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Archibald Sayce
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 210 pages of information about Early Israel and the Surrounding Nations.

Perhaps one of the most remarkable characteristics of the Semitic family of speech is its conservatism and resistance to change.  As compared with the other languages of the world, its grammar and vocabulary have alike undergone but little alteration in the course of the centuries during which we can trace its existence.  The very words which were used by the Babylonians four or five thousand years ago, can still be heard, with the same meaning attached to them, in the streets of Cairo. Kelb is “dog” in modern Arabic as kalbu was in ancient Babylonian, and the modern Arabic tayyib, “good,” is the Babylonian tabu.  One of the results of this unchangeableness of Semitic speech is the close similarity and relationship that exist between the various languages that represent it.  They are dialects rather than distinct languages, more closely resembling one another than is the case even with the Romanic languages of modern Europe, which are descended from Latin.

Most of the Semitic languages—­or dialects if we like so to call them—­are now dead, swallowed up by the Arabic of Mohammed and the Qoran.  The Assyrian which was spoken in Assyria and Babylonia is extinct; so, too, are the Ethiopic of Abyssinia, and the Hebrew language itself.  What we term Hebrew was originally “the language of Canaan,” spoken by the Semitic Canaanites long before the Israelitish conquest of the country, and found as late as the Roman age on the monuments of Phoenicia and Carthage.  The Minaean and the Sabaean dialects of southern Arabia still survive in modern forms; Arabic, which has now overflowed the rest of the Semitic world, was the language of central Arabia alone.  In northern Arabia, as well as in Mesopotamia and Syria, Aramaic dialects were used, the miserable relics of which are preserved to-day among a few villagers of the Lebanon and Lake Urumiyeh.  These Aramaic dialects, it is now believed, arose from a mixture of Arabic with “the language of Canaan.”

On the physical side, the Semitic race is not so homogeneous as it is on the linguistic side.  But this is due to intermarriage with other races, and where it is purest it displays the same general characteristics.  Thick and fleshy lips, arched nose, black hair and eyes, and white complexion, distinguish the pure-blooded Semite.  Intellectually he is clever and able, quick to learn and remember, with an innate capacity for trade and finance.  Morally he is intense but sensuous, strong in his hate and in his affections, full of a profound belief in a personal God as well as in himself.

When Abraham was born in Ur of the Chaldees the power and influence of Babylonia had been firmly established for centuries throughout the length and breadth of western Asia.  From the mountains of Elam to the coast of the Mediterranean the Babylonian language was understood, the Babylonian system of writing was taught and learned, Babylonian literature was studied, Babylonian trade was carried on, and Babylonian law

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