Hebrew Inscription


The Hebrew script did not cease to exist after the Babylonian capture of Judah, when most of the nobles were taken into exile. It was used by the people who remained to work the fields; the sixth-century inscribed jar handles from Gibeon, on which the names of winegrowers are listed, are an example. However, from the fifth century onward, when the Aramaic language and script became an official means of communication, the Paleo-Hebrew script (i.e., the ancient Hebrew characters as used in the time of the Second Temple) was used for writing Hebrew both in Judah and Samaria. It was preserved mainly as a biblical book hand by a coterie of erudite scribes (presumably of the Zadokite priesthood; cf. the Paleo-Hebrew Pentateuch fragments found among the *Dead Sea Scrolls ). The vast majority of the *Hasmonean coinage as well as the coins of the First and Second Jewish Revolts bears Paleo-Hebrew legends. Although this script is a relatively static, formal hand, it seems likely that the Hasmoneans did not revive a forgotten national script; they struck coins with legends of a known writing which survived – though in a narrow circle – in the period of the Second Temple.

Together with the discovery (in Wadi Daliʾyeh) of Aramaic deeds written on papyrus in Samaria in the fourth century B.C.E., two clay sealings with Hebrew texts written in the Paleo-Hebrew script were found there without any Samaritan peculiarities. It seems likely that the divergence of the Samaritan script began sometime in the last two centuries of the first millennium B.C.E. The Samaritans continued to use this script for writing both Hebrew and Aramaic texts, but the Jews ceased using it after 135 C.E. A comparison of the earliest Samaritan inscriptions and the medieval and modern Samaritan manuscripts clearly indicates that the Samaritan script is a static script which was used mainly as a book hand.

Resource: Jewish Virtual Library

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