Page images
PDF
EPUB

suggesting occasionally a reconsideration of some question, or a fuller treatment of difficult passages, and the like.

Beyond this he has not attempted to interfere, feeling it better that each Commentary should have its own individual character, and being convinced that freshness and variety of treatment are than a compensation for any lack of uniformity in the Series.

more

DEANERY, PETERBOROUGH.

PREFACE.

AMONG the many enigmas of the Old Testament the book of Ecclesiastes is pre-eminently enigmatic. It comes before us as the sphinx of Hebrew literature, with its unsolved riddles of history and life. It has become almost a proverb that every interpreter of this book thinks that all previous interpreters have been wrong. Its very title has received some dozen discordant interpretations. The dates assigned to its authorship by competent experts range over very nearly a thousand years, from B.C. 990 to B.C. 10. Not less has been the divergence of opinion as to its structure and its aims. It has been regarded as a formal treatise, or as a collection of unconnected thoughts and maxims, like the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, or Pascal's Pensées, or Hare's Guesses at Truth; or as a dialogue, though without the names of the interlocutors, after the manner of Plato; or like the discussions between the Dotto and the Ignorante, that form a prominent feature in the teaching of the Italian Jesuits, and in which the writer holds free debate with his opponents'. Those who take the latter view are, unfortunately, divided among themselves as to which interlocutor in the dialogue represents the views of the writer, and

1 See Ginsburg's exhaustive survey of the literature of Ecclesiastes in the Introduction to his Commentary. Herder may be named as the author of the Dialogue theory, but he has been followed by many others.

[ocr errors]

which those that he is seeking to refute'. As to the drift of the book, we meet with every conceivable variety of hypothesis more or less skilfully maintained. Men have seen in it the confessions of the penitent and converted Solomon', or a bitter cynical pasquinade on the career of Herod the Greato, or a Chesterfield manual of policy and politesse for those who seek their fortune in the palaces of kings*. It has been made to teach a cloistral asceticismo, or a healthy life of natural enjoyment, or a license like that of a St Simonian “rehabilitation of the flesh?.” Those who looked on one side of the shield have found in it a direct and earnest apologia for the doctrine of the immortality of the soul®; those who approached it from the other were not less sure that it was a polemic protest against that doctrine as it was taught by Pharisees or Essenes. The writer aimed at leading men to seek the things eternal, or sought to draw them away from the cloudland of the unknown that men call eternity. Dogmatism and scepticism have alike claimed the author as their champion. It has been made to teach the mysteries of the Trinity and the Atonement", or to rebuke the presumption that speculates on those mysteries. It has been identified

1 One school, e.g., maintains that the seemingly Epicurean sentiments, another that the gloomier views of life, are stated only to be rejected (Ginsburg, ut supra).

2 This is, I need hardly say, the current traditional interpretation of Jewish and Patristic and early Protestant writers (Ginsburg, ut supra).

3 Grätz, Comm. on Koheleth, p. 13.
4 Jacobi, quoted by Ginsburg, p. 186.

5 The view was that of Jerome, Augustine, and the whole crowd of Patristic and mediæval interpreters.

6 Luther, Comm. on Eccles. 7 Grätz, Commentary, p. 26.

8 So most Patristic and early Protestant scholars; and Hengstenberg and Delitzsch among those of our own time.

9 So emphatically Grätz, p. 28. 10 See the Commentaries of Jerome, Augustine, and others of the same school, as collected by Pineda.

alike with the Creed of Athanasius and with that of the Agnostic.

Think, too, for a moment of the varying aspects which it presents to us when we come in contact with it, not as handled by professed interpreters, but as cropping up here and there in the pages of history, or the lives of individual men. We think of Gelimer, the Vandal king', led in chains in the triumph of Belisarius, and, as he walked on without a tear and without a sigh, finding a secret consolation in the oft-echoed burden of “ Vanitas vanitatum! omnia vanitas /or of Jerome reading the book with his disciple Blæsilla, that he might persuade her to renounce those vanities for the life of the convent at Bethlehemo; or of Thomas à Kempis taking its watchword as the text of the De Imitatione Christi; or of Laud writing to Strafford when the policy of “Thorough” had broken down, and counselling him to turn for consolation to its pages. We remember how Luther found in it a healthy Politica or Economica, the very mirror of magistracy and active life, as contrasted with that of the monks and friars who opposed him“; how Voltaire dedicated his paraphrase of it to Frederick II., as that of a book which was the king's favourite study. It has, in the history of our own literature, been versified by poets as widely contrasted as Quarles and Prior. It has furnished a name to the “ Vanity Fair" of Bunyan and of Thackeray; and the latter in a characteristic poeme has moralized his song on the theme of its Mataiotes Mataiotētôn. Pascal found in it the echo of the restless scepticism which drove him to take refuge

3

1 Gibbon, c. XLI.

2 Hieron. Præf. in Eccles. Mozley, Essays, I. p. 60. 4 Luther, Præf. in Eccles. 5 Voltaire, Euvres, Vol. x. p. 258 (ed. 1819).

Thackeray, Ballads and Tales, 1869, p. 233.

6

from the uncertainty that tormented him apart from God, in the belief that God had revealed Himself, and that the Church of Rome was the witness and depository of that revelation'. Renan, lastly, looks on it as the only charming work—le seul livre aimable-that has ever been written by a Jew, and with his characteristic insight into the subtle variations of human nature, strives to represent to himself St Paul in his declining years—if only he had been of another race and of another temperament, i.e. if he had been quite another Paul than we have known—as at last discovering, désillusionné of the “sweet Galilean vision,” that he had wasted his life on a dream, and turning from all the Prophets to a book which till then he had scarcely read, even the book Ecclesiastes?.

It will be seen from the Introduction to this volume that I am not satisfied to rest altogether in any of these conclusions. I can honestly say that I have worked through the arguments by which the writers have supported them and have not found them satisfy the laws of evidence or the conditions of historical probability. It lies in the nature of the case that, as I have studied the book, month after month, I have felt its strangely fascinating and, so to speak, zymotic power, that side-lights have fallen on it now from this quarter and now from that, that suggestive coincidences have shewed themselves between its teaching and that of other writings in Hebrew, or Greek, or later literature, that while much remained that, like parts of St Paul's Epistles, was “hard to be understood” (2 Pet. iii. 16), much also seemed to become clear.

was not altogether without a plan," and there was, at least, a partial clue to the intricate windings of the labyrinth. It

The 66

maze"

[blocks in formation]
« PreviousContinue »