[b-hebrew] Phoenician alphabet

Karl Randolph kwrandolph at email.com
Mon Jul 21 18:48:08 EDT 2003

Dear Walter:

One of the things that repeatedly impresses itself on my mind is how little archeology can discover about events of the past. For example, we would know nothing about the Peleponnesian wars were it not for written history.

My ancestry is Scandinavian. Yet archeology has been able to uncover almost nothing pre-Viking. Most of pre-modern Scandinavian technology was wood, leather, bone, cloth and paint, materials that are seldom preserved even in dry climates like the Negeb, let alone wet climates like Scandinavia.

When Abraham left Ur of the Chaldeans (not to be confused with Ur of the Sumarians), the picture in Genesis is that he was already a fairly wealthy person, owning slaves and large herds of livestock. Being a fairly wealthy person, he most likely was from the upper class, who were usually literate. Who is to say that he did not carry with him a personal library written on leather scrolls? Archeology cannot answer yea or nay. Genesis implies yea.

Your theory, that Abraham and his descendents preserved the Aramaic spoken ca. 2000 BC while the Aramaic spoken in the cultural center changed, makes sense. Canaan’s inhabitants would have had little influence on Abraham’s speach, assuming that they too did not speak a backwaters Aramaic. Anyways, Canaan was largely empty, sites that later were graced with towns were then merely named nomadic encampments, such as Beersheba and Bethlehem.

In Joshua we have a picture of incipient iron age. While most of Israel’s enemies carried bronze weapons just like the bronze weapons Israel carried from Egypt, the cities of Philistia were armed with “iron” weapons. Archeology has since shown that Philistine “iron” was really steel. In I Samuel we have a picture that the Philistines recognized that their technology gave them a military advantage, therefore they refused to share it with anyone else. Even so, King David managed to conquer Philistia, and you can imagine that one of the first things David did was to arm his troops with Philistine weapons, i.e. steel.

Which was the Egyptian pharaoh who first outfitted his armies with steel weapons? My guess is that it was Raamses II “the great”, aka Sesi. That would have been a key reason why Egypt was able to drive off the “Sea Peoples”, many of whom still carried bronze weapons. Raamses would have learned the technique either from disaffected Philistine refugees who did not want to live in a vassal state under Israeli control, or as a benefit of technology transfer as part of his treaty with King Solomon.

Archeology contradicts none of what I have written above. Archeology deals only with materials that have been preserved—in other words, with only a small percentage of the material effects of a society. It is very likely that some of the more important artifacts from a society did not survive, particularly if it dealt with literature written on leather or papyrus. The only thing that contradicts that picture is the conclusions of historians, conclusion that are often more colored by their presuppositions than the evidence, because of the paucity of the evidence.

I did not know you used to be a Bible literalist. It appears to me that your reasons for changing your views are deficient. At least I don’t find them convincing.

You did make explicit what the Bible hints at, namely that Biblical Hebrew was a fossil language, even as early as the pre galut babel period, while the Aramaic that it came from changed.

Karl W. Randolph.

----- Original Message -----
From: "Walter R. Mattfeld" <mattfeld12 at charter.net>

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