The Linguistic Criticism of the Old Testament -- By: George B. Michell

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 092:366 (Apr 1935)
Article: The Linguistic Criticism of the Old Testament
Author: George B. Michell


The Linguistic Criticism of the Old Testament

George B. Michell

Author of The Historical Truth of the Bible

It seems to be generally supposed that the Modernistic system of “Higher Criticism” of the Bible rests ultimately on the linguistic argument. That is, that the great Hebraists are agreed that the analysis of the original texts leads inevitably to the conclusions known broadly as “Modernism.” This is far from being the truth.

It is true that some of the great critics of the first half of the nineteenth century were reliable Semitic scholars, so far as the knowledge then available of the Hebrew and Aramaic languages went in their days. But that amount of knowledge is now quite inadequate.

It is also true that the lavish display of Hebrew and Aramaic words and phrases in the works of Wellhausen, Kuenen, Driver, Cheyne, and more recently, of Moffatt and McFayden, Montgomery and Rowley, give the impression of work soundly based, not on translations or the surface meaning of the texts, but on the original texts themselves. But these appearances are deceptive.

Another instrument was “style.” In addition to the actual linguistic argument, some of the critics, especially Kuenen and Driver, professed to possess a special sensitiveness to the characteristic differences of style in different writers, so that they could distinguish on this ground the work of E from that of J, and of both from that of P. Not only so but, when they had split up on other grounds a narrative into fragments of these various authors, they professed to be able to assign, from its style alone, each fragment to its asserted author. But these fragmentary “authors” are themselves mythical.

In the matter of style, it is quite true that it is as easy to distinguish the style of Harrison Ainsworth or Lord Macaulay from that of P. G. Wodehouse or W. W. Jacobs, as it is to appreciate the style of Winterhalter or Sir Frederick Leighton as distinct from that of George Cruikshank or Hogarth.

But a careful examination of Driver’s and Kuenen’s argument of “style” reveals that they mean a totally different thing. Long and meaningless lists of mere words are no criterion of style. They reveal nothing but a difference of subject-history, poetry, legislation, exhortation, prayer, etc., etc. As evidence of style they serve only to cast dust into the eyes of the public. Still, the assertion and the ostentation of its “proof” by acknowledged great authorities carries a weight that it seems presumptuous to dispute.

This being so, how can an hones...

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