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

For Israelis, Anti-Zionism Kills

Dec. 14 2018

This week alone, anti-Zionists have killed multiple Israelis in a series of attacks; these follow the revelations that Hizballah succeeded in digging multiple attack tunnels from Lebanon into northern Israel. Simultaneously, some recent news stories in the U.S. have occasioned pious reminders that anti-Zionism should not be conflated with anti-Semitism. Bret Stephens notes that it is anti-Zionists, not defenders of Israel, who do the most to blur that distinction:

Israelis experience anti-Zionism in a different way from, say, readers of the New York Review of Books: not as a bold sally in the world of ideas, but as a looming menace to their earthly existence, held at bay only through force of arms. . . . Anti-Zionism might have been a respectable point of view before 1948, when the question of Israel’s existence was in the future and up for debate. Today, anti-Zionism is a call for the elimination of a state—details to follow regarding the fate befalling those who currently live in it. . . .

Anti-Zionism is ideologically unique in insisting that one state, and one state only, doesn’t just have to change. It has to go. By a coincidence that its adherents insist is entirely innocent, this happens to be the Jewish state, making anti-Zionists either the most disingenuous of ideologues or the most obtuse. When then-CNN contributor Marc Lamont Hill called last month for a “free Palestine from the river to the sea” and later claimed to be ignorant of what the slogan really meant, it was hard to tell in which category he fell.

Does this make someone with Hill’s views an anti-Semite? It’s like asking whether a person who believes in [the principle of] separate-but-equal must necessarily be a racist. In theory, no. In reality, another story. The typical aim of the anti-Semite is legal or social discrimination against some set of Jews. The explicit aim of the anti-Zionist is political or physical dispossession.

What’s worse: to be denied membership in a country club because you’re Jewish, or driven from your ancestral homeland and sovereign state for the same reason? If anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are meaningfully distinct (I think they are not), the human consequences of the latter are direr.

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More about: Anti-Semitism, Anti-Zionism, Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Palestinian terror