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domestic a spaniel, and the like? The names of lion, tiger, panther, great buffalo, bloodhound, &c., given by our savages to their warriors, are in accordance with the fact, that in proportion to the poverty of a language, and to the want of abstract terms,-- which is always the case where there is defective civilisation,—will the language of people become more or less symbolical, that is, they will be disposed to employ things as the representatives of ideas.
Now, supposing that such a people should have occasion to communicate with each other at a distance, of necessity they would revert to pictures, * being as closely analogous as possible to their spoken language The image of a man would be the most natural sign of a man, but if it should be desired to describe some particular properties of that man, the most natural method would be to delineate, in connection with the image of a man, the likeness of some animal or object remarkable for that property, until, presently, the natural object would be used as the shortest and best description,-the picture of a snake, a fox, a lion, or a dog, as the case might be, being substituted for the man. These things would then acquire a permanent meaning, and be used to denote a whole class of men of like properties. Hence originated the hieroglyphical style of writing. Carrying the system out, and applying it to families and nations, in the most natural and easy way, it would lead to what has been called the tropical hieroglyphics of Egypt, and lay the foundation of the whole science of heraldry.
Accordingly we find that it was anciently, and continues still to be, the practice of nations to use symbols, or things, as signs and representatives of their
.See Warburton's Divine Legation, vol. ii. p. 234, &c.
character,- the dove being the device of the ancient Assyrian empire,—the lion of the Babylonish,—the ram of the Medo-Persian —the he-goat of the Grecian or Macedonian, and the eagle of the Roman. So at this day, the lion is the device of Great Britain, the bear of Russia, and the spread-eagle of the United States. From such a use of language and style of writing, very naturally arose what is called the fable, or apologue, or parable, in which objects in nature are made to represent persons, and the whole to conceal some moral or historical truth, of which we have a very striking example in the fable or parable of Jotham,* and abundant among other nations than the Hebrews, as the Greek fables of Æsop, the Roman fables of Menenius Agrippa, the Arabic fables by Lochman, the Indian fables by Pidpay, and the French fables by Lafontaine. The fable is a speaking hieroglyphic, and if the story of it be delineated, either by the pencil or the chisel, it becomes at once a painted or a sculptured hieroglyphic.
It was on this very same foundation, the poverty of language, that the whole system of the Oneirocritics, as they are called, i.e. interpreters of dreams-supposed to be prophetical, was built, of which we have specimens in Jacob's interpretation of Joseph's dreams, Joseph's interpretation of the baker's and butler's and Pharaoh's dreams, I and Daniel's interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar's. The interpretation was not arbitrary or imaginary, according to the whim and caprice of the soothsayer, but proceeded according to fixed and definite rules, founded on the import of symbolic language, so that this branch of divining became a science, which was studied and practised among heathen nations, highly respected and honored in Egypt and * Judges, 9. 8–15.
+ Gen. 37. 10. . Gen. 40. 5-20; 42. 1-32. $ Dan, 2, 31-45,
Babylon, and cultivated by the Hebrews.* There is reason to believe, that much of the studies pursued in the school of the prophets, instituted in the days of Samuel, was designed to qualify for the right use and interpretation of symbolic language. The dreams related by Herodotus,t of Astyages, that a vine sprang from the womb of his daughter, and rapidly overspread all Asia, and of Xerxes that he was crowned with the wreath of an olive tree which covered all the earth, but which suddenly and totally disappeared, may have been, for anything we can say to the contrary, as truly from God as those of Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar, and capable of being interpreted even by the heathen Oneirocritics correctly, according to the definite and established import of symbols.
Mr. Faber has referred to Artemidorus, Astrampsychus, and Achmetes, and the other Oneirocritics, who are mentioned by them, as assuming the general principle, that such and such hieroglyphics bear such and such a meaning ; and this point having been laid down, they very readily fabricate their interpretations of dreams accordingly. “Thus,” adds he, “because poverty of language had anciently produced such a figurative mode of expression,-heaven, from its exalted situation, having been made the symbol or hieroglyphic of supreme regal power,—if a king dreamed that he ascended into heaven, the ancient Indians and Persians, and Egyptians, as we learn from Achmetes, interpreted his dream to signify, that he would obtain the pre-eminence over all other kings. And thus, an earthquake being, very naturally, for the same reason, made a symbol of a political revolution, if a king dreamed that his capital or his country was shaken by an earthquake, his drea'm, according to the same writer, was explained to portend the harassing of his do. minions by external or internal violence."*
* Warburton's Divine Legation, vol. ii. p. 67. | Herod. 1. i. c. 108, and 1. vii. c. 19.
Such is the principle, on which is built the symbolical language of prophecy. Like the ancient hiero. glyphics, and like those non-alphabetical characters, which are divided from them, it is a language of ideas, rather than words. It speaks by pictures quite as much as by sounds; and through the medium of those pictures, rather than through the medium of a labored verbal definition, it sets forth with equal ease and pre, cision, the nature and relations of the matters predictedot Hieroglyphics are the painted or sculptured images of the things employed to represent or express some moral, political, historical or religious ideas. Symbols are those things themselves, and symbolical language but the setting forth or expressing such ideas by means of the names of those things which represent them.
Many of the predictions of Isaiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Zechariah, and other of the Old Testament prophets, were delivered in this style of speech. The Revelations of the apostle John are almost wholly of this character. But it must be obvious to every intelligent reader, that the language of symbols is no less appropriately employed to represent real things, events literally and historically to occur, than is either alphabetical or metaphorical language. All that is requisite, is to ascertain the import of the symbol, and to apply the rules appropriate for the interpretation of such language. So far from being vague, and liable to the whims and caprice and fancies of interpreters, it is even more fixed and definite in its import than alphabetical language. Faber's Sac. Cal., v. i. p. 10.
. | Faber's Sacred Calendar, v. i. c. 1.
THE SYSTEM OF INTERPRETATION.-SYMBOLICAL AND
The fact that the Sacred Scriptures, and especially the prophetical parts, abound in figurative language, is not to be questioned. God has expressly declared, that He sometimes spoke alphabetically by the prophets ; at other times employed visions, and at others still, used similitudes, i. e. symbolical objects and actions, for the purpose of making known his will : “I have also spoken by the prophets, and I have multiplied visions and used similitudes by the ministry of the prophets.* The style of speech, therefore, adopted by Him, must be duly and carefully attended to, in order to understand his meaning. It would be altogether inappropriate, to interpret alphabetical speech by the rules applicable to tropical language. Equally so would it be to lose sight of the peculiar nature of symbolical language, and to interpret it as we would ordinary metaphors. Each has its own character; and the rules of rhetoric and the general laws of human thought must be appealed to, in order to understand its import.
This, we have shown, does not militate against what is called the literal, in contradistinction from the spiritual interpretation, the leading and essential characteristic of which is, that the prophecies set forth
* Hos. 12. 10,