by Naim Dangoor
The suggestion, (Letters, Jewish Chronicle, June 4th) that the Ten Commandments were handed down at Sinai in Egyptian hieroglyphics is a gross insult to our rich and ancient Jewish heritage.
The writer argues that the earliest example of alphabetical writing discovered in Palestine goes back to only 11th century BCE. But, the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
During their sojourn in the Land of Goshen, the Children of Israel spoke Hebrew - an Israelitish dialect of Canaanitish, and were little acquainted with the 'alien' Egyptian tongue and its form of writing.
It is generally agreed that the first alphabet appeared around 1700 BCE in the Canaan area, fully 400 years before the Exodus from Egypt and was most certainly available to Moses and the Priesthood. In fact, John F. Healy's "Reading the Past: The Early Alphabet" (British Museum) illustrates such a carved alphabetic inscription on a sandstone sphinx, dating from c. 1700 BCE.
All this accords with my own projection that this simple form of writing was invented by none other than our Patriarch Abraham during one of his trips to Egypt to study their system of writing. He came up with the first 16 letter phonetic alphabet which is the basis of all the alphabets in the world. (See: Monograph "Was the Alphabet a Hebrew Invention by Dr. Diringer, published by The World Jewish Congress.")
Those 'Ancient Hebrew' letters were used by Abraham to write down the oral traditions received from earlier generations and which became the first chapters of the Bible. At Sinai, the Ten Commandments, as well as the whole Torah was given in Hebrew and recorded in that alphabet. It exists in the Samaritan Scroll of the Torah and the Book of Joshua. (For a Samaritan copy of the Ten Commandments in Ancient Hebrew, see Scribe No. 70 page 28).
The 'Ancient Hebrew' alphabet was changed to the more attractive 'Assyrian' script by Ezra The Scribe, in Babylon in the fifth century BCE.
When we say someone is illiterate, we only mean that he can't read and write, we do not mean that he can't speak or understand the spoken words. Man had perfected speech over thousands of years and that achievement gave him a great advantage over animals. The invention of the phonetic alphabet made a link with the spoken word, rather than with the mental picture behind it.
The alphabet is the basis of all learning. It made learning universal, just as speech is universal. It democratised learning, whereas Egyptian hieroglyphics kept learning the monopoly of the priesthood. The alphabet was part and parcel of the Torah.
In the past, we used to say that the Phoenicians invented the alphabet. The Phoenicians are no longer mentioned, it is now believed that Canaan was the origin.
What indication is there that Abraham was involved in the early alphabet? The answer is in the question. In Genesis 17:5 "Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham..." God changes Abraham from Abram by inserting the letter h and changes Sarai's name (Gen 17:15) "As for Sarai thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be..." changing her name from Sarai to Sarah by adding a mute h at the end. This h is an alphabetical letter, and I believe is sufficient proof of its use as such.
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