Who Really Invented the Alphabet—Illiterate Miners or Educated Sophisticates?


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In a landmark article in the March/April 2010 issue of BAR, Orly Goldwasser, professor of Egyptology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, explained how the very first alphabet, from which all other alphabets developed, was invented by illiterate Canaanite miners in the turquoise mines of Serabit el-Khadem in the Sinai peninsula. Inspired by Egyptian pictorial hieroglyphs and a desire to articulate their own thoughts in writing, these Canaanites created 22 alphabetic acrophonetic signs scratched into the rock that could express their entire language.

Read “How the Alphabet Was Born from Hieroglyphs” by Orly Goldwasser as it appeared in the March/April 2010 issue of BAR.

But Goldwasser did not convince everyone. Anson Rainey, who had been emeritus professor of Ancient Near Eastern Cultures and Semitic Languages at Tel Aviv University, promptly responded to the article with his doubts that this watershed moment in human culture had been brought about by illiterate miners. In his letter Rainey argues that the alphabet was surely created by “highly sophisticated Northwest Semites”; who inscribed countless papyrus sheets that have not survived.

Join us below to read Rainey’s critiques and Goldwasser’s thorough rebuttals about who really invented the alphabet.

Israel Museum curators have called “Gabriel’s Revelation” the most important document found in the area since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Read the original English publication of “Gabriel’s Revelation” along with Israel Knohl’s BAR article that made scholars around the world reconsider links between ancient Jewish and Christian messianism in the free eBook Gabriel’s Revelation.


Posted in Daily Life and Practice, Inscriptions, Scholar’s Study.

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  • Alan says

    Why are all these “Biblical scholars” so quick to dismiss Enoch, the righteous scribe? Concentrate on v17 from the Book of Jubilees, the sixth most frequent manuscript discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls behind Psalms, Deuteronomy, 1 Enoch, Genesis, and Isaiah:

    Jubilees 4:16 And in the eleventh jubilee Jared took to himself a wife, and her name was Bâraka, the daughter of Râsûjâl, a daughter of his father’s brother, in the fourth week of this jubilee, and she bare him a son in the fifth week, in the fourth year of the jubilee, and he called his name Enoch. 17 And he was the first among men that are born on earth who learnt writing and knowledge and wisdom and who wrote down the signs of heaven according to the order of their months in a book, that men might know the seasons of the years according to the order of their separate months. 18 And he was the first to write a testimony, and he testified to the sons of men among the generations of the earth, and recounted the weeks of the jubilees, and made known to them the days of the years, and set in order the months and recounted the Sabbaths of the years as we made (them) known to him. 19 And what was and what will be he saw in a vision of his sleep, as it will happen to the children of men throughout their generations until the day of judgment; he saw and understood everything, and wrote his testimony, and placed the testimony on earth for all the children of men and for their generations. 20 And in the twelfth jubilee, in the seventh week thereof, he took to himself a wife, and her name was Ednî, 3 the daughter of Dânêl, the daughter of his father’s brother, and in the sixth year in this week she bare him a son and he called his name Methuselah. 21 And he was moreover with the angels of God these six jubilees of years, and they showed him everything which is on earth and in the heavens, the rule of the sun, and he wrote down everything. 22 And he testified to the Watchers, who had sinned with the daughters of men; for these had begun to unite themselves, so as to be defiled, with the daughters of men, and Enoch testified against (them) all. 23 And he was taken from amongst the children of men, and we conducted him into the Garden of Eden in majesty and honour, and behold there he writeth down the condemnation and judgment of the world, and all the wickedness of the children of men. 24 And on account of it (God) brought the waters of the flood upon all the land of Eden; for there he was set as a sign and that he should testify against all the children of men, that he should recount all the deeds of the generations until the day of condemnation. 25 And he burnt the incense of the sanctuary, (even) sweet spices, acceptable before the Lord on the Mount. 26 For the Lord hath four places on the earth, the Garden of Eden, and the Mount of the East, and this mountain on which thou art this day, Mount Sinai, and Mount Zion (which) will be sanctified in the new creation for a sanctification of the earth; through it will the earth be sanctified from all (its) guilt and its uncleanness throughout the generations of the world.

    Source: http://www.sacred-texts.com/bib/jub/jub17.htm

    This is how the jubilees were accounted: http://www.haderech.info/DSS/Calendar/4Q319.pdf

    Enoch will join Elijah, and they will serve as the two witnesses from Revelation. The world will celebrate when they are slain — even exchanging gifts — because only the elect could handle their TRUTH! Shema Yisrael!

  • Saul says

    Jacob and 70 members of his family entered Egypt in 1853 BCE. They brought the aleph bet with them. The Phoenicians (Sidonians) merged with the tribe of Dan after 1413 BCE near Mt Hermon, and got the aleph bet then. That is why the Phoenicians are part Hamitic and part Semitic.

  • Gamini says

    All this time we were told that the word “alphabet” consists the first two letters of the Greek Alphabet, Alpha and Beta. It goes well with the first two letters of the Hebrew Alphabet, Aleph and Beth. Very probably prior to these two great languages of the Bible, there existed Phoenician and Akadian scripts which were even older than Hebrew and Greek. Therefore, I think the very first alphabet derives in some way from Phoenician and Akadian.

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