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EVERY attempt to illustrate the BIBLE, the oldest and most important book in the world, a book that has God for its Author, 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 antient writings are full of them. 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 antient authors ; and, (thanks to their industry) they have rendered the study of these writers not only easy but delightful; and brought the literature of antient Greece and Rome within the reach even of our children.
But the Heathen wrilers 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, or ennobled the huinan character, have carefully read, and diligently studied the Sacred Writings; have felt their beauties, and prized their excellencies; and, by their learned and pious works, 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. Such works require only to be better known in order to become universally esteemed.
In the first rank of such 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 Biblicus. The former is allowed by competent judges to be the most accurate and useful treatise on the subject ever published.
In 1750 the Mæurs des Israelites was translated in one vol. 8vo. with this title :-" The Customs of the Israelites : translated from the French of the Abbot Fleury, by R. G.” (Richard Gough, the celebrated antiquary, then a youth of about fifteen years of age.) This translation I have not seen; it was never sold, being done for presents to the friends of Mr. Gough and his family. See Nichols' Anecdotes, Vol. VI. p. 266.
In 1756 another translation issued from the press of Mr. Bowyer, with the following title :-“ A Short History of the Israelites : with an Account of their Manners, Customs, Laws, Polity, and Religion ; being a useful Introduction to the reading of the Old Testament. Translated from the French of Abbé Fleury, by Ellis Farneworth, M. A." 8vo.
The honour of this translation, though long given to the above claimant, does not appear to be his just due ; but belongs to Mr. Thomas Bedford, of Compton, near Ashbourne, Derbyshire, who furnished Mr. F. both with the original and the translation; as appears by a letter of his to Mr. Bowyer the Printer, and from which we learn that the work was not then well received by the public.
6 Compton, near Ashbourne, Derbyshire, 1763.
"Mr. Farneworth has left his poor sister in woeful circumstances, a very worthy gentlewoman in the decline of life, and of an infirm constitution. She will be so just to the creditors as to give up all his effects to any one who will administer; and depend upon Providence and the benevolence of her friends, and other charitable people,for her future subsistence.
“ I was sorry Fleury's useful little book was so unsuccessful : it was I that put it into his hands, both the original and the translation, (that had lain by me many years) in hopes that it would have raised him fifteen or twenty pounds; knowing that both he and his sisters, for then he had another living, were low at that time, Your very humble servant, To Mr. Bowyer.
This is to be regretted, both on account of the editor, Mr. Farneworth, and on account of the public, who deprived itself of one of the most useful manuals of the kind that ever proceeded from the press. Nor was it neglected in consequence of not being introduced to public attention ; for the monthly reviewers gave a very extensive notice of it, of no less than twelve pages, in their review for October, 1756. Vol. XV. p. 321.
When I first thought of preparing a new edition of this work for the public, I intended to re-translate the original : but, on reading over the translation attributed to Mr. Farneworth, I was satisfied that a better one, on the whole, 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 my. self 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 addi. tions 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, much of the fourth part of the present volume is extracted. Those points which I thought 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. I have now 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 these it is impossible to see the reasonableness and excellency of that worship, and of those ceremonies, which God Himself originally established among the Israelites : and by which He strongly prefigured that, glorious revelation under which we have the happiness to live.
a See Nichols’ Anec. of the Eighteenth Century, Vol. II. p. 392.
Many have spoken very highly of the usefulness of this work. Among the rest the late excellent bishop of Norwich, Dr. Horne, recommends it in the following terms :
“ This little book contains a concise, pleasing, and just account of the manners, customs, laws, polity, and religion of the Israelites. It is an excellent introduction to the reading of the Old Testament, and should be put into the hands of every young person.” DISCOURSES, Vol. I.
This recommendation will have its due weight, both with the learned and the pious.