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any part of the human organization, which might not be made by a person entirely unacquainted with physical science.* The practice of dissection must have been impossible among the Hebrews, with whom the touch of a dead body occasioned a legal defilement.-(Numb. xix. 11, et seq.) Neither could they derive a knowledge of the physiology of man from other nations, all of whom were far behind the Israelites in the arts and sciences, excepting, perhaps, the Egyptians; and even among them the science of medicine was in its rudiments at the time of which we are speaking. It was, therefore, morally impossible for an ancient Jew to describe, with anatomical correctness, the ravages of disease, or the maladies of age.
If we could even suppose, that the king of Israel, whose knowledge of the works of nature was preeminently great, was acquainted with the anatomical structure of the human body; yet why should he communicate this knowledge in metaphor and figure, rather than 'in the simple diction of philosophy and truth? If he had designed to describe, as a physician, the effects of age, why did he choose the language of poetry, which is so liable to be mistaken? It is true, it has been asserted, that the appellations in Ecclesiastes xii. 1–6 may possibly have been the names current among the learned, by which certain parts of the human body were distinguished. It would require very strong evidence, indeed, to give a colour of credibility to this opinion; but none has been produced, and it remains a mere supposition, altogether destitute of support from any other part of the Sacred Writings. The whole passage is evidently figurative, and it is unreasonable to suppose that Solomon would convey anatomical information in such language. *
* That the Hebrews were acquainted with anatomy to a considerable extent has been asserted, among others, by Jahn, Archæologia Hebræa, p. 165. Bishop Horsley thought that the circulation of the blood was known by the author of the Ecclesiastes; (Horsley, Sermons, vol. iii. p. 190, Lond. 1813;) but it is an opinion without adequate support. In a question as to the mode of interpreting Ecclesiastes xii. 1–0, that passage must be set aside; for any appeal to it is a mere begging of the question.
4 Brucker, Hist. Philosoph. lib. i. cap. 8. Shuckford, Connect. lib. ix. vol. 2, p. 424. Guoguet, Origin of Laws, par, i. lib. 3, cap. 1, art. 2. The learned Warburton, who is inclined to exalt the antiquity and arts of Egypt, thinks anatomy was, in very ancient times, known and studied by the Egyptians.-Div. Legat. lib. iv. $ 3.
Again, for what purpose should he insert a medical disquisition in a moral discourse, adapted to readers of every class, and intended for general edification? An account of the evils attendant upon declining years may be very suitably introduced into a treatise in praise of Wisdom; but it is surely unnecessary for it to be drawn up with anatomical skill. Scientific details, which would interest but few, even of those who were capable of understanding them, would be misplaced and absurd in a work adapted for popular instruction. In short, it is every way unlikely that the royal sage intended to convey any recondite meaning under the veil of figurative language, and certainly it never was the intent of Inspiration to instruct mankind in the results of natural philosophy.
* « Egregie observatum est ab Michaele, hanc senectutis descriptionem poeticam esse, poesëos autem rationem non ferre, ut res accurate ac secundum veritatem delineentur, sed ut depingantur secundum rationem externi earum habitus, quo sensibus nostris maxime obversantur, &c.”J. H. van der Palm, Annot. in Eccles. xii. 1.
For these reasons it is right to reject the opinion of those who assert the scientific accuracy of Solomon's portraiture of age. It is more just to consider it as a highly-finished picture of the pains and debilities consequent upon decaying nature, delineated, indeed, by a skilful hand and glowing imagination, but only intended to exhibit such effects of age as naturally suggest themselves to a sagacious and observing mind: It is, therefore, improper to explain, by the aid of medical science, a poetical description which requires a popular illustration, founded on Asiatic customs and the nature of figurative language. It is not consistent with the rules of critical interpretation to seek for hidden meanings in particular words, or for anatomical knowledge under figurative expressions. In a poem, exquisite for the beauty and variety of the images, it is sufficient if we obtain a more general idea conveyed by the imagery; and upon these principles the subjoined interpretation of Ecclesiastes xii. 1-6 is conducted.
After having ascertained the true exposition, we are naturally led to inquire into the fidelity of the description. Does it accord with truth and nature ? Are the dark and sombre colours of the picture agreeable to the reality? And is the closing scene of human existence not only deprived of positive enjoyment, but, moreover, subjected to a burden of actual suffering?
Though the passage, if taken in an isolated view, may seem to imply the affirmative, we may rest assured, that it cannot be the design of the Preacher to characterize old age as itself an evil. Gray hairs, fulness of years, and a good old age are frequently represented, in the Sacred Writings, as peculiar blessings. It was promised to Abraham, for his comfort, that he should be “ buried in a good old age;" which accordingly was accomplished.-(Gen. xv. 15, xxv. 8.) It is mentioned as a blessing enjoyed both by Gideon and David, that they died in an advanced period of life.—(Judges viii. 32; 1 Chron. xxix. 28.) It is said by holy Job, of the man whom the Lord correcteth, that he shall “ come to his grave in a full age, like as a shock of corn cometh in his
season.”-(Job v. 26.) Even Solomon himself declares, that “the hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness," and that “ the beauty of old men is their gray head.”—Prov. xvi. 31, xx. 29.
Old age, as is apparent from daily observation, is not unfrequently a season of serenity and cheerfulness. The diminution of animal vigour is.compensated by the improvement of the mind through knowledge and experience. The acuteness of the senses, the elasticity of the imagination, and the ardent relish and pursuit of pleasure, which predominate in youth, are no more; but they are exchanged for other sources of happiness more pure and sedate, more enduring, and more agreeable to a rational and intellectual nature. With all its bodily weaknesses, age is not only venerable, but is often the period of extensive usefulness, of active benevolence, and of mental tranquillity and enjoyment, as is exhibited by Sir Thomas Bernard, in his pleasing work on the Comforts of Old Age, and as is elegantly described by Cicero, in his treatise De Senectute, which most scholars have read in their youth, and which no one can peruse without unmixed admiration and delight.
But though age is often thus serene, contented, and composed, and, under any circumstances,