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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II:
City of God: Chapter 39

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 39.—About the Hebrew Written Characters Which that Language Always Possessed.

Now we must not believe that Heber, from whose name the word Hebrew is derived, preserved and transmitted the Hebrew language to Abraham only as a spoken language, and that the Hebrew letters began with the giving of the law through Moses; but rather that this language, along with its letters, was preserved by that succession of fathers.  Moses, indeed, appointed some among the people of God to teach letters, before they could know any letters of the divine law.  The Scripture calls these men γραμματεισαγωγεῖς, who may be called in Latin inductores or introductores of letters, because they, as it were, introduce them into the hearts of the learners, or rather lead those whom they teach into them.  Therefore no nation could vaunt itself over our patriarchs and prophets by any wicked vanity for the antiquity of its wisdom; since not even Egypt, which is wont falsely and vainly to glory in the antiquity of her doctrines, is found to have preceded in time the wisdom of our patriarchs in her own wisdom, such as it is.  Neither will any one dare to say that they were most skillful in wonderful sciences p. 384 before they knew letters, that is, before Isis came and taught them there.  Besides, what, for the most part, was that memorable doctrine of theirs which was called wisdom but astronomy, and it may be some other sciences of that kind, which usually have more power to exercise men’s wit than to enlighten their minds with true wisdom?  As regards philosophy, which professes to teach men something which shall make them happy, studies of that kind flourished in those lands about the times of Mercury, whom they called Trismegistus, long before the sages and philosophers of Greece, but yet after Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, and even after Moses himself.  At that time, indeed, when Moses was born, Atlas is found to have lived, that great astronomer, the brother of Prometheus, and maternal grandson of the elder Mercury, of whom that Mercury Trismegistus was the grandson.

Next: Chapter 40

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