Proto-Sinaitic Inscriptions

Henry Churchyard churchh at
Mon Sep 25 11:02:36 EDT 2000

> Subject: Proto-Sinaitic Inscriptions
> From: "Brian Tucker" <jbtucker at>
> Date: Thu, 21 Sep 2000 21:45:39 -0400

> I am looking for a critique of the understanding of proto-sinaitic
> inscriptions and their use in arguing for the linguisitic origins of
> Hebrew.  1915: Sir Alan Gardiner recognized the characters as
> acrophonic and deciphered: l - b'lt meaning 'belonging to
> Ba'lat(h).'  1947-48: W.F. Albright examined cave inscriptions at
> Serabit el-Khadem along with inscriptions housed at the Cairo Museum
> from previous expeditions and identified 19 characters of the
> alphabet used.  1966: Albright identified four more characters used
> in the inscriptions bringing the number of characters in the
> alphabet to 23.  Can someone bring me up to date on proto-sinaitic
> inscriptions?  Have anymore been discovered?  Has anything more
> recent than 1969 been written concerning the proto-sinaitic
> inscriptions?  What is the significance of these inscriptions?

I'm not fully up on all the latest developments in this area, but I
did read Albright's book, and ultimately came away from it with the
impression that there's actually not much beyond _l-b`lt_ that's 100%
securely deciphered based on actual linguistic usage in the
inscriptions (as opposed to mere abstract comparisons between the
visual appearance of isolated characters and the acrophonic words
which are hypothesized to have occurred as letter-names).  There was a
dissertation in the 1980's or so (don't remember title or author,
sorry) that catalogued all the proto-Sinaitic inscriptions and their
current locations (if known), rephotographed some, and made a new
effort to distinguish random scratches from characters.  Just last
year, other inscriptions were discovered in Egypt that appear to be
relevant for the origins of the alphabet, as reported in the Nov.
13th, 1999 New York Times; don't know if they have been published yet...

I'm not sure that proto-Sinaitic has all that much specific relevance
for Hebrew; if the decipherment hasn't gotten very far beyond
_l-b`lt_, then there's not much hope of discerning specific dialect
features...  ;-)

P.S.  If you vocalize it, then _laba`lat_ would not have a spirantized
(i.e. fricative) _th_ at the end, since contextual fricativization of
non-emphatic stops after vowels doesn't go back any farther than the
second half of the 1st. millennium B.C.  Also, is there any reason to
question the traditional translation "to the Lady (i.e. goddess)"?

Henry Churchyard   churchh at

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