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The selections from the Old Testament contained in this volume are primarily intended to meet the recommendation of the National Conference on Uniform Entrance Requirements in English, held in New York, February 22, 1909,- that selections from the Old Testament, "comprising at least the chief narrative episodes in Genesis, Exodus, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, and Daniel, together with the books of Ruth and Esther," be accepted as part of the entrance requirements in English literature. This recommendation of the Conference is exceedingly timely and should have the effect of helping the present generation of high-school and college students to an appreciative knowledge of at least the literary significance of the English Bible; for whatever other kind of knowledge they may have of it, they certainly cannot be said to know it as literature. It may be assumed that in a general way most of them have studied fragments of it for moral and religious purposes, but it cannot be assumed that such a study has left them in possession of either a real knowledge of its contents, or an intelligent appreciation of its meaning as literature.
The English Bible has meant too much in English life and letters to take a place among those "classics ” which are spoken of reverently and not read. The history of how we got it, its influence upon life and language and literature, its moral idealism, its abiding literary values, are an inalienable race possession, and no course of literature in either high school or college should be considered complete that does not include a study of parts of the Bible. There is enough variety of form, character,
and experience in its contents to furnish ample material for such courses.
That the Old Testament itself is peculiarly adapted to such use the following selections are meant to show. They are chosen to represent the various types of Old Testament style and narrative, and in such fullness, it is hoped, as to give that sense of unity which comes from a continuous reading of the great work as a whole. The narratives, moreover, are chosen for the significance of the events which they record, and for the fact that they gather about great outstanding personalities. The Old Testament is distinctly a volume of biographies, and the selections have been largely arranged so as to produce the impression of complete life histories. This seemed better than the plan of merely giving many fragmentary episodes. To the narrative selections have been added some selections from the prophecies, from the wisdom books, and from the strictly poetic books. It is intended by this that the selections taken together shall be thoroughly representative of the Old Testament literature.
The text used is that of the standard Authorized King James Version of 1611. It is followed in all respects except that the italicized words are uniformly printed in Roman type. The integrity of the text loses nothing by this change, and much is gained in a book intended for school use and for the general reader. The poetic passages are arranged so as to bring out the structure of the Hebrew versification and the rhythmic character of the English translation. The original punctuation, however, is retained. The paragraph arrangement needs no apology. The arbitrary division of the Authorized Version into chapters and verses detracts no little from the literary impressiveness of the Bible, and at the same time it seriously interrupts the continuity of the thought. Particularly is this the case with the narrative parts. To read them broken up piecemeal, so
to speak, is frequently so to strain the attention as to enfeeble, or quite destroy, the interest.
Each selection, therefore, in this edition, even in those cases where many verses or whole chapters are omitted from the Biblical record, is printed as if it were a continuous whole, with no reference in the text to what has been left out. The unity of the story is thus preserved. At the head of each selection, however, are given the particular chapters and verses used. The omitted parts, that is, those specially concerned with the event narrated or with other episodes in the life of the hero of the story, should be read by the student.
The notes and comments on the text are reduced to the lowest possible terms, and are only such as seemed absolutely necessary. Surely one may assume that there is accessible to every student either a Bible dictionary or one of the standard editions of the Bible, or both. These are furnished with adequate maps of Old Testament geography, and give sufficient information in regard to proper and place names. The student should be encouraged to use these easily available outside helps. Westcott's
History of the English Bible" and Gardiner's " The Bible as English Literature" are excellent for reference, the former for the account it gives of how we got the Bible in English, and the latter for its treatment of the significance of the Bible as literature.
But the text of the Bible itself is the main thing. Of course it is important to know the history of the English Bible, to understand the tributary streams that came together in making the great translation of 1611, and to realize definitely how profoundly it has influenced English life and thought and consequently how creatively potent has been its influence upon English literature. All this constitutes a very noble story, a story well worth any student's while to learn and appreciate. But to stop with this is still to be on the outside of the meaning of the Bible.
Indeed, all this is chiefly valuable, as it leads to the text itself. The
power of the Bible lies here, and no amount of knowledge about it, no mass of critical comment, however wise and learned, should be permitted to hide the text from the student. The first aim, therefore, of the teacher should be to give him such a mastery of these narratives that he will know them thoroughly,
- become, so to speak, saturated with them. To get this mastery, he will have to study and re-study them; but they are well worth it, and most of them have enough inherent interest in themselves to stand such a treatment without necessarily palling on the average student. At the same time the teacher can be leading his students to an appreciation of what is more distinctly literary in character, - the simplicity, the beauty of the phrasing, the noble, unaffected dignity of the sentence rhythms, the vivid appeal the style makes to the imagination, the natural art of the narratives, the elevation of most of the poetry, and indeed of most of the prose, and the dramatic, clearcut, lifelike drawing of human character. And if it may happen at the end of the study that our students, without being able to tell just precisely how or why, will care to turn again and again to the Old Testament because they really like it, who shall say that some good teaching has not been done and some vitally important results obtained ?
H. N. S. WoFFORD COLLEGE
1. THE CREATION
VII. MOSES AND THE EXODUS FROM EGYPT