[b-hebrew] comparative historical linguistics was Re: Nun-Tav-Vet root

Peter Kirk peter at qaya.org
Thu Nov 30 04:50:52 EST 2006

On 29/11/2006 23:35, K Randolph wrote:
> ...
>> .... As you say, "we have
>> to play with the hand we're dealt", and the hand we're dealt includes no
>> evidence for the 22 letter alphabet until several centuries after your
>> Exodus date.
> This can neither be proven nor disproven. The only records we have of
> writing in Tanakh indicates that the writing material was perishable,
> starting with Torah. With that being the case, we can't look at stone
> monuments for the record, rather we have to trust the historical
> records. Or not trust them, if that fits your presuppositions
> (religious faith, theology).
I don't understand you, Karl. Are you suggesting that we cannot prove 
that there is "no evidence for the 22 letter alphabet until several 
centuries after your Exodus date"? Of course it should be clear from the 
context that I was thinking in this case of surviving documents, not 
your hypothesis about the original alphabet of the Torah. On the latter 
point, have you considered the evidence I mentioned yesterday about the 
"Proto-Canaanite" abecedary text from Tel Aphek?

I looked for more on this. It seems that the text is more accurately 
described as from `Izbet Sartah. I came across some web pages which 
might interest you:

http://www.telecomtally.com/blog/2006/10/on_the_izbet_sa.html (this blog 
seems to have a lot of interesting things about early alphabets)

This is considered to be a certainly Israelite site. And the alphabet is 
a 22 letter one, although apparently written left to right, and with a 
slightly different alphabetic order from the modern one, with ayin and 
pe reversed - interestingly, as in the LXX version of one acrostic 
psalm, which may preserve the original ordering. Well, this is not 
evidence for a different alphabet at the time of the Exodus.

> ...
>> I note that these kinds of script changes have been common through
>> history, and especially over the last century in various countries,
>> largely for wider political reasons; and while religious establishments
>> have sometimes initially rejected the script changes they have soon come
>> to realise the necessity of republishing even the holiest of books in
>> the newly accepted script.
> Here's where we have to distinguish between alphabet and font face.
> For example, when I was a kid, I had to learn Fraktur font face
> because the hymnals and liturgy were printed in Fraktur while the
> secular society had almost totally gone over to standard serif and
> non-serif fonts (Yes, I lived in Germany for a while). Today all of
> that is printed in standard serif and non-serif fonts, like Times and
> Arial. The reason the change could go so smoothly is because only the
> font face was changed, the underlying alphabet remained untouched.
I am not talking about changes of font face. I am talking about changes 
of script, from Arabic to Latin, Latin to Cyrillic, and Cyrillic to 
Latin. At least one language went through all three of these changes in 
the 20th century.

But the change from proto-Canaanite to modern Hebrew might have been 
less abrupt than this. It might have been a combination of gradual 
changes of font face with the dropping of certain letters. I note that 
English dropped the thorn, the eth, and the wynn, not because these 
sounds did not exist in English, but because they were not in the 
internationally conventional alphabet of the mediaeval period. I think 
they were dropped at about the time that the Norman ruling class in 
England started to use English rather than Norman French, but they would 
not have been used to the special English letters and so adapted their 
orthography to the French alphabet. A similar process might have led to 
the Israelites dropping certain letters which were not used by their 
> If the historical records are correct (and I see no reason to doubt
> them), then Torah was written in Hebrew before any of the cognate
> languages (e.g. Ugaritic, Phoenician, Aramaic) were written using a 22
> letter alphabet (in the case of Ugaritic, before it was written at
> all). That makes those languages interesting in that they can
> sometimes clarify difficult passages and terms in Tanakh and their
> literature provide background material left out of Tanakh, but they
> are not ancestral to Hebrew, nor is a study of those languages
> necessary for an understanding of Hebrew.
I don't think anyone has claimed that they are ancestral to Hebrew, only 
that they are very close sisters to Hebrew.

> "As a historian, we have to play with the hand we're dealt" means that
> we are to deal with hard evidence, not religious belief. ...

But, Karl, it is your religious belief that the Torah is literally 
accurate which leads you to insist and argue stridently, rather than 
hypothesise and discuss in the normal scholarly way, that Moses wrote 
the Torah. The line between presuppositions, to which you admit, and 
religious belief, which you seem to claim you are not bringing to this 
question, is a very fine one - except that people can reasonably claim 
that atheistic presuppositions are not religious, even if they are held 
to just as firmly and even irrationally as any religious dogma.

Peter Kirk
E-mail:  peter at qaya.org
Blog:    http://speakertruth.blogspot.com/
Website: http://www.qaya.org/

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list