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Hebrew: The world’s oldest alphabet?

In 1881, when Eliezer Ben-Yehuda and his associates decided to revive Hebrew as a spoken language, they did something unique: Hebrew became the only example of a sacred language restored to become the national mother tongue of millions after thousands of years lying dormant.

Woven through the fabric of history, those same foundational Hebrew letters* have been found etched on a stone slab from Egypt, letters which comprise the sentences of a biblical prophecy.

In a controversial announcement, Canadian expert archaeologist and epigrapher Douglas Petrovich of Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo has claimed that the world’s oldest alphabet is in fact Hebrew.

For nearly 200 years, scholars have generally accepted that the world’s oldest alphabetic script could have been based on any one or a combination of a group of ancient Semitic Afro-Asiatic languages including Ethiopic, Akkadian, Aramaic, Hebrew and Phoenician. Not enough has been known about those tongues to specify one language in particular, but that has all changed in the last few weeks with Petrovich’s announcement.

An inscribed stone slab dating from 1842 BCE was discovered in Egypt in 2012. The rock was labeled Sania 115. After extensive testing, Petrovich who is a professor of Egyptian history and also specializes in ancient inscriptions such as the ones found on Sania 115, declared that Israelite slaves in Egypt invented the Hebrew Aleph Bet (alphabet) almost 4,000 years ago using about two dozen Egyptian hieroglyphs.

A drawing of the slab’s inscriptions (right) shows Proto-Hebrew letters next to corresponding modern Hebrew letters (green). Inscriptions along the left edge of the slab translate as “The one having been elevated is weary to forget.” (Photo courtesy Douglas Petrovich)
A drawing of the slab’s inscriptions (right) shows Proto-Hebrew letters next to corresponding modern Hebrew letters (green). Inscriptions along the left edge of the slab translate as “The one having been elevated is weary to forget.” (Photo courtesy Douglas Petrovich)

Reaction to the professor’s research has been negative. Peers, who unlike Petrovich shun biblical accounts and dates, have been highly critical and cynical.

The professor maintains that his discoveries, if correct, will be most inconvenient for the experts. History books would have to be rewritten in addition to clearing up assumptions and misconceptions that have been taught as fact in universities worldwide, he said, specifically in the subjects of the ancient Hebrew people and the Bible.

In an interview with Fox News, Petrovich responded to critics.

“Continue to be skeptical. Do not accept my conclusions until you are convinced they are correct,” he said. “Truth is un-killable, so if I am correct, my findings will outlast scholarly scrutiny.”

The Canadian professor explained how he came to make the discovery when he was translating Middle Egyptian and proto-consonantal Hebrew inscriptions that nobody had ever translated successfully: He saw biblical figures and connections that had not been understood previously.

proto-Heberw
(Photo courtesy Douglas Petrovich)

Petrovich made a connection between a Canaanite syllabic and the world’s oldest attested letter ‘B.’ It is the very same Hebrew bet (depicting a house), which even now is the second letter of the Hebrew Aleph Bet.

“It was this single proto-consonantal Hebrew letter that helped me to understand that the world’s oldest alphabet – the language of which has been unidentified for over 150 years of scholarship – is Hebrew,” he explained.

The Bible itself could very well corroborate the professor’s stance.

Zephaniah 3:8 is a unique verse as it contains all the letters of the Hebrew Aleph Bet including the five sofiot (letters that take a different form when found at the end of a word).

Therefore wait ye upon me, saith the Lord, until the day that I rise up to the prey: for my determination is to gather the nations, that I may assemble the kingdoms, to pour upon them mine indignation, even all my fierce anger: for all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of my jealousy.”
Zephaniah 3:8

The following verse as read in the New King James version correctly renders the Hebrew by translating the word safa in verse 9 as “language” and not the plural “lips” like other translations purport.

For then will I return to the people a pure language that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve him with one consent.”
Zephaniah 3:9

* The original Hebrew script is known as Paleo-Hebrew (or Proto-Hebrew), which was in use until the Babylonian exile (5th century BCE) when the Aramaic script was adopted.

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Israeli-born Dee Catz is a Jewish believer in Yeshua, happily married with children. She has an interest in cooking and baking and all things Biblical. History, Geography, and Archaeology are some of her favorite hobbies, as well as touring Israel's national parks and landmark sites with her family and friends. She has been contributing to Kehila News Israel since December 2015.

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