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THE ORIGIN OF ALPHABETICAL WRITING. A Lecture to Sunday School Teachers, by the Rev. ?. Timpson, Author of * Companion to the Bible,'. Key to the Bible,'' Ecclesiastical History,' $c.
(Continued from page 252.) Imperfect, as it may be acknowledged, our present brief remarks have been on this great subject, the Origin of Alphabetical Writing ;' it is hoped that they have been sufficient to engage or confirm the belief of our readers in the divinity of that most useful and wonderful art. Notwithstanding, it is only the part of candour to acknowledge that there have been objections raised against this opinion, even by men of great learning; we shall, therefore, notice them, or at least the chief of them, in this place.
Some arguments, in the way of the objection to the divine origin of letters, have been taken even from the Scriptures themselves. These, however, have not been disregarded : they have been fully considered by several of the profoundest scholars, and satisfactorily answered: our inquisitive friends shall be edified, in this particular, by the valuable observations of the learned Dr. Wall. That great scholar, in reference to the alleged Babylonian calculations on their
Astronomical Tables,' remarks, Under the second head, the following argument is principally relied on by the learned bishop Walton; but for which circumstance indeed I should not consider it deserving of any attention. Sim. plicius, in a passage of his commentary on Aristotle's treatise respecting the heavens, states, upon the testimony of Porphyry, that the astronomical observations whicř Callishenes had sent from Babylon, by order of Aristotle extended back 1903 years. From this it is inferred, that th Babylonians must have had the use of letters before th age of Moses, and even before that of Abraham. Now putting out of view, how very doubtful also is the Babylo nish astronomers in setting up such a remoteness of thei first observations, as would make them out coeval with th building of the tower of Babel, and even supposing for moment that their tables really extended back so far; y with all these concessions, the great antiquity claimed fa the Chaldean letters would not be established, as such table could have been constructed without letters, merely wit the aid of numerical figures aud celestial signs. And similar answer might be given to all arguments of this a scription, which are derived from the records of profa history: they rest chiefly on the great age of astrolog
astronomy, and other sciences in the East; and undoubtedly
the objections which are supposed to be supported by the Scriptures :— I shall next consider the arguments which Scripture may possibly be thought to supply against the inference above drawn from the narrative of Moses. And here the remarkable exclamation of Job will, no doubt, occur to the reader, and is naturally presented to our notice : "Oh, that my words were now written! oh, that they were printed in a book! that they were graven with an iron pen and lead in the rock for ever! Job xix. 23, 24. As Job in this passage speaks of such writing as is expressive of words, it is very commonly inferred that he understood the use of alphabetic characters, or at least some kind of phonetic signs; and even Sir Isaac Newton took this view of the subject, as may be perceived by the following extracts from his Chronology : When the Edomites fled from David with their young king Hadad into Egypt, it is probable that they carried thither the use of letters, for letters were in use among the posterity of Abraham, in Arabia, Petrea, and upon the borders of the Red Sea, the law being written there by Moses in a book, and on tables of stone long before : for Moses marrying the daughter of the prince of Midian, and dwelling with him forty years, learnt them among the Midianites: and Job, who lived among their neighbours the Edomites, mentions the writing down of words, as there in use in his days, Job xix. 23, 24; and there is no instance of letters for writing down sounds, being in use before the days of David, in any other nation besides the posterity of Abraham. The Egyptians ascribed this invention to Thoth, the secretary of Osiris; and therefore, letters began to be in use in Egypt in the days of Thoth, that is a little after the flight of the Edomites from David, or about the time that Cadmus brought them into Europe.' (4to. edition, p. 210.) “These Edomites carry to all places their arts and sciences; among which were their navigation, astronomy, and letters; for in Idumea they had constellations and letters before the days of Job, who mentions them, and there Moses learnt to write the law in a book.'
• Here at the very outset I must observe, that from Moses having learnt letters in Idumea, it does not follow
that he was taught their use by the inhabitants of th district. There is at least a probability of his havi acquired the information in another way, and whether actually did otherwise acquire it, is the very question issue.
For two of the errors contained in the above extract our author is not to be blamed. The proofs founded irresistible evidence-first, that the phonetic system of t Egyptians was totally foreign from the alphabetic writi of the descendants of Abraham ; that in fact it had not Asiatic, but an European origin; and, second, that it d not commence till long after the introduction of letters in Greece; these proofs have been deduced from a discove only lately made, and of which he could not have had ti remotest idea. But the point here principally to be co sidered, is the influence deduced by him from the passag quoted from Job; an inference which he certainly wou not have drawn if he had at all studied the subject; ar the one before us is of so trivial a nature, that it would n have caused him any embarrassment, if it had occurred him to reflect on the nature of ideagraphic writing. It true that hieroglyphs immediately denote only ideas, ar that to a person reading to himself, they denote nothie else; but when he reads out, they necessarily lead him the words that are in his language connected with tho ideas; and if he be in the habit of so reading, then tl ideagraphic characters come to be for a time as firmly ass ciated in his mind with words, as if they had been in the immediate signification phonetic. If indeed it were know beforehand, that the person making the statement was hi self an alphabetic writer, then, from his using the ter 'words, it might very fairly be inferred that he was spea ing of alphabetic writing. But to meet the case before such previous knowledge cannot be conceded, for this wou be tantamount to taking for granted the very point und discussion. In fact, the exclamation of Job leaves t question totally undecided, and consequently still open investigation through other means, whether it was ideag phic or phonetic writing that he was alluding to; a from the expression therein used by him, we might just fairly infer, that he was acquainted with printed books, that he understood the nature of alphabetic characters. I with his claim to the knowledge of letters falls, that of people from whom he is supposed by Sir Isaac to h learned them; and, therefore, no ground has been est
lished for the Edomites having had that knowledge before the days of Moses.
If from the history of Job we proceed to the Pentateuch, we shall find that no stress can be laid, on the arguments which are thence deduced in proof of alphabetic characters being older than the tables of the testimony. The mention made of a book in Numbers xxi. 14, is nothing to the purpose; for the second event referred to, as recorded in that book, namely, the passage of the river Amon, by the Israelites, previous to their victory over the Amorites, did not take place till towards the close of the life of Moses, nearly forty years after the time I have assigned for the origin of letters. Neither is an earlier date made out for the employment of them by the circumstance of Moses relating God's command to him to write for a memorial in a book,' Exod. xvii. 14, before he describes the victory over the Amalekites. For the very next event related in the history of the Israelites, is their arrival at Mount Sinai; and the command may not have been given till after the arrival, though the historian, in the order of his narrative, records it before, in immediate connexion with the transaction which gave rise to it. The same observation may be applied with still more force to the directions to grave on the plate of pure gold, the words Holiness to the Lord.' Exod. xxvii. 36 ; and on the two onyx stones, the names of the twelve tribes of Israel, ver. 9, 10; for these directions were not given till after Moses had actually ascended the mountain, and there is no necessity for assuming, that the events which took place on its summit, are related by him in the exact order of their occurrence. However, even if it were conceded, that the above directions were given to Moses, before he received the tables, all that could be thence inferred would be, that he had a previous knowledge of some kind of writing, but not necessarily of such as was alphabetic. This writing might have been only hieroglyphic, learned by him from the Egyptians; and he could at first understand the commands in reference to the graphic system with which he was already acquainted, though, as soon as he was taught an unmeasurably superior method of recording words, he would of course avail him. self of that method in obeying the Divine commands.'
Having now proved the miracle,' the learned Doctor adds, "and removed every objection that I can find or conceive to be made against it, from either sacred or profane documents, I hope I shall be excused for suspending the
my argument a moment, to consider the occasion on which this miraele was performed. And here surely, if anywhere, we must admit there existed ita dignus vindice nodus,
,-a noble and sufficient cause for an extraordinary interposition of divine power. Whoever reflects on the nature of writing, such as man is able by his own contrivance to produce, must see that, although ideagraphy may answer well enough for the purpose of present communication, it is totally inadequate to supplying a permanent record. In fact, an ideagraphic record can be depended on as an accurate medium of its formation, only just as long as oral tradition could not one instant longer. Had then Moses been left to commemorate, through means of human invention, the revelation made to him on Mount Sinai, the benefits of it would have been consigned to a few generations of our fallen race. But the mercy of the Creator is over all his works, and extends to the most distant ages of the world. This is the true cause to which is to be ascribed the miraculous origin of letters, which were made to accompany the delivery of the divine law, in order to perpetuate the advantages of so great a blessing to the children of
• From the account of this miracle transmitted to us by Moses, and now, I hope, explained to the readers satisfaction, it appears that, not only is the Bible the word of God, but also that the very writing in which that word is conveyed to us, is essentially 'the writing of God,' 'written with the finger of God;' it is derived from writing which He miraculously impressed upon the mind of his prophet, for the very purpose of extending to us, and every succeeding age, as long as time shall last, the means of gaining that knowledge which leadeth to salvation. Great indeed, and innumerable are the other advantages which we owe to the instrumentality of alphabetic writing; for whatever information we possess above that of the wretchedly ignorant Chinese, has been through it acquired : but the greatest of all the advantages it originates or benefits, it promotes far greater indeed than all the rest combined-is, that it serves to guard from extinction the knowledge of true religion. And this—be it recollected—this was the primary and immediate purpose for which the heavenly gift of letters was conferred on man !
Reviewing what has already been stated in this essay, although it may possibly not appear fully demonstrated to the conviction of every mind,--the proof will doubtless be