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Bible Encyclopedias

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature


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Arithmetic, the science of numbers or reckoning, was unquestionably practiced as an art in the dawn of civilization. In the absence of positive information we seem authorized in referring the first knowledge of arithmetic to the East. From India, Chaldea, Phoenicia, and Egypt, the science passed to the Greeks, who extended its laws, improved its processes, and widened its sphere. To what extent the Orientals carried their acquaintance with arithmetic cannot be determined. The greatest discovery in this department of the mathematics, namely, the establishment of our system of ciphers, belongs undoubtedly not to Arabia, as is generally supposed, but to the remote East, probably India. Our numerals were made known to these western parts by the Arabians, who, though they were nothing more than the medium of transmission, have enjoyed the honor of giving them their name.

The Hebrews were not a scientific, but a religious and practical nation. What they borrowed from others of the arts of life they used without surrounding it with theory or expanding and framing it into a system. Of their knowledge of arithmetic little is known beyond what may be fairly inferred from the pursuits and trades which they carried on, for the successful prosecution of which some skill at least in its simpler processes must have been absolutely necessary; and the large amounts which appear here and there in the sacred books serve to show that their acquaintance with the art of reckoning was considerable. Even in fractions they were not inexperienced. For figures, the Jews, after the Babylonish exile, made use of the letters of the alphabet; and it is not unlikely that the ancient Hebrews did the same.





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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Arithmetic'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature".

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