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.

Read more at Times of Israel

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

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