[b-hebrew] Samaritan script/proto-hebrew

Yitzhak Sapir yitzhaksapir at gmail.com
Sat Mar 19 15:19:41 EST 2005

Peter Kirk wrote:

> Ytzhak Sapir wrote:
> Yitzhak, I don't want to open up another long discussion on this issue.
> My rather quick reply to Chris was based more in the terms which I think
> he would understand i.e. taking the text of the book of Kings fairly
> literally. And I realise that this is not an entirely safe thing to do.
> Even in 2 Kings itself e.g. 23:15-20 there is evidence that the Samaria
> district was under the control of Jerusalem after the end of the
> northern kingdom.

I do not intend to enter a historical discussion with you, unless you intend
to be prepared to back up your objections and claims where they differ
from the currently established scholarly consensus or a major scholarly

Putting aside the minor point of when the "split" or "schism" occured
between Samaritans and Jews, the main point was to clear up the
confusion where Chris was dependent essentially on attempting to fit
a literal reading of the Bible with the scripts.  As you yourself pointed
out, this is a very one sided view of events, and the Samaritans
themselves see themselves as descended from the real Israelites even
as far back as Eli, and in any case, it is a separate issue from the
issue of the Samaritan script.  Therefore, the first point in clearing
up the confusion was to dis-associate the historical issue from the
script issue.  The second one was to clarify the terminology since
apparently he was reading "Assyrian" script as a name for Aramaic
script, and being confused on that point as well.  

> >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. ...
> I understand what you are saying, but your terminology is highly
> confusing, because what you call the Hebrew script is what western
> scholars and script experts call palaeo-Hebrew (although of course it
> was not palaeo- originally but the regular script of the Israelites),
> and your Jewish is what is now known as Hebrew script, i.e. the letter
> forms in current use, especially the more formal printed varieties. Also
> I don't think there was ever a real difference between Phoenician and
> palaeo-Hebrew script beyond slight letter shape distinctions - at least
> if the divergent Punic or Carthaginian variety of Phoenician is not
> included.

What I called Paleo-Hebrew is what experts call Paleo-Hebrew,
The Modern Hebrew script is not the Jewish script of the DSS.  It is a
later development and modern Hebrew readers cannot make out all
the letters of the Jewish script without help.  As for what you think
about Phoenician and Old Hebrew, I outlined the main description as
given by Naveh in the book I mentioned: "This geographic distinction
[of three varieties of Phoenician - Phoenician, Punic, and Neo-Punic]
does well for sorting out the inscriptions but it does not help distinguish
between the scripts.  The Phoenician, Punic, and Neo-Punic were
written in the same script, without regional or local differences."  He
outlines the various areas in which Phoenician inscriptions were found.
Furthermore, he notes that an independent Hebrew script began
developing as early as the 9th century BCE, while an independent
Aramaic script did not begin until the mid-8th.  If any of what you
think above is based on reputable sources, I would appreciate it if you
referenced them so I may look them up and get a more balanced view.

> >... 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.
> This is perhaps a latest possible date for the split, but it is not an
> earliest one. There is no particular reason why the already separated
> Judeans and Samaritans could not have used the palaeo-Hebrew script in
> parallel from say the 5th to the 1st century BCE, at least for religious
> puposes to preserve the already centuries-old tradition. In fact it
> seems that the Judeans came to prefer the Aramaic-based Hebrew script at
> least towards the end of this period, perhaps simply because it was
> different from the Samaritans' preferred script.

You quote the above as if I wrote it.  I simply translated Naveh.  So you
disagree with Naveh and Albright.  Not that this is problematic in itself,
but simple speculation such as "There is no particular reason" and
"simply because it was different from the Samaritans' preferred script"
should be backed up with facts.  Again, Hebrew script, when speaking
of this period, is not Aramaic-based, but a parallel development from early
Phoenician script centuries earlier.  The Aramaic-based script is called
Jewish script.

Yitzhak Sapir

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