General Smuts, the noted statesman of South Africa, in the course of an address recently delivered at a meeting of the British and Foreign Bible Society in Johannesburg, paid the following tribute to the Old Testament:
“The Bible is the greatest book in the world, and the greatest contribution to human culture, human thought and human religion. Let us not forget that this book is the contribution of the Jews to mankind. In these days, when one sees again the horrid head of persecution, and when the spirit of intolerance is abroad, let us remember that this extraordinary little people, so highly gifted, made this supreme contribution to the welfare of the world.”
Dean Inge, known as the “Gloomy Dean,” addressed the Modern Churchmen’s Conference at Birmingham on the subject of “The Bible and Modern Man.” The Dean, a brilliant writer, given to cynicism and to a certain measure of sensationalism, often attracting attention to his own writings and addresses by startling phrases, this time attacked the Old Testament.
“Much of the Old Testament has very little religious value for us today,” he said, “and we are so far removed from the manner of living and from the thoughts of the ancient Hebrews that a great part of their sacred literature is really unintelligible to the ordinary English reader.”
He spoke of the Psalms thus:
“The Jew was a terrible hater; he often is so still. There is an Oriental ferocity about many of the Psalms which makes them quite unfit for use in public worship. They are not recited in the synagogues now.”
Then he said that the Proverbs were a collection of popular aphorisms which assumed the existence of God and that honesty was the best policy; that Job contained the finest poetry of the Old Testament; that Daniel was deservedly popular, but not as history; that Ruth was a very charming pastoral symphony; that Jonah had no historical value; that Esther was a very interesting story, but God’s name was not mentioned in it; and that the Song of Solomon was not a religious book at all, but a collection of love lyrics, probably to be sung at weddings, and that it was not written by Solomon. And after this analysis, the Dean concluded that “an intelligent and devout use of the Bible is a valuable part of education, and no other book can take its place.”
On the day after the retiring Dean had made his contradictory remarks on the Old Testament, the Bishop of Birmingham, Dr. Barnes, addressing the same conference, deplored the fact that there existed at present a widespread tendency to ignore or belittle, or even to repudiate, the Old Testament. He said:
“Our modern outlook has created a background of thought against which we cannot maintain the traditional belief in the infallibility of Scripture. There is another reason why the Old Testament is disregarded. At the present time, anti-Semitism is unfortunately widespread. In Britain and America it has not grown to such absurd lengths as amongst the German-speaking peoples of Central Europe. But if you hate the Jews, you naturally disparage their greatest contribution to human civilization. Modernists ought to emphasize that just as the Christians might rightly contend that the Old Testament must be interpreted by the New, so also the New Testament must be examined in the light of the Old.”
Commenting on Dean Inge’s venomous remarks about the “Oriental ferocity” of many of the Psalms, the London Jewish Chronicle asks:
“Why single out Jews especially for condemnation? Is it not rather banal on the part of so distinguished a thinker, and does it not smack of the methods of certain Continental movements which we need not further particularize?… In days long after the Psalms were written, there were ghastly exhibitions of Christian hatred to Christians, and it is not so very long since the Inquisition claimed its last victim…. The world is indeed so isolated from the thoughts and the ethical conceptions of the Old Testament that it has positively ceased to understand or to be influenced by the Biblical standards of humane and brotherly behavior. But that is something for the Dean to mourn, not to approve.”
When spiritual leaders and religious thinkers seek to divide nations and faiths rather than to emphasize the fundamental qualities of brotherhood and love through sympathetic understanding among the peoples of all faiths and races, they are untrue to their callingâ€”hypocrites behind the cloak of religion. It would seem that the retiring Dean of St. Paul’s could have found a more appropriate theme for the Modern Churchmen’s Conference in the ferocity of Hitlerite paganism which is challenging both Judaism and Christianity in an effort to enthrone itself in the heart of Europe by means of religious hate and racial persecution and blood baths.
In these chaotic days the unfair and un-Christian spirit in which Dean Inge attacked Jews and the Old Testament only serves to intensify the prevailing confusion, and to aid the enemies of both Jews and Christians.