On the Hebrew Letters, Vowel Points, & Accents
by John Gill, D.D.
I OBSERVE there is much talk about the Masoretic Bible, and about Masoretic authority. As to the Masoretic Bible, I could never learn there ever was such an one, either in manuscript, or in print, that could with any propriety be so called. Is a Bible with points to be called Masoretic? it must be with great impropriety, since the Masoretes, as has been observed, were not the authors of pointing: are any called so, because they have various readings, and other notes in the margin? as well may a Greek Testament, with various readings and notes in the margin have such a name. Let it be shown, if it can, that there ever was in manuscript, or in print, a copy of the Hebrew text, in all things conformable to the Masoretic notes and readings in the margin, or in which these are inserted in the body of the text, call them corrections, emendations, various readings, or what you please; but if these cannot be shown, then whatsoever Bible, that does not conform in the text to the Masorah in the margin, with much greater propriety may be called Anti-masoretic than Masoretic. As to authority, the Masoretes never claimed any; their Keri is no command to read so or so, nor even a direction how to read, and much less a correction of the text, as if it was faulty; it is only a suggestion, that so it is read in some copies; for the word for which q stands in the margin of some Bibles, is not the imperative yriq] Kere read, but is yriq] ; and is either the same with yWrq; something read, or with h;yirq] a reading, i.e. a various reading. And if the Masoretes ever pretended to any authority, as they have not, it is not regarded; for notwithstanding their antiquity, their readings, and what is agreeable to their notes and observations, are not admitted into the text, but are obliged to keep their place in the margin; and where then is their authority? thus, for instance, in defiance of Masoretic authority, as it is called, and notwithstanding the Masoretic note in the margin, the second yod is continued in d;yd]ysije] Psalm 16:10, and in defiance of the punctuation of the word, which is different from all other places, where the word is manifestly plural, as in Psalm 52:9, 79:2, <19D209> 132:9 and <19E510> 145:10. 2 Chronicles 6:41, in all which places Segol is put under Daleth; but here Sheva, as it is in other words, in which the yod is redundant also, and the word to be read singular, as Debareca, 1 Kings 8:26 and 18:36. Dameca, 2 Samuel 1:16. Yadeca, 1 Kings 22:34, Proverbs 3:27. Abdeca, 1 Kings 1:27. Ragleca, <210501>Ecclesiastes 5:1, with others: and in defiance of the Talmud also. There are but two places I have met with in the Talmud, where the text is quoted; and in both of them the word is without the yod; so that if these, especially the first, had any authority, the yod would not continue in that word.
THE different schemes men have formed, for reading Hebrew without the ancient points, show the necessity of them, and the puzzle they are at without them; but what need men rack their brains to find out a scheme of reading that language, when there is one so suitable, ready at hand for them, consisting of vowel-points, which for their figure and position cannot be equaled by any; which are so contrived, that they take up scarce any, or very little more room, than the words do without them; which neither increase the number of letters in a word, nor make it longer, nor give it any unsightly appearance? whereas, for instance, Masolef’s s cheme, besides the augmentation of letters, makes the word look very awkward: and if it was thought the present vowel-points were too numerous, and too great an incumbrance to words, one would think, men might content themselves with reducing their number, and not throw them all away: but the great offense taken at them is, that they tie down to a certain determinate sense of the word, and that they cannot bear, but choose to be at liberty to fix what sense upon it they please.
GREAT complaint is made of the ignorance of the Masoretes in pointing; and an instance is given of it, in their pointing the word Cyrus, as to be read Coresh or Choresh, though indeed they had no hand in it; but admitting they had, and whoever had, there does not appear to be any just blame for it. It is true, it may be thought so, if the Greek pronunciation of the word must be the rule of punctuation: but the original name is not Greek, but Persic; and which, in that language, signifies the sun. So Ctesias and Plutarch say: whether Cyrus had his name from the fun being seen at his feet, while sleeping, which he three times endeavored to catch with his hands, but it slipped from him; and which, according to the Magi, portended a reign of thirty years, is not certain: now the word for the fun, in the Persic language, is Chor or Cor, the fame with Or, Job 31:26, and it is now called Corshad: hence, the god of the Persians is called Oromazes, and sometimes Oromasdes, Hormusd, and Ormusd; this shows the propriety of the first point put to the word, a Cholem and not a Shurek; and it may be observed, there is a similar word used for the sun in other eastern languages, and is pronounced Cheres, Job 9:6. to which may be added, that the oriental versions, both Syriac and Arabic, read the word for Cyrus in all places in the Bible with o, e, and Shin, according to the Bible-pronunciation. It was usual with the Persians, to give men names taken from the sun, as Carshena, Esth. 1:14 and Orsines in Curtius: as for the Greek pronunciation of the word, it is not unusual with the Greeks to pronounce a Cholem by an Ypsilon, as Tzor, Lod, Beerot, by Trus, Lydda, Berytus. In like manner may the punctuation of Darius be vindicated, which is Darjavesch, Daniel 5:31, in much agreement with which, this name is Dareiaiov Dareiaios with Ctesias , f39 and is a word consisting of four parts, and signifies a great, vast, vehement fire; and Esch , fire, is well known to be the deity of the Persians, which was taken into the names of their kings and great personages, as was usual in the eastern nations. So Vasthi, the wife of Abasuerus, or Va-eshti, a great fire, Esth . 1:9. Zeresh , or Zehar-esh, the wife of Haman, ch. 5:10. the brightness of fire; and it appears in Astyages, a king of the Medes.
Strabo says, some people called Darius, Darieces. Casaubon thinks, that Strabo wrote Dariaouhv , Dariaoues, which is near the Hebrew punctuation.
I HAVE sent the following Dissertation into the world, not to revive the controversy about the things treated on in it, nor with any expectation of putting an end to it; no doubt, but some will be nibbling at it: and though I may be very unfit to engage further in this controversy, through weight of years upon me, and through the duties of my office, and other work upon my hands, some third person may perhaps arise, to defend what may be thought defensible in it. Should any truly learned gentleman do me the honor, to animadvert upon what I have written, I am sure of being treated with candor and decency; but should I be attacked by sciolists, I expect nothing but petulance, supercilious airs, silly sneers and opprobrious language; and who will be righteously treated with neglect and contempt.
To conclude; if what I have written should merit the attention of men of learning, and cause them to think again, though ever so little; and be a means of directing such, who are inquiring after these things; and of engaging such who may hereafter write on these subjects, to think more closely, to write with more care, caution and candor, and with less virulence, haughtiness and arrogance, than have appeared in some writings of late upon them, my end will be in a great measure answered.
OF THE ANTIQUITY OF THE HEBREW LANGUAGE.
ACCORDING to the Targum of Onkelos, on Genesis 2:7, when God breathed into man the breath of life, that became in man allmmjwr a speaking spirit, or soul; or, as Jonathan paraphrases it, the soul in the body of man became a speaking spirit; that is, man was endued with a natural faculty of speech; so that he may be defined as well ab oratione, a speaking animal, as a ratione, a reasonable one; for speech is proper and peculiar to men: when it is said, man is endued, as all men are, with a natural faculty of speaking, it is not to be understood, as if he was endued with a faculty of speaking some particular language; but with a power and capacity of speaking any language he hears, or is taught; I say hears, because unless a man has the sense of hearing, he cannot express any articulate founds, or words: hence such persons as are totally deaf from their birth, are always dumb, and can never speak any language. Adam first heard the LORD GOD speaking, before he uttered a word himself, as it seems from the sacred history. The language Adam spake, and which, perhaps, he received not the whole instantaneously, but gradually; in which he improved, as circumstances, and the necessity of things required, and which was continued in his posterity: this very probably is that which remained to the confusion of the tongues at Babel, and the dispersion of the people from thence. But of this more hereafter.
SOME have fancied, that if children, as soon as born, were brought up in a solitary place, where they could not hear any language spoken, that at the usual time children begin to speak, they would speak the first and primitive language that was spoken in the world. Psammitichus, king of Egypt, made trial of this by putting two children, newly born, under the care of a shepherd; charging him, that not a word should be uttered in their presence; and that they should be brought up in a cottage by themselves; and that goats should be had to them at proper times to suckle them; and commanded him to observe the first word spoken by them, when they left off their inarticulate sounds. Accordingly, at two years end, the shepherd opening the door of the cottage, both the children with their hands stretched out cried bec, bec. This he took no notice of at first, but it being frequently repeated, he told his lord of it, who ordered the children to be brought to him; and when Psammitichus heard them pronounce the word, he inquired what people used it, and upon enquiry found that the Phrygians called bread by that name; upon this it was allowed that the Phrygians were a more ancient people than the Egyptians, between whom there had been a long contest about antiquity. This is the account given by Herodotus; but the Scholiast of Aristophanes says, that it was at three year’s end the king ordered a man to go in silently to them, when he heard them pronounce the above word. And so Suidas relates, that at the same term of time, the king ordered one of his friends to go in silently, who heard and reported the same; and all of them observe, that the story is differently related by others; as that the children were delivered to a nurse or nurses, who had their tongues cut out, that they might not speak before them; and so lays Tertullian : yet they all agree in the word spoken by the children. But, as Suidas observes, if the former account is rue, as it seems most probable, that they were nourished by goats, and not women; it is no wonder, that often hearing the bleating of the goats, be-ec, be-ec, they should imitate the sound, and say after them bec, which in the Phrygian language signified bread; and so food is expressed in Hebrew by a word of a similar sound gb beg, Ezekiel 25:7, Daniel 1:8, and 11:26, and might as well be urged in favor of the antiquity of that language; but this proves nothing.
IT may seem needless to inquire what was the first language that was spoken, and indeed it must be so, if what some say is true, that it is not now in being, but was blended with other languages, and lost in the confusion at Babel; and also if the Oriental languages, the Hebrew, Samaritan, Chaldee, Syriac, Arabic, and Ethiapic, are but one language; which is more probable, as Ravius thinks, and so may go under the general name of the Eastern language; and it must be acknowledged there is a very great similarity between them, as not only appears from Ravius, but from the Pentaglot Lexicon of Schindler, and especially from the Harmonic Grammars and Lexicons of Hottinger and Castell; and yet I cannot but be of opinion, that the Hebrew language stands distinguished by its simplicity and dignity. The celebrated Albert Schultens reckons the Hebrew, Chaldee, Syriac, and Arabic languages, as sister-dialects of the primaeval language; which I am content they should be accounted, allowing the Hebrew to be the pure dialect, which the others are a deviation from, and not so pure: though I should rather choose to call them daughters, than sisters of the Hebrew tongue; since, as Jerom says, the Hebrew tongue is the mother of all languages, at least of the oriental ones.
And these daughters are very helpful and assisting to her their mother in her declining state, and now reduced as to purity to the narrow limits of the sacred scriptures; for I cannot prevail upon myself to agree that she should be stripped of her maternal title, dignity, and honor; since she has the best claim to be the primitive language, as will be seen hereafter. Dr. Hunt, f50 though he is of the same mind with Schultens, that the above languages are sisters, having the same parent, the Eastern language, yet seems to allow the Hebrew to be the elder sister. And Schultens himself asserts, that the primeval language, which was from the beginning of the world spoken by our first parents, and the antediluvian patriarchs, and after the flood to the dispersion, is the same which was afterwards called Hebrew, from Heber; from whom it passed through Peleg and Abraham to the nation of the Hebrews, and so the mother-language; but how it could be both mother and sister, is not easy to say.
THAT there was but one language spoken by men, from Adam to the flood in the times of Noah, and from thence to the confusion and dispersion at Babel, seems manifest from <011101>Genesis 11:1. and the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech; and which is confirmed by the testimonies of several heathen writers, as by Sibylla in Josephus, by Abydenus, and others; and which continued in that interval without any, or little variation: the longevity of the patriarchs much contributed to this, for Adam himself lived to the 10th century, and the flood was in the 17th. Methuselah, who died a little before the flood, lived upwards of two hundred years in the days of Adam, and 600 years cotemporary with Noah, and who doubtless spoke the same language that Adam did; yea Lamech, the father of Noah, was born 50 years or more before the death of Adam; so that the language of Adam to the days of Noah is easily accounted for as the same: if any variation, it must be in the offspring of those of the patriarchs who removed from them, and settled in different parts of the world, but of this there is no proof; the separation of Cain and his posterity on account of religion, does not appear to have produced any alteration in language; but the same language was spoken by one as another, as is evident by the names of persons in the line of Cain, and of places inhabited by them to the time of the flood; when, no doubt, the same language was spoken by Noah, from whom his sons received it, and was continued unto the dispersion, which before that was but one; and it is the opinion of the Persian priests or Magi, that the time will come when the earth will be of one language again; and if so, it is probable it will be the primitive one, but what that was, is the thing to be inquired into. The Targums of Jonathan and Onkelos on the place, add, by way of explanation, “and they spoke in the holy tongue, in which the world was created at the beginning,” meaning the Hebrew language, usually called the holy tongue; and this is the sense of Jarchi, Aben Ezra, and the Jewish writers in general, and of many Christians. But most nations have put in a claim for the superior antiquity of their nation and language, the Europeans not excepted. Goropius Becanus pleaded for the Teutonic language, or that which is spoken in lower Germany and Brabant, to be the original one, and attempted to derive the Hebrew from it; but it has been thought he was not serious in it, only did it to show his acumen, and the luxuriancy of his fancy and imagination; the eastern nations have a much better pretext to antiquity, and most, if not all of them, have put in their claim for it. There was a long contest between the Egyptians and Phrygians about this matter, as before observed. The Armenians have urged in their favor, that the ark rested on one of the mountains in their country, where Noah and his posterity continued some time, and left their language there. The Arabs pretend, that their language was spoken by Adam before his fall, and then changed into Syriac, and was restored upon his repentance, but again degenerated, and was in danger of being lost, but was preferred by the elder Jorham, who escaped with Noah in the ark, and propagated it among his posterity. The Chinese make great pretensions to the primitive language, and many things are urged in their favor, as the antiquity of their nation, their early acquaintance with arts and sciences, the singularity, simplicity, and modesty of their tongue. A countryman of ours, in the last century, published a treatise, called “An historical essay, endeavoring a probability that the language of China is the primitive language, by J. Webb, Esq; London, 1669, 8vo.”
But as when many candidates put up for a place, they are generally reduced to a few, and, if possible to two; the same method must be taken here; for the contest lies between the Syriac or Chaldee, and the Hebrew.
The Chaldee or Syriac language has its patrons for the antiquity of it; not only Theodoret, who was by birth a Syrian, and Amyra the Maronite, who are not to be wondered at, and others who have made it their favorite study; but even the Arabic writers, the more judicious of them, give it not only the preference to their own language in point of antiquity, but even make it as early as Adam. Elmacinus s ays, there are historians (Arabic ones) who affirm, that Adam and his posterity spoke the Syriac language until the confusion of tongues; and so Abulpharagius s ays, f57 “of our doctors, Basilius and Ephraim assert, that unto Eber the language of men was one, and that that was Syriac, and in which God spoke to Adam ;” and it must be allowed, that there are many things plausibly said in favor of this language being primitive: it must be owned that the Chaldean nation was a very ancient one, Jen. 5:15, and that the Syriac language was spoken very early, as by Laban; but not earlier than the Hebrew, which was spoken at the same time by Jacob; the one called the heap of stones which was a witness between them Jegar-Sahadutha in the Syro-Chaldean language, and the other Galeed in Hebrew, which both signify the same thing: what is commonly urged is as follows: 1. THAT the names of a man and woman are as much alike, if not more so, in the Chaldee or Syriac language, as in the Hebrew; a man is called Gabra and a woman Gabretha, which is equally as near as Ish and Ishah produced to prove the antiquity of the Hebrew, Genesis 2:23. But neither in the Chaldee of Onkelos, nor in the Syriac version of that place, is it Gabretha, but Ittetha in the one, and Antetha in the other. Theodoret f58 instances in the names Adam, Cain, Abel, Noah, as proper to the Syriac language; but the de rivation of them from the Hebrew tongue is more clear and manifest. 2. THAT it is rather agreeable to truth, that the primaeval and common language before the confusion should remain in the country where the tower was built and the confusion made, which was in Chaldea, and therefore the Chaldee language, must be that language; but rather the contrary seems more natural, that the language, confounded and corrupted, should continue in the place where the confusion was made, and that those possessed of the pure and primitive language should depart from thence, as in fact they afterwards did. 3. IT is observed, that both Eber and Abraham were originally Chaldeans, and were brought up in Chaldea, and so must speak the language of that country, which therefore must be prior to the Hebrew; but it should be considered, that not only Eber but Abraham lived before the confusion and dispersion; for if the confusion was in the latter end of Peleg’s days, Abraham, according to the Jewish chronology, must be years of age, and consequently possessed of the pure and primitive language, be it what it may; and since it does not appear that either he or any of his posterity, as Isaac and Jacob, used the Chaldee language, but the Hebrew only, it seems to follow, that not the Chaldee, but the Hebrew, must be the language spoken by him, and so the primitive one. 4. IT is said, the Hebrews s prung from the Chaldeans, Judith 5:5, and so their language must be later than theirs; this is founded on Abraham’s being of Ur of the Chaldees, from whence he came; but it does not follow, that because he was born and lived in that country before the confusion of Babel, that therefore he spoke the language used in that country afterwards, since he was soon called out of it; and it appears that he spoke not the Chaldee or Syriac language, but the Hebrew, as before observed. 5. IT is urged, as highly probable, that the language the second Adam spake, the first Adam did; now Christ and his Apostles, and the people of the Jews in their times, spoke in the Syriac language, as appears from Matthew 27:46, Mark 5:41, and 7:34, but according to some learned men, as Masius, and Fabricius Boderianus, this was not the ancient language of the Syrians and Chaldeans, but a new language, which had its first rise in the Babylonish captivity, and was a mixture of Chaldee and Hebrew; though rather the mixture began in the times of the Seleucidae, the Syrian kings, who entered into and distressed Judea; and therefore no argument can be taken from it in favor of the Syriac being the primitive language. I proceed now to propose the arguments that are, or may be used in favor of the Hebrew language being the primitive one; and the First, may be taken from the alphabet of the tongue itself, which appears to be the first alphabet of all the eastern languages. The Chaldee or Syriac, Phoenician or Samaritan, have their alphabets manifestly from it; the names, the number, and order of their letters, and even the form and ducts of them seem to be taken from thence, and to be corrupt deviations from it; and the Arabic language, though the order of its alphabet is somewhat disturbed, yet the names of most of the letters are plainly from the Hebrew; and so indeed is the greater part of the names of letters in the Greek alphabet, from whence the Romans have taken theirs, and other European nations. Hermannus Hugo observes, that it is agreed among all, that from the names of the Hebrew characters, the letters of all nations have their names; now that language, whole alphabet appears to be the first, and to give rise to the alphabets of other tongues, bids fairest to be the first and primitive language: let it be observed that the Hebrew alphabet, as it now is, is exactly the same as it was in the days of David and Solomon, so early it can be traced; for it is to be seen in the 119th Psalm, and in others, and in the last chapter of the book of Proverbs, as well as in the book of Lamentations, written before or at the beginning of the Babylonish captivity.
Secondly, Another argument for the antiquity of the Hebrew language, may be formed from the perfection and purity of it. Abraham de Balmis f68 s ays of it, that “it is perfect in its letters and in its points. Our language, says he, is the most perfect language, and in its writing the most perfect of all writings of all languages; there is nothing wanting, and there is nothing redundant in it, according to the laws and rules of things perfect and compleat.”
It consists of words which most fully and effectually express the nature of the things signified by them; its roots, which are of a certain number, are, for the most part, of three letters only, and it has no exotic or strange words used in it. Whoever compares it with the Syriac or Chaldee, will easily perceive the difference as to the purity of them, and that the Chaldee is derived from the Hebrew, and is later than that; for as Scaliger long ago observed dlm Melech must be before aklm Malca, the latter being derived from the former; and the same may be observed in a multitude of other instances: now that which is perfect, pure, and underived, must be before that which is imperfect, corrupt, and derived; or, as the philosopher expresses it, that which is vicious and corrupt must be later than that which is incorrupt.
Thirdly, The Paronomasia which Adam used when he called his wise woman, may be thought to be a good proof of the antiquity of the Hebrew language; since it will agree with that language only, she shall be called Ishah, woman, because she was taken, meish, out of man, Genesis 2:23, which paronomasia does not appear neither in the Syriac version, nor in the Chaldee paraphrases of Onkelos and Jonathan, in which though Gabra is used of a man, yet never Gabretha of a woman, not even in places where men and women are spoken of together; see the Syriac version and Chaldee paraphrase of Exodus 35:22, Deuteronomy 2:34, and many other places; and the reason for it is plain, the word is expressive of power and might, and so not so proper to be used of the weaker sex. The Syriac or Chaldee language will not admit of such an allusion as is in the text; for on the one hand, as Gabra is used for a man, and not Gabretha for a woman, so on the other hand, Itta, Ittetha, and Intetha or Antetha, are used for a woman, but never Itt for a man. Now as we prove that the additions to the book of Daniel were written in Greek, from the paronomasia in ch. 13:55, 59, so this seems to prove that the language Adam spoke in to his wife must be the Hebrew language, and consequently is the primitive one. f71 Fourthly, The names of persons and places before the confusion at Babel, are in the Hebrew language, and are plainly derived from words in it; as Adam from hm da Adamah, earth, out of which he was formed, as is generally thought. Eve, from hyj Chayah, to live, because the mother of all living; Cain from hnq get, obtain, possess, being gotten from the Lord; Abel, from lbh Hebel, vanity, as his life was; and Seth, from tç Sheth, put, appointed, because put, set, or appointed another feed in the room of Abel: and so all the names of the Antediluvian patriarchs down to Noah and his sons, and their names also, with all those before the confusion and dispersion at Babel; and likewise the names of places, as of the garden of Eden, from xz[ delight, pleasure, it being a very pleasant place; and the land of Nod from dwn to wander about; Cain being an exile and wanderer in it: now these being the names of persons and places before the confusion of tongues, clearly show what language was spoken before that time, namely the Hebrew, which therefore seems to be the primitive one.
Fifthly, It is notorious that the law and the prophets, or the books of the old testament, were written in the Hebrew tongue. The law was written in it on two tables of stone by the finger of God himself, and the sacred books were written in the same language, under divine inspiration. Now it is reasonable to conclude, that the same language God wrote and inspired the prophets to write in, he himself spoke in to Adam, and inspired him with it, or however gave him a faculty of speaking it, and which he did speak, and therefore may be concluded to be the first and primitive tongue.
IT now remains only to be inquired into, why this language is called Hebrew. It is supposed by some to have its name from Eber, the father of Peleg, in whose days the earth was divided, and from whom the Hebrews s prung and have their name; and which opinion has been most generally received. Others think it has its name from rb[ Abar, to pass over, from Abraham’s passing over the river Euphrates into the land of Canaan; this notion Aben Ezra makes mention of on Exodus 21:2, and has been espoused by Theodoret among the ancients, and indeed according to Origen the word Hebrew s ignifies passer over, and so Jerom; and by Scaliger and Arias Montanus among the moderns, in which they have been followed by many. The matter is not of very great consequence, but I must confess I am most inclined to the former; for as Austin observes, before the confusion language was one, and common to all, and needed no name to distinguish it; it was enough to call it the speech of man, or the human language; but when there was a confusion of tongues, and so more than one, it became necessary to distinguish them by names; and what name more proper for the first language than that of Hebrew, from Eber, the last man in whose days it was alone and common to all? for in his son’s days the earth was divided into different nations, speaking different languages. Moreover, Shem is said to be the Father of all the children of Eber, Genesis 4:21, or as Jonathan paraphrases it, of all the children of the Hebrews, or of Hebrew children: respect is had, as the learned Rivet f79 observes, to the blessing of Shem, in opposition to the curse of Ham, Genesis 9:25, 26. Now as Canaan s prung from Ham, and was the father of the Canaanites, so Eber s prung from Shem and was the father of the Hebrews; and as afterwards they were called the children of Israel, and Israelites from Israel, and the children of Judah and Jews from Judah; so the children of Eber or Hebrews from him, and with equal propriety the language they spoke may be called Hebrew from him; and their country likewise, as in Genesis 40:15, for it does not seem probable that the land of Canaan s hould be called the land of the Hebrews, as it is there, so early as in the youth of Joseph, from a single family being passengers, travelers, and strangers in it, which are characters not very respectful and honorable, nor distinguishing; but rather from Eber, who, and his immediate offspring, might inhabit it, it being that part assigned and divided to them at the division of the earth, Deuteronomy 32:8, out of which they might be driven by the Canaanites, s ee Genesis 13:7 and <011401> 14:1, 4, therefore it was an act of justice to dispossess them and replace the children of Eber in it: and this may also serve to account for the names of places in pure Hebrew in old Canaan, by which they were called, when Joshua made a conquest of it, as well as in the time of Abraham, since it was the land of Eber before it was the land of Canaan; if Melchizedeck was Shem, as the Jews in general believe, he was king of a city in it, and Eber his first born had a right unto it, claimed by Chedarlaomer, a descendant of his, who attempted the rescue of it from the Canaanites, who had usurped a power over it, at least over some part of it; and it is easy to observe that in the prophecy of Balaam, Numbers 24:24, as the Assyrians are called Ashur, from their original progenitor, so the Hebrews have the name of Eber from him; and so the word Eber there is rendered Hebrews by the Septuagint and other translators; and as they, so their language, may be called from him. As to what is objected, that Eber and Abraham were Chaldeans, and spoke the Chaldee language, this has been replied to already; and whereas it is observed, that from the time of Eber to Abraham, no one is ever called an Hebrew from him; it is not to be wondered at, since Eber lived to the time of Abraham, and even to the time of Jacob, according to both the Jewish and Scripture-chronology.
THE foundation of the other opinion, that the Hebrews and their language have their name from Abraham’s passing over the Euphrates to the land of Canaan, is the Septuagint version of Genesis 14:13, which instead of Abraham the Hebrew, reads tw perath the transitor or passer over; though perhaps no more is meant by that version, than that he was, as Juvenal expresses it, natus ad Euphratem, born near the river Perat, for that is its name in Hebrew; but whatever may be said for Abraham’s being called an Hebrew from such a circumstance, it can scarcely be thought that a whole nation should be denominated from such an action of a remote ancestor, when they themselves passed not over the same river; besides there were multitudes who passed over the Euphrates besides Abraham, who yet never were so called; as Canaan and his posterity must pass over it, when they removed from Shinar to the land afterwards called by their name; and indeed Erpenius is of opinion that the Canaanites were first called Hebrews, or passers over, by the Chaldeans, because they passed over the river Jordan into the country which lay between that and the Mediterranean s ea, afterwards called from them the land of Canaan; and that Abraham had not his name from his passage into it, but from his dwelling there, and learning their language; hence his posterity were called Hebrews, and the Hebrew language the language of Canaan, Isaiah 19:18, and the same writer thinks, that if the Hebrews were only those of the family of Jacob, they would not have been so well known to the Egyptians in the time of Joseph as they were: but to all this it may be replied, that the Canaanites were ever called Hebrews, does not appear from any writers, sacred or profane; nor is it probable that the pure and primitive language, that is the Hebrew, as has been shown, should be left with and continued in the race of Canaan; and kill more improbable, that Abraham should learn it of them, who was possessed of the first and primitive language before the confusion of tongues, as has been observed, and before he came into the land of Canaan; besides he seems to be called Abraham the Hebrew, Genesis 14:13, to distinguish him from Mamre, Eshcol, and Aner, who were Canaanites, confederates with him; nor is the Hebrew language called the language of Canaan, because first spoken by the Canaanites, but because the people of Israel spoke it, who for a long time had inhabited the land which bore that name; nor need it seem strange, that the name of Hebrew should be so well known in Potiphar’s family, and to the Egyptians in Joseph’s time, when he himself told them, no doubt, that he was an Hebrew, as he told the chief butler, Genesis 39:17 and 41:12, and especially if what has been before observed concerning the land of the Hebrews, can be established, Genesis 40:15, as being inhabited by Eber and his sons, before the Canaanites possessed it.
THERE are other etymologies of the name of the Hebrews and their language, which scarce deserve any notice; as that they have their name from Abraham; so Artapanus, an heathen writer, says the Jews are called Hebrews from Abraham, but there are but few that have embraced this notion; others say, they are so called from Eberhanaar, which signifies beyond or the other side of the river, that is, of the Euphrates, where Abraham and his father Terah dwelt, and from whence Abraham is said to be taken; but there were many besides them, even whole nations who dwelt beyond that river, who were never called Hebrews, nor can any good reason be given, why these and their posterity and their language should be called Hebrew from thence, the many, both Jews and Christians, have imbibed this notion: Eusebius, though he thinks the Hebrews had their name from Eber, yet as the word signifies a passer over, not from one country to the other, but from the vanity of the things of this present world, to the study of divine things, and in which they rested not, but passed on in search of more recondite knowledge: perhaps, after all, the true original of the name may be taken from the place of Abraham’s birth, who is first called yrg[j the Hebrew, or rather the Ibrite, Genesis 14:13, the place of his birth was Ur of the Chaldees, as Aben Ezra f89 rightly judges, since it is expressly said to be the land of his brother Haran’s nativity, and therefore most probably his also; now Ur of the Chaldees is called ary[z arb[ , Ibra Zeira and so Abraham might have this epithet from the place of his nativity, the Ibrite, to distinguish him, as before observed, from the Amorites, among whom he then dwelt, and whence his posterity frequently afterwards have the name of µrb[ or Ibrites, Genesis 39:14, 17 and 40:15 and 43:32.
ONE thing more I would just observe, that whether the Hebrews and their language are so called either from Eber, the father of Peleg, or from Abar, to pass over, or from Eber, beyond, or the other side of the river, or from Ibra the native place of Abraham; though custom has prevailed to write the word with an aspiration, Hebrew and Hebrews, it should be written without one, Ebrew and Ebrews, as words beginning with [ usually are, as Amminadib, Immanuel, etc.