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lation? Is it desirable absolutely to decide, in THE TRANSLATION, a question which the original does not decide ? The defenders of capital punishment have shown no such desire. They are content, and always have been, with the translation of the verb as it stands. No phraseology, in English or in any other language, could convey the precise impression of the original, with all its two-fold associations, with all its definiteness and all its ambiguity, (if it have any,) better than the simple English “shall be shed." To appeal from this to the original as being more indefinite or more ambiguous, is merely throwing dust into the eyes of the unlearned; and betrays the weakness of the cause from which the appeal proceeds.
The English translation, in this particular at least, furnishes just as good a basis on which to construct the meaning of the text as the original does. What then is the meaning? For an answer to this question, we appeal to all the readers of the English Bible, to say whether the first, obvious and unprejudiced interpretation of the passage is not that which receives from it the impression of a command? We cannot doubt the answer.
We believe it to be a command; but we do not therefore • believe it to be binding, ad literam, as a mandate of absolute, universal and perpetual obligation. We believe it to be a command addressed to reasonable men, as reasonable men, couched in the most general terms, and left to their conscience and common sense to be interpreted and applied according to the exigencies of times, places and circumstances. We believe its expressed purpose, viz. to preserve inviolate the image of God in man, to be of vastly more consequence, according to the true animus of the divine legislator, than the precise manner in which that purpose is to be secured. Still we cannot but find in this connection, a clear authorization, at least, for the infliction of capital punishment for murder, whenever and wherever men find such infliction expedient for the protection and security of human life. And we confess, further, that the existence of such a command, made on such an occasion, does, to our mind, create a strong antecedent probability, that the infliction of this punishment for this crime will be expedient, as long as the descendants of Noah continue in their present fallen state upon earth.
But some say, if we are to understand this as a command, then we must take it just as it stands, without any explanations, exceptions or modifications; and consequently we are as much bound by its absolute requirement to execute the hangman (not
How the Command is to be Interpreted.
to say the sheriff, judge, jury, legislature, nay the sovereign people themselves, of whom the others are only the representatives and agents ;) as we were to execute the murderer, whom the hangman has just killed. The utter absurdity of such suppositions is a sufficient proof of their fallacy. Indeed, assume as true the meaning which these gentlemen attach to the sixth commandment, and the conclusion they have reached would be equally applicable to all the regulations of the Mosaic code requiring the murderer to be put to death; from which it would follow that the first murder that should be committed after the enactment of those regulations, would imply the extermination of mankind seriatim, after the fashion of the story of the woman and her kid. (We beg pardon for the comparison, but it is as dignified as the objection).
We have said that, supposing this in Genesis to be a command, we also suppose that command to be addressed to reasonable men, and to be received by them as such ; and this cuts off the force, not only of such supposed objections as that above, but of several others equally ingenious, about executing animals, insane men, etc., which have been from time to time invented. To say that because it is a divine command, men cannot be allowed to interpret it in good conscience and by the light of reason, is to say that it is impossible for God, by the medium of human language, to convey a command to the human mind. We are not to suppose that in wording his commands God had an eye to the special accommodation of quibblers.'
It is said that, according to the context, if a man is killed, it is made the daty of his brother and not of the magistrate to shed the blood of the murderer. Be it so. But here again the means are subordinate to the end. Unless this provision had been abused, it might have accomplished the purpose as well, probably, as any other. As every man must have an heir, so, in the sense of this passage, every man must have a brother. The provision existed, and probably was abused. It is recognized as an existing fact in the Mosaic code, but is guarded, regulated and modified. If, in process of time and under an almost total change of circumstances, regular political societies and governments being established, it is found necessary further to restrain the exercise of this primeval right, or wholly to transfer it from the private individual to the magistrate, we see nothing, according to our view of the original law, inconsistent with so oing; provided only the end of the law be secured : Qui facit per alium facit per se. The main point is, the end must be secured; and somebody must be empowered to secure it.
Bat again it is said : by the context we are forbidden to eat flesh with the blood; and it is added : “ this injunction has never been observed by Christians."
We answer that according to Acts 15: 28, it did “ seem good to the
But it is asked; if this were understood as a command, why did not men think of obeying it until the promulgation of the Mosaic code? We answer, if such be the fact, then you must cease to wonder at the distinct, stern and stringent provisions of that code on this subject.
Finally, it is said, (as though those who say it did not perceive that they are helping to answer the question they had just asked), that even after the enactment of the Mosaic code, we read of Holy Ghost and to the apostles” (this is better authority than Moses ?) to require the Gentile converts to observe this prohibition. Its object was to guard against idolatry on the one hand, and “savagery" on the other. And though it be by no means expedient in the present state of civilization and refinement among Christian nations, that the prohibition should be expressly incorporated either into the civil or canon law; we, nevertheless, take the liberty to think that it was a wise prohibition for the times; and, for the principle of it, is still binding not only upon every Christian, but upon every man of refined sensibili. ty and cultivated understanding. But it is still insisted that by this law we are directed as much to put the beast to death, which kills a man, as to execute the man who kills his fellow. We think this a good principle too, and civil society has a perfect right to make such a regulation. But we shall be told of a horse throwing his rider and killing him, and similar cases. We answer, they are nothing to the purpose. They are not within the intent of the law. But if an ox or a horse, from the impulse of a vicious temper violently assault a man, run upon him and kill him; we are disposed to think it a wholesome regulation that the beast should be put to death. Such was the regulation which God condescended to make in the Mosaic code ; thus interpreting, (as any reasonable man except our modern ingenious critics must have done before,) the meaning of the general enactment in Genesis. It is true that in putting the beast to death we cannot make the example a terror to other beasts ; but, if we could, it would be an additional reason for his being killed. And if Christian governments have not enacted such a law in modern times, it is either because they do not deem it needful or expedient; or it is because they have a less sensitive regard for the sanctity of God's image in man than their maker would have them cherish.
But it is triumphantly said, no Christian government has forbidden eating blood, or requires the execution of capital punishment upon beasts. Be it so. What does that prove? That they have not enacted the infliction of capital punishment upon the murderer? The inference is strong. That they have not professed to derive their right for the infliction of capital punishment from this passage in Genesis ? The inference is false, in point of fact. That they are inconsistent ? Still it would remain to show, in which scale the change should be made so that the balance of consistency might be restored. But according to our view there is no inconsistency at all. We regard the text in question as containing a general principle, couched in the form of a command, but which is after all not so much mundalory, perhaps, as permissory and addisory; but which, at least, confers a right, in all the particulars of it—a right whose exercise is to be determined according to the exigences of time and place.
The Study of Homer.
many murderers who were not punished with death; as David, for example ; one favorite instance for all. We admit the fact. But now for the inference. Is it, that the law of Moses, therefore, did not exist ? Or that its enactment had been only a divine farce, meant for temporary effect? Or is it not rather that the law, a divine and therefore a wholesome law, existing in all its force, was not executed? We think the last is the most likely inference. And we find other evidences of its truth. It is one of the most frequent complaints which God makes of his people by the mouth of his prophets, that they do not “ execute judgment,” that “violence” abounds; that the land is “polluted with innocent blood," from which God had told them it could be cleansed only by the blood of him that shed it.
We repeat, therefore, the solemn divine admonition, “ Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed;" and hold that it contains in it a voice of universal warning and of universal right; of warning, to the murderer; to the magistrate, a right of punishment. The abolitionists may stumble at it, and stumble over it, as they will; they can never move it out of their way. There it stands, and there it will stand forever.
[To be continued.]
ON THE STUDY OF HOMER.
The Iliad of Homer, from the Text of Wolf. With English Notes.
By C. C. Felton, Eliot Professor of Greek in Harvard University. New and Revised Edition. Boston: James Munroe & Co. 1847.
By James R. Boise, Professor of the Greek Language, etc., Brown University.
We hail with peculiar pleasure the appearance of a new edition of Felton's Iliad. In this age of books, when the press teems with innumerable productions, like flies in a summer's day, just entering on their brief existence, it is pleasant now and then to be reminded of the past, to converse with those colossal minds which flourished when Carnac and the pyramids were built; and the monuments of whose genius, unlike those astounding piles of granite, have survived, unharmed, the shock of centuries. We are thus taught that there is something stable and enduring, even in our ephemeral race. The voice of that blind old bard, which was heard among the isles of Greece, when two hundred warriors with horses and chariots went forth from each of the hundred gates of the Egyptian Thebes, though it be almost silent in the land where it was first uttered, has wandered far beyond the adventures of the much-wandering hero, beyond the gardens of the Hesperides, and the giant Atlas, who supports upon his shoulders the pillars of the heavens. There was a truth and a life in that voice which was almost divine; which, after so many generations of men, is sweet and charming as ever.
We cannot but respect the effort to preserve the best treasures which by-gone ages have bequeathed to us; especially, if we may, without fear of diminishing their value, make use of them ourselves, and be enriched and made happy by them. Our thanks, at least, are due to the man who offers us one of the best gifts which it was in the power of Alexander or of Caesar to confer. And we may feel a reasonable pride in being admitted to the society of one who has been, at different times, an intimate companion with Pericles, and Cicero, and Burke; with Virgil, and Dante, and Milton.
“ The tale of Troy divine,” has ever been most admired by those who have read most extensively the best literature of other times and other languages; and by those to whom age has given most experience and most wisdom. The stripling, who has just mastered the rudiments of the Greek language, and who, with grammar and lexicon, hardly translates fisty lines a day into the most bald prose of his native tongue, knows as much of the harmony of these “words which flowed sweeter than honey,” as we should learn from the ploughboy's carol, respecting the music of Handel or Mozart. Nor can he appreciate, any better, the truth, and simplicity, and energy of Homer's characters and scenes. Something of the same sort, and equally calculated to inspire enthusiasm for an author, may be witnessed in the grammar school, where a boy is appointed his task “to parse" so many lines of Dryden or Pope. This uninviting exercise may be useful, may be even necessary, to the education of a youth ; but how strange and destitute of beauty does the naked idea appear to him when stripped of the decorations of rhyme, and rhythm,
1 Il. 9. 381 et sq.