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and not in Hebrew. The so-called Targums 1 again, or translations and paraphrases of the Old Testament, written during the centuries immediately preceding and following the Christian era, give us another specimen of the Aramaic, or the language of Babylonia, as transplanted to Palestine. This Aramaic was the dialect spoken by Christ and his disciples. The few authentic words preserved in the New Testament as spoken by our Lord in His own language, such as Talitha kumi, Ephphatha, Abba, are not in Hebrew, but in the Chaldee, or Aramaic, as then spoken by the Jews.3
After the destruction of Jerusalem the literature of the Jews continued to be written in the same dialect. The Talmud 4 of Jerusalem of the fourth, and that of Babylon of the fifth, century exhibit the Aramean, as spoken by the educated Jews settled in these two localities, though greatly depraved and spoiled by an admixture of strange elements. This language remained the literary idiom of the Jews to the tenth century. The Masora, and the traditional commentary of the Old Testament, was written in it about that time. Soon after the Jews adopted Arabic as their literary language, and retained it to the thirteenth century. They then returned to a kind of modernized Hebrew, which they still continue to employ for learned discussions.
1 Arabic, tarjam, to explain; Dragoman, Arabic, tarjamân.
2 The most ancient are those of Onkelos and Jonathan, in the second century after Christ. Others are much later, later even than the Talmud. Renan, p. 220.
8 Renan, pp. 220-222.
4 Talmud (instruction, consists of Mishna and Gemara. Mishna means repetition, viz. of the Law. It was collected and written down about 218, by Jehuda. Gemara is a continuation and commentary of the Mishna; that of Jerusalem was finished towards the end of the fourth, that of Babylon towards the end of the fifth, century.
6 First printed in the Rabbinic Bible, Venice, 1525.
It is curious that the Aramaic branch of the Semitic family, though originally the language of the great kingdoms of Babylon and Nineveh, should have been preserved to us only in the literature of the Jews, and of the Christians of Syria. There must have been a Babylonian literature, for the wisdom of the Chaldeans had acquired a reputation which could hardly have been sustained without a literature. Abraham must have spoken Aramaic before he emigrated to Canaan. Laban spoke the same dialect, and the name which he gave to the heap of stones that was to be a witness between him and Jacob, (Jegar-sahadutha) is Syriac, whereas Galeed, the name by which Jacob called it, is Hebrew.) If we ever to recover a knowledge of that ancient Babylonian literature, it must be from the cuneiform inscriptions lately brought home from Babylon and Nineveh. They are clearly written in a Semitic language. About this there can be no longer any doubt. And though the progress in deciphering them has been slow, and slower than was at one time expected, yet there is no reason to despair. In a letter, dated April, 1853, Sir Henry Rawlinson wrote:
“On the clay tablets which we have found at Nineveh, and which now are to be counted by thousands, there are explanatory treatises on almost every subject under the sun : the art of writing, grammars, and dictionaries, notation, weights and measures, divisions of time, chronology, astronomy, geography, history, mythology, geology, botany, &c. In fact we have now at our disposal a perfect cyclopædia of Assyrian science." Considering what has been achieved in deciphering one
i Quatremère, Mémoire sur les Nabatéens, p. 139.
class of cuneiform inscriptions, the Persian, there is no reason to doubt that the whole of that cyclopædia will some day be read with the same ease with which we read the mountain records of Darius.
There is, however, another miserable remnant of what was
once the literature of the Chaldeans or Babylonians, namely, the “ Book of Adam," and similar works preserved by the Mendaïtes or Nasoreans, a curious sect settled near Bassora. Though the composition of these works is as late as the tenth century after Christ, it has been supposed that under a modern crust of wild and senseless hallucinations, they contain some grains of genuine ancient Babylonian thought. These Mendaïtes have in fact been identified with the Nabateans, who are mentioned as late as the tenth century of our era, as a race purely pagan, and distinct from Jews, Christians, and Mohammedans. In Arabic the name Nabatean? is used for Babylonians, — nay, all the people of Aramaic origin, settled in the earliest times between the Euphrates and Tigris are referred to by that name. It is supposed that the Nabateans, who are mentioned about the beginning of the Christian era as a race distinguished for their astronomical and general scientific knowledge, were the ancestors of the mediaval Nabateans, and the descendants of the ancient Babylonians and Chaldeans. have lately seen in some literary journals an account of a work called “ The Nabatean Agriculture.” It exists only in an Arabic translation by Ibn-Wahshiyyah, the Chaldean, who lived about 900 years 1 Renan, p. 241.
2 Ibid. p. 237. 3 Quatremère, Mémoire sur les Nabatéens, p. 116.
+ Ibn-Wahshiyyah was a Mussulman, but his family had been converted for three generations only. He translated a collection of Nabatean books.
after Christ, but the original, which was written by Kuthami in Aramean, has lately been referred to the beginning of the thirteenth century B. C.
The evidence is not yet fully before us, but from what is known it seems more likely that this work was the compilation of a Nabatean, who lived about the fourth century after Christ;1 and though it contains ancient traditions, which may go back to the days of the great Babylonian monarchs, these traditions can hardly be taken as a fair representation of the ancient civilization of the Aramean race.
The second branch of the Semitic family is the Hebraic, chiefly represented by the ancient language of Palestine, where Hebrew was spoken and written from the days of Moses to the times of Nehemiah and the Maccabees, though of course with considerable modifications, and with a strong admixture of Aramean forms, particularly since the Babylonian captivity, and the rise of a powerful civilization in the neighboring country of Syria. The ancient language of Phænicia, to judge from inscriptions, was most closely allied to Hebrew, and the language of the Carthaginians too must be referred to the same branch.
Hebrew was first encroached upon by Aramaic dialects, through the political ascendency of Babylon, and still more of Syria ; and was at last swept away by Arabic, which, since the conquest of Palestine and Syria in the year 636, has monopolized nearly the whole area formerly occupied by the two older branches of the Semitic stock, the Aramaic and Hebrew.
Three have been preserved, 1, the Nabatean Agriculture; 2, the book on poisons; 3, the book of Tenkelusha (Teucros) the Babylonian; besides fragments of the book of the secrets of the Sun and Moon. The Nabatean Agriculture was referred by Quatremère (Journal Asiatique, 1835) to the period between Belesis who delivered the Babylonians from their Median masters, and the taking of Babylon by Cyrus. Prof. Chwolson, of St. Petersburg, who has examined all the MSS., places Kuthami at the beginning of the thirteenth century B. C.
1 Renan, Mémoire sur l'âge du livre intitulé Agriculture Nabatéenne, p. 38. Paris, 1860.
This third, or Arabic, branch sprang from the Arabian peninsula, where it is still spoken by a compact mass of aboriginal inhabitants. Its most ancient documents are the Himyaritic inscriptions. In very early times this Arabic branch was transplanted to Africa, where, south of Egypt and Nubia, on the coast opposite Yemen, an ancient Semitic dialect has maintained itself to the present day. This is the Ethiopic or Abyssinian, or, as it is called by the people themselves, the Gees language. Though no longer spoken in its purity by the people of Habesh, it is still preserved in their sacred writings, translations of the Bible, and similar works, which date from the third and fourth centuries. The modern language of Abyssinia is called Amharic.
The earliest literary documents of Arabic go back beyond Mohammed. They are called Moallakat, literally, suspended poems, because they are said to have been thus publicly exhibited at Mecca. They are old popular poems, descriptive of desert life. With Mohammed Arabic became the language of a victorious religion, and established its sway over Asia, Africa, and Europe.
These three branches, the Aramaic, the Hebraic, and Arabic, are so closely related to each other, that it was impossible not to recognize their common origin. Every root in these languages, as far back as we know them, must consist of three consonants, and numerous