THIS little volume is sent forth in the confident hope that it may throw fresh light on the life and teachings of Christ, and facilitate for the general public the understanding of the Bible. As may be readily seen, from its perusal, the present work is not intended to be a commentary on the Bible, nor even an exhaustive study of the subject with which it deals. That it leaves many things to be desired is very evident to the author, who fears that his book will be remembered by its readers more by the things it lacks than by the things it contains.
Yet, from the cordial reception with which the opening chapters of this publication (which made their first appearance in the Atlantic Monthly) met from readers of various religious affiliations, the author has been encouraged to believe that his aim has not only been clearly discerned, but thoroughly approved. The books which undertake the systematic "expounding of the Scriptures" are a host which no man can number, nor is there any lack of "spiritual lessons drawn from the Bible." Therefore, as one of the Master's fellow countrymen, and one who has enjoyed about twenty years of service in the American pulpit, I have for several years entertained the growing conviction that such a book as this was really needed. Not, however, as one more commentary, but as an Oriental guide to afford Occidental readers of the Bible a more intimate view of the original intellectual and social environment of this sacred literature. So what I have to offer here is a series of suggestions, and not of technically wrought Bible lessons.
The need of the Western readers of the Bible is, in my judgment, to enter sympathetically and intelligently into the atmosphere in which the books of the Scriptures first took form: to have real intellectual, as well as spiritual, fellowship with those Orientals who sought earnestly in their own way to give tangible form to those great spiritual truths which have been, and ever shall be, humanity's most precious heritage.
My task has not been a light one. It is comparatively easy to take isolated Bible texts and explain them, treating each passage as a detached unit. But when one undertakes to group a large number of passages which never were intended to be gathered together and treated as the kindred thoughts of an essay, the task becomes rather difficult. How far I have succeeded in my effort to relate the passages I have treated in this book to one another according to their intellectual and social affinities, the reader is in a better position to judge than I am.
It may not be absolutely necessary for me to say that infallibility cannot justly be ascribed to any author, nor claimed by him, even when writing of his own experiences, and the social environment in which he was born and brought up.
However, in Yankee, not in Oriental, fashion, I will say that to the best of my knowledge the statements contained in this book are correct.
Finally, I deem it necessary before I bring this preface to a close to sound a note of warning. So I will say that the Orientals' extensive use of figurative speech should by no means be allowed to carry the idea that all Oriental speech is figurative. This manner of speech, which is common to all races of men, is only more extensively used by Orientals than by Occidentals. I could wish, however, that the learned theologians had suspected more strongly the literal accuracy of Oriental utterances, and had thus been saved at times from founding a huge doctrinal structure on a figure of speech.
Notwithstanding all this, the Gospel and the Christian faith still live and bless and cheer the hearts and minds of men. As an Oriental by birth, and as an American from choice, I feel profoundly grateful that I have been enabled to render this modest service to the Churches of America, and to present this book as an offering of love and homage to my Master, the Syrian Christ.
ABRAHAM MITRIE RIHBANY
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