We ought to have the different books, or groups of books, bound separately; arranged paragraphically like other writings, with the present verse divisions indicated, if need be, in the margin; and the poetic structure properly indicated. These books should have brief, simple, lucid notes; drawing from our best critics the needful information as to their age, authorship, integrity, form, scope, obsolete words and idioms, local customs historical allusions, etc.; with other readings throwing light upon obscure passages. Each book should be thus provided with such a popular critical apparatus as accompanies good editions of other classics, and as Matthew Arnold has prepared for one book, in his primer entitled “The Great Prophecy of Israel’s Restoration;” which is the second section of Isaiah, arranged as a “Bible-reading for schools.”
This series of Bible-books should then be chronologically arranged, as far as the conclusions of the higher criticism will allow; and should be bound in uniform style and set in a Bible case, preserving thus the unity of the whole. Such an edition of the Bible would stimulate a renewed resort to it, in which men would re-discover a lost literature.
Until you can procure such an edition, provide yourselves with a paragraph Bible, following the natural divisions of the writings and maintaining their poetic form; and seek the information you may desire in some of the manuals embodying the results of the higher criticism.
Each writing having an intrinsic unity should, by such aids, be studied as a whole.
Every intelligent Christian ought to have a clear conception of the general scope of thought in each great Bible-book. Whatever fragmentary use of these books for direct devotional purposes may be made, he who would count himself as one of “the men of the Bible,” ought to know as much about them as he knows about his favorite authors.
Who that pretends to be a lover of Shakespeare is content with a scrappy reading of his immortal plays? To enjoy them fully, even in fragmentary readings, he seeks to have a foundation of critical knowledge, such as Shakespearian scholars place within the easy mastery of any one. After such a study of a play he can pick it up in leisure hours and see new beauties every time he reads it. How many Bible Christians know their Bible thus?
What a revelation such a study makes! It is an alchemist’s touch, turning many a leaden book into finest gold.
The oldest book, as a whole, in the Bible, is the Song of Songs. Attributed by later ages to Solomon, it was probably written by some unknown author, anywhere from the tenth to the eighth century before Christ. The poem is dramatic in form, though imperfectly constructed according to our canons. Its scenes shift, and its speakers change with true dramatic movement. It is the closest approach to the drama preserved to us in Hebrew literature, whose genius never favored this highly organic form. There is needed but the usual indication of the dramatis personae to clear the movement of the plot, and to reveal the force and beauty of the poem.