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History of the Hebrew alphabet

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Title: History of the Hebrew alphabet  
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Subject: Hebrew language, Hebrew alphabet, Samaritan vocalization, Segolate, Ktiv menuqad
Collection: Hebrew Alphabet
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History of the Hebrew alphabet

The History of the Hebrew alphabet dates back several thousand years.


  • History 1
  • Ancestral scripts and script variants 2
  • See also 3
  • References 4


Aleppo Codex: 10th century Hebrew Bible with Masoretic pointing
A page from a 16th-century Yiddish-Hebrew-Latin-German dictionary by Elijah Levita

According to contemporary scholars, the original Hebrew script developed alongside others in the region (the region is the Land of Cannan and Arabia) during the course of the late second and first millennia BCE; it is closely related to the Phoenician script, which itself probably gave rise to the use of alphabetic writing in Greece (Greek). It is sometimes claimed that around the 10th century BCE [1] a distinct Hebrew variant, the original "Hebrew script", emerged, which was widely used in the ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judah until they fell in the 8th and 6th centuries BCE, respectively. It is not straightforward, however, to distinguish Israelite/Judahite scripts from others which were in use in the immediate area, most notably by the Moabites and Ammonites.

Following the Babylonian exile, Jews gradually stopped using the Hebrew script, and instead adopted the "square" Aramaic script (another offshoot of the same family of scripts). This script, used for writing Hebrew, later evolved into the Jewish, or "square" script, that is still used today.[2] Closely related scripts were in use all over the Middle East for several hundred years, but following the rise of Christianity (and later, the rise of Islam), they gave way to the Latin and Arabic scripts, respectively.

The Hebrew alphabet was later adapted in order to write down the languages of the Jewish diaspora (Karaim, Judæo-Arabic, Ladino, Yiddish, etc.), and was retained all the while in relatively unadapted form throughout the diaspora for Hebrew, which remained the language of Jewish law, scriptures and scholarship. The Hebrew alphabet was also retained as the alphabet used for writing down the Hebrew language during its rebirth as an everyday modern language starting in the 18th to 19th century.

According to one Jewish tradition,[3] however, the block script seen today in Hebrew Torah Scrolls, known as Kthav Ashurith, was the original Hebrew script carved into the Ten Commandments.[4] According to this opinion, the Ktav Ashurith was lost over time, as the masses used Paleo-Hebrew and its cousins, known as Kthav Ivri, for day to day writing, just as Jews today use a non block script for everyday writing.[5] According to the Talmud, the original script was known as Lebonae and was associated with the Samaritan community who continued to preserve the script even after the Jews switched to Ashurith.[6]

Ancestral scripts and script variants

Letter[7] Name Scripts
Hebrew Ancestral Related
Cursive Rashi Braille[8] Hieroglyphic base
of Proto-Sinaitic
Phoenician Paleo-Hebrew Aramaic Greek Latin Cyrillic Arabic
א Alef ⠁ (braille pattern dots-1)
Aleph Aleph Aleph Αα Aa Аа ا
ב Bet, Vet ⠧ (braille pattern dots-1236) ⠃ (braille pattern dots-12)
Bet Beth Bet Ββ Bb Бб
ﺑ ﺏ
ג Gimel ⠛ (braille pattern dots-1245)
Gimel Gimel Gimel Γγ J or Cc
Гг ﺟ ﺝ
ד Dalet ⠙ (braille pattern dots-145)
Dalet Daleth Daled Δδ Dd Дд دذ
ה Hei ⠓ (braille pattern dots-125)
Heh He Heh Εε Ee Ее
ه هـ
ـهـ ـه
ו Vav ⠺ (braille pattern dots-2456) ⠬ (braille pattern dots-346) unknown Vov Waw Vav Υυ
ז Zayin ⠵ (braille pattern dots-1356) unknown Zayin Zayin Zayin Ζζ Zz Зз
ח Het ⠭ (braille pattern dots-1346)
Khet Heth Khet Ηη Hh Ии ﺣﺡ or خ
ט Tet ⠞ (braille pattern dots-2345)
Tet Teth Tet Θθ T heavy Ѳѳ
י Yud ⠚ (braille pattern dots-245)
Yud Yodh Yud Ιι Jj
ﻳ ﻱ
כ ך Kaf, Khaf ⠡ (braille pattern dots-16) ⠅ (braille pattern dots-13)
Khof Kaph Khof Κκ Kk Кк ﻛ ﻙ
ל Lamed ⠇ (braille pattern dots-123)
Lamed Lamedh Lamed Λλ Ll Лл ﻟ ﻝ
מ ם Mem ⠍ (braille pattern dots-134)
Mem Mem Mem Μμ Mm Мм ﻣ ﻡ
נ ן Nun ⠝ (braille pattern dots-1345)
Nun Nun Nun Νν Nn Нн ﻧ ﻥ
ס Samech ⠎ (braille pattern dots-234)
Samekh Samekh Samekh Ξξ
S heavy or Xx Ѯѯ
ص or س
ע Ayin ⠫ (braille pattern dots-1246)
Ayin Ayin Ayin Οο Oo Оо ﻋ ع
غـ غ
פ ף Pei, Fei ⠋ (braille pattern dots-124) ⠏ (braille pattern dots-1234)
Pey Pe Pey Ππ Pp Пп ﻓ ﻑ
צ ץ Tsadi ⠮ (braille pattern dots-2346)
Tsadi Sade Tzadi , Ϻϻ S heavy Цц
ﺻ ص
ضـ ض
ק Kuf ⠟ (braille pattern dots-12345)
Quf Qoph Quf Ϙϙ Qq Ҁҁ ﻗ ﻕ
ר Reish ⠗ (braille pattern dots-1235)
Resh Res Resh Ρρ Rr Рр
ש Shin, Sin ⠩ (braille pattern dots-146) ⠱ (braille pattern dots-156) unknown Shin Sin Shin Σσς Ss Сс
سـ س
شـ ش
ת Tav ⠹ (braille pattern dots-1456) ⠳ (braille pattern dots-1256) unknown Tof Taw Tof Ττ Tt Тт ﺗ ﺕ
ﺛ ﺙ

See also


  1. ^ 10th century BCE script
  2. ^ Jewish Encyclopedia: Alphabet, The Hebrew: Samaritan Alphabet: "While the Jews adopted the Aramaic alphabet, gradually abandoning their own, the Samaritans held fast to the original forms, in order to show themselves the veritable heirs of ancient Hebraism. ... It is the same character used in all the Samaritan books of to-day, and remains the only offshoot of the old Hebrew script extant, while the modern Hebrew Alphabet is of Aramaic origin."
  3. ^ "The Script of the Torah". Jerusalem, Israel: Aishdas. 2002. , Sanhedrin 21b-22a
  4. ^ Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbat 104a, Tractate Megilla 2b. "Rav Chisda says that the (final) mem and samech in the tablets were miraculously hanging in the air." This can only happen in Kthav Ashurith and not in Kthav Ivri.
  5. ^ Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Megilla 3a.
  6. ^ Klein, Reuven Chaim, Lashon HaKodesh: History, Holiness, & Hebrew. Mosaica Press 2014. pages 185-205. ISBN 978-1937887360.
  7. ^ A second print letter is the form found at the end of a word.
  8. ^ A second braille letter corresponds to the letter plus dagesh (dot) in print.
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