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

K Randolph kwrandolph at gmail.com
Thu Nov 30 18:52:29 EST 2006


On 11/30/06, Peter Kirk <peter at qaya.org> wrote:
> 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.

I was talking about the original alphabet of Torah. Yes, the data from
Isbet Sartah is interesting, but it is centuries later. However, the
nature of Torah is such that it is unlikely that we are talking about
an alphabet change, rather just a font face change as evidenced at
Isbet Sartah.

> ... 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.andreascenter.org/Andreas%20Center/Izbet%20Sartah.htm
> http://members.bib-arch.org/nph-proxy.pl/000000A/http/www.basarchive.org/bswbSearch.asp=3fPubID=3dBSBA&Volume=3d4&Issue=3d3&ArticleID=3d5&UserID=3d0&
> 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.
As a parent, this writing reminds me of a kid, kindergarten or maybe
first grade, amusing himself with forms he has seen but is not trying
to write a recognizable message. The only thing that is special about
this scribbling is that it is 3000 years old.

> > ...
> >> 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.

As far as we can tell, we can find no example of more than a 22 letter
alphabet in use in Israel. Thus what you are proposing is speculation.

> .... 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
> neighbours.
> ...
I had heard, and this may be apocryphal to emphasize the power of the
press, that the thorn was dropped from English because the early
presses, which were all imported from the continent, lacked it. Most
pressmen lacked the skill to make their own letters, so were left with
taking what they could get.

> >
> > 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 far as I understand Yitzhak, that is his argument.

> > "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.
Here you are dealing with two questions: 1) are there historical
references? and 2) can we trust them? What I insist on is that there
are historical references, and the nature of those references indicate
certain things even in the absence of "hard" data (surviving
examples). Those historical references are data, just not data derived
from archeology. As for #2, that is up to the individual reader to
decide, though it is clear which answer I have chosen. The answer to
#1 is one of fact, the answer of #2 is based on theology.

This question is both religious and historical. I am trying to limit
myself to the historical arguments, but because they are mirrored in
the religious arguments, I can see how they can be misconstrued as my
pushing my theology.

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

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