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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Criticism, the Higher

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is a phrase or title which has lately come into use, or rather been assumed by a certain class of critics, to designate a peculiar form or theory in the treatment of the text of the Bible, especially with reference to the authorship of the several books composing the sacred volume. Under the article CRITICISM, BIBLICAL (See CRITICISM, BIBLICAL), we have seen that it is the particular province of that science to ascertain what is the genuine original of the text itself by means of a recourse to the written or printed copies which are extant; while a determination of their value as religious authorities belongs to the title of CANON OF SCRIPTURES, and the settlement of their peculiarities of diction, dates, and writers is more properly treated under the head of INTRODUCTION or Eisagogica. It is rather a usurpation, therefore, in the promoters or adopters of this new term to claim for themselves the province par eminence of "higher critics," inasmuch as the topics which they discuss have always been recognised as legitimate to other departments of sacred literature, and have in fact been substantially treated there. Furthermore, they do not claim to have found any fresh sources of information, or to have discovered any really new facts or principles; there is nothing truly original even in their processes of investigation; they have merely followed up more closely certain hints and speculations of earlier disputants, and have evolved a more formidable system of conjectures and presumptions on the grounds already controverted. It is proper, therefore, at the outset to understand that this so-called science is not truly information, nor even a consistent and clearly defined classification of well-founded and generally admitted knowledge; but simply a dexterous manipulation of a few phenomena, long ago fully known and often considered, in accordance with the subjective opinions of individual minds, and therefore resulting in widely discrepant conclusions among themselves. In nothing do they actually agree except in a spirit of denial of views current among orthodox students hitherto, and in a wholesale scheme of dissection and redistribution of the contents of the books of Scripture which they have criticised, with a view to assign them in fragments to other unknown and even now nameless authors. In short it is but another phase of the rationalistic attack upon the genuineness, authenticity, and integrity of the Bible as a total or in its parts, for the purpose of rendering a verdict against it as being; unhistorical, and therefore untrustworthy.

This assault upon the traditional authorship of the canonical books of Scripture began with the Pentateuch, which has still been the chief arena of contest; and may be said to have been inaugurated by the suggestion of Astruc, the French physician of the early part of the last century, concerning the Elohistic and the Jehovistic sections of Genesis (q.v.), which was afterwards taken up, especially by the destructive school of German scholars, headed by Eichhorn and others, and lately extended to other portions of the Bible; the most violent of the aspersions being by Colenso and his admirers, but the more keen and learned by Kuener, Wellhausen, and their associates, and at length largely adopted, with great variety in details, by the English latitudinarians, coming down to our own day in the persons specially of Profs. McCheyne, Driver, and Robertson Smith, with their followers in this country, the most noted and outspoken of whom is Dr. Briggs, of the Union Theological Seminary. We have room for a summary only of their different principles, purposes, and processes.

The object of these critics is not only a literary one beyond the scope of the ordinary "Introduction," questioning the authority of tradition, and seeking a more exact solution of difficulties, but it is also historical, applying the same rules as are usual with other documents. This would be perfectly fair, if a sufficient reverence were maintained for the sacred sources, themes, and conservators of revelation; but the standpoint of faith and spiritual experience is too much neglected, and thus a merely secular spirit is encouraged, which is not favorable to the apprehension and appreciation of divine truth. Even those who study from more religious motives do not ask, "How came the Bible here?" they forget that it is not simply a record of human experiences and beliefs like ordinary books, whereas it is the product of supernatural inspiration, and is therefore to be understood and interpreted accordingly. Especially is the history full of miraculous interventions and anomalies, which are not to be judged or accounted for on purely naturalistic and political principles. The Bible is not a mere human production, nor are its contents to be regarded as unaluthoritative.

In like manner the methods pursued by these critics are not only linguistic in the ordinary sense and application, but they are hypercritical and infected with the latent suspicion of a want of originality in the writings thus scrutinized, which warps the judgment and forestalls the conclusion desired. Especially is this the case when a comparison is instituted between the chosen people and contemporary nations, where any apparent discrepancies are seized upon and magnified; to the prejudice of the sacred narrative. The anachronisms thus produced and displayed are really insignificant, and the tables have fairly been turned upon the objectors by the remarkable coincidences so recently brought to light by Egyptian, Assyrian, and Babylonian explorations, strikingly confirming the minutest details of Scripture history. On the contrary these sceptical investigators seem to make an effort to array Biblical statements against each other, instead of pursuing the course of harmonizing usually adopted in reconciling profane historians with each other. The same perversity is especially exhibited in considering the origin and establishment of theological tenets and institutions, where the critics unwarrantably assume that these must have been the result instead of the cause of long years of culture and usage; thus reversing the normal and historical order of events. If any moral or religious sentiment of their own appears to be violated by what they discover in the record, the latter is forthwith repudiated as unworthy and therefore false, and is summarily rejected as a spurious interpolation from some extraneous source or age; a manifest petitio primncipii, which does not seem to occur to these critics as illogical.

In addition to these defects in the procedure of the critics in question, they fail to remember that the different books and chapters of the Bible are not isolated productions, each to be judged alone, but they form parts of a homogeneous and related unit, so that one portion or statement is to be interpreted and harmonized by others in order that the whole truth may be fairly and consistently elicited. Especially do they ignore the fact that the entire volume was not written from the modern standpoint of exact science, for then it would have been unintelligible to its first readers. In short a just system of exegesis is not applied to it, and confusion and misunderstanding of course result. On the contrary, the assumption being once made that even each book is the product of several authors, and that without concert or unity of plan a theory flatly opposed by the evident order and congruity of the whole when fairly expounded it is easy to find and multiply discrepancies, which would otherwise appear simply differences arising from the dislocation and partial exhibit of the passages out of their context and purpose. Besides this are the native repugnance to the preternatural, the asserted improbability of the miraculous, the presumption against prophecy, and the innate rebellion of the heart at unwelcome doctrines, with its blindness of spiritual truths in a word, the materialistic or naturalistic tendency to measure divine things by human, whether in objective statements or internal experience; and we have a sufficient explanation of the rationale or rather irrationale of "higher criticism."

The results of this criticism may be illustrated by the treatment of the Pentateuch (or as these writers usually prefer to call it, the Hexateuch, including the book of Joshua), of which the following is Strack's theory, but it is not altogether coincided in by Dillman, Wellhausen, Socin, and others. The four principal sources are supposed to have been as follows:

1. The Priestly Code (otherwise called the "First Elohist," the "Foundation Document," the "Book of Origins," or the "Annalistic Relator");

2. The Second Elohist (otherwise called the "Younger Elohist," the "North Israelitish Relator," the "Third Relator," or the "Theocratic Relator");

3. The Jehovist or "Jahvist" (otherwise called the "Additor," the "Fourth Relator," or the "Prophetic Relator'");

4. The Deuteronomist. These are substantially reckoned in that chronological order, although widely separated in point of time; and the books in question are distributed among them in a most intricate and minute manner, but with little agreement among the several critics as to the precise adjustment or authorship even of these fragments. All of them, however, in general agree that the very earliest sources, with but few unimportant exceptions, are the product of a comparatively late age; and they all deny the authorship of the Pentateuch as being of Moses. The scheme and detail, as wrought out by them, is too complicated and various to be reproduced intelligibly here. We can only exemplify it by a parody upon an unquestionably historical, authentic, and coherent passage from the New Testament, namely, the account of the restoration of Dorcas by Peter (Acts 9:36-43), which, for the purpose of a reductio ad absurdum, we treat in the same fashion.

In this specimen the reader will observe that the two imaginary sources or documents give each a connected and distinct account of an event, the former being the cure only, and the latter the revivification of the patient; the former exclusively giving the place of its occurrence and certain other particulars (such as the messengers on the occasion, her sitting up of her own accord, etc.), and the latter her name (together with the apartment, spectators, Peter's help in arising, etc.). A few unimportant connecting words are omitted or supplied (in brackets or double brackets respectively) by that convenient personage the so-called "Redactor." In sober truth, the whole theory and process are simply ridiculous, for any veritable paragraph of undoubted history is capable of being travestied in a similar manner.

The literature of the subject is already considerable, although chiefly scattered in sporadic articles throughout periodicals or more extended works. A copious exhibit of the particulars both pro and con is given in the Hebraica for 1891-93, and the book of Genesis as thus dismembered has been printed in German indifferent sorts of type for the eye, by Kautsch and Socin (Freiburg, 1891, 8vo), reproduced in English in different colors by Bissell, with just comments (Hartford, 1892, 8vo). The latter author has admirably reviewed the whole scheme in his work on the Pentateuch (London. and N.Y., 1885, 8vo). Two excellent works on the subject are, The Higher Criticism, by Reverend C.W. Rishell (Cincinnati. 1893, 12mo), and Anti-Higher Criticism, edited by Reverend L.W. Munhall (N.Y. 1894, 8vo).

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Criticism, the Higher'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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