"AS I SEE IT" 

Volume 16, Number 7, July 2013

 

“I too will have my say; I too will tell what I know.

For I am full of words, and the spirit within me compels me;

Inside I am like bottled-up wine, like new wineskins ready to burst.

I must speak and find relief; I must open my lips and reply.

I will show partiality to no one.  Nor will I flatter any man.”

Job 32:17-21

 

“That which ordinary men are fit for I am qualified in, and the best of me is diligence.”

Earl of Kent

Shakespeare’s King Lear

Act I, scene iv, ll. 32-34

 

[“As I See It” is a monthly electronic magazine compiled and edited by Doug Kutilek.  Its purpose is to address important issues of the day and to draw attention to worthwhile Christian and other literature in order to aid believers in Jesus Christ, especially pastors, missionaries and Bible college and seminary students to more effectively study and teach the Word of God.  The editor’s perspective is that of an independent Baptist of fundamentalist theological persuasion.

 

AISI is sent free to all who request it by writing to the editor at: DKUTILEK@juno.com.  You can be removed from the mailing list at the same address.  Back issues sent on request.  All back issues may be accessed at http://www.KJVOnly.org

 

All articles are by the editor (unless otherwise noted) and are copyrighted but may be reproduced for distribution, provided the following conditions are met: 1. articles must be reproduced in unedited, unabridged form; 2. the writer must be properly credited; and, 3. such reproduction must be for free distribution only.  Permission to distribute in any other form must be secured in writing beforehand.  Permission for reproduction in Christian print periodicals will generally be given upon request.]

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Tyranny Defined

 

“The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.”

James Madison

“The Federalist.  No. XLVII,” p. 329

The Federalist (New York, Tudor Publishing, 1947)

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The Five Megilloth: A Brief Introduction

 

It has for millennia (even before NT times) been a regular practice in the synagogues, Sabbath-by-Sabbath, to read the Law of Moses (it is read in full either in one year, or in three, depending on the schedule followed) and the selected portions of the Prophets (including both what we call “historical books” and “prophets” proper).  The NT takes note of this practice (see Acts 13:15; 15:21).

 

Five of the shorter books in the Hebrew Bible, namely Ruth, Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations and Esther, though not included in the regular cycle of Sabbath-by-Sabbath Scripture reading, are nevertheless read in full at special times during the year, either in the synagogue, or at home.  While the reading from the Law and the Prophets dates to NT times and even earlier, the practice of reading these additional five books dates from the earlier Middle Ages.

These five books are grouped together in printed Hebrew Bibles and are collectively called the five Megilloth.  Megilloth is the plural of megillah, a Hebrew word which means a roll-form (scroll) book (and incidentally, is not a 1960s cartoon ape!).  The word is from a Hebrew root GLL which means “to roll” (it is also the root, in Aramaic, of the name Golgotha).

 

Before the invention of the book-form (pages all bound on one side with writing on both sides of the sheet) in the late 1st / early 2nd century A. D. (invented by Christians, historians affirm), all books were written in scroll form, as Biblical books for synagogue use still are.  It is still customary among Orthodox Jews for these five little books to be written on separate individual scrolls.

 

Originally, Esther, the first of the five megilloth to be regularly read in the synagogue, was simply called ham-megillah (“the scroll”); when the others were added to the books chosen for public reading--each written on a separate scroll--they were renamed collectively ham-megilloth (“the scrolls”)

 

All five of these books are an accepted, integral part of the long-closed and settled collection (“canon”) of OT books (“the Hebrew Scriptures”); the OT canon was complete by around 400 B. C.  Jesus and the Apostles accepted without dispute, the traditional and historic OT canon of 24 books as did the Jewish nation as a whole, including first century A. D. historian Josephus, and earlier, the translator of Ben-Sirach, circa 132 B. C.  Of course, the 24 books of the Hebrew Scriptures are identical in content to the 39 books of the Christian Old Testament, though counted differently (the twelve minor prophets are counted as one book, for example), and the books are grouped together somewhat differently. 

 

The Jews have traditionally placed the OT books into three divisions: Law (Torah), Prophets (Nevi’im) and Writings (Ketuvim)--spoken of acrostically as “the Tanakh”.  Torah consists of the five books of Moses, Genesis to Deuteronomy.  Nevi’im has two parts: the Former prophets (what we call history books--Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings) and the Latter prophets--Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Twelve Minor Prophets.  The Ketuvim contains all the other OT books, including some that are poetic (Psalms, Lamentations, Song of Solomon), others classified as “wisdom literature” (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes), but also some history (Job--which is also “poetic, and “wisdom,”--Ruth, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Chronicles); the books of the Ketuvim are found in a variety of orders in manuscripts, book lists, translations, and such.

 

Since each of the five megilloth originally was written by itself on a single scroll, the order of the books when compiled together in book-form Hebrew Bibles varies considerably.  Their order as to date of composition is:

 

Ruth, Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, Esther

 

Their order as mentioned in the Babylonian Talmud (tractate Baba Bathra, folio 14b; 5th century A. D.):

 

Ruth, . . . Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Lamentations, . . . Esther

 

The order as found in Codex Leningradensis (the oldest complete Hebrew Bible manuscript, 1006 A. D.), which follows the Jewish calendar order (beginning with the new year in spring)

 

Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther

 

That the Megilloth came to total five in number may be a conscious echo of the five books of Moses, and akin to the division of the book of Psalms into five “books.”  All but one of these five little scrolls is considered to be at least somewhat “controversial.”  Taking the books in chronological order of composition--

 

1. Ruth is one of only two Biblical books named for a woman (the other is Esther); it is about a Gentile woman who is among the ancestors of David the Jewish king (and ancestor to the Messiah, too, Matthew 1:5; in this Ruth is not alone--Canaanite women Tamar and Rahab are also ancestors of David, and Jesus, Matthew 1:3, 5).  The book, which has been widely acclaimed as “the perfect short story,” is read at Pentecost (which usually falls in May), marking the end of the barley harvest.  Events central to the development of the narrative in Ruth are directly tied to the barley harvest, which accounts for its association with that feast.

 

Note: the annual calendar followed by the Jews was and is lunar-based (i.e., tied to the cycle of the moon), consisting of 12 months of 29 or 30 days each.  This calendar is about 11 days shorter than a solar year, and requires the insertion of an extra month every few years, to keep everything synchronous.  The result is that any particular day on the lunar calendar (say Passover on Nisan 14 [and therefore Easter]) will vary year by year from its corresponding solar calendar date.  On the rather complex topic of the Biblical lunar calendar vis-à-vis our current solar calendar, see the instructive article “Calendar” in The Illustrated Bible Dictionary edited by J. D. Douglas (IVP, 1980), vol. I, pp. 222-225; [which is the same in content as New Bible Dictionary edited by J. D. Douglas (IVP, 1982; second edition), “Calendar,”  pp. 157-160].

 

There are a multitude of commentaries on Ruth, perhaps more than almost any other OT book, and certainly so among the Megilloth.  I have found that by Leon Morris in the Tyndale OT Commentary series edited by Donald J. Wiseman to be very useful.

 

2.  Song of Solomon is titled in Hebrew, Shir-hashshirim asher Shlomo, which is literally “the song of songs which is Solomon’s” which in turn is a Hebrew idiom meaning “Solomon’s best song” (and he wrote a reported 1,005--I Kings 4:32).  The Greek title as found in the Septuagint is Asma (or Aisma), “Song,” a word occurring a few times in the LXX but not at all in the NT; it is the first word of the book in Greek translation.  The title in the Latin Vulgate is Canticum canticorum, literally “song of songs,” from whence the alternate English title of the book, Canticles, comes. 

 

The book is essentially a stage play--and a musical at that (or perhaps more analogous to an opera, possibly the whole of its text being sung), with both individual speaking parts and a choir.  It is a precursor of the later Greek plays written by Euripides, Aeschylus and Sophocles.

 

The controversial aspect of Song is that the book makes repeated and obvious references to human physical, sensual passion, which has been thought by some “unsuitable” for inclusion in the Bible.  To avoid the obvious, the book is often allegorized by expositors, both Jewish and Christian, and is explained as symbolic of God’s love for Israel (which may perhaps explain why it is read at Passover, when God redeemed Israel from Egypt); or Christ’s love for the church.  To take note of perhaps the most extreme example, Baptist pastor and scholar John Gill [1697-1771] early on in his London ministry preached a series of sermons on Song of Solomon, one verse per sermon.  He typically heavily allegorized the book.  William Whiston, translator of Josephus, successor to Isaac Newton as professor of mathematics at Oxford, a Baptist and prolific though quite eccentric writer on Bible-related subjects, once was determined to go hear a lecture to be given by John Gill, but when Whiston learned of Gill’s allegoria ad absurdum treatment of Song, he resolved not to go hear Gill.

 

Neither approach--interpreting the book allegorically of God’s love for Israel or Christ’s love for the Church, does justice to the plain and obvious meaning of the book.

 

Among those who take the book at face value, there are two primary schools of interpretation, the two-character and the three-character views.  In the former, the story line is King Solomon’s meeting, wooing and winning the love of a country maiden.  The other view, which I favor, is that there are three characters--the country maiden, her country beau, and King Solomon.  According to this understanding, the country maiden is deeply in love with her country beau, and Solomon tries to win her away from him, but ultimately fails in his attempt, with true love conquering all.  (The essay, “The Interpretation of the Song of Songs,” by F. Godet, reprinted in Classical Evangelical Essays in Old Testament Interpretation, edited by Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. (Baker, 1972), pp. 151-175, is an excellent presentation of the three-character interpretation.)

 

Without access to the Hebrew original, which displays frequent changes between the singular and plural numbers, as well as employing variations in gender--things not often clearly evident in English translation--it is impossible for the English reader to see the clear distinctions in the text between who is speaking at any given point in the narrative (whether male or female, whether an individual or a group--typically a female chorus).  Several English versions, by marginal notes and headings inserted in the text, seek to make available to the English reader this essential information found in the Hebrew.  These include the New International Version (1983 edition and perhaps others), the English Standard Version (2001) and the Holman Christian Standard Version (2004), and perhaps others.

 

Physical sensual and sexual passions are a creation of God, and in the proper context--heterosexual, monogamous marriage (and who would ever have believed twenty years ago that one would have to qualify the term “marriage” with adjectives to make sure the reader knew what he meant!)--they are a positive good and a great blessing from God.  It is only the misuse of these outside the confines of Biblical marriage that makes them shameful and evil.

 

3. Ecclesiastes is actually the title of the book in the Greek Septuagint translation (from the word ekklesia, “congregation,” it means “member” (or possibly “leader”) “of the congregation.”   The Hebrew word is Qoheleth, from qahal, “congregation, assembly.”  The Latin Vulgate, and the English versions, simply borrow the Septuagint name for the book (it should not be confused with the apocryphal book Ecclesiasticus, the Greek name of the book otherwise known as The Wisdom of Ben Sirach).

 

The opening chapter of Ecclesiastes clearly claims that Solomon is the author--only he fits the description given there, though the lack of the express use of his name is claimed by some as proof he didn’t write it.  Some wonder how this book fits into the life of Solomon, as described in Kings and Chronicles; I personally don’t see any problem in this regard, and assign it to late in his life, following a restoration to the true faith after being corrupted for a time by the idolatry of his numerous pagan wives.

 

Some in ancient Judaism sought to challenge the book’s secure place in the canon of Scripture because the book is thought by them to be too cynical and pessimistic, even fatalistic, and therefore out of harmony with the teaching and tone of the rest of the Bible.  In reality, the book is an extended mental wrestling with man’s lot in this present world, with all its frustrations, failures, inequities and injustices, as viewed from a “this-world-only” perspective (“under the sun”).  In the end, Solomon concludes that all is futile apart from a personal relationship with God.  Ecclesiastes has always been one of my favorite Biblical books, chiefly because the issues of life that Solomon struggled with I struggle with as well.

 

The book is read during the week-long feast of tabernacles (“booths”; Hebrew, Succoth), from the 15th to the 22nd of Tishri.  Tishri, which spans the end of September and the beginning of October, is the month with the greatest concentration of national holy days and festivals, including (in addition to Succoth) Rosh Hashanah (“New Year”) which occurs on the 1st of Tishri, and Yom Kippur (“Day of Atonement”) on the 10th day of Tishri.  Why Ecclesiastes is read in association with the feast of tabernacles is not readily evident to me.

 

Chuck Swindoll’s analysis, Living on the Ragged Edge, is one of several good expositions of the book.

 

4. Lamentations as the book’s English title is borrowed directly from title of the book as found in Jerome’s Latin Vulgate translation: Lamentationes.  In Hebrew, it is called Eykah, literally, “Alas!” and is the first word in the Hebrew text; the Greek version calls it Threnoi, literally “wailings”.  It is an entirely poetic book, with all but one of the chapters written in acrostic form.  In chapters 1, 2, and 4, the successive verses begin with the successive twenty two letters of the Hebrew alphabet, aleph to tav; in chapter 3, three verses begin with aleph, then three with beth, and so on.  Only in chapter 5 is this acrostic pattern abandoned (though that chapter still has twenty two verses).  This format--alphabetic order acrostic composition--is common in the OT, especially in the Psalms, the most notable example being Psalm 119, where blocks of eight successive verses begin with the successive letters of the alphabet.

 

Though the author is not expressly identified in the text, the book has universally been ascribed to Jeremiah, “the weeping prophet” who for forty years warned of the coming destruction of Jerusalem unless the nation repented, and here gives vent to his grief over a completely avoidable disaster.  There is no sufficient reason to doubt this ascription of authorship.

 

The book is read on the 9th of Ab, the anniversary of the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B. C., which is also the date of the destruction of the city at the hands of the Romans A.D. 70.  That day is observed with fasting, mourning and utter solemnity.  In 2013, the 9th of Ab corresponded with July 15.

 

5. Esther, the first megillah to be adopted for annual public reading in the synagogue, has engendered some controversy because, rather surprisingly, the name of God appears nowhere in the text of the book (though His unspoken providential working is everywhere evident).  The name of God, YHWH, does occur “hidden” in an acrostic in four successive words in 5:4, as does the shortened form of the name, YHW, in 5:8.  Besides the lack of any mention of God, another question the book invites is: can a devout Jewish woman justifiably marry a pagan, Gentile, harem-keeping, idol-worshipping king? 

 

The book is read during the feast of Purim, 13th-15th of Adar (February/March), the date of the Jews’ deliverance from Haman’s genocidal conspiracy which is the subject matter of the book.  Whenever the name of Haman occurs in the public reading, the audience is expected to hiss and boo.

 

John Whitcomb’s brief commentary on Esther is a worthy contribution.

---Doug Kutilek

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The Book of Revelation:

Some Reflections on Completing Its Exposition

 

At the request of a member of my Sunday Bible class, I prepared and presented a complete exposition of the book of Revelation, all 22 chapters.  Though I have preached from various passages and texts, and even occasional whole chapters (chiefly 1-3 and 20-22) in the book many times over the years, I have never before gone systematically through the whole, start to finish, week by week, lesson by lesson (my previous failure to do so may in part be ascribed to my general disgust with professional “prophecy mongers” who sensationalize the prophetic parts of Scripture for personal gain or reputation).  It proved to be the longest single sustained series I’ve ever taught in my Bible class (we covered Romans a couple years back; I’ve also done extended series over the years on the life of Moses; the life of Solomon; Genesis 1-11; OT theophanies; to mention those that come immediately to mind).

 

When I announced the series, I told the members of the class that it might last as long as “The Great Tribulation,” or at least might seem that long!  The first lesson was taught on January 29, 2012, and the concluding lesson was presented on June 23, 2013, some seventeen months later.  The series was interrupted perhaps ten times or so during that period (for Christmas and Easter lessons, and missions conference Sunday, as well as my mission trips to Europe).  A total of 38 separate outlines were prepared, averaging almost precisely 3 pages each--there were 115 total pages in the hand-outs.  Some outlines were covered in a single week while others took two or more weeks.  The eight-pager on the millennium took all of five weeks to cover.

 

One thing is for sure: I readily understand how and why it took John MacArthur 42 years to complete his exposition of the whole New Testament!

 

Perhaps some accounting of my preparations and the sources I consulted will be of benefit to the reader.

 

I first of all found it absolutely essential to closely, carefully and repeatedly read through the original language Greek text of Revelation, employing mostly the Nestle-Aland 26th edition, but with occasional consultation of the Hodges-Farstad “majority text” (there are in fact numerous places in Revelation where manuscript variants are divided among three or more readings, none constituting a numerical majority).  There are apparently more variant readings in the Greek manuscripts of Revelation than any other comparable portion of the NT (Erasmus himself made over 90 changes in the printed text of Revelation alone for his 3rd edition in 1522, after seeing the Greek text as printed in the Complutensian Polyglot), yet for all that, the variants rarely materially affect the sense or meaning of a given passage, and involve no doctrinal matters.

 

And while the inspired Greek text is truly “the final authority” in the NT, I regularly find it helpful to read multiple translations of the Greek into various languages, translations both ancient and modern, as this compels me to focus on linguistic and grammatical matters, and will often draw my attention to some features that I managed to miss in the Greek (or in English).  It also gives me a good introduction to what the interpretational issues are in a given passage, as the translators labored to make intelligible in their own language the meaning of the Greek as they understood it.

 

For my study of Revelation, I read repeatedly and completely the text in the Latin Vulgate version of Jerome (the single most important Bible translation ever made), Romanian (both the old standard Cornilescu version and the up-dated edition published by GBV in 1990), Spanish (Reina-Valera, sometimes in the 1909 edition, sometimes in the 1960, and occasionally in a 1602 facsimile; and the Nuevo Version International [an NIV equivalent] with occasional consultation of the La Biblia de Las Americas [an NASB equivalent]); German (a 1984 revision of Luther’s version; and the 1979 Simplified German version; with occasional reading of a facsimile of Luther’s 1534 edition--mostly for the interesting woodcuts); and of course Franz Delitzsch’s Hebrew translation, which has proved to be especially enlightening to me over the years (I also read a bit from Isaac Salkinson’s Hebrew version, but it is rather loose, paraphrastic and inaccurate).  I intended to read also the ancient Syriac version (not the Peshitta, which did not include Revelation), but soon found my Syriac too rusty from neglect to read that version without very laborious study and extensive review, for which I could not spare the time (and often lacked the energy). 

 

What Thomas Hartwell Horne said of the benefits of reading the numerous translations of the Sacred Text published in Brian Walton’s famous London Polyglot, I affirm as true of my study of Revelation:

 

"The simple reading of a text in the several versions often throws more light on the meaning of the sacred writer, than the best commentators which can be met with."

 

An Introduction to the Critical Study

 and Knowledge of the Holy Scriptures

8th edition 1839; Baker reprint 1970

 vol. 2, part 2, p. 37

 

I also systematically examined cross-referenced passages listed in the various texts and versions I used--Revelation is filled with OT allusions, imagery and phraseology, more so than any other NT book, though there is not a single express quotation from the OT in it.  As Scripture is its own best interpreter, it was particularly instructive to consult in their OT context the passages alluded to in this book.

 

Next, I made regular use of a concordance, in this particular case the Concordance of the Greek Testament by Moulton, Geden and Moulton (5th edition).  By this, it was possible at a glance to see how many “blessed”s there are in the book (seven, as it turns out).  Or how many times and where John is commanded, “Write!” (twelve times), and many other details. 

 

I always worked first to extract from the text as much as I could on my own, via consultation of the original and the numerous translations, running cross references and employing the concordance before consulting any commentators or Bible dictionary entries.  I wanted as far as possible to form, based solely on the inspired text itself, an independent preliminary opinion of the meaning and emphasis of the text before being influenced by the opinions of others.

 

I also consulted various Bible dictionaries and encyclopedias on certain points, especially for historical background information on the seven cities where the seven churches of Asia Minor were located.  I found that by far, the 150-year-old Dictionary of the Bible edited by William Smith in four volumes (American edition edited by H. B. Hackett; oft reprinted by Baker)--not the abridged one-volume edition, which is all but worthless!--gave the fullest, most detailed information here, followed at some distance by James Hasting’s Dictionary of the Bible (a century old), with all the later 20th century works woefully incomplete (Zondervan, Unger, New, I.S.B.E--both editions,--and others).  The reason was immediately evident: the authors of the entries in Smith were as a matter of course all trained as classical scholars in Greek and Roman civilization, which virtually none of those trained in the past century and more have been (to our great collective loss, I must add), and so were much more thoroughly acquainted with the relevant literature on the subject.

 

I did regularly consult some selected commentaries.  I had read through in years past--many years past, as in 35-plus,--the commentaries of Charles Erdman, H. A. Ironside, and Lehman Strauss, all pre-millennial, and the latter two pre-tribulational (which has always been my perspective).  These were profitable to me at the time, but have long-since been de-accessioned from my collection, and I had read no commentary on Revelation through in subsequent years, though I have often consulted numerous commentaries on selected passages.  In selecting commentaries for my exposition, I found that those that approach and “explain” the book from a “preterite” view (that is, that all of chapters 4-18 refers to events in the first century) or the historical fulfillment view (that is, that these chapters speak of events in the course of the church age), and those that are a-millennial or post-millennial (true of most of the two aforementioned classes of works), were essentially worthless (beyond introductory matters), their explanations and interpretations being collectively highly arbitrary and subjective--and unconvincing. 

 

For help on technical details regarding the Greek text and its interpretation, as well as OT allusions and references, I consulted Henry Alford’s The Greek Testament (pre-millennial), but especially H. B. Swete, The Apocalypse of St. John (not pre-millennial, and rather technical but extremely thorough and most useful), and A. T. Robertson’s Word Pictures (a-millennial) who frequently shows considerable dependence on Swete.  I did not make any regular use of R. H. Charles’ commentary in the ICC set; while detailed and technical and containing an immense amount of information, his hyper-critical approach to the book, chopping it up badly, was decidedly “off-putting.”

 

For possible enlightenment from ancient Jewish literature of imagery, phraseology and such, I consulted a few times John Gill’s 18th century commentary, which specializes in such information, and the extensive work of Strack and Billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud und Midrash (the commentary on Revelation is in volume 3), but always with disappoint.  Neither provided much beyond minimal help in this regard.  Strack and Billerback were extremely sketchy, hit-and-miss in their treatment of this book.  Gill, besides, embraces the impossible “prophetic-of-the-stages-in-the-history-of-the-church-age” allegorical interpretation of chapters 2 and 3.

 

I tried to read Joseph Mede’s famous Clavis Apocalyptica, but could not force myself to read more than half of its hundred pages.  I also tried to read Joseph A. Seiss’ 19th century commentary, but found it also decidedly antiquated and unusable.  I have an additional dozen or so commentaries on Revelation that I did not consult at all or almost not at all (and so have no opinion of them to express).

 

The one commentary that proved of greatest over-all use in interpretation was that long-standard work by John Walvoord.  With exceptions here and there, I found his over-all presentation to be good, thorough, sensible and decidedly devoid of sensationalism or speculation, and where he isn’t sure of interpretations, he says so.  On the whole and in detail, Walvoord proved to be the best guide through the interpretation of Revelation from a pre-millennial, pre-tribulational point of view.

---Doug Kutilek

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BOOK REVIEW

 

A Passion for Trees: the Legacy of John Evelyn by Maggie Campbell-Culver.  London: Transworld Books, 2006.  282 pp., hardback.  $45 [I got my copy, a new “remainder,” for $5.49 through ABEBooks.com]

 

Unless you are well-read in 17th century English history or the development of modern forestry and landscaping practices, you most assuredly have never consciously heard the name of John Evelyn and know nothing at all about him.  Evelyn (1620-1706), in his day considered the most widely-read man in all England, was a royalist and quintessential “country gentleman,” and a founding member of the Royal Society in London, which promoted new developments and inventions in science, industry and agriculture. 

 

Evelyn himself presented a paper at the Royal Society in 1662 on the importance and the means of improving and increasing the forests and wood supply of England.  This was expanded and published in folio as Sylva in 1664, the first book ever issued by the Royal Society.  The book went through numerous editions and revisions in the subsequent century, several by Evelyn himself, with additional editions revised by others after his death.  An oft-quoted statement from the book:

 

“Men seldom plant trees till they begin to be wise, that is, till they grow old, and find, by experience, the prudence and necessity of it.”

 

England--and Europe--had had chronic shortages of wood for fuel and construction timber since the late Middle Ages.  Wood was virtually the only fuel for domestic heating and cooking, and for fuel-intense industries such a iron making (including blacksmithing) and the manufacture of glass.  The huge demand for fuel for these industries led to the decimation of English forests in their near vicinity, and even farther afield.  And then there was ship-building.  With the explosion of sea-faring exploration, trade--and war--that came on the heels of Columbus’ fortuitous discovery of the New World, the demand for timber of suitable size, dimension and species for the manufacture of trading vessels and warships greatly expanded.  To protect English sea trading routes and overseas colonies required a large and expanding navy, with an ever-growing demand for high quality timber (this is why the British crown was so possessive of timber resources in colonial North America). 

 

Generally speaking, timber and forestry resources had been exploited and utilized, with little or no thought to conservation and perpetual propagation.  Evelyn recognized that something must, and could be done to ease the timber shortage in England: the extensive planting and replanting of suitable tree species, and their intelligent care.  In Sylva, he presented descriptions of many tree species native to England, or recently introduced from abroad, their qualities, value, uses, and especially their propagation and culture.  His book also urged the massive systematic planting of trees on the large country estates of the landed gentry--trees for food, fuel, and esthetics (landscaping).  The press run of 1,000 copies of this large and expensive folio volume sold out in two years.  Subsequent editions expanded, supplemented and revised what Evelyn wrote.  The book had an immense influence for good on the woodlands and landscapes of England.

 

In this current volume, the author presents Evelyn’s life in its 17th century context, discusses his book, its influence, and other works by other authors on the same or similar topics.  She also analyzes Evelyn’s discussion of the various species in England, and species he didn’t treat, due to their then too-recent, or subsequent, introduction into the country.  I will say that in some cases, the author falls into factual errors regarding several species, especially in regard to their scientific names, but also in other matters, but we will leave these aside here.  Developments in English forestry and landscaping practices in the centuries since Evelyn’s death are also touched upon.

 

An interesting and informative book, particularly for those wise enough to love, care about and care for trees.

---Doug Kutilek

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