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The natural history of foreign countries was very little known at the time when our translation of the Bible was made. Hence we find in it the names of animals unknown in the east; as the Whale and the BADGER, creatures with which the Jews must have been wholly unacquainted. And though in the book of Job there are very particular descriptions of the LEVIATHAN and BEHEMOTH, our translators discover their ignorance of the creatures described, by retaining the Hebrew names ; whereas to the reem they assign the name of the UNICORN, which is known to be a fabulous animal. Indeed, they frankly acknowledge, in their preface, the obscurity experienced by them in the Hebrew words which occur but once, and “in the names of certain birds, beasts, precious stones, &c. How considerably such difficulties have been diminished since their time, by a knowledge of the oriental dialects, and by the labours of such men as BOCHART and MICHAELIS, not to name many others, is well known to such as are conversant in these studies.
II. The language of the east was highly figurative. Apologues, fables, and parables were the common vehicles of moral truth. In every part of the sacred writings images are introduced from the works of nature, and metaphors drawn from the manners and economy of animals, the growth of trees, and the properties of plants ; and unless we know precisely the animal, tree, or plant referred to, we cannot discern the propriety of the allusion, nor be suitably impressed with the full force of the doctrine, precept, or narrative, which it was intended to illustrate. But these things, judiciously explained, serve to clear up many
passages, solve many difficulties, correct many wrong interpretations, and open new beauties in the sacred volume. To use the words of an author, whose opinion adds importance to my subject, “ These illustrations, though they do not immediately rectify the faith or refine the morals of the reader, yet
'NewcoME's Historical View of Translations of the Bible.
are by no means to be considered as superfluous niceties or useless speculations; for they often show some propriety of allusion utterly undiscoverable by readers not skilled in the natural history of the east; and are often of more important use, as they remove some difficulty from narratives, or some obscurity from precepts.
III. The incidental references which are made in the Bible to animals, vegetables, &c. confirm, also, the truth of the scripture history; for they show that the writers were in the country, and conversant with the scenes which they describe, by indications of the climate, creatures, and productions peculiar to those places, and which could be familiar only to persons so situated.
The want of that accurate information on many subjects, which can be obtained only on the spot and by personal inspection, is especially felt in our investigation of the natural history of the sacred scriptures. This is strongly expressed by the celebrated LINNÆUS in the account which he published of Dr. HASSELQUIST. His words are, “In one of my botanical lectures, in the year 1747, I enumerated the countries of which we knew the natural history, and those of which we were ignorant. Amongst the latter was Palestine. With this we were less acquainted than with the remotest parts of India; and though the natural history of this remarkable country was the most necessary for divines and writers on the scriptures, who have used their greatest endeavours to know the animals therein mentioned, yet they could not, with any degree of certainty, determine which they were, before some one had been there, and informed himself of the natural history of the place. HASSELQUIST, who attended this course of lectures, was very desirous of being the first who should supply this important desideratum, and was determined to accomplish it. Having qualified himself for the undertaking by the study of the Arabic and other eastern languages, in 1749 he was conveyed by the Levant Company to Smyrna, and for two years was engaged in making collections of plants, &c. in Egypt and the Holy Land. He died in the midst of these useful labours; but his papers were published by LINNÆus, in 1757; and contain many articles which throw much light upon the Natural History of the Bible.
There was an English translation in 1766, which has now become scarce; "a circumstance,” says Dr. PulTENY, in his view of the writings of LINNÆUS, “sufficiently indicative of the intrinsic value of the work, which, for its originality, as well as accuracy and variety of information, must always rank high among books of travels.”
The learned J. D. MICHAELIS, in an oration delivered at Gottingen in 1753, recommended “a mission of learned men into the east, that by travelling through Syria, Palestine, and Egypt, and observing the animals, plants, &c. of those regions, and investigating their nature and qualities, they might ascertain those which are named in Holy Writ.”. Having projected the plan of such a mission, which should embrace every thing connected with the history, geography, antiquities, natural productions, language, and manners of those countries that could serve to throw any light upon the sacred records, he proposed the subject to Count BERNSTORFF in the year 1756; who recommended it to his royal master FREDERICK the Fifth of Denmark. The king heartily seconded these views, engaged to defray the whole expense of the undertaking, and honoured its projector by committing to his charge the selection of the travellers, and the arrangement of the plan in all its details:. MICHAELIS drew up a set of questions upon interesting articles, about which inquiries were to be made, and which discover how much even the most learned man in Europe felt in doubt respecting these subjects in the Natural History of the Bible, and of how great importance he considered a satisfactory explanation of them. Unhappily M. FORSKAL, the learned naturalist on this expedition, died in Arabia, before he had composed any regular work in reply to the questions. NIEBUHR, his fellow traveller, however, published from his papers a scientific catalogue of articles, which is valuable
3 Dr. Smith's Preface to his Translation of Michaelis on the Laws of Moses, p. 10.
for a few incidental remarks, and as giving the names by which animals and plants are now called in those regions.
Dr. Shaw, whose travels I have often quoted, observes that “ the names by which animals, &c. are now called in the eastern countries will be of great assistance in determining sacred natural history; for some of them, it may be presumed, continue to be the very same; whilst many others may prove to be traditional, or derivatives from the original.”
In 1793 I published a small volume with a similar title to the one now printed. The approbation with which that work has been honoured in this country and in Europe is highly flattering. I kept on my table an interleaved copy, and, in the
course of my reading, transferred to it the additional information which I collected. Desirous of pursuing the investigation still farther, I procured, with considerable expense, many valuable books which I had not before the opportunity of consulting. In fine, I have reexamined every article with better knowledge and greater care; have transcribed and new modelled the whole, and made such amendments and additions throughout, as render this rather a new work than a new edition; and, to its completion and perfection, the studies and acquisitions of more than twentyfive years have contributed .
The following were my rules of investigation.
I. To examine all the passages of scripture where the name of the animal, plant, &c. which I was examining, occurs; in order to ascertain its nature and qualities, by such a reference to particular places as they separately furnish, either by direct description or metaphorical allusion; and, by comparing them together, endeavour to identify the subject.
II. Look out the name in the Lexicons of CASTEL, BUXTORF, MENINSKI, PARKHURST, and others, with re
4 “ Tot in ea sunt emendata, tot dispuncta, recocta, limata, immutata, tanta insuper accessio ubique facta est, ut pristino, quantum erat, lineamento plerumque disparente, exeat omnino nova. SELDen, Præf. in mare Claus.
gard to the meaning they affix to it, or the root from which it is derived; believing that the names of animals, plants, &c. were not arbitrary, but founded on some apparent and predominant quality or property, sufficient to give them a designation at first.
III. Trace the word again, in every place where it occurs, through all the versions of the scriptures, to discover how it was understood and rendered by the most ancient interpreters.
IV. Search for it in all the modern commentaries, critics, and new translations.
V. Consult the authors who have written upon the subject of the Natural History of the Bible, for their opinions and explanations.
VI. Avail myself of all the information contained in the ancient and modern writers of natural history, and the incidental mention of animals, plants, &c. in books of travels.
This investigation, diligently pursued, often employed a whole day to ascertain only one article, the result of which is, perhaps, comprised in a single sentence.
Of my authorities, and the use which I have made of them, it becomes me to speak with grateful acknowledgment. The first and principal of these is Bochart, who, in his Hierozoicon, has, in the most learned researches, traced the names of the ANIMALS mentioned in scripture through the different languages and dialects of the east, and in most cases has been able by some evident similarity of sound, or some other striking circumstance, with sufficient clearness to identify each individual. He had the opportuuity of consulting the natural history of DaMIR and other Arabian authors; and could bring from all the treasuries of ancient learning the authorities for his decisions : so that there has seldom been found reason to depart from his opinion; a few instances only have occurred where it appeared to be outweighed by equally
s Historia Animalium, Arabica, ordine alphabetico disposita, ubi multa de eorum nominibus, natura, proprietatibus, qualitate, virtute, natali loco et educatione, referuntur, &c. Anno Hegiræ, 773, Script. A. D. 1371.