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A time of public discontent is the harvest of poor authors, because the most despicable scribbler can then render himself of importance with the vulgar, either by flattering their
prepossessions, or gratifying their spleen. It was against such alone, the Critical Reviewers des clared war: they thought it their duty to endeavour to expel the poison of national animosity, by exposing the unjustifiable manner in which it was propagated ; and took every opportuni« ty of fhewing, that such writers were equally dull and rancorous. Their attention was fixed . not upon England or Scotland, but upon truth and falfhood, upon liberal and illiberal publications; in short, they were accused of taking part in a national dispute merely because they thought themselves obliged, on all occasions, to point out how intimately dulnefs is connected with faction,
Such are the sources of the iinpotent attacks made upon the Critical Reviewers by those, and those only, who have felt the justice of their decisions. Lest this assertion should carry with it some appearance of arrogance, they humbly beg leave to put the following question to every difinterested reader of sense, candour, and learning : Whether he knows any work fubfift, in a tolerable degree of reputation with the public, after having been condemned by the authors of this Review? If any such work can be produced, the authors are willing to make a public retractation.
I no such instance can be brought, they hope the inference is fair, when they say, that it amounts to an acknowledgment of their never having condemned any work of real, permanent, merit; and confequently, that the abuse they have had fo of ten and so plentifully bestowed upon them, rises from writers of a contrary character.
The test to which they appeal is the more trying for them, as both their friends and enemies have a large field of investigation.—They now cnter on the twenty-third volume of their work, confequently the pieces they have reviewed are multifarious, and afford numerous objects of enquiry. They may, therefore, fafely conclude this address to the Public, with two lines from a poet not only of great genius, but long experience, the late Dr. Young :
Time is the judge ; Time has na friend nor for :
For the Month of January, 1767.
A Differtation concerning the Antiquity of the Hebrew Language,
Letters, Vowel-Points, and Accents. By John Gill, D. D. 8vo.
quity of the Hebrew language, letters, vowel-points, and accents, with great industry, fagacity, and learning; and tho we differ from him in some particulars, especially concerning the authority of the points, yet we have read his performance with pleasure ; as it exhibits a clear and distinct view of the controversy, and all the arguments by which his opinion is sup. ported. In the preface he endeavours to defend the character, of the Masorets against the censure and ridicule of modern writers.
There have been innumerable disputes about the primitive language. Several nations have contended for the right of precedency in this refpect; but the Syriac, or Chaldee, and the Hebrew, are generally thought to have the best claim to this honour. Our author confiders their respective pretensions; and, having affigned his reasons for not allowing the superior anti. quity of the Syriac, propofes the following arguments in favour of the Hebrew tongue.
I. The Hebrew alphabet appears to have been the first alphabet of all the eastern languages; and from thence other nations seem to have derived the names, the number, the order, and, in many instances, the form of their letters.
II. The perfection and purity of the Hebrew language is a proof of its antiquity; as that which is perfect, pure, and underived, must be antecedent to that which is imperfect, corrupt, and derived.
III. The paronomasia which Adam used, when he called his wife woman, seems to be an evidence of the originality of the Hebrew tongue. Vol. XXIII. January; 1767:
IV. The names of persons and places before the confusion at Babel, are in the Hebrew language, and are plainly derived from Hebrew roots.
V. The law was written in Hebrew by the finger of God, and the sacred books were composed in the same language by divine infpiration. Now it is reasonable to conclude, that the language in which God wrote the Decalogue, and in which he inspired the prophets to write, must be the fame in which he conversed with Adam, and gave him a faculty of speaking: if so, the Hebrew is the primitive language.
These arguments are stated in a more ample manner by this learned writer ; but all that can be admitted, is the probabi lity of his hypothesis. The authors of the Univerfal History have invalidated some of these arguments, and asserted the priority of the Syriac tongue: however, allowing the preference to the Hebrew, it is natural to suppose, that the first language of mankind must have undergone great alteration, in the space of twenty-four centuries, between the creation and the time of Moses.
The author now proceeds to enquire, why this language is called Hebrew; and, having considered several other etymologies, he prefers the opinion of those, who derive the name from Eber, the father of Phaleg. For, as St. Austin observes, before the confusion, language was one, and common to all, and needed no name to ditlinguish it; it was enough to call it the speech of man, or the human language; but when there was a confusion of tongues, and so more than one, it became necessary to distinguish them by names; and what name more proper for the first language than that of Hebrew, for Ebrew, as our author would have it written) from Eber, the lait man in whose days it was alone and common to all ? for in his son's days the earth was divided into different nations speaking different languages. Moreover, Shem is said to be the father of all the children of Eber ; and as they were afterwards called Ifraelites from Israel, and Jews from Judah, so from Eber they 'were called Hebrews, and their language Hebrew. This is farther manifest from Numb xxiv. 24. where the names of Aflur and Eber denote the Assyrians and Hebrews.
It has been a controversy among learned men, for a cen· tury or two past, whether the modern letters used by the Jews, in which their sacred books are now extant, are the same in which the law and the prophets were originally written. This is denied by some ; and it has been affirmed, that the original letters of the Hebrews, in which the books of the Old Testainent before the times of Ezra were written, were what are called Samaritan ; and that Ezra, after the return of the Jews
from the captivity in Babylon, changed these letters for the Merubbah, or square ones since in use, and in them wrote all the facred books then in being, and left the ancient letters to the Samaritans; and this notion has been einbraced upon the testimonies of Eusebius and Jerom. But the foundation of it appears to be a Jewish tradition ; for, it is not likely, says Dr. Gill, that the law should be given to the Israelites, and the sacred books be written in Samaritan letters, that is, in the old Phænician characters, which belonged to the race of Canaan ; and if they were, that the people of the Jews could be prevailed upon to part with them, in which their holy books were written; and if they were written in them, as then, besides the Pentateuch, the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, the Psalms of David, and books of Solomon, and the Prophets before the captivity, must be written in the fame character ; and if so, it is strange that not one copy of either of these should be heard of, seen, or known; nor is it probable that the bocks of the Old Testainent should be written in two different characters; those before the captivity in Samaritan letters, and those after it, in the square letters, as they must be according to this hypothesis. It is not to be believed, that Ezra would attempt such a change of himself without an order from God, which no where appears, when such a charge against innovations slands in Deut. iv. 2, nor does it seem possible that he should be able effectually to do it; it could never be in his power to call in all the copies of the sacred books, which the Israelites had carried into the several parts of the world, through their captivities ; nor is it probable that the Samaritans, if poffefred of the square character, which is grand and majestic, should ever be prevailed upon to part with it, for a character so ugly, so ill shaped and deformed as the Samaritan is ; nor was it in the power of Ezra to oblige thein to it: to which may be added, that surely it can't be thought that those ugly and ill-Ihaped letters were formed by the finger of God, and the law written by him in them, the contrary to which is now universally affirmed by the Jews; and yet with what confidence has this been asserted, and those of a different sentiinent treated with most abusive language, unbecoming men of learning, by such as Scaliger, Drụfius, and Voffius, as if they were men but half learned, half divines, mere fools, sceptics, &c. but of late I observe this confidence abates, and learned men begin to think žhat it is far from being a determined point, what were the original characters of the Hebrews.?
* By whom is this suppo ed?