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A PROPER METHOD
BY WILLIAM WOTTON, D.D.
SIR, It is so long since I promised you my thoughts concerning a proper method of directing our studies in divinity, that I have been several times tempted to think it the wisest way rather to break my promise, than, at so great a distance of time, to go about to keep it. I have reason to fear you
will suspect me of vanity, as if I took so long a time, that you might expect from me something extraordinary, and beyond what has been already done by much greater men than myself. Laziness, in truth, has thus long kept me from making good my word; and even that has had an influence upon me so long, that at last I was ashamed, and, as men often are in greater cases, disheartened, and at a loss where to begin, since I could not begin without confessing a fault. But since it is never too late to amend, I have at last resolved to set down what you here see, which is entirely submitted to your censure.
The first thing which a divine is to study is the Scriptures. To be thoroughly acquainted with the design and intention of God in both covenants, is absolutely necessary to every one that would be a preacher of the Gospel. Now since the new
covenant cannot be exactly understood, without knowing the old; and since the knowledge of the old requires an acquaintance with many and various things which are peculiar to the Jewish nation; I would therefore propose, that the Old Testament should be carefully studied in the first place. I have often wished, that, at least, a competent skill in Hebrew were a necessary qualification for Orders with us, as it is in Holland; because then students in divinity would not be obliged at every turn to take things upon trust, which otherwise they must be forced to do. But that I shall wholly wave at present, and propose nothing to our student that requires any learned language besides Latin and Greek, in both which, together with a course of academic learning, I take it for granted he is not to seek.
Now to understand the account of the Jewish polity, as we have it described in the Old Testament, Dr. Spencer's great work De legibus Hebræorumo, Outram de Sacrificiis, Reland's Antiquitates Hebraicæ®, and Cunæus de Republica Hebreorum', will be sufficient. These books, studied with care, will make a man as good a master of the letter of Moses's law, and of the nature of the Jewish economy, as he needs to be, unless he intends to be a master in that learning. If he would be very exact, he may add Selden's Tracts, De Synedriis, De Jure Naturali et Gentium juxta Leges Hebræorum, his Uxor Hebraica, and De Successione in Pontificatum. Selden's way of writing is obscure and intricate, and his digressions are many and long; but then the uncommon variety of things worth knowing compensates for the trouble. But I would not advise our student to begin with him, for more reasons than one. At the bottom he hated the hierarchy of the Church of England, and he seems to have been never better pleased, than when he could shew his learning, in gathering together what he apprehended might do it a prejudice.
If our student would know how the Jews allegorized almost every thing in the Mosaic dispensation, he need only read Philo Judæus'. If he would see what accounts they
gave of themselves to the Gentiles, let him study Josephus". If he has a mind thoroughly to understand those traditions of the Scribes and Pharisees, for which they are so severely rebuked by our blessed Saviour in the Evangelists, he will find a complete system of them in Surenhusius's edition of the Misna", with the Commentaries of Maimonides and Bartenora. The Misna is the text of what the Jews call the Talmud, i. e. the traditional or oral doctrine, which (as they pretend) God gave to Moses upon mount Sinai; which, though it was not put into writing till after the destruction of the second temple, yet was (if you will believe the Jewish masters) carefully handed down from age to age till that time. Surenhusius has printed the text of the Misnai in Latin and Hebrew; the two commentators are only in Latin. It is a noble and authentic collection of what. the Jews have built upon Moses's law in every particular. If our student cares not to go through that voluminous work, Reland's Hebrew Antiquities", and Dr. Lightfoot's Works', will perhaps be sufficient. Lightfoot's Hore Hebraice upon several of the books of the New Testament should be read with care; and Reland's Hebrew Antiquities, which are very short, should be got almost by heart, by those that will sit down with a general knowledge in these matters, and yet would not be wholly ignorant of them. If one would know the customs of that nation at this day, which are very well worth knowing, F. Simon's translation of Leo Modena's tract of the rites and ceremonies of the Jews", Fleury of the manners of the Jews", (which is an admirable little book,) and Buxtorf's Synagoga Judaica', will give him ample satisfaction. For commentators upon the Old Testament, Grotius P and Le Clerc" should be carefully studied. I am aware, that many people will wonder, and not unjustly, that I should advise the reading of Mr. Le Clerc's Commentaries upon the Bible : and I do confess that where a prophecy, a miracle, or a mystery, comes in his way, he must be read with caution. 3 p. 95.
p. i Dr. Wotton has since published two titles of the Misna, viz. Sabbath and Eruvim, with an English translation annotations, Lond. 1718. p. 190 kp. 140.