Old Testament History

By Henry Preserved Smith | Go to book overview

PREFACE

THE purpose of the present volume is to put into narrative form the results of recent Old Testament study. The book might have been called a History of Israel; but that title would indicate that the subject was treated in its relation to the general history of mankind, whereas for a series of theological handbooks it should be treated in its relation to our religion. From the beginning the Christian Church has assigned special importance to the body of writings which we call the Old Testament--Old Covenant would perhaps be a better title. To understand these writings is one of the first aims of theological study, and the endeavour to understand them has given rise to a number of separate sciences --Old Testament Introduction, Philology, Geography, Chronology, Biblical Theology of the Old Testament, and others. In our time it has become increasingly clear that no literature (and the Old Testament is first of all a literature) can be understood without tracing the process of growth by which it came into being. The immense critical labour that has been expended on the Old Testament of late years is motived by a desire to discover the stages of growth by which this literature became what it is.

For the understanding of the literature we cannot stop with the investigation of purely literary questions. Criticism is a means to something beyond itself. The results of critical inquiry must be brought into relation with each other by a constructive reproduction of what has actually taken place in the past; in other words, criticism must result in history before it can be considered complete. It follows that every new advance in criticism involves a rewriting of history. Otherwise it would be presumptuous to do again what has already been so often done before. As in what we call secular history new treatises are

-vii-

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