Ancient Hebrew Characters

The following chart is from page 53 of the book "Mysteries of the Alphabet"
(click here to order from

The columns across the top read as follows: 

1) Paleo-Phoenician  2) Moabitic 3) Hebraic Ostracea (4th century BCE)  
4) Paleo Aramaic 5) Papyri in late Aramaic  6) Palmyrian Aramaic  7) Monumental Nabatean/Aramaic 8) Printed Square Hebrew 

Links: More Hebrew Letter Charts    The word "Shalom" in several styles of letters   

          Another Ancient Hebrew Chart 

"Mysteries of the Alphabet" (click here to order from

The following is an exact quote from the above book, pages 54-53. 

According to the author Marc-Alain Ouaknin, Modern Hebrew writing is based on paleo-Hebraic via Aramaic.  The Aramaeans were nomadic Semitic tribes who lived in the Syrian desert and traded throughout the Near East.  If it was the Phoenicians who caused the alphabet to spread beyond the confines of the Near East thanks to their international overseas trading contracts, it was the Aramaeans who spread the alphabet through the Near East thanks to their extensive travel and the movements of their caravans. 

The Aramaeans created small nation-states around Damascus, Hamat, and Aleppo, where they fell under Assyrian then under Persian domination, while retaining their privileged status as traders and spreaders of culture. 

When the Hebrews were deported to Babylonia after the destruction of the First Temple, in 586 B.C.E., they adopted Aramaic writing, which was squarer than their own Hebraic script.  When they returned to the land of Israel, seventy years later, under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah, they brought this "new" writing back with them.  in fact, the Talmud actually calls it ktav-ashuri or Assyrian writing. 

Modern Hebrew writing is called "square script" and is derived from Aramaic.  It became the official script for daily use and for the transcription of sacred texts.  The Dead Sea scrolls, for instance, were written in that script. 

However, for private use, there is a different script, the cursive script, which in numerous points is actually derived from paleo Hebrew, the twin sister of paleo-Phoencian. 

The following is from pages 42 et seq. of the same book. 

Proto-Sinaitic consists of pictograms, the explanation of which is the main them of this book. 

The transformation of proto-Sinaitic into proto-Hebraic (which has been confused with proto-Phoenician, a synonym for proto-Canaanite) is the result of several complex factors, one of which is particularly important. The discovery of monotheism, and the relevation and the giving of the law on mount Sinai, introduced a new and important psychological element that may have produced a profound cultural change. 

The second of the Ten Commandments states: "... Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven images ...".  This prohibition on the image forced the Semites, who still wrote their language in a pictographic writing, to rid themselves of images.  The birth of the modern alphabet created from abstracdt characters is linked to the revelation and the civing of the law.  ... "To make the jump from the hieroglyphic to the consonant, from polytheism to montheism, a frontier had to be crossed.

The following is from pages 89 et seq. of the same book

The basic thesis of this book is to show that the alphabet that we know today in our Western languages is derived from an alphabet that was created more than 3,500 years ago and which is known as proto-Sinaitic.  This writing is considered to be the first alphabetic script, although it consists solely of consonants.  It was discovered by Sir Flinders Petrie in 1905 and dates from the sixteenth-fifteenth century B.C.E.  Petrie first found this writing engraved on a little sandstone sphinx.... 

A little information about the author: Marc-Alain Ouaknin 

The book was written between 1993 and 1906 [in French], the result of many years of research conducted through the Aleph Center (Jewish Research and Study Center, Paris) and more recently through the Bar-Ilan University.   The author acknowledges his father and mentor, the great Rabbi Jacques Ouaknin.

GREAT LINKS - An transformation of the letters - Another transformation of letters - A final transformation of letters 


Other links (I don't endorse of this sites, but they have related information):  - THE HECHT PAVILION OF HEBREW SCRIPT AND INSCRIPTIONS  (original page:  is no longer available, this must have been a temporary exhibit). - The Origins and Emergence of West Semitic Alphabetic Scripts - Professor James Harris and Dann W. Hone (Brigham Young Univ) - The Evolution of Alphabets - a course taught by Prof. Robert Fradkin at University of Maryland. - Archaeology -> Inscriptions - The Biblical Heritage Center  - The Origins and Emergence of West Semitic Alphabet Scripts





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Web Page Last Updated: 01/08/04 03:07 PM


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