By William M. Schniedewind
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Extra resources for A Social History of Hebrew: Its Origins Through the Rabbinic Period
The alphabetic writing The Origins of Hebrew 35 system could thus have developed as a mundane alternative to the sacred hieroglyphic writing. Moreover, all the earliest known alphabetic writing came from peripheral regions directly and indirectly controlled by the Egyptians. ), known today as Serabit el-Khadem. Viewed together with the Wadi el-Hôl inscriptions, it becomes clear that the origins of the alphabet must be linked with Egyptian writing. This is also evident in the form of the letters in the early alphabetic inscriptions.
The Emergence of Writing in Canaan The ancient Israelites had cultural memories that identiﬁed them with foreigners (like the Amorites), and they subdivided themselves by dialects (like Gileadite and Ephraimite). Likewise, the Hebrew language and its writing system were not completely original. They had their predecessors and precursors. For this reason, the search for the origins of Hebrew in this book will begin with its written precursors in the ancient Near East. e. The cuneiform writing system originated in southern Mesopotamia and appears to have the pride of priority.
Alphabetic writing deﬁnitely made it easier for nonspecialists to acquire rudimentary skills in writing, as evidenced by Wadi el-Hôl and Serabit el-Khadem. Though it would require either state sponsorship or economic complexity for the alphabet to spread, it persisted in the second millennium even without these. To be sure, learning to read— even with an alphabet—is not something that happens “in a matter of days or weeks,”23 but the ability to acquire rudimentary facility in reading is different with alphabetic scripts than with cuneiform or hieroglyphics, hence its democratizing potential.