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LITERARY MAN'S BIBLE
A SELECTION OF PASSAGES FROM THE OLD TESTAMENT,
HISTORIC, POETIC AND PHILOSOPHIC,
ILLUSTRATING HEBREW LITERATURE
ARRANGED WITH INTRODUCTORY ESSAYS
W. L. COURTNEY, M.A., LL.D.
FOURTH AND CHEAPER EDITION
WITH A NEW PREFACE
CHAPMAN AND HALL, LTD.
DEC 17 1909
PREFACE TO FOURTH EDITION
The publication of a fourth and popular edition of The Literary Man's Bible gives me an opportunity, of which I gladly avail myself, for writing a few words of acknowledgment to those who have in different ways helped the book to success. My first duty, indeed, is one of gratitude, both to my critics, who have interpreted in so generous a fashion my wishes and objects, and to the public at large, who seem to have found in the book something which they wanted and liked. It is a matter of considerable satisfaction to me that a venture which appeared in no small degree hazardous, and which was bound to find disfavour with a certain class of the community, should nevertheless have made so general an appeal that three successive editions of the book have been exhausted. In its present cheap form The Literary Man's Bible is intended for a still wider public than it was able to reach in its earlier issues, and I can only express—with much diffidence—the hope that it may be found to be of service to those interested in the higher planes of literature, who desire to see the Bible treated as a work of supreme literary value.
A project like mine is, of course, singularly liable to misinterpretation. There are those who desire to regard the Bible, not as a Book among books, but as something so essentially different in kind from everything else as to be viewed with uncritical reverence. To these naturally the notion of treating the Bible as literature is, and must be, abhorrent. There are others, again, who lay stress on the inspiration of the Bible, and to these the work of the Higher Criticism in tracing the history of the various books and ascribing different parts of the sacred record to different periods, savours of profanity. Selecting passages from a unique whole appears to such minds a process of“ tinkering," alike dangerous and irreverent. I must confess that I have no sympathy with these classes of objectors. There is, in my judgment, no lack of reverence in a desire to comprehend more fully the origins, sources and natural history even of a sacred book, and the only ground on which criticism can be held to be unjustifiable is because it is so speculative in character that its affirmations may be safely neglected. But such, I venture to think, is not the case with Biblical criticism at the present day. Practical unanimity has been reached on at all events the main outlines of the history of the Old Testament, and even orthodox thinkers in England accept a great many of the conclusions of German scholars.
But the critical aspect of the affair does not possess for me as much interest as the literary. Most people are vaguely aware that imbedded in a mass of priestly writing on ceremonial and ritual, a mass, too, of chronological detail, genealogies and other diversions of the ecclesiastical mind, are to be found in our Bible passages of supreme literary value, exhibiting the highest artistic qualities and intellectual characteristics of the Hebrews. It has been my effort to disentangle these and set them in light all the clearer by their very isolation from their context; and for this purpose I have discriminated between passages of descriptive history, romantic stories, outpourings of personal piety, efforts of eloquent rhetoric, denunciation, prophecy and chapters of philosophical thought. The selection may have been well made or badly made, but I am glad to find that, such as it is, it has appealed to many readers who have discovered afresh, and perhaps from a fresh point of view, the charm and beauty of the ancient Scriptures. To give the reader the latest results of Biblical criticism and to set before his eyes the extraordinary literary value of the Bible—these, to speak succinctly, have been my main objects in producing this book,
I hope I have paid due attention to the suggestions and admonitions of my kindly critics. I cannot, however, admit that it would have been better to have made use of the Revised rather than of the Authorized Version. If my main object had been accuracy, no doubt I ought to have availed myself of a translation avowedly more exact and accurate than that which was executed by the scholars of King James. But, as my primary aim was literary, it seems to me absurd to prefer a version which has every merit except that it is not literary to one which may conceivably have every defect except that it was written at the most glorious time of our English prose. Such mistakes and confusions as occur are for the most part confined to smaller points, and do not affect the essential characteristics. One critic made the valuable suggestion that I ought to have put the prophets in their proper historical order. And indeed it would have been in many ways better if the books of Amos and Hosea had preceded that of Isaiah, as showing the development and affiliation of religious ideas; but if I had once begun to arrange the books of the Old Testament in reference to the historical order of their composition, the Bible would have been turned upside down and presented an aspect utterly confusing to those familiar with its present shape. Against such a reconstruction as this, I fear that the accusation of “ tinkering ” with Holy Writ would have been urged with much greater point.
I fully admit that my notes to various passages are in many cases inadequate, and that there are too few of them. It has been urged, and with no little truth, that more explanation