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whom we may expect to find the original Scriptures ? The truth we believe to have been this, that the Israelites, like all the other early nations, had a sacred character which was only employed in religion, and a less exact character for the ordinary business of life. The square Hebrew we believe to have been their sacred character, and that one like the Samaritan they used in civil affairs. We may grant that during the Babylonish captivity the people had forgotten, or much corrupted, their language; while we maintain that among the priests and prophets the Hebrew was preserved in its purity. Jeremiah, putting words into the mouth of the Jews for addressing the Chaldeans, has one verse in Chaldee (x. 11), but he sent them letters to Babylon in pure Hebrew (Jer. li. 60.) Ezekiel was contemporary both with Jeremiah and Daniel Daniel knew by books that the captivity predicted by Jeremiah was accomplished, (Dan. ix. 2.) And Ezra was a scribe of the law of the God of heaven. (Ezra vii. 12.) All those parts of Daniel which were meant for the Jewish people, are pure Hebrew; and those parts only in the Chaldee dialect which relate to the affairs of Chaldea. The sacred books, we maintain, had not been changed; for it was their remaining pure, while the language of the people had grown corrupt, which made it necessary to give " the sense, and cause them to understand the reading.” (Neh. viii. 8.) If Ezra read from a book whose language they had well-nigh forgotten, interpretation was a necessary work; but if he had already translated the book into a language with which they were familiar, simply reading it would suffice, and the interpretation might have been spared, as superfluous. Nor is it at all likely that Ezra would have so accommodated it to the people, his object being to bring them back to the Lord ; and he would seek to direct their thoughts wholly to the law of Moses and the language of their fathers, not to wean them from it. From the time of Ezra, the Syriac seems to have been the common character in Palestine ; and to almost as early a period we can trace back the Rabbinical character: both of these are regularly derived from the Hebrew : and if we suppose Jerome to have meant some character similar to these, which Ezra invented for civil affairs, all difficulty vanishes, and we can reconcile those passages in his writings which on the ordinary hypothesis appear contradictory; for he uniformly quotes from the Hebrew as the original, and speaks slightingly of the Samaritan.
The argument derived from coins may be more briefly dispatched. If these coins are genuine, and there was a sacred and common character in use at the same time, those stamped with the sacred character might be shekels of the sanctuary ; the others, ordinary shekels; and Kircher says (Gymnasio Hieroglyph. p. 97), that some have both kinds of character on
the same coin. But we exceedingly doubt the validity of any argument drawn from Hebrew coins, as we have not been able to obtain a sight of one which did not at once appear manifestly spurious ; and an intelligent London collector, in conversation with us, said that he had never seen a genuine one ; and thought, moreover, that a coin called Shekel never existed, but that it was a denomination of weight only, like the ounce. Spanheim at first thought them all counterfeit; but in the edition 1706 he says he had since seen some which appeared genuine ; yet he denies that any of thoše, which have the least pretensions to authenticity, are of higher antiquity than the time of the Maccabees, and says, the character they bear is that used in civil affairs at that time. The letters are so little like any known character, that it is difficult to fix on their prototype; it may have been the Hebrew distorted; or they may be barbarous imitations of the barbarous Samaritan. Most of them are gross counterfeits : many give Moses the ram's horn, and some have the Vulgate blunder, “cornuta esset facies !!!" Yet this very argument from coins has been that most confidently relied on for inferring the superior antiquity of the Samaritan character ! (Capellus, p. 38.)-We have only hastily gone over a small portion of this very extensive branch of the inquiry ; and should not have touched upon it at all, but that we are quite convinced of the fallacy of the common opinions on this subject; and it is satisfactory to be assured that the Scriptures we now possess are identical in form, as well as in substance, with those books dictated by the Holy Spirit. But, though very satisfactory to know this, it is not a question of vital importance; for we know most assuredly that the Hebrew Scriptures were written in their present form in the time of our Lord; and, being stamped with His sanction, they have to us, who are Christians, all the weight of Divine authority.
Next to the perfection of the character itself, we are disposed to place the Masoretic punctuation, as presenting an effectual barrier against the corruption of the Hebrew text. We believe the points and accents to be as old as the time of Ezra, if not an integral part of the language from the beginning. But we are content to wave this discussion, and only to assume, what no sane man can deny, and what Capellus and Brian Walton fully conceded, namely, that the points do every where define and fix the true sense of Scripture, and that without them we should probably have lost the knowledge of Hebrew in the miseries and ignorance of the dark ages. Capellus, b. i. c. 17, p. 182, says of the Masoretes, “ Quo nomine certe nos jam multum eis debemus, vel Deo potius referre gratias, qui homines illos ad id excitavit, eisque hoc studium indidit. Nam in eo opere felicissime certe laborarunt, ita ut jam notularum illarum 306,
subsidio longe facilius et felicius etiam in sacri textus Hebraici lectione et intelligentia versari possimus, quam alias absque hoc adminiculo fieri a nobis potuisset.” Again, b. ii. c. 26, p; “ Jam quomodo illi non sunt urgendi hac punctatione, ideo quia est a Masorethis. Sic nec illis jure eam licet rejicere aut contemnere hoc solo nomine quod sit a Masorethis: sed si eam velint jure repudiare, necesse est demonstrent eam quadrare cum consonis, &c. Nam si nihil horum probent aut demonstrare possint, iniquos plane et deridendos se præbent, si eam nihilominus pergant rejicere. Etenim eo ipso quod nihil horum de ea demonstrari aut evinci potest liquet manifesto eam esse legitimam, et ab omnibus hactenus pro legitima esse habendam.” Walton is equally to our purpose, Proleg. 257 : “ Tandem et hoc notandum, Masorethas, dum puncta invenerunt non novos vocalium sonos, vel pronunciationem novam induxisse, sed juxta consuetudinem ipsis traditam libros sacros punctasse : ideoque lectionem non ab ipsis pendere, licet ipsi apices excogitarunt; nec ideo veram esse lectionem, quia est a Masorethis : sed quia verum Sp. S. sensum exprimit, quem scriptoribus sacris dictavit, et per eos literis consignavit, quemque tum Judæi, tum Christiani conservarunt. Non enim punctarunt Masorethæ sacros codices pro arbitrio; sed secundum veram et receptam lectionem, quam diligenter poterant, puncta apposuere. Ipsos vero plerumque recte punctasse liquet, tum ex antiquis versionibus ante puncta affixa factis, quarum lectio cum hac Masoretharum in omnibus, quæ ad fidem et mores spectant, concordat; ut Græca, Chaldaica, Syriaca : tum ex eo quod textus punctatus non tantum apud Judæos, sed etiam apud Christianos, tam Romanos quam Protestantes, publice acceptus et approbaturus sit et ubique imprimitur. Nam licet punctatio sit Masoretharum inventum, et humani juris quoad apices et figuras non tamen sequitur, sensum Scripturæ lubricum et incertum esse, vel ab Ecclesiæ arbitrio pendere, sed quod per puncta significatur, vocalium scil. sonum et verborum sensum, Divinæ prorsus auctoritatis esse, Deumque solum auctorem agnoscere. These we take as the extorted concessions of antagonists, and only add the words of Calvin on Zech. xi. 7: “Qui puncta vel negligunt, vel prorsum rejiciunt, certe carent omni judicio et ratione.”
The Hebrew points and accents mutually depend on each other, and cannot be separated. The connection of the sentence and the regimen of the words fix the accents, and the position of these determines the vowel points of each word; for the same word is pointed differently when governed by different accents. Thus the sense of the whole passage operates as a check upon each letter in the sentence, and becomes a great safeguard against corruption or loss. We know of nothing
elsewhere at all comparable with the perfection of this system of punctuation. The accents in Greek, and many modern languages, affect only those syllables to which they are attached : the stops in common use only shew the pauses and divisions of sentences: but the Hebrew accents not only regulate the euphony, and divide the members of a paragraph ; they have also a power of which no adequate idea can be formed from any European language. The order in which words are placed seldom indicates with certainty the exact relation of the ideas to be conveyed: this can be done by tone of voice in speaking, and is done by the Hebrew accents. These sustain and carry on the sense from a leading accent to one which is governed by it, so as to represent to the eye the whole train of ideas; forming a system for the transmission of thought absolutely perfect, in our estimation ; the surpassing beauty of which has often led us to wonder that this part of the Hebrew language has been so little studied by the moderns. The manuscripts now used publicly in the synagogues are without points, but they have always a pointed one at hand to refer to. Those manuscripts intended to be pointed, are first written without, and the points are generally added by another hand. This probably arose from the necessity of using, in large manuscripts, a kind of pen and ink for the letters different from those necessary for the points. The letters were written with a broad-pointed pen, made of cane or reed, and having a slanting nib; the ink also was of a very thick consistency: but the points require a fine pen with an équal nib, and probably of quill: they need, too, thinner ink. From these circumstances the points have changed colour sometimes, more or less than the letters; and these appearances have led to the inference that the points have been added in a later age ;-an inference, by the bye, which gives nothing whatever to the anti-punctists, since no one can have the folly to maintain that any of these manuscripts reach in antiquity to the very latest period ever given to the Masoretes.
The perfection of the Hebrew character was well sustained by the exceeding great care taken in appointing well-qualified scribes, and in subjecting all the materials employed, and afterwards the finished work, to the most strict examination. The skins, pens, and ink, must all be prepared by an Israelite, for that express purpose; and if any of these precautions were neglected, the manuscript was vitiated, and must be destroyed. The finished copy must be examined within thirty days; and if three errors were discovered in any skin, it was rejected. Thus every expedient was adopted to check and exclude the errors of transcription. But a question arises, Whether the Jews, in their aversion to Christianity, have perverted the text ? Such a charge has been brought against them by the Papists, and by the ultra-Hutchinsonians. We not only acquit them of the imputation, but maintain, that, supposing them to have had such a design, it is impossible they could have effected it. Before Christ, they had no such temptation; and we know that they did not, for St. Paul names, as the great privilege of his people,
chiefly that unto them were committed the oracles of God” (Rom. iii. 2). After the time of our Lord they could not, for the Apostles, and most of the first Christians, knew the Hebrew Scriptures. And among the Jews themselves, scattered as they then were in all parts of the earth, (if it should be thought credible that they could combine to falsify all their manuscripts at the same time, and in the same respects,) their own Masora Paraphrases and Cabala opposed insuperable obstacles. But Origen, Jerome, and Eusebius, all acquit the Jews of this charge; and Jerome's own version and comments clearly prove that all the strong-holds of Christianity remain the same in our present Hebrew text as in that which Jerome used : “ Quod si aliquis dixerit Hebræos libros a Judæis esse falsatos, audiat Origenem quid in 8 vol. huic respondeat quæstiunculæ: Quod nunquam Dominus et Apostoli, qui cætera crimina arguunt in Scribis et Pharisæis, de hoc crimine, quod erat maximum, reticuissent. Sin autem dixerint, post adventum Domini salvatoris, et prædicationem Apostolorum libros Hebræos fuisse falsatos, cachinnum tenere non potero, ut Salvator et Evangelistæ et Apostoli ita testimonia protulerunt ut Judæi postea falsaturi erant.” Jerome, Isai. vi.
Before the invention of parchment, they wrote on prepared skins, like the “ram's skins” (Exod. xxxvi, 19) with which the tabernacle was covered. These were either brown, and written with ink, like the African manuscripts of the present time; or purple, and written in letters of gold, like that from which, according to Josephus, the version of the LXX. was made. The skins generally contained three pages; each page from twelve to eighteen inches long, and from four to six inches broad *. They were sewed together, making one long strip; which being fixed to two rollers, one at each end, they unrolled it from the one and rolled it on to the other, according to the part of the volume which they had occasion to read. Such manuscripts were less liable to injury from damp or change of temperature than those written on parchment, or any other material; and they were written with so full a body of ink, that the character retains its distinctness for centuries, and would bear repeated washings. These noble volumes have a grandeur and dignity in their appearance worthy of the sacred books.
* One in our possession is on brown leather : each page is seventeen inches long, six broad, and consists of forty-eight lines : each full line contains from twenty-four to thirty letters, each full-sized letter being a quarter of an inch square.