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THE PROPHETIC BOOKS OF THE OLD TESTAMENT: WITH AN INQUIRY CONCERNING THE NATURE AND EXTENT OF THE GIFT OF PROPHECY.
THE writings which are called, by way of distinction, THE PROPHECIES, are sixteen in number, commencing with Isaiah and terminating with Malachi. They are generally classed, by commentators, in two separate divisions,―the Greater or Major, and the Lesser or Minor Prophets. The first four, viz. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel, are reckoned as belonging to the former class, and the remainder are placed under the head of the latter.
I deem it hardly worth the while to notice separately each of these sixteen books, for the reason that but very little can be known in regard to their origin, and the other details concerning them are few in number and more or less wrapped in the garb of uncertainty. We will, therefore devote our special attention to those only which are considered the most important: and then proceed to our investigation of the general subject of Prophecy.
IN regard to the style of its literary composition,-the rhetorical finish and beauty of its sentences, and the sur
passing grandeur of some of its passages,—the book termed ISAIAH is superior to all the other writings called prophetic. Its author was a poet, of the highest class-a person who united with keen perceptive powers a very affluent imagination. Critics divide this book into three parts-its first six chapters forming one divi sion, and having relation to the reign of king Jotham; the six following being another, and relating to the reign of Ahaz; and the remaining chapters constituting a third division, and having reference to king Hezekiah.
Whether Isaiah was the author of the whole of the book, is by some considered questionable. Eminent German commentators regard the second part-that which relates to the Babylonish captivity, from chapter vi. to chapter xii., inclusive-as proceeding from another pen, and as not having been written until the very eve of the redemption from the long exile in Babylon. Some have considered the book as a compilation; and they have based this view of it partly upon the fact that several portions of different chapters may be found, with scarcely any verbal alteration, in other parts of the Old Testament. It is worthy of note that the incidents related in Isaiah, chapters xxxvi., xxxvii. and xxxviii., are also recorded, in almost exactly the same words, in the second book of Kings, chapters xviii., xix. and xx.; and some of them are again repeated, though in more varied phraseology in the second book of Chronicles, chapters xxviii. and xxix. It is but justice, however, to state that probably the larger number of commentators—at least,
the modern ones, in England and America-ascribe the entire work to Isaiah. But they present no historic evidence, as a reason for so doing: they rely solely upon such internal proof as they conceive may be gathered from the book itself,
The book attributed to JEREMIAH is considered as far less symmetrical in its general arrangement, as well as less grand and forcible in its style, than that of Isaiah.
It has never been disputed, so far as we can now learn, that EZEKIEL was the author of the writings recognized under his name. But the Jews say that the Sanhedrim, the Council of Seventy, who made or supervised the first translation of the Old Testament from the Hebrew into the Greek, which was called the Sertuagint deliberated for some time whether the book, as a whole, should be received and regarded as canonical. One cause of this hesitancy was a supposed collision between certain ideas of human accountability expressed in some parts of the work, and the sentiments of Moses on that subject. In chapter xviii. the writer argues very clearly and forcibly against the proverbial saying that because the fathers had eaten sour grapes, the children's teeth must necessarily be set on edge; or, in other words, he contends that each individual is morally accountable for those sins only of which he himself is guilty, not being justly held responsible for the misdeeds of his ancestry. This was supposed to con
flict with the declaration of Moses,* that the iniqui ties of the fathers should be visited on the children even to the third and fourth generations. For one, however, I am unable to see any actual disagreement between the words of the Law-Giver, rationally interpreted, and the reasoning of Ezekiel. Moses, if I understand his language referred to, taught simply the obvious truth, founded in God's moral government, that vicious inclinations and the legitimate consequences of iniquity, are (like other qualities) transmissible: not that the child is, in any sense whatever, deserving of reproach or the imputation of blame on account of the parent's impurity of action, or is susceptible of the sense of guilt; though he may be conscious that the current of his being has become thereby tainted.
Ezekiel is reputed to have been the author of some other writings than those called by his name in our Bible. It is stated by Josephus, in his "Antiquities," that Ezekiel wrote two books concerning the captivity in Babylon, in which the destruction of the temple was foretold, and that these were sent to Jerusalem. The opinion was entertained by Athanasius, that there were originally two books of Ezekiel, one of which is lost. Spinoza (the son of a Jew, and a very upright as well as learned man, though he finally became a Pantheist) supposed that what we have of Ezekiel's written productions, is but a fragment. But critics of a later period, particularly those who contend for the plenary in* Exodus, xx. 5.
spiration of the Scriptures, say that the opinions of the writers named are conjectures without foundation. With the grounds on which Josephus, Athanasius and Spinoza based their suppositions, we may not now be acquainted, as we have no access to the documents upon which they relied, possibly with much reason. I present you with a statement of both sides of the question, simply adding that to me it does not seem at all improbable that the views of Josephus and others may have been correct.
Respecting the authorship of the book of DANIEL, different opinions have prevailed. While some have considered it the genuine work of the person whose name it bears, there have been those (among whom may be mentioned Porphyry, in the third century A. C., a stu dent of Origen) who regarded it as falsely attributed to him. Porphyry maintained that instead of its being a prophecy, it was chiefly a history of past events. Others, however, as I intimated, a moment since, adopt a conclusion the direct opposite of this; they regard the book as a real prophecy, and Daniel as its veritable author.
Some of the ancient Jewish rabbins contended that Daniel could not properly be reckoned as being among the prophets, because his residence was not in the "Holy Land," as Palestine is termed; to which, they superstitiously believed, the spirit of prophecy was confined; and because he lived sumptuously, which was not characteristic of prophets in general.
Of the other prophetical books, it can hardly be of