Notes by Autumn Light

On Hebrew, English, translation, editing, and more—by Jonathan Orr-Stav


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Was Moses the inventor of the first alphabet?

[A2A] No.

For starters, there is no historical evidence for the existence of Moses as a historical figure—i.e., a Hebrew raised as an Egyptian prince who flees into exile then returns to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt.

Secondly, the Exodus story is likely an embellishment of the forced exodus of a quarter of a million Canaanites from northern Egypt at the end of the Middle Kingdom period in 1550 BCE, which marks the beginning of the New Kingdom period. Even if they had a charismatic leader who might serve as the basis for Moses, casual but clearly assured graffiti inscriptions in a well-defined Canaanite/Old Hebrew script on statues in the western Sinai at that time support the evidence of Canaanites indicate that by this time, even ordinary folk (probably teenage boys, or young men) were literate in that script—which indicates that the script was invented a considerable time before that.

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In which languages, besides Arabic, are Jews referred to as “Yahud”?

In ancient Persian—as spelled out in Old Hebrew Script on every modern Israeli sheqel coin, which is based on a Judean coin when Judea was part of the Persian Empire:

1180415_sheqel
The three letters are I-H-D (from right to left)—which is pronounced Yehud or Yahud.

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Why does Hebrew have the letters tet and tav?

They don’t actually have the same sound—or at least, they didn’t use to, in pre-Exile times. The tet is supposed to be pharyngealized (pronounced from the throat), while tav is not (some even speculate that tav may even have been pronounced like the English /th/).

However, in recognition of the fact that they are similar, however, when the Canaanites invented the alphabet using simplified versions of Egyptian hieroglyphs, they made tet a derivative of the tav in its form.  Tav in the form of an x- or “+”-like sign, as can be seen here in a grafitti inscription made on an Egyptian statue in the Sinai ca. 1550 BCE:

(from: Proto-Sinaitic script – Wikipedia, where it’s shown upside down)

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Why do Greek, Phoenician, Hebrew, Arabic, etc. have names for their letters like alpha, beta, lamda?

The names of the Hebrew/Phoenician alphabet were given by the ingenious Canaanite slave(s) who first invented them some time in the 1900s BCE, possibly in Wadi El-Hol in Egypt:

wadi_el_hol-inscription-over
Detail of an inscription on a rock face in Wadi El-Hol, Egypt (near the Valley of the Kings)

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How does the Ancient Phoenician Paleo Hebrew tongue differ from modern Hebrew? (It was only written in consonants)

As Aaron Christianson has pointed out, script and language are not the same thing: the Palaeo-Hebrew script is one thing, and the language was another—just as the Roman script is distinct from, say, the English or French or German language.

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