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Phoenician Alphabet

Language, Writing, Alphabets Reveal Cultural Continuity in the Near East


Phoenician Alphabet: Language, Writing, Alphabets Reveal Cultural Continuity in the Near East

Phoenician Alphabet: Language, Writing, Alphabets Reveal Cultural Continuity in the Near East

Source: Jupiter Images

One interesting place where we find cultural links between Phoenicians and Canaanites as well as between them and ancient Hebrews is in the alphabets. The earliest forms of writing were strongly pictographic, with Egyptian hieroglyphics being the most obvious example. Such alphabets evolved into more and more abstract forms; if we examine the various alphabets side-by-side, we can see how these early pictograms became letters we use today.


Comparing Alphabets

Starting from the left we see the standard Egyptian hieroglyphs then Hieratic, a cursive script derived from hieroglyphs. Third is Phoenician, already well developed from an earlier alphabet known as Proto-Canaanite. The similarities between Phoenician and Hieratic are clear; Proto-Canaanite is usually a clear middle point between them.

The similarities between Phoenician and Hebrew, not to mention Latin, are also clear. The oldest Phoenician alphabet, found on the Mesha Stele, is indistinguishable from the oldest forms of Hebrew and biblical Hebrew differs little from Phoenician. Clearly the Phoenicians, Canaanites, and Hebrews shared many commonalities in language and writing.

This suggests strong cultural similarities — if they wrote and talked alike, it's implausible that people living so close had vastly different cultural and religious practices. Jews today justify being in Israel through the history of the Hebrews, but if the Hebrews were indistinguishable from the Phoenicians and Canaanites, and today's Palestinians are descended from the Phoenicians and Canaanites... what does that say?


Phoenicians & Western Culture

The Phoenicians are essentially responsible for the creation of Western alphabets — not just Greek and Latin, but Hebrew as well. It's possible that Hebrew language itself is originally a Phoenician creation which the early Hebrews adopted after settling in Canaan. Descended from the Aramaeans, the Hebrews' native tongue would have been an early form of Aramaic, a language they preserved for millennia as a common tongue for people throughout the Levant and which continues to be used in isolated pockets today.

It's ironic that not a single original Phoenician papyrus has survived today. Tyre and Carthage had great libraries once, but they were burned by foreign invaders. Phoenician temples held not only religious but also commercial records, but those were destroyed as well. Little is left of the Phoenicians and what we do know must be deciphered from the records of outsiders.

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