On the Hebrew Letters, Vowel Points, & Accents
by John Gill, D.D.
Concerning the Original of the Samaritans, their Language and Letters
HAVING, in the preceding Chapter, shown that it is probable that the Hebrews always had the same letters, without any material change or alteration, and which have been retained by them, and are in use to this day; I shall endeavor, in this chapter, to make it appear as probable, that the Samaritans always had distinct letters from the Jews, and retained them; so that there never was any commutation of letters between them: and in order to set this in as clear a light as I can, it may be proper to inquire into the original of letters, and particularly of the Samaritans.
It is highly probable that there were letters before the flood, as already hinted, and so before the confusion of tongues, which, as the first language they belonged to, were pure and uncorrupt, and the original of others, which first letters were the Hebrew, that being the first tongue, as Hermannus Hugo observes; nor, as he adds, did the figures of letters begin to differ before the diversity of languages at Babel. But my enquiry is, concerning the first letters after the division of tongues; and there are claimed by various nations: some say they were the invention of the Egyptians, others of the Phoenicians, and others of the Chaldaeans. f221 Many ascribe the invention of letters to the Egyptians, to the Thoth, Taautus, the Mercury of the Egyptians, as Sanchoniatho, Gellius, f223 and others, as some in Plato; but Pliny says the Phoenicians bear away the glory of it; and if fame is to be credited, as Lucan expresses it, they were the first that dared to mark words by figures. Suidas ascribes the invention of letters to them, and so does Mela; but Vossius, in his observations on him, is of opinion, that by letters he means numbers, and that Arithmetic and Astronomy were the invention of the Phoenicians, which need the assistance of numbers; and perhaps the true reason why letters have been thought to be found out by them is, because they first brought them into Greece; but as Dr. Cumberland remarks, the Chaldaeans and Assyrians will not grant them this honor, but contend for an earlier invention of them, and that the inventors lived among them, and not in Phoenicia, nor in Egypt; and Pliny is of opinion, that the Assyrian letters were always, or that the Assyrians always had letters; which he confirms by the testimonies of Epigenes, Berosus and Gritodemus, who say, they had observations of the stars inscribed on bricks, for a long course of years past; as they might have from the beginning of their nation, or nearly, and which was very early: it was in their country the confusion of tongues was made; and their language comes near to the Hebrew, the first and pure language, from which theirs is a deviation; and so their letters might be taken from theirs, though greatly corrupted. Elias observes that the Syrian language is nearest to the holy, or Hebrew language, of all languages; and quotes Aben Ezra as of opinion that the Syrian language is no other than the holy tongue corrupted; which corruption Elias thinks took place after Abraham departed from Chaldea, though perhaps it might be sooner; so Ephrem Syrus, who well understood that language, says, that the Syrian language has an affinity with the Hebrew, and in some respects nearer reaches the sense of the scriptures; and R. David Ganz observes, that those who were nearest to the place where the confusion was made, were purer and nearer to the holy tongue, as the Syrians and Arabians; the Assyrian, Chaldee, and Syrian language and letters were the same; and they are of great affinity, if not the same, with the old Phoenician, now called the Samaritan, as will be seen hereafter; and the ducts of their letters may well be thought to be had from the Hebrew; but as the Assyrians are the first the heathen writers had knowledge of, to them they impute the original of letters, as many do. Diodorus Siculus relates, that some say the Syrians (that is, the Assyrians) were the inventors of letters; and Eusebius also observes the same, that some say, the Syrians first devised letters; and he seems willing to allow it, provided that by Syrians are meant Hebrews; but no doubt those writers intended the Syrians or Assyrians, commonly so called: some, in Clemens of Alexandria, join the Assyrians and Phoenicians together, as the inventors of letters; but the real fact seems to be as follows:
THE Phoenicians received their letters from the Assyrians or Syrians, and not from the Hebrews, as some have thought; not from Abraham the ancestor of them, who, according to Suidas, invented the holy letters and language, the knowledge of which he says, the Hebrews had, as being his disciples and posterity: that he invented the letters and language, may be doubted; but that he spoke it is not be questioned, since he was fortyeight years of age, when the confusion of tongues was made, as before observed, and therefore spoke the pure language; yea, Elias Levita f239 s ays, it was clear to him that language was confounded immediately after he went from Chaldea, and that he and his ancestors spoke the holy tongue as received from Adam, to Noah, which may be admitted; but it cannot by any means be admitted, that when he came among the Canaanites, that he either learned the primitive or Hebrew language from them, as some have fancied, which they neither had, nor he needed, since he spoke it before; or that he taught it them. Eupolemus and Artapanus, who say, that Abraham taught the Phoenicians Astronomy, yet don’t pretend that he taught them letters; nor is there any foundation for the one or the other, since he chose not to have such a free conversation and society with them as these required, who would not so much as bury his dead with them, nor suffer his son to intermarry with them; and the like precaution Isaac his son took with respect to Jacob, who for some years was out of the land, and when he returned, was but a sojourner in it, as his fathers had been; and after awhile went down with his posterity into Egypt, where they abode at least two hundred years; and when they came from thence, and after forty years travel in the wilderness, and entered the land of Canaan, the inhabitants were either destroyed by them, or they fled before them, and even at the report of their coming; and so had no time to learn a language of them, or receive letters from them. Cadmus, the Phoenician, whom Isocrates calls the Sidonian, is generally supposed to go from Phoenicia to Greece, in the times of Joshua, whither he carried letters, and therefore must be possessed of them before Joshua entered Canaan; he is said to come to Rhodes in Greece, and at Lindus to offer to Lindia Minerva a brass pot with Phoenician letters on it; and the huge serpents, who, upon his coming thither, are said to waste that country, seem to be no other than the Hivites, the same with the Cadmonites, Genesis 15:19, which the word Hivites signifies, whom Cadmus brought with him thither. Others of the Phoenicians or Canaanites fled into Africa , f244 particularly the Girgasites, as is asserted in the Jerusalem Talmud, and is confirmed by Procopius, who says they came into Numidia, where they had a garrison in the place where in his time was the city of Tingis (now called Tangier) , where they erected two pillars of white stone, then in being, A. D. 540, which he himself saw and read, on which in Phoenician letters were written, “we are they that fled from the face of Jesus, (or Joshua) the robber, the son of Nave (or Nun) .” Suidas s ays, it was written, we are the Canaanites; which is a full proof they had letters before the times of Joshua, and did not learn them of the Israelites when they came into Canaan; besides, it is clear from the scriptures also, that they had letters before that time, as appears from the names of some cities among them, particularly Debir, which in the Persian language, as Kimchi from the Rabbins s ays, signifies a book; and which place was also called Kirjath-Sannah, and Kirjath-Sepher, which signify, that it was a city where either there was an academy for the instruction of persons, or a library of books, or where the archives of the country were kept, a city of Archives, as the Targum, which supposes letters; and the Septuagint render it a city of letters, Joshua 15:49, from all which it seems plain, that the Phoenicians or Canaanites did not receive letters from the Hebrews, but rather from the Assrians or Syrians.
THE Assyrians or Syrians, though they may be distinguished, the one having their name from Ashur, a son of Shem, and the other from Aram, a younger son of his, Genesis 10:22, hence they are called in Strabo f249 Aramaeans or Arimei; and in the times of Ahaz king of Judah there were both a king of Assyria, and a king of Syria, yet these two names are often confounded, and indifferently used by the ancients, as if the same people, Syria being commonly thought to be a contraction of Assyria; so Lucian of Samosata in Syria, calls himself an Assyrian, and on the other hand, Tatian the Assyrian, is called by Clemens of Alexandria, a Syrian; these countries being contiguous, yea, the one a part of the other, they may very well be called the one and the other; the Syrians, according to Suidas, have their name from the Assyrians; hence Isidore says, whom the ancients called Assyrians we call Syrians; so Justin remarks, that the Assyrians, who were afterwards called Syrians, held the empire three hundred years; and the same people who, according to Herodotus, were by the Greeks called Syrians, are by the Barbarians called Assyrians, among whom were the Chaldeans; and Strabo observes, f257 that Semiramis and Ninus were called Syrians, by the one Babylon the royal city was built, and by the other Nineveh, the metropolis of Assyria; and that the same language was used both without and within the Euphrates, that is, by the Syrians s trictly so called, and by the Babylonians or Chaldaeans: and it need not seem strange that the Phoenicians s hould receive their letters from these people, since they were their neighbors, and lived so near them. Herodotus s peaks of them as springing out of Syria, and dwelling in Syria, and of Phoenicians and Syrians as together in Palestine. Phoenicia is often described as included in Syria, and as a part of it; so Diodorus Siculus , speaking of Coele-Syria, adds, in which Phenicia is comprehended; and Strabo s ays, some divide all Syria into Coele-Syrians and Phoenicians; and Clemens of Alexandria calls Phoenicia, Phoenicia of the Syrians; and Isidore observes, that Syria has in it, the provinces Comagene, Phoenicia, and Palestine; so Pliny: f264 Philo the Jew asserts, that Phoenicia, Coele-Syria, and Palestine, went by the common name of Canaan in the times of Moses ; and the Phoenicians and Assyrians are reckoned as one by Macrobius ; with all which agree some passages of scripture; the woman of Canaan, in Matthew 15:22, is called a Syro-Phoenician in Mark 7:26, so the disciples are said to fail into Syria, and land at Tyre the chief city in Phoenicia, Acts 21:3, and as their country was much the same, so their manners; hence the proverb, “the Syrians against the Poenicians, ” s ignifying, their being alike as to temper and behavior; their religion and deities were the same; the rites of Adonis were common to them both; Adad, the god of the Assyrians, is the same with the Adodus of the Phoenicians ; so that, all things considered, it may well be thought they had the same language and letters, or nearly the same. Annius of Viterbo affirms, that the ancient Assyrian and Phoenician letters were the same, who certainly was a man of learning, for the times he lived in, and very inquisitive, however culpable he might be in publishing some fragments as genuine, thought to be spurious; on which account perhaps he has been a little too severely treated by critics, as Dr. Clayton late bishop of Clogher has observed; and who is of opinion, that his fragment of Berosus, so much complained of, ought not to be entirely rejected as spurious; and the same writer says, that the first Phoenix, from whom the Phoenicians had their name, and the first Cadmus from whom the Greeks had their letters, sprung from Syria; which Phoenix, who is said by him to reign in Sidon, according to Sanchoniatho , was no other than Canaan the son of Ham; for he says, that “one of these (the Phoenicians) Isiris was the inventor of three letters, the brother of Chna (or Canaan) who was first called Phoenix. ” THE old Canaanitish or Phoenician language, and also the Punic, were the same; hence Austin says, that the country-people living near him, who were a colony of the Phoenicians, when asked who they were, used to answer, in the Punic language, Chanani, Canaanites. Now, though this language was near the Hebrew language, so that the Hebrews and Canaanites could converse together as to understand one another, which appears from Abraham’s conversation with them, Genesis 14:18-24, and 23:3-16, and from the conversation of the Hebrew s pies with Rahab the Canaanite, Joshua 2:9-21, and from the names the Canaanites imposed on their cities before they came into the hands of the Hebrews, as is evident from the books of Joshua and Judges, unless those names were given them by Eber and his sons, who dwelt here before the Canaanites, as Dr. Lightfoot s uggests; yet the language was not altogether the same, it differed much, and especially in after-times, and particularly in their colonies, where it had the name of the Punic. Austin having remarked, that the Hebrews call Christ Messiah, observes, that “the word agrees with the Punic language, as very many Hebrew words, and almost all do;” which may be true of proper names in particular, but not of words in general. St. Jerom, who understood the Hebrew language better than Austin, affirms, that the Canaanitish or Punic language was bordering near unto the Hebrew, and in a great part near unto it; he does not say, as Fuller observes, in the greatest part, nor almost in every part, and still less in every part, but in a great part; and so Origen asserts, that the Hebrew language differs both from the Syrian and the Phoenician.
Jerom in one place says, that the Canaanitish or Punic language is a middle language between the Egyptian and the Hebrew. Salmasius f282 s uggests as if some thought that the Punic and Egyptian languages were the same; which can by no means be admitted.
IT seems most probable what Jerom elsewhere observes, that the Canaanitish or Phoenician language is the Syrian, or nearly that; and Austin affirms, that the Hebrew, Punic, and Syrian languages are very near a-kin; and most of the words which he makes mention of as Punic, are plainly Chaldee or Syriac; so mammon, he says, is the word for gain, in the Punic language, and is the Syriac word used for riches in the time of Christ, Luke 16:9, hence with the Phoenicians is the name of a man Abdamamon, which signifies a servant of mammon, riches wealth, or gain. See Matthew 6:24, so he says blood, in the Punic language is called Edom; now in the Hebrew tongue it is Dam; but in the Chaldee or Syriac tongue, it is, µda , or µdya , which are frequently used in the Chaldee paraphrases: he also observes Baal in the Punic tongue, signifies Lord, and Samen heaven, and both together, Lord of heaven, which with Sanchoniatho a Phoenician writer, is a deity of the Phoenicians; and so Balsamen in the Poenulus of Plautus, is manifestly of a Chaldee or Syriac termination: the above Phoenician writer speaks of a sort of intelligible animals, whom he calls Zophasemin, and which Philo Byblius, who translated his work out of the Phoenician language into Greek, interprets seers, or contemplators of the heavens, which word also, is plainly in the Chaldee or Syriac dialect; and Kircher affirms, that he had in his possession a fragment of Sanchoniatho, written in the Aramaean or Syrian language. The Maltese, or the inhabitants of the island called Melita, <442801>Acts 28:1, a colony of the Phoenicians as Diodorus Siculus affirms; have in their language a great deal of the old Phoenician or Punic unto this day; and it is observable, that their numerals from two to eleven, end in a , and from twenty to an hundred, in in; f294 which are exactly the terminations of the same numbers in the Chaldee or Syriac dialect. The Carthaginians were another colony of the Phoenicians, and the old name of the city of Carthage was Cartheda; which, as Solinus s ays, in the Phoenician language, signifies the new city, being composed of atrq Kartha a city, and atrj new, which are both Chaldee words. There was a city in Canaan, or old Phoenicia, called Hadattah , or Hazor-Hadattah , New Hazor, Joshua 15:25, and another city there is called Kerioth: another name of Carthage we meet with in Plautus , appears to be of Phoenician original, Chadreanac, the chambers, lodging, or seat of Anak, that is, the Anakim, s uch as were in old Canaan; though, according to Dr. Hyde, the word signifies, as he conjectures, the new city also: and Bochart has observed many words in the Punic of Plautus, which are in the Syrian dialect; and there are several words in different authors said to be Punic or Phoenician, which are manifestly Chaldee or Syriac. Plutarch says, the Phoenicians call an ox Thor, which is the word used in Chaldee for it. Jonah’s gourd, according to Jerom, was called Elkeroa in the Syriac and Punic language, as if they were the same. Sanctius observes, that in Spain a garden is called by a Punic name Carmen, which signifies a vineyard, though set with other trees; which Punic word, he makes no doubt (as he need not) comes from the Hebrew word Cerem, a vineyard, and which in the Chaldee language in the plural number is Cermin; and Charmis is the name of a city given by the Phoenicians, because of the multitude of vines about it. Isidore, says the Phoenicians call a new village Magar; the word is used by Plautus in his Paenulus, where it signifies a place in Carthage, some public building there, and it is the same with the Syriac word Magar, which signifies an habitation; so Anna in Virgil, the sister of Dido, or Elisa , who were both Phoenicians, and daughters of Pygmalion king of Tyre, is the Syriac name for Hannah. See Luke 2:36. Gades or Cadiz, corruptly called Cales, which belongs to Spain, the Phoenicians called Gadir or Gadira, which in the Punic language signifies an hedge, as is observed by many, and so it does in Chaldee; the reason of which name is, because that place was hedged about on all sides by the sea: the Syriac word Korban, used by the Jews in Christ’s time for an oath, Mark 7:11, is said by Theophrastus to signify the same in the Punic language; and Lachman is used by Athenaeus for bread, which the Syrians so call, and which in Syria is the best bread; and by the Syrians and Syria, he means Phoenicians and Phoenicia, where it seems it was so called, and is manifestly a Chaldee word; as is the word Nabla, the name of a musical instrument, said by him to be an invention of the Phoenicians; as Sambuca is of the Syrians, called the Phoenician lyre, the same with the Chaldee Sabbeca, Daniel 3:5, there rendered Sackbut.
Pausanias uses this as a proof that Cadmus was not an Egyptian, but a Phoenician; because Minerva is not called by the Egyptian word Sais, but by the Phoenician word Siga, which comes from the Chaldee or Syriac word ags to increase or be increased; from all which it appears, that the Chaldee or Syrian language and the Phoenician are nearly the same, and so the letters may be supposed to be.
LET it be further observed, that the Greeks had their letters from the Phoenicians, at least sixteen or seventeen of them, which Cadmus, some say Linus, brought out of Phoenicia into Greece; which, without mentioning their number, is asserted by Herodotus who says, they were called Cadmeian and Phoenician letters, and that he saw some of them at Thebes in Boeotia, engraved on some Tripods there, and that they were greatly like the Ionic letters; the same says Diodorus Siculus of the original and names of those letters, and relates, that the brass pot Cadmus offered to Minerva Lindia, had an inscription of Phoenician letters on it: the Greeks therefore, themselves, acknowledge, that they had their letters from the Phoenicians, as the above writers affirm, and so Euphorus, f315 Zenodotus, and others; hence Josephus observes, that they glory in it, that they received them from them; so that this is a matter out of question: and Bianconi is of opinion, that the ancient Greeks used the very letters of the Phoenicians; and indeed this seems to be the meaning of Herodotus, in the place before referred to; and Dictys Cretensis is said f319 to have written his history of the Trojan wars, in the Greek language, but in Phoenician letters; and so Linus and Orpheus wrote in the letters of the Pelasgi, the same with the Phoenician, as says Diodorus; and the Greeks formerly wrote as the Phoenicians did, from the right to the left, for in this form was the name of Agamemnon written, on his statue at Olympia; and thus wrote the Etrusci, who had their letters from the Greeks, whose ancient language was the Aramaean or Syrian ; f323 which way of writing by the Greeks, was gradually by little and little disused, and issued in a form like that of the plowing of oxen, called bouvrofhdon , in which manner the laws of Solon were written, as appears from Suidas and Harpocratian ; that is alternately, from the right to the left. Now as the Greeks received their letters from the Phoenicians, and there is a similarity of the letters of the one to those of the other, as it is reasonable to suppose there should, and as Herodotus, upon his own fight, affirms there was, as before observed, nay, were the same; so there is a great likeness between the Greek and the present Samaritan letters; as the Samaritans wrote from the right hand towards the left, if the position of the Samaritan letters be inverted for that purpose, as Mr. Bedford remarks, the letters will appear to be the same; or, however, very much alike: the use to be made of this will soon and easily be perceived; for, as Bochart reasons, this being the case, it follows that the Samaritan characters are the very same which were used in Phoenicia in the times of Cadmus; and it is acknowledged by many learned men, that the letters or characters of the ancient Canaanites, that is, the Phoenicians, were either the same with, or very like to the Samaritan characters, or that the old Phoenician letters, and the Samaritan are very similar, and nearly the same, so that they may be reckoned the same; and whereas the Phoenicians received their letters from the Assyrians, or Chaldeans, it follows that the Samaritan letters being so like the Phoenician, must be the same, or near the same, with the old Assyrian and Chaldean characters; and that the people who are properly called Samaritans, had both their language and their letters from the Chaldeans or Syrians, will appear probable from the original of them, next to be considered.
IT is amazing to me, that some learned men should make the ten tribes of Israel that revolted under Jeroboam, the original of the Samaritans.
Samaria indeed was built in the times of Omri, a successor of his, and not before, and by him, between whom and Jeroboam, reigned Nadab, Baasha, Elah and Zimri, and this city also became the metropolis of the ten tribes, and was inhabited only by Israelites, though never from hence were called Samaritans, but Israel or Ephraim; nor had they any more connection with the people after called Samaritans than with the Scythians and Tartars; for it was not till after the Israelites were carried captive into Assyria, that those, after called Samaritans, were sent as a colony from thence to repeople Samaria, which was entirely stripped of its inhabitants by the king of Ass yria; nor does it appear that those who were left in the land of Israel had any society with this new colony, or mixed with them, either in civil or religious things, but returned, at least, many of them, to the pure worship of God, and joined with the tribe of Judah, and put themselves under the government of the kings of it, and went with that tribe captive into Babylon. Nor is it clear that either those of the ten tribes, or those of the two tribes, had anything to do with these Samaritans, for three hundred years after their first settlement in Samaria, nor they with them; even until they were joined by some renegade Jews in the times of Manasseh the priest, for whom a temple was built in Gerrizzim by Sanballat; the only instance is of the priest sent from Assyria to teach them the worship of the God of the land, which they very coolly and hypocritically received, still continuing in the idolatry they brought with them, and in which they continued to the times of E zra, 2 Kings 17:27, 28, 29, 33, 44, on which account the Israelites that were left in the land were obliged to keep at a distance from them, even when they first came among them, for had they joined them, it may reasonably be thought, there would have been a priest, who, though of Jeroboam’s religion, could have instructed them as well as the priest sent from among the captives in Assyria, who also must have been of the same sort: now, either there were no priests left in the land, or, if there were, they had not joined the Samaritans, and though they had officiated in Jerobo am’s idolatry, did not choose to join them in theirs; and certain it is, that in the times of Ezra and Nehemiah, the Jews would have nothing to do with the Samaritans, especially in religious things, <150401>Ezra 4:1, 2, 3, Nehemiah 2:20, and though under the influence of Sanballat their governor, they received the renegado Jews with his son-in-law Manasseh at the head of them, it does not appear that they cordially embraced them, since in any time of trouble the Jews were in, [they did not care to own they had any connection with them; so in the times of Antiochus Epiphanes, by whom the Jews were greatly distressed, they wrote unto him, and desired they might not be considered as of the same religion with the Jews, and be involved with them in the same distress; since, though their ancestors had been forced into a compliance with some parts of their worship, yet they assured him they were different from them, both in their manners or customs, and in their original; and, whereas they had built an altar on mount Gerizzim, not dedicated to any deity, they desired it might, for the future be called the temple of the Grecian Jupiter; though, at other times, when the circumstances of the Jews were more favorable, then they claimed kindred with them, and derived their descent from Joseph, and his sons Manasseh, and Ephraim , as they did from Jacob in the times of Christ; and yet then the Jews had no dealings with them, John 4:9, 12, and they are manifestly distinguished by our Lord himself from the Jews, and from the lost sheep of the house of Israel, Matthew 10:5, 6, John 4:22. What is said in favor of the Samaritans by Jewish writers, as by Maimonides, f332 and by Obadiah Bartenora, must be understood as expressing the opinion their ancestors had of them, after they embraced the Jewish religion; in which they thought they were hearty and sincere, and so gave credit to them, until the wise men of Israel, as they say, made a strict enquiry about them, and found that they worshipped the image of a dove; after which they reckoned them as other idolatrous heathens, and would have nothing to do with them, as is asserted by them in those very passages where the character is given of them, as strict observers of the written law. f334 A LATE writer suggests, that Jeroboam not only coined a new religion by the help of his priests, but a new language and letters, to keep the people close unto him, which language he supposes to be the Samaritan; but this is said without any proof, or shadow of probability; and with equal probability is what Genebrard, from a Jewish writer, asserts, and which perhaps may better suit the hypothesis of a change of letters, than where it is commonly placed; that “the Jews in Rehoboam’s time, that they might not join with the schismatic Israelites, in any use of sacred things, contrived the form of letters which are now used, i. e. the square letters, changing their former figures, and left those which have been since called the Samaritan letters;” but, the Samaritans had their original language and letters elsewere; and from whence they had them, may be concluded from the account given of them in 2 Kings 17:24, 30, 31, where the places from whence they came are expressly named, and the idolatry they brought with them fully described, and in which they continued; and by considering which, it will appear, that they were originally Chaldeans or Phoenicians, and had the same religion, language, and letters they had; some of them were brought from Babylon, the metropolis of the Chaldean empire, and perhaps the greater part, since they are first mentioned; and who, no doubt, brought with them their language and letters, the Chaldean, as they did their idolatry; for they made succoth benoth, or the tabernacles of the daughters, or booths of Venus, as Selden thinks it may be rendered; and which may have respect to the apartments in the temple of Mylitta, or Venus in Babylon, the like to which those people made in Samaria, in which women, once in their lives, prostituted themselves to whomsoever asked them, in honor of Venus; of which filthy practice, Herodotus f338 makes mention; and from the Babylonians the Phoenicians had the same custom, their women prostituted themselves before their idols, and dedicated their gain to them, being strongly persuaded they would be propitious to them, and they should enjoy prosperity, as Athanasius f339 affirms; and Valerius Maximus relates, that they had a temple called the temple of Sicca Venus, which is near in found to Succoth Benoth, where their matrons before marriage prostituted their bodies for gain; and there was a Phoenician colony, three days journey from Carthage, called Sicca Veneria ; to which may be added, that it was a custom with the Cyprians, another colony of the Phoenicians, for virgins before marriage to prostitute themselves, and give their gain to Venus ; by all which, it is plain from whom these Samaritans received their impiety and impurity: others of these people were brought from Cuthah, or Cutha, a city in Erec, a province of Babylon , where it is said Abraham lived; the Samaritans are commonly called Cuthim, or Cuthites in Jewish writings; and so these were of the same country with the former, and had the same language and letters in all probability; the idol they made for themselves was Nergal, which is part of the name of two of the princes of Babylon, it being usual with great personages in the east, to take their idols into their names, See Jeremiah 39:3, this name according to Hillerus, s ignifies the fountain of light, and denotes the sun the Babylonians worshipped: the next that were brought to Samaria by the king of Assyria were brought from Ava the same with Iva, Isaiah 37:17, and perhaps the same with the Avim , Deuteronomy 2:23, a people that formerly dwelt in Phoenicia, or on the borders of it, from whence might be a colony of them in the country of Assyria or Babylon; in the Septuagent version of 5:31, they are called Hivites, which were one of the seven nations of Canaan, or of old Phoenicia, the remains of which had settled in those parts; these had for their idols, Nibhaz and Tartak, which according to Hillerus , signify the one the remote one seeth, that is, the sun which beholds all things, and the other a chain, denoting either the fixed stars chained to their places, or the Satellites of the planets fixed to their orbs, worshipped by the Chaldeans and Assyrians: the next came from Hamath, a city in Syria, on the northern borders of the land of Canaan, Numbers 34:8, their idol is called Ashima, which, as Hillerus says, was with the Arabs, the name of a lion, the symbol of the sun; which might be worshipped by these men, under this name, as the sun was the chief object of the worship of the Assyrians and Phoenicians, as Macrobius observes: the last of this colony of the Samaritans, were men that came from Sepharvaim, which was either the Sipharah of Ptolemy, in Mesopotamia, or that which was near Babylon. Abydenus makes mention of, or rather, as Vtringa thinks, a city in Syro-Phoenicia, or a province in which Abydenus f351 places Heliopolis, namely Coele-Syria; and it is certain the idolatry these men were guilty of, is the same with that of the old Canaanites or Phoenicians, who burnt their children in the fire to Molech, Leviticus 18:21, as these did to Anammelech and Adrammelech, the same with Molech, as the word Melech with which they end, shows, which signifies king, as Molech does: that the Phoenicians sacrificed their children to Saturn or Molech, is observed by Pliny, Eusebius, and Athanasius; hence those words of Ennius, “poeni s unt soliti, suos sacrificare puellos,” as did the Carthaginians, a colony of the Phoenicians, which is affirmed by Porphyry, Justin, Curtius, Pescenius Festus, f358 Diodorus Siculus , and others; from all which it clearly appears, that the Samaritans sprung from the Assyrians or Chaldeans, and the Phoenicians; and sometimes they would call themselves Sidonians, from Sidon, a chief city in Phoenicia; so that they may well be thought to bring with them to Samaria, the language and letters of the Assyrians and Phoenicians: and certain it is, that the Samaritans used the Syrian tongue and letters, Ezra 4:7, the same with the Chaldee, Daniel 1:4, and 2, 4, more than two hundred years after they came to Samaria; for their epistle to the king of Persia was written, in that language and letters; and according to Josephus, the Syrians, Phoenicians, Ammonites, and Moabites, joined the Samaritans in it; and with great propriety did they use them in writing to a king of Persia, s ince the Persians and Syrians, for the most part, used the same letters and characters, as Epiphanius asserts. Jerom is clear in it, that the old Canaanitish or old Phoenician language is the same with the Syrian; and that the Samaritan language approaches nearer to the Chaldee or Syriac, than to the Hebrew, is affirmed by Bochart; and whoever has but dipped into the Samaritan version of the Pentateuch, will easily perceive it is in the Chaldee dialect, here and there an Hebrew word; and it is not to be wondered at, that they should get into their language, when some of the Jews had mixed themselves with them; and Walton owns the same, that the dialect of the Samaritan version is of the same kindred with the Chaldee language, though it has some few words proper and peculiar to itself; and so F.
Simon says, that the Samaritan version is written in the Syro-Chaldean language, not impure, which shows the antiquity of it. There are three dialects of the Syriac language, as Abulpharagius , an Arabic writer relates; the Aramaean, the most elegant of all, which the inhabitants of Roha, Harran, and outer Syria used; that of Palestine, which was spoken by the inhabitants of Damascus, mount Libanus, and interior Syria; and the Chaldee Nabathean dialect, the most unpolished of all, used by those who dwelt on the mountains of the Assyrians, and in the villages of Erac or Babylonia; which latter very probably, was spoken by the Samaritans.
What were the ancient Syrian or Assyrian letters can only be concluded from the old Phoenician, which appears to be the same with the modern Samaritan; for since the Phoenicians received their letters from the Syrians, or Assyrians, they must be nearly the same. The usual Syriac characters, in which are written the versions of the Old and New Testament, are comparatively of a late date and use, being introduced by the christians of Antioch; who, in imitation of Daniel and Ezra, had used the Hebrew character, but changed it for those now in use, because they would have nothing in common with the Nazarenes or Ebionites: the more unusual, and more ancient character is the Estrangelo, used only now for capitals, and frontispieces and titles of books, which is rough and unpolished, and bears a resemblance to the old Phoenician or Samaritan; and Mr. Castell is express for it, that the Estrangelo is the Chaldee charactcer; for that the Assyrians and Chaldeans ever used the square character of the Hebrews cannot be proved, since we have no writings of theirs extant; for what Chaldee books we have, were written by Jews, either in, or after the Babylonish captivity; as by Daniel, and Ezra, who wrote Chaldee in the square character, because it was what their sacred books were written in, they had been used to, and the people also, for whose use they wrote; and in after times, the Chaldee paraphrases were written by Jews; and so both Talmuds, though less pure; and it seems this character was used by the Syrian christians, in imitation of the Jews, before their change of characters already mentioned; but after the Chaldee monarchy ceased, no books were written by any of that people in their own language. Berosus the Chaldean, and others, wrote in Greek. Theophilus of Antioch indeed says, that Berosus showed the Greeks Chaldee letters; but whether by them he means their learning, laws, and history, or the characters of their letters, is not certain; if the letters, it does not appear what they were: hence Hottinger concluded that the ancient character of the Assyrians and Chaldeans is unseen, and unknown, and that nothing certain is had concerning it; some, he says, think it is the Samaritan, which is right, others, the Ethiopic; but he himself was in suspense, and hoped, that in some time would be published by Golius, some Chaldee writings, in the ancient tongue and character; but whether any ever were published, I never heard. The Jews s ay, that after the hand-writing of the angel upon the wall, and the publication of the Hebrew characters by Ezra, the Chaldeans left their own characters, and used them; but this seems to be said without any good foundation.
Now, since both the Samaritan language and letters differ from the Hebrew, being the old Phoenician and Assyrian; it was necessary that, when the Pentateuch of Moses was brought among them, it should be copied, and put into Samaritan letters, that they might read it; as it was, and that from a copy in the square character, as the variations show, before observed; and it was necessary also, that there should be a version of it in their own language, that they might the better understand it, and which also has been done; and upon the whole, I think it plainly appears, that they always retained their own language and letters, which were the Assyrian and old Phoenician, to the times of Manasseh their high priest, and ages after, as the Hebrews retained their language and letters also, the square ones; so that there seems to be no foundation for any such change of letters being made by Ezra, as has been contended for.