One of the Earliest Examples of the Semitic Alphabet Has Been Discovered on a Piece of Egyptian Limestone

At some point in the second millennium BCE, speakers of ancient Canaanite languages—of which Hebrew was one—adopted the Egyptian hieroglyphic script to write their own tongues, using about two-dozen characters to represent particular consonant sounds. The writing system they developed later evolved into several Semitic alphabets, including Hebrew, Phoenician, and Arabic; from the Phoenician version, the Greek and Latin alphabets were later derived. Researchers have recently deciphered what seems to be a tool used by an Egyptian scribe for learning the new alphabet, as Amanda Borschel-Dan writes:

Newly deciphered Egyptian symbols on a 3,400-year-old limestone [fragment] from Luxor’s Tomb of Senneferi appears to be the first written evidence of the ABC letter order of the early Semitic alphabet, according to the University of British Columbia Egyptologist . . . Thomas Schneider. Schneider concludes that a small (approximately 10 x 10 centimeters, or about 4 x 4 inches) double-sided limestone flake was used by Egyptian scribes as a mnemonic device to remember the letter orders of not one, but two forms of early Semitic alphabets.

On one side of the flake is Schneider’s recent discovery: the transliteration into cursive Egyptian writing of the sounds that signify the beginnings of today’s Hebrew alphabet (alef, bet, gimel). On the other side is a contemporary though now lesser-known letter order, called “Halaḥam,” which was deciphered in 2015, on the same limestone flake. . . .

The limestone piece is dated to the Egyptian 18th dynasty, from the excavation of Theban Tomb 99 from the necropolis on the west bank of the Nile at Luxor, known as the Tombs of the Nobles. The director [of the excavations], Nigel Strudwick, found the object back in 1995, in what he calls “a later tomb shaft,” dating to about 1450 BCE.

“The reason why the object is in the tomb is really unknown,” Strudwick [stated]. He said . . . it is possible that it was introduced into the shaft as late as 110 years ago, as the tomb was used as a house as late as 1907. “[It] is, however, of roughly the same date as the tomb to judge from the handwriting style. So it could have been lying around somewhere in that area of the necropolis for over 3,000 years before it ended up where we found it,” said archaeologist Strudwick. Tomb 99 has been identified as belonging to Senneferi (also known as Sennefer), who was active in 1420 BCE. This ancient Egyptian noble was a known character, a mayor of Thebes, whose likeness is recorded in several statues.

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More about: Ancient Egypt, Archaeology, Hebrew alphabet, History & Ideas

Why Israel Pretends That Hamas Fired Rockets by Accident

March 21 2019

Israeli military and political officials have repeated Hamas’s dubious claim that the launching of two rockets at Tel Aviv last week was inadvertent. To Smadar Perry, accepting Hamas’s story rather than engaging in further retaliation is but a convenient, and perhaps necessary, way of aiding Egyptian efforts to broker a deal with the terrorist group. But even if these efforts succeed, the results will be mixed:

The [Israeli] security cabinet has met in Tel Aviv and decided that they would continue indirect negotiations with Gaza. A message was sent to Egypt, whose delegation is going back to Gaza to pass on the Israeli demands for calm. The Egyptians also have to deal with the demands from Hamas, which include, among other things, an increase in aid from $15 million to $30 million per month and an increase in the supply of electricity.

The requests are reasonable, but they do leave a sour taste in the mouth. Israel must ensure that this financial aid does not end up in the pockets of Hamas and its associates. [Israel] also knows that if it says “no” to everything, the Iranians will step in, with the help of their Gazan friends in Islamic Jihad. They are just waiting for the opportunity.

Hamas also must deal with the fallout from a series of massive handouts from Qatar. For when the citizens of the Gaza Strip saw that the money was going to the Hamas leadership, who were also enjoying a fine supply of electricity to their own houses, they took to the streets in protest—and this time it was not Israel that was the focus of their anger. . .

[But] here is the irony. With Egyptian help, Israel can reach understandings for calm with Gaza, despite the lack of a direct channel. . . . In the West Bank, where the purportedly friendlier Fatah is in charge, it is more complicated, at least until the eighty-three-year-old Mahmoud Abbas is replaced.

As evidence for that last statement, consider the murder of two Israelis in the West Bank on Sunday, and the Palestinians who threw explosives at Israeli soldiers at Joseph’s Tomb in Shechem yesterday.

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More about: Egypt, Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, West Bank