« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
history will go for nothing, if a doubt or a suspicion can be started. The mind is not suffered to dwell on ten degrees of positive testimony, if two of a negative character can by any possibility be imagined. A habit of sceptisism is thus formed, which no amount of evidence can satisfy. How else can we account for an attack on the credibility of such a book as that of the Acts of the Apostles, or a denial of the historical character of the Gospels? In these cases, the fault cannot be in the historian or in the contemporary witnesses. Germany has been overstocked with students. The reapers outnumbered the sheaves to be gathered. Topics for investigation were sought beyond the limit of lawful inquiry, or where the only result would be to unsettle all faith in human testimony. From this unpractical character of the German mind, and from the crowded condition of certain departments of study, an unrestrained rationalism was inevitable.
Yet there is reason to believe, that this unhealthful state of the intellectual German world has been somewhat meliorated. The physical sciences and the practical arts are exciting a more earnest attention. The orthodox theologians of Germany have been compelled by the pressure of recent events to place a much higher value on the historical evidences of Christianity.
Another cause of this scepticism has been a theory, quite prevalent, not only in Germany, but throughout Christendom, which represents the early state of man as savage; in other words, man came a child in knowledge from the hands of his Maker, and very gradually and with great painstaking acquired a knowledge of the most necessary arts of life. This theory was the cause, in a measure, of the attack on the integrity of the Homeric poems, and of the postponement to a very late period of the discovery of alphabetic writing. It has led to a representation of the patriarchs and early ancestors of the Hebrews, which would elevate them not much above the herdsmen of the Arabian desert. Accordingly, it were not to be expected that written documents, credible historical records, should exist in this crude and forming state of society. The declaration of Moses that he committed certain facts to writing itself betrays, it is said, an author who lived as late as David or the Babylonish captivity.
Yet profounder investigations into ancient history and monuments are every year undermining this imposing and wide-spread hypothesis. The arts in Egypt, at the remotest point of time to which we can trace them, were in a style of the highest perfection. Some of the sciences appear to have made no inconsiderable progress in Babylon, anterior to the limits of authentic profane history, corroborating the brief al
lusions in the book of Genesis. So the Phoenicians were engaged in an extensive commerce, implying much progress in some of the arts, before the Homeric poems were composed. They were the medium, says Böckh, of conveying some of the scientific knowledge of the Chaldeans to the Greeks. The simplicity of manners and habits which prevailed in those early ages, is to be by no means assumed as an index of barbarism; it is rather an evidence of the contrary. Were we to trace the principal forms of heathenism as far towards their source as we can, there is every reason to believe that we should find no evidence that the earliest ages were the darkest. Rays of divine light, which might have illuminated the first dwellers in Egypt, Babylon, and India, were gradually lost in the deepening gloom.
We may name, as a third cause of the prevalence of this historical unbelief, the habit of transferring the method of interpreting pagan mythology to the Jewish Scriptures. We can hardly open a recent commentary on the Pentateuch, without meeting on almost every page the technical terms which Ottfried Müller and others have sanctioned in relation to Greek mythology. "Sagas and myths," begins one of the latest of these commentators, "every where closely linked together in antiquity, form the external limit of the credible history of nations. They magnify the past contests of a nation for independence, narrate the beginnings of one's own people, point out the origin of its customs, portray, often with great copiousness, the family history of ancestors, their services to following generations, and determine their relations to the progenitors of other tribes. In short, every thing which a nation in its activity lays claim to becomes an object in the circle of myths and sagas. Now, this system may answer very well in the interpretation of Indian or Chinese antiquity. Nothing may be more beautiful or coherent than such a theory applied to the early Roman legends. In that case, a historical fact may be embellished with a thousand fabulous ornaments, or a mere conception of the mind may have clothed itself in the form of history. But is it right to transfer this ingenious exegesis to the narratives of Moses? Do not the numerous pagan legends presuppose one system which was true, and of which they are, more or less, perversions or anomalous excrescences? And are not the earliest remains of Hebrew antiquity essentially dif ferent, in certain marks of trustworthiness, from those of pagan origin? Yet, however diverse the Greek mythology is from the Hebrew patriarchal narratives, one and the same system of interpretation has been employed in both. The cosmogony of Moses and the flood of Noah have been judged by the same principles as have been applied to the theory of the creation
VOL. II.-NO. I.
sung by Ovid, or to the deluge of Deucalion. The book of Genesis is regarded by many as a poetic account of the origin of the human race.
The only remaining cause of this general scepticism, which we shall mention, is the influence of two celebrated men, Wolf and Niebuhr,-an influence which, for a time, pervaded more or less every department of literature. Though a considerable interval elapsed between the appearance of Wolf and that of the Roman historian, yet they may here be considered together. The former tried to break down, with his iron mace, the integrity of the Iliad; the latter, after demolishing Livy's beautiful fabric in respect to the early history of Rome, attempted to reconstruct it on a more solid basis. "When Wolf came forward," says Tholuck, "with the hypothesis which has made him immortal, many great philologists shook their heads, not only in cautious Holland and stable England, but in volatile France; and a Villoison spoke even of a literary impiety; yet in Germany there arose among the great spirits,-a Herder, a Heyne, only the envious dispute who was authorised to claim for himself, with greater right than Wolf, the honour of the first discovery."* The sensation which Niebuhr's History created, was hardly less. Some apprehended that the author would next apply his searching criticism, with similar results, to the Hebrew records. In addition to extensive and profound learning and great ingenuity, which no one would hesitate to ascribe to these remarkable men, both possessed some of the rare attributes of genius. Erudition or acuteness merely, though unmatched, could never have produced the impression which followed the publication of their writings.+
As a natural result, the eye of an unsparing criticism was immediately turned upon many of the relics of ancient times. Wolf himself cast his penetrating glance upon the orations of Cicero, and declared in respect to four, "that Cicero could never have written them sleeping or waking." Many inferior men followed in the course marked out by Wolf, some of them carrying the principles of their leader much further than his sound judgment would have conducted him. Discredit or contempt was heaped upon some of the most valuable remains of antiquity. The father of history was spoken of as a garrulous story-teller, equally pleasing to children and to decrepit age. The genuineness of some of the most undoubted dialogues of Plato was called in question by Schleiermacher and Ast. Socher went still further, and proscribed a large portion of the philo
* Die Glaubwürdigkeit, p. 119.
"Bey Niebuhr war Deuken, Fühlen und Handeln stets vereinigt."— Von Savigny, Weiske, in the preface to his Commentary on the oration for Marcellus, showed the spuriousness of Wolf's production on the same grounds by which Wolf attempted to prove the spuriousness of the oration!
sopher's remains. Even Thucydides did not wholly escape this lynx-eyed yet narrow criticism.
In these circumstances, the Hebrew writers, and the Pentateuch particularly, would come under special condemnation, because, among other reasons, its professed writer, like Livy, wrote many centuries after the occurrence of some of the principal events which he describes. If suspicions could be cast upon the Gospel of Luke and the first Epistle to Timothy, much less could the earliest Hebrew records be expected to escape the ordeal. Vater, De Wette, and others, followed, on sacred ground, the example which Wolf had set them on classical.
But these days have happily passed, even in Germany. An undistinguishing scepticism is not now considered the fairest evidence of scholarship. Merciless criticism is no longer viewed as the surest test of philological ability. The widest and profoundest investigations are found to be perfectly consistent with an increasing respect for the monuments of antiquity. It is pertinent to our object to advert to a few facts which indicate a return to a sounder and more healthful criticism.
It is difficult to state the exact truth in regard to the opinion which is now entertained of Wolf and his famous theory. That his writings and lectures contributed to modify somewhat, where they did not subvert, the current belief in relation to the Homeric poems, there can be no doubt; yet his influence has long been on the wane. The enthusiasm with which his hypothesis was once greeted no longer exists. More than twentyfive years ago, Professor Welcker of Bonn took decided ground against it. At the same period, also, the celebrated Voss wholly dissented, as he informed Welcker in private.* sequently came out, in direct opposition to Wolf, the "Historia Homeri," by Nitzsch of Kiel-a book distinguished by acuteness, learning, and sound judgment. The "Schul-Zeitung," of August 1829, remarks that "some yet hold fast to Wolf's paradoxes." A like opinion, in respect to the decline of the Wolfian hypothesis, has been expressed by Professors Poppo and Klotz. We should not err, perhaps, in affirming that the older philologists, some of them the pupils of Wolf, still adhere to his theory or to something akin to it. younger scholars, many of them among the ablest philologists in Germany, have broken away from its bonds, and have adopted, more or less, the views advocated by Nitzsch. Wolf's attack on some of the orations of Cicero has only contributed more triumphantly to establish their genuineness. The latest investigations have proved that the great critic could "sometimes sleep," as well as the great poet. Stallbaum has trium
* Der Epische Cyclus, Vorrede, p. 8.
phantly vindicated the authenticity of a number of Plato's dialogues against the objections of Schleiermacher and Ast. K. F. Hermann of Göttingen* speaks with contempt of "the prison walls which the subjective, scheming, hair-splitting acuteness of that dialectician (Schleiermacher) built as a dwelling for Plato's spirit." Many essential passages of Plato," continues Hermann, "were rejected by Schleiermacher, because he did not know how to employ them in support of his own theory."
Abundant and decisive testimonies may be adduced in regard to the high estimation in which Herodotus is now held. Professor Ritter, the celebrated geographer, affirms, "That of all the records of ancient times, none are receiving more confirmation from modern researches in geography, archæology, and kindred studies, than the tenth chapter of Genesis and the writings of old Herodotus." Schaff remarks, "That the accuracy of Herodotus, often assailed, is more and more confirmed by modern investigations." Wachler observes, "As the father of geography and history, Herodotus is held in merited and increasing respect; his fidelity and accuracy are confirmed by all the investigations of modern scholars, and defended against the doubts that have been rashly thrown out." Eichwald, in his geography of the Caspian Sea, a work of high authority, remarks, "It is with reason that we are surprised both in respect to Herodotus' fidelity and love of truth, and his extensive geographical knowledge; this was, for the most part, the fruit of personal inquiry. Very remarkable is the exact knowledge which he possessed of the eastern shore of the Caspian, and of the particular tribes dwelling there. It may, perhaps, be assumed that he had a more precise acquaintance with it than was possessed by us in the last century, or in some respects even now;"--"a position," says Bähr, the editor of Herodotus, "which will hold equally good, as we are fully convinced, of several other countries, e. g., the interior of Africa."§ "Credibility and love of truth," says Bähr, "can be ascribed to scarcely any historical writer of Greece in a higher degree than to Herodotus, whom one may rightly name in this respect the father of history." "From several very recent books of travels, especially those of Englishmen, surprising explanations have been obtained of particular parts of the history of Herodotus, and some doubtful or dark places now appear in a true light." "How many things are found even now after the lapse of thou
Review of Stallbaum's edition of the Phædrus, in Jahn's Jahrbücher, 1831.
Review of Eichwald's Alte Geographie des Kaspischen Meeres," by Bär, in Jahn's Jahrbücher. xxxiii. p. 153. "This geography," says Bähr, "has furnished a new and splendid demonstration of the veracity, credibility, and fidelity of Herodotus."