Imagini ale paginilor
PDF
ePub

and learned a critic to propose any such absurdity as this. He contends that as the original pronoun may be either masculine or neuter, it should be translated by our neuter, that it may include both. His idea of the true meaning of this passage would be accurately expressed, using the plural number instead of the singular, by the translation, "the shedders of blood, by man shall their blood be shed." The use which Michaelis makes of this translation is to extend, instead of lowering and limiting the application of this command, and both he and the readers of this report are unfairly treated when his authority is so disingenuously perverted. This profound critic was learned in the laws of nature, and of nations, as well as in Hebrew etymologies, and he expresses the earnest hope that "none of his readers entertain those new fangled notions of compassion which by way of avoiding capital punishments, condemn delinquents to be cast into prisons and there fed."

But we are told that the "very reason here given for the prohibition of the shedding of the blood of man is the defacement of the image of his Creator," and are asked "whether this high and sacred principle loses its force or its application because the criminal may have himself been guilty of a previous outrage upon its sanctity." It is really difficult to answer such argument as this with the respect that is due to the reasoner, if not to his reasoning. If it should be proposed to punish the man who has injured the property of another by a fine, that is by taking away from him against his will, a certain portion of his own property, would it not be thought a piece of effrontery rather than an argument in the opposer who should contend that this would be an outrage upon the same sacred right of property which the criminal had himself violated? Or would it be deemed a valid argument against punishing the crime of false imprisonment by the imprisonment of the offender, that the punishment would infringe the same inherent right to liberty, the violation of which constitutes the offence? If in favour of such punishment, there should be urged the great importance of the right of personal liberty and the heinousness of any outrage upon it, would all this be turned not aside but upon the other side of the question, by simply asking, "whether this high and sacred principle loses any of its force because the criminal may himself have been guilty of a previous outrage upon its sanctity." The understandings of our legislators must be rated at a low standard by any

one who supposes that such reasoning as this can impose upon them.

The remaining part of the argument upon this passage falls to the ground with the proposed amendment of our translation, for which, in the sense contended for by Mr. O'Sullivan, there is not the shadow of foundation. Let us look at this passage, supplying the place of "his" in the sixth verse by our ambiguous pronoun, and for this purpose using the plural number. It will then read:

"And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man's brother will I require the life of man."

"The shedders of man's blood, by man shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God made he man."

We are perfectly willing to grant to the other side of the question whatever bencfit may be derived from such a correction of the common translation. The passage as it thus stands, interpreted according to its obvious meaning, presents no difficulty.

The only phrase contained in it that can well give rise to any misconception in the mind of one who is not seeking to torture its meaning, is in the latter part of the fifth verse; "at the hand of every man's brother will I require the life of man." This is sometimes interpreted to mean, that at the hand of the brother of every slain man, that is of the whole community or society of which he formed a part, inquisition shall be made for the blood shed, from the responsibility of which they can be relieved only by the death of the murderer. We do not mean to question the truth of this opinion, but such is not the sense of the passage. The Hebrew phrase translated "every man's brother," (aish ahiv,) is an idiomatic form of speech, meaning, the one and the other; so that "at the hand of every man's brother" is, as Gesenius says, "repetitio verborum antecedentium, haud quidem otiosa, sed emphatica," a repetition, not unmeaning but emphatic, of the preceding words, "at the hand of man." We make no attempt to sustain this interpretation by comparing parallel passages, or adducing authorities, being persuaded that it will be called in question by no one who will turn to the passage in his Hebrew Bible.

In this passage God declares in the first instance, that he will surely inquire after, that is avenge, the blood of man.

He then proceeds to state from whom he will exact this responsibility; at the hand of every beast that has shed the blood of man, will I require it; and much more, at the hand of man, even at the hand of one and another, that is, of every man, will I require the blood of the man whom he has slain; there shall be no escape on the part of any one who has stained his hands with blood from the account which must be rendered of that blood.

The next verse proceeds to state how this requisition shall be made, what punishment this crime shall incur, and who shall be the agents of divine justice in inflicting that punishment. The shedders of man's blood, by man shall their blood be shed. It is too plain for argument, that though this verse be thus translated, so as to involve the same ambiguity as in the original, it lends no shadow of countenance to Mr. O'Sullivan's interpretation. The previous verse has asserted, in general, that the blood of man shall not be shed without inquisition being made for it, and further that this inquisition shall be made from every beast and every man that has shed the blood of man. It is then added, that they who shed man's blood by man shall their blood be shed. Who then are the shedders of blood upon whom this doom is pronounced? Michaelis contends that both men and beasts are included. Rosenmüller on the other hand, prefers the interpretation which limits it to the human shedder of blood; the previous verse having spoken of the punishment of both beast and man for the slaughter of man, this verse he supposes to contain a repetition of the principle in its application to man, with a distinct annunciation of the kind and manner of his punishment, on account of the greater dignity of the offender. But no commentator ancient or modern has ever given to this passage an interpretation such as Mr. O'Sullivan advocates. It has not one particle of authority in favour of it. There is nothing of intrinsic evidence to sanction it, nothing in the obvious meaning of the passage to call for or even to warrant it, unless the whole question at issue be begged, by the assumption that it is impossible that God can have directed the shedding of man's blood. It is in short nothing more than the desperate resort of a reasoner who is not ashamed to descend to mere quibbles and plays upon words in support of a favourite conclusion. If it be thought by any that we have here unwarrantably forgotten the distinction which we before made between what is due to a reasoner, and to his 41

VOL. XIV.NO. II.

reasoning, let him call to mind that the subject of this miserable trifling is the inspired revelation of God's will, and that the professed object of it is to enlighten a legislature upon one of the most important questions that they can be called upon to settle. And let them still further read the following extract from this report.

"

"If any, after this exposition of the passage, should still desire to retain the accustomed form to which prejudice may continue to cling, of whosoever,' it is clear that the precept thus read would require the sacrifice of the life of the slayer, in atonement for the blood his hand has spilled, on all occasions, without discrimination of circumstances-in the most pardonable cases of sudden and impetuous passion, and even in the most innocent case of accident, as well as the most heinous one of coldly premeditated murder. The terms of the command would be absolute and imperative; and however unfathomable to us might seem the mystery of its cruelty, yet why would it be less consistent with reason than the punishment, upon the animal, of the act of brute unconsciousness and obedience to its natural instincts ?"

The first part of this paragraph in which the lax principles of interpretation previously proceeded upon have become so wondrously stringent, calls for no reply. It might be improved however, and we are surprised that the thought should have escaped a mind that was acute enough for this, by adding that as the precept reads it would apply to the physician who bleeds his patient no less than to the wilful murderer, and that the penalty does not demand the death of either since, as it reads, it may be literally and fully satisfied by the loss of a few ounces of blood from the arm.

It is for the latter part of this paragraph that we have quoted it, and yet we hardly dare trust ourselves to comment upon it. We are here informed that the punishment of a brute, who has slain a man, which the author of the report admits is directed by the divine command, is no more consistent with reason than the sacrifice of the life of a man who had accidentally slain his fellow-man. Who does not feel his whole moral nature insulted by this most outrageous declaration? Who can doubt that any man who believes this, however vigorous and discursive his understanding might be, would have yet to undergo the very birth-throe of reason? Where is the reason, though yet in its infancy, that makes no distinction between putting to death a beast that has been the means of death to a man, though it had only acted in obedience to its unreflecting instincts, and sacrificing the life of an unfortunate but innocent man? What kind of reason is it, with which it is consistent to destroy a man for every cause which is deemed a sufficient ground for taking away the life of a brute? What would be

thought of the man, who in conducting a grave argument on an important question should maintain that it would be as consistent with reason to slay a man for food as to kill an unoffending beast for the same purpose? But this would not be more monstrous than the interrogatory assertion which we have quoted from this report.

We are utterly at a loss to conceive upon what principles or for what purpose this assertion was made. It is not even a legitimate inference from the unspeakably shallow and vile philosophy of the Godwin and Bentham schools, with which Mr. O'Sullivan is so much enamoured. This philosophy does indeed overlook entirely man's moral nature and reduce him to the standing of a mere beast, but then it admits him to be a noble beast, even the first of beasts; and having power: o that end he may make such use of the inferior beasts as may best promote his good. It permits him to kill them for food. and could not therefore consistently deny to him the right to slay a beast that had killed. a man, for the purpose of guarding the mystic sacredness of life, and associating an idea of horror with the shedding of human blood, for this would be a more useful result than satisfying the appetite of a hungry man. But yet whatever principles they are which forbid the destruction of men while they allow that of animals for the purposes of food, would apply with equal force to prohibit us from making use of a lunatic or an accidental manslayer to serve a useful end by his violent death, while they permit us to use an inferior animal for such purpose. There is therefore no ground for Mr. O'Sullivan's assertion even in the principles of this beastly philosophy.

Nor can we discern for what object it is made. He is seeking in the paragraph where it is found to reduce to the absurd the common interpretation of the passage of scripture upon which he has been commenting, by showing that an abhorrent consequence flows from it, viz; that it requires us to sacrifice a man who may have innocently shed the blood of a fellow-man. But then he immediately asks why this very consequence, so abhorrent that it has just been held up as decisive against the received interpretation of the law given to Noah, should be deemed any more inconsistent with reason than the killing of an animal which he has himself contended that the law actually enjoins. Why, if this be so, did he spread so much labour in quibbles upon the meaning of Hebrew words, of which he knew literally

[ocr errors]
« ÎnapoiContinuați »