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The opinion originally produced by Scaliger, and thus decisively corroborated by coins, has been adopted by Casaubon, Vossius, Grotius, Bishop Walton, Louis Cappel, Dr. Prideaux, and other eminent biblical critics and philologers, and is now generally received: it was, however, very strenuously though unsuccessfully opposed by the younger Buxtorf, who endeavoured to prove, by a variety of passages from rabbinical writers, that both the square and the Samaritan characters were antiently used; the present square character being that in which the tables of the law, and the copy deposited in the ark, were written; and the other characters being used in the copies of the law which were used for private and common use, and in civil affairs in general; and that after the captivity, Ezra enjoined the former to be used by the Jews on all occasions, leaving the latter to the Samaritans and apostates. Independently, however, of the strong evidence against Buxtorf's hypothesis, which is afforded by the antient Hebrew coins, when we consider the implacable enmity that subsisted between the Jews and Samaritans, is it likely that the one copied from the other, or that the former preferred to the beautiful letters used by their ancestors the rude and inelegant characters of their most detested rivals? And when the vast difference between the Chaldee (or square) and the Samaritan letters, with respect to convenience and beauty, is calmly considered, it must be acknowledged that they never could have been used at the same time. After all it is of no great moment which of these, or whether either of them, were the original characters, since it does not appear that any change of the words has arisen from the manner of writing them, because the Samaritan and Hebrew Pentateuchs almost always agree, notwithstanding the lapse of so many ages. It is most probable that the form of these characters has varied at different periods: this appears from the direct testimony of Montfaucon, and is implied in Dr. Kennicott's making the characters, in which manuscripts are written, one test of their age.2
III. But however interesting these inquiries may be in a philological point of view, it is of far greater importance to be satisfied concerning the much litigated, and yet undecided, question respecting the antiquity of the Hebrew points because, unless the student has determined for himself, after a mature investigation, he cannot with confidence apply to the study of this sacred language. Three opinions have been offered by learned men on this subject. By some,
Hebrew characters, according to Bishop Marsh, is " Josephi Dobrowsky de Antiquis Hebræorum Characteribus Dissertatio." Prage, 1783, 8vo. "This tract," he says, contains in a short compass a perspicuous statement of all the arguments, both for and against the antiquity of the Hebrew letters: and the conclusion which the author deduces is, that not the Hebrew, but that the Samaritan, was the antient alphabet of the Jews." (Divinity Lectures, part ii. p. 135.) A tract was also pub lished on this subject by A. B. Spitzner, at Leipsic, in 1791, 8vo. entitled "Vindiciæ originis et auctoritatis divinæ punctorum vocalium et accentuum in libris sacris Veteris Testamenti." In this piece the author strenuously advocates the divine origin and authority of the Vowel Points.
1 Hexapla Origenis, tom. i. pp. 22. et seq.
2 Dissertation on the Hebrew Text, vol. i. pp. 310-314.
the origin of the Hebrew vowel points is maintained to be co-eval with the Hebrew language itself: while others assert them to have been first introduced by Ezra after the Babylonish captivity, when he compiled the canon, transcribed the books into the present Chaldee characters, and restored the purity of the Hebrew text. A third hypothesis is, that they were invented, about five hundred years after Christ, by the doctors of the school of Tiberias, for the purpose of marking and establishing the genuine pronunciation, for the convenience of those who were learning the Hebrew tongue. This opinion, first announced by Rabbi Elias Levita in the beginning of the sixteenth century, has been adopted by Cappel, Calvin, Luther, Casaubon, Scaliger, Masclef, Erpenius, Houbigant, L'Advocat, Bishops Walton, Hare, and Lowth, Dr. Kennicott, Dr. Geddes, and other eminent critics, British and foreign, and is now generally received, although some few writers of respectability continue strenuously to advocate their antiquity. The Arcanum Punctationis Revelatum of Cappel was opposed by Buxtorf in a treatise De Punctorum Vocalium Antiquitate, by whom the controversy was almost exhausted. We shall briefly state the evidence on both sides.
That the vowel points are of modern date, and of human invention, the anti-punctists argue from the following considerations:
1. The Samaritan letters, which (we have already seen) were the same with the Hebrew characters before the captivity, have no points; nor are there any vestiges whatever of vowel points to be traced either in the shekels struck by the kings of Israel, or in the Samaritan Pentateuch. The words have always been read by the aid of the four letters Aleph, He, Vau, and Jod, which are called matres lectionis, or mothers of reading.
2. The copies of the Scriptures used in the Jewish synagogues to the present time, and which are accounted particularly sacred, are constantly written without points, or any distinctions of verses whatever; a practice that could never have been introduced, nor would it have been so religiously followed, if vowel points had been co-eval with the language, or of divine authority. To this fact we may add, that in many of the oldest and best manuscripts, collated and examined by Dr. Kennicott, either there are no points at all, or they are evidently a late addition; and that all the antient various readings, marked by the Jews, regard only the letters; not one of them relates to the vowel points, which could not have happened if these had been in
3. Rabbi Elias Levita ascribes the invention of vowel points to the doctors of Tiberias, and has confirmed the fact by the authority of the most learned rabbins.
4. The antient Cabbalists1 draw all their mysteries from the let
1 The Cabbalists were a set of rabbinical doctors among the Jews, who derived their name from their studying the Cabbala, a mysterious kind of science, comprising mystical interpretations of Scripture, and metaphysical speculations concerning the Deity and other beings, which are found in Jewish writings, and are said to have been handed down by a secret tradition from the earliest ages. By considering the numeral powers of the letters of the sacred text, and changing and transposing them in various ways, according to the rules of their art, the Cabbalists extracted senses from the sacred oracles, very different from those which the ex
ters, but none from the vowel points; which they could not have neglected if they had been acquainted with them. And hence it is concluded, that the points were not in existence when the Cabbalistic interpretations were made.
5. Although the Talmud contains the determinations of the Jewish doctors concerning many passages of the law, it is evident that the points were not affixed to the text when the Talmud was composed; because there are several disputes concerning the sense of passages of the law, which could not have been controverted if the points had then been in existence. Besides, the vowel points are never mentioned, though the fairest opportunity for noticing them offered itself, if they had really then been in use. The compilation of the Talmud was not finished until the sixth century.1
6. The ancient various readings, called Keri and Ketib, or Khetibh, (which were collected a short time before the completion of the Talmud), relate entirely to consonants and not to vowel points; yet, if these had existed in manuscript at the time the Keri and Khetib were collected, it is obvious that some reference would directly or indirectly have been made to them. The silence, therefore, of the collectors of these various readings is a clear proof of the non-existence of vowel points in their time.
7. The antient versions,- for instance, the Chaldee paraphrases of Jonathan and Onkelos, and the Greek versions of Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion, but especially the Septuagint version,-all read the text, in many passages, in senses different from that which the points determine them to mean. Whence it is evident, that if the points had then been known, pointed manuscripts would have been followed as the most correct: but as the authors of those versions did not use them, it is a plain proof that the points were not then in being.
8. The antient Jewish writers themselves are totally silent concerning the vowel points, which surely would not have been the case if they had been acquainted with them. Much stress indeed has been laid upon the books Zohar and Bahir, but these have been proved not to have been known for a thousand years after the birth of Christ. Even Buxtorf himself admits, that the book Zohar could not have been written till after the tenth century; and the rabbis Gedaliah and Zachet confess that it was not mentioned before the year 1290, and that it presents internal evidence that it is of a much later date than is pretended. It is no uncommon practice of the Jews to publish books of recent date under the names of old writers, in order to render their authority respectable, and even to alter and interpolate antient writers in order to subserve their own views.
9. Equally silent are the antient fathers of the Christian church, Origen and Jerome. In some fragments still extant, of Origen's vast biblical work, entitled the Hexapla (of which some account is given
pressions seemed naturally to import, or which were even intended by their inspired authors. Some learned men have imagined, that the Cabbalists arose soon after the time of Ezra; but the truth is, that no Cabbalistic writings are extant but what are posterior to the destruction of the second temple. For an entertaining account of the Cabbala, and of the Cabbalistical philosophy, see Mr. Allen's Modern Judaism, pp. 65-94, or Dr. Enfield's History of Philosophy, vol. ii. 199–221. 1 For an account of the Talmud, see Chapter VII., infra.
in a subsequent page), we have a specimen of the manner in which Hebrew was pronounced in the third century; and which, it appears, was widely different from that which results from adopting the Masoretic reading. Jerome alsc, in various parts of his works, where he notices the different pronunciations of Hebrew words, treats only of the letters, and nowhere mentions the points, which he surely would have done, had they been found in the copies consulted by him.
10. The letters N, 7, 1, 2, (Aleph, He, Vau, and Yod) upon the plan of the Masorites, are termed quiescent, because, according to them, they have no sound. At other times, these same letters indicate a variety of sounds, as the fancy of these critics has been pleased to distinguish them by points. This single circumstance exhibits the whole doctrine of points as the baseless fabric of a vision. To suppress altogether, or to render insignificant, a radical letter of any word, in order to supply its place by an arbitrary dot or a fictitious mark, is an invention fraught with the grossest absurdity. 1
11. Lastly, as the first vestiges of the points that can be traced are to be found in the writings of Rabbi Ben Asher, president of the western school, and of Rabbi Ben Naphthali, chief of the eastern school, who flourished about the middle of the tenth century, we are justified in assigning that as the epoch when the system of vowel points was established.
Such are the evidences on which the majority of the learned rest their convictions of the modern date of the Hebrew points: it now remains, that we concisely notice the arguments adduced by the Buxtorfs, and their followers, for the antiquity of these points.
1. From the nature of all languages it is urged that they require vowels, which are in a manner the soul of words. This is readily conceded as an indisputable truth, but it is no proof of the antiquity of the vowel points: for the Hebrew language always had and still has vowels, independent of the points, without which it may be read. Origen, who transcribed the Hebrew Scriptures in Greek characters in his Hexapla, did not invent new vowels to express the vowels absent in Hebrew words, neither did Jerome, who also expressed many Hebrew words and passages in Latin characters. The Samaritans, who used the same alphabet as the Hebrews, read without the vowel points, employing the matres lectionis, Aleph, He or Hheth, Jod, Oin, and Vau, (a, e, i, o, u,) for vowels; and the Hebrew may be read in the same manner, with the assistance of these letters, by supplying them where they are not expressed, agreeably to the modern practice of the Jews, whose Talmud and rabbinical commentators, as well as the copies of the law preserved in the synagogues, are to this day read without vowel points.
2. It is objected that the reading of Hebrew would be rendered very uncertain and difficult without the points, after the language ceased to be spoken. To this it is replied, that even after Hebrew ceased to be a vernacular language, its true reading might have been continued among learned men to whom it was familiar, and also in their schools, which flourished before the invention of the points. And thus daily practice in reading, as well as a consideration of the context, would enable them not only to fix the meaning of doubtful words, but also
1 Wilson's Elements of Hebrew Grammar, p. 48.
to supply the vowels which were deficient, and likewise to fix words to one determinate reading. Cappel,' and after him Masclef,2 have given some general rules for the application of the matres lectionis, to enable us to read Hebrew without points.
3. "Many Protestant writers have been led to support the authority of the points, by the supposed uncertainty of the appointed text; which would oblige us to follow the direction of the church of Rome. This argument, however, makes against those who would suppose Ezra to have introduced the points: for in that case, from Moses to his day, the text being unpointed must have been obscure and uncertain; and if this were not so, why should not the unpointed text have remained intelligible and unambiguous after his time, as it had done before it! This argument, moreover, grants what they who use it are not aware of: for if it be allowed that the unpointed text is ambiguous and uncertain, and would oblige us in consequence to recur to the church of Rome, the Roman Catholics may prove-at least with every appearance of truth-that it has always been unpointed, and that therefore we must have recourse to the church to explain it. Many writers of that communion have had the candour to acknowledge, that the unpointed Hebrew text can be read and understood like the Samaritan text; for although several words in Hebrew may, when separate, admit of different interpretations, the context usually fixes their meaning with precision;3 or, if it ever fail to do so, and leave their meaning still ambiguous, recourse may be had to the interpretations of antient translators or commentators. We must likewise remember, that the Masorites, in affixing points to the text, did not do so according to their own notions how it ought to be read; they followed the received reading of their day, and thus fixed unalterably that mode of reading which was authorised among them and therefore, though we reject these points as their invention, and consider that they never were used by any inspired writer, yet it by no means follows, that for the interpretation of Scripture we must go to a supposed infallible church; for we acknowledge the divine original of what the points express, namely, the sentiments conveyed by the letters and words of the sacred text." 4
4. In further proof of the supposed antiquity of vowel points, some passages have been adduced from the Talmud, in which accents and verses are mentioned. The fact is admitted, but it is no proof of the existence of points; neither is mention of certain words in the Masoretic notes, as being irregularly punctuated, any evidence of their existence or antiquity: for the Masora was not finished by one author, nor in one century, but that system of annotation was commenced and prosecuted by various Hebrew critics through several ages. Hence it happened that the latter Masorites, having detected mistakes in their predecessors, (who had adopted the mode of pronouncing and reading used in their day), were unwilling to alter such mistakes, but contented themselves with noting particular words as having been irregularly and improperly pointed. These notes 1 Arcanum Punctationis revelatum, lib. i. c. 18.
2 Grammatica Hebraica, vol. i. cap. 1. § iv.
3 Thus the English verb to skin has two opposite meanings: but the context will always determine which it bears in any passage where it occurs.
4 Hamilton's Introd. to the Study of the Hebrew Scriptures, pp. 44, 45.