Tag Archive: consonantal alphabet

Translation of the Gezer Agricultural Almanac into Mycenaean Linear B: Click to ENLARGE

Gezer Almanac left and translation into Mycenaean Linear B  right

This is the first ever attempt to translate the Gezer Agricultural Almanac in Paleo-Hebrew (ca 925 BCE) into Mycenaean Linear B. My reasons for doing so are manifold:
1. While the text in Paleo-Hebrew is written in the proto-Hebrew alphabet, which for all intents and purposes is practically identical to the Phoenician alphabet, the translation is of course in the Linear B syllabary.
2. The Gezer Agricultural Almanac has no vowels, since Paleo-Hebrew, like the Phoenician alphabet, had none. On the other hand, the translation into Linear B, which is a syllabary, automatically guarantees that every single syllable contains a vowel.
3. The alphabetical text of The Gezer Agricultural Almanac takes up considerably more space than the translation into Mycenaean Linear B, since alphabetic scripts use up more space than syllabaries, even though syllabaries contain considerably more syllabograms than alphabets do letters. In the case of the Phoenician and Proto-Hebrew alphabets alike, there are 22 letters, all consonants. The reason why syllabaries take up less space than most alphabets is simple: each single syllabogram consists of a consonant + a vowel, whereas most alphabets must express consonants and vowels as separate entities. However, in the case of the Phoenician and Paleo-Hebrew alphabets, this distinction does not apply, since the number of consonants in the latter approximate the number of syllabograms in Linear B.
4. But the question remains, if this is the case, then why is the Linear B translation still noticeably shorter than the proto-Hebrew original? This is no idle question. There are three primary reasons for Linear B’s uncanny capacity to telescope long text into shorter. These are:
4.1 While alphabetic scripts, regardless of whether or not they contain vowels, and irrespective of their antiquity or modernity, are generally incapable of telescoping text into smaller entities, Linear B does this with ease, first by using ideograms, which appear on every single line of the Linear B translation you see here of the Gezer Almanac. I could have written out the text in full, but had I done so, I would not have reflected the spirit and the commonplace practice of Linear B scribes to replace long text with ideograms, because they were forced to save precious space of what were, without exception, very small tablets (most running to no more than 15 cm. wide, and only a few as wide as 10 cm.)
4.2.1 For the precise same reason, Linear B scribes also frequently resorted to replacing entire Linear B words, such as “rino” = Greek “linon” = English “linen”, the Mycenaean Greek word for both the raw product “flax” and the finished, “rino” with logograms. You can see the single syllabogram = logogramNI” = “flax” on line 3, immediately preceding the ideogram for “meno” = “month”.
4.2.2 If this practice is a clever ploy, what are we make of the same procedure carried even further, when in line 7, the scribe (me) replaces the word for “fruit” = “kapo” in Mycenaean Linear B, with the very same word with the exact same number of syllabograms = 2, but by placing one (po) on top of the other (ka)! That way, the scribe uses the space for only 1 syllabogram while in reality writing 2. If this isn’t a brilliant ploy, I don’t know what is. But it goes even further. Although we do not see an example of this practice carried to its extreme in this translation, scribes even resorted to piling 3 syllabograms on top of one another! A prefect example of this is the Mycenaean word  “arepa” = Greek “aleifa” = English “ointment”, consisting of 3 syllables. In this instance, scribes almost always wrote “arepa” as a logogram, by piling the syllabogram “pa” on top of “re” on top of “a”. Now that takes some gymnastics! In this case, the scribes used the space for 1 syllabogram to replace an entire word of 3 syllabograms. Talk about saving space! All of these clever little tricks are illustrated here: Click to ENLARGE

space saving Linear B ideograms and logograms

5. The scribes also replaced entire Mycenaean Greek words with supersyllabograms on about 27 % of all Linear B tablets. SSYLS save even more space than logograms and ideograms, in some cases, far more, since they can replace entire phrases in Mycenaean Greek. Yet, even without resorting to SSYLS in this translation, l managed to telescope the discursive alphabetic Proto-Hebrew text into a much shorter Linear B translation.

Now the most amazing thing about Linear B’s amazing capacity to shortcut text by telescoping it into the much smaller discrete elements, logograms, ideograms and supersyllabograms, is that the Linear B syllabary preceded both the Phoenician and Paleo-Hebrew alphabets by at least 4 centuries!

So who is to say that alphabets are superior to syllabaries? I for one would not even dare.


Comparison Between the Paleo-Hebrew Alphabets and Hieratic Egyptian & the Phoenician Alphabet: Click to ENLARGE

Phoenician Paleo-Hebrew Hieratic-Paleo

This chart clearly illustrates the comparison between both Early (right) and Late (left) Paleo-Hebrew with Hieratic Egyptian & Ancient Phoenician. The comparison between the Late Paleo-Hebrew with the Phoenician alphabet establishes beyond a reasonable doubt that they are virtually one and the same alphabet, based on the soundly reasoned inference that they developed simultaneously in the historical time line, implying in turn that the cross-cultural and cross-economic exchanges between these two civilizations was very intense. This quotation from Wikipedia is particularly telling,

Phoenician had long-term effects on the social structures of the civilizations which came in contact with it. As mentioned above, the script was the first widespread phonetic script. Its simplicity not only allowed it to be used in multiple languages, but it also allowed the common people to learn how to write. This upset the long-standing status of writing systems only being learned and employed by members of the royal and religious hierarchies of society, who used writing as an instrument of power to control access to information by the larger population.

Click the banner below to read the entire article.

Wikipedia Phoenician Alphabet
The Phoenician alphabet is also often tagged Proto-Canaanite for inscriptions anterior to 1050 BCE. It is the first ever consonantal proto-alphabet, otherwise known as abjad.  The Phoenician alphabet was derived from Egyptian hieroglyphics on the one hand and from cursive Hieratic Egyptian on the other. What is particularly striking about the Phoenician and Proto-Hebrew alphabets, which are mirror images of one another, is the fact that the former was used to write one of the earliest Semitic languages, while the latter was confined to Hebrew (also Semitic, but eventually to become completely unlike Arabic).
This may come as somewhat of a shock to die hard Jews and die-in-the-wool Muslims alike, but it is an incontestable historical fact which cannot be lightly brushed aside. It is absolutely essential to understand that these twin alphabets were far more ancient than the latter-day Hebrew alphabet, which was nevertheless a descendant of the Proto-Hebrew and the Phoenician alphabets alike. While the Phoenician alphabet was the scriptural medium for early Semitic Phoenician, that civilization, being far more ancient than Islam, was in intimate contact with Judeo-Palestine, with whom it cultivated friendly cultural and economic ties. In other words, the religious overlay imputed to the latter-day Hebrew alphabet, itself indirectly derived from the Phoenician alphabet versus the Arabic alphabet, was utterly absent from the consciousness of both the early Semitic Phoenicians and Hebrews. Of course, the Arabic alphabet eventually did develop on its own from the 6th. century AD, characteristically unlike the Phoenician and Proto-Hebrew alphabets in every conceivable way.

The Similarities Among Hieratic Egyptian, the Phoenician alphabet, Early Proto-Hebrew and Late Proto-Hebrew:

Now let’s take a good close look at the alphabets in this chart.

1. Oddly enough, Early Proto-Hebrew bears but a faint resemblance with the Phoenician and Late Proto-Hebrew alphabets, but it does have some points in common with Hieratic Egyptian. Given this scenario, it somehow strikes me that Early Proto-Hebrew was anterior to both the Phoenician and Late Proto-Hebrew alphabets; otherwise, how are we to explain all these bizarre discrepancies? Not that I would know, as I am no expert in Egyptian hieroglyphics or Hieratic Egyptian. I leave it to the expert linguists in that domain to enlighten us, and I certainly hope they will.  

2. For all intents and purposes, the Phoenician and Late Proto-Hebrew alphabets are identical.

3. Except for lamedth and tav (taw), neither the Phoenician and Late Proto-Hebrew alphabets resemble Hieratic Egyptian and the Early Proto-Hebrew in any significant way, which is particularly surprising to this author. The early Proto-Hebrew letter vav mirrors both its Hieratic and Phoenician equivalents, as well as the letter waw in Proto-Hebrew, the latter merely being an avatar of the previous three. Lamedh is also equivalent in all four scripts. If we take it as oriented right, Hieratic Egyptian tadhe bears a close resemblance to early Proto-Hebrew nun & tsade, which instead are oriented left. There is absolutely nothing unusual in this phenomenon, which is so common to so many ancient scripts that it boggles the mind. Early Proto-Hebrew qof, horizontally oriented, bears a close resemblance to its equivalent, the vertically oriented Phoenician letter koph, while its tav resembles one of the two versions of the Phoenician tav. Just to complicate matters or to frustrate the living daylights out of us, taw in the Late Paleo-Hebrew alphabet resembles the other version of Phoenician tav.

PS If anyone who is an expert in Egyptian hieroglyphics or Hieratic Egyptian is willing to enlighten us poor ignorant folk on the finer points of their relationship with the other scripts we have discussed here, please do contact us, commenting on the inevitable errors in this post. 


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