John on October 5, 2007 at 9:35 pm
The secret was adding vowels:
Around the time of King David (roughly 1000 BCE), the Hebrews took the Phoenician consonantal system and made a seemingly minor improvement.
They used the letter H (which we call a heh) not only as a consonant, but also to represent the vowel A. They used the letter Y (yud) to represent the vowels I and E, and W (now called vav, though back then it probably had a W-sound, not a V-sound) for the vowels O and U. By using letters for both consonants and vowels, the Hebrews created the alphabet.
The system still wasn’t perfect, but it was enough. Now, for the first time ever, the average person could learn to read and write.
It seems that the average person was even expected to become literate. After all, we read in Deuteronomy (quoted daily in Jewish liturgy and to this day affixed in the entranceways to Jewish homes): “Write them on the doorposts of your house, and upon your gates.” This presupposes the ability to write and, it would seem, to read.
The author also notes some interesting use of vowels noted in the Hebrew Bible:
Genesis 17 tells of a covenant between God and a man, Abram, whose name is spelled ?BRM. (Again, the question mark represents an alef, used for a glottal stop.) The ancient word ?B means “father,” and, as we saw, RM means “exalted.” ?BRM was the “exalted father,” or “tribal elder.”
When ?BRM enters into a covenant with his God, he gets a heh inserted in the middle of his name: ?BRM becomes ?BRHM. That is, Abram becomes Abraham.
In addition to ?LHYM, we find a second, four-letter name for God, the tetragrammaton (which means “four-letters” in Greek). The four letters are yud, heh, vav, heh. Common pronunciations such as “Yahweh” or “Jehovah” miss the point. What really matters here is the remarkable fact that this name consists entirely of the Hebrews’ newly invented vowel letters, each included once, with the particularly special heh repeated.
The tetragrammaton is unique in ancient Hebrew, in that its pronunciation seems divorced from its spelling. It also seems to lack any plausible etymology, and is unattested in similar ancient languages. Now we know why. The Hebrews paid homage to the vowel letters that made it possible to spread the Word of God by using those letters to refer to God.
So I guess blogging is ultimately the result of something invented 3,000 years ago by Jewish scribes. All I can say is heh!
Category: Archaeology |