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VERY attempt to illustrate the BIBLE, one of the oldest and most important books in the world, a book that has God for its Aụthor, and the eternal happiness of the human race for its end, deserves the most serious attention of all those who profess the Christian religion.
It is granted on all hands, that this book has many difficulties: but this is not peculiar to the Jewish Scriptures; all ancient writings are full of thém: and these difficulties are generally in proportion to the antiquity of such writings ; for the customs, manners, and language of mankind are continually changing; and were it not for the help received from the records of succeeding ages, which are only accessible to the learned, many valuable works of primitive times must have remained in impenetrable obscurity. Scholars and critics have exerted themselves in the most laudable manner to remove or elucidate the difficulties occurring in ancient authors; and (thanks to their industry) they have rendered the study of these writers not only easy but delightful; and brought the literature of ancient Greece and Rome within the 'reach even of our children.
But the heathen writers have not been the only objects of regard in the grand system of critical disquisition A host of the most eminent scholars that ever graced the republic of letters, of ennobled the human character, have carefully read, and diligently studied, the Sacred Writings ; have felt their beauties, and prized their excellencies; and, by their learned and pious labours, have not only recommended them to mankind at large, but rendered them useful to all who wish to read so as to understand. Some of these have been addressed to the Infidel, others to the Scholar, and some to the plain unlettered Christian. The number of the latter, it is true, has not been great; but what is deficient in quantity, is supplied by the very accurate information they impart. These works want only to be generally known, to become universally esteemed.
In the first rank of those writers the Abbé Fleury, and Father Lamy, stand highly and deservedly distinguished ;the former by his Treatise entitled Mæurs des Israelites, (the book now before the Reader) and the latter by his well known work called Apparatus Biblicids. The foriner is the most useful treatise on the subject I have ever met with.
In 1756 the Mæurs des Israelites was translated by the Rev. Ellis Parneworth, and dedicated to the Bishop of Litch.
field and Coventry. How it was received I cannot tell, being long before my time; but if it sold in proportion to the merit of the work, and the fidelity of the execution, a very large edition must soon have been disposed of. When I first thought of preparing a new Edition of this work for the public, I intended to retranslate the original; but on reading over the Translation of Mr. Farneworth, I was satisfied that a better one could scarcely be hoped for. In general the language is simple, pure, and elegant; and both the spirit and unction of the original are excellently preserved. I therefore made no scruple to adopt it, reserving to myself the liberty to correct what I thought amiss, and to add such notes as I judged necessary to the fuller elucidation of the work.
As some , judicious friends thought the original work rather too concise, and hinted that several useful additions. might be made to it on the same plan, I was naturally led to turn to Father Lamy for materials, whose work above mentioned I considered as ranking next to that of the Abbé Fleury, From Mr. Bundy's Edition of this work most of the Fourth Part of the present Volume is extracted. Those points which I supposed the Abbé had treated too concisely to make intelligible, I have considered more at large; and some subjects of importance, which he had totally omitted, I have here introduced. To the whole I have added a copious · Index, by which any subject discussed in the work may at once be referred to; and have reason to hope, that
every serious Christian, of whatever denomination, will find this Volume a faithful and pleasant guide to a thorough understanding of all the customs and manners, civil and religious, of that people to whom God originally entrusted the sacred Oracles; without a proper knowledge of which, it is impossible to see the reasonableness and excellency of that worship, and those ceremonies, which God himself originally established among them; and by which he strongly prefigured that glorious Revelation under which we have the happiness to live.
P. S. Should this Treatise be well received, the Editor intends to translate another Piece, of the same author, entitled Mæurs des Chrétiens, “ Manners of the ancient Christians,” which is only equalled in importance and usefulness by the work now before the Reader.
The Design of this Treatise. THE people, whom God chose to preserve the true religion till the promulgation of the gospel, are an excellent model of that way of living, which is most conformable to nature. We see in their customs the most rational method of subsisting, employing one's self, and living in society; and from thence may learn, not only lessons of morality, but rules for our conduct both in public and private life.
Yet these customs are so different from our own, that at first sight they offend us. We do not see, among the Israelites, those titles of nobility, that multitude of employments, or diversity of conditions, which are to be found among us. They are only husbandmen and shepherds, all working with their own hands, all married, and looking upon a great number of children as the most valuable blessing. The
distinction of meats, of clean and unclean animals, with their frequent purifications, seem to us as so many troublesome ceremonies : and their bloody sacrifices quite disgust us.
We observe, moreover, that these people were prone to idolatry, and, for that reason, are often reproached in Scripture for their perverseness and hardness of heart, and, by the fathers of the church, for being stupid and carnally minded. All this, joined to a general prejudice, that what is most antient is always most imperfect, easily influences us to believe, that these men were brutish and ignorant, and their customs more worthy of contempt than admiration.
And this is one reason why the holy Scriptures, especially those of the Old Testament, are so much neglected, or read to so little purpose. Several well-meaning people, who have not quite got over such prejudices, are discouraged by the outward appearance of these strange customs; and either impute the whole, without distinction, to the imperfection of the old law; or imagine, that some mysteries, beyond their comprehension, are concealed under these external appearances. Others, for want of faith, or uprightness of heart, are tempted, upon such pretences, to despise the Scripture itself, as full of mean and trivial matters; or draw wrong conclusions from it to countenance their own vices.
But, upon comparing the manners of the Israelites with those of the Romans, Greeks, Egyptians, and other people of former ages, which we hold in the highest veneration, these