[b-hebrew] Samaritan script/proto-hebrew

Yitzhak Sapir yitzhaksapir at gmail.com
Fri Mar 18 08:33:34 EST 2005

The claims of the Bible of massive almost complete resettlement of 
non-Israelites in Israel and deportations of Israelites, and the claims 
by later Jews that the Samaritans represent these "non-Israelites"
are problematic and are a different issue for history.  Based on
language, scripts, their version of the Torah, and other factors,
I think the "split" between Samaritans and Jews is usually dated
to the 2nd century BCE.  I have considered it interesting that it
is about this time that various elements of Rabbinic Judaism
appear to develop in the Jewish community so it could be
considered less of a "split" and more of a divergence of two sects
from one common unified community.

As for the script, the alphabetic script began as Phoenician,
and it quickly diverged into three main lines - Aramaic, Hebrew,
and Phoenician.  The script used in both the North (Israel) and
the South (Judea) was the Hebrew script.  The Aramaic became
very popular during the Persian empire as a result of the wide
use of Aramaic in that time as the official language.  When the
Greeks conquered the Persians, the Aramaic script in the
Persian province of Yehud, the settlement in former Judea,
developed independently of the rest of Aramaic scripts and is
known as Jewish script.  The Old Hebrew script was still used
for various purposes and I think it's development at this time
is called Paleo-Hebrew.  The development of the Samaritan
script should be seen against this background.  In later
Talmud, "Assyrian" script is the name for the Aramaic
script (ex: Bavli Sanhedrin 21b: Originally the Torah was
given in Hebrew script and language, and was given again
in the times of Ezra in Assyrian script and Aramaic language.
The Israelites chose Assyrian script and Hebrew language,
and left to the commoners Hebrew script and Aramaic 
language") but this "Assyrian script" should not be confused
with the script/cuneiform, which Yigal mentioned.

Paraphrase/Translation from Naveh, "Early History of the Alphabet":
Towards the end of the Second Temple period, the Jews wrote 
mainly in Jewish script, and in Hebrew script wrote documents of
special character.  This distinction is valid only when dealing
with the "normative" Jewish community.  We don't know what
the other sects' views on the Hebrew script was.  ... It seems
that the Pharisees did not accept the Hebrwe script and were
opposed to it [while Diringer suggests the Sadducees accepted
the Hebrew script and perhaps the inscriptions on Hasmonean
coins were written in their influence]. ... The Samaritans, believing
they are the real descendants of the Israelites, kept the Hebrew
script. ... The earliest Samaritan script is from a probable 1st
century inscription that does not differ from other inscriptions of
the First Revolt.  The special characteristics of the Samaritan
script appear only from the 3rd century onwards.  This is why
Albright suggested to date the Samaritan split to the 1st century
BCE when Samaria and Shekhem were conquered by the Jews.

In Wadi Dalieh, east of Samaria, we have some legal documents
in Aramaic script and language from the 4th century BCE.  But a
bullae that closed one of this papyrus documents is labeled 
"[Isa]iah son of [San]balat, governor of Samaria" and is written
in Hebrew script and language.  This Sanbalat has been 
suggested to be connected with the Sanbalat of Ezra/Nehemiah,
perhaps being his grandson.

Yitzhak Sapir

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