I. Among the peoples of Hither Asia lay the root stem of these languages which are denominated "Shemitic," or "Semitic" according to the French, which is supposed to have been spoken by the descendants of Shem. The ordinary denomination of thee languages, in earlier times, was "the Oriental languages." This was employed by Jerome, and is still used to some extent in modern times. As long as the other languages of the East, which do not belong to the Shemitic stock, were not known in the West, this term was perfectly satisfactory, and the more so when Hebrew was viewed as the mother of all languages. Now, however, that an acquaintance with the Eastern languages is more developed, and a scientific study of them has spread so widely and extended itself especially in the academies, not only to the Persian, but also to the Egyptian, Chinese, Armenian and especially the Indian (Sanskrit), it naturally follows that all these languages belonging to different stems are comprehended under the name "Oriental," so that this has now become an unsuitable term. The necessity arose to find a proper appellation which would distinguish that stem, forming now the Shemitic languages, from the other Oriental languages; and thus different suggestions were made. Leibnitz, e.g., suggested "Arabic;" Hupfeld (Hebr. Gram. p. 2) proposed "Hither-Asiatic" languages; Renan thinks that, in analogy to Indo-European, "Le veritable nom des langues qui nous occupent serait Syro-arabes." Neither of these suggestions prevailed; but the term "Shemitic," proposed by Schlozer in 1781, and recommended by Eichhorn (Allgem. Bibl. der bib. Lit. 6, 50, 772 sq.), has come into use. This latter term is based on the fact that in Ge 10:21-31 the Hebrews, together with the other tribes belonging to this stem, are derived from Shem. But, like the former terms, the latter was also opposed, especially by Stange in his Theol. Symmikta (1802), pt. 1, p. 1-39. "And, indeed," says Bleek, "it must be acknowledged that if we regard this catalogue of nations as its groundwork, there is not quite so much to be said in favor of it. We there read (Ge 10:22). The children of Shem. Elam, and Asshur, and Arphaxad, and Lud, and Aram. Of these, Arphaxad is described as the grandfather of Eber, and Eber as the father" of Peleg and Joktan, the latter of whom is mentioned in the following verses as the head of many Arabian tribes; while Peleg is spoken of in ch. 11 as the great-great-grandfather of Terah, the father of Abraham, so that Arphaxad may be regarded as the progenitor of the Hebrews and of other tribes related to them by language. Aram, also as the progenitor of the Aramaeans would belong to this language stem. On the other hand, Elam certainly does not belong to it, but to the same stem as the Persians; the same may probably be said of Asshur and, also of Lud, whom we may, with Josephus, regard as the parent of the Lydians. On the other side, however, we find the Canaanites and Phoenicians (10, 15-19), the Ethiopians (Cush [ver. 6, 7]), and several Arabian tribes traced up to Ham, although there is no doubt that so far as language is concerned they belong to the same stem as the Hebrews and Aramaeans. From Bleek's statement it will be seen that the term "Shemitic" does not serve all purposes. True as this is, yet, in default of a better term, the name Shemitic languages has been retained, and is now current, with the distinct understanding of its being a false and merely conventional expression.
II. Division. — Viewing the Shemitic languages from a geographical point of view, they may be divided into three principal branches. Thus we a have: (a) The Northern or Northeastern branch, the Aramaic; (b) The Southern, among which the Arabic is the chief dialect, and with which the Ethiopic is also connected; (c) The Middle, the Hebrew, with which the Canaanitish and Phoenician (Punic) nearly coincide. With this a division, Renan says corresponds the one which we may call the historical, according to which the Hebraic would assume the first place, extending from the earliest. times of our knowledge of it down to the 6th century B.C., when the Aramaic begins to take the lead, and the field of Hebrew and Phoenician (the chief representatives of Hebraic) becomes more and more restricted. The Aramaic, again, would be followed by the Arabic period, dating from the time of Mohammed, when the Islam and its conquests spread the language of the Koran, not merely over the whole Shemitic territory, but over a vast portion of the inhabited globe. But this division, as M. Renan remarks, "ne doit etre prise que dans un sens general, et avec trois restrictions importantes.
1. Les idiomes remplaces par un autre, l'Hebreu par l'Arameen, le Syriaque par l'Arabe, ne disparaissent pas pour cela entierement: ils restent langue savante et sacree, et, a ce titre, continuent d'etre cultives longtemps apres avoir cesse d'etret vulgaires.
2. Cette succession des trois langies Semitiques ne peut signifier que chacune d'elles ait ete parlee en meme temps dans toute l'etendue des pays occupes par la race Semitique elle signifie seulement que chacun de ces trois dialectes fut tour a tour dominant, et representa, a son jour, le plus haut developpement de l'esprtit Semitique. Toute l'histoire intellectuelle des Semites, en effet, se partage, comme l'histoire des langues Semitiques elles-memes, en trois phases — Hebraique, Chaldeo-Syriaque, et Arabe.
3. Cette division, enfin, ne doit point etre entendue d'une maneire absolue, mais seulement par rapport a l'etat de nos connaissances" (Histoire des Lang. Sem. p. 108). The writer of the art. Shemitic Languages in Kitto's Cyclopedia, Mr. E. Deutsch, seems to have known M. Renan's work and those of others holding the same view for he says that these authors "had to hedge it in with many and variegated restrictions." But any one reading the remarks of M. Renan will hardly understand the unnecessary zeal exhibited by the writer in Kitto when he says, "But we further protest all the more strongly against it, as it might easily lead to the belief that the one idiom gradually merged into the other." Out of the three principal branches, in the course of time, others developed themselves. The following table, taken from Prof. M. Muller's Science of Language, 1, 396 (Amer. ed.), exhibits them in a genealogical way:
III. Characteristics of the Shemitic Languages. — Not only are all these languages (with the exception of the Ethiopic and Amharic) written from right to left, but they are related to each other in much the same manner as those of the Germanic family (Gothic, Old Northern, Danish, Swedish High and Low German, in the earlier and later dialects), or as those of the Slavic tongues (Lithuanian, Lettish; Old Slavic, Servian, Russian, Polish, Bohemian), bearing in mind, however, that the relationship in the former case is more thorough and complete than in the latter.
In the first place, the whole of the Shemitic dialects agree substantially with regard to the root words and their meaning; the only difference being that one language, the Arabic, is comparatively far richer than the other dialects. Thus, e.g., the Arabic possesses nearly 6000 roots and about 60,000 words, while in Hebrew only about 2000 roots and 6000 words are known to us. Or, again, the Arabic philologists quote 1000 different terms for a sword, 500 for a lion, 200 for a serpent, 400 for misfortune. But we must take this into consideration, that in the other dialects only a small number, of literary records, comparatively speaking, have been preserved and that the Arabic, as a living language, is known to us in a far later development than the Hebrew. But by far the larger part of the root words which are found in Hebrew appear also in the other dialects, and in essentially the same or only a slightly modified signification. Besides, in, the present form of the language in all these dialects, nearly all the stem words are composed of three consonants. In all the Shemitic dialects the consonants are seen to be far more essential than the vowels. The former almost alone determine the essential meaning of the word, while the differences of the vowels do no more than give the different references and modifications of this meaning.
Not the less do we find in the whole grammatical construction, as well as in particular instances of grammatical formation and structure, the greatest and most surprising agreement between the various Shemitic languages or dialects thus we have but two genders, and these are also distinguished in the second and third persons of the verb. In the inflection of verbs they have only two moods (commonly considered to be tenses); but these are strongly contrasted by the position of the marks of the persons at the end or at the beginning the so called perfect for the completed or actual, and the imperfect for the incomplete or hypothetical, without decidedly giving expression to the tenses by peculiar forms. Nouns are not declined by means of case endings, but the genitive is expressed by closely combining two words, and other cases by using prepositions, while the pronouns have mere suffixes for the oblique cases. Finally, they are characterized by poverty in the particles, and consequently they have their clauses formed with extreme simplicity and they are defective in the structure of sentences, at least if they are judged by the standard of the Latin and the German languages. Considering all these facts, they plainly show that one original language lies at the foundation of them all that in early times — anterior, however, to all our historical knowledge of them — these nations certainly all spoke one language, which has in later periods, as they separated one from the other, developed into these various dialects" (Bleek).
IV Comparison of the Shemitic Languages with One Another. — When we enter on the consideration of the mutual relation, we find that by far the richest and most developed of the Shemitic languages is that of the South, known to us as
1. The Arabic. — Referring the reader to the art. SEE ARABIC LANGUAGE in this Cyclopedia, we will only make a few general remarks. Before the time of Mohammed it was confined to Arabia, and scarcely cultivated except in poetry; but along with Islam it has spread itself over the greater part of Asia and Africa, and has unfolded its great wealth in a very comprehensive literature, which extends to almost all the domains of knowledge.
Even in the earliest times it is possible that this dialect was separated from those with which it is allied, though the traces of this are few. The most marked is the form אּלמוֹדִדּ (Ge 10:26), the designation of a district of Arabia Felix, having the article prefixed, which has also been preserved elsewhere in some Hebrew documents, as in Pr 30:31, אלקו, Jos 15:30, comp. 1Ch 4:29. We know, also, that already in the time of Solomon the wisdom of the Arabs was highly prized; and that enigmas, and so, at least, the beginning of poesy, were to be found in Yemen, or rather in Sabaea: (1Ki 4:30; 1Ki 10:1 sq.).
In the beginning it probably had forms which were simpler and more like the Hebrew than those in which it is known to us, which have been cultivated to the very uttermost; but soon the one language fell to pieces, as the many independent tribes formed their several dialects, of which the Himyeritic in Yemen was strongly marked by differences from the language of Central Arabia, being simpler, and so more nearly allied to the Hebrew. But when the Himyarites kingdom fell, this dialect was compelled to yield to that of Mecca (the Modarensitic or Koraishitic), which had become a written form of speech before Mohammed's time, and is in the Koran (Sura 16:103) named the Arabic language, κατ ἐξοχήν. In this dialect the entire Arabic literature is composed. Then it was gradually supplanted by the present commonly spoken language, which has not only adopted many foreign words, Turkish especially, but has also lost the variety of forms which it possessed and the very capacity for forming others, and thus has returned nearer to the ancient simplicity as well as to the Hebrew and Aramaic.
From the intimate connection from the earliest times between South Arabia and Ethiopia it has arisen that we have in the Ethiopic language (q.v.) a remnant of the old Himyeritic dialect, lost even to the Arabic itself. In this ancient written language (the Geez) we possess a translation of the Bible and other ecclesiastical writings, of which the most important is the translation of the book of Enoch. The language has a simpler character than the more cultivated Arabic, and approaches more to the Hebrew and Aramaic idiom. In the 14th century it was supplanted by Amharic, and is now only a learned language.
The literature of the Arabic language being very rich, we shall only mention here, by way of supplement to the article ARABIC LANGUAGE in this Cyclopedia, the works published recently in so far as they have come under our observation
A. Grammars of both the Ancient and Modern Arabic Bresuier, Cours Pratique et Theorique de la Langue Arabe, etc. (Alger. 1855); id. Grammaire Arabe Elementaire, etc. (ibid. 1866); Mohamed Cadi, La Langue Arabe, etc. (Cairo, 1862, 3 vols.) Caspari, Grammatik der arab Sprache (Leips. 1866); Fahrat, Grammaire Arabe (Beirut, 1865); Faris-el- Shidiak, A Practical Grammar of the Arabic Language, etc. (Lond. 1866); Freytag, Einleitung in das Studium der arab. Sprache (Bonn, 1861); Goldenthal, Grammaire Arabe ecrite en Hebreu, etc. (Vienna, 1857); Gorguos, Cours d'Arabe Vulgaire (Paris, 1864, 2 pts.); Hassan, Kurzgefasste Grammatik der vulgar-arabischen Sprache (Vienna, 1869); Leitner, Introduction to a Philosophical Grammar of Arabic (Lahore, 1870); Mallouf, Fevay de Charquive, ou Abrege de Grammaire Arabe, etc. (Smyrna, 1854); Narul Kira, Nasif El Yazighy (Beirut, 1863), an Arabic grammar in Arabic; Newman, A Handbook of Modern Arabic (Lond. 1866); Raabe, Gemeinschaftliche Grammatik der arabischen u. der semitischen Sprachen (Leips. 1874); Sapeto, Grammatica Araba Volgare (Florence, 1867); Schier, Grammaire Arabe (Leips. 1862); Zschokke, Institiutiones Fundamentales Linguoe Arabicoe (Vienna, 1869); Wolff, Arabischer Dragoman (Leips. 1867).
B. Dictionaries. — Bochtor, Dictionnaire Francais-Arabe, etc. (Paris, 1S64); Butrus a Bustany (Beirut, 1866-70, 2 vols. fol., an abridged edition, ibid. 1867-70), an Arabic dictionary explained in Arabic; Calligaris, Le Compagnon de Tous, ou Dictionnaire Polyglotte, etc. (Turin, 1864-70, 2 vols.); Cherbonneau, Dictionnaire Francais-Arabe (Par. 1872); Helot, Dictionnaire de Poche Francais-Arabe et Arabe-Francais (Alger. 1870); Henry, Dictionnaire Francais-Arabe (Beirut, 1867); Kazimirski, Dictionnaire Arabe-Francais, etc. (Paris, 1860, 2 vols.); Marcel, Dictionnaire Francais-Arabe des Dialectes Vulgaires (ibid. 1869); Newman, A Dictionary of Modern Arabic (Lond. 1870, 2 vols.): Paulmier, Dictionnaire Francais-Arabe (Paris, 1872); Roland de Bussy, Petit Dictionnaire Francais-Arabe et Arabe-Francais (Alger. 1867); Schiaparelli, Vocabulista in Arabico (Florence, 1871); Wahrmund, Handworterbuch der arabischen und deutschen Sprache (Giessen, 1874, 2 vols.).
C. Chrestomathies. — Cherbonneau. Exercises pour la Lecture de Manuscrits Arabes, etc. (Paris, 1853); id. Lecons de Lecture Arabe etc. (ibid. 1864); Combarel, Cahiers d'Ecritures Arabes, etc. (ibid. 18S 0).
2. The Syro-Chaldee. — That the Arabic in the South was not the most developed of all the Shemitic languages we see in the Aramaic language (q.v.). Here, also, we cannot enter upon a minute history of that language, for which the reader is referred to the article in this Cyclopoedia. Our remarks can only be of a general character.
The countries in the north of Palestine stretching from the Tigris to the Taurus are comprehended in Scripture under the name of Aram, or Highland. Their inhabitants, the 'Αραμαῖοι and ῎Αριμοι of the ancients (Hom. Il. 2, 783), were of different nations (even in Scripture they are distinguished as Aram-Damascus, אֲרִ םדִּמֶשֶׁק;, Padan-Aram, פִדִּןאֲרִ;. Aram-Zobah, אִרִ םצוֹבָה etc.), and they passed historically through the most diversified relations. The common language of these people, in respect of its general character, as it is of all the Shemitic dialects the most northern, so also is it the harshest (in place of the softer labials ש ז, and צ, it has ד, ת, and ט, i.e. the d and t sounds) the poorest (it wants a complete vowel system, hence as verbal form כּתִב [Heb. כָּתִב], noun form מלֵך [Heb. מֶלֶך]); it has corresponding with this a scanty conjugation system; it possesses no vestige of the conjugation Niphal, but forms all its passives by the prefix את; it does not carefully distinguish the formation of the weaker roots, but interchanges the verbs and nouns, לא and לה, פו and פי, etc., and in general the least cultivated.
In the Old Test. we find this dialect denominated, in opposition to the Palestinian, the Aramaic language (ארמית, Isa 36:11; 2Ki 18:26). In the time of Isaiah, as appears from the passage just cited, educated Hebrews could speak Aramaic, and, conversely, educated Arameans could speak Hebrew (Isa 36:4 sq.); while the common people understood only their vernacular dialect. The subsequent transportation of the Jewish people into Babylon contributed to silence more entirely the ancient vernacular in Judaea, and to render the triumph of the Aram seal in those parts more general. Finally, during the long exile of the Jews in Babylon, the language of their fatherland appears to have been altogether laid aside, so that those who at the termination of the captivity returned into Palestine brought with them the dialect of Babylon as their customary medium of speech. Among the priesthood and learned men, the Hebrew had, indeed, been retained as the language of literature and religion but so fully had it passed from the populace in general that we find them, on the reinstitution of public worship at Jerusalem, incapable of understanding the holy writings except as paraphrased in Aramaic (Ne 8:8).
This was the tongue which, with a slight intermixture of Persic and Greek (in consequence of the temporary dominion of the Persians and Macedonians in Palestine), had prevailed from the period of the return from Babylon, and was still maintained in popular use at the opening of the Christian dispensation under the name of Palestinian Aramaic, or Palestinian Syriac.
This Palestinian Syriac is a language, therefore, preeminently interesting to the Christian. "It was sanctified by the lips of the Divine Redeemer. In these forms of speech he conversed with the Virgin mother, instructed his disciples, and proclaimed to myriads the promises of eternal life. In them he gave forth those sovereign mandates which controlled the tempestuous elements, dispossessed the demoniac brought health to the diseased, and a resurrection life to the dead. In this very tongue we have still the words in which he taught his people the prayer which calls upon the Almighty God as our Father in heaven. Finally, it was in this language that he himself prayed upon earth, and that the Father spoke audibly to him from the heavens. Thus consecrated, it became a celestial language, a holy tongue, a chosen vehicle which conveyed the thoughts of the uncreated mind and the purposes of eternal love to the sons of men." The Aramaean language may be said, in general terms, to have been distinguished into the Eastern and Western Aramaic. Of these, a full account is given in this Cyclopaedia under the respective heads of CHALDEE LANGUAGE and SYRIAC LANGUAGE. We therefore here consider some of the more obscure dialects.
(1.) The Samaritan. — This dialect occupies an intermediate position with reference to Hebrew and Aramaic, and is particularly characterized by changes in the guttural, also by containing many non-Shemitic (Cuthaic) words. The Samaritans have no means of distinguishing between the Hebrew letters שׂ and שׁ the have no final or dilatable forms, like the Hebrews, for any of the letters, but use the same form under all circumstances. The character used is the most ancient of the Shemitic characters, which the Samaritans retained when the Hebrews adopted the square character. Few remains of this dialect are extant (comp. the articles SEE SAMARITAN LANGUAGE, LITERATURE, etc.).
(2.) The Sabian or Nazarean. — This language, known as yet only from the Codex Nazaraeus, also called The Book of Adam (edited by M. Norberg, Gottingen, 1815-17, 3 vols.), occupies a place between the Syrian and Chaldee, makes frequent changes in gutturals and other letters, is in general incorrect in spelling and grammar, and has adopted many Persian words. The MSS. are written in a peculiar character; the letters are formed like those of the Nestorian Syriac, and the vowels are inserted as letters in the text.
(3.) The Palmyrene. — Of this dialect no specimens are now extant, except such scanty fragments as are contained in the Palmyrian inscriptions, for an account of which we may refer to R. Wood's Ruins of Palmyra (Lond. 1753), interpreted independently by Barthelemy in Paris, and better by Swinton in Oxford. Some more specimens were given by Eichhorn, Marmora Palmyrena Explicata (Gottingen, 1827, 4to). The inscriptions are chiefly bilingual — in an Aramaic which is much like the common dialect, and in Greek — the earliest being A.D. 49, but most of them being in the 2d and 3d centuries.
(4.) The Old Phoenician, together with Punic. — A document of some size in the old Phoenician was first discovered in 1855, communicated by Dr. Thomson, of Beirut, and purchased by the duc de Luynes for the Louvre. Rodiger, Dietrich, Hitzig, Schlottmann, De Luynes, Ewald, and Munk endeavored to interpret it. More recent is the sacrificial tablet discovered at Marseilles, explained by Movers (Breslau, 1847), Ewald, and A. C. Judas. Of chief importance for the Punic are the Punic passages in the Poenulus of Plautus, illustrated by Movers and Ewald. The rest of the Phoenician and Punic inscriptions (including those on coins) hitherto discovered have been collected and illustrated by Gesenius in Mon. Ling. Phoen. (Lips. 1837, 3 vols.), to which must be added forty-five inscriptions by the abbe Bourgade (Paris, 1852, fol.), deciphered by the abbe Barges. SEE PHOENICIA.
Linguistic Literature. —
A. Chaldee. — Passing over the more ancient works, we will only give some of the more modern:
I. Grammars. — Harris [W.], Elements of the Chaldee Language, etc. (Lond. 1822); Nolan, An Introduction to Chaldee Grammar, etc. (ibid. 1821); Rigge [El.], Manual of the Chaldee Language (Boston, 1832); Winer-Hackett, Grammar of the Chaldee Language (Andover, 1845); Luzzatto-Kruger, Grammatik der biblisch-chaldaischen Sprache (Breslau, 1873); Chaldee Reading-Lessons, with a Grammatical Praxis, etc. (Lond. ed. Bagster).
II. Lexicons. — In this department the Thesaurus is the great work of Buxtorf, Lexicon Chaldaicum, talmudicum, et. Rabbinicum (Basil. 1640; new ed. by Fischer, Leips. 1666-44); Schonhak, Aramaisch-rabbinisches Worterburch (Warsaw, 1859); Levy [I.], Chaldaisches Worterbuch uber die Targumim (Leips. 1867); id. Neuhebr und chald. Worterbuch (ibid.), now in course of publication.
B. Syriac. —
I. Grammars. — Cowper [B.H.], The Principles of the Syriac Grammar (Lond. 1858); Merx [A.], Grammatica Syriaca (Halle, 1867-69); Nolan. [F.], An Introduction to the Syriac Language, etc. (Lond. 1821); Philips [S.], Syriac Grammar (Cambridge, 1866); Uhlemann Hutchinson, Syriac Grammar (N.Y. 1855); Syriac Reading-Lessons, etc. (Loud. ed. Bagster).
II. Lexicons. — Frost [M.], Lexicon Syriacum (1623); Gutbir [Aeg.], Lexicon Syriacum, continens omnes N.T. Syr. Dictiones. et Particulas, etc. (Hamb. 1667): a neat and improved. edition of this Lexicon was given by Dr. Henderson (Lond. 183G, Bagster); Bernstein [G. H.], Lexicon Linguoe Syr. (Berol. 1857, fol. vol. 1). Older ones we omit.
C. Samaritan. — SEE SAMARITAN LANGUAGE, LITERATURE, etc.
D. The Sabian or Nazarean. — Norberg [M.], Onomasticon Codicis Nasarei (Lund. 1817, 2 vols.); id. Lexicon Codicis Nasarei (ibid. 1816).
E. The Palmyrene. — Bartholemy, Reflexions sur Alphabet et sur la Langue dont ont se servoit autrefois a Palmyre, in the Memoires de l'Academie des Inscriptionis, tom. 26.
F. The Phoenician. — Levy [Dr. M.A.], Phonizisches Worterbuch (Breslau, 1864); Schroder [P.], Grammatische Untersuchungen uber die phonizische Sprache, etc. (Halle, 1869); Wuttke H.], Entstehung u. Beschafenheit des fonikisch-hebr. Alfabetes, in the Zeitschr. d. deutschen morgenl. Gesellschaft (1857), 11, 75.
3. The third main branch of the Shemitic the Mid-Shemitic, is best known to us as the Hebrew language (q.v.). As this is the most important to the student of Sacred Writ, we will give a short outline of the same, following its history through the different stages, till, like the Arabic, it became an object of philological study.
(1.) Name and Origin. — The Hebrew language takes its name from Abraham's descendants, the Israelites, who are ethnographically called Hebrews,* and who spoke this language while they were an independent people. In the Old Test. it is poetically called the language of Canaan (שׂפִת כּנִעִן, γλῶσσα ἡ Χαναανῖτις, Isa 19:18, "emphatically the language of the holy land consecrated to Jehovah, as contrasted with that of the profane Egypt," as Havernick expresses it and also the Jews' language (לָשוֹןיהוּדַית, Ιουδαϊστί, 2Ki 18:26; Isa 36:11,13; Ne 13:24), from the kingdom of Judah. The name "Hebrew language" nowhere occurs in the Old Test., since in general there is rarely anything said of the language of the Israelites; it appears in the prologue to Ecclus., ῾Εβραϊστι, and in Josephus (Ant. 1, 1, 2), γλῶττα τῶν ῾Εβραίων. In the New Test. ῾Εβραϊστί (Joh 5:2; Joh 19:13,17, etc.) and ῾Εβραϊvς διάλεκτος (Ac 21:40; Ac 22:2; Ac 26:14) denote the Aramaic,
which was spoken in the country at the time.** In later Jewish writers (as in the Targumists) the Hebrew language is called לַשָׁןדּקוּדשָׁא (the sacred tongue), in contrast with the Aramaic (לשׁוֹןחוֹל).
* There is a controversy as to the origin of this name. Aben-Ezra (d. 1168), Buxtorf (d. 1629), Loscher [F.E.] 1749), Buddeus [J.G.] (d. 1764), Lengerke (d. 1855), Meier [E.] (d. 1866), Ewald (d. 1875), and others derive it from the Shemite Eber (Ge 10:24; Ge 11:14 sq.), while most of the rabbins and of the fathers (as Jerome, Theodoret, Origen. Chrysostom), Arias Montanus, Paulus Burgensis, Munster, Luther, Grotius, Scaliger, Eusebius, Walton, Clericus, Rosenmuller, Gesenius, Eichhorn, Hengstenberg, Bleek, and others derive it from עֵבֵר "beyond," following the Sept., which translates עַברַי (14:13) by ὁ περάτης, "the man from beyond," referring to Abraham's immigration.
** The passage in Philo (De Vita Mosis, 2, 509, ed. Colon., Young's transl. 3, 82), according to which the original of the Pentateuch was written in Chaldaic, shows how much the Alexandrians of that time had lost the knowledge of the difference of the dialect, and is to be ascribed to Philo's ignorance in this department.
(2.) Antiquity of the Hebrew Language. — On this point, and the question whether the Hebrew was the primitive language, there is a great diversity of opinion. "It is clear," says Havernick (introd. p. 128), "that this question can be satisfactorily answered only by those who regard the Biblical narrative (viz. Ge 11:1 sq.) as true history. Those who, like the mass of recent interpreters, look at it from a mythical point of view. cannot possibly obtain any results. Gesenius says that, as respects the antiquity and origin of the Hebrew language, if we, do not take this mythical account, we find ourselves totally deserted by the historian." Returning, then, to the ancient view of this passage, we find that most of the rabbins,* the fathers,** the older theologians — Buxtorf [John], the son (Dissert. Phil. Theol. [Basil. 1662], Diss. 1), Walton (Proleg. 3, 3 sq.), Pfeiffer [A.] (Decas Select. Exercitt. Bibl., in his Dubia Vexata, p. 59 sq.), St. Morinus (De Ling. Primoeva [Ultraj. 1694]), Loscher [Val.] (De Causis Ling. Hebr. 1, 2, 5 ), Carpzov (Rit. Sacr. p. 174 sq.), among the moderns and, with some limitation, Pareau, Havernick, Von Gerlach, Baumgarten, and others, believe that Hebrew was the primitive language of mankind, while some contend that if any of the Asiatic tongues may claim the honor of being the ancestral language of our race, the palm should be given to the Sanskrit. Between these two opinions the question now rests, and "it is astonishing," says. Prof. Muller (Science of Language, 1, 133), "what an amount of real learning and ingenuity was wasted on this question during the 17th and 18th, centuries. It might have been natural for theologians in the 4th and 5th centuries, many of whom knew neither Hebrew nor any language except their own, to take it for granted that Hebrew was the source of all languages; but there is neither in the Old. nor in the New Test. a single word to necessitate this view. Of the language of Adam we know nothing; but if Hebrew, as we know it was one of the languages that sprang from the confusion of tongues at Babel, it could not well have been the language of Adam, or of the whole earth when the whole earth was still of one speech.'" The first who really conquered the prejudice that Hebrew was the source of all language was Leibnitz, the contemporary and rival of Newton. "There is as much reason," he said, "for supposing Hebrew to have been the primitive language of mankind as there is for adopting the view of Serapius, who published a work at Antwerp, in 1550, to prove that Dutch was the language spoken in Paradise." In a letter to Tenzel, Leibnitz writes: "To call Hebrew the primitive language is like calling the branches of a tree primitive branches, or like imagining that in some country hewn trunks would grow instead of trees. Such ideas may be conceived, but they do not agree with the laws of nature and with the harmony of the universe that is to say, with the Divine Wisdom."
*"And all the inhabitants of the earth were [of] one language, and of one speech, and one counsel for they spake the holy language by which the world was created at the beginning" (Targum on Ge 11:1; comp. also Rashi and Abel-Ezra, ad loc.).
**The fathers of the Church have never expressed any doubt on this point. Jerome (d. 420), in one of his epistles to Damasus, writes, "The whole of antiquity (universa antiquitas) affirms that Hebrew, in which the Old Test. is written, was the beginning of all human speech;" and in his Comm. in Soph. c. 3, he says "Linguam Hebraicam omnium linguarum esse matricem." Origen (d. 254), in his eleventh homily on the book of Numbers, erxαὐτὸς ὁ ῾῏Εβερ ἔμενε τὴν αὐτὴν ἔχων διάλεξιν, ηνπερ καὶ προτερον, ἵνα καὶ τοῦτο σημεῖον ἐναργές γένηται τῆς οιαιρέσεως [Hom. 30, in Gen. p. 300, ed. Montf.]), and Augustine (d. 430), in his De Civitate Dei, 16, 11, "Quae lingua prius humane generi non immerito creditur fuisse communis, deinceps Hebraea est nuncupata" (i.e. his family [Heber's] preserved that language which is not unreasonably believed to have been the common language of the race; it was on this account thenceforth called Hebrew). Theodoret (d. 452), in
Quest. in. Genesin, p. 60, however, believes, like Delitzsch, that the Syriac was the primitive language, holding that Hebrew was first introduced by God through Moses as a holy language.
(3.) Character and Development of the Hebrew Language. — In relation to the rest of the Shemitic languages, the Hebrew, whether regarded as the primitive language or not, has for the most part retained the stamp of high antiquity, originality, and greater simplicity and purity of forms. In its earliest written state it exhibits, in the writings of Moses, a perfection of structure which was never surpassed. As it had, no doubt, been modified between the time of Abraham and Moses by the Egyptian and Arabic; so in the period between Moses and Solomon it was influenced by the Phoenician, and, down to the time of Ezra, continued to receive an accession of exotic terms which, though tending to enlarge its capabilities as a spoken and written tongue, materially affected the primitive simplicity, and purity of a language compared with which none may be said to have been so poor, and yet none so rich. But with the period of the captivity there arose an entirely new literature, strikingly different from the earlier, and this is to be traced to the influence exerted by the Aramaic tongue upon the Hebrew, which had previously been developing itself within restricted limits. This was the introduction to its gradual decay, which did not become fully manifest, however, until the commencement of the Chaldaean period. Not only did the intrusion of this powerful Aramaic element greatly tarnish the purity of the Hebrew words and their grammatical formation, older ones having been altered and supplanted by newer ones, which are Aramaic for the most part;* it also obscured the understanding of the old language,** and it enfeebled its instinctive operations, until at length it stifled them. The consequence was that the capacity of observing grammatical niceties in the old pure Hebrew was entirely lost;*** partly the distinction of prose and poetical diction was forgotten;**** and, finally, as the later writers went back upon the Pentateuch and other older compositions, many elements which had already died out of the language were reproduced as archaisms.*****
* This is especially seen in the coining of new words for abstract ideas by means of prefixed letters or syllables added, as תִּגמוּל for גּמוּל (Ps 116:12); תִּזנוּת for זנוּה (Eze 16:18,20); בִּקָשָׁה (Ezr 1:6; Es 5:3,7-8), etc.
** This is shown by the increasing use of the scriptio plena, as יָצוּמוּ four יֶצֻמוּ; the interchange of the weak letters ה and א for instance, הֵיך (1Ch 13:12) for אֵיך (2Sa 6:9); the resolution of the dagesh forte in sharpened syllables by inserting a vowel, as אַיתִי for אַתֵּי (1Ch 1:31), or by inserting a liquid, דִּרמֶשֶׁק for דִּמֶשֶׂק (18:5, 6).
*** Interchange of אֵת as the sign of the accusative, and as meaning "with" — for instance, Jer 1:16; Jer 19:10; Jer 20:11, etc.; the use of ל to mark the accusative instead of the dative (1Ch 5:26; 1Ch 16:37; 1Ch 29:20,22, etc.) the use of עִל instead of אֶל; the use of Aramaic forms of inflection, as, אִתּי for אִתּ (Jer 4:30); תי. For ת (2:33; 3:4, 5; 4:19), etc.
**** Comp. בַּלֵּהִּ, (Piel), "to be afraid" (Ezr 4:4, elsewhere only the substantive בִּלָהָה in poetry); זָנִה, "to reject with loathing" (1Ch 28:9; 2Ch 11:14; 2Ch 29:19, earlier only in poets, and in Ho 7:3,5; Zec 10:6).
***** E.g. מַי, "species" (Eze 47:10, taken from the Pentateuch); משׂוּרָה, "a measure" (1Ch 23:29); Eze 4:11,16, etc., from Le 19:35); נָכִל, "to act cunningly" (Mal 1:1,4; Ps 105:25, from Ge 37:18 or Nu 25:18), etc.
(4.) Decay of the Hebrew Language. — But the great crisis of the language occurs at the time of the captivity of Babylon. Then, as a spoken tongue, it became deeply tinged with Aramaic. The Biblical Hebrew, abiding in the imperishable writings of the prophets, continued to be the study of the learned; it was heard on the lips of the priest in the services of religion, and was the vehicle of written instruction; but as the medium of common conversation it was extensively affected, and, in the case of multitudes, superseded, by the idiom of the nation among whom Providence had cast their lot. So an Aramaized Hebrew, or a Hebraized Aramaean, continued to be spoken by such of them as resettled in Palestine under Ezra and Nehemiah, while the yet greater number who preferred the uninterrupted establishment of their families in Babylonia fell entirely into the use of Aramaic.
This decline of the popular knowledge of pure Hebrew gave occasion to the appointment of an order of interpreters (meturgemadin) in the synagogue for the explication of the Scriptures in this more current dialect, as can be seen from Ne 8:8, where we read, "They [the priests and Levites] read in the book, in the law of God מפֹרשׁ, and appended thereto the sense, and caused them to understand the reading," where the word means, "with an explanation subjoined," i.e. with an interpretation added, with an explanation in Chaldee the vulgar tongue, as appears from the context; and by a comparison of Ezr 4:18 and verse 7. Accordingly, the Talmudists have already correctly explained our passage, מפרש זה תרגו, and so also Clericus, Dathe, etc. SEE TARGUM.
But while these changes were taking place in the vernacular speech, the Hebrew language itself still maintained its existence. It is a great mistake to call Hebrew a dead language. It has never died, it will never die. In the days to which we are now referring, it was still loved and revered by the Jewish people as the "holy tongue" of their patriarchs and prophets. Not only the remaining canonical Scriptures, but the prayers and hymns of the Temple and synagogue, were, for the most part, written in it, and even the inscriptions of the coinage retained both the language and the more antique characters, in preference to those more recently introduced by Ezra.
(5.) The Written Hebrew. — About the time when the language underwent this internal change, it was also changed externally. That we have not the original Hebrew characters in MS. and printed texts of the Bible is evident from a tradition we have in the Talmud that "at first the law was given to Israel in the Hebrew writing and the holy tongue, and again it was given to them in the days of Ezra in the Assyrian writing and the Syrian tongue. They chose for the Israelites the Assyrian writing and the holy tongue and. left to the Idiotoe (i.e. the Samaritans) the Hebrew writing and the Syrian tongue.. And although the law was not given by Ezra's hand, yet the writing and language were called the Assyrian (Sanhedr. 21, 2; 22, 1). This Assyrian writing (כּתָב אִשּׁוּרי) is also called "square writing" (כּתָב מרֻבָּע), "correct writing" (כּתיבָה תִמָּה), and by the Samaritans "Ezra's writing" (כּתָב עֶזרָא). We must suppose that the square character, which came into use after the exile, only gradually thrust the elder character aside. for in the Maccabaean coinage the ancient Hebrew character was used, and while we may trace back the origin of the new characters nearly to the times of Ezra, certain it is that at a later time it was perfected in its present form, and long before the time of the Talmud, since there we find directions given concerning the writing of the alphabet, of which we will speak farther on.
(6.) Tradition; Period of the Hebrew Language — It is chiefly among the Jews of Palestine that we are to seek the preservation of the knowledge of the Hebrew language. Though the Hebrew ceased to be even a written language, yet for practical ends in the sages of worship the study of the old Hebrew documents became for them an indispensable duty for which the affinity of the language they used must have offered them peculiar facilities. Hence, as early as the book of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), which was probably written between B.C. 290 and 280, mention is made of the study of Scripture as the chief and fairest occupation of the γραμματεύς, the διανοεῖσθαι ἐν νόμῳ ὑψίστου, and σοφίαν πάτων ἀρχαίων ἐκζητήσει, καὶ ἐν προφητείαις ἀσχοληθῆσεται (29, 1 sq.). The more erudite study of Hebrew Scripture was prosecuted in Palestine and Babylonia from the days of Ezra, not only by individual scribes, but also in formal schools and academies, the בָּתֵּי הִמַּדרָשׁ, also בּתֵּי רִבָּנָ, and ישַׁיבוֹת, which were established there before the time of Christ. The chief seat of these at first was principally at Jerusalem, then after the destruction of this city by the Romans it was transferred to Jamnia or Jabneh, under Jochanan ben-Zachai (i.q.), till under Gamaliel III ben-Jehudah I (A.D. 93- 220) Tiberias became the seat of learning. Among the teachers of Tiberias, rabbi Jehudah the Holy, or hak-Kodesh (q.v.), the compiler of the Mishna obtained a remarkable reputation in the latter half of the 2d century. After his death, the seat of this scriptural erudition was once more transplanted to Babylonia, where, with reference to this, the schools at certaficaties on the Euphrates — Sora, Pumbaditha, and Nahardea — attained preeminently to high esteem. Still, along with these, the Palestinian schools subsisted uninterruptedly, especially the school at Tiberias, and to the labors of these schools are due in part the Targums, but principally the Talmud and the Masorah.
* Jerome, in Prol. Gal.: "Certum est, Esdram alias literas reperisse, quibus nunc utimur, cum ad illud usque tempus iidem Samaritanorum et Hebraeorum characteres fuerint." See also Origen, in Ezr 9:4; Ps 2 (3, 539).
The activity of these schools took different shapes at different periods, and into four of these periods it may be divided
1. The period of the more ancient Sopherim (scribes, רַאשׁוֹנַיֹ םסופרַי), from the close of the canon to the ruin of the Jewish commonwealth. They settled fixedly the external and internal form of the sacred text (מַקרָא), the correct writing and reading, the arrangement of the books and their sections the numbering of the verses, words, and letters, etc.
2. The period of the Talmudists, from the 2d to the 6th century of the Christian era.
3. The period of the Masoites, from the 6th to the 9th century.
4. The period. of the Grammarians and Expositors, from the 9th to the 6th century. Following the examples of the Arabians, they endeavored to lay a scientific foundation for Hebrew philology and for understanding the text of the Bible, by means of various labors in grammar and lexicography, including the comparison of the Aramaic and Arabic dialects.
For the history of the philological study of the Hebrew language, the reader is referred to the art. SEE HEBREW LANGUAGE in this Cyclopoedia, where he will also find more details.
V. Relation of the Shemitic Languages to the Indo-European Languages. — One of the most vexed questions of comparative philology is that of the relation of the Shemitic family to that of the Indo-European. As earl as the year 1778 Nathaniel Brassey Halhed in his Grammar of the Bengal Language, said, "I have been astonished to find the similitude of Sanskrit words with those of Arabic [the Shemitic], and these not in technical and metaphorical terms, which the mutation of refined arts and improved manners might have occasionally introduced, but in the main groundwork of language, in monosyllables, in the names of numbers, and the application of such things as would be first discriminated on the immediate dawn of civilization." When the Sanskrit became better known in Europe, scholars like Adelung, Klaproth, Bopp, etc., in their studies on comparative philology, undertook to trace out the affinity between these two families. Untenable as were their theories, yet they paved the way. With greater precaution Gesenius entered upon the arena of comparative philology. Being persuaded that the Hebrew has no relation with the Indo-European languages, the main object of his comparisons was to find analogies, while in such words as appeared to him to have some similarities with the oldest original languages of Eastern Asia, as שבע, seven, Sanskrit, sapta; נער, a
youth, Sanskrit, Nar, etc., he either perceived marks of early borrowings or a play of accident. Furst, however, went a step further, and espoused the unhappy idea of a Sanscrito-Shemitic stem, which divides itself into the Sanskrit, Medo-Persian, Shemitic Graeco-Latin, Germanic, and Slavic families. But the advancement in the science of the Indo-European languages has shown that there is no connection whatever between these two languages; and even Delitzsch's endeavor has not been able to prove the contrary, although it must be admitted. that he was the first to bring about (in his Jesurun sive Isagoge in Grammaticam et Lexicographiam Linguoe Hebraicoe [Grimmae, 1838]) some system and method in the comparison of these languages. Of still less value is the endeavor of E. Meier, who, in his Hebr. Wurzelworterbuch (Mannheim, 1845), seeks to trace back the Shemitic triliteral stems to monosyllabic biliteral roots, and from their fundamental meanings to derive the meanings of our Hebrew words in their various modifications. "This," as Bleek remarks, "is an attempt which merits attention, although he certainly brings forward many things which are uncertain, and even improbable." Without enlarging any further upon this question, which is to this very day a matter of dispute, we will only mention those who made the subject a matter of investigation. Among those who believe in a relation between it the Shemitic and Indo- European languages we mention Ewald (Ausf. Lehrb. der hebr. Sprache 8th ed. 18, 70. p., 31, Olshausen, (Lehrb. der hebr. Sprache, 1861, p. 6 sq.); Lassen (Indische, Alterthumskunde [2d ed.], 1, 637 sq.); Lepsius, Schwartze, Benfey, and Bunsen, who, with, the help of the Egyptian, tried to; bring about the result M. Muller and Steinthal, who believe not only in the possibility, but also in the probability, of such connection Eugene Burnouf and Pictet, who admit it with some reserve To these we may add the names of Ascoli, R.v. Raumer, Renan, and more especially that of Friedrich Delitzsch, who in his work (the latest, so far as we know) Studien uber indogermanis-semitische Wurzelwandtschaft (Leips. 1873), has not only, given a resume of the labors of his predecessors and a list of their works, but has also taken up the subject of relationship. Whether his researches wilt bring more tag it into the chaos of opinions, and prove themselves more acceptable, is yet to be seen. SEE PHILOLOGY.
VI. Literature. — see, besides the articles Shemitic languages in Kitto's Cylop. And Smith's Dictionary of the Bible, the introductions of Bleek, Keil, and Havernick; Renan Histoire Generale at Systeme Compare des Langues Semitiques (4th Ed. Paris, 1863), the literature as given in Delitzsch's Studien, the introductions to the Hebrew grammars of Gesenius, Bottcher, Preiswerk, and Bickell (Engl. transl. By Curtiss [Leips. 1877]) The literature on the different languages is found under their respective heads in this Cyclopoedia and supplemented in this article. The more recent will be found in Frederici's Bibliotheca Orientalis (London, 1876-78).