History in its modern sense, is hardly a term that expresses the conception of the sacred writers, who nevertheless have given us invaluable materials for its construction. The earliest records of the O.T. are rather family pedigrees (תֹּלדוֹת, generations), and the Gospels and Acts are properly memoirs and personal memoranda. SEE CHRONOLOGY.
1. It is evident, however, that the Hebrew people were a commemorative race; in other words, they were given to creating and presenting memorials of important events. Even in the patriarchal times we find monuments set up in order to commemorate events. Jacob (Ge 28:18) "set up a pillar" to perpetuate the memory of the divine promise; and that these monuments had a religious import and sanction appears from the statement that "he poured oil upon the top of the pillar" (see Ge 31:45; Jos 4:9; 1Sa 7:12; Jg 9:6). Long-lived trees, such as oaks and terebinths, were made use of as remembrancers (Ge 35:4; Jos 24:26). Commemorative names, also, were given to persons, places, and things; and from the earliest periods it was usual to substitute a new and descriptive name for an old one, which may in its origin have been descriptive too (Ex 2; Ex 10; Ge 2; Ge 23; Ge 4:1). Genealogical tables appear, moreover, to have had a very early existence among the people of whom the Bible speaks, being carefully preserved first memoriter, afterwards by writing, among family treasures, and thus transmitted from age to age. These, indeed, as might be expected, appear to have been the first beginnings of history-a fact which is illustrated and confirmed by the way in which what we should term a narrative or historical sketch is spoken of in the Bible, that is, as "the book of the generation" ("of Adam," Ge 5; Ge 1): a mode of speaking which is applied even to the account of the creation (Ge 2:4), "These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created." The genealogical tables in the Bible (speaking generally) are not only of a very early date, but are free from the mixtures of a theogonical and cosmogonical kind which are found in the early literature of other primitive nations, wearing the appearance of being, as far at least as they go, true and complete lists of individual and family descent (Ge 5:1). But perhaps the most remarkable fact connected with this subject is the employment of poetry at a very early period to perpetuate a knowledge of historical events. Even in Ge 4:23, in the case of Lamech, we find poetry thus employed, that is, by the great-grandson of the primitive father. Other instances may be found in Ex 15; Jg 5; Jos 10:13; 2Sa 1:18.
2. The sources of Biblical history are chiefly the Biblical books themselves. Any attempt to fix the precise value of these sources in a critical point of view would require a volume instead of an article. Whatever hypothesis, however, may eventually be held touching the exact time when these books, or any of them, were put into their actual shape, as also touching the materials out of which they were formed, one thing appears very certain, that (to take an instance) Genesis, the earliest book (probably), contains most indubitable, as well as most interesting historical facts; for though the age, the mode of life, and the state of culture differ so widely from our own, we cannot do otherwise than feel that it is among men and women, parents and children-beings of like passions with ourselves-and not with mere creations of fancy or fraud, that we converse when we peruse the narratives which this composition has so long preserved. The conviction is much strengthened in the minds of those who, by personal acquaintance with the early profane writers, are able to compare their productions with those of the Hebrews, which were long anterior, and must, had they been of an equally earthly origin, have been at least equally deformed by fable. The simple comparison of the account given in Genesis of the creation of the world with the Cosmogonies of heathen writers, whether Hindu, Greek, or Latin, is enough to assure the impartial reader that a purer, if not a higher influence, presided over the composition of Genesis than that whence proceeded the legends or the philosophies of heathenism; nor is the conclusion in the slightest degree weakened on a closer scrutiny by any discrepancy which modern science may seem to show between its own discoveries and the statements in Genesis. The Biblical history, as found in its Biblical sources, has a decided peculiarity and a great recommendation hi the fact that we can trace in the Bible more clearly and fully than in connection with any other history, the first crude elements and the early materials out of which all history must be constructed.
How far the literature supplied in the Bible may be only a relic of a literary cyclus called into being by the felicitous circumstances and favorable constitution of the great Shemitic family, but which has perished in the lapse of ages, it is now impossible to determine; but had the other portions of this imagined literature been of equal religious value with what the Bible offers, there is little risk in affirming that mankind would scarcely have allowed it to be lost. The Bible, however, bears traces that its were not the only books current in the time and country to which it relates; for writing, writers, and books are mentioned without the emphasis and distinction which always accompany new discoveries or peculiar local possessions, and as ordinary, well-known, and matter-of-course things. It is certain that we do not possess all the works which were known in the early periods of Israelitish history, since in Nu 21:14 we read of "the book of the wars of the Lord," and in Jos 10:13, of "the book of Jasher." Without writing, history, properly so called, can have no existence. Under the head WRITING we shall trace the early rudiments and progress of that important art: here we merely remark that an acquaintance with it was possessed by the Hebrews at least as early as their Exodus from Egypt-a fact which shows at least the possibility that the age of the Biblical records stands some thousand years or more prior to the earliest Greek historian, Herodotus.
Other sources for at least the early Biblical history are comparatively of small value. Josephus has gone over the same periods as those the Bible treats of, but obviously had no sources of consequence relating to primitive times which are not open to us, and in regard to those times does little more than add here and there a patch of a legendary or traditional hue which could well have been spared. His Greek and Roman predilections and his apologetical aims detract from the value of his work, while in relation to the early history of his country he can be regarded in no other light than a sort of philosophical interpreter; nor is it till he comes to his own age that he has the value of an independent (not even then an impartial) eye-witness or well-informed reporter. In historical criticism and linguistic knowledge he was very insufficiently furnished. The use of both Josephus and Philo is far more safe for the student of the New Testament than for the expounder of the old. SEE JOSEPHUS.
The Talmud and the Rabbins afford very little assistance for the early periods, but might probably be made to render more service in behalf of the times of the Savior than has generally been allowed. The illustrations; which Lightfoot and Wetstein have drawn from these sources are of great value; and Gfrorer, in his Jahrhundert des Heils (Stuttgart, 1838), has made ample use of the materials they supply in order to draw a picture of the first century, a use which the learned author is at: no small pains to justify. The compilations of the Jewish doctors, however, require to be employed with the greatest caution, since the Rabbins were the depositories, the expounders, and the apologists of that corrupt form of the primitive faith and of the Mosaic institutions which has been called by the distinctive name of Judaism, comprising a heterogeneous mass of false and true things, the colluvies of the East as well as light from the Bible, and which, to a great extent, lies under the express condemnation of Christ himself. How easy it is to propagate fables on their authority, and to do a disservice to the Gospel records, may be learnt from the fact that older writers, in their undue trust of Rabbinical authority, went so far as to maintain that no cock was allowed to be kept in Jerusalem, because fowls. scratched unclean things out of the earth, though the authority of Scripture (which in this case they refused to admit) is most express and decided (Mt 26:34; Mr 14:30,60,72). On the credibility. of the Rabbins, see Ravii Diss. Phil. Theol. de eo quod Fidei merentur, etc., in Oelrich's Collect. Opusc. Hist. Phil. Theol.; Wolf, Bibl. Hebr. 2, 1095; Fabricius, Bibliog. Anti. 1, 3, 4; Brunsmann, Diss. de Judaica (Hafnie, 1705).
The classical authors betray the grossest ignorance almost in all cases where they treat of the origin and history of the Hebrew people; and even the most serious and generally philosophic writers fall into vulgar errors and unaccountable mistakes as soon as they speak. on the subject. What, for instance, can be worse than: the blunder or prejudice of Tacitus, under the influence of which he declared that the Jews derived their origin from Mount Ida, in Crete; that by the advice of an oracle they had been driven out of Egypt; and that they set up in their temple at Jerusalem as an object of worship the figure of an ass, since an animal of that species had directed them in the wilderness and discovered to them a fountain (Tacitus, Hist. 5, 1, 2). Dion Cassius (37, 17) relates similar fables. Plutarch (Quaest. Sympos. 4, 5) makes the Hebrews pay divine honors to swine, as being their instructors in agriculture, and affirms that they kept the Sabbath and the Feast of Tabemacles in honor of Bacchuse. A collection of these. gross misrepresentations, together with a profound and successful inquiry into their origin, and a full exposure of their falsehood, has been given by Dr. J. G. Muller, in. the Theologische Studien und Kritiken (1843, 4:893).
3. The children of the faithful Abraham seem to have had one great work of Providence entrusted to them, namely, the development, transmission, and infusion into the world of the religious element of civilization. Their history, accordingly, is the history of the rise, progress, and diffusion of true religion, considered in its source and its developments. Such a history must possess large and peculiar interest for every student of human nature, and pre-eminently for those who love to study the unfoldings of Providence, and desire to learn that greatest of all arts-the art of living at once for time and for eternity.
The subject matter contained in the Biblical history is of a wide and most extensive nature. In its greatest length and fullest meaning it comes down from the creation of the world till near the close of the 1st century of the Christian sera, thus covering a space of some 4000 years. The books presenting this long train of historical details are most diverse in age, in kind, in execution, and in worth; nor seldom is it the fact that the modern historian has to construct his narrative as much out of the implications of an epistle, the highly-colored materials of poetry, the far-reaching visions of prophecy, and the indirect and illusive information of didactic and moral precepts, as from the immediate and express statements of history strictly so denominated.
The historical materials furnished relating to the Hebrew nation may be classed under three great divisions:
1. The books which are consecrated to the antiquity of the Hebrew nation-the period that elapsed before the era of the judges. These works are the Pentateuch and the book of Joshua, which, according to Ewald (Geschichte des Volkes Israel, 1, 72), properly constitute only one work, and which may be termed the great book of original documents.
2. The books which describe the times of the judges and the kings up to the first destruction of Jerusalem; that is, Judges, Kings, and Samuel, to which belongs the book of Ruth: "all these," says Ewald, "constitute also, according to their last formation, but one work, which may be called the Great Book of Kings."
3. The third class comprises the books included under the head of Hagiographa, which are of a much later origin, Chronicles, with Ezra and Nehemiah, forming the great book of general history reaching to the Grecian period. After these books come those which are classed together under the name of Apocrypha, whose use, we think, has been unduly neglected. Then the circle of evangelical records begins, which closed within the century that saw it open. Other books found in the Old and New Testaments, which are not properly of a historical character, connect themselves with one or other of these periods, and give important aid to students of sacred history.
4. Biblical history was often treated by the older writers as a part of Church History in general, since they considered the history given in the Bible as presenting different and successive phases of the Church of God (Buddei Hist. Eccles. 2 vols. 1726-29; Stolberg, Gesch. der Religio Jesu, 1, 111). Other writers have viewed this subject in a more practical light, presenting the characters found in the Bible for imitation or avoidance; among whom may be enumerated Hess (Geschichte der Israeliten vor dlen Zeiten Jesu, Zurich, 1775) and Niemeyer (Characteristik der Bibel, Halle, 1830). Among the more strictly learned writers several have had it in view to supply the gaps left in the succession of events by the Bible, out of sources found in profane writers. Here the chief authors are of English birth, namely, Prideaux, Shuckford, Russell; and for the New Testament, the learned, cautious, and fair-dealing Lardner. There is a valuable work by G. Langen: Versuch eizner Harmonie der heiligen und profan. scrib. in der Geschichte der Welt (Bayreuth, 1775-80). Other writers have pursued a strictly chronological method, such as Usher (Annales Vet. N.T. Lond. 1650) and Des Vignoles (Chronologie de l'Histoire Sainte, Berlin, 1738). Heeren (Handb. der Geschichte, p. 50) recommends, as containing many valuable inquiries on the monarchical period, the following work: J. Bernhardi Commentatio de causis quibus egfectum sit ut regnum Judae diutius persisteret quam regnum Israel (Lovanni, 1825). Heeren also declares that Bauer's Handbuch der Gesch. des Hebr. Volks (1800) is the best introduction both to the history and the antiquities of the Hebrew nation; though Gesenius ,complains that he is too much given to the construction of hypotheses. The English reader will find a useful but not sufficiently critical compendium in The History of the Hebrew Commonwealth, translated from the German of John Jahn, D.D., by C. E. Stowe (N. Y. 1829, and later). A far more valuable, as well as more interesting, yet by no means faultless work is Milman's History of the Jews (London, 1829, 3 vols. 12mo; revised, Lond. and N. Y. 1870-1, 3 vols. sm. 8vo). A more recent and very valuable work, Kitto's Pictorial History of Palestine (Lond. 1841), combines with the Bible history of the Jews the results of travel and antiquarian research, and is preceded by an elaborate Introduction, which forms the only Natural History of Palestine in our language. A valuable compendium is Smith's 'series of "Student's Histories" (Old-Testament History and New Testament History, Lond. and N. Y. 1869, 2 vols. 12mo). Stanley's Lectures on Jewish History (London and N. Y. 1863 sq. 2 vols. 8vo) are more brilliantly written.
German theologians are strongly imbued with the feeling that the history of the Hebrews has yet to be written. Niebuhr's manner of treating Roman history has had a great influence on them, and has aroused the theological world to new efforts, which have by no means yet come to an end; nor can we add that they have hitherto led to very definite and generally approved results. The works of the learned Jews, Jost (Gesch. der Israeliten seit der Maccabaer, 9 vols; Gesch. des Judenthums und Seiner Sekten, 1857-59,3 vols.), Herzfeld (Gesch. d. Volkes Israel v. d. Vollendung des Zweiten
Tempels bis zur Einsetzung des Mckabaers Schimen 1854-57, 2 vols. 8vo), Gratz (Geschichte d. Juden, 11 vols. 8vo, not yet completed), as well as that of Nork (Das Leben Mosis vom A stron. Stand. betrachtet, 1838), Raphall (Post-bibl. History of the Jews, N.Y. 1855, of which vols. 1 and 2 only ever appeared), and others, must not be overlooked by the professional student; nor will he fail, to study with care the valuable introductions to the knowledge of the Old Testament put forth in Germany, with which we have nothing comparable in our language. SEE INTRODUCTION. Of the more recent works we may mention Stahelin's Kritisch Untersuchungyee über den Pentateuch, etc. (1843), and Io Ewald's Geschichte des Volkes Israel bis Christus (Götting. 1843 sq., 1851-3, 6 vols. 8vo), the first part of which has been translated into English (London. 1869, 2 vols. 8vo). The latter especially is learned, acute, and profound, but thoroughly pervaded by a rationalistic spirit. Kurtz's Manual of Sacred History (Philadel. 1858,12mo; from the German, Kinigsberg, 1850, 8vo), and History of the Old Covenant (Edinburgh, 1859, 3 vols. 8vo; from the German, Berlin, 1848-55, 3 vols. 8vo), are more evangelical, but less searching and original. Weber und Holtzmann's Gesc. d. Volkes Israel (Leipz. 1866, 2 vols. 8vo) is rationalistic. The latest is Hitzig's Gesch. Isr. (Lpz. 1870). For other works, see Darling, Cyclopedia, col. 1830 sq.