Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

Cuneiform Alphabets from Syria and Palestine

Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

Cuneiform Alphabets from Syria and Palestine

Article excerpt

This review article continues the stimulating discussions that the reviewer held with the authors at the hospitable Ugarit-Forschung, an institute devoted to Ugaritic studies, during his stays in Munster in 1983(1) and 1987.

1. The Book

1.1. An introductory chapter is devoted to the general problems of "alphabetology," especially to the invention and spread of alphabetic writing systems. Aspects of research on the alphabet and its cultural importance are traced from Plato, through J.-J. Rousseau, J. G. Herder and O. Spengler, to J. Derrida. The role of the cuneiform alphabets in the history of writing is rightly assessed as important.

1.2.1. The second chapter, dealing with the cuneiform alphabet of Ugarit, is devoted mostly to evaluation of previous research. The relative age and priority of cuneiform and linear Phoenician alphabets have been discussed since the decipherment of Ugaritic writing, especially after the alphabet tablets became known. The origin of the Ugaritic cuneiform alphabet was explained by derivation from the syllabic cuneiform script, by free formation of signs from basic elements, by imitation of Egyptian hieratic script, and by analogy to Phoenician linear script. Various attempts to clarify the relationship between various alphabets - Ugaritic cuneiform, Canaanite/Phoenician linear, and South Semitic - are presented, with due attention to the last one, to which studies have been devoted by W. Rollig. A. G. Lundin and J. Ryckmans. The authors do not deem any of these opinions and theses fully convincing.

1.2.2. The relevant materials relating to the long alphabet of Ugarit are conveniently presented in two tables. The forms of letters written with wedges and their linear reconstructions are shown together with letters from representative western and southern linear alphabets, and the sequence of the Ugaritic alphabet is compared with that of the Phoenician/Canaanite alphabet. Detailed comparison of all 30 letters of the Ugaritic alphabet with the linear letters leads to the conclusion that 12 letters are related only to those of the western alphabets, 7 letters only to those of the southern alphabets, while for 8 letters corresponding forms can be found in both of these linear alphabets.

1.2.3. The short cuneiform alphabet is dealt with in a more detailed manner (pp. 145-275). All texts found in Ugarit and its harbor and elsewhere are presented in autograph and transliteration, with detailed information about their discovery, graphics, and interpretation, and ample references to previous publications.

1.3.1. The first group consists of these texts: KTU 4.31 (1933), 1.77 (1934/1935), 4.710 (1959/1960/1961), 7.60 (1937/1938). They are written from right to left; the forms of some letters differ from the standard forms of the long alphabet. The elements of the short alphabet can be observed in some school texts written in the long alphabet, in alphabet tablets and in writing exercises such as KTU 5.7 (1957), 5.11 (1959), 5.22 (1963).

1.3.2. Texts in the short alphabet, mostly on vessels, all of them brief, were found in following localities: Hala Sultan Tekke, Cyprus (1981/1982); Tell Nebi Mend/Qades, Syria (1975/1976); Kamid el-Loz/Kumidi, Beqa Valley, Lebanon, KTU 6.2 (1967/1973) and (1977/1983); Sarafand/Sarepta, south of Sidon, Lebanon (1970-1972/1975); Tabor Valley/Wadi Bire KTU 6.1 (1945) and Tell Ta annak, KTU 4.767 (1963/1964); and Bet Semes/Rumeileh, west of Jerusalem, KTU 8.1 (1933/1933), to which a special chapter (pp. 277-96) is devoted. All these texts are presented in autograph, transliteration, and translation.

1.3.3. The texts in the short alphabet, for which only 21 letters are attested, are written mostly from right to left, only a few from left to right. This feature and also the occasional use of some letters of the long alphabet, show that the tradition of the latter was also known outside of Ugarit. These observations lead the authors to the conclusion that in Ugarit the short alphabet was supplanted by the long alphabet, which expressed the richer consonantism more adequately (cf. …

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