This site was created for two purposes: firstly, to explain what the ancient Hebrew script (k'tav ivri kadum) is, and secondly, to display the Torah scrolls I have created using this script.
Why this site?
During the years I've been researching the Hebrew language and alphabet, I've been astounded to discover that the overwhelming majority of Jews and Christians - even observant ones - have been completely unaware of the existence of the original ancient Hebrew alphabet, the script in which the Ten Commandments were engraved and the first Torah scrolls were written. It was the script which served the Israelites from the time of the Forefathers up till the Babylonian Exile. It is my intention, then, by means of this site, to convey basic information about this vital aspect of the Judeo-Christian heritage.
A little about me
My name is Reuven; I am married and have four children and six grandchildren, T-G. An English teacher/instructor by profession, I tend to dabble in gardening and chess, and possess an insatiable desire to research anything pertaining to my Jewish roots. Born, raised and educated in New York City, I have been an Israeli citizen for more than 30 years, and reside in the charming Galilian town of Karmiel.
My search for my Jewish roots and identity commenced nearly 45 years ago; since then, I have read several hundred books and articles and have communicated with numerous rabbis, professors, archeologists, linguists and expert laymen in order to enrich my perception of the Israelite nationalism and its various aspects .I have been an observant Jew since 2007.
A few years ago, quite by chance, I stumbled across an Internet site which displayed the ancient Hebrew script and explained a bit about it. I was rather astonished to learn that the current "Hebrew" alphabet was not Hebrew at all, but Aramaic (Ashurit), and that the genuine Hebrew script has basically been out of use since the end of the Babylonian Exile. I have since mastered this fascinating script and have begun applying this mastery to the retransliteration of the Masoretic text of the Torah.
Perturbed by the widespread ignorance of this script amongst the Israeli public, I sent an e-mail to the K'nesset Subcommittee on Education, Culture and Sport at the beginning of March, 2011, requesting to appear before it. A reply was sent with a request that I forward an outline of my proposed presentation, which I have done. I am currently awaiting the subcommittee chairperson's decision as to my appearance.
In the near future, I plan to add pages containing more detailed information about the ancient Hebrew and Aramaic scripts, accompanied by photos and drawings of artifacts. I also hope to upload photos of my Torah scrolls and my work procedures in producing them. Additionally, I will post updates on my efforts to increase general awareness of the ancient script.
What is the ancient Hebrew script?
The K'tav Ivri,the ancient Hebrew script, is the original Hebrew alphabet, a direct offshoot of the very first alphabet ever created: the Proto-Ca'ananite script:
This script uses pictures, each one of which represents a concept; however, unlike Egyptian heiroglyphics, each picture is actually a letter. Therefore, a word represents an idea that comprises the blending of the conceptual meanings of its letters. Some linguistic researchers believe that the first Israelites used the Proto-Ca'anite script before the script, but there seems to be no real proof of this.
Here is one version of the latter script:
At the top of the page there is another version of the K'tav Ivri script.
It looks like a lot of scribble!
That's only because this alphabet consists of characters which are very different from Latin letters and modern Hebrew writing. Anyone who learns this script and works with it will discover it has a simplistic beauty of its own.
So what is the Hebrew language written in today?
Since the Second Temple period, Hebrew has been written in the Aramaic alphabet. (Some call this Assyrian,Ashurit, but it is the same thing.) Here is how this alphabet looks:
When and why did the Aramaic/Assyrian script replace the Ancient Hebrew script?
Towards the end of the First Temple Period, the Aramaic language had become the lingua franca of what today is the Mideast. Israelites were still using the ancient alphabet, but beginning to speak Aramaic. The minority of Jews who were exiled during the Babylonian Captivity must have found writing in the Aramaic script expedient for managing their daily lives, so by the time they were granted permission to return to their homeland and rebuild the Temple, they were thoroughly immersed in that script, and even may have forgotten their original alphabet. The majority of Israelites, who were never exiled but were ruled by a puppet government, undoubtedly retained their original script, although by then they were all speaking Aramaic and transliterating their spoken Hebrew into Aramaic letters.
Ezra the Scribe and Nehamia, both born in Babylon, became the leaders of the Israelite Restoration in the Land of K'na'an (Caanan), later known as the Land of Israel. They were totally familiar with both Israelite and Babylonian culture. In renewing Israelite life under Israelite rule, they instituted numerous revolutionary reforms, many of which were obviously influenced by Babylonian culture. For example, they changed the names of the months from the biblical First Month, Second Month, etc., to Babylonian names such as Tishrei, Adar and Heshwan; they changed the date of the New Year from the first day of the First Month (now called Nissan) to the first day of the seventh month (now called Tishrei) - and they determined that all scriptural texts would be transliterated into the Aramaic script! The Aramaic alphabet superceded the K'tav Ivri for all civil documents and texts as well, and has remained the vehicle of written Hebrew expression up to this day. Nevertheless, the ancient script continued in use for minting coins during the Bar-Cokhbah revolt:
Is the K'tav Ivri still used?
Aside from the personal notes and articles written by archeologists in their research on Mideast findings, and, of course, the Torah scrolls I have been creating, the K'tav Ivri finds practical expression in two areas: firstly, it remains the script for the Torah scrolls of the Shomronim (Samaritans), who have never accepted Ezra and Nehamia's reforms.
The Shomroni script is a somewhat stylized version of the K'tav Ivri.
Secondly, it appears on the one-sheqel and ten-sheqel coins minted by the modern State of Israel.
On this modern one-sheqel coin,which is a modern version of an ancient Persian coin, the word "Yehud" is inscribed. "Yehud" refers to the province of Y'hudah, which was taken over from the Babylonians by the Persians. (The picture shows a lilly, which symbolized Jerusalem.)
On this modern ten-sheqel coin, we can see the inscription "For the redemption of Zion" engraved in both the K'tav Ivri and Aramaic/Assyrian scripts.
Furthermore, there are some websites that do not actually deal with the K'tav Ivri, although it appears on them. For example, I was rather surprised to see it on my granddaughters' school's website pages:Click Here . This page explains a bit about the school, while this page lists some school activities.
How do we know that the K'tav Ivri preceded the Aramaic/Assyrian script?
We know this due to the diligent scientific research carried out by archeologists, linguistic researchers, experts in the development, analysis and history of calligraphy and historians. They unanimously agree that there is enough convincing proof to conclude that the ancient Hebrew script is far older than the Aramaic one, and that Israelites had begun using the ancient script approximately two millennia before they adopted the Aramaic one.
Among other things, archeologists have dug up thousands of scrolls, documents and various artifacts bearing Israelite inscriptions and texts from the Temple and pre-Temple periods. Not a single findingfrom before the Second Temple period has any Aramaic/Assyrian writing on it, but rather the K'tav Ivri!
Why are so few Christians and Jews aware of the ancient Hebrew script?
I cannot speak for the Christian community, but I suspect that it shares at least one problem with its Jewish counterpart: a lack of available information in educational institutions. It seems that the subject at hand is not considered as having great significance in the teaching of Judeo-Christian historical roots.While it is true that such information is freely available in reference books and on various Internet sites, it appears that not many bother to check out such sources.
There is, quite unfortunately, an additional obstacle within the Jewish community: Orthodox rabbis and scribes, who are very much aware of the existance of the K'tav Ivri, seem to prefer keeping their awareness to themselves. Most are extremely relunctant to admit that the Israelites used this script prior to the Aramaic/Assyrian one, while others insist that the Israelites and their Jewish decendents had always used the latter. There are even some of them who believe that the Almighty gave the Aramaic script directly to the Israelite People, and that there is something holy about its letters!
This is quite ironic, seeing that the first peoples to use the Aramaic/Assyrian script were idol worshippers!
The problem as I see it, pertains to three basic catagories of belief: belief due to faith, where the belief can neither be proven nor disproven (such as the belief in the Almighty); belief due to factual evidence, and belief as the result of ignorance or the ignoring of factual evidence.
Those who believe that the Aramaic/Assyrian script was the original Hebrew script are simply denying facts, burying their heads in the sand and living in a world of fantasy. They might as well believe that up is down, left is right and that superstition is reality.
I could never comprehend the obsession the Orthodox establishment has had with the Aramaic/Assyrian script.
Some time ago, I came across some blogs and chat entries in which a very interesting theory was proposed: that the Aramaic/Assyrian script had been used for sacred writings, whereas K'tav Ivri had been used for all secular scripts. However, this theory had actually been blown apart long ago by two simple facts; firstly, as I have already indicated above, absolutely no Israelite Aramaic writings have ever been found prior to the Second Temple Period; secondly, sacred writings in Ktav Ivri have indeed been found. One example of such is shown below.
This is an inscription of the Priestly Blessing in K'tav Ivri dated from the First Temple Period <<<<<<
Another example is a complete scroll of VaYiqrah (Leviticus) discovered with other "Dead Sea Scrolls" in Qumron.
This, of course, is but one of many scroll fragments. This proves beyond any doubt that K'tav Ivri was used in sacred documents concurrently with K'tav Arami/Ashuri during the Second Temple Period!
Examples of archeological findings bearing the Ancient Hebrew script:
There simply is not sufficient space on this site to display all, or even many, of the thousands of important archeological finds bearing the K'tav Ivri, so I have chosen to display some of the more outstanding ones. The first will be a photo of the Gezer Calendar:
This object dates back three millennium; experts are not certain whether the script is Ktav Ivri or Phoenician, both being nearly identical. There is also uncertainty concerning the content: it could be an agricultural calendar, a tax schedule, a memory exercise or even a song! (For more, go here )
We shall now see the Siloam Inscription:
Currently located in a Turkish museum, this was chisled out of the wall of Yehzkel's Tunnel (see here ). Engraved approximately 2,700 years ago, the script is typical K'tav Ivri from the Second Temple Period, and describes how Israelite engineers constructed the tunnel. (See more here )
The Mesha Stele is next for our viewing:
Additionally known as the "Moabite Stone," it bears the classic K'tav Ivri style- although the language itself is not Hebrew, but rather Moabite (go here ). As regarding the Gezer Calendar, there are those experts who believe that the script might be Phoenician. During this time period, the K'tav Ivri served as an "alphabet franca," and was employed by several peoples. (To learn more, go here .)
The Tel Dan Stele is also of great interest:
This stele bears an inscription which was engraved almost 3,000 years ago. The text is in Aramaic but the script is Ktav Ivri. Of great interest are the highlighted letters in the fifth row from the bottom: they spell out "house of David." Most scholars opine that this is archeological confirmation of the existence of the Davidic Kingdom.
We shall now view the Yerobam Seal Cast discovered in Megiddo:
The inscription reads "Shema servant of Yerobam," who could very well be King Yerobam the Second of Israel, who reigned in 900 B.C.E.
Here is the 'Beyt Yahweh' Ostracon:
It is between 2,900 and 3,100 years old, and is actually a tax receipt payable to the Temple. The full text reads "In accordance with your order, King Ashyahu, to give by the hand of Zekaryahu silver of Tarshish for the House of Yahweh, 3 shekels."
My Torah Scroll Project
This scroll is the first I completed using K'tav Ivri; it took me about 9 months to complete.
Here we see the scroll opened.
This is a closup of some of the script.
Why create a Torah scroll?
The Rabbinical Sages have ruled that the final (613th) commandment of the Torah requires every Israelite to write a Torah scroll/book; this ruling is based on D'varim (Deuteronomy) 31/19,which states, "And now, write yourselves this song..." However, anyone possessing a minimal amount of reading comprehension ability in the Hebrew tongue can easily discern that 'this song' refers solely to Moshe's 'Ha'azinu' discourse, and not to the entire Torah. Thus, there simply is no such commandment!
Furthermore, it is unreasonable to suppose that Israelites - freshly liberated from many years of slavery - were literate enough to be capable of obeying such a commandment and that sufficient writing implements and media were available.
I, therefore, have my own personal reasons for carrying out this specific part of my roots project. One is the concrete application of this vital aspect of the Israelite heritage: while printed versions have been published in book form (clickhere ) and on the net (click hereand here ), no handwritten scroll written in the K'tav Ivri according to the Masoretic version had been produced in over 1,900 years, and never before had an entire, unified Torah scroll been written thusly.
It should be pointed out that the five scrolls/books of the Torah had not been produced as a single unit until the Second Temple Period, when the Sanhedrin determined what would be included in the Tanakh (Bible) and in what order; previously, each 'book' was written as a separate scroll. This means, then, that by the time the five books of the Torah were 'published' simultaneously, they had already been transliterated into the Aramaic/Assyrian script. For this reason, it is most unlikely that archeologists will ever discover a complete Sefer Torah written in the original script.
Another goal of mine is to play a part in preserving the art of writing in the original Hebrew alphabet. There are, of course, thousands of archeologists, calligraphers, Bible professors, Semitic linguists and expert laymen who know the script and can write in it. However, I am not aware of anyone other than myself who is producing any kind of work with this ability; and what better work is there to create than the Torah!
How do I create my scrolls?
In the photo below, you can see the materials I use in producing the scrolls:
Hand-painted rolling pins for handles, simulated parchment, V7 HiTechPoint Pilot pens for creating text (black, except for the Tetragrammaton which I write in red), a Papermate Mirado Classic pencil and an Endo Keiki metal ruler for drawing margins and line separators, a Staedtler eraser for removing these lines upon page completion, and Scotch Brand Magic Tape for joining each new page to the scroll.
In addition, I transcribe the text from a Tikkun Kor'eem, a book containing the precise text of the Torah in Aramaic/Assyrian script. The Tikkun I use is called IshMatzliah, widely considered to be the most reliable in Israel.
A word about the materials:
The Rabbinical Establishment has seen fit to prescibe strict practices and specific required materials for the creation of a Torah scroll (click here ). While I agree that the materials conventionally used are esthetic and robust, it should be clearly understood that just as the Torah contains no commandment for the creation of a Torah scroll, it does not indicate how it must be created. Therefore, the Rabbinical 'requirements' are absolutely arbitrary and not binding in the least.
I believe the materials I have been using to create my scrolls are also esthetic and robust, but unlike conventional Torah scrolls, much less expensive and more easily obtainable. It is no coincidence that a conventional scroll in good or even acceptable condition usually costs tens of thousands of dollars - way beyond the reach of any average working family. The parchment alone costs a small fortune and accounts for much of the scroll price.
Inasmuch as I am a man of modest means, I needed to select practical materials which would not burden my budget but still do honor to a Torah scroll. I thus decided upon the use of the following alternative items:
* simulated parchment paper: It looks similar enough to genuine parchment to provide a pleasing effect at very little cost.
* painted rolling pins: While not as elegant as dedicated scroll handles, they are sufficient to the task and cost far less.
* Pilot V7 HiTechPoint pens: far easier to handle than a quill, and undoubtedly more suitable to the K'tav Ivri.
NOTE: I mentioned above that I use a red pen for writing the Tetragrammaton; the idea for doing so came to me by observing photos of 'Dead Sea Scrolls' in which the mighty name of Elohim is written in red ink to honor and glorify it.
* a Papermate Mirado Classic pencil, an Endo Keiki metal ruler and a Staedtler eraser : the conventional method of creating margins and line separators is by making creases on the parchment surface with a blade; this, however, would damage simulated parchment paper - so I draw all lines and later erase them. The latter method actually produces better results, seeing that parchment creases almost always remain visible, whereas erased lines do not.
*Scotch Brand Magic Tape: this undoubtedly sounds rather amateurish and more appropriate for a basic arts and crafts class than for joining the sheets of a Torah scroll. The results, though, speak for themselves; the sheet connections are seemless and virtually invisible, wheras in a conventionally constructed Torah scroll the connecting gut string stitches are always apparent. Years ago, cellotapes were translucent but not transparent, so their use might have been esthetically questionable. For many years, though, excellent transparent tapes have been available from Germany and the U.S. There may be those who appreciate the ' natural, more 'ancient'' look of the stitches, and I, for one, have no argument with that. Nevertheless, the use of cellotape is easier, neater, cheaper, speedier, no less effective and, in its invisibility, esthetically unoffensive.
How do I correct errors?
Mistakes are inevitable for any scribe - conventional or otherwise - and must, of course, be corrected. A conventional scribe working with parchment will generally scratch out the ink with a special blade. I, on the other hand, cannot do this, since such a procedure would destroy the simulated parchment paper. I have, fortunately, found a satisfactory method: I cut a strip of parchment paper having a similar grain pattern to the area of the sheet containing the error, and glue it over the error; I then write the correction on the strip. This may sound crude, producing a negative impact on the sheet, but you may be surpised to know that out of the many people requested to locate a correction on a completed sheet, not a single one could do so without running their fingers over the sheet surface.
The Creative Process Itself
It all begins with a clean sheet of simulated parchment.
I first rule in the margins...
...and then the row separators.
All ready for transcribing
Transcribing the text into K'tav Ivri
The margins and line separators are erased.
One completed sheet
Taping the completed sheet to the scroll
The sheet has been attached.
Writing the alphabet: how I form the letters of the K'tav Ivri:
Firstly, let's take a look at two similar Moabite-style fonts; notice the use of simple lines and curves.
Here is how I write the letters ב ,א, and ג, although any comfortable method will do.
The letters ד and ה are composed of simple straight lines.
The letters ז, ו, and ח are only abit more complex.
The letters ט and י possess interesting, curious forms.
Here are the letters ל ,כ and מ. Note that there are no "final letters" in the K'tav Ivri.
The letters נ and ס are also interesting, and easy to write.
The letters to the left are the graceful פ, ע and צ.
The letters ק and ר. It is no coincidence whatsoever that the Latin letter R looks just like a backwards ר !
The final two letters are ש and ת. It is worth noting that the ש has not changed much since its appearance in the very first alphabet, the Proto-K'na'ani.
Where could one learn more about the ancient Hebrew script?
Below is a list of some sources which you might find helpful in increasing your knowlegeabout the K'tav Ivri. I have listed one particular book which you could purchase either from a good bookstore or on the Net. There are, of course, other books which may have good material but which I haven't read. The other sources listed here are sites on the Net, although you should by all means consult reference materials such as encyclopedias.]
The Writing of God by Dr. Miles R. Jones. This incredible book is an absolute must for anyone even vaguely interesting in one's Jewish/Christian roots! It not only describes and documents ancient Hebrew script, but also does the same for the actual route of the Exodus and the location of the real Mt. Sinai (in Saudi Arabia!) This is no crackpot publication, although it will undoubtedly be either ignored or rejected by "traditionalists." It is published by Johnson Publishers, Dallas, Texas (U.S.A.)
2.The Book ofHebrew Script by Dr. Ada Yardeni.
3. Ancient Hebrew Research Center (site): Jeff Benner's huge, comprehensive site. Mr. Benner is a self-taught expert (much like myself) and is a Christian who has devoted considerable time and effort to exploring his Israelite roots. http://www.ancient-hebrew.org/
4. Wikipedia offers a full page of information about the K'tav Ivri; click here .