Page images
[graphic][merged small][merged small]



The art of writing is of great importance; it conveys.human thoughts by certain marks or representations; there are several methods by which it was practised in former times, and in later days. One method, used by some Indians and other untaught nations, is a kind of picture writing, or drawing, to represent the things which the writer desires to tell to others. The Rev. T. H. Horne, in a work which he has written about books, copies a drawing of this sort made by some North American Indians, which represents one of their expeditions against their enemies. Similar drawings of the ancient Mexicans have been copied by other authors. On the next page is a specimen of an ancient Coptic book, showing the style of picture writing among the early Egyptians. Another sort of picture writing, probably an improvement on that just mentioned, was much used by the Egyptians : it is called hieroglyphic writing. The first sort of picture writing only represents things, but this represents ideas or thoughts. For instance, an eye represented God, who sees all things; a sword, a cruel tyrant; an eye and sceptre, a king; a lion represented


courage; armies were meant by hands with weapons. There are cards and books to amuse children, with pictures, or hieroglyphics, not unlike the sorts of writing I have just mentioned. An inscription on a temple in Egypt, expressing this moral sentence, “ All you, who come into the world and go out of it, know this—that the gods hate impudence;" was represented by an infant, an old man, a hawk, a fish, and a river horse. It is thought by some persons, that, from this way of representing religious and moral truths by pictures of animals, the ancient Egyptians came to worship the animals themselves ; as the introducing images, or paintings, into churches, led the people to worship them. Several obelisks, or high pillars, in Egypt, are covered with this sort of writing. There are two famous ones at Alexandria, called Cleopatra's needles, a hundred feet in height, and upwards of seven feet square at the base. The four sides of both are richly adorned with hieroglyphics, cut an inch deep in the granite stone. There is an ancient monumental stone, brought from the ruins of Thebes, in the house of the Religious Tract Society in London, which has many hieroglyphics engraved upon

Another sort of writing represents words by marks of different forms for each word, instead of spelling them by letters. Chinese writing is of this sort : many of the marks or signs, at first represented in some degree, the things meant, as in hieroglyphics, but by degrees they were altered to their present form. The words in the Chinese language, more than fifty thousand in number, are each represented by a different mark or character ; very few, even of their most learned men, are acquainted with more than half, or two-thirds of them. All these methods are less useful and convenient than writing and spelling by means of a few alphabetical letters.

There is not in the Bible any account of the invention of writing, but there is reason to believe that it was known to man even before the flood. God brought the beasts of the field and the birds of the air to Adam, to see what he would call them, Gen. ii. 19: and Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowls of the air, and to every beast of the field. From this it is plain, that God taught Adam the language, or to speak the words which he used, to call the animals by their names. And we may venture to suppose, that God either taught Adam how to write the language he spoke, or that he enabled the children of Adam, who lived before the flood, to discover the art of writing. The book of Genesis states that they were acquainted with music, and other arts and sciences.

After the flood, “ the whole earth was of one language and of one speech ;” and at first they all dwelt in the land of Shinar, near the Euphrates. There they began to build the Tower of Babel, when the Lord confounded their language, so that the different families or tribes did not understand each other's speech, and the Lord scattered them abroad


the face of the earth. Some went in one direction, some in another : they doubtless must have suffered much trouble, and many difficulties in this dispersion. Their language being changed, their methods of writing would probably, like their other arts and customs, become changed, and even forgotten in a greater or less degree.

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

Those who remained in or near the land of Shinar would suffer the least from this change. The forefathers of Abraham stayed in that country, as appears in Gen. xi. 28. Learned men tell us many reasons why we may suppose that the Hebrew language, in which the Old Testament is written, and which was spoken by the Jews, is the same, or nearly the same, as the language spoken when the whole earth was of one speech. If this be correct, we may conclude that the method of writing used by the Hebrews, which is spelling by an alphabet of letters, was the most ancient way of writing. The ancient Greek or Roman writers speak of these letters as being first invented and first used by the Phenicians. As the Phenicians lived close to the Jews, the latter might learn the art of writing from them : and, as they had ships, and traded with Greece and other nations, they probably taught the Jews how to express their thoughts in writing.

How the cominandments of God and other laws mentioned in the Bible were written down, is thus sufficiently explained. It was not by picture writing or hieroglyphics, but by letters; for as these writings are not mentioned till after the Jews had become a separate people, they would be written according to the language then used. These were very similar to what is called the Hebrew language, though the letters rather differed in shape, as appears from some ancient inscriptions. The letters may be seen upon the coins represented in page 91. The ancient Hebrew and the languages similar to it, as Chaldean, Samaritan, and Syriac, are written not like those of Europe, from the left to the right, but from right to left ; so that you begin to read at the other end of the line, and the other end of the book, from what you do in English.

The earliest mention of writing we find in the Bible, is in Exodus xvii. 14. God commanded Moses to write in a book the memorial of the defeat of Amalek, and said that he would utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven. This direction to write was not mentioned as a new thing ; we may, therefore, conclude that writing had been practised before.

The next passage is Exod. xxiv. 4, where we find that “ Moses wrote all the words of the Lord.” And xxxi. 18, when the Lord had made an end of communing with Moses upon Mount Sinai, he gave unto Moses “two tables of testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God.” These contained the ten commandments; and when Moses saw the children of Israel worshipping the golden calf, “he cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount,” ch. xxxii. 19, to show that the Israelites had broken the law of God. In ch. xxxiv. 1, “the Lord said unto Moses, Hew thee two tables of stone like unto the

first : and I will write upon these tables the words that were in the first tables, which thou brakest.” And, in ver. 28, we read that the Lord "wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant;" that is the ten commandments. In one respect these differed from the first tables, which were the work of God; they were made by Moses, but the writing was the same in both, “the writing of God, graven upon the tables,” ch. xxxii. 16. These tables were put into the ark, and kept there. The two tables of stone were in the ark when Solomon caused it to be carried into the temple, 1 Kings viii. 9, after which time there is no account of the ark, nor of the tables of stone. They probably perished when the temple was destroyed by the Babylonians. The candlesticks, table of shew-bread, trumpets, and other articles, were replaced by new ones, or given back by the Babylonians, and remained till Jerusalem was taken by the Romans.

During the first ages, when the patriarchs lived a great many years, the will of the Lord was easily handed down from one generation to another, by the fathers telling their sons what had passed. But when the Israelites were delivered from Egypt, the life of man had been shortened ; many more instructions also were given about sacrifices and offerings.

It was necessary that these directions should be preserved correctly, which could only be done by writing. Therefore, the Lord ordered Moses, “ Write thou these words," Exod. xxxiv. 27. And, in Deut. xxxi. 9, “ Moses wrote this law, and delivered it unto the priests." It was also directed that when they had a king, he should “write him a copy of this law in a book, out of that which is before the priests and Levites : and it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them,” Deut. xvii. 18, 19.

There are directions concerning the writing of parts of the law, or the promises of the Lord, to those who kept his covenant: they were to be bound upon their hands, and as frontlets between their eyes. They were to be taught to their children, and to be written upon the doorposts of their houses, and upon their gates, Deut. xi. 18– 20. God further commanded the children of Israel, “ On the day when ye shall pass over Jordan unto the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shalt set thee up great stones, and plaster them with plaster : and thou shalt write upon them all the words of this law, when thou

« PreviousContinue »