[b-hebrew] Samaritan script/proto-hebrew

Yitzhak Sapir yitzhaksapir at gmail.com
Tue Mar 22 15:23:58 EST 2005

Dear Prof Thompson,

I wish your wife a speedy recovery.  I intend to try to spend more
time reading her arguments so that I will not mess up and misquote
her again.  I will post my remarks on these and the rest of the 
issues that have meanwhile came into the discussion at that time.

Peter Kirk wrote:
> >>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.
> >
> >The Pentateuch.  In any case, you are misusing my term for
> >split.  A schism after which reconcilation was not possible
> >is more of what I meant.
> >
> OK, the Pentateuch, in more or less its final form. But what is its
> date? That is another thorny issue with no easy reconciliation. 

Most scholars concur that the Pentateuch was redacted in
the early Persian period.  If you'd like to offer a different view and
substantiate it, I'm open to hear.

> And what is the date of the separation of the Jewish (proto-MT) 
> and Samaritan Pentateuchs? There is evidence that this was 
> much later than that of a deep religious division between 
> Jerusalem and Samaria. So, yes, that supports the theory 
> that there was a split but not a final schism for many centuries. 

We have a problem here with the terms split, schism, separation.
Each of this can mean, "the act of becoming separate from a 
previous unity" or "the state of being separate", the latter 
not implying any previous unity.  I generally think of Israel and
Judea or its counterparts in different ages, as two separate
entities that were never a "unity."  They developed a common
heritage and this heritage formed the background in the early
Second Temple for mutual acceptance of the Pentateuch.
Obviously, they later "split" more decisively.  But one cannot
judge events of a millenium or two later in the same way one
judges events across a few centuries.

As for viewing things in retrospect, the question is what kind of
detail and what kind of history are you writing.  Are you writing
the history over millenia? or over centuries during the 1st 
millenium BCE?

> >It seems to me to be current in the scholarship for some time
> >now (use of Jewish to denote the Aramaic script).  And since
> >Hebrew is reserved for the different parallel line of development,
> >I doubt any scholar would call Aramaic script Hebrew.  If you
> >are speaking of modern script, that's different.  But I'm
> >speaking of what scholars use in referring to ancient times.
> >You should also be wary of the use of "Hebrew" where it
> >denotes the language of the scroll, not the script.

> It is simply irresponsible to try to drive a wedge between 
> descriptions of ancient and modern scripts in this way. 

No it's not.  It's irresponsible to lump together two different
scripts.  Modern Hebrew script is a later development of the
Aramaic script of the late Second Temple period that is 
commonly referred to as Jewish script.   From the finds at
Mt. Gerizim, it is evident that this name is somewhat of a
misnomer, though.  But there is still a need to differentiate it
from the script current during the Imperial script of the 
Persian empire, and from its counterpart at that time which
is more appropriate to label as "Hebrew."

> The terminology with Naveh and you use, calling "Hebrew" 
> without qualification a script which is quite different from what 
> every contemporary reader of Hebrew calls Hebrew script, is 
> irresponsible deliberate obfuscation.

It is obvious that the man on the street whom I will ask will tell
me DSS is "Hebrew" script.  He will look at the Paleo-Hebrew
script and would be unable to identify the runes.  But if we are
discussing contemporary scholars, then no, they will realize
that one is a "Hebrew" script and one is an "Aramaic" script.
And for someone who would like to read literature on the
subject, saying anything else is obfuscation, because he will
read "Hebrew" in the scholarship and think something else 
(namely "Aramaic" script) is intended.

Consider the following from "The World's Writing Systems,"
ed. Peter T. Daniels and William Bright:
"The Phoenician script was the base from which the other
varieties (and later subvarieties) developed. ... In the central
and southern Levant, the most notable script variety is
linear Hebrew, used also for that language's lesser known
relatives, Moabite and Philistine ... The colonies of the
Phoenician homeland and its cultural dependencies
throughout the Mediterranean at first used the Phoenician
script and later developed local varieties of it; the most
important were Punic and its lineal offspring Neo-Punic.
... Hebrew continued to be written with the linear 
Hebrew abjad during the exilic period when it was gradually
replaced by a form of the Aramaic script.  The older
('linear') Hebrew abjad remained in intermittent use,
nationalistically or religiously motivated, until 135 CE.;
during this later phase it is called Paleo-Hebrew script.
This abjad is the basis of the Samaritan script, which
emerged during the first century BCE and is still used for
religious purposes.  Post-biblical Hebrew scripts, the
Jewish (also called square or Assyrian) scripts, develop
from the exilic, Aramaic script."  M O'Connor, "Section
5: Epigraphic Semitic", p. 96
See also section 46, "The Jewish Scripts," by Richard L.
Goerwitz, specifically the first section "From Phoenician
to Aramaic to Jewish script." (!) This section refers to Naveh
as the standard reference on the development of this

> Let me quote Peter Daniels on this, from his Appendix in 
> "Comparative Semitic Linguistics" by Patrcik Bennett, which 
> happens to be at hand.  Daniels is well recognised as one of 
> the world's foremost experts on writing systems.
> "... By the sixth century BCE there could be distinguished a 
> Canaanite and an Aramaic script. The former died out almost 
> entirely (surviving only in Samaritan), to be replaced by the 
> latter, which by the time of the Qumran documents (as early
> as 200 BCE), if not the Egyptian Aramaic ones (up to 400 
> BCE), had nearly achieved the shape of today's square
> Hebrew letters."

Note the words "today's" and "nearly achieved."   Naveh is
widely recognized as one of the world's foremost experts on
the Aramaic script.  While some scholars may label
Hebrew a variety of Phoenician rather than a different script,
there is no question they distinguish them.  You are quoting
a summary that in two sentences covers the development from
the 6th century BCE through the 3rd century BCE through 3rd
century CE to the 20th century.

If you would like to ask Peter T. Daniels, perhaps you should
do it on the Aramaic list at yahoo groups.

Yitzhak Sapir

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