When we compare the letters of these three alphabets, we can see this similarity. This is the letter beyt in the Old Hebrew.. Note the close similarity of each. Also note the similarities of the letter hey in each of these alphabets. The edition of the Encyclopedia Americana also makes this connection between the Phoenician, Samaritan and Hebrew alphabets; "[the Hebrews] written characters were the same as the Phoenician, to which the letters of the Samaritan manuscripts approach the nearest. The Phoenicians shared the same alphabet with the Hebrews and the Samaritans. It was also evident that the Phoenicians and Hebrews spoke the same language as the "Foreign Quarterly Review" wrote in its publication; "The learned world had almost universally allowed that the Phoenician language was, with few exceptions, identical with the Hebrew" [ 6 ] While the origins of the Old Hebrew alphabet was widely accepted, this theory was based on a limited amount of evidence as the "Foreign quarterly review" points out; "What is left [of Phoenician] consists of a few inscriptions and coins…" [ 7 ].
The first major discovery connecting the Phoenician alphabet and language with Hebrew occurred on January 19th, , when Turkish laborers accidently uncovered an ancient sarcophagus in Sidon, a Phoenician city. On this sarcophagus was a lengthy inscription written in the Phoenician alphabet and language, which was found to be identical to Hebrew with only a few exceptions. The inscription was written with the same letters as the Phoenician, old Hebrew and Samaritan and it was discovered that Moabite language was also the same as Hebrew with some minor variations. The Siloam Inscription, discovered in , is written on the wall of Hezekiah's tunnel, which connects Gihon spring to the Pool of Siloam in East Jerusalem.
This Hebrew inscription was written in the same style as the Phoenician and Moabite inscriptions. During the excavation of the city of Gezer, 30 miles from Jerusalem, a limestone tablet was discovered in with a Hebrew inscription written in the old Hebrew alphabet.
Ancient Aramaic and Hebrew Letters, Second Edition : James M. Lindenberger :
In eighteen ostraca broken pottery fragments were discovered in the ancient city of Lachish with Hebrew writing in the old Hebrew alphabet. In an inscription was discovered in Amman Jordan with an Ammonite inscription whose alphabet and language was also similar to Phoenician and Hebrew.
This inscription also revealed another amazing fact. The old-Hebrew alphabet, also called paleo-Hebrew, was adopted by the Greeks around the 12th century BC. The first five letters of the Hebrew alphabet are aleph, beyt, gimel, dalet and hey. These same letters, adopted by the Greeks, became the alpha, beta, gamma, delta and E-psilon meaning simple E. While Hebrew is usually written from right to left, Greek was written left to right and the orientation of the letters were reversed.
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Over the centuries, these ancient Greek letters evolved into their Modern Greek forms. As previously mentioned, the old Hebrew alphabet was used by all Semitic peoples including the Arameans also called the Chaldeans , but evolved independently from the Hebrew. By the 5th century B. This old Aramaic alphabet, now being used by the Israelites, continued to evolve into the modern letters we are familiar with today.
By the end of the 19th century, the translation of the Semitic alphabet was well established. The only mystery was the origin of this alphabet as mentioned in "A Compendius and Complete Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament" published in Although nothing is known with any degree of certainty concerning the ultimate origin of this letter.
In , a new discovery in the Sinai Peninsula changed the world's perception of the origins of this Semitic alphabet. Flinders Petrie, a renowned Egyptologist and pioneer in modern archeology, discovered inscriptions of previously unknown symbols at Serabit el-Khadim. Alan H. Gardiner, Another renowned Egyptologist, studied these inscriptions in detail. He discovered that these Sinaitic inscriptions consisted of a total of thirty-two symbols. Because of the limited number of symbols Dr.
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Gardiner determined that this was an alphabet. The name of each Hebrew letter is a Hebrew word with meaning. The first letter of the Hebrew alphabet is called the aleph, a Hebrew word meaning "ox," The tenth letter is called the yud or yad meaning "hand" and the sixteenth letter is the ayin, a word meaning "eye. Gardiner found that the letters in these ancient Sinaitic inscriptions were pictures of the very names of the Hebrew letters.
The image of an ox head left was the letter aleph , the image of the hand center was the letter yad and the image of an eye right was the letter ayin. This occasionally gave rise to an ambiguity of interpretation for a text written purely in consonants. Tradition holds that Ezra adopted the Aramaic square script alphabet in place of the Paleo-Hebrew alphabet during the post-exilic Restoration of Israel in the fifth century BC.
As the Aramaic alphabet became the Hebrew alphabet, Hebrew papyri and parchments were then primarily written in Aramaic script.
The Paleo-Hebrew alphabet has persisted to the present day solely with the Samaritans. The Biblical Hebrew text available to us today is thus written in the Hebrew language with the adopted Imperial Aramaic alphabet. Hebrew is written from right to left. There are no capital letters in Hebrew.
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Letters stand alone in printing or writing. Observe that five letters, Kaf, Mem, Nun, Peh, and Tsade, have a final form when the letter occurs at the end of a word. Notice that in the pronunciation column, six letters aleph, het, tet, ayin, tsade, and shin do not convert directly into our alphabet, and have been given symbols for transliteration, which are sometimes employed in biblical or scholarly works.
Please observe in the following chart the distinctions in the pronunciation and transliteration of the three forms of the letter shin: unpointed shin as in original texts or modern unpointed contemporary script , shin with a dot over the right-hand corner, and shin with a dot over the left-hand corner.
The point or dot within a letter, as seen in the three letters Bet, Kaf, and Peh, is known as a dagesh. Note the pronunciations in the following chart:. Numbers one through ten have two forms - masculine and feminine, depending on the noun to which they refer. Sometime during the Maccabean period the second century BC , the letters of the alphabet began to represent numbers, such as the first ten letters of the Hebrew alphabet began to signify numbers one through ten, as seen in the presentation of the Ten Commandments of God :.
Two characteristics of ancient Hebrew were the pure use of consonants, and the use of an epicene personal pronoun a personal pronoun that does not distinguish for male and female - the same word is used for both "he" and "she.
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The only pre-exilic Biblical passage that has been discovered to date is the Priestly Blessing from Numbers , which is found throughout the liturgies of Judaism and Christianity. Two silver amulets with the Priestly Blessing were uncovered in a burial chamber on the western slope of the Hinnom Valley in Jerusalem in This archeological find has been dated from about BC , and is pre-exilic; the amulets are inscribed in the Paleo-Hebrew consonantal text.
Beginning in the post-Exilic period, waw and yod were also used as vowel indicators within a word. The oldest Biblical Hebrew manuscript in our possession came with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, a collection of writings from the Essenes, a monastic religious sect of Judaism that emerged near Qumran about BC. In a Bedouin shepherd named Muhammed ed-Dhib accidentally discovered three scrolls in the caves of Qumran near the Dead Sea: a complete scroll of the Book of Isaiah; the Manual of Discipline, also called the Community Rule, and a Commentary on Habakkuk.
Soon thereafter, four more scrolls were uncovered - the Hymn Scroll, another partial scroll of Isaiah, the Genesis Apocryphon, and the War Scroll, an eschatological text that deals with the final battle between the sons of light and the sons of darkness. Together these seven comprise the seven original Dead Sea Scrolls now preserved in Jerusalem. Thus began the greatest discovery of ancient manuscripts of the twentieth century - nearly scrolls were uncovered in 11 caves in Qumran.
The Dead Sea Scrolls included portions of each book of the Pentateuch written in the pre-exilic Hebrew alphabet known as Ketav Ivri or Paleo-Hebrew , as well as scrolls written in the post-exilic Ketav Ashuri or Aramaic Square script, and even some written in both forms of script. These recently discovered scrolls of the Essenes were written purely in consonants. During the ninth and tenth centuries AD , the Masoretes, Jewish scholars in Tiberias, Galilee, perfected a system of points or nikkud for vowel notation and added it to the received consonantal text.
The vowel points were added to ensure proper interpretation and reading of Hebrew Scripture, and are known as the Masoretic or Tiberian vowel points. This point system was added without altering the spacing of the text.
All of these considerations help biblical scholars to date a particular Hebrew text. For instance, the presence of "pointed text" allows biblical scholars to date manuscripts to at least the latter part of the first millennium AD. Vowels are long or short in quality and quantity. The individual letter used as a vowel was known as a mater.
Waw served as a vowel and was pronounced as long o or u , whereas Yod as a vowel was pronounced as long e or i. Hey served as a final long a. The vowel points for Hey and Yod occur underneath the prior letter. Shewa under the first letter of a word or syllable, or following a long vowel, is vocal, and becomes a semi-vowel, and is pronounced as half of a short e. Shewa under a letter that closes a syllable is silent. The following chart summarizes the Masoretic vowel points. Notice in the following chart that the majority of vowel points appear under the letter, except for long o when it occurs over and to the left of the letter.
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