on Job 19 :23
O that my words were now written! - Job introduces the important subject which follows in a manner unusually solemn; and he certainly considers the words which he was about to utter of great moment, and therefore wishes them to be recorded in every possible way. All the modes of writing then in use he appears to refer to. As to printing, that should be out of the question, as no such art was then discovered, nor for nearly two thousand years after. Our translators have made a strange mistake by rendering the verb יחקו yuchaku, printed, when they should have used described, traced out. O that my words were fairly traced out in a book! It is necessary to make this remark, because superficial readers have imagined that the art of printing existed in Job's time, and that it was not a discovery of the fifteenth century of the Christian era: whereas there is no proof that it ever existed in the world before a.d. 1440, or thereabouts, for the first printed book with a date is a psalter printed by John Fust, in 1457, and the first Bible with a date is that by the same artist in 1460. Three kinds of writing Job alludes to, as being practiced in his time:
1. Writing in a book, formed either of the leaves of the papyrus, already described, (see on Job 8:11 (note)), or on a sort of linen cloth. A roll of this kind, with unknown characters, I have seen taken out of the envelopments of an Egyptian mummy. Denon, in his travels in Egypt, gives an account of a book of this kind, with an engraved facsimile, taken also out of an Egyptian mummy.
2. Cutting with an iron stile on plates of lead.
3. Engraving on large stones or rocks, many of which are still found in different parts of Arabia.
To the present day the leaves of the palm tree are used in the East instead of paper, and a stile of brass, silver, iron, etc., with a steel point, serves for a pen. By this instrument the letters are cut or engraved on the substance of the leaf, and afterwards some black colouring matter is rubbed in, in order to make the letters apparent. This was probably the oldest mode of writing, and it continues among the Cingalese to the present day. It is worthy of remark that Pliny (Hist. Nat., lib. xiii., c. 11) mentions most of these methods of writing, and states that the leaves of the palm tree were used before other substances were invented. After showing that paper was not used before the conquest of Egypt by Alexander the Great, he proceeds: In palmarum foliis primo scriptitatum; deinde quarundam arborum libris: postea publica monumenta plumbeis voluminibus, mox et privata linteis confici caepta, aut ceris. "At first men wrote on palm tree leaves, and afterwards on the bark or rind of other trees. In process of time, public monuments were written on rolls of lead, and those of a private nature on linen books, or tables covered with wax." Pausanias, lib. xii., c. 31, giving an account of the Boeotians, who dwelt near fount Helicon, states the following fact: -
Και μοι μολιβδον εδεικνυσαν, ενθα ἡ πηγη, τα πολλα ὑπο του χρονου λελυμασμενον, εγγεγραπται γαρ αυτῳ τα εργα;
"They showed me a leaden table near to the fountain, all which his works (Hesiod's) were written; but a great part had perished by the injuries of time."
on Job 19 :23
Oh that my words were now written! - Margin, as in Hebrew, "Who will give;" a common mode of expressing desire among the Hebrews. This expression of desire introduces one of the most important passages in the book of Job. It is the language of a man who felt that injustice was done by his friends, and that he was not likely to have justice done him by that generation. He was charged with hypocrisy; his motives were called in question; his solemn appeals, and his arguments to assert his innocence, were disregarded; and in this state of mind he expresses the earnest wish that his expressions might be permanently recorded, and go down to far distant times. He desired that what he had said might be preserved, that future ages might be able to judge between him and his accusers, and to know the justice of his cause. The desire thus expressed has been granted, and a more permanent record bas been made than if, in accordance with his request, his sentiments had been engraved on lead or stone.
Oh that they were printed! - It is clear that this expression may convey wholly an erroneous idea. The art of "printing" was then unknown; and the passage has no allusion to that art. The original word (חקק châqaq) means properly, to cut in, to hew; then to cut - e. g. a sepulchre in a rock, Isaiah 22:16; then to cut, or engrave letters on a tablet of lead or stone, Isaiah 30:8; Ezekiel 4:1; and generally it implies the notion of engraving, or inscribing on a plate with an engraving tool. Anciently books were made of materials which allowed of this mode of making a record. Stone would probably be the first material; and then plates of metal, leaves, bark, skins, etc. The notion of engraving, however, is the proper idea here.
In a book - - בספר besêpher. The word ספר drow sêpher is derived from ספר sâphar. In Arabic the kindred word shafar means to scratch, to scrape; and hence, to engrave, write, record - and the idea was originally that ofinsculping or engraving on a stone. Hence, the word comes to denote a book, of any materials, or made in any form. Pliny, speaking of the materials of ancient books, says, Olim in palmarum foliis scriptitatum, et libris quarundam arborum; postea publira monumenta plumbeis voluminibus, mox et privata lintels confici coepta aut ceris. Lib. xiii. 11. "At first men wrote on the leaves of the palm, or the bark of certain trees; but afterward public documents were preserved in leaden volumes (or rolls), and those of a private nature on wax or linen." "Montfaucon purchased at Rome, in 1699, an ancient book entirely composed of lead. It was about four inches long, and three inches wide: and not only were the two pieces that formed the cover, and the leaves, six in number, of lead, but also the stick inserted through the rings to hold the leaves together, as well as the hinges and nails. It contained Egyptian Gnostic figures and unintelligible writing. Brass, as more durable, was used for the inscriptions designed to last the longest, such as treaties, laws, and alliances. These public documents were, however, usually written on large tablets. The style for writing on brass and other hard substances was sometimes tipped with diamond."
The meaning of the word here is evidently a record made on stone or lead - for so the following verses indicate. The art of writing or engraving was known in the time of Job; but I do not know that there is evidence that the art of writing on leaves, bark, or vellum was yet understood. As books in the form in which they are now were then unknown; as there is no evidence that at that time anything like volumes or rolls were possessed; as the records were probably preserved on tablets of stone or lead; and as the entire description here pertains to something that was engraved; and as this sense is conveyed by the Arabic verb from which the word ספר sêpher, book, is derived, the word tablet, or some kindred word, will better express the sense of the original than book - and I have, therefore, used it in the translation.
Assyrian records are found generally in stone or clay; and the latter being more easily and speedily engraven with a triangular instrument, was more frequently employed.
(1) An Assyrian terra-cotta cylinder from Khorsabad contains the annals of the reign of Sargon. It is dated about 721 B.C.
(2) A hexagonal terra cotta cylinder from Koyunjik contains the annals of the first eight years of the reign of Sennacherib (702 to 694 B.C.), with an account of the expedition against Hezekiah.
(3) The inscription shows Assyrian scribes making notes of prisoners, heads of slain, spoils, etc. It comes from Koyunjik.
on Job 19 :23