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THE OLD TESTAMENT
READERS of what historians have done in Old Testament research work are familiar with this dictum of a Jewish commentator about eight hundred years old; "If you penetrate the secret of the last twelve verses of Deuteronomy, also ‘and Moses wrote,' also ‘and the Canaanite was then in the land,' and 'his bed-stead was an iron bed-stead, you will discover the truth.” To this strange assurance he added the caution: "He that understands will hold his tongue.”
What Eben Ezra meant by these somewhat enigmatical words can soon be made plain enough. If you observe that the last twelve verses of Deuteronomy tell of the death of Moses, the inference is clear that they were written after his death, and therefore not by him. Undoubtedly the statement that the Canaanite was still in the land, was not written until after he had been driven out of the land. When you read about the iron bed-stead you will infer that such a reference would have been impossible before such articles of furniture began to be manufactured. If you know therefore, when Moses died, when the Canaanite was driven out of Palestine, and when iron bed-steads came into style, you will know the earliest date at which the documents in which these statements are made
could have been written. Or at all events, I suppose Eben Ezra means you will know the Pentateuch was not written by Moses.
Many clues of this same sort are open to the ordinary reader of the Old Testament. Read in the book of Judges, “In those days there was no king in Israel, every man did that which was right in his own eyes,' and, at once, we can be sure that was written after there was a king in Israel. In the curious fourteenth chapter of Genesis, where Abraham appears as the general of an army, which routs four kings of Mesopotamia who have encamped against five towns, when we read that he chased them "as far as Dan," we say, that was written after the name of Laish was changed to Dan, as recorded in the book of Judges. Any writing that represents Joseph as saying to Pharaoh's butler, “I was stolen away out of the land of the Hebrews," meaning Canaan, was surely written after Canaan became the land of the Hebrews, in other words after the Exodus. The historian who says a certain thing was true "all the time that the ark of God was in Shiloh,” betrays the fact that he is writing after the ark was removed from Shiloh.
Such hints as to the dates of various parts of the Old Testament, are discoverable even by the non-professional reader. The books of Chronicles, for instance, uniformly increase the figures given in the books of Kings: the two priests of David's court in Kings become thirty-seven hundred in Chronicles; the thirty thousand chosen men of Israel that David is said in II Samuel to have gathered together in I Chronicles are reported to total three hundred and thirty thousand; the fifty shekels of silver that David is said in II Sam
* xii, 23-37.
uela to have paid for the threshing floor of Araunah in I Chronicles: is said to be six hundred. On the principle that stories always grow larger and never less, one concludes that the books of Chronicles were written some time after those of Samuel and the Kings. The bits of poetry found scattered through the historical writings, like the “Song of Lamech” in Genesis and the "Song of Deborah," in Judges, would also be assumed to be older than the prose in which they are imbedded.
Many other indications of the age of various parts of the Old Testament which are more subtle, require for their detection more familiarity with the literature and its historical background. Even these are not beyond the ordinary reader, though he would be less likely to discover them for himself. For example, the period in which the Hebrews would have especially prized the story of how the land of the Philistines had been solemnly promised by God to their fathers, “as a possession forever," would not be when they were in undisturbed possession of their land, in no apparent danger that it would be taken from them. It would be that in which they had, for the time at least, lost it; in other words, the period of the Exile. Other things being equal, stories which deal at length with the promises of God to the patriarchs concerning the land are likely to have been written in this period. Again, in certain Psalms, and in Zechariah and Daniel when familiar mention is made of angels, one naturally concludes that these were written after the Hebrews, by contact with the Persians, had adopted some of their beliefs about angels. The date is known when the Hebrew language
xxiv, 24. *xxi, 24.
was affected by the Aramaic. Books in which this Aramaic influence shows itself bear upon their face a true hint as to the date of their origin. Ideas have a history; of two pieces of literature, the one a childish representation of God and the other, a mature portrayal of Him, it is probable that the cruder was written first. Institutions have a changing history; of two codes of laws, the one dealing like that found in Exodus4 in the most primitive way with manslaughter, with the unruly ox, with the uncovered pit, with the stolen sheep, and with other such matters; and the other, dealing, like that in Leviticus, - at great length with the exact manner of sacrifices and convocations and laws of atonement, with the sale of dwelling houses in a walled city, it is easy to determine which was written first. A comparison of the traffic laws of Salem in the days of Roger Williams and the traffic laws of Detroit in the days of Henry Ford, would prove to you the difference in the dates of these documents at once. There could be no ambiguity about it. Just so are the Old Testament experts able to pick out a law made and intended for the half-nomadic life of the early period and one made and intended for the times of Ezra. Let us undertake a more detailed and complicated
The one central, all-important piece of legislation in the book of Deuteronomy declares the "high places," or local altars, to be illegal and that all sacrifices must be offered at Jeursalem. Offer them at any other place and the purpose of the worshiper will miscarry for it will rouse the wrath of Jehovah and en
danger His land and people. Deuteronomy represents this legislation to be as old as Moses. But the patriarchs and the earlier kings knew nothing of any such régime. They built altars wherever it was most convenient for them or at the scene of some particular favor or blessing of God—at Dan, Hebron, Gibeon, Bethel, Gilgal, Shiloh, Beersheba—and they offered sacrifices upon them with a good conscience and with no inkling of any law against the practice. To be sure, people do not always observe the laws with which they are familiar. But if you should read of the amounts of liquor our New England ancestors made a practice of consuming at the raising of a barn or even the dedication of a church, and should also read elsewhere in the same set of documents that the eighteenth amendment was as old as the time of Miles Standish, you would say that there was a mistake somewhere. In the same way it is plain that both the legislation of the book of Deuteronomy and the book in which it is written belong not at all to the time of Moses but to a certain well-defined and much later era in the life of Israel.
By catching thus at every reference, by comparing part with part, by watching for differences of language and for growth in ideas and institutions, the Old Testament student arrives at his conclusion when the various parts of the literature in their present form were written. His main conclusions are as follows: The oldest pieces of Biblical literature are probably the fragments of verse embedded in the prose narratives: the “Song of the Well,” the "Song of Lamech," and such like. Next come the earliest prose traditions—all going back perhaps to 1200-1000 B.C., for one must not insist upon too exact a date. About 850 B.C. certain storįes were