Arithmetic

Arithmetic or the science of numbers, was unquestionably practiced as an art in the dawn of civilization; since to put things or their symbols together (addition), and to take one thing from another (subtraction), must have been coeval with the earliest efforts of the human mind; and what are termed multiplication and division are only abbreviated forms of addition and subtraction. The origin, however, of the earliest and most necessary of the arts and sciences is lost in the shades of antiquity, since it arose long before the period when men began to take special notice and make some kind of record of their discoveries and pursuits. In the absence of positive information, we seem authorized in referring the first knowledge of arithmetic to the East (see Edinburgh Review, 18:185). From India, Chaldaea, Phoenicia, and Egypt the science passed to the Greeks, who extended its laws, improved its processes, and widened its sphere. To what extent the Orientals carried their acquaintance with arithmetic cannot be determined. The greatest discovery in this department of the mathematics, namely, the establishment of our system of ciphers, or of figures considered as distinct from the letters of the alphabet, belongs undoubtedly, not to Arabia, as is generally supposed, but to the remote East, probably India. It is to be regretted that the name of the discoverer is unknown, for the invention must be reckoned among the greatest of human achievements. Our numerals were made known to these Western parts by the Arabians, who, though they were nothing more than the mediums of transmission, have enjoyed the honor of giving them their name. These numerals were unknown to the Greeks, who made use of the letters of the alphabet for arithmetical purposes (see Encyclopcedia Metropolitana, s.v.). The Hebrews were not a scientific, but a religious and practical nation. What they borrowed from others of the arts of life they used without surrounding it with theory, or expanding and framing it into a system. So with arithmetic, designated by them by some form of the verb מָנָה, manah', signifying to determine, limit, and thence to number. Of their knowledge of this science little is known more than may be fairly inferred from the pursuits and trades which they carried on, for the successful prosecution of which some skill at least in its simpler processes must have been absolutely necessary; and the large amounts which appear here and there in the sacred books serve to show that their acquaintance with the art of reckoning was considerable. SEE NUMBER. Even in fractions they were not inexperienced (Gesenius, Lehrgeb. p. 704). For figures, the Jews, after the Babylonish exile, made use of the letters of the alphabet, as appears from the inscriptions on the so-called Samaritan coins (Eckhel, Doctr. Num. i, iii, 468); and it is not unlikely that the ancient Hebrews did the same, as well as the Greeks, who borrowed their alphabet from the Phoenicians, neighbors of the Israelites, and employed it instead of numerals (Schmidt, Biblischer Mathematicus, Tub. 1735, 1749). SEE ABBREVIATION.

See also the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.

 
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