Lu 23:38 The Hebrews have certain acrostic poems which begin with the letters of the alphabet, ranged in order. The most considerable of these is Ps 119, which contains twenty-two stanzas of eight verses each, all acrostic; that is, the first eight begin with Aleph, the next eight with Beth, and so on. Ps 25; 34, have but twenty-two verses each, beginning with the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Others, as Ps 111-112, have one-half of the verse beginning with one letter, and the other half with the next. Thus,
Blessed is the man who feareth the Lord,
Who delighteth greatly in his commandments.
The first half of the verse begins in the Hebrew with Aleph; the second with Beth. Ps 37; 145:21 are acrostic. La 1-5 are also in acrostic verse, as well as Pr 31:8-31. In Joh 7:15, the word "letters" means learning; the Jews said of Christ, Whence this man's qualifications to teach us the Scriptures, since he has not learned of the doctors of the law?
Paul speaks of "the letter" in distinction from "the spirit," Ro 2:27,29; 7:6; 2Co 3:6; contrasting the mere word of the law and its outward observance, with its spiritual meaning, and cordial obedience to it through the Spirit of Christ.
Epistolary correspondence seems to have been little practiced among the ancient Hebrews. Some few letters are mentioned in the Old Testament, 2Sa 11:14; Ezr 4:8. They were conveyed to their destination by friends or travelers, Jer 29:3; or by royal couriers, 2Ch 30:6; Es 8:10. The letter was usually in the form of a roll, the last fold being pasted down. They were sealed, 1Ki 21:8, and sometimes wrapped in an envelope, or in a bag of costly materials and highly ornamented. To send an open letter was expressive of contempt, Ne 6:5. In the New Testament we have numerous examples of letters, from the pens of the apostles.
LETTERS, marks for the purpose of expressing sounds, used in writing. Few subjects have given rise to more discussion than the origin of alphabetic characters. If they are of human invention, they must be considered as one of the most admirable efforts of the ingenuity of man. So wonderful is the facility which they afford for recording human thought; so ingenious, and at the same time so simple, is the analysis which they furnish for the sounds of articulate speech, and for all the possible variety of words; that we might expect the author of this happy invention to have been immortalized by the grateful homage of succeeding ages, and his name delivered down to posterity with the ample honours it so justly merited. But the author and the era of this discovery, if such it be, are both lost in the darkness of remote antiquity. Even the nation to which the invention is due cannot now be ascertained. The Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Phenicians, the Persians, the Indians, have all laid claim to the honour of it; and each has named its inventor among the remote, and probably fabulous, personages that figure in the earlier ages of their history. In consequence of this uncertainty respecting the author of alphabetic writing, and the high value and extreme difficulty of the invention itself, many have been inclined to attribute this art to an immediate revelation from the Deity; contending that it was communicated with other invaluable gifts from above, in remote ages, to the descendants of Abraham, and probably to the Patriarch Moses, who was the author of the most ancient compositions in alphabetical writing that we at present possess. The arguments which are brought in support of the divine revelation of the alphabet, are chiefly these:
1. The high antiquity of the use of letters; the Hebrew characters having existed in a perfect state when Moses composed the Pentateuch, the most ancient writing now known to be extant.
2. The similarity between the various alphabets of different nations, which, for the most part, are the same, in the order, power, and even form, of their letters with the Hebrew.
3. The complete want of alphabetic characters among those nations, which have been cut off from all communication with the ancient civilized world, as the aboriginal Americans; or that part of the human race which had no opportunity of borrowing the system of written characters revealed to the Hebrews, as China.
Had man been left to himself, the first and most natural way of making his thoughts visible to the eye would be by pictorial representations. The second step would, for convenience' sake, be to invent an abbreviated form of these pictures, sufficiently legible to call to mind the original picture in full, and yet so reduced and intermixed with a few easily remembered arbitrary characters, or symbols, as to be more extensively useful. The next and most difficult step would be the alphabet so formed as to express all the sounds of the language, by convenient combination. The Egyptian monuments show specimens of each; the hieroglyph, the mixed and abbreviated, and the alphabetical. The magnificent ruins of Persepolis, the capital of ancient Persia, exhibit also the pure pictorial style, and tablets of abbreviated emblems. The characters on the bricks dug up from the ruins of ancient Babylon have characters, which are supposed to be, not alphabetic, but abbreviated symbols, and therefore suppose the existence of the larger picture writing, whether the people possessed a proper alphabet or not. All the savage tribes of America had their picture writings, and this style was carried to great perfection by the Mexicans. The latter had, likewise, abbreviated marks, which were used as symbols; and thus made an approach to letters, although they never reached this discovery. It is a curious fact, that in our day a Cherokee chief has actually invented an alphabet, and that in the process he commenced with a pictorial representation of animals which uttered sounds somewhat like those of his own tongue; which thought seems not to have entered into the picture writing of the ancients, whose delineations spoke wholly to the eye, and not at all to the ear. Finding this method imperfect and cumbersome, he at last hit upon the expedient of arbitrary characters, which he gradually reduced in number, and so perfected, that, with a few European improvements, books are now printed in them for the use of his nation. In China the language is a complete system of abbreviated pictures, emblems, or symbols; and there is no proper alphabet to this day.
These facts are urged as direct proofs or strong presumptions that all alphabetical characters have been preceded by picture or imitative characters; and that as the whole is within the compass of human ingenuity, the notion of a divine suggestion of letters, or of the important art of alphabetical writing, is bringing in the divine agency without necessity. But the assumption that alphabets have in all cases been formed through this process, is wholly hypothetic. Certain it is that we can prove from the Scriptures that literal writing was in use at an earlier period than can be assigned to any picture writing whatever. Writing and reading were familiar to Moses and the Israelites when the law was given, and must have long previously existed among them, and, probably, among the Egyptians of the same age too; which is much earlier than any of those monuments bearing hieroglyphical characters reach. We have given sufficient reason to conclude that Job lived at an earlier period still, and as he expresses a wish that his words should be written in a book, and engraven on the rock, the knowledge of reading as well as writing must have been pretty general in his country, or the book and the inscription could not have been a testimony of his faith and hope to his countrymen, as he passionately desired it to be. Here, too, it is to be observed, that in the early Mosaic history we have not the least intimation of writing by pictures or symbols, nor any that the art of writing had been revealed from heaven in the days of Moses, preparatory to the giving of a written law and the introduction of inspired books for the religious instruction of the people. We must trace it up higher; though whether of divine revelation, or human invention, cannot certainly be determined. Its importance was assuredly worthy of the former; and if this was not done by particular revelation, doubtless we may reasonably and piously ascribe it to a divine suggestion.
It may, indeed, be asked, How then is it that in other nations we can so accurately trace the progress from the picture to the symbol, and thence on to the alphabet; as for instance in Egypt? We answer, that if this were allowed, and it might be, and probably was, a part of the divine procedure with reference to the preservation of the true religion, that the knowledge of letters should be early given to the Abrahamic family, or, at least, preserved among them, while many others of the more dispersed branches of the human race becoming barbarous, as stated under the article Language, might lose it; because picture writing was easily convertible to idolatrous purposes, and in reality was greatly encouraged from that source. The same care would be exerted to prevent pictorial representations of spiritual beings and things as the forming of images; and the race of true worshippers of God was never therefore placed under the necessity of thus expressing their thoughts by such delineations. But it is, in fact, far from being proved, that the hieroglyph, or picture writing, of Egypt for example, was more ancient among that people than alphabetic writing. One of the most recent writers on this side is the Marquis Spineto, in his "Lectures on Egyptian Hieroglyphics." His theory is, in fact, that of Warburton; and he thinks that the recent discoveries as to the hieroglyphics of Egypt fully establish it. The opinion of this learned prelate was, that the primitive mode of writing among the Egyptians was by figurative delineations or hieroglyphics; that this becoming too tedious and voluminous, by degrees they perfected an