[b-hebrew] history of square script

Karl Randolph kwrandolph at email.com
Tue Dec 9 02:33:23 EST 2003


When the DSS tour hit our local museum, I had to go and take a look. At that time I had not yet learned archaic Hebrew alphabet. It could be that the curators of the DSS sent only the most modern looking of the MSS, but I found that I had no trouble reading most of the Hebrew documents included in the tour. The square characters appeared so modern. This was especially true of the portion of the Psalms that was on display.

Karl W. Randolph.

----- Original Message -----
From: Peter Kirk <peterkirk at qaya.org>
> On 04/12/2003 16:39, Elaine Keown wrote:
> >          Elaine Keown
> >          central Texas
> >
> >Hello:
> >
> >I'm looking for help on the history of Aramaic or
> >Hebrew square script---I'm looking at them as,
> >basically, a unit.  
> >
> >I assume square script starts in Elephantine in Egypt
> >about 495 B.C., develops into slightly later square
> >script in Qumran documents, but what then?  
> >
> >At Qumran, so far, I think 50-60% of the letters
> >(depends on document) look modern to me (for the mss
> >which *are* in square script).  
> >
> >But after Qumran, how long is the hiatus before we get
> >to 100% of the letters appearing modern?  In Birnbaum,
> >he seems to indicate it's another 600 years---I was
> >very surprised by that........
> >
> >I also wondered if the Cairo Geniza had examples of
> >slightly later square script development?  
> >
> >I'm drawing sample letters to re-use in a Web
> >document, so references with photo/drawn facsimiles
> >appreciated.
> >
> >Thanks for all help--Elaine Keown
> >
> >  
> >
> Elaine, I think this all depends on how you define "look modern". I take 
> this as meaning "have almost exactly the same shape as in traditional 
> printed Bible texts". At least, it would seem to mean that if you 
> consider that only 50-60% of Qumran letters "look modern". If you are 
> talking about having shapes that are immediately recognisable by 
> Hebraists today, from a quick look at an extract from 1Q Isaiah I would 
> say 80-90%. And looking at an alphabet from Elephantine, things are not 
> much worse: samekh and ayin are now unrecognisable and some others 
> ambiguous, but we are still talking about 50-60% with basically their 
> modern shapes.
> And we may be able to trace things back before Elephantine, even if 
> these are the oldest surviving texts in "square" script. The Palmyrene 
> alphabet given in http://std.dkuug.dk/jtc1/sc2/wg2/docs/n2311.pdf, 
> figure 5.5 column XVIII, is in fact more like modern Hebrew than 
> Elephantine is; but the table in that same document suggests that it 
> separated from Hebrew at a date before the Elephantine texts. But 800 
> BCE Aramaic shapes seem to have been more like paleo-Hebrew.
> -- 
> Peter Kirk
> peter at qaya.org (personal)
> peterkirk at qaya.org (work)
> http://www.qaya.org/
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