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still extant, of which we have examples in the Macamet, or Academical Discourses, of Hamadani and Hariri.* The Arabian tribes had anciently, once a year, at Ocadh, a general assembly, which lasted a whole month, during which time they were employed, together with subjects of traffic, in reciting poetical compositions, to the most excellent of which a prize was adjudged.t A passion for these recreations, so worthy rational beings; pervaded all classes; even persons of the most elevated rank honoured these assemblies with their presence;and they continue, to this day, to afford amusement and instruction to the inhabitants of the East.Ş This, it must be acknowledged, is no absolute proof of similar assemblies in the age of Solomon; but it forms a strong presumption in their favour, and serves to show, that a prince's convening and teaching the people comports with Oriental manners and customs.
* See D'Herbelot, Bibliotheque Orientale, in voc. Macamat,” says this great Orientalist, denotes “ assemblees et conversations, lieux communs et pieces d'eloquence, ou discours academiques, qui se recitent dans les compagnies de gens de lettres. Cette maniere de reciter dans les assemblees des ouvrages en prose et en vers est aussi frequente parmy Orientaux, qu'elle etoit autrefois chez les Romans, et qu'elle est encore aujourd’huy dans nos academies. Les Arabs ont plusieurs livres qui contiennent de ces sortes de discours, qni passent parmy eux pour des chef-d'ouvres d'eloquence."-Biblioth. Orientale, voc. Macamat. See Abulfeda, Annal. Moslem. vol. iii. p. 728.
+ Pococke, Specimen Hist. Arab. p. 164, Oxon, 1806. Sale, Prel. Diss. to Koran, p. 36, Lond. 1812.
$ D'Herbelot, Bibliotheque Orientale, voc. Amak.
The sacred writings, however, supply some párticulars, from which it is reasonable to infer; that, even so early as the time of Solomon, auditories were occasionally collected, in which moral and literary discourses were pronounced. The author of the Ecclesiastes has been supposed to allude to these assemblies in ch. xii. 11, which is thus interpreted: “The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the MASTERS OF ASSEMBLIES, which are given from one shepherd.”
.badla asuphoth , Mr בעלי אספות The original words
Harmer thinks, strictly signify lords of assemblies; by which he understands, persons who distinguished themselves by the superiority of their compositions in those assemblies so frequent among the Orientals, in which literary productions were recited.* But, éven admitting the correctness of this rendering, and it is not destitute of support, as observed in the critical notes upon the
passage, it will scarcely establish his interpretation ; for “the masters, or lords of assemblies" may rather dénote those who were appointed to preside over and instruct the congregations of Israel. Independent of this, it is equally agreeable to the literal meaning of the phrase to render it “ lords, or masters of collections,” a Hebraism for “collectors;" by which expression the author might intend to designate those eminent persons
* Harmer, Observations, &c. vol. in. p. 215, ed. Clarke. G
who collected and disposed in order the sayings of men divinely inspired, as the men of Hezekiah mentioned in Prov. xxv. 1; and this exposition is adopted in the following paraphrase.
Granting, however, that the passage abovecited does not make for our present purpose, another, in the same chapter of the Ecclesiastes, may be appealed to with more confidence, wherein Solomon informs us, that “because the Preacher was wise he still taught the people knowledge; yea, he gave good heed, and sought out, and set in order, many proverbs.”—Ch. xii. 9.) Here Solomon's teaching the people knowledge is contradistinguished to his composing or writing proverbs: this teaching, then, must have been a vivå voce instruction, which could only be imparted to auditories collected for the purpose of hearing him discourse upon topics proper for edification.
We are informed by the sacred historian, that “ there came of all people to hear the wisdom of Solomon, from all kings of the earth, which had heard of his wisdom;” (1 Kings iv. 34;) that is, very many inhabitants of the surrounding states came of their own accord, and others were commissioned by foreign princes, to hear and profit by the wisdom of the Jewish monarch. In 1 Kings x. 24, it is said, that “ all the earth sought to Solomon, to hear his wisdom, which God had put in his heart;" and, in 2 Chron. ix. 23, it is stated, that “all kings of the earth sought the presence of Solomon, to hear his wisdom that God had put in his heart;" from which, compared with the passage first quoted from 1 Kings, we learn, that the sovereigns of the adjoining countries sometimes came personally, and sometimes by deputy, to ascertain, from Solomon's own lips, the reality of his far-renowned wisdom, and to profit by the counsels of a monarch so celebrated for understanding and knowledge. Now it is barely possible, that all these might hear his wisdom in private interviews; but it is much more probable, that they were collected into assemblies, in commodious rooms, where the royal sage delivered to them the maxims and admonitions of his enlightened mind.
If such was the monarch's practice, we may account rationally for the “ very great company” who attended the queen of Sheba when she visited Solomon, “ to prove him with hard questions.”—1 Kings x. 2; 2 Chron. ix. 1.) They were, doubtless, not merely intended for state and pomp, but to be present at the interview of these exalted personages, and to witness “ the keen encounter of their wits.” The Jewish monarch, also, would be attended with his officers and courtiers, and in this splendid divan the king returned the answers of experienced wisdom to the questions propounded by the Arabian queen.
Whatever were the subjects discussed in this conference, or in whatever manner it was conducted, it undoubtedly formed an assembly expressly convened for literary discussion and the exercise of intellectual talent. Nor can any other conclusion be drawn from what the queen of Sheba says to the king, “Happy, are thy men, happy are these thy servants, which stand continually before thee, and that hear thy wisdom,” (1 Kings x. 8; 2 Chron. ix. 7) which implies that Solomon was surrounded by his servants and ministers, to whom he was in the habit of communicating the suggestions of inspired wisdom.
The same inference may be fairly drawn from the description of Solomon's understanding and knowledge, in the first book of Kings, where it is affirmed, that “he SPAKE three thousand proverbs; and his songs were a thousand and five. And he SPAKE of trees, from the cedar tree that is in Lebanon even unto the hyssop that springeth out of the wall: he SPAKE also of beasts, and of fowl, and of creeping things, and of fishes.”— (Chapter iv. 32, 33.) It is not said, that these were written compositions, but that he spake them; and it is most consistent with the manners. of the age, as well as with the dignity of the monarch, to suppose them spoken in assemblies