Did Moses Invent the Alphabet?

Moses and the Ten Commandments
by James Tissot (1836–1902)
Wikimedia Commons

In his new book, The Writing of God, historical linguist Miles Jones said that when God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, God also gave him the world’s first true alphabet, in which the Ten Commandments were written.

According to Jones,

“The alphabet originated about the 15th century B.C. in the Middle East, which is about the time and location of the biblical Exodus story, and that all of the Western alphabets derived from that one. Before that writing was essentially pictographic, like cuneiform and hieroglyphics, and not a true alphabet, one symbol for one sound.”

Jones also said that “Moses was an educated, literate man, the ideal person to be divinely inspired to create this new writing system.”

Bill Sherman, World Religion Writer for the Tulsa Word, quotes Rabbi Yehuda Weg, a Rabbi with the Chabad House, an Orthodox Jewish congregation in Tulsa, who said that Jones’ position runs counter to Jewish tradition.

Rabbi Weg said that Jews do not teach that God gave Moses a new writing system along with the Ten Commandments, rather “Our tradition is that the Ten Commandments were written in the Hebrew language, with characters that were older than that. Our tradition is that the Hebrew letters were created from the beginning, the time of Adam.”

I believe that Jones’ idea that God gave Moses the first alphabet, although it is an interesting theory, has no historical foundation. One wonders, however, if Moses wrote the Ten Commandments on tablets of stones, what language did he use, Paleo-Hebrew?

The earliest Hebrew inscriptions were written in what is known as Paleo-Hebrew. Paleo-Hebrew was one of the many Semitic languages in existence in the Ancient Near East. The Hebrew alphabet was derived from the Phoenician alphabet.

Until recently, it was believed that ancient Hebrew was dated to the 10th century B.C. The Tel Zayit abecedary and the Gezer calendar are two examples of early Hebrew writing. However, Professor Gershon Galil of the department of Biblical studies at the University of Haifa has declared that the Khirbet Qeiyafa Inscription, an inscription dating from the 10th century B.C. (the period of King David’s reign), is the most ancient Hebrew inscription found in Israel.

Although it is very improbable that God revealed to Moses the Hebrew alphabet, the Jewish tradition that the Hebrew letters were created from the time of Adam is just that, a tradition.

NOTE: For a complete list of studies on Moses, read my post Studies on Moses.

Claude Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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6 Responses to Did Moses Invent the Alphabet?

  1. Nate says:

    There are also interesting traditions related to what SCRIPT of Hebrew the Ten Commandments were given in, which is outlined here:http://www.jewfaq.org/alephbet.htm#Ancient


  2. Nate,

    Thank you for this information. I will read that article later today.

    Claude Mariottini


  3. Tim says:

    It would be a shame if a sensationalistic and imaginative claim by an English language teacher should cause people to downplay the fascinating correlation between advances in communications technology (in this case alphabet) and the story of the people of God (of which this is one example). BTW if Jones were a "linguist" he probably would not make the claim that previous "writing was essentially pictographic" which badly misunderstands how syllabic writing works. (I am also not a historical linguist, and was corrected on this point, so took the trouble to consult some basic references 🙂


  4. Tim,

    There are some people who develop an idea and write a book about it. Then, they become experts on the subject even though their idea may be without any base whatsoever. I think this is one classical example.

    Claude Mariottini


  5. Tod says:

    I think that gxd did give moses the first true alphabet.
    Even today Kabbalah teaches numerology within hebrew scriptures. These should only serve as more evidence to the divine nature of the hebrew alphabet given to moses by gxd when the commandments were received.


    • Tod,

      It is doubtful that God gave Moses the first alphabet. This is only a legend. Archaeological evidence shows that the Phoenicians were the ones who developed the alphabet. You have to remember that the Tanak calls the idiom of the Hebrew people “the language of Canaan” (Isaiah 19:18).

      Claude Mariottini


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