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esteemed and accepted. I borrow the words of a divine, whose learning and piety adorn a royal professorship in one of the Universities, and whose name would be an honour to this page, if I could think myself at liberty to mention it: “ My argument may be stated in very short compass. It is this. There can really be no qnestion but that the Canticles formed part of the canon in our Saviour's time. The language, and in fact all history, utterly precludes the possibility of its being later. We have independent catalogues from Palestine and Alexandria. But there can be no question that our Lord alluded to and sanctioned the Jewish canon. Therewith the question is closed. We have then but to accept and to be thankful ; and pray God to enable us to understand his gift; but not to criticise it, because it does not suit our à priori notions.”
ii. It is an error to suppose that the Jews, before their last dispersion, included all their national literature in the books which they held sacred. They had exercised a careful discrimination. The rabbinical tradition (freed from what is manifestly fabulous) of the labours undergone by Ezra (called “the scribe," sopher, on this account,) and Nehemiah,* in collecting and re-editing the sacred books, has much to recommend it from the nature of the case, not to say the necessity of its circumstances. The general fact of such a revision and authorization may be received as true, without admitting the fabulous inventions with which it has been disfigured. A similar care was exercised in subsequent times, till the canon was completed. The apocryphal books of the Wisdom of the Son of Sirach, the History of Tobit, and the first of the Maccabees, were originally written in Hebrew (i.e. Chaldee or Aramaic), and what we have are translations of those originals; but the Jews of Palestine never admitted those books, in either Hebrew or Greek, into the canon; though those of Alexandria seem to have so done. The rejection of some books speaks in favour of the care and scrupulosity exercised, and guarantees our dependence on the fidelity which admitted others. The Song of Solomon, we have every ground to believe, was included in the canon both of Palestine and of the Jews in Egypt, long before the Christian era.
The question, at what time the Old Testament canon was definitively settled, is surrounded with difficulties. The rabbinical legend,—that the whole of the then existing books were burned at the capture of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, that Ezra by divine inspiration wrote them all anew, that then an ancient copy was brought to light which Jeremiah had rescued from destruction fifty years before, and that upon collating it with Ezra's new copy, the two were found perfectly to agree, we may well dismiss. But the fable had very probably an origin in the fact of Ezra's care, upon the return, to collect the sacred books and multiply transcripts. That the active Nehemiah would not be wanting in his share of duty, we may infer from the very nature of the case; and there is no reason to discredit the apocryphal testimony before
* " The same things were also narrated in the records and memorials relating to Nehemiah, and that, karaßallóuevos BußxtoOnanv] forming a library, he collected the writings concerning the kings and prophets, and those of David, and the epistles of kings concerning offerings.” 2 Maccab. ii. 13.
mentioned, 2 Maccab. ii. 13. The expression Karabatlóuevos BiBacoOukny, relates not so probably to a considerable number of books, what we commonly call a library, as to the single collection of sacred books; or it might be the whole that existed of the Hebrew national literature. But who can with certainty decide ?- The earliest use of the word seems to have been for a book-case; and afterwards it was applied to any literary collection, whether methodized or loose adversaria, which grouped together might equal a modern large volume: as the Bibliothece of Apollodorus, of Diodorus the Sicilian, of Photius, and others. Nehemiah's collection could include the book of Malachi, for he most probably lived and prophesied before the death of either Ezra or Nehemiah. The quiet and comfort enjoyed by the Jews under the Persian government afforded opportunity and inducements for thus collecting, fixing, and circulating the sacred books : and the Talmudical statements concerning the Great Synagogue and the labours of its members in this respect, notwithstanding some remaining obscurities and difficulties, stand upon a foundation of high probability. A modern scholar, profoundly versed in Hebrew and rabbinical learning, gives it as the result of his minute investigation, “ that the Jewish tradition, when properly understood, is found to be in harmony with historical positive testimonies, and points out Ezra in union with other distinguished men of his time, as the person who completed the collection of the sacred writings." (Hävernick's Handbuch der histor. krit. Einleit. in d. A. T. vol. i. p. 49. Erlangen. 1836. The germ of that part of this larger work is to be found in the Mélanges de Théol. Réf. by Hävernick and Steiger, No. 2; Geneva, 1834.)
iii. It has been usual, from a remote antiquity, with those Oriental nations whose language and national descent show an affinity to the Hebrews, to express religious and devotional sentiments under the disguise of amatory and drinking songs. The Mohammedan commentators upon Hafez “ have insisted that all his poems on love and wine are allegorical allusions to heavenly and moral subjects.”—“ By wine-the poet invariably means devotion ;-by the breeze-an illapse of grace;-by perfume, the hope of the divine favour; by the tavern or banqueting house, a' retired oratory; by its keeper, a sage instructor; by beauty, the perfection of the Supreme Being; and by wantonness, mirth, and ebriety, religious ardour and disregard of all terrestrial thoughts and objects." (Richardson's Selections from the Odes of Hafez; by S. Rousseau ; p. 15. Hindley, in the Asiatic Researches, vol. ii. there quoted.)
iv. The covenant-relation which subsisted between Jehovah and the people of Israel, is very frequently, in the Old Testament, represented by the emblem of a married pair. The generous husband sees the object of his affection, a miserable ontcast, in the most wretched and forlorn condition; he rescues her, betroths her, enriches her with the most costly ornaments, confers upon her a royal dowry, and blesses her with a princely progeny ; she proves ungrateful and faithless in the most shameful manner; yet, after all the violations of her marriage-vows, he pardons her, restores her to her lost felicity, and confers new favours upon her. (See Hosea i. ii. iii. Ezek. xvi. Jer. iii. Is. li. 17-23.) And the relation of Christ to his church under the gospel-economy is predicted in the Old Testament, and described in the New Testament, by the most pure and pleasing representations of the marriage state. In Ps. xlv. Is. liv. Ixii. 4, 5. 2 Cor. xi. 2. Rom. vii. 4. Eph. v. 23–32. Rev. xix. 7; xxi. 2-9. The following passages are proposed as designed allusions : ch. i. 3, -“the virgins love thee'- 1 Pet. i. 8:- ver. 4,-6 draw me" Hos. xi. 4. John xii. 32:- ver. 7.— feedest” -Is. xl. 11. John x. 3:— ch. ii. 3:4" fruit”—Matt. xxvi. 29: ver. 8.-" voice of my beloved”—John x. 3, 4: ch.iv. 1, 7,4" fair,—no spot in thee,”—Eph. v. 27:- ch. v. 2, -- " my beloved-knocketh," Rev. iii. 20: ch. vi. 10,-“ fair as the moon, clear as the sun," Rev. xii. 1:- ch. viii. 14,-“ Make haste, my beloved," Rev. xxii. 17, 21.
v. From the earliest and best antiquity this book has been held as divine, and explained as allegorical, by both Jews and Christians. The Targum (Chaldee paraphrase) upon it, takes it up without scruple, as a figurative description of the peculiarly gracious conduct of the God of Israel towards his people, in delivering them from the Egyptian slavery, conferring upon them his singular favours during their wanderings in the wilderness, and finally settling them in the promised land. Aben Ezra, one of the most judicious of the Rabbies, exclaims, “ Abhorred, abhorred, be the thought that the Song of Songs should be put among the works of fleshly lust! On the contrary, it must be understood in the way of parable: and unless its loftiness were great, it would not have been put into the collection of the sacred writings; and there is no difference of opinion upon it.” (Seb. Munsteri Annot.) Aben Ezra lived in the twelfth century. He followed the Targum in the opinion, that the book figuratively represented the history of his nation, from Abraham to the coming of the Messiah. That Christians generally, from Origen downwards, have regarded it as a representation of the mutual love of Christ and the church, is too well known to need being enlarged upon.
REASONS ON THE CONTRARY SIDE. i. It is, I deeply feel and readily acknowledge, an awful thing to appear to go in contravention to the generally assumed position that our Lord and his apostles recognised the writings received as sacred by the Jews at that time, as the exclusive and entire canon. But I humbly request that it may be considered what is meant by the term canon, or rule; and whether that meaning can be attached to a composition which has not in it a sentence, or a single word, possessing the nature of a rule, directory, standard, or prescription whatsoever, in reference to facts, or doctrines, or precepts, or any thing at all of a religious kind ; except upon a plan of translating its terms and ideas into another kind of subjects, of which not the shadow of intimation is given in the composition itself, and against which I am bound in conscience to protest, as destructive of the certainty of language, and by inevitable consequence inflicting a deep injury upon the records of revealed truth. If we cannot VOL. I. N.s.
depend upon the definite and constant meaning of the words and reference of sentences, as drawn out by honest philology, we may as well shut our books, resign ourselves to impious indifference, or fall back into the bosom of the pretended infallible church. When I reflect upon the difficulties, using the mildest term, which arise from an endeavour to convert passages containing matter merely genealogical, topographical, numerical, civil, military, fragments of antiquity domestic or national, presenting no character whatever of religious matter,-into a rule of faith and manners, I feel it impossible to accept the conclusion; I can find no end to my anxiety, no rest for my faith, no satisfaction for my understanding, till I embrace the sentiment that the qualities of sanctity and inspiration belong only to the religious and theological element which is diffused through the Old Testament; and that, where this element is absent, where there is nothing adapted to communicate a doctrine, reproof, correction, or instruction in righteousness,” nothing fitted to “ make the man of God perfect, thoroughly furnished unto every good work,”—there, we are not called to acknowledge any inspiration, nor warranted to assume it. Thus I regard as inspired Scripture, all that refers to holy things, all that can bear the character of “ Oracles of God;" and admit the rest as appendages, of the nature of private memoirs, or public records, useful to the antiquary and the philologist, but which belong not to the rule of faith, or the directory of practice. To this extent, and to this only, can I regard the sanction of the New Testament as given to the INSPIRATION of the Old. In other words; the quality of inspiration, forming the ground of faith and obedience, inheres in every sentence, paragraph, or book, which, either directly or by implication, contains religious truth, precept, or expectation. This, I humbly think, leaves us every thing that a Christian can wish for; and it liberates us from the pressure of difficulties, which have often furnished the enemies of revealed truth with pretexts for serious objections. Inspiration belongs to Religious objects; and to attach it to other things is to lose sight of its nature, and misapply its design.
ii. The total silence of our Lord and the apostles in relation to this book, appears to authorize the supposition that it was little known or regarded by the Jews of Palestine, and that both our great Teacher and his inspired servants were not desirous of raising it out of obscurity or oblivion. To a negative argument like this, much weight could not be attached, unless the case were such as rendered some mention or allusion in a high degree probable : but such is the case before us. If the Canticles be a sacred work, and still more if it were divinely inspired, an allegorical meaning must be imputed to it: for the obvious and literal sense will yield only a richly adorned pastoral poem, celebrating chaste and honourable love. Since, therefore, some kind of allegorical interpretation becomes thus necessary, we cannot assume one of slight importance. The subject of the allegory cannot be considered as any thing less dignified and holy than the sublime union of the Messiah and his redeemed and sanctified church; for the rabbinical form of the assumed allegory is equivalent to that, when transferred to the principles of Christianity. Now that topic is so eminently spiritual
and evangelical, so consonant with the chief and immediate designs of the gospel, so closely in harmony with the entire spirit of the New Testament, that it seems next to impossible that the heavenly teachers who were completing the edifice of revelation, should have omitted all reference to a book which, by the supposition, stands pre-eminently above all the other Old Testament writings as an anticipation of New Testament privileges and piety. An able defender of the divine character of the book says: I contend for it, because I consider it as the holy of holies in the sacred volume." (Congreg. Magaz. for 1830, p. 299.) With regard to an inspired poem of such exalted character, is it conceivable that the New Testament should be entirely silent? The representation, in passages of the New Testament before referred to, of the union of Christ and his church by the symbol of conjugal love, much increases the force of this argument; for the affinity of subject would make such a reference so natural, so probable, that we might even say it would be unavoidable.
It may be justly remarked that it seems impossible, on fair grounds, to find a place for the Song in the enumeration given by Josephus. Those who are determined to have it there, put it among “ the Four” which “ contain Hymns addressed to God, and Admonitions for the conduct of life.” But those four must be the Psalms, Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. The only resource is to join the Song with the Ecclesiastes, with which it has no affinity, except that of assumed authorship: a very arbitrary combination, especially if looked at in the light of Josephus's description,“ Hymns—and Precepts."
iii. Admitting most readily all that has been said on the figurative use of the marriage-contract and state, in the Old and the New Testament, to shadow forth the gracious covenant of God with men, and the moral union of Christ with sincere believers, whether considered individually or in their social capacity, as forming the entire body of the true church; it does not follow, from those premises alone, that the Song of Solomon is a representation of those great objects. In all the passages of Scripture which sustain that representation, the manner is quite different from the strain of thought and expression in this poem. In them the general idea of the marriage union is chiefly dwelt upon; it is sparingly broken up into parts, and when it is so, those parts are few, rarely going beyond the necessary and obvious circumstances of the bridal dress and the acclaiming attendants; and universally the religious signification is so constantly, and as it were solicitously made prominent, that one can scarcely find a sentence in which it is not presented in terms so plain, that the most superficial reader is compelled to perceive it. But, in the instance before us, we see an extreme difference. The chief subject, the actual marriage, is indeed implied, but only in a slight and remote manner; while the particulars of scenery, action, and conjugal endearment, in a luxuriant profusion of decoration and colouring, form the whole composition. " If the sacred union of the Redeemer and his faithful people be supposed to be that chief subject, the central point, we scarcely or not at all find it, through the