Alphabetic Writing

The Early Canaanite, alphabetic writing idea is based on many undeciphered inscriptions unearthed since 1929 at several Palestinian sites; the writings date back to around 1700 BCE and are thus the earliest surviving alphabetic records.

In the Syro-Palestinian area, alphabet creation was prevalent for around 200 years before the middle of the 2nd millennium BCE, despite conflicting hypotheses. It is pointless to speculate about the significance of the many discoveries mentioned. It is apparent that they exhibit closely linked attempts; nevertheless, the precise relationship between these efforts and the North Semitic alphabet cannot be determined with certainty.

The period from 1730 to 1580 BCE in Syria, Palestine, and Egypt, during which there was an uprooting of established cultural and ethnic patterns in the Fertile Crescent, provided favourable conditions for the conception of an alphabetic script, a more accessible form of writing than the scripts of the old states of Mesopotamia and Egypt, which were primarily restricted to the priestly clades. In the absence of further direct evidence, it is safe to assume that the actual prototype of the alphabet was similar to the writing of the earliest existing North Semitic inscriptions, which date to the last two or three centuries before the common era.

It seems inconceivable that the North Semitic alphabet underwent significant alterations in the preceding two or three centuries, as it has remained so stable for many centuries. In addition, the North Semitic languages, founded on a consonantal root (i.e., a system in which vowels primarily signify grammatical or equivalent alterations), were obviously suited for developing a consonantal alphabet.

Undoubtedly, the creation or inventors of the alphabet were affected by Egyptian writing and maybe other scripts. Indeed, it is likely that the inventors of the alphabet were familiar with the majority of scripts in the eastern Mediterranean at the time. The originators belonged to the Northwest Semitic language group, which includes ancient Canaanites, Phoenicians, and Hebrews, as is now universally accepted.

At the close of the second-millennium b.c., with the political decline of the Bronze Age’s great countries — the Egyptians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Hittites, and Cretans — a new historical era started. Israel, Phoenicia, and Aram played an increasingly significant political role in Syria and Palestine, the geographic centre of the Fertile Crescent. To the south of the Fertile Crescent, the Sabaeans, a South Arabian population (also Semites, albeit South Semites), rose to prominence as economic mediators between the East and the Mediterranean. In the west, seeds were spread among the peoples who would eventually form the Hellenic nation—the Greeks. As a result, an alphabet with four main branches developed:

The so-called Canaanite, or main branch, is subdivided into Early Hebrew and Phoenician varieties.

The Aramaic branch.

The South Semitic, or Sabaean branch.

The Greek alphabet became the progenitor of Western alphabets such as the Etruscan and the Latin.

The Canaanite and Aramaic branches make up the primary North Semitic branch.

The Canaanite script

The two Canaanite branches are divisible into several minor branches. First, Early Hebrew had three subsidiary branches—Moabite, Edomite, and Ammonite—as well as two offshoots—the script of Jewish coinage and the Samaritan script, which is still used only for liturgical reasons today. The second division of Phoenician is between Phoenician proper and “colonial” Phoenician. The latter gave rise to the Punic and neo-Punic scripts and possibly the Libyan and Iberian scripts.

This branch is distinguished by the label Early Hebrew from the later so-called Square Hebrew. By the 11th century BCE, the Early Hebrew alphabet had already developed its distinguishing characteristics. It was official until the sixth century BCE and persisted for several centuries afterwards. From 135 b.c.e. until 132–135 c.e., it was used on stylised Jewish coins. The Gezer Calendar from the reigns of Saul or David is the oldest surviving example of Early Hebrew writing (i.e., c. 1000 BCE).

The above-mentioned schoolboy graffito is the earliest surviving instance of the Early Hebrew alphabet. Beginning in the sixth century BCE, the inscriptions at Tel Lachish attained the pinnacle of a cursive form. The Leviticus and other minor Early Hebrew pieces discovered in the Dead Sea caves, which date to the third-century b.c.e., are the sole surviving examples of the Early Hebrew book, or literary, hand.

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