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Whilst the noblest specimens of the literature of the Hebrews,—the collection of their lyric hymns, the inspired discourses of Isaiah, Joel, Zechariah, and other prophets, the sublime didactic poem which bears the name of Job, the pastoral idyls of the Song of Solomon, and the sententious poetry of the Proverbs,-have successively received a fair elucidation, and been brought in a separate form within the reach of the educated layman as well as the student of history, it is not a little strange that a monument of Hebrew antiquity of such interest and importance as the Book of Genesis, which may truly be said to form the vestibule to Israelitish laws and Israelitish history, should not have been explained in a similar manner, Although, for centuries past, the light of investigation has penetrated through many a narrow inlet into this ancient vestibule, and although, especially in modern times, the early history of the Bible has been submitted to that enlightened criticism without which it is impossible to esti
mate aright the literary monuments of antiquity, still, no commentary has appeared to which the terms historical and critical can be fitly applied. By these terms I wish to designate such a work, as should faithfully collect and examine the scattered notices of previous writers, no less than the admirable commentaries more exclusively designed for the learned by profession; while at the same time, by the aid of criticism and history, it should aim at presenting a clear view of the purely poetic character of the book, and endeavour to bring the collected results of such an investigation within the reach of schools and families. I say of schools and families, in order not only to avoid interfering with the profounder labours of my learned predecessors, and to assign at once the peculiar position which the present commentary is intended to occupy, but also as it is my
firm conviction that a work of this description is well adapted to the times in which we live.
Scriptural inquiry has too long been either suppressed altogether, or fettered by theological prejudice ; whilst a system of obsolete opinions has been retained, and enforced with unrelaxing obstinacy. These opinions are still propounded, with as much confidence as if no voice had ever been raised against them, and regardless of the fact that such a studious suppression of the truth may be fraught with the greatest danger to the whole fabric of our holy religion. Forbidden books are only the more eagerly sought, rejected passages of the Classics only the more diligently read; and we must not too confidently rely on that sus
picious calm in the minds of youth which such measures are designed to preserve.
No Book of the Old Testament has suffered more from current prejudices than Genesis : even to the present day it remains well nigh buried beneath their weight. Geographers and historians, geologists and natural philosophers, chronologists and astronomers, jurists and students of physical science, have severally read it, in order to discover the groundwork of their systems in its pages, or to plead the high sanction of its authority in their support; all, without further qualification, have pronounced their decision on its age and character,—have judged by its standard the early history of every other nation, and thus, by interposing additional difficulties, have increased the darkness of antiquity; and all have spoken with the greater confidence, as such opinions have been uniformly countenanced even by divines, from whom a more accurate examination of the Scriptural records might well have been expected.
The following leading principles are those on which a new edition of Genesis, suited to the times in which we live, ought, as we conceive, to be constructed. In the first place, the critic must attempt to penetrate the mass of accumulated materials, till he reaches the ancient monument itself, and endeavour carefully to free it from the timeworn accretions of prejudice with which every part has been concealed; and it will only be when the monument thus stands before him in its original form, that he can attempt to make up his mind on the structure and integrity of the
whole, or finally decide on the comparative value of the various modes of interpretation proposed. How far I have been successful in following out these principles, in the careful examination and selection of existing materials, in the unprejudiced discussion of particular questions, and the determined exclusion of everything not strictly relevant, I must leave the many honoured men to whom this commentary is so deeply indebted to decide, and more especially those profound judges* to whom it is specially dedicated.
Much that is old and antiquated will here be found, because it was necessary to supply a complete refutation of antiquated views. Little or nothing of novelty is contained in this Work; for when the truth has once been recognized, and laid bare, who would venture to invest it with new colours ?
The criticism in this work has been derived from Genesis itself, and from history. All criticism that cannot stand this test must fall into oblivion. Controversy was unavoidable; but it has always been confined to the subject under consideration, and has never, to our knowledge, transgressed the laws of courtesy. In the general mode of treatment, the reader will recognize a considerable resemblance to the contemporaneous commentary of Professor Von Lengerke (of Königsberg), on Daniel; and when two friends labour in a kindred spirit on the same object, and commu
* Dr. Gesenius of Halle and Dr. de Wette of Basle, to whom Professor von Bohlen dedicated his work on Genesis.