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The Jewish Study Bible Contextualizes the Hebrew Bible with accompanying scholarly text on Jewish traditions and history.

Alphabet

The earliest Hebrew inscriptions are written in a consonantal script that was probably borrowed from the Phoenicians at the beginning of the 1st millennium BCE. This script, like its Phoenician ancestor, was at first purely consonantal and did not mark vowels. The use of a script that does not indicate vowels can create ambiguity for the reader since a sequence of consonants can often be read in different ways with different meanings, e.g., km can represent kam “he arose,” kama “she arose,” kamu “they arose,” kum/kumi/kumu/kuma “arise!,” kom/kum “arising.” Inscriptions from different centuries show that certain letters known as ’amot keri’ah, matres lectionis, or vowel letters (alef, heh, vav, and yod) were gradually employed to represent vowels, at first at the end of words, and then in the middle, too. In the consonantal text of the Bible one can find both final and medial matres lectionis.

The Hebrew script that developed from the Phoenician is known as the Paleo‐Hebrew script. Sometime in the centuries before the Common Era it was replaced by a descendant of the Aramaic square script, which also originally developed from the Phoenician. It is known as the Jewish square script or ketav ’ashuri (Assyrian script), the latter name pointing to its origins in the Aramaic speaking East. By the time of the Dead Sea Scrolls (mid‐3rd century BCE to 1st century CE), almost all manuscripts were written in the square script, though a few were still written in the Paleo‐Hebrew script, and in some documents the Tetragrammaton (YHVH) alone was written in Paleo‐Hebrew. The Jewish square script is used today in printing modern Hebrew, and the Paleo‐Hebrew script continues to be used by the Samaritan community.

There is evidence of graphic confusion of consonants in the Bible. Some of the confusion can be attributed to the similarity in form of letters in the Paleo‐Hebrew script, and some is due to the similarity of letters in the square script. For example, it appears that resh and dalet, which are similar in the square script, have been confused in two parallel passages: ’adikem “(Like dirt of the streets) I crushed them” (2 Sam. 22.43 ) vs. ’arikem “(Like dirt of the streets) I cast them out” (Ps. 18.43 ).

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