What Did the Torah Look Like?


Have you ever wondered what font the Torah was originally written in?

It might have been the font that the Mishnah calls Ashuri, which is what comes to mind when most of us think about Hebrew. But there’s another style of Hebrew writing called Paleo-Hebrew. Scholars today simply call it “Ktav Ivri,” or “Hebrew writing,” even though most contemporary Hebrew readers would never identify it as Hebrew. It’s a combination of straight lines and circles (left).

The oldest written example of Ivri is the Zayit Stone, a 38-pound rock found outside Jerusalem that might date as far back as the 10th century B.C.E. A Hebrew alphabet is sketched on the stone, although it’s a bit different from the one we know: The letters hey and vav are in reverse order, kaf and lamed are also reversed, and there’s a strange w shape between tet and yud.

From the physical evidence, Ivri appears to be older than Ashuri. But there is a rabbinic tradition that Ashuri is actually the more ancient script–and that the Torah was originally written in Ashuri, then Ivri rose in popularity when Ashuri was forgotten, and then Ashuri was subsequently rediscovered. So the jury is still out.

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