What is the Paleo-Hebrew language?
Paleo means ancient, so essentially, Paleo-Hebrew refers to the Ancient Hebrew script. The earliest known examples of Paleo-Hebrew writing date to the 10th century BCE. It is characterized by its arched letters and was more commonly called Phoenician script because it was originally derived from the Phoenician alphabet. The Paleo-Hebrew script has been found in various archaeological sites, specifically in the Levant region, where its use was widespread before the Babylonian captivity in 586 BCE.
The Shebna inscription, discovered in 1870 and afterward referred to as "two large ancient Hebrew inscriptions in Phoenician letters," was the first Paleo-Hebrew text to be recognized in modern times. There are currently less than 2,000 known inscriptions, the vast majority of which only contain a single letter or word.
It is a regional variety and an immediate continuation of the Proto-Canaanite script, which was in use throughout Canaan in the Late Bronze Age, much like the Phoenician alphabet. Before that time, the varieties of Phoenician, Hebrew, and all of their sister Canaanite languages were essentially interchangeable.
What is the difference between Hebrew and Paleo-Hebrew?
Although Paleo-Hebrew and Hebrew share some commonalities, there are distinct differences.
The most noticeable difference is the script used to write the language. Paleo-Hebrew uses an arched letter, while modern Hebrew uses a square Hebrew script.
The two scripts also have different numbers of letters. Paleo-Hebrew has only 22 letters, while modern Hebrew has 27 letters, including vowels.
Paleo-Hebrew is considered a more ancient, authentic, unaltered form of the Hebrew language and is purely consonantal. In contrast, modern Hebrew has been changed by the addition of vowel systems, resulting in pronunciations that differ from the original language and dialect.
Paleo-Hebrew was unambiguous. The Hebrew language has roots in the Semitic language family, which includes languages such as Arabic and Akkadian. These languages also had no written vowels or punctuation, and they implied the vowels in the pronunciation of the consonants. In Arabic, for example, the word "Allah" (God) is spelled with 3 consonants - ALH. However, the word is pronounced with a long "a" sound after each consonant - Ah-lah. This is what made Paleo Hebrew unambiguous since it pronounced all consonants with a 'long ah'.
What is the origin of Paleo-Hebrew?
Paleo-Hebrew has its origin in the Phoenician script that was used between the 12th and 10th centuries BCE in the coastal regions of present-day Lebanon, Israel, and Syria. The Phoenicians were skilled traders and navigators who spread their script widely across the Mediterranean.
The early Israelites who had their origins in Mesopotamia and Egypt learned the Phoenician script from neighboring peoples and made some modifications to the script to suit their language, which later became the Paleo-Hebrew script.
The Paleo-Hebrew script system was widely used in writing the Hebrew Bible, and some scholars believe that it was also the script used in writing the Dead Sea Scrolls.
In the 8th and 7th centuries BCE, the Paleo-Hebrew script was widely used in the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. The Paleo-Hebrew script was gradually superseded by the Imperial Aramaic alphabet during the Babylonian exile in the sixth century BCE. During the Second Temple period, the letters of Imperial Aramaic were once more given shapes characteristic for writing Hebrew, eventually resulting in the "square shape" of the Modern Hebrew alphabet.
The Samaritan script, a variation of the Paleo-Hebrew alphabet, was used by the Samaritans who persisted in the Land of Israel. Israelites utilized both scripts after the Persian Empire fell before choosing the Assyrian version.
Can you learn Paleo-Hebrew?
Yes, it is possible to learn Paleo-Hebrew. However, since the script is no longer widely in use, it is considered a dead language. Hence, its study is limited to a few academic settings and individuals who are increasingly interested especially within the contemporary Israelite culture and community.
There are several resources available for learning Paleo-Hebrew, including textbooks, online tutorials, and courses offered by academic institutions such as us here at www.soamibooks.com. However, since the script is different from modern Hebrew, it requires a considerable effort to learn and master and there are a lot fewer available provisions out there to support your development which requires you to be a lot more proactive in your study ethos.
Was Torah written in Paleo-Hebrew?
The Paleo-Hebrew script, also known as Paleo-Hebrew, Proto-Hebrew, or Old Hebrew, is the writing system used on Canaanite inscriptions, including pre-and biblical Ancient Hebrew, from the Southern Canaan region, which includes biblical Israel and Judah.
Due to its resemblance to the Samaritan writing, which the Taalmud (not that it's spiritually valid) said the Samaritans were still using, it is believed to have been the script used to transcribe the Hebrew Bible's initial texts. According to themselves, the Samaritans are Israelites who have lived constantly in the land of Israel and are descended from the Northern Tribes of Israel who were not taken captive by the Assyrians. The Samaritan Torah Scroll has an alphabet that is extremely unlike the Jewish Torah Scrolls. This alphabet is thought to represent the original "Old Hebrew," also known as "Paleo-Hebrew," according to both Hebrew scholars and the Samaritans themselves.
The tetragrammaton which is the theonym of the Israelite deity, YHWH, is written in Paleo-Hebrew in some Qumran texts, but the rest of the text is written in the adopted Aramaic square script, which is now the standard Modern Jewish Hebrew script. Paleo-Hebrew scripts are found on the vast majority of Hasmonean coins, as well as those from the First Jewish-Roman War and the Bar Kokhba Revolt. After 135 CE, evidence of Israelites using the Paleo-Hebrew script ceased entirely which makes sense since they were driving out of their lands as a nation in 70AD.
In conclusion, the Paleo-Hebrew Bible is an essential part of Israelite history that contributes to the understanding of early religious practices. The script, though no longer in wide use, remains a valuable resource for scholars, linguists, and those interested in exploring Israelite culture. The name of God in Paleo-Hebrew Yahawah, the origin of the script, and its differences from modern Hebrew are also important topics that contribute to our understanding of the true Israelite Hebrew language and dialect
Sister systems: Aramaic alphabet; Greek alphabet
Unicode range: U+10900–U+1091F