Egyptian Hieroglyphics are as old as the earliest monuments centuries before Moses. (See HIEROGLYPHICS; PENTATEUCH.) The Rosetta stone, containing a decree on Ptolemy Epiphanes in hieroglyphics, with a Greek translation alongside, furnished the key to their decipherment. Champollion further advanced the interpretation of hieroglyphics by means of the small obelisk found in the island of Philae by Belzoni, and brought to England by Bankes. The inscription in Greek on the base is a supplication of the priests of Isis to king Ptolemy, to Cleopatra his sister, and Cleopatra his wife. The name Ptolemy in the hieroglyphic cartouche on the obelisk itself corresponds to the Greek Ptolemy on the base and also to the similar cartouche on the Rosetta stone. Comparison of this with the cartouche which was guessed from the corresponding Greek on the base to be that for Cleopatra resulted in the discovery of several letters.
The first letter in Ptolemeus and the fifth in Cleopatra are P. So the first character in the cartouche I and the fifth in II are a square. This then represents P. The third letter in Ptolemeus and the fourth in Cleopatra are O. The respective characters in the cartouches are the same; a knotted cord therefore represents O. The fourth in Ptolemy and the second in Cleopatra are both L; so the characters in the cartouches, the lion therefore represents L. The sixth and ninth letters in Cleopatra are both A, so the sixth and ninth characters in the cartouches are both a sparrowhawk; this then represents A. The first letter in Cleopatra, C or K, is not in Ptolemy, so neither is the first character of the Cleopatra cartouche in the Ptolemy cartouche; the triangular block therefore is C or K. The third character in the Cleopatra cartouche is a Nile reed blade, but the sixth in the Ptolemy cartouche is two such blades, therefore the single blade represents the short "e", third in Cleopatra; the two reeds represent the long "e", sixth in Ptolemeus, omitting "e" after "L."
Champollion therefore put down the fifth character in Ptolemeus a boat stand, and the seventh, a yoke, for S. Other names verified these two letters. Thus the whole name in hieroglyphics is Ptolmes. The eighth letter in Cleopatra is R, which does not occur in Ptolemy, so the character is not found in the Ptolemy cartouche; a human mouth therefore represents R. The second letter in Ptolemy and the seventh in Cleopatra are both T, but the characters in the cartouches differ; a half sphere in Ptolemy, a hand in Cleopatra. Hence it results that the same sound has more than one representative; these are called homophones, and cause some confusion in reading. (See "Israel in Egypt": Seeley, 1854.) The following shows the Phonetic Letters of the Hieroglyphical Alphabet of Egypt, with their equivalents, according to M. de Ronge, Lepsius, and Brugsch. (See Canon Cook's Essay on Egyptian words in the Pentateuch, vol. 1, Speaker's Commentary)
Champollion was able to read upon the Zodiac of Dendera the titles of Augustus Caesar, confuting Dupuis' "demonstration" that its date was 4000 B.C.! The traditions of Greece point to Phoenicia as its teacher of writing. The names and order of the Greek alphabetical letters are Semitic, and have a meaning in Semitic but none in Greek. Thus, 'Aleph ( א ), representing a means an ox. Bet[h] ( ב ), a house. Gimel ( ג ), a camel, etc. All indicate that a pastoral people were the originators of the alphabet. In an Egyptian monument a Hittite is named as a writer. Pentaour, a scribe of the reign of Rameses the Great soon after the Exodus, composed a poem, engraved on the walls of the temple of Karnak. This mentions Chirapsar among the Kheta (i.e. the Hittites) as a writer of books. So Joshua took a Hittite city, Kirjath Sepher, "city of the book" (Joshua 15:15); he changed the name to Debir, of similar meaning.
The words for "write" (kathab), "book" (ceepher), "ink" (deyo), belong to all Semitic dialects (except the Ethiopic and southern Arabic tsachaq "write"); therefore writing in a book with ink must have been known to the earliest Shemites before their separation into distinct clans and nations. Israel evidently knew it long before Moses. Writing is definitely mentioned first in Exodus 17:14; but in such a way as to imply it had been long in use for historic records, "write this for a memorial in the (Hebrew) book." The account of the battle and of the command to destroy Amalek was recorded in the book of the history of God's dealings with Israel (compare Numbers 21:14, "the book of the wars of the Lord," Numbers 33:2. Also God's memorial book, Exodus 32:32-33). Writing was however for many centuries more used for preserving than circulating knowledge.
The tables of stone written by the finger of God were laid up in the ark. The tables, as well as the writing, were God's work. The writing was engraved (charut) upon them on both sides. The miracle was intended to indicate the imperishable duration of these words of God. Moses' song (Deuteronomy 32) was not circulated in writing, but "spoken in the ears of the people" (Deuteronomy 31:19; Deuteronomy 31:22-30); and by word of mouth they too were to transmit it to others. The high priest's breast-plate was engraven, and his mitre too, "holiness to the Lord" (Exodus 39:14; Exodus 39:30). Under Joshua (Exodus 18:9) only one new document is mentioned, a geographical division of the land. In Judges 5:14 Zebulun is described as having "marchers with the staff of the writer" (copeer) or musterer of the troops; such as are frequently pourtrayed on the Assyrian monuments (2 Kings 25:19; 2 Chronicles 26:11, "the scribe of the host".)
The scribe and the recorder (mazkir) were regular officers of the king (2 Samuel 8:17; 2 Samuel 20:25). In Isaiah 29:11-12, the multitude have to go to one "knowing writing" (Hebrew for "learned") in order to ascertain its contents; so by that time there were some at least learned in writing. By the time of Jeremiah letters are mentioned more frequently, and copies of Scripture had multiplied (Jeremiah 8:8; Jeremiah 29:25; Jeremiah 29:29). The commercial and other tablets now discovered prove this. Under the ancient empire of Egypt the governor of the palace and of the "house of manuscripts" was a very high official. The tutelary god of writing was Saph or Sapheh (related to Hebrew ceper); a Pharaoh of the fifth dynasty is styled "beloved of Saph." frontALPHABET on the Moabite stone, 896 B.C., bearing Hebrew words and idiom in Phoenician letters).
Rawlinson fixes the invention 15 centuries B.C. The earliest monuments of Babylon reach back to 2300 B.C.; the language inscribed on them is Cushite or Ethiopian, (See BABYLON.) The Hebrew alphabet consists of 22 letters; this was their number as early at least as David, who has acrostic psalms with all the 22; moreover, the letters expressed numbers, as the Greek letters did. Besides alphabetic there is syllabic writing, as the Assyrian cuneiform, which has from 300 to 4,000 letters. The process of growth and change is shown by recent studies of the Assyrian language. "The words by which these (Assyrian hieroglyphics) were denoted in the Turanian language of the Accadian inventors of the cuneiform system of writing became phonetic sounds when it was borrowed by the Semitic Assyrians, though the characters could still be used ideographically, as well as phonetically.
When used ideographically, the pronunciation was of course that of the Assyrians." (Sayce's Assyrian Grammar.) Then to these original ideographs were added the formal parts expressive of case, pronominal, and other relations. The latest examples of cuneiform writing belong to the Arsacidae, in the century before Christ ("Academy," August, 1878). The square Hebrew characters now used came from Babylon probably after the Babylonian captivity, under Ezra. The Semitic alphabets have only consonants and three consonant-like vowels, 'Aleph ( א ), 'Ayin ( ע ), Yod[h] ( י ), and are written from right to left. There are two chief classes.
(1) The Phoenician, as it occurs in inscriptions in Malta, the sarcophagus of Eshmunazar king of Sidon (600 B.C.), Cyprus, and coins of Phoenicia (from whence came the Samaritan and Greek characters); on Jewish coins; in Phoenician-Egyptian writing, with three vowels, on mummy bandages.
(2) The Hebrew Chaldee, to which belong the present Hebrew square character (resembling those in Palmyrene inscriptions, probably brought from Chaldaea and the ancient Arabic. The Himyeritic (oldest Arabic) was possibly the same as the ancient Phoenician. The Moabite stone contains an alphabet almost identical with Phoenician, 22 letters, read from right to left; the names and order are identical with the Hebrew as may be inferred from the names of the Greek letters which came direct from Phoenicia, not prior to 1000 B.C. The various forms of the alphabetic letters and the evidence of their derivation from each other will be seen from the following comparison, copied from an illustration in "The Moabite Stone," by Pakenham Walsh, Bishop of Ossory. (Dublin: Herbert.)
The early Greek, as distinguished from the later, is much the same. 'Aleph ( א ), an ox, a rude representation of an ox's head. Bet[h] ( ב ), a house, representing a tent. Gimel ( ג ), a camel, representing its head and neck. Daleth ( ד ), a door; a tent entrance; the sidestroke of Bet[h] ( ב ) was to distinguish it from this. He[h] ( ה ), a lattice. Vav ( ו ) or Waw, a peg of a tent. [C]Het ( ח ), a field enclosed. Kaf ( כ ) or Kaph, a wing, or hollow of the hand. Lamed[h] ( ל ), an ox goad, curved into a handle at one end, pointed at the other end. Mem ( מ ), water, a wavy line for the surface when disturbed. Samek[h] ( ס ), a prop, an ancient vine trellis. 'Ayin ( ע ), an eye. Tsade ( צ ), a fish spear. Qoph ( ק ), the hole of an axe, or eye of a needle. Shin ( ש ), a tooth with its fangs. Tav ( ת ) or Tau, a brand marking flocks.
In Egyptian the letters were similarly copies of objects to which the initials of the names respectively correspond. Thus, A is the first letter of ahom, an eagle; so an eagle is the Egyptian representative of A. So L, the first letter of lab, a lion; M the first letter of mowlad, an owl. The Israelites never required an interpreter in contact with Moab, which shows the identity of language in the main. The Moabite stone also shows 'Aleph ( א ), He[h] ( ה ), and Vav ( ו ) or Waw supplied the place of vowels before the invention of vowel points; the 'Aleph ( א ) and He[h] ( ה ) express "a" at the end of a word. The He[h] ( ה ) expresses the final "o"; Vav ( ו ) or Waw expresses "o" and "u"; Yod[h] ( י ) expresses "i".
The Moabite alphabet in the use of these vowel representatives harmonizes with the Hebrew, and differs from the Phoenician. Rawlinson (Contemporary Review, August 20, 1870) believes the Moabite stone letters to be the same as were used in the Pentateuch 500 years before. The Hebrew 'Aleph ( א ) and Greek Alpha ( Α α ) are one; so, Hebrew Bet[h] ( ב ) / Beta ( Β β ); Hebrew Daleth ( ד ) / Delta ( Δ δ ); Hebrew He[h] ( ה ) / Greek Epsilon ( Ε δ ); Hebrew Vav ( ו ) or Waw / Greek F bau or digamma; Hebrew Zayin ( ז ) / the ancient Greek san; Hebrew Tet[h] ( ט ) / Greek Theta ( Θ θ ); Hebrew Yod[h] ( י ) / Greek Iota ( Ι ι );
Hebrew Kaf ( כ ) or Kaph / Greek Kappa ( Κ κ ); Hebrew Lamed[h] ( ל ) / Greek Lamda ( Λ λ ); Hebrew Mem ( מ ) / Greek Mu ( Μ μ ); Hebrew Nun ( נ ) / Greek Nu ( Ν ν ); Hebrew Samek[h] ( ס ) / Greek Sigma ( Σ σ ); Hebrew 'Ayin ( ע ) / Greek Omicron ( Ο ο ); Hebrew Pe ( פ ) / Greek Pi ( Π π ); Hebrew Tsade ( צ ) / Greek Zeta ( Ζ ζ ); Hebrew Qoph ( ק ) / Greek Kappa ( Κ κ ) ... on coins of Crotona; Hebrew Resh ( ר ) / Greek Rho ( Ρ ρ ); Hebrew Shin ( ש ) / Greek Xi ( Ξ ξ ); Hebrew Tav ( ת ) (Ezekiel 9:4) a "mark"; so Greek Tau ( Τ τ ).
MATERIALS. Stone, as the tables of the law. Plaster (lime or gypsum) with stone (Joshua 8:32; Deuteronomy 27:2). Lead was either engraven upon or poured into the hollow of the letters, or used as the hammer, lead being adapted to make the most delicate incisions (Job 19:23-24). The "tablet" (luwach), inscribed with the stylus or pen of iron (Job 19:24; Jeremiah 17:1), and the roll (megillah), were the common materials latterly. The roll of skins joined together was rolled on a stick and fastened with a thread, the ends of which were sealed (Isaiah 29:11; Daniel 12:4; Revelation 5:1; Revelation 6:14). Small clay cylinders inscribed were the repository of much of Assyrian history. After being inscribed and baked, they were covered with moist clay, and the inscription repeated and baked again.
Papyrus was the common material in Egypt; the thin pellicles are glued together in strips, other strips being placed at right angles. Leather was substituted sometimes as cheaper. Probably the roll which Jehoiakim burned was of papyrus (Jeremiah 36); the writing there was with ink (deyo), and arranged in columns (literally, doors; delathot). The only passage in which papyrus (as chartes means) is expressly mentioned is 2 John 1:12. Both sides were often written on (Ezekiel 2:20). Parchment of prepared skins is mentioned (2 Timothy 4:13); the paper and ink (2 Corinthians 3:3; 2 John 1:12; 3 John 1:13); the pens made of split reed; ink of soot water; and gum, latterly lampblack, dissolved in gall.
In Isaiah 8:1, "write with a man's pen," i.e. in ordinary characters such as common "men" (nowsh) can read (Habakkuk 2:2), not in hieroglyphics; cheret (an engraver, Isaiah 8:1) is connected with chartumim, the Egyptian sacred scribes. Scribes in the East, anciently as now, carried their inkhorn suspended by a girdle to their side. The reed pen, inkhorn, and scribes are sculptured on the tombs of Ghizeh, contemporaneous with the pyramids. The Hebrew knew how to prepare skins for other purposes (Exodus 25:5; Leviticus 13:48), therefore probably for writing. Josephus (Ant. 3:11, Section 6; 12:2, Section 10) says the trial of adultery was made by writing the name of God on a skin, and the 70 sent from Jerusalem by the high priest Eleazar to Ptolemy, to translate the law into Greek, that with them the skins on which the sin was written in golden characters.