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something higher." But we have no higher term. If He is less than personal we cannot reverence Him as a superior, we cannot even love Him as an equal; we are greater than He. He may be to us a matter of curiosity or of wonder; but as for worship,—we might as well worship the molecular forces or the law of gravitation. And any vainglorious sense of satisfaction we might feel at having nothing above us in the universe, would soon be dissipated by the thought, that having nothing above us means having nothing upon which we can rely. If we have been brought into existence by an involuntary stream of tendency, our life can have no purpose and no guarantee. The forces which have thoughtlessly given us being may as thoughtlessly annihilate us. By accident to-day we are here, by accident to-morrow we may be nowhere.
So I claim for the ancient Hebrews undying honour, because in the infancy of the race they discovered and taught the fact—without which life would have neither meaning nor hope, without which the universe would be devoid of all stability and beauty—the fact that the world and we have come from a Being who thinks and wills and loves, a Being who maketh the winds His angels, and flaming fires his ministers, a Being whose tender mercies are over all His works.
rPHE word canon signifies a line, rule, or standard;
and anything which conforms to a rule or standard may be therefore called canonical. The old Alexandrian grammarians used the term canonical in the sense of classical; they applied it and restricted it to the best Greek authors, whose writings they regarded as models of excellence. Theologians have used the term canonical in the sense of inspired; and by the canon of Scripture is meant the authorised catalogue of inspired books.
The early history of the Hebrew canon is unfortunately veiled in obscurity. Something was probably done by Ezra, and still more by Nehemiah, in the way of collecting the religious writings of the Jews. Tradition asserts that Ezra got together the books of the Pentateuch under the title of the Law of Moses, and that Nehemiah added to this collection some of the historical books, some of the Psalms, and some of the prophets. But the first definite mention of a recognised collection of sacred writings is found about two hundred years before Christ in the writings of Jesus, the son of Sirach, who speaks of the law, the prophets, and the other books of the Fathers. We have no means of discovering, however, exactly which books were included in this collection. It is not till the time of Josephus, near the end of the first century, A.D., that we find a complete enumeration of the books which were regarded by the Jews as canonical. The list which Josephus gives corresponds with that which we have in our own Old Testament.
Of the three divisions mentioned by Jesus Sirach, the Jews long continued to venerate the first most highly. This division contained the Pentateuch, and was called the law. According to Philo, it was inspired in a way peculiar to itself. The second division, called the prophets, comprised, in the time of Josephus, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, which were designated the former prophets, as well as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the twelve minor prophets. Euth originally formed part of Judges, and Lamentations part of Jeremiah. The books in this second division—probably because they were of later origin—were much less esteemed than those in the first; but they were nevertheless read in the public services along with the law. The third division, which Sirach simply calls the rest of the books, afterwards received a title of its own —viz., Chethubim in Hebrew, and Hagiographa in Greek. This division contained the Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Canticles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Chronicles, Esther and Daniel. The books in the third class were regarded by the Jews much as the Apocrypha is now regarded in the Church of England. They were considered of very inferior merit and authority, and with the exception of Esther none of them were read in public.
This canon, though generally recognised, was not considered irrevocably settled till quite the end of the first century. Up to that time the claims of several of the books were hotly discussed. Even Ezekiel, though belonging to the intermediate division, gave offence because some of its statements seemed to contradict the law. Esther was impugned, on the ground that the name of God was never once mentioned in it, and that therefore it could have nothing to do with religion. Some objected to the book of Proverbs because of its inconsistencies; others considered Ecclesiastes heretical; and others again declared that Canticles was sensual. Owing to this critical and sceptical spirit on the part of the Jewish rabbis, the suspected works were in danger of being altogether excluded from the canon. However, in A.d. 90, at a synod or council—these, you know, are the ecclesiastical terms for a committee—at a synod held in Jamnia, it was decided by a majority of votes that the books which had given offence should be formally sanctioned as canonical. We should like to know, but of course we cannot, the qualifications of each member of this synod. We do know, however, that one of the majority—E. Akibee—spoke of the Song of Songs as follows: "No day in the whole history of the world is of so much worth as the one in which the Canticles was given to Israel; for all the scriptures are holy, but the Song of Songs is most holy!"
The decision of the synod of Jamnia was never publicly challenged. A few individual critics continued to be sceptical, but their scepticism had little or no effect upon the current opinion. The third division of the canon was still for a while regarded as relatively inferior; but by degrees all the books that had been declared canonical came to be regarded as equally sacred. The canon adopted at Jamnia—the Palestinian canon, as it is called—has never since been altered.
But there is another canon—viz., the Alexandrian —which was made by the Jews of the dispersion,