WRITING. It is generally assumed that the earliest forms of writing were pictographic, not phonetic. That is to say, the ideas were recorded by means of pictures, or sense-symbols, rather than by sound-symbols such as are used in most modern languages. The earliest human beings presumably drew a picture of the idea they wished to represent, rather than using a sign to show how the word in question was to be pronounced. Thus the circle of the sun-disk might indicate either the sun itself (in Egyptian the word re’, in Sumerian ud) or the span of time during which the sun would shine. The concept of human being was conveyed in Egyptian by the picture of a person sitting with one leg curled under and the other bent with the knee upright. This figure would be accompanied by a single vertical stroke if only one person was involved or by more strokes according to the number of people referred to. In Sumerian the idea of human being (lu) was conveyed by a triangular head and a turnip-shaped torso; at first it stood up on end, facing right, but later it lay flat on its back facing upward (for all Sumerian signs underwent a ninety-degree shift in direction from vertical to horizontal sometime between 3000 and 2500 b.c.). This earliest stage in writing was marked by the use of the pure ideogram. (This same principle was operative in primitive Chinese, which developed a system of sign language that has endured to the present day; nearly all of its basic characters, or “radicals,” represent pictures of the type of object being referred to. This picture may or may not be accompanied by other strokes that indicate the sound value of the word.)

Evidently the next stage in the history of writing was the introduction of the phonogram—the type of sign that indicates a sound. At first this was achieved by the rebus principle, that is, by using objects that have a name sounding like the sound of the word that the writer wishes to convey, even though the meaning of the object portrayed is entirely different. Thus in an English rebus a person becoming “pale” with fear may be indicated by a picture of a “pail.” Similarly in Egyptian the sign for “duck” could also represent “son,” because in both cases the word was pronounced sa. The Sumerian city of Girsu was spelled by a picture of a dagger (gir) followed by a piece of hide or skin (su).

Both in Sumerian and in Egyptian there was a very early development of this rebus principle, so that the writing system became equipped with a large number of signs that could convey syllabic sounds, independent of meaning, and thus furnish building blocks for words of two or more syllables. Naturally the number of signs necessary to indicate all possible syllables that could occur in the spoken language was very numerous indeed. Both Egyptian and Sumerian writing retained both ideograms and syllabic phonograms right to the end of their history. Moreover, both languages used signs known as determinatives, which had no sound value at all but simply indicated the class of object referred to. In Sumerian the name of a city would often be preceded by the sign for “city” (even though it was not to be pronounced aloud as a separate word); similarly a star (standing for dingir, or “god”) would precede the name of any deity. On the other hand, these determinatives could follow the rest of the word, rather than precede it; thus the Sumerian name of Babylon was written ka-dingir-ra KI. Ka was an ideogram for “gate,” dingir was an ideogram for “god,” and ra was a phonogram indicating that dingir ended in an r sound and was followed by the genitive particle -a(k); the final KI was the sign for “earth,” or “land,” and served simply as a determinative.

Observe that in this last example the Sumerian name for Babylon (or Babylonia) means “The Gate of God.” When the Semitic-speaking Akkadians and Babylonians conquered the Mesopotamian valley, they took over the writing system of the Sumerians and adapted it to their own language. In some cases they took the Sumerian ideograms and gave them the pronunciation of the appropriate words in their own language. Thus the Babylonian for “gate” was babum (“gate of” being pronounced bab); the word for “god” was ilu (in the genitive ili). Hence the very same signs that the Sumerians pronounced as ka-dingirrak the Babylonians pronounced as bab-ili (which came into Hebrew as Babel). Operating on this principle the Babylonians contrived ways of expressing all the necessary sounds in their own language. They would either use the Sumerian phonograms to express the same sound in Akkadian (the language spoken by the Babylonians and Assyrians), or else they would assign new sound values to them. Thus the Sumerian word for “wood” or “tree” was gish and was written by four wedges forming a rectangle; the corresponding Akkadian word was isu. Hence in Akkadian the sign could furnish the phonetic syllable gish (as it did in Sumerian) or else the syllable is (derived from the Akkadian word), as for example in the word is-su-ru “bird.” Thus it was by ingenious adaptation that the Sumerian system of writing was taken over by a nation speaking an entirely different language, and it was used—still in mixed ideographic and phonographic form—to give written expression to their Semitic tongue.

Incidentally, if Abraham’s family was residing in Ur back in the twentieth century b.c., this would have coincided with the brilliant Sumerian culture that flourished under the Third Dynasty of Ur. It is quite possible not only that he would have learned both to speak and to read Sumerian but also that this was the only type of writing that he knew about, apart from any writing he encountered during the time he lived in Egypt.

The Egyptian system of writing, at least on its monuments, remained in an artistic pictorial form from its earliest rise about 3000 b.c. until its slow demise in the Roman period, 3,200 years later. Its characters never degenerated into combinations of wedges bearing little resemblance to the original pictographs, as was the case in Sumerian and Akkadian. Of course Egyptian was also (at least as early as the Sixth Dynasty) written in a cursive, hieratic (abridged) form, especially in business documents, correspondence, and secular literature. But apart from esthetic considerations, Egyptian writing developed peculiarities of its own that were quite different from the Sumerian-Akkadian system. In the first place, it recorded only the consonants of the spoken language, not its vowels. Some of these consonants were like the so-called vowel letters of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic; that is, the aleph or glottal catch, the y indicating a neighboring i sound, and the w indicating a u sound before it. On the other hand, the transcriptions of Egyptian names into Akkadian cuneiform and into Greek furnish important evidence as to how Egyptian was vocalized, and these transcriptions do not come out to any consistent pattern of correspondence with these Egyptian “vowel letters.” Neither is there any standard relationship between them and their descendants in the Coptic language (which was written in the Greek alphabet and preserved the form of Egyptian as it was spoken in the early Christian centuries). And so it must be recognized that Egyptian hieroglyphic is essentially as consonantal as were the Semitic languages that used the Phoenician alphabet.

A second noteworthy contrast between Egyptian and Sumerian is that it developed genuine alphabetic signs, as well as two-consonant (or three-consonant) syllabic signs. Therefore to the Egyptians goes the credit for being the first to develop an alphabetic system of writing. However, they did not see any need to abandon their ideograms, determinative signs, and syllabic characters just because they had alphabetic letters; and so they simply used all four types of sign in the writing out of their language. Even the more cursive, shorthand type of writing referred to above as hieratic introduced virtually no changes in this complicated and cumbersome system; it simply enabled the scribe to write out his four kinds of hieroglyphic signs with a fair degree of rapidity. The same was true of a still more cursive and simplified form of hieratic known as demotic, used after 1000 b.c. Not until Egypt was conquered by Alexander the Great (about 332) did the influence of a foreign system of writing make a decisive impact on Egyptian conservatism. By the third century a.d. (the period of the earliest Coptic glosses in the Oxyrychus Papyri) the Egyptians were writing out their vernacular, vowels and all, in the letters of the Greek alphabet, to which they soon added seven more alphabetic signs of their own invention, to represent sounds not found in Greek.

The fact that the Egyptians did develop a full set of alphabetic signs had led some scholars to conclude that the most primitive form of the so-called Phoenician alphabet consisted of modifications of various Egyptian consonantal or syllabic signs. This was a reasonable inference, perhaps, but no convincing list of correspondences could be made up by even the most ingenious advocates of this theory. The true origin of the “Phoenician” alphabet is to be sought rather in the alphabetic hieroglyphs of the Sinaitic Inscriptions of Serabit el-Khadim (written some time between 1900 and 1500 b.c.—for the scholars’ estimates vary). These signs are tabulated on Plate A. Since they were inscribed by Semitic miners in the employ of Egypt, and since these documents are found side by side with Egyptian hieroglyphic inscriptions (on statues dedicated to the goddess Hathor), it is fair to conclude that these miners got the idea for their alphabet from the Egyptians themselves. But instead of resorting to ideograms and syllabic signs, they contented themselves with alphabetic symbols chosen on the basis of acrophony. That is to say, the first sound of the name of the object represented conveyed the alphabetic unit intended. In Egyptian a sign for “hand” was used as the alphabetic sign for d, since the word for “hand” was dert. Following this principle, the Semitic miner chose the picture of a hand extended as a sign for y (since the word for “hand” was yadu in his language). The head of an ox was used for the sound of aleph (the glottal catch) because the word for “ox” was ’alpu (a name that was preserved in the later Hebrew aleph and in the still later Greek alpha). Interestingly enough, this particular letter has been quite well preserved from 1900 b.c. until the present, for if our capital A is turned upside down, it bears a fairly close similarity to that ancient Sinaitic sign for aleph, the ox’s head.

During the ensuing centuries this Sinaitic type of script (or modifications of it) was cultivated in Canaan, for household objects like daggers, rings, ewers, pots, and plaques have been found with short inscriptions, mostly of very uncertain interpretation. But a totally different form of alphabetic writing assumed great importance during this period (1800-1400 b.c.), namely the cuneiform alphabet associated with Ras Shamra, or Ugarit. Unlike the cuneiform of Babylonia and Assyria, this kind of cuneiform represented an alphabet of about twenty-nine or thirty characters, all of them consonantal (except that three of them indicated the type of vowel occurring after aleph, whether a, i [or, e], or u). This very early dialect of Canaanite (for Ugaritic is much closer to biblical Hebrew than to any other known Semitic language) contained several consonants not appearing in any of the Northwest Semitic scripts; in some cases the sounds are still preserved only in Arabic (such as rough heth, z as in Arabic nazara, “to see”; th as in thalāthun “three”), and other sounds are apparently different from any sound found in Arabic (such as zh like the English s in pleasure).

The shapes of characters formed by these wedges bear no consistent similarity to the signs either of Sinaitic letters or the Akkadian syllabary. They are very simple in structure and seem to have no pictographic origin whatever. This type of alphabet flourished not only at Ugarit but also in more southerly localities as well. But after the violent destruction of Ras Shamra in the fifteenth century, the use of the Ugaritic alphabet seems to have declined in favor of the Phoenician.

Several so-called Proto-Phoenician inscriptions have been discovered in Palestinian localities such as Gezer, Lachish, and Shechem, exhibiting forms that could be transitional between the Sinaitic and the authentic Phoenician of the eleventh century b.c. Unfortunately, however, these short lines of writing do not fall into a consistent pattern, and they cannot be deciphered with real certainty. As to the earliest Phoenician inscriptions—those of Shaphatbaal and Ahiram found at Gebal (Byblos) on the coast north of Sidon—there is still much dispute as to the time when they were written.

The inscription on the sarcophagus (stone coffin) of King Ahiram is dated by various authorities from before 1250 to as late as 1000 (the later date being advocated by Dunand, who maintained that the Shaphatbaal inscription was centuries earlier). This writing has the twenty-two-letter alphabet that was to hold the stage from then on in all the northwest Semitic languages (Phoenician, Hebrew, Moabite, Aramaic, and Syriac). The early form of it appears in the left-hand column of Plate A. The earliest Israelite document that has survived in this script is the Gezer Calendar of about 900 b.c. or a few decades earlier. It is a small limestone tablet inscribed with the irregular hand of a schoolboy and containing a list of the successive phases of the agricultural year from season to season. The discovery of this schoolboy’s exercise witnesses to the extent of literacy in the reign of Solomon. Unfortunately we have no documents from an earlier period to serve as a reliable guide, but it is most likely that Moses used a Proto-Phoenician type of script rather than any kind of cuneiform (although the use of Akkadian cuneiform for international correspondence is well attested for the time of Joshua in Palestine). Even in the Tell El Amarna correspondence—which consists of letters in Akkadian addressed by Canaanite princes to the Egyptian court—there were numerous glosses (or explanatory synonyms) in Canaanite or Hebrew, written out in Akkadian cuneiform syllabic signs. Hence this type of writing would also have been known to Moses and available to him. (See Hebrew Language.)

The next important Hebrew inscription after the Gezer Calendar was the Siloam Inscription, incised on the wall of the underground tunnel dug through to the Pool of Siloam in preparation (probably) for the siege of Jerusalem by Sennacherib in 701 b.c. Here we see a trend toward the more freely flowing style of manuscript writing, rather than the stern angularity of monumental style. In particular some of the long-tailed letters (like mem, nun and kaph) curve with a bottom swoop to the left. Examples of the rapid brush-stroked type of script are furnished by the Samaritan Ostraca of about 770 (containing tax receipts paid to the government of Jeroboam II) and the Lachish Ostraca of 588. These last consist of letters written by the captain of a Jewish outpost to Yaosh, commander of Zedekiah’s troops in Lachish. Here the letters are formed in a very compressed or flattened form, but they are still of essentially the same pattern as the old Phoenician.

Following the Babylonian exile, this Paleo-Hebrew script (as it is called) was retained for some types of text, such as the books of the Pentateuch, for fragments of Leviticus and Exodus have been discovered in the Qumran Caves, dating from the late fourth century (according to the estimate of some scholars). The Samaritan sect, which originated from the schism of 535 (when Zerubbabel refused to allow the Samaritan heretics to participate in rebuilding the temple at Jerusalem), for some reason developed a special form of this Paleo-Hebrew script all their own; moreover, they retained it for all their religious literature down through the time of the Muslim conquest and even to this day. Paleo-Hebrew was employed on Jewish coinage of the Maccabean period (second century b.c.) and also of the First and Second Revolts (67-70 a.d. and 132-135 a.d.). The Aramaic-speaking peoples of Damascus, Hamath, and parts north used pretty much the same style of alphabet, although with minor regional peculiarities.

The so-called Square Hebrew character seems to have developed first on Aramaic soil, possibly during the sixth century b.c. Yet early examples of this script are regrettably sparse, and it remains impossible to trace its rise and development very much prior to the second century b.c. At all events it does not seem to have derived from the epistolary cursive of the Elephantine Papyri (400), a set of legal documents and letters written in Aramaic by Jewish mercenaries stationed on an island near the southern border of Egypt. As can be seen from the third column in Plate B, it was an extremely cursive script, but still bore stronger affinity to the Paleo-Hebrew than the Square Hebrew of the Dead Sea Caves. For an example of the type of Square Hebrew used by the scribes of the Maccabean (Qumran) period, see page 1001.

It is important to observe that the Greeks received their alphabet from the Phoenicians and Arameans, perhaps through contact with their merchants. Through the investigations of Michael Ventris and his colaborers it has now been quite well established that Cretan Linear B, used in Crete during the latter half of the Second Millennium b.c., consisted of a syllabary somewhat similar to the syllabic writing used in ancient times on the island of Cyprus. It was an independent invention, so far as we know, and has no relation to any system of writing used in the Semitic Near East. The inscriptions themselves were written in a sort of Mycenean dialect of Greek. But these constituted an isolated development without any lasting influence on later times.

Apart from these special developments in Crete and Cyprus, the Hellenic tribal groups found written expression for their language through the Phoenician alphabet, which supplied the first twenty-two letters of the Greek alphabet (i.e., alpha through tau). Those Semitic letters that expressed sounds not used by the Greeks were adapted to express vowels. The glottal catch, aleph, was used to convey the a; the soft h sound of the Semitic was redesigned for the Greek e; the rough aspirate of the Semitic heth was employed by the Western Greeks to express their soft aspirate (the English h), but by the Ionians to convey the long e sound (pronounced like French e-acute). The Athenians at first followed the Western practice, using epsilon to express long e as well as short e, but later they adopted the Ionic use of the H as ēta, using the broken halves of aspirated H to express the rough breathing (equivalent to h) and the smooth breathing (which was without sound). The Semitic y of yodh was simplified to a single vertical stroke as the letter i or iota, while the guttural Semitic ’ayin was adapted to express the sound of o (at first either long o or short, but later specialized as short o or omicron). From the Semitic waw, or w, the Greeks of the West used one form to express the w sound; as such it resembled a modern F. The other form of waw, that shaped like a Y, was used to express the u sound (later modified in pronunciation to a French u or German ü). Besides this last-mentioned letter (the upsilon), the Greeks added four more letters, the phi (at first pronounced liked ph in “uphill,” but later sounded like f); the khi (at first pronounced like kh in “workhorse,” but later pronounced like German or Scots ch); psi, which rendered the consonant-cluster p-s as in “capsule”; and omega, a modification of omicron designed to express long o only.

This, then, was the writing medium that in the providence of God came to be used to convey the message of redemption that is found in the NT Scriptures. From the Western form of the Greek alphabet the Romans derived their Latin alphabet, omitting from it those letters used by the Eastern Greeks that were unnecessary to express the sounds of the Latin tongue. It is this alphabet, therefore, that has descended to us at the present day, ultimately derived from the Semites of the Holy Land.——GLA

WRITING, the art and craft of recording and communicating visual and verbal symbols objectively.

Expression and communication

Human thought reduced to its molecular aspects begins with electro-chemical interchanges of energy within and without the neural cells of the brain. However, it is well known that through constant repetition the human body can respond to visual and auditory perceptions without apparently framing these sensations into words. Thus the task of ultimately defining what exactly is the nature of expression and communication seems to be a metaphysical rather than an exact scientific pursuit. Therefore the subject of writing is better studied as a historical process of the invention of one of man’s most useful tools based upon one of man’s most central faculties, that of expression. Man can express his individual thoughts through almost every part and function of his body; however, all men of whatever historical period have depended on vision and hearing as the primary tracts for input/output of data. Insofar as one cannot speculate about a nonthinking man, so we cannot conceive of man without expression or communication.

Horizontal communication

is the transfer of data from one source to one or more receivers in the same time and place. It requires that the speaker and hearer or displayer and observer be in the same place and contemporary in time. The outside limit of effectiveness of this system would be from great-grandfather to great-grandchild, a maximum of about ninety years. To lengthen this span some mechanical transfer, a record, tape or reënactment must intervene to bridge the gap of time. Obviously the plastic arts are most suitable for this and pictures, statues etc. of ancient historical figures can carry us back to at least the 5th millennium b.c., while mechanical recording techniques allow us to recover sounds and voices since the Crimean War (a.d. 1854). Any tradition based on oral communication is then only continuous restatement of horizontal communication. Songs, stories, poems, narratives, sagas and even statistics can be and have been preserved in this way but the accuracy of such is extremely questionable. Often the material is molded and suffused by some mnemonic form into which it is cast so that the original material is effaced by its later literary or artistic form. The myths of classical antiquity are prob. prime examples of such a digression (de Santillana, The Origins of Scientific Thought [1961]). Care must be taken that horizontal communication media of modern primitive social groups are not extrapolated back into pre-history to explain some long lost origin. Such phylogenetic recapitulation is unacceptable.

Vertical communication

is the transmission of data across time spans beyond the life of the individual or his social group. This is always a mechanistic process and results in thought being embodied in an artifact, a construct, a fabricated article. It goes without saying that the simpler the notion, the more easily and universally it may be communicated; e.g., the rough sketches of supernovae carved by prehistoric American Indians. Since sight-thought was more easily communicated vertically, it was apparent that speech-thought would ultimately have to be attached to sight-thought to gain the same vertical continuity. In effect, this was done by symbols, or semiotic systems.


has a number of aspects. Not only is it the repository of individual experience but in some gestalt fashion it is possible to conceive of a corporate memory, a township memory, even to view the city in this sense as a computer. There is basic justification for this in the fact that all ancient writing systems seem to have originated in settled urban food-producing areas. Such social patterns bring about the need for another aspect of communication beyond the horizontal and vertical; they demand display. Display in this sense is the record of the community’s actions as a community set forth for all to see, as for example, law codes, declarative prayers and incantations, annals of the past and building inscrs. Actually all three of these forces, horizontal and vertical communication and display, combined with the emerging urban society and its institutions to produce first the need and then the answer in the technique of writing.

Types of Semiotic systems

or sets of integrated symbols of various sorts were produced in the first germinal era of writing. In the history of writing the first to appear were not necessarily related to the sound or form of the languages of those who invented them. Such non-phonetic systems are termed semasiographic.

The semasiographic

systems fall into three categories: a. Pictographs, simple cartoonlike illustrations of universal recognizance value, such as a picture of an animal or structure with its unique characteristics made obvious, e.g. figure 1: a. Phraseographs, usually several pictographs arranged to indicate an action but sufficiently interrelated that in time they become one effective unit, often the verbal or action indicator in pictographic scripts, e.g. figure 1: b. Logographs are word symbols where one word in 1:1 correspondence with one sign is understood although it is neither drawn visually nor indicated phonetically. Often like the other two types it is totally separate from the languages of the writer or reader. Livestock brands, ownership marks, certain ligatured abbreviations and even trade marks fall into this category. Modern examples abound in such logographs as, “&,” “7-UP,” or “$,” none of which have any relationship whatsoever to the words with which they are read, or the notions with which they are associated. Ancient writing systems often contain so many logograms that the meaning of a text is utterly unintelligible. Another disconcerting aspect of logographs is that they become so completely conventionalized and stylized that like some pictographs the original meaning is lost. In some ancient documents the actual word meant is never written out. It is systematically symbolized with a logogram. The result is that the actual word in the language is unknown, as if all “ands” in the Eng. language should be replaced by “&,” and in time the full spelling of “and” became lost. Some representative logographs are shown for comparison 1:c. Along with and slightly after the rise of the semasiographic systems, the language based phonographic systems appeared in the developing writing systems. Ultimately these tend to ward pure symbolic representation of speech but they fall short due to the necessity to economize the number of signs. This economy usually leads to “polyphony” where one sign has more than one phonetic sound attached to it. It is this difficulty which so aggravates Eng. spelling.

2. Again, as with the semasiographic systems three related phonographic systems arose. They are: a. Syllabic in which every sign represents not simply a unitary sound but also a combination of vowel or vowel plus consonant or consonant plus vowel or in the extreme consonant plus vowel plus consonant. Such a system works quite well with certain types of languages which have monosyllabic words; b. Phonemic systems have one sign for one sound, either a vowel or a consonant. Most syllabaries have dispersed within them perfectly sound phonetic alphabets; c. Subphonemic or, as they may be called, prosodic systems are made up of elaborate diacriticals which like musical notations indicate all nuances of the spoken word. The present system of print in use with modern languages utilizes only the phonemic system, but the instantaneous foreshortening of time possible with electronic data processing may make the potential of diacritical prosodic systems an actuality, so that writing would come full circle from universal pictograph to universal : .—...- , and ultimately 0, 0, 1, 1, 0, 0, 01...

The origin of vertical communication

Ancient Western Asia was not only the cradle of Western civilization but also of the earliest writing systems, and in that geographic and ethnographic region all stages of the semasiographic and phonographic systems have taken place. As with so many other complex social relationships, government, finance, building and trading, so writing suddenly appears with no records or predecessors to indicate its sources. With village settlement and the organization of social institutions requiring vertical communication and display, writing was invented (A. J. Jawad, The Advent of the Era of Townships in Northern Mesopotamia [1965]).

Prehistoric writing systems

must be projected from the later known to the earlier unknown. The oldest known written documents were excavated at the site of ancient Uruk (Biblical Erech, Gen 10:10), and were inscribed about 3000 b.c. These are Sumer. tablets inscribed with economic texts in the non-Semitic, non-Indo-European Sumer. language. However recent investigation has demonstrated that the writing system of the Uruk and all later Sumer. texts was prob. not the invention of the Sumerians, although they undoubtedly modified and expanded it to fit their essentially monosyllabic language.

1. These unknown literary predecessors of the Sumerians have been called Proto-Euphrateans, from their apparent place of settlement (B. Landsberger, “Mezopotamya ’da Mendeniyetin Doğuṩu,” Ankara Universitesi Dil ve Tarih-Coğrafya Dergisi [1943-1945]). Some debate has ensued as to who these people were and from where they had come, but until an identifiable Proto-Euphratean settlement is excavated the problems will remain unsolved. However, the discovery in Rumanian Transylvania of an early neolithic village, Tartaria, with a cache of several tablets, all dated by stratigraphy to earlier than 3000 b.c., has enhanced the possibility that the elusive Proto-Euphrateans will be found. A comparison of Uruk and Tartaria signs is shown in figure 2.

2. Perhaps the best solution is simply to denote the Tartaria texts as Proto-Balkan-Danubian. There is little question but that still older and more dispersed written materials will be discovered since the Proto-Balkan-Danubian signs appear to be at least logographic if not already syllabic.

3. Although the Uruk and Tartaria systems are the oldest now known, they were soon followed by a number of scripts of equally unknown origin and as yet quite resistant to decipherment. These all arose in Western Asia and are more hieroglyphic in the sense that the pictographic character of their execution is more obvious. Unlike either of the older systems they seem to be closer to simplified drawings of objects. Also the multiplicity of signs seems to indicate more than a syllabic system, although such a judgment is speculative. Sometime after 3000 b.c., the people of southwestern Iran known as Elamites produced an elaborate writing system called by scholars, Proto-Elamite. The Elamite language is non-Semitic and non-Indoeuropean. It is not related to any other known language, and so the texts as yet defy decipherment. From the placement of what appears to be numerical signs it is judged that they, like the Uruk texts, are economic in content. Dating from a slightly later time, there is a set of symbols on seals and inscribed pottery and metallic sheets. These were fabricated about 2300 b.c. at a group of towns on the Indus River, located at Harappa, Mohenjodaro and Chanhudaro. Specimens of the Proto-Elamite and Proto-Indic signs are seen in figure 3. Hieroglyphics are usually associated with Egypt about whose writing system the name was coined. In the oldest glyptic representations an early almost pictographic form of sign is found. These are on the slate plates, or palettes excavated at Hieraconpolis in Upper Egypt. These palettes yield scenes of the campaigns of ancient prehistoric Egyp. rulers. Although attempts have been made to associate them with known historical figures there is little to base final conclusions upon other than the obvious interpretation of the pictographs (fig. 3). Just what the stages in the later development of the elaborate hieroglyphic system were is now lost but some relationships can be deduced. Before the full blown Egyp. system was completed and, in fact, prior to its founding, the Proto-Euphratean, later Sumer. syllabary had been established and was to be the dominant writing of the Near East from 3000 to 500 b.c. In time the Uruk signs became stylized, and the streamlined and uniform strokes became known as “nail-shaped,” “wedgeshaped” writing in Eng., Keilschrift in Ger., but the French name has stuck as it was derived from the Lat. “cuneus”—“forma.”



The predecessor to the classical cuneiform script first appeared in recognizable form on economic documents from the temple area of Uruk, in the stratigraphic layer of the Jemdet Nasr period. Although the majority of the more than 1,000 tablets are small business memoranda, there are some which contain the complex lexica which were used to teach the Sumer. language and writing system for the next two millennia. The signs on these tablets are more pictographic than cuneiformic, but they have the same phonetic values as the later simplified script. Most of the economic texts consist of little more than names, numbers, and commodities, marking a specific period of time and the total business conducted during it. Since many of these tablets were tags attached to the articles involved from which they were long ago separated, it is now impossible to decipher their meaning. In all, there are over 700 discernible signs used on the Uruk tablets as compared to 1,100 signs used in classical Sumer. lit. The Sumer. script may be divided into four chronological periods of development, Archaic-pictographic (3100-2700 b.c.); Ur I & II (2700-2370 b.c.); Gudea of Lagash (2370-2100 b.c.) and Ur III (2100-1950 b.c.). It is probable that the pictographic signs may have originated from the use of stamp and cylinder seals impressed on clay or wax to mark ownership of commodities. The early ledger tablets from Uruk, Jemdet Nasr and Fara show small grids or registers in which names and numbers are written showing the amounts exchanged from the central agency to or from each individual, and on the reverse is the total (fig. 4). In these texts there is very little in the way of speech formulation; they are almost completely semasiographic. However there is a surprisingly effective mixed sexagesimal (to the base sixty) decimal (to the base ten) arithmetical system. The most impressive fact of all is the vital and complicated mercantile economy that produced the texts. After extensive simplification of the signs the very effective syllabary of Ur III was finally reached. With this system metaphysical thought of surprising sophistication could be framed in parallelistic poetry, e.g. the song cycle, Lamentation over the Destruction of Ur (S. N. Kramer, Assyriological Studies No. 12 [1940]) The Sumer. system which served as the pattern for all the subsequent cuneiform syllabaries contained more than just simple syllabic signs. Four types of signs were invented. The most common are the simple syllabic signs, but because of a unique characteristic of the Sumer. language many signs came to have the identical phonetic value. It seems that the Sumer. spoken tongue was tonal as are many modern Afro-Asian languages; i.e. words and meanings are distinguished from one another not merely by the difference in sound but in singing tone, so that daaa at Middle C would be a different word than daaa at F. To distinguish these many similar sounds the Sumerians provided the different syllables with separate signs. The result is a confusing polyphony of many signs to one sound and many sounds to one sign. A sound “A” must be distinguished from all its variants as: a, á, ă, a4, a5...a10 & ax; while a sign “X” may have the readings: be, pè, pì, bad, baṭ, baṭ, pád, pát, páṭ, bít, pít, mid, mit, miṭ, til, tel, tíl, ṭél, ziz, sun, qìt, mát, mút, ti6, úš, ṩiṩ, gam5, me4, bi4, šum(m)a or zaz. The order of the variants in this list is roughly statistical in regard to frequency, 90% of all citations would be the syllable “be” while perhaps “bi4 would be the correct reading in only .001% of all occurrences. Just when the shift was made from name of object to sound similar to name (e.g. ten little dots :::::, plus a sketch of a knee = ten-ney) finally came about is impossible to determine, but it was the great impetus to the establishment of cuneiform writing.

The second most common set of cuneiform signs in Sumer. are the logograms. These are single pictographs representing a whole word usually totally removed from the pictograph itself. If the first signs were names of economic institutions and merchants then it is logical that their trademarks would pass into the logographic stage. Less common than the logographs are the determinative signs which indicate the class of objects or persons to which the following word belongs; thus all objects of wood were preceded by the GIS̆ sign which simply meant, “next word a wooden object.” The least common, but possibly the most difficult were numerical and grammatical signs which were not pronounced at all but were simply diacriticals such as the often superflous pl. sign MES̆. All four types appear in figure 5. Since Sumer. is agglutinative, i.e. it adds grammatical and phonetic particles together in long complex chains of words and phrases, in time certain sets of signs became associated with each other in standardized patterns giving much of the lit. a stereotyped quality and forming idioms and figures of speech that are still commonplace. At no time in the long history of cuneiform writing were all the possible syllables of any one language set down in signs. If a grid or table is formulated of all the possible vowel-consonant and consonant-vowel combinations it will be found that a principle of economy was in effect. This principle operated in two ways: 1. the tendency for syllables of one specific vowel and similar consonants to be clustered in one sign as: kab, kap, qáb, qáp, qáb, qáp, > KAB sign. 2. The tendency for one consonant and its full potential set of vowels to be clustered in one sign as: aḥ, eḥ iḥ, uḥ > AḤ sign. Generally the former cluster maintaining the vowel is more common than the latter and when the consonant is maintained it is divided into two sets of vowels a/u vs. e/i which is a general phonemic distribution in the Sumer. language. By the period of Sumer’s greatness, Ur III, the writing system was almost purely phonographic and many of the complex logograms had been reduced to syllabic signs. It is widely accepted upon reasonable evidence that the wedge-shaped characters came about through the use of the reed stylus which, when cut obliquely, would leave an exposed triangular surface culminating in a sharp point. When impressed in damp clay the familiar pyramidial indentation resulted. As with other complex sign systems, the Mayan and Chinese for example, differences in scribal schools and traditions developed and even variations in individual hands are present.

The Sumer. civilization came in time to depend upon writing and to a degree equated literacy with culture and civilization, a notion which still persists in the Western world. In the scribal schools, É.DUB.BA, “Tablet house,” the scribes learned by copying the ancient lit., hymns, epics, laments and lexical texts. These last are of very great interest. The Sumerians seem to have had some notion of organizing the phenomenal world in terms of their precious craft of writing. In order to do this they set down long lists of words, usually names of objects and functions which in turn grew into immense lexical series, commonly described as listenwissenschaft (W. von Soden, “Sumerische und babylonische Wissenschaft,” Die Eigenbegrifflichkeit Der Babylonischen Welt/Leistung und Grenze Sumerischer und Babylonischer Wissenschaft [1965]). These bear strange enigmatic names taken from their first lines such as: ḤAR.RA = ḥubullu and IZI = išatu, although strictly these two are from a much later time when Sumer. lists were equated with their East Sem. synonyms. As part of the scribal collections of learning in inscribed form, sort of encyclopedia editing, all other forms of learning were brought together and extended by the scribes; biological nomenclature, grammatical flexion, dosage forms and mathematical tables are all found on the school tablets. This unification of learning around the practice of the scribal craft is a keystone to the understanding of the urbane Sumerians and their writing system. With the advent of the East Sem. peoples which culminated with the founding of the first dynasty of Accad, Sumer. civilization passed into the hands of the Semites, who, in turn, studied and treasured this heritage passing it on for some 2,000 years. The assimilation of Sumer. culture into Akkad. brought about the use of Sumer. language as a literary medium and the use of Sumer. cuneiform to write the different Akkad. language. The two languages interchanged loanwords in the process, the preponderance going from Sumer. to Akkad.


came into use as a written language after the conquests of S̆arru-kîn (Sargon) of Agade (Accad), the first great world conqueror who overran central Mesopotamia in 2371 b.c. The Akkad. language fits poorly into the Sumer. syllabary, because it is polysyllabic and it has difficult consonant clusters. The vowels have more complex variations than the Sumer. syllabary could transcribe. The result was that Akkad. cuneiform inscrs. followed closely the forms and conventions of the older Sumer. inscrs. Akkadian cuneiform may be divided into Old Akkad. roughly equivalent to Ur III Sumerian; Old, Middle and Neo-Babylonian; Old, Middle and Neo-Assyrian. The Old Akkad. is quite difficult as it utilizes many Sumer. logograms (Sumerograms) and writes out in full detail refinements and nuances of East Sem. speech which were later dropped from use. The Akkad. syllabary underwent the same paring and economizing processes as Sumer. so that more and more it approached a phonographic system.

1. The next stage in the script, the Old Babylonian, like its contemporary, the Old Assyr. of the Cappadocian merchant colonies, used few logograms and determinatives and wrote out most words syllabically. Still the script did not completely fit the language, as some fractions of the syllables had to be elided to obtain the correct pronunciation. In many instances the same word could be broken up several different ways to yield assimilable syllables. For example, to write the word “Pittsburgh” it is necessary to disassociate the consonant cluster—ttsb—so that it can be written with vowel-consonant or consonant-vowel signs, the choices are: Pi-it-te-es-bu-ur-rg-eh, where all the “e’s” are silent and all double vowels are elided. If consonant-vowel-consonant signs are used it could be written: Pit-tes-bur-geh. Exactly analogous situations occur in all stages of the cuneiform syllabary and many words do appear spelled in a variety of ways. Over the centuries, of course, certain standard forms became conventional. Unlike some other ancient systems no alphabetic system was ever involved at the base of the cuneiform signs. The classical Babylonian syllabary as used by the Kassites (1600-1174 b.c.), after they had overthrown and absorbed Babylonian culture emphasizes the sounds and spellings of the Babylonian dialect of Accad.

2. With the resurgence of Assyria under Ashur-uballiṭ (1365-1330 b.c.) a predominance of signs favoring the Assyrian dialect takes place. The kings of the last half millennium of Akkad. culture down to the time of Cyrus greatly honored the study of cuneiform and preserved the ancient lit. wherever they found it. During the reigns of the Neo-Assyrian rulers, esp. Ashurbanipal (668-631 b.c.) extensive libraries of texts representative of all periods were collected and scribes employed in making new editions of the ancient lit. It is a monument to the genius of its inventors that the kings of the 6th cent. b.c. could decipher tablets then already 2500 years old, and written in cuneiform. Not only was cuneiform used in Mesopotamia proper but it became the international vehicle of the common lingua franca, Akkad. Scribes in the court of the pharaoh, the palace of the Indo-European ruler of Mittani and the chieftains of Syria-Pal. all corresponded in cuneiform script. The iron-clad fixation of the vowels in the system has allowed the restoration of the native speech in several of the geographic localities outside Mesopotamia. Of special importance in this regard is the language of ancient Pal. before the conquest which is represented in portions of the El Amarna letters which passed between the pharaohs of the 18th dynasty and their vassal princes in the Near E. In these and other cuneiform texts occur the phenomenon of “glosses” where the scribe has written a word in Akkad., and then after an oblique wedge used as word divider added the cuneiform transcription of the word in his own language to make doubly sure that the scribe who was to receive and read it before its addressee would know his intention.

3. The script in these peripheral Akkad. texts is usually poorly executed and the grammar and syntax of the language completely at the mercy of the scribe’s mother tongue. From the peripheral Akkad., the script spread further out to other non-Sem. and non-Akkad. language groups who modified it radically to better transcribe their own tongues. In most cases these alterations were definitely advantageous in the direction of a phonographic system. They also resulted in the inclusion of a new set of logographic signs which are best termed “Akkadograms.” Like the Neo-Assyrian scribes these provincial inscribers tended to use the system of writing the Sumer. root or logogram if one existed and then follow it with a phonetic complement giving the form and pronunciation of the native word to be substituted in the context for the Sumerogram. To illustrate, suppose instead of writing Eng. “willing” one puts down the Latin root of the same meaning: “vol-” and then adds the same ending as if it were an Eng. word so that VOL-ing is the result, but it is read as “willing,” likewise the late cuneiform GIG-iṩ for Akad. mahiṩ, “has been smitten” or ERÍN-am for ṩabam, “contingent (direct object).” A comparison of the forms of several representative signs from Uruk through Neo-Assyrian is shown in figure 7. The supremacy of the cuneiform system and the availability of the vast Mesopotamian lit. spurred on the adoption of cuneiform by many other peoples. A Sumerian and Akkadian bilingual is shown in figure 8.


was written in its own peculiar pictographs up until 2500 b.c. when a phonographic system based on Akkad. cuneiform was introduced. In all the new system had only 131 syllabic signs, 25 logograms and only 7 determinatives. Elamite became one of the official languages of the Pers. empire and is represented in the great trilingual inscr. of the rock of Bahistān (Persian Language and Literature, q.v.). In the later period the syllabary was reduced to 102 syllabic signs, 8 logograms and 3 determinatives. Many new sites in Iran have been excavated and a large body of newly discovered and deciphered Elamite texts now await publication.

The Hittite

language, or as some propose, “Nésite,” is the oldest known Indo-European tongue. Strange as it may seem, cuneiform Hitt. was used simultaneously with another similar language, hieroglyphic Hitt., each written in its respective sign system. The signs, although based on the Sumero-Akkad. system, are quite distinct even though large numbers of Akkad. texts have been excavated from Hitt. sites. One peculiarity of the Hitt. usage is writing unvoiced consonants, t, p, and k doubled to indicate them as over against the voiced, d, b, and g which are written singularly. As with any syllabic system used for writing an Indo-European language with its consonant clusters, many vowels are written just to indicate the enclosed consonant and not for pronunciation. The results are long strings of syllables which defy pronunciation and must be carefully reduced to their actual phonetic transcription, e.g. har-ša-na-al-la—an-da-an = xarsanallantan “take (accusative participle)” or an-tu-uh-ša-an-na-an-za = antuxsanats “mankind (inflected).” The more formal Hitt. lit. such as royal inscrs. were based on Sumero-Akkad. models. In such a text words from three different languages will be mixed to produce one thought, e.g. SAG-du-an, which consists of the Sumerogram SAG = “head” plus the Akkad. phonetic complement which shows that the SAG is to be read as its Akkad. equivalent, qaqqadu, plus the Hitt. inflection an. The Hittites also continued the work of the ancient Sumer. scribal schools and added a Hitt. column to the lexical series.

1. Since the Hitt. empire was a confederacy of a number of petty states and related ethnic groups other lesser languages appear in the archives. One of them Proto-Hattian, Proto-Hittite or simply Hattian seems to have been used as a sacred cultic tongue and occurs only in certain ritual texts where inclusions in the language are preceded by the indicator hattili, “Hattian.” It is not related to Hitt. and is written out fully in the syllabic script with no logograms.

2. A fuller corpus of quotations exists in the Luwian language, which is similar in structure to Hitt. and is the actual tongue employed as “hieroglyphic” Hitt. Passages in the language are always preceded by the indicator, luwili, “Luwian.” As with Hattian it is written exclusively with the syllabic signs. A sub-dialect of Luwian developed into the language of the kingdom of Lycia around the watershed of the Lycus River in the area of Anatolia between Crete and Cyprus. The Lycians called their language, Treknemli, “Treknemlian” in the same fashion as these above.

3. The least known of the Hitt. empire’s polyglot dialects is Palaic introduced by the indicator, palaumnili, “Palaian” it is Indo-European in structure and was written exclusively with the syllabary some of which appears in figure 9.


unlike Hittite is the oldest known West Sem. language. It predates Biblical Heb. by nearly 1000 years. It was the first Sem. language to be set down in a purely alphabetic and phonographic script. The signs are based undoubtedly upon the mode and system involved in cuneiform and like cuneiform it was read from left to right. However, no one sign is equivalent to any Akkad. sign that can be determined. The alphabetic principle allows a still further reduction in the number of signs from the more than one hundred in the best syllabaries to only thirty signs. Here, however, an innovation takes place. It is in the nature of Sem. languages that verbs, nouns, adjectives and most other parts of speech can be interrelated through the use of roots which are formed from 1, 2 or 3 consonants. Usually these are triconsonantal and are invariable except for fluxions within specific logical norms. The vowels follow the consonantal patterns and are raised, dropped, heightened or muted in relation to their position and stress in the word. The result is that the spoken and written Sem. languages have many more cognates connected together than in the Indo-European languages, e.g. sentences like, “The smiter smote the smitten to a smithereen” are very common. The OT is filled with examples of precisely this type of formulation. Because of this characteristic the vowels may be wholly excluded in the semiotic system. This reduction of the phonographic transcription to strictly consonants is the basic factor underlying all shorthand systems ancient or modern. However the one difficulty in the Ugaritic system was the use and form of the aleph. In Proto-Sem. and all its derivatives there are a large number of glottal sounds. Usually three are predominant. These appear often at the initial position in words, as Sem. languages reject beginning words with vowels, e.g. the Gr. “Plato” became Aflat on in Medieval Judeo-Arabic and the new first letter was aleph. On the other hand Ugaritic like Akkad. and its dialects had the three long vowels, ā, ū, and e/ī and so it produced three different syllabic signs for aleph-a, aleph-u and aleph-i while reducing all the other signs to an alphabet. Upon close inspection it will be found that certain letters tend to come into frequent proximity with certain vowels so that in effect there is a sense in which the Ugaritic alphabet operates much like a syllabary and here and there throughout the body of Ugaritic lit. the consonantal signs occur in locations where they indicate vowels and vowel quantities. The order of the signs in the alphabet is: *a b g ẖ d h w z ḥ ṭ y m ḏ n ẕ s ’ p ṩ q r ṯ g t i s̱. A word divider and spacing for punctuation are regularly used. The habit of writing consonants and not vowels may have been an Egyp. innovation borrowed by the scribes of Ugarit as there was much political and cultural influence from Egypt in Ugaritic affairs. It is likely that the Sem. had eclecticized the best of the two writing systems, the consonantal economy of the Egyp. and the simplicity of signs found in the cuneiform. The Ugaritic sign list is seen in figure 9.


civilization flourished in the area of Lake Van in northern Anatolia from about 1100-600 b.c. Its language which is related to the Caucasian tongues is called Urarṭian or Vannic. The Urarṭian inscrs. are written in Neo-Assyrian cuneiform script with a large percentage of logographic writings. There are several important bilinguals.


is one of the oldest languages of the Near E. It was spoken by the inhabitants of the upper reaches of the Tigris and Euphrates as well as northern Syria-Palestine as early as the 2nd millennium b.c. It is this linguistic group which is suspected of being the cultural transmitters of Akkad. civilization to Syria-Palestine and Anatolia. Hurrian texts written in largely syllabic cuneiform with few logograms have been excavated from Hittite, Ugaritic and Mesopotamian sites. The Hurrians were known in the OT as Horites (Gen 14:6; et al.). Their tongue which is agglutinative, non-Indo-European and non-Sem. is written with a syllabic spelling and script which contains very few logograms. The actual form of the cuneiform signs conforms to the Peripheral Akkad. mentioned above. The central Hurrian kingdom was established in the region of the Middle and Upper Tigris and called Mitanni. The Mitannian state consisted of Hurrian commoners and Indo-European nobles which made it like the Hitt. a polyglot confederacy of different ethnic and linguistic groups.


is the dominant language of the Medo-Persian empire which came to dominate the Near E and Egypt in the 6th cent. b.c. The Persian empire had three official court languages, Old Persian, Elamite and Akkad., and it utilized Aram. for administrative communications. However, the Pers. cuneiform bears little resemblance to Akkad. It is a syllabary with less than a dozen logograms and determinatives added (see fig. 6) (Persian Language and Literature, q.v.). After the eclipse of Persia cuneiform declined rapidly. After the Alexandrian conquests and the founding of the Hel. kingdoms a brief renaissance of the script took place under the Seleucids. Even then it was not used for economic or business documents but only by the conservative pagan temple administrations. There are extant a few fragments of Sumero-Akkadian lexical texts which had been transliterated into uncial Gr. characters. In the cultural struggles which resulted from the advent of Christianity upon the scene again the pagan priesthood turned to cuneiform but by a.d. 75 the last documents on clay had been written and the knowledge of the script which went back in a direct tradition for 3200 years was forgotten. Probably no other event has so enlarged and altered our historical horizon than the decipherment and study of cuneiform texts.


Strictly speaking, the term hieroglyphic as coined by the Gr. historians refers only to the pictographic form of the Egyp. signs. However, in usage it has developed the added connotation of a mixed pictographic-logographic and syllabic script. The monumental carvings in which hieroglyphic inscrs. were often executed were never used except for functions of the religious state. Since the Pharaonic office was divine its speech and proclamations were set in an otherworldly genre. If, as is alleged, the slate palettes from Hieraconpolis do contain fully developed syllabic writing and not simply pictographs, then the origin of the Egyp. hieroglyphic must be put back to at least 3000 b.c. If not, which seems rather to be the case, then the Egyp. system must be dated back no earlier than 2900 b.c. It is generally assumed that the impetus for the invention of the Egyp. system came from Sumer. Many features are held in common. Essentially, the hieroglyphic system is a syllabary of the type mentioned above as a development from Sumerian. That is, one in which the consonants are rigid but the vowels are only vaguely expressed, e.g. in the Sumero-Akkad. syllabary where the AḤ sign also may be read: eḥ, iḥ or uḥ; in the Egyp. syllabary where no specific vowel is understood and a sign ka is actually kx, the x representing a, u, o, e or i so that the ka sign can be read as ka, ku, ko, ke or ki, as long as some vowel is pronounced. As with the Sumero-Akkad. syllabary, there are not only consonant-vowel and vowel-consonant signs, but also combinations. In fact, there are monoconsonantal, biconsonantal and triconsonantal signs. Needless to add, all of those above one element could have been reduced thus yielding an alphabet but in the long history of hieroglyphic writing this never occurred. Buried under the expanse of hundreds of signs there was a set of simple consonants plus the x or o element. They were: ’ í y c w b p f m n r h ḥ ẖ ẖ s š ḳ/q ḳ g ṯ t d ḏ. The biconsonantal signs were: c’ p’ h’ s’ t’ w’ m’ h’ š t b ḥ s signs were: c’ p h s t w m’ h’ š’ t’ b’ ḥ’ s’ k’ d’ mí (in three forms) ní tí c ’w íw nw rw ḥw ȟw sw šw dw ’b nb wp kp nm ḥm km gm tm ín wn mn nn ḥn hn sn šn ír wr pr mr nr rḥ hr dr bḥ pḥ mḥ nḥ ms ns gs ís ḥs ck sk mt ht st šd kd ḏd dd cd wḏ nḏ ḥd. It can easily be seen that the signs with glottals and the aleph predominate and these prob. also acted as the three alephs in Ugaritic as vowel indicators. The triconsonantal signs, since the Sem. words have three root consonants, are little different from logograms. Needless to add there were many of them appearing and being modified over the centuries. In one feature, the Egyp. system far outstripped the Sumer. and that was in the thousands of determinatives. These little pictographs are added to many words which have been spelled out syllabically so that there is in effect a redundance of both phonographic and semasiographic signs. Specimens of all types in the Middle Egyptian orthography are shown in figure 9. On close account all four sign types, syllabic, logographic, determinative and grammatical-diacriticals can be demonstrated in both the Sumer. and Egyp. writing systems. The theory of the two systems is identical. In the Old Kingdom period (2900-2160 b.c.) the epigraphic inscrs. are elaborately engraved and often colored attractively. The Pyramid Texts from this period have their own slightly variant dialect and signs. Unlike Akkad. Egyp. changed internally over the centuries so that new grammatical and syntactical features were added and old ones eliminated. Middle kingdom Egyp. developed from the Old kingdom system with some popular speech modifications. During the early part of this period (2000 b.c.) an inked form of the letters came into vogue. This sign system which could be more easily written on papyrus sheets and clay ostraca is called hieratic script. Late Egyp., a successor to the Middle kingdom Egyp., incorporated many new linguistic and syntactic features radically altering the future development of the language. By 700 b.c. a still more simplified form of hieratic had appeared which was not merely a semiotic variation but marked a new grammar, vocabulary and writing system. The last phase was the Coptic, which appeared after the Pers. conquest, 6th cent. b.c. It is written in a modified Gr. alphabet but still retains the basic system of the ancient syllabary. It is divided into four major dialects, Sahidic, Boharic, Fayyumic and Akhmimic. These utilize the same sign system, but show divergences in vocabulary and transcription due to colloquial variations in speech. However, on the basis of the Demotic and contemporary with the Coptic another script arose in the former Ethiopian dominions at the island of Meroë. There a double set of signs emerged, the one much like simplified hieroglyphic was used for epigraphic monumental inscrs.; the other far less complex was used on papyri and ostraca. Specimens of all the Egyp. scripts and their development are shown in figure 11. After the advent of Ptolemaic government (323 b.c.) hieroglyphic usage declined rapidly. Unlike cuneiform the hieroglyphic system was not borrowed directly by any other linguistic group. Only the Meroitic language, as yet still undeciphered, was written in it. Egypto-Meroitic reduced the system below the number of signs until prob. copying Gr. it developed a straightforward alphabetic script of only twenty-three signs, some of which were pure vowels. All the other derivative systems from hieroglyphic were indirect and only the W Sem. and Afro-Sem. have survived.


although usually written in its modified cuneiform, was in its dialectal variations written in a hieroglyphic script invented totally independently. Although the impetus may have come from Egyp., the forms of none of the signs are distinctly Egyp. The hieroglyphic Hitt. flourished between 1500 and 700 b.c. It developed several styles, an earlier pictographic style and a later stylized cursive system. It is a syllabary with some sixty signs. All of the signs are invariably of the consonant-vowel type which necessitated the writing of redundant and unpronounced sounds. Phoenician-hieroglyphic bilinguals have been found at Karatepe and other Turkish sites of former petty kingdoms of the 12th to 8th centuries b.c. The syllabary is shown in figure 9. The origins of the Hitt. syllabary are more than likely to be found in the Aegean area where still a third ancient writing system had appeared. Toward the end of the 3rd millennium b.c., the same migrations which had brought the Indo-Europeans into Iran and Anatolia caused a sweep of new peoples into the N shores of the Mediterranean Sea. In later centuries these epoch voyages would be remembered in the Homeric poems. The civilization thus founded is known as Minoan and flourished from 2400 to 1400 b.c. Attempts have been made to associate these Minoan inhabitants with the Ugaritic and Canaanite civilizations of the Syrian coast, but the evidence deduced is still highly controversial (C. H. Gordon, Evidence for the Minoan Language [1966]; M. C. Astour, Hellenosemitica [1965]).

West Semitic and Greek

Although the two language families represented by W Sem. (i.e Ugaritic, Canaanite, Phoen. and Heb.) and Gr. are quite distinct, the writing systems they employed over the millennia are dependent upon each other. In regard to the semiotic systems involved they must be considered as a unit.

Cretan pictographic,

or hieroglyphic is known from tablets discovered in Crete, at Knossos, Hagia Triada and elsewhere and at various sites on the Gr. peninsula proper. The characters may have developed from stamp seals and other ownership marks. Such seal impressions date back to about 2500 b.c., while the initial pictographic system of writing appears about 2000 b.c. in the early part of the cultural phase known as “Middle Minoan I.” There were two variations of this pictographic syllabary introduced, “A” in use from 2000-1875 b.c. and “B” 1875-1700 b.c. The Cretan people were merchant adventurers who established thalassocratic, maritime city states on the rocky shores of the islands and peninsulas of the E Mediterranean Sea. In time their commerce grew sufficiently to force a simplification of the elaborate pictographs. By 1700 b.c. the cultural phase known as “Middle Minoan III,” a simplified cursive script, had come into use and was, in turn, superseded by a still more abstract one. They are known as Linear “A” and “B” respectively. Only the Linear “B” has successfully been deciphered, although work and insight are presently bringing evidence of a “breakthrough” in the decipherment of Linear “A” and the Cretan pictographs. In all forms the Cretan system is a syllabary with a large number of logograms which double as determinatives. However there are some interesting peculiarities in Linear “B” which may also apply to the older forms. In certain diphthongs the vowel “i” is expressed, in others it is not while final position l, m, n, r and s in vowel-consonant syllables is omitted. There are less than a hundred signs in all which fit into a neat grid or table of vowels vs. consonants. The Linear “A” contains somewhat over eighty signs and what appear to be the logographic-determinatives. M. Ventris, a young British architect, proved in 1956 that the language of Linear “B” was Gr., strangely spelled, archaically written in syllabic forms which like Hittite cuneiform contained many redundancies and unpronounced vowels. The language of Linear “A” is most certainly not Gr. and there is little likelihood that it is any other Indo-European language. It remains to be seen if the scholar who equated it with Akkadian, Ugaritic or Phoenician will be justified by the final decipherment. The four classes of Cretan scripts are shown in figure 12. While Egyp. and hieroglyphic Hitt. retained the full form of the individual pictographs except for certain cursive adaptations, Cretan passed rapidly into a linear phase. On the other hand Late Egyp., esp. Meroitic, abstracted the signs according to an alphabetic principle. There is no indication that Cretan ever did. Later offshoots did develop from the Cretan system. In fact not a year goes by without some new texts being excavated written in an unknown derivative of the Cretan script. The chief ones are: Cypriote, a late Cypro-Minoan, Eteo-cretan and the script of Phaistos and Byblos. Specimens of some of these are shown in figure 12. The overall importance of the Cretan system in the history of writing is its rigid consonant-vowel syllabary and its reduction to simple linear signs which could be used alike for epigraphic inscrs. or inked on the more perishable papyrus and parchment.

Proto-Phoenician syllabic

is actually a theoretical construction of a system which served as intermediate between the E Sem.-Ugaritic on one hand and the Egyp. on the other. The earliest texts in Pal. yet known are problematic fragmentary inscrs. on potsherds dated by some to the late 18th and early 17th cent. b.c. and discovered at Gezer, Shechem and Lachish. They vary in form of characters from cursive pictographic reminiscent of the Aegean syllabaries to stark linear flowing cursives. It is important to note that this series of syllabic “experiments” took place during the Hyksos period when the nomadic tribes of the Near E and the settled petty kingdoms of the river valley civilizations were in constant conflict. The connection between these undeciphered Palestinian texts and the Paleo-Sinaitic fragments is only speculative. The fragments were inscribed by the Pharaonic expeditions sent to work the copper and turquoise mines of Serābiṭ el-H̱adem in the Sinai Peninsula. The inscrs. have just barely been deciphered but the principle upon which they are written is to use the initial sound of an Egyp. logogram as an independent letter or character with the x or o element as vowel. This is a great advance toward an alphabet, but it is not a full and complete step. A few samples of this writing appear in figure 13. It is evident that they are abstracted from the hieratic or late Egyp. hieroglyphic. A set of remotely similar texts has been found in the Egyp. Fayyum, the date of which is still under debate. From some one of these inscriptional systems or a derivative of them the oldest fully represented system, Old Phoenician, developed. The earliest complete and decipherable inscr. is the Byblian inscr. from the tomb of ’Aẖirâm, dated about the 12th cent. b.c. Byblos has produced other older writings but they must be classed with the Proto- and Paleo Pal. fragments mentioned earlier. The important fact is that a number of writing systems were in practice in Pal. 500 years before David was crowned and that any or all had been or could have been used for the Heb. language.


is the language of the ’Aẖirâm, inscr. and it continued to be one of the dominant languages of the Near E throughout the Hel. and Rom. period down to the Early Medieval period. The Phoen. system is a syllabary with the addition of some few vowel letters as the aleph which like its Ugaritic predecessor can be used as a vowel or consonant or both simultaneously. The thin line between syllabic writing and alphabetic writing is never crossed by the Phoen. system. The subject of North and South Sem. epigraphy is the study of the two great divisions of the scripts that developed from the Phoen. writing. A small number of complete Heb. inscrs. are known which are written in characters much like the Phoen. The earliest of these is the Gezer Calendar, a short seven line poetic composition relating the months of the agricultural year. It is dated to the 9th cent. b.c.

Old Hebrew,

then, is the script and language of the inscrs. which occurred before the Captivity under Babylon. It is similar to the linear Phoen. of its time. There is little doubt that the oldest copies of the Biblical books were written in such a character. South Sem. developed along different lines and soon became quite distinct. Its roots may go back to the Paleo-Sinaitic script as it is contained for a considerable period in the Arabian Peninsula. In the N part of the area there developed the Safaitic, Lihyanitic, Dedanitic, Thamudenic and other lesser known scripts. While in the S of the Arabian area there developed the Minaean, Sabaean, Himyaritic, Qatabanic and Hadramautic scripts. However, it was in Ethiopia that these developments came into their own.

South Arabian

is therefore a separate system of cursive offshoots of the general W. Sem. branch. By a.d. 300 these Arabian scripts had died out ultimately to be replaced by the classical Arab. writing system dispersed through the world by the rise and spread of Islam. Often scholars have assumed that in some way classical Arab. language and script had some influence or maintained some position relative to the Heb. of the Bible. This is, of course, untrue because of the simple fact that the earliest of all classical Arab. in the Meccan dialect appears some 500 years after the last book of the OT. Like Old Heb. and Phoen. the South Arabian scripts were essentially syllabaries wherein the consonants contained an x or O element of indeterminate vocalic value. The proof is in the fact that when exported by the Arab merchants to the E coast of the Red Sea and the E coast of central Africa these same scripts developed into full-fledged syllabaries with clearly identified vocalic signs. Had they been true alphabets this would have been an impossible reversion to a more primitive condition. Ethiopic, the official language of the Christian kingdom of Axum in the Early Medieval period, is better known as Ge’ez, the ritual tongue of the Ethiopian Coptic church. It was developed from a S Arabian dialect with an E African substrate. The writing system is a derivative of the Sabaean script which contained twenty-nine characters. With some editions it is the modern script in which the manifold Sem. languages of Ethiopia are written. The official one is Amharic but the same applies to Tigré, Tigrin̂a, Harari, Gafat, Guragé and Argobba and a host of lesser dialects. The Sabaean script and the Ge’ez appear in figure 14.


is an E Sem. language closely associated with Akkad. in its middle period. It was one of the dialects which developed after the E Sem. peoples began to advance W. Its origins can certainly be traced to the Amorite tongue which had wide dispersion throughout the area of Mesopotamia and Syria-Palestine sometime before the 2nd millennium b.c. From 1750 b.c. on, E Sem. in the form of Amorite and the W Sem. languages can be distinguished from textual remains. Certainly by 1400 b.c. Hebrew, Phoen. and Aram. were all distinct from one another.

1. After the establishment of the First Commonwealth there were a number of dialects recognizable in Pal. proper: Heb., Phoen., Aram., Moabite and some S Arab. derivatives. All the N and W dialects were written in the Phoen. script. However, it appears that it was the Aram. that introduced the familiar square script. This was one of the common administrative languages of the Pers. empire and Daniel, Ezra and Nehemiah all were schooled in it as their books abundantly prove. This has been called “the Persian chancellery hand” (F. M. Cross, “The Development of the Jewish Scripts,” The Bible and the Ancient Near East [1961], 136ff.) and the evidence of the DSS and Elephantine Papyri shows the rapid spread of this “square script” throughout the area of the W Sem. languages. Since Syria-Palestine was under a series of foreign administrations from the Hel. age until the brief revolts which brought about the Rom. conquest, it stands to reason that not only the speech but also the writing would be affected. One of the most important of these effects was the addition of vowel indicators to the previously x or O element. This began before the Christian era and continued rapidly afterward until the Aram. and Heb. script was in fact a full alphabet. The various systems of signs called “pointings” or “vowel signs” came together in the Medieval renaissance of Jewish learning first in Babylon where the Talmud was written and later after the Arab conquest in Spain. As the Judeo-Arab scholars of Spain studied the Heb. grammar it was brought more and more into accord with the work of the Arab. grammarians.

2. In time, Aram. ceased to be spoken in its original form and passed into Syriac and its later Christian dialects. Syriac has been written in several different writing systems including Aram. “square script” and Arab. cursive. An off-shoot of this development is Mandaean, the language of a quasi-Jewish sect of Iran which developed its own “square script.” After the division of the Rom. empire and the founding of the Oriental Gr. church the Nestorian missionaries went to Asia and Eurasia with the Christian message. Their Syriac script became the first alphabetic system to be used for many Ural-Altai languages such as Soĝdian. Syriac inscrs. have been located on stone stele in Western China as early as the 7th cent. a.d.

3. In accord with the diacritical vowel systems utilized in Aram. and Heb. the derivative systems added them after the 1st cent. a.d. and when it rose to be the dominant power in the Near E the Islamic culture adopted the practice resulting in the complex set of vowel signs used in Arab. and all the scripts of the Afro-Asian world which it affected. Since both the Heb. Bible and the Arab. Quran contained prohibitions against the making of “graven images” and “likenesses” the script itself became an artistic and ornamental device. The carved wooden screens and lattices of much of the Islamic golden age are covered with hundreds of running scrolls of Arab. script. In the same fashion the Heb. alphabet was made an end in itself and covered in rich symmetry the silver and gold vessels of the Medieval synagogue. Contemporary to this fanciful artistic usage of the script there arose an interpretation of the alphabet as a message in and of itself. This notion of the Heb. script as the subject of magical and mystical interpretation produced a vast folklore of the text and even vowel pointings of the OT. Because the characters were also used as numbers a florid numeristics developed. In time the actual history of the Heb. text was forgotten along with the traces of its numerous VSS and textual traditions. To the rabbinate of the late Medieval and Early Modern periods the Heb. text stood with all of its massoretic notes, a vast monolithic construction with little evidence of its long and dramatic historical background in view. When the study of the Heb. language and lit. were revived in the Renaissance, J. Reuchlin (1455-1522) and his followers had little choice but to begin with the myths and legends of the Jewish tradition. As late as the 17th cent. a.d. Heb. scholars such as the Swiss Buxtorfs firmly believed in the originality and inflexibility of the vowel points, and discus sions about their importance to the doctrines of inspiration and inerrancy were commonplace. The Heb. writing system is one of the oldest still in use and the only Sem. character to survive the Hel. age. It is also the most economic with only twenty-two signs. In the Rom. period, the Phoen. language degenerated into a vernacular N African dialect used in Carthage and called Punic and in its final decline, Neopunic. This tongue was written with the standard Phoen. characters in its early phase but came under the influence of Aram. and the square script. However, a system of using the old gutturals and glottals as pure and simple vowel signs was introduced. Thus aleph became “a,” ’ayin “e,” and waw served for “us,” yod for “i.” The result was a short and highly efficient alphabet in the fullest phonographic sense. In time Medieval Heb. followed the same processes and produced the Yiddish character system which reproduces and transcribes the phonetics of Ger. in Heb. square script by using certain of the old signs for purely vocalic equivalents. The shades of meaning and nuances of words in the Heb. Bible are inextricably bound up with the excellent though ancient writing system, the vehicle and component of God’s Word written. The Heb. syllabary comprises vertical communication at its highest and most important form, and, in doing so has had a profound influence on Western civilization.


as noted above, was first set down in an elaborate and uneconomical syllabary which later developed into a highly cursive and abstract form. Interestingly enough the classical authors of Athens and Ionia never mention this early nearly hieroglyphic phase of the writing of Gr. The Gr. traditions are unanimous in presenting the Gr. script as derived from the Phoen. However just when and where this great cultural transmission took place is not at all clear. Between the syllabic script of Linear “B” on the Pylos tablets and the earliest full-fledged alphabetic inscrs. from Greece proper there is only about 450-500 years from 1200 b.c. to or after 750 b.c. In this period there is little evidence extant and none showing the stages of development. In the oldest Gr. alphabetic inscrs. the forms of b g d l m n and r are the same as in some types of Phoen. Since the same phonemes are found in both Gr. and the Sem. languages the sounds are doubtless identical. The direction of all the derivatives of the W Sem. writing systems is right to left and indeed the oldest known Gr. inscrs. such as the Athenian Dipylon vase inscr. read from right to left. By the end of the 9th cent. b.c. the Phoen. characters had been adopted by Gr. speaking cities on the Attic peninsula and the islands off W Anatolia. These individual adoptions caused the proliferation of a variety of forms of the script. Texts from the 6th cent. b.c. are often written in a peculiar left to right then right to left manner known as Gr. bōūstrophedon, “as an ox plows a field” (fig. 16). The sounds of the Gr. language which did not occur in Sem. were indicated by newly invented signs and among these were the full set of vowels. The initial sign of the Sem. systems, aleph, was utilized as the sound of “a” and the name alpha was retained. The Phoen. and Heb. gutt ural “ḥ”/“h,” was utilized as “e” and termed eta, while the ancient ’ayin, was used for “o” and termed omicron, “short/little ‘o’” while the Sem. yōd was used for “i” and renamed iōta. The fact that the names of both alphabetic systems are so similar and yet only etymologically explicable from a Sem. origin and that when vowel signs are used in Sem. texts it is these very signs which occur prove the Phoen. derivation of the Gr. system. The difficult consonant clusters were at first written out as ks, later xi; ps, psi; kh, chi; ph, phi and the long vowel Ō, called omega, “long/large ‘o’.” There is evidence from the older Ionic poets and even Homer that this was the case and such spellings are seen on epigraphic monuments. In time the different forms of the letters became unified and standardized by commerce and association between the Gr. states. Some more difficult letters used to transcribe dialectic differences dropped out completely, as digamma, formed much like the modern capital “F” and pronounced “w/v”; koppa, formed like an “O” with a long line below it vertically much like a lollipop. Still another discarded letter was the samphi, a sibilant of unknown value. However since all the Sem. and Gr. characters doubled as integers in the number system these old signs were kept as numbers. Athens formally accepted the Ionian script of Miletus in 403 b.c. and it is probable that other members of the leagues and organizations of the time did likewise. The final classical script of twenty-four signs, the world’s first full and complete alphabet, had thus been formed. All modern characters of the Romance, Slavonic and Germanic types are derived from this source. In the ce nturies up to the rise of the Rom. empire the Gr. alphabet took several forms and it was one of the first to be actually designed in an artistic sense. The result was a fine reserved epigraphic style for monuments and staid formal use called uncial and a freeflowing cursive or running hand called minuscule. With the preciseness of the mechanistic worldview which underlay much of Attic culture, attempts were made to indicate diacritical markings to simulate and transcribe the numerous tones, elisions and pitch changes inherent in the best classical Gr. The three classical accent marks, the acute, grave and circumflex were added in the 2nd and 3rd Christian centuries by the scholars of Byzantium. Early, classical and uncial/minuscule characters are shown in figure 15. So completely did the Gr. of the Hel. age become the communication medium of the common people that its use in the gospels and subsequent NT writings was both providential and natural. So well fitting to the cosmopolitanism of the evangel that John could without qualification summarize the omnipresence and eternality of the glorified Christ with the simple words, “I am the Alpha and the Omega” (Rev 22:13).

Writing in the Scriptures

Old Testament

as a term encompasses first and foremost an inscribed record, a written book. It is unnecessary to posit a long tradition of oral transmission as the OT locates meaning not simply in the existential moment but in the eternal written. Even Abraham in the 2nd millennium would have observed five distinct and complete writing systems commonly in use in the cultural milieu about him. The OT contains oral statements, sermons, conversations and other direct utterances but it is primarily a written record. The OT uses several words for the concept of writing. Many of these are tr. in more than one way in the Eng. VSS., usually as “letter” (q.v.). The common word “to write” is כָּתַב, H4180. It is cognate to Ugaritic ktb, a noun formed from it, and a cognate in Arab., kitab/p, is found all over the Afro-Asian language scene as it is used as a euphemism for the Quran. The word in Heb. apparently means both engraved epigraphic writing and inked penmanship. Its use is not restricted to one area of the OT nor to the people of Israel alone. The training and organization of the scribal trade is not mentioned in the OT but by analogy to the other peoples of the time it is safe to assume that there were specific individuals who made their living as “public stenographers” and who held a position of authority and prominence in Israel. Frequently in the historical books scribes are summoned, called, ordered or dismissed so they must have been a common adjunct to the Royal and religious offices. As the old classical Heb. became less commonly spoken, and Aram. speaking peoples were added to the Israelite dominions by the Maccabees and Hasmonaeans, the reading of either an Aram. translation of the OT or an on the spot interpretation became commonplace in the synagogue. It is prob. for this reason that Christ in His passion on the cross quoted the Aram. VS of Psalm 22:1 (Matt 27:46).

New Testament.


Note: the bibliography follows the sections by number.

Expression and Communication

F. G. Kenyon, Ancient Books and Modern Discoveries (1927); Th. W. Danzel, Die Anfänge der Schrift (1929); O. Schrader, “Schreiben und Lesen,” Reallexikon der indogermanische Altertumskunde (1929), 338-353; M. Burrows, What Mean these Stones? (1941); C. Loukotka, Vyvoj písma [Development of Writing, in Czech.] (1946); D. Diringer, The Alphabet, A Key to the History of Mankind, 2nd. ed. (1949); I. J. Gelb, Writing (1952), this article is heavily dependent upon Prof. Gelb’s pioneering study.; S. H. Hooke, “Reading and Writing,” A History of Technology, I (1954); C. Higounet, L’écriture (1955); J. F. Friedrich, Extinct Languages (1957); M. Cohen, La grande invention de l’ écriture et son évolution (1958); H. Jensen, Die Schrift in Vergangenheit und Gegenwart (1958); P. E. Cleator, Lost Languages (1959); H. Hoenigswald, Language Change and Linguistic Reconstruction (1960); D. Diringer, Writing (1962); Y. Bar-Hillel, Language and Information (1964); H. Hornung, “Schrift,” Lexikon der Alten Welt (1965), 2726-2734; L. Pareti, History of Mankind, II (1965), U.N.E.S.C.O. 57-107; W. F. Albright and T. O. Lambdin, “The Evidence of Language,” The New Cambridge Ancient History, I, iv (1966) cf. author’s review, WTJ, May 1967, XXIX, No. 2, 196-199; M. McLuhan, Understanding Media (1966).

The Origin of Vertical Communication

F. Bork, Die Strichinschriften von Susa (1924); C. Frank, “Elam Schrift,” Reallexikon der Vorgeschichte, III (1925), 83ff.; J. Marshall, Mohenjo-Daro and the Indus Civilization, 3 vols. (1931); B. Hrozny, “Inschriften and Kultur der Proto-Inder...,” Archiv Orientalní, 12 (1941), 13 (1942); E. Edel, Altäqyptische Grammatik (1955); M. Wheeler, The Indus Civilization (1962); W. Hinz, “Zur Entzifferung der elamischen Strichschrift,” Iranica Antiqus, 2 (1962), 1ff.; A. H. Gardiner, The Egypt of the Pharaohs (1965); V. Popovitch, “Une Civilization Eqéo-Orientale surle le Moyen Danube,” Rëvue Archéologique, 2 (1965) 1-56; M. S. F. Hood, “The Tartaria Tablets,” Antiquity, 41 (1967), No. 162, 99-113; and “The Tartaria Tablets,” Scientific American, May (1968), 30-37; E. Neustupny, “The Tartaria Tablets, A Chronological Issue,” Antiquity, 42 (1968), No. 165, 32ff.


F. Thureau-Dangin, Recherches sur l’origine de l’écriture cuneíforme (1898); G. A. Barton, The Origin and Development of Babylonian Writing, 2 vols. (1913); F. Thureau-Dangin, Le syllabaíre Akkadienne (1926); F. W. Köning, Corpus inscriptionum Elamicarum (1928); A. Deimal, Keilschrift-Palaeographie (1929); F. Thureau-Dangin, Les homophones Sumeriens (1929); E. H. Sturtevant and G. Bechtel, A Hittite Chrestomathy (1935); A. Falkenstein, Archaische Texte aus Uruk (1936); E. Unger, Keilschrift-Symbolik (1940); E. A. Speiser, Introduction to Hurrian (1941); A. Deimel, Sumerisches Lexikon, I 3d. ed. (1947); R. Labat, Manuel d’ épigraphie Akkadienne (1948); W. von Soden, Das akkadische Syllabar (1948); G. G. Cameron, Persepolis Treasury Tablets (1948); I. J. Gelb, Old Akkadian Writing and Grammar, M. A. D. 2 (1952); I. M. Dyakonov, “A Comparative Historical Survey of Urartean and Hurrite,” Problems of Hitto-Hurrology (1961); C. H. Gordon, Ugaritic Textbook (1965).


F. L. Griffith, Meroitic Inscriptions (1912); A. H. Gardiner, “The Nature and Development of the Egyptian Hieroglyphic Writing,” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, 2 (1915), 61ff.; A. Erman, Die Hieroglypnen (1917); G. Möller, Hieratische Paläographie, 3 vols. (1927); W. F. Albright, The Vocalization of the Egyptian Syllabic Orthography (1934); F. Lexa, Grammaire démotique (1947-1951); W. Till, Koptische Grammatik (1955); W. Till, “Vom Wesen der ägyptischen Schrift,” Die Sprache, 3 (1956), 207ff.; A. H. Gardiner, Egyptian Grammar, 3rd. ed. (1957); H. Kees, S. Schott, H. Brunner, E. Otto and S. Morenz; Ägyptische Schrift und Sprache (1959); E. Laroche, Les hiéroglyphes hittites, pt. 1 (1960); P. Meriggi, Hieroglyphisch-Hethitisches Glossar (1962).

West Semitic and Greek

M. Lidzbarski, Ephemeris für semitische Eqigraphik, 3 vols. (1902-1915); A. J. Evans, Scripta Minoa, 2 vols. (1909 and 1952); H. Hirschfeld, “The Dot in Semitic Paleography,” JQR n.s. 10 (1919), 159-183; A. Ungnad, Das Wesen des Ursemitischen (1925); S. Yevin, “The Palestino-Sinaitic Inscriptions,” Palestine Exploration Quarterly (1937), 80-193; F. V. Winnett, A Study of Lihyanite and Thamudic Inscriptions (1937); N. Abbott, The Rise of the North Arabic Script and its Kur’ãnic Development (1939); Z. S. Harris, Development of the Canaanite Dialects (1939); F. R. Blake, “The Development of Symbols for Vowels in the Alphabets derived from Phoenician,” JAOS, lx (1940), 391ff.; M. Höfner, Altsüdarabische Grammatik (1943); C. Brockelmann, Abessinische Studien (1950); J. Friedrich, Phonizisch-punische Grammatik (1951); C. Rabin, Ancient West-Arabian (1951); E. Ullendorff, “Studies in the Ethiopic Syllabary,” Africa, 21 (1951), and The Semitic Languages of Ethiopia (1955); O. Hoffman and A. Debrunner, Geschichte der griechischen Sprache, 2 vols. (1953, 1954); F. M. Cross, “The Evolution of the Proto-Canaanite Alphabet,” BASOR (1954), No. 134; C. Brockelmann, Syrische Grammatik, 7th. ed. (1955); M. Ventria and J. Chadwick, Documents in Mycenaean Greek (1956); S. Birnbaum, The Hebrew Scripts, Fasc. 1-4 (1957); I. J. Gelb, “New Evidence in Favor of the Syllabic Character of West Semitic Writing,” Bibliotheca Orientalis, 15 (1958), 1ff.; L. R. Palmer, “Luvian and Linear ‘A’,” Transactions of the Philological Society (1958), 75ff.; W. C. Brice, Inscriptions in the Minoan Linear Script of Class A (1961); W. L. Moran, “The Hebrew Language in its Northwest Semi tic Background,” The Bible and the Ancient Near East (1961), 57ff.; S. Morag, The Vocalization Systems of Arabic, Hebrew and Aramaic (1962); A. F. L. Beeston, A Descriptive Grammar of Epigraphic South Arabian (1962); J. Chadwick, “The Prehistory of the Greek Language,” The New Cambridge Ancient History, II, xxxix (1963); ed. S. Moscati, An Introduction to the Comparative Grammar of the Semitic Languages (1964); R. Hauschild, Die Indogermanischen Völker und Sprache Kleinasiens (1964); G. E. Weil, Initiation à la Massorah (1964); H. B. Huffman, Amorite Personal Names in the Mari Texts (1965); A. Murtonen, Early Semitic (1967).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)



1. Definition

2. Inward Writing

3. Outward Writing


1. Object Writing

2. Image Writing

3. Picture Writing

4. Mnemonic Writing

5. Phonetic Writing




1. Clay

2. Stone

3. Lead

4. Bronze

5. Gold and Silver

6. Wood

7. Bones and Skins

8. Vellum

9. Papyrus

10. Paper

11. Ink


1. The Roll

2. The Codex


1. Writers

2. The Writing Art


1. Mythological Origins

2. Earliest Use

3. Biblical History


I. General.

1. Definition:

Writing is the art of recording thought, and recording is the making of permanent symbols. Concept, expression and record are three states of the same work or word. Earliest mankind expressed itself by gesture or voice and recorded in memory, but at a very early stage man began to feel the need of objective aids to memory and the need of transmitting a message to a distance or of leaving such a message for the use of others when he should be away or dead. For these purposes, in the course of time, he has invented many symbols, made in various ways, out of every imaginable material. These symbols, fixed in some substance, inward or outward, are writing as distinguished from oral speech, gesture language, or other unrecording forms of expression. In the widest sense writing thus includes, not only penmanship or chirography, but epigraphy, typography, phonography, photography, cinematography, and many other kinds of writing as well as mnemonic object writing and inward writing.

Writing has to do primarily with the symbols, but as these symbols cannot exist without being in some substance, and as they are often modified as to their form by the materials of which they are made or the instrument used in making, the history of writing has to do, not only with the signs, symbols or characters themselves, but with the material out of which they are made and the instruments and methods by which they are made.

2. Inward Writing:

The fact that memory is a real record is well known in modern psychology, which talks much of inward speech and inward writing. By inward writing is commonly meant the inward image or counterpart of visual or tangible handwriting as distinguished from the inward records of the sound of words, but the term fairly belongs to all inward word records. Of these permanent records two chief classes may be distinguished: sense records, whether the sense impression was by eye, ear, finger-tip or muscle, and motor records or images formed in the mind with reference to the motion of the hand or other organs of expression. Both sense records and meter records include the counterparts of every imaginable kind of outward handwriting.

We meet this inward writing in the Bible in the writing upon the tablets of the heart (Pr 3:3; 7:3; Jer 17:1; 2Co 3:3), which is thus not a mere figure of speech but a proper description of that effort to fix in memory which some effect by means of sound symbols and some by the sight symbols of ordinary handwriting.

It has also its interesting and important bearing on questions of inspiration and revelation where the prophet "hears" a voice (Ex 19:19; Nu 7:89; Re 19:1,2) or "sees" a vision (2Ki 6:17; Isa 6; Am 7:1-9) or even sees handwriting (Re 17:5). This handwriting not only seems "real" but is real, whether caused by external sound or vision or internal human or superhuman action.

3. Outward Writing:

Outward writing includes many kinds of symbols produced in various ways in many kinds of material. The commonest kind is alphabetical handwriting with pen and ink on paper, but alphabetic symbols are not the only symbols, the hand is not the only means of producing symbols, the pen is not the only instrument, and ink and paper are far from being the only materials.

The ordinary ways of human expression are voice and gesture. Corresponding to these there is an oral writing and a gesture writing. For the recording of vocal sounds various methods have been invented: direct carving or molding in wax or other material, or translating into light vibrations and recording these by photograph or kymograph. Both phonographic and photographic records of sounds are strictly oral writing.

The record of gestures by making pictures of them forms a large fraction of primitive picture writing (e.g. the picture of a man with weapon poised to throw) and the modern cinematography of pantomime is simply a perfected form of this primitive picture writing.

Handwriting is simply hand gesture with a mechanical device for leaving a permanent record of its motion by a trail of ink or incision. In the evolution of expression the imitation of human action tends to reduce itself to sign language, where both arms and the whole body are used, and then to more and more conventionalized hand gesture. This hand gesture, refined, condensed and adapted to mechanical conditions, and provided with pencil, chisel, or pen and ink, is handwriting. Its nature is precisely analogous to that of the self-registering thermometer or kymograph.

Nearly all the great body of existing written documents, save for the relatively few modern phonographic, kymographic and other visible speech records, is handwritten, the symbols being produced, selected, arranged, or at least pointed out, by the hand. Even the so-called phonetic writing, as usually understood, is not sound record but consists of hand-gesture symbols for sounds.

II. The Symbols.

Among the many kinds of outward signs used in writing the best known are the so-called Phoenician alphabet and its many derivatives, including the usual modern alphabets. Other well-known varieties are the wedge system of Assyria and Babylonia, the hieroglyphic systems of Egypt and Mexico, the Chinese characters, stenographic systems, the Morse code, the Braille system, the abacus, the notched stick, the knotted cord, wampum and twig bundles. These, however, by no means exhaust the list of signs which have been used for record or message purposes; e.g. colored flags for signaling, pebbles, cairns, pillars, flowers, trees, fishes, insects, animals and parts of animals, human beings, and images of all these things, have all served as record symbols in writing.

The various symbols may be grouped as objects and images, each of these classes divided again into pictorial or representative signs and mnemonic or conventional signs, mnemonic signs again divided into ideographic and phonetic, and phonetic again into verbal, syllabic (consonantal), and alphabetic. This may be represented graphically as follows:


(1) Pictorial

(2) Conventional (Mnemonic)

(a) Ideographic (Eye Images)

(b) Phonetic (Ear Images)

(i) Verbal

(ii) Syllabic

(iii) Consonantal

(iv) Alphabetic


(1) Pictorial

(2) Conventional (Mnemonic)

(a) Ideographic

(b) Phonetic

(i) Verbal

(ii) Syllabic

(iii) Consonantal

(iv) Alphabetic

Objects may be whole objects (a man) or characteristic parts (human head, arm, leg) or samples (feather or piece of fur). The objects may be natural objects or artificial objects designed for another purpose (arrow), or objects designed especially to be used as writing symbols (colored flags). Images include images of all these objects and any imaginary images which may have been invented for writing purposes.

Pictorial or representative signs are distinguished from mnemonic or conventional signs by the fact that in themselves they suggest the thing meant, while the others require agreement beforehand as to what they shall mean. The fact, however, that the symbol is a picture of something does not make it pictorial or the writing picture writing. It is pictorial, not because it is a picture, but because it pictures something. The fact, e.g., that a certain symbol may be recognized as an ox does not make of this a pictograph. If it stands for or means an ox, it is a pictograph; if it stands for "divinity," it may be called an ideograph, or if it stands for the letter a it is phonetic, a phonogram.

The key to the evolution of writing symbols is to be found in a law of economy. Object writing undoubtedly came first, but man early learned that the image of an object would serve as well for record purposes and was much more convenient to handle. True picture writing followed. The same law of economy led to each of the other steps from pictorial to alphabetic, and may be traced in the history of each kind and part. Every alphabet exhibits it. The history of writing is in brief a history of shorthand. It begins with the whole object or image, passes to the characteristic part, reduces this to the fewest possible strokes which retain likeness, conventionalizes these strokes, and then, giving up all pretense of likeness to the original symbol, and frankly mnemonic, it continues the process of abbreviation until the whole ox has become the letter "a" or perhaps a single dot in some system of stenography.

Object writing is not common in the phonetic stage, but even this is found, for example, in alphabetical flags for ship signaling. The actual historical evolution of writing seems to have been object, image-picture, ideogram. phonogram, syllable, consonant, letter. All of these stages have some echoes at least in the Bible, although even the syllabic stage seems to have been already passed at the time of Moses. The Hebrew Old Testament as a whole stands for the consonantal stage and the Greek New Testament for the complete alphabetic--still the climax of handwriting, unless the evolution of mathematical symbols, which is a very elaborate evolution of ideographic handwriting, is so regarded.

Although probably not even a single sentence of the Hebrew Bible was written in ideographic, picture, or object handwriting, many documents which are used or quoted by Biblical writers were written by these methods, and all of them are repeatedly implied. In a number of cases full exegesis requires a knowledge of their nature and history. A certain number of scholars now believe that the Pentateuch was originally written in cuneiform, after the analogy of the circumstances shown by the Tell el-Amarna Letters. In this case of course there would still be traces both of the syllabic and ideographic, but theory is improbable.

1. Object Writing:

The most primitive writing was naturally pictorial object writing. When the hunter first brought home his quarry, this had in it most of the essential elements of modern handwriting. Those who remained at home read in the actual bodies the most essential record of the trip. When, further, the hunter brought back useless quarry to evidence his tale of prowess, the whole essence of handwriting was involved. This was whole-object record, but object abbreviations soon followed. Man early learned that skins represented whole animals (the determinative for "quadruped" in Egyptian is a hide), and that a reindeer’s head or antlers, or any characteristic part, served the simple purpose of record just as well as the whole object, and this method of record survives in a modern hunting-lodge. The bounty on wolves’ scalps and the expression "so many head of cattle" are similar survivals. In war, men returning hung the dead bodies of their enemies from the prows of their triumphal ships or from the walls of the city, and, in peace, from the gibbet, as object lessons. They soon learned, however, that a head would serve all practical purposes as well as a whole body, and the inhabitants of Borneo today practice their discovery. Then they discovered that a scalp was just as characteristic and more portable, and the scalp belt of the American Indian is the result. The ancient Egyptians counted the dead by "hands" carried away as trophies. Both objects and images tend thus to pass from the whole object to a characteristic part, then to the smallest characteristic part: from the tiger’s carcass or stuffed tiger to the tiger’s claw or its picture. The next or mnemonic step was taken when the simplest characteristic part was exchanged for a pebble, a twig, a notched stick, a knot, or any other object or image of an object which does not in itself suggest a tiger.

The pictorial object writing had an evolution of its own and reached a certain degree of complexity in elaborate personal adornment, in sympathetic magic, the medicine bag, the prayer stick, pillars, meteoric stones, etc., for worship, collections of liturgical objects, fetishes, votive offerings, trophies, etc.

It reached a still higher order of complexity when it passed into the mnemonic stage represented by the abacus, the knotted cord, the notched stick, the wampum, etc. The knotted cord may be recognized in the earliest hieroglyphic signs, is found still among primitive people, and its most famous example is the, Peruvian quipu. It still survives in the cardinal’s hat and the custom of knotting a handkerchief for mnemonic purposes. It is found in the Bible in a peculiarly clear statement in the mnemonic "fringes" of Nu 15:37-41 (compare De 22:12). The notched stick is equally old, as seen in the Australian message stick, and its best-known modern example is the tally of the British Exchequer. The abacus and the rosary are practically the lineal descendants of the pebble heap which has a concrete modern counterpart in the counting with pebbles by Italian shepherd boys. It is possible that the notched message stick has its echo in Jud 5:14 (military scribe’s staff); Nu 17:1-10 (Aaron’s inscribed rod), and all scepters (rods of authority) and herald’s wands.

2. Image Writing:

It was a very long step in the history of handwriting from object to image, from the trophy record to the trophy image record. The nature of this step may perhaps be seen in the account of the leopard-tooth necklace of an African chief described by Frobenius. In itself this was merely a complex trophy record--the tribal record of leopards slain. When, however, the chief took for his own necklace the actual trophy which some members of the tribe had won, while the hunter made a wooden model of the tooth which served him as trophy, this facsimile tooth became an image record. This same step from object to image is most familiar in the history of votive offerings, where the model is substituted for the object, the miniature model for the model, and finally a simple written inscription takes the place of the model. It is seen again in sympathetic magic when little wax or clay images are vicariously buried or drowned, standing for the person to be injured, and taking the place of sample parts, such as the lock of hair or nail-parings, etc., which are used in like manner by still more primitive peoples.

3. Picture Writing:

It was another long step in the evolution of symbols when it occurred to man that objects worn for record could be represented by paint upon the body. The origin of written characters is often sought in the practice of tattooing, but whatever truth there may be in this must be carried back one step, for it is generally agreed and must naturally have been the fact that body painting preceded tattooing, which is a device for making the record permanent. The transition from the object trophy to the image on the skin might easily have come from the object causing a pressure mark on the skin. There is good reason to believe that the wearing of trophies was the first use of record keeping.

It is of course not proved that body ornaments or body marks are the original of image writing or that trophies are the earliest writing, nor yet that models of trophies or votive offerings were the first step in image writing. It may be that the first images were natural objects recognized as resembling other objects. The Zuni Indians used for their chief fetishes natural rock forms. The first step may have been some slight modification of natural stone forms into greater resemblance, such as is suggested by the slightly modified sculptures of the French-Spanish caves. Or again the tracks of animals in clay may have suggested the artificial production of these tracks or other marks, and the development of pottery and pottery marks may have been the main line of evolution. The Chinese trace the origin of their symbols to bird tracks. Or again smear marks of earth or firebrand or blood may have suggested marks on stone, and the marked pebbles of the Pyrenean caves may have reference to this. Or yet again the marks on the animals in the Pyrenean caves may have been ownership marks and point back to a branding of marks or a primitive tattooing by scarification.

Whatever the exact point or motive for the image record may have been, and however the transition was made, the idea once established had an extensive development which is best illustrated by the picture writing of the American Indians, though perhaps to be found in the Bushmen drawings, petroglyphs, and picture writing the world over. It is almost historic in the Sumerian and the Egyptian, whose phonetic symbols are pictographic in origin at least and whose determinatives are true pictographs.

4. Mnemonic Writing:

The transition from pictorial to conventional or mnemonic takes place when the sign ceases to suggest the meaning directly, even after explanation. This happens in two ways: (1) when an object or image stands for something not directly related to that naturally suggested, e.g., when a stuffed fox stands for a certain man because it is his totem, or an ox’s head stands for divinity or for the sound "a," or when the picture of a goose stands for "son" in the Egyptian because the sounds of the two words are the same; (2) when by the natural process of shorthanding the object or image has been reduced beyond the point of recognition. Historically, the letter a is ox (or goat?); actually it means a certain sound.

When this unrecognizable or conventional sign is intended to suggest a visual image it is called an ideogram, when an ear picture, a phonogram. Anybody looking casually over a lot of Egyptian hieroglyphics can pick out kings’ names because of the oval line or cartouche in which they are enclosed. This cartouche is ideagraphic. On the other hand the pictures of a sun, two chicks, and a cerastes within the cartouche have nothing to do with any of these objects, but stand for the sounds kufu--who is the person commonly known as Cheops. This is phonetic. Both old Babylonian and Egyptian show signs of picture origin, but the earliest Babylonian is mainly ideographic, and both developed soon into the mixed stage of phonetic writing with determinatives.

5. Phonetic Writing:

Phonetic writing seems to have developed out of the fact that in all languages the same sound often has many different meanings. In English "goose" may mean the fowl or the tailor’s goose. In Egyptian the sound "sa" or "s", with a smooth breathing, means "goose" or "son," and the picture of a goose means either.

Whether the word-sign is an ideogram or a phonogram is a matter of psychology. Many modern readers even glimpse a word as a whole and jump to the visual image without thinking of sounds at all. To them it is an ideagram. Others, however, have to spell out the sounds, even moving their lips to correspond. To them as to the writer it is a phonogram. The same was true of the ancient picture or ideagraphic sign. The word-sign was ideagram or phonogram according to intention or to perception.

With the transition to syllabic writing, record became chiefly phonetic. The transition was made apparently by an entirely natural evolution from the practice of using the same word-sign for several different objects having the same sound, and it proceeded by the way of rebus, as shown in Mexican and Egyptian hieroglyphics.

Syllabic writing implies a symbol for every monosyllable. It was a great step therefore when it was discovered that the number of sounds was small and could be represented by individual symbols, as compound words could by syllable signs. At first only consonants were written. In the Semitic languages vowels were at first not written at all--possibly they were not even recognized, and one might use any vowel with a particular combination of consonants. However that may be, what many prefer to call consonantal writing seems to have existed for 2,000 years before the vowels were recognized and regularly introduced into the Phoenician alphabet. It is at this stage that alphabetic writing, as usually reckoned, began.

See Alphabet.

Phonetic consonantal writing has now been in use some 5,000 years and strict alphabetic writing some 3,000 years, almost to the exclusion of other forms. The characters in use today in several hundred alphabets are probably the historical descendants, with accumulation of slight changes through environment, of characters existing from near the beginning.

Alongside the development of the historic system of symbols, there has been, still within the field of alphabetic writing for the most part, a parallel line with multitudes of shorthand and cryptographic systems. An equally great multitude of code systems are in effect phonetic words or sentences and cryptographically or otherwise used for cable or telegraph, diplomatic letters, criminal correspondence and other secret purposes.

III. Methods.

Roughly speaking, the ways of making symbols, apart from the selection of the ready-made, may be reduced to two which correspond to art in the round or in three dimensions and art in the flat or in two dimensions. The former appeals to eye or touch, affording a contrast by elevation or depression, while the latter produces the same effect by contrasting colors on a flat surface.

Written symbols in three dimensions are produced either by cutting or by pressure. In the case of hard material superfluous matter is removed by sculpture, engraving or die cutting. In the case of plastic or malleable material, it is modeled, molded, hammered or stamped into the required form. To the first form belongs the bulk of stone inscriptions, ancient metal inscriptions, scratched graffiti, wax tablets, etc., to the later clay tablets, votive figurines, seal impressions, hammered inscriptions, minted coins, also molded inscriptions, coins and medals, etc. Several of the Hebrew and Greek words for writing imply cutting (chaqaq, charaT, charash, etc.; grapho).

Symbols in two dimensions are produced either by drawing or printing, both of which methods consist in the applying of some soft or liquid material to a material of a contrasting color or cutting from thin material and laying on. Drawing applies the material in a continuous or interrupted line of paint, charcoal, colored chalk, graphite, ink or other material. Its characteristic product is the manuscript. This laying on is implied, as some think (Blau, 151), in the commonest Hebrew word for writing (kathabh). Tattooing (De 14:1; Le 19:28, etc.), embroidery (embroidered symbolic figures, Ex 28:33,34) and weaving belong in this class (embroidered words in Palestine Talmud 20a, quoted by Blau, 165).

Printing consists in laying the contrasting color on by means of stencil or pressure, forming symbols in two dimensions at one stroke. Perhaps the most primitive form of printing is that of the pintadoes, by which the savage impresses war paint or other ceremonial forms on his face and body. Branding also belongs in this class (Ga 6:17, figuratively; 3 Macc 2:19; branding on the forehead, Code of Hammurabi, section 127; branding a slave, Code of Hammurabi, sections 226, 227).

These processes of cutting, molding, drawing and printing roughly correspond with inscriptions, coins, medals, seals, manuscripts, and printed documents--epigraphy, numismatics, sigillography, chirography, typography.

IV. Instruments.


The Hebrew term translated "weight of lead" in Zec 5:8, and "talent of lead" is precisely equivalent to the Greek term for the circular plate of lead (kuklomolibdos) used for ruling lines, but something heavier than the ruling lead seems meant.

Erasure or blotting out is called for in Nu 5:23, and often figuratively (Ex 32:32,33; Re 3:5, etc.). If writing was on papyrus, this would call for the sponge rather than the penknife as an eraser, but the latter, which is used for erasure or for making reed pens, is referred to in Jer 36:23. For erasing waxed surfaces the blunt end of the style was used certainly as early as the New Testament times. Systematic erasure when vellum was scarce produced the palimpsest.

V. Materials.

The materials used in writing include almost every imaginable substance, mineral, vegetable, and animal: gold, silver, copper, bronze, clay, marble, granite, precious gems, leaves, bark, wooden planks, many vegetable complexes, antlers, shoulder-blades, and all sorts of bones of animals, and especially skins. The commonest are stone, clay, metal, papyrus, paper and leather, including vellum, and all of these except paper are mentioned in the Bible. Paper too must be reckoned with in textual criticism, and it was its invention which, perhaps more even than the discovery of printing with movable type, made possible the enormous multiplication of copies of the Bible in recent times.

1. Clay:

Whatever may be the fact as to the first material used for record purposes, the earliest actual records now existing in large quantities are chiefly on clay or stone, and, on the whole, clay records seem to antedate and surpass in quantity stone inscriptions for the earliest historical period. After making all allowances for differences in dating and accepting latest dates, there is an immense quantity of clay records written before 2500 BC and still existing. About 1400 or 1500 BC the clay tablet was in common use from Crete to the extreme East and all over Palestine, everywhere, in short, but Egypt and it seems perhaps to have been the material for foreign diplomatic communications, even in Egypt. Hundreds of thousands of these tablets have been dug up, and undoubtedly millions are in existence, dug or undug. These are chiefly of Mesopotamia. The most famous of these tablets were for a long time of the later period from the library of Ashurbanipal at Nineveh. See Library of Nineveh. Recently, however those from Tell el-Amarna in Egypt, Boghaz-keui in the Hittite country, and a few from Palestine itself vie with these in interest. Most of these tablets are written on both sides and in columns ruled in lines. They measure from an inch to a foot and a half in length and are about two-thirds as wide as they are long. Many of these tablets, the so-called "case tablets," are surrounded with another layer of clay with a docketing inscription. See Tablets. Other clay forms are the potsherd ostraca; now being dug up in considerable quantities in Palestine Ezekiel (4:1) and perhaps Jeremiah (17:13) refer to this material.

See Ostraca.

2. Stone:

Stones were used for record before image writing was invented--as cairns, pillars, pebbles, etc. Many of the early and primitive image records are on the walls of caves or on cliffs (Bushmen, American Indians, etc.). Sometimes these are sculptured, sometimes made by charcoal, paint, etc. The durability rather than the more extensive use of stone makes of these documents the richest source for our knowledge of ancient times. Besides natural stone objects, stone pillars, obelisks, statues, etc., stone-wall tablets, the sides of houses and other large or fixed surfaces, there are portable stone-chip ostraca and prepared tablets (tablets of stone, Ex 24:12; 31:18). These latter might be written on both sides (Ex 32:15). Job seems to refer to stone inscriptions (19:24). The famous trilingual inscription of Behistun which gave Rawlinson the key to the Assyrian was on a cliff and refers to King Darius (Rawlinson, Life, 58 ff, 142 ff). Two of the most famous of stone inscriptions are the Rosetta Stone, which gave the key to the Egyptian hieroglyphics, and the Moabite Stone (W. H. Bennett, Moabite Stone, London 1911), and both have some bearing on Jewish history. An especially interesting and suggestive stone inscription is the Annals of Thutmose III of Egypt, about 1500 BC, inscribed on the walls of the temple at Karnak. This gives a long account of campaigns in Syria and Palestine (Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, 163-217). The Siloam Inscription, and in general all the recently discovered inscriptions of Palestine, have their more or less important bearings on Biblical history (Lidzbarski, Handb. and Ephem.). Moses provided (De 27:2-8) for writing the Law on stone (or plaster), and Joshua executed the work (Jos 8:21,32).

Another form of record on stone is the engraving of gems, which is referred to in Ex 28:9,11,21; 39:6,14, etc., and possibly Zec 3:9.

3. Lead:

One of the commonest materials, on account of the ease of engraving, probably, is lead. Used more or less for inscriptions proper, it is also used for diplomatic records and even literary works. It was very commonly used for charms in all nations, and is referred to in Job (19:24), where it perhaps more likely means a rock inscription filled with lead, rather than actual leaden tablets. For the text of Ps 80 on lead see Gardthausen, p. 26. Submergence curses were usually of lead, but that of Jer 51:62 seems to have been of papyrus or paper (compare W. S. Fox in American Journal of Phil., XXXIII, 1912, 303-4).

4. Bronze:

Bronze was used for several centuries BC, at least for inscribed votive offerings, for public records set up in the treasuries of the temples and for portable tablets such as the military diplomas. In the time of the Maccabees public records were engraved on such tablets and set up in the temple at Jerusalem (1 Macc 14:27). There were doubtless many such at the time when Jesus Christ taught there.

5. Gold and Silver:

Gold and silver as writing material are most commonly and characteristically used in coins and medals. References to money, mostly silver money, are numerous in the Old Testament, but these are not certainly coins with alphabetic inscriptions. In New Testament times coins were so inscribed, and in one case at least the writing upon it is referred to--"Whose is this image and superscription?" (Mt 22:20). The actual inscription and the actual form of its letters are known from extant specimens of the denarius of the period.

See Money.

The use of the precious metals for ordinary inscriptional purposes was, however, frequent in antiquity, and the fact that rather few such inscriptions have survived is probably due to the value of the metal for other purposes. The Hittite treaty of Khetasar or Chattusil engraved on silver and sent to the king of Egypt, has long been known from the Egyptian monuments (translation in Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, III, 165-74), and recently fragments of the Hittite version of this treaty have been discovered at Boghaz-keui (Winckler, MDOG, XXXV, 12 ff). This has very close relations to Biblical history, whether it was made before or after the Exodus. The famous Orphic gold tablets (Harrison, "Orphic Tablets," in Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion, 573-600, 660-74) have a bearing on a comparative study of Biblical doctrine. Direct reference to engraving on gold is found in the account of the inscription on the high priest’s miter (Ex 28:36). Writing on the horns of the altar is referred to in Jer 17:1, and these horns too were of gold (Ex 30:3). Queen Helena of Adiabene is said to have presented an inscribed gold tablet to the temple at Jerusalem (Blau, 67). The golden shrines of Ptolemy V--with their inscribed golden phylacteries--are mentioned on the Rosetta Stone.

Silver, and more especially gold, have also been very extensively used for the laying on of contrasting colors, either furnishing the background or more often the material laid on. The history of chrysography is a long and full one (Gardthausen, I, 214-17; Blau, 13, 159-63). The standard copy of the Old Testament at Jerusalem, which was loaned to Alexandria, was apparently in gold letters (Josephus, Ant, XII, ii, 10) (see Septuagint), and many of the famous Biblical manuscripts of the Middle Ages were written wholly or in part with gold, either laid on as gold leaf or dissolved and used as an ink or paint (Gardthausen, 216).

6. Wood:

Leaves of trees were early used for charms and writing. Some of the representations of writing on the Egyptian monuments show the goddess of writing inscribing the leaves of growing trees. Jewish tradition (Tosephta’ Gittin 2 3-5; Mishna, Gittin 2 3, etc., quoted by Blau, 16) names many kinds of leaves on which a bill of divorcement (De 24:1,3) might or might not be written. Reference to the use of leaves is found in early Greek, Latin, and Arabic sources--and they are still used in the East.

Bark also has often been used: both liber in Latin and "book" in English, according to some, are thought to refer to the bark of the lime or beech tree, and birch bark was a common writing material among the American Indians. It is in the form of wrought wood, staves, planks or tablets however, that wood was chiefly known in historical times. These wood tablets were used in all early periods and among all nations, especially for memorandum accounts and children’s exercises. Sometimes the writing was directly on the wood, and sometimes on wood coated with wax or with chalk. See Tablets. Writing on staves is referred to in Nu 17:2. Mr 15:26 seems perhaps to imply that the "superscription" of the cross was on wood, unless Joh 19:19 contradicts this.

Woven linen as a writing substance had some fame in antiquity (libri lintei), and many other fibers which have been used for woven or embroidered writing are, broadly speaking, of wood. So too, in fact, when linen or wood is pulped and made into paper, the material is still wood. Most modern writing and printing is thus on wood. See ''''10, below.

7. Bones and Skins:

Diogenes Laertius (vii.174) tells that Cleanthes wrote on the shoulder-blades of oxen, but he was preceded by the cave-dwellers of the Neolithic age, who wrote on reindeer horns and bones of many kinds (Dechelette, Archeological Prehistory, 1908, 125, 220-37, et passim). Ivory has often been used and was a favorite material for tablets in classical times. The Septuagint translates "ivory work" of So 5:14 as "ivory tablets." Horns are given in late Hebrew (Tosephta’, quoted by Blau, 16) as a possible material for writing. They have been used at all times and are well illustrated in modern times by the inscribed powder horns.

The hides of living animals have served for branding, and living human skin for painting, branding and tattooing extensively in all lands and all times. The literature of ceremonial painting and tattooing is very extensive, and the branding of slaves was common in many lands.

See Printing.

The use of skins prepared for writing on one side (leather) was early and general, dating back as far at least as the IVth Dynasty of Egypt. The Annals of Thutmose III in Palestine were written on rolls of leather. Its use was common also in Persia (Diodorus ii.32; Herodotus v.58; Strabo xv.1), and it was a natural universal material. It has been much used by modern American Indians. It was the usual material of early Hebrew books, and the official copies at least of the Old Testament books seem always to have been written on this material (Blau, 14-16), and are so, indeed, even to the present day.

8. Vellum:

Vellum is simply a fine quality of leather prepared for writing on both sides. The autographs of the New Testament were most likely written on papyrus, rather than leather or vellum, but most of the earliest codices and all, until recent discoveries, were on this material, while very few of the long list of manuscripts on which the New Testament text is founded are on any other material. This material is referred to as parchment by Paul (2Ti 4:13). Almost every kind of skin (leather or vellum) has been used for writing, including snake skin and human skin. The palimpsest is secondhand or erased vellum, written upon again.

See Parchment; Parchments.

9. Papyrus:

Papyrus was not only the chief of the vegetable materials of antiquity, but it has perhaps the longest record of characteristic general use of anything except stone. The papyrus was made from a reed cultivated chiefly in Egypt, but having a variety found also in Syria, according to Theophrastus. The papyrus reed grows in the marshes and in stagnant pools; is at best about the thickness of one’s arm, and grows to the height of at most from 12 to 15 feet. It was probably a pool of these papyrus reeds ("flags") in which Moses was hidden (Ex 3:3), and the ark of bulrushes was evidently a small boat or chest made from papyrus reeds, as many of the Egyptian boats were. These boats are referred to in Isa 18:2.

Papyrus was made by slicing the reed and laying the pieces crosswise, moistening with sticky water, and pressing or pounding together. The breadth of the manufactured article varied from 5 inches, and under, to 9 1/4 in., or even to a foot or a foot and a half. The earliest Egyptian papyrus ran from 6 to 14 in. Egyptian papyri run to 80, 90 and even 135 ft. in length, but the later papyri are generally from 1 to 10 ft. long. The use of papyrus dates from before 2700 BC at latest.

Many Bible fragments important for textual criticism have been discovered in Egypt in late years. These, together with the light which other papyri throw on Hellenistic Greek and various paleographical and historical problems, make the study of papyri, which has been erected into an independent science, one of very great importance as to Biblical history and Biblical criticism (compare Mitteis u. Wilcken, Grundzuge .... d. Papyruskunde, Leipzig, 1912, 2 volumes in 4). It has been argued from Jer 36:23 that the book which the king cut up section by section and threw on the fire was papyrus. This argument is vigorously opposed by Blau (14, 15), but the fact of the use of papyrus seems to be confirmed by the tale that the Romans wrapped the Jewish school children in their study rolls and burned them (Ta`anith 69a, quoted by Blau, 41). Leather would have been poor burning material in either case. Certainly "papyrus" is freely used by the Septuagint translators and the word biblion is (correctly) translated by Jerome (Tobit 7:14) by charta. It is referred to in 2 Joh 1:12, "paper and ink," as the natural material for letter-writing.


10. Paper:

The introduction of paper was from Western Asia, possibly in the 8th century, and it began to be used in Europe commonly from the 13th century. While few Western manuscripts of any importance are on paper, many of the Eastern are. It was the invention of paper, in large measure, which made possible the immense development in the multiplication of books, since the invention of printing, and the enormous number of Bibles now in existence.

11. Ink:

Of the many materials used in order to lay one contrasting color on another, the flowing substances, paint and ink, are the most common. In general throughout antiquity the ink was dry ink and moistened when needed for writing. Quite early, however, the liquid inks were formed with the use of gall nut or acid, and many recipes and formulas used during the Middle Ages are preserved. See INK, INK-HORN. The reading of a palimpsest often depends on the kind of ink originally used and the possibility of reviving by reagents.

VI. Forms.

The best known ancient forms of written documents are the tablet or sheet, the roll, the diploma and the codex. These may be analyzed into one-face documents and many-faced documents--page documents and leaf documents. The roll, the diploma and the usual folding tablet or pleated document are forms of the one-page document, while the codex or bound book (English "volume") is the typical leaf document. The roll is the typical form of the Old Testament, the codex of the New Testament, extant manuscripts.

A book as regards its material form consists of a single limited surface suited for writing, or a succession of such surfaces. This single surface may be the face of a cliff or house wall, a broken piece of pottery, a leaf, a sheet of lead, papyrus, vellum or paper, a tablet of clay, stone or wood, a cylinder, prism, cone, pyramid, obelisk, statue or any one of the thousands of inscribed objects found among votive offerings. The typical form is the flat surface to which the term "tablet" or "sheet" is applied, and which is called "page" or "leaf" according as one or both surfaces are in mind.

These single flat leaves are characteristically quadrilateral, but may be of any shape (circular, oval, heart-shaped, etc.) or of any thickness, from the paper of an Oxford Bible or equally thin gold foil up to slabs of stone many inches thick.

When the document to be written is long and the sheet becomes too large for convenient handling, space may be gained by writing on both sides or by making still larger and either folding or rolling, on the one hand, or breaking or cutting up into a series of smaller sheets, on the other. This folding or rolling of the large sheet survives still in folded or rolled maps and the folded or rolled documents (diplomas) of medieval and modern archives. The use of the tablet series for long works instead of one overgrown tablet was early--quite likely as early as the time of actual writing on real "leaves."

These smaller tablets or sheets were at first, it would seem, kept together. by numbering (compare Dziatzko, Ant. Buchw., 127), catchwords, tying in a bundle, or gathering in a small box (capsa). This has indeed its analogy with the mnemonic twig bundle of object writing. The Pentateuch gets its name from the five rolls in a box, jar, or basket (Blau, 65; Birt, Buchrolle, 22).

The next step in the evolution of book forms was taken when the various leaves or sheets were fastened to each other in succession, being strung, pasted or hinged together.

The stringing together is as early and primitive as the leopard-tooth trophy necklace of the African chief or the shell and tooth necklaces of quaternary Europe (Dechelette, Arch., 208-9). It was perhaps used with annual tablets in the first dynasties of Egypt and is found in oriental palm-leaf books today.

1. The Roll:

The roll consists normally of a series of one-surface sheets pasted or sewed together. Even when made into a roll before writing upon, the fiction of individual tablets was maintained in the columns (deleths, Jer 36:23 = "doors"). It was the typical book form of antiquity. It was commonly of leather, vellum, papyrus, and sometimes of linen, It might rarely be as much as 135 ft. long X 1 1/2 ft. wide for papyrus, and leather rolls might be wider still. It was the form traditionally used by the Hebrews, and was undoubtedly the form used by our Lord in the synagogue. It is still used in the synagogue. It was possibly the form in which the New Testament books also were written, but this is much more doubtful.

The roll form is rounded on the one-surface tablet, and, as a matter of fact, neither leather nor papyrus was well suited to take ink on the back; it developed from the sewing together of skins and the pasting together of sheets of papyrus. Although papyrus is found written on both sides, it is in general not the same document on the back, but the old has been destroyed and utilized as waste paper. This writing on both sides of the roll (opisthography) is referred to in Eze 2:10 (Re 5:1), where the roll is written within and without.

2. The Codex:

Wood and metal tablets, not being flexible, could not be rolled, but were hinged and became diptychs, triptychs, polyptychs. The typical method of hinging these tablets in Roman times was not the codex or modern book form proper, where all are hinged by the same edge, but a folding form based on a series of one-surface tablets hinged successively so as to form a chain (Gardthausen, Greek Palestine, I, 129, figure 12). They were strictly folding tablets, folding like an accordion, as in some Far Eastern manuscripts of recent times. The modern hinging was used but rarely.

It is commonly said that it was this folding or hinged wooden tablet which produced the codex of the Latins and the "book" of modern Germanic races. Some, however, prefer to trace the origin to the folded document. The wood or waxed tablet was commonly used in antiquity for letters, but even more commonly the sheet of papyrus or vellum. It is quite natural to fold such a sheet once to protect the writing. Whether this was suggested by the diptych, or vice versa, the form of a modern sheet of note paper was early introduced. Either the diptych or the folded single sheet may have suggested the codex.

Whether the first codices were wood and metal or papyrus and vellum, the hinging at one edge, which is the characteristic, is closely connected with the double-face (or multiple-face) tablet. With suitable material the simplest way of providing space, if the tablet is too small, is to turn over and finish on the back. The clay tablets lend themselves readily to writing on both sides, but not to hinging. It developed, however, to a certain degree the multiple-face idea by use of prisms, pyramids, hexagonal and other cylinders, but it was early forced into the numbered series of moderate-sized tablets.

Wood and metal tablets would be hinged, but the wood tablets were too bulky and metal tablets too heavy for long works, and the ring method of joining actually led away from the book to the pleated form. Papyrus and leather, however, while they might be used (as they were used) as single tablets were thin enough to allow of a long work in a single codex. They soon developed, therefore, perhaps through the folded sheet, into the codex proper and the modern bound book. The codex, as Thompson remarks, was destined to be the recipient of Christian literature, as the papyrus roll had been the basis of the pagan literature, and there is some evidence to show that the form was, historically, actually developed for the purposes of the Christian writings, and in papyrus, while the pagan papyri continued to be in roll form. Since the invention of the codex is placed at the end of the 1st century, and the earliest codices were especially the New Testament writings, there is a certain possibility that at least the historical introduction of the codex was in the New Testament books, and that its invention comes perhaps from combining the New Testament epistles on papyrus into a volume. In the West at least the roll is, however, the prevailing form of the New Testament until the 3rd or 4th centuries (Birt, Buchrolle, passim).

VII. Writing.

1. Writers:

The chief Hebrew words for the professional "writer" are copher and shoTer, both akin to Assyrian words for "writing" and used also for kindred officers. The word copher seems closely connected with the cepher, "book," and with the idea of numbering. This official is a military, mustering or enrolling officer (Jud 5:14; 2Ch 26:11; 2Ki 25:19), a numbering or census officer for military purposes or for taxation (Isa 33:18)--and a royal secretary (2Sa 8:17).

The two terms are often, however, used together as of parallel and distinct offices (2Ch 26:11; 34:13). If any such distinction can be made, it would seem that the copher was originally the military scribe and the shoTer the civil scribe, but it is better to say that they are "evidently .... synonymous terms and could be used of any subordinate office which required ability to write" (Cheyne in EB). There seem to have been at least 70 of these officers at the time of the Exodus, and by inference many more (Nu 11:16), and 6,000 Levites alone in the time of David (1Ch 23:4) were "writers."

Another kind of professional scribe was the Tiphcar (Jer 51:27, "marshal"; Na 3:17 margin), or tablet writer, a word apparently directly borrowed from the Assyrian. This too seems to be a real synonym for both of the other words. In brief, therefore, all three terms mean scribe in the Egyptian or Assyrian sense, where the writer was an official and the official necessarily a writer.

Still another word, rendered in the Revised Version (British and American) as "magicians," is rendered in its margin as "sacred scribe" (charTom). This word being derived from the stilus recalls the close connection between the written charm and magic. None of these words in the Old Testament refers directly to the professional copyist of later times whose business was the multiplication of copies.

Sayce argues from the name Kiriath-sepher that there was a university for scribes at this place, and according to 1 Chronicles (2:55) there were Kenite families of professional scribes at Jabez.

The professional scribe, writing as an amanuensis, is represented by Baruch (Jer 36:4) and Tertius (Ro 16:22), and the calligraphist by Ezra (Ezr 7:6). In later times the scribe stood for the man of learning in general and especially for the lawyer.

2. The Writing Art:

Writing in the Hebrew as in Semitic languages in general except Ethiopic is from right to left and in Greek from left to right as in modern western usage. On the one hand, however, some Sabean inscriptions and, on the other hand, a number of early Greek inscriptions are written alternately, or boustrophedon, and suggest the transition from Semitic to western style. The earlier Greek manuscripts did not separate the words, and it is inferred from text corruptions that the earliest Hebrew writing did not. As early as the Mesha and Siloam inscriptions, the dot was used to separate words, and the vertical stroke for the end of a sentence. Vowel points were introduced somewhere from the 5th to the 8th centuries AD by the Massoretes, but are not allowed even now in the synagogue rolls. Some of the inscriptions employ the Palestinian or Tiberian system of vowel points, and others the Babylonian (above the line). Accents indicate not only stress but intonation and other relations. Very soon after Ezra’s day, and before the Septuagint translation, the matter of writing the Biblical books had become one of very great care, the stipulations and the rules for careful correction by the authorized text being very strict (Blau, 185-87). The manuscripts were written in columns (doors), and a space between columns, books, etc., was prescribed, as also the width of the column. All books were ruled. Omitted words must be interlined above. The margins were frequently used for commentaries. For size, writing on the back, etc., see above, and for the use of abbreviations, reading, punctuation, etc., see Blau, Gardthausen, Thompson, the Introductions to textual criticism and the articles on textual criticism in this Encyclopedia.

VIII. History of Biblical Handwriting.

1. Mythological Origins:

Mythologically speaking the history of handwriting dates from the beginning when the Word created the heavens. The firmament is a series of heavenly tablets, the hand writing of God, as conceived by the tablet-using Babylonians, or a scroll in the thought of prophets, the New Testament writers, and the rabbis. Whether the idea that "the heavens declare the glory of God," etc. (Ps 19:1-4), refers to this notion or not, it was one extensively developed and practiced in the science of astrology. In any event the doctrine of the Creator-Word reaches deep into the psychology of writing as a tangible record of invisible words or ideas, and this philosophizing stretches some 3,000 years or so back of the Christian era.

For writing among the gods in the mythologies of non-Biblical religions, see Book; Libraries.

2. Earliest Use:

When and why the very simplest kind of writing began to be used has been the subject of much conjecture. The Encyclopedia Britannica (11th edition) (XVI, 445) suggests that "the earliest use .... of inscribed or written signs was for important religious and political transactions kept by priests in temples," but the memorial pillar is older than the temple, and the economic or social record is perhaps older than the sacred, although this is less clear. Three things seem rather probable:

(1) that the first records were number records, (2) that they concerned economic matters--although it is not excluded that the occasion for first recording economic matters was religious, (3) that they were not used memorially for important transactions, but rather as utilitarian or business records.

The original mnemonic record was probably a number record. The Hebrew words for "book" and "word" both seem to mean a setting down of one thing after another, and various words in various other languages point in the same direction, as do also in a general way the nature of the primitive situation and the evidences of history. Many of the oldest records are concerned with numbers of animals. Immense quantities of very old Sumerian records are simply such lists, and the still earlier cave drawings (whether they have numbers or not) are at least drawings of animals. One use of the primitive quipu was for recording sales of different kinds of animals at market, and the twig bundle and notched records are in general either pure number records or mnemonic records with a number base. What these animal records were for is another matter. If they were records of ownership for mere tally purposes (a natural enough purpose, carrying back even to hunting trophies) the use was purely economic, but as a matter of fact the early Babylonian lists seem generally to have been temple records, and even the cave records are commonly thought to be associated with religion. The early Egyptian lists too have religious associations, and the somewhat later records are largely concerned with endowment of temples or at least temple lists of offerings--votive offerings or sacrifices. This points perhaps to a religious origin and possibly leads back to the very first felt need of records for a tithing for religious purposes. But it may equally lead to the sharing of spoils socially rather than religiously, although the history of the common meal and sacrifice shared by worshippers points to a very early religious sanction for the problem of equitable sharing of spoils, and it may have been precisely at this point and for this purpose that number record was invented. However that may be, the evidence seems to point to a number-record origin even back of the cave drawings (which are said to be chiefly of domestic rather than wild animals) at a period variously figured as from 6,000 or 8,000 years ago, more or less, to millions of years ago.

3. Biblical History:

The pseudepigraphic books of the Old Testament variously represent writing as invented and first practiced by Yahweh, Adam, Cain, or Seth. Taking the Biblical narrative as it stands, the earliest allusion to true writing is the sign of Cain (Ge 4:15), if indeed this refers to a body mark, and particularly if it has analogy with the "mark upon the forehead" of the Book of Revelation (17:5; compare 13:16; 14:1) and the tattoo marks of ownership or tribal marks of primitive tribes, as is thought by many.

The setting of the rainbow as a permanent sign (Ge 9:12-17) for a permanent covenant is quite in line with the recognized mnemonic writing. Noah’s building of an altar had the same character if it was built for a permanent memorial. More obviously akin to this primitive form of writing was, however, the dedication of a memorial altar or pillar as a memorial of a particular event in a particular place, as in Jacob’s pillar (Ge 28:18,22).

For perhaps 2,000 years before Abraham, image writing had been practiced in both Babylonia and Egypt, and for more than 1,000 years a very highly developed ideographic and phonetic writing had been in use. There were millions of cuneiform documents existing in collections large and small in Babylonia when he was there, and equal quantities of hieroglyphic and hieratic papyri, leather and skin documents in Egypt when he visited it.

See Book; Libraries; HAMMURABI, CODE OF.

Abraham himself presumably used cuneiform writing closely parallel to the writing on Hammurabi’s statue. A similar script was presumably also used by his Hittite allies. In Egypt he met with the hieroglyphics on the monuments, but for business and common use the so-called hieratic cursive forms were already developed toward, if not well into, the decided changes of the middle hieratic period (circa 2030-1788 BC; compare Moller, Hierat. Palaeog., VI, 1909, 3, etc.). It is a question whether the boundary heap, which Laban "called" the heap of witness in Aramaic and Jacob by the same name in Hebrew, was inscribed or not, but, if inscribed, both faces or lines of the bilingual inscription were presumably in cuneiform characters. The cuneiform remained, probably continuously, the prevailing script of Syria and Palestine until about 1300 BC, and until, some time well before 1000, the old Semitic alphabet began to be employed.

The question of the relation of the writing in Mosaic times and in the time of the Judges to the cuneiform or the hieratic on the one side and the alphabet on the other is too much mixed up with the question of the Pentateuch to allow of much dogmatizing. Some scholars are convinced that the Pentateuch was written in cuneiform characters if not in the Babylonian language. The old Semitic-Greek, "Phoenician," alphabet was, however, probably worked out in the Palestinian region between 1400 and 1100 BC (wherever the Hebrews may have been at this time), and it remained the Hebrew writing until the introduction of the square characters.

See Alphabet.

At the beginning of the Christian era there had been a long period of the use of Greek among the educated, and long before the New Testament was written there was a large body of Palestinian-Greek and Egyptian-Greek literature. Latin for a time also had been used, more or less, officially, but the Aramaic, development of whose forms may be well traced from about 500 BC in the inscriptions and in the Elephantine papyri, was the prevailing popular writing. Greek remained long the language of the educated world. It was after 135 AD that R. Simeon ben Gamaliel was said to have had 500 students in Hebrew (New Hebrew) and 500 in Greek (Krauss, III, 203).

Latin, Greek, and Aramaic (New Hebrew) characters were all needed for the inscription on the cross. Hebrew had at this time certainly passed into the square form long enough ago to have had yodh pass into proverb as the smallest letter (jot) of the alphabet (Mt 5:18). Through the abundance of recent papyrus and inscriptional discoveries, it is now possible to trace the history of the varying forms of the bookhand and cursive Greek letters, and even of the Latin letters, for several centuries on either side of the year of our Lord and up to the time of the longer known manuscripts (see works of Gardthausen and Thompson). One may get in this way a good idea of how the most famous of all trilingual inscriptions may have looked as to its handwriting--how in fact it probably did look, jotted down as memorandum by Pilate, and how transcribed on the cross, assuming that Pilate wrote the Roman cursive (Thompson, facsimile 106 (AD 41), 321), and the clerks a fair epigraphic or rather for this purpose perhaps bookhand Greek (Thompson, facsimile 8 (AD 1), 123; Latin, facsimile 83 (AD 79), 276). See Title.



Edward Clodd, Story of the Alphabet, New York, 1912 (popular); Fritz Specht, Die Schrift u. ihre Entwicklung, 3. Ausg., Berlin, 1909 (popular); I. Taylor, History of the Alphabet, London, 1899, 2 volumes, 8vo; H. Wuttke, Geschichte der Schrift, Leipzig, 1874-75 (rich and comprehensive on primitive writing); Philippe Berger, Histoire de l’ecriture dans l’antiquite, 2nd edition, Paris, 1892; Karl Paulmann, Illustrirte Geschichte der Schrift, Wien, 1880 (uncritical but comprehensive and very useful for illus.); W. M. Flinders Petrie, The Formation of the Alphabet, 1912.


Leo Frobenius, The Childhood of Man, Philadelphia, 1908 (casual but useful aggregation of primitive examples); Frederick Webb Hodge, ed., Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico, Washington, 1907-10, 2 volumes (dictionary form); G. Mallery, Smithsonian Inst. Reports, IV (1882-83), 3-256, X (1888-89), 1-822; M. Beuchat, Manuel d’archeologie americaine, Paris, 1912; M. H. Kingsley, Travels in West Africa, London, 1897; R. E. Dennet, At the Back of the Black Man’s Mind, 1906; A. W. Howitt, Native Tribes of South-East Australia, London, 1904 (especially chapter xi); E. C. Richardson, The Beginnings of Libraries, London and Princeton, 1914.


Dechelette; Archeologie prehistorique. 1908; Arthur J. Evans, Scripta Minoa, Oxford, 1909; Angelo Mosso, The Dawn of Mediterranean Civilization, London, 1910.

Hebrew, Greek and Latin:

Frederic G. Kenyon, Our Bible and the Ancient manuscripts, 3rd edition, London, 1898; George Milligan, The New Testament Documents, 1913, Ludwig Blau, Studien zum althebraischen Buchwesen, Strassburg, 1902 (scholarly; first rank); Leopold Loew, Graphische Requisiten und Erzeugnisse bei den Juden, Leipzig, 1870-71, 2 parts; Samuel Krauss, Talmudische Archaologie, Leipzig, 1910-12, 3 volumes, III, 131-239, 300 ff (full critical notes and references); Mark Lidzbarski, Handbuch d. nordsemitischen Epigraphik, 1902-8 (also Ephemeris); Alvin Sylvester Zerbe, Antiquity of Hebrew Writing and Literature, Cleveland, 1911 (controversial); V. Gardthausen, Griechische Palaeographie, 2nd edition, Leipzig, 1911-13, 2 volumes (remarkable for comprehensiveness, exhaustive bibliographic reference and critical scholarship); Sir Edward Maunde Thompson, An Introduction to Greek and Latin Paleography, Oxford, 1912 (expansion of his Handbook with greatly improved facsimiles, better treatment of papyri and a good working bibliography of palaeography); F. G. Kenyon, The Paleography of Greek Papyri, Oxford, 1899, 8vo; Ludwig Mitteis and Ulrich Wilcken, Grundzuge und Chrestomathie der Papyruskunde, Leipzig, 1912, 2 volumes in 4 (Encyclopaedia of the subject); Theodor Birt, Das antike Buchwesen, Berlin, 1882; idem, Die Buchrolle in der Kunst, Leipzig, 1907 (of first usefulness, especially in matter of illus. and refs.); E. S. Roberts, Greek Epigraphy, part I, "The Archaic Inscriptions and the Greek Alphabet," Cambridge, 1887, 8vo; Karl Dziatzko, Untersuchungen uber ausgewahlte Kapitel des antiken Buchwesens, Leipzig; 1900; Ernest Christian Wilhelm Wattenbach, Das Schriftwesen im Mittelalter, Leipzig, 1896 (has an immense mass of original quotations of authorities).

Sources for Latest Literature:

W. Weinberger, "Beitrage zur Handschriftenkunde," Sitzungsber. Akad. Wien, 159, 161 (1908-9), pp. 79-195; Zentralblatt f. Bibliothekswesen, Leipzig (monthly); Hortzschansky, Bibliographie des .... Buchwesens (annual cumulation of the Zentralblatt material).

For inward writing see modern general psychologies and the books and articles in Rand’s bibliographical supplement to Baldwin’s Dictionary of Psychology. For continuation literature see the Psychological Index. For various aspects of writing consult also books on general Biblical archaeology (e.g., Nowack and Benzinger), general introductions and articles on "Alphabet," .... "Book," "Library," "Manuscripts," "Textual Criticism," and other special topics in this or other Biblical and general encyclopedias.

E. C. Richardson