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modern critics, have diligently explored the wideextended fields of Arabic literature; yet it may, perhaps, be questioned, whether the ability, erudition, and industry of these scholars have diffused, from that source, much light upon the obscurities of the Hebrew language. In tracing them to their sources, I have often, not to say generally, found, that the aid of Arabic has been solicited for the illustration of words which might be far better explained from “ the pure wells of Hebrew undefiled;” and that in other words, where its assistance was most wanted, it has shed a gliminering and precarious ray. .
Such an assertion, in direct contradiction to, so many learned theological writers, is not made withoat considerable hesitation; nor ought it to be ventured without stating the grounds upon which it is founded. I shall, therefore, proceed to lay before the reader the reflections which have led to this result; not only because it is of the utmost importance to come to a decided conclusion upon the subject, but because they have had great influence upon the following Version and Notes.
In the first place, it may be laid down as an incontrovertible position, that recourse need never be had
to the kindred languages, when the meaning of a word can be satisfactorily established by its application in the original Scriptures. In such cases their assistance is not wanted; their evidence can add nothing to an authority already full and complete.*
But, secondly, in Hebrew words occurring only once, or but seldom, and whose signification cannot be accurately determined by Biblical usage, it is certainly allowable to invite the aid of the Oriental dialects; in as much as it is always right and expedient to collect all the evidence the case admits, before a decision is made. This is equally incontrovertible with the former position; but the question is, to what extent their assistance goes, and what dependence can be placed upon it. This point, then, shall be first examined with respect to the Arabic tongue.
The argument on which an appeal to the Arabic for illustrating the Hebrew depends may be syllogistically expressed in the following manner. Hebrew and Arabic are sister dialects; a root in the latter
• Kromayer, de Usu Ling. Arab. lib. i. cap. 4, 6 8. Le Clerc, Proleg. in Pent. Diss. 2, 610. Bauer, Hermeneut. Sac. $ 23, p. 132.
language has such a particular meaning; therefore the same root in Hebrew has a similar meaning. This argument obviously rests upon the assumption, that, as the one dialect has sprung from the other, or both from one common source, they have such an analogy that similar words may be supposed to retain similar meanings. But the basis of this reasoning will be overthrown, if it can be proved, that both these dialects, or either of them, have undergone a considerable variation: for it will appear, either that they do not retain that strong and general resemblance, upon the assumption of which an application to the sister dialects is founded, or that it is of too dubious a nature to form a safe medium of illustration.
Many eminent Orientalists have asserted the unvaried purity of Arabic from the Confusion of Languages to the Hejra, a period of nearly three thousand years; nay, that it has even continued to our own times without any internal variation.* These assertions are extravagantly hyperbolical, since they
. Walton's Prolegom. c. 14, § 2. Schultens, Origines Hebrææ, lib. i. par. 1, 944, p. 13, and par. 2, cap. 4, 623, p. 241, Lug. Bat. 1761. Robertson's Diss. de Ling. Arab. p. 18—29, prefixed to his Clavis Pentateuchi. Aurivillii Diss, ad Sac. Lit. pertinentes, p. 16.
attribute unchangeableness to what is most change. able, and decide concerning the state of a language above two thousand years previous to any existing records.
It appears, from unexceptionable evidence, that, from the time of the Arabian Impostor to the present day, Arabic has undergone a great change. Foreign - notions have been imported, and new ideas multiplied through the ascendancy of the Mohammedan arms and religion; in consequence of which 'an immense number of words have acquired new, and many even opposite, senses. After the pretended Prophet had kindled the enthusiasm which, in a few years, erected an empire unrivalled for grandeur and extent, the Saracens were continually in a feverish delirium; and, phrensied with their new faith, were incessantly occupied with contention among themselves, or in the splendid enterprises of foreign conquest. Such a situation was but little favourable to the permanency of the language; and accordingly it underwent so great a change, that the dialect of the Koran has become almost a dead language, and is taught, even at Mecca, as Latin is at Rome. This we learn from Niebuhr, an acute and intelligent traveller, whose authority is decisive of the fact.*
Many circumstances concurred subsequently to the Hejra to precipitate this change; yet we may reasonably inser, that it suffered a considerable variation during the space of about a thousand years, which intervened between the latest of the Hebrew prophets and the Mohammedan æra. Whatever care the Arabians may have taken to guard the purity of their language, and how much soever may be attributed to the permanency of Oriental customs and babits, it was totally impossible to preserve their native tongue entirely pure and unchanged. Mutability and decay are the invariable attendants upon every thing earthly; nor is it in the power of man to confer durability upon the fluctuating nature of human speech.
That it had changed, and changed materially, may be inferred from the many different dialects which prevailed at the age of Mohammed;t for they
• Travels, sect. 27, cap. 1. + Walton's Prolegom. c. 14, 93. Pococke, Specimen Hist. Arab. p. 155, Oxon. 1806. Sale's Prel. Disc, to the Koran, $ 1, p. 33, Lond. 1812. Richardson's Dissertation on the Language, &c. of Eastern Nations, p. 5, Oxon. 1778, White's Bampton Lectures, p. 26 of the Notes, Lond. 184.