Proto-Sinaitic script

Proto-Sinaitic script
Proto-Sinaitic inscription #346, the first published photograph of the script.[1] The line running from the upper left to lower right may read mt l bʿlt "... to the Lady"
Script type
Time period
c. 19th–15th century BC
LanguagesCanaanite languages
Related scripts
Parent systems
Egyptian hieroglyphs
  • Proto-Sinaitic script
Child systems
ISO 15924
ISO 15924Psin (103), ​Proto-Sinaitic

The Proto-Sinaitic script is a Middle Bronze Age writing system known from a small corpus of about 30-40 inscriptions and fragments from Serabit el-Khadim in the Sinai Peninsula, as well as two inscriptions from Wadi el-Hol in Middle Egypt.[2][3][4][5] Together with about 20 known Proto-Canaanite inscriptions,[6] it is also known as Early Alphabetic,[7] i.e. the earliest trace of alphabetic writing and the common ancestor of both the Ancient South Arabian script and the Phoenician alphabet,[8] which led to many modern alphabets including the Greek alphabet.[9] According to common theory, Canaanites or Hyksos who spoke a Canaanite language[10] repurposed Egyptian hieroglyphs to construct a different script.[11]

The earliest Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions are mostly dated to between the mid-19th (early date) and the mid-16th (late date) century BC.

The principal debate is between an early date, around 1850 BC, and a late date, around 1550 BC. The choice of one or the other date decides whether it is proto-Sinaitic or proto-Canaanite, and by extension locates the invention of the alphabet in Egypt or Canaan respectively.[12]

However, the discovery of the two Wadi el-Hol inscriptions near the Nile River suggests that the script originated in Egypt. The evolution of Proto-Sinaitic and the small number of Proto-Canaanite inscriptions from the Bronze Age is based on rather scant epigraphic evidence; it is only with the Bronze Age collapse and the rise of new Semitic kingdoms in the Levant that Proto-Canaanite is clearly attested (Byblos inscriptions 10th–8th century BC, Khirbet Qeiyafa inscription c. 10th century BC).[13][14][15][16]

The first published group of Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions were discovered in the winter of 1904–1905 in Sinai by Hilda and Flinders Petrie. These ten inscriptions, plus an eleventh published by Raymond Weill in 1904 from the 1868 notes of Edward Henry Palmer,[17] were reviewed in detail, and numbered (as 345–355), by Alan Gardiner in 1916.[18] To this were added a number of short Proto-Canaanite inscriptions found in Canaan and dated to between the 17th and 15th centuries BC, and more recently, the discovery in 1999 of the two Wadi el-Hol inscriptions, found in Middle Egypt by John and Deborah Darnell. The Wadi el-Hol inscriptions strongly suggest a date of development of Proto-Sinaitic writing from the mid-19th to 18th centuries BC.[19][20]

  1. ^ Petrie & Currelly 1906, p. 130.
  2. ^ Simons 2011, p. 16: "The proto-Sinaitic corpus consists of approximately forty inscriptions and fragments, the vast majority of which were found at Serabit el-Khadim"
  3. ^ LeBlanc, Paul D. (2017). Deciphering the Proto-Sinaitic Script: Making Sense of the Wadi el-Hol and Serabit el-Khadim Early Alphabetic Inscriptions. Subclass Press. p. Preface. ISBN 978-0-9952844-0-1. Its importance lies in the fact that proto-Sinaitic represents our alphabet's earliest developmental period. So far, only two major discoveries of these inscriptions have been made. The first batch came to light in 1904-1905, in the Sinai, when Hilda and Flinders Petrie discovered what are now referred to as the Serabit el-Khadim inscriptions. The second group was discovered by John and Deborah Darnell in as recently as the 1990s, in Middle Egypt, and is known as the pair of Wadi el-Hol inscriptions.
  4. ^ Woodard, Roger D. (2008). The Ancient Languages of Syria-Palestine and Arabia. Cambridge University Press. pp. 104–105. ISBN 978-1-139-46934-0. The problem of the Proto-Canaanite inscriptions is directly linked with that of the Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions. The latter are a group of inscriptions, numbering about thirty, discovered near Egyptian turquoise mines in the Sinai, dated variously to the eighteenth or fifteenth centuries BC, which have been only partially deciphered but which seem to represent a form of early West Semitic (for a recent overview with bibliography, see Pardee 1997b). Corresponding to these texts are a group of about twenty texts discovered in southern Canaan and spread over about five centuries, from the seventeenth century BC to the twelfth (Sass 1988, 1991). The state of preservation of these latter, Proto-Canaanite, inscriptions is even poorer than is that of the Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions.
  5. ^ Golden, Jonathan M. (2009). Ancient Canaan and Israel: An Introduction. OUP USA. pp. 243–244. ISBN 978-0-19-537985-3. By the beginning of the second millennium BCE (the late Middle Bronze Age in Canaan), the scribes of Ugarit began to use a new script based on twenty-seven cuneiform characters. The southern Canaanites also developed new scripts of their own, two variations in fact-Proto-Sinaitic and Proto-Canaanite-both of which were also based upon the use of acronyms (Albright 1966; Cross 1967; Naveh 1982). Unfortunately, only a few examples of each have been recovered to date, and the ones that do exist are mostly incomplete and therefore difficult to decipher. As a result, some fundamental questions regarding the time of the first Proto-Canaanite scripts and the origins of the alphabet remain unanswered... Proto-Sinaitic... Today archaeologists know of some thirty to forty Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions that have been found on statuettes and stelae and carved into the rock faces around Serabit el-Khadim... Proto-Canaanite... Further north, another version of this new script began to emerge. Current knowledge of this script, Proto-Canaanite, is based on some twenty-five inscriptions, the earliest dating to the late Middle Bronze Age and the latest appearing at the beginning of the Late Bronze Age. These inscriptions, most of which were found in a relatively small area in the southern Shephelah, span much of the second millennium BCE, though there is a notorious fourteenth-century-BCE. gap from which no texts have been found... The earliest known example of a Proto-Canaanite inscription is one word incised on a bronze dagger discovered at Lachish of the MB2 (eighteenth to seventeenth century BCE) (Starkey 1934). At first these inscriptions appeared in rather pedestrian contexts-for example, potsherds from Gezer and Nagila-and may have been used to identify the potter. It is possible that this new script was used more informally at first, while Akkadian remained the official language, which is certainly plausible considering that the new script was more accessible and required less rigorous training. In the thirteenth and twelfth (and possibly eleventh) centuries BCE, Proto-Canaanite inscriptions appear more frequently in the archaeological record, and their distribution is more widespread, though still largely in the south. These include examples from Lachish, Beth Shemesh, and 'Izbet Sartah. The inscription from the 'Izbet Sartah ostracon seems to represent the exercise of a scribe-in-training. On one line appear the letters of the alphabet, but there are several omissions and departures from the order typical of the time, and several odd combinations of signs make portions of the inscription unintelligible (Mazar 1990). By this time, Proto-Canaanite was also used for religious purposes, as indicated by an inscribed ewer found in the Fosse Temple at Lachish (c. 1220 .c.E.), which bears a blessing to a goddess...The latest Proto-Canaanite inscriptions date to the eleventh century B.C.E. Examples from this time have been found at Rapa and Gerba'al, and a group of five inscribed arrowheads was found near el-Khadr, south of Bethlehem
  6. ^ Garfinkel, Yosef; Golub, Mitka R.; Misgav, Haggai; Ganor, Saar (May 2015). "The ʾIšbaʿal Inscription from Khirbet Qeiyafa". Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research. 373 (373): 217–233. doi:10.5615/bullamerschoorie.373.0217. JSTOR 10.5615/bullamerschoorie.373.0217. S2CID 164971133.
  7. ^ Rollston, C. (2020). The Emergence of Alphabetic Scripts. In R. Hasselbach-Andee (Ed.), A Companion to Ancient Near Eastern Languages (1st ed., pp. 65–81). Wiley. doi:10.1002/9781119193814.ch4
  8. ^ "Sinaitic inscriptions | ancient writing". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2019-08-21.
  9. ^ The Development of the Greek Alphabet within the Chronology of the ANE (2009), Quote: "Naveh gives four major reasons why it is universally agreed that the Greek alphabet was developed from an early Phoenician alphabet.
    1. According to Herodutous "the Phoenicians who came with Cadmus... brought into Hellas the alphabet, which had hitherto been unknown, as I think, to the Greeks."
    2. The Greek Letters, alpha, beta, gimmel have no meaning in Greek but the meaning of most of their Semitic equivalents is known. For example, 'aleph' means 'ox', 'bet' means 'house' and 'gimmel' means 'throw stick'.
    3. Early Greek letters are very similar and sometimes identical to the West Semitic letters.
    4. The letter sequence between the Semitic and Greek alphabets is identical. (Naveh 1982)"
  10. ^ John F. Healey, The Early Alphabet University of California Press, 1990, ISBN 978-0-520-07309-8, p. 18.
  11. ^ Albright 1966.
  12. ^ Simons 2011, p. 24.
  13. ^ Coulmas (1989) p. 141.
  14. ^ "Earliest Known Hebrew Text in Proto-Canaanite Script Discovered in Area Where 'David Slew Goliath'". Science Daily. November 3, 2008.
  15. ^ "Most ancient Hebrew biblical inscription deciphered". University of Haifa. January 10, 2010. Archived from the original on October 5, 2011. Retrieved November 5, 2011.
  16. ^ Naveh, Joseph (1987), "Proto-Canaanite, Archaic Greek, and the Script of the Aramaic Text on the Tell Fakhariyah Statue", in Miller; et al. (eds.), Ancient Israelite Religion.
  17. ^ Weill, R. (1904). Recueil des inscriptions égyptiennes du Sinaī: bibliographie, texte, traduction et commentaire, précédé de la géographie des établissements égyptiens de la péninsule (in French). Société nouvelle de librairie et d'édition. p. 154. Retrieved 2023-08-08.
  18. ^ Gardiner 1916, p. 1-16.
  19. ^ Simons 2011, p. 24; quote: "The two latest discoveries, those found in the Wadi el-Hol, north of Luxor, in Egypt's western desert, can be dated with rather more certainty than the others and offer compelling evidence that the early date [1850 BC] is the more likely of the two"
  20. ^ Goldwasser, Orly (Mar–Apr 2010). "How the Alphabet Was Born from Hieroglyphs". Biblical Archaeology Review. 36 (1). Washington, DC: Biblical Archaeology Society. ISSN 0098-9444. Archived from the original on 30 June 2016. Retrieved 6 Nov 2011.

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