Re: New contribution

From: John Hudson (
Date: Thu Apr 29 2004 - 22:04:54 EDT

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    Mark E. Shoulson wrote:

    > This sounds a lot like what is being proposed, modulo a name-change:
    > we're working on a Samaritan proposal, Hebrew's already there, and
    > Michael has proposed Old Canaanite, which for some reason he has chosen
    > to call Phoenician. The name may be ill-chosen, and it isn't too late
    > to change it, but it sounds like you're in general agreement with me and
    > Peter Kirk.

    Mark, are you sure that you and Peter are in general agreement? Peter seems to be opposing
    the encoding of Old Canaanite / Phoenician / Ancient North Semitic outright, while you and
    Dean seem to be supporting some kind of unified encoding for some subset of ancient
    Near-Eastern scripts separate from the existing Hebrew block. [On the question of Aramaic,
    the agreement seems closer.]

    Today I received my long sought copy of Birnbaum's _The Hebrew Scripts_ (Brill, 1971), and
    immediately noted the following comments (vol.1 p.34)

            These documents*, which do not themselves come within
            the scope of Hebrew palaeography, are here given because
            they have been utilised for the dating of Palaeo-Hebrew
            material. In this procedure we are following the general
            practice of the Semitic palaeographers who have treated
            the scripts of Phoenicia, Palestine, Moab and Aram as a
            unity, i.e. North Semitic. For the early centuries there
            can be no objection to that. For these inscriptions show
            that any regional differentiation would as yet have been
            so slight as to be practically negligible. Hence they can
            serve to tell us how the Palaeo-Hebrew writing looked at
            a period from which we have no archaeologically datable
            Palaeo-Hebrew documents. That we are on safe ground here
            is corroborated by recent discoveries....
               To apply the term Phoenician to the script of the
            Hebrews is hardly suitable. I have therefore coined the
            term Palaeo-Hebrew.

    *23 plates of inscriptions identified by Birnbaum as Phoenician, Aramaic and Moabite.

    This text, along with this illustration from the second volume (figures 019 to 1)


    is instructive. It at once suggests the unification of ancient North Semitic scripts on
    the basis of 'practically negligible' differentiation, while at the same time inisting on
    the distinct identity of Palaeo-Hebrew even when, as the illustration shows, it is
    virtually identical to contemporary forms of the other scripts. Clearly, for Birnbaum,
    Hebrew palaeography is firstly the study of Jewish writing in the Hebrew language -- 'the
    script of the Hebrews' -- a priority that informs the distinction between Hebrew and
    'Phoenician by any other name' similar to that manifested in Michael's proposal. At the
    same time, looking at the illustration, it is easy to see the point of the objections to
    the proposal. Birnbaum -- a palaeographer who can speak with confidence on the minute
    details that distinguish Palestinian from Egyptian forms of the maaravic style -- might
    make the distinction of his Palaeo-Hebrew from contemporary Phoenician, Moabite and
    Aramaic writing on visual grounds even if he did not intend to on ethnic grounds, but I
    doubt many other people could.

    I offer this not in support of arguments for or against Michael's proposal, but to try to
    illustrate the basis of the disagreement.

    John Hudson

    Tiro Typeworks
    Vancouver, BC
    I often play against man, God says, but it is he who wants
       to lose, the idiot, and it is I who want him to win.
    And I succeed sometimes
    In making him win.
                  - Charles Peguy

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