Samuel Sharpe.

Hebrew inscriptions, from the valleys between Egypt and Mount Sinai in their original characters, with translations and an alphabet online

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as a memorial to Jehovah, and then he calls his inscription in Wady
Mocatteb only " a part of the memorial." He was an Alexandrian
Jew, named Oaruk, and he completes his inscription by giving the
names of his father, his grandfather, and his great-grandfather in
the Greek language.

The large number which speak of the city as a heap of ruins
must be divided between the hundred and fifty years before the
Christian era and the hundred years after that era, when the city
was again destroyed by the Romans. But more of them probably
belong to the earlier than to the latter time, because under the
Romans the Jews in Egypt were not so free to make this pious
pilgrimage to Sinai as at the former time under the Ptolemies.
We have to think not only of the words of the inscriptions, but of
when the Jews were most at liberty to cut them.



No inscription mentions any king or ruler of the nation by
name. The feelings of the Jews in the later days were not
monarchical; and the kings who rose after the year d.c. 106,
and struggled with one another for power, little deserved the
good wishes of those who were anxious for the welfare of the

Several of our inscriptions are by Christian Jews, as is seen from
the symbol of the cross. These are No. 11 and No. Ill, whose
prayer is yet for the nation; No. 19, whose writer may have
suffered under persecution, as its words are " the fire of purifi-
cation," and No. 806, which is on behalf of what remains of the
oppressed nation, and on behalf of " the society [or perhaps sect]
of the cross."

No 130 also is on behalf of " the society which is spit upon."
If we may be guided by the last, and suppose this particular word
"society" to have gained a special meaning, this also may be
supposed to be the memorial offering of a Christian Jew.

The writer of No. 86, on the other hand, uses the symbol of
the cross only to express his hatred of it, and prays, " tread down
lying Christianity."

No. 142a, which is by a Christian Jew, reminds us of the state
of Jerusalem when the Apostle Paul in his missionary journeys
collected alms for the poor of Jerusalem ; it ends with a prayer
for " the poor." No. 80a has the same prayer.

The writer of No. 138 shows his displeasure at the conduct of
the rulers in Jerusalem, who often brought trouble on their
country, and on those Jews who were living in Egypt, by attempt-
ing a hopeless struggle against their Roman conquerors. He calls
the city " perverse, cursed, stubborn." In No. 158, the writer,
more an Israelite than a Jew, or more citizen of the world than a
patriot, speaks of the " braying of Jesusalem." The writer of
No. 173, also, docs not approve of these complaints about the state
of Jerusalem and Judea. He blames these inscriptions in Wady
Mocatteb, and writes up in a neighbouring valley, near to Sarabet
el Khadim, " False compassion."

Perhaps the most modern of our inscriptions arc by Gnostic



Jews. No. 25 shows some of the whimsical peculiarities of that
sect, and begs for God's favour towards " the he-he-he-he, injured,
remembered, desired." This remarkable word, if we may judge from
other Gnostic writings, means the Temple of Jerusalem. It ends
with a prayer for " the outside" (perhaps the Jews in dispersion),
and that "an answer may be given to the knowledge," or to
Gnosticism, meaning to this enigmatical prayer. No. 76 is even
yet more whimsical. The words are eo arranged in their four
lines that by reading downwards you can find hidden in them the
same Gnostic word, he-he-he-he.

Thus we have a series of religious inscriptions running back
from the early ages of Christianity, many certainly as far back as
to the time of the Maccabee revolt, others probably to the time
of Nchemiah, and others possibly to the time of the Captivity.
They all bear witness to one important fact, that the Jews, who
were living in Egypt and cut these writings on the rocks, believed
that Mount Scrbal was the Mount of God mentioned in the

Our pilgrims often show an acquaintance with the Levitical
Law. Thus No. 156 describes the writing as a peace oflFering.
But the writer, remembering that a peace offering was a love feast
to be shared with the worshipper's friends and the priest, says
that his inscription in the desert, at a distance from his friends, is
"the peace offering of a lonely feast." By the Levitical Law, a
poor woman, on her recovery to health after cliildbirth, if not rich
enough to bring two young pigeons to the priest, might bring a
tenth part of an ephah of flour. Of this humble gift, a memorial
portion only was burnt on the altar, and its ashes cast out with the
bone ashes of the other offerings. Hence the writer of No. 139i
uses the very humblest of terms when he says that his inscription,
his memorial, is " the bone ashes of a woman who has been unwell."
No. 114a is called a "lean peace offering;" and No. 32 is "a
lean portion," using the word which in Leviticus vii. 33 is used
for the priest's portion of the animal.

Others, such as No. 113, in order to tell us that the priest has
not been forgotten, say the inscription is "a part of the peace



offering." One, No. 184, says that he has given "the kneaded
dough." These may have been written while there was an altar
and a priesthood at the city of Onion.

Many of the writers show a knowledge of other parts of the
Bible, or at least use words in a manner which looks as if they
were familiar with the Scriptures. The writer of No. 27a calls
the country "a rib ; " and thus copies Daniel vii. 5, where the
three kingdoms conquered by the Medes are three ribs in the
bear's mouth. lie prays for a "white garment" for the congrega-
tion or nation : this thought he may have borrowed from Daniel
vii. 9. When he would pray for the anointed priesthood of the
conquered Jerusalem, his words are "for the compound of the
ruined heap," meaning the sacred oil which is described in Exod.
XXX. 26, as " a compound compounded after the art of the apothe-
cary," and which was never to be used except for anointing the
priest. ' No. 64 says "the righteous people are willing," as if in
auswer to the conditional promise in Isaiah i. 19, "If ye be willing
and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land." No. 72 calls the
nation or city "a stone to be desired," as if thinking of Psalm
cxviii. 22, "the stone which the builders rejected." No. 1 has'
the prayer, "Keep alive the broken lamp of the people," agreeably
to the promise given to Solomon in 1 Kings xi. 36, that there
should be " always a lamp for David my servant in Jerusalem."
The prophet Amos, in chap. iii. V-i, had compared half-ruined
Israel to two legs and the piece of one ear of a sheep which
were left when a lion had devoured the rest; and No. 107,
when the nation was yet more crushed, calls it "the tail cut
off from a sheep." Isaiah, in chap xxix. 1, calls Jerusalem
"the Lion of God;" and No. 95o prays for "the ruing of the

Some few of our inscriptions contain prayers for the writer
himself, as No. 178, already mentioned; and two. No. 1 and No.
964, join with themselves their wives, who, as being foreigners, are
called friends or companions : the honourable name of wife was
denied to them by the Levitical Law. No. 144, in a less religious
8j)irit, is a memorial from his " strong camel;" and No. 159 is



"the peace oflering of his fat horse." No. 167 is for the foal of
his camel, which was probably then born in the desert.

The Fkondnciation and Language.

Some peculiarities of pronunciation may be traced in these
inscriptions, chiefly arising from the gutturals in the Hebrew lan-
guage. The Jews in Egypt would seem to have been less fond of the '
guttural sound ; and, finding it troublesome, they somctimeshardeoed
it into a consonant, and sometimes neglected it. Thus n3n they
hardened into *133; and, on the other hand, they softened
1>y into 1'. The V they so far treated as a vowel as to use
it for the Chaldce final N, in the words ))p)t and y^n for Hpy
and Npn. As the harsh Hebrew » was softened by the Clialdees
into y, and ^'"^K was written yiN, here it is yet further softened,
and we have the word ^'^^< twice spelt simply "sn. We have also
the words fin and fyp both softened into p30 and pTtp.

It is certainly by no carelessness of the writers that we find the
letter X often divided into two parts, which then represent the
two letters pw. In No. 129, the division is made particularly
clear by the space between them ; and at the same time it is equally
clear that the two letters together stand for the one letter V.
This letter is supposed to have had the harsh sound of TZ j and
from the Septuagint we learn that the Alexandrian Greeks treated
it as S. Fuerst, however, in his Lexicon, has well shown that
it was occasionally interchanged with the p, as we have seen
above ; and its form in these inscriptions tells us that at one time
it had the sound of pm, being a compouod character formed by
the union of those two.

Another way in which the language was softened to the ear, was
by the frequent insertion of the letter n into the middle of a
word, and the addition of K at the end. Other peculiarities in
the words it would be rash to dwell upon. The art of spelling
had not then been reduced to regularity. The spelling in the
Hebrew Scriptures is by no means uniform. The spelling in the



English language did not become regular till more than two
centuries after the invention of piinting.

As a peculiarity of language, we may mention OM used for
the objective me. As new examples of verbs in the unusual con-
jugation Pilpel, we have hn, to sing triumphantly, and ptpT,
thoroughly purified. The doubled form was used probably to
strengthen the meaning. The conjugations Hiphil and Niphal
are not common here.

It, is customary with the writers on the Hebrew language to
produce an assumed root for a word which may not itself be in
the form of a root-word. In some cases these inscriptions give
us the root required, which thus need no longer be called
" assumed." In No. 34, we have the word yp inscribe, the
regular imperative of yyp a root ass.umed by Gesenius. In
No. 49 we have the word ppio, girded with sackcloth, a root
assumed by Gesenius for the noun piv. In No. 172 we have
StT/1, and in No. 125 we have t/1> both as participles for cut
doum. This verb had before been known only in the conjuga-
tion Hiphil. In No. 41, we have yw, save, the imperative of yw,
a verb hitherto known only in Hiphil and Niphal.

In the natural wish not to use more letters than are absolutely
necessary, the copulative " and " is once only met in these inscrip-
tions, aud the article " the " before a substantive very rarely. It
is, however, often used before an adjective, when it is to be trans-
lated " that which is."

The Sinaitic Alphabet.

In these inscriptions there is the usual variety of forms for each
letter, due to the carelessness of the writer, or of the sculptor
who cut them into the stone, or of the copier ; and due also to
the difference in their age.

H. AVe have two distinct forms for this letter. Nl and its
varieties are the most common, k 4 and its varieties approach
the printed letter. M 6, from our most modern inscription, is close
to the printed letter.



3 is a very marked letter, except when it is made to face the
wrong way, when it approaches the p. In form it is allied to
the Roman F.

i is nearly the same as the printed letter, except in its posi-
tion ; it lies down.

n is nearly the printed letter.

n is of the Syriac printed form, except sometimes in the word
Jehovah, when we have the *i. But if we are right in our con-
jecture that in the sacred name the n was purposely written for
an unfinished n, it proves that the letter n, so formed, was already
in use, although not met with in these inscriptions.

} is often a simple stroke, not to be distinguished from (, ],
or >. Sometimes it slopes, as 1 (3). Sometimes as in i (1) it is the
Egyptian enchorial letter, copied from the horned serpent, and
then it approaches the v.

t should be like the printed letter, but sometimes it is a simple
stroke, and sometimes the head becomes so enlarged as to give it
a different character.

n is like the priuted letter, n 4 is reversed.

19 is the same as T, and in one case a double f.

' is a simple stroke, and often not distinguished from l, (, or i.
Sometimes it is a long stroke, and thus very unlike the printed

3 is like the printed letter, except that when badly made it
approaches ], or becomes a simple curved stroke.

b is usually a simple angle ; often like the Roman L, though
sometimes it approaches the Greek small letter.

D is usually like the printed final letter. It is only in a few
of the earliest inscriptions that we have the initial form. But no
distinction is shown in the use of these two characters.

i is like the printed letter, but passing often into a simple

is like the printed letter.

y is like the printed letter, but often not to be distinguished
from 1.

D ia the same as 3, and thus of the form of the Roman P.



y, when laid on one side, is like the printed letter. It is a com-
pound letter formed of W and p joined together. But the two
strokes are often not joined, and then it might be taken for pa;.

p is like the printed letter, but facing the other way. p 1 is the
early Greek Quoppa. .

1 is the printed letter leaning backwards, but often a mere
wavy line. *i 4 is from our most modem inscription.

It/ is of two forms ; one is half the y, and the other, which is
the more modern, is like the printed letter.

n is a cross. The figure of a simple cross has at all times
been used for a mark or signature ; and in, the name of this
old letter, came in Hebrew to mean a mark, as in Ezek. ix. 4,
and a Signature, as in Job xxxi. 35. Here, when Job wishes
that the accusation against him and his defence should both b
in writing, he says, " Behold my signature," my in.

From the use of the letter T as a simple mark, we gain the
origin of the names of the letters of the alphabeta. These names
have remained less corrupted in Greek than in Hebrew; and
there we have Be-ta, a mark for B, Ze-ta, E-ta, The-ta, lo-ta, all
compounded of Tu, a mark. The L in some of the names, and
the M in others, may be the Hebrew prepositions ; and thus
De-l-ta, is D for a mark, La-mb-da, ia Z by a mark. Ga-ni-ta,
G by a mark, was afterwards corrupted into Gimel, a camel.

In addition to the letters of the alphabet, we have in these in-
scriptions several symbols. Seven times we have a' cross the
symbol of Christianity. Four times we have two short strokes,
thus, =, representing the sacred word Jehovah. Twice we have
a three-sided character, which in one place, and probably in both,
means the nation's oppressors. In two, the writers have put un-
known characters for then: own names. In one. No. 25, there is
a stop at the end.

Style op Writing.

There arc no stops to divide tiic sentences, nor even spaces
between the words. These helps to the reader were not invented




till a later age. Nor does a word always end at tbe end of a
line ; sometimes one letter of a word will be found in a lower line.
We note, however, a slight tendency to the use of final letters, of
a shape different from those used in the middle of a word. Thus
the 3 and 3, when at the end of the word, are sometimes length-
ened downwards. We also have a final 1, a wavy line drawn
downwards from the foregoing letter. But the same forms for the
V or for the D are used whether at the end of a word or else-

Thus more than half of our letters are of the square character
as printed, and these may safely be pronounced to be older than
the Maccabee coins, as several of our inscriptions declare them-
selves to be of the time of the Maccabee rebellion, and older.
These inscriptions have thus an important bearing on tbe question
of the characters in which the Hebrew Scriptures were written in
the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. We must wait for the discovery
of earlier inscriptions before we can learn what characters were
used by Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel.


Every work of man's band may be made with more or with less
attention to neatness and elegance ; and ^he style and taste thus
shown is of no little help in fixing the relative age of such works.
The few inscriptions which we have here offer but a small field for
such a study ; but even- here we can divide the writings into
three groups — the rude, the plain, and the ornamental. We will
begin with the last, as being most easily pointed out.

In No. 16b, and 59a, we have the four letters of the word
anbttf united into one character. The a is strictly rectangular ;
and though the last letter in the word, it is drawn downwards
and backwards so that the reader comes upon it first. The n is
simply a loop which joins the other two letters. The whole clearly
shows an aim at elegance.

In No. 85, and No. 82, we have the same loop for n'at the
bottom of the letter f. As No. 85 is of Christian times, we gain



a date for this aim at regularity and ornamental writing. No. 27
has the letters n and "i both made very neatly, and it is of the
same late date. No. 76 is another example of careful writing,
indeed of doubly careful writing, for while the lines, as usual, are
horizontal, the letters are so placed that the Gnostic word he-he-
he-he can be read downwards. No. 11 has a rectangular character
drawn backwards, which I read as an unformed D. No. 16 has
the o large, and strictly rectangular.

In the book trade of Alexandria, as we learn from Eusebius
(Eccl. Hist. vi. 23), two kinds of writers were employed. When
an author was not skilled in the use of the pen he employed a
Quick-writer to write down his words ; but when his book was to
be published it was handed over to a Book-writer, who wrote it
out neatly, and with regularity, as we see in the Greek MSS. of
the fourth and fifth centuries. The inscriptions quoted above
show us how the book-writers of Hebrew in Alexandria at that
time formed their letters, and indeed how they ornamented the
MSS. In the Greek MS. of tbe Bible, known as tbe Alexan-
drian MS. in tbe British Museum, the capital letter which marks
the beginning of a sentence is not always the first letter in the
word. So here, when the word Cibjlf begins the sentence, the □,
not the 12^, is the capital letter.

No. 65 is of a very fanciful character, The first line begins
with the word aVi:;, of which the □, the capital, is drawn down
so as to be read a second time as the first letter in the word ppn,
with which the second line begins. The inscription ends in the
same way. The last letter of the word m^n, in the firat line, is
also the last letter of the word nnh in the second line. No. 138 has
the same fanciful arrangement. The same two words in the first
line each lend the last letter to help the second line. The only differ-
ence is, that here the last letter in the first line falls down into the
middle of the second linei In No, 13, the second line has a capital
letter of its own, and that not the first letter. It is a in the word
Dp, and it is joined to the first word in the first line. The sand-
stone rock in the valley of Mocatteb is not the material on which
fanciful and ornamental peculiarities of penmanship would be first



tried ; and we may be sure that all that we have been describing was
borrowed from the book-writers of Alexandria. In particular, the
flourish of the letters in No. 138 must have been copied from
a MS.

The custom of writing horizontally what was to be also read
vertically, as described above in No. 75, is still to be seen in some
copies of the Hebrew Scriptures. In them the words are so care- '
fully arranged, that by reading vertically you can read the name
of the scribe and the date of his writing.

These Sinaitic inscriptions teach us that the Jews in Egypt
rightly understood the commandment in Exod. xx. 4, 5, and did
not take it as forbidding representations of men and animals,
when not meant to be worshipped. There are many figures on
these rocks. No. 85 says, " Thus tread down lying Christianity ;"
and it is surrounded by a number of figures, which Mr. Grey does
not describe, which probably by their action explain the word
" Thus.'' No. 82, in the same way, begins with the word " Thus,"
and is accompanied by a crowd of men and animals, which are to
be "gathered in," as the inscription prays. No. 144 is in behalf
of the pilgrim's " strong camel ;" and beside it is a figure of the
animal with his burden on his back. No. 167 is on behalf of
" the camel's foal," and the figure of the animal is introduced
into the middle of the sentence.

The aim after the ornamental is sometimes carried to an excess,
and of this we have an example in No. 55a. Here we have a
complex character of which the upper portion is the word 1%
and the > is lengthened downwards so as to join the middle letter
in the word y)p, while the head of the letter p seems to form
the n with which the word n^n may end. In No. 86b the last
letter in the word pt is made to serve as the head to an animal
there drawn. In No. 117 the first word has the middle letter made
rather tall, and its top ornamented with a cross, the mark of the
writer's being a Christian.

In No. 154 we have an example of the writing being the worse
for the writer's aim at regularity. The line on which the letters
stand hides the bottom of each, and makes some of them doubtful.



This line has made it necessary to reject several of these inscriptions,
as not to be read with any certainty.

Of the work of the quick- writer No. 152 is a good example.
The letters flow in wavy curves, and are yet kept distinct. In some
of Mr. Grey's inscriptions. the letters are so much run together
that I have not been able to disentangle them. In others it is not
so difScult. Thus, in No. 3c, the word abw is a single character;
O^ is a second, and liy is a third. In No. 22 -|> and IK
are each a single character. In No. 27c pp is a single character,
the same as that which is the lower half of the yet more complex
character in No. 55a. In No. 26 the letters, though separate,
have a marked slope. It is unnecessary to give more examples.

Of plain simple writing the inscriptions on the stone No. 91
are a good example. The letters are sufficiently clear and well
made, with no pretence at ornament. This is most certainly of '
the time of the Maccabee revolt. No. 29 and No. 30, which I
place a few years later, in the time of John Hyrcanus, are equally
simple and clear.

Of the older handwriting, if we may judge from the form of the
letters, No. 31 and No. 41 are good examples.

As writing became more common, and the art of penmanship
more studied, the form of each letter was naturally changed slightly
and imperceptibly, by what was at the time thought no change,
but only an improvement. In this way, after a time, great changes
have been brought about ; and though our Sinaitic inscriptions
certainly look very unlike the Hebrew of the MSS. which we have
adopted for printed books, yet they show our present Hebrew
letters in their earlier forms. These inscriptions perhaps range
over ten centuries ; hut there is then an interval of five centuries
more before we come to the MSS.

We have no Hebrew MSS. of the Bible older than a.d. 900.
Hence we do not know when the iiTcgular letters were reduced to
their present uniformity and regularity. But the art of penmanship
was much studied in Alexandria in the fourth, fifth, and sixth
centuries ; and the Jews of that city are likely to have followed
the Greek scribes in their endeavour to make their writing regular.



It is much to be wished that they had not so often sacrificed
distinctness to the aim at regularity. If they left to us the
sloping n of these inscriptions, it would not have become so like
the f, and so often mistaken for it. If they had left the J lying
down, it would not have become so like the 1 and the ). If
they had kept the n and the n of these inscriptions, they would
neither have been so like the n. In the same way the 3 would
have been less like the 3, and the □ more distinct from the O-

'With a view to distinctness and the reader's convenience, I

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Online LibrarySamuel SharpeHebrew inscriptions, from the valleys between Egypt and Mount Sinai in their original characters, with translations and an alphabet → online text (page 3 of 10)