[b-hebrew] Phoenician alphabet

Walter R. Mattfeld mattfeld12 at charter.net
Mon Jul 21 07:18:09 EDT 2003

Dear Karl,

I am aware of ALL of the problems you recounted in your reply, and the
contested presuppositions upon which they are built. Your brief account of
the problems does address an issue we all wrestle with, "How does one go
about determining what the truth is ?" Do we accept that truth is whatever
our parents, priests and society tell us ? Or can we determine truth through
critical means, logic and reason ?

The "oldest" known alphabetic writing  found at Byblos, a trading partner
with Egypt from Old Kingdom time, 2686-2184 BCE, is supposed to date to the
Early Bronze, ending ca. 2200BCE, but there is some dispute, some argue for
the 12th Dynasty of Egypt 1991-1782 BCE (cf. George E. Mendenhall.
"Languages, Byblos Syllabic." pp.178-180. Vol.4. The Anchor Bible
Dictionary. Doubleday.1992 [a summary of his personal research published in

It is Mendenhall's understanding that this script preserves what he calls
Old Coastal Semetic (OCS), which came to an end with the Early Bronze Age's
demise (the signs are derived in part from Egyptian hieroglyphs). It was
replaced by an "inland" dialects from inner Syria accompanying an Amorite
invasion which swept Early Bronze Age Canaan as well. He noted that early
attempts to understand OCS failed because it was presumed that later Iron
Age Phoenician, 1200-1000 BCE (also a coastal language) could be used to
comprehend the OCS. As things turned out everyone got a surprise- it was
Pre-Classical Arabic which helped understand OCS ! He noted 52 % of the
lexical items in OCS have Arabic cognates, while 25% are Common West
Semitic, 10% being unidentifiable. He concluded that the reason why Arabic
had preserved so much of OCS was that it was a "relic" language, somewhat
isolated from the populous urban Mediterranean coast (Byblos and the OCS).
Rather like some modern language experts claiming that "isolated"
communities in the mountains of Appalachia preserve an "antiquated" form of
English ! So here we have an example of a "wrong presupposition," a nearby
coastal language, Iron Age Phoenician being inappropriate for understanding
OCS, whilst a language about as far away from the coast as can be
envisioned, Arabic, being the "Golden Key."

Could there be "other" explanations for why the Judaeans "forgot" their
"native" Aramaic by Hezekiah's days (cf. 2 Kings 18:26-28) ? I guess so,
what's your understanding ? Why does Isaiah "apparently" call Hebrew a
Canaanite tongue ?

Isa 19:18 RSV
"In that day there will be five cities in the land of Egypt which speak the
language of CANAAN and swear allegiance to the LORD of hosts..."

Could it be that Hebrew "really is" a Canaanite language (a fusion of Iron
IA Aramaic and Canaanite, resulting from INTERMARRIAGES as noted by Judges
3:5-7) ?

Or could it be that Hebrew is a "relic" language like Arabic and the OCS ?
That is, Aramaic continued evolving in the homeland while in 'far-off'
Canaan "the relic" survived to be later called Hebrew ? There's a problem
though, if the Bible is "correct" about Israel marrying Canaanites and
worshipping Canaanite gods, one would assume that the children of these
marriages would grow up under the influence of two languages, Canaanite AND
Aramaic, and that a later possible fusion of the two tongues would not be
out of the question.

As to your observation about the "plethora" of contradicting notions about
the dates for any given Pharaoh, this is certainly valid. Again, the problem
is "How does one determine truth ?" They obviously can't ALL be right, "How
does one determine the Correct date ?" Obviously this entails the study of
ALL the proposals, noting their arguments, strengths and weaknesses, which
very few people find the time to do. We have David Rohl claiming Archaeology
doesn't support the bible because the wrong chronology is in place, use his
"Alternative Chronology" and archaeology "aligns" with the bible. I have
investigated his research and have found his claims that Saul, David and
Solomon are Late Bronze Age kings are contradicted by the archaeological
evidence. But how many are going to take the time to do this kind of
research, and even if they wanted to, they wouldn't know where to begin or
how to proceed. We have Thomas L. Thompson claiming the Primary History,
Genesis-Kings is a late creation of the Hasmonean era. How many people are
skilled enough to investigate these claims ? I once thought this idea was of
some merit, but after several years abandoned it, finding a number of
irreconcilable anomalies, and settled on a creation of ca. 562 BCE and the

As you know, I once was a bible-believer of fundamentalist and literalist
background, but not any more as a result of my archaeological research,
which pointed out the many anomalies. Yet  I am "mesmerized" by the bible,
not to know it as God's word, but to ask how did this all come into being
from an Anthropological viewpoint. I find that the concerns in the Bible are
with us today and will be with man until his demise. A "major" concern is
ACCULTURATION, the absoption of foreign beliefs and ideas, condemned by the
bible's writers as "apostasy" or "iniquity". To my understanding they want a
"closed society" no foreign ideas of how to worship God. Only their
understanding of what God is, and how to worship is right, all others are
wrong.  But "closed societies" are difficult to maintain, people struggle
against them. Islam now struggles to prevent democratic ideas and western
values and mores from penetrating what had been earlier a very successful
closed society. The ACCULTURATION of Islam by the West led to the 911
disaster. Blacks in America attempted at first to resist ACCULTURATION as
slaves, trying to keep their African languages and beliefs, they lost, but
what little they have, "black English" they want to hold on to as an ethnic
marker. America has a history of "intolerance" based on a desire for a
closed society, Protestant vs. Catholic, Nordic vs. Southern European, each
Ghetto trying to protect and keep native beliefs and customs, yet ALL being
"sucked into" the whirlpool of ACCULTURATION and ASSIMILATION. So, I
understand in reading the Bible, Israel failed to maintain a Closed Society,
she "Acculturated" to Canaanite ways and this is the reason given for her
exile and punishment by God. Is it any wonder the fundamentalist Islamists
so fiercely fight against Western Acculturation, given the bible reflects
their world view ?  The only "hope" I see for the world is to accept
Acculturation and Assimilation, not fight it, but knowing the human psyche's
desire to want to "preserve the ways of the ancestors," I see nothing head
but more "endless strife" for humankind.

Regards, Walter
Walter Reinhold Warttig Mattfeld, M.A.Ed.
mattfeld12 at charter.net

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