Sketches Of Pentateuch Criticism -- By: Samuel Ives Curtiss

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 041:164 (Oct 1884)
Article: Sketches Of Pentateuch Criticism
Author: Samuel Ives Curtiss

Sketches Of Pentateuch Criticism

Rev. Samuel Ives Curtiss

II. — Constructive Critics.

The first appearance of constructive criticism was in the age of Louis XIV. It cannot, however, be regarded as an outgrowth of an intellectual activity which was fostered by the grand monarch. While he sought to surround his reign with a halo of glory, there was only one theme — himself — which could secure his patronage for men of letters. Such patronage was repressive of all independent research, and the censorship of the press imposed a check on the publication of all opinions which were not approved by the literary magnates of the court.1

This criticism, however, was favored by the dominant philosophy of the period, that of Des Cartes (b. 1596; d. 1650). A fundamental principle of this philosophy — a sine qua non — was doubt, the tearing down of all that was accepted and traditional that there might be a building up.2 Des Cartes had attended the best Jesuit school3 of that age, and had pursued his studies for eight and a half years with

diligence, only to become persuaded of the unsatisfactory character of all his attainments, and to be fired with the determination to seek truth for himself.

It was his principles, then, that doubtless gave birth to constructive criticism. Its three representatives felt constrained, with one exception, to admit the accuracy of Hobbes’s Peyrere’s, and Spinoza’s conclusions in denying the Mosaic authorship; but they were not satisfied to rest with this negative result. Following the example of Des Cartes, they sought to secure a more positive conclusion. They tore down the old edifice of tradition that they might rebuild it in accordance with the demands of the scientific criticism of that time, and that they might still present nothing to the theological world which, in their opinion, should be subversive of the Christian faith. Although the medium of this criticism was the French language, we can hardly speak of it as constituting a French school, as we now speak of a German and Dutch school of Old Testament critics. Three men appeared between 1638 and 1766 who wrote in the French language; but they do not seem to have left any appreciable impress upon the theological thinking of France.

1. Simon (b. 1638; d. 1712).

The most marked critic of the century, who is sometimes called the father of biblical introduction, is Richard Simon, who was born at Dieppe.4 There were tw...

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