On the Hebrew Letters, Vowel Points, & Accents
by John Gill, D.D.
Concerning the Antiquity of the Hebrew Letters
IT has been a controversy among learned men, for a century or two past, whether the modern letters used by the Jews, and in which their sacred books are now extant, are the same in which the law and the prophets were originally written. This is denied by some, and it has been affirmed, that the original letters of the Hebrews, and in which the books of the Old Testament before the times of Ezra were written, were what are called Samaritan; and that Ezra, after the return of the Jews from the captivity in Babylon, changed these letters for the Merubbah, or square ones since in use; and in them wrote all the sacred books then in being, and gave the ancient letters to the Samaritans; and this notion has been embraced upon the testimonies of Eusebius and Jerom; the foundation of which appears to be a tradition of the Jews, and that far from being generally received by them. The former of these in his chronicle at A. M. 4740, writes, that “it is affirmed, that Ezra, by the strength of his memory, compiled or put together the divine scriptures, and that they (the Jews) might not be mixed with the Samaritans, changed the Jewish letters:” now this passage of Eusebius, as Marckius observes, is not to be found in Scaliger’s editions of his chronicle, neither in the original Greek, nor in the Latin version; and the illustrious Spanheim has fully proved, that it is spurious, and added to the text by some modern hand; and admitting it to be genuine, it smells rank of a Jewish tale, particularly that Ezra compiled the scriptures memoriter; and it is no difficult thing to account for it, from whence Eusebius had it, if he had it at all; for since he was bishop of Caesarea, where both Jews and Samaritans lived, he might receive this notion from the one or from the other; from the Samaritans, as Buxtorff conjectures, who were continually boasting of their language and letters, in which, they say, the law was given, a copy of which they pretend to have, written by Phinehas the son of Eleazar: or rather he might have this account from the Jews that resided there. Jerom, who lived a little after Eusebius, and who might take what he writes from him, or rather from some of the Jewish Rabbins he had for his preceptors and instructors, for he had four of them at different times, is more confident, and says, “certumque est , etc. it is certain that Ezra the scribe, and teacher of the law, after Jerusalem was taken and the temple rebuilt under Zerubbabel, found other letters, which we now use, when to that time the characters of the Samaritans and Hebrews were the same;” but how could Jerom be certain of this, who lived near a thousand years after the supposed fact? do Ezra or Nehemiah give the least hint of such a change of letters, though they relate things of much less consequence than this? or do any of the other prophets suggest anything of this kind? not the least syllable. Do Josephus or Philo the Jew say anything about it? not one word, but the reverse, as will be seen hereafter: from whence and from whom then could Jerom be assured of it? from no other than his Jews and their traditions; from whom it is certain he received many things, as his treatise called Quaestiones seu Traditiones Hebraicae, on various parts of scripture show; which are all or most of them to be found in the Talmud, and other writings of the Jews, and particularly this. The Jerusalem Talmud was printed about the year 230, long enough before Jerom, for him to have knowledge of it at least from his instructors. The Babylonian Talmud was compiling in his time, though not finished before the year 500; but the traditions it consists of were well known before, being handed down from one to another, and with which Jerom’s Jews could furnish him, and did. But what puts this matter out of all question, is a fragment of Origen’s, published by Montsaucon, who also speaks of letters used by Ezra after the captivity, different from the more ancient ones, and plainly declares from whom he had it, and opens to us the true source of this notion: “in some accurate copies, he says, it (the word Jehovah) is writ ten in ancient Hebrew letters, but not in those now in use, fasi gar , for they say, (that is, the Jews ) that Ezra used others after the captivity:” so that it clearly appears to be a Jewish tradition; and it is not improbable, that Jerom had what he calls certain, from this passage of Origen, as well as from Eusebius, supposing the passage in him to be genuine; and in which he might be confirmed by his Rabbins; so that all that has been said about this matter comes from the same fountain, a Jewish tradition. And the tradition respecting it in the Jerusalem Talmud is as follows: “it is a tradition; R. Jose says, Ezra was fit to have the law given by his hand, but that the age of Moses prevented it; yet tho’ it was not given by his hand, the writing and the language were; the writing was written in the Syriac tongue and interpreted in the Syriac tongue, Ezra 4:7, and they could not read the writing, Daniel 5:8, from hence it is learnt, that it was given on the same day. R. Nathan says, the law was given in breaking, (in rude, rough, and broken letters, supposed to be meant of the Samaritan) and agrees with R. Jose ; but Rabbi (i. e. Judah Hakkodesh) says the law was given in the Assyrian character (the square letter) and when they sinned, it was turned into breaking, (into a rough, and broken character) and when they were worthy, in the days of Ezra, it was turned to them again in the Assyrian character, according to Zechariah 9:12. It is a Tradition; R. Simeon ben Eleazer says, on the account of R. Eleazer Ben Parta, who also says, on the account of Eliezer Hammodai, the law was written in the Assyrian character.”
As it stands in the Babylonian Talmud, it is thus expressed: “Mar Zutra, or as others Mar Ukba, s ays, at first the law was given to Israel in the writing beyond the river, (or the Samaritan) and the holy tongue; and again it was given to them, in the days of Ezra, in the Assyrian writing, and Syriac tongue; they chose for the Israelites the Assyrian writing and the holy tongue, and left to the Ideots the writing beyond the river, and the Syriac tongue. Who are the Ideots? R. Chasda says, the Cuthites (i. e. the Samaritans): what is the writing beyond the river? R. Chasda says, the Libonaean writing;” which the Gloss explains of great letters, such as are written in amulets and on door-posts. Now though this account is far from being clear and plain, as to what is the sense of these Rabbins; yet admit it to be the sense of R.
Jose, and of Mar Zutra or Ukba, that the law was written in Samaritan characters; to which if you add R. Nathan, as agreeing with them, there are but three on that side of the question; whereas there are four who affirm it to be written in the Assyrian, or square character, namely, R. Judah the saint, R. Simeon, and the two Eleazers; and as for R. Judah, he was of so much account with the Jews, as to weigh down all others; the decision of any matter in debate was, for the most part, according to him; and it is to the latter sentiment that the Jews now universally agree. There is but one, R. Joseph Albo, on the other side of the question, unless Nachmanides can be thought to be, which yet is doubtful, now this seems to be the whole and sole foundation of the above notion, which has prevailed so long among christian writers. I cannot but remark the foible of some learned men, that if anything against a received opinion is produced from the Talmud, and other Jewish writings, it is at once condemned as a Jewish dotage, dream and fable; but if it accords with a favorite hypothesis, how greedily is it catched at? how tenaciously is it held? It is amazing that so many learned men should give into the change of the Jewish letters by Ezra. It is not likely that the law should be given to the Israelites, and the sacred books be written in Samaritan letters, that is, in the old Phoenician characters, which belonged to the race of Canaan; and if they were, that the people of the Jews could be prevailed upon to part with them, in which their holy books were written; and if they were written in them, as then, besides the Pentateuch, the books of Joshua, Judge,, Samuel, the Psalms of David, and books of Solomon, and the Prophets before the captivity, must be written in the same character; and if so, it is strange that not one copy of either of these should be heard of, seen, or known; nor is it probable that the books of the Old Testament should be written in two different characters; those before the captivity in Samaritan letters, and those after it in the square letters, as they must be according to this hypothesis. It is not to be believed, that Ezra would attempt such a change of himself without an order from God, which no where appears, when such a charge against innovations stands in Deuteronomy 4:2, nor does it seem possible that he should be able effectually to do it; it could never be in his power to call in all the copies of the sacred books, which the Israelites had carried into the several parts of the world, through their captivities; nor is it probable that the Samaritans, if possessed of the square character, which is grand and majestic, should ever be prevailed upon to part with it, for a character so ugly, so ill shaped and deformed as the Samaritan is; nor was it in the power of Ezra to oblige them to it: to which may be added, that surely it can’t be thought that those ugly and illshaped letters were formed by the finger of God, and the law written by him in them, the contrary to which is now universally affirmed by the Jews; and yet with what confidence has this been asserted, and those of a different sentiment treated with most abusive language, unbecoming men of learning, by such as Scaliger, Drusius, and Vossius, as if they were men but half learned, half divines, mere fools, skeptics, etc. but of late I observe this confidence abates, and learned men begin to think that it is far from being a determined point, what were the original characters of the Hebrews. The learned authors of the Universal History have taken the side of those who are against the Samaritan characters, and are for the square letters being the original Hebrew, and have given their reasons for it; and I hope to make it appear, at least probable, that the Jews always had and retained their letters and characters, and also the Samaritans theirs; and that there has been no commutation of letters between them: and to begin.
WITH the Jews; though we cannot come to any certainty of their ancient letters and characters, yet there is a probability that they were the same in which their sacred writings are now extant; and this is all I shall attempt to show.
IT has been observed that the Hebrew alphabet is the first of the oriental languages, from whence the rest have received theirs; but in name only, not in signification; for the signification of the names of the letters in the alphabet only correspond with the figures of the square letter; indeed though the Hebrew alphabet is observed in order no less than twenty times in the Old Testament, Psalm <192501> 25, <193701> 37, <19B101> 111, <19B201> 112, <19B901> 119, eight times, 114, Proverbs <203101> 31, Lamentations six times, yet not the name of one letter is given; but in the Septuagint version of the Lamentations, made three hundred years before Christ, the names of all of them are given just as they now are. The Greeks had the names of their letters very early, not only before the writing of the New Testament, in which mention is made of some of them, as of Iota, Alpha, and Omega; and in Josephus of Theta, and Tau; but Herodotus, who wrote his history between four and five hundred years before the birth of Christ, observes, that the Persian names end in a letter which in the Doric dialect is called San, and in the Ionic dialect Sigma. Plato, as early, makes mention of the names of several of the letters of the Greek alphabet; and Homer, some hundreds of years before them, has the names of the whole Greek alphabet; for his works, both his Iliad and his Odyssey, the several books of them, have their titles from thence, and are called by their names; unless it should be thought, as it is by some, that the titles are added by some ancient Grammarians; which names are chiefly taken from an Eastern alphabet: and as the Greeks are generally supposed to have their letters, at least most of them, from the Phoenicians, they doubtless had the names of them along with them; and Diodorus Siculus expressly says, that as Cadmus brought the letters from Phoenicia into Greece, so he gave to everyone their names, as well as formed their characters; and as the Phoenician, or old Samaritan alphabet consisted of letters of the same name, though of a different character from the Hebrew, it may reasonably be supposed that the names are derived from thence, as the language is but a dialect of the Hebrew, with a little variation and deflection from it; so that the Hebrews had these names originally; and it cannot be thought otherwise but that when their letters were first invented, and marks made for them, but names were given unto them; and Capellus himself is quite clear and express in this matter: “before the age of Cadmus the Phoenician, he says i.e. 1450 years before the birth of Christ, the Hebrew letters had their own names, and indeed the same with those by which they are now called, as is plain by comparing the Greek alphabet with the Hebrew ;” and a little after he says, the same names of Hebrew letters are as they were three thousand years ago: now the names of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, though adopted by others, only correspond in their signification with the figure of the square letters now in use: thus according to various writers, a Aleph the first letter, signifies an ox, and its figure resembles the head and horns of one, and as that, gives the lead to the rest; b Beth, an house, and it represents one, its foundation, wall, and roof, which with the Hebrews was flat; g Gimel a camel, and it has the figure of its long neck and bunch on its back; d Daleth a door, and it describes the lintel and post of one; h what it signifies and represents is not easy to say: w Vau , an hook, and it resembles one; z Zajin, signifies armor, and has the figure of a dart, spear, or club; j Cheth a beast, and its position is like that of a quadruped; f Teth, folding or involving, as is the form of it; y Jod, an hand, the small part of it the finger, it represents; k Caph, the hollow of the hand, or a curvature, as its figure is; l Lamed, a goad, and it is like one; m Mem, a spot as is impressed on the hollow of the hand; n Nun, a son, child, or infant, and it is thought to resemble one fitting; s Samech, a support, the pedestal of a column, to which it is not unlike; [ Ain , an eye, and it is the figure of one open; p Pe, a mouth, an open one; x Tzadde, a fork, and such is its figure; q Koph, a revolution, a semicircle, with a descending line, or a monkey, having the tail of one r Resh, the head, the hinder part of one it resembles; ç Schin, a tooth, and is the figure of three teeth; t Thau, a mark, sign, or border, being the boundary of the alphabet. Now the figures of the letters of the alphabet, neither in the Samaritan characters, nor in any other but the square, will answer to the signification of these names.
As the Hebrew language was the first and primitive language, and was spoken by Adam, as has been shown, it is probable the letters were first invented by him, as some have thought; since as man is not only a speaking, but a social animal, it can hardly be imagined that Adam should live so many years, and not consider the advantage of letters to his posterity, and attempt to form such for their use; nor could arts and sciences, which no doubt were found out in his time, be well cultivated without the use of letters. It is certain some of the arts and sciences were in use before the flood, Genesis 4:21, and very probably astronomy, as it must be, if there is any truth in the history of the pillars erected by the posterity of Seth, which must make writing necessary, as Huygens observes: besides, it is not reasonable to suppose that Adam himself should be without the knowledge of the sciences, since the very first fight of the heavenly luminaries would lead him into a contemplation of them, and to make future observations upon them; and by observing their motions, appearance, and disappearance, their revolutions, and the distinctions they made of days, months, and years, and of the seasons, of summer and winter; he must obtain by degrees a considerable knowledge of this science. Some have thought that the knowledge of all things natural, both terrestrial, as plants, etc. and celestial, was of God infused into him, and implanted in his nature; and in whatsoever way he had it, it may be reasonably concluded that he would communicate it to his posterity, which seems to require the use of letters; and Scaliger made no doubt of it that the art of printing was known by him; though that is not very probable, yet he might have the knowledge of letters, and of the use of them; indeed the Indian Brachmans, and the ancient Druids and Pythagoras taught their doctrines without the use of letters; but it was not through want of them, nor through mere neglect of them, but because they had some peculiar ends to answer thereby: now if letters were invented by Adam, it seems most reasonable that as his language, so his letters were continued to the times of Noah, and were communicated in the times of Shem through the families of Eber and Abraham to the people of Israel; and though the precise character cannot be determined, it is most probable, it was the square character, as being the most expressive, perfect, and elegant. The Jewish writers are quite clear in this matter, that not only the letters but even the points and accents as they now are, were known to Adam, being taught him of God; as the author of the book of Cosri , and his commentator R. Judah Muscatus.
IF the pillars set up by the sons of Seth could be depended on as genuine, there would be proof not only of the arts and sciences, particularly astronomy, being known and taught, but of letters, and their use in their days; and to Seth himself the invention of letters has been ascribed; Josephus says, the pillars erected by his posterity continued to his time: but it is not likely that these pillars, the one of brick, the other of stone, should survive the flood; and the account he has given of the place where they stood, is very dark and intricate; he calls it the land of Syriad, but whether he means Syria, or a place in the land of-Egypt, or Seirath near Gilgal, Judges 3:26, each of which is guessed at, cannot be determined; nor does he give us the least hint what kind of characters were upon them; and indeed had the pillars been really in being, it can scarcely be thought that the characters could be legible, or that even conjectures could be made of what they were. In Syria and Mesopotamia are said to be some ancient books of the Zabians, which they pretend to be the patriarch Seth’s ; and the Arabic writers say, that Seth was the inventor of writing letters, and showed them in the Hebrew tongue. If the account that is given of Cainan, the grandson of Seth, could be credited, it would not only prove the use of letters in those early times, but that the Hebrew letters were then used; the account is what is said to be sent by Alexander the Great, when in India, to his master Aristotle, and is as follows: “When I came to such a place in India, says he, the natives told me that they had with them the sepulcher of an ancient king that ruled over all the world, whose name was Cainan, the son of Enos , who foreseeing that God would bring a flood upon the earth, wrote his prophecy of it on tables of stone, and they are here; the writing is Hebrew writing.”
ENOCH, the seventh from Adam, delivered out the prophecy referred to by the apostle Jude, ver. 14, 15, but whether it was written is not certain; it is not improbable it might be: the Jews make mention of a writing of his in their ancient book of Zohar , and in the Targum of Jonathan on Genesis 5:24, he is called the great scribe; and several of the christian fathers speak of a book of his as authentic, as Tertullian and others; and the Arabic writers tell us of pyramids and pillars erected by him, on which he engraved the arts and the instruments of them; and some writers ascribe the invention of letters and writing of books to him; but what characters he wrote and engraved in are not said: others have pretended to give the alphabets of Adam, Seth, Enoch, and Noah; but the characters they give neither agree with the Hebrew nor with the Samaritan, and are mere figments, and are no more to be depended on than in what the prophecy of Ham the son of Noah was written, out of which Pherecydes the Syrian, is said to take his allegories. If Abraham the ancestor of the Jewish nation was the inventor of letters, as some say, the Hebrew characters might bid fair to be the first; nay, Suidas says they were the sacred letters he invented; and to him is sometimes ascribed the cabalistic book of the Jews called Jetzirah.
SOME of the Jewish Rabbins say, that the grains of manna which fell from heaven about the tents of the Israelites in the wilderness were figured with the character of the Hebrew letter w Vau very perfectly expressed; and that that is the principal reason why the wondering Israelites said one to another azh zm Man hu, which according to them is to say, what means this vau? the reason of which figure they suppose to be, because the manna was only to be gathered on the six days of the week, which that letter numerically signifies: this is to be, treated as a mere fable, nor have I met with it in any writer but Gaffarellus ; all the advantage I make of it is this, that those Rabbins who relate this, believed that the square letters were in use before the giving of the law, for so early was the original descent of the manna; and indeed if the Israelites did not understand letters before the giving of the law, of what use could the writing of it be unto them? and to what purpose was it written and brought unto them.
IT is not only the opinion of some Christian writers that the Hebrews received their letters first from Moses through the giving of the law unto them, but even Eupolemus, an heathen writer, as quoted both by Clement of Alexandria, and Eusebius, affirms that Moses first delivered letters to the Jews, which is received by many; however this be, it is certain, the law was written in letters engraved by God himself, and given to Moses for the Israelites; and it is most probable, as has been already observed, that those letters were not the ill-shaped letters of the S amaritans, the same with those of the old Phoenicians or Canaanites, but the noble, majestic square letters, in which the books of the law and prophets are now extant. Philo the Jew, says, the law was anciently written in the Chaldee language, that is, in the Hebrew language, properly so called; for, as Jerom observes, Philo thought the Hebrew and Chaldee were the same language; and nothing is more common with the Jews, than to say the writing in which the law was given, is the Assyrian language and writing, by which they mean the modern Hebrew letters, in distinction from the Samaritan, as appears by what has been quoted out of the Talmud, and which they expressly say is what they now write in. This they call the Assyrian tongue and writing, from the word Asher, which signifies happy and blessed, being happy and blessed above all languages; or because they had it from their ancestor Abraham, who came out of Assyria ; and as they carried it into Assyria, when led captive thither, so it came out of Assyria with them, when they came from thence; and that the tables of the law were written in it, is generally agreed on, by them. R. Jacob says, the whole world acknowledge that the tables and book of the law, which were in the ark, were written in the Assyrian character, by which they mean the square character; that is, the whole Jewish nation, a few, only excepted, not more than two or three. If the mediums of proof made use of by the Jews could be admitted as valid, as they cannot, it would put the matter out of all doubt, that the square letters were as early as the law: they observe, that the hooks of the pillars in Exodus 27:10, are called Vaus, and as the pillars were not changed, so the Vaus were not changed; from whence they conclude the Vaus were made like hooks, and that in the days of Moses the Vaus were like those now in use; and what is true of one letter is true of the rest; and that their letters were never changed, and which they also conclude from Esther 8:9. They have likewise a notion that the letters of the law were perforated, so that the figures of the letters could be seen on both sides, wherefore they observe µ Mem clausum and s Samech which were in the tables, stood miraculously; for they being near or like to a circle or an O, they had nothing to adhere to, or subsist by, but must fall, unless supported by a miracle. Now though these notions cannot be allowed of, they serve to show the sense of the Jews, that the square letters were then in being, since these observations will not agree with the said letters in the Samaritan alphabet; nay, they say that the forms of letters, vowels and accents were written by God on the tables, as we now have them.
IT was usual in ancient time to inscribe things on rocks and mountains, in order to perpetuate them to posterity, to which Job may allude, chapter 19:24, thus Semiramis engraved her image and an hundred shield-bearers by her at the bottom of a rock, and wrote upon the rock in Syriac letters, as Diodorus Siculus relates; so the Arabians, Phoenicians, and Egyptians, and others, before the use of paper, engraved their sentiments on rocks and stones. Themistocles cut letters upon stones which the Ionians, coming the day after to Artemisium, read, as Herodotus reports; and it was usual with the Danes to write the acts and deeds of their ancestors in verse, and engrave them in their own language on rocks and stones. In a journal made about forty years ago, from grand Cairo to mount Sinai, a translation of which is published by Dr. Clayton, late bishop of Clogher, it is related, that those who made it came to some hills near mount Sinai, called the written mountains; on which with others they passed for an hour together, were engraved ancient unknown characters, cut into the hard marble rock, twelve or fourteen feet distant from the ground; and though they had several in company acquainted with the Arabic, Greek; Hebrew, Syriac, etc. none of them had any knowledge of those characters. The bishop thought it probable that these were the ancient Hebrew characters, which the Israelites having learned to write after the giving of the law on mount Sinai, diverted themselves with practicing it during their forty years abode in the wilderness; and he was of opinion that the ancient Hebrew characters might be recovered by them; wherefore he proposed to the Society of Antiquarians in London, to send a proper person thither for that end, and offered to bear a proportion in the expense of it; and could those characters be recovered, and an alphabet formed out of them, it would doubtless determine what was the ancient figure of the Hebrew letters. About an hundred years before the above journal was begun, Petrus a Valle and Thomas a Novaria transcribed several of them, which the former had in his possession, and showed them to some Jews, to whom some of the letters seemed to be like to those of the Hebrew now in use, others like the Samaritan, and others agreed with neither; but the sense of them none could understand. Now these letters were no doubt of one and the same alphabet, form and figure originally, and if many of them are of the square form, or like those Hebrew letters now in use, and those the greater part of them, as it should seem by their being mentioned first; I should think they were all when first written of the same form; and that such of them as are now broken and disjointed, are those said to be like to the Samaritan letters, which are rough and deformed; hence the Jews call them x[wr , a fracture, broken, and uneven; and such that agreed with neither, those that are greatly effaced by time; and I am the more strengthened in this supposition by the relation of Cosmas AEgyptius, who traveled into those parts in the sixth century, more than twelve hundred years ago; who testifies, that he himself saw many stones in the wilderness engraved by the Hebrews in Hebrew letters, in memory of their journey in it; his account, as Montsaucon relates it is, that in the wilderness of Sinai, and in all the mansions of the Hebrews, you may see stones fallen from the mountains, all engraved with Hebrew letters, as, says he, I testify, who traveled that way. Now I imagine that this man in that age could have no other notion of Hebrew letters than of those then in use with the Jews; and he adds, some Jews who read these inscriptions told us, they signified so and so — such a journey — out of such a tribe — in such a year — in such a month — i, e. such and such things were done. Now the letters which these Jews were conversant with, and capable of reading and interpreting, seem more likely to be the Hebrew letters, which they then used, than the Samaritan, which it is not reasonable to suppose they would give themselves the trouble of learning, having nothing to do with the Samaritans, but at enmity with them.
THE plate of gold on the forehead of the high-priest, on which was engraven holiness to the Lord, the Jews dispute about it, whether this was in more lines than one, and what letters were in a line, but it was never a question with them in what character it was written. Jerom says indeed, that the word Jehovah was in his time found written in ancient letters, in some Greek volumes; but it should be observed, that Jerom speaks not of Jewish or Hebrew copies, but of Greek volumes, meaning the Greek versions of Aquila and Theodotion in Origen’s Hexapla, and of ancient Hebrew letters in the said Greek versions, where the word Jehovah was written in Hebrew characters thus, PIPI, which the Greeks not understanding, and being deceived with the similarity of the characters to some of theirs, read it from the left to the right, as they were wont to do, Pipi; whereas the word was to be read no other than Jehovah, and was written neither in Greek nor in Samaritan characters, but in Hebrew letters, as sometimes figured, or however as formed by some Greek writers not expert in the Hebrew letters, as may be seen in a specimen of such letters, given by Montsaucon, which seem to have been written by some Grecian who had but little knowledge of the Hebrew tongue and its characters, in which the Hebrew letter He, though Schindler would have it to be the Samaritan He, resembles the Greek letter Pi, and the letters Vau and Jod are very similar in Hebrew, and both have some likeness to the Greek letter Iota. Drusius out of Procopius on Isaiah 59:13, observes, that in his margin were written A. Th. En PIPI, that is Aquila, and Theodotion so read; and he further observes, that so formerly they wrote the letters of the name tetragrammaton or Jehovah, which they read Pipi, because of the similitude of the letters; and Jerom himself is as express for it as can be, he says the name of four letters is written with these, Jod, y , He h , Vau ww , He h , which some not understanding, because of the likeness of the characters, when they found it in Greek copies, used to read it Pipi; and elsewhere he says, the name of God, on the plate of gold, was written in Hebrew letters, those above-mentioned; hence, because as R. Asariah understands him, he affirmed that these were engraved in the Assyrian character, he conjectures that Jerom had seen the plate of gold at Rome, which R. Eliezer ben Jose, saw there, and that Jerom was of the mind that the present Hebrew letters, were then used by the Jews; and indeed it is not probable that this plate should be engraved in the Samaritan, that is in the letters of the old Phoenicians or Canaanites, the race of Canaan, whom the Jews, when this order about the plate was given to Moses, were going to drive out of their land. It must be owned that Origen has the following words in a fragment of his; “with the Jews the name of the four letters (Jehovah) is ineffable, which was engraved on the golden plate of the highpriest, and with the Greeks is pronounced Lord (kuriov ); but in correct Hebrew copies it is written (that is, with its four letters Jehovah, which may be believed; but when he adds, it was written) in antient letters, but not in those now in use.”
If he means the Samaritan letters, as it is supposed he does; this depends on a Jewish tale he next relates, which has been already considered.
THAT the Pentateuch written by Moses was written in the square characters or letters now in use with the Jews, s eems clear by comparing Genesis 10:3, 4, with 1 Chronicles 1:6, where the persons called Riphath and Dodanim by Moses, are by the author of the book of Chronicles in some copies cae d Diphath and Rodanim; and who is called Hemdan in Genesis 36:26, is Hemram in 1 Chronicles 1:41, and Hadar in Genesis 36:39, is Hadad in 1 Chronicles 1:50. The author of the book of Chronicles, through the similarity of the letters r and d Resh and Daleth, puts one for another, and still signify the same persons; so Riblah in Numbers 34:11, and as it is read in the 2d book of Kings, and prophecy of Jeremiah, is in Ezekiel 6:14, called Diblath; on which Jerom remarks, that the near likeness of the Hebrew letters d and r Daleth and Resh, which are distinguished by a small apex, it may be called Deblatha, or Reblatha; and so Theodotion reads it Deblatha in Jeremiah 39:5, and this will account for the same man being called Deuel and Reuel, Numbers 1:14 and 2:14. Now this can’t be owing to the mistakes of late transcribers, since the same difference is observed in the Septuagint version of these places, at least in most of them, and were so from the beginning, from the writers themselves; and those letters being much more similar in the Hebrew than in the Samaritan alphabet, the Samaritan Daleth having a hook at the back of it thus which strikes the eye at once, and easily distinguishes it from Resh, shows that Mo ses, in all probability, wrote in the former and not in the latter; so likewise differences of names in the same books plainly arise from the similarity of the letters y and w Jod and Vau in the Hebrew square characters, when there is no such similarity in the Samaritan character and, as to occasion such differences, thus Alvan in Genesis 36:23, is Alian 1 Chronicles 1:40, Vaakan Genesis 36:27, is Jaakan 1 Chronicles 1:42, Zepho Genesis 36:11, is Zephi 1 Chronicles 1:36, Shepbo in Genesis 36:23, is Shephi 1 Chronicles 1:40, Alvah Genesis 36:40, is Aliah Chronicles 1:51. Pau Genesis 36:39, is Pai 1 Chronicles 1:50, Heman <012201>Genesis 22, is Homam 1 Chronicles 1:39, Kimchi on Chronicles 1:6, 7, takes notice of the difference of these several words, as read in Genesis and Chronicles, and attributes it to the similarity of letters; and observes, that let them be read as they may, they are the same names, and so Ben Melech after him. Aben Ezra has helped us to another proof of the Pentateuch being written in the square character; he observes, “that the word hyj in Exodus 1:16, is irregular according to the grammar, and should be htyj for He radical is changed into Tau, according to usual construction, as in Genesis 1:30, but so it is, because these letters are near alike in writing, there being only the duct of a point between them, which is in the letter He, but in pronunciation and name they differ; for at first it is called He, and when the point is protracted it is called Tau; and this is a sign or proof that the writing we now use is Hebrew: ” and as the Pentateuch was originally written in this character, so it continued until the Samaritan Pentateuch was written, which plainly appears to be copied from it, by its having the interpolations of Ezra’s copy in it, which it would not have had, had it been more antient than that; and if it was first brought to the Samaritans, as is probable, by Manasseh, when he fled to them, it was in the square character first introduced among them, as Dr. Prideaux owns, who otherwise is an advocate for the Samaritan letter being the antient Hebrew character. That this was the case, appears from the difference between the Hebrew and Samaritan Pentateuch, occasioned by the similarity of the letters in the square character, the same with that now in use with the Jews, as has been observed by many learned men, particularly in Resh and Daleth, see Genesis 10:4, and 49:10, which shows that the Pentateuch was originally in the modern Hebrew characters, and which is superior in point of antiquity to the Samaritan, which is copied from it; and to the same cause, in many instances, is owing the difference between the Hebrew text and the Septuagint version, namely the similarity of the Hebrew letters, as Jerom frequently observes; for that was made out of the Chaldee tongue, as Philo the Jew affirms, that is the Hebrew according to him; and Justin Martyr asserts, that Moses , under a divine inspiration, wrote his history in Hebrew letters, (he does not say in Samaritan, though he himself was a Samaritan) and that out of their ancient books written in Hebrew letters, the Septuagint or 70 elders made their translation, which books in Hebrew letters were then preferred by the Jews in their synagogues. Ptolemy, king of Egypt, had only at first the Hebrew bible in Hebrew letters, transcribed and sent him; but not being able to read and understand it, he sent for men out of Judea to translate it into Greek; and Tertullian affirms, that in the Serapeum, or library of Ptolemy, the translation was to be seen in his time, with the Hebrew letters themselves, from which the translation was made; and certain it is, as the authors of the Universal History have observed, that the Septuagint version is of higher antiquity than any of those shekels which are said to have the Samaritan characters on them, the eldest of which did not precede the settlement of the high-priesthood in the Asmonean family, that is not much above 150 years before Christ; and yet this is the main argument advanced in defense of the Samaritan letters being the antient Hebrew characters; of the validity of which, and the genuineness of the Samaritan s hekels, more heareafter.
THE argument in favor of the Pentateuch being written in the square character, taken from the similarity of Daleth and Resh, occasioning different readings of words, may be used with respect to the second book of Samuel, as written in the same character, the penmen of which seem to be Gad and Nathan, see 1 Chronicles 29:19, in which the king of Zobah is called Hadadezer, 2 Samuel 8:3, but the writer of the book of Chronicles, generally supposed to be Ezra, putting Resh for Daleth, through the likeness of the letters, calls him Hadarezer, 1 Chronicles 18:3. and so one of David’s worthies is called Shammah the Harodite, 2 Samuel 23:25, but in 1 Chronicles 11:27, Shammoth the Harorite; where may be observed another difference, arising from the same cause, the likeness of the letters h and t the same man being called Shammah in one place, and Shammoth in the other; and that it cannot be owing to the mistakes of late transcribers, since the same difference is to be observed in the Septuagint version of both places; besides there is another difference in the name. Harodite in Samuel is written with a j Cheth, and the Harorite in Chronicles with an h He, which two letters are also very similar in the square character; whereas, neither the He and Tau, nor the Cheth and He are at all alike in the Samaritan character. So that the same that is called Hiddai 2 Samuel 23:30, is Hurai or Churai, 1 Chronicles 11:32, and another is called the Gadite 2 Samuel 23:36, and Haggeri, or the Haggerite, 1 Chronicles 11:38, so through the likeness of Jod and Vau in the square character, which have none in the Samaritan, as before observed, the king of Tyre is called Hiram, <110501> 1 Kings 5:1, 2, and Huram 2 Chronicles 2:3, 11. Aben Chabib or R. Moses Schem Tob, a Jew, who lived about the year 1480, was shown in the kingdom of Valentia in Spain. a sepulchral monument of a general of Amaziah king of Judah, on the top of a mountain; which, though much effaced, he was just able to read a verse or two in rhyme and meter, at the end of which was hyxmal ; from whence he concluded that such kind of verse was in use with his ancestors, when in their own land: and he might have concluded also the antiquity of the Hebrew letters, as Buxtorff observes, could this inscription be thought genuine; but it is hard to conceive how a general of Amaziah, king of Judah, s hould be buried in Spain: and of like credit must be accounted the grave of Adoniram, the taxgatherer for Solomon and Rehoboam, in the same country, and found at the same time; and could the account be credited which Benjamin of Tudela gives of the cave of Machpelah, where he says there are six graves, of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca and Leah, opposite to one another, on which are written “this is the grave of Abraham ,” and so on the grave of Isaac, and on the rest, it would prove the very early antiquity of such letters; but these are not to be depended on.
THE Hebrews have five letters, which they call double letters, or final ones, because the figure of them is different at the end of a word, from what it is at the beginning of one, or in the middle of one; and these are Mem, Nun, Tzade, Pe, and Caph, commonly called dpxnm Manatzpach; these must be of very ancient use, they are mentioned in Bereshith Rabba, and in both the Talmuds; in the one they are said to be used by the seers or prophets, and in the other to be an Halacah or tradition of Moses from Sinai; yea, by an ancient writer they are said to be known by Abraham; and indeed they seem to be as early as the other letters in the alphabet. Hence Abraham de Balmis makes the Hebrew alphabet consist of twenty-seven letters; and Jerom s peaks of these five final letters as of as early, and equal use with the twenty-two letters, and so Epiphanius; and Irenaeus, before them, is thought, by Dr. Grabe to refer to a final Hebrew letter, when he says, “that God, in Hebrew, is called Baruch (blessed) which consists of two letters and a half;” Dr. Grabe’s note upon it is, that d is taken for half of the letter j ; but in that he is mistaken, for the word has not that letter, nor has that letter a final, but k , and the final of that does not shorten, but lengthen the letter.
Now if these final letters were of Moses and the prophets, then the law and the prophets must be written in the Hebrew characters now in use, and not in the Samaritan characters, for the Samaritans have no final letters; and particularly the book of the prophet Isaiah, which was written 200 years or more before the supposed change of letters by Ezra, must be written not in the Samaritan character, according to that notion, but in the modern Hebrew; since the Mem final, contrary to common usage, appears in the middle of the word hbrsl Isaiah 9:6, which has occasioned much speculation and enquiry, both among the Jews and christians, which could not appear if written in the Samaritan character; in which, as before observed, are no final letters; and that it was so read in the ancient Hebrew copies, is clear from both Talmuds, where it is written and reasoned upon, and the Jerusalem Talmud was finished A. D. 230. Jerom owns the reading of it, and offers a reason for it, and observes that the Mem clausum, in the middle of the word hbrsl is so written for the sake of a mystery, to show the exclusion of the Jews from the kingdom of Christ; even that same Jerom makes this remark, who says, it is certain that Ezra changed the Jewish letters; but if Isaiah wrote in the Samaritan character, as that change supposes, it would spoil the remark he has made; in this he contradicts himself. This is an observation of Wasmuth’s; but I suspect that Wasmuth has mistaken Hieronymus de sancta fide, a later writer, who wrote a book against the Jews, for Hieronymus the ancient father; since I can find no such treatise as is referred to by him in Jerom’s works, either genuine or ascribed to him.
THE book of Daniel if written by himself, as it seems plainly to be, must be written before the pretended change of letters by Ezra; the Jews in the Talmud indeed say it was written by the men of the great synagogue, that is the synagogue of Ezra; but the reason given for it is frivolous, as in the Gloss upon the place, that prophecy was not suffered to be written without the land (of Israel) ; for did not Moses write the Pentateuch without the land? and was not Ezekiel ordered by God to write among the captives at the river Chebar, Ezekiel 1:3, and 24:2.? Josephus is express for it, that Daniel wrote his own prophecies, and left them to be read, and this is clear from the book itself, chapter 12:4, and from the words of Christ in Matthew 24:15, now since this book was written partly in Hebrew, and partly in Chaldee, I ask, in what letter it is most probable it was written, whether in two different characters? which seems not at all probable, and whether in one character; what most probably that was, whether the Samaritan or the square letter? it should seem more probable to be the latter, according to the hypothesis of those who are for the change of letters by Ezra, who suppose that was the character used in Chaldea and Babylon, where Daniel lived; and I should think it more probable for another reason, because it was better known to the Jews, for whose use chiefly that book was written: and particularly it deserves consideration, in what letter or character the hand-writing Belshazzar s aw on the wall was written, which the Chaldeans could not read, only Daniel the Jew. It is certain the words in Daniel 5:25, are Chaldee, and had they been written in their own characters, which were the same since called Samaritan, as will be shown in the following chapter; the Chaldeans, no doubt, could have read them, though they might not have understood the meaning of them: now though we can’t be certain of the character, yet it is probable it was the square character then and now in use with the Jews, to which Daniel was accustomed before he came to Babylon, and therefore could easily read the hand-writing, though without doubt it was by divine inspiration that he gave the interpretation of it. Josephus ben Gorion is quite clear in this; the letters, he says, were the holy tongue, that is, Hebrew, but the writing or words were the Syriac tongue, or the Chaldee; and indeed if these words had been in a different character from that which Daniel wrote, it is much he had not given them in it. Bianconi, the last that wrote on the antiquity of the Hebrew letters, is of opinion that the Chaldeans used the same characters with the Hebrews.
He supposes their language to be the same, which he argues from the relation of Abraham and Nahor being brethren, and from the Hebrews descending from the one, and from the other the Chaldeans; hence Josephus calls the Chaldeans their kindred; though perhaps the latter rather sprung from Arphacsad; he urges the conversation which passed between Abraham’s s ervant and Nahor’s family, when he was sent thither to take a wife for Isaac, and what passed between the men of Haran, Nahor’s city, and Jacob, and between him and Rachel and Laban, in which there appeared to be no difficulty of understanding one another. All which is true, and yet the language might not be exactly the same; the Chaldee being a dialect of the Hebrew, might be understood by the Hebrews, especially in those earlier and purer times, when the deviation from the Hebrew might not be so great as afterwards; and yet it is certain that Jacob and Laban used a different language, at the time of their covenanting together, and gave different names to the heap which was the witness between them, though to the same sense. This learned writer indeed thinks that the Chaldean name of it was given by anticipation, and that it was called so by Laban’s sons afterwards, which being known to Moses , he inserted it: but be it so, that will prove the difference of that language in the times of Moses at least, and which, in the times of Hezekiah, appears to be still more different from the Hebrew, since the common people among the Jews understood it not, 2 Kings 18:26, and in the times of the captivity, some of the Hebrews, carried captive, were taught the Chaldean tongue, Daniel 1:4, and the difference between that and the Hebrew may be seen in the books of Daniel and Ezra, yea, it is called a language not known nor understood by the Jews, Jeremiah 5:15, now from the sameness of language, as this writer supposes, he proceeds to argue the sameness of character, which however probable it may be thought to be, it is not conclusive. The Syriac and Chaldee are nearer to each other, than either to the Hebrew, and yet their characters are very different, at least as we now have them. But what this learned writer seems chiefly to depend upon, and what he thinks to be greatly to his purpose is, the instance of Cyrus being able to read the prophecies in Isaiah, concerning himself, according to Josephus; which he imagines he could not have done, if the Chaldee and Hebrew characters were not the same. He supposes he understood the Chaldee language, and could read that, having been some time in the court of Darius; but that is not quite certain, since at his taking of Babylon it does not appear that the Chaldee tongue was much known in his army; for he then gave orders, according to Xenophon , to those who understood the Syrian or Chaldee language to proclaim that such of the inhabitants that were found in the streets, should be slain, but those that kept within doors should be safe; and it was immediately after this, even in the first year of his reign with Darius, that he gave liberty to the Jews to return to their own land, when he had knowledge of the prophecy of Isaiah concerning himself; and besides, why may he not be thought to know the Hebrew character also as well as the Chaldee, supposing them different? he was a very enterprising prince and had conquered many nations, and might be master of many languages, as Mithridates king of Pontus was, and especially of the Hebrew, if what is said by an Arabic writer is true, that he married the sister of Zerubbabel, and his mother also is said to be a Jewess; and after all, the whole depends upon the testimony of Josephus, that he did read the prophecy of Isaiah, who produces no authority for it; and if he did read it, it might be through an interpreter, or as translated for him, supposing him ignorant of the Hebrew language and its character: and it can hardly be thought that when the same Josephus s ays that Alexander was shown the prophecy in Daniel concerning himself, that he understood Hebrew, or the language in which it was written, but that it was read and interpreted to him. There is a passage I confess in Josephus; which makes the Hebrew and Syriac character very similar; for according to him, Demetrius the librarian of Ptolemy Philadelphus told the king when he acquainted him with the Jewish writings, that their character was very much like to the Syriac letters, and were pronounced like to them; but according to Aristaeus , and whose words are also preferred in Eusebius, Demetrius said very much the contrary; that the Jews, as the Egyptians, had a peculiar character, and a peculiar pronunciation; some think they used the Syriac, but it is not so, lays he, it is in another form and manner.
Thus have I traced the Hebrew letters and characters from the beginning of them to the times of Ezra, when the supposed change took place; what I undertook to show was no more than that it is probable that the ancient letters of the Jews, and which they have always retained, are the square letters, as they are commonly called, or those in which the sacred scriptures are now extant; and I think I have made it appear to be probable. I lay no stress on the pillars of Seth, nor the tables of Cainan, and the writing of Enoch, nor the letters of the law, and the fancies of the Jews about them and the manna, nor upon any inscription on sepulchral monuments; but I think it is probable, that as the first language men spoke and was after the confusion of tongues called the Hebrew language, to distinguish it from others, if there were letters before that confusion, as it seems reasonable to suppose there were, they were such as were proper and peculiar to it, and it is probable that they afterwards continued in it; and whereas the alphabet of the Hebrew language appears to be the first of the oriental languages, from whence the rest have the names, order, and number of their letters, it is probable, yea it seems more than probable, that the letters of the Hebrew alphabet were those of the square kind, since to them only the names of the letters in their signification correspond: it is probable that the law of the ten commands, was written and given in those characters, and not in the Samaritan; it is more probable the letters on the written mountains, supposed to be written by the Israelites in the wilderness, when encamped, and on their travels there, were of the same kind, rather than of the Samaritan, or any other; it is probable, that the letters on the plate of gold the high priest wore on his forehead were the same as now in use; and that Moses wrote his Pentateuch, in the same character; that Isaiah also wrote his prophecies in the same; and that the book of Daniel, and particularly the hand-writing that terrified Belshazzar, were written in the same; nor is there any just reason to believe that the Jews ever had any other sort of letters, nor that Ezra changed their ancient ones for those; for, as has been already observed, he never would have done it without a divine command, which it does not appear he had; and if he would have done it, and had had ever such an inclination to it, he never could have done it; nor is it credible that the Jews in Babylon so forgot their language, and their letters, as to make such a change necessary, which is suggested. Can it be thought that the men who remembered the first temple in its glory, and wept at laying the foundation of the second, Ezra 3:12, should forget their language and the alphabet of it, when the greater part were only fifty-two years there? for the seventy years are to be reckoned from the fourth of Jehoiakim, eighteen years before the destruction of the city and temple by Nebuchadnezzar, and their being carried captive by him into Babylon; where they lived together in bodies, did not mix with the Chaldaeans, nor intermarry with them, and conversed together in their own language, had their sacred books in it to read, held a correspondence with Jeremiah by letters, at the first of the captivity, and had the ministry and sermons of Ezekiel to attend upon in it <260101>Ezekiel 1:1, and 3:15, and 30:30, 33. <242901>Jeremiah 29:1, 25, 31, nor is it true that their language was corrupted in Babylon; the captives that returned spoke the language of the Jews purely, only the children of some few, whose fathers had married wives, not in Babylon, but women of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab, after the return from the captivity, who spoke half in the language of those people, for which Nehemiah reproved them; and this shows it was not a general thing: and certain it is that the prophets Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi wrote in pure Hebrew, as it was in the days of Moses; the same roots, prefixes, suffixes, idioms, constructions, and terminations, are to be observed in them as in the Pentateuch of Moses. Upon the whole, the Jews certainly spoke the Hebrew language after their return from the captivity, and some when they came back to Persia again, in Nehemiah’s time; nor had he forgot it, nor disused it, for walking before Susa , the chief city of Persia, as Josephus relates, he overheard some strangers lately come from Jerusalem discoursing together in the Hebrew tongue, and understanding them, he asked the questions as in Nehemiah 1:2, he himself wrote in Hebrew, as did Ezra, not only his own book, but the books of Chronicles, as is supposed; yea, some of the Psalms were written after the return from the captivity, as Psalm 126, 137, and even as late as the times of Antiochus Epiphanes, and all in pure Hebrew. Daniel in the captivity wrote in Hebrew, excepting what concerned the Chaldaeans; and so did Ezekiel.
The book of Esther, s upposed to be written by Mordecai, was written in pure Hebrew; and if Ahasuerus was Xerxes, it must be written many years after the captivity; and in his time, <198801>Psalm 88, is by some thought to be written. It is the nature and glory of the Hebrew language to have been always constant and invariable, and so it is probable its letters were; the Jews glory in their sacred writings, that no innovation was ever made in them. Josephus s ays, “it is manifest in fact in what veneration and credit we have our letters or books; for though so many ages are past, (as almost years, as he says) yet no man has dared to add any thing to them, nor to take any thing from them, nor to change them:” it is plain from hence, that this historian knew nothing of the change of the letters of the sacred writings made by Ezra, which must be an innovation in them. Philo the Jew, s ays “our law only is firm, unmoveable, unshaken, sealed as it were with the seals of nature; it remains firmly from the time it was written, until now; and it is to be hoped it will remain immortal throughout all ages, as long as do the sun and moon, the whole heaven, and the world.”
The eighth article of the Jewish creed runs thus: “I believe with a perfect faith, i.e. sincerely, that the whole law which is now in our hands, is that which was given to Moses our master, on whom be peace, without any change and alteration;” but we have a greater testimony than these, of the unalterableness of the law, and even of the letters in which it was written, the words of Christ in Matthew 5:18, for verily I say unto you, ’till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled; which though it is not to be understood of the bare letter Yod, which as it is sometimes redundant, so in some places wanting, as in 1 Samuel 21:2, 2 Samuel 16:23, and 21:8, Nehemiah 12:46, and though it is a proverbial expression, signifying the unchangeableness and unalterableness of the law, with respect to the least precept in it; yet it is founded upon, and is an allusion to the writing of the law, and the letters of it; not to any copy of it in any language whatever; but to the original writing of it, and its letters, in which it had continued unto his time, and in which the Iota or Yod is the least of the letters; and therefore could have no respect to the Samaritan copy of the law, in which language it is not the least letter, but a very large one; which has besides the stroke above, three large prongs, descending from it, each of which is as large again as the Hebrew Yod; which is so small, that Irenaeus calls it half a letter; and to which our Lord manifestly refers: and this makes it at least highly probable, that the law was originally written not in the Samaritan, but in the square Hebrew letters, which had unalterably remained unto the times of Christ; all which make it greatly probable, that the Jews only had one sort of letters, which always remained with them, and are what are extant to this day. Bianconi, the learned writer before-mentioned, is quite clear in it, that the Hebrew letters were never changed by Ezra, nor by any public authority; and which he judges improbable, since neither he nor Josephus make mention of any such change; and from the great numbers of Jews left in the land at the captivity, and the return of multitudes from it; and from Ezra’s coming to them with a large number also, and that sixty or eighty years after the return of the first; and from the prophecies of Haggai and Zechariah, and from the shekels in the times of the Maccabees, which supposing such a change would have been not in the Samaritan, but in the square character; and from the unlikelihood of a conquered people taking the characters of an enemy’s language, and quitting their own, and that after they had been many years delivered from them. He supposes, that the Hebrews, Chaldaeans, Phoenicians, and Samaritans, had all the same characters originally, and that there was a change made among the Jews long after the times of Ezra, from the ancient character to the square one; and that it began in the shekels, in the time of the Maccabees, in which he observed a mixture of the ancient and modern characters, and supposes, that by little and little the change was made, from frequent transcribing the Bible, and daily writing; and that the modern letters were gradually formed from use, and the swift manner of writing, and for the convenience of it: but it does not seem probable that a character should be mended through swiftness of writing, and that such a grand, majestic, regular, and wellformed character, as the square letter is, should be produced in that way; but rather that the ill-shaped, ragged, rough, and deformed Samaritan character, should spring from thence; and which seems to be the fact, but not so late as the times of the Maccabees; but as early as the division and dispersion of the nations, in the times of Peleg; so Gaffarellus observes, that the Samaritan characters are corrupted from the Hebrew; and he adds, this is so certain a truth, as that it is a point of infinite perverseness to offer to doubt of it. According to Dr. Bernard’s table of alphabets, called Orbis eruditi Literatura a charactere Samaritico deducta, it has been thought, that the letters of all nations must have sprung from the Samaritan character; but this seems to depend much on fancy and imagination; and I am inclined to think, that all are deducible from the Hebrew square character, the Assyrian first, then the Phoenician, from that the Greek, and so on; according to Hermannus Hugo, the Hebrew letters (the present ones) were the first; next sprung from them the Chaldaean letters, which he says are scarce extant; then the Assyrian, or Babylonian, and the Syriac, or Aramaean, and from the Syriac, the Samaritan.
THE principal argument by which the hypothesis opposed, is supported, is taken from some coins or shekels, said to be dug up in Judea, with these words on them, Jerusalem the holy, and the shekel of Israel, the letters of which, it is asserted, agree, in form, with the Samaritan. Now as the Samaritans, because of their aversion to the Jews, and the ten tribes after their reparation from the other two, had nothing to do with Jerusalem, nor any esteem for it, neither of them can be thought to strike these pieces; and it is inferred from hence, that they must have belonged to the Jews before the captivity, and to the Israelites before the reparation of the ten tribes; and consequently the Samaritan letters, supposed to be the same with those on the coins, were the ancient Hebrew characters, and in which the books of the Old Testament were written; and this argument is thought to be unanswerable: but it should be observed, that the letters on the most unexceptionable of these coins differ considerably from those in the Samaritan Pentateuch, and seem to resemble, in some instances, the Hebrew almost as much as the Samaritan; and besides the oldest of them do not precede the settlement of the high-priesthood in the Asmoncean family, and were not much above one hundred and fifty years before the aera of Christ, and some of them are later; to which may be added, there are coins, both silver and brass, with inscriptions in the square character, which according to them are much more ancient than the other, and so prove the superior antiquity of the square character to that of the Samaritan. Rab. Azariah s ays, that he saw among some ancient coins at Mantua, a silver coin which had on one side of it the form of a man’s head, and round about it, King Solomon, in the holy tongue, and square writing, and on the other side the form of the temple, and round about it written the temple of Solomon; and Hottinger affirms, he saw one of the same sort in the collection of the Elector Palatine. The Jews in their Talmud, s peak of a Jerusalem coin, which had David and Solomon on one side, and the words, Jerusalem, the holy city, on the other side; and of a coin of Abraham’s, having on one side, the Hebrew words for an old man and an old woman, and on the other side, those, for a young man and a young woman; and the learned Christopher Wagenseil assures us, he had both these coins in his own possession, of which he gives the figures with the words on them, in the square letters; besides Abraham, the Jews speak of three more, that coined money, Joshua, David, and Mordecai; the coin of Joshua had on one side a bullock, and on the other, an unicorn. See Deuteronomy 33:17, that of David’s had a staff and scrip on one side, and a tower on the other; that of Mordecai’s had sackcloth and ashes on one side, and crown of glory on the other; elsewhere it is said, it had Mordecai on one side, and Esther on the other: there was also a coin of Moses; I myself have seen a coin of his, having on one side, his face, with his ears horned, like rams horns, and underneath is the word hçm , in square characters, and on the other side, the first commandment, in the same character, dl hyhy al and thou shalt have no other God before me; and which exactly agrees with one Mr. Selden had in his possession, found among some rubbish at Shene in Surry. It will be said, these coins are spurious; the same may be, and is said of those that have the Samaritan characters on them; nor is there any reason to believe that those shekels or coins which have on them, Jerusalem the holy, and the shekel of Israel, are any of them indisputably genuine. Ottius and Reland, who have applied themselves closely to the study of those coins, have as good as confessed it; and Spanheim, by what he has said, appears to be in a very great doubt about it. The celebrated Charles Patin, so famous for his skill in coins and medals, and who had free access to the cabinets of all the princes in Europe, declared many years ago to the learned Christopher Wagenseil with great assurance, that he never found in those collections, an Hebrew coin, but what was manifestly spurious: wherefore these coins are not to be depended on, nor can any sufficient argument be drawn from them in favor of any hypothesis. Moreover, it has been said; that the ancient Hebrew or Samaritan characters, were given to the Cuthites or Samaritans, and left with them out of hatred to them, and that the square letters in the times of E zra were chosen, taken, and retained by the Jews for their use; but then how comes it to pass that the Samaritan characters were re-assumed and inscribed on the coins three hundred years after, namely, on those of Simon the high priest, of Jonathan his brother, and of John Hyrcanus, his son, as the coins published by Mr. Swinton show? and by John Hyrcanus, the last of these, Samaria was destroyed, the temple in Gerizzim demolished, after it had stood two hundred years, and the Samaritans made tributary to the Jews; and it is observable, that upon the coin of Hyrcanus, on one side are Samaritan letters, and on the other Greek letters, and which was usual with the Carthaginians, Syrians, and Sidonians; and there is an instance of it in a coin of Demetrius: and by the way, this furnishes us with an answer to a question of Bianconi, who asks, why the Maccabees did not put Greek letters on their money, a well known custom in that age, and common to all the east, for it seems he never saw any; and adds, that Jewish coins with two sorts of letters were never seen. But to proceed; from the different letters on the coin of Hyrcanus, from the one, it can no more be inferred, that Samaritan letters were in use among the Jews, than that from the other, Greek letters were; and though I profess no skill in coins, I should think that the reason of those different characters were designed by Hyrcanus as an insult on both people, and as a triumph over them, and to perpetuate the same of his conquests both over the Samaritans and the Greeks, or Syro Macedonians: however, it appears, that from these coins no argument can be taken to support the hypothesis, that the ancient Hebrew characters were the Samaritan; and indeed it is entirely inconsistent with it; for how does it appear that those letters were left to the Samaritans, and others taken by the Jews? and it is also clear that there is no necessity to give into the notion of a twofold character in use with the Jews, the one sacred, in which their holy books were written, namely, the square character; and the other common, used in coins and civil affairs, as the Samaritan; to which some Jews and christians seem to have been led by the above coins; for though the Egyptians had their sacred characters and their common ones, and so had the Greeks yet not the Jews, whole priests had no jiggling tricks to play, as the priers of Egypt and Greece had; and though some later Jews have given into the notion of a double character, as in use formerly, yet it is not mentioned in their ancient writings, as if they had one for the sanctuary and sacred uses, and another for common use; the only place I have met with, that seems to favor it, is the Targum of Jonathan, on Genesis 32:2. “and he called the name of the place in the language of the holy house, Mahanaim ,” which is not to be rendered the language of the house of the sanctuary, or the temple, as by some, since that is usually called, çdqm tyb or açdqwm , as in Genesis 28:17,22, and not açdwq tyb as here; but the language of the holy house, or family, the people of God, that is, the Hebrew tongue; to which may be added, an ancient writer among the christians, Irenaeus, who says, that “the ancient and first letters of the Hebrews, and called sacerdotal , are ten in number;” but that he means to distinguish them from any other letters or characters, used by the Hebrews, does not appear; besides, he speaks only of ten, and what he means is not easy to say; however, by them he cannot mean the Samaritan letters, because among these letters he reckons the Yod, which he calls half a letter, which cannot agree with the Samaritan Yod, but does with that of the square character.