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Antiquity of the Hebrew Language ;-II. And of its characters.

-III. Of the Vowel Points. A KNOWLEDGE of the original languages of Scripture is of the utmost importance, and indeed absolutely necessary, to him who is desirous of ascertaining the genuine meaning of the Sacred Volume. Happily, the means for acquiring these languages are now so numerous and easy of access, that the student, who wishes to derive his knowledge of the Oracles of God from pure sources, can be at no loss for guides to direct him in this delightful pursuit.

1. The HEBREW LANGUAGE, in which the Old Testament is written, with the exception of a few words and passages that are in

a the Chaldæan dialect, is generally allowed to have derived its name

Besides some Chaldee words occasionally inserted in the historical and pro phetical books, after the Israelites became acquainted with the Babylonians, the following passages of the Old Testament are written in the Chaldce dialect, viz. Jer. 2. 11. Dan. ä. 4. to the end of chap. vii. and Ezra iv. 8. to vi. 19. and vii. 12. to 17.



from Heber, one of the descendants of Shem, (Gen. x. 21. 25. xi. 14. 16, 17.): though some learned men are of opinion that it is derived from the root nay, (ABER) to pass over, whence Abraham was denominated the Hebrew, (Gen. xiv. 13.) having passed over the river Euphrates to come into the land of Canaan. This language has been conjectured by some philologists to have been that, in which Jehovah spoke to Adam in Paradise, and that the latter transmitted it to his posterity. Without adopting this hypothesis, which rests only on bare probabilities, we may observe that the Hebrew is the most antient of all the languages in the world ; at least we know of none that is older. Although we have no certain proof that it was the unvaried language of our first parents, yet it is not improbable that it was the general language of men at the dispersion ; and, however it might have subsequently been altered and improved, it appears to be the original of all the languages, or rather dialects, which have since arisen in the world.

Various circumstances combine to prove that Hebrew is the original language, neither improved nor debased by foreign idioms. The words of which it is composed are very short, and admit of very little flexion, as may be seen on reference to any Hebrew grammar or lexicon. The names of places are descriptive of their nature, situation, accidental circumstances, &c. The names of brutes express

their nature and properties more significantly and more accurately than any other known language in the world. The names also of various antient nations are of Hebrew origin, being derived from the sons or grandsons of Shem, Ham, and Japhet; as the Assyrians from Ashur ; the Elamites from Elam : the Aramæans from Aram : the Lydians from Lud; the Cimbrians or Cimmerians from Gomer; the Medians from Madai the son of Japhet; the lonians from Javan, &c.? Further, the names given to the heathen deities suggest an additional proof of the antiquity and originality of the Hebrew language ; thus, Japetus is derived from Japhet; Saturn from the Hebrew word JOD, (saran) to be concealed, as the Latins derive Latium from latere, to lie hidden; because Satan was reported to have been concealed in that country from the arms of Jupiter", or Jove, as he is also called, which name is by many deduced from JEHOVAH; Vulcan from Tubal-Cain, who first discovered the use of iron and brass, &c. Lastly, the traces of Hebrew which are to be found in very many other languages, and which have been noticed by several learned men, afford another argument in favour of its antiquity and priority. These vestiges are particularly conspicuous in the Chaldee, Syriac, Arabic, Persian, Phænician, and other languages spoken by the people who dwelt nearest to Babylon, where the first division of languages took place.*

1 Dr. Gr. Sharpe's Dissertations on the Origin of Languages,

&c. pp. 22. et seq. ? Grotius de Veritate, lib. i. sect. 16. Walton's Prolegomena to the London Polyglott, prol. iii. 9 6. (p. 76. ed. Dathii.)

3 Virg. Æn. lib. viii. v. 322.
4 Walton, Prol. iii. 97, 8. (pp. 76, 77.)

The knowledge of the Hebrew language was diffused very widely by the Phænician merchants, who had factories and colonies on almost every coast of Europe and Asia ; that it was identically the same as was spoken in Canaan, or Phænicia, is evident from its being used by the inhabitants of that country from the time of Abraham to that of Joshua, who gave to places mentioned in the Old Testament, appellations which are pure Hebrew; such are, Kiriath-sepher, or the city of books, and Kiriath-sannah, or the city of learning, (Josh. xv. 15. 49.). Another proof of the identity of the two languages arises from the circumstance of the Hebrews conversing with the Canaanites without an interpreter ; as the spies sent by Joshua with Rahab (Josh. ii.); the ambassadors sent by the Gibeonites to Joshua (Josh. ix. 3—25.), &c. But a still stronger proof of the identity of the two languages is to be found in the fragments of the Punic tongue which occur in the writings of antient authors. That the Carthaginians (Pæni) derived their name, origin, and language from the Phænicians, is a well known and authenticated fact ; and that the latter sprang from the Canaanites might easily be shown from the situation of their country, as well as from their manners, customs, and ordinances. Not to cite the testimonies of profane authors on this point, which have been accumulated by Bishop Walton, we have sufficient evidence to prove that they were considered as the same people, in the fact of the Phoenicians and Canaanites being used promiscuously to denote the inhabitants of the same country. Compare Exod. vi. 15. with Gen. xlvi. 10. and Exod. xvi. 35. with Josh. v. 12. in which passages, for the Hebrew words translated Canaanitish and land of Canaan, the Septuagint reads Phænician and the country of Phænicia.

The period from the age of Moses to that of David has been considered the golden age of the Hebrew language, which declined in purity from that time to the reign of Hezekiah or Manasseh, having received several foreign words, particularly Aramæan, from the commercial and political intercourse of the Jews and Israelites with the Assyrians and Babylonians. This period has been termed the silver age of the Hebrew language. In the interval between the reign of Hezekiah and the Babylonish captivity, the purity of the language was neglected, and so many foreign words were introduced into it, that this period has not inaptly been designated its iron age. During the seventy years captivity, though it does not appear that the Hebrews entirely lost their native tongue, yet it underwent so considerable a change from their adoption of the vernacular languages of the countries where they had resided, that afterwards, on their return from exile, they spoke a dialect of Chaldee mixed with Hebrew words. On this account, it was, that, when the Scriptures were read, it was found necessary to interpret them to the people in the Chaldæan language; as when Ezra the scribe brought the book of the law of Moses before the congregar tion, the Levites are said to have caused the people to understand the law, because they read in the book, in the law of God, disa

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tinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading." (Neh. vi. 8.) Some time after the return from the great captivity, Hebrew ceased to be spoken altogether : though it continued to be cultivated and studied, by the priests and levites, as a learned language, that they might be enabled to expound the law and the prophets to the people, who, it appears from the New Testament, were well acquainted with their general contents and tenor; this last mentioned period has been called the leaden age of the language.2

II. The present Hebrew characters, or letters, are twenty-two in number, and of a square form : but the antiquity of these letters is a point that has been most severely contested by many learned men. From a passage in Eusebius's Chronicle,3 and another in St. Jerome, it was inferred by Joseph Scaliger, that Ezra, when he reformed the Jewish church, transcribed the antient characters of the Hebrews into the square letters of the Chaldæans : and that this was done for the use of those Jews, who being born during the captivity, knew no other alphabet than that of the people among whom they had been educated. Consequently, the old character, which we call the Samaritan, fell into total disuse. This opinion Scaliger supported by passages from both the Talmuds, as well as from rabbinical writers, in which it is expressly affirmed that such characters were adopted by Ezra. But the most decisive confirmation of this point is to be found in the antient Hebrew coins, which were struck before the captivity, and even previously to the revolt of the ten tribes. The characters engraven on all of them are manifestly the same with the modern Samaritan, though with some trifling variations in their forms, occasioned by the depredations of time. These coins, whether shekels or half shekels, have all of them, on one side, the golden manna-pot (mentioned in Exod. xvi. 32, 33.) and on its mouth, or over the top of it, most of them have a Samaritan Aleph, some an Aleph and Schin, or other letters, with this inscription, The Shekel of Israel, in Samaritan characters. On the opposite side is to be seen Aaron's rod with almonds, and in the same letters this inscription, Jerusalem the holy. Other coins are extant with somewhat different inscriptions, but the same characters are engraven on them all.5

1 It is worthy of remark that the above practice exists at the present_time, among the Karaite Jews, at Sympheropol, in Crim Tartary; where the Tartar translation is read together with the Hebrew Text. _(See Mr. Pinkerton's Letter, in the Appendix to the Thirteenth Report of the British and Foreign Bible Society, p. 76.) A similar practice obtains among the Syrian Christians at Travancore, in the East Indies, where the Syriac is the learned language and the language of the church; while the Malayalim or Malabar is the vernacular language of the country. The Christian priests read the Scriptures from manuscript copies in the former, and expound them in the latter to the people. Owen's History of the British and Foreign Bible Society, vol. ii. p. 364.

2 Walton, prol. iii. Ø 15-24.) pp. 84–97.) Schleusner's Lexicon, voce 'EBpais. Jahn, Introd. ad Vet. Fædus, pp. 94–96. Parkhurst (Gr. Lex. voce, 'EBpais) has endeavoured to show, but unsuccessfully, that no change from Hebrew to Chaldee ever took place. 3 Sub anno 4740.

4 Præf. in 1 Reg. 5 Walton, Prol. iii. 9 29–37. (pp. 103—125.) Carpzov, Critica Sacra, pp. 225 241. Bauer, Eritica Sacra, pp. 11l--127. But the latest and most useful work on

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