Writing

 •  6 min. read  •  grade level: 9
The earliest intimation of writing in scripture is when Amalek was defeated, and it is significant that the first thing Moses was instructed to write, as far as is revealed, should be respecting judgment upon Amalek, an enemy of God’s people: his remembrance was to be utterly put out from under heaven (Ex. 17:1414And the Lord said unto Moses, Write this for a memorial in a book, and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua: for I will utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven. (Exodus 17:14)). This incident took place some 2500 years after the creation of Adam and we cannot suppose that there had not been writing before this. Moses was “learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians,” and writing is found in or on all their ancient monuments.
Hales puts the date of Menes, the first king of Egypt, B. C. 2412, but even this is more than 1500 years from the creation. God created an intelligent man, and may have instructed him in the art of writing, as He surely also gave him a language by which He could Himself hold intercourse with him
God brought the animal creation to Adam that he might name them and in them he had before him forms far more numerous than were needed for an alphabet, such as was adopted by the Egyptians long after. The Hebrew letters were originally symbolical, as some of their names infer: as א, ר aleph, an ox; ב, beth, a house; ג, gimel, a camel, etc. For the earliest Egyptian letters derived from nature see the table below.
The Aztecs, who preceded the Mexicans, were able to record their laws, their ritual, and a complete system of chronology. A Mexican MS looks like a collection of pictures, each a separate study. The Chinese, who profess to have had the art of writing from time immemorial, with endless genealogies, have kept their records in their 80,000 symbolical characters, to which there are 214 radical keys.
The history and book of Job is judged to have been quite early, and he speaks not only of writing, but of a book: “Oh that my words were now written! oh that they were printed in a book! That they were graven with an iron pen and lead in the rock forever!” (Job 19:23-2423Oh that my words were now written! oh that they were printed in a book! 24That they were graven with an iron pen and lead in the rock for ever! (Job 19:23‑24)). This refers to his words being engraved on a rock and filled in with lead.
Engraving on stones was practiced in ancient Egypt, a specimen of which may be seen on Cleopatra’s Needle in London, on the banks of the Thames. Ancient engraving on stone has rendered service in modern times, as in the Rosetta Stone, the writing of which, being in Egyptian and Greek, gave the first key to the deciphering of Egyptian hieroglyphics. See also the Moabite Stone.
In the Sinai peninsula there are many inscriptions cut in the rocks, which have never yet been satisfactorily explained. Some of them have been taken to be of Israelitish origin when Israel “wandered” in those parts; others judge them to be simply the greetings and names of travelers; and others are of the opinion that Christian pilgrims wrote them, while some believe them to be of an earlier date than this and assign them to Pagan pilgrims to Serbal. Many of the inscriptions are in an Arabic dialect, but interspersed with rude engravings of horses, asses, dogs, and ibexes.
As already intimated, the Israelites may in the first instance have had a system of hieroglyphics, by means of which they (as did the Egyptians and others) recorded all necessary things. All existing alphabets have been traced by Gesenius to the Phoenician, thus:—
Phoenician
Ancient Greek Ancient Persian Ancient Hebrew Ancient Aramæan
Roman Later Greek Samaritan Hebrew Square Characters
It is generally stated that the Phoenician alphabet was derived from the Egyptian Hieratic. From the Phoenician is traced the ancient Hebrew, thence the Samaritan, and thence the modern square Hebrew, as shown in the accompanying table.
The connection however between the Egyptian and the Phoenician alphabets is doubted by some. Dr. Poole, in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, judges that if the latter had been derived from the former, their names would have described the original signs: whereas Aleph signifies an ox, not an eagle; Beth a house, not a bird; Gimel a camel, not a basket; and so on, as far as it is known, to the end.
It may be noticed that God Himself wrote the Ten Commandments on the stones that He gave to Moses, and He may have given the ancient Hebrew characters. It will be found that the whole Hebrew alphabet, except teth, is in those “ten words.”
Writing was needed on other substances besides stones. When a man put away his wife he had to give her a “bill of divorcement” (Deut. 24:11When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favor in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house. (Deuteronomy 24:1)). Papyrus was early used as paper, but being very fragile, it gave place to parchment and vellum, being written on with reeds. It is on the two latter that nearly all the ancient MSS of the scriptures have been preserved to this day. But the skins were expensive and could not be always obtained, which resulted in some of the copies of the New Testament being rubbed out, and something of much less importance being written on the same surface, as in the specimen here given. To enable such erased writing to be read, chemical means have to be resorted to. Such copies are called Palimpsests “rubbed a second time,” or Rescripts.
This is part of the Codex Nitriensis, which contains large portions of Luke’s Gospel, and dates from the sixth century. The original leaves have been folded in half, and then written over in Syriac (by Severus of Antioch against Grammaticus) in the ninth or tenth century. The specimen gives a portion of (Luke 20:9-109Then began he to speak to the people this parable; A certain man planted a vineyard, and let it forth to husbandmen, and went into a far country for a long time. 10And at the season he sent a servant to the husbandmen, that they should give him of the fruit of the vineyard: but the husbandmen beat him, and sent him away empty. (Luke 20:9‑10)).
Writing is such an abstruse thing that no barbarous people has been known to commence any system of writing before seeing specimens of this wonderful art. It is well known that a missionary once wrote on a piece of wood the name of a tool that he needed, and handed it to a chief, asking him to take it to his wife. He asked what he was to say. He was to say nothing; only take the wood. He took it and was amazed when the missionary’s wife threw the wood away and gave him the tool. It was entirely beyond his comprehension that the marks on the piece of wood could convey a message. It was altogether a deep mystery; he hung the piece of wood round his neck, and could often be seen telling the wonderful thing it had done.
Yet we are so familiar with writing that we think it no mystery at all; still there are occult intricacies in it. Our thoughts have to be expressed in words, our words are composed of letters; each of those letters has a distinct sound; and each sound needs some character to represent that sound, which must call forth the same sound, and rapidly form those sounds into words which again convey to the one who reads exactly the same thoughts that were passing through the mind of the writer. Is there no work of God in that?
Again, writing expresses decision and purpose. We may have many thoughts pass through our minds in a day, but none may need or deserve to be written. “It is written” implies a decision one has arrived at as an individual; or what has been recorded as an Act of Parliament; or much higher still, what God has been pleased to cause to be written as His revealed will in the holy writings, for which man can never be too grateful.
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