Posted by: israelembassysa | July 19, 2010

The History of the Alphabet

The history of the Alphabet: The secret of the written letters

 By Naomi Dinur

There is life after death for the building blocks of the written languages.

These building blocks come from a united source.

You probably know the words “Abra Cadabra”? Heard it in a magician show? Well, this Gibberish is actually Aramaic words meaning in Hebrew “Ebra Ce- Dabra” and in English “I create as I speak”.

But how were our letters created?

When we received the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, the second ones written on the tablets by Moses, (after breaking the first tables written by G-d) it was not written in the square letters we call Hebrew today. The original Hebrew letters were different, very similar letters to the letters you read this very article today!

To me, the letters are living Archaeology. We preserve it and pass it on to succeeding generations, yet the essence remains and can be traced back. There is indeed life after death for the building blocks of our written languages – and, moreover, they come from a single source.

 As a Hebrew/English translator, I found the convoluted interrelationship of languages to be thought provoking, and so exciting! When I discovered it, I was fascinated and I have little doubt that after reading this, you too will look at the letters of nearly all the world’s Alphabet, in quite a different light. I don’t assume the academic tones of a professional archaeologist. This fascinating field has many letter variations during different eras, changing styles yielding diverse opinions. However, with a background in Design and Translation-I can introduce you to the secret, which has been verified by professionals.

Before our Alphabet

The Chinese people, as we know, are using a different Alphabet from the western world. It is a very ancient alphabet, and very complicated. It uses many symbols. We also know about the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. Those written languages, and others, used many different symbols – sometimes a symbol per word – to describe and tell their story. Some languages have thousands of symbols.

A most significant development that occurred in the subject of this article, which is the Proto Canaanite by some, Phoenician by others or the ancient Hebrew Alphabet, was that the symbols did not refer to words, but to different sounds.

Instead of hundreds of picture-symbols, a mere 22 pictogram letter-symbols can describe all the words in our language. Before this Alphabet, reading and writing was exclusive to the priestly sect, an exclusive and educated hierarchy. After the invention of the Hebrew/ Phoenician/ Proto Canaanite Alphabet it turned into a simple skill, child-like activity for the majority of the people. The introduction of this alphabet changed civilization as we know it. In many ways one can see it not as an evolutionary process but rather as a revolution.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica (Check Alphabet), written ancient Hebrew influenced the Semitic languages such as Arabic, and also non-Semitic languages like Greek, Latin, Turkish, Brahmi-Sanskrit (India) Amharic (Ethiopia) etc.

 So, what is the Alphabet?

Today, one cannot legalize copyright for longer than 50 years. Whose patent was it, the invention of the Alphabet? A hint can be found in the meaning of the letters. They do not carry any meaning in Greek or Latin, in Sanskrit or English but they do in Ancient Hebrew! Each letter name carries a story, and a distinct meaning.

There was basically no significant difference between the Phoenician 22 Letter Alphabet and the Ancient Hebrew Alphabet. Here I will treat them as the same. The attached sample will show you the development and the similarity.

The Modern Hebrew letter is square in style. That was the result of the first exile of the people of Israel to Babylon (now Iraq) after the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem, 586 BC and the influence the Aramaic / Assyrian had on the Hebrew writing. (The original ancient source was the area of the Holy land anyway). However, the written text (Old testament segments etc.) remained in the Hebrew language even when copied to the square writing.

The Dead Sea Scrolls, which are about 2000 years old, are written in both ancient Hebrew and Modern Square Hebrew. (The holy name in the scrolls is written only in the ancient Hebrew!) The symbols remain 22 in number and have kept the same name, only changed their shape.

What do the letters names mean?

 Let us look more closely at how the Western alphabet developed from the Hebrew letters.

To start at the beginning, Aleph or Alef is the name of “A” in Hebrew and it means an ox. 

Now use your imagination. Turn the A to the side and what do you see?  The face of an ox!

In Hebrew, the middle line of A was longer than currently and protruded from the sides of the “head”.

So the legs of the A became horns. Can you see it? It is fantastic. Only thousands of years later did our English language teachers discovered the system of picture letters, revolutionarily starting to teach by the

The Letterland system”©, relating the shape of the letter to a word starting with it like “Annie Apple” and illustrating it with the combination of the two.

The Original Hebrew /Canaanite system however is about 4000 years old:

The Arabic Alif ا, which was created after the year 600 AD (about 2600 years afterwards) keeps  the main line of the original Alef.

The oldest example of the Semitic Alphabet was found in 2000. The inscriptions were found on cliffs in the Wadi el-Hol, which is located along the ancient Egyptian road leading from Thebes to Abydos.

These ancient alphabetic inscriptions have been dated at 1900 to 1800 BC and they are the earliest alphabetic inscriptions, considerably earlier than anyone had thought likely.” (Archaeological Digest, January 2000).

The Letter B

“Beit” means “House” in Hebrew. Earlier the “Beit” as used in Gezer, Israel from the times of King Saul and King David was square like the plan of a typical brick dwelling of that time. However the later “B” letter reminds many of the floor plan of a tent.

The Letter D

The letter “D” is called Dalet in Hebrew and it means a door. Originally it may have been the back fin of a fish.The ancient Hebrew D was written as a triangle ∆ .  Even in the English D one can still see the triangle, which appears in today’s Greek too. A Triangular door you may ask? The debated theory says:” Yes, it is indeed a triangle – when you live in a tent!”

The Letter M

The ancient Hebrew letters were an evolution from the pictorial letters. For example “Maym” or the English letter “M” is from the word “Mayim”. “Mayim” is water in Hebrew. In the ancient Hebrew the letter M was a drawing of water. How can one draw water?

Water is characterized by waves of the sea, so the top of the letter “Maym” is wave-like. (It is still the same in our small English “m”). Water, also, always falls from the higher place to the lower, so the line falls or flows down from the top. The Arabic Mim م is looking similar to the script end Hebrew mem.

The Letter O

Similarly, the letter “O” was first “Ayein”, which is an eye. (It still sounds similar!) It was depicted as a human eye. Over the years, the outside almond shape became redundant and only the inside circle of the iris retained, becoming the Latin “O” of today.

The Letter Y

The letter “Y” corresponds to Yod or “Yad” which is a hand in Hebrew. Under Egyptian influence this was initially a picture of the whole arm, ready to hold something with symbolic fingers. (See the first letter in the coin). Turn the small “y” on its side and you will discover the similarity!

The Letter S

The “S” of today evolved from the Greek “Sigma”, and that might have been evolved from the “Shen” a bow by some or a tooth in Hebrew! It initially looked like “W” or like the Modern Hebrew “Ш”, Which is the picture symbol of the two front teeth. These teeth were then turned on their sides in Greek (It was the Greeks who eventually reversed the writing direction from right to left, to ease chopping and sculpting while reading-and made it left to right). The Arabic Sin amazingly keeps the picture of the teeth as wellس

The resurrection of the Hebrew language itself is nothing short of a miracle. This was a language perceived as being as dead as the classical languages of bygone eras. Imagine European children speaking the Latin of Cicero or Plato today. Yet Hebrew was brought back to life and today the language of the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah is a living language, sung by children, used in homes and public meetings, in newspapers and books and on computers. It is universal medium of intellectual exchange.

 Ben Yehudah, a scholar, linguist and translator, was behind this amazing resurrection of Hebrew. In his own home he insisted to start to speak only Hebrew to his overwhelmed wife and children.  He managed to see in his lifetime the fruits of his work. 

It is astonishing that thousands of years after the invention of the Alphabet, we are still able to see clearly and understand how it all started. By using the Roman script in writing English, Afrikaans, Russian or other European languages, as well as in part of the Arabic letters we are preserving the ancient written letters of the Ancient Hebrew for generations to come!


  1. Naomi – everything “Israel” never ceases to amaze me!

  2. The origin of the Hebrew Alphabet amazes me and is quite interesting. Can anybody assist me here in South Africa, as I would love to obtain x2 Israeli Flags in order to have it displayed at our Head Quarters. Plse feel free to contact me at Cell. 082 8944 924
    Kind regards
    Master Lenord Le Hanie
    Founder: South African Krav Maga & Fitness Institute

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