: it is perhaps upon the whole preferable to any one of the ancient versions; it has probably the great advantage of having been formed upon a traditionary explanation of the text, and of being generally agreeable to that sense of Scripture which passed current, and was commonly received by the Jewish nation, in ancient times; and it has certainly been of great service to the moderns, in leading them into the knowledge of the Hebrew tongue. But they would have made a much better