>The Invention of the Alphabet

>In an article published in the March/April issue of the Biblical Archaeology Review, Orly Goldwasser contends that the alphabet may have been invented almost 4,000 Years ago by Canaanite workers. According to the article, inscriptions similar to Egyptian hieroglyphics left behind during a mining expedition by Canaanite miners 4,000 years ago may be the beginning of the alphabet.

The following is an excerpt from the article:

The Canaanites at Serabit probably connected this pictogram, which they saw everywhere at the site, with a loud call or order emitted by an official when he raised his hands to assemble the people, a typical shout such as Hoy! (also known in Biblical Hebrew),5 which may be the origin of the letter h in the Proto-Sinaitic script.

If I am correct that the first alphabetic script was invented at Serabit el-Khadem in the reign of Amenemhet III (mid-19th century B.C.E.), I believe I can plausibly explain the process by which it was invented—not by sophisticated scribes, but by comparatively unlettered Asiatic workers.

The inventors at Serabit clearly used models of hieroglyphs taken from the Egyptian Middle Kingdom inscriptions around them. The Proto-Sinaitic pictograms were adapted from the hieroglyphic pictograms and appear mostly in the area of the turquoise mines and the roads leading to the mines.

It may seem strange, but I believe the inventors of the alphabet were illiterate—that is, they could not read Egyptian with its hundreds of hieroglyphic signs. Why do I think so? The letters in the Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions are very crude. They are not the same size. They are not written in a single direction: Some are written left to right, others right to left and some from top to bottom. This suggests that the writers had mastered neither Egyptian hieroglyphic nor any other complex, rule-governed script.

The article is very informative and it is illustrated with pictures and drawings that show the development of the alphabet. Highly recommended.

Read the article in its entirety by visiting BAR online.

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Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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3 Responses to >The Invention of the Alphabet

  1. >This is very interesting. Do you think there could be any connection between this writing at the "Wadi el-Hol Script" found in Egypt and dating from approximately the same time? At Wadi el-Hol (on a desert road between Thebes and Abydos), graffiti was discovered pertaining to a "Bebi, General of the Asiatics" who apparently led a group of Semitic soldiers/workers. http://www.archaeology.org/0001/newsbriefs/egypt.html

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  2. >Darrell,Thank you for your comment. Honestly, I could not answer your question because my knowledge of Egyptian history is very limited.Thank you for the link to the article on the alphabet.Claude Mariottini

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  3. >I later saw that the Wadi el-Hol script is mentioned in a sidebar to the article you linked. Apparently it is now generally agreed to be slightly later than the Serabit script.Thanks!

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