Introduction to the Old Testament
by John Edgar McFadyen
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(5) Historical Psalms (a) emphasizing the unfaithfulness of the people, lxxviii., lxxxi., cvi.; (b) emphasizing the love or power of God, cv., cxiv., cxxxv., cxxxvi.

(6) Imprecatory Psalms, lviii, lix., lxix., lxxxiii., cix., cxxxvii.

(7) Penitential Psalms, vi., xxxii., xxxviii., li., cii., cxxx., cxliii.

(8) Psalms of Petition (a) prayers for deliverance, preservation or restoration, iii., iv., vii., xii., xiii., xvii., xxv., xxxi., xxxv., xli., xliv., liv., lv., lx., lxiv., lxxi., lxxiv., lxxvii., lxxix., lxxx., lxxxv., lxxxvi., lxxxviii., cxx., cxxiii., cxxxi., cxl., cxli., cxlii; (b) answered prayers, xxii., xxviii., lvi., lvii.

(9) Royal Psalms (a) king's coronation, xxi.; (b) marriage, xlv.; (c) prayers for his welfare and success, xx., lxi, lxiii.; (d) his character, lxxii., ci.; (e) dominion, ii., xviii., cx.; (f) yearning for the Messianic King, lxxxix., cxxxii.

(10) Psalms concerning the universal reign of Jehovah, i.e. Messianic psalms in the largest sense of the word, xlvii., lxxxvii., xciii., xcv., xcvi., xcvii., xcviii., xcix., c.

The Psalter has plainly had a long history. In its present form it obviously rests upon groups, which in turn rest upon individual psalms, that are no doubt often far older than the groups in which they stand. Like the Pentateuch, and perhaps in imitation of it, the Psalter is divided into five books, whose close is indicated, in each case, by a doxology (xli., lxxii., lxxxix., cvi.), except in the case of the last psalm, which is itself a doxology (cl.). This division appears to have been artificially effected. Psalm cvii., which starts the last book, goes naturally with cv. and cvi., which close the fourth book; and the circumstance that the number of psalms in the fourth book corresponds exactly with that of the third, raises a strong suspicion that the break was deliberately made at Psalm cvi. It is very probable, too, that the doxology at the close of Psalm cvi. (cf. 1 Chron. xvi. 36), which differs somewhat from the other doxologies, was originally intended as a doxology to that psalm only, and not to indicate the close of the book. In any case, the contents of books 4 and 5, which are very largely liturgical, are so similar that they may be practically considered as one book.

Books 2 and 3 may also be similarly regarded; for whereas in books 1, 4 and 5 the name of the divine Being is predominantly Jehovah, in books 2 and 3 it is predominantly Elohim (God), and there can be no doubt that these two books, at least as far as Ps. lxxxiii., have been submitted to an Elohistic redaction. Psalm xiv., e.g., reappears in the 2nd book as Psalm liii. in a form practically identical, except for the name of God, which is Jehovah in the one (xiv.) and Elohim in the other (liii.); the change is, therefore, undoubtedly deliberate. This is also made plain by the presence of such impossible phrases as "God, thy God," xlv. 7, 1. 7, instead of the natural and familiar "Jehovah, thy God." Whatever the motive for the choice of this divine name (Elohim) may be, it is so thoroughly characteristic of books 2 and 3 that they may not unfairly be held to constitute a group by themselves. In this way the Psalter falls into three great groups—book I (i.-xli.), which is Jehovistic, books 2 and 3 (xlii.-lxxxix.), which are Elohistic, and books 4 and 5 (xc.-cl.), which are Jehovistic..

These greater groups rest, however, upon other smaller ones, some formally acknowledged, e.g. the so-called Psalms of Ascent or Pilgrim psalms (cxx.-cxxxiv.), the Psalms of David, Psalms of the Korahites (xlii.-xlix., etc.), Psalms of Asaph (lxxiii.-lxxxiii., etc.), and others not so obvious in a translation, e.g. the Hallelujah Psalms, cxi.-cxiii., cxlvi.-cl. These groups must often have enjoyed an independent reputation as groups, and even been invested with a certain canonical authority, for occasionally the same psalm appears in two different groups (xiv.=liii., xl. 13-17=lxx., cviii.=lvii. 7-11 +lx. 6-12). Such repetition proves that the final editors did not consider themselves at liberty to make any change within the groups. The principle of the arrangement of individual psalms within the group was probably not a scientific one: e.g. xxxiv. and xxxv. seem to be placed together for no other reason than that both refer to "the angel of Jehovah," xxxiv. 7, xxxv. 5. Sometimes a psalm has been wrongly divided into two (cf. xlii., xliii., originally one psalm) and occasionally two psalms have been united, usually for reasons that are transparent (so perhaps xix., the revelation in the heavens and the revelation in the Scriptures, and xxiv., the entrance of Jehovah into His temple, and the essential conditions for the entrance of man).

The original order of the groups themselves appears to have been dislocated. Whoever added the subscription to Psalm lxxii. can hardly have been aware of the eighteen psalms which, in the subsequent books of the Psalter, are ascribed to David; nor is it natural to suppose that the Asaphic (l.) and Korahitic psalms (xlii.-xlix.) stood in the second book when that subscription was written. It is not improbable that Psalms xlii.-l. originally belonged to the third book, along with the Asaphic group, lxxiii.-lxxxiii., and that lxxii. 20, "The prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended," was intended as the subscription of all the Davidic psalms that had then been collected (Book I, except Pss. i., ii., x., xxxiii., and book 2, Pss. li.-lxx.).[1] The first two books originally represented a Davidic hymn-book; they probably represent, as a whole, the oldest part of the Psalter. [Footnote 1: Psalms i. and ii. were placed at the beginning as prefatory to the whole Psalter. They deal with the two cardinal points of Judaism—the law and the Messianic hope. Psalms ix. and x. originally constituted one alphabetic psalm, and xxxiii. is ascribed to David in the Septuagint.]

The problem of the authorship of the Psalms is one of the thorniest in the Old Testament. One hundred psalms are ascribed to definite authors: one is ascribed to Moses (xc.), seventy-three to David, two to Solomon (lxxvii., cxxvii.); and yet there are not a few scholars who maintain that, so far from any psalm being Mosaic, or even Davidic, there is not a single pre-exilic psalm in the Psalter, and the less radical critics do not allow more than thirty or forty. The question must be settled entirely upon internal evidence, as the superscriptions, definite as they often are, are never demonstrably reliable, while some of them are plainly impossible. To begin with, doubt attaches to the meaning of the Hebrew preposition in the phrase, "Psalm of David." It is the same preposition as that rendered by for in the phrase, "For the chief musician," and as in this phrase authorship is out of the question, it may be seriously doubted whether it is implied in the phrase rendered "Psalm of David." This doubt is corroborated by the phrase, "Psalms of the sons of Korah." Plainly all the Korahites did not cooperate in the composition of the psalms so superscribed; and the most natural inference is that the phrase does not here designate authorship, but that the psalm is one of a collection in some sense belonging to or destined for the Korahitic guild of temple-singers. [1] In that case the phrase would have a liturgical sense, and the parallel phrase "of (or for) David," might have to be similarly explained. It must be confessed, however, that whatever the actual origin of the superscription, "of (or for) David," it certainly came to be regarded as implying authorship—the many historical notices in the superscriptions of Psalms li.-lx. are proof enough of that; and no other explanation is possible of the superscription "of Moses" in Psalm, xc (cf. Is. xxxviii. 9, the writing of Hezekiah). [Footnote 1: It is not absolutely impossible that the phrase might point to a collection composed by this guild, cf. "Moravian brethren." But the other supposition is more likely.]

In later times, then, authorship was plainly intended by the superscriptions. But it is quite certain that the superscriptions themselves are no original and integral parts of the psalms. In the Septuagint they occasionally differ from the Hebrew, assigning psalms that are anonymous in the Hebrew (xcv., cxxxvii.) to David, or to other authors (e.g., cxlvi.-cxlviii. to Haggai and Zechariah.) The ease with which psalms were, without warrant, ascribed to David may be seen from the Greek superscription to Psalm xcvi. "When the house [i.e. the temple] was being built after the captivity; a song of David": in other words, an admittedly post-exilic psalm is ascribed to David. The superscriptions were added probably long after the psalms, and there is no reason to suppose that the Hebrews were exempt from the uncritical methods and ideas which characterized the Greek translators. That they shared them is abundantly proved by the historical superscriptions. One at least (Ps. xxxiv.) in substituting the name of Abimelech (Gen. xx.) for Achish (1 Sam. xxi.) shows either ignorance or carelessness, and casts a very lurid light on the reliability of the superscriptions. The contents of other psalms are manifestly irreconcilable with the assumed authorship: Asaph, e.g., whom the Chronicles regards as a contemporary of David (1 Chron. xvi 7), laments in Psalms lxxiv., lxxix. the devastation of the temple, which was not at that time in existence. The principles on which the superscriptions were added were altogether superficial and uncritical. Psalm cxxvii. is ascribed to Solomon, chiefly because its opening verse speaks of the building of the house, which was understood to be the temple. So Psalm lxiii. is described as "a psalm of David when he was in the wilderness of Judah," simply on the strength of the words, "My soul thirsteth for thee in a dry and weary land where no water is"—words which are taken literally, though they were undoubtedly intended metaphorically. A parallel case is that of the psalm inserted in Jonah ii., obviously a church psalm whose figurative language has been too literally pressed.

Enough has been said to show that the superscriptions are later than the psalms themselves, and often, if not always, unreliable; we are therefore wholly dependent upon internal evidence, and the criteria for Davidic authorship must be sought outside the Psalter. The only absolutely undisputed poems of David's are the elegy over Saul and Jonathan in 2 Samuel i. and the lament over Abner (2 Sam. iii. 33, 34). There is no means of proving that 2 Samuel xxii. (=Ps. xviii.) and 2 Samuel xxiii. 1-7 are David's, as they are interpolated in a section of Samuel which is itself an interpolation (xxi.-xxiv.), interrupting as it does the continuity of 2 Samuel xx. and I Kings i. The data offered by the elegy are much too slender to enable us to decide whether any particular psalm is David's or not. Some have ventured to ascribe a dozen psalms or so to him on the strength of their peculiar vigour and originality, but obviously all such decisions must be altogether subjective. What is certain is that David was an accomplished musician (1 Sam. xvi. 18) and a great poet (2 Sam. i.), a man of the most varied experience, rich emotional nature and profound religious feeling, a devoted worshipper of Jehovah, and eager to build Him a temple; and it is not impossible that such a man may have written religious songs, but in the nature of the case it can never be proved that he wrote any of the songs in the Psalter. Psalm xviii. has been by many assigned to him with considerable confidence because of the support it is thought to receive from its appearance in a historical book; but besides the fact that this support, as we have seen, is slender, the psalm can hardly, at least in its present form, have come from David. The superscription assigns it to a later period in his life when he had been delivered from all his enemies; but at that time he could not have looked back over the past, stained by his great sin, with the complacency which marks the confession in vv. 20-24. Others have supposed that xxiv. 7-10, with its picture of the entrance of Jehovah through the "ancient gates," may well be his. It may be, if the gates are those of the city; but if, as is more probable, they are the temple gates, then the psalm must be long after the time of Solomon. In the quest for Davidic psalms we can never possibly rise above conjecture. Later ages regarded David as the father of sacred song, just as they regarded Moses as the author of Hebrew law.

There can be little doubt, however, that there are pre-exilic psalms or fragments in the Psalter. From Psalm cxxxvii. 3, 4 we may safely infer that already, by the time of the exile, there were songs of Jehovah or songs of Zion. We cannot tell what these songs were like; but when we remember that for nearly two centuries before the exile great prophets had been working—and we cannot suppose altogether ineffectually, for they had disciples—it is difficult to see why, granting the poetic power which the Hebrew had from the earliest times, pious spirits should not have expressed themselves in sacred song, or why some of these songs may not be in the Psalter.

We appear to be on tolerably sure ground in at least some of the "royal" psalms. Doubtless it is often very hard to say, as in Psalms ii., lxxii., whether the king is a historical figure or the Messianic King of popular yearning; and possibly (cf. lxxii.) a psalm which originally contemplated a historical king may have been in later times altered or amplified to fit the features of the ideal king. Other psalms, again (e.g., lxxxix., cxxxii.), clearly are the products of a time when the monarchy is no more. But there remain others, expressing, e.g. a wish for the king's welfare (xx., xxi.), which can only be naturally referred to a time when the king was on the throne. It is not absolutely impossible to refer these to the period of the Hasmoneans, who bore the title from the end of the second century B.C.; but the history of the canon renders this supposition extremely improbable. The contents of these psalms are not above pre-exilic possibility, and their position in the first book would, generally speaking, be in favour of the earlier date. Psalm xlv. also, which celebrates the marriage of a king to a foreign princess, seems almost to compel a pre-exilic date.

Some scholars, struck by the resemblance between many of the sorrowful psalms and the poetry of Jeremiah, have not hesitated to ascribe some of them to him (cf. xl. 2). Such a judgment is necessarily subjective, but there can be little doubt that Jeremiah powerfully influenced Hebrew religious poetry. The Greek superscriptions, again, which assign certain psalms to Haggai and Zechariah, though doubtless unreliable, are of interest in suggesting the liturgical importance of the period following the return from the exile. This period seems to have produced several psalms. Psalm cxxvi,, with its curiously complex feeling, apparently reflects the situation of that period, and the group of psalms which proclaim Jehovah as King, and ring with the notes of a "new song," were probably composed to celebrate the joy of the return and the resumption of public worship in the temple (xciii., xcv.-c., cf. xcvi. 1). The history of the next three centuries is very obscure, and many a psalm which we cannot locate may belong to that period; but the psalms which celebrate the law (i., xix. 7ff., cxix.) no doubt follow the reformation of Ezra in the fifth century.

It is not probable that there are many, if any, psalms later than 170-165 B.C. in the Maccabean period; some deny even this possibility, basing their denial on the history of the canon. But if the book of Daniel, which belongs to this same period, was admitted to the canon, there is no reason why the same honour should not have been conferred upon some of the psalms. The Maccabean period was fitted, almost more than any other in Israel's history, to rouse the religious passion of the people to song; and, as the possibility must be conceded, the question becomes one of exegesis. Exegetically considered, the claims of at least Psalms xliv., lxxiv., lxxix., lxxxiii. are indubitable. They speak of a desolation of the temple in spite of a punctilious fulfilment of the law, a religious persecution, a slaughter of the saints, a blasphemy of the holy name. No situation fits these circumstances so completely as the persecution of the Jews by Antiochus Epiphanes in 168 B.C., and these psalms betray many remarkable affinities with passages in the first book of the Maccabees. As long ago as the fifth century A.D. the sharp-sighted Theodore of Mopsuestia believed that there were seventeen Maccabean psalms; Calvin admitted at least three. It may be safely concluded, then, that the Psalter brings us within about a century and a half of the Christian era.

The criteria for determining the date of a psalm are few and meagre. The Psalter expresses the piety of more than half a millennium, and even the century cannot always be fixed. The language is often general, and the thoughts uttered would be as possible and appropriate to one century as another. Nearly forty years ago Noldeke maintained that there were psalms of which we could not say with any definiteness to what period they belonged between 900 and 160 B.C. He himself referred Psalm ii. to Solomon, which had been referred by Hitzig to Alexander Jannaeus (105-78 B.C.). Even where the historical implications may seem fairly certain, there may be more than one legitimate interpretation. Psalm xlvi., e.g., which is usually regarded as a song of triumph sung after the departure of Sennacherib, is by some interpreted eschatologically; Zion is the ideal Zion of the latter days, and the stream that makes her glad is the stream of Paradise. Some psalms, of course, have their origin stamped very legibly upon them. Psalm cxxxvii. e.g., clearly implies that the exile is not long over. The presence of Aramaisms in a psalm is a fairly sure indication of a relatively late date. Within certain limits, also, its theological ideas may be a guide, though we know too little of the history of these ideas to use this criterion with much confidence. Still, so elaborate an emphasis on the omnipresence of God as we find in Psalm cxxxix. is only possible to a later age, and this inference is more than confirmed by its highly Aramaic flavour. Both these considerations render its ascription to David utterly untenable.

The question was raised long ago and has been much discussed in recent times, whether the subject of the Psalter is the individual or the church; and till very recently the opinion has been gaining ground that the experience and aspiration of the Psalter are not personal and individual, but that in it is heard the collective voice of the church. Many difficulties undoubtedly disappear or are lessened on this interpretation, e.g., the bitterness of the imprecatory psalms, or the far-reaching consequences attached in other psalms (cf. xxii., xl.) to the deliverance of the singer. Till the exile, the religious unit was the nation, and the collective use of the singular pronoun is one of the commonest phenomena in Hebrew literature. The Decalogue is addressed to Israel in the 2nd pers. sing., in Deuteronomy the 2nd pers. sing, alternates with the pl., in the priestly blessing (Num. vi. 24ff.) Israel is blessed in the singular. In Deutero-Isaiah, the servant of Jehovah is undoubtedly to be interpreted collectively, and in many of the psalms the collective interpretation is put beyond all doubt by the very explicit language of the context:

Much have they afflicted me from my youth up, Let Israel now say, cxxix. 11

All this is true, and there are probably more collective psalms in the Psalter than we have been accustomed to believe. But it would be ridiculous to suppose that every psalm has to be so interpreted. Some of the psalms were originally written without any view to the temple service, and they must have expressed the individual emotion of the singer.[1] Besides, Jeremiah had shown or at least suggested that the real unit was the individual; the teaching of Ezekiel and the book of Job are proof that the lesson had been well learned; and, although the post-exilic church may have felt its solidarity and realized its corporate consciousness as acutely as the pre-exilic nation, the individual, as a religious unit, could never again be forgotten. He had come to stay; and if, in many psalms, the general voice of the church is heard, it is equally certain that many others utter the emotions and experiences of individual singers. [Footnote 1: That Psalms, now collective, were originally individual, and subsequently altered and adapted to the use of the community is seen, e.g., in the occasional disturbance of the order in alphabetical psalms (ix., x.). ]

The Psalter, or part of it, was used in the temple service[1]-witness the numerous musical and liturgical superscriptions (cf. superscr. of Ps. xcii.)—though the people probably did no more than sing or utter the responses (cvi. 48). It would be difficult to estimate the importance of the Psalter to the Old Testament Church. It was the support of piety as well as the expression of it; and, to a worship which laid so much stress upon punctilious ritual and animal sacrifice, the Psalter, with its austere spiritual tone, its simple passion for God, and its bracing sense of fellowship with the Eternal, would come as a wholesome corrective. Almost in the spirit of the older prophets (Hos. vi. 6) animal sacrifice is relegated to an altogether subordinate place (xl., l., li.), if it is not indeed rebuked: the sacrifice dear to God is a broken spirit. Thus the Psalter was a mighty contribution in one direction, as the synagogue in another, to the development of spiritual religion. It kept alive the prophetic element in Israel's religion, and did much to counteract the more blighting influences of Judaism. The place of the law is occasionally recognized (i., xix. 7ff.), once very emphatically (cxix.), but it is honoured chiefly for its moral stimulus. It is not, as in later times, an incubus; it is still an inspiration. [Footnote 1: The addition of the last verse to the alphabetic psalms, xxv. and xxxiv., adapts these psalms, whether originally individual or collective, to the temple service.]

There are tempers in the Psalter which are anything but lovely-hatred of enemies, protestation of self-righteousness, and other utterances which prevent it from being, in its entirety, the hymn-book of the Christian Church. Historically these things are explicable and perhaps inevitable, but the glory of the Psalter is its overwhelming sense of the reality of God. The men who wrote it counted God their Friend; and although they never forgot that He was the infinite One, whose home is the universe and who fills the vast spaces of history with His faithfulness and His justice, He was also to them the patient and loving One, who preserves both man and beast, under the shadow of whose wings the children of men may rest with quietness and confidence, and before whom they could pour out the deepest thoughts and petitions of their hearts, in the assurance that He was the hearer of prayer, and that His tender mercies were over all His works. He was to them the source of all strength and consolation and vision. In His light they saw light; and in their noblest moments—whatever they might lose or suffer—with Him they were content. In Luther's fine paraphrase of Psalm lxxiii. 25, "If I have but Thee, I ask for nothing in heaven or earth."


Many specimens of the so-called Wisdom Literature are preserved for us in the book of Proverbs, for its contents are by no means confined to what we call proverbs. The first nine chapters constitute a continuous discourse, almost in the manner of a sermon; and of the last two chapters, ch. xxx. is largely made up of enigmas, and xxxi. is in part a description of the good housewife.

All, however, are rightly subsumed under the idea of wisdom, which to the Hebrew had always moral relations. The Hebrew wise man seldom or never gave himself to abstract speculation; he dealt with issues raised by practical life. Wise men are spoken of almost as an organized guild, and coordinated with priests and prophets as early as the time of Jeremiah (xviii. 18), but the general impression made by the pre-exilic references to the wise men is that they exercised certain quasi-political functions and hardly correspond to the wise men of later times who discussed issues of the moral life and devoted themselves to the instruction of young men (Prov. i. 4, 8).

Most of the important types of thought of the wise men are represented in the book of Proverbs. There are proverbs proper, a few of the popular kind, but most of them bearing the stamp of deliberate art, and dealing with the prudent conduct of life (x.-xxix.); there are speculations of a more general kind on the nature that wisdom which is the guide of life (i.-ix.); and there is scepticism (cf. Eccles.) represented by the words of Agur (xxx. 1-4). The book, as a whole, might be described as a guide to the happy life, or, we might almost say, to the successful life—for a certain not ignoble utilitarianism clings to many of its precepts. The world is recognized as a moral and orderly world, and wisdom is profitable unto all things. The wisdom which the wise man manifests in contact with life and its exigencies is but a counterpart of the divine wisdom which, in one noble passage, is the fellow of God and more ancient than creation (viii.).

There is not a little literary power in the book. Very beautiful is Wisdom's appeal to the sons of men, and her invitation to the banquet (viii., ix.). The isolated proverbs in x.-xxix. are usually more terse and powerful than they appear in the English translation. There are flashes of humour too:

As a ring of gold in a swine's snout, So is a fair woman without discretion, xi. 22. Withhold not correction from thy son, Though thou smite him with the rod, he will not die, xxiii. 13.

They deal with life upon its average levels: there is nothing of the prophetic enthusiasm, but they are robust and kindly withal.

Not without reason has the book been called "a forest of proverbs," for at any rate in the body of it it is practically impossible to detect any principle of order. Usually the sayings in x.-xxix. are disconnected, but occasionally kindred sayings are gathered into groups of two or more verses; and sometimes it would seem as if the principle of arrangement was alphabetic, several consecutive verses occasionally beginning with the same letter, e.g., xx. 7-9, xxii. 2-4. There are eight divisions—

(a) i.-ix. (of which i. 1-6 is no doubt designed as an introduction to the whole book, and vi. 1-19 is probably an interpolation): an impressive appeal to secure wisdom and avoid folly, especially when she appears in the guise of the strange woman. Wisdom's own appeal and invitation.

(b) x.-xxii. 16. A series of very loosely connected proverbs in couplets, x.-xv. being chiefly antithetic (cf. x. 1, xv. 1) and xvi. 1-xxii. 16 chiefly synthetic (cf. xvi. 16).

(c) xxii. 17-xxiv. 22, designated as "the words of the wise," containing a few continuous pieces (cf. xxiii. 29-35 on drunkenness) and addressed, like i.-ix., to "my son," cf. xxiii. 15, 26.

(d) xxiv. 23-34, probably little more than an appendix to (c), and also containing a continuous piece (cf. vv. 30-34 on sloth).

(e) xxv.-xxix. A series, in many respects resembling (6), of loosely connected sayings. This section, especially xxv.-xxvii., contains more proverbs in the strict sense, i.e. sayings without any specific moral bearing, e.g. xxv. 25.

(f) xxx. The words of Agur, of a sceptical and enigmatical kind, worked over by an orthodox reader (cf. vv. 5, 6, which reprove vv. 2-4).

(g) xxxi. 1-9. Words addressed to king Lemuel (whom we cannot identify) by his mother.

(h) xxxi. 10-31. An alphabetic poem in praise of the good housewife.

Clearly the book makes no pretence to be, as a whole, from Solomon. If we except i. 1-6, which is introductory to the whole book, only (b) and (e) are assigned to Solomon: the other sections—except the last, are deliberately assigned to others, (c) and (d) expressly to "the wise." The ascription of the whole book to Solomon, which seems to be implied by its opening verse, and which, if genuine, would render the fresh ascription in x. 1 unnecessary, is no doubt to be explained as the similar ascription of the Psalms to David or the legislation to Moses. He was the "wise man" of Hebrew antiquity, and he is expressly said in 1 Kings iv. 32 to have spoken 3,000 proverbs. The implication of that passage (cf. v. 33) is that those proverbs consisted of comparisons between men and trees or animals: that supposition is met by some (cf. vi. 6) but not by many in the book. There are not likely then to be many of his proverbs in our book; but not impossibly there may be some. Ch. xxv. 1 is indeed very explicit, but that notice is, on the face of it, late. The fact that Hezekiah is called not simply king, but king of Judah, seems to point to a time—at the earliest the exile—when the kingdom of Judah was no more; so that this notice would be about a century and a half after Hezekiah's time, and Hezekiah is more than two centuries after Solomon. Obviously many of the proverbs in x.-xxix. could not have been Solomon's. The advice as to the proper demeanour in the presence of a king (xxv. 6, 7) would not come very naturally from one who was himself a king (cf. xxiii.1ff.); nor, to say nothing of the praises of monogamy, would he be likely so to satirize his own government as he would do in xxix. 4: "He whose exactions are excessive ruins the land."

The question may, however, be fairly raised whether the proverbs, though as a whole not Solomonic, may yet be pre-exilic; and here two questions must be kept apart—the date of the individual proverbs and the date of the collections or of the book as a whole. Now it is very probable that some of the proverbs are pre-exilic. The references to the king, e.g.—kindly in x-xxii., and more severe in xxv-xxix.—might indeed apply to the Greek period (fourth and third centuries B.C.), but are equally applicable to the pre-exilic period; and many of the shrewd observations on life might come equally well from any period. But there can be little doubt that the groups in their present form are post-exilic. The sages do their work on the basis of the achievements of law and prophecy.[1] The great prophetic ideas about God are not discussed, they are presupposed; while the "law" of xxviii. 4, 7, 9, as in Psalm cxix., appears to be practically equivalent to Scripture, and would point to the fifth century at the earliest. True, there are sayings quite in the old prophetic spirit, to the effect that character is more acceptable to God than ritual and sacrifice, xxi. 3, 27, xv. 8, xvi. 6; but this would be an equally appropriate and almost more necessary warning in post-exilic times, especially upon the lips of men whose profession was in part that of moral education. [Footnote 1: The text of xxix. 18a is too insecure (cf. Septuagint) to justify us in saying that prophecy still exists. ]

There is no challenge of idolatry, such as we should expect if the book were pre-exilic, and monogamy is everywhere presupposed. Indeed it is very remarkable that no mention is made of Israel, or of any institutions distinctly Israelitic. Its subject is not the nation, but the individual, and its wisdom is cosmopolitan. Now though this appeal to man rather than Israel, this emphasis on the universal conscience, can be traced as far back as the eighth century[1] (Amos iii. 9), the thoroughgoing application of it in Proverbs suggests a larger experience of international relationships, which could hardly be placed before the exile, and was not truly developed till long after it, say, in the Persian or Greek period. This is peculiarly true of chs. i-ix., which was probably an independent piece, prefixed to x.-xxix., to gather up their sporadic elements of wisdom in a comprehensive whole, and to secure an adequate religious basis for their maxims which were, in the main, ethical. It is not necessary to suppose that the personification of wisdom in ch. viii. is directly influenced by Greek philosophy, but the whole speculative manner of the passage points to a late, even if independent, development of Jewish thought. The last two chapters are probably the latest in the book, which, while it must be earlier than Ben Sirach (180 B.C.), who distinctly adapts it, is probably not earlier than 300 B.C. [Footnote 1: Micah vi. 8, "He that showed thee, O man, what is good," is also a saying of far-reaching significance in this connection.]

The value of this much-neglected book is very great. It is easy of course to point to its limitations—to show that it hardly, if ever (ix. 18?) looks out upon another world, but confines its compensations and its penalties to this, xi. 31, or to discover utilitarian elements in its morality, in. 10, or mechanical features in its conception of life, xvi. 31. But it would be easy to exaggerate. The sages know very well that a good name is better than wealth, xxii. 1, and that the deepest success of life is its conformity to the divine wisdom (i.-ix.). While most of the maxims are purely ethical, it has to be remembered that to the Hebrew morality rests upon religion: the introductory section (i.-ix.) throws its influence across the whole book, the motto of which is that the fear of Jehovah is the basis of knowledge and its chief constituent, i. 7. Besides, many of the maxims themselves are specifically religious, e.g., "He that oppresseth the poor reproacheth his Maker," xiv. 31, "He that hath pity on the poor lendeth to Jehovah," xix. 17. On the more purely moral side, besides giving a welcome glimpse into ancient Hebrew society, it is rich in applications to modern life. Slander and revenge are severely denounced; and earnest and repeated warnings are lifted up in different parts of the book against wine and women (v., xxiii., xxxi.). Care for animals is inculcated, xii. 10, and love to enemies, xxv. 21., in words borrowed by the New Testament—a notable advance on Leviticus xix. 18.

In one or two respects the book is of peculiar interest and value to the modern world. It is more interested, e.g., in practice than in creed. Its creed is very simple, little more than a general fear of Jehovah; but this receives endless application to practical life. Again, the appeal of the book is, on the whole, not to revelation, but to experience, and it meets the average man and woman upon their ordinary level. Its appeal is therefore one which cannot be evaded, as it commends itself, without the support of revelation, to the universal moral instincts of mankind. Again, its emphasis upon the moral, as opposed to the speculative, is striking. Immediately after a passage which approaches as near to metaphysical speculation as any Old Testament writer ever approaches, viii. 22-31, comes a direct, tender and personal appeal. Lastly, there is an almost modern sense of the inexorableness of law in the solemn reminder that those who refuse and despise the call of wisdom will be left alone and helpless when their day of trouble comes, i. 22ff. But the sternness is mitigated by a gentler thought. Like a gracious lady, wisdom, which is only one aspect of the divine Providence, pleads with men, yearning to win them from their folly to the peace and happiness which are alone with her; and even suffering is but one of the ways of God, a confirmation of sonship, and even a manifestation of His love.

Whom Jehovah loveth, He reproveth, Even as a father the son in whom he delighteth, iii. 12.

This is perhaps the profoundest note in the book of Proverbs. A book so rich in moral precept and religious thought may well claim to have fulfilled its programme: "to give prudence to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion," i. 4.


The book of Job is one of the great masterpieces of the world's literature, if not indeed the greatest. The author was a man of superb literary genius, and of rich, daring, and original mind. The problem with which he deals is one of inexhaustible interest, and his treatment of it is everywhere characterized by a psychological insight, an intellectual courage, and a fertility and brilliance of resource which are nothing less than astonishing. Opinion has been divided as to how the book should be classified, whether as epic, dramatic or didactic poetry. It is didactic at any rate in the sense that the poet, who wrote it with his heart's blood, intended to read his generation a much-needed lesson on the mysterious discipline of life; and it is dramatic, though not in the ordinary sense—for in the poetry proper there is no development of action—yet in the sense that it vividly pourtrays the conflict of minds, and the clash of conventional with independent opinion.

The story of the book is easily told. The prologue (i., ii.) introduces Job as a pattern of scrupulous piety, and therefore, in accordance with the ancient view, a prosperous man. In the heavenly council, the Satan insinuates that, if the prosperity be withdrawn, the piety will also disappear. Jehovah, sure of His servant Job, grants the Satan permission to deprive Job of all that he has, in order that he may discover what he is. Job sustains the four fierce blows, which stripped him of all, with beautiful resignation. The Satan is foiled. He now insinuates that the trial has not been severe enough: only his property has been touched—not his person. With Jehovah's permission a second assault is made, and Job is smitten with the incurable and loathsome disease of leprosy, so that he is without hope in the world. He has nothing but God—will God be enough? Again Job sustains his trial in noble and ever-memorable words; and the Satan is foiled again. Then three of Job's friends—great sheikhs—come to express their sorrow.

Then follow three cycles of speeches between Job and his friends (iii.-xiv.; xv.-xxi.; xxii.-xxxi).

First cycle. Job begins by lamenting his birthday and longing for death (iii.). Eliphaz, a man of age and wisdom, with much courtesy and by an appeal to a revelation which had been given him in the night, seeks to reconcile Job to his lot, reminding him that no mortal man can be pure in the sight of God, and assuring him of restoration, if he accepts his suffering as discipline (iv., v.). Job rejects this easy optimism and expresses his longing for a speedy death, as life on the earth is nothing but a miserable warfare (vi., vii.). Bildad, annoyed at Job's challenge of God's justice, asserts the sure destruction of evildoers, but implicitly concedes, at the end, that Job is not an evil-doer, by promising him a bright future (viii.). Job then grows ironical. Of course, he says, God is always in the right. Might is right, and He is almighty, destroying innocent and guilty alike. He longs to meet God, and to know why He so marvellously treats the creature He so marvellously made (ix., x.). Zophar bluntly condemns Job's bold words and urges repentance, but, like his friends, foretells the dawn of a better day for Job, though his very last words are ominous and suggestive of another possibility (xi.). Job, with a sarcastic compliment to the wisdom of his friends, claims the right to an independent judgment and challenges the whole moral order of the world. Better be honest—God needs no man to distort the facts for Him. Job longs for a meeting, in which God will either speak to him or listen to him. But, as no answer comes, he laments again the pathos of life, which ends so utterly in death (xii.-xiv.).

Second cycle. Eliphaz, concluding that Job despises religion, describes in vigorous terms the fate of the godless (xv.). Job complains of his fierce persecution by God, and appeals, in almost the same breath, against this unintelligible God to the righteous God in heaven, who is his witness and sponsor; but again he falls back into gloom and despondency (xvi., xvii.). Bildad answers by describing the doom of the wicked, with more than one unmistakable allusion to Job's case (xviii.). Job is vexed. He breaks out into a lament of his utter desolation, the darkness of which, however, is shot through with a sudden and momentary gleam of assurance that God will one day vindicate him (xix.). Not so, answers Zophar: the triumph of the wicked is short (xx.). Job, in a bold and terrible speech, assails the doctrine of the friends, challenges the moral order, and asserts that the world is turned upside down (xxi.).

Third cycle. To the friends Job now seems to be condemned out of his own mouth, and Eliphaz coolly proceeds to accuse him of specific sins (xxii.). This drives Job to despair, and he longs to appear before the God whom he cannot find, to plead his cause before Him. Why does He not interpose? and again follows a fierce challenge of the moral order (xxiii., xxiv.). The arguments of the friends are being gradually exhausted, and Bildad can only reply by asserting the uncleanness of man in presence of the infinite majesty of God (xxv., xxvi.). In spite of this Job asserts his integrity, xxvii. 1-6. Zophar repeats the old doctrine of the doom of the wicked, xxvii. 7-23. Then Job rises up, like a giant, to make his last great defence. He pictures his former prosperity and his present misery, and ends, in a chapter which touches the noblest heights of Old Testament morality, with a detailed assertion of the principles that governed his conduct and character. With one great cry that the Almighty would listen to him, he concludes (xxix.-xxxi.).

The Almighty does listen; and He answers—not by referring to Job's particular case, still less to his sin, but by questions that suggest to Job His own power, wisdom, and love, and the ignorance and impotence of man, xxxviii., xxxix., xl. 2, 8-14. Job humbly recognizes the inadequacy of his criticism in the light of this vision of God, xl. 3-5, xlii. 2-6, and with this the poem comes to an end.

The epilogue, xlii. 7-17, in prose, describes how Jehovah severely condemned the friends for the words they had spoken, commended His servant Job for speaking rightly of Him, and restored him to double his former prosperity.

It is obvious that we have here a religious and not a philosophical discussion. Indeed it is hardly a discussion at all; for, though the psychological interest of the situation is heightened by every speech, there is practically no development in the argument. The friends grow more excited and unfair, Job grows more calm and dignified; but so far as argument is concerned, neither he nor they affect each other—the author meaning to suggest by this perhaps the futility of human discussion.

The problem of the book of Job has been variously defined. In one form it is raised by the question of Satan, i. 9, "Doth Job fear God for naught?" which is the Hebrew way of saying, "Is there such a thing as disinterested religion?" But the body of the book discusses the problem under a wider aspect: how can the facts of human life, and especially the sufferings of the righteous, be reconciled with the justice of God? With delicate skill the author has suggested that this problem is a universal one; not Israel alone is perplexed by it, but humanity. To indicate this, he puts his hero and his stage outside the land of Israel. Job is a foreign saint, and Uz is on the borders of the Arabian desert.

The ancient theory of retribution was very simple: every man received what he deserved—the good prosperity, the bad misfortune. In its national application, this principle was obviously more or less true, but every age must have seen numerous exceptions in the life of the individual. The exceptions, however, were not felt to be particularly perplexing, because, till the exile, the individual was hardly seriously felt to be a religious unit: his personality was merged in the wider life of the tribe or nation. But the exile, which saw many of the best men suffer, forced the question to the front; and the explanation then commonly offered was that they were suffering for the sins of the fathers. Ezekiel denied this and maintained that the individual received exactly what he deserved (xviii.): it is well with the righteous and ill with the wicked. The friends of Job in the main represent this doctrine, Eliphaz appealing to revelation, Bildad to tradition, and Zophar to common sense. The author of the book of Job desires, among other things, to expose the inadequacy of this doctrine. Job, a good man—not only on his own confession (xxxi.), but on the express and repeated admission of God Himself, i. 8, ii. 3—is overwhelmed with calamities which cannot be explained by the imperfections which are inherent in all men, and which Job himself readily admits vii. 21. How are such sufferings to be reconciled with the justice of God?

The problem had to be solved without reference to the future world. To a steady faith in immortality, which can find its compensations otherwhere, there is no real problem; but it is certain that, though there are scattered hints, xiv. 13, xix. 25ff.—which, however, many interpret differently—of a life after death, this belief is not held by Job (or by the author) tenaciously, nor offered as a solution, for the lamentations continue to the end. The solution, if there is any, the author must find in this world. It would seem that no definite solution is offered, though there are not a few profound and valuable suggestions.

(1) The prologue, e.g., suggests that the sufferings of earth find their ultimate explanation in the councils of heaven. What is done or suffered here is determined there. (2) Again the prologue suggests that suffering is a test of fidelity. Job has proved his essential and disinterested goodness, besides glorifying the name of the God, who trusted him, by standing fast. (3) The friends make their shallow and conventional contribution to the solution: from the doctrine—whose strict and universal truth Job denied—that sin was always followed by suffering, they inferred the still more questionable doctrine that suffering was punishment for sin. In estimating the views of the friends, it should never be forgotten that Jehovah, in the epilogue, condemns them as not having spoken the thing that is right, xlii. 7, 8. Of course, though inadequate, they are not always absolutely wrong; and Eliphaz expresses a truth not wholly inapplicable to Job's case—at least to the Job of the speeches—when he insists on the disciplinary value of suffering, v. 17 ff.

(4) If a real solution is offered anywhere, one would most naturally look for it in the speeches of Jehovah (xxxviii. ff.); and at first sight they are not very promising. Their effect would most naturally be rather to silence and overwhelm Job than to convince him; and to some they have suggested no more than that the contemplation of nature may be a remedy for scepticism. But their object is profounder than that. By heightening the sense of the mystery of the universe, they show Job the folly, and almost the impertinence, of expecting an adequate answer to all his whys and wherefores. A man who cannot account for the most familiar facts of the physical world is not likely to explore the subtler mysteries of the moral world. But there is more. The divine speeches suggest that God is not only strong—Job knew that very well (ix.)—but wise, xxxviii. 2, and kind, feeding even the ravenous beasts, xxxviii. 39, and tenderly caring for the waste and desolate place where no man is, xxxviii. 26. The universe compels trust in the wisdom and love of God. (5) The epilogue, too, shows how the suffering hero was rewarded and vindicated. The reward we shall discuss afterwards; but it is with fine instinct that the epilogue represents Job as a man so powerful with God that his prayer is effectual to save his erring friends, and four times within two verses, xlii. 7 f, Jehovah calls him "My servant Job." Therein lies his real vindication, rather than in the reward of the sheep and the oxen.

The book clearly intends to suggest that in this world it is vain to look for exact retribution. From calamity it is unjust to infer special or secret sin: the worst may happen to the best. Again, there is such a thing as disinterested goodness, a goodness which believes in and clings to God, when it has nothing to hope for but Himself. But the book may also be fairly regarded as a protest against contemporary theology; and, in its present form, at any rate, it suggests that God loves the independent thinker. The friends are orthodox, but shallow; "Who ever perished, being innocent?" iv. 7. They are so wedded to their theories that even the oldest and wisest among them cruelly invents falsehoods to support them (xxii.). Job replies to theories by facts. He is a man of independent observation and judgment, his mouth must "taste for itself," xii. 11. He is bold sometimes almost to blasphemy, he accuses God of destroying innocent and guilty alike, ix. 22, and does not scruple to parody a psalm, vii. 17 f. Yet he does this because he must be true to facts, whatever comes of theories: he must cling to the God of conscience against the God of convention.

In discussing the scheme of the book and the solution it offers of the problem of suffering, we have not yet taken into account the speeches of Elihu (xxxii.-xxxvii.). The value and importance of these have been variously estimated, the extremes being represented by Duhm, who characterizes them as the childish effusions of some bombastic rabbi, and Cornill, who calls them "the crown of the book of Job." It is not without good reason that the authenticity of this section has been doubted. After the dramatic appeal at the close of Job's splendid defence, it is natural to suppose that Jehovah appears; and when He does appear (xxxviii.), His speech is expressly said to be an answer to Job. Elihu is completely ignored, as he is not only in the prologue but also in the epilogue, xlii. 7. The latter omission would be especially strange, if he is integral to the book. As his speech is not condemned, it is natural to infer from the silence that it is implicitly commended. In that case, however, we have two solutions—the Elihu speeches and the Jehovah speeches. But there is practically nothing new in the Elihu speeches: in emphasizing the greatness of God, they but anticipate the Jehovah speeches, and in emphasizing the disciplinary value of chastisement, they but amplify the point already made by Eliphaz in v. 17ff., and most summarily expressed in xxxvi. 15. Almost the only other assertion made is that, as against Job's contention, God does speak to men—through dreams, sickness, angels, etc. The lengthy description in which Elihu is introduced, and the mention of his genealogy, are very unlike the other introductions. The literary art of the section is, speaking generally, inferior to that of the rest of the book. It is imitative rather than creative. Elihu takes about twenty verses to announce the simple fact that he is going to speak, though there might be a dramatic propriety in this, as he is represented as a young man. Further, the language is more Aramaic than the rest of the book. Cornill, however, defends the section as offering the real solution of the problem. "If a man recognizes the educative character of suffering and takes it to heart, the suffering becomes for him a source of infinite blessing, the highest manifestation of divine love." But it seems rather improbable that the true solution should be put into the lips of a young man, who said he was ready to burst if he did not deliver himself of his speech, xxxii. 19. Apart from the fact that it is more natural to look for the solution in the speeches of Jehovah, and that the Elihu speeches, in condemning Job, disagree with the epilogue, which commends him, the arguments against their authenticity seem much more than to counterbalance the little that can be said in their favour; and in all probability they are an orthodox addition to the book from the pen of some later scholar who was offended by Job's accusations of God and protestations of his own innocence.

The authenticity of the prologue and epilogue has also been questioned, some scholars asserting that they really form the beginning and end of an older (pre-exilic) book of Job, the body of which was replaced by the speeches in our present book. The question is far from unimportant, as on it depends, in part, our conception of the purpose of the author of the speeches. Against the idea that the prologue and epilogue are from his hand are these considerations. They are in prose, while the body of the book is in verse. Again, the name of God in the prologue and epilogue is Jehovah; elsewhere, with one exception, which is probably an interpolation, xii. 9, it is El, Eloah, Shaddai, as if Jehovah were purposely avoided.[1] In xix. 17b, where the true translation is "Mine evil savour is strange to the sons of my body," the children are regarded as living:[2] while in the prologue they are dead. But more serious is the fact that the Job of the prologue seems to differ fundamentally from the Job of the speeches. The former is patient, submissive, resigned; the latter is impatient, bitter, and even defiant. Further, the epilogue represents Jehovah as commending Job and condemning the friends without qualification, whereas it may be urged that, in the course of the speeches, the friends were not always wrong, nor was Job always right, and that it is impossible that his merciless criticisms of the moral order could have passed without divine rebuke: much that Job said would have delighted the Satan of the prologue. These considerations have led to the supposition that, in the original book, Job maintained throughout the spirit of devout resignation which he showed in the prologue, while it was the friends who accused God of cruelty and injustice. A bolder and profounder thinker of a later age attacked the problem independently on the basis of the old story, and inserted his contribution, iii.-xlii. 6, between the prologue and the epilogue, thus giving a totally different turn to the story. [Footnote 1: Ch. xxxviii. i, being introductory to the speeches of Jehovah, should hardly be counted.] [Footnote 2: See, however, viii. 4, xxix. 5, so that xix. 17b may be due to forgetfulness.]

This view is ingenious, but does not seem necessary. Psychologically, there is no necessary incompatibility between the Job of the prologue and the Job of the speeches. It must not be forgotten that months have elapsed between the original blow and the lamentations, vii. 3—months in which the brooding mind of the sufferer has had time to pass from resignation to perplexity, and almost to despair. Again, the words of Job are not to be taken too seriously; they are, as he says himself, the words of a desperate man, vi. 26, and the commendation in the epilogue may be taken to apply rather to his general attitude than to his particular utterances. Some kind of introduction there must undoubtedly have been; otherwise the speeches, and especially Job's repeated asseverations of his innocence, are unintelligible. The literary power and skill of the prologue is as great as that of the speeches: dramatically, the swift contrast between the happy family upon the earth and the council of gods in heaven, or the rapid succession of blows that rained upon Job the moment that Satan "went forth from the presence of Jehovah," is as effective as the psychological surprises in which the book abounds. The language is slightly in favour of a post-exilic date, and the conception of Satan appears to be somewhat in advance of Zechariah iii. 1 (520 B.C.). On the whole it seems fair to conclude that the great poet who composed the speeches also wrote the prologue, though of course his material lay to hand in a popular, and not improbably written story.

With the prologue must go at least part of the epilogue, xlii. 7-9; for the author's purpose is to characterize the two types of thought represented by the discussion and to vindicate Job. More doubt may attach to the concluding section, vv. 10-17, which represents that vindication as taking the form of a material reward. A Western reader is surprised and disappointed: to him it seems that the author has "fallen from his high estate," and has failed to be convinced by his own magnificent argument. But, as we have already said, the real vindication of Job is the efficacy of his prayer, and the material reward is, in any case, not much more than a sort of poetic justice. It is indeed an outward and visible sign of the relation subsisting between Job and his God; but it is hard to believe that the genius who fought his way to such a solution as appears in xxxviii., xxxix., would himself have laid much stress upon it. Yet it is not inappropriate or irrelevant. Job's sufferings had their origin in Satan's denial of his integrity; and now that Satan has been convinced—for Job clings in the deepest darkness to the God of his conscience—it is only just that he should be restored to his former state.

It is not certain that ch. xxviii. with its fine description of wisdom, which is neither to be found in mine nor mart, is original to the book. It does not connect well either with the preceding or the following chapter. The serenity that breathes through ch. xxviii. would not naturally be followed by the renewed lamentations of xxix., and it would further be dramatically inappropriate for a man in agony to speak thus didactically. It is a sort of companion piece to Proverbs viii.; it is too abstract for its context, and lacks its almost fierce emotion.

Doubt also attaches to the sections descriptive of the hippopotamus and the crocodile, xl. l5-xli. The defence is that, as the earlier speeches of God, xxxviii. xxxix., were to convince Job of his ignorance, so these are to convince him of his impotence. But the descriptions, though fine in their way (cf. xli. 22), do not stand on the same literary level as those of xxxviii., xxxix. These are brief and drawn to the life—how vivid are the pictures of the war-horse and the wild ass!—those of xl., xli. are diffuse and somewhat exaggerated. Of course Oriental standards of taste are not ours; still the difference can hardly be ignored. It is worthy of note, too, that the word leviathan in xli. 1 is used in a totally different sense from iii 8, where it is the mythological (sea?) dragon. The author appears to have travelled widely and the book betrays a knowledge of Egypt (cf. pyramids, iii. 14; papyrus, viii. 11; reed ships, ix. 26; phoenix, xxix. 18), but it is not without significance that all his other animal pictures are drawn from the desert—the lion (iv.), the wild ass, the war-horse. On the whole, it is hardly probable that these long descriptions, rather unnecessarily retarding, as they do, the crisis between Jehovah and Job for which the sympathetic reader is impatiently waiting, are original to the book.

Certain redistributions of the speeches seem to be necessary. Ch. xxvi. is conceived in a temper thoroughly unlike that of Job at this stage, while it closely resembles that of xxv. As ch. xxv. would be an unusually short speech, it is probable that xxv. and xxvi. should both be given to Bildad. That there is something wrong is plain from the fresh introduction to xxvii. 1 (cf. xxix. 1), a phenomenon which does not elsewhere occur and which, if xxvi. is Job's, should be unnecessary. Again in xxvii. 7-23 Job turns completely round upon his own position and adopts that of the friends. It has been said that he "forgets himself sufficiently in ch. xxvii. to deliver a discourse which would have been suitable in the mouth of one of the friends." Surely such an explanation is as impossible as it is psychologically unnatural: in all probability vv. 7-23 ought to be given to Zophar—the more probably as xxvii. 13 is very like xx. 19, which is Zophar's. This would have the further advantage of accounting for the fresh introduction to xxix. (especially if we allow xxviii. to be a later addition).

Probably xxxi. 38-40, which constitute, at least to an Occidental taste, an anticlimax in their present position, should be placed after v. 32, and xl. 3-5 (followed by xlii. 2-6) after xl. 6-14.

The date of the book of Job is not easy to determine. Ch. xii. 17 shows a knowledge of the dethronement of kings and the exile of priests and nobles which compels a date at any rate later than the fall of the northern kingdom (721 B.C.) more probably also of the southern. The reference in Ezekiel, xiv. 14, 20, to Job should not be pressed, as it involves only a knowledge of the man, not necessarily of any book, still less of our book. Nor can much be made of the parody of Psalm viii. 4 in Job vii. 17, as we have no means of fixing precisely the date of the psalm. Job's lament and curse in ch. iii. are strikingly similar to Jeremiah xx. 14-18, and there can be little doubt that the priority lies on the side of the prophet. Jeremiah was in no mood for quotation, his words are brief and abrupt. The book of Job is a highly artistic poem, and it is much more probable that Job iii. is an elaboration of the passionate words of Jeremiah than that Jeremiah adapted in his sorrow the longer lament of Job. This circumstance would bring us down to a time, at the earliest, very near the exile.

At this point it has to be noted that the discussion of the moral problem in the book of Job is in advance of Jeremiah or Ezekiel. Against the explanation that the children's teeth are set on edge because their fathers have eaten sour grapes, Ezekiel has nothing to offer but a rather mechanical doctrine of strict retribution (ch. xviii.). The book of Job represents a further stage, when that doctrine was seen to be untenable; and the whole question is again boldly raised and still more boldly discussed. This would carry the date below Ezekiel. As the problem in Job is individual, and only indirectly, if at all, a national one—"there was a man in the land of Uz"—the book cannot be earlier than the exile.

But further, there is an unmistakable similarity between the temper of this book and that of the pious in the time of Malachi. "Every one that doeth evil is good in the sight of Jehovah, and He delighteth in them. Where is the God of justice?" Malachi ii. 17. We might fancy we heard the voice of Job; and almost more plainly in Malachi iii. 14, "It is vain to serve God, and what profit is it that we have kept His ordinance?" Equally striking is the similarity between the dialectic temper in Job and Malachi. Everywhere in Malachi occur the phrases, "Ye have said, yet ye say," etc. Good men have not only raised the problem of the moral order, as Habakkuk and Jeremiah had done: they are formally discussing it—exactly the phenomenon which we have in Job and do not have in pre-exilic times. If it be asked why, in that case, there is no trace of influence of Deutero-Isaiah's solution, the answer is that, in any case, that solution stands without serious influence on the subsequent development of religious thought in the Old Testament.

Again, the peculiar boldness of the discussion suggests a post-exilic date. Jeremiah is also very bold, xii. 1, but it is a different type of audacity that expresses itself in the book of Job. Unlike Ecclesiastes in practically everything else, Job is like it in being a sustained and fearless challenge of the phenomena of the moral world. A post-exilic date, and perhaps not a very early one, would seem to be suggested by these phenomena. It is the product not only of an unhappy man, but of an unhappy time, when life is a warfare, vii. 1, and good men are bitter in heart. This date is borne out by the angelology of the book, v. 1, and by its easy use of mythology, iii. 8, xxvi. 5—a mythology which is felt to be completely innocuous, because monotheism is secure beyond the possibility of challenge. It is practically certain that the book falls before Chronicles (circa 300 B.C.) as in 1 Chronicles xxi. 1, Satan is a proper name, whereas in Job the word is still an appellative—he is "the Satan.". Where the evidence is so slender certainty is impossible; but there is a probability that the book may be safely placed somewhere between 450 and 350 B.C. One could conceive it to be, in one sense, a protest against the legalistic conception of religion encouraged by the work of Ezra, and this would admirably fit the date assigned.


The contents of this book justify the description of it in the title, i. 1, as the "loveliest song"—for that is the meaning of the Hebrew idiom "song of songs." It abounds in poetical gems of the purest ray. It breathes the bracing air of the hill country, and the passionate love of man for woman and woman for man. It is a revelation of the keen Hebrew delight in nature, in her vineyards and pastures, flowers and fruit trees, in her doves and deer and sheep and goats. It is a song tremulous from beginning to end with the passion of love; and this love it depicts in terms never coarse, but often frankly sensuous—so frankly sensuous that in the first century its place in the canon was earnestly contested by Jewish scholars. That place was practically settled in 90 A.D. by the Synod of Jamnia, which settled other similar questions; and about 120 A.D. we find a distinguished rabbi maintaining that "the whole world does not outweigh the day when the Song of Songs was given to Israel; while all the Writings are holy, the song is holiest of all." This extravagant language suggests that the canonicity of the song had been strenuously contested; and it may have been a latent sense of the secular origin of the song that led to the prescription that a Jew must not read it till he was thirty years of age. Its place in the canon was no doubt secured for it by two considerations, (i) its reputed Solomonic authorship, (ii) its allegorical interpretation.

The reception of the book in the Canon led, as Siegfried has said, to the most monstrous creations in the history of interpretation. If it be by Solomon, and therefore a holy book, it must be a celebration of divine love, not of human. So it was argued; and the theme of the book was regarded as the love of Jehovah for Israel. Christian interpreters, following this hint of their Jewish predecessors, applied it to the love of Christ for His church or for the individual soul. The allegorical view of the poem has many parallels in the mystic poetry of the East, and it even finds a slender support in Hosea's comparison of the relation of Jehovah to Israel as a marriage relationship; but taking into account the general nature of the poem, and the tendencies of the Hebrew mind, it may be fairly said that the allegorical interpretation is altogether impossible. Any love poem would be equally capable of such an interpretation.

Another view, first hinted at in a phrase of Origen, is that the book is a drama, a view which has held the field—not without challenge—for over a century. There is much in the language of the song to suggest this: it is obvious, e.g., that there is occasional dialogue, i. 15, 16, ii. 2, 3, but the actual story of the drama was very far from clear. The older view was that it was a story of Solomon's love for a peasant girl, and of his redemption from his impure loves by his affection for her. But as in viii. 11 f. and elsewhere, Solomon is spoken of by way of contrast, room must be made for a third person, the shepherd lover of the peasant maid; and, with much variety of detail, the supporters of the dramatic theory now adhere in general to the view that the poem celebrates the fidelity of a peasant maid who had been captured and brought to Solomon's harem, but who steadily resisted his blandishments and was finally restored to her shepherd lover. The book becomes thus not a triumph of love over lust, but of love over temptation. The story is very pretty; but the objections to it and to the dramatic view of the book are all but insuperable. It must be confessed that, to arrive at such a story at all, a good deal has to be read between the lines, and interpreters usually find what they bring; but the most fatal objection to it is that the text in vi. 12, on which the whole story turns—the maiden's surprise in the orchard by the retinue of the king—is so disjointed and obscure that the attempt to translate it has been abandoned by many competent scholars.

Apart from that, the story can hardly be said to be probable. "She, my dove, is but one," vi. 9, would sound almost comical upon the lips of one who possessed the harem of vi. 8. But in any case, it is almost inconceivable that Solomon would have taken a refusal from a peasant girl: Oriental kings were not so scrupulous. Again, it is very hard to detect any progress on the dramatic view of the book. Ch. viii. with its innocent expression of an early love, follows ch. vii., which is sensuous to the last degree. Further, in the absence of stage directions, every commentator divides the verses among the characters in a way of his own: the opening words of the song, i. 2a, may be interpreted in three or four different ways, and equal possibilities of interpretation abound throughout the song. Of course the difficulties are not quite so great in the Hebrew as in the English (e.g. i. 15 must be spoken by the bridegroom and i. 16 by the bride), but they are great enough. Again, how are we to conceive of so short a play—ll6 lines—being divided into acts and scenes? for the scenes are continually changing, and the longest would not last more than two minutes. It would not be fair to lay too much stress upon the fact that there is no other illustration of a purely Semitic drama; that would be to argue that, if a thing did not happen twice, it did not happen once. Nevertheless, coupled with the untold difficulties and confusions that arise from regarding the song as a drama, the absence of a Semitic parallel is significant.

The true view of this perplexing book appears to be that it is, as Herder called it, "a string of pearls"—an anthology of love or wedding songs sung during the festivities of the "king's week," as the first week after the wedding is called in Syria. Very great probability has been added to this view by the observations of Syrian customs made by Wetzstein in his famous essay on "The Syrian Threshing-board," and first thoroughly applied by Budde to the interpretation of the Song. Syrian weddings, we are told, usually took place in March, ii. 11ff. The threshing-floor is set on a sort of platform on the threshing-board covered with carpets and pillows; and upon this throne, the "king and queen," i.e. the bride and bridegroom, are seated, while the guests honour them with song, game and dance. This lasts for seven days (cf. Gen. xxix. 27; Jud. xiv. 12); and the theory is that in the Song of Songs we have specimens of the songs sung on such an occasion. In particular, it is practically certain that vi. 13-vii. 9 is the song which accompanied the "sword-dance" (as the last words of vi. 13 should probably be translated) performed by the bride on the eve of her wedding day. This would explain the looseness of the arrangement, no special attempt being made to unify the songs, though it may be conceded that the noble eulogy of love in viii. 6, 7, as it is the finest utterance in the book, was probably intended as a sort of climax.

The king, then, is not Solomon, but the peasant bridegroom, who enjoys the regal dignity, and even the name of Israel's most splendid monarch, iii. 7, 9, for the space of a week. Ch. iii. 11, with its reference to the bridegroom's crown (cf. Isa. lxi. 10), is all but conclusive proof that the hero is not king Solomon, but another sort of bridegroom. His bride, perhaps a plain country girl, counts for the week as the maid of Shulem, vi. 13, i.e. Abishag, once the fairest maid in Israel (vi. 1, I Kings i. 3). So throughout the "king's week" everything is transfigured and takes on the colours of royal magnificence: the threshing-board becomes a palanquin, and the rustic bodyguard appear as a band of valiant warriors, iii. 7, 8. There is a charming naivete, and indeed something much profounder, in this temporary transformation of those humble rustic lives. We are involuntarily reminded of scenes in A Midsummer Night's Dream. This view of the book has commended itself to scholars like Noldeke, who formerly championed the dramatic theory, though two of the latest writers[1] have argued skilfully against it. [Footnote 1: Harper, in the Cambridge Bible "Song of Songs," and Rothstein, in Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible.]

The following may be taken as an approximate division of the songs, though some of the longer sections might easily be regarded as a combination of two or three songs. The bride praises the bridegroom, modestly depreciates her own beauty, and asks where her bridegroom is to be found, i. 2-8. Each sings the other's praises: the happiness of the bride, i. 9-ii. 7. A spring wooing, ii. 8-17. The bride's dream, iii. 1-5. The bridegroom's procession, iii. 6-11. The charms of the bride, iv. 1-v. 1. The beauty of the bridegroom, v. 2-vi. 3. Praise of the bride, vi. 4-12. Praise of the bride as she dances the sword-dance, vii. 1-10. The bride's longing, vii. 11-viii. 4. The incomparable power of love, viii. 5-7. The bride's proud reply to her brothers, viii. 8-10. The two vineyards, viii. 11, 12. Conclusion, viii. 13, 14.

The immortal verses in praise of love, viii. 6, 7, show that, in spite of its often sensuous expression, the love here celebrated is not only pure but exclusive; and the book, which once was regarded as a satire on the court of Solomon, would in any case make in favour of monogamic sentiment, and tend to ennoble ideals in a country where marriage was simply regarded as a contract.

The mention of Israel's ancient capital Tirzah in vi. 4 (if the text be correct) as a parallel to Jerusalem, would alone be enough to bring the date below Solomon's time (cf. 1 Kings xiv. 17, xvi. 23). But it is no doubt much later. The Persian word pardes in iv. 13 appears to imply the Persian period, and is used elsewhere only in post-exilic books (Neh. ii. 8; Eccles. ii. 5). Indeed the word appirion in iii. 9 appears to be the Hebraized form of a Greek word phoreion, and if so would almost necessarily imply the Greek period, though the Hebrews may have been acquainted with Greek words, through the Greek settlements in Egypt, as early as the sixth century B.C. Many of the words and constructions, however, are demonstrably late and Aramaic; and the linguistic evidence alone (unless we assume an earlier book to have been worked over in later times) would put the Song hardly earlier than the fourth century B.C. Yet the fact that though a secular writing, it is in Hebrew and not Aramaic, which was rapidly gaining ground, shows that it can hardly be brought down much later. On the whole, probably it is to be placed somewhere between 400 and 300; and its sunny vivacity thus becomes a welcome foil to the austerity of the post-exilic age. If this argument is sound, it follows that the book cannot have been by Solomon. The superscription, i. 1, was no doubt added by a later hand on the basis of the many references to Solomon in the book, iii. 7-11, viii. 11 f, and of the statement in 1 Kings iv. 32 that he was the author of 1,005 songs.

Where the songs were composed we cannot tell. The scenes they reflect so vividly are rather those of Israel than of Judah, but the repeated allusions to the daughters of Jerusalem would be most naturally explained if the songs came from Jerusalem or its neighbourhood. With this agree the references to Engedi, Heshbon, Kedar, while the northern places mentioned, Lebanon, Hermon, Gilead, Damascus, are such as would be familiar, at any rate, by reputation, to a Judean.


Goethe has characterized the book of Ruth as the loveliest little idyll that tradition has transmitted to us. Whatever be its didactic purpose—and some would prefer to think that it had little or none-it is, at any rate, a wonderful prose poem, sweet, artless, and persuasive, touched with the quaintness of an older world and fresh with the scent of the harvest fields. The love—stronger than country—of Ruth for Naomi, the gracious figure of Boaz as he moves about the fields with a word of blessing for the reapers, the innocent scheming of Naomi to secure him as a husband for Ruth—these and a score of similar touches establish the book for ever in the heart of all who love nobility and romance.

The inimitable grace and tenderness of the story are dissipated in a summary, but the main facts are these. A man of Bethlehem, with his wife Naomi and two sons, is driven by stress of famine to Moab, where the sons marry women of the land. In course of time, father and sons die, and Naomi resolves to return home. Ruth, one of her daughters-in-law, accompanies her, in spite of Naomi's earnest entreaty that she should remain in her own land. In Bethlehem, Ruth receives peculiar kindness from Boaz, a wealthy landowner, who happens to be a kinsman of Naomi; and Naomi, with a woman's happy instinct, devises a plan for bringing Boaz to declare himself a champion and lover of Ruth. The plan is successful. A kinsman nearer than Boaz refuses to claim his rights by marrying her, and the way is left open for Boaz. He accordingly marries Ruth, who thus becomes the ancestress of the great King David.

Why was this story told? The question of its object is to some extent bound up with the question of date; and for several reasons, this appears to be late. (1) In the Greek, Latin and modern Bibles, Ruth is placed after Judges; in the Hebrew Bible it is placed towards the end, among the Writings, i.e. the last division, in which, speaking generally, only late books appear. Had the book been pre-exilic, it is natural to suppose that it would have been placed after Judges in the second division. Some indeed maintain that this is its original position; but it is easier to account for its transference from the third division to the second, as a foil to the war-like episodes of the judges, than for its transference from the second to the third. (2) The argument from language is perhaps not absolutely decisive, but, on the whole, it is scarcely compatible with an early date. Some words are pure Aramaic, and some of the Hebrew usages do not appear in early literature, e.g., "fall," in the sense of "fall out, issue, happen," iii. 18. (3) The opening words—"In the days when the judges judged," i. 1—suggest not only that those days are past, but that they are regarded as a definite period falling within an historical scheme. The book must be, at any rate, as late as David—for it describes Ruth as his ancestress, iv. l7—and probably much later, as the implication is that it is a great thing to be the ancestress of David. The reverence of a later age for the great king shines through the simple genealogical notice with which the story concludes.[1] (4) Further, the old custom of throwing away the shoe as a symbol of the abandonment of one's claim to property, a custom familiar in the seventh century B.C. (Deut. xxv. 9f.) is in iv. 7 regarded as obsolete, belonging to the "former time." The cumulative effect of these indications is strongly to suggest a post-exilic date. Not perhaps, however, a very late one: a book as late as the Maccabean period would hardly have reflected so kindly a feeling towards the foreigner (cf. Esther). [Footnote 1: Probably iv. 18-22 is a later addition, but that does not affect the general argument (cf. v.17).]

The story probably rests upon a basis of fact. David's conduct in putting his parents under the protection of the king of Moab (I Sam. xxii. 3, 4) would find its simplest explanation, if he had been connected in some way with Moab, as the book of Ruth represents him to have been; whereas a later age would hardly have dared to invent a Moabite ancestress for him, had there been no tradition to that effect.

The object of the book has been supposed by some to be to commend the so-called levirate marriage. This is improbable: not so much because the marriage was not strictly levirate, since neither Boaz nor the kinsman was the brother-in-law of Ruth—it would be fair enough to regard this as a legitimate extension of the principle of levirate marriage, whose object was to perpetuate the dead man's name—but rather because this is a comparatively subordinate element in the story.

The true explanation is no doubt to be sought in the fact that Ruth the Moabitess is counted worthy to be an ancestress of David; and, if the book be post-exilic, its religious significance is at once apparent. It was in all probability the dignified answer of a man of prophetic instincts to the rigorous measures of Ezra, which demanded the divorce of all foreign women (Ezra ix. x, cf. Neh. xiii. 23ff.); for it can hardly be doubted that there is a delicate polemic in the repeated designation of Ruth as the Moabitess, i. 22, ii. 2, 6, 21, iv. 5, 10—she even calls herself the "stranger," ii. 10. It would be pleasant to think that the writer had himself married one of these foreign women. In any case, he champions their cause not only with generosity but with insight; for he knows that some of them have faith enough to adopt Israel's God as their God, i. 16, and that even a Moabitess may be an Israelite indeed. Ezra's severe legislation was inspired by the worthy desire to preserve Israel's religion from the peril of contagion: the author of Ruth gently teaches that the foreign woman is not an inevitable peril, she may be loyal to Israel and faithful to Israel's God. The writer dares to represent the Moabitess as eating with the Jews, ii. l4—winning by her ability, resource and affection, the regard of all, and counted by God worthy to be the mother of Israel's greatest king. The generous type of religion represented by the book of Ruth is a much needed and very attractive complement to the stern legalism of Ezra.


The book familiarly known as the Lamentations consists of four elegies[1] (i., ii., iii., iv.) and a prayer (v.). The general theme of the elegies is the sorrow and desolation created by the destruction of Jerusalem[2] in 586 B.C.: the last poem (v.) is a prayer for deliverance from the long continued distress. The elegies are all alphabetic, and like most alphabetic poems (cf. Ps. cxix.) are marked by little continuity of thought. The first poem is a lament over Jerusalem, bereft, by the siege, of her glory and her sanctuary, i. 1-11, though the bitter and comfortless doom which she bewails in i. 12-22, is regarded as the divine penalty for her sin, i. 5, 8. Similarly in ii. 1-10 her sorrow and suffering are admitted to be a divine judgment. Her shame and distress are inconsolable, ii. 11-17, and she appeals to her God to look upon her in her agony, ii. 18-22. The third poem, probably the latest in the book, represents the city, after a bitter lament, iii. 1-21, as being inspired, by the thought of the love of God, to submission and hope, iii. 22-36. A prayer of penitence and confession, iii. 37-54, is followed by a petition for vengeance upon the adversaries, iii. 55-66. The fourth poem, like the second, offers a very vivid picture of the sorrows and horrors of the siege: it laments, in detail, the fate of the people, iv. 1-6, the princes, iv. 7-11, the priests and the prophets, iv. 12-16, and the king, iv. 17-20, and ends with a prophecy of doom upon the Edomites, iv. 21, 22, who behaved so cruelly after the siege (Ps, cxxxvii. 7). In the last poem the city, after piteously lamenting her manifold sorrows, v. 1-18, beseeches the everlasting God for deliverance therefrom, v. 19-22. [Footnote 1: In the Hebrew elegiac metre, as in the Greek and Latin, the second line is shorter than the first—usually three beats followed by two.] [Footnote 2: An unconvincing attempt has been made to refer the last two chapters to the Maccabean age—about 170 B.C.]

A very old and by no means unreasonable tradition assigns the authorship of the book to Jeremiah. In the Greek version it is introduced by the words—which appear to go back to a Hebrew original—"And it came to pass, after Israel had been led captive and Jerusalem made desolate, that Jeremiah sat down weeping, and lifted up this lament over Jerusalem and said." This view of the authorship is as old as the Chronicler, who in 2 Chronicles xxxv. 25 seems to refer the book to Jeremiah, probably regarding iv. 20, which refers to Zedekiah, as an allusion to Josiah. Chs. ii. and iv. especially are so graphic that they must have been written by an eye-witness who had seen the temple desecrated and who had himself tasted the horrors of a siege, in which the mothers had eaten their own children for very hunger. The passionate love, too, for the people, which breathes through the elegies might well be Jeremiah's; and the ascription of the calamity to the sin of the people, i. 5, 8, is in the spirit of the prophet.

Nevertheless, it is not certain, or even very probable, that Jeremiah is the author. Unlike the Greek and the English Bible, the Hebrew Bible does not place the Lamentations immediately after Jeremiah but in the third division, among the Writings, so that there is really no initial presumption in favour of the Jeremianic authorship. Again, Jeremiah could hardly have said that "the prophets find no vision from Jehovah," ii. 8, nor described the vacillating Zedekiah as "the breath of our nostrils," iv. 20, nor attributed the national calamities to the sins of the fathers, v. 7 Other features in the situation presupposed by ch. v. appear to imply a time later than Jeremiah's, v. 18,20, and it is very unlikely that one who was so sorely smitten as Jeremiah by the inconsolable sorrow of Jerusalem would have expressed his grief in alphabetic elegies: men do not write acrostics when their hearts are breaking. When we add to this that chs. ii. and iv. which stand nearest to the calamity appear to betray dependence on Ezekiel (ii. 14, iv. 20, Ezek. xxii. 28, xix, 24, etc.) there is little probability that the poems are by Jeremiah.

It is not even certain that they are all from the same hand, as, unless we transpose two verses, the alphabetic order of the first poem differs from that of the other three, and the number of elegiacs—three—in each verse of the first two poems, differs from the number—one—in the third, and two in the fourth. In the third poem each letter has three verses to itself; in the other three poems, only one.

Ch. iii. with its highly artificial structure and its tendency to sink into the gnomic style, iii. 26ff., is probably remotest of all from the calamity.[1] Considering the general hopelessness of the outlook, chs. ii. and iv. at any rate, which are apparently the earliest, were probably composed before the pardon of Jehoiachin in 561 B.C. (2 Kings xxv. 27) when new possibilities began to dawn for the exiles. 580-570 may be accepted as a probable date. The calamity is near enough to be powerfully felt, yet remote enough to be an object of poetic contemplation. The other poems are no doubt later: ch. v. may as well express the sorrow of the returned exiles as the sorrow of the exile itself. More than this we cannot say. [Footnote 1: The intensely personal words at the beginning of ch. iii. are, no doubt, to be interpreted collectively. The "man who has seen affliction" is not Jeremiah, but the community, Cf. v. 14, "I am become the laughing stock of all nations" (emended text). Cf. also v. 45.]

The older parts of the book, whether written in Egypt, Babylon, or more probably in Judah, are of great historic value, as offering minute and practically contemporary evidence for the siege of Jerusalem (cf. ii. 9-12) and as reflecting the hopelessness which followed it. Yet the hopelessness is by no means unrelieved. Besides the prayer to God who abideth for ever, v. 19, is the general teaching that good may be won from calamity, in. 24-27, and, above all, the beautiful utterance that "the love of Jehovah never ceases[1] and His pity never fails," iii. 22. [Footnote 1: Grammar and parallelism alike suggest the emendation on which the above translation rests.]


It is not surprising that the book of Ecclesiastes had a struggle to maintain its place in the canon, and it was probably only its reputed Solomonic authorship and the last two verses of the book that permanently secured its position at the synod of Jamnia in 90 A.D. The Jewish scholars of the first century A.D. were struck by the manner in which it contradicted itself: e.g., "I praised the dead more than the living," iv. 2, "A living dog is better than a dead lion," ix. 4; but they were still more distressed by the spirit of scepticism and "heresy" which pervaded the book (cf. xi. 9 with Num. xv. 39).

In spite of the opening verse, it is very plain that Solomon could not have been the author of the book. Not only in i. 12 is his reign represented as over—I was king—though Solomon was on the throne till his death, but in i. 16, ii. 7, 9, he is contrasted with all—apparently all the kings—that were before him in Jerusalem, though his own father was the founder of the dynasty. There is no probability that Solomon would have so scathingly assailed the administration of justice for which he himself was responsible, as is done in iii. 16, iv. i, v. 8. The sigh in xii. 12 over the multiplicity of books is thoroughly inappropriate to the age of Solomon.

Indeed the whole manner in which the problem is attacked is inappropriate to so early a stage of literary and religious development. But it was by a singularly happy stroke that Solomon was chosen by a later thinker as the mouthpiece of his reflections on life; for Solomon, with his wealth, buildings, harem, magnificence, had had opportunity to test life at every point, and his exceptional wisdom would give unique value to his judgment.

Ecclesiastes is undoubtedly one of the latest books in the Old Testament. The criteria for determining the date are chiefly three. (1) Linguistic. Alike in its single words (e.g., preference for abstract nouns ending in uth) its syntax (e.g., the almost entire absence of waw conversive) and its general linguistic character, the book illustrates the latest development of the Hebrew language. There are not a few words which occur elsewhere only in Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther: there are some pure Aramaic words, some words even which belong to the Hebrew of the Mishna. Even if we allow an early international use of Aramaic, the corrupt Hebrew of the book would alone compel us to place it very late. Some have sought to strengthen the argument for a late date from the presence of Greek influence on the language of the book, e.g., in such phrases as "under the sun," "to behold the sun," "the good which is also beautiful," v. 18; but, probable as it may be, it is not certain that there are Graecisms in the language of Ecclesiastes.[1] [Footnote 1: Cf. A. H. McNeile, Introduction to Ecclesiastes, p. 43.]

(2) Historical. There is much interesting detail which is clearly a transcript of the author's experience: the slaves he had seen on horseback, x. 7, the poor youth who became king, iv. 13-16 (cf. ix. 14ff.). These incidents, however, are too lightly touched, and we know too little of the history of the period, to be able to locate them definitely. The woe upon the land whose king is a child, x. 16, has been repeatedly connected with the time of Ptolemy V. Epiphanes (205-181 B.C.), the last of his house who ruled over Palestine and who at his father's death was little over four years old. However that may be, the general historical background is unmistakably that of the late post-exilic age. The book bears the stamp of an evil time, when injustice and oppression were the order of the day, iii. 16, iv. 1, v. 8, government was corrupt and disorderly and speech dangerous, x. 20. The allusions would suit the last years of the Persian empire (333); but if, as the linguistic evidence suggests, the book is later, it can hardly be placed before 250 B.C., as during the earlier years of the Greek period, Palestine was not unhappy.

(3) Philosophical. The speculative mood of the book marks it as late. Though not an abstract discussion—the Old Testament is never abstract—it is more abstract than the kindred discussion in the book of Job. It is hard to believe that Ecclesiastes was not affected by the Greek philosophical influences of the time. If it be not necessary to trace its contempt of the world to Stoicism, or its inculcation of the wise enjoyment of the passing moment directly to Epicureanism, at least an indirect influence can hardly be denied. Greek thought was spreading as the Greek language was; and the scepticism of Ecclesiastes, though not without parallels in earlier stages of Hebrew literature, yet here assumes a deliberate, sustained and all but philosophic form, which finds its most natural explanation in the profound and pervasive influence of Greek philosophy—an influence which could hardly be escaped by an age in which books had multiplied and study been prosecuted till it was a burden, xii. 12.

This "charming book," as Renan calls it, has in many ways more affinity with the modern mind than any other in the Old Testament. It is weary with the weight of an insoluble problem. With a cold-blooded frankness, which is not cynical, only because it is so earnest, it faces the stern facts of human life, without being able to bring to their interpretation the sublime inspirations of religion. More than once is the counsel given to fear God, but it is not offered as a solution of the riddle. The world is crooked, i. 15, vii. 13, and no change is possible, iii. 1-8. It is a weary round of contradictions, birth and death, peace and war, the former state annihilated by the latter; and by reason of the fixity of these contradictions and the certainty of that annihilation, all human effort is vain, iii. 9. It is all alike vanity—not only the meaner struggles for food and drink and pleasure (ii.) but even the nobler ambitions of the soul, such as its yearning for wisdom and knowledge. Whether we turn to the physical or the moral world it is all the same. There is no goal in nature (i.): history runs on and runs nowhere. All effort is swallowed up by death. Man is no better than a beast, iii. 19; beyond the grave there is nothing. Everywhere is disillusionment, and woman is the bitterest of all, vii. 26. The moral order is turned upside down. Wrong is for ever on the throne. Providence, if there be such a thing, seems to be on the side of cruelty. Tears stand on many a face, but the mourners must remain uncomforted, iv. 1. The just perish and the wicked live long, vii. 15. The good fare as the bad ought to fare, and the bad as the good, viii. 14. Better be dead than live in such a world, iv. 2; nay, better never have been born at all, vi. 3. For all is vanity: that is the beginning of the matter, i. 2, it is no less the end, xii. 8. Over every effort and aspiration is wrung this fearful knell.

Sad conclusion anywhere, but especially sad for a Jew to reach! Indeed he contradicts some of the dearest and most fundamental tenets of the Jewish faith. Many a devout contemporary must have been horrified at the dictum that man had no pre-eminence above a beast, or that the world, which he had been taught to believe was very good (Gen. i, 31) was one great vanity. The preacher could not share the high hopes of a Messianic kingdom to come, of resurrection and immortality, which consoled and inspired many men of his day. To him life was nothing but dissatisfaction ending in annihilation. If this is not pessimism, what is?

But is this all? Not exactly. For "the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun," xi. 7. Over and over again the counsel is given to eat and drink and enjoy good, ii. 24; and despite the bitter criticism of woman already alluded to, a wife can make life more than tolerable, ix. 9. Nor does the book display the thorough-going rejection of religion which the previous sketch of it would have led us to expect. It is pessimistic, but not atheistic; nay, it believes not only in God but in a judgment, iii. 17, xi. 9b, though not necessarily in the hereafter. There is considerable extravagance in Cornill's remark that "never did Old Testament piety celebrate a greater triumph than in the book of Ecclesiastes"; but there is enough to show that the book is, after its own peculiar melancholy fashion, a religious book. It is significant, however, that the context of the word God, which only occurs some twenty times, is often very sombre. He it is who has "given travail to the sons of men to be exercised therewith," i. 13, iii. 10, cf. esp. iii. 18. Again, if the writer has any real belief in a day of judgment, why should he so persistently emphasize the resultlessness of life and deny the divine government of the world? "The fate of all is the same-just and unjust, pure and impure. As fares the good, so fares the sinner," ix. 2. This is a direct and deliberate challenge of the law of retribution in which the writer had been brought up. It may be urged, of course, that his belief in a divine judgment is a postulate of his faith which he retains, though he does not find it verified by experience. But such words—and there are many such—seem to carry us much farther. Here, then, is the essential problem of the book. Can it be regarded as a unity?

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