William Robertson Smith

William Robertson Smith (8 November, 184631 March, 1894) was a Scottish orientalist, Old Testament scholar, professor of divinity, and minister of the Free Church of Scotland. He was an editor of the "Encyclopædia Britannica". He is also known for his book "Religion of the Semites", which is considered a foundational text in the comparative study of religion.

Life

Smith was born in Aberdeenshire and demonstrated a quick intellect at an early age. He entered Aberdeen University at fifteen, before transferring to New College, Edinburgh, to train for the ministry, in 1866. After graduation he took up a chair in Hebrew at the Aberdeen Free Church College in 1870. In 1875 he wrote a number of important articles on religious topics in the ninth edition of the "Encyclopædia Britannica". He became popularly known because of his [http://www.william-robertson-smith.net/en/e060heresytrialEN.htm trial for heresy] in the 1870s, following the publication of an article in the "Encyclopædia Britannica".

Smith's articles approached religious topics without endorsing the bible as literally true. The result was a furore in the Free Church of Scotland, of which he was a member. As a result of the heresy trial, he lost his position at the Aberdeen Free Church College in 1881 and took up a position as a reader in Arabic at the University of Cambridge, where he eventually rose to the position of University Librarian, Professor of Arabic and a fellow of Christ's College. It was during this time that he wrote "The Old Testament in the Jewish Church" (1881) and "The Prophets of Israel" (1882), which were intended to be theological treatises for the lay audience.

In 1887 Smith became the editor of the "Encyclopædia Britannica" after the death of his employer Thomas Spencer Baynes left the position vacant. In 1889 he wrote his most important work, "Religion of the Semites", an account of ancient Jewish religious life which pioneered the use of sociology in the analysis of religious phenomenon. He died in 1894 of tuberculosis.

Works

Books (annotated)

*"The Old Testament in the Jewish Church" (Edinburgh: A. & C. Black 1881); second edition (London 1892).
**The author addresses the Christian believer who opposes higher criticism of the Old Testament, considering that it will reduce the Bible to rational historical terms and omit the supernatural [cf. 3-5] . He replies that the Bible's purpose is to give its readers entry into the experience of lived faith, to put them in touch with God working in history, which a true understanding of the text will better provide [8-9] . Critical Bible study, in fact, follows in the spirit of the Protestant Reformation [18-19] .
**Prior Catholic study of the Bible is faulted for being primarily interested in drawing out consistent "doctrines" [7, 25] . Instead Protestants initially turned to Jewish scholars who could better teach them Hebrew. However, the chief purpose of Jewish learning was legal: the Bible being a source of "Jewish law", derived to settle their current disputes and issues of practice [52] .
**As Protestant bible study continued, the nature of the text began to reveal itself as complex and many layered. For example, especially in the earlier books, two different, redundant, and sometimes inconsistent versions appeared to co-exist [133] . This would imply that an editor had woven several pre-existing narratives together to form a composite text [cf. 90-91] .
**The Psalms are shown to reflect the life of the entire Hebrew people, rather than that of a single traditional author, King David [224] .
**Prior understanding was that Pentateuch ritual law had originated at Mt. Sinai; Bible history being the story of how the Hebrews would follow or not a comprehensive moral order [231-232] . Yet from the Bible text, the author demonstrates how such ritual law was initially ignored after Moses; only following the return from exile was the ritual system established under Ezra [226-227] .
**In the centuries following Moses, Divine spiritual guidance was provided to the ancient Hebrew nation by their prophets.
*"The Prophets of Israel and their place in history, to the close of the 8th century B.C." (Edinburgh: A. & C. Black 1882), reprinted with introduction and notes by T. K. Cheney (London: A. & C. Black 1895).
**The Hebrew prophets seen in the context of then current religious practice. Instead of divination (often used for political convenience or emotional release), here the prophets of Israel witness to the God of justice, i.e., to their God's true nature. In so speaking these ancient prophets declared to the Jewish people the will of their God acting in history.
**In his Preface, the author acknowledges reliance on critical biblical studies, specifically that established by Ewald, developed by Graf, and furthered by Kuenen referencing his "Godsdienst", by Duhm per his "Theologie der Propheten", and by Wellhausen, citing his "Geschichte" [lvi-lvii] . The author confidently rests the case for religion on "ordinary methods of historical investigation" [17] and on the "general law of human history that truth is consistent, progressive, and imperishable, while every falsehood is self-contradictory, and ultimately falls to pieces" [16] .
**The opening chapters introduce the nature of Jehovah in Jewish history after Moses, discussing neighboring religions [26-27, 38-40, 49-51, 66-68] , regional theocracy [47-53] , henotheism [53-60] , national survival [32-39] and righteousness [34-36, 70-74] , as well as Judges [30-31, 39, 42-45] , and the prophet Elijah [76-87] . Then follows chapters on the prophets Amos [III] , Hosea [IV] , and Isaiah [V-VII] . The work concludes with the secular and religious history of the period preceding the exile [VIII] .
*"Kinship and Marriage in Early Arabia" (Cambridge University 1885); second edition, with additional notes by the Author and by Professor Ignaz Goldziher, Budapest, and edited by Stanley A. Cook (London: A. & C. Black 1903); reprint 1963 Beacon Press, Boston.
**This work traces, from an earlier totemist matriarchy practicing exogamy, the development of a "system of male kinship, with corresponding laws of marriage and tribal organization, which prevailed in Arabia at the time of Mohammed." (Author's Preface). At the frontier of academic study, relied on then current anthropological concepts of J. F. McLennan, "Primitive Marriage" (1865).
**Chapters: 1. Origins (e.g., female eponyms); 2. Kindred groups, "hayy"; 3. E.g., types of marriage, women's property, descent; 4. Fatherhood; 5. Paternity, and polyandry; 6. Female kinship, marriage bars; 7. Totemism; 8. Conclusion.
*"Lectures on the Religion of the Semites. Fundamental Institutions. First Series" (London: Adam & Charles Black 1889); second edition, edited by J. S. Black (1894); reprint 1956 Meridian Library, New York.
**This well-known work seeks to reconstruct several common religious practices and associated social organizations of the ancient Semitic peoples, i.e., Mesopotamia, Syria, Phoenicia, Israel, Arabia [1, 9-10] . It would thus contextualize Bible history.
**In two introductory lectures the author discusses primal religion and its evolution, which now seem to often over generalize (perhaps inevitable in a pioneer work). Of the eleven lectures, Holy Places are discussed in lectures III to V, and Sacrifices in VI to XI.
**On the cutting edge of biblical scholarship, it builds on a narrower study by his friend Julius Wellhausen, "Reste Arabischen Heidentums" (Berlin 1887), and on other works on the religious history of the region and in general (e.g., the anthropologist Edward Tylor). The author also employes analogies drawn from James George Frazer, soon to publish his "The Golden Bough" (1890), to apply where insufficient data existed for the ancient Semites [Preface to first edition, ix] ; hence his methodology criticized by Theodor Noldeke.
**Generally, the book was well received. It won Wellhausen's praise, and later influenced Emile Durkheim, Sigmund Freud, Alfred Radcliffe-Brown, Bronislaw Malinowski, Mircea Eliade.
*"Lectures on the Religion of the Semites. Second and Third Series", edited with an introduction by John Day (Sheffield Academy 1995).
**Based on the original lecture notes of William Robertson Smith (only one had been prepared for publication by the author).
**Second Series: I. Feasts; II. Priests and the Priestly Oracles; III. Diviners and Prophers.
**Third Series: I. Semitic Polytheism (1); II. Semitic Polytheism (2); III. The Gods and the World: Cosmogony.
**An Appendix [113-142] contains contemporary press reports of the lectures, including extemporaneous comments made by William Robertson Smith which do not appear in the published version of his notes.

Other Writings

*Articles in the "Encyclopaedia Britannica" (9th edition, 1875-1889) XXIV volumes, which include: "Angel" II (1875), "Bible" III (1875), "Chronicles, Books of" V (1886), "David" VI (1887), "Decalogue" VII (1877), "Hebrew Language and Literature" XI (1880), "Hosea" XII (1881), "Jerusalem" XIII (1881), "Mecca" & "Medina" XV (1883), "Messiah" XVI (1883), "Paradise" XVIII (1885), "Priest" & "Prophet" XIX (1885), "Psalms, Book of" XX (1886), "Sacrifice" XXI (1886), "Temple" & "Tithes" XXIII (1888).
*"Lectures and Essays", edited by J. S. Black and G. W. Chrystal (London: Adam & Charles Black 1912).
**I. Scientific Papers (1869-1873), 5 papers including: "Hegel and the metaphysics of fluxional calculus" (1870);
**II. Early Theological essays (1868-1870), 4 essays including: "The question of prophecy in the critical schools of the continent" (1870);
**III. Early Aberdeen lectures (1870-1874), 5 lectures including: "What history teaches us to seek in the Bible" (1870);
**IV. Later Aberdeen lectures (1874-1877), 4 lectures including: "On the poetry of the Old Testament" (1877);
**V. Arabian studies (1880-1881), 2 studies including: "Animal tribes in the Old Testament" (1880);
**VI. Reviews of Books, 2 reviews including: Julius Wellhausen, "Geschichte Israels" of 1878 (1879).
*"Preface" to Julius Wellhausen, "Prolegomena to the History of Israel", transl. by J.S.Black & A.Menzies (Edinburgh: Black 1885) at v-x.
*"Review" of Rudolf Kittel, "Geschichte der Hebräer, II" (1892) in the "English Historical Review" 8:314-316 (1893).

Pamphlets: Heresy Trial

*"Answer to the form of libel" (Edinburgh: Douglas 1878).
*"Additional answer to the libel" (Edinburgh: Douglas 1878).
*"Answer to the amended libel" (Edinburgh: Douglas 1879).
*"An open letter to principal Rainy" (Edinburgh: Douglas 1880).

Commentary

*John Sutherland Black & George Chrystal, "The Life of William Robertson Smith" (London: Adam & Charles Black 1912).
*Ronald Roy Nelson, "The Life and Thought of William Robertson Smith, 1846-1894" (dissertation, University of Michigan 1969).
*T. O. Beidelman, "W. Robertson Smith and the Sociological Study of Religion" (Chicago 1974).
*Richard Allan Riesen, "Criticism and Faith in late Victorian Scotland: A. B. Davidson, William Robertson Smith, and George Adam Smith" (University Press of America 1985).
*John William Rogerson, "The Bible and Criticism in Victorian Britain: Profiles of F. D. Maurice & William Robertson Smith" (Sheffield 1997).
*Gillian M. Bediako, "Primal Religion and the Bible: William Robertson Smith and his heritage" (Sheffield 1997).
*William Johnstone, editor, "William Robertson Smith: Essays in reassessment" (Sheffield 1995).

References

*1911

External links

* [http://www.william-robertson-smith.net William Robertson Smith] - A recapitulating website
* [http://cybrary.uwinnipeg.ca/people/Dobson/Manitobiana/issues/006.cfm W. R. Smith] - Ancestry and famous Relatives
* [http://www.1902encyclopedia.com 1902 Encyclopedia] - Articles and illustrations from "Encyclopaedia Britannica", 9th Edition, of which Smith was joint editor


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