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James Moffatt was born July 4th 1870 in Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland, a biblical translator who singlehandedly produced one of the best-known modern translations of the Bible. Educated at Glasgow Academy and Glasgow University, Moffatt was ordained in the Church of Scotland in 1896 a career that was to last 16 years, in 1911, while he was pastor of a church at Broughton Ferry, Scotland he produced his first writings, his Introduction to the Literature of the New Testament. The next year he joined the faculty at the University of Oxford and in 1913 published his translation of the New Testament. From 1915 to 1927 he was professor of church history at the University of Glasgow, publishing his Old Testament in 1924, and in 1927 he took a similar position at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, United States. He retired in 1938 and died in New York June 27th 1944.
THE aim I have endeavoured to keep before my mind in making this translation has been to present the books of the Old and the New Testament in effective, intelligible English. No translation of an ancient classic can be quite intelligible, it is true, unless the reader is sufficiently acquainted with its environment to understand some of its flying allusions and characteristic metaphors. But something may be done and, I am convinced, ought to be done at the present day to offer the unlearned a transcript of the Biblical literature as it lies in the light thrown upon it by modern research. The Bible is not always what it seems to those who read it in the great prose of the English version, or, indeed, in any of the conventional versions. What it is, may be partly suggested by a new rendering, such as the following pages present, that is, a fresh translation of the original, not a revision of any English version. A real translation is in the main an interpretation. Now an interpretation may of course be novel without being either welcome or persuasive; its effectiveness depends largely upon the extent to 'which the interpreter has been able to see the original and to convey his impressions of what be has seen, although it also depends to some extent upon the willingness of the reader to detach his mind for the time being from time-honoured associations. But if the methods I have employed are at all successful, the result may well be that the literature of the Bible becomes at any rate a new book for some readers here and there, more interesting perhaps and less obscure.
Dr. Johnson once observed that the first excellence of a translator lay in producing pages "such as may be read with pleasure by those who do not know the original." But there is pleasure and pleasure, in this kind of work as in any other. The ideal of a translator is to let his readers enjoy part of that pleasure which the original once afforded to its audience in seine far-off century, and I venture to hope that this translation may occasionally give such pleasure, in some degree, to those who cannot consult the Hebrew and Greek scriptures. To the best of my ability I have tried to be exact and idiomatic. Only those who have made the attempt know how hard it is to translate any part of the Old or of the New Testament adequately, much more to undertake the whole of it single-handed. But of this I feel sure, that any serious effort, however imperfect it may be, to render these scriptures into the English of our own day, will be welcomed by the increasing number of those who desire to understand as precisely as possible what any passage meant, by way of pleasure and profit, for the people to whom it was originally addressed.
Who were these people? Where and how did they live? What were the forms and functions of their literature? Such are the questions which require to be answered before we can read the Bible intelligently. And, as the Bible opens with a collection of books called The Old Testament, the answers bear upon it first of all.
Palestine lies between Egypt and Assyria or Babylonia, and the story of the Hebrew clans who became the nation of Israel, and then the Jewish people, lies between a captivity in each country. When some clans, headed by Moses, broke away from Egypt, we cannot tell; perhaps it was in the thirteenth century B.C. We do know that when they regained Palestine or Canaan, they and their fellows had to suffer cruelly under the better organized Philistine power on the north and west; eventually they formed themselves into a monarchy, for military and political reasons. But the unity was short-lived. The monarchy, which rose under Saul and David towards the, close of the eleventh century, soon split into two, owing to the reappearance of internal jealousies, which had surged through the pre-monarchic period. The result was that, about the year 940, less than a century after the foundation of the monarchy, there were two realms, a northern and a southern. The northern realm of Israel, with its capital at Samaria, was the more important; it lasted till about 720, when the Assyrians captured it and deported thousands of its citizens. The Assyrian campaigns failed, however, to subdue the southern realm of Judah, whose capital was Jerusalem; it managed, more by adroit temporizing than by force of arms, to survive until 586, when the Babylonians, who had risen to power over Assyria, deported the bulk of the nation to Babylon. Then came the second exodus. The Babylonian authorities relaxed their policy; a number of Jews took advantage of their permission to return, and by 516 the temple had been rebuilt at Jerusalem. The impulse which led to this rebuilding was largely due to two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah; Zechariah's oracles are preserved in the first eight chapters of the canonical book of Zechariah. A period of disillusionment and deterioration followed, to which the prophet Malachi addressed himself. Sixty or seventy years later the community was strengthened and consolidated on a religious basis by Ezra and Nehemiah's legislation; then arose Judaism proper, a worshipping community under the law of a holy God. Their subsequent history is that of a subject race, clinging to its country under successive shocks of war between the sovereign powers of Egypt and the East. But the policy of Nehemiah had proved successful in organizing the Jews of Jerusalem and the neighbourhood as a distinctive body. Thereafter little history is made, but much literature, the literature of a highly self-conscious people. "The Jew became a man apart," as Professor Kennett observed, "and a century of isolation gave to the new Judaism sufficient strength to stand against the flood of new ideas which came in with Alexander the Great" during the fourth century. The resistance to foreign views and practices even led, in the second century, to a brilliant defiance of Antiochus Epiphanes, which put the Maccabees at the head of the Jews as a self-governing people in 165 B.C. A century later the country finally lost its independence; it passed into the hands of the Romans as a subject province, and it was under such conditions that Christianity arose within its borders, as the New Testament describes.
The Old Testament is a collection of religious literature thrown up in the course of this story. None of the books in this collection, in its present form, is earlier than the seventh or eighth century B.C., whilst some items, like the oracles in Zechariah x-xiv, several psalms, and the book of Daniel, were not composed until the second century B.C. Nearly all have been more or less edited, after their original composition; editorial manipulation of the text can be traced, in the Prophets as well as in the legal codes, and this applies to the poetry as well as a the prose. Here and there influences from Egypt or .from Assyria and the East, no less than from Greece, have been detected in the literary structure as well as in the religion; the literature may occasionally be shown to have derived certain forms and layers from outside, but it reflects a distinctive and unique religious movement, which is none the less characteristic of the people, because it assimilated elements now and then from older, richer civilizations on its borders. The environment within and without Palestine, did affect the religion, now and then, but never vitally.
The religious movement began to create a literature of its own during the eighth century, in the northern kingdom, where, after Elijah and Elisha, in the ninth century, the prophets Amos and Hosea did their great work. Their appearance marks an epoch in the history of religion, a sudden flowering of faith and truth. They were followed, in the southern monarchy, by Isaiah and his younger contemporary, the peasant Micah-i.e. the prophet and statesman Isaiah, whose authentic addresses, the most outstanding product of prophecy, have been preserved on the whole in the first thirty-nine chapters of the canonical book which bears his name, for oracles like those inserted in Isaiah xiii-xiv, xxiv-xxvii, and xxxiv-xxxv lie outside the period of his activity between 740 and 700.It is almost impossible to exaggerate the profound significance of this prophetic movement; the point for us here is to note how it passed into literature. The prophets did not always write down their own addresses, and their books, as we have them, are usually posthumous notes by disciples, worked up into literary papers which have been repeatedly edited, sometimes by pious collectors in the post-Exilic age who incorporated, incongruously enough, pieces from later periods. Thus the period of Nehemiah produced a group of vigorous oracles which lie in Isaiah lvi-lxvi, while the woes upon pagan nations in the book of Jeremiah (l-li) are later than Jeremiah himself. This applies to nearly all the extant prophetic literature. The modern reader is baffled by two features in it, by the difficulty of realizing the political situation or national phase behind any given oracle or prediction, and also by the bad arrangement of the material. For not only are oracles sometimes inserted which were never written by the prophet whose name the book bears, but even the materials which may be considered authentic are in disorder. This is the ease particularly with the book of Jeremiah, and also with the book of Isaiah. The lack of proper chronological sequence in these anthologies of the greater prophets is a real obstacle to the proper appreciation of their value.
This, however, is to anticipate. The seventh century, we find, produced, not only the short, ominous pamphlets of Zephaniah, Habakkuk, and Nahum, but the prophecies of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, who wrote more lavishly than any other prophets, Jeremiah between 616 arid 586, and Ezekiel in Babylonia during the first thirty years of the sixth century. Jeremiah was the son of a priest, and like John the Baptist stood aloof from contemporary interest in ritual and sacrifice; Ezekiel was a priest, but the collapse of the temple turned his priestly fervour into theory instead of practice, and his predictions run out into a kind of ecclesiastical Utopia.
But long before this an important movement had begun, the earliest efforts to write the history of the nation as God's people. Israel bad never been indifferent to its past; songs had enshrined some of its earlier traditions about the clans, like the famous oracular poem preserved in Genesis xlix. This poem was not written earlier than the age of David, and it was the impetus given to the national self-consciousness by the Davidic monarchy which prompted the desire to embody the history in prose. The first efforts were in the direction of contemporary events, as we shall see, and the outcome was the prose which is incorporated in the books of Samuel and Kings. This literary creativeness sprang up probably during Solomon's reign. Then came the natural desire to gather up the primitive traditions of the people, prior to the monarchy, a desire which threw up independently in the two later branches of the kingdom two narratives. One was Judahite (J), one came from the northern realm (E), neither being earlier than the ninth century. Here the earlier rules and fortunes of the clans were presented, with their beliefs and practices. Both narratives started from the beginning, though the former began boldly and sublimely with the creation of the world, while the northern tale started with Abraham. Both carried a rich harvest of stories about the remote ancestors of the people, in the dawn of history, and in the later period of the nation's growth the narratives were frequently parallel. The differences between the two are well-marked. They can still be detected, for both have survived. Some time later, under Hezekiah or during the seventh century, when the northern kingdom had collapsed, its precious literary relic was fused with the other, it may be with the idea of having one religious book for the united people; when they were put together, they were combined almost verbally, so that, instead of one version being chosen in preference to the other, we have repeatedly two more or less parallel versions of an event side by side, extracts from one being welded into the framework of the other.
Nor was this the end, by any means. The fusion of J and E proved inadequate; other legislation was needed. In the year 621 B.C. a religious reformation along prophetic lines was started by the discovery of a fresh law-book within the temple, a law-book which is somehow connected with our present book of Deuteronomy, perhaps as its nucleus.
The reformation disappointed its promoters, but this Deuteronomic spirit of a more stringent monotheism can be widely traced in the subsequent literature, particularly in the editing of histories and in the recension of earlier codes. Scholars commonly infer that another production, which had enormous influence on practical life rather than on literature, was the special priestly code enforced by Ezra on the Jewish community about 444 B.C. Although the literary analysis is complicated and, so far as details go, uncertain, it is, fairly clear that out of such sources as we have mentioned, there was compiled after the exile the composition known as the Pentateuch, i.e. the first five books of our Old Testament. Ezra's law-book was either the Pentateuch in its present form, or one of its sources, namely a priestly code, which combined the law of God with history, and indeed started, like J, from the Creation, carrying on the story down to the death of Moses the divine legislator, and including in its contents the present book of Leviticus. In either case, the Pentateuch, which was the law-book of Nehemiah, is a composite production, made out of sources old and new, which have been blended, brought up to date, and supplemented. The spirit of some of these sources is prophetic, but they include written as well as oral traditions from the pre-prophetic ages. It may be argued that certain fragments even of legislation date from the period of Moses. One or two of the war-songs are manifestly primitive, such as the song of Deborah; the literature of an ancient race commonly opens with songs and poetry. Other relics of the pre-monarchical period may survive, like the fable of Jotham. But the point to keep in mind is that this was literature' with a purpose; edification, not any literary ambition, was the main motive in the composition of the Pentateuch and the historical books, the community falling back upon their past in order to rule their present life, and to inspire faith in their future and destiny among the nations.
For the pre-monarchical period, and especially for the period prior to the Egyptian Exodus, it was needful to use the imagination more than the memory, though all memory is more or less imaginative. No one had written down the stories of the patriarchs during their lifetime, or even after it. Memory operated in the transmission of such tales, but more in the shaping of traditions about what followed. Now "a nation does not forget," as Dr. A. B. Davidson observes, "but neither does it remember accurately. The events are remembered for their significance. . . . That the early history of Israel is a perfectly accurate record of bare facts need not be supposed. The body is more than the raiment, and the idea more than the fact. Nevertheless, it was the fact, or event, that suggested the idea, though the idea once born, with vital energy, transformed details, in order perfectly to express itself." The idea is belief in God's choice and care of the people, in His revelation of a saving purpose, in His judgments and His mercies unto Israel. Or, as Mr. R. H. Hutton used to say, the two convictions which haunt and hold together the ancestral traditions of the Hebrews are the unity of their nation and supernatural guidance ; the people have always had and still have a unique destiny, and over them is the special providence of God. These ideas are at the heart of the tales and traditions within the first five books of the Bible.
The following historical books were composed or edited under similar prophetic impulses froth the Deuteronomist school, and compiled in similar fashion from earlier sources, occasionally from the sources already mentioned. Thus the book of Joshua, with its idealized version of the conquest, is really a sequel to the Pentateuch, of which itmay bavebeen originally an organic part. Judges is another, though rather less unhistorical, collection of stories which may have been told or recited for ages in public worship; to-day the historian notes their artificial chronology and some other points, the ordinary reader enjoys the tales, and the devout are edified as the moralistic editor meant them to be. These rough, bloody days between the conquest and the monarchy had quieter interludes; hence the English Bible, following the Greek translators; has aptly added the pretty idyll of Ruth, through Ruth is a much later composition. One has the feeling that, like Jonah, it was written by some one who stood apart from and against Jewish chauvinism, and some have overheard in it an indirect protest against the exclusiveness and rigidity of Ezra's age. The books of Samuel were originally a single work, as were the books of Kings, which are the sequel. Their dramatic subject is the rise and the fall of the monarchy, with the lessons to be drawn from the catastrophe. All of these books draw freely upon earlier material, such as was preserved in temple-records, in royal annals, and in memoirs of contemporary prophets. At their best they are masterpieces of story-telling, and contain some of the most brilliant and contemporary narratives in the Old Testament. The framework is occasionally loose; there has been carelessness in arranging the material, as may be seen by looking at the displacement of passages like 1 Samuel xxviii. 3-25 and 1 Kings xx.
Yet the sketches are faultless; here Hebrew story-telling is at its height, and the stories, unlike their rivals in Genesis, are history. Occasionally, it is true, the patching together of different traditions has blurred the effect, and rendered some details of the history obscure. Mr. Harold Wiener, who will not be suspected of arbitrary criticism, observes frankly that "for the period of Saul's lifetime we have duplicate accounts of many matters, and these cannot always be reconciled in all respects. The natural process of deterioration to which every MS. text is subject and the editorial methods employed have tended to obscure the course of events further, nor can we be certain that our informants always had exact knowledge." These remarks, which of course have a bearing on the entire group of histories in the Old Testament, do not, however, affect the fact that the traditions take us very close to the actual events, even though the Hebrew text may be full of self-contradictions. Thus it is not unlikely that the dramatic narrative of 2 Samuel ix-xx was actually penned by a man like Abiathar the priest, who had taken part in the thrilling events he portrays. These histories of the monarchy, indeed, may be earlier as compositions than some of the books which precede them in the canon; probably they were current in their present form by the middle of the sixth century, though it was only gradually that they came into this final form. Their dominating interest, however, is much more clear than the stages of their literary evolution. In them, as in the Pentateuch, though less definitely, the reader feels that passion for monotheism and morality which, at its best, made the people a people apart from all ancient races. The passion surges in the prophets, and through their spirit and influence it permeated the minds of those who compiled and enforced the Law, but it is dominant in these chronicles of Israel before and during the monarchy.
The exodus from Egypt produced no literature. The exodus from Babylonia was rich in literature, reflecting various points of view, sometimes noble, sometimes particularistic. Numerous fragments are scattered throughout the canonical book of Jeremiah and the minor prophets. But, during the sixth century, some independent prophetic literature emerged, like the oracles of the anonymous prophet or prophets which are enshrined in Isaiah xxiv-xxviii and xl-lv. Some of these are the most glorious of their class. Literature continued to appear in the fifth century, though of less weight-the sombre oracles of Obadiah and Joel, perhaps even the book of elegies called Lamenations with the Song of Solomon and the book of Jonah, Jonah breathes an ampler air than the narrower literature of its age. For the exile at once expanded and contracted the faith of Judaism. It widened and deepened spiritual religion in some natures; in others it led to a concentration on ritual. The more generous and humane outlook reappears in the so-called "Wisdom" literature of the period, which was one product of the scribes in this busy age; thus a book like Proverbs is sometimes more prudential than idealistic, it is reflective and speculative, and it ignores the Law altogether. Here we have earlier sources combined with later material, but the general tone is neither prophetic nor priestly. In the book of Job, which is probably not later than the fifth century, "a problem of faith is treated by Syrians and Arabians, just as if they were Jews," says Wellhausen, while as late as the third century the book of Ecclesiastes shows us "religion abandoning the theocratic ground altogether, and becoming a kind of philosophy in which there is room even for doubt and unbelief" - a doubt and unbelief which moved a pious editor here and there to interpolate cautions arid protests in the text. But alongside of this cosmopolitan and detached temper ran a concentration upon the worship and ritual of Judaism, which produced a literature of its own. No doubt there were scribes who edited the prophets, but others edited the law, and from their circle came the priestly composition divided afterwards into the books of Chronicles, to which the books of Ezra and Nehemiah were originally a sequel. This work traces the fortunes of the sacred community from Adam to Ezra and Nehemiah, giving a version of the history which suited the ecclesiastical ideals of the fourth or third century; none of-its sources is earlier than 600 B.C., and it represents the stand-point of the priestly legislation of its age. The romance of Esther, which never mentions God at all, comes from the same period, and from a temper of exultant nationalism. The book Daniel stands apart from both currents of thought, though it is nearer to Esther in tone ; in its present form, with prediction in the shape of history occupying the closing chapters, it is a glowing apocalypse thrown up by the struggle against Antiochus Epiphanes about 165 B.C. Then after the Maccabean struggle the book of Psalms was finally edited. It was the hymn-book the synagogues, and of the second temple, which, like all hymn-books for public worship, contains earlier compositions and even collections of material; some lyrics, it is held, may go back to David himself. The Psalter was primarily of the temple, but it is prophetic rather than priestly in its outlook. The editors of the prophets sometimes, as in the case of Jonah and Habakkuk, inserted psalms; so did the editors of the prose histories.But in some parts of the Psalter we breathe the finest air of the prophets at their highest level. In the Psalms, as Kuenen puts it, "we never, or scarcely ever, meet with an idea which is altogether wanting in the prophets. Yet we can say that this collection represents a new phase in the development of religious thought. In the psalms the prophetic truths are accepted, applied, and made general. It is as if the spirit of Israel were directed inward upon itself in the psalms, and taking count of its riches." The bulk of the Psalms are earlier than the Maccabean crisis, but in certain respects it is so much the climax of the religious literature that it is not inappropriate to let the last word on the evolution of that literature be a word upon this hymn-book of the Exilic community.
The little library, which we call the Old Testament, thus turns out to be a reflection of national life in sharply defined phases; the Hebrews, Israel, and the Jews successively appear as its bearers. But there is a religious unity through the complicated story, a unity which carries with it a continuity of purpose. The people themselves were not always conscious of that purpose, and even when they were they frequently did their best to thwart it. Nevertheless, the purpose prevailed. The religious mind calls it a revelation of God, and the more we pass through a study of the literature into a conception of the people among whom it arose, the more we compare their faith and fortunes with those of their neighbours, the more impossible it seems to explain the rise and career of these particular Semitic clans within the ancient world, apart from a Divine choice. These who called the literature (the Scriptures of) "The Old Testament" believed that this Divine choice and purpose was fulfilled in the "New Testament," in the religious movement within Judaism which, during the first century A.D., named itself after Jesus Christ. The members of this movement held that the Old Testament was unintelligible apart from the New, and the New unintelligible apart from the Old. The Church believes that the divine purpose revealed in the Old Testament is not to be fulfilled in any national future for Judaism, within Palestine or elsewhere, but in a catholic community for the world. Hence its Bible adds the New Testament to the Old as the one and only sequel. But, before we pass to the New Testament literature, we must round off our brief outline of the Old.