Professor W. Robertson Smith And His Theories Of Old Testament Criticism -- By: Charles F. Thwing

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 039:153 (Jan 1882)
Article: Professor W. Robertson Smith And His Theories Of Old Testament Criticism
Author: Charles F. Thwing


Professor W. Robertson Smith And His Theories Of Old Testament Criticism

Rev. Charles F. Thwing

It is the purpose of this paper to set forth the views of W. Robertson Smith in respect to (1) the character, purpose, and method of biblical criticism; (2) the formation of the present Hebrew text of the Old Testament; (3) the formation of the canon of the Old Testament; and (4) the origin of certain individual books.

The materials for this exposition consist of the articles, at the present writing some dozen in number, which Professor Smith has contributed to the ninth edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and of which the more important are those relating to the Bible and to the Hebrew language and literature; and also of a volume of lectures on biblical criticism, entitled, The Old Testament in the Jewish Church. It is in this volume that the author’s views are elaborated, and it forms the principal authority in setting them forth.

Before beginning the task, however, it is of worth to recall the occasion which gives to the theories of Professor Smith their peculiar importance. In the year 1870, at the early age of twenty-four, W. Robertson Smith was recommended and elected to the professorship of Hebrew in the Free Church College in Aberdeen. “Here,” he writes,1 “I continued for seven years, teaching, pursuing my own studies, and occasionally writing, till my connection with the Encyclopaedia Britannica suddenly aroused the conservative party.” This connection is represented in the article on the Bible in the Encyclopaedia. This article, the positions of which will presently be stated in detail, treated of the sacred

books with a freedom which to the conservative party seemed at least irreverent, if not heretical, and was made the foundation of proceedings against its author. Accusations against Professor Smith were first brought before the Presbytery of Edinburgh, thence before the General Assembly, and were by this body sent to a Commission. The case was returned to the General Assembly with two reports; the majority censuring, the minority acquitting. Professor Smith, addressing the Assembly in his own behalf, disclaimed any heretical purpose in his writings, and complained that the gloss which his antagonist had placed upon the article was unjust. By a vote of two hundred and ninety-nine to two hundred and ninety-two the Assembly acquitted Professor Smith of heresy, but admonished him to more guarded utterance.

Before this acquittal, however, which was reached in May 1880, he had prepared another article, on the Hebrew language and literature. He attempted to withdraw it from the editor’s h...

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