By B. B. Edwards, Professor at Andover
It is certainly not the part of wisdom to introduce to the American Public, indiscriminately, the skeptical opinions on morals and religion which prevail in Europe. Some of these opinions will soon perish on the soil that gave them birth. Before they can be confuted, they will cease to exist.1 Other opinions are so inter-interwoven with habits of thinking peculiar to the people of continental Europe; they are the product of a state of society, philosophical and religious, so unlike our own, that the attempt, on our part, to controvert, or even to comprehend them, would be a fruitless labor.
But some of the opinions referred to are not indigenous in France or Germany only. They are by no means exotics in English or American soil. Indeed not a few of the most destructive theories that prevail in Germany, were transplanted from England. The German skeptic is the lineal descendant of men who once figured in English literature. Doubts or disbelief in respect to the doctrines of revelation which exist among us, are the spontaneous growth of our own institutions and habits of thought, and have been only reinforced from abroad. It has been obvious, for a number of years, that there has been an increasing tendency in certain quarters to question or reject the divine authority of the Old Testament. This has been manifest in the case of some individuals who have no special regard for German literature, or who may have even a positive antipathy to it. The origin of their doubts is either within themselves, or it must be ascribed to habits of thinking and acting peculiar to Americans. Foreign skepticism is not specially in fault.
While the Old Testament generally is assailed, the Pentateuch is made the subject of special attack. Moses, it is alleged, is the least trustworthy of the Jewish historians, or rather the genuineness of the Pentateuch is denied altogether and its authorship, unceremoniously, thrust down to the Babylonish captivity or still later. Many of the miraculous events which it describes are regarded as no better than Rabbinic fables, or Grecian myths.
It may be well here to inquire, briefly, into some of the grounds of this prevalent skepticism. Why are the Hebrew Scriptures, and the five books of Moses particularly, subjected to these fresh assaults? Some causes may exist which have hitherto been unknown, or comparatively inoperative.
A prominent ground of this skeptical tendency is the injudicious, or incorrect method, which has been pursued by not a few orthodox interpreters of the Old Testament. They have never distinctly seen the relations which exist between the Old Testament and the New. They do not, practically at least, recognize the great truth, that God has communicated his revelations gradually. They have looked for the meridian sun in the faint light of the morning. They seem never to have entered into the spirit of the declarations, that Christ brought life and immortality to light, and that the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than the illustrious forerunner of our Lord. In their view, the patriarchs did not see through a glass darkly, but enjoyed almost the perfect vision of the apostles. A system of types, extending to minute particulars, and to bad men, as well as to good, has been forced into the interpretation of the Old Testament, to the detriment of all sound philology, and often of common sense. Men of eminent learning, in our own days, have found in the Mosaic ritual all varieties of allegory and hidden sense, so that, almost literally, every cord has cried out of the tabernacle, and every pin from its timber has answered. In the predictions of the Old Testament, a speciality, or a minute historical reference has been discovered, alike at variance with the nature of prophecy and the actual events of history. In such circumstances, reasonable men might naturally be deterred, not only from adopting such a method of interpretation, but from placing much confidence in the inspired records themselves. They insensibly learn to question the authenticity of a document which is susceptible of a hundred warring interpretations. Wearied with the incongruities or absurdities of the annotator, they have become distrustful of that on which he has wasted his pains.
Another source of the skepticism in question, is the supposed incompatibility of some of the discoveries of modern learning with the records of the Pentateuch. The students of natural science confidently affirm the indefinite antiquity of our globe, and describe the wonderful operations which were going on in its bosom ages before man was formed upon its surface. Some of these investigators, it must be confessed, proceed as independently as if the Mosaic records did not exist; or if these ancient documents should chance to cross their track, they brush them aside, with as little ceremony as they would the cosmogony of Ovid or the theory of Burnet. On the other hand, some theologians have been unduly sensitive in respect to these conclusions of geology, not remembering that Revelation and true science will never be found, ultimately; at variance, and that the period of their apparent discrepancy is generally short. But instead of waiting for time to unfold the mystery, they have denied or denounced, in their zeal for revelation, the unquestionable facts of science. In these circumstances, a third party interpose and cut the knot which they cannot untie. They discern no difficulty in the case, for the book of Genesis is a common history, a mixture of things credible and incredible, or it is a highly seasoned poetical composition. If a discovery of science conflicts with a statement of Moses, then the latter is set aside as having no more authority than an affirmation of Diodorus or Livy. Thus these apparent conflicts between philology and natural science are inconsiderately made the ground of denying the credibility of the written history.
Another cause, which may be mentioned, is the contradictory views which have been entertained in respect to certain usages, tolerated or regulated in the Pentateuch, but which a more spiritual dispensation has been supposed to abolish. In relation to these usages, opinions diametrically opposite have been defended. According to one party, the customs referred to have the immediate, divine sanction. They are not simply the growth of an early state of society, or of oriental institutions, but they meet necessities which are common to man. They are essential to, or at least are admissible in the most perfect condition of humanity. Another party, by doing violence to the language of the Pentateuch, virtually deny the existence of these customs, or endeavor to rid them of their most essential characteristics; affirming that certain usages of modern times are in their own nature and always wrong, they wrest the plainest texts of the Pentateuch from their obvious sense, in order to free the inspired word from the calumny of their opponents. Others, in the mean time, look with equal contempt upon both of these conflicting opinions. Their skepticism is only augmented by this radical diversity of ideas in those who believe in the divine authority of the Pentateuch. They regard the custom which has been proscribed or eulogized, as merely an evidence of a very barbarous state of society, and the regulations of the lawgiver respecting it, as well as the record of the historian, as unauthoritative and uninspired. And it must be acknowledged, that nothing could be better fitted to cherish an unbelieving spirit, than the extreme opinions that have been alluded to. Reasonable men may well hesitate to receive a revelation to which its friends apply the most hostile modes of interpretation. In fact every text distorted, every interpretation farfetched or unnatural, does something towards subverting the authority of the entire Scriptures, as it becomes a source of doubt and incredulity which extends far beyond itself.
The superficial philanthropy and religion, which find not a little currency in our land, is an additional cause of the skepticism in question. The special design of the New Testament, it is alleged, is to reveal, or render more impressive, the doctrines of the immortality of the soul and the paternal character of God. An unavoidable inference from such an allegation is, that the Deity of the Old Testament is different from, or hostile to, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Mosaic Divinity is a stern tyrant or an inflexible judge, not a Being of overflowing benignity. The theophany on Sinai is the fiction of oriental fancy, portraying the avatar of some malignant demon. A view of the Divine character extensively prevails at the present day, which is adverse to the entire spirit of the New Testament, and which virtually leads to the denial of the most explicit declarations made by the Saviour himself. Religion is divested of its commanding features, and is made to meet the necessities of a part of our constitution only. The susceptibilities of fear, and of reverence for law and authority, though as much original properties of man as pity or any other power that has been most abundantly appealed to, are degraded and cast out as worthless.
These superficial views of religion naturally lead to a superficial philanthropy. The tenderest compassion is felt for the criminal, or rather for the unfortunate individual, overtaken in a fault, while few tears are shed for injured virtue or for society menaced with dissolution. A sacredness is attributed to human life, which has no warrant either in the New Testament or the judgment of a pure-minded philanthropist, and which would annihilate the right or possibility of national or individual self-defence. The reformation of the delinquent, it is confidently alleged, is the only, or the principal object of human laws. The Old Testament and the Pentateuch especially, standing as obstacles in the path of these charitable sentiments, must be set aside. Though the representation that the books of Moses breathe an implacable spirit, is altogether unfounded, yet there is much in them of a rigorous character, and which would be repugnant to the opinions and feelings to which we have alluded. It is unquestionable, that there is a strong tendency, at present, towards an indiscriminate philanthropy, and a religion divested of those stern features which the representations of the New Testament imply, as certainly as those of the Old. Now just so far as this tendency prevails, an influence adverse to the authority of the Pentateuch, is brought into active existence. The question is judged subjectively in accordance with the feelings and opinions of the objector. A fair estimate is not of course to be anticipated. Yet no topic in the whole compass of literature, demands greater freedom from theological prepossession than one pertaining to the infancy of our race, (fifteen centuries before the gospel was published), to an oriental state of society, and to a pastoral mode of life. What might seem perfectly unreasonable and distasteful to us, might be most befitting to the incipient Hebrew commonwealth, and might, therefore, have come from God.
Again, some of the causes of this skepticism have multiplied themselves. The tendency to doubt has been greatly strengthened by exercise. The rejection of all supernatural agency from the Mosaic narratives, is an effect as well as a cause. Parts of the Christian records had before been violently impugned. Doubts had been thrown upon the authenticity of no inconsiderable portion of the New Testament. In opposition to the best critical authorities, suspicions were cast on various passages. If the first chapter of the Gospel of John, and the Epistle to the Hebrews, are obnoxious to attack, a book composed sixteen hundred years earlier, and consequently supported by much less external testimony, would hardly escape. If parts of the New Testament are seriously menaced, the whole of the Old would seem to totter on its foundations.
For these and other reasons, which might be named, it is proposed to discuss several topics that have relation to the authenticity and genuineness of the Pentateuch. New light is constantly thrown upon the interpretation of this part of the Bible by the studies of eminent scholars and the discoveries of archaeologists and travellers. A somewhat extended range of observation and of reference to authorities may be allowed, from the bearing of such remarks and references on a number of points which may be subsequently considered.
What has been already stated may suggest, not unnaturally, the first topic for consideration.
§ 1. The Importance of Caution in an Inquiry of this Nature.
Nothing can be more out of place than dogmatic assertion, or that cavalier tone which is sometimes assumed. The subject is of such a character as not to admit of mathematical certainty. After the most laborious inquiries, we are necessarily left in ignorance on some points; while on others, we can only approximate towards the truth.
In the first place, the Pentateuch professes to stand altogether by itself. There is no contemporary literature. Not a fragment of any record besides has floated down the stream of time. The lapse of ages has buried up every other chronicle. Centuries elapsed after the Exodus of Israel, before Hesiod or Homer wrote. The monuments of Egypt are silent on the first twenty centuries of the history in Genesis. We have nothing, therefore, with which to compare the Pentateuch. We are left to judge of its credibility by its own independent testimony.
Again, a state of civil and religious society, manners and customs, useful arts and domestic institutions are delineated or alluded to, with which we have little analogous. The principles of human nature are, indeed, the same. Man's heart beats alike under an oriental or a western sky. But the whole external contour is widely diverse. Even the development of Asiatic character and morals often seems to us very anomalous. We are tempted to look with perfect incredulity on incidents or narratives, which, to an oriental, have the clearest verisimilitude. We often set up European taste as a standard for Asiatic manners, and wonder at the oddity of patriarchal usages, while an Arab or a Syrian would look with equal incredulity or contempt upon many things which have become as a second nature to us. From this dissimilarity or contrariety of manners and customs, the inquirer must needs be cautious in coming to his conclusions. He may pronounce that to be a myth or a saga which is veritable history. Furthermore, it is to be remembered, that the Pentateuch lays claim to Divine inspiration. Moses is the organ of the will of God. The five books profess to be a record of immediate revelations from Heaven. This demands at least an external respect, a show of decency. Even portions of the mythology of Greece and Rome cannot be contemplated with levity. It is in a sense holy ground. If no heavenly voice proceeds from Delphi, yet there is a struggling of the human spirit to pierce the secrets of the future. If there was nothing acceptable to the Deity in the countless sacrifices which were offered on Roman altars, yet the human soul is here revealed in its deepest aspirations. In the immolation of the innocent victim was prefigured the necessity of the shedding of more costly blood. In these misapplied and unauthorized services, some vital doctrines of the Christian system may be faintly shadowed forth. Though embodying a great amount of error or of perverted truth, yet one would not approach this mythology with profane sarcasm. At all events, he would subject it to a careful and conscientious examination.
So in respect to the Mohammedan Bible. It claims to be a revelation from Heaven. These claims ought to be candidly and fairly met. A system of religious imposture is not to be dismissed with a sneer; much less, if, with its absurdities, it contains some acknowledged and fundamental truths. Every principle of literary justice, not to speak of moral obligation, demands that we should carefully examine, rather than dogmatically decide.
Yet how different has been the treatment to which the Pentateuch has often been subjected. It assumes to be a revelation from the true God, and a history of real events. It appears, in the first aspect of it at least, to be plain prose, not poetry, or fable, or allegory. Yet it has often been treated, as though it were, a priori, fictitious, as though it bore the marks of falsehood on its face. A respectable uninspired author has been seldom compelled to submit to such manifest injustice. Multitudes of critics, not a few of them Christian ministers, have regarded it as a mixture of truth and falsehood, or as an interpolated document, and have accordingly tried to sift out some facts from the mass of errors. Where patient investigation would be a too painful process, an inuendo, a covert sneer, or a bold assertion, have been substituted. Decisions have been pronounced with that categorical assurance, which would not be respectful in relation to a common historian, which would not be authorized, were the writers contemporaries of the men on whom they sit in judgment. Many of those, who have impugned the authority of the Pentateuch, have betrayed a state of mind, which would not well befit a student even of the Koran or Vedas.
§ 2. Historical Skepticism less prevalent now than formerly
It is an important consideration in its bearings on the question under discussion, that the spirit of extreme literary skepticism, which prevailed a few years since, especially in Germany, is giving place to sounder and more conservative views. The day of unlimited suspicion in respect to ancient authors has passed by. A more enlightened criticism has shown that incredulity may involve as many absurdities as superstition, and that the temper of mind in which such men as Gibbon looked at certain parts of the records of antiquity, was as truly unphilosophical as that of the most unreflecting enthusiast.
In the latter part of the last century, and during the first twenty years of the present, several causes conspired to give an extraordinary growth to this doubting spirit. Some of these are still more or less operative; the influence of others has disappeared. It may be well to advert to some of the more prominent.
One of these causes is itself a consequence of the intellectual and moral condition of Germany. The number of highly educated men in the German States is very large in proportion to the population, much larger than the intellectual wants of the country demand. The government, having in its hands nearly all the places of trust and emolument, looks, of course, to the abler and more promising candidates for public favor. This awakens among the thousands annually emerging from the university life, a spirit of rivalry and a strong desire for notoriety. Attention must be aroused, a name must be created at all events. If the promulgation of correct opinions will not effect the object, paradoxes may. While sound reasoning will fall heavily on the public ear, ingenious, though baseless, hypotheses will be certain to awaken discussion. To attack the credibility of an ancient historian, with great confidence and with a profusion of learning, may procure an appointment, if it does not accomplish its professed object. Thus the aim often is, to make a sensation, rather than to elicit the truth, to show off one’s smartness, more than to comprehend a subject in its various bearings and worthily present it. A prurient love of novelty and innovation is fostered. Well ascertained facts in history will go for nothing, if a doubt or a suspicion can be started. The mind is not suffered to dwell on ten degrees of positive testimony, if two of a negative character can by any possibility be imagined. A habit of skepticism is thus formed, which no amount of evidence can satisfy. How else can we account for an attack on the credibility of such a book as that of the Acts of the Apostles, or a denial of the historical character of the Gospels? In these cases, the fault cannot be in the historian, or in the contemporary witnesses. Germany has been overstocked with students. The reapers outnumbered the sheaves to be gathered. Topics for investigation were sought beyond the limit of lawful inquiry, or where the only result would be to unsettle all faith in human testimony. From this unpractical character of the German mind, and from the crowded condition of certain departments of study, an unrestrained rationalism was inevitable.
Yet there is reason to believe, that this unhealthful state of the intellectual German world has been somewhat meliorated. The physical sciences and the practical arts are exciting a more earnest attention. The orthodox theologians of Germany have been compelled by the pressure of recent events to place a much higher value on the historical evidences of Christianity.
Another cause of this skepticism has been a theory, quite prevalent, not only in Germany, but throughout Christendom, which represents the early state of man as savage; in other words, man came a child in knowledge from the hands of his Maker, and very gradually and with great painstaking acquired a knowledge of the most necessary arts of life. This theory was the cause, in a measure, of the attack on the integrity of the Homeric poems, and of the postponement to a very late period of the discovery of alphabetic writing. It has led to a representation of the patriarchs and early ancestors of the Hebrews, which would elevate them not much above the herdsmen of the Arabian desert. Accordingly, it were not to be expected that written documents, credible historical records should exist in this crude and forming state of society. The declaration of Moses, that he committed certain facts to writing, itself betrays, it is said, an author who lived as late as David, or the Babylonish captivity.
Yet profounder investigations into ancient history and monuments are every year undermining this opposing and wide-spread hypothesis. The arts in Egypt, at the remotest point of time to which we can trace them, were in a style of the highest perfection. Some of the sciences appear to have made no inconsiderable progress in Babylon, anterior to the limits of authentic profane history, corroborating the brief allusions in the book of Genesis. So the Phoenicians were engaged in an extensive commerce, implying much progress in some of the arts, before the Homeric poems were composed. They were the medium, says Böckh, of conveying some of the scientific knowledge of the Chaldeans to the Greeks. The simplicity of manners and habits which prevailed in those early ages, is to be, by no means, assumed as an index of barbarism; it is rather an evidence of the contrary. Were we to trace the principal forms of heathenism as far towards their source as we can, there is every reason to believe that we should find no evidence that the earliest ages were the darkest. Rays of divine light, which might have illuminated the first dwellers in Egypt, Babylon and India, were gradually lost in the deepening gloom.
We may name, as a third cause of the prevalence of this historical unbelief, the habit of transferring the method of interpreting pagan mythology to the Jewish Scriptures. “We can hardly open a recent commentary on the Pentateuch, without meeting on almost every page the technical terms which Ottfried Müller and others have sanctioned in relation to Greek mythology. “Sagas and myths,” begins one of the latest of these commentators, “everywhere closely linked together in antiquity, form the external limit of the credible history of nations. They magnify the past contests of a nation for independence, narrate the beginnings of one’s own people, point out the origin of its customs, portray, often with great copiousness, the family history of ancestors, their services to following generations, and determine their relations to the progenitors of other tribes. In short, everything, which a nation in its activity lays claim to, becomes an object in the circle of myths and sagas,” Now this system may answer very well in the interpretation of Indian or Chinese antiquity. Nothing may be more beautiful or coherent than such a theory applied to the early Roman legends. In that case, an historical fact may be embellished with a thousand fabulous ornaments, or a mere conception of the mind may have clothed itself in the form of history. But is it right to transfer this ingenious exegesis to the narratives of Moses? Do not the numerous pagan legends presuppose one system which was true, and of which they are, more or less, perversions or anomalous excrescences. And are not the earliest remains of Hebrew antiquity essentially different, in certain marks of trustworthiness, from those of pagan origin? Yet, however diverse the Greek mythology is from the Hebrew patriarchal narratives, one and the same system of interpretation has been employed in both. The cosmogony of Moses and the flood of Noah have been judged by the same principles as have been applied to the theory of the creation sung by Ovid, or to the deluge of Deucalion. The book of Genesis is regarded by many as a poetic account of the origin of the human race.
The only remaining cause of this general skepticism, which we shall mention, is the influence of two celebrated men, Wolf and Niebuhr,—an influence, which, for a time, pervaded more or less every department of literature. Though a considerable interval elapsed between the appearance of Wolf and that of the Roman historian, yet they may here be considered together. The former tried to break down, with his iron mace, the integrity of the Iliad; the latter, after demolishing Livy’s beautiful fabric in respect to the early history of Rome, attempted to reconstruct it on a more solid basis. “When Wolf came forward,” says Tholuck, “with the hypothesis which has made him immortal, many great philologists shook their heads, not only in cautious Holland and stable England, but in volatile France; and a Villoison spoke even of a literary impiety; yet in Germany there arose, among the great spirits,—a Herder, a Heyne,—only the envious dispute who was authorized to claim for himself, with greater right than Wolf, the honor of the first discovery.”2 The sensation which Niebuhr’s History created, was hardly less. Some apprehended that the author would next apply his searching criticism, with similar results, to the Hebrew records. In addition to extensive and profound learning and great ingenuity, which no one would hesitate to ascribe to these remarkable men, both possessed some of the rare attributes of genius. Erudition or acuteness merely, though unmatched, could never have produced the impression which followed the publication of their writings.3
As a natural result, the eye of an unsparing criticism was immediately turned upon many of the relics of ancient times. Wolf himself cast his penetrating glance upon the Orations of Cicero, and declared in respect to four, “that Cicero could never have written them sleeping or waking.”4 Many inferior men followed in the course marked out by Wolf, some of them carrying the principles of their leader much further than his sound judgment would have conducted him. Discredit or contempt, was heaped upon some of the most valuable remains of antiquity. The father of history was spoken of as a garrulous story-teller, equally pleasing to children and to decrepit age. The genuineness of some of the most undoubted dialogues of Plato was called in question by Schleiermacher and Ast. Socher went still further, and proscribed a large portion of the philosopher’s remains. Even Thucydides did not wholly escape this lynx-eyed yet narrow criticism.
In these circumstances, the Hebrew writers and the Pentateuch particularly would come under special condemnation, because, among other reasons, its professed writer, like Livy, wrote many centuries after the occurrence of some of the principal events which he describes. If suspicions could be cast upon the Gospel of Luke and the first Epistle to Timothy, much less could the earliest Hebrew records be expected to escape the ordeal. Vater, De Wette and others followed on sacred ground, the example which Wolf had set them on classical.
But these days have happily passed, evenin Germany. An undistinguishing skepticism is not now considered the fairest evidence of scholarship. Merciless criticism is no longer viewed as the surest test of philological ability. The widest and profoundest investigations are found to be perfectly consistent with an increasing respect for the monuments of antiquity. It is pertinent to our object to advert to a few facts which indicate a return to a sounder and more healthful criticism.
It is difficult to state the exact truth in regard to the opinion which is now entertained of Wolf and his famous theory. That his writings and lectures contributed to modify somewhat, where they did not subvert, the current belief in relation to the Homeric poems, there can be no doubt; yet his influence has long been on the wane. The enthusiasm, with which his hypothesis was once greeted, no longer exists. More than twenty-five years ago, Professor Welcker of Bonn took decided ground against it. At the same period, also, the celebrated Voss wholly dissented, as he informed Welcker in private.5 Subsequently, came out in direct opposition to Wolf, the “Historia Homeri,” by Nitzch of Kiel,—a book distinguished by acuteness, learning and sound judgment. The “Schul-Zeitung,” of August, 1829, remarks that “some yet hold fast to Wolfs paradoxes.” A like opinion, in respect to the decline of the Wolfian hypothesis, has been expressed by Professors Poppo and Klotz. We should not err, perhaps, in affirming that the older philologists, some of them the pupils of Wolf, still adhere to his theory, or to something akin to it. The younger scholars, many of them among the ablest philologists in Germany, have broken away from its bonds, and have adopted, more or less, the views advocated by Nitzsch. Wolf’s attack on some of the Orations of Cicero has only contributed more triumphantly to establish their genuineness. The latest investigations have proved that the great critic could “sometimes sleep,” as well as the great poet. Stallbaum has triumphantly vindicated the authenticity of a number of Plato’s Dialogues against the objections of Schleiermacher and Ast. K. F. Hermann of Göttingen,6 speaks with contempt of “the prison walls which the subjective, scheming, hair-splitting acuteness of that dialectician [Schleiermacher] built as a dwelling for Plato’s spirit.” “Many essential passages of Plato,” continues Hermann, “were rejected by Schleiermacher, because he did not know how to employ them in support of his own theory.”
Abundant and decisive testimonies may be adduced in regard to the high estimation in which Herodotus is now held. Prof. Hitter, the celebrated geographer, affirms, “That of all the records of ancient times, none are receiving more confirmation from modern researches in geography, archaeology, and kindred studies, than the tenth chapter of Genesis and the writings of old Herodotus.” Schaff remarks, “That the accuracy of Herodotus, often assailed, is more and more confirmed by modern investigations.”7 Wachler observes, “As the father of geography and history, Herodotus is held in merited and increasing respect; his fidelity and accuracy are confirmed by all the investigations of modern scholars, and defended against the doubts that have been rashly thrown out.”8 Eichwald, in his Geography of the Caspian Sea, a work of high authority, remarks, “It is with reason that we are surprised both in respect to Herodotus’ fidelity and love of truth, and his extensive geographical knowledge; this was, for the most part, the fruit of personal inquiry. Very remarkable is the exact knowledge which he possessed of the eastern shore of the Caspian, and of the particular tribes dwelling there. It may, perhaps, be assumed, that he had a more precise acquaintance with it, than was possessed by us in the last century, or in some respects even now;”— “a position,” says Bähr, the editor of Herodotus, “which will hold equally good, as we are fully convinced, of several other countries, e. g. the interior of Africa.”9 “Credibility and love of truth,” says Bähr, “can be ascribed to scarcely any historical writer of Greece in a higher degree than to Herodotus, whom one may rightly name in this respect the father of history.” “From several very recent books of travels, especially those of Englishmen, surprising explanations have been obtained of particular parts of the history of Herodotus, and some doubtful or dark places now appear in a true light.” “How many things are found even now, after the lapse of thousands of years, just as the father of history saw and described them.” 10
The credibility of Arrian in the “Expedition of Alexander,” has been fully recognized by Droysen, his latest editor. “As an historical writer, by his careful investigation and impartial criticism he occupies an important place among the Greek historians in general, while of those who have written on Alexander, as Photius already judged, he has, undoubtedly, the first place.”11
We might adduce many other testimonies to the same effect in relation to several of the Greek and Roman historians, but it is perhaps unnecessary. Those already referred to show clearly enough, that the tone of confident skepticism, which is now indulged by some in this country in respect to the Hebrew Scriptures has no counterpart in the spirit and method with which the study of classical philology is pursued by the ablest scholars of the present day. This result is not owing to the less profound nature of the investigations. The whole circle of classical literature was never so thoroughly understood as it is at the present time.
We may add, that there are some indications of a return, in Germany, to a better temper of mind and a fairer style of criticism in respect to the Old Testament. It was the remark of Gesenius, that the older he grew, the more he was inclined to return in very many cases to the received methods of interpretation; and the later numbers of his Thesaurus furnish abundant testimony to the sincerity of his declaration.12 In his recent writings, he expresses more doubt in relation to the theory, which he once fully adopted, of the late origin of the Pentateuch.
The younger Rosenmüller found occasion, in a number of instances, to renounce the skeptical views, which he advocated in some of his earlier works. Even De Wette, in the last edition of his Introduction to the Old Testament, assigns an earlier origin to the Pentateuch than he supported in the former editions. The general current in Germany, among those who deny the Mosaic authorship of the five books, seems to be setting in the same direction. One of the latest and ablest commentators on the book of Job, Prof. Stickel of Göttingen, has vindicated the speeches of Elihu as an integral part of the book of Job—a portion of it which Ewald and others had rejected. The integrity of Zechariah is at length admitted by De Wette, though with evident reluctance.
Every fresh examination of the topography and geography of places described or alluded to in the Pentateuch, shows that the writer had that exact local information which could proceed only from personal observation. “The Old Testament,” says Legh, “is beyond all comparison the most interesting and instructive guide of which a traveller in the East can avail himself.”13 “Wherever any fact is mentioned in the Bible history,” says Wilkinson, “we do not discover anything on the monuments which tends to contradict it.”14 These and similar facts have led such unprejudiced historians and writers as Ritter, Heeren, Leo, Schlösser, Luden, Ideler, Wachler and others, to recognize the books of Moses as authentic history. The principal facts of the Pentateuch are acknowledged by Heeren in his “History of Antiquity” to be historically established. John Von Müller says of the tenth chapter of Genesis, that “the data are, geographically,
BSac 2:6 (May 1845) p. 371
altogether true. From this chapter, universal history ought to begin.” “The record of God’s miraculous Providence,” says Luden, in his History of Antiquity, “in regard to the Israelites—the oldest monument of written history—did not preserve the people faithful towards God.” “We have come to the decided conviction,” remarks Leo, “after examining what has been lately written on this subject, that the essential parts of the law, as well as a great portion of the historical accounts, which form the ground-work of the Pentateuch, and cannot be entirely separated from the laws, as they show their import and design, were written by Moses himself, and that the collecting of the whole into one body, if not done by Moses himself, certainly took place soon after his time, perhaps during his life, and under his own eye.”15
§ 3. Credibility Of The Jewish Historians
Our next position is, that greater credit is due to the Hebrew writers, when describing matters pertaining to Jewish history, than to Greek and Roman authors who have adverted to or delineated the same events. In the first place, the Jewish historians lived, for the most part, at or near the periods when the events which they describe occurred. Moses was the leading actor in the scenes which he professes to portray. The last four books of the Pentateuch, in a very important sense, are the memoirs of his own life. Ezra, Nehemiah and Daniel were eye-witnesses of the events and matters which they narrate. The prophets are historians of the periods in which they lived. They deserve, therefore, more confidence than foreign writers, who flourished centuries afterwards. We attach authority to Herodotus or Tacitus in proportion to the proximity of their lives to the events which they portray.
Again, the Hebrew writers were members of the community whose actions they record, actual residents in the countries and cities respecting which they give information. Moses was educated in the Egyptian court. He lived many years in the wilderness, and became, doubtless, intimately conversant with the whole Arabian peninsula. He does not take up his geographical notices at hearsay. The objects, which he describes, he did not see with the hasty glance of a traveller, but with the practised eye of a native. So with other biblical writers. The author of the book of Job writes with the sure hand of one who had ocular proof. The scene of his poem is perfectly familiar to him. Moses does not speak of Egypt in the manner of Pythagoras or Plato, who saw the country only as travellers or temporary residents. Daniel does not write respecting Babylon, in the manner of a Greek historian, who might have accompanied the Expedition of the Younger Cyrus. He professes to have lived, during the greater part of a century, in the metropolis, engaged in an employment which would necessarily lay open to him every source of information. On the other hand, Xenophon and Diodorus Siculus lived hundreds or thousands of miles from scenes and events which they describe. They may have been observing travellers, but they could not narrate the affairs of the Assyrians as they might do those of the Athenians or Sicilians. The journal of a tourist is no adequate substitute for the knowledge which is obtained from half a century’s residence in a country or city.
In the third place, some of the principal classical writers were strongly prejudiced against the Jews. The early Greek writers seem to have known or cared little for the descendants of Abraham. The literary community at Athens, though excessively fond of novelties, seem to have been wholly ignorant of the Jews, or else to have held them in profound contempt. We wonder that Herodotus, with his liberal mind, and his passion for extensive researches, did not devote part of a chapter to a land crowded with so many interesting objects as Palestine. We wonder still more that men of the comprehensive views and philosophical liberality of Plato and Aristotle, did not think it worth while to look into the laws and institutions of Moses. The entire silence of such writers argues either total ignorance of what was occurring in Palestine, or a contempt for its inhabitants unworthy of men of their pretensions.
Essentially similar is the impression which we receive from the Roman writers. Cicero throughout his multifarious writings, makes no mention, we believe, of the Jews. The poets allude to them, in a few instances, to point a jeer or round a period. Thus Juvenal:
So remarkable is a paragraph relating to the Jews in the pages of the philosophic Tacitus that we are tempted to give the substance of it. It is found in the fifth book of his History.
“According to some, the Jews, fleeing from the island of Crete, found an abode in the most distant parts of Libya, at the time that Saturn was violently dethroned by Jupiter. A proof is obtained from the name. There is a celebrated mountain in Crete called Ida; the inhabitants are termed Idaei, and by a barbarous enlargement of the word, Judaei. Others report, that in the reign of Isis, a multitude pouring forth from Egypt, removed into the contiguous territories, under the lead of Hierosolymus and Judas. Most maintain that they are descended from the Ethiopians, who, compelled by fear and hatred of their king, Cepheus, changed their habitation. Others relate that an Assyrian mixed population, being destitute of land, took possession of a part of Egypt, and by and by inhabited Hebrew cities and territories as their own right, and then the neighboring parts of Syria. Others give a distinguished origin to the Jews. The Solymi, a people celebrated in the poems of Homer, founded the city Jerusalem, and called it from their own name.”
And this is from the calm, careful and reflecting Tacitus, written after the Jewish nation had been in existence almost two thousand years, after the country had become a Roman province, when Rome was filled with Jews, and when, by a few minutes’ walk, he could have found the true account of the origin of the Jews from the Antiquities of Josephus, or, perhaps, from that author’s own mouth. From these legends related by Tacitus, we learn, that a profound historian might neglect with impunity to obtain accurate information in respect to a people so despicable as the Jews; and we may also see what vague and unsatisfactory stories then prevailed throughout the civilized world in regard to the history of the Hebrews.
These facts show with sufficient clearness, that some of the Greek and Roman writers were altogether ignorant of the true origin and condition of the Hebrews, while others looked upon them with prejudice and contempt. Why then should we prefer these historians as authorities to the Hebrew writers, when the affairs of the Jews are in question? Yet this has been the prevailing habit. Diodorus is put first, Moses second. If Manetho corroborates the lawgiver, well; if not, then the pagan must be set up as the standard. If Daniel’s chronology does not agree with that of Abydenus, then the Hebrew is pronounced to be in error, and an additional proof is supposed to be furnished against the authenticity of his prophecies.
§ 4. Early Origin Of Alphabetic Writing
It has often been alleged as an argument against the genuineness of the Pentateuch, that alphabetic writing did not exist at the time of Moses, or if it had been discovered, the knowledge of it was very limited, much too limited to admit of the existence and use of such a book as the Pentateuch.
That alphabetic writing, however, did exist at or before the age of Moses, i.e. 1500 B. C, is capable of proof from a great variety of considerations. If each of the following positions does not of itself establish the fact, yet all, taken together, can leave no reasonable doubt on the subject.
1. So far as there is any evidence from tradition, it is in favor of the very early discovery of alphabetic writing.16 The traditions of all the nations of antiquity coincide in this, that the art of writing belonged to the origin of the human race or to the founders of particular nations. “Several kinds of alphabetical writing were in existence in Asia,” says William von Humboldt, “in the earliest times.” The Egyptians attribute the discovery of alphabetic writing to Thaaut; the Chaldeans, to Oannes, Memnon or Hermes; many of the Greeks to Cecrops, who probably came from Egypt; some to Orpheus; others to Linus; Aeschylus assigns it to Prometheus; and Euripides, to Palemedes, the Argive;—all these are witnesses that the discovery reached beyond the commencement of history, so that Pliny remarks, not without reason, ex quo apparet aeternus literarum usus.
2. It will hold good as a general fact that the most useful arts would be first invented or discovered. Such as are necessary to the support of human life, those which man’s inward or outward necessities would first crave, would, in general, be the first that would be originated. Necessity deeply felt is the mother of art. Feelings of joy or sorrow, common to man, and which require for their full expression some outward symbol, or some auxiliary accompaniment, would necessarily lead to the invention of musical instruments. Some of the more important uses of iron would be early found out, because any degree of civilization, or even of comfort, would be hardly conceivable without it. The violent passions, which agitate man, would early lead him to invent armor, defensive and offensive. Journeys or marches would be impossible for any considerable distance without means for crossing deep rivers and narrow seas. Civilization, in any proper sense of that word, would imply a considerable knowledge of house architecture, if not of such contrivances as chimnies and glass windows, yet some substitute for them.
Now we can conceive of few things more necessary, where there was any degree of refinement, where the sciences were at all cultivated, or where there was any measure of commercial activity, than the art of writing. A patriarch burying a beloved wife among strangers in a strange land, would feel desirous to erect something more than a heap of stones, and to affix something more than a rude portrait or hieroglyphic. He would wish to write her name on the rock forever. Among all nations, particularly the oriental, there is a strong disposition for constructing and handing down genealogical tables and family registers. The practice has its origin in one of the deepest feelings of our nature. Yet this would be hardly possible in the absence of an alphabet. A long list of proper names might be engraven on the memory of a single person. But how could it thus be accurately propagated through a number of centuries? We have abundant proof that the Chaldeans were early engaged in some kind of astronomical calculations. But how could these be carried on without the use of letters or figures? and would this skill in astronomy be any less difficult than the invention of an alphabet? would it not be much further from the wants of common life? Again, we learn from many unquestionable sources that the Phoenicians were, in very early times, engaged in an extensive commerce, embracing at least all the shores and the principal islands of the Mediterranean. Now these marine adventures presuppose a sufficient degree of activity of mind in the Phoenicians to invent an alphabetic system, if they did not before possess one. Besides how extremely difficult, if not impossible, to conduct an extensive system of barter, to transport into distant regions a great variety of goods, as we know the Phoenicians did, to commission agencies or something equivalent to them, and to carry home the proceeds or the exchanged articles, and distribute them to a variety of owners, without any written record whatever, in dependence merely on the memory, or on some rude visible signs. For these purposes, no Mexican painting or Chaldean symbols would be sufficient. The Egyptian hieroglyphics did not render a contemporaneous alphabetic writing unnecessary. For some of the most important purposes of a civilized people, hardly any invention could be more clumsy than the hieroglyphics. How could the deed of a piece of land, the forms and inflections of grammar, thousands of foreign names and terms and the numerous commercial and statistical details which would be indispensable in a kingdom like Egypt, be expressed by pictures, by the representations of visible objects, however ingenious?
3. The perception of historical truth exists in such close connection with the knowledge and extension of the art of writing, that where the latter is wanting, the former is never found, not even among those nations which have certain elements of it.17 This is strikingly illustrated by the example of the Arabians before the age of Mohammed. All which we know of their history, says De Sacy, was found in the midst of oral traditions, and showed everywhere that entire lack of chronological order, that mixture of fables and marvels, which characterize the period, when a nation has no other historians than the poets, and no other archives than the memory of succeeding generations. Now the Pentateuch, according to the unanimous opinion of men engaged in the same department of literature—the historians, with whom, to a certain extent, agree the most prejudiced among the theologians,—has a truly historical character. In this respect, it is totally unlike the Arabian traditions referred to. It may be said, indeed, that the Pentateuch was composed at a period much later than Moses, and thus acquired its historical character when the art of writing was generally practised by the Israelites. But according to the theory generally entertained by those who hold to the late origin of the Pentateuch as a whole, there are fragments, portions larger or smaller, which must have been written at or before the time of Moses. Now these fragments have the genuine historical stamp as clearly as the supposed later portions; and in them, also, are references to historical works, like the “Book of the Wars of the Lord,” which have perished.
4. The theory of the early discovery of the art of writing derives strong confirmation from the fact of the very high antiquity of many of the arts in Egypt, and especially of such as are necessary to the art of writing. If arts, requiring great skill and strong powers of invention, were in use at a very early period, then we may suppose that the art of writing, requiring no higher, perhaps less, powers of invention, might have been discovered.
“We have been enabled,” says Sir J. G. Wilkinson, “to fix, with a sufficient degree of precision, the bondage of the Israelites and the arrival of Joseph; and though these events took place at an age when nations are generally supposed to have been in their infancy, and in a state of barbarism; yet we perceive that the Egyptians had then arrived at as perfect a degree of civilization as at any subsequent period of their history. They had the same arts, the same manners and customs, the same style of architecture, and were in the same advanced state of refinement, as in the reign of Remeses II. The most remote point, to which we can see, opens with a nation possessing all the arts of civilized life already matured. The same customs and inventions that prevailed in the Augustan age of that people after the accession of the eighteenth dynasty, are found in the remote age of Osirtasen I; and there is no doubt that they were in the same civilized state when Abraham visited the country.18 Many obelisks, each of a single block of granite, had been hewn and transported twelve miles, from the quarries at the cataracts of Syene, as early at least as the time of Joseph; and the same mechanical skill had already existed even before that period, as is shown from the construction of the pyramids near Memphis, which in the size of the blocks and the style of building, evince a degree of architectural knowledge, perhaps inferior to none possessed at a subsequent period. The wonderful skill the Egyptians evinced in sculpturing or engraving hard stones19 is still more surprising than their ability to hew and transport blocks of granite. We wonder at the means employed for cutting hieroglyphics, frequently to the depth of more than two inches, on basalt, or sienite, and other stones of the hardest quality. Their taste, too, was not deficient in originality, while it is universally allowed to have been the parent of much that was afterwards perfected, with such wonderful success, by the ancient Greeks.20
The Egyptians appear to have been acquainted with glass-blowing as early as the reign of Osirtasen I, 1700 B. C. The process is represented in the paintings of Beni Hassan, executed during the reign of that monarch and his immediate successors. A bead, bearing a king’s name, who lived 1500 B. C, has been found at Thebes, the specific gravity of which is precisely the same as that of crown glass, now manufactured in England. Glass vases, for holding wine, appear to have been used as early as the Exodus. The colors of some Egyptian opaque glass not only present the most varied devices on the exterior, but the same hue and the same device pass, in right lines, directly through the substance; so that in whatever part it is broken, or wherever a section may chance to be made of it, the same appearance, the same colors, and the same device, present themselves, without any deviation from the direction of a straight line—a mode of workmanship, which Europeans are still unable to imitate.
“It is not from the Scriptures alone that the skill of the Egyptian goldsmiths may be inferred; the sculptures of Thebes and Beni Hassan afford their additional testimony; and the numerous gold and silver vases, inlaid-work and jewelry, represented in common use, show the great advancement they had already made, at a remote period, in this branch of art. The engraving of gold, the mode of casting it, and inlaying it with stones,21 were evidently known at the same time; numerous specimens of this kind of work have been found in Egypt.”22
The ornaments in gold, found in that country, consist of rings, bracelets, armlets, necklaces, earrings, and numerous trinkets belonging to the toilet; many of which are of the early times of Osirtasen I. and Thothmes III., the contemporaries of Joseph and of Moses. Gold and silver vases, statues, and other objects of gold and silver, of silver inlaid with gold, and of bronze inlaid with the precious metals, were also common at the same time. Substances of various kinds were overlaid with fine gold leaf, at the earliest periods of which the monuments remain, even in the time of Osirtasen I.23 Silver rings have been found of the age of Thothmes III. The paintings of Thebes frequently represent persons in the act of weighing gold on the purchase of articles in the market. The arch of brick existed as early as the reign of Amunoph I., 1540 B. C. It would appear from the paintings at Beni Hassan, that vaulted buildings were constructed as early as the time of Joseph. Harps of fourteen and lyres of seventeen strings, are found to have been used by the ordinary Egyptian musicians, in the reign of Amosis, about 1500 B. C. “Stone-workers were accustomed,” says Rosellini, “to engrave upon each square block an inscription in hieroglyphics; an impression was made upon the bricks, which besides, very frequently, bore inscriptions; even oxen were represented; the steward of the house kept a written register. They probably wrote more in ancient Egypt, and on more ordinary occasions, than among us.” “The Egyptians,” says the same author, “differ specially from all other people, in that they constantly cover the interior and exterior of their houses, and the walls of all the innumerable apartments of their subterranean burial-places, with images and writing.”24
In the infancy of society, various materials were employed for writing, as stones, bricks, tiles, plates of bronze, lead and other metals, wooden tablets, the leaves and bark of trees, and the shoulder-bones of animals.25
The Egyptians were not less celebrated for their manufacture of paper, than for the delicate texture of their linen. The plant from which it was made, the papyrus, mostly grew in Lower Egypt. “Pliny is greatly in error,” says Wilkinson, “when he supposes that the papyrus was not used for making paper before the time of Alexander the Great, since we meet with papyri of the most remote Pharaonic periods; and the same mode of writing on them is shown, from the sculptures, to have been common in the age of Suphis or Cheops, the builder of the great pyramid, more than 2000 years before our era.”26
From the facts above quoted, and which might be greatly enlarged, all antecedent improbability in respect to the discovery of the art of writing is taken away. Rather, the contemporaneous existence of an art so necessary is strongly presupposed.27
5. Letters were introduced into Greece from Phoenicia, and at a very early period. In respect to the first of these positions, there is no longer any doubt. The claims of the Phoenicians rest, not only on historical notices, but on the essential unity which appears in the names and forms of the oriental and Greek letters. “That the Greeks,” says Professor Boeckh, “received their alphabetic writing from the Phoenicians, is an undeniable fact.”28
In proof of the very early existence of alphabetic writing among the Greeks, the following considerations may be adduced. Even those who deny that Homer practised the art of writing, allow that it was introduced into Greece at an early time. F. A. “Wolf even remarks, that the introduction of the art of writing at a very early period may be safely concluded from the testimony of Herodotus.29 O. Muller says, that the art was practised several hundred years before Solon.
The oldest inscriptions reach back between 600 and 700 B. C. But these inscriptions imply a previous knowledge of reading somewhat extended; and it may be that letters and the materials of writing were in the hands of a caste long before the earliest inscriptions which have come down to us. The existence of such a learned caste in other countries renders this probable. And it ought ever to be remembered, that there is not one chance in a hundred that our earliest inscriptions are actually the earliest.
It would not be relevant to go at large into the question, whether the author of the Homeric poems made use of writing, yet it may be well to advert to it briefly. We have names and some fragments of epic poets who go back as far as to the commencement of the Olympiads, about 780 or 800 B. C, and who, it was never pretended, delivered their poems orally. Why should Homer be torn from their company, if it can be shown that he did not live more than a century, or a century and a half before them?
Again there are two or three allusions in the Iliad itself, which, to say the least, are most naturally interpreted by supposing the contemporaneous use of writing. In lines 166—170 of Book VI., it is related, that Bellerophon was sent by the king of Argos to a Lycian king, with a closed tablet, in which the former had traced many deadly signs, σήματα λυγρά, that is, had given secret instructions to the Lycian king to destroy the bearer. Did this tablet contain alphabetical characters or mere pictures? The former is certainly the most simple and reasonable interpretation. But if they were hieroglyphics, it would be evident, as Thirlwall remarks,30 that the want of alphabetic writing, which was so felt, and which had been partially supplied by drawing, would soon be met by adopting the Phoenician characters. If the Greeks had no proper alphabet, still this narrative shows that they were fully prepared for it, as they had the idea of communicating intelligence to a distant place by signs.
Again, we learn from innumerable passages in the Homeric Poems, that the Phoenicians at that time carried on an active commerce with the Greeks. Homer was himself an Asiatic Greek, or a native of an island near the Asiatic shore. As we know that the Phoenicians practised writing before his time, is it conceivable, that the inquisitive Greeks would remain in ignorance of a discovery so useful, or that Homer’s universal genius would not obtain a hint of an art from innumerable voyagers and travellers, whom he must have seen, whom he well knew, and who practised an art which was in general use two or three hundred miles from his own home, probably on the same coast?
There are many things in these poems, which, to say the least, it would be nearly impracticable to hand down through successive generations by the memory in its utmost perfection. A catalogue of ships occupies half of the second book of the Iliad. Supposing that parts of it are interpolated, yet it is still a catalogue, a lexicon of countries, cities, towns, nearly all the geography and topography of Greece. There are the names of leaders, often with their genealogies, wives, children, and finally a list of more than thirteen hundred ships. To this is to be added all the commanders and allies of Troy, and a geographical summary of their native countries and cities. Could such things be safely trusted to the memory? Is the memory tenacious of long lists of dry names and facts?31
Again, notwithstanding all which has been ingeniously urged on the opposite side, there is a manifest unity of plan and a higher unity of feeling and action in the Iliad.32 If this is the case, then, the Iliad must have come down to us in its most essential parts, as it proceeded from the soul of the author. It is hardly conceivable that a series of later poets could have so entered into the mind of the author as to develop that inward, living germ which the poem certainly possesses. There is a bare possibility that portions of the Paradise Lost were not from the pen of Milton. Yet it would require some degree of hardihood positively to affirm what is directly in face of the unity of the poem. The products of a great genius are not of that loose and uncertain character. The original, organic connection must be destroyed by later interpolating poets. In the case of Homer too, it must be supposed that these later poets were men of equal genius, which would certainly be a most extraordinary phenomenon.
Here then are two poems, containing, after all interpolations are removed, twenty-five or thirty thousand lines, exhibiting a symmetry of parts, a unity of plan more or less developed, and all animated by the spirit of sweet simplicity, genuine nature, and also by the highest sublimity. Is it reasonable to suppose that there were a number of authors? Is it reasonable to imagine, is it not rather incredible, that the author could have transmitted these poems without the aid of writing materials? We may conceive, possibly, that they could be transmitted from the second person or generation to the third, and so on, without such aid. But in the first instance, they must have been committed to something more firm than man’s treacherous memory. The process of composing a poem of fifteen thousand or of ten thousand lines, according to a regular plan, the various parts more or less cohering together, with thousands of proper names, and all without the aid of writing materials, would seem to involve an impossibility on the very face of it. At all events, it is far less simple and is encompassed with much more formidable difficulties than the old and common theory.33
6. We now proceed to show by direct proof that alphabetic writing did exist, and was extensively employed at or before the time of Moses. It will be most satisfactory to state the evidence in the language of those, who, as all will acknowledge, are the best qualified to judge on this subject. Most of the writers, whom We shall quote, are far from entertaining undue respect for the word of God. A number of them are leading rationalists who deny altogether that Moses was the author of the Pentateuch. Accordingly, their testimony must be regarded as specially valuable, for Moses could not have been the author of the books which are attributed to him, if alphabetic writing was then unknown. With the particular theories of the writers in regard to the country where writing had its origin, the mode of its extension, etc., it is not necessary here to inquire. No apology will be necessary for the introduction of a few facts and allusions, not specially bearing on the main object which we have in view. We begin with Gesenius. The passage is found in an appendix to the last edition of his Hebrew Grammar, published a short time before his death.
“In order to understand the names and forms of the Hebrew letters, recourse must be had to the Phoenician alphabet, the parent of all the alphabets of western Asia and Europe. In this the forms of the twenty-two letters are still pictures, more or less manifest, of sensible objects, the name3 of which begin with these letters, while the names of the letters denote those objects.
“Accordingly the Phoenician alphabet was developed from a hieroglyphic writing, and in such a manner that the characters no longer denote, as was the case in the hieroglyphics, the represented objects themselves, but solely the initial letters of the same This transition from hieroglyphic to alphabetic writing, we find very early among the Egyptians, at least 2000 B. C. [500 years before Moses]. The oldest writing of the Egyptians was solely hieroglyphic. But as this did not provide for the necessities, naturally often arising, to express the sound of words also, an ingenious expedient was devised of causing a number of pictures to denote merely the initial sound of the word indicated thereby; e. g. the hand, tôt, was assumed for t; the mouth, ro, for r, so the alphabetic writing was originated, which the ancient Egyptians used in constant connection with the hieroglyphic. Along with the latter which was used on the monuments, and which consists of perfect pictures, the Egyptians had s till another mode, though less exact, to express objects of common life, in which the pictures were often so abridged as to be indistinct, consisting only of rough elementary strokes.
“In accordance with these historical premises, it is in the highest degree probable, that some Phoenician, connected in very ancient times with the neighboring Egyptians, invented his own alphabet, new and altogether more convenient and practical. Rejecting entirely the hieroglyphics and their innumerable characters, he selected simply twenty-two signs for the twenty-two consonant sounds of his language.”
“To determine the time and place of this discovery, facts are wanting, yet that it was made by the Phoenicians in Egypt, in accordance with its Egyptian type or model, somewhere near the time of the reign of the Shepherd kings in Egypt, is a very probable supposition.”34
“It is remarkable that the names of so many letters refer to objects of pastoral life; some seem to be of Egyptian origin, at least Tet.”35
The following passages are from Prof. Ewald’s latest work.36
“From a consideration of the Semitic languages, it appears that the Asiatic dialects at least, expressed the simplest ideas in respect to the art of writing in the same manner throughout,37 while later improvements in the art could be easily expressed by each in a different way. This phenomenon is not otherwise explainable than as follows: This existing writing was first used, in its simplest application, by an unknown primitive Semitic people; from them it was received, together with the most necessary designations of the object, by all the Semitic tribes known to us in history,—just as certainly as the fact that the term Elóah, for God, common to all the Semitic nations, shows that already the primitive people from whom they separated, designated God by this name. Following such traces, we may be led to the most surprising truths, beyond the most distant periods of the history of nations.”
“We thus here see how every investigation into the origin of writing among the primitive tribes leads us back to the remotest misty antiquity, to a more exact investigation of which all our present helps are not adequate. Among these tribes, writing is always earlier than we can follow it historically, just as every original art certainly springs from the most direct necessities of life, and may be soonest developed by a people extensively engaged in commerce; its use for the purpose of writing history, or only of fixing laws, lies manifestly very early back. Whatever may have been the primitive Semitic people to whom half of the civilized world are indebted for this inestimable gift, so much cannot be mistaken, that it appears in history as a possession of a Semitic people, long before the time of Moses; and that Israel had already, before his time, known and employed it in Egypt, can be assumed without difficulty.”
“The kindred nations may have had not only the art of writing, but an historical literature also, earlier than Israel, since, according to all the traces, Israel was among the smallest and latest of the tribes in the series of the larger and earlier developed brother-nations. In our opinion the notices in respect to Edom, definite and copious as they are given in Gen. 36, bear altogether the marks of having been drawn, by the writer, from older Edomitish sources; then, also, the report in regard to the wisdom of the Edomites must have had some ground. We also call to mind the primitive narration, Gen. 14 (wholly different from all the other notices), where Abraham is spoken of as a “Hebrew,” almost a stranger to the narrator, just as a Canaanitish historian might speak of him. The information incidentally preserved Num. 13:22, in respect to the time of the building of the early founded cities, Hebron in Canaan and Tanis in Egypt, appears altogether like the fragment of a Phoenician work, or of one not Hebrew.”
“Thus it appears to us not only as very probable, but rather certain, that the earliest historians of Israel found already in existence a multitude of historical works of the kindred tribes. That the Tyrians possessed historical books, carefully written, with an exact chronology, we know definitely from fragments of the works of Dios and Menander of Ephesus, which they prepared for the Greeks.”
“Thus the position is firmly established that from the time of Moses, Hebrew historical writing could have been developed, and was developed.”
Our next extract is from Von Lengerke, a professor in the university of Konigsberg.38 “The use of writing and of the easier writing material, that made of skins, is thus presupposed by the oldest tradition, to have been in existence at the time of Moses, and there is no sufficient ground to doubt it.” “At all events, it appears to be historically proved from their names, e. g. Kirjathsepher, city of the book, etc., that writing was practised by the inhabitants of Canaan, at a very early time, before the return of the Israelites from Egypt.” “That the Israelites appropriated to themselves many arts while in Egypt, e. g. the art of weaving, of fusing and working metals, etc., is undeniable; and probably the like may be concluded of the art of writing, though the discovery of a Semitic alphabet cannot be of Egyptian origin; still the supposition is probable, that the Egyptian hieroglyphic writing was transformed by the Hyksos, (Shepherd kings) into alphabetic writing, and that this discovery then passed over to the other Semitic tribes.” “The Tyrians certainly had an historical literature in the Mosaic era; for, though the fragments from Dios and Menander of Ephesus do not relate to a time earlier than that of David and Solomon, still, we may draw the conclusion from the genuinely historical stamp of these notices, that Phoenician historical writers flourished at n far earlier period.”
“The conclusion does not appear hasty,” says Prof. A. T. Hartmann of Rostock, “that the art of writing for a long time employed by the Babylonians, passed over to the Phoenicians, as soon as the latter felt their need of it. Now if this was the case, the Phoenicians had learned to use this invaluable art, certainly at a period which extends far back of Moses and the residence of the Israelites in Egypt.”39 “Acquaintance with alphabetic writing,” says Vater “on the part of Moses and his contemporaries, is not merely possible but more than probable.”40
“The inscriptions on the Babylonian bricks,” says Boeckh,41 which are written in a character similar to the Phoenician, exhibit a later form than the oldest Phoenician; yet this by no means proves that the Phoenician character did not originate in Babylon; for it certainly often happens that the older form of writing is preserved in a derived alphabet longer than in the original one, as the Italian alphabet and particularly the Latin, show in relation to the Greek.”
“The Egyptians on one side,” says Prof. Olshausen of Kiel, “the Hebrews and Phoenicians on the other, we find, at a time which extends back of all sure chronology, in possession of an alphabet, which has one and the same extraordinary principle to denote the sound. For this purpose an object was represented or pictured, whose name in the various spoken languages of Egypt or the Semitic tribes, begins with this sound.”
“Moses at least was acquainted with the Egyptian writing; he himself could write; from him begin the notices in respect to the practice of the art of writing among the Israelites.”42
It is unnecessary to multiply these references any further. The argument from this source against the genuineness of the Pentateuch is wholly untenable, and is generally abandoned in Germany. As, however, it has been recently brought forward with considerable confidence, and as the discussion of it might cast light on other topics which may come under consideration, we have thought it worth while to devote some space to it.
§ 5. Language and Style of the Pentateuch does not prove its later Origin.
It is confidently affirmed by some in our country, that the Pentateuch must be of comparatively recent origin from the fact that its language and idiom do not differ from those of the professedly later books. Moses, as is affirmed, wrote, six or eight centuries before some of the prophets; there would, therefore, inevitably be many archaisms, or vestiges of antiquity in the former; but as there are not, then it follows that the writer of the Pentateuch must have been coeval or nearly so with, the prophets. The similarity or rather identity of style in the two cases, precludes any other hypothesis. We might with as much reason suppose that the Latin of Ennius or of the Twelve Tables would be identical with that of Livy or Tacitus; or that Chaucer and Addison would use the same English vocabulary, as that Moses and Isaiah should be found to differ in style as little as they do. The early origin of the Pentateuch is impossible on this ground alone. We need no other proof that it is not genuine.
It is hardly necessary, perhaps, to undertake to refute this position at length. The opponents of the genuineness of the Pentateuch in Germany have generally and long ago abandoned this ground as untenable. As, however, it is again urged as a decisive objection to the early origin of the five books of Moses, it may be well to devote a few pages to its examination.
In the first place, it is not true that there are no differences between the language of the Pentateuch and that of the later books. The differences are by no means inconsiderable, as the best Hebrew scholars of the present day acknowledge. Ewald, speaking of some fragments of the Pentateuch and Joshua, says “that there are many things in the style as rare as they are antique. Considering the small number of passages, the amount of words elsewhere wholly unknown or not used in prose, is great.”43
The last service which was performed for the cause of sacred learning by Dr. Jahn of Vienna, was an elaborate essay on the Language and Style of the Pentateuch, designed to vindicate its genuineness. His object was to show that there are a multitude of words in the Pentateuch, which never occur, or very rarely, in the later books; while in the later books, there are many words, which are never or but seldom found in the Pentateuch. In his lists, he has omitted most of the ἅπαξ λεγόμενα, also those words, which must from the nature of the case be peculiar to the Pentateuch, e. g. proper names of countries, cities and nations; the names of particular diseases, such as the leprosy and its symptoms; the various terms which designate blemishes in men, priests and sacrificial offerings, and those which were employed in the construction of the tabernacle; also the names of those natural objects which are peculiar to Egypt and the Arabian desert. On the other hand, in the list of words peculiar to the later books, those terms are excluded which the author of the Pentateuch had no occasion to use. After the designations for all these classes of objects were left out, Jahn then made a selection from the most important of the remainder. This enumeration comprises about four hundred words and phrases peculiar to the Pentateuch, or but very seldom employed elsewhere, and about four hundred words and phrases in the later books which either do not occur at all, or but very rarely, in the Pentateuch. Jahn’s list, as Hengstenberg remarks, requires a revision, as Hebrew learning has made great progress in the last twenty-five years. Jahn fell into some mistakes in his interpretation of words, and he confined himself too much to their external form. He should also have omitted the ἅπαξ λεγόμενα. Yet, after all allowances are made, the greater portion of the words in his enumeration are perfectly in point. Not a few words and phrases to which he makes no allusion might swell the number.
We here adduce a few terms and forms of speech, some of the more important of which Geseiiius and Ewald also refer to as peculiar to the Pentateuch.
The words הוּא, he, and נַעַר, young man, are of common gender, and used, also, for she and young woman. The former is found in 195 places, as feminine, in the Pentateuch; neither is found as feminine out of it. “In accordance with the spirit of the language,” says Ewald, “and the obviously gradual separation of gender, this is a proof, which cannot be mistaken, in favor of the high antiquity of the Pentateuch.” When חוּא stands for הִיא, the punctators give it the appropriate pointing of this form (הִוא). From this circumstance, it has been suggested as probable, that other original archaisms in the Pentateuch may, in the lapse of ages, have been conformed to later usage.
The Plural of the Demonstrative pronoun אֶל is found eight times in Genesis, Leviticus and Deuteronomy, always with the article; elsewhere this form is found but once (there without the article) in 1 Chron. 20:8, “manifestly borrowed,” says Ewald, “from the Pentateuch.” In all other places, ה is appended, לֶה.
The phrase, נֶאֱסַף אֶל־עַמּוֹ, to be gathered to his people, is the standing form in the Pentateuch; in the other books it is never found. Instead of it, elsewhere, the phrase, to sleep with his fathers, is employed.
The customary designation of cohabitation, in the Pentateuch by גָלָה עֶרְוָה, is found elsewhere only in Ez. 22:10, where there is a manifest play upon the words in Lev. 20:11.
Together with the form כֶּבֶשׂ, lamb, the form כֶּשֶׁב is found in the Pentateuch fourteen times; elsewhere never.
מִין, species, kind, occurs twenty-eight times in the Pentateuch, elsewhere only Ezek. 47:10, borrowed from Gen. 1:21.
רֵיחַ ניחֹחַ, sweet odor, used of offerings, occurs four times in the Pentateuch, elsewhere only in Ezekiel, where it is manifestly borrowed from the Pentateuch.
עָמִית, neighbor, in Pentateuch eleven times; elsewhere only in Zech. 13:7, manifestly grounded on the usage in the Pentateuch.
For צָחַק, to laugh, of the Pentateuch, the other books use שָׂחַק with three exceptions, שָׂחַק is used fifty-two times. The same is true of the exchange of צָעַק for the softer זָעַק. The צ is the hardest of the sibilants. “The general process of modification,” says Ewald, “is that the harder, rougher sounds become more and more exchanged for those which are softer and weaker.” Even in the proper name, Isaac, שׂ is used for צ in Amos.
שָׂעִיר is used for goat fifty times in the Pentateuch; elsewhere never.
The country on the east of the Jordan, opposite Jericho, has in the Pentateuch the name עַדְבוֹת מוֹאָב, plains of Moab; elsewhere only in Josh. 13:22, in reference to the narrative in the Pentateuch. In Judg. 11:12 seq., where there is a somewhat detailed account of the march of Jephthah into this territory, there is no trace of this name; it is called the land of the Amorites.
The designation of the Jordan, in the neighborhood of Jericho, by יַרְדַּן is found only in the Pentateuch and Joshua.
The phrase, to cover the eye of the earth, כִּסָּה אֶת־ין הָאָרֵחּ, occurs only in the Pentateuch. It is one evidence of the sensuous character of the language of the Pentateuch. In later times, such expressions appear only in poetry. It has a parallel in the expression, “as the ox licketh up the grass of the field,” Num. 22:4.
The verb קָבַב, to hollow out, occurs only in the Pentateuch. In the remaining books, נָקַב is employed, which is also found in the Pentateuch.
נְבָה, female, is found twenty-one times in the Pentateuch, elsewhere only in Jer. 31:22, where there is an evident reference to Num. 5:3.
בָּזֶה, here, in this place, only in the Pentateuch. רַגְלַיִם, in the sense of times, literally beats, is not found out of the Pentateuch. In the other books, the equivalent, פַּעְמַיִם, is used, which also appears in the Pentateuch. This peculiarity is not to be regarded as accidental. In ancient times, when visible objects had such preponderance, the connection of the original meaning of a word with its derivatives was so visibly preserved, that every word which signifies foot or step, might be used, without any addition, in the sense of times.
The phrase, בְּנוֹ בְעֹר, Num. 24:3, 15, son of Beor. The i as the outward mark of the construct state, belongs to the infancy of language. It is peculiar to the Pentateuch, except that it is found in Ps. 114:8, which is an imitation, and in the word in?n, Ps. 50:10. 104:11. Is. 56:9. Zeph. 2. 14, which is copied literally from Gen. 1:24.
שָׁתַם is used in Numbers for the later שָׂתַם and סָתַם.
The words, אֲסַפְסֻם, mixed multitude, Num. 11:4, and קְוֹּל, vile, light, Num. 21:5, are not found except in the Pentateuch.
אַמְתַּחַת, sack, fifteen times in Genesis, elsewhere never. אָסוֹן, hurt, five times in the Pentateuch, not elsewhere, חָזֶה, breast of animals, thirteen times, only in the Pentateuch. חֶרְשׁ, sickle, twice in Deuteronomy, מַגָּל is the later word. כָּל־יְקוּם every living thing, only in Gen. and Dent. מֶכֶס, portion, tribute, three times, in Numbers only. מִכְסָה number, only in Ex. and Leviticus, עָדַף to be redundant, nine times, only in the Pentateuch, עִשָּׂרוֹן a tenth part, twenty-six times, only in the Pentateuch, קְרִי, בּקְרִי hostile encounter, seven times, only in the Pentateuch. קָרַן to emit rays, only in Ex. 34:29. 30:35, elsewhere נָנַץ. רָחַף to brood or hover over, in Piel, only Gen. 1:2. Deut. 32:11. שַׁבָּת שַׁבָּתוֹן rest of the Sabbath, eleven limes in Exod. and Levit, elsewhere never, שֶׁגֶר offspring, only in the Pentateuch, שְׁכָבָה effusion, nine times, only in the Pentateuch, שִׁשִׁים great grand-children, only in Gen., Ex., Num. and Deut. תֶּבֶל foul pollution, only in the Pentateuch. תַּחְרָא coat of mail, only in Exodus, later words are שִׁרְיָה, שִׁרְיוֹן, etc.
There is, however, a remarkable homogeneousness in most of the remains which we possess of the Hebrew literature. We cannot separate these remains into different periods, as is done in regard to Roman literature. The distinction of golden and silver ages, which Gesenius makes, does not hold throughout. The language and idiom of the Pentateuch are substantially like the language and style of the later historians and prophets.
Yet this resemblance does not by any means prove the later origin of the Pentateuch. The five books may have been written
in their present form, substantially, by Moses. This may be proved by the following considerations.
1. The affirmation that the genuineness of the Pentateuch is destroyed, because its idiom is the same as that of the other Hebrew books, thus demonstrating, as it is said, its recent authorship, proves too much. It would show that the whole body of Hebrew literature must be contemporaneous. The books of Samuel, as it is agreed on all hands, were written several hundred years before the prophecy of Malachi, yet the Hebrew of the two productions is not essentially different. Now if the identity of the style of the Pentateuch and that of Isaiah demonstrates the late origin of the former, then for the same reason, the writer of Samuel must have been contemporaneous with the last of the prophets. If the presence of a large number of archaisms in the Pentateuch be necessary to show its Mosaic authorship, then the existence of a less number in the books of Samuel is necessary in order to show that it was written before the age of Malachi or Zechariah. There is, confessedly, a great difference in the age of different Psalms. Some, we know, were written by David. Others were composed after the captivity. Yet some of the latter are among the most beautiful and original in the whole compass of Hebrew literature, while the style and idiom are, in all important respects, the same as those of which David was the writer. The Hebrew of the 137th Psalm has as close a resemblance to that of the 18th, as the Hebrew of Isaiah has to that of the Pentateuch. If an interval of several hundred years be allowed—as it is by every one,—to intervene between the authorship in the case of the two Psalms, then the same may be rightfully admitted in respect to Isaiah and the Pentateuch. In other words, what proves too much, proves nothing. A course of argument that would make the Pentateuch, on the ground of style, contemporaneous with Isaiah, would make the authorship of the whole Old Testament identical in point of time, unless we except a few fragments, savoring strongly of Chaldee.
2. The Pentateuch would naturally serve as a model and common source for the writers of the subsequent portions of the Scriptures. It was the law-book, unrepealable, for the Jewish race. Constant reference must have been made to its pages, especially by the priests and the more cultivated part of the nation. They would, either intentionally or insensibly, adopt its idioms and phraseology. It contained the record of the miraculous dispensations of the Almighty towards their favored progenitors. Deviation from its style might come to be regarded almost as a moral offence. Or, if there were nothing of this superstitious reverence, still it would imperceptibly and deeply affect the entire national literature. And this is found to be actually the fact. References to the law, presuppositions of its various institutes, imitation or copying of its language, reminiscences perfectly spontaneous, of the events recorded in it, are everywhere found in the older historical books, the prophets and Psalms. In four of the earlier prophets, Isaiah (not including chaps. 40–56), Micah, Hosea and Amos, there are more than eight hundred traces of the existence of the Pentateuch in its present form.44 One cannot read even four or five chapters of these prophets, with any degree of attention, without being struck with the great number of allusions to the facts of the Pentateuch. This would often involve, of course, the quotation of the precise language employed in describing those events. There is no fact exactly parallel to this in the whole circle of literature. Luther’s German version of the Bible and king James’s English version have done much to fix the character of the German and English languages. Not a little of the best literature of the two nations is deeply tinctured with the spirit of these translations, where the exact style and language are not copied. Yet there are many circumstances that counteract this influence, which did not exist in respect to the Pentateuch. They are regarded as mere versions, no one feeling for them the reverence which is entertained for the original. They are not the fountain of civil and national law, as the Pentateuch was to the Jews. The two versions principally affect the religious and devotional literature. The case most analogous to the Pentateuch is the Koran. Its effect on Arabic literature, as will be mentioned below, has been great, for many centuries. Yet, perhaps, it has never had that marked and all-pervading influence which the five books of Moses have exerted on Hebrew literature.
3. The unchangeable character of Hebrew literature would be naturally inferred from the character of the people and the circumstances in which they were placed.
They lived in the midst of nations who spoke the same language, or dialects closely cognate. Their own language was indigenous in Canaan. Their numerous wars were almost exclusively carried on against tribes who used the same or related languages. Of course there would be no room for any intermixtures of foreign speech from this source.
The Hebrews were strictly a religious people, connected together by the strongest ties, forbidden to engage in foreign commerce, taught to look upon the religious usages and many of the common customs of other nations with abhorrence, never inclined to travel abroad, and utterly indisposed, (often in contravention to the spirit of the Mosaic law,) to admit foreigners into their society. Up to the time of David, they had but little access to the Mediterranean Sea, the coast being lined by their inveterate enemies, the Philistines. They had but one large city. Nearly all the literature originated in Jerusalem. Almost all the writers, of whom mention is made, seem to have lived in the metropolis. There was no rival city, no Italian or Asiatic colony, to use and glory in a different dialect from that of the proud Athenian city. All the tribes were, in an important sense, residents of Jerusalem. Three times in a year, and for days together, a great proportion of the male population mingled together in the most unreserved intercourse,—a circumstance which would strongly tend to preserve the unity and purity of the language. There were scarcely any arts or sciences to corrupt, with their nomenclature, the old forms of the language. No system of philosophy ever crept into the country. None could have been introduced without injuring the religious spirit of the people. With the exception of the priests and Levites, the nation were almost wholly employed in the agricultural or pastoral life,—a condition which, perhaps, least of all, admits of changes in idioms or in the forms of words.
We may add, to these considerations, the unchangeableness which has always characterized oriental life throughout. The same permanence which attaches to manners and customs would of course extend, more or less, to the forms of speech. Progress is the law in the West, stability in the East. The occidental languages are subject to the ceaseless change, which characterizes all other things.45 The oriental delights to rehearse the same allegories and apothegms, expressed in the same terms, which gratified his earliest progenitors.
The structure itself, of the Semitic dialects, would lead us to the same general conclusion. This is manifest, e. g. in the law of triliterals, in the relation of compound nouns and derivatives to their roots, and in the perfect regularity with which the forms of the verb are developed.
4. We have, however, in direct opposition to the objection advanced, the perfect analogy of other Semitic languages. The Syriac and Arabic underwent, for many centuries, comparatively little change. The oldest remains of the Syrian, the Peshito version of the New Testament, which was prepared in the second century, agrees throughout, in all essential things, with the Syriac of Barhebraeus, who lived in the thirteenth century, notwithstanding the tendency of the latter, in its language and syntactical forms, to the Arabic. “That no more changes happened to the Syriac,” says Hoffmann,46 “in this long interval of time, is not strange; for as manners, customs, usages, etc., are altered less among orientals than Europeans, so it is with a language; if it makes any progress, it is still more likely to remain long stationary, than to advance. As the Koran has imposed a restricted and fixed character on the Arabic language, so the most ancient monument of Syriac letters—the version of the sacred books—has effected the same in the Syriac language.” It should also be recollected, that this permanence in the language was maintained, while the Syrians were under subjection to a foreign power. Of course the language was more liable to corruption than could have been the case with the Hebrew before the Babylonish captivity.
A still stronger proof may be drawn from the Arabic. Professor Kosegarten of Greifswald, one of the most distinguished living orientalists, in a review of Eichhorn’s Introduction to the Old Testament, in the Jena Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung, July, 1825, has shown, by a clear and fundamental examination, that the fact of the stability, or continued unchanging character of the Arabic language, can be established by the most unquestionable proofs from the language itself, not only during a period of six hundred years but of a thousand years, yea for fifteen hundred years. The grammatical structure of the Arabic language remains the same in all the writers which fall within these three widely separated periods. Declensions, conjugations, constructions, are the same. The smaller, incidental deviations are no more considerable, by any means, than the difference which appears between the language of the Pentateuch and that of the older Hebrew prophets. No greater difference is to be noted, in a lexical respect, in these Arabic writers, than that which occurs between the Pentateuch, the books of Samuel and Isaiah. We may hence conclude, that in the Arabic language, during the fifteen hundred years in which we can examine its form, no such changes at all have taken place as appear in the German dialects and in those derived from the Latin, in the course of a few centuries, and which have happened to the Greek language down to its present form in modern Greek.47 Consequently, the Mosaic writings might have been separated from some other books of the Old Testament by an interval of a thousand years, and at the same time exhibit but few variations in language and idiom.
We are happy to subjoin in further corroboration of the views here presented, some more exact statements in regard to the history of the Arabic, from a friend who has long made that language his particular study.
“You are aware that the oldest specimens of Arabic literature which we possess are not more ancient than the century before Mohammed. These exhibit a highly cultivated language; the syntax is regular, the inflections are richly varied, and the vocabulary is abundant: —they also show a refined musical art It is evident that this perfection can have been attained only by degrees; it is probably to be ascribed to the rival efforts of lyric bards of different Arab tribes. One result of these poetic efforts seems to have been to make the peculiar expressions of each tribe a part of the authorized language of the other; a common language of literature being thus, to some extent, created, while at the same time dialectical differences distinguished the ordinary spoken language of the tribes. It thus appears, that the Arabic language, prior to Mohammed’s time, was already tending to a fixed form for use in literary productions. The Korân, as you well know, was finally written out by order of the Khalif Othman in the dialect of the Koreishites, who were the dominant tribe in Mohammed’s day, and that to which he himself belonged; their dialect also, had, it is probable, become the literary standard, by appropriating to itself a larger measure than other tribes of that culture which poetic rivalry put within the reach of all. But it is quite plain, that the promulgation of the Koran rather depressed and restricted literary effort among the Arabs. In style, it is far from being as rich and varied as the productions of the earlier poets; and yet it would have been presumption to think of surpassing it in language, or manner, since the super-excellence of its composition was claimed by Mohammed as an argument for its inspiration. Now came in, also, the influence of the grammarians, who, though they refer to the earlier poets, yet prove everything by the Korân; all sorts of pretences are resorted to by them to make out, in every case, that the language of their Sacred Book is without fault. To this is to be added, that all the learning of the Arabs is based in some respect upon the Koran: this book became the First Class Book, so to speak, in all schools. The Arab mind having moved in a sphere so circumscribed, since the promulgation of the Korân, ever turning to that as in prayer the Mohammedan ever faces the Kibleh, it is true that the written Arabic has been very little changed from that time to this. Even the preservation of the ancient pronunciation has been provided for, in the reading of the Korân, by the perpetuation of the rules of early Korân-readers, in a special department of the schools. There would seem to be a strong presumption, that, whenever a body of sacred literature exists, which has been transmitted down from a turning period in the progress of a nation’s civilization, and a class of men devoted to its study, the literary language will not deviate from the model of the sacred book. This might be illustrated by the case of the Sanscrit, which until within a few years was even spoken by the Brahmans, in its classic form; and which, as written, has changed very little, except in certain works where caprice seems to have driven the fancy mad, since its classic age. May it not also be true, that the separation of a written from a spoken language favors the preservation, generally, of the ancient purity of the former?
“The ordinary language of social intercourse, with the Arabs, must have been affected already as soon as it came to be used by foreign nations, upon whom it was forced, or who adopted it with the religion of the Prophet; though in the palmy days of Islam-ism the Moslem schools would tend to check this foreign influence. But it received still greater modifications in consequence of the less general diffusion of instruction, and the diminished stimulus to learning, and the irruptions of barbarians into Mohammedan countries after the decline of the Khalifate. The peculiarities of the spoken Arabic consist chiefly in the intermixture of foreign words, and in abbreviations of pronunciation, by which some of the more delicate distinctions of grammatical form in the written Arabic are lost. Yet I suppose it to be a fact, that the Koran is equally intelligible to all who speak the Arabic.”
It may be added, that the circumstances of the Syrians and Arabians were very different from those of the Hebrews. The former passed through many stages of cultivation. They appropriated to themselves Greek science, and were compelled to borrow many scientific terms, and thus endanger the purity of their language. The Arabians, too, entered on a career of conquest subjugating the nations from Spain almost to China. How different was the condition of the Hebrews from the days of Joshua to Josiah, and how almost infinitely less exposed to change was the Hebrew language than its sister dialect!
1) F. A. Wolf is said to have remarked, that “what comes forward in Germany with eclat, may be expected, for the most part, to end, alter some ten years, shabbily.”
2) Die Glaubwürdigkeit, p. 119.
3) “Bey Niebuhr war Denken, Fühlen und Handeln stets vereinigt.”— Von Savigny.
4) Weiske, in the Preface to his Commentary on the Oration for Marco 11 us, showed the spuriousness of Wolfs production on the same grounds by which Wolf attempted to prove the spuriousness of the Oration!
5) Der Epische Cyclus, Vorrede, p. 8.
6) Review of Stallbaum’s edition of the Phaedrus, in Jahn’s Jahrbücher,183l.
7) Encyclopaedia, ed. 4th, by Hormann and Schinke, 18157, I. p. 37.
8) Lileraturgeschichte, I. p. 141.
9) Review of Eichwald’s “Alte Geographie des Kaspischen Meeres,” by Bahr, in Jahn’s Jahrbücher, XXIT1. p. 153. “This geography,” says Bahr, “has furnished a new and splendid demonstration of the veracity, credibility and fidelity of Herodotus.”
10) Bahr in Jahn XVI. p. 326, XI. p. 435. Plutarch doubts the authenticity of Herodotus because some of his representations are not sufficiently favorable to the Greeks!
11) Sintenis in Jahn XVI. p. 132.
12) Bibl. Sac. May, 1843, p. 375.
13) Von Raumer’s Palaestina, p. 2, where similar testimony from other travellers is quoted.
14) Anc. Egypt. 1. 34.
15) Heng3tenberg, Beitriige zur Einl. d. Alte Test. I. Prolegomena, pp. 28-35, also, Bibl. Repos., April, 1838, pp. 440—448.
16) Hengstenberg, Beitrage, I. p. 425.
17) Hengstenberg’s Authentie, I. 409.
18) Wilkinson, Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians, 2d ed. Vol. I. Preface, Vol. III. p. 260.
19) “To devise cunning works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass, and in cutting of stones, to set them,” etc. Ex. 31:4–5.
20) Wilkinson, III. 85.
21) “Aaron fashioned it with a graving tool, after he had made it a molten calf.” Ex. 32:4.
22) Wilkinson, III. 223.
23) The ark of acacia wood, made by Moses, was overlaid with pure gold. Ex. 25 :11–12.
24) Robbins’s Translation of Hengstenberg’s Egypt and the Books of Moses, p. 89.
25) The Koran, which much exceeds the Pentateuch in extent, was first inscribed on the most inconvenient materials. Fragments of it, written in the time of Mohammed, and subsequently incorporated into the work, were written not only on pieces of skin or parchment, but to a greater extent, on leaves of the palm, on white and flat stones, on bones, such as shoulder-blades and ribs.
26) Wilkinson, III. 149, 150.
27) The question may possibly be asked, How can the very early existence of the arts in Egypt be asserted so positively? On what grounds can the exact period of the existence of a particular art be assumed? In other words, on what do the hieroglyphical discoveries rest? One answer is, that all who have examined the monuments, in accordance with the method of deciphering the hieroglyphics discovered by Young and Champollion, are substantially agreed. Coincidence of views in men, differing in many respects so widely as is the case with Young, Champollion, Salvolini, Gesenius, Rosellini, Lepsius, Prudhoe, Wilkinson, Letronne, Leemans and many others, is satisfactory proof of the correctness of the results to which they have arrived. Examinations so thorough and long-continued, by men so competent, taken in connection with the almost perfect preservation of many of the paintings and monuments, justify the confidence which is now universally accorded. Another answer is, that the results of the deciphering agree substantially with the notices respecting the subject in Diodorus, Herodotus, Manetho, Clement, etc. The monuments, in many essential points, confirm the historians. There is often a circumstantial agreement in a number of independent witnesses. Between the Bible and the monuments no instance of contradiction has yet been found. Among the biblical proper names found on the monuments, are לוּדִים, פוּל , תִּרְחֲקָה כּוּשׁ, נֹא־אָמון, מֹף, נֹף, מְגִדּוֹ, שִׁישַׁק, נַהֲרַיִם, מַחֲנַיִם, חֹרוֹן, ית, פָּרַס, נִינְוֵה, etc. See Halle Lit. Zeit. May 1839, p. 21.
28) Metrologische Untersuchungen, 1838, p. 41.
29) Wolf maintains that it was impossible, even for the poets themselves, without the aid of writing, to project and retain in their memory, poems of such an extent as the Iliad.
30) Thirlwall’s Greece, I. p. 108, Harpers’ ed.
31) Hug Erfindung d. Buchstabenschrift, p. 90.
32) O. Müller rejects the opinion of those, who would separate the Iliad and Odyssey into parts, as altogether antiquated.
33) The same course of argument may be applied to the Pentateuch. There are various passages in it, as the exact census Num. ii., and the itinerary, Num. xxxiii., for which the memory would be a very unsafe depository. There are, also, throughout the book, marks of one controlling mind, unity of plan and design. So far as this concinnity of the different portions can be proved, so far is it shown to be necessary for the author to have possessed writing materials.
34) The Shepherd kings, according to Wilkinson and others, conquered Egypt before Joseph was carried captive there.—Wilkinson, I. 38.
35) On another page, Gesenius remarks, “that the high antiquity of the Hebrew pronouns appears from their most extraordinary agreement with the pronouns of the ancient Egyptian language, by far the oldest of which we possess any written memorials.” All the separate pronouns in the Egyptian are compounded of the proper germ of the pronoun and a prefixed syllable, an, ant, ent, which must have given it a demonstrative sense, and served to impart to a short word more power and body. The Hebrew pronouns of the first and second persons, have this prefixed syllable, at least an. It is not found in the third person, in the biblical Hebrew, yet it is seen in the Talmudic. The essential pronominal forms in both languages correspond, e. g. Egypt. 3d pers. pi. sen, to Heb. hem, hen. The demonstrative prefixed syllable an, in (אֶן), has a manifest analogy with ן see! etc. “It now appears to be probable, that between the Hebrew and ancient Egyptian, there was not merely the reciprocal reception of words already formed, but a relationship of stem, lying deeper, and as old at least as that with the Indo-Germanic stock.” “The correspondencies of the Hebrew with the ancient Egyptian are still more important than with the Coptic.”—Gesenius’s Heb. Gram. 13th edition. Halle Lit. Zeit. 1839, No. 80, 1841, No. 40.
36) Geschichte des Volkes Israel, 1843, I. p. 68—71.
37) Not only ָכָּתַב, to write, with its many derivatives, is common to all the Semitic languages (perhaps with the exception of the Aethiopic), but פֶר, book, and דְּיוֹ, ink; only the instrument for writing must have been early changed, since צט and הֶרֶט stand nearly alone, the Syrians using, instead of it, קָנֶה, and the Arabians and Ethiopians, together with the later Jews, κάλαμος.
38) Kenaan. Volks-und Religionsgeschichte Israel’s, 1844, Introduction pp. XXX. XXXI., and p. 374.
39) Histor. Krit. Forschungen, 1831, p. 615.
40) Vater, quoted by Hengstenberg, Beitrage I. p. 424.
41) Metrolog. Untersuch. p. 40.
42) Ueber den Ursprung d. Alphabetes, 1641, pp. 5, 6.
43) Geschichte d. Volkes Israel, I. 77.
44) See Tuch, Kommentar über die Genesis, Vorrede, p. 98.
45) This is entirely consistent with the position of the degeneracy of the Orientals in knowledge and virtue. Manners, customs, languages might be permanent, while acquaintance with the character of God and the perception of human duty were becoming obscure.
46) Syriac Grammar, p. 15.
47) Hartmann’s Forschungen, p. 649.