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Reflections on the Development of Hebrew Letters

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Ross G Caldwell's Avatar
Ross G Caldwell  Ross G Caldwell is offline
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Quote:
Originally posted by Huck
But mirroring your last focus: shin

Sapatha al 16.-1500 BC looks like "w"
Azrubal 14.-1100 BC looks like "w"
Ahiram 13.-1100 BC looks like "w"
Jehimilk 1200 BC looks like "w"
Mesa 842 BC looks like "w"

middle-phoenician 5.-300 BC developed in direction to later form, although still far away

other source:

Poenician 1300 BC looks like "w"
early Hebrew 600 BC looks like "w"
southern Arabian looks like upright "w"

Greek 500 BC, two variations:
1. already near to "S", upright reduced "w"
2. upright w, but more a great upright M

The form between the final form and the "w" is a F, at which the outer corner is the bottom and the longer line points to the left.
This has 3 strokes.

The form from which you draw your associations seems to be reached in 800 AD. Whatever you say - that's late. It had la longer time as "w".

I think your timeline for the three-pronged shin is wrong, Huck. It is square Aramaic, is the form in the Elephantine papyri, is attested in Phoenican even, and even at least 800 b.c.e.

See the comparison at
http://www.angelfire.com/space/tarot/alphabet.html

The square script is also that used in the Dead Sea scrolls (1st century b.c.e. -1st century c.e.), with the shin like a modern Hebrew shin.

See a comparison of some of the Dead Sea scrolls fonts, from the Isaiah scroll and the Habbukuk pesher, at
http://www.historian.net/files.htm

You can see some more examples at
http://www.ibiblio.org/expo/deadsea....y/library.html

just click on any of the links to see the manuscript - you will see it is the familiar three-pronged shin.

It may not be "oldest" form of shin, but it is much, much earlier than AD 800.

Ross
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Quote:
Originally posted by kwaw
Later than I thought, thanks for the info, still pre-kabbalah and pre-tarot. I think the coal/fire metaphor is probably linked to the attribution of shin to fire in the SY, which is further connected in the zohar but really seems to come together in the Lurianic tradition.

The question of dating these associations is of course relevant, but fairly impossible for me as I don't have the language skills or necesary access to primary texts. The fire attribution is well established through the SY, and the link between fire and judgement is an old one; however Judgement is linked to other letters as well, Zayin for example. The coal/flame metaphor I think doesn't reach full meaning until under Luria. The ToL pillar attributions of course cannot be earlier than Luria. The Shin as logoi, spirit and symbol of christ is right there among the earliest texts of the Christian cabala; however I think the theology of the name goes back much further and is pre-kabbalistic in origin - at the back of mind I vaguely recall a reference to the theology of the name discussed by the early church fathers, Origen or Clement, I think - but I will have to check on that. Also I vaguely recall a reference among the greek texts of the Christian gnostics about the theology of the name - but again am maybe confused and need to check. It is possible some of the christian gnostic sects, as the jewish gnostics, did have a sort of mystical letter tradition (as per the SY, but using Greek script rather than Hebrew).

There are 23 references to 'coal[s]' in the King James version of the bible - 20 in the OT, and 3 in the NT:

Leviticus 16:12
2 Samuel 22:13
1 Kings 19:16
Psalms 18:8, 18:12, 18:13, 120:4, 140:10
Proverbs 25:22, 26:21
Song of Songs 8:6
Isaiah 44:12, 44:19, 47:14, 54:16
Lamentation 4:8
Ezekiel 1:13, 10:2, 24:11
Habakkuk 3:5
John 18:18, 21:9
Romans 12:20

Kwaw
Hi Kwaw,


in my bible translation (German) the term is translated occasionally as "coal" (Kohle in German), but mostly with other terms related to fire. It doesn't seem to be fixed as that, what we understand with Kohle. Perhaps they have the understanding of Holzkohle (wood coal) ... the existence of lots od "Kohle" and its very early use seems to be doubtable.

Luria for instance didn't write about his teachings ... it was his pupils, who had promised silence, but started to lay down their knowledge 20 years after his death.
I would think, that already "enough" is written to the very stretched exegesis to letter symbolism, what is really missing - and you gives me right, when you say " .... but fairly impossible for me as I don't have the language skills ..." - is the "simple" embedding in time and development. Why is it impossible ... cause nobody (or only few) has taken it up as a theme for themselves (at least in the surrounding of people, who developed a favour of this letter exegesis).

The information situation is not that bad ... Scholem already had done a lot about it. Also you find lots in these splendid Jewish dictionaries, from which some are rather large and exhaustive in their presentations and offer more to read than you can do in some years.

Fixing oneself on these letter exegesis ... I would say, you're in danger of overconcentration ... Concentration is okay, when you've already studied the whole body a little bit, for instance its context in time as part of a strong religious development in Jewish development between 1500 - 1750 and a Spanish preparation 300 years long before .... also the context of kabalism as part of a broader and general neoplatonism following the Roman world ...
cause you then know, what you're talking about, but without it you're simply nagging it to not understandable pieces, jumping from one shortsighted enlightment to the other. This letter is this and that and finally the whole world without limitation, any few strokes are in danger to compress the whole mystery of existence ... all together in the black hole of overinterpretation ...
a good way to be not understood by others and finally becoming rather boring.
Top   #22
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Quote:
Originally posted by Huck
Hi Kwaw,


in my bible translation (German) the term is translated occasionally as "coal" (Kohle in German), but mostly with other terms related to fire. It doesn't seem to be fixed as that, what we understand with Kohle.
It is also translated as coal in the Tanack translation of the Jewish Study Bible.

The two words translated as coal are:

GChL n.f. -Brown-Driver-Briggs hebrew lexicon translates as 'coal'

and

PChM n.m. [three occurences] BDB lexicon gives 'coal'
The online hebrew lexicon at www.onlinebible.com
gives 'coal', 'charcoal', 'ember'
possibly from an unused root meaning 'to be black'.

Kwaw
Top   #23
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The kabbalistic symolism of Aleph and Beit


One of the meanings of Aleph is Ox, it is the first letter and its numberation is one, spelt in full 111. It is one of a couple of letters used as a single letter name of G-d ['one' being a name of G-d, in Job for example]. It divine appellation is 'G-d of Infinity'.

It symbolises, among other things, the creative power of G-d. Its form, likened to a yoke and plough, is of two yods seperated by a vau, symbolising the seperation of the waters of chaos into upper and lower by the firmanent. Some see in the yoke and plough a euphenism for phallus [Vau] and testes [two yod]. Note that two yods and a vau = 10+10+6= 26, the same as YHVH and also the middle pillar of the ToL, the pillar of air. Aleph is attributed to the principle 'air' in the SY. Ox is a symbol of 'strength', and is commonly a castrated animal, thus neuter, virgin, holy and bears the plough [that is, the phallic, creative power of YHVH]. The yod and vau of which it is formed are the male letters [yod-father, vau-son] in the name YHVH. Yod is attributed to Virgo and Vau to Taurus, the image being of the bull in the furrows of the virgin earth. Both signs attributed are earth signs, the most 'dense' of the elements.

It is attributed to the sephira Kether, the first sefirah, and to the divine name [aong others] AHIH meaning 'being being' or 'I AM that I AM'. Here we have the two Hs of the name YHVH, representing the femine divine, the mother and daughter, the Shekinah. It is connected through Kether with the Ain, 'nothingness' and so combines the two attrbutes of G-d, being and nothingness ["from his nothingness he created his existence" SY]. Thus in encompassing the divine male and female, being and nothingess [1 and 0] lies the symbolism of G-ds 'creative power'. Geometrically it relates to the point with zero dimensions and infinite density. The creative power is also symbolised by the dot [1] or three dots [111] in a circle [cosmic egg].

It is a silent letter, called 'silent before G-d', a reference to the silence before G-d, the void. The mystery of nothingness and being is said to be concealed/revealed in the anagram AIN [Nothing] and ANI [I AM].

"Why is the letter Aleph at the beginning? Because it was before every thing, even the Torah." [Sefer HaBahir 17. Trans., Kaplan]

Cognate ideas in reference to Aleph are alluded to in modern hermetic qabala by reference to parzival and the sacred lance, the babe in the egg, harpocrates god of silence.

The letter Beit is the second of the letters and number 2. It means, among other things, 'house' or 'dwelling place'. As house it can mean anything from a stable, to a palace, temple or even the cosmos as dwelling place of the spirit, God as 'immanent' or the Shekinah.

It is the first letter of the Bible and is symbolic of the beginning of creation. Beit [two] is 'first' in creation. "Why does Bet follow it? Because it was first. Why does it have a tail? To point to the place from which it came from. Some say, from where the world is sustained." [Sefer HaBahir 18. Trans., Kaplan]

In form it is open on one side and closed on three. The three sides represent heaven, earth and the holy spirit between them. According to Rabbi Eleazor 'These are the three holy supernal lights bound as one. They open an opening to faith and are the dwelling place of everything.....They are the totality of the Holy name in three knots of faith." The three knots are the the letter YHV in the divine name YHVH, they also correspond to the three supernal sefiroth. These sort of ideas are what led the Jewish orthodoxy of the middle ages to consider that kabbala was in fact not 'jewish' at all but a heresy of Christian origin. It certainly is indicatative of the influence of Christology on the early development of kabbalah.

Beit [two] as representing the beginning of creation is also the beginning of duality, which includes the beginning of evil. The open side, while representing faith, is open to the left, north symbolic of 'evil'.

There is a great deal more symolism to both Aleph and Beit, but this is sufficient I think to allow us to draw parallels between these, the first and second of the letters, and Shin and Tau, the penultimate and last of the letters already discussed. This allows us to bring the symbolism, whcih taken in isolation seems diffuse and all encompassing, and bring it into tighter focus.

While the letters have a rich depth of meaning I think it is clear there is a primary focus to the associations and attributions of each. There is a clear distinction I think between the first couple of letters and their assocition with the nature of G-d as creator and the beginning of creation; and the eschatological symbolism of the last letters concerned with the last days and the divine revelation in the world to come. In 'aleph' the first of the letters is symbolised the infinite, immeasurable and hidden G-d, in Tau the revealed G-d of the world to come. In Beit the second of the letters we see symbolised the beginning of 'this world' and of evil. in shin the 'last days' of this world in which evil will be judged and destroyed.

Kwaw
Top   #24
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Quote:
Originally posted by Ross G Caldwell
I think your timeline for the three-pronged shin is wrong, Huck. It is square Aramaic, is the form in the Elephantine papyri, is attested in Phoenican even, and even at least 800 b.c.e.

Hi Ross,

couldn't detect anything at your links, which lets me think of a life-tree-modell or a coal with three flames either, it's not very symmetrical. The middle form has three strokes, as I noted it, in the manner of a turned "F" with the outer corner touching the ground and this development started according to my sources, which might be not the best, 500 - 300 BC.
That was Kwaw described, that was given in my source as from 800.

Kwaws sources are from 1600, or later, Lurianistic Kabbala, how should the poor caballists of that time know how the alphabet looked like 800 or 2500 years ago without any artefacts and dictionaries as we have. They assumed, that it looked ever the way as they knew it, I assume. So they felt free to talk about coal, lifetree and three flames when refering to shin and kept their new finding as a very "old tradition".
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Quote:
skytwig wrote:
Just last night, i was exploring this wonderful site which displays Judy Racz's paintings for each letter of the Hebrew 'alphabet'.
These paintings are gorgeous, skytwig - thanks for posting this link!

Quote:
skytwig wrote:
Her interpretations that accompany each painting are certainly deeply moving and thought provoking...
The artist mentions the book The Alef-Beit by Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh as one of her main inspirations for the paintings. This is one of my favorite books on Hebrew letter mysticism and I highly recommend it to anyone looking to bring a deeper and authentically Jewish alphabeticism into their study of Tarot.

Thanks,
- Mark
Top   #26
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Quote:
Originally posted by Huck
Hi Ross,
Kwaws sources are from 1600, or later, Lurianistic Kabbala, how should the poor caballists of that time know how the alphabet looked like 800 or 2500 years ago without any artefacts and dictionaries as we have. They assumed, that it looked ever the way as they knew it, I assume. So they felt free to talk about coal, lifetree and three flames when refering to shin and kept their new finding as a very "old tradition".
As I said in a previous post, some of the symbolism is post lurianic, some earlier. As far as I know there are no pre-lurianic models of the ToL, at least not in the form we now know it. There are similar concepts, that may have inspired the development of the form, for example in the works Joachim da Fiori. The model of the 32 paths used in the SY certainly wasn't the ToL, IMHO internal evidence suggests to me that the SY refers to a concentric circular model. However that being said there is symbolism of the 'three pillars' in the zohar, and comments extending upon the 'coals in the flame' reference in the SY.

In terms of knowing about a three and four stroke shin, they did know about the four stroke. Both types of shin are engraved on the sides of the tefillim, and there is kabbalistic symbolism in relation to both forms, some of which I mentioned in a previous post. The fourth 'flame' is said to represent the revealing in the world to come of the divine essence 'hidden' in the coal of the three stroked shin of this world.

Aleph and Tau, the first and the last, symbolise the divine, hidden and revealed, eternal and unchanging and outside of time. Beit and Shin, the second and penultimate, the beginning and end of the transient and mutable within time.

Kwaw
Top   #27
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For those interested, Judy Racz exhibits in Melbourne (I had mentioned her work in one of the clues in one of the games), and occasionally is able to make it to Tarot Café...

With regards to most of this discussion, it is one of those cross-over areas where there actually are threads on the Kabalah already in existence but restricted to subscribers.

I do not say this to constrain this wonderful dialogue, which has its importance in any developing discussion as to how Hebrew letter correlations may be made, but more as information for subscribers to also check those threads.
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Quote:
jmd wrote:

With regards to most of this discussion, it is one of those cross-over areas where there actually are threads on the Kabalah already in existence but restricted to subscribers.

I do not say this to constrain this wonderful dialogue, which has its importance in any developing discussion as to how Hebrew letter correlations may be made, but more as information for subscribers to also check those threads.
Being a newbie here, I've also wondered about this crossover. I've seen posts here in the Hebrew letter correlations thread which seem more appropriate to the Kabalah & Tarot thread, and vice-versa. (This thread has barely even touched on its original topic of the various alphabetic correspondence systems!)

Would it be useful to fold these two particular threads into one?

Thanks,
- Mark
Top   #29
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Firemaiden - Musings on glyphs


I suspect the Ancient Egyptians represented almost everything around them in hieroglyphs? With some 5000 symbols in all, there were certainly a lot to choose from! Some were indeed (animal) deities and as such would probably have become single characters or determinatives. As you rightly observe though, I suspect it is important to distinguish the various sign classes and seperate the concept from a more traditional alphabet. Monoliteral consonents are sometimes viewed as such yet appear often to be more mundane objects? Indeed your Aleph "bull" could be (originally) from such a determinative? Looking at those Nome (gau) names (thanks Huck!) I see see evidence of all sign classes and also an Egyptian propensity for stylised and composite glyphs. Some remind me more of modern "logos" or a precursor to heraldry and are tthus probably unique to their purpose?

I think hieroglyphs, with their name m(e)dw n(e)tjr "words of god" indeed had a highly religious (often magickal!) significance. Some were used in encryption of magickal texts via cifers of which we still understand little today. The ablility to write was surely considered very significant in that sense. As Herodotus observed, the "Egyptians are the most religious people I know"! With regular (obligatory) stints in the priesthood for all upper classes, perhaps a general/ceremonial understanding of hieroglyps was common? As to daily use among the "plebs" this is less clear...

General literacy wasn't high (a few percent?) and those that did write would have used a cursive form such as Hieratic? A lot of "administrative stuff" seems also to have been written in Akkadian as the (international!) lingua franca too? Certainly written (and spoken) Egyptian evolved much over 4000 years or so? I read an opinion that hieroglyphs on "tomb walls" were probably about as relevant and indeed undertandable to the average person as classical latin in today's world?

Macavity
Top   #30




 


 


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