[b-hebrew] Samaritan script/proto-hebrew

Peter Kirk peterkirk at qaya.org
Sat Mar 19 20:30:07 EST 2005

On 19/03/2005 20:19, Yitzhak Sapir wrote:

> ...
>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

Well, on this issue there doesn't exactly seem to be an established 
consensus, from what Thomas Thompson and Kevin Edgecomb have just said 
on this list. (I am surprised to find myself in agreement with Thompson, 
but at least no one can accuse him of biblical fundamentalism!) And I 
don't accept that any one "major scholarly opinion" is sufficiently 
weighty that I have to argue against it in detail. But I have presented 
some of my own evidence for an earlier split, to which can be added the 
evidence from the excavations on Mount Gerizim. Of course such an early 
split was not necessarily complete, final and formalised until much 
later, and there may have been periods of mutual cooperation over a long 
period before that final split.

I am reminded of the history of the split between the Eastern Orthodox 
and Western Roman Catholic churches, which was already apparent in about 
the 4th century (CE of course) and very deep by the 6th century, but was 
not formalised by mutual excommunication until I think the 9th or 10th 
centuries, and even then was temporarily healed, at least on paper, in 
the 15th century. So what date would you give for that split? It was 
apparent more than a millennium before it was final - and of course may 
yet be healed in the future, as the Jewish-Samaritan split already has 
been to a large extent.

>... 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.  

Well, I thought that was the name given in the Talmud, in the passage 
you quoted, e.g. "in the times of Ezra in Assyrian script and Aramaic 

>What I called Paleo-Hebrew is what experts call Paleo-Hebrew,
>https://listhost.uchicago.edu/pipermail/ane/2003-July/009788.html ...

OK, I accept Peter Daniels' terminology, in which he uses "archaic 
Hebrew" for what I called earlier varieties of palaeo-Hebrew. But I know 
that many scholars use "palaeo-Hebrew" for pre-exilic Hebrew writing as 
well, see for example http://www.ancientneareast.net/pomegranate.html, 
and http://www.historian.net/ where Jack Kilmon of this list refers to a 
font based on Lachish ostraca as palaeo-Hebrew.

See also http://std.dkuug.dk/jtc1/sc2/wg2/docs/n2311.pdf which gives a 
family tree of development of Semitic scripts, and a large number of 

>... 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. ...

I find this very surprising. Even when I was a relative beginner in 
Hebrew, I was able to read the Great Isaiah Scroll in the Shrine of the 
Book with little difficulty. The letter shapes are well within the range 
of variety of modern Hebrew writing, and much less distinct from the 
older standard shapes than is for example modern cursive Hebrew. This is 
the same script as modern Hebrew, just slightly variant glyphs - 
presumably in the same way as your three varieties of Phoenician within 
one script as mentioned below.

>... 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.
Date of divergence is not the same as extent of divergence. Greek and 
hence Latin may have diverged from Phoenician even later, but even so it 
is demonstrably true that the difference of glyph shapes between 
Phoenician and palaeo-Hebrew is vastly less than that between Phoenician 
and Latin.


>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. ...

I made it clear that the sentence from which this last quotation was 
taken was speculation, although it is intended in part to fend off any 
suggestions that I was suggesting something highly improbable. As for:

>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
I could go further and say that they must have done so, as there is good 
evidence for a separation in the 5th century, and that in the 1st 
century both groups were still using essentially the pre-exilic archaic 
Hebrew script - although the Judeans only to a limited extent. One 
reason for this might have been continuing intermittent contact. But 
since the facts seem to be that there was a split in the 5th century and 
there was one in the 1st century, if you want to state that there was at 
least one period of reconciliation between these dates, you need to 
provide evidence for this. And the persistence of the script is not 
evidence, given that there are many historical examples of peoples 
separated for centuries continuing to use essentially the same script.

>... 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.
This is simply not true if you are talking about what everyone else in 
the world calls Hebrew script. If you are insisting on calling "Hebrew" 
what everyone else (except possibly Naveh) calls "palaeo-Hebrew", you 
are simply talking at cross-purposes to the rest of the world and 
failing to communicate.

Peter Kirk
peter at qaya.org (personal)
peterkirk at qaya.org (work)

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