of those who recently esteemed him above praise or censure.

It is these great ideas, as to either facts or problems, that give the seriousness, the earnestness to the literature of the Bible. Men who express great ideas in literary form are not dilettante about them. One of the English writers just now prominent as an essayist is often counted whimsical, trifling. One of his near friends keenly resents that opinion, insists instead that he is dead in earnest, serious to the last degree, purposeful in all his work. What makes that so difficult to believe is that there is always a tone of chaffing in his essays. He seems always to be making fun of himself or of other people; and if he is dead in earnest he has the wrong style to make great literature or literature that will live long.

of those who recently esteemed him above praise or censure.

It is that earnestness and greatness of theme which puts the tang into the English of the Bible. Coleridge says that "after reading Isaiah or the Epistle to the Hebrews, Homer and Virgil are disgustingly tame, Milton himself barely tolerable." It need not be put quite so strongly as that; but there is large warrant of fact in that expression.

of those who recently esteemed him above praise or censure.

Go a little farther in thought of the literary characteristics of the Bible. Notice the variety of the forms involved. Recall Professor Moulton's four cardinal points in literature, all of it taking one of these forms: either description, when a scene is given in the words of the author, as when Milton and Homer describe scenes without pretending to give the words of the actors throughout; or, secondly, presentation, when a scene is given in the words of those who took part in it, and the author does not appear, as, of course, in the plays of Shakespeare, when he never appears, but where all his sentiments are put in the words of others. As between those two, the Bible is predominantly a book of description, the authors for the most part doing the speaking, though there is, of course, an element of presentation. Professor Moulton goes on with the two other phases of literary form: prose, moving in the region limited by facts, as history and philosophy deal only with what actually has existence; and poetry, which by its Greek origin means creative literature. He reminds us that, however literature starts, these are the points toward which it moves, the paths it takes. All four of them appear in the literature of the English Bible. You have more of prose and less of poetry; but the poetry is there, not in the sense of rhyme, but in the sense of real creative literature.

of those who recently esteemed him above praise or censure.

A more natural way of considering the literature has been followed by Professor Gardiner. He finds four elements in the literature of the Bible: its narrative, its poetry, its philosophizing, and its prophecy. It is not necessary for our purpose to go into details about that. We shall have all we need when we realize that, small as the volume of the book is, it yet does cover all these types of literature. Its difference from other books is that it deals with all of its subjects so compactly.

It will accent this fact of its variety if we note the musical element in the literature of the Bible. It comes in part from the form which marks the original Hebrew poetry. It has become familiar to say that it is not of the rhyming kind. Rather it is marked by the balancing of phrases or of ideas, so that it runs in couplets or in triplets throughout. In the Psalms there is always a balance of clauses. They are sometimes adversative; sometimes they are simply cumulative. Take several instances from the 119th Psalm, each a complete stanza of Hebrew poetry; (verse 15) "I will meditate in thy precepts, and have respect unto thy ways"; or this (verse 23), "Princes also did sit and speak against me: but thy servant did meditate in thy statutes"; or this (verse 45), "And I will walk at liberty: for I seek thy precepts"; (verse 51,) "The proud have had me greatly in derision: yet have I not inclined from thy law." Each presents a parallel or a contrast of ideas. That is the characteristic mark of Hebrew poetry. It results in a kind of rhythm of the English which makes it very easy to set to music. Some of it can be sung, though for some of it only the thunder is the right accompaniment. But it is not simply in the balance of phrases that the musical element appears. Sometimes it is in a natural but rhythmic consecution of ideas. The 35th chapter of Isaiah, for example, is not poetic in the Hebrew, yet it is remarkably musical in the English. Read it aloud from our familiar version:

"The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose. It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing; the glory of Lebanon shall be given unto it, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon; they shall see the glory of the Lord, and the excellency of our God. Strengthen ye the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees. Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompense; He will come and save you. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as a hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert. And the parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water: in the habitation of dragons, where each lay, shall be grass with reeds and rushes. And a highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein. No lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast shall go up thereon, it shall not be found there; but the redeemed shall walk there: and the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away."

That can be set to music as it stands. You catch the same form in the familiar 13th chapter of I Corinthians, the chapter on Charity. It could be almost sung throughout. This musical element is in sharp contrast with much else in the Scripture, where necessity does not permit that literary form. For example, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, which is argumentative throughout, there is no part except its quotations which has ever been set to music for uses in Christian worship. It is rugged and protracted in its form, and has no musical element about it. The contrast within the Scripture of the musical and the unmusical is a very marked one.

Add to the thought of the earnestness and variety of the Scripture a word about the simplicity of its literary expression. There is nothing meretricious in its style. There is no effort to say a thing finely. The translators have avoided all temptation to grow dramatic in reproducing the original. Contrast the actual English Bible with the narratives or other literary works that have been built up out of it. Read all that the Bible tells about the loss of Paradise, and then read Milton's "Paradise Lost." Nearly all of the conceptions of Milton's greatest poem are built up from brief Scripture references. But Milton becomes subtle in his analysis of motives; he enlarges greatly on events. Scripture never does that. It gives us very few analyses of motive from first to last. That is not the method nor the purpose of Scripture. It tells the story in terms that move on the middle level of speech and the middle level of understanding, while Milton labors with it, complicates it, entangling it with countless

Original article by {website name}. If reprinted, please indicate the source: http://jchkz.szyxsqc.com/html/87f499659.html

zan ( 731)
next 2023-12-02