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flame and smoke, and the voice of the ever-living God was heard amid the thunders of the mount.
And is it not somewhat remarkable, that, if of human origin, the author of so wonderful a discovery as that of alphabetical writing, should be so utterly lost in the remote ages of antiquity, that no man can specify the nation or even the era to which it can be attributed? There is something quite as ludicrous to my mind, in the theories of the gradual construction of alphabetical letters, as there is in the systems of pagan cosmogony. Is it reasonable to suppose for example, that the old Shemitish letter D was suggested by the word door, or the old Shemitish letter H by the word fence, and the Shemitish V by a hook or nail? And yet this system has very learned advocates. May we not gravely inquire whether the invention of letters does not exceed the powers of man? The learned Shuckford, though an advocate for the early invention of the art, says, “ that men should immediately fall on such a project, to express sounds by letters, and expose to sight all that may be said, or thought, in about twenty characters variously placed, exceeds the highest notions we can have of the capacities with which we are endowed.” It is truly a wonderful art. And it was perfect from the beginning; nor has there been any improvement from the days of Moses to the present day. With one exception all the Hebrew letters are found in the decalogue. Every guttural, labial, lingual, and dental sound is here disclosed. Nor is it less worthy of note, that not an instance is known in which any man, or setof men, ever invented the use of letters by their own unaided powers.
I am not disposed therefore to receive the opinion that the origin of letters is lost in time; or that the
art rose from small beginnings, and was gradually improved as the wants of men demanded it, but that it was revealed to men by God himself. Nor is this at all a novel conclusion. Among the Christian fathers, Clemens Alexandrinus, Cyril and St. Augustin ; and among the moderns, Mariana, a learned Romanist, Dr. John Owen, Sir Charles Woollesly, Drs. Winder, McKnight, and others, held the opinion that Moses introduced the first alphabet. *
In relation to the period when the art of writing was communicated to other nations, as might be well supposed, different views have been expressed by different men. It is obvious that the Hebrews had no opportunity of communicating with other nations either during their forty years in the desert, or the time of Joshua's conquests or government.
The period between the death of Joshua and the government of Samuel, as characterized by the reign of the Judges, was marked by great corruption and degeneracy. Milman, in his history of the Jews, well describes it as “ the heroic age of Jewish history, abounding in wild adventures and desperate feats of individual valour.” During this rude and unsettled period, a period of above four hundred years, they were scarcely fitted to receive or extend instruction of any kind. Under the government of Samuel the literature of the nation
may be said to have taken its rise. He founded a school of the Prophets; he was the author of the earlier part of the life of David; and he wrote a treatise on civil government, which was called “the manner of the kingdom,” for the instruction of Saul, the first king. David was a prince of highly cultivated mind, and greatly elevated the nation in arts and in arms.
It was not, however, until the distinguished reign of Solomon, that the Hebrew state attracted the attention of the surrounding nations, and became as remarkable for its wisdom, as for its wealth and splendour. The reign of this prince was the zenith of Israel's glory. It was to the Hebrew nation, what the present century has been to Germany; what the reign of Anne was to Britain; the reign of Louis XIV. to France; the Pontificate of Leo X. to Italy; the reign of Augustus Cæsar to Rome; and the influence of Pericles to Greece. Solomon's court was the most splendid and enlightened court in the world. The whole country of Palestine was then classic ground. It was a time of profound peace; and the people were no longer the sport of the sword and the pestilence. Agriculture and commerce, lucrative occupation of every kind, and unobstructed international intercourse had rendered their land and their metropolis “the beauty of perfection, and the joy of the whole earth.” Never had the nation so favorable an opportunity of forming and executing the noblest and most useful designs, and of extending its influence for the amelioration of our race. It is most probable that it was not until about this period that the knowledge of letters passed from the Hebrews to the Pagan world, and especially to the Phænicians, the Egyptians, and the Chaldeans; each of which had peculiar facilities for becoming acquainted with the Hebrew language.*
* Vide Winder.
The researches of able chronologists give weight to this opinion. David and Solomon were contemporaneous with Hiram in Phænicia; with Hadadezer in Assyria; and according to Sir Isaac Newton, with Sesostris in Egypt, and Cadmus in Greece. Not far from this period we find that letters were introduced
* See Winder.
into different pagan nations; and they gradually became the habitation of genius and learning as they were more or less remote from the Holy Land.
May we not then regard Judea as the birth place of letters? Her language was a sort of universal language; her central position had been reserved by the God of nations in his division of the earth, for the express purpose of making her the depositary of knowledge; and her prophets, her historians, and her poets were eagerly sought after. She was the most powerful and the most accomplished nation; and the active, imposing character of her inhabitants ensured to her a commanding influence. Her priests were learned men, and their cities were like so many Universities. Nor is it unreasonable to believe, that to her belonged the distinction of serving as a model to her more barbarous neighbours.
If the press is the palladium of civilized society; if letters are the great hope of its advancement, and the only effectual security against its return to barbarism and wretchedness; what do we not owe to this now scattered, but once concentrated and enlightened people? Whatever may be the benefits of this great art upon the intellectual and social character, and upon individual and public prosperity, may we not say, the honour of it belongs to the Hebrews—to Moses their great Lawgiver—to the Bible ? Not until this treasury of knowledge was unlocked, were the riches of thought diffused through the nations. It is not undeserved homage to this sacred book to say, that philosophers and great men of other times lighted their torch in Zion, and the altars of learning caught their first spark from the flame that glowed within her temple.
The tongue of man is the glory of his frame; and the use of it was taught him by his Maker. These mysterious letters, too, are from him. When we take up a profitable book, we should recollect whose hand first inscribed the living characters. Every time we take our pen too, to inscribe these characters on the page of business, or of friendship, we should recollect with gratitude that we owe the wonderful art to Him from whom cometh down every good and perfect gift.