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the degree of excellence which we have been accustomed to associate with and admire in the name of Solomon.
THE STYLE AND LANGUAGE OF THE Eccle
The obscurities of the Ecclesiastes have furnished matter of complaint to almost every commentator; and that they are not without foundation is the opinion of a distinguished prelate, whose literary labours have done more towards illustrating the nature and beauties of Hebrew poetry than those of all his predecessors in the department of sacred criticism.
“ The style of this book,” says Bishop Lowth, “is peculiar; the diction is, for the most part, low, but exceedingly obscure; often loose, unconnected, and resembling conversation; neither is the poetical character very apparent in the composition and structure, which may, perhaps, in some measure, be attributed to the nature of the argument.
* “ Stylus hujusce operis est plane singularis ; dictio est humilis plerumque et submissa, sed imprimis obscura ; sæpe laxa et dissoluta, et sermoni proprior; nec in compositione et structura multum viget poeticus character; quæ forsan videri possunt argumenti naturæ aliquatenus tribuenda."-(Prælect. 24.) “ Stylus est humilis et ad prosain accedit.” --Jahn, Introductio, ad V. T. $213.
style, moreover, abounds with inversions, with abrupt transitions, with bold ellipses, and with a few words and idioms by some denominated Chaldaic, but which may rather be numbered among the writer's peculiarities, as they have not any indisputable marks of an Aramæan origin, and, though uncommon, seem agreeable to the analogy of the Hebrew tongue.
The book has been pronounced, by some critics, to be written in the way of dialogue, between a religious man on one side, and an Epicurean worldling on the other; while others, as Herder and Eichhorn, though they do not regard it as a regular dialogue, characterize it as a singular and artificial composition, in which two speakers, a rash Investigator and a considerate Instructor, are introduced, whose opposite character and sentiments are discernible throughout. However these writers may differ in their particular views, they all agree in principle; and Dean Yeard, in his Paraphrase upon the Ecclesiastes, has endeavoured to reduce it to a consistent form. But all such attempts must be unsuccessful, as there is not the most distant hint, in any part of the work, of its being a discussion between two or more persons. It has none of those breaks, nor of those glances upon incidental topics, and rejoinders, by which dialogistic compositions are distinguished. The subject matter and the chain of the argument prove, in the most convincing manner, that it is an investigation conducted by the author in his own person and character.
Still, though it is not a regular dialogue, the author sometimes starts objections against his reasoning, to which he afterwards replies. It is not material whether these be considered to proceed from Solomon himself, or to be stated as the objections of the sensualist; but that he actually does, in some instances, introduce Epicurean cavils, for the purpose of refuting them, cannot in reason be denied. Some passages occur of such a character as no ingenuity of exposition can reconcile with the known sentiments of Solomon; while they are perfectly suitable to men of dissolute habits, and may
be regarded as the popular sophistry prevalent in that age among the profane and licentious. Passages again, in their obvious sense expressing the principles of atheistic folly, must be understood to be introduced by the author with a view to their refutation; otherwise they would be inconsistent with many other positions in the same treatise, wherein he exhorts the sons of men to the practice of the moral virtues, to fear God, and to keep his commandments.
Nor is it any impediment to this mode of interpreting such like passages, that they are not expressly proposed as the false reasonings of sensualists. The inspired writers are not accustomed to deliver their doctrines, and to refute opponents, in the logical manner of Grecian philosophers; but, though objections are not formally stated, they may be discovered without difficulty. Sentiments of a sensual and irreligious nature, of which there are some, cannot be attributed to the royal Preacher as the dictates of his own mind; and if, in what immediately follows, they are condemned or rebutted, we may safely consider them as the objections of the profane, which he introduces in order to refute. In the same manner St. Paul raises and combats objections, without any precise and formal statement, leaving them to be discovered by the sagacity of the reader. *
The language of this book has sometimes appeared exceptionable, from taking, in their utmost extent, expressions designed to convey a qualified and limited signification. General propositions are not always to be received in the strictest sense of the words; and particular observations must not be stretched beyond the intention of the
* See Macknight on Romans, and Prelim. Essay, 3.
writer. Let an author's ideas be ever so accurate and definite, it is next to impossible, at all times, to select words which convey to the minds of others neither more nor less than his real meaning. This results from the inherent imperfection of language; for which reason, his expressions ought to be interpreted with such restrictions as are necessarily required by common sense and the scope of the context. Many of the Proverbs of Solomon, according to the most general signification of the terms, convey sentiments unreasonable and unjust ; and hence the commentator is compelled to explain them with the limitation so evidently required by common sense and the nature of things. If several of the passages in the Ecclesiastes which have been condemned as absurd, or immoral and profane, be understood in a qualified sense, a sense clearly suggested by truth and reason, they will be vindicated from so heavy a charge, and will be found in every respect worthy the inspired author from whom they proceed.
Though the general tenor of the language approaches to the plainness and simplicity of prose compositions, it is occasionally highly ornamented and figurative. In the beginning of the twelfth chapter is a specimen of boldness of metaphor, and of combination of imagery, scarcely equalled, certainly not exceeded, in the most