Hebrew and Hieroglyphs

Peter Kirk Peter_Kirk at sil.org
Sat Aug 18 18:02:45 EDT 2001

I have a table in front of me, from the New Bible Dictionary, IVP, Leicester
1962, which gives Egyptian hieroglyph equivalents for most of the letters of
the Hebrew alphabet, with the Sinaitic inscriptions of c. 1500 BC as an
intermediate stage. The table also gives Greek and Latin equivalents. This
is part of the article "Writing" by D.J. Wiseman; a reference quoted is
Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, XLVIII, 1962, pp.45-48. However, I think
this table is omitted from later editions of this dictionary, which may
suggest that the data is considered too speculative.

In this table, each Hebrew letter is given a meaning, which corresponds well
with the meaning of its Hebrew name, in Hebrew e.g. aleph = ox, beth = house
etc. The earliest written forms of the letters are very close to the
hieroglyphs with the same meaning (though not the same sound) in Egyptian.
Amazingly, some of the letter shapes have been preserved through Phoenician
and Greek into English! Hebrew mem (mayim) = water was originally the
Egyptian wavy line sign for water (pronounced n in Egyptian), and this
shape, while lost in Hebrew, is still discernable in our M. Our R, from
Hebrew resh/rosh = head (and the Egyptian tp "head"), still looks a bit like
a head with an Egyptian style beard. Our A originated in Egypt as the head
of an ox with horns (Egyptian k' "ox"), got turned upside down, and became
Greek alpha as well as Hebrew aleph. Well, that's a theory that looks rather
attractive even if it cannot be proved.

Peter Kirk

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Matthew R. Miller [mailto:biblicalscribe at hotmail.com]
> Sent: 18 August 2001 18:18
> To: Biblical Hebrew
> Subject: Hebrew and Hieroglyphs
> Shalom to B Hevritim:
> I have been learning the Egyptian hieroglyphs, and have come into some
> interesting idographic, morphological thoughts. That is, I know that there
> is a commonly-accepted origin for some of the Hebrew letters. For example,
> we all have probably learned that aleph is supposed to have once been an
> ox, and I think it is safe to assume that most letters in most human
> languages were probably once idiograms and pictographs to some extent (I
> know, this is a generalized statement, but bear with me). Also, resh has
> been described as having once been a rosh, etc. Well, I cannot help but
> notice in my Egyptian studies that some of the Hebrew letters have an
> amazing relation to some of the Egyptian hieroglyphs. For example, aleph
> looks like a simply-stylized vulture. Am I reading too much into this? Has
> this already been brought up? Is it possible that some of the Hebrew
> letters, being Semetic, are somehow linguistically and morphologically
> related to the Egyptian hieroglyphs? Am I just crazy? Thanks, Matthew
> Miller
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