Home page The Occident and American Jewish Advocate Jews in the Civil War Jews in the Wild West History of Palestine The Occident Virtual Library Shopping Mall of Zion AHAVA Hero Products 250x250


Exegetical Lectures on the Bible.

(Continued from p. 313.)

By Rabbi Isidore Kalisch, of Cleveland

No. III.

[Note.—The learned author of these essays requests us to correct an error in page 312, line 6 from top, where he wishes it to read, in­stead of “the heat of the atmosphere ceases,” “the vapour.” The ten geographical miles referred to are the German, or forty-nine English statute, or forty nautical miles. The heat of the atmosphere ceases, even under the equator, at about 15,000 feet above the sea, where the per­petual snow-line commences; the height, therefore, of the atmosphere indicated, is where the region of vapours is supposed to terminate.—In a note to page 311, we stated that “infinite extent” is almost a contradiction in itself, as extent means something defined by limits; but language cannot always express what we feel and think. Mr. K. thanks that the term is not a contradictio in eo ipso, as it represents the space occupied by the world, which commences nowhere, and cannot be said to terminate anywhere, as the point of commencement or termination is unknown, and we cannot assign any reason why it is to commence or terminate anywhere. It is an idea which strikes us as correct, without which we cannot conceive anything in nature. We indeed assume parts in space; but space itself is permanent or fixed. A limited space or extent is a geometrical or mathematical body. But <<474>> the world’s space is an unlimited extent; and this is, moreover, the only distinctive mark by which we know of it. It is also not a product of our reason, but the result or phenomenon of our poser of conception. It is not an idea which we derive from circumstances, and is therefore not to be comprehended. And just as all infinity is shrouded in a species of obscurity, the idea of space, which we have to define in this way, and which has this distinctive character, must also be obscure. The Talmud, therefore, well designates God as המקום, “the space,” because He alone fills up the infinite space, which is then at last nothing but a shorter expression for רכב ערבות (see p. 312). We would merely add, that the author sends us his pieces in German, which we render into English; and we confess that we find it extremely difficult to transfer all the words he employs, together with other German philosophical writers, into proper synonymous ones of the English language. For instance, “Anschauungovermögen,” literally the faculty of viewing or contemplating, which we gave with “power of conception,” without conveying exactly the shade of meaning which the Germans have thereby. They understand by it the faculty we have of understanding a subject by taking a spiritual or physical look at it; still they divide “Anschauung” from “Begriff,” an idea derived from outward circumstances. These terms certainly border close on each other; yet the Germans contrive to distinguish them as essentially different, though to us and most others “conception,” “notion,” and “idea” of a thing are very closely allied, if not identical. To our view, we can no more have an intuitive conception, than a derived idea of infinite space, any more than of eternity, because we ourselves are hemmed in by limits and circumscribed in duration. All we can conceive of both ideas is something vast, undetermined, hence not understood; and this is all we intended conveying in our note in question—not to contradict the author, but to express our inability to find words to convey the dim notion which we have of unlimited extent, &c.—Ed. Oc.]

Gen. i. 9. “And God said, Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land be visible; and it was so.” The truth of this assertion, that the earth, from the commencement of the primeval original creation, existed in a perfectly fluid state, has been confirmed by the most recent geological discoveries.

It has been proved, by the actual measurement of several degrees of <<475>> the earth’s meridians, at various distances from the equator, that the earth is flattened at the poles. This discovery of the elliptical form of our earth clearly demonstrates, without any room for doubt, that the atoms of matter which compose our earth were at one epoch endowed with such a state of mobility that they could pass freely over one another, and could yield, which they actually did, to the impulse of the centrifugal force produced by the diurnal rotation of our planet.

Ibid. 10. “And God called the dry land Earth, and the gathering together of the waters he called Seas; and God saw that it was good.”

All commentators, indeed, ask the question, Why is it that the entire mass of water in its great collectiveness should be termed ימים seas, in plural, and not ים sea, in the singular, as has been done in Gen. i. 26, and Psal. xcv. 5, and in other places? And no one has yet offered a satisfactory explanation on this point.

But, according to my view, the plural form, ימים seas, has been used quite properly, both on grammatical and geological grounds. The grammatical one is that fixed magnitudes are frequently designated by plural terminations; e. g. שמים heavens; במות high places, &c. So also we read in Ezekiel xxviii. 2, בלב ימים “in the heart of the seas,” instead of  בלב ים, “in the heart of the sea.”

The geological ground is as follows:—

The various processes of boring, instituted for the purpose of making Artesian wells, have caused the discovery of streams and an immense mass of water in the depths of the earth. It is now probable that by the term ימים seas, used in the third period of the creation, the subterranean waters are likewise comprehended. These waters are also called in the Scriptures תהומות the abyss, the deep,  depths, and תהום רבה the great deep (Gen. vii. 11).

Ibid. 11. “And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, herbs yielding seed, fruit frees yielding fruit after their kind, in which its seed is upon the earth, and it was so.”

The attentive reader will not be able, at perusing this verse, to refrain from putting the question, “How is this, that the plants should be able to germinate, when the quickening beams of the sun were not created till the fourth period?” We might indeed assume that the matter of light which was created in the first period, and around which our earth revolved in its rotation, promoted the growth of plants; but how could they ripen in light without heat? But for this, also, we shall find the necessary solution in the latest discoveries in the realms of geology.

Observation teaches us that the influence of the seasons on the in<<476>>terior of the earth is perceptible only at a very moderate depth, after reaching which point, the heat gradually increases in the same proportion that we descend farther downward; and it has been demonstrated by experiments that the heat increases one degree (of Reaumur) with every thirty-three metres of depth. The warmth of the earth, or central heat, which had kept the earth from the first period of the creation in a perfect fluid state, as is still the case at the present day in the centre of the earth, of which we have a proof in volcanic eruptions, and the existence of warm and hot springs, caused, before the surface of the earth had cooled down to the present degree of temperature,—a peculiar temperature at a time when there were no climates, but when a vapour-atmosphere, in which vegetation could progress, surrounded our earth. There have been found in the island of Portland, in England, vegetable remains of various tropical plants, rooted fast in their original positions. The same is witnessed in most of the collieries of Europe, even in the districts which are at present the coldest. All this affords a convincing proof that, at a certain time, the temperature of the earth must have been everywhere alike; and this was evidently the third period of creation, as it is indicated in the Bible, when the vegetable productions were sustained alive, as now plants are kept in forcing-houses.

We have also to make a grammatical observation on this verse, in regard to the expression למינו (after his or its kind). Moses Mendelssohn, in his commentary, is of opinion that, if it were to refer both to עץ פרי and עשב it ought to have a greater disjunctive accent than זרע, wherefore it must refer only to עץ פרי. This opinion would be correct if we could assume that in this verse there is a מאמר מוסגר a parenthesis; but I do not think that this is the case. On the contrary, this verse constitutes a period of several members, of which the first, “Let the earth bring forth all sorts* of vegetables,” contains the general direction (כלל), which is farther explained in the subsequent members with the particulars, פרטים. Whoever is acquainted with the laws of Hebrew accentuation, must know that טעם מפסיק הבא כפול הראשון יותר מפסיק, when a disjunctive accent is repeated, the first always denotes a greater disjunction than the following one. Consequently the first† זקף קטן which, according to ancient carefully-edited Bibles, should mark דשא as the general direction, denotes a greater disjunction than <<477>> the others on זרע and למינו. על הארץ, however, has an אתנה, which is, except the סלוק, the greatest disjunctive in the period, because it refers also to עשב מזריע זרע, and therefore requires to be particularly distin­guished. It is therefore evident, that the accentuation of this verse permits us to refer למינו as well to עשב as to עץ פרי. The correctness of this construction is farther exhibited, from the fact that the next verse expressly says עשב מזריע זרע למינהו, “herb bearing seed after its kind.”

* The author views דשא not to mean grass, but everything which is green, and corresponds with the verb תדשא; and he is no doubt right.—I. L.

† Heidenheim and others have no Little Zakef, but a Rebiá to their word, which, if correct, will militate against Mr. K.’s opinion.—I. L.

 (To be continued.)