Called "the language of Canaan" (Isaiah 19:18), as distinguished from that of Egypt; "the Jewish" as distinguished from Aramean (2 Kings 18:26; 2 Kings 18:28). (See HEBREW above.) Internal evidence also favors its Palestinian origin; as yam "the sea," in oldest documents used for the west. It is Semitic, as distinguished from the Indo-Germanic, Indo-European, Aryan, or Japhetic languages. The Semitic includes Aramaean or Chaldee and Syriac on the N.E., the Arabic on the S., the Ethiopic between the Hebrew and Arabic, the Hebrew, and kindred Phoenician or Canaanite. In Hebrew and the other Semitic languages gutturals preponderate. Consonants are not grouped round one vowel, yet a consonant always begins a syllable. The Semitic languages are less matured and polished, and more impulsive than deliberative. The roots have three letters. The conjugations of verbs are threefold:
1. Expressing intensity or repetition by a change within the root.
2. Reflexiveness or causation by addition to the root.
3. Passives by "u" or "a" in the first syllable. Modifications of the root idea are marked by changes within the root, not by additions. The a sound marks activity; the "e" and "o" sounds rest or passiveness. Intensity and repeated action are expressed by doubling the consonant. The neuter gender is unknown, because Semitic imagination endows with life every object in nature and makes it male or female. Mental qualities are represented by physical members: strength by the "hand" or "arm"; anger by the "nostril" (aph); favor by the "shining face"; displeasure by the "falling of the countenance." Go, way, walk, course express spiritual motion. Tenses or times of verbs are twofold (not three as with us, past, present, future).
What the mind realizes is put in the past, even though it may be future; what the mind regards as about to be, or being, realized is put in the future; so that the future may be used of the historic past, and the preterite of the prophetic future. The vowels were not originally written; latterly they were put as points under the consonants, which are read from right to left. The particles are few; hence subtle reasonings cannot be expressed. The Greek is the language of philosophy; the Hebrew of imagination and intuition. The sentences are a succession of coordinate propositions, not of propositions molded by interdependence and mutual subordination into complete periods. The style is pictorial: "Behold!" is of frequent occurrence; and the process of doing, as well as the act, is stated, as "he arose and went," "he put forth his hand and took," "he lifted up his voice and wept."
Symbolical phrases are frequent: "incline the ear"; "stiffen the neck," i.e. to be perverse; "to uncover the ear," i.e. to reveal. Adam, Eve, Abel, etc., are pictorial names, possibly Hebrew equivalents for the original names. The fall has among its evil effects caused a severance between names and things. The Bible retains some of the original connection, all the ancient names being significant of things. The choice of essentially the same language as that of commercial Sidon and Tyre for the divine revelation was a providential arrangement for diffusing the knowledge of His law widely among the Gentiles. There may be a Hamitic element in Hebrew, considering that the Canaanites who spoke it when Abram entered Canaan were Hamites; even though they probably acquired it from earlier Semitic occupants of Canaan, they would infuse a Hamitic element themselves.
The vocabulary of the oldest Babel monuments is Hamitic. The Aramaic is decidedly Semitic, and was Abraham's original tongue. The Hamites and Nimrod took the lead in building Babel, which entailed the confusion of tongues; their tongue accordingly is found more confounded into endless varieties of dialect than the Semitic and Japhetic, whose dialects bear a nearer resemblance among themselves than the Turanian and other Hamitic dialects. As Hebrew sprang from the confusion of Babel, it cannot have been the language of Adam and the whole earth when there was but one speech; still, though an offshoot like the rest, it may retain most of the primitive type, a view which the Hebrew Bible names favor, though these be modified from the original form.
The Shemites and Japhetites have had a higher moral civilization, and so a purer language. The Hebrew terms for SIN; ATONEMENT; GOD; JEHOVAH , and many such theological ideas, must have conveyed to the Gentiles, wherever fragments of the Hob. revelation reached, many fruitful germs of divine truth. The sacred books of Moses gave a fixity to the language, so that no essential change of language is observable in the books of different ages until the Babylonian captivity; thenceforward Chaldee became largely mixed with Hebrew (See Nehemiah 8:8.)
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