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350 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 


Zu Bibel und Beligionsphilosophie. By Professor H. Steinthal. 
(Berlin : Reimer. 1890.) 

Some time ago I drew up and published a list of the Jewish celebrities 
of the last century. I remember wondering at the time what would 
have been said if I had dared to place the living ones iu what I 
thought to be their order of merit. But certainly among the first 
two or three would have come the name of H. Steinthal. He is, 
next to Wundt, the most distinguished psychologist in Germany. He 
is co-founder with Professor Lazarus of the science of Vollterpsycho- 
logie. He is the greatest living authority on the intricate question oE 
the origin of language ; indeed, on the whole range of questions con- 
nected with the philosophical and psychological bases of Philology, 
he is the firgt authority in Europe. Besides this, he is the only writer 
on Ethics in contemporary Germany whose views are known or con- 
sidered outside the Fatherland. In Old Testament criticism, again, 
he has made his mark ; in particular, his paper on the Samson saga 
is almost the sole relic of the celebrated sun-myth theory that still 
remains unassailed. 

The papers collected in his latest work, the one before us, touch 
upon many sides of Steinthal's very many-sided activity ; but their 
title, Za Bibel und Beligionsphilosophie, indicate their main topics. 
Thus we have the Narrative Art of the Bible, the Sublime in the 
Scriptures, the Creative Myths of Genesis, besides special studies of 
Lamentations and Balaam, which are clearly contributions " zu Bibel." 
The other part of the title is represented by essays on Truth and 
Evolution, on Myth and Religion, and on the Origin and Meaning 
{Wesen) of Monotheism. But besides these essays, there are others, not 
so closely covered by the title, that seem to me to deserve even greater 
attention than any of these. Two of these are subtle and penetrating 
psychological studies on Devotion and on Humility ; the others are on 
Tolerance and on Prejudice. These form, both in style and matter, 
the gems of the collection, and give characteristic examples of Pro- 
fessor Steinthal's style and method. 

Before, however, speaking more particularly of these, some words 
should be given to the other essays of the book which I only put in the 
second place, not because I admire them less, but because I consider 
the others more characteristic. It is always interesting to come across 
an expert on ground where he is somewhat less at home than in his 
specialty. One fancies one sees the man under such circumstances 
an und fur sich, "as in himself he really is," to use Matthew Arnold's 
characteristic Englishing of the German technical phrase. And a 

Gritkal Notices. 331 

very pleasant acquaintance Professor Steintbal proves himself to 
be, when found off the beaten track. For one thing he -writes a 
German that can be read, an almost unique phenomenon among German 
philosophers. It is, indeed, remarkable that almost the only German 
■writers of note who have had anything of French grace and lucidity 
about them have been Jews. Mendelssohn, Borne, Heine, wherever 
the German tongue resounds, these carry off the palm for lucid and 
easy-flowing prose. Professor Steinthal shares in great measure in 
this Semitic lucidity, which not even anti-Semites will put down to the 
bad side of Jewish influence. Without any straining after epigram. 
Professor Steinthal's exposition is as clear as a running brook, and in 
like manner often deceives one as to the depth of the stream. 

According to Professor Steinthal, this lucidity has been con- 
spicuous among Jews from Bible times, at least as regards nan-ative 
style. He points out how effectively the Bible tells a story in the 
fewest possible words, selecting, as examples, the election of Jehu, the 
rumours of Joseph's death reaching Jacob, and the sacrifice of Isaac. 
For my own part, I think the epic skill of the Judaic narrators 
comes out still more strongly in a passage like that of the death of the 
Shunamite's son (II Kings, iv. 8-37). Theory of the sun-stricken lad, 
" My head ! my head ! " has always had a special appeal to me. 

Another of Professor Steinthal's Biblical essays deals with the 
Biblical sublime, and here he shows that it is not for nought that he 
has gained such fame as a psychologist. English psychological 
language makes it almost impossible to render into English the four 
elements of the sublime, according to Steinthal: — " Euhe des Gemiits, 
Idealitat des Gefiihls, Klarheit des Bewusstseins und Fiille bei Form 
des Inhalts." Perhaps we may paraphrase it somewhat as follows : 
— In presence of the sublime our mood is calmed, yet our spirits 
are aroused and our outlook widened, we see clearly, yet know we 
see not all. This is the sublime regarded from the subjective side ; 
from the objective point of view a certain amount of simplicity and 
clearness of outline strikes Steinthal as one of the sine qua non's of 
" Das Erhabene," and then he goes on to give examples of this in the 
Bible. One of his most striking remarks is upon the religious use of 
phrases like " our God," " my God," which M. Renan found so heno- 
theistic. Steinthal points out that the use is peculiar to the Hebrews ; 
neither Greeks nor Germans ever speak of "our Jupiter," '"our 

These examples must suffice as specimens of Steinthal's Biblical 
literary criticism, a subject practically in its infancy. Overmuch as 
the Bible has been written about, its literary qualities are scarcely 
ever touched upon. Even Professor Cheyne, who shows in other 
respects so fine a literary taste and tact, rarely or never treats of the 

352 The Jewish Quarterly Review. 

Biblical books from the literary point of view. It would be well if 
he or others would touch on this side of the Bible's greatness, one of 
the secrets of its appeal to many folk who fail to be touched by forms 
of religious thought, so different from the contemporary, or requiring 
such historic imagination for its identity to be seen. 

As a sample of Steinthal's philosophy of religion, to which we 
must now turn, the lecture on " Eeligion and Myth" will amply serve 
our turn. His views on religion are akin to those of Professor Seeley 
and the Broad Church generally. Religion is the feeling for the 
Infinite, for the Divinity within us, and for aU without us that re- 
presents the Infinite or the Divine ; hence it is the source of all 
pleasure in the ideal strivings of science, the symbols of art and the 
ideals of duty. G'est magnifique mais ce n'est pas le dogme, some will 
say, and indeed Professor Steintbal is here by no means so clear, lee 
us say the word, by no means so sincere as is his wont. More harm 
is done to religion by such vague vapourings than by all the 
blasphemies that ever were. In opposition to this definition of 
religion stands out Steinthal's definition of myth as a. form of thinking 
and expression (" Denk- und Darstellungsform "), which is gone through 
by all peoples and by all persons in their attempts to grasp the Infinite 
or the Divine. This enables Professor Steinthal to produce some 
pretty contrasts between the finite form of religion, the myth, and 
the eternal and infinite substance of it. Pretty, but somewhat vague 
and not too light-giving, is here the verdict towards which one is 

But whether one agree with Professor Steinthal or not — and it will 
be observed that I dare to disagree with him at times — there can be 
no doubt about one thing. These essays put Professor Steinthal's 
meaning clearly and attractively. One knows ac least what one is 
called upon to agree with. This is a rare enough quality in philosophic 
essays to call for grateful notice when one does meet with it. The 
distinctions may often be subtle, but they are always clear and clearly 
expressed, with pertinent examples and definite sign-posts in the 

These qualities are shown at their highest pitch of perfection in the 
four Essays I selected for special commendation at the beginning of 
this notice. They are specially interesting, I think, for their distinctly 
Jewish tone. Fortunately, for some reasons, unfortunately for others, 
men may write on the Bible, or on religious philosophy, without 
being Jews, or knowing much of what Jews think on such subjects. 
But no one but a Jew, I fancy, could have thought the thoughts and 
felt the feelings that find such clear expression in Professor Stein- 
thal's essays on "Devotion, Humility, Tolerance, and Prejudice." The 
very titles are an epitome of Jewish history, and the feelings they 

Critical Notices. 353 

imply, are at the root of the special Jewish riBos. No wonder, perhaps, 
that so good a Jew as Professor Steinthal is at his best in dealing with 
such specifically Jewish subjects. I should be defeating my own object 
if I were to go into any detail with regard to these essays of Professor 
Steinthal. I hope to induce some of the readers of this Review to 
become readers of the Essays. I shall not, therefore, attempt to 
put them in such a position that they can do without reading them. 
One word only I will say that will appeal to such of the Jewish 
clergymen of England as are interested in the art of sermon writing. 
These Essays of Professor Steinthal — and this remark applies to all of 
them, though more especially to the selected four — these Essays are 
something more than essays : they are lay sermons. 

Joseph Jacobs. 

z 2