Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

ical demonstration so absolutely essential to safe results, is shown by a trivial circumstance at the very outset. Finding the name Cosmas on one of the Sinaitic inscriptions, he springs at once to the conclusion that this is an autographic record of the visit of Cosmas Indicopleustes to that region in the sixth century. (Primeval Language, p. 4, note.)

A careless and almost ludicrous blunder, which he makes in interpreting a Greek inscription found among the medley on the rocks of Sinai, does not tend to conciliate our confidence in him as an expounder of inscriptions in an unknown tongne and an unknown character. Some soldier, sent perhaps to chastise the predatory tribes of this desolate region for their treachery or cruelty, has scratched his judgment of them upon the rocks in the following uncomplimentary terms, KAKON TENOC, “rascally race;" and then proceeds, according to Mr. Forster's explanation (ib., p. 30), OTTOO CTPATITHO ETPAYA TIANEMI XI. We lay no stress upon the fact that he reads OYTOC instead of ArIIOC (Lupus), as this was a very natural error and is doubtless chargeable upon the inaccuracy of the copy which he had. But he takes IIANEMI to be the Macedonian month Panemos, and bases his estimate of the date of the inscription upon this hypothesis. This involves, in addition to grammatical and other difficulties, the incongruous assumption that the two letters which follow are the Roman numerals in a Greek text. The true reading is IIAN EMH XIPI, “I, Lupus, wrote the whole with my own hand;" whereupon his entire argument vanishes into smoke.

Mr. Forster evidently has not the qualities which are requisite to success in deciphering obscure inscriptions. He has no conception of the patient toil and extensive learning necessary to execute such a task, nor of the pains which must be taken to guard against mistakes and arrive at correct and reliable conclusions. He says, p. xi., that any one “competent to consult the Arabic lexicon,” by using his alphabet, can decipher inscriptions for themselves “from whatever quarter of the world” they may come. Nor has he the impartial and well-balanced mind which is needed to conduct an intricate investigation. He has a preconceived theory to sustain, and every thing is pressed, nolens volens, into its service. In his transcription and analysis of the ancient legends, which he professes to unravel, he allows himself the utmost latitude. His alphabet is made up of a mixture of the Hebrew, Greek, Arabic, Ethiopic, and Syriac (p. 46). He omits letters ad libitum, assigns to the same cliaracter different meanings, and to different characters the same meaning, and often reads a whole group of characters as one, being governed apparently by the exigency of the case and the sense which he desires to discover. And then the result reached is no intelligible language, but a jargon, a mere jumble of unmeaning sounds. There are no inflected words, no personal endings of verbs, no prepositions or words indicative of relation, but a string of letters which he divides off at random into what he assumes to be Arabic roots, whose meanings he takes just as he finds them in Golius Lexicon, without discriminating between what is ancient and what is modern, what is common to the Arabic, with the Hebrew, and what is peculiar to the Arabic; and even thus he is sometimes obliged to desert the Arabic Lexicon, and be helped out by the Hebrew. If the inscriptions as he reads them, that is, as transcribed by him into Arabic letters and divided by him into words, were put into the hands of the most accomplished Orientalist, we may safely venture to say, that he could make no consistent sense ont of them; he certainly never would find the meaning in them which Mr. Forster professes to discover there. The language of the inscriptions, as he makes it out, is such as never was spoken and has no representative under the sun.

As the result he finds the facts of the Pentateuch corroborated in almost every line. We quote his own summary statement (Primeval Language, pp. 61, 62):

Among the events of the Erode these records comprise, besides the healing of the waters of Marah, the passage of the Red Sea, with the introduction of Pharaoh twice by name, and two notices of the Egyptian tyrant's vain attempt to save himself by flight on horseback from the returning waters, together with hieroglyphic representations of himself and of his horse, in accordance with a hitherto unexplained passage of the Song of Moses: "For the horse of Pharaoh went in with his chariots and with his horsemen into the sea,' etc.; they com. prise, further, the miraculous supplies of manna and of flesh; the battle of Repbidim, with the mention of Moses by his office, and of Aaron and Hur by their names; the same inscription repeated, describing the holding up of Moses' hands

by Aaron and Hur, and their supporting him with a stone, illustrated by a drawing apparently of the stone containing within it the inscription and the figure of Moses over it with uplifted hands; and lastly the plague of fiery serpents, with the representation of a serpent in the act of coming down, as it were, from heaven, upon a prostrate Israelite.

“ These references to recorded events of the Exode compose, however, but a small part of the Sinaitic inscriptions as yet in our possession; the great mass of which consist of descriptions of rebellious Israel under the figures of kicking asses, restive camels, rampant goats, sluggish tortoises, and lizards of the desert."

Mr. Forster finds a significant mystery in each of the rude pictorial representations that accompany these inscriptions ; and even in the caricatured forms into which later travellers, sportively inclined, have distorted the shapes of the letters (of which “Pharaoh's horse” is an instance), as well as in zigzag or irregular lines, which modern copyists have introduced into their drawings (to which the fiery serpent and the stone at Rephidim apparently belong); all these he devoutly regards as coeval with, and illustrative of, the inscriptions themselves.

The following specimens of the renderings given will abundantly suffice; the first is supposed to relate to the miraculous supply of quails or “ feathered fowls;" the second, to the destruction of Pharaoh's host in the Red Sea.

“Sinai Photographed," p. 159:-"Congregating on all sides to ensnare them, the people voraciously devour the red cranes, bending against them the bow bringing them down. Eating eagerly and enormously the half-raw flesh, plaguestricken become the pilgrims. In the desert, waters flow gushing down the smooth rock. The people thirsting, gives them water to drink Moses."

Ibid., p. 164:—"The waters permitted and dismissed to flow upon the asto men burst rushing unawares, congregated from all quarters banded together to slay treacherously lifted up with pride."

The second example, we may add, purports to be the translation of five words which he finds in the original.

It has been seen that Mr. Forster first arbitrarily deciphers, then as arbitrarily translates, the inscriptions which he undertakes to read ; that, apart from the extravagance of his methods, there is much in his results that is incredible, and that never conld be accepted by any competent linguist; that his conclusions are not only entirely unsupported, but directly

37

VOL. XLII.—NO. IV.

contradicted in the first place, even by Cosmas of the sixth century, whom he claims as his principal voucher, but who found in these inscriptions no such records of miraculous events, but simple statements of the names of travellers, which is much nearer the truth; and secondly, which is of far greater consequence, they are contradicted by the inscriptions themselves, as recently deciphered with scrupulous and scientific accuracy and a self-evidence which has commanded the assent of all competent scholars, and which is gathering additional confirmation on all sides from fresh discoveries and further investigations.

We restrict ourselves to one more remark in relation to these volumes. While they are evidently written in the interest of the Pentateuch, and the design of the well-meaning but misguided writer is to do a service to revealed truth, the aid afforded is treacherous and hollow. If his readings are correct, instead of sustaining they undermine most effectually the antiquity and genuineness of the writings of Moses. If he could establish his conclusions, sceptical critics could find no more welcome ally. The language of the Pentateuch is certainly not that of these inscriptions as he reads them. And if they are authentic monuments of the days of Moses, and his explanation of them is correct, they afford a palpable evidence that the Pentateuch was not written by Moses nor by any one in the Mosaic age.

Mr. Forster imagines that the language of the inscriptions is the ancient Egyptian; and that the Hebrery was first taught the Israelites by direct revelation from Heaven at the giving of the law. It is difficult to preserve one's gravity in arguing with a man who can propound so extraordinary an hypothesis, which, apart from its intrinsic absurdity, is contradicted by known facts at every point. The language of Egypt long prior to the time of Moses is well known from extant monuments. It bears no affinity to the supposititious tongue discovered by Mr. Forster, and no sane man would ever think of reading it by the aid of Golius' Arabic lexicon ; and the ante-Mosaic existence of the Hebrew language can be established beyond all reasonable cavil.

Concede Mr. Forster's reading of the Sinaitic inscriptions, and concede the date which he claims for them, and the defence of the Mosaic writings becomes hopeless. If the children of Israel in the age of the exodus spoke the language of these inscriptions, as this is made ont in these volumes, the Pentateuch could not have been written for their use. Bunsen's unfounded hypothesis respecting the book of Jonah might then be applied to the first five books of the Bible, and that under circumstances which would give it real validity. He fancies that the song in the second chapter of Jonah is alone genuine, and that it is descriptive of an actual escape from the perils of the sea; this was misunderstood, and so gave rise to the legend of the rest of the book. For the first time in the entire history of Biblical criticism anthentic monuments would stand in fatal antagonism to the verity of the Scriptural records. These inscriptions, it would be claimed, were the only coeval accounts, the only authentic originals. These do not necessarily contain any thing miraculons. They have, however, been misunderstood and exaggerated in later times. The Pentateuch is the legendary accretion, of which these inscriptions are the only reliable base. So that henceforth we would be obliged to derive our knowledge of the Mosaic period, not from Moses, but from Mr. Forster, and we could know only so much as the latter is able to teach us. For this we confess we are not prepared.

While, however, Mr. Forster has been in chase of a phantom—and it is to be regretted that so much patience, ingenuity, and expense have been devoted to so chimerical an endthe photographs and carefully prepared copies of the inscriptions, which these volumes contain, are of real and permanent valne, and afford a useful addition to the materials previously existing or accessible for the study of these ancient and curious records upon the rocks of Sinai.

« ElőzőTovább »