The Project Gutenberg EBook of Prolegomena to the History of Israel by Julius Wellhausen
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Title: Prolegomena to the History of Israel
Author: Julius Wellhausen
Release Date: December, 2003 [EBook #4732] [Most recently updated February 17, 2003]
This etext was produced by Geoffrey Cowling.
P R O L E G O M E N A
HISTORY OF ISRAEL.
WITH A REPRINT OF THE ARTICLE "ISRAEL" FROM THE "ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA."
JULIUS WELLHAUSEN, PROFESSOR OF ORIENTAL LANGUAGES IN THE UNIVERSITY OF MARBURG.
TRANSLATED FR0M THE GERMAN, UNDER THE AUTHOR'S SUPERVISION,
J. SUTHERLAND BLACK, M.A.,
ALLAN MENZIES, B.D.
with a preface by
PROF. W. ROBERTSON SMITH.
P R E F A C E.
The work which forms the greater part of the present volume first appeared in 1878 under the title "History of Israel. By J. Wellhausen. In two volumes. Volume I." The book produced a great impression throughout Europe, and its main thesis, that "the Mosaic history is not the starting-point for the history of ancient Israel, but for the history of Judaism," was felt to be so powerfully maintained that many of the leading Hebrew teachers of Germany who had till then stood aloof from the so-called "Grafian hypothesis"—the doctrine, that is, that the Levitical Law and connected parts of the Pentateuch were not written till after the fall of the kingdom of Judah, and that the Pentateuch in its present compass was not publicly accepted as authoritative till the reformation of Ezra—declared themselves convinced by Wellhausen's arguments. Before 1878 the Grafian hypothesis was neglected or treated as a paradox in most German universities, although some individual scholars of great name were known to have reached by independent inquiry similar views to those for which Graf was the recognised sponsor, and although in Holland the writings of Professor Kuenen, who has been aptly termed Graf's goel, had shown in an admirable and conclusive manner that the objections usually taken to Graf's arguments did not touch the substance of the thesis for which he contended. Since 1878, partly through the growing influence of Kuenen, but mainly through the impression produced by Wellhausen's book, all this has been changed. Almost every younger scholar of mark is on the side of Vatke and Reuss, Lagarde and Graf, Kuenen and Wellhausen, and the renewed interest in Old Testament study which is making itself felt throughout all the schools of Europe must be traced almost entirely to the stimulus derived from a new view of the history of the Law which sets all Old Testament problems in a new light.
Our author, who since 1878 had been largely engaged in the study of other parts of Semitic antiquity, has not yet given to the world his promised second volume. But the first volume was a complete book in itself; the plan was to reserve the whole narrative of the history of Israel for vol.ii., so that vol.i. was entirely occupied in laying the critical foundations on which alone a real history of the Hebrew nation could be built. Accordingly, the second edition of the History, vol.i., appeared in 1883 (Berlin, Reimer), under the new title of "Prolegomena to the History of Israel." In this form it is professedly, as it really was before, a complete and self-contained work; and this is the form of which a translation, carefully revised by the author, is now offered to the public.
All English readers interested in the Old Testament will certainly be grateful to the translators and publishers for a volume which in its German garb has already produced so profound an impression on the scholarship of Europe; and even in this country the author's name is too well known to make it necessary to introduce him at length to a new public. But the title of the book has a somewhat unfamiliar sound to English ears, and may be apt to suggest a series of dry and learned dissertations meant only for Hebrew scholars. It is worth while therefore to point out in a few words that this would be quite a false impression; that the matters with which Professor Wellhausen deals are such as no intelligent student of the Old Testament can afford to neglect; and that the present volume gives the English reader, for the first time, an opportunity to form his own judgment on questions which are within the scope of any one who reads the English Bible carefully and is able to think clearly, and without prejudice, about its contents. The history of Israel is part of the history of the faith by which we live, the New Testament cannot be rightly understood without understanding the Old, and the main reason why so many parts of the Old Testament are practically a sealed book even to thoughtful people is simply that they have not the historical key to the interpretation of that wonderful literature.
The Old Testament does not furnish a history of Israel, though it supplies the materials from which such a history can be constructed. For example, the narrative of Kings gives but the merest outline of the events that preceded the fall of Samaria; to understand the inner history of thc time we must fill up this outline with the aid of the prophets Amos and Hosea. But the more the Old Testament has been studied, the more plain has it become that for many parts of the history something more is needed than merely to read each part of the narrative books in connection with the other books that illustrate the same period. The Historical Books and the Pentateuch are themselves very composite structures, in which old narratives occur imbedded in later compilations, and groups of old laws are overlaid by ordinances of comparatively recent date. Now, to take one point only, but that the most important, it must plainly make a vast difference to our whole view of the providential course of Israel's history if it appear that instead of the whole Pentateuchal law having been given to Israel before the tribes