Proto-Sinaitic script

Proto-Sinaitic script
North Semitic script
A specimen of Proto-Sinaitic script, 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
LanguagesNorthwest Semitic languages
Related scripts
Parent systems
Egyptian hieroglyphs
  • Proto-Sinaitic script
Child systems
ISO 15924
ISO 15924Psin (103), ​Proto-Sinaitic

Proto-Sinaitic (also referred to as Proto-Canaanite when found in Canaan,[2] or Early Alphabetic)[3] is found in a small corpus of c. 40 inscriptions and fragments, the vast majority from Serabit el-Khadim in the Sinai Peninsula,[4] dating to the Middle Bronze Age. They are considered the earliest trace of alphabetic writing and the common ancestor of both the Ancient South Arabian script and the Phoenician alphabet,[5] which led to many modern alphabets including the Greek alphabet.[6] According to common theory, Canaanites or Hyksos who spoke a Semitic language repurposed Egyptian hieroglyphs to construct a different script.[7]

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.[8]

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).[9][10][11][12]

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,[13] were reviewed in detail, and numbered (as 345–355), by Alan Gardiner in 1916.[14] 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.[15][16]

  1. ^ Petrie & Currelly 1906, p. 130.
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ 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
  4. ^ 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"
  5. ^ "Sinaitic inscriptions | ancient writing". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2019-08-21.
  6. ^ 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)"
  7. ^ Albright 1966.
  8. ^ Simons 2011, p. 24.
  9. ^ Coulmas (1989) p. 141.
  10. ^ Cite error: The named reference ScienceDaily2008 was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  11. ^ Cite error: The named reference UHpress was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  12. ^ Cite error: The named reference NavehJ1987 was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ Gardiner 1916, p. 1-16.
  15. ^ 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"
  16. ^ Goldwasser, Orly (Mar–Apr 2010). "How the Alphabet Was Born from Hieroglyphs". Biblical Archaeology Review. Washington, DC: Biblical Archaeology Society. 36 (1). ISSN 0098-9444. Retrieved 6 Nov 2011.

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