The West Semitic Alphabet in the Early Iron Age A New Hypothesis

Benjamin Sass, Israel Finkelstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In the hypothesis presented by the authors, stratified, nonmonumental inscriptions and their radiometric datings take center stage for the first time. It is in the living script of these texts rather than in the artificial alphabet of monuments that the evolution of the alphabet in Iron IIA can be studied properly. A key take-home lesson of the work is the significant ninth-century transformations of the alphabet from precursive Proto-Canaanite to supraregional cursive, thence to the well-known regional variants. Under the Omrides, the alphabet in Israel is attested minimally. No Omride texts were recognized at Samaria, nor Baashide texts at Tirzah. The newly founded West Semitic kingdoms since ca. 900 BCE will have constituted the cradle of the cursive, while papyrus or parchment and ink were the cursive’s likeliest vehicle. Alphabetic inscriptions on monuments, including Byblos, all cursive-inspired, will only have emerged in the last third of the ninth century.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)28-45
Number of pages18
JournalNear Eastern Archaeology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2023
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© University of Chicago Press. All Rights Reserved.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • History
  • Archaeology


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