Tag Archives: Hebrew

Boustrophedon: as the ox plows

I mentioned earlier that Phoenician and Hebrew were written and read from right to left. Hebrew still is. Greek is written and read from left to right; the same way you’re reading this sentence.

That big change didn’t happen all at once. For a while the Greeks couldn’t decide which direction they liked better, so they switched directions every other line. They wrote a paragraph of text in the same way a farmer plows a field.



I’m happy to tell you they finally stopped doing that and settled on left-to-right.

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/boustrophedon

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The alefbet

There’s a silver lining to all this misery. Up until the Babylonian Captivity, the books of the Hebrew Bible had been memorized and recited orally. But when the Jews found themselves far from home and their Temple, in danger of losing everything that made Jews who they are, afraid that future generations would forget G-d and His covenant with His chosen people—they started writing the Bible. They wrote down everything from Adam and Eve up to just before the prophets, then they wrote down the prophets, too.

The Bible was written and copied in beautiful Hebrew letterforms that were adopted and adapted from the Phoenician alphabet. Their alefbet made the Bible far easier to read than other holy writing. Jews learned to read (they posted words on the doorways of their houses!). People who weren’t Jews learned how to read and the Word of G-d spread far beyond Israel. The idea that each of us has a purpose and is loved by G-d is central to the Bible and central to Western culture.

And since you’re here, reading this, now seems a good time to remind you: you have a purpose and you’re loved by G-d. Hold that news in your heart because it’s absolutely true.

https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/news/when-was-the-hebrew-bible-written/
https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/article/origins-written-bible/
https://jewishmuseum.org.uk/schools/asset/hebrew-alphabet/

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The Babylonian Captivity

The one kingdom split into two: Israel and Judah. 

And so, Israel/Judah came under the thumb of one empire after another. First the Assyrians came and wiped out Israel in the north, then the Babylonians marched everybody out of Judah in the south. By the time the Persians took over the Jews (as the Persians called them) were dispersed far from their homeland.

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Things go sideways for Israel

The divided kingdom

If you had me for a Sunday school teacher you’ve heard me drone on about the Babylonian Captivity. You can find my universally-acclaimed Major Prophets of the Old Testament cheat sheets here and here and here and here.

Tiny little Israel was different from all the other countries. Instead of worshiping a bunch of gods, Hebrews worshiped one G-d: the G-d of Abraham. So long as they were true to G-d, Israel enjoyed the independence of being a sovereign state. Unfortunately, the Hebrews were flawed people—just like the rest of us—and began turning from G-d. There was civil war and the one kingdom split into two: Judah and Israel. Oh, the prophets warned them what would happen, but nobody listened.*

* I typed G-d that way as a courtesy for Jewish readers. My audience is tiny enough—I can’t afford to turn anyone away.

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Guest blogger: Ilene Winn-Lederer

It would be madness to cover the Hebrew alphabet without asking my pal (and Western Civ User’s Guide Irregular) Ilene Winn-Lederer to contribute some thoughts and a few examples of her fantastic calligraphy using Hebrew letterforms. Click on the links to view more of her work. Thanks, Ilene!



John: Since you will likely cover the technical origins of Hebrew from its Paleo-Aramaic roots to modern usage, here are my personal thoughts on my use of the language in my work.

First, I find the old and new forms of the alefbet fascinating for the following reasons:

I did not grow up in a religious home nor experience a formal Hebrew school education. Coming at the Hebrew culture/language from a mostly outsiders’ perspective, I did not speak it at all but learned to read it gradually through native speakers and informal classes through the years. Ironically, because my grandparents generation came to the US from Eastern Europe, Yiddish was my first language as a child. Anyway, I viewed Hebrew letters as simply beautiful art forms with great design potential. My mystical understanding of the alefbet also came from personal informal studies/classes.

Rimmonim means pomegranate

On that note, here are thoughts from my ‘Alchymy of Alphabets’ collection at my web gallery:
While there have been myriad renditions of the Hebrew alphabet throughout history on stone, carved in wood, crafted in metal, drawn in manuscripts, books, art and calligraphy, I’ve rarely seen any that explore these beautiful letterforms outside the box of their traditional appearance. In 2008, for my portfolio with PaperRoad Art Licensing LLC, I designed a group of illustrated English alphabets whose theme defined the shape of each letter. This year, I’ve decided to work that concept into the Hebrew alphabet. With identification in Hebrew and English, Abundance weaves some of the abundant flora of Israel into the letters that brought all into being.

Finally, here are links to prints available from that gallery: http://www.magiceyegallery.com/GalleryPage.aspx?id=11

Also, my Hebrew calligraphy appears on a collection of holiday greeting cards at: https://m.greetingcarduniverse.com/search/go?w=Ilene%20winn%20lederer&ts=m

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The Hebrew alphabet

Phoenician trade routes

The Phoenician cities were located where Israel, Lebanon and Syria are now. Their alphabet was adopted by the Greeks to the west and, on the eastern side of the Mediterranean, by Canaanites, Moabites, Arameans, Amonites and Hebrews. Through them the Phoenician alphabet evolved into the Hebrew alphabet.

There are similarities between the Phoenician alphabet and the Hebrew alphabet. Both have 22 letters; neither have vowels; the names of many letters are similar; aleph (A) and ayin (O) are glottal stops; you read both alphabets from right to left.

Phoenician, the corresponding Latin, and Hebrew letters. The Latin column shows A and O as ‘ to indicate glottal stops—they hadn’t become vowels yet.

It’s fascinating to see how the alphabet developed in the Near East and Middle East compared to the West. I drew you a chart with Phoenician, Latin (our alphabet), and Hebrew letters. My Hebrew letterforms are less-than-spectacular. If only there were someone I could call who is good at Hebrew calligraphy, but who? Who?

https://www.ancient-hebrew.org/alphabet/history-of-the-hebrew-alphabet.htm
https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/4069287/jewish/The-Hebrew-Alphabet.htm
https://www.deadseascrolls.org.il/learn-about-the-scrolls/introduction?locale=en_US
https://ramatracheldig.wordpress.com/2008/08/12/120808-the-phoenician-alphabet/

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Tfel-ot-thgir (right-to-left)

Another interesting thing about the Phoenician alphabet: when you write in it, you write from right to left. The words you’re reading here are left-to-right. As the alphabet was adopted by cultures to the west of the Phoenician cities, it was written left-to-right, like our alphabet today. As the alphabet traveled east, it was written right-to-left, like Arabic and Hebrew are still written today.

Solomon built the Temple with cedar wood from Lebanon.

David, the mighty king of Israel, had Phoenician artisan advisors in his court. King Hiram of Tyre was good buds with David’s son, Solomon. It seems natural to assume that the Phoenicians brought the alphabet with them to Israel.

https://www.ancient.eu/King_David/
https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jerusalem-from-canaanite-city-to-israelite-capital
https://phoenicia.org/temple.html
https://www.biblegateway.com/quicksearch/?quicksearch=david+hiram&version=NKJV
https://phoenicia.org/alphabet.html
http://ubdavid.org/bible/know-your-bible4/know4-5.html

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Isaiah

Tomorrow is the first Sunday of 2016! I’ll begin a month of teaching Sunday school to the junior high gang at my church. We’ve been covering the Babylonian Captivity lately and spent a few weeks on the Book of Esther.

This month we’ll be learning about the major prophets of the Hebrew Bible. Isaiah is not a quick read, but I want to give my students some of the highlights. Isaiah was influential on the 4 Evangelists and on Western culture. His words can be found echoed in the Gospels and in Handel’s Messiah. In Brit Lit classics like Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus and Milton’s Paradise Lost you’ll find the character Lucifer and the idea that devils were once over-proud angels who were cast out of heaven. That’s because one of Isaiah’s passages compares the career of a haughty Babylonian king to the short-lived brightness of Venus—the Hebrew for ‘day star’ was translated as ‘Lucifer’ in the King James version.

Isaiah cheat sheet