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prophets, and as the other treasures of the temple were preserved and set apart as sacred by Nebuchadnezzar, it is probable that these autographs also were saved ; and more especially, as it does not appear that Nebuchadnezzar had any particular enmity against the religion of the Jews. If however the original books were destroyed with the temple, it is certain that there were at that time numerous copies of them; and we cannot doubt but some of them were carried by the Jews to Babylon, and that others were left in Judea. The holy Scriptures were too much reverenced, and too much dispersed, to make it credible that all the copies were lost or destroyed; and indeed we find Daniel, when in captivity (l), referring to the book of the Law as then existing; and soon after the captivity, Ezra not only read and explained the Law to the people (m), but he restored the public worship and the sacrifices according to the Mosaic ritual; and therefore there must have been, at that time, at least a correct copy of the Law; for it is impossible to believe that he would have attempted the re-establishment of a church, in which the most minute observance of the rites and ceremonies prescribed by Moses was not only absolutely necessary for the acceptable performance of divine worship, but the slightest deviation from which was considered as sacrilege or abomination, unless he had been in actual possession either of the original manuscript of the Law (n), or of a copy so well authen
(1) Dan. c. 9. v. 11 & 13. (m) Nehem. c. 8. v. 1, &c. (n) “ The very old Egyptians used to write on linen, things which they designed should last long; and those characters continue to this day, as we are assured by those who have examined the mummies with attention. So Maillet tells us, that the filletting, or rather the bandage (for it was of considerable length) of a mummy, which was presented to him, and which he had opened in the house of the Capuchin Monks of Cairo, was
ticated as to leave no doubt of its accuracy in the minds of the people.
There is an uncontradicted tradition in the Jewish church, that about fifty years after the temple was rebuilt, Ezra, in conjunction with the Great Synagogue, made a collection of the sacred writings (o), which had not only charged from one end to the other with hieroglyphical figures, but they also found certain unknown characters written from the right hand towards the left, and forming a kind of verses. These, he supposed, contained the eulogium of the person whose this body was, written in the language which was used in Egypt in the time in which she lived: that some part of this writing was afterwards copied by an engraver in France, and these papers sent to the virtuosi through Europe, that if possible they might decypher them; but in vain. Might not a copy of the law of Moses, written after this manner, have lasted eight hundred and thirty years ? Is it unnatural to imagine that Moses, who was learned in all the arts of Egypt, wrote after this manner on linen ? And doth not this supposition perfectly well agree with the accounts we have of the form of their books, their being rolls, and of their being easily cut in pieces with a knife, and liable to be burned ? It should seem, the linen was first primed or painted all over before they began to write, and consequently would have been liable to crack if folded. We are told, the use of the papyrus was not known till after Alexandria was built. Skins might do for records, but not for books, unless prepared like parchment, of which we are assured Eumenes was the inventor, in the second century before Christ. Ink or paint must have been used to write on linen, and pen3 must have been reeds or canes, like those now used in Persia, which agrees better with the Hebrew word we render pen.” Harmer's Observ. vol. ii.-Nearchus, who accompanied Alexander in his expedition into India, says, that the Indians " write on linen or cotton cloth, and that their character is beautiful.” Arrian, 717.
(0) " What the Jews call the great synagogue were a number of elders, amounting to 120, who, succeeding some after others, in a continued series, from the return of the Jews again into Judea, after the Babylonish captivity to the time of Simon the Just, laboured in the restoring of the Jewish church and state in that country; in order whereto, the holy Scriptures being the rule they were to go by, their chief care and study was to make a true collection of those Scriptures, and publish them accurately to the people. Ezra, and the men of the great synagogue that
been increased since the Jews were carried into cap-
the two covenants, and of whom Malachi foretold, that he should precede “ the great day of the Lord (P),”. that is the coming of the Messiah. It cannot now be ascertained whether Ezra's copy of the Scriptures was destroyed by Antiochus Epiphanes, when he pillaged the temple; nor is it material, since we know that Judas Maccabæus repaired the temple, and replaced every thing requisite for the performance of divine worship, which included a correct, if not Ezra's own, copy of the Scriptures. This copy, whether Ezra's or not, remained in the temple till Jerusalem was taken by Titus, and it was then carried in triumph to Rome, and laid up with the purple veil in the royal palace of Vespasian (9).
Thus, while the Jewish polity continued, and nearly 500 years after the time of Ezra, a complete and faultless
copy of the Hebrew canon was kept in the temple (r) at Jerusalem, with which all others might be compared. And it ought to be observed, that although Christ frequently reproved the rulers and teachers of the Jews for their erroneous and false doctrines, yet he never accused them of any corruption in their written Law, or other sacred books: and St. Paul reckons among the privileges of the Jews, " that unto them were committed the oracles of God (s),” without insinuating that they had been unfaithful to their trust. After the final destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, there was no established standard of the Hebrew Scriptures ; but from that time the dispersion of the Jews into all countries, and the numerous converts to Christianity, became a double security for the preservation of
(p) Mal. c. 4. v. 5.
(r) Josephus mentions the Scriptures deposited in the temple. Ant. Jud. lib. 3. cap. 1. and lib. 5. cap. 1.
(s) Rom. c. 3-0. 2.
a volume held equally sacred by Jews and Christians, and to which both constantly referred as to the written word of God. They differed in the interpretation of these books, but never disputed the validity of the text in any material point.
But though designed corruption was utterly impracticable, and was indeed never suspected, yet the carelessness and inadvertence of transcribers, in a long series of years, would unavoidably introduce some errors and mistakes. Great pains have been taken by learned men, and especially by the diligent and judicious Dr. Kennicott, to collate the remaining manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible; and the result has been satisfactory in the highest degree. Many various readings of a trivial kind have been discovered, but scarcely any of real consequence. These differences are indeed of so little moment, that it is sometimes absurdly objected to the laborious work of Dr. Kennicott, which contains the collations of nearly 700 Hebrew manuscripts, that it does not enable us to correct a single important passage in the Old Testament; whereas this very circumstance implies, that we have in fact derived from that excellent undertaking the greatest advantage which could have been wished for by any real friend of revealed religion; namely, the certain knowledge of the agreement of the copies of the antient Scriptures, now extant in their original language, with each other, and with our Bibles. This point, thus clearly established, is still farther confirmed by the general coincidence of the present Hebrew copies with all the early translations of the Bible, and particularly with the Septuagint (t) Version, the earliest of them all, and
(1) This is a Translation of the Old Testament into Greek, made at Alexandria, when Ptolemy Philadelphus was king of Egypt. Aristeas relates, that Ptolemy applied to Eleazer, the