Delitzsch on the Pentateuch - Part 1

Translated From Manuscript Notes

Samuel Ives Curtiss, D. D.,

Professor in Chicago Theological Seminary

Taken from THE HEBREW STUDENT April, 1882. Vol. 1, Issue 1



We give special prominence to the views of Delitzsch with reference to the origin of the Pentateuch, because he is the most eminent Old Testament exegete of the conservative—we might well say of any—school.

There was a time when rationalistic critics like Ewald were accustomed to speak of his commentaries with contempt. The younger generation of scholars, with some exceptions, whether Jewish or Christian, is warm in admiration of his learning; and his name, although he is nearly seventy years of age, is still potent in drawing a crowded lecture room from the four or five hundred theological students who flock to Leipzig.

He was born in the year 1813 in the city, where he now lives, of Jewish descent, although not of Jewish parentage. He was successively the bright particular star of the theological faculties in the universities of Rostock and Erlangen, and still shines with undimned splendor in the university of his native city, in the brightest theological constellation in Germany, with Luthardt and Kahnis.

Better than his fame is his love for truth and evangelical Christianity. He has known the joys of regeneration and the peace of forgiven sin ; and his heart is full of the love of Christ. This might seem to be a poor recommendation of one, who in the role of a critic should be free from every dogmatic prejudice; but his love of truth enables him properly to estimate the strength of an antagonist's position. He is very far from approaching the Scriptures as a volume of proof-texts. His object is rather to know what they really teach, and so far as possible the circumstances under which they were written.

The following paragraphs are taken from careful notes of Professor Delitzsch's course of lectures on Old Testament Introduction as delivered in the University of Leipzig last Summer. It is believed that the matter published in this first article, is a fairly correct reproduction of his lectures, although several of the more technical expressions and remarks have been omitted. The articles that are to follow have been revised by himself. The ground which we shall pass over is mainly that contained in the first period of his History of the Old Testament Literature at the time of Moses, Joshua and the Judges.1

1. The Native Soil of Israel's Literature.

The priority promised to Israel was not temporal, but spiritual (Ex. iv. 22). When Israel arose, the period of the primitive peoples—for example, the aborigines of Palestine, who are without a genealogy had long since passed away; and the more highly civilized nations, which formed, as it were, a strata above the primitive population, had already become mixed through wars and emigrations. Even under the twelfth dynasty, the Egyptians united with the Cushites who had come over from South Arabia, and who were now pressing on from South Africa toward the lower valley of the Nile. These rivals of Egyptian dominion and civilization were the masters not only of the South of Egypt, but also of the Persian gulf, from which they spread over the interior of Asia. The Southern Cushites of Africa were called in the old Egyptian, Puna. They are the ancestors of the Phoenicians (Canaanites) who, according to ancient testimonies from Herodotus to Justin, emigrated from the Persian gulf, over Assyria, into the land of the Jordan. Here they dwelt when Abram emigrated from Chaldea across Mesopotamia. According to Gen. xiv. an Elamite conqueror ruled the valley of the Jordan as far as the bay of Acaba. His name was Chedorlaomer, which, as we now know from monuments, signities a “servant of deity.” In Egypt, the Hyksos ruled even long before the emigration of Jacob's family. They were usurpers from a nomadic stem, who had forced their way into Egypt and had brought with them the worship of Baal and Astarte.

It was a heathen soil with mixed elements of civilization, from which grace caused the people of redemption to spring (Deut. xxvi. 5; Ezek. XVI. 3; Amos ix. 7). Abram, the Hebrew (Gen XIV. 13), came from beyond the Euphrates, where the house of Terah had served other Gods (Josh. XXIV. 2, c. f. Gen. xxxi. 34; xxxv. 4). Ur of the Chaldees, where the moon-god was worshipped, was the cradle of the ancestor of Israel. Canaan, or the land on this side of the Jordan, where the primitive population was already covered over by the Phoenicians and Philistines, was the cradle of the holy family. Goshen, between the Pelusian arm of the Nile and Arabia Petriea, was the cradle of the holy nation. Thus Israel coming from Chaldea through its ancestors, dwelling in Canaan about two hundred years through the patriarchs, grew up on the boundary of Asia and Africa to anation. It is clear that the natural soil, in which this late growth among the nations takes root, is commingled of widely different elements. If, then, we would do justice to the position of Israel's literature in the world's history, and duly distinguish between the working of nature and grace in it, we must have a clear conception of the peculiarity of heathen antiquity, and of the heathen Orient.

Remark 1. The socalled ethnographical table (Gen. X.) affords an inventory of the nation at a time when Israel had not yet been moulded out of the Hebrew strata of nations, when many nations had been pressed back by those which are enumerated. The Scriptures themselves enable us to penetrate this phenomenon in respect to Canaan; for the primitive peoples of this land, for example the Emim and the Zuzim, are neither mentioned nor placed in a genealogy. As the silence of the antediluvian history respecting the land of Nod, indicates a background of primitive Biblical history, which is veiled, so too this silence of the ethnographical table regarding those nations of giants. These primitive peoples were even then in the process of disappearing; and the Canaanites who had emigrated from the Persian gulf had taken possession of the land of the Jordan, as the Philistines, having emigrated across Egypt, took possession of the shore of the Mediterranean.

Remark 2. The ruins of old Ur are now called Mugheir, as the place where the red clay is found, which in Gen. xi., as Babylonian building material, is called chomer. A tower seventy feet high is still found there as the remnant of a temple. In the canon of Assyrian rulers, even the proper name Abramu,2 which is equivalent to Abram, occurs.

Remark 3. Even in the origin of Israel itself, we meet with all kinds of foreign influences and ingredients. The teraphim, that is the penates or house-gods, which Rachel concealed in the camel's saddle, remained during the entire period of the Kings, from the time of their first introduction from Aramsea, a contraband, of Israel. The mother of the sons of Joseph, Manasseh and Ephraim, was Asenath, the daughter of an Egyptian high priest (Gen. XU. 60), and there were dormant sympathies in the blood of Ephraim which Jeroboam awoke, when he made Jehovah the object of worship in his kingdom under the form of a steer. In Moses himself, Egypt and Arabia are commingled with the Shemites of the Terahitic stem. His wife is even called, in Num. xii. 1, the Ethiopian woman. It is necessary to know these facts, that we may do justice to the human and natural material, upon which the ideal, historico-redemptive calling of Israel was stamped. As in the history, so also in the literature, elements from above and from beneath are to be distinguished.

2. The Relation of Orientalism to Israel's Literature.

The Orient is distinguished from the Occident by a more contemplative and discursive tendency of mind, by a communal life which levels down individuality, by a historical progress effected through disturbances among the, masses, by a state which never gets beyond despotism and hierocracy, by a fantastic want of moderation which never attains the repose of harmony and of the ideal But since the Orient is the primitive seat of the human race, it exhibits the factors of the stage previous to heathenism, and of the mythological elements which were active in the heathen world in their original freshness. Hence has arisen the dominion of the religious element, or the reference of all things to the divine; hence the look turned back to Paradise lost; hence the many similar religious ideas which point back to one starting-point; hence the struggle of the idea, as well as of the will, to fill up the gulf between God and man. But the spirit has lost the consciousness of its elevation above nature, and at the same time the spirituality of its functions. It has fallen under the dominion of the life of nature, and consequently into the deification of the creature. With the forgetting of the Creator is connected the national limitation of the intellectual horizon, as well as the national coloring of all forms and representations. Because the heathen Orient has no knowledge of the Creator, it is entirely wanting in the perception of that which belongs to common humanity.

3. The Unique Character of Israel's Literature.

Such was the Orient when Abram was called in Haran, the meeting-place of the heathen, over which the great highway leads from interior Asia to Syria and to the coast of the Mediterranean sea, that he might become the holy root of the good olive tree of Israel (Rom. xi. 24), and of its literature. And how does this literature stand related to the natural heathen soil, out of which it has grown ? Even the first page of the Pentateuch answers this query. We read nothing there about a world-egg, divided into heaven and earth as its two halves; nothing about the woman whom the Phoenician myth calls Baau (cf. בּהׁוּ) from whom the Spirit of God begets the first human pair. No divine form meets us like that of Moloch with the head of a steer, nor of Dagon with the tail of a fish. God is neither represented here, nor elsewhere in the Old Testament, materially; and wherever he represents himself in outline it is in the divine, human image. How are we to explain this difference? Only by supposing that the natural principle is here ruled over by a contrary principle of the Spirit. So far as Israel maintained itself as the people of redemptive history, which Abram's isolation from the land of his heathen family had in view, it is a miracle of grace. The false heights and depths of heathenism are leveled in the literature of Israel to the right mean. The entire pantheon has gone down in Elohim, the One who, as the name El Shaddai attests, is the One free by nature, the Almighty ; and as the name Jehovah indicates, is not only absolute majesty, but also absolute ego (אֶהֱיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהֱיֶה) The tinsel of symbol and the magic of myth have disappeared before the majestic simplicity of truth; and, at the same time, national particularism is broken through, at least so far as the nationality of Israel is brought into relation with the idea of humanity, retrospectively through its past history, as well as prospectively through its future history.

Remark 1. The Mesopotamian Haran was, even in the time of the caliphs, the principal seat of the Sabians, whose name is commonly derived from צָבָא the host (of heaven) according to Deut. iv. 19. Here God called Abram that he might isolate him from his heathen surroundings. The name El Shaddai characterizes the period, in which a new foundation is laid. The divine work consists in overpowering grace, which breaks off the natural development, in order to found a new one which is more in accordance with the divine decree. The holy literature of Israel is the literature of freedom from the curse of the natural principle.

Remark 2. The heathen myths are reduced to rhetorical and poetical images in the language of revelation. In Gen. 1. 16 מֶמְשָׁלָה is a metaphor for the dominant activity of the heavenly bodies by day and by night. The heathen considered the sun and moon as gods and kings. When God, in Deut. iv. 24, is called a “consuming-fire,” this is a poetic image for God as angry and jealous. But the heathen Moloch is the personal sun-fire, a physical fire-god, a burning and scorching sun-baal. God is compared, in Deut. xxxii. 11, to an eagle, which covers its young and carries them. The heathen Arabs, however, really had a god, probably a sun-god, which was called nasr (נֶשֶׁר), and was represented as an eagle. God is compared with a lion, a leopard, a bear etc. (Hos. xiii. 78), even down to a moth (Hos. v. 12), but not to a steer; the mortifying remembrance of the apostasy (Ps. cvi. 20) prevents it.

4. Tue Hebrew Language, as a North Semitic Israelitish Dialect

The work of divine grace also appears in the language of the Old Testament Scriptures. The reason why some portions of it are written in Chaldee—for thus the Biblical Aramaic is called, to distinguish it from that of the Targums and the Syriac—is because Israel in the Exile adopted the Aramaic language, which was at that time the dominant language of communication in the lands that were under the Babylonian rule. This exchange of language which is found in the books of Ezra (iv. 8-vi. 18; vi. 12-26; cf. Jer. x. 11) and of Daniel (ii. 4vii. 28) was not a return to the language of the Chaldean ancestral house. The language which Abram brought with him to Haran and from thence to Canaan was none other than the Babylonio-Assyrian, which now lies before us in numberless monuments; hence two things are possible: (1) that the Hebrew, that is the language of Israel; and the Canaanitic, that is the language of the Phoenicians were immediate offshoots from the Babylonio-Assyrian; or (2) that Abram exchanged the language which he brought with him for that of Canaan (Is. xix. 18), just as the other Terahites exchanged theirs in Mesopotamia with the Aramaic. The Hebrew and Phoenician are two north Semitic dialects, which were developed from the old Canaanitic, which is to be presupposed. Abram therefore spoke, with reference to his origin, the language of Hamitic Babel (Gen. x. 812), and exchanged it in the land of the Jordan with the language of Hamitic Canaan (Gen. x. 6), with the language of an idolatrous people, which was laden with a curse from the time of its ancestors (Gen. ix. 25). Hebrew is a sacred language, not by nature, but as sanctified by grace. In the Old Testament literature, its eye stare directed to heaven, as Jerome says in his comment on Is. xix. 18; but in the language of common life, it betrays plainly enough its Hethitic origin.

Remark. The languages which we call Semitic, Japhetic, and Hamitic do not extend to the origin of the Semitic, Japhetic, and Hamitic nations. The Canaanites are, according to the ethnographical table, Hamites. Springer, in his geography of ancient Arabia, calls it a calumny, that the compiler of the ethnographical table should reckon the Canaanites to the Hamitic race. But Renan and Schroeder are more cautious, and Lepsius has lately shown that nations and languages are by no means coextensive in their original connection. Not only the Phoenicians, but also the Philistines, as the Biblical history informs us, spoke a Semitic language—even if, according to Neh. xiii. 23 sq., it may have been a peculiar dialect—and yet the Canaanites, and, as Gen. x. 14 seems to state, the Philistines are by race Hamites. In answer to the question, where the Canaanites adopted the Semitic language, we have no reliable information. But we know all the more certainly, that the Terahites who remained in Haran adopted the Aramaic language there.

5. The Hebrew as one of the Oldest Semitic Languages which has a Literature.

Although the Hebrew is not the primitive language, and not even the original Semitic language, yet it retains the honor of being one of the oldest Semitic languages which has a literature; we do .not say the oldest, for its priority is rendered a matter of debate through the literature on the monuments of its ancestral house, of which the most ancient period falls between 2000—1500 B. C., hence between Abram and Moses. None of the other Semitic monuments which have been preserved, reach to so high an antiquity. The inscription in twenty-two lines on the sarcophagus of the Sidonian King Esmunazar, found in a crypt of ancient Tyre 1855, dates, according to Schlottmann's investigation, from the time of Artaxerxes Mnenion (405 B.C). The Moabitic monument of King Mesha, discovered in 1868, is from the time of Joram, King of Israel, and Jehoshaphat, King of Judah, hence from about the years 896—894 B. C. The Phoenician inscription discovered in the summer of 1880, at the mouth of the tunnel in the rock, which leads from Mary's fountain to the pool of Siloam, probably extends to a much earlier aate. Sayce has so far deciphered it, that in it the account of the architect, concerning the plan of the tunnel, is recognized, and that too of the Phoenician architect, so that the inscription probably goes back to the time of David and Solomon.3 But these three inscriptions as well as many other Phoenicio-Punic inscriptions, together with the new Punic fragments in the Poenulus of Plautus, as well as the Egyptio-Aramaic remain preserved in the stone of Carpentras, and several papyri, the west Aramaic Palmyrenian inscriptions from the first to the third Christian century, collected by Count Vogue, 1868, and the South Arabian, Himyaritic, from a pre-Islamic age which is uncertain*—brought to light since 1837, are only small fragments of writing, not written works; and the Babylonio-Assyrian remnants of writing are indeed not only monuments, but there are also among them even constituent parts of real books from the royal central library, but yet they are only fragments of such. Hence, even yet, the Old Testament books may still be regarded as the oldest representatives of Semitic book-literature. If we do not take into account those fragments of the Assyrian book literature, the ancient Semitic remains far behind the Biblical in antiquity. Samaritan literature, as a matter of course, could only begin about the time of Alexander the Great (336—322 B. C.) The Jewish Targums begin at the earliest with Onkelos, the proselyte, in the apostolic age. The Syriac begins for us with the Peshito in the second century. The Zabian religious books are from the Gnostic age (second and third century). The Ethiopic literature is Christian throughout, and therefore does not extend further back than to the christianizing of Ethiopia in the third and following century. But the Arabic as it now lies before us as a literary language, was first elevated through Islam (622 632). It is the language of Kreysh, a north Arabian tribe. There are therefore no Syriac and Arabic works which were written before the time of Christ.

6. The Hebrew Language in its Relation to THE Languages of Ancient Civilization.

The languages are all related as products of the human mind, according to the same logical and formative laws; and even the morphological separation of them into isolating [monosyllabic], agglutinative, and in inflectional languages does not separate them impassibly from one another, since the inflected languages presuppose the form of the others as preliminary steps. But while the relationship of the Chinese and even of the Sumerio-Accadian with the Semitic, can neither be proved from the material nor from the form of the language, there appear in the languages of the three groups of nations (Gen. x.) in which the Chinese and the primitive Asiatic languages cannot be inserted, primitive elements of a common character, which the groups of nations that have gone forth from one another, have further developed according to the individuality of the national spirit. The Egyptian sustains a remarkable relation to the Semitic in the formation of its pronouns, in the inflection of its verbs and even oi its nouns; and we may conclude that Semites and Aryans once dwelt together, not only from primitive consonances in the names of domestic animals, numerals etc., but also from the manifold elementary relationships of both groups of languages. There are found not only in the stock of roots, but also in the inflection important points of contact, for example in the inflection of cases, since the genitive and accusative, the two original, oblique cases, were formed in accord. But the Semitic has not been developed beyond these two oblique cases, just as in the verb it distinguishes only two spheres of time, perfect and imperfect, and in the noun only two genders, masculine and feminine. The inflected verb consists throughout of three consonants. The three consonants condition the signification, and the vowels only shade it off. Such a change of signification attaching to the vowels as in lived, loved, laved, leaved, is not possible in any Semitic language; so too such a freely conscious composition as in expressed, impressed, depressed.

7. The Origin of the Israelitish Art of Writing

The literature which we are about to describe, derived its language from Canaan, and at an earlier period from Babylon, but whence did it receive the art of writing ? In Genesis, the verb כָּתַב neither occurs in chapter xxiii., nor elsewhere; but in Exodus to Deuteronomy inclusive, we discover a knowledge, and most manifold use of writing. The subordinate officials of the Israelites are called in Exodus shoterim, from שָׁטַר to write—a word which has been retained in Assyrian, Arabic, and even Aramaic. According to this, Israel appears to have learned to write in Egypt. There the art of writing extends back before the time of Moses. Even Herodotus saw the pyramids, which belong to the age of the first Manethonian dynasty, covered with hieroglyphics. No monumental inscriptions afford us such a view of the origin of writing, as the Egyptian. The hieroglyphic system consists of the following kinds of signs:

1. Ideographic Signs (pictures of things). These are: (1) Figurative, that is, imitations of what is intended, for example an ox as a representation of the word which it signifies. This pictorial mode of writing corresponds to the mimetic element of the language. (2) Symbolical signs, that is, emblems of what is intended, for example an arm with a sword and a shield, represents a combat; an opening from which a snail departs, signifies to go out.

2. Phonetic signs, that is, pictures of sounds, including (1) signs of syllable, for example a circlet with a dot in it is equivalent to ra, which indicates the sun and then becomes the sign of the syllable ra; (2) signs of letters, for instance a small ellipse, is equivalent to the Greek letter rho, mouth.

3. Determinative signs: (1) Determination by means of a thing, for example the syllable an with an inkstand behind it signifies to paint, to write; with an inkstand and a man behind it, a painter, a writer. (2) Phonetic determinatives, which are intended to establish the vocal value of signs and groups, for example the sign is equivalent to The syllable per, when the figure of a mouth is added to it to ensure the reading.

The ideographic signs represent writing in its lowest stage. The syllabic forms the transition from writing by pictures of things to phonetic writing, which was invented by the discovery of the acrophonic principle. According to this the discovery of writing is to be attributed as Grimm, Humboldt and others maintain, to the Egyptians. If we compare the cuniform characters of the Babylonio-Assyrian writing with those of the Egyptian, it appears that they have arisen in a similar manner, but that they have not both reached the same stage of development. In the oldest form of several Assyrian written characters, the original picture is still recognizable, for example in the character for star, signifying god, sun signifying day etc. The picture of the sun through the insertion of the numeral thirty, becomes the written character for month. The combination of the written character for tree and life, gave the written character for wine. The course of development is here the same as in Egypt. The oldest form of the ancient Babylonian writing, in which the wedge begins to be developed from the line, corresponds to the Egyptian stage of the hieratic writing. But aside from the few signs which still render the original pictures of things recognizable, it is impossible to penetrate the foundation and plan of the Babylonio-Assyrian syllabic signs. Since now the old Anahuac in Mexico exhibits hieroglyphic writing, it is possible, that the development of writing in Egypt, and in the land between the Euphrates and the Tigris was independent, spontaneous, and without historical connection. But if there was a connection, then Egypt is to be considered the motherland of the invention of writing, and writing in Babylon is a gift of Cannes, that is, it was transplanted thither by the Cushites as the alphabet was introduced by the Phoenicians into Greece.



1) It is proper to remark here, that the editor of this paper Is not to be held responsible for any views presented In subsequent articles, which may not seem in all respects to be sufficiently conservative.

2) Cf. Smith's, Chaldean Account of Genesis, New York 1876, p. 296. C.

3) Sayce, In view of the most recent investigation, now places the date of the Inscription In the time of Ahaz or Hezeklah, cf. The Presbyterian Review, New York, April, 1882, p. 401, seq.