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09/24/2006 05:00 PM THE ALPHABET OF BIBLICAL HEBREW Page 1 of 10 THE ALPHABET OF BIBLICAL HEBREW This page is an introduction to the alphabet of Hebrew Scripture. Hebrew is a Semitic language. The word Semitic comes from the name Shem, named in Genesis as the son of Noah, whose descendants now live in the Middle East. Phoenician, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic are examples of Semitic languages, which have several characteristics, such as a consonantal system with three-letter word roots to connote meaning. The Aramaic and Hebrew alphabets, as Greek, were derived from the Phoenician alphabet. Phoenicia (now Lebanon) was a peaceful sea-faring nation expert in navigation and trade that developed their alphabet around 1400 BC in an effort to communicate with their diverse trading partners that encircled the Mediterranean Sea. The Phoenician alphabet was widely received, as it was only 22 letters based on sound, as opposed to the myriad of symbols in cuneiform and hieroglyphics prevalent at the time. Biblical Hebrew contains 22 letters, as noted in Psalm 119, all of which are consonants . The
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09/24/2006 05:00 PM THE ALPHABET OF BIBLICAL HEBREW Page 2 of 10 alphabet and language remained pure until the Babylonian exile in 587 BC, when spoken Hebrew came under the influence of other languages, particularly Aramaic. Aramaic became the prevailing language, or "lingua franca" of the entire Middle East from about 800 BC to 400 AD. Jesus and his Apostles spoke Aramaic. Because of the Dispersion of the people of Israel to Babylon and Egypt, knowledge of pre-exilic texts was dependent on oral tradition. This occasionally gave rise to an ambiguity of interpretation for a text written purely in consonants. The Hebrew language adopted the Imperial Aramaic alphabet. As the Aramaic alphabet became the Hebrew alphabet, Hebrew papyri and parchments of the second and first centuries BC were written in the Aramaic alphabet. The original Hebrew alphabet persisted solely with the Samaritans. The Biblical Hebrew text available to us today is thus written in the Hebrew language with the adopted Aramaic alphabet. While the Hebrew language is thriving today, the Aramaic language was replaced by Arabic
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This note was uploaded on 09/08/2010 for the course AMS 100W at San Jose State University .

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