How greatly the inquiry we have just made concerning the real writer of
the twelve books aids us in attaining a complete understanding of them, may
be easily gathered solely from the passages which we have adduced in
confirmation of our opinion, and which would be most obscure without it.
But besides the question of the writer, there are other points to notice
which common superstition
forbids the multitude to apprehend. Of these
the chief is, that Ezra (whom I will take to be the author of the aforesaid
books until some more likely person be suggested) did not put the finishing
touches to the narrative contained therein, but merely collected the
histories from various writers, and sometimes simply set them down, leaving
their examination and arrangement to posterity.
The cause (if it were not untimely death) which prevented him from
completing his work in all its portions, I cannot conjecture, but the fact
remains most clear, although we have lost the writings of the ancient Hebrew
historians, and can only judge from the few fragments which are still
extant. For the history of Hezekiah (2 Kings xviii:17), as written in
the vision of Isaiah, is related as it is found in the chronicles of the
kings of Judah. We read the same story, told with few exceptions,
[N11], in the same words, in the book of Isaiah which was contained
in the chronicles of the kings of Judah (2 Chron. xxxii:32). From this
we must conclude that there were various versions of this narrative of
Isaiah's, unless, indeed, anyone would dream that in this, too, there lurks
a mystery. Further, the last chapter of 2 Kings 27-30 is repeated in the
last chapter of Jeremiah, v.31-34.
[Note N11]: "With few exceptions." One of these exceptions is found
in 2 Kings xviii:20, where we read, "Thou sayest (but they are but vain
words), "the second person being used. In Isaiah xxxvi:5, we read "I
say (but they are but vain words) I have counsel and strength for war," and
in the twenty-second verse of the chapter in Kings it is written, "But if ye
say," the plural number being used, whereas Isaiah gives the singular.
The text in Isaiah does not contain the words found in 2 Kings xxxii:32.
Thus there are several cases of various readings where it is impossible to
distinguish the best.
Again, we find 2 Sam. vii. repeated in I Chron. xvii., but the
expressions in the two passages are so curiously varied [N12], that
we can very easily see that these two chapters were taken from two different
versions of the history of Nathan.
[Note N12]: "The expressions in the two passages are so varied." For
instance we read in 2 Sam. vii:6, "But I have walked in a tent and in a
tabernacle." Whereas in 1 Chron. xvii:5, "but have gone from tent to
tent and from one tabernacle to another." In 2 Sam. vii:10, we read, "to
afflict them,"whereas in 1 Chron. vii:9, we find a different expression.
I could point out other differences still greater, but a single reading of
the chapters in question will suffice to make them manifest to all who are
neither blind nor devoid of sense.
Lastly, the genealogy of the kings of Idumaea contained in Genesis
xxxvi:31, is repeated in the same words in 1 Chron. i., though we know that
the author of the latter work took his materials from other historians, not
from the twelve books we have ascribed to Ezra. We may therefore be
sure that if we still possessed the writings of the historians, the matter
would be made clear; however, as we have lost them, we can only examine the
writings still extant, and from their order and connection, their various
repetitions, and, lastly, the contradictions in dates which they contain,
judge of the rest.
These, then, or the chief of them, we will now go through. First,
in the story of Judah and Tamar (Gen. xxxviii.) the historian thus begins:
"And it came to pass at that time that Judah went down from his brethren."
This time cannot refer to what immediately precedes [N13], but
must necessarily refer to something else, for from the time when Joseph was
sold into Egypt to the time when the patriarch Jacob, with all his family,
set out thither, cannot be reckoned as more than twenty-two years, for
Joseph, when he was sold by his brethren, was seventeen years old, and when
he was summoned by Pharaoh from prison was thirty; if to this we add the
seven years of plenty and two of famine, the total amounts to twenty-two
years. Now, in so short a period, no one can suppose that so many
things happened as are described; that Judah had three children, one after
the other, from one wife, whom he married at the beginning of the period;
that the eldest of these, when he was old enough, married Tamar, and that
after he died his next brother succeeded to her; that, after all this,
Judah, without knowing it, had intercourse with his daughter-in-law, and
that she bore him twins, and, finally, that the eldest of these twins became
a father within the aforesaid period. As all these events cannot have
taken place within the period mentioned in Genesis, the reference must
necessarily be to something treated of in another book: and Ezra in this
instance simply related the story, and inserted it without examination among
his other writings.
[Note N13]: "This time cannot refer to what immediately precedes."
It is plain from the context that this passage must allude to the time when
Joseph was sold by his brethren. But this is not all. We may draw
the same conclusion from the age of Judah, who was than twenty-two years old
at most, taking as basis of calculation his own history just narrated.
It follows, indeed, from the last verse of Gen. xxx., that Judah was born in
the tenth of the years of Jacob's servitude to Laban, and Joseph in the
fourteenth. Now, as we know that Joseph was seventeen years old when
sold by his brethren, Judah was then not more than twenty-one. Hence,
those writers who assert that Judah's long absence from his father's
house took place before Joseph was sold, only seek to delude themselves and
to call in question the Scriptural authority which they are anxious to
However, not only this chapter but the whole narrative of Joseph and
Jacob is collected and set forth from various histories, inasmuch as it is
quite inconsistent with itself. For in Gen. xlvii. we are told that
Jacob, when he came at Joseph's bidding to salute Pharaoh, was 130 years
old. If from this we deduct the twenty-two years which he passed
sorrowing for the absence of Joseph and the seventeen years forming Joseph's
age when he was sold, and, lastly, the seven years for which Jacob served
for Rachel, we find that he was very advanced in life, namely, eighty four,
when he took Leah to wife, whereas Dinah was scarcely seven years old when
she was violated by Shechem, [N14]. Simeon and Levi were aged
respectively eleven and twelve when they spoiled the city and slew all the
males therein with the sword.
[Note N14]: "Dinah was scarcely seven years old when she was violated by
Schechem." The opinion held by some that Jacob wandered about eight or
ten years between Mesopotamia and Bethel, savours of the ridiculous; if
respect for Aben Ezra, allows me to say so. For it is clear that Jacob
had two reasons for haste: first, the desire to see his old parents;
secondly, and chiefly to perform, the vow made when he fled from his brother
(Gen. xxviii:10 and xxxi:13, and xxxv:1). We read (Gen. xxxi:3), that
God had commanded him to fulfill his vow, and promised him help for
returning to his country. If these considerations seem conjectures
rather than reasons, I will waive the point and admit that Jacob, more
unfortunate than Ulysses, spent eight or ten years or even longer, in this
short journey. At any rate it cannot be denied that Benjamin was born in
the last year of this wandering, that is by the reckoning of the objectors,
when Joseph was sixteen or seventeen years old, for Jacob left Laban seven
years after Joseph's birth. Now from the seventeenth year of Joseph's
age till the patriarch went into Egypt, not more than twenty-two years
elapsed, as we have shown in this chapter. Consequently Benjamin, at the
time of the journey to Egypt, was twenty-three or twenty- four at the most.
He would therefore have been a grandfather in the flower of his age
(Gen. xlvi:21, cf. Numb. xxvi:38, 40, and 1 Chron. viii;1), for it is
certain that Bela, Benjamin's eldest son, had at that time, two sons, Addai
and Naaman. This is just as absurd as the statement that Dinah was
violated at the age of seven, not to mention other impossibilities
which would result from the truth of the narrative. Thus we see that
unskillful endeavours to solve difficulties, only raise fresh ones, and make
confusion worse confounded.
There is no need that I should go through the whole Pentateuch. If
anyone pays attention to the way in which all the histories and precepts in
these five books are set down promiscuously and without order, with no
regard for dates; and further, how the same story is often repeated,
sometimes in a different version, he will easily, I say, discern that all
the materials were promiscuously collected and heaped together, in order
that they might at some subsequent time be more readily examined and reduced
to order. Not only these five books, but also the narratives contained
in the remaining seven, going down to the destruction of the city, are
compiled in the same way. For who does not see that in Judges ii:6 a
new historian is being quoted, who had also written of the deeds of Joshua,
and that his words are simply copied? For after our historian has
stated in the last chapter of the book of Joshua that Joshua died and was
buried, and has promised, in the first chapter of Judges, to relate what
happened after his death, in what way, if he wished to continue the thread
of his history, could he connect the statement here made about Joshua with
what had gone before?
So, too, 1 Sam. 17, 18, are taken from another historian, who assigns a
cause for David's first frequenting Saul's court very different from that
given in chap. xvi. of the same book. For he did not think that David
came to Saul in consequence of the advice of Saul's servants, as is
narrated in chap. xvi., but that being sent by chance to the camp by his
father on a message to his brothers, he was for the first time remarked by
Saul on the occasion of his victory, over Goliath the Philistine, and was
retained at his court.
I suspect the same thing has taken place in chap. xxvi. of the same
book, for the historian there seems to repeat the narrative given in chap.
xxiv. according to another man's version. But I pass over this, and go
on to the computation of dates.
In I Kings, chap. vi., it is said that Solomon built the Temple in the
four hundred and eightieth year after the exodus from Egypt; but from the
historians themselves we get a much longer period, for:
Moses governed the people in the desert . . . . . . . . . . . . . 40
Joshua, who lived 110 years, did not, according to
Josephus and others' opinion rule more than . . . . . . . . . 26
Cusban Rishathaim held the people in subjection . . . . . . . . . 8
Othniel, son of Kenag, was judge for . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 40 [N15]
Eglon, King of Moab, governed the people . . . . . . . . . . . . 18
Ehucl and Shamgar were judges . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 80
Jachin, King of Canaan, held the people in subjection . . . . . . 20
The people was at peace subsequently for . . . . . . . . . . . . 40
It was under subjection to Median . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
It obtained freedom under Gideon for . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 40
It fell under the rule of Abimelech . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
Tola, son of Puah, was judge . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23
Jair was judge . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22
The people was in subjection to the Philistines and Ammonites . . 18
Jephthah was judge . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
Ibzan, the Bethlehemite, was judge . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
Elon, the Zabulonite . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
Abclon, the Pirathonite . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
The people was again subject to the Philistines . . . . . . . . . 40
Samson was judge . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20 [N16]
Eli was judge . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 40
The people again fell into subjection to the Philistines,
till they were delivered by Samuel . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20
David reigned . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 40
Solomon reigned before he built the temple . . . . . . . . . . . 4
[Note N15]: "Othniel, son of Kenag, was judge for forty years."
Rabbi Levi Ben Gerson and others believe that these forty years which the
Bible says were passed in freedom, should be counted from the death of
Joshua, and consequently include the eight years during which the people
were subject to Kushan Rishathaim, while the following eighteen years
must be added on to the eighty years of Ehud's and Shamgar's judgeships.
In this case it would be necessary to reckon the other years of subjection
among those said by the Bible to have been passed in freedom. But the
Bible expressly notes the number of years of subjection, and the number of
years of freedom, and further declares (Judges ii:18) that the
Hebrew state was prosperous during the whole time of the judges.
Therefore it is evident that Levi Ben Gerson (certainly a very learned man),
and those who follow him, correct rather than interpret the Scriptures.
The same fault is committed by those who assert, that Scripture, by this
general calculation of years, only intended to mark the period of the
regular administration of the Hebrew state, leaving out the years of anarchy
and subjection as periods of misfortune and interregnum. Scripture
certainly passes over in silence periods of anarchy, but does not, as they
dream, refuse to reckon them or wipe them out of the country's annals.
It is clear that Ezra, in 1 Kings vi., wished to reckon absolutely all the
years since the flight from Egypt. This is so plain, that no one versed
in the Scriptures can doubt it. For, without going back to the
precise words of the text, we may see that the genealogy of David given at
the end of the book of Ruth, and I Chron. ii., scarcely accounts for so
great a number of years. For Nahshon, who was prince of the tribe of
Judah (Numb. vii;11), two years after the Exodus, died in the desert, and
his son Salmon passed the Jordan with Joshua. Now this Salmon,
according to the genealogy, was David's great-grandfather. Deducting,
then, from the total of 480 years, four years for Solomon's reign, seventy
for David's life, and forty for the time passed in the desert, we find that
David was born 366 years after the passage of the Jordan. Hence we
must believe that David's father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and great-
great-grandfather begat children when they were ninety years old.
[Note N16]: "Samson was judge for twenty years." Samson was born
after the Hebrews had fallen under the dominion of the Philistines.
All these periods added together make a total of 580 years. But to
these must be added the years during which the Hebrew republic flourished
after the death of Joshua, until it was conquered by Cushan Rishathaim,
which I take to be very numerous, for I cannot bring myself to believe that
immediately after the death of Joshua all those who had witnessed his
died simultaneously, nor that their successors at one stroke bid
farewell to their laws, and plunged from the highest virtue into the depth
of wickedness and obstinacy.
Nor, lastly, that Cushan Rishathaim subdued them on the instant; each
one of these circumstances requires almost a generation, and there is no
doubt that Judges ii:7, 9, 10, comprehends a great many years which it
passes over in silence. We must also add the years during which Samuel
was judge, the number of which is not stated in Scripture, and also the
years during which Saul reigned, which are not clearly shown from his
history. It is, indeed, stated in 1 Sam. xiii:1, that he reigned two
years, but the text in that passage is mutilated, and the records of his
reign lead us to suppose a longer period. That the text is mutilated I
suppose no one will doubt who has ever advanced so far as the threshold of
the Hebrew language, for it runs as follows: "Saul was in his -- year, when
he began to reign, and he reigned two years over Israel." Who, I say,
does not see that the number of the years of Saul's age when he began to
reign has been omitted? That the record of the reign presupposes a
greater number of years is equally beyond doubt, for in the same book, chap.
xxvii:7, it is stated that David sojourned among the Philistines, to whom he
had fled on account of Saul, a year and four months; thus the rest of the
reign must have been comprised in a space of eight months, which I think
no one will credit. Josephus, at the end of the sixth book of his
antiquities, thus corrects the text: Saul reigned eighteen years while
Samuel was alive, and two years after his death. However, all the
narrative in chap. xiii. is in complete disagreement with what goes before.
At the end of chap. vii. it is narrated that the Philistines were so
crushed by the Hebrews that they did not venture, during Samuel's life, to
invade the borders of Israel; but in chap. xiii. we are told that the
Hebrews were invaded during the life of Samuel by the Philistines, and
reduced by them to such a state of wretchedness and poverty that they were
deprived not only of weapons with which to defend themselves, but also of
the means of making more. I should be at pains enough if I were to try
and harmonize all the narratives contained in this first book of Samuel so
that they should seem to be all written and arranged by a single historian.
But I return to my object. The years, then, during which Saul
reigned must be added to the above computation; and, lastly, I have not
counted the years of the Hebrew anarchy, for I cannot from Scripture gather
their number. I cannot, I say, be certain as to the period occupied by
the events related in Judges chap. xvii. on till the end of the book.
It is thus abundantly evident that we cannot arrive at a true
computation of years from the histories, and, further, that the histories
are inconsistent themselves on the subject. We are compelled to confess
that these histories were compiled from various writers without previous
arrangement and examination. Not less discrepancy is found between the
dates given in the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah, and those in the
Chronicles of the Kings of Israel; in the latter, it is stated that Jehoram,
the son of Ahab, began to reign in the second year of the reign of Jehoram,
the son of Jehoshaphat (2 Kings i:17), but in the former we read that
Jehoram, the son of Jehoshaphat, began to reign in the fifth year of
Jehoram, the son of Ahab (2 Kings viii:16). Anyone who compares the
narratives in Chronicles with the narratives in the books of Kings, will
find many similar discrepancies. These there is no need for me to
examine here, and still less am I called upon to treat of the commentaries
of those who endeavour to harmonize them. The Rabbis evidently let
their fancy run wild. Such commentators as I have, read, dream, invent,
and as a last resort, play fast and loose with the language. For
instance, when it is said in 2 Chronicles, that Ahab was forty-two years old
when he began to reign, they pretend that these years are computed from the
reign of Omri, not from the birth of Ahab. If this can be shown to be the
real meaning of the writer of the book of Chronicles, all I can say is, that
he did not know how to state a fact. The commentators make many other
assertions of this kind, which if true, would prove that the ancient Hebrews
were ignorant both of their own language, and of the way to relate a plain
narrative. I should in such case recognize no rule or reason in
interpreting Scripture, but it would be permissible to hypothesize to one's
If anyone thinks that I am speaking too generally, and without
sufficient warrant, I would ask him to set himself to showing us some fixed
plan in these histories which might be followed without blame by other
writers of chronicles, and in his efforts at harmonizing and interpretation,
so strictly to observe and explain the phrases and expressions, the order
and the connections, that we may be able to imitate these also in our
writings, [N17]. If he succeeds, I will at once give him my
hand, and he shall be to me as great Apollo; for I confess that after long
endeavours I have been unable to discover anything of the kind. I may
add that I set down nothing here which I have not long reflected upon, and
that, though I was imbued from my boyhood up with the ordinary opinions
Scriptures, I have been unable to withstand the force of what I have urged.
[Note N17]: Otherwise, they rather correct than explain Scripture.
However, there is no need to detain the reader with this question, and
drive him to attempt an impossible task; I merely mentioned the fact in
order to throw light on my intention.
I now pass on to other points concerning the treatment of these books.
For we must remark, in addition to what has been shown, that these
books were not guarded by posterity with such care that no faults crept in.
The ancient scribes draw attention to many doubtful readings, and some
mutilated passages, but not to all that exist: whether the faults are
of sufficient importance to greatly embarrass the reader I will not now
discuss. I am inclined to think that they are of minor moment to those,
at any rate, who read the Scriptures with enlightenment: and I can
positively affirm that I have not noticed any fault or various reading in
doctrinal passages sufficient to render them obscure or doubtful.
There are some people, however, who will not admit that there is any
corruption, even in other passages, but maintain that by some unique
exercise of providence God has preserved from corruption every word in the
Bible: they say that the various readings are the symbols of profoundest
mysteries, and that mighty secrets lie hid in the twenty-eight hiatus which
occur, nay, even in the very form of the letters.
Whether they are actuated by folly and anile devotion, or whether by
arrogance and malice so that they alone may be held to possess the secrets
of God, I know not: this much I do know, that I find in their writings
nothing which has the air of a Divine secret, but only childish
lucubrations. I have read and known certain Kabbalistic triflers, whose
insanity provokes my unceasing astonishment. That faults have crept
in will, I think, be denied by no sensible person who reads the passage
about Saul, above quoted (1 Sam. xiii:1) and also 2 Sam. vi:2: "And David
arose and went with all the people that were with him from Judah, to bring
up from thence the ark of God."
No one can fail to remark that the name of their destination, viz.,
Kirjath-jearim [N18], has been omitted: nor can we deny that
2 Sam. xiii:37, has been tampered with and mutilated. "And Absalom fled, and
went to Talmai, the son of Ammihud, king of Geshur. And he mourned for
his son every day. So Absalom fled, and went to Geshur, and was there three
years." I know that I have remarked other passages of the same kind,
but I cannot recall them at the moment.
[Note N18]: "Kirjath-jearim." Kirjath-jearim is also called Baale of
Judah. Hence Kimchi and others think that the words Baale Judah, which I
have translated "the people of Judah," are the name of a town. But this
is not so, for the word Baale is in the plural. Moreover, comparing this
text in Samuel with I Chron. Xiii:5, we find that David did not rise up
and go forth out of Baale, but that he went thither. If the author of
the book of Samuel had meant to name the place whence David took the ark, he
would, if he spoke Hebrew correctly, have said, "David rose up, and set
forth from Baale Judah, and took the ark from thence."
That the marginal notes which are found continually in the Hebrew
Codices are doubtful readings will, I think, be evident to everyone who has
noticed that they often arise from the great similarity, of some of the
Hebrew letters, such for instance, as the similarity between Kaph and Beth,
Jod and Van, Daleth and Reth, &c. For example, the text in
2 Sam. v:24, runs "in the time when thou hearest," and similarly in
Judges xxi:22, "And it shall be when their fathers or their brothers come
unto us often," the marginal version is "come unto us to complain."
So also many various readings have arisen from the use of the letters
named mutes, which are generally not sounded in pronunciation, and are taken
promiscuously, one for the other. For example, in Levit. xxv:29, it is
written, "The house shall be established which is not in the walled city,"
but the margin has it, "which is in a walled city."
Though these matters are self-evident, it is necessary, to
answer the reasonings of certain Pharisees, by which they endeavour to
convince us that the marginal notes serve to indicate some mystery, and were
added or pointed out by the writers of the sacred books. The first of
these reasons, which, in my, opinion, carries little weight, is taken from
the practice of reading the Scriptures aloud.
If, it is urged, these notes were added to show various readings which
could not be decided upon by posterity, why has custom prevailed that the
marginal readings should always be retained? Why has the meaning which
is preferred been set down in the margin when it ought to have been
incorporated in the text, and not relegated to a side note?
The second reason is more specious, and is taken from the nature of the
case. It is admitted that faults have crept into the sacred writings by
chance and not by design; but they say that in the five books the word for a
girl is, with one exception, written without the letter "he," contrary to
all grammatical rules, whereas in the margin it is written correctly
according to the universal rule of grammar. Can this have happened by
mistake? Is it possible to imagine a clerical error to have been committed
every, time the word occurs? Moreover, it would have been easy, to
supply the emendation. Hence, when these readings are not accidental
or corrections of manifest mistakes, it is supposed that they must have been
set down on purpose by the original writers, and have a meaning.
However, it is easy to answer such arguments; as to the question of custom
having prevailed in the reading of the marginal versions, I will not spare
much time for its consideration: I know not the promptings of
and perhaps the practice may have arisen from the idea that both readings
were deemed equally good or tolerable, and therefore, lest either should be
neglected, one was appointed to be written, and the other to be read.
They feared to pronounce judgment in so weighty a matter lest they should
mistake the false for the true, and therefore they would give preference to
neither, as they must necessarily have done if they had commanded one only
to be both read and written. This would be especially the case where
the marginal readings were not written down in the sacred books: or the
custom may have originated because some things though rightly written down
were desired to be read otherwise according to the marginal version, and
therefore the general rule was made that the marginal version should be
followed in reading the Scriptures. The cause which induced the scribes
to expressly prescribe certain passages to be read in the marginal version,
I will now touch on, for not all the marginal notes are various readings,
but some mark expressions which have passed out of common use, obsolete
words and terms which current decency did not allow to be read in a public
assembly. The ancient writers, without any evil intention, employed no
courtly paraphrase, but called things by their plain names.
Afterwards, through the spread of evil thoughts and luxury, words which
could be used by the ancients without offence, came to be considered
obscene. There was no need for this cause to change the text of
Scripture. Still, as a concession to the popular weakness, it became
the custom to substitute more decent terms for words denoting sexual
intercourse, exereta, &c., and to read them as they were given in the
At any rate, whatever may have been the origin of the practice of
reading Scripture according to the marginal version, it was not that the
true interpretation is contained therein. For besides that, the
Rabbins in the Talmud often differ from the Massoretes, and give other
readings which they approve of, as I will shortly show, certain things are
found in the margin which appear less warranted by the uses of the Hebrew
language. For example, in 2 Samuel xiv:22, we read, "In that the king
hath fulfilled the request of his servant," a construction plainly
regular, and agreeing with that in chap. xvi. But the margin has it
"of thy servant," which does not agree with the person of the verb.
So, too, chap. xvi:25 of the same book, we find, "As if one had inquired at
the oracle of God," the margin adding "someone" to stand as a nominative to
the verb. But the correction is not apparently warranted, for it is
a common practice, well known to grammarians in the Hebrew language, to use
the third person singular of the active verb impersonally.
The second argument advanced by the Pharisees is easily answered from
what has just been said, namely, that the scribes besides the various
readings called attention to obsolete words. For there is no doubt
that in Hebrew as in other languages, changes of use made many words
obsolete and antiquated, and such were found by the later scribes in the
sacred books and noted by them with a view to the books being publicly read
according to custom. For this reason the word nahgar is always found
marked because its gender was originally common, and it had the same meaning
as the Latin juvenis (a young person). So also the Hebrew capital was
anciently called Jerusalem, not Jerusalaim. As to the pronouns himself
and herself, I think that the later scribes changed vau into jod (a very
frequent change in Hebrew) when they wished to express the feminine gender,
but that the ancients only distinguished the two genders by a change of
vowels. I may also remark that the irregular tenses of certain verbs
differ in the ancient and modern forms, it being formerly considered a mark
of elegance to employ certain letters agreeable to the ear.
In a word, I could easily multiply proofs of this kind if I were not
afraid of abusing the patience of the reader. Perhaps I shall be asked
how I became acquainted with the fact that all these expressions are
obsolete. I reply that I have found them in the most ancient Hebrew
writers in the Bible itself, and that they have not been imitated by
subsequent authors, and thus they are recognized as antiquated, though the
language in which they occur is dead. But perhaps someone may press
the question why, if it be true, as I say, that the marginal notes of the
Bible generally mark various readings, there are never more than two
readings of a passage, that in the text and that in the margin, instead of
three or more; and further, how the scribes can have hesitated between two
readings, one of which is evidently contrary to grammar, and the other a
The answer to these questions also is easy: I will premise that it is
almost certain that there once were more various readings than those now
recorded. For instance, one finds many in the Talmud which the
Massoretes have neglected, and are so different one from the other that
even the superstitious
editor of the Bomberg Bible confesses that he cannot
harmonize them. "We cannot say anything," he writes, "except what we
have said above, namely, that the Talmud is generally in contradiction to
the Massorete." So that we are nor bound to hold that there never were
more than two readings of any passage, yet I am willing to admit, and
indeed I believe that more than two readings are never found: and for the
following reasons:- (I.) The cause of the differences of reading only
admits of two, being generally the similarity of certain letters, so that
the question resolved itself into which should be written Beth, or Kaf,
Jod or Vau, Daleth or Reth: cases which are constantly occurring, and
frequently yielding a fairly good meaning whichever alternative be adopted.
Sometimes, too, it is a question whether a syllable be long or short,
quantity being determined by the letters called mutes. Moreover, we
never asserted that all the marginal versions, without exception, marked
various readings; on the contrary, we have stated that many were due to
motives of decency or a desire to explain obsolete words. (II.) I am
inclined to attribute the fact that more than two readings are never found
to the paucity of exemplars, perhaps not more than two or three, found by
the scribes. In the treatise of the scribes, chap. vi., mention is
made of three only, pretended to have been found in the time of Ezra, in
order that the marginal versions might be attributed to him.
However that may be, if the scribes only had three codices we may
easily imagine that in a given passage two of them would be in accord, for
it would be extraordinary if each one of the three gave a different reading
of the same text.
The dearth of copies after the time of Ezra will surprise no one who
has read the 1st chapter of Maccabees, or Josephus's "Antiquities," Bk. 12,
chap. 5. Nay, it appears wonderful considering the fierce and daily
persecution, that even these few should have been preserved. This
will, I think, be plain to even a cursory reader of the history of those
We have thus discovered the reasons why there are never more than two
readings of a passage in the Bible, but this is a long way from supposing
that we may therefore conclude that the Bible was purposely written
incorrectly in such passages in order to signify some mystery. As to
the second argument, that some passages are so faultily written that they
are at plain variance with all grammar, and should have been corrected in
the text and not in the margin, I attach little weight to it, for I am not
concerned to say what religious motive the scribes may have had for acting
as they did: possibly they did so from candour, wishing to transmit the few
exemplars of the Bible which they had found exactly in their original state,
marking the differences they discovered in the margin, not as doubtful
readings, but as simple variants. I have myself called them doubtful
readings, because it would be generally impossible to say which of the two
versions is preferable.
Lastly, besides these doubtful readings the scribes have (by leaving a
hiatus in the middle of a paragraph) marked several passages as mutilated.
The Massoretes have counted up such instances, and they amount to
eight-and-twenty. I do not know whether any mystery is thought to lurk
in the number, at any rate the Pharisees religiously preserve a certain
amount of empty space.
One of such hiatus occurs (to give an instance) in Gen. iv:8, where it
is written, "And Cain said to his brother .... and it came to pass while
they were in the field, &c.," a space being left in which we should expect
to hear what it was that Cain said.
Similarly there are (besides those points we have noticed) eight-and-
twenty hiatus left by the scribes. Many of these would not be
recognized as mutilated if it were not for the empty space left. But I have
said enough on this subject.