The World’s Oldest Alphabet in Accordance

Last week, Accordance released a few new Hebrew-related modules. You can read my post here about one those new modules, Ada Yardeni’s Understanding the Alphabet of the Dead Sea Scrolls. In this post, I want to highlight Douglas Petrovich’s The World’s Oldest Alphabet: Hebrew as the Language of the Proto-Consonantal Script, published by Carta with an introduction written by Eugene Merrill.

This book publishes Petrovich’s research on the Proto-Sinaitic Inscriptions from Wadi el–Ḥôl and Serâbı̂ṭ el–Khâdim. Petrovich argues that these inscriptions are an early form of Hebrew. I am certainly in no position to pass judgement on his thesis, but I can point you to the following exchanges. The first two are posted on Academia.edu, and for that I apologize.

Let’s take a look at the module in Accordance.

Author comments

From the preface to the work, I think these comments are noteworthy. Petrovich writes, regarding the included images,

I have seen the need to re-draw—by hand, electronically—every one of the inscriptions included here, using as many photographs as possible to achieve this goal. Whenever possible, inscriptions themselves were viewed and photographed in person. (xii)

Regarding the texts he chose to include in this volume, Petrovich comments,

The intention here was not to compile an exhaustive study of every PCH inscription in existence, which could not be achieved in one volume even if desired. Instead, effort was made to limit the study to the vast majority of inscriptions that are complete or long enough to render a comprehensible and coherent message, one that can be derived with relative or great confidence. (xii)

Eugene Merrill wrote the introduction with glowing praise. He summarizes the thesis this way:

His thesis is that the Hebrew alphabet was not only early, but the earliest of all, the progenitor of all alphabets and alphabetic writing! (v)

And his endorsement in clear terms:

Careful perusal of this volume will almost certainly persuade the reader of the validity of Petrovich’s methods and conclusions. (vi)

I encourage the reader to read Holmstedt’s review posted above and definitely download Rollston’s review.

An Example Inscription

Let’s take a look at what is included for an example inscription, Sinai 115.

As the author introduces the inscription, he includes two images. The first is his composite hand drawing / reconstruction.

Below the hand drawing, an image of the inscription.

He then discusses the paleographic decipherment of the inscription, followed by a section on translation and orthography.

Finally, Petrovich concludes with a section on the inscription’s potential historical value. Petrovich writes,

If the proposed reading of Sinai 115’s caption is correct, the historical implications are staggering. While it goes beyond the present work to attempt to identify Ḫebeded with a specific biblical character in the book of Genesis, it can be noted here that the stele’s fixed date of Year 18 of Amenemḥat III (Dynasty 12), which corresponds to 1842 BC, places its writing within the lifetime of Joseph, if careful observance of biblical chronology is maintained. (p. 28)

He continues,

If the caption of Sinai 115, which now can be referred to as the Hebrews Caption, indeed mentions six Hebrews, as has been argued here, the oldest extra-biblical reference to Hebrews/Israelites (ca. 1842 BC) extends back 396 years before the reference to Israelites on the Berlin Pedestal, and 623 years prior to the reference to them on the Merneptah Stele. Additionally, the Egypto–Sinaitic context of the Hebrews Caption would support the ancient, biblical account of the location of Israel’s origin (Gen 37–50), rather than the numerous, modern, speculative theories about the Israelites’ origins being connected to Transjordan and/or locations further to the east (Mullins 2015: 520–521). (p. 28)

Towards the end of this section he concludes as follows:

The importance of Sinai 115’s caption to the identification of Hebrew as the language of the earliest alphabet cannot be understated, because it seemingly provides first-hand verification that the script’s originator(s) was indeed Hebrew by nationality. This is important for building a foundation for all that follows here. (p. 29)

The coverage of the first inscription is 14 pages in length. I counted nearly twenty inscription included in the volume, all covered in a similar way.

The rest of the work

The final chapter includes six sections of concluding thoughts, which you can see in the table of contents in the picture below.

The volume closes with four appendices, a references section, and an index.

Conclusion

Accordance has done a great job producing this digital edition of Petrovich’s work. All the images are able to be opened separately and enlarged, as you can see here:

I hope this post gives you a better idea of what this volume includes. If you are interested, The World’s Oldest Alphabet is currently on sale for nearly half-off.

You can check out the full sale page here.