Ancient Egyptian Tablets May Contain the Earliest Known Form of Hebrew

Scholars have long believed that ancient Semitic alphabets were derived from Egyptian hieroglyphics. Thus, the symbol for house (Hebrew bayit) came to stand for the sound b, the symbol for water (Hebrew mayim) for the sound m, etc. This system was then adopted by other Near Eastern peoples, although which used it first remains unknown. Speaking at a recent academic conference, the archaeologist Douglas Petrovich claimed to have deciphered the earliest extant inscriptions in this writing system—found on several Egyptian stone tablets—by reading them as if they were Hebrew. The inscriptions date to the 19th century BCE, when, according to the biblical account, the Israelites settled in Egypt. Bruce Bower writes:

Scholars have generally assumed for more than 150 years that the . . . script Petrovich studied could be based on any of a group of ancient Semitic languages. But not enough is known about those tongues to specify one language in particular.

Petrovich says his big break came in January 2012. While conducting research at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, he came across the word “Hebrews” in a text from 1874 BCE. . . . [He] then combined previous identifications of some letters in the ancient script with his own identifications of disputed letters to peg the script as Hebrew. Armed with the entire fledgling alphabet, he translated eighteen Hebrew inscriptions from three Egyptian sites.

Several biblical figures turn up in the translated inscriptions, including Joseph, who was sold into slavery by his half-brothers and then became a powerful political figure in Egypt, Joseph’s wife Asenath, and Joseph’s son Manasseh—a leading figure in a turquoise-mining business that involved yearly trips to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Moses . . . is also mentioned, Petrovich says.

[But] Petrovich’s Hebrew identification for the ancient inscriptions is starved for evidence, said the biblical scholar and Semitic-language specialist Christopher Rollston of George Washington University, [who claimed that] there is no way to tell which of many Semitic languages are represented by the early alphabetic system.

Read more at Science News

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

While Israel Is Distracted on Two Fronts, Iran Is on the Verge of Building Nuclear Weapons

Iran recently announced its plans to install over 1,000 new advanced centrifuges at its Fordow nuclear facility. Once they are up and running, the Institute for Science and International Security assesses, Fordow will be able to produce enough highly enriched uranium for three nuclear bombs in a mere ten days. The U.S. has remained indifferent. Jacob Nagel writes:

For more than two decades, Iran has continued its efforts to enhance its nuclear-weapons capability—mainly by enriching uranium—causing Israel and the world to concentrate on the fissile material. The International Atomic Energy Agency recently confirmed that Iran has a huge stockpile of uranium enriched to 60 percent, as well as more enriched to 20 percent, and the IAEA board of governors adopted the E3 (France, Germany, UK) proposed resolution to censure Iran for the violations and lack of cooperation with the agency. The Biden administration tried to block it, but joined the resolution when it understood its efforts to block it had failed.

To clarify, enrichment of uranium above 20 percent is unnecessary for most civilian purposes, and transforming 20-percent-enriched uranium to the 90-percent-enriched product necessary for producing weapons is a relatively small step. Washington’s reluctance even to express concern about this development appears to stem from an unwillingness to acknowledge the failures of President Obama’s nuclear policy. Worse, writes Nagel, it is turning a blind eye to efforts at weaponization. But Israel has no such luxury:

Israel must adopt a totally new approach, concentrating mainly on two main efforts: [halting] Iran’s weaponization actions and weakening the regime hoping it will lead to its replacement. Israel should continue the fight against Iran’s enrichment facilities (especially against the new deep underground facility being built near Natanz) and uranium stockpiles, but it should not be the only goal, and for sure not the priority.

The biggest danger threatening Israel’s existence remains the nuclear program. It would be better to confront this threat with Washington, but Israel also must be fully prepared to do it alone.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, U.S. Foreign policy