Page images

a very incompetent judge of matters of this sort, I have never been so convinced as some have been of the superiority of this degraded and pagan empire. Egypt “owed her splendour to strangers, rather than to her own vigorous and nourished intellect.” Scythia rivalled her in arms, Tyre in commerce, Syria in letters, Chaldea in astronomy, and Babylon in every department of natural science. Dr. Delaney in his Life of David, expresses the opinion that the great models of Grecian architecture, are not, as has more generally been supposed, to be traced to Egypt, but to that most perfect of all models, the temple at Jerusalem, the entire plan of which was given to David by God himself. The hieroglyphics of the ancient Egyptians were never brought to such a state of perfection as to constitute a system of phonetic writing. They remain to the present day; and they are almost useless and silent, because they represent none of the elements of articulation, and bear no analogy to any other system, whether ancient or modern. Whatever may have been their learning of other kinds, the Egyptians never possessed Alphabetical writing; they were “contented with their hieroglyphical method and never, of themselves, advanced beyond it.” The same may be remarked of the Chinese even at the present day. It is a point well established that the elements of their writing, or keys as they are termed, are merely symbolical, and could never have given rise to any one of the Oriental alphabets. It is “purely an artificial structure which denotes every idea by its appropriate sign without any relation to the utterance. It speaks to the eye like the numerical cyphers of the Europeans, which every one understands and utters in his own way.Modern authors seeni generally to agree in tracing the pervading ignorance of this people to this fact. Neither can the claims of the Hindoos be defended on any better grounds than those of the nations already named. Sir William Jones has clearly made it appear that the Hindoo pretensions to antiquity are excessively extravagant, if not altogether fabulous. Events which they used to fix at a date of some million or two years back, actually took place in the tenth, or eleventh century of the Christian era. Their famous astronomical tables, by which it has been imagined that great antiquity might be assigned to this nation, are shown to be incorrect, and to have been calculated backwards. It has been satisfactorily proved that the treatise which they consider the most ancient in the world, must have been compiled since the Christian era.

Though no man is warranted in speaking with confidence on this subject, yet is there not some good reason to believe that the earliest specimens of a written language came from the Hebrews? Is there not presumptive evidence of this, in the mere fact that the first oral language was the Hebrew ? If the Hebrew language was the language originally imparted to men; if it was preserved through all the corruptions of the antediluvian world, through the division of the family of Noah in the time of Peleg, and through the subsequent confusion of tongues; if it was the language in which God spoke to Abraham and to Moses, and in which Moses conveyed the revelation of the divine will to mankind ; is there not some strong presumption in favour of the idea that it was the first written language ?

Notwithstanding the efforts of the infidels of Germany, who have endeavored to show that alphabetical writing was not in use at all even so early as the time of Moses, it will not be denied except by infidels of the boldest class, that the Hebrew characters existed in a perfect state when this inspired author wrote the Pentateuch. Dr. Winder, in his History of Knowledge, maintains the position, that the art of alphabetical writing was communicated to Moses “ when the great Lawgiver gave him the law upon mount Sinai.” The considerations which support this hypothesis, to say the least, amount to strong presumption in its favour. With two exceptions writing is not even apparently mentioned in the Scriptures before the giving of the law, and these as we shall presently show, may not invalidate the hypothesis of which we are speaking. There was no such thing as writing known before the flood, nor is there any mention made of it in the book of Genesis before that period. Nor was it known from the time of the flood to the time of Abraham's leaving Chaldea. Nor was it known in Canaan at the death of Sarah, and when Abraham bought the cave of Ephron the Hittite. Goguet remarks, that “all deeds among the Hebrews at that time were verbal, and were authenticated and ascertained by being made in presence of all the people.” Nor was it known at the time of Isaac's marriage. Nor was it · known either in Phænicia, or Canaan, at the time of Isaac's league with Abimelech. Nor was it known either in Canaan or Syria, when Jacob went to Laban. Nor was it known in the family of Jacob, while Joseph was in Egypt, either during his servitude, or preferment. Nor was it known at the new settlement of the lands after the famine; nor when the Hebrews settled in Goshen; nor when their oppression began, and the sanguinary edicts were published.* Though these were periods and transactions, during which had alphabetical letters existed, they would not only have been of the greatest utility, but as it seems to us indispensable, and could scarcely fail of being mentioned; yet are they not only not mentioned, but all these important transactions, and all the correspondence between the parties, as well as all the communications from Heaven, were effected by verbal intercourse.

* See these positions illustrated and defended in Winder.

And yet there is a precise period beyond which they are mentioned, and mentioned on almost every fit occasion, and introduced into all the national and ecclesiastical affairs of the Jewish people. That period is the inscription of the law on Mount Sinai by the hand of God, on the two tables of stone.

After this period, Moses is commanded to write the laws in a book; to write the narrative of the war with the Amalekites; to write a copy of the law for future kings; to record the laws that they might be read; and to place a copy of them in the ark of the covenant. After this period also, and not before, as a close examination of the whole passage most clearly shows, we read of the engraving of the names of the twelve tribes on the breast-plate of judgment, and of the engraving on the mitre of Aaron of the memorable label, HOLINESS TO THE LORD.

The giving of the tables, it will be noticed, was a different thing from the writing of the tables. disregard of this very plain distinction has led to the supposition, that the charge given to Moses which relates to the ephod and breast-plate for the High Priest, on which inscriptions were to be made like the engravings of a signet, was given before the law was written. The law was not given to Moses until just as he was about to leave the mount, at the close of he forty days. But it was written more than a month

before; and not until after it was written, did Moses receive the instruction to prepare the ephod and the breast-plate of Aaron. Signets are mentioned before the writing of the law, but there is no evidence that they were not purely hieroglyphic. God now required Moses to engrave on the mitre of Aaron letters, as distinctly as had heretofore been the hieroglyphic representations of a signet.

Now, whence is this perfect silence on the subject of alphabetical writing, until after the supernatural writing of the law, and whence the frequent notices of the art afterwards ? Is not the only answer to this question found in the fact, that the origin of the art is to be attributed to God himself, and that he was the original instructor of Moses during the forty days in 'which he was upon the mount?

It would be natural to suppose, if a written language were thus discovered to men, that there would be some intimations of this fact in the Mosaic history. Are there no intimations of it? Let us advert a few moments to the narrative of this transaction as it is recorded in the book of Exodus. 66 And the Lord said unto Moses, Come up to me in the mount and be there; and I will give thee tables of stone, and a law and commandments, which I have written.” The tables here spoken of, it is obvious, were already prepared and finished at some previous time. God affirms that he had written them. Subsequently to this, we are told that “God gave unto Moses, when he had made an end of communing with him on mount Sinai, two tables of testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God.” Just after this, the fact is repeated, and the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tables.” It is a question which deserves to be im

« PreviousContinue »