CHICAGO (Jul. 25)
The alphabet was invented by Semites, not by Phoenicians, as scholars have thought. This is the conclusion reached by Professor Martin Sprengling of the University of Chicago, who has deciphered the inscriptions on Mount Sinai, where according to the Bible, Moses received the tablets of the Ten Commandments. Dr. Sprengling has just published a monograph on the subject.
Dr. Sprengling believes that the alphabet was invented between 1850 and 1800 B. C., or more than 3,700 years ago, by a Bedouin mine foreman who was working in the Sinai desert for the Egyptians. This Bedouin is believed to have devised a simple system of twenty-one symbols in order to keep records of mine operations, and to have discarded entirely the complex system of hieroglyphics, or picture symbols, then in use by the Egyptians.
There are fourteen known examples of the Mount Sinai inscriptions. Professor Sprengling has shown that most of them are dedicatory inscriptions to Baalat, the feminine form of the god Baal, against whom Moses and the Israelites warred and a priest of whose cult the prophet Elijah killed.
While most of the inscriptions express thanks for favors rendered by Baalat or are petitions for favors from the goddess, there are also some references to Seir, the land just to the east of Sinai, proving that the people who made the inscriptions and who were working the mines under Egyptian direction were from that land. One inscription Professor Sprengling translated to read: “I am the badger (miner) Sahmilat, foreman of mine shaft No. 4.”
Professor Sprengling believes that a friendly Egyptian scribe taught an ambitious Semitic foreman the rudiments of the hieroglyphic method so that the foreman could keep the records incidental to his work, but that the simple Bedouin, unable to master the intricacies of the Egyptian picture language, took a bold step and produced an alphabet by representing actual single sounds with a single symbol which might be combined with others. When an industrial depression hit the Sinai region, the desert people, migrating in all directions, took the alphabet with them, according to Professor Sprengling.
One group, he believes, went to Palestine and Syria, becoming the Canaanites and the Phoenicians, whom the Israelites encountered 350 years later, while others went into southern Arabia, becoming the Minaeans, and a third group went north, to become the Arameans. The latter group, he believes, carried the alphabet to India, and this same branch of the alphabet was taken by the Arabic conquest of 650 C. E. into Turkey and Europe.