The Alphabet
© Charles Chandler
Moses is said to have invented the alphabet,1,2:b9:ch26 but he didn't invent it from scratch. From the Wikipedia article on the Phoenician alphabet:
The Proto-Sinaitic script [the parent of the Phoenician alphabet] was in use from in the Sinai by Canaanite speakers [...] but the alphabet was not widely used until the rise of new Semitic kingdoms in the .
Proto-Sinaitic was a phonetic script, with strokes derived from Egyptian hieroglyphs, in the same way that Japanese hiragana strokes were derived from Chinese pictographs. This would have been an odd choice of a script for people indigenous to the Judaean Mountains, where cuneiform had been in use for hundreds of years, and which was the script used in all of the Amarna letters from Canaan. But a script based on Egyptian hieroglyphs would make a lot of sense for Atenists in exile.
So why didn't they just write in hieroglyphs?
This was not something that devout Atenists would ever do. Many of the hieroglyphs were pictographs of Egyptian gods. Akhenaten made it illegal to represent such gods, in idolatry or in iconography. This changed the script to simplified and stylized strokes that were not obvious pictographs, similar to what was in use in the Sinai at the time. So the Atenists would certainly have recorded the tenets of their faith, and their history, in just such a script. And they chose Proto-Sinaitic, over the Egyptian script from Amarna, and over cuneiform used in Canaan, because Proto-Sinaitic was familiar to both Egyptians and Canaanites. So the Atenist priests could write it, and the Habirus could read it.
The heavy usage beginning in the forced a standardization, including an acrophonic abecedary, wherein characters in the script are named according to their sounds, and are listed in a specific order. This practice began at Amarna for Akhenaten's phonetic Egyptian (). When applied to Proto-Sinaitic, the Hebrews selected "aleph" and "bet" as the first two characters, which inspired the Greek "alpha" and "beta," and from which we get the word "alphabet." So the Atenists didn't invent the characters, but they did organize them into an alphabet.


1. Diodorus (49 bce): Bibliotheca historica.

2. Eusebius (313): Præparatio Evangelica.

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