Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary 
called also absolutely Hebrew, is the language spoken by the Hebrews, and in which all the books of the Old Testament are written; whence it is also called the holy or sacred language. It is said to have been preserved in the midst of the confusion at Babel, in the family of Heber, or Eber, who, as it is alleged, was not concerned in the building of Babel, and, consequently, did not share in the punishment inflicted on the actual transgressors. The Jews, in general, have been of opinion, that the Hebrew was the language of Heber's family, from whom Abraham sprung. On the other hand, it has been maintained that Heber's family, in the fourth generation after the dispersion, lived in Chaldea, where Abraham was born, Genesis 11:27-28 , and that there is no reason to think they used a different language from their neighbours around them. It appears, moreover, that the Chaldee, and not the Hebrew, was the language of Abraham's country, and of his kindred, Genesis 24:4; Genesis 31:46-47; and it is probable that Abraham's native language was Chaldee, and that the Hebrew was the language of the Canaanites, which Abraham and his posterity learned by travelling among them. It is surprising that this adoption of the Phenician language by the patriarchs should have escaped the notice of several intelligent readers of the Bible. Jacob and Laban, it is clear, by the names they gave to the cairn, or memorial of stones, spoke two different dialects; and it is nearly equally evident, that the language of Laban was the dialect of Ur of the Chaldees, the original speech of the Hebrew race. As the patriarchs disused the true Hebrew dialect, it is manifest that they had conformed to the speech of Canaan; and that this conformity was complete, is proved by the identity between all the remains of Canaanitish names. At the same time, it must be remarked, that the Phenician and the Chaldean were merely different dialects of the same primitive language which had been spoken by the first ancestors of mankind.
2. There is no work in all antiquity written in pure Hebrew, beside the books of the Old Testament; and even some parts of those are in Chaldee. The Hebrew appears to be the most ancient of all the languages in the world; at least it is so with regard to us, who know of no older. Dr. Sharpe adopts the opinion, that the Hebrew was the original language; not indeed that the Hebrew is the unvaried language of our first parents, but that it was the general language of men at the dispersion; and, however it might have been improved and altered from the first speech of our first parents, it was the original of all the languages, or almost all the languages, rather dialects, that have since arisen in the world. Arguments have also been deduced from the nature and genius of the Hebrew language, in order to prove that it was the original language, neither improved nor debased by foreign idioms. The words of which it is composed are short, and admit of very little flexion. The names of places are descriptive of their nature, situation, accidental circumstances, &c. The compounds are few, and inartificially conjoined; and it is less burdened with those artificial affixes which distinguish other cognate dialects, such as the Chaldean, Syrian, Arabian, Phenician, &c.
The period, from the age of Moses to that of David, has been considered the golden age of the Hebrew language, which declined in purity from that time to the reign of Hezekiah or Manasseh, having received several foreign words, particularly Aramean, from the commercial and political intercourse of the Jews and Israelites with the Assyrians and Babylonians. This period has been termed the silver age of the Hebrew language. In the interval between the reign of Hezekiah and the Babylonish captivity, the purity of the language was neglected, and so many foreign words were introduced into it, that this period has not ineptly been designated its iron age. During the seventy years' captivity, though it does not appear that the Hebrews entirely lost their native tongue, yet it underwent so considerable a change from their adoption of the vernacular languages of the countries where they had resided, that afterward, on their return from exile, they spoke a dialect of Chaldee mixed with Hebrew words. On this account it was, that, when the Scriptures were read, it was found necessary to interpret them to the people in the Chaldean language; as, when Ezra the scribe brought the book of the law of Moses before the congregation, the Levites are said to have caused the people to understand the law, because "they read in the book, in the law of God, distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading," Nehem. Genesis 8:8 . Some time after the return from the great captivity, Hebrew ceased to be spoken altogether; though it continued to be cultivated and studied by the priests and Levites, as a learned language, that they might be enabled to expound the law and the prophets to the people, who, it appears from the New Testament, were well acquainted with their general contents and tenor: this last mentioned period has been called the leaden age of the language.
The present Hebrew characters, or letters, are twenty-two in number, and of a square form; but the antiquity of these letters is a point that has been most severely contested by many learned men. From a passage in Eusebius's Chronicle, and another in St. Jerom, it was inferred by Joseph Scaliger, that Ezra, when he reformed the Jewish church, transcribed the ancient characters of the Hebrews into the square letters of the Chaldeans; and that this was done for the use of those Jews who, being born during the captivity, knew no other alphabet than that of the people among whom they had been educated. Consequently, the old character, which we call the Samaritan, fell into total disuse. This opinion Scaliger supported by passages from both the Talmuds, as well as from rabbinical writers, in which it is expressly affirmed that such characters were adopted by Ezra. But the most decisive confirmation of this point is to be found in the ancient Hebrew coins, which were struck before the captivity, and even previously to the revolt of the ten tribes. The characters engraven on all of them are manifestly the same with the modern Samaritan, though with some trifling variations in their forms, occasioned by the depredations of time.
Fausset's Bible Dictionary 
Called "the language of Canaan" ( Isaiah 19:18), as distinguished from that of Egypt; "the Jewish" as distinguished from Aramean ( 2 Kings 18:26; 2 Kings 18:28). (See Hebrew above.) Internal evidence also favors its Palestinian origin; as yam "the sea," in oldest documents used for the west. It is Semitic, as distinguished from the Indo-Germanic, Indo-European, Aryan, or Japhetic languages. The Semitic includes Aramaean or Chaldee and Syriac on the N.E., the Arabic on the S., the Ethiopic between the Hebrew and Arabic, the Hebrew, and kindred Phoenician or Canaanite. In Hebrew and the other Semitic languages gutturals preponderate. Consonants are not grouped round one vowel, yet a consonant always begins a syllable. The Semitic languages are less matured and polished, and more impulsive than deliberative. The roots have three letters. The conjugations of verbs are threefold:
1. Expressing intensity or repetition by a change within the root.
2. Reflexiveness or causation by addition to the root.
3. Passives by "u" or "a" in the first syllable. Modifications of the root idea are marked by changes within the root, not by additions. The a sound marks activity; the "e" and "o" sounds rest or passiveness. Intensity and repeated action are expressed by doubling the consonant. The neuter gender is unknown, because Semitic imagination endows with life every object in nature and makes it male or female. Mental qualities are represented by physical members: strength by the "hand" or "arm"; anger by the "nostril" ( Aph ); favor by the "shining face"; displeasure by the "falling of the countenance." Go, way, walk, course express spiritual motion. Tenses or times of verbs are twofold (not three as with us, past, present, future).
What the mind realizes is put in the past, even though it may be future; what the mind regards as about to be, or being, realized is put in the future; so that the future may be used of the historic past, and the preterite of the prophetic future. The vowels were not originally written; latterly they were put as points under the consonants, which are read from right to left. The particles are few; hence subtle reasonings cannot be expressed. The Greek is the language of philosophy; the Hebrew of imagination and intuition. The sentences are a succession of coordinate propositions, not of propositions molded by interdependence and mutual subordination into complete periods. The style is pictorial: "Behold!" is of frequent occurrence; and the process of doing, as well as the act, is stated, as "he arose and went," "he put forth his hand and took," "he lifted up his voice and wept."
Symbolical phrases are frequent: "incline the ear"; "stiffen the neck," i.e. to be perverse; "to uncover the ear," i.e. to reveal. Adam, Eve, Abel, etc., are pictorial names, possibly Hebrew equivalents for the original names. The fall has among its evil effects caused a severance between names and things. The Bible retains some of the original connection, all the ancient names being significant of things. The choice of essentially the same language as that of commercial Sidon and Tyre for the divine revelation was a providential arrangement for diffusing the knowledge of His law widely among the Gentiles. There may be a Hamitic element in Hebrew, considering that the Canaanites who spoke it when Abram entered Canaan were Hamites; even though they probably acquired it from earlier Semitic occupants of Canaan, they would infuse a Hamitic element themselves.
The vocabulary of the oldest Babel monuments is Hamitic. The Aramaic is decidedly Semitic, and was Abraham's original tongue. The Hamites and Nimrod took the lead in building Babel, which entailed the confusion of tongues; their tongue accordingly is found more confounded into endless varieties of dialect than the Semitic and Japhetic, whose dialects bear a nearer resemblance among themselves than the Turanian and other Hamitic dialects. As Hebrew sprang from the confusion of Babel, it cannot have been the language of Adam and the whole earth when there was but one speech; still, though an offshoot like the rest, it may retain most of the primitive type, a view which the Hebrew Bible names favor, though these be modified from the original form.
The Shemites and Japhetites have had a higher moral civilization, and so a purer language. The Hebrew terms for Sin; Atonement; God; Jehovah , and many such theological ideas, must have conveyed to the Gentiles, wherever fragments of the Hob. revelation reached, many fruitful germs of divine truth. The sacred books of Moses gave a fixity to the language, so that no essential change of language is observable in the books of different ages until the Babylonian captivity; thenceforward Chaldee became largely mixed with Hebrew (See Nehemiah 8:8.)
Easton's Bible Dictionary 
2 Kings 18:26,28 Isaiah 36:11,13 2 Chronicles 32:18
It is one of the class of languages called Semitic, because they were chiefly spoken among the descendants of Shem.
When Abraham entered Canaan it is obvious that he found the language of its inhabitants closely allied to his own. ( Isaiah 19:18 ) calls it "the language of Canaan." Whether this language, as seen in the earliest books of the Old Testament, was the very dialect which Abraham brought with him into Canaan, or whether it was the common tongue of the Canaanitish nations which he only adopted, is uncertain; probably the latter opinion is the correct one. For the thousand years between Moses and the Babylonian exile the Hebrew language underwent little or no modification. It preserves all through a remarkable uniformity of structure. From the first it appears in its full maturity of development. But through intercourse with Damascus, Assyria, and Babylon, from the time of David, and more particularly from the period of the Exile, it comes under the influence of the Aramaic idiom, and this is seen in the writings which date from this period. It was never spoken in its purity by the Jews after their return from Babylon. They now spoke Hebrew with a large admixture of Aramaic or Chaldee, which latterly became the predominant element in the national language.
The Hebrew of the Old Testament has only about six thousand words, all derived from about five hundred roots. Hence the same word has sometimes a great variety of meanings. So long as it was a living language, and for ages after, only the consonants of the words were written. This also has been a source of difficulty in interpreting certain words, for the meaning varies according to the vowels which may be supplied. The Hebrew is one of the oldest languages of which we have any knowledge. It is essentially identical with the Phoenician language. (See Moabite Stone .) The Semitic languages, to which class the Hebrew and Phoenician belonged, were spoken over a very wide area: in Babylonia, Mesopotamia, Syria, Palestine and Arabia, in all the countries from the Mediterranean to the borders of Assyria, and from the mountains of Armenia to the Indian Ocean. The rounded form of the letters, as seen in the Moabite stone, was probably that in which the ancient Hebrew was written down to the time of the Exile, when the present square or Chaldean form was adopted.
Smith's Bible Dictionary 
He'brew Language. The books of the Old Testament are written, almost entirely, in the Hebrew language. It is a branch of the Shemitic language, one of the three great divisions into which all languages have been reduced. It is one of the earliest of known languages, and some suppose that, it was the original language of man.
Morrish Bible Dictionary 
Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature 
the language of the Hebrew people, and of the Old-Testament Scriptures, with the exception of the few chapters written in Chaldee. (See Chaldee Language). The importance of this subject in a religious and especially an exegetical aspect justifies a somewhat copious treatment of it here. (See Ewald's Hebrew Grammar, § 1-18, 135-160.) In the Bible this language is nowhere designated by the name Hebrew, but this is not surprising when we consider how rarely that name is employed to designate the nation. (See Hebrew). If we except the terms "lip of Canaan" ( שׂפת כנען ) in Isaiah 19:18 -where the diction is of an elevated character, and is so far no evidence that this designation was the one commonly employed-the only name by which the Hebrew language is mentioned in the Old Testament is "Jewish" ( יהודית used adverbially, Judaiae, In Jewish, 2 Kings 18:26; 2 Kings 18:28; Isaiah 36:11; Isaiah 36:13; 2 Chronicles 32:18 [in Nehemiah 13:24, perhaps the Aramaic is meant]), where the feminine may be explained as an abstract of the last formation, according to Ewald's Hebrews Gram. § 344,457, or as referring to the usual gender of לשׁון understood. In a strict sense, however, "Jewish" denotes the idiom of the kingdom of Judah, which became the predominant one after the deportation of the ten tribes. It is in the Greek writings of the later Jews that "Hebrew" is first applied to the language, as in the Ἑβραϊστί of the prologue to Ecclesiasticus, and in the Γλῶσσα Τῶν ῾Εβραίων of Josephus. (The Ἑβραϊ v Σ Διάλεκτος of the New Testament. is used in contradistinction to the idiom of the Hellenist Jews, and does not mean the Ancient Hebrew language, but the then vernacular Aramaic dialect of Palestine.) Our title to use the designation Hebrew language is therefore founded on the fact that the nation which spoke this idiom was properly distinguished by the ethnographical name of Hebrews.
The Hebrew language belongs to the class of languages called Shemitic-so called because spoken chiefly by nations enumerated in Scripture among the descendants of Shem. The Sanskrit, Persian, Greek, Latin, with the Germanic and Celtic languages, are the principal members of another large class or group of languages, to which have been affixed the various names of Japhetic, Indo-European, Indo-Germanic, and Aryan. This latter class embraces most of the languages of Europe, including of course our own. The student, therefore, who, besides mastering his own language, has passed through a course of Greek, Latin, French, and German (and few of our students, except with a professional view, extend their linguistic studies farther), has not, after all his labor, got beyond the limits of the same class of languages to which his mother tongue belongs, and of which it forms one of the most important members. But when he passes to the study of the Hebrew language he enters a new field, he observes new phenomena, he traces the operation of new laws. I. Characteristics Of The Shemitic Languages, And In Particular Of The Hebrew. —
1. With respect to Sounds, the chief peculiarities are the four following:
(1.) The predominance Of Guttural sounds. The Hebrew has four or (we may say) five guttural sounds, descending from the slender and scarcely perceptible throat breathing represented by the first letter of the alphabet ( א ) through the decided aspirate ה , to the strong ח and gurgling ע . To these we must add ר which partakes largely of the guttural character. Nor were these sounds sparingly employed; on the contrary, they were in more frequent use than any other class of letters. In the Hebrew dictionary the four gutturals occupy considerably more than a fourth part of the whole volume, the remaining eighteen letters occupying considerably less than three fourths. This predominance of guttural sounds must have given a very marked character to the ancient Hebrew, as it does still to the modem Arabic.
(2.) The use of the very strong letters ט , צ , ק , which may be represented by Tt or Ts, Q, in pronouncing which the organ is more compressed and the sound given forth with greater vehemence. These letters, especially the last two, are also in frequent use.
When the Greeks borrowed their alphabet from the Phoenicians, they softened or dropped these strong letters ( ט being softened into Θ , and צ , ק being dropped except as marks of number), and changed the guttural letters into the vowels Α , Ε , Η , Ο
(3.) The Shemitic languages do not admit, like the Indo-European, of an accumulation or grouping of consonants around a single vowel sound. In such words as Craft, Crush, Grind, Strong, Stretch, we find four, five, and six consonants clustering around a single vowel.' The Shemitic languages reject such groupings, usually interposing a vowel sound more or less distinct after each consonant. It is only at the end of a word that two consonants may stand together without any intermediate vowel sound; and even in that case various expedients are employed to dispense with a combination which is evidently not in accordance with the genius of the language.
(4.) The vowels, although thus copiously introduced, are nevertheless kept in strict subordination to the consonants; so much so that it is only in rare and exceptional cases that any word or syllable begins with a vowel. In Hebrew we have no such syllables as ab, ag, ad, in which the initial sound is a pure vowel; but only ba, ga, da. If Sir H. Rawlinson is correct, it would appear that the Assyrian language differed from the other Shemitic languages in this particular. In his syllabic alphabet a considerable number of the syllables begin with a vowel.
If we endeavor to calculate the effect of the foregoing peculiarities on the character of the language, we cannot avoid the conclusion that the Shemitic languages are of a more primitive type than the European-much less matured, polished, compacted-the natural utterance of a mind vehement and passionate, impulsive rather than calmly deliberative.
2. With respect to Roots And Words, the Shemitic languages are distinguished in a very marked manner:
(1.) By The Three-Letter Root. This is one of the most striking characteristics of these languages, as it does not appear that there is any language not belonging to this class in the formation of whose roots the same law has been at work. It is very difficult to ascertain the origin of this singular phenomenon. It may possibly be regarded as a kind of equivalent for the compound roots of other languages (which are altogether wanting in the Shemitic); an original Two-Letter root being enlarged and expanded into a greater or less number of Three-Letter roots, for the purpose of giving expression to the various modifications and shades of the primitive root idea. The attempt has indeed been made, and with no small measure of success, to point out and specify the two-letter roots from which the existing three-letter roots have been derived; but it has been properly remarked that such an investigation carries us quite away from the Shemitic province. When we reach the two letter root we have left behind us the Shemitic languages altogether, and drawn forth a new language, which might be regarded, did we not know that the most ancient is not always the most simple, as the one primeval language of mankind. By "three-letter roots" We mean those having three consonants forming a dissyllable, and we must except from our remarks those containing the so- called weak letters, which assimilate themselves very strongly to the monosyllabic roots of primitive verbs in the Indo-European group of languages. See Philology, Comparative
(2.) The consideration of the Hebrew three-letter root, and its possible growth out of a more original two-letter root, leads on to the notice of another prominent feature of the Shemitic languages, viz. the further growth and expansion of the three-letter root itself into a variety of what are called conjugational forms, expressing intensity, reflexiveness, causation, etc. A similar formation may be traced in all languages; in some non-Shemitic languages, as the Turkish, it is very largely and regularly developed (Max Miller, Lectures on Science of Language, p. 318, etc.). In English we have examples in such verbs as sit and set, lie and lay, set being the causative of sit, lay of lie; or we may say sit is the reflexive of set, and lie of lay. So in Latin sedo and sedeo, jacio andja. ceo, etc., in which latter root the conjugational formation is still farther developed into jacto and jactito. But what in these languages is fragmentary and occasional, in Hebrew and the cognate languages is carried out and expanded with fullness and regularity, and consequently occupies a large space in the Shemitic grammar. The conjugations are of three sorts:
(a) Those expressing Intensity, Repetition, etc., which are usually distinguished by some change Within the root;
(b) those expressing Reflexiveness, Causation, etc., which are usually distinguished by some Addition To the root;
(c) the Passives, distinguished by the presence of the U or O sound in the first syllable.
(3.) Another prominent distinction of the Shemitic languages is The Extent To Which Modifications Of The Root Idea Are Indicated, Not By Additions To The Root, But By Changes Within The Root. "The Shemitic roots," says Bopp (Comparative Grammar Of The Indo European Tongues, i, 99), "on account of their construction, possess the most surprising capacity for indicating the secondary ideas of grammar by the mere internal molding of the root, while the Sanskrit roots at the first grammatical movement are compelled to assume external additions." These internal changes are principally of two sorts:
(a) Vowel Changes. Nothing is more remarkable in the Shemitic languages than the significance of their vowel sounds; the sharp A sound, formed by opening the mouth wide, being associated as a symbol with the idea of activity, while the e and O sounds are the symbols of rest and passiveness. In the Arabic verb this characteristic is very marked, many of the roots appearing under three forms, each having a different vowel, and the signification being modified in accordance with the nature of that vowel. The same law appears in the formation of the passives. Thus katala-pass. kutela.
(b) Doubling Of Consonants, usually of the middle letter of the root. By means of this most simple and natural device, the Shemitic languages express Intensity or Repetition of action, and also such qualities as prompt to repeated action, as Righteous, Merciful, etc. By comparing this usage with the expression of the corresponding ideas in our own language, we observe at once the difference in the genius of the two languages. We say Merciful, Sinful, i.e. full of mercy, full of sin. Not so the Shemitic. What we express formally by means of an added root, the Shemitic indicates by a sign, by simply laying additional stress on one of the root letters. And thus again the observation made under the head sound recurs, viz. that in the formation of the Shemitic languages the dominant influence was that of instinctive feeling, passion, imagination- the hand of nature appearing everywhere, the voice of nature heard in every utterance: in this, how widely separated from the artificial and highly organized languages of the Indo-European family (Adelung, Mithridates, 1, 361).
(4.) The influence of the imagination on the structure of the Shemitic languages is further disclosed In The View Which They Present Of Nature And Of Time. To these languages a neuter gender is unknown. All nature viewed by the Shemitic eye appears instinct with life. The Heavens Declare God'S Glory; The Earth Showeth His Handiwork. The Trees Of The Field Clap Their Hands And Sing For Joy. This, though the impassioned utterance of the Hebrew poet, expresses a common national feeling, which finds embodiment even in the structure of the national language. Of inanimate nature the Hebrew knows nothing: he sees life everywhere. His language therefore rejects the neuter gender, and classes all objects, even those which we regard as inanimate, as masculine or feminine, according as they appear to his imagination to be endowed with male or female attributes. As his imagination thus endowed the lower forms of nature with living properties, so, on the other hand, under the same influence, he clothed with material and sensible form the abstract, the spiritual, even the divine. In Hebrew the abstract is constantly expressed by the concrete-the mental quality by the bodily member which was regarded as its fittest representative. Thus hand or arm stands for strength; א , Nostril, means also Anger; the Shining Of The Face stands for Favor And Acceptance, the Falling Of The Face for Displeasure. So also to Say often means to Think; to Speak With One Mouth stands for to be of the same sentiment.
The verb to go is employed to describe mental as well as bodily progress. One's course of life is his way, the path of his feet. Nor only in its description of nature, but also in its mode of indicating time, do we observe the same predominant influence. The Shemitic tense system, especially as it appears in Hebrew, is extremely simple and primitive. It is not threefold like ours, distributing time into past, present, and future, but twofold. The two so- called tenses or rather states of the verb correspond to the division of nouns into abstract and concrete. The verbal idea is conceived of either in its realization or in its non-realization, whether actual or ideal. That which lies before the mind as realized, whether in the actual past, present, or future, the Hebrew describes by means of the so-called preterit tense; that which he conceives of as yet to be realized or in process of realization, whether in the actual past, present, or future, he describes by means of the so-called future tense. Hence the use of the future in certain combinations as a historical tense, and of the so-called preterit in certain combinations as a prophetic tense. Into the details of the tense usages which branch out from this primitive idea we cannot now enter. It is in the structural laws of the Hebrew language that its influence is most strongly marked: in the Aramsean it is almost lost. (See Ewald, Lehrbuch, § 134 a; Journal of Sacred Literature for Oct. 1849.)
(5.) The influence of the imagination upon the structure of the Shemitic languages may also be traced in the Absence Of Not A Few Grammatical Forms Which We Find In Other Languages. Much that is definitely expressed in more highly developed languages is left in the Shemitic languages, and especially in the Hebrew, to be caught up by the hearer or reader. In this respect there is an analogy between the language itself and the mode in which it was originally represented in writing. Of the language as written, the vowel sounds formed no part. The reader must supply these mentally as he goes along. So with the language itself. It has not a separate and distinct expression for every shade and turn of thought. Much is left to be filled in by the hearer or the reader, and this usually without occasioning any serious inconvenience or difficulty. The Shemitic languages, however, do not all stand on the same level in this respect. In the Syriac, and still more in the Arabic, the expression of thought is usually more complete and precise than in Hebrew, though often for that very reason less animated and impressive. A principal defect in these languages, and especially in the Hebrew, is the fewness of the particles. The extreme simplicity of the verbal formation also occasions to the European student difficulties which can be surmounted only by a very careful study of the principles by which the verb-usages are governed.
In this respect the Hebrew occupies a middle position between those languages which consist almost entirely of roots with a very scanty grammatical development, and the Indo-European class of languages in which the attempt is made to give definite expression even to the most delicate shades of thought. The Greek, says Paul, seeks after wisdom: he reasons, compares, analyzes. The Jew requires a sign-something to strike the imagination and carry conviction to the heart at once without any formal and lengthened argument. The Greek language, therefore, in its most perfect form, was the offspring of reason and taste; the Hebrew, of imagination and intuition. The Shemites have been the quarriers whose great rough blocks the Japhethites have cut, and polished, and fitted one to another. The former, therefore, are the teachers of the world in religion, the latter in philosophy. This peculiar character of the Shemitic mind is very strongly impressed upon the language.
A national language being an embodiment and picture of the national mind, there is thus thrown around the otherwise laborious and uninteresting study of grammar, even in its earliest stages, an attractive power and value which would not otherwise belong to it. It was the same mind that found expression in the Hebrew language, which gave birth, under the influence of divine inspiration, to the sublime revelations of the Old Testament Scriptures. And it would be easy to trace an analogy between these revelations and the language in which they have been conveyed to us. It is curious to find that even the divinest thoughts and names of the Old Testament connect themselves with questions in Hebrew grammar. Thus, when we investigate the nature and use of the Hebrew plural, and discover from a multitude of examples that it is employed not only to denote plurality, but likewise extension, whether in space or time, as in the Hebrew words for life, youth, old age, etc., and also whatever seems bulky before the mind, we are unwittingly led on to one of the most important questions in the criticism of the Old Testament, viz. the origin of the plural form of the divine name אלהים (Elohim), in our version rendered God. Or, again, when we study the difficult question of the tenses, and endeavor to determine the exact import and force of each, we speedily discover that the grammatical investigation we are pursuing is one of unspeakable moment, for it involves the right apprehension of that most sacred name of God which the Jew still refuses to take upon his lips, the four-letter name יהוה , Jehovah (q.v.).
3. In the Syntax And General Structure of the Shemitic languages and writings we trace the operation of the same principles, the same tendencies of mind which manifest themselves in the structure of Words. In this respect the Hebrew language exhibits a more simple and primitive type than any of the sister tongues. The simplicity of the Hebrew composition is very obvious even to the reader of the English Bible, or to the scholar who compares the Greek Testament, the style of which is formed on the model of the Old Testament, with the classical Greek writers. We observe at once that there is no such thing as the building up of a lengthened period, consisting of several propositions duly subordinated and compacted so as to form a harmonious and impressive whole. Hebrew composition consists rather of a succession of co-ordinate propositions, each of which is for the moment uppermost in the view of the speaker or writer, until it is superseded by that which follows. This results at once from the character of the Shemitic mind, which was more remarkable for rapid movements and vivid glances than for large and comprehensive grasp. Such a mind would give forth its thoughts in a rapid succession of independent utterances rather than in sustained and elaborated composition. It is a consequence of the same mental peculiarity that the highest poetry of the Shemitic nations is lyrical.
The Hebrew composition is also extremely pictorial in its character-not the poetry only, but also the prose. In the history the past is not described, it is painted. It is not the ear that hears, it is rather the eye that sees. The course of events is made to pass before the eye; the transactions are all acted over again. The past is not a fixed landscape, but a moving panorama. The reader of the English Bible must have remarked the constant use of the word behold, which indicates that the writer is himself, and wishes to make his reader also, a spectator of the transactions he describes. The use of the tenses in the Hebrew historical writings is especially remarkable. To the young student of Hebrew the constant use of the future tense in the description of the past appears perhaps the most striking peculiarity of the language. But the singular phenomenon admits of an easy explanation. It was because the Hebrew viewed and described the transactions of the past, not as all past and done, but as in actual process and progress of evolvement, that he makes such frequent use of the so-called future. In imagination he quits his own point of time, and lives over the past. With his reader he sails down the stream of time, and traces with open eye the winding course of history. It is impossible always to reproduce exactly in English this peculiarity of the Hebrew Bible.
Further, in writing even of the commonest actions, as that one went, spoke, saw, etc., the Hebrew is not usually satisfied with the simple statement that the thing was done, he must describe also the process of doing. We are so familiar with the style of our English Bibles that we do not at once perceive the pictorial character of such expressions as these, recurring in every page: he arose and went; he opened his lips and spake; he put forth his hand and took; he lifted up his eyes and saw; he lifted up his voice and wept. But what we do not consciously perceive we often unconsciously feel; and doubtless it is this painting of events which is the source of part at least of the charm with which the Scripture narrative is invested to all pure and simple minds.
The same effect is also produced by the symbolical way of representing mental states and processes which distinguishes the Hebrew writers. Such expressions as to bend or incline the ear for "to hear attentively," to stiffen the neck for "to be stubborn and rebellious," to uncover the ear for "to reveal," are in frequent use. Even the acts of the Divine Mind are depicted in a similar way. In the study especially of the Old Testament we must keep this point carefully in view, lest we should err by giving to a symbolical expression a literal interpretation. Thus, when we read ( Exodus 33:11) that "the Lord spake unto Moses face to face as a man speaketh unto his friend," we must remember that it was a Hebrew who wrote these words, one who was accustomed to depict to himself and others the spiritual under material symbols, and thus we shall be guarded against irreverently attaching to them a meaning which they were never intended to bear. But, though such modes of expression are open to misapprehension by us whose minds are formed in so very different a mould, nevertheless, when rightly understood, they have the effect of giving us a more clear and vivid impression of the spiritual ideas which they embody than could be conveyed to us by any other mode of representation or expression.
The simplicity and naturalness of the language further appears in the prominence which is constantly given to the word or words embodying the leading idea in a sentence or period. Thus the noun stands before the adjective, the predicate stands before the subject, unless the latter be especially emphatic, in which case it is not only put first, but may stand by itself as a nominative absolute without any syntactical connection with the rest of the sentence.
The constant use of the oratio directa is also to be specially noted, as an indication of the primitive character of the language. The Hebrew historian does not usually inform us that such and such a person said such and such things; he actually, as it were, produces the parties and makes them speak for themselves. To this device (if it may be so called) the Bible history owes much of its freshness and power of exciting and sustaining the interest of its readers. No other history could be so often read without losing its power to interest and charm.
Lastly, in a primitive language, formed under the predominating influence of imagination and emotion, we may expect to meet with many elliptical expressions, and also with many redundancies. Not a little which we think it necessary formally to express in words, the Hebrew allowed to be gathered from the context; and, conversely, the Hebrew gave expression to not a little which we omit. For example, nothing is more common in Hebrew than the omission of the verb to be in its various forms; and, on the other hand, a very striking characteristic of the Hebrew style is the constant use of the forms וְהָיָה וִיְהַי , And It Came To Pass And It Shall Come To Pass, which, in translating into English, may be altogether omitted without any serious loss. In the Hebrew prose, also, we often meet with traces of that echoing of thought and expression which forms one of the principal characteristics of the poetic style; as in Genesis 6:22, "And Noah did according to all that God commanded him-so Did He;" and similar passages, in which we seem to have two different forms of recording the same fact combined into one, thus: "And Noah did according to all that God commanded him;" "According to all that the Lord commanded him, so did he."
II. History Of The Hebrew Language. —
1. Its Origin. — The extant historical notices on this point carry us back to the age of Abraham, but no further. The best evidences which we possess as to the form of the Hebrew language prior to its first historical period tend to show that Abraham, on his entrance into Canaan, found the language then prevailing among almost all the different tribes inhabiting that country to be in at least dialectical affinity with his own. This is gathered from the following facts: that nearly all the names of places and persons relating to those tribes admit of Hebrew etymologies; that, amid all the accounts of the intercourse of the Hebrews with the nations of Canaan, we find no hint of a diversity of idiom; and that even the comparatively recent remains of the Phoenician and Punic languages bear a manifest affinity to the Hebrew. But whether the Hebrew language, as seen in the earliest books of the Old Test., is the very dialect which Abraham brought with him into Canaan, or whether it was the common tongue of the Canaanitish nations, which Abraham only adopted from them, and which was afterwards developed to greater fullness under the peculiar moral and political influences to which his posterity were exposed, are questions which, in the absence of conclusive arguments, are generally discussed with some dogmatical prepossessions. Almost all those who support the first view contend also that Hebrew was the primitive language of mankind. S. Morinus (Ling. Princaev.) and Loscher (De Causis Ling. Hebr.) are among the best champions of this opinion; but Havernick has more recently advocated it with such modifications as make it more acceptable (Einleit. in das Alte Test. 1, 1, 148 sq.). The principal argument on which they depend is that, as the most important proper names in the first part of Genesis (as Cain, Seth, and others) are evidently founded on Hebrew etymologies, the essential connection of these names with their etymological origins involves the historical credibility of the records themselves, and leaves no room for any other conclusion than that the Hebrew language is coeval with the earliest history of man. The evidence on the other side is scanty, but not without weight.
(1.) In Deuteronomy 26:5, Abraham is called a Syrian or Aramean ( אֲרִמַּי ), from which we naturally conclude that Syriac was his mother tongue, especially when we find,
(2.) from Genesis 31:47, that Syriac or Chaldee was the language spoken by Laban, the grandson of Nahor, Abraham's brother. Moreover, it has been remarked
(3.) that in Isaiah 19:18, the Hebrew is actually called the Language Of Canaan; and
(4.) that the language itself furnishes internal evidence of its Palestinian origin in the word יָם , Sea, which' means also The West, and has this meaning in the very earliest documents.
(5.) Finally, Jewish tradition, whatever weight may be attached to it, points to the same conclusion (Gesenius, Geschichte, sect. 6:4).
If we inquire further how it was that the Canaanites, of the race of Ham, spoke a language so closely allied to the languages spoken by the principal members of the Shemitic family of nations, we shall soon discover that the solution of this difficulty is impossible with our present means of information; it lies beyond the historic period. It may be that long before the migration of Abraham a Shemitic race occupied Palestine; and that, as Abraham adopted the language of the Canaanites, so the Canaanites themselves had in like manner adopted the language of that earlier race whom they gradually dispossessed, and eventually extirpated or absorbed. However this may be, leaving speculation for fact, is it not possible to discover a wise purpose in the selection of the language of Tyre and Sidon — the great commercial cities of antiquity as the language in which was to be embodied the most wonderful revelation of himself and of his law which God made to the ancient world? When we remember the constant intercourse which was maintained by the Phoenicians with the most distant regions both of the East and of the West, it is impossible to doubt that the sacred books of the Hebrews, written in a language almost identical with the Phoenician, must have exercised a more important influence on the Gentile world than is usually acknowledged.
Of course the Canaanitish language, when adopted by the Hebrews, did not remain unchanged. Having become the instrument of the Hebrew mind, and being employed in the expression of new and very peculiar ideas, it must have been modified considerably thereby. How far may possibly be yet ascertained, should accident or the successful zeal of some explorer bring to light the more ancient monuments of the Phoenician nation, which may still have survived the entombment of centuries.
2. Influences Modifying The Form Of The Hebrew Language, And The Style Of The Hebrew Writings. —
The history of the Hebrew language, as far as we can trace its course by the changes in the diction of the documents in which it is preserved, may here be conveniently divided into that of the period preceding and that of the period succeeding the Exile. If it be a matter of surprise that the thousand years which intervened between Moses and the Captivity should not have produced sufficient change in the language to warrant its history during that time being distributed into subordinate divisions, the following considerations may excuse this arrangement. It is one of the signal characteristics of the Hebrew language, as seen in all the books prior to the Exile, that, notwithstanding the existence of some isolated but important archaisms, such as in the form of the pronoun, etc. (the best collection of which may be seen in Havernick, c. p. 183 sq.), it preserves an unparalleled general uniformity of structure.
The extent to which this uniformity prevails may be estimated either by the fact that it has furnished many modern scholars, who reason from the analogies discovered in the changes in other languages in a given period, with an argument to show that the Pentateuch could not have been written at so remote a date as is generally believed (Gesenius, Gesch. der Hebr. Sprache, § 8), or by the conclusion, a fortiori, which Havernick, whose express object is to vindicate its received antiquity, candidly concedes, that "the books of Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah are the earliest in which the language differs sensibly from that in the historical portions of the Pentateuch" (Einleit. 1, 180). — Even those critics who endeavor to bring down the Pentateuch as a whole to a comparatively late date allow that a portion at least of its contents is to be assigned to the age of Moses (Ewald, Lehrbuch, sec. 2, c): and thus, unless it can be shown that this most ancient portion bears in its language and style the stamp of high antiquity, and is distinguished in a very marked manner from the other portions of the Pentateuch (which has not been shown), the phenomenon still remains un-explained. But, indeed, the phenomenon is by no means unexampled. It does not stand alone. — It is said, for example, that the Chinese language displays the same tenacity and aversion to change still more decidedly, the books of the great teacher Confucius being written in language not essentially different from that of his commentators fifteen hundred years later. So we are informed by a writer of the 15th century that the Greeks, at least the more cultivated class, even in his day spoke the language of Aristophanes and Euripides, maintaining the ancient standard of elegance and purity (Gibbon, 8:106).
Or, to take another example more closely related to the Hebrew, it is well known that the written Arabic of the present day does not differ greatly from that of the first centuries after Mohammed. In each of the cases just mentioned, it is probable that the language was as it were stereotyped by becoming the language of books held in highest esteem and reverence, diligently studied by the learned, frequently committed to memory, and adopted as a model of style by succeeding writers. Now, may not the sacred writings of the Mosaic age have had a similar influence on the written Hebrew of the following ages, which continued undisturbed till the Captivity, or even later? We know how greatly the translations of the Bible into English and German have affected the language and literature of England and Germany ever since they were given to the world. But among a people like the ancient Hebrews, living to a certain extent apart from other nations, with a literature of no great extent, and a learned class specially engaged in the study and transcription of the sacred writings, we may well suppose that the influence of these writings upon the form of the national language must have been much more decided and permanent. The learned men would naturally adopt in their compositions the language of the books which had been their study from youth, and large portions of which they were probably able to repeat from memory. Thus the language of these old books, though it might differ in some respects from that spoken by the common people, would naturally become the language of the learned and of books, especially of those books on sacred subjects, such as have alone come down to us from ancient Israel. In explanation of the fact under discussion, appeal has also been made (a) to the permanence of Eastern customs, and (b) to the simple structure of the Hebrew language, which rendered it less liable to change than other more largely developed languages (see Ewald, Heb. Gram. § 7). It has also been remarked that some of the peculiarities of the early writings may be concealed from view by the uniformity of the system of punctuation adopted and applied to the Scriptures by the Hebrew grammarians.
In the canonical books belonging to the first period the Hebrew language thus appears in a state of mature development. Although it still preserves the charms of freshness and simplicity, yet it has attained great regularity of formation, and such a precision of syntactical arrangement as insures both energy and distinctness. Some common notions of its laxity and indefiniteness have no other foundation than the very inadequate scholarship of the persons who form them. A clearer insight into the organism of language absolutely, joined to such a study of the cognate Syro-Arabian idioms as would reveal the secret, but no less certain, laws of its syntactical coherence, would show them to what degree the simplicity of Hebrew is compatible with grammatical precision. One of the most remarkable features in the language of this period is the difference which distinguishes the diction of poetry from that of prose. This difference consists in the use of unusual words and flexions (many of which are considered to be Aramaisms or archaisms, although in this case these terms are nearly identical), and in a harmonic arrangement of thoughts, as seen both in the parallelism of members in a single verse, and in the strophic order of larger portions, the delicate art of which Ewald has traced with pre-eminent success in his Poetische Biicher des Alte Bundes, vol. 1.
The Babylonian Captivity is assigned as the commencement of that decline and corruption which mark the second period in the history of the Hebrew language; but the Assyrian deportation of the ten tribes, in the year B.C. 720, was probably the first means of bringing the Aramaic idiom into injurious proximity with it. The Exile, however, forms the epoch at which the language shows evident signs of that encroachment of the Aramaic on its integrity, which afterwards ended in its complete extinction. The diction of the different books of this period discovers various grades of this Aramaic influence, and in some cases approaches so nearly to the type of the first period that it has been ascribed to mere imitation.
The writings which belong to the second age-that subsequent to the Babylonian Captivity-accordingly differ very considerably from those which belong to the first; the influence of the Chaldee language, acquired by the Jewish exiles in the land of their captivity, having gradually corrupted the national tongue. The historical books belonging to this age are the books of Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther. In the prophets who prophesied during and after the Captivity, with the exception of Daniel, the Chaldee impress is by no means so strong as we might anticipate, they having evidently formed their style on that of the older prophets. It is important, however, to observe that the presence of what appears to be a Chaldaism is not always the indication of a later age. Chaldee words and forms occasionally appear even in the most ancient Hebrew compositions, especially the poetical, the poet delighting in archaic and rare words, and substituting these for the more usual and commonplace. But between the Chaldaic archaisms and the Chaldeisms of the later Scriptures there is this marked distinction, that the former are only occasional, and lie scattered on the surface; the latter are frequent, and give a peculiar color and character to the whole language.
A still more corrupt form of the language appears in the Mishna and other later Jewish writings, in which the foreign element is much more decided and prominent.
(2.) Place. — Under this head is embraced the question as to the existence of different dialects of the ancient Hebrew. Was the Hebrew language, as spoken by the several tribes of Israel, of uniform mould and character? or did it branch out into various dialects corresponding to the leading divisions of the nation? In attempting to answer this question, there is no direct historical testimony of which we can avail ourselves. From Nehemiah 13:23-24, we learn nothing more than that the language of Ashdod differed from that of the Jews after their return from captivity, which is only what we might have anticipated. The notices in Judges 12:6; Judges 18:3, which are more to the purpose, refer rather to a difference in pronunciation than in the form of the language. Notwithstanding it seems primafacie probable (a) that the language of the trans-Jordanic tribes was in course of time modified to a greater or less extent by the close contact of these tribes with the Syrians of the north and the Arab tribes of the great eastern desert; and (b) that a similar dialectic difference would gradually be developed in the language of Ephraim and the other northern tribes to the west of the Jordan, especially after the political separation of these tribes from the tribe of Judah and the family of David. Possibly in the Jewish language of 2 Kings 18:28 we may discover the trace of some such difference of dialect; for we can scarcely suppose the name Jewish to have been introduced in the very brief period which intervened between the taking of Samaria and the transaction in the record of which it occurs; and, if in use before the taking of Samaria and the captivity of the ten tribes, it must have been restricted to the form of the Hebrew language prevailing in Judea, which, being thus distinguished In Name from the language of the northern tribes, was probably distinguished in other respects also. It is not improbable that some of the linguistic peculiarities of the separate books of Scripture are to be accounted for on this hypothesis.
3. When The Hebrew Language Ceased To Be A Living Language. — The Jewish tradition, credited by Kimchi,. is to the effect that the Hebrew language ceased to be spoken by the body of the people during their captivity in Babylon; and this is the opinion of many Christian scholars also, among whom are Buxtorf and Walton.. Others, as Pfeiffer and Loscher, argue that it is quite unreasonable, considering the duration and other circumstances of the Exile, to suppose that the Jews did not retain the partial use of their native tongue for some time after their return to Palestine, and lose it by slow degrees at last. There can be no doubt that the Hebrew was never spoken in its purity after the return from captivity; but that it ceased altogether to be the language of the people after that period, and was retained only as the language of books and of the learned, has not been established. The principal evidence relied on by those who hold this opinion is derived from Nehemiah 8:8 : "So they read in the book, in the law of God, Distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading." Distinctly, מְפֹרָשׁ , i.e. says Hengstenberg, "with the addition of a translation" (Genuineness Of Daniel, ch. 3, sec. 5). But, though this gloss has some support in Jewish tradition, it is at variance both with Hebrew and with Chaldee usage מְפֹרָשׁ means Made Clear Or distinct, as is evident from Numbers 15:34 (the meaning of מְפָרֵשׁ , in Ezra 4:18, is disputed); and it וִיַקְרְאוּ מְפֹרָשׁ can scarcely be otherwise rendered than " They Real Distinctly" (see the Lexicons of Cocceius, Gesenius, and Furst; Buxtorf and Gussetius render by Explanate, Explicate ). This, indeed, is evident from the context; for if we should render with Hengstenberg, " They Read It With The Addition Of A Translation," to what purpose the clause which follows, " And Gave The Sense," etc? At the same time, though this passage does not furnish sufficient evidence to prove that in the time of Nehemiah Hebrew had ceased to be the language of every-day life, it does seem to point to the conclusion that at that time it had considerably degenerated from its ancient purity, so that the common people had some difficulty in understanding the language of their ancient sacred books. Still we believe that the Hebrew element predominated, and, instead of describing, with Walton (Prolegomena 3, sec. 24), the language of the Jews on their return from exile as "Chaldee with a certain admixture of Hebrew," we should rather describe it as Hebrew with a large admixture of Chaldee. Only on this hypothesis does it appear possible satisfactorily to account for the fact that Hebrew continued even after this period to be the language of prophets and preachers, historians and poets, while there is no trace of any similar use of the Chaldee among the Jews of Palestine (compare also Nehemiah 13:24).
At what time Chaldee became the dominant element in the national language it is impossible to determine. All political influences favored its ascendency, and with these concurred the influence of that large portion of the nation still resident in the East, and maintaining constant intercourse with a Chaldee-speaking population. To these influences we cannot wonder that the Hebrew, notwithstanding the sacred associations connected with it, by-and-by succumbed. On the coins of the Maccabees, indeed, the ancient language still appears; but we cannot conclude from this circumstance that it maintained its position as a living language down to the Maccabean period (Ronan, Langues Semitiques, p. 137). The fragments of the popular language which we find in the New Testament are all Aramaean, and ever since the Hebrew has been preserved and cultivated as the language of the learned and of books, and not of common life. On the history of the post-Biblical Hebrew we do not now enter.
III. Of The Written Hebrew. — The Shemitic nations: have been the teachers of the world in religion; By The Invention Of The Alphabet they may likewise lay claim to the honor of having laid the foundation of the world's literature. The Shemitic alphabet, as is well known, has no signs for the pure vowel sounds. All the letters are consonants; some, however, are so weak as easily to pass into vowels, and these letters we accordingly find in use, especially in the later Scriptures, as vowel marks. Two interesting questions here present themselves: 1. As to the age and origin of the characters or letters which appear in all extant Hebrew MSS. and in our printed Hebrew Bibles; and, 2. As to the origin and authority of the punctuation by which the vowel sounds are indicated.
1. On the former of these questions there are two conclusions which may be relied on as certain:
(1.) That the present square characters were not in use among the Jews previous to the Babylonian Captivity. The Jewish tradition is that they were introduced or reintroduced by Ezra (Gesenius, Geschichte, p. 150; Lightfoot, Horae Hebraicae, Matthew 5:18).
(2.) That the square characters have been in use since the beginning of our era (Hupfeld in Stud. Und Krit. for 1830, p. 288). But between these two limits several centuries intervene; is it mot possible to approximate more closely to the date of their introduction? The only fact to which appeal can be made with this view is- this, that on the coins of the Maccabees the square characters do not appear; but whether we are entitled to conclude from this that these characters had not then come into use in Judaea is very doubtful (Gesenius, Geschichte, sect. 43, 3). The probability is that the introduction of these characters, called by the Jewish doctors Assyrian, and generally admitted to be of Aramaean origin, had some connection with the introduction of the Aramaean language, and that the change from the ancient written characters, like that from the ancient language, was not accomplished at once, but gradually. It is possible that in the intensity of national feeling awakened during the Maccabean struggle, there was a reaction in favor of the ancient language and writing.
The earliest monuments of Hebrew writing which we possess are these genuine coins of the Maccabees, which date from the year B.C. 143. The character in which their inscriptions are expressed bears a very near resemblance to the Samaritan alphabet, and both are evidently derived from the Phoenician alphabet. The Talmud also, and Origen and Jerome, both attest the fact that an ancient Hebrew character had fallen into disuse; and by stating that the Samaritans employed it, and by giving some descriptions of its form, they distinctly prove that the ancient character spoken of was essentially the same as that on the Armenian coins. It is therefore considered to be established beyond a doubt that, before the exile, the Hebrews used this ancient character (the Talmud even calls it the "Hebrew"). The Talmud, and Origen, and Jerome ascribe the change to Ezra; and those who, like Gesenius, admit this tradition to be true in a limited sense, reconcile it with the late use of the ancient letters on the coins, by appealing to the parallel use of the Kufic characters on the Mohammedan coins, for several centuries after the Nishi was employed for writing, or by supposing that the Maccabees had a mercantile interest in imitating the coinage of the Phoenicians. The other opinion is that, as the square Hebrew character has not, to all appearance, been developed directly out of the ancient stiff Phoenician type, but out of an alphabet bearing near affinity to that found in the Palmyrene inscriptions, a combination of this palaeographical fact with the intercourse which took place between the Jews and the Syrians under the Seleucidae, renders it probable that the square character was first adopted at some inconsiderable but indefinable time before the Christian sera. Either of these theories is compatible with the supposition that the square character underwent many successive modifications in the next centuries, before it attained its full calligraphical perfection. The passage in Matthew 5:18 is considered to prove that the copies of the law were already written in the square character, as the Yod of the ancient alphabet is as large a letter as the aleph; and the Talmud and Jerome speak as if the Hebrew MSS. of the Old Testament were, in their time, already provided with the final letters, the Taggin, the point on the broken horizontal stroke of ח , and other calligraphical minutia. The characters in use before the Babylonian exile have been preserved by the Samaritans even to the present day without material change (Gesenius, Monum. Phoen. sect. 51, 1; comp. on this subject also Kopp, Bilder und Schriftemz, 2, sect. 165-167; Ewald, Lehibuich, sect. 77; Gesenius, Geschichte der Hebrsischen Sprache Ü . Schrift, sect. 41-43).
2. As To The Origin And Authority Of The Punctuation, the controversy which raged so fiercely in the 17th century may be said now to have ceased; and the views of Ludovicus Cappellus, from the adoption of which the Buxtorfs anticipated the most dangerous consequences now meet with almost universal acquiescence. The two following conclusions may now be regarded as established:
(1.) That the present punctuation did not form an original part of the inspired record, but was introduced by the Jewish doctors long after that record had been closed, for the purpose of preserving, as far as possible, the true pronunciation of the language; and
(2.) That the present pointed text, notwithstanding its comparative regency, presents us with the closest possible approximation to the language which the sacred writers actually used. It would be tedious to go over the evidence by which these positions are established. Those who wish to do so will find the fullest information in the great work of Ludovicus. Cappellus, entitled Arcanum Punctationis Revelatum, with the reply of the younger Buxtorf. Keeping these conclusions in view in interpreting the Hebrew Scriptures, we shall be careful neither, on the one hand, to neglect the traditional text, nor, on the other hand, servilely to adhere to it when a change of the points would give a better sense to any passage.
The origin of the vowel points is to be ascribed to the effort which the Jewish learned men made to preserve the pronunciation of their sacred language at a time when its extinction as a living tongue endangered the loss of the traditional memory of its sound. Every kind of evidence renders it probable that these signs for the pronunciation were first introduced about the 7th century of the Christian era, that is, after the completion of the Talmud, and that the minute and complex system which we possess was gradually developed from a few indispensable signs to its present elaborateness. The existence of the present complete system can, however, be traced back to the 11th century. The skilful investigation of Hupfeld (in the Studien und Kritiken for 1830, p. 549 sq.) has proved that the vowel- points were unknown to Jerome and the Talmud; but, as far as regards the former, we are able to make a high estimate of the degree to which the traditionary pronunciation, prior to the use of the points, accorded with our Masoretic signs; for Jerome describes a pronunciation which agrees wonderfully well with our own vocalization. We are thus called on to avail ourselves thankfully of the Masoretic punctuation, on the double ground that it represents the Jewish traditional pronunciation, and that the Hebrew language, unless when read according to its laws, does not enter into its full dialectical harmony with its Syro-Arabian sisters. (See Massorah).
Although it may be superfluous to enforce the general advantages, not to say indispensable necessity, of a sound scholar-like study of the Hebrew language to the theological student, yet it may be allowable to enumerate some of those particular reasons, incident to the present time, which urgently demand an increased attention to this study. First, the English- speaking race have an ancient honorable name to retain. Selden, Castell, Lightfoot, Pocock, Walton, Spencer, and Hyde, were once contemporary ornaments of its literature. We daily see their names mentioned with deference in the writings of German scholars; but we are forcibly struck with the fact that, since that period, Great Britain has hardly, with the exception of Lowth and Kennicott, produced a single Syro-Arabian scholar whose labors have signally advanced Biblical philology; while America, although possessing some well-qualified teachers, has produced but little that is original in this direction. Secondly, the bold inquiries of the German theologians will force themselves on our notice. It is impossible for us to ignore their existence, for the works containing them are now speedily circulated among us in an English dress. These investigations are conducted in a split of philological and historical criticism which has never yet been brought to bear, with such force, on the most important Biblical questions. The wounds which they deal to the ancient traditions cannot be healed by reference to commentators whose generation knew nothing of our doubts and difficulties. The cure must be sympathetic; it must be effected by the same weapon that caused the wound. If the monstrous disproportion which books relating to ecclesiastical antiquity bear, in almost every theological bookseller's catalogue, over those relating to Biblical philology, be an evidence of the degree to which these studies have fallen into neglect, and if the few books in which an acquaintance with Hebrew is necessary, which do appear, are a fair proof of our present ability to meet the Germans with their own weapons, then there is indeed an urgent necessity that theological students should prepare for the increased demands of the future.
III. History Of Hebrew Learning. — It is not till the closing part of the 9th century that we find, even among the Jews themselves, any attempts at the formal study of their ancient tongue. In the Talmudic writings, indeed, grammatical remarks frequently occur, and of these some indicate an acute and accurate perception of the usages of the language; but they are introduced incidentally, and are to be traced rather to a sort of living sense of the language than to any scientific study of its structure or laws. What the Jews of the Talmudic period knew themselves of the Hebrew they communicated to Origen and Jerome, both of whom devoted themselves with much zeal to the study of that language, and the latter of whom especially became proficient in all that his masters could teach him concerning both its vocabulary and its grammar (Eusebius, Hist. Eccles.; Jerome, Adv. Rufin. 1, 363; Epist. Ad Damas.; Praef Ad Jobun, Ad Paralipom. etc.; Carpzov, Crit. Sac. 6 § 2). As represented by Jerome, the Church was quite on a par with the synagogue in acquaintance with the language of the ancient Scriptures; but how imperfect that was in many respects may be seen from the strange etymologies, which even Jerome adduces as explanatory of words, and from his statement that from the want of vowels in Hebrew "the Jews pronounce the same words with different sounds and accents, pro voluntate lectorun ac varietate regionum" (Ep. ad Evangelums).
Stimulated by the example of the Arabians, the Jews began, towards the end of the 9th century, to bestow careful study on the grammar of their ancient tongue; and with this advantage over the Arabian grammarians, that they did not, like them, confine their attention to one language, but took into account the whole of the Shemitic tongues. An African Jew, Jehuda ben-Karish, who lived about A.D. 880, led the way in this direction; but it was reserved for Saadia ben-Joseph of Fayum, gaon (or spiritual head) of the Jews at Sora in Babylonia, and who died A.D. 942, to compose the first formal treatise on points of Hebrew grammar and philology. To him we are indebted for the Arabic version of the O.T., of which portions are still extant, (See Arabic Versions); and though his other works, his commentaries on the O.T., and his grammatical works, have not come down to us, we know of th
- Hebrew Language from Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary
- Hebrew Language from Fausset's Bible Dictionary
- Hebrew Language from Easton's Bible Dictionary
- Hebrew Language from Smith's Bible Dictionary
- Hebrew Language from Morrish Bible Dictionary
- Hebrew Language from Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature