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The Jewish Scriptures Could Have Been Written In No Modern Era
by [?]

Now, observe what I am going to prove. First A, and as a stepping-stone to something (B) which is to follow: It is, that the Jewish Scriptures could not have been composed in any modern aera. I am earnest in drawing your attention to the particular point which I have before me, because one of the enormous faults pervading all argumentative books, so that rarely indeed do you find an exception, is that, in all the dust and cloud of contest and of objects, the reader never knows what is the immediate object before the writer and himself, nor if he were told would he understand in what relation it stood to the main object of contest–the main question at stake. Recollect, therefore, that what I want is to show that these elder Jewish Scriptures must have existed in very ancient days–how ancient? for ancient is an ambiguous word–could not have been written as a memorial of tradition within a century or two of our aera. To suppose, even for the sake of answering, the case of a forgery, is too gross and shocking: though a very common practice amongst writers miscalled religious, but in fact radically, incurably unspiritual. This might be shown to be abominable even in an intellectual sense; because no adequate, no rational purpose could be answered by such a labour. The sole conceivable case would be, that from the eldest days the Jews had been governed by all the Mosaic institutions as we now have them, but that the mere copying, the mere registration on tablets of parchment, wood, leather, brass, had not occurred till some more modern period. As to this the answer is at once: Why should they not have been written down? What answer could be given? Only this: For the same reason that other nations did not commit to writing their elder institutions. And why did they not? Was it to save trouble? So far from that, this one privation imposed infinite trouble that would have been evaded by written copies. For because they did not write down, therefore, as the sole mode of providing for accurate remembrance, they were obliged to compose in a very elaborate metre; in which the mere pattern as it were of the verse, so intricate and so closely interlocked, always performed thus two services: first, it assisted the memory in mastering the tenor; but, secondly, it checked and counterpleaded to the lapses of memory or to the artifices of fraud. This explanation is well illustrated in the ‘Iliad’–a poem elder by a century, it is rightly argued, than the ‘Odyssey,’ ergo the eldest of Pagan literature. Now, when the ‘Iliad’ had once come down safe to Pisistratus 555 years B.C., imagine this great man holding out his hands over the gulf of time to Homer, 1,000 years before, who is chucking or shying his poems across the gulf. Once landed in those conservative hands, never trouble yourself more about the safety of the ‘Iliad.’ After that it was as safe as the eyes in any Athenian’s head. But before that time there was a great danger; and this danger was at all surmounted (scholars differ greatly and have sometimes cudgelled one another with real unfigurative cudgels as to the degree in which it did surmount the danger) only by the metre and a regular orchestra in every great city dedicated to this peculiar service of chanting the ‘Iliad’; insomuch that a special costume was assigned to the chanters of the ‘Iliad,’ viz., scarlet or crimson, and also another special costume to the chanters of the ‘Odyssey,’ viz., violet-coloured. Now, this division of orchestras had one great evil and one great benefit. The benefit was, that if locally one orchestra went wrong (as it might do upon local temptations) yet surely all the orchestras would not go wrong: ninety-nine out of every hundred would check and expose the fraudulent hundredth. There was the good. But the evil was concurrent. For by this dispersion of orchestras, and this multiplication, not only were the ordinary chances of error according to the doctrine of chances multiplied a hundred or a thousand fold, but also, which was worse, each separate orchestra was brought by local position under a separate and peculiar action of some temptation, some horrible temptation, some bribe that could not be withstood, for falsifying the copy by compliments to local families; that is, to such as were or such as were not descendants from the Paladius of Troy. For that, let me say, was for Greece, nay, for all the Mediterranean world, what for us of Christian ages have been the Crusades. It was the pinnacle from which hung as a dependency all the eldest of families. So that they who were of such families thirsted after what they held aright to be asserted, viz., a Homeric commemoration; and they who were not thirsted after what had begun to seem a feasible ambition to be accomplished. It was feasible: for various attempts are still on record very much like our interpolations of Church books as to records of birth or marriage. Athens, for instance, was discontented with Homer’s praise; and the case is interesting, because, though it argues such an attempt to be very difficult, since even a great city could not fully succeed, yet, at the same time, it argues that it was not quite hopeless, or else it would hardly have been attempted. So that here arises one argument for the main genuineness of the Homeric text. Yet you will say: Perhaps when Athens tried the trick it was too late in the day: it was too late after full daylight to be essaying burglaries. But it would have been easy in elder days. This is true; but remark the restraint which that very state of the case supposes. Precisely when this difficulty became great, became enormous, did the desire chiefly become great, become enormous, for mastering it. And when the difficulty was light, when the forgery was most a matter of ease, the ambition was least. For you cannot suppose that families standing near to the Crusades would have cared much for the reputation. As an act of piety they would prize it; as an exponent of antiquity they would not prize it at all. For, in fact, it would argue no such thing, until many centuries had passed. You see, however, by this sketch the pros and the cons respecting the difficulty of transmitting the ‘Iliad’ free from corruption, if at once it was resigned to mere oral tradition. The alterations were more and more tempting; but in that ratio were less and less possible. And then, secondly, there were the changes from chance or from changing language. Apply all these considerations to the case of the Hebrew Scriptures, and their great antiquity is demonstrated.