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A Doubter's Doubts About Science and Religion 12: The "Higher Criticism"

By Robert Anderson


      BIBLE students nowadays seem to be haunted by the grim spectre of the "Higher Criticism." But if instead of running away from ghosts we face them boldly, our fears generally give place to feelings of contempt or indignation. And this is the experience of many who have fearlessly examined what are called "the assured results of modern criticism." The fact that ,these attacks upon the Bible originated with German rationalism formerly barred their acceptance by Christians of the English-speaking world. But in our day they have been accredited by distinguished scholars on both sides of the Atlantic, whose reputation for piety and reverence for things Divine is deemed a guarantee that they are legitimate and harmless.

      I am not referring to that admirable and useful system of Bible study to which the title of Higher Criticism properly belongs, (It has for its aim to settle the human authorship of the sacred books, and the circumstances in which they were written) but to "the Higher Criticism" in inverted commas - a German rationalistic crusade against the Scriptures. The New Testament was at one time its chief objective; and we have seen with what results. The much vaunted conclusions of the Tubingen School of critics are now relegated to the same limbo as the Bathybius of the scientists. And it may be predicted with confidence that a generation hence the present-day attacks upon the Old Testament will be equally discredited. Meanwhile, however, they must be reckoned with.

      But while these attacks cannot be ignored, no one surely will suppose that they can be fully discussed in a brief concluding chapter. My aim here is limited to destructive criticism of the critics. I do not pretend, for example, to establish the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch - that would need a treatise of some magnitude - but the reader will here find proof that "the critical hypothesis of its origin is untenable."

      It is commonly assumed that these "assured results of modern criticism" are the outcome of an honest and impartial examination of the text by Hebrew scholars, whereas in fact the critics began with the "results," and all their labours have been directed to the task of finding facts and arguments to justify them.

      Rationalism gained such as ascendency in the latter part of the eighteenth century that it well-nigh swamped the Christianity of Germany. And Eichhorn, "the founder of Old Testament criticism," took up the task of "winning back the educated classes to religion." To accomplish this it was necessary to bring the Bible down to the level of a purely human book, and therefore every feature savouring of what is called "the supernatural" had to be eliminated. All miracles had, of course, to be got rid of. But the only element of real Higher Criticism in the business was Astruc's discovery, made in the year of Eichhorn's birth, that the early chapters of Genesis are possibly "mosaic" in the secondary sense of that term, and that they incorporated documents of an earlier era.

      Astruc's theory, however, has no bearing upon the issue here involved. For it seems incredible that there was no written revelation before the epoch of the Exodus; and if such a revelation existed, we should naturally expect to find traces of it in Genesis.

      How then was the Pentateuch to be discredited? One scheme after another was broached, as succeeding generations of critics faced the problem; and that which at last gained acceptance was that the books were literary forgeries of the Exilic Era. But let it be kept clearly in view that these various theories were not the outcome of honest inquiry. One and all, they were devised to sustain the foregone conclusion which rendered them necessary. And that conclusion rests on no better foundation than a few isolated and perverted texts. Chief among these is the statement that in Josiah's reign "the book of the law" was found in the Temple - not a very strange discovery, seeing that the law itself ordered it to be kept there! (It was not "a book of the law," as in A.V., but the book: the known record of "the law of the Lord given by Moses," but neglected and forgotten during the apostasy of Manasseh's long and evil reign.) But, it will be said, this implies that our Christian scholars have lent themselves to what is on the face of it a fraud? By no means. The whole business is German from first to last. Our own scholars have not contributed one iota to the " Higher Criticism." The only "independent work" done by them has been to check and verify the labours of the Germans, and this they have done, of course, with skill and care. And as the result they assure us that in their judgment the case has been established against the Mosaic Books.

      But," some one will exclaim, "is not this an end of controversy in the matter? " One might have supposed that the egregious fallacy here involved would be apparent to all thoughtful people. For it assumes that anything supported by a clear and complete case must be true. But no one who is brought before a court of justice, either in a civil action or on a criminal charge, is ever required to open his lips in his defence unless a clear and complete case is established against him - such a case as must, if unanswered, lead to a hostile verdict. And the object of a trial is to sift that case and to hear what is to be said upon the other side. Critics, like the Dreyfus tribunal, took the place of prosecutors; and beginning with a hostile verdict, they then set to work to justify it. This is not rhetoric but fact. It was essential to their purpose to prove that the Bible is purely human. And therefore, as no one would believe in miracles if unsupported by contemporary evidence, the Pentateuch was assigned to the era of the Captivity.

      The main ground on which this scheme found acceptance with Christian scholars is now discarded as a blunder. It was deemed to be impossible that such a literature could have originated in an age which was supposed to be barbarous. And until recent years the question was solemnly discussed whether the art of writing prevailed in the Mosaic age. But to-day it is matter of common knowledge that long before the time of Moses literature flourished; and archeological discovery tells us that "in the century before the Exodus Palestine was a land of books and schools."

      But further. The idea was scouted that such a code of laws could have been framed at such an early period. Recently, however, the spade of the explorer unearthed the now famous code of Hammurabi, who ruled in Babylon four centuries before the Exodus. And this discovery undermined the very foundations of "the critical hypothesis." But instead of repenting of their error and folly, the critics turned round, and with amazing effrontery declared that the Mosaic code was borrowed from Babylon. This is a most reasonable conclusion on the part of those who regard the Mosaic law as a purely human code. But here the critic is "hoist with his own petard." For if the Mosaic law were based on the Hammurabi code, it could not have been framed in the days of Josiah long ages after Hammurabi had been forgotten. This Hammurabi discovery is one of many that led Professor Sayce to declare that "the answer of archaeology to the theories of modern 'criticism' is complete: the Law preceded the Prophets, and did not follow them."

      But even this is not all. It is a canon of criticism with these men that no Biblical statement is ever to be accepted unless confirmed by some pagan authority; Genesis xiv. was therefore dismissed as fable on account of its naming Amraphel as a King of Babylon. But Amraphel is only another form of the name of Hammurabi, who now stands out one of the great historical characters of the past.'

      "His nonsense suited their nonsense," the explanation Charles II. offered of popularity of a certain preacher with his flock. And the claptrap by which the minor prophets of this cult commend it to ignorant multitude may be dismissed similar fashion. To trade on prejudice, however, is not my method. The case against the Pentateuch shall be stated in the word of a scholar and teacher whose name and fame stand high in the Universities of Christendom - I refer to Professor Driver of Oxford. Here is his summary of the critics' case against the Mosaic books, as formulated in his great work "The Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament" : -

      "We can only argue upon grounds of probability derived from our view of the progress of the art of writing, or of literary composition, or of the rise and growth of the prophetic tone and feeling in ancient Israel, or of the period at which the traditions contained in the narratives might have taken shape, or of the probability that they would have been written down before the impetus given to culture by the monarchy had taken effect, and similar considerations, for estimating most of which, though plausible arguments on one side or the other may be advanced, a standard on which we can confidently rely scarcely admits of being fixed" (sixth ed., p. 123).

      "Plausible arguments" and "grounds of probability": such are the foundations on which rest "the assured results of modern criticism"! But even if the critics' position were as strong as it is feeble, we could call a witness whose unaided testimony would suffice to destroy it. I refer to the Samaritan Bible. And here again their case shall be stated by one of themselves, a writer whom they hold in the highest honour, the late Professor Robertson Smith. In the judgment of the Samaritans he tells us, "Not only the temple of Zion, but the earlier temple of Shiloh and the priesthood of Eli, were schismatical." And yet, he adds, "their religion was built on the Pentateuch alone." Where then, and when, did they get the Pentateuch? Here is the critics' account of it : - "They [the Samaritans] regard themselves as Israelites, descendants of the ten tribes, and claim to possess the orthodox religion of Moses. . . . The priestly law, which is throughout based on the practice of the priests in Jerusalem before the Captivity, was reduced to form after the Exile, and was published by Ezra as the law of the rebuilt temple of Zion. The Samaritans must therefore have derived their Pentateuch from the Jews after Ezra's reforms."

      Now mark what this implies. We know the bitterness of racial and religious quarrels. And both these elements combined to alienate the Samaritans from the Jews. But this was not all. At the very time when they are said to have "derived their Pentateuch from the Jews" these antipathies had deepened into hatred - "abhorrence" is Robertson Smith's word - on account of the contempt and sternness with which the Jews spurned their proffered help in the work of reconstruction at Jerusalem. And yet we are asked to believe that in such circumstances, and at that time, when their feelings toward the Jews were such as nowadays Orangemen bear to "Papists," they accepted these Jewish books as their " Bible," to the exclusion of the writings, not only of their own Israelite seers, but also of those sacred and venerated historical books known as "the former prophets." In the whole range of controversy, religious or secular, was there ever propounded a theory more utterly incredible and preposterous! What have the critics to say for it? Here is the defence they offer in the new volume of the accredited handbook of their heresies - Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible : -

      "There is at least one valid ground for the conclusion that the Pentateuch was first accepted by the Samaritans after the Exile. Why was their request to be allowed to take part in the building of the second temple refused by the heads of the Jerusalem community? Very probably because the Jews were aware that the Samaritans did not as yet possess the Law-book. It is hard to suppose that otherwise they would have met with this refusal. Further, any one who, like the present writer, regards the modern criticism of the Pentateuch as essentially correct, has a second decisive reason for adopting the above view." (Prof. Konig's article, "Samaritan Pentateuch," p. 68.)

      The question is, When and how did the Samaritans get the Pentateuch? A "valid ground" for the critical theory, we are told, is that "very probably" the reason why the Jews under Ezra refused their help was because they had not then got the forged books, and it "hard to suppose" anything else! But the "decisive reason" for accepting the critics' hypothesis is that critical hypothesis is" essentially correct" ! Men of common sense will "very probably" conclude that if the "Modern Cricism of the Pentateuch" can be supported only by drivel such as this, it may be dismissed as unworthy of discussion.

      The fetich of "modern criticism" seems to have a sinister influence even on scholars of eminence. The Samaritan Bible is conclusive proof that the "critical hypothesis" of the origin of the Pentateuch is absolutely untenable. And its acceptance by the Higher Critics is proof of their utter incapacity in dealing with evidence.

      And this leads me to say with emphasis that the grounds on which these men claim the the "Higher Criticism" as their own peculiar province are as futile as are their arguments in its support. The language of the incriminated books has very little bearing on the issues involved; and in the case of the Pentateuch its testimony is against the critics. The problems of the controversy fall within the sphere, not of philology, but of evidence. And this being so, a Professor of Theology or of Hebrew, as such, has no special fitness for dealing with them. "As such" I say, for of course a knowledge of languages and of Biblical literature is not a disqualification. But experience abundantly proves that the pursuit of studies of that character creates no fitness for handling problems of evidence; and these should be left to men who by training and practical experience are qualified for the task. Proofs of this, both numerous and striking, might be culled from the controversy respecting the genuineness of the Book of Daniel. But I have published so much on that subject elsewhere, that I will not introduce it here. And other books, moreover, will furnish further illustrations of my statement. Take the "two Isaiahs" figment, for example. There is no element of profanity in this hypothesis, and we can afford to examine it on its merits. What does it involve?

      Having regard to the scathing denunciations of the national religion which abound in the earlier portions of the Book of Isaiah, it would not be strange if their author's name had been deliberately effaced from the national annals. But the later chapters, attributed by the critics to Isaiah II., are not only marked by extraordinary brilliancy, but tlu abound in words of cheer and hope and joy, unparalleled in all the Hebrew Scriptures. A prophet raised up in the dark days of the exilic period to deliver such messages of comfort and gladness would have become immortal. His name would have been enshrined with those of Moses and Samuel and David and Ezra and his fame would have been blazoned many a page of apocryphal literature. But the critics ask us to stultify ourselves by believing that he appeared and vanished like a summer mist, without leaving even the vaguest tradition of his personality or career. There is a limit to the credulity of sham scepticism. The aim of the "Higher Criticism" is, as have seen, to banish God from the Bible The Rationalists, therefore, invented a sham Isaiah in order to oust the element of Divine prophecy from the writings of the real Isaiah. ..

      But the invention of a sham Jonah would not have got rid of the whale, so the Book of Jonah had to be torn out of the Bible altogether. A serious matter this ; for "Christ was raised from the dead the third day, according to the Scriptures," and the Book of Jonah was the only Scripture to which the Lord Himself appealed in this connection. He placed it in the foreground of His testimony, using it again and again with the greatest emphasis and solemnity. In the day of judgment, He declared, the men of Nineveh would rise up to condemn the Jews for their rejection of Him, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah when the prophet came to them accredited by the "sign" of his deliverance from death.

      Some of the critics dismiss this reference to Jonah by attributing it to the Lord's deplorable ignorance of the Scriptures which it was His Divine mission to fulfil; others, by representing it as merely a rhetorical illustration. This latter view is not so profane as the other; but it is wholly inadequate, and moreover it is inconsistent with the plain statements of the Gospel narrative. The rationalist denies the Jonah miracle, because he holds miracles to be impossible. But why should a Christian reject it? Why should we refuse to believe that God delivered His prophet from death? To say He could not deliver him is atheism: to say He would not is nonsense; and to say He did not is to pour contempt on the words of our Divine Lord, and to repudiate His authority as a teacher. And this, and nothing less than this, the critics demand of us.

      Men who plan elaborate crimes are apt to give themselves away by some glaring oversight or blunder; and so is it with these critics who would commit the supreme crime of filching the Bible from us. They admit, for it cannot be disputed, that the Lord accredited the Hebrew Scriptures in the most unequivocal and solemn terms. But they dare to aver that in the ministry of His humiliation He was so entirely subject to the limitations of human knowledge, that words which He declared to be not His own, but the Father's who sent Him, expressed in fact "the current Jewish notions" of the time. But such is the blindness or obliquity with which they read the Scriptures, that they have entirely over- looked His post-resurrection ministry. Kenosis theories are but dust thrown up to obscure the issue. They have no relevancy here. "I have a baptism to be baptized with," the Lord exclaimed, "and how am I straitened till it be accomplished! " But now, that baptism is past. All limitations are for ever at an end. And speaking as the Son of God, to whom all power in heaven and earth has been given, He adopts and confirms all His previous teaching about the Hebrew Scriptures. Referring to that very teaching, He addresses words like these to His disciples: "These are the words which I spake unto you while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the law of Moses, and in the Prophets, and in the Psalms, concerning Me."

      And the record adds, "Then opened He their understanding that they might understand the Scriptures."

      Professor Driver tells us that "He accepted as the basis of His teaching the opinions respecting the Old Testament current around Him." Or, as his Bible Dictionary coarsely phrases it, "He held the current Jewish notions" of His time. Could any words be more utterly opposed to fact? "Current Jewish notions"! All His teaching was in direct opposition to the deep, strong current of prevailing ignorance and error respecting the character and scope of these very Scriptures. Therefore it was that the Jews rejected Him. Therefore it was that even His own disciples failed to understand Him. But now "He opened their understanding." And it was this post-resurrection teaching which guided and inspired all their after-ministry. The New Testament writings are the unfolding of it. And yet, according to the "Higher Critics," this was all a blunder, if not a fraud.

      The Christian is consistent in his faith and the rationalist in his unbelief. Both are entitled to respect, for either position is intellectually unassailable. But what shall be said of men who cling to an edifice the foundations of which they have themselves destroyed? What of the superstition which holds that though Christ and His Apostles were deceived and in error, the Church which they founded is infallible, and that its teaching affords a sure resting-place for faith? What of the folly which deludes itself by claptrap about the inspiration of writings which are declared to be a mosaic of myth and legend and forgery and falsehood? (These words are not aimed at the rationalists, represented by Professor Harnack of Berlin, or Professor Cheyne of Oxford and his colleagues of the Encyclopaedia Biblica. Nor do they apply to the Church of Rome, whose claim to be the infallible exponent of an infallible Bible is at least intelligent and consistent. But they accurately describe the position of Professor Driver and his following, whose "confession of unfaith"is the Bible Dictionary. Still more definitely do they apply to the Bishop of Birmingham and his Lux Mundi school.) The devout may well be shocked by the profanity of such a scheme. But all sensible men will appreciate the folly of attempting to reconcile it with belief in Christianity. To the rationalist it is a matter of indifference whether the books of the Bible were written at one time or at another; but it is essential to his position to destroy their claim to be Divine. And even this is but an outwork: his main objective is the citadel of the Christian faith - the Deity of Christ. For if the Scriptures be discredited, the foundations of the Lord's ministry are swept away, so that Christ came to fulfil nothing, and becomes only a teacher or a martyr. And how can we trust Him even as a teacher if His teaching be unreliable in the only sphere in which we are competent to test it? For no amount of sophistry can get rid of the fact that He accredited the Hebrew Scriptures, and unreservedly identified Himself with them. It is not a question, therefore, of superstitious reverence for a book that we may leave to Professor Driver and his school but of intelligent faith in our Divine Lord and Saviour.

      "Criticism in the hands of Christian scholars," Professor Driver tells us,"presupposes the inspiration of the Old Testament." But criticism in the hands of honest men presupposes nothing. It enters on its task without prejudice, and accepts its results without fear, whatever they be. And the legitimate results of this sort of criticism of Scripture are to be found in the writings of great thinkers like Dr Harnack, and not in the books of men whose minds are warped or blinded by the superstitions of religion

      In the "New Theology" of the day, which is but a crude and popular phase of Dr. Harnack's Neo-Christianity, the "Higher Criticism" has produced the results intended by its authors. Christianity has been dragged down to the rationalistic level. And at what a cost! Instead of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, whose words were God-given and eternal, we have a "Jesus" whose teaching was marred by ignorance and error, albeit he demanded acceptance of it as Divine. Infidelity has thus achieved its triumph. In disparaging the Bible, they deny the Christ of whom the Bible speaks.

      "The Christ of ages past
      Is now the Christ no more
      Altar and fire are gone,
      The Victim but a dream"

      "If these conclusions be demanded by irrefutable fact, let them be made and accepted - but not light-heartedly, and as if we were the freer for them, and could talk glibly about them in the best modern style. Let us make them with a groan, and take care to carve no more the unauthentic promise on the tombs of our beloved." (Bishop of Durham)

      Or, to express these thoughts in still plainer terms, if the rationalists have proved their case, let us be done with all cant and superstition, and frankly and honestly give up belief in the Deity of Christ.

      Here we stand at the parting of the ways. Honest and clear-headed men of the world, to whom these pages are addressed, will refuse all by-paths of superstition, and fearlessly make choice between a firmer faith and a bolder unbelief. And my main purpose will be satisfied if they here find proof that those who attack the Bible, whether from the standpoint of a false science or of a false criticism, can be met and refuted on their own ground. But while destructive criticism has thus been my aim and method, I would fain hope that some at least who may read this "Plea for the Faith" will be led to study the Scriptures for themselves with minds unbiassed by infidel prejudice or religious superstition, and that the study may lead them to believe in the Son of God, and in believing to receive life through His name.

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