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In this work the Authors have chiefly had in view the requirements of two distinct classes of readers. The want of a critical English Commentary on the Psalms has long been felt by such Hebrew students here and elsewhere, as are unable to grapple with the German Commentators, and find no satisfaction in the semi-homiletic commentaries in their own language. Such students generally fall back upon the somewhat antiquated Latin volumes of Rosenmüller, or upon the English translation of Delitzsch's Commentary, the faults of which-baldness of style and occasional obscurity of thought-appear yet more pronounced when reproduced in English.
Besides these, there are a great many theological students who, though unable to devote time to the study of Hebrew, have a natural wish to know what the Poetry which in our translations appears so unintelligible really means. For the convenience of such persons we have made the Authorized Version the basis of our Commentary, giving our own translation only in the passages where this Version fails to express the meaning accurately and intelligibly.
We are gratified to learn that by students of both classes the Parts already published (Books III., IV., v.) have been deemed of service.
A few words as to the principle on which this work has been conducted. We believe that the expositor of Hebrew books-sacred or secular—must bring to his task such acquirements and the same critical principles as are required of the expositor of Greek or Latin works. He must have mastered the language not only in the classical form, which is the immediate subject of treatment, but also in those cognate dialects which so frequently illustrate both the thought and the idiom the Old Testament. He must know not merely classical Hebrew, but also Chaldee, Syriac, Arabic, and the composite tongue which is the language of Jewish tradition and Jewish exegesis. He must grasp the usages, modes of thought, metaphors, manners of speech, current among the Semitic nations. He must take special heed that he do not confound with these what belongs to the very alien family of Aryan languages, still more that he do not foist into his subject the moral or scientific systems of a later and more civilized age. He must adopt for the time the nationality, age, and position of the writers whose works he is expounding.
The unscholarly character of the ordinary English Commentaries must be our excuse for enunciating such very obvious elementary principles. Until lately the principle on which our Commentaries were written might have been expressed thus: “These are religious books, therefore every religious man is qualified to interpret them.” Even now there survives in some quarters the erroneous idea that the saintly characters of the Christian Church, the Fathers, who were almost to a man wholly ignorant of Hebrew, and only acquainted with such miserable versions of the Psalter as the LXX. and the translations made from it, are to be accepted as qualified, nay, authoritative expositors. It would be cruel to quote the extraordinary blunders which appear on every page of Dr Neale's amalgam of Patristic expositions, to illustrate the true worth of the Fathers as exegetes. We regret to see that Bp. Wordsworth, who according to our principle should have confined his attention to the Greek Testament, has also frequently followed, and so been misled, by the same principle.
Of a very different character is the useful commentary of Professor Perowne, who may at least take credit for being the earliest English interpreter of the German criticism of the Psalter. The line here struck out is the true one, and though we consider that this Commentary shews more of appropriative skill than of originality and scholarly grasp, at all events those whom the author reproduces are themselves Semitic scholars, in whom aberration is the rare exception, not the rule. The great fault in this work is its deficiency in judicial power and critical acumen. Difficulties are enunciated rather than thought out, explanatory theories are enumerated rather than estimated. A commentary should not dogmatize unnecessarily, but it should surely tend wherever possible είς διακρίσεις διαλογισμών. Perhaps also it may be said that the lengthy homiletic and devotional dissertations of this work are out of place. They are well written, but express nothing but what the student who has studied the actual commentary already knows. Dr Kay's commentary, though very meagre, is also conducted on sound principles. If we believe that such expositors have not satisfied the needs of students of the kind defined above, it is not because we are at variance with them on fundamental questions.
The leading Jewish exegetes, an intimate acquaintance with whose works is of course indispensable to any one who attempts to comment on the Psalms, have been enumerated in our general Introduction. It only remains to express our obligations to such commentators as Delitzsch, Hupfeld, Hitzig, and to a less extent, Ewald. The last named will seldom be found of great service to any sober critic. The very powers which make him sometimes a guide, always a suggestive writer, in matters of Hebrew history, render him unfit to cope with the more matter-of-fact details of Hebrew literature, and as a commentator he cannot claim a place in the foremost ranks. This fact has not been sufficiently recognized, we believe, in England.
Our best thanks are due to the readers at the Pitt Press for the great care which they have shewn in supervising the issue of the several Parts.
CAMBRIDGE, Feb. 1877.
J. L. P.
Vol. I. Page 240, line 3; for “yachil” read "yåchfl.” Vol. II. Page 2, line 23; for “líth” read “layth.”
12, lines 6 and 7; read "van-nîrâm, Numb. xxi. 30." 18, line 23; for “Sennacherib” read “Hezekiah.” 30, I; read “narrowness.” 152, 2 of Commentary; for “lxxxvi.” read “xcvi.” 176, 9; for “bâtooah” read “bâtooach.” 223, 7; for “Psalms" read “Psalm.” 224, 3; for “most” read “many." 352, I of Introduction; for "cxliii.” read “cxlii.”
THE 'sword song’of Lamech (Gen. iv. 23, 24) is generally allowed to be the oldest extant specimen of Hebrew Poetry. The magnificent song of Moses' on the overthrow of Pharaoh's hosts (Exod. xv.) probably ranks next in point of antiquity. Fragments of ancient Poetry, apparently quoted from compositions in common use, are incorporated in the Pentateuch narrative. We may notice the citation from the Book of the “Wars of Jehovah,” Numb. xxi. 14, 15, and that from the Song of the Well, Numb. xxi. 17, 18, a piece which apparently originated in the episode narrated in the context. The most noted poems from this period to that of David are, Psalm xc. (if not a posthumous imitation of the Mosaic style), the song of Moses in Deut. xxxii., the song of Deborah in Judges v., and the hymn of Hannah, 1 Sam. ii. 1-10. Little attention appears to have been paid during this epoch to the art of Poetry. Its productions are generally evoked by startling historical occurrences.
David stands in the same position to the Hebrew lyric as Shakspere to our dramatic poetry. At his bidding the art springs up suddenly into maturity, and he becomes the model of succeeding Poets. As well by the quantity and variety, as by the quality of his compositions, he stands pre-eminent among the Hebrew Poets. His is the genius which adapts itself with ease to all the varied scenes of life, and is able to clothe in poetic garb subjects widely diverse. Whether it be the beauty of the natural world, or the social abuses which predominate in his little kingdom; whether public religious ceremonial and joyous processions, or solitary musings and disquieting problems of faith; whether Jehovah's majesty and mercy, or the cruelty of such enemies as Saul and Absalom, -the subject which demands his lay is grasped