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But there is no need of relying upon this inference, in order to prove the expediency of attempting a new English version of the Psalms. The zeal with which the study of Eastern literature has, of late years, been prosecuted in Europe, added to the great and continually increasing attention, paid to every branch of biblical criticism, will fully justify the attempt. For it is indisputable, that some new light has hence been thrown, as well upon this as upon other parts of Holy writ; and this additional light, whatever may be the degree of its importance, it cannot but be proper to communicate to the Christian world.
It will scarcely be denied, at the present day, that, when searching for the precise and full meaning of the language of Scripture, recourse should be had to every collateral aid, of which the nature of the subject will allow. To draw a broad line of distinction, in this respect, between the Hebrew Bible and every other ancient record, appears little consonant to the principles of sober judgment, and is clearly incompatible with all freedom of enquiry, even when exercised with the utmost reverence and caution. The difficulties to be encountered are the same, for the most part, in kind, although differing in degree. Who, then, will venture to affirm that those methods, which are acknowledged to have been eminently successful in the furtherance of profane learning, are not also to be applied, with due limitations, to the elucidation of the sacred text? The
Hebrew Scriptures, however, from the peculiar circumstances under which they have come down to the present time, do not admit of so extensive an application of these means, as other writings of antiquity. There exists, for example, no contemporaneous and independent authority, with which the several forms of expression, found in the Hebrew Bible, can be immediately compared. Not only many individual words, but many Hebrew idioms, occur but once in the Scriptures, comprising, as they do, the whole extent of Hebrew literature. Independently, therefore, of the difficulties, appertaining equally to the interpretation of the Hebrew Bible and of every other ancient writing, there are also others, of no ordinary magnitude, which belong exclusively to that particular subject.
Without dwelling longer upon these general topics, fertile though they are in matters of interesting speculation and enquiry, the Translators will now proceed briefly to point out the course, which they have thought it proper to pursue, with the view of ascertaining the true import of the Psalmist's language.
Their first and principal study has been, to make Scripture its own interpreter, as well by comparing carefully all those passages which contain any proposed word of doubtful meaning, as by estimating the exact force of each idiomatic expression from a diligent examination of the various contexts in which it occurs. While thus employed, they have uniformly assigned most importance to those books of Holy writ which, in age and character, approach nearest to that which they were translating. They have, moreover, sought for an explanation of the elliptic phraseology, so frequent in poetical compositions, from the more full and less artificial language of historical narrative.
Whenever, from the narrow limits of Hebrew literature, their object could not be thus accomplished by means of any of the other books of Scripture, they have availed themselves of the ancient versions of the Bible—of the kindred dialects of the Hebrew—of the stores of Rabbinical learning and of the works of ancient and modern interpreters and commentators, both Jewish and Christian. And they are perfectly ready to admit that, in one or other of these treasurehouses of knowledge, may, for the most part, be discovered some trace at least, if not the very substance, of those renderings which, in the following pages, are at variance with the authorized version of the Psalms.
The plan, adopted by the Translators, of assigning but one meaning to any single word or sentence, even although the real import of the one or the other
may be yet unsettled, necessarily gives a dogmatical cast to all their explanations. They are neither insensible nor indifferent to the charges which may be brought against them on this head. Purposing, however, to furnish merely a Manual of the Psalms, they conceived that, to encumber their translation with tedious and intricate disquisitions would have been to depart entirely from the plan, which they had prescribed to themselves; and that, consistently with this design,
they could only state the particular interpretation, which seemed to them, after mature deliberation, to have the balance of argument and authority in its favour. The Translators do not wish to conceal the fact that, with regard to several words and expressions, their minds long wavered in doubt and uncertainty, and were eventually determined by only a slight preponderance of evidence; nor do they deny that, as to the precise meaning of some few passages in the Psalms, their opinion is even yet far from being decidedly formed. They, deem it right to add that, in these latter instances, they have adhered, in the main, to the present authorized version.
The Hebrew Bible, taken by the Translators as their standard, is that of Van Der Hooght. They have not themselves indulged in conjectural emendations of the text, nor have they paid any regard to the unwarranted alterations which have been, but too often, rashly hazarded by others. Wherever they have departed from the usually received reading, some manuscript authority will generally be found to sanction the deviation; or, if not, an inspection of the passage will readily show that the change, which they have introduced, is not of a nature materially to affect the integrity of the Hebrew text.
The aim of the Translators has been, to produce an accurate and a faithful, rather than a highly coloured, portraiture of the original. To this end, they have constantly kept in view the sound and established principles of grammatical interpretation. In no case have they intentionally departed from the
literal meaning of the text, further than the difference between the English and the Hebrew idioms seemed, in their judgment, absolutely to require. Such Hebraisms as are either, in themselves, not liable to be misunderstood, or are rendered intelligible by long and familiar use, have been scrupulously retained in the translation. And although those, of less frequent occurrence and less obvious import, have not been admitted; the reader is enabled at once to judge of the propriety of the expressions which have been substituted, by comparing them with the literal meaning of the corresponding Hebrew words, inserted at the foot of the page.
Upon the laws of grammatical interpretation, the Translators cannot now enlarge, without losing sight of their immediate object. Of the extreme importance of these laws, they are fully aware. In fact, at the commencement of their labours, they contemplated adding to the following work a regular series of philological notes. But this idea was afterwards abandoned; and these notes will, probably, form, at some future time, the substance of a separate publication.
The reader will perceive that no notice has been taken by the Translators of the various inscriptions or titles, prefixed to many of the Psalms. In justification of this omission, it may be observed that these titles are involved in so much doubt and obscurity, that they cannot be made the basis of any safe and useful conclusion whatsoever. Very considerable importance would undoubtedly attach to them, could