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Bible Encyclopedias

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature


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Writing is an art by which facts or ideas are communicated from one person to another by means of given signs, such as symbols or letters. It has been a generally received and popular opinion that writing was first used and imparted to mankind when God wrote the Ten Commandments on the tables of stone; but the silence of Scripture upon the subject would rather suggest that so necessary an art had been known long before that time, or otherwise the sacred historian would probably have added this extraordinary and divine revelation to the other parts of his information respecting the transactions on Mount Sinai.

After the gift of language (which was indispensable to rational creatures), it would seem that writing was the most highly beneficial and important boon which could be conferred on men possessed of intellect and understanding, who from their circumstances must divide and spread over the whole earth, and yet be forced from various necessities to maintain intercourse with each other. Even in the first ages of the world writing was requisite to transmit and receive accurately intelligence from the scattered communities, to convey to posterity events which were destined to act upon all time, and especially to preserve unimpared the knowledge of God. Is it then too much to believe that God by revelation immediately imparted to mankind the power of writing? For it does not appear that any person ever invented an alphabet who had not previously heard of or seen one; and every nation which possessed the art always professed to have derived its knowledge from a God.

It was a matter of the utmost consequence that the most exact accounts should have been preserved of the creation, the fall of man, and many prophecies of deepest interest to unborn generations. The ages and genealogies of the patriarchs; the measures of the ark; the first kingly government in Assyria; the history of Abraham and his descendants for 430 years, including minute circumstances, changes, and conversations, in many different countries; could scarcely have been perfectly preserved by oral descent for twenty centuries, unless the antediluvians and their immediate posterity did not partake of the failings of Christians in the defects of forgetfulness and exaggeration; but allowing the art of writing to have been given with language, there is no difficulty, and it becomes obvious that each transaction would be recorded and kept exactly as it was either revealed or happened.

It is evident from the allusions made to the subject in the sacred Scriptures, that the knowledge of writing was possessed by the human family at a very early period. In Genesis 5 it is said, 'This is the book of the generations.' If there had been merely a traditional recollection of 'the generations of Adam,' preserved only by transmission from one memory to another for more than a thousand years, the term book would have been most inapplicable, and could not have been used.

In the book of Job, which is considered to be the most ancient written document extant, it is said (), 'Oh, that my words were now written! Oh, that they were printed in a book! that they were graven with an iron pen!' Also , 'mine adversary had written a book.' Such expressions could not have been used, and would have had no meaning, if the art of writing had been unknown; nor could there have been such terms as book and pen, if the things themselves had not existed.

If, then, it be granted that the book of Job was written, and such expressions were current before the Exode, it becomes evident from sacred history that writing was not only in use before the law was given on Mount Sinai, but that it was also known among other patriarchal tribes than the children of Israel.


Fig. 350—Ancient Writing materials

Before the law was given by God to Moses, he had been commanded to write the important transactions which occurred during the progress of the Israelites from Egypt to Canaan; for in it is recorded, 'And the Lord said unto Moses, Write this for a memorial in a book.' An account of the discomfiture of the Amalekites is the first thing said to have been written by Moses. This battle was fought before the people left Rephidim (), from whence they departed into the wilderness of Sinai (), and therefore that writing was drawn up before the events on the mount took place. The law was 'written by the finger of God' () B.C. 1491, and since that time there is no question as to the existence of the art of writing.

Books and writing must have been familiar to Moses, 'who was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians' (), for at the time of his birth that people had arrived at a high pitch of civilization; and now that the mysterious hieroglyphics have been deciphered, it has been found that from the earliest era Egypt possessed a knowledge of writing, and that many of the inscriptions were written before the Exodus of the Hebrews.

Letters are generally allowed to have been introduced into Europe from Phoenicia, and to have been brought from thence by Cadmus into Greece, about fifteen centuries before Christ, which time coincides with the eighteenth Egyptian dynasty; but while none may deny such to have been the origin of European alphabetical characters, it does not prove the Phoenicians to have been the inventors of writing. That people occupied Phoenicia in very early times after the Deluge; and if the patriarch and his sons possessed the knowledge of letters, their posterity would doubtless preserve the remembrance and practice of such an invaluable bequest, which would be conveyed by their colonists into Greece and Africa. In the New World it was found that the Peruvians had no system of writing, while the Mexicans had made great advances in hieroglyphical paintings. The Aztecs, who preceded the Mexicans, had attained much proficiency in the art, such as was adequate to the wants of a people in an imperfect state of civilization.

Various have been the materials and implements used for writing. Paper made from the papyrus is now in existence which was fabricated 2000 years B.C. Moses hewed out of the rock two tables of stone on which the Commandments were written (). After that time the Jews used rolls of skins for their sacred writings. They also engraved writing upon gems or gold plates ().

Before the discovery of paper the Chinese wrote upon thin boards with a sharp tool. Reeds and canes are still used as writing implements among the Tartars; and the Persians and other Orientals write for temporary purposes on leaves, or smooth sand, or the bark of trees. The Arabs in ancient times wrote their poetry upon the shoulder-blades of sheep.

The Greeks occasionally engraved their laws on tables of brass. Even before the days of Homer table-books were used, made of wood, cut in thin slices, which were painted and polished, and the pen

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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Writing'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature".

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