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1759 he published his second Dissertation, on the state of the printed Hebrew text, wherein he also replied to the objections which had been made to his first Dissertation. And the utility of the proposed collation being then very generally admitted, a very liberal subscription was made to defray the expenses of the collation. The subscription amounted on the whole to nearly ten thousand pounds, and the name of his present Majesty headed the list of subscribers. Various persons were employed, both at home and abroad: but of the foreign literati the principal was Professor Bruns, of the University of Helmstadt, who not only collated Hebrew manuscripts in Germany, but went for that purpose into Italy and Switzerland. The business of collation continued from 1760 to 1769 inclusive, during which period Dr. Kennicott published annually an account of the
which was made. More than six hundred Hebrew manuscripts, and sixteen manuscripts of the Samaritan Pentateuch were discovered in different libraries in England and on the continent: many of which were wholly collated, and others consulted in important pas. sages. Several years of course elapsed, after the collations were finished, before the materials could be arranged and digested for publication. In 1776 the first volume of Dr. Kennicott's Hebrew Bible was delivered to the public, and in 1780 the second volume. It was printed at the Clarendon Press: and the University of Oxford has the honour of having produced the first critical edition upon a large scale, both of the Greek Testament, and of the Hebrew Bible, an honour, which it is still maintaining by a similar edition, hitherto indeed unfinished, of the Greek Version.
The text of Kennicott's edition was printed from that of Van der Hooght, with which the Hebrew manuscripts, by Kennicott's direction, were all collated. But, as variations in the points were disregarded in the collation, the points were not added in the text, The various readings, as in the critical editions of the Greek Testament, were printed at the bottom of the page with references to the correspondent readings of the text. In the Pentateuch the deviations of the Sa. maritan text were printed in a column parallel to the Hebrew; and the variations observable in the Samaritan manuscripts, which differ from each other as well as the Hebrew, are likewise noted with references to the Samaritan printed text. To this collation of manuscripts was added a collation of the most distinguished editions of the Hebrew Bible, in the same manner as Wetstein has noted the variations observable in the principal editions of the Greek Testament. Nor did Kennicott confine his collation to manuscripts and editions. He further considered, that, as the quotations from the Greek Testament in the works of ecclesiastical writers afford another source of various readings, so the quotations from the Hebrew Bible in the works of Jewish writers are likewise subjects of critical inquiry. For this purpose he had recourse to the most distinguished among the Rabbinical writings, but particularly to the Talmud, the text of which is as ancient as the third century. In the quotation of
his authorities he designates them by numbers from 1 to 692, including manuscripts, editions, and Rabbini. cal writings, which numbers are explained in the Dis. sertatio generalis annexed to the second volume.
This Dissertatio generalis, which corresponds to what are called Prolegomena in other critical editions, contains, not only an account of the manuscripts and other authorities collated for this edition, but also a review of the Hebrew text divided into periods, and beginning with the formation of the Hebrew canon after the return of the Jews from the Babylonish Captivity. Though inquiries of this description unavoidably contain matters of doubtful disputation, though the opinions of Kennicott have been frequently ques. tioned, and sometimes justly questioned, his Disser. tatio generalis is a work of great interest to
interest to every biblical scholar. Kennicott was a disciple of Cappellus, both in respect to the integrity of the Hebrew text, and in respect to the preference of the Samaritan Pentateuch : but he avoided the extreme, into which Mo. rinus and Houbigant had fallen. And though he possessed not the Rabbinical learning of the two Bux. torfs, his merits were greater, than some of his contemporaries, as well in England as on the continent, were willing to allow.
That the mass of various readings exhibited in this edition, which greatly surpass in number the various readings collected by the industry of three centuries for the Greek Testament, contains but few of real importance, is no subject of reproach to the learned editor, who could only produce what his authorities afforded. Nor is he to be censured for giving all that he had, without regard to their relative value. His was the first attempt, which was ever made, to give a copious collection of Hebrew readings: and he could hardly have been justified, if he had exercised his own discretion in regard to the portion, which should be laid before the public. He wisely therefore afforded the opportunity to his readers of selecting for themselves: and though his extracts are rarely of much value for the purpose of critical emendation, they enable us, both to form an estimate of the existing He. brew manuscripts, and to draw some important conclusions in regard to the integrity of the Hebrew text.
The major part of this immense collection consists in mere variations of orthography, in the fulness or defectiveness of certain words, in the addition or sub. traction of a mater lectionis, of a Vau or a Jod. And if we further deduct the readings, which are either manifest errata, or in other respects are of no value, the important deviations will be confined within a very narrow compass. In short Dr. Kennicott's collation has contributed to establish the credit of the Masora. We learn from it this useful lesson, that although a multiplication of written copies will, notwithstanding all human endeavours, produce variations in the text, the manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible have been so far protected by the operation of the Masora, that all which are now extant, both the oldest and the newest, may be compared with those manuscripts of the Greek Testament, which Griesbach refers to the same edition.
That the integrity therefore of the Hebrew text, from the time when it was fixed by the authors of the Masora, has been as strictly preserved to the present age, as it is possible to preserve an ancient work, is a position, which no longer admits a doubt. Another question of equal importance is, whether we have sufficient reason to believe, that this Masoretic text is it. self an accurate copy of the sacred writings. In the examination of this question Hebrew manuscripts are of no use; the oldest now extant are younger by some centuries than the Masora itself: and therefore they cannot furnish the means of correcting the faults, which the Masorets themselves may have committed. For though Ante-Masoretic readings should occasionally be found in Hebrew manuscripts, it would be very uncritical to correct the Masoretic text on their authority alone, unless we might take for granted, what we certainly may not, that every Masoretic alteration was an alteration for the worse. But if we cannot appeal to positive evidence, we must argue from the evidence, which the nature of the case admits. It is indeed one of those questions, which ought to be holden in the affirmative, till we have reason to believe the negative. Now the learned Jews of Tiberias, in the third and fourth centuries, must have had access to Hebrew manuscripts which were written before the birth of Christ. We know that they sought and collated them. We know that their exertions to obtain an accurate text were equal to their endeavours to preserve it. Why then shall we conclude, that they laboured in vain?