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Q&A: How do the paleo Hebrew characters โ€œ๐“ด๐“‚๐“Œ“๐“ƒพ๐“ถ๐“‰โ€ depict the phrase โ€œIn the beginningโ€?

First of all, hats off to TCP/IP, HTML and whatever else is responsible for being able to present such characters (and in the correct right-to-left order) in an online question.

These characters are not Paleo-Hebrew, though, but (six of the) Egyptian hieroglyphs that inspired the inventionโ€”some time in the 1800s BCEโ€”of what would become the Canaanite alphabet, that served Hebrew and other Canaanite languages for well over a thousand years. From right to left, they represent the Canaanite letters beit (house),ย reshย (head),ย alephย (tamed bull, i.e., ox),ย shinย (tooth),ย yodย (forearm/hand), andย tavย (tally mark).

Together, they spell the workย bereshit, meaning โ€˜in the beginningโ€™.

But accurately drawing all these characters is way too laborious, so in very quick order they were simplified, so that by the time the Hebrew Bible actually began to be put in writing (some time during the monarchical period in Judea, i.e. the 800s, or possibly before), that word looked as follows:

Which, as the ancient Greeks would write it, in their version of those letters, a few centuries later:

ฮค ฮ™ ฮฃ ฮ‘ ฮก ฮ’

โ€” or rather (after their switch from right-to-left to left-to-right writing)ยจ


or, as the Romans would write it:


So, you see, it hasnโ€™t changed all that much, in well over three thousand years.

Which is extraordinary, when you think about it.