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object to be seen at a distance—that when they wandered wide with A.m. 1757. , their flocks, it might be to the dispersed population a common point B.C. 2247. of union. Others understand by it an indication of undue ambition, an appetite for celebrity, which, if unchecked, might lead to the most criminal excesses. However this might be, the work was displeasing to God: and it appears to have been so, principally, on the supposition that they intended it as a rallying point; thus defeating the end of their multiplication, in confining the population of the earth too much to one spot. Accordingly, it pleased God to confound Confusion of their language, so that they could not understand each other. An language. inquiry after the original tongue would not be profitable, nor could it lead to any certain conclusion: if we trace all known languages to their sources, perhaps we should approach the Hebrew more nearly than any other. Nor is it a question, whether language might not have gradually changed—it was, the historian affirms, altered at once. Not by the introduction of a variety of accents and inflexions merely, but by a total confusion and diversity of speech. However we may flatter ourselves that we have found a common original in any language as the basis of the rest, there are some which have no visible connection with any tongue whatever, and the Chinese appears to be of this description; so that for the absolute contrariety, we can scarcely account on any other principle than that of a total change of speech.
The work was in consequence abandoned ; and the people separ- Dispersion. ated. We prefer this term to dispersed; because there does not appear to have been any violent disorganization of the mass of mankind; but that the different tribes arranged themselves according to their respective tongues, and having thus embodied themselves, proceeded to take quiet possession of the earth, amicably adjusting their several boundaries, and dividing it among them.
To attempt to trace the origin of nations, from this dispersion, at Origin of this distance of time, and with the slight sketch afforded by Moses, nations. would be as impossible as unprofitable. In general, we may observe, that Shem appears to have settled near the plains of Shinar. Among his descendants are the inhabitants of Persia, from Elam; of Nineveh, from Ashur; of China, from Arphaxad; of Mesopotamia and Phrygia, comprehending the countries westward of Assyria, as far as the Mediterranean, from Aram Ham probably dwelt in Egypt. His descendants occupied Shinar, from Nimrod; Arabia, from Cush; Ethiopia, from Mizraim; Africa, from Phul; Phænicia, and the land of Canaan, from Canaan.-When Japheth left Babel, it is uncertain where he settled. His descendants dwelt in Phrygia, from Gomer; the eastern part of Asia Minor, from Ashkenaz; Cappadocia and Galatia, from Togarmah. Most of these divisions must, after all, be considered as conjectural, although a mass of reasons might be assigned to support the general arrangements advanced here.
A.M. 1757. To this striking point of history, several traditions have reference. B.C. 2247. Josephus quotes one of the sybils as averring, “ that mankind once
spoke a common language ; but building a tower immensely high, Traditions. as though they would scale heaven, the Gods sent a wind and over
threw it, assigning to each a different tongue; and thence Babylon derived its name.” Abydenus makes a similar statement: and to fix the era of this event, says, “ then commenced the war between Saturn and Titan.” Babylon was not built by Semiramis, as the Greeks affirm: this error is refuted by Berosus and Josephus. And can there be any question, upon divesting the history of its poetical decorations, that the fables of the giants' war with heaven originated in this fact? In some cases, the poets seem to have borrowed the very language of this historian—" let us go down and see whether these things are so.”
The names which we select in Biography, in pursuance of our plan, are, for the most part, centres, around which considerable portions of important history revolve; but the name of ABRAHAM, as it is presented by Moses, and as it originates the Israelitish nation, is a fountain whence the grand stream of History flows in relation to that distinguished people, and from which those ramifications branch, which furnish the records of other nations. This great progenitor of the Hebrews is introduced rather suddenly.
Terah, the father of Abraham, was the tenth in descent from Shem, A.M. 2078. the first-born of Noah. Idolatry had commenced; and it is not B.C. 1926. unlikely that the family of Abraham participated its guilt and
danger: for the prophet reminds the Jews, that their ancestor was “ a Syrian ready to perish.” Whether the call to Abraham, to leave his country, influenced the whole family (for after the decease of his father, it is spoken of in the past tense, as having occurred some time before ;) or whether Terah had himself received an intimation of the divine pleasure, that they should expatriate themselves, does not distinctly appear. They left, however, their country, and the probable cause was idolatry: of the evil of which they had been, it should seem, admonished. The city in which they dwelt was Ur of the Chaldeans; the centre of superstition, which took its name perhaps from the worship of fire, as did Heliopolis from that of the sun; the word Ur signifying fire or light. The illustrious exiles
were, Terah; his son, Abraham ; Lot, his grandson; and Sarah, Death of his daughter, the wife of Abraham. Terah lingered unaccountably
in Haran, and died there, at the age of 250 years: some difficulties A.M. 2083. of a chronological nature arise here, which however are not of B.C. 1921. sufficient importance as to their result, to induce us to interrupt the
narrative, to attempt to settle them. Abraham It appears that God had expressly indicated his will, that Abra
to ham should proceed to Canaan, without specifying the spot upon
? Anc. Univ. His. Vol. I. B. 1. C. 2. Homer, Odys. 30. Ovid, Met. L. 1. Virg. Geog. I. &c.
Departure from Ur.
proceeds to Canaan.
which he should rest: and as soon as he had performed the last A.m. 2083. offices of filial affection in the sepulture of his father, at the age of 1.c. 1921. seventy-five, “he obeyed, and went out, not knowing whither he went,” accompanied by Lot, his nephew, taking with them all their servants and cattle. Thus the illustrious pilgrimage commenced : and he proceeded first to Sichem, on the plain of Moreh, the Canaanites then inhabiting the land. He was favoured there with a divine revelation, assuring him that his posterity should possess that country; and he erected an altar to God, as a permanent memorial of this promise. Thence he soon removed to a mountain Removes to on the east of Bethel (so called proleptically, as it had not then Bethel. received that name,) whether apprehending any inundation which might prove fatal to his cattle in the low country, or not, is not stated.
Journeying still towards the south, a famine arose, which com- Descends pelled the patriarch to seek refuge in Egypt, whither its influence had not extended. In his way thither, it occurred to him, that the beauty of Sarah, although she had then attained her sixty-fifth year, might expose him to danger; and he accordingly entreated her to pass as his sister, instead of his wife. This prevarication, so unworthy his character, was not a direct falsehood in point of fact; as she was his half-sister, “ the daughter of his father, but not the daughter of his mother:" but the sin justly produced its own punishment. Pharaoh (which was the common title of the Egyptian Kings, as Cæsar was, long afterwards, of the Roman emperors,) was captivated with her charms; bestowed princely favours for her sake, upon Abraham: and took her into his family. Upon this step, some severe visitations fell upon the royal house, of a character sufficiently marked to denote on what ground they were sent. The monarch, justly exasperated at the deception practised upon him, and fearing to incur further penalties of divine displeasure, restored the patriarch his wife, but banished him his dominions.
By this time the famine had subsided, and they returned to A.M. 2086. Bethel, whence they had set out for their southern journey before B.C. 1918. they went into Egypt. The increase of their wealth involved the servants of Abraham and Lot in contention, and it became necessary that they should part. The patriarch gave his nephew the Abraham choice of country; recommending that they should separate on separate. terms of the most undoubted affection: and Lot chose the plains of Sodom and Gomorrah, watered by the river Jordan, and distinguished for fertility. In the meanwhile, Abraham, who abode in Canaan, received another intimation, that the country in which he dwelt should be inherited by his descendants. The patriarch pitched his tent on the plain of Mamre, in Hebron, and built there, as wherever he sojourned, an altar to the Lord. About this time war broke out between the neighbouring rulers ;
A.M. 2086, five kings contending against four: the origin of which was, that B.C. 1918. the kings of Sodom, Gomorrah, and others, refused any longer to Battle of the be tributary to Chedorlaomer, the king of Elam. The resisting powers
hers were vanquished by their oppressor and his allies: the fruitful Lot taken
plains which charmed the eye of Lot ravaged, and himself taken prisoner, with the spoliation of his property. Abraham being apprized of this disaster, applied to his friends and confederates,
Mamre, (who gave name to the country,) and his brothers A.M. 2091. Eshcol and Aner, all of them evidently chiefs; and adding to their B.C. 1913. assistance three hundred and eighteen trained and tried servants of
his own household, pursued the conquerors, overtook them when they were on the left of Damascus, surprised and defeated them; and rescued his relative Lot, with the other captives. Although this little band of warriors seems unequal to such an exploit, it should be remembered, the kings spoken of were no more than rulers of four little cities; that they were wearied with the previous conflict; that they were taken by surprise ; and that it is not absolutely determined whether the three confederates of Abraham confined their assistance to their personally accompanying him; although it is evident that his own domestic forces were principals in the victory; which, indeed, appears to be exclusively ascribed
to them. Melchisedec. On his return from this conquest, he was met by an extraordinary
personage, Melchisedec, who united in himself the kingly and priestly dignity. His descent being unascertained, and his priesthood undefined as to its character, whether it were derived and transmissive, or whether it centred in this individual, the apostle considers him as a fit type of Him, whose generation could not be declared, and whose priesthood, centred in himself, was not derived like that of the Levites; nor could be transmitted, since he is himself eternal. The psalmist adverts to this obscure page of history in the same way, and as a type of the eternity of the priesthood of the Messiah. This is all that is known; and every thing more must be considered as conjectural. He received tithes, and blessed Abraham in his priestly character; and is allowed by the apostle to have been the superior of the patriarch. He was probably the pious monarch and priest of some neighbouring territory. We cannot pretend to settle this question, and must leave it in the obscurity in which we find it, only observing, that his appellations denote, Melchisedec, King of Righteousness, and Melchisalem, or King of Salem, King of Peace. The king of Sodom, perhaps the son of him who appears to have perished in the slime-pits, where the battle was fought, came out to congratulate Abraham upon his victory, and to offer him all the spoil which he had taken, with the exception of the men and women. The patriarch accepted his courtesy, but disinterestedly refused to receive the smallest portion of the booty.
The toils of battle were succeeded by renewed intercourse with A.M. 2093 Deity, and a repetition of assurances of divine favour. For the first B.C. 1911. time, Abraham ventured to inquire how these predictions were to Promises be effectuated, as he was childless, and advanced in years. His renewed. steward, Eliezer of Damascus, appeared likely to be his heir. A son was then promised him; and it was added, that his seed should be innumerable as the stars of heaven. As a ratification of this solemn covenant, he was commanded to prepare a sacrifice. An heifer, a goat, a ram, a pigeon, and a turtle-dove, were prescribed as the victims on this memorable occasion. These were divided, with the exception of the birds, and the halves laid over against each other. He waited until the sun went down, driving away the fowls which would have descended on the offerings. At that time, he was overtaken with a deep sleep, accompanied by impressions peculiarly awful; and in a vision he beheld a burning lamp passing between the divided pieces. A prediction of the slavery of his Prediction descendants in Egypt was then pronounced, and that the period of of bondage. it should be 400 years; the most natural import of which is, that his seed should be strangers in the land on which he was lying, four centuries from the birth of Isaac, a part of which they should suffer the wrongs of slavery; and at the close of the time be delivered, and take possession of the promised inheritance.
Impatient for the accomplishment of the promise, and concluding that it could not be fulfilled in her own person, Sarah was desirous, according to the custoin of that age and country, to have children by means of another; and to that end advised her husband to take her handmaid, Hagar. From this step, sprang the domestic un- Hagar. easiness, which seems to have been inseparable from polygamy, or the adoption of practices allied to it. Hagar no sooner found herself likely to become a mother, than she treated her mistress with insolence; and in the bitterness of her spirit, and excess of her indignation, Sarah reproached her husband, at the same time that she complained of her servant. Abraham desired her to follow her own inclinations in respect of her maid: and Sarah treated her with so much severity, that she left her lord's roof. She fled towards Flies. Egypt: while she rested by a fountain, an angel was commissioned to predict the birth, describe the character, and fix the name of her child. The declaration," he will be a wild man, his hand will be Prediction
relating to against every man, and every man's hand against him; and he shall is
Ishmael and dwell in the presence of all his brethren”—was accomplished, partly the Arabs. in the personal character and circumstances of Ishmael, but principally in his descendants, the Arabs; who are cruel, warlike, wanderers; given to rapine, and independent. Hagar, who had provoked the unkindness of her mistress, was commanded to return and to humble herself: she obeyed the injunction, and was again received under her master's roof, beneath the shadow of which her child was born.