Hebrew Alphabet

  • Issue: February 2001
  • Designer: Ernest Lorentsov
  • Stamp Size: 25.7 mm x 20 mm
  • Plate no.: 419, 427, 428
  • Sheet of plate no. 419: 22 stamps, Tabs: 22
    no phosphor band
  • Sheet of plate no. 427: 10 stamps, Tabs: 10
    no phosphor band
  • Sheet of plate no. 428: 50 stamps, Tabs: 10
    no phosphor band
  • Printers: Plate no. 419 - De La Rue, England (Rotogravure)
  • Printers: Plates no. 427,428 - Government Printers (Offset)

In the second millennium BCE the Babylonians and the Assyrians wrote
in the cuneiform script and the Egyptians - in their hieroglyphs; these scripts contained hundreds of signs and only scribes and a few learned persons knew how to read and write.

The Canaanites, c. 1800 BCE, by inventing a writing system for their language, bestowed the alphabet to human civilization and thus eventually contributed to worldwide literacy. They employed pictographs reminiscent of those of the hieroglyphs, but whereas in the Egyptian writing each picture stood for its name, in the Canaanite script it represented only the first sound of the picture's name. The drawing of a house (bayit) symbolized b, that of the palm of the hand (kaf) signed k, water (mayim) - m, head (rosh) - r, etc.

The Canaanite pictographs evolved into linear signs. In the first millennium BCE, in the wake of the Israelite, Philistine and Aramean settling in Eretz-Israel and Syria, Canaan was reduced to the territory of what is today Lebanon. The Greeks called the Canaanites, Phoenicians. The Phoenician script consisted of 22 linear letters, most of which preserved the names of the pictures: alef, bet, gimmel, dalet, etc.

The Hebrews and the Arameans adopted the Canaanite-Phoenician writing. The independent (old) Hebrew script branch began to evolve in the ninth century BCE and Aramaic one hundred years later.

In the eighth century BCE the Assyrians conquered Aram and realized that the Arameans wrote in a script much more convenient than their cuneiform one having hundreds of signs. They turned the Aramaic language and script into the official means of communication in their provinces. Aramaic eventually became the international language of the administration and the intelligentsia of the Assyrian, Babylonian and Persian empires. In the Persian period the inhabitants of Judah and Samaria wrote Hebrew texts in the (old) Hebrew script, whereas Aramaic ones in the Aramaic script.

After the Greek conquest of the region Aramaic ceased to be the official language of the realm, but each nation began to develop its own Aramaic dialect and script. Thus the Jewish people developed from the Aramaic script, what is called in the sources, "Assyrian" script. This is the ancestor of the contemporary square Hebrew script.

Prof. Joseph Naveh
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

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The Hebrew Alphabet