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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 ny, (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 Ionians 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 OD, (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 Jupiters, 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.*
22. et seq.
? Dr. Gr. Sharpe's Dissertations on the Origin of Languages,
&c. PP: 2 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.
The knowledge of the Hebrew language was diffused very widely by the Phoenician 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 Phoenicia, 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. i.); 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 Phænicians 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 congregation, the Levites are said to have caused the people to understand the law, because “they read in the book, in the law of God, dis
tinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading."
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 cha
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. č. p. 364.
? Walton, prol. iii. 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 2_37. (pp. 103–125.) Carpzov, Critica Sacra, pp. 225 241. Bauer, Critica Sacra, pp. IIl-127. But the latest and most useful work on
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.?
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." Pragæ, 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 Jewe.” (Divinity Lectures, part ii. p. 135.) A tract was also published on this subject by A. B. Spitzner, at Leipsic, in 1791, 8vo. entitled “ Vindi. ciæ 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.
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 use.
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 Cabbalists draw all their mysteries from the let1 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 Cabbaliste extracted senses from the sacred oracles, very different from those which the ex