Writing. There is no account in the Bible of the origin of writing. That the Egyptians in the time of Joseph were acquainted with writing of a certain kind there is evidence to prove, but there is nothing to show that up to this period the knowledge extended to the Hebrew family. At the same time there is no evidence against it. Writing is first distinctly mentioned in Ex. 17:14, and the connection clearly implies that it was not then employed for the first time, but was so familiar as to be used for historic records. It is not absolutely necessary to infer from this that the art of writing was an accomplishment possessed by every Hebrew citizen. If we examine the instances in which writing is mentioned in connection with individuals, we shall find that in all cases the writers were men of superior position. In Isa. 29:11, 12 there is clearly a distinction drawn between the man who was able to read and the man who was not, and it seems a natural inference that the accomplishments of reading and writing were not widely spread among the people, when we find that they are universally attributed to those of high rank or education—kings, priests, prophets, and professional scribes. In the name Kirjathsepher (book-town), Josh. 15:15, there is an indication of a knowledge of writing among the PhÆnicians. The Hebrews, then, a branch of the great Semitic family, being in possession of the art of writing, according to their own historical records, at a very early period, the further questions arise, what character they made use of, and whence they obtained it. Recent investigations have shown that the square Hebrew character is of comparatively modern date, and has been formed from a more ancient type by a gradual process of development. What then was this ancient type? Most probably the PhÆnician. Pliny was of opinion that letters were of Assyrian origin. Diodorus Siculus (v. 74) says that the Syrians invented letters, and from them the PhÆnicians, having learned them, transferred them to the Greeks. According to Tacitus (Ann. xi. 14), Egypt was believed to be the source whence the PhÆnicians got their knowledge. Be this as it may, to the PhÆnicians, the daring seamen and adventurous colonizers of the ancient world, the voice of tradition has assigned the honor of the invention of letters. Whether it came to them from an Aramæan or an Egyptian source can at best be but the subject of conjecture. It may, however, be reasonably inferred that the ancient Hebrews derived from or shared with the PhÆnicians the knowledge of writing and the use of letters. The names of the Hebrew letters indicate that they must have been the invention of a Shemitic people, and that they were moreover a pastoral people may be inferred from the same evidence. But whether or not the PhÆnicians were the inventors of the Shemitic alphabet, there can be no doubt of their just claim to being its chief disseminators; and with this understanding we may accept the genealogy of alphabets as given by Gesenius, and exhibited in the accompanying table.
The old Semitic alphabets may be divided into two principal classes:
1. The PhÆnician, as it exists in the inscriptions in Cyprus, Malta, Carpentras, and the coins of PhÆnicia and her colonies. From it are derived the Samaritan and the Greek character. 2. The Hebrew-Chaldee character; to which belong the Hebrew square character; the Palmyrene, which has some traces of a cursive hand; the Estrangelo, or ancient Syriac; and the ancient Arabic or Cufic. It was probably about the first or second century after Christ that the square character assumed its present form; though in a question involved in so much uncertainty it is impossible to pronounce with great positiveness. The alphabet.—The oldest evidence on the subject of the Hebrew alphabet is derived from the alphabetical psalms and poems: Ps. 25, 34, 37, 111, 112, 119, 145; Prov. 31:10-31; Lam. 1-4. From these we ascertain that the number of the letters was twenty-two, as at present. The Arabic alphabet originally consisted of the same number. It has been argued by many that the alphabet of the PhÆnicians at first consisted of only sixteen letters. The legend, as told by Pliny (vii. 56), is as follows: Cadmus brought with him into Greece sixteen letters; at the time of the Trojan war Palamedes added four others, Θ, Ξ, Φ, Χ, and Simonides of Melos four more, Ζ, Η, Ψ, Ω. Divisions of words.—Hebrew was originally written, like most ancient languages, without any divisions between the words. The same is the case with the PhÆnician inscriptions. The various readings in the LXX show that, at the time this version was made, in the Hebrew MSS which the translators used the words were written in a continuous series. The modern synagogue rolls and the MSS of the Samaritan Pentateuch have no vowel-points, but the words are divided, and the Samaritan in this respect differs but little from the Hebrew. Writing materials, etc.—The oldest documents which contain the writing of a Semitic race are probably the bricks of Nineveh and Babylon, on which are impressed the cuneiform Syrian inscriptions. There is, however, no evidence that they were ever used by the Hebrews. It is highly probable that the ancient as well as the most common material which the Hebrews used for writing was dressed skin in some form or other. We know that the dressing of skins was practiced by the Hebrews, Ex. 25:5; Lev. 13:48, and they may have acquired the knowledge of the art from the Egyptians, among whom it had attained great perfection, the leather-cutters constituting one of the principal subdivisions of the third caste. Perhaps the Hebrews may have borrowed, among their other acquirements, the use of papyrus from the Egyptians, but of this we have no positive evidence. In the Bible the only allusions to the use of papyrus are in 2 John 12, where chartes (Authorized Version “paper”) occurs, which refers especially to papyrus paper, and 3 Macc. 4:20, where charteria is found in the same sense. Herodotus, after telling us that the Ionians learned the art of writing from the PhÆnicians, adds that they called their books skins, because they made use of sheep-skins and goat-skins when short of paper. Parchment was used for the MSS of the Pentateuch in the time of Josephus, and the membran̂ of 2 Tim. 4:13 were skins of parchment. It was one of the provisions in the Talmud that the law should be written on the skins of clean animals, tame or wild, or even of clean birds. The skins when written upon were formed into rolls (mêgillôth). Ps. 40:7; comp. Isa. 34:4; Jer. 36:14; Ezek. 2:9; Zech. 5:1. They were rolled upon one or two sticks and fastened with a thread, the ends of which were sealed. Isa. 29:11; Dan. 12:4; Rev. 5:1, etc. The rolls were generally written on one side only, except in Ezek. 2:9; Rev. 5:1. They were divided into columns (Authorized Version “leaves,” Jer. 36;23); the upper margin was to be not less than three fingers broad, the lower not less than four; and a space of two fingers breadth was to be left between every two columns. But besides skins, which were used for the more permanent kinds of writing, tablets of wood covered with wax, Luke 1:63, served for the ordinary purposes of life. Several of these were fastened together and formed volumes. They were written upon with a pointed style, Job 19:24, sometimes of iron. Ps. 45:1; Jer. 8:8; 17:1. For harder materials a graver, Ex. 32:4; Isa. 8:1, was employed. For parchment or skins a reed was used. 3 John 13; 3 Macc. 5:20. The ink, Jer. 36:18, literally “black,” like the Greek μέλαν, 2 Cor. 3:3; 2 John 12; 3 John 13, was of lampblack dissolved in gall-juice. It was carried in an inkstand, which was suspended at the girdle, Ezek. 9:2, 3, as is done at the present day in the East. To professional scribes there are allusions in Ezra 7:6; Ps. 45:1; 2 Esdr. 14:24.
Pens and Writing Materials.