Thursday, January 03, 2013

Shadal series #16 - A partial translation of Shadal's letter about the Samaritans and their script

Actually, I plan to complete the translation, but for today it is partial.

In 1851 Raphael Kirchheim - see here about Kirchheim and his cholent - was working on his annotated edition of the Seven Minor Tractates (link) as well as a work about the Samaritans, intended as an introduction to Massekhet Kutim (link). Before these works were finalized at the printer, he asked Shadal to look it over and give comment. Shadal replied that he did not have the time for that, but he would be happy to send him whatever material he had written about the Samaritans, based on his own researches. Most of it was written in Italian, but Shadal rewrote it in Hebrew. Kirchheim printed the entire letter as an appendix in his Karmei Shomron. It contains some interesting thoughts, and here is my partial translation:

I was overjoyed when I heard the news that you are publishing the Seven Minor Tractates, which for many generations languished in obscurity. Today is a holiday! - to find that you are printing them with explanations and notes; among them, your great book Karmei Shomron which, through your broad learning, you elaborated on the history of the Samaritans and all that pertains to them. In your humility, you asked if I would present you with all that I have to say on your words. However, dear friend, time is short, and your printer is demanding. How can I carefully look over and plumb the depths of your work with all the research that your 'pleasant garden' requires [and respond in time]? Therefore, I thought that it would be sufficient for me to present you with all that I have already written (in Italian, for my Grammar of Hebrew, which has yet to be printed) regarding the Samaritan or Old Hebrew script, and on the very old debate about whether the Hebrew script was changed or not. Without elaborating on the matters well known, I will add to that which the researchers have already stated, that if the script was not changed, then it is incomprehensible on what grounds some of the Mishnaic and Talmudic sages would say, from their own minds, such a strange opinion as this, to say that the script with which we write Holy Scriptures is not the original which the Prophets used. Quite the contrary, if the script truly was changed, and some of those sages denied it, we can understand why they would say it: to remove a stumbling block before the masses, for if our Torah is written in a different script from the one Moshe wrote in, this would be bizarre to the weak minded.
However, this proof is external, meaning that it relies on the testimony of the Mishnaic and Talmudic sages. I have an internal proof, from the Holy Scriptures themselves. In my researches, plumbing the depths of our Prophets and Sages, using the critical method, which seeks the truth alone, [this method] not appealing to the old [i.e., traditional Jews] and also not popular among the new [i.e., the Reform Jews], I looked all over the Bible (specifically in the Prophets and Hagiographa, which is not known to them, due to their excess love for the Torah) and found certain words which are errors due to the incompetence of the scribes who copied the books. I did not rush to disclose my findings to the public, because I know about the challenge which such critical research poses, and the many errors which are easy to make. Many scholars and so-called scholars, both uncircumcised and circumcised, boast that they make emendations, but they make errors. In many biblical passages I found what I myself thought was a scribal error, but after days and years I changed my mind and saw that the books' reading was true and correct. With all this, a small bit of the readings which I established in the texts still seem to me correct (now, as a 50 year old man, and after I have passed the passion of my youth) and sustained, above all doubt. Now, of some of these, I discovered that the mistakes happened through the similar appearance of letters, but not in our Hebrew script, but in the Samaritan script.
See how different is the appearance of a yud and a tzade in our Hebrew script (ketav ashuri), but it is the opposite in the Samaritan script, the two letters are almost identical. In Isaiah (11:15) we find: וְהֵנִיף יָדוֹ עַל-הַנָּהָר בַּעְיָם רוּחוֹ (and with His scorching wind will He shake His hand over the River). The root עים is neither Hebrew, nor one of its cognate languages. Therefore it seems to me that Isaiah did not write בעים, but בּעֹצֶם. I wrote this in my notes to Isaiah which I sent the scholar Rosenmueller, alav ha-shalom, and he printed in his 1835 book. Gesenius, in his W?rterbuch, explained עים (following Rabbi Jonah [ibn Janach]) from אָיֹם, but he reversed himself in his great Lexicon, and he took this explanation from me, and wrote that it seems that be-ayam ought to be emended to be-otzem, due to the graphic similarity between the yud and tzade in the Samaritan and other early Near Eastern scripts. [1]
[1] If someone says, maybe Gesenius did not see what you wrote and came up with it independently, much the same way you yourself, [Shadal], in your youth derived "tanur" from "aton nora" without seeing Gesenius - the response is, I have a Latin letter from Rosenmueller dated 24 April 1835, and he wrote this: "Gesenius reviewed all the pages, including your notes, and approved of them." This is not the only thing which Gesenius took from me [Shadal gives three more examples, and the places they can be found in Gesenius' writings - S.]. 
Also the aleph and tav are of similar appearance in the Samaritan alphabet, and from this we can understand what we find in Jeremiah 3:8, "  וָאֵרֶא, כִּי עַל-כָּל-אֹדוֹת אֲשֶׁר נִאֲפָה מְשֻׁבָה יִשְׂרָאֵל, שִׁלַּחְתִּיהָ, וָאֶתֵּן אֶת-סֵפֶר כְּרִיתֻתֶיהָ אֵלֶיהָ; וְלֹא יָרְאָה בֹּגֵדָה יְהוּדָה, אֲחוֹתָהּ--וַתֵּלֶךְ, וַתִּזֶן גַּם-הִיא," "And I saw, when, forasmuch as backsliding Israel had committed adultery, I had put her away and given her a bill of divorcement, that yet treacherous Judah her sister feared not; but she also went and played the harlot." There is no doubt that Jeremiah did not write "וָאֵרֶא," "And I saw," but ותרא, "And she saw." The opposite (e.g., a tav replacing a proper aleph) occurs in 1 Samuel 24:11[sic; it's actually 10]: "וְאָמַר לַהֲרָגְךָ, וַתָּחָס עָלֶיךָ," "and some bade me kill thee; but mine eye spared thee." But its true reading is "."
Next follows quite a few other example, which I will return to and translate, but in the meantime, the two (one and a half, actually) above will suffice. 
Returning to our subject, that the scribal errors we mentioned arose, without a doubt, because of the graphic similarity of letters [only] in the Samaritan alphabet, is in my view a faithful witness that the script changed and that our books were not originally written in our Ashuri script, but in the one which remained in use among the Samaritans. It is true that changing the script, and writing the holy books in a new script, not previously used by the Prophets for their books, does seem extremely odd. Not for nothing was the matter difficult to accept for many Jewish scholars and non-Jewish ones, so it seemed to them false, and they accepted the wrong opinion [i.e., that Ashuri was older]. But all this is because they didn't understand the reason, they merely heard the idea that the Jews changed the script, but lacked any idea about why, until they were left with the wrong view, that it never happened. If they had known the reason, and the circumstances which caused the Jewish sages to change the script, they would have been able to accept it, and would actually have thanked their predecessors [i.e., the sages, for changing it]. For it is known that the Samaritans tampered with their Torah and introduced many changes into it, large and small. This thing was a stumbling block for the simple Jews, because the Samaritans could, for example, point to what is written in their Torah at the end of the Ten Commandments, "And it will be when the Lord, your God, will bring you to the land of Canaan, which you have come to inherit, and you will establish large stone monuments and write this song upon them, etc. and when you will cross the Jordan you should establish these stones which I command you this day on Mt. Gerizim and build their an altar, etc. - from here is proof to say that their Temple [on Mt. Gerizim] was the spot chosen by God, and not the Temple in Jerusalem. So because of such changes by the Samaritans, the Jewish sages were smart and figured out a way to stop this problem and make a clear, lasting change between our proper books and their improper ones. They found no greater change than to write our scrolls in another script, so that even a simple person could see a Torah of a Samaritan and discern immediately that it is unfit. 
This reason for the change of script was hypothesized by my beloved son Ohev Ger, the Lord keep and strengthen him. It is possible that this was what was intended by Jerome on Ezra (from his version of the Chronicon by Eusebius): "[Ezra] collected the holy Scripture, that they might not be mingled with the Samaritans, [and] changed the Jewish letters." [I reject] the understanding of this passage in Eusebius by Rabbi Azariah, that the  script was changed in order to prevent the physical mixing of the Jews and Samaritans, but in order that the Torahs should not mix! - as he wrote, "divinas scripturas"  
Actually, the change in the script did not occur in the days of Ezra, but later, for we find also in the book of Ezra and Chronicles scribal errors which are due to the similarity of lettes in the Samaritan script. Furthermore, when they changed the script they only prohibited its use for Scriptures, but they still used it for other writing (like the rabbis said, it was left for the plain folk). This is the cause of why we find coins from the Hasmonean era in the Samaritan script. In those times there were two Jewish scripts, one used for secular and one for holy writing. In the end the holy script prevailed, and the earlier script which was left for plain folk, was also abandoned, and remained in use among the Samaritans only. 
Now we will discuss the names which the Samaritan script was known by in earlier times. In the Talmud we find it called Ktav Ivri, and also the Samaritans themselves called it Ktav Ivri, for they called our script Ktav Ezra; see their letter to Scaliger of the year 5349 (1589), which was printed in the book Repertorium fur biblische und Morgendlaendische Litteratur vol. 13 [pp. 257 - &c.]. Now, Rashi to Sanhedrin 21 explained "Ktav Ivri" as "of the people who dwelled over the river [i.e., Euphrates]." This explanation is justified on account of Sabbath 115 and Megillah 18, which refer to Coptic, Ivrit, Elamit, Medite, and Greek, and the intention there is to foreign languages. But how could this explanation pertain to the script in which the Torah was given, which was the ancient Jewish script, similar to the Phoenician script used by the people of Tyre and Sidon? Perhaps Rashi believed that the Samaritan script truly came from over the river, and was used in Eretz Yisrael in the time of Abraham, and from their it came to Israel, only he did not know (and it was impossible for him to know) that also the people of Tyre and Sidon used this script. And when I looked into it, and realized that Ktav Ivri [in this Talmudic text] did not mean a script used in the Land of Israel, and this was at the beginning of the Second Temple era, when Israel was reigned by the Persians. The Persians, who dwelled in the east, called the land of Israel and her environs to the west, "Ever Nahara" (Ezra 4, 5, 6, 7). From the expression of the king and the nobles, the Jews themselves, as well as the Samaritans, began calling their script by the name Ktav Ivri; note that the expression "ever ha-nahar" doesn't refer to any one side of the river. It's primary meaning is either side of the river, and depends upon the perspective of the speaker or listener. (To learn more in depth about "ever" see Gesenius' Thesaurus p. 986 and also what I wrote in Hamishtadel at the beginning of Deuteronomy) After the dissolution of the Persian Empire, the term "Ivri" returned slowly but surely to its original meaning, Aram Naharayim (hence the Talmudic list, Ivrit, Elamit, Medit) and the word "Ivri" as referring to Israel was from then only used in the phrase "eved Ivri" (for so it is called in the Torah), and Ktav Ivri (for this was its name as it was used by the Samaritans, who actually used the script). For this reason R. Abraham de Balmes, R. Azariah de Rossi and others who did not call the Samaritan script "Ivri" but "Ktav Ever Hanahar" were being inexact. 
Sanhedrin 22, we find Ktav Ivri called "Ro'etz," and in Yerushalmi Megillah (first chapter) we find it called "Ra'atz" (i.e., without the vav). The scholar R. Moses Landau writes in his book Geist und Sprache, p. 104, that Ra'atz is like La'az. However, the word "la'az" was well known and used constantly in the language of the Mishnah and Talmud, so who could believe that it was mistakenly changed to ra'atz? Or to say, as a few scholars do, that the idea of ra'atz means a broken script (Fractur) is impossible, since the root of ra'atz doesn't mean broken in scriputral Hebrew, but only in the Hebrew language of the Mishnah and Talmud. When I looked into it, this is what I concluded. Now, the Samaritans refer to our script as "Ktav Ezra Ha-arur", the Script of Ezra the Accursed, (see their letter in the aforementioned Repertorium 13 pg. 273). Therefore the Jews, to retaliate, also coined a term of opprobrium for their script, and took the name of Ezra, which they used in referring to ours, and changed the letters around, also exchanging the letter zayin for a tzade, and came up with the term ra etz, intending "breaking." What is this like? Like Bar Kokhba, whose name they changed to Bar Koziva, or like Evangelion, which they changed to Even Gilyon - even though the terms "kazav" and "aven" are atypical for Mishnaic language, and are only used in Biblical Hebrew. [i.e., so it does mean "Broken" after all, and a clever inversion of "Ktav Ezra"] 
When the Talmud asked, "What is Ktav Ivri?" Rav Hisda replied, "Ktav Livuna'ah." Many think this is one of the names for Ktav Ivri (including Gesenius). To me it seems that as the Samaritans lived in Israel, and not in Babylonia, and Ktav Ivri was unknown in Babylonia, so when they asked Rav Hisda "what are the hedyotot" he answered "the Samaritans." Then they asked him, "What is Ktav Ivri" but Rav Hisda did not know to answer "the Samaritan script," since he was unfamiliar with it. So he answered "Ktav Livuna'ah," which did not mean exclusively the Samaritan script, and it must have been a script known at the time in Babylonia, and [perhaps] it was somewhat similar to the Samaritan. And truly these writings are found in the ruins of Babylon and Nineveh on bricks. Some of these [=cuneiform] slightly resemble the Phoenician and Samaritan (see Kopp "Bilder und Schriften" II 152, 154) and Layard in "Nineveh" (Paris 1850) p. 173). R. Moses Landau in his book Ma'archei Lashon (p. 875) explained the word "Livuna'ah" from the term "levenah," (brick), but this is impossible. First, because of the vav after the beit, as it is written in the earlier printed editions, as well as my old manuscript of the Aruch, under the entry Ktav. The second reason is that the bricks [=tablets] in Babylon are not at all similar to the Samaritan, most are written in cuneiform, only the tiniest fraction are alphabetic. So I say that the term Livuna'ah does not refer to the Samaritan alphabet, but another script, and the true meaning of it is not possible for us to determine.
After this follows several pages on the poetic language of the Samaritans.
This is sufficient because of the lack of time. You my dear lerned friend, rejoice in your work, and rejoice all who love Torah and her aids. Peace to you and yours, signed Padua 9 Sivan 5611, your friend Shadal.


  1. Steg (dos iz nit der šteg)6:22 PM, January 03, 2013

    Could "Ktav Livuna'a" mean Lebanese, i.e. Phoenician?

  2. Re "This is not the only thing which Gesenius took from me": I know that one of the others is the explanation of the names "Dodanim" in Gen. 10:4 and "Rodanim" in I Chron. 1:7 as originally "Dardanim," i.e. the inhabitants of Dardania, which is Troy. In his comment on Gen. 10:4, Shadal frankly says that this was one of the ideas that Gesenius "stole" from him. But he softens this accusation by appending the letters ayin-he to Gesenius' name. Normally one would expect "alav ha-shalom" to be used only for the Jewish dead. In fact, there is evidence that Shadal and Gesenius held each other in great esteem.

  3. I confess to having some trouble reading this, in part because of the long sentences & paragraphs. Could you kindly give a brief summary of what Shadal was setting out to do with this letter?

    Thank you.

  4. Steg, great suggestion!

    Dan, you can see by the fact that in this very letter he constantly refers to Gesenius again and again, that he considered him a great scholar. As for the evidence that Gesenius esteemed his scholarship, other than this letter itself (where we merely see that Gesenius told Rosenmueller he reviewed his Scholia, including Shadal's notes) apparently this all rests on an advertisement in some journals for the Prologomeni - and Gesenius is quoted as saying that Shadal was the best Orientalist in Italy. Apart for stealing a few of Shadal's chiddushim (assuming he did, which I am inclined to Gesenius did cite him a number of times, his Prologemeni and Ohev Ger.

    Anon, hope this is not too wordy.

    It concerns mainly the issue of the Samaritan alphabet, which for the sake of the discussion is assumed to be basically identical to paleo-Hebrew (Ktav Ivri). Shadal begins by noting the question of the scholars (now considered long settled) about which script was older, the Ktav Ivri or Ktav Ashuri (the square Hebrew letters presently used). In the Talmud both opinions are given. Shadal points out that the very argument is a kind of proof that the Ivri is older, for otherwise which rabbi would have ever thought to make such an argument? That some of the sages said the square Hebrew is older we can readily understand, and they might even say it knowing it isn't true, because the change of the script confuses the masses. I would just add that I myself have seen regular people who believe in Torah min hashamayim exhibit real confusion over this, so he is absolutely right.

    However, he says that this is only an external proof, but he can prove that it was changed from Tanakh itself. Although he is conservative about the idea of their being textual errors in the Bible, he does accept that there are some. Some of these errors can only be explained by the graphic similarity of letters in the Ivri script, whereas in the Ashuri script those letters are not similar at all. He gives several example, and I translated one of them. This example depends on the fact that in Ktav Ivri the yud and the tzadi are very similar and easily confused, whereas in Ktav Ashuri, they are totally dissimilar. He is convinced that there is an error in a verse in Isaiah, and he believes that the solution lies in switching a yud back to a tzadi. He has a number of other such examples. The upshot, of course, is that originally the Bible was written in Ktav Ivri.


  5. Next he tried to explain why the script was changed, which would be strange, to change the script the very prophets used. The solution he proposes is that the Jewish sages changed the script to differentiate our Torah from the Samaritan Torah, which has numerous differences, including some very serious ones (particularly the explicit consecration of Mt. Gerizim, where the Samaritans built their Temple). The idea is that the simple Jews might be misled by their Torah, so by changing the script it became immediately obvious which was a Jewish - that is, kosher - book, and which was Samaritan.

    He says this idea comes from his son, and actually Jerome wrote something similar in his version of Eusebius's Chronicon, stating that Ezra collected the Holy Scripture so that "they" would not become mingled with the Samaritans, and he changed the script." Shadal says that Eusebius may well have meant "the holy scriptures" should not become mingled, while Rabbi Azariah de Rossi misunderstood this passage, and thought it meant that the Jews and Samaritans themselves should not be mingled.

    Then he writes that it is an error to ascribe the change in script to Ezra, because we find the same kind of textual errors he mentioned before, in the books of Ezra and Chronicles, so it must have been changed sometime later. In fact, the change did not occur overnight - the new script was only used for holy writing, while the old script was used for secular things, like we find paleo-Hebrew on Hasmonean coins. Eventually the new, "holy" script prevailed, and in time only that one came to be used by the Jews, while the Samaritans used the old.

    Next he discusses the names of the Samaritan script. The Talmud calls it Ktav Ivri, as did the Samaritans themselves (he proves this from a Samaritan letter, where they call it Ktav Ivri). So what does it mean? "Hebrew?" Rashi explained it as "over the river," that is, from over the Euphrates (i.e., outside of Israel). The gemara refers to a litany of foreign scripts, including Greek and Coptic, and also includes "Ivri." So apparently there was some kind of foreign script called Ivri. However, Shadal points out, in fact the paleo-Hebrew script was the Phoenician script. Same side of the river. So he says that Rashi was probably unaware that the Phoenicians used it. How could he have known?

    So Shadal looked into it and realized that the Persians called Israel "Ever Nahara," in Aramaic, as we find in Ezra. Thus, he believes, they referred to the script used in Israel as "Ivri" script, and the Jews and Samaritans also came to call it that. Eventually the term reverted to its original, biblical meaning of "over the Euphrates" specifically (i.e., "Hebrew") but it had its genesis in a Persian coining.



  6. That's the first name. The second name the Talmud uses is Ra'atz. Some scholars held that it means "broken," referring to its appearance. Shadal himself reconstructs the name as follows. From the same Samaritan source mentioned above, we see that they called the square Hebrew script "Ktav Ezra Ha-arur," "the script of the accursed Ezra." So, he believes, the Jews flipped it around and made a pun on "Ktav Ezra," changing the letters ayin-zayin-resh into resh-ayin-tzadi, and called the Samaritan script "broken." He points to two cases where the Jews did something similar. Bar Kosiva was called "Bar Koziva," with the meaning of "deceitful." And they called the Christian Bible, the Evangelion, "Even Gilyon," with the meaning of "iniquity." Furthermore, both "even" and "kazav" are biblical useages, even though they are obviously from Mishnaic times.

    Finally, he considers the name Livuna'ah, which we only find in the Talmud Bavli. He says that he doesn't think Rav Hisda actually knew what Ktav Ivri was, being in Babylonia and not Israel, and so he named *another* alphabet of some kind, which he called Livuna'ah. As for the meaning of it, some think it means cuneiform. One scholar conjecture that Livuna'ah refers to the tablets themselves, like "levenah" in Hebrew. Shadal rejects this and concludes simply that we are not in position to exactly interpret Livuna'ah, only that he is sure it refers to another script, rather than the Samaritan/ paleo-Hebrew alphabet, just not sure what it is.

  7. Thank you very much. That was extremely helpful. I did not quite grasp the brilliance of what Shadal was saying.

    so why, in fact, was the langauge changed, if it was not due to Ezra's initiative?

    1. Ultimately I think it is unknowable. It is worth pointing out that the square Hebrew script is basically identical with the Aramaic script used in Persia and in all likelihood (to me) it was just the overwhelming cultural influence which caused it, not that it was planned, but Aramaic and Hebrew correspond letter for letter, so it was a natural fit. It is the same alphabet. Unlike Shadal and all others, I am not so bothered by the question "How could they change it?!" We have no way of knowing if any sanctity was ever ascribed to the alphabet. It's only a shock if we assume that it was, but we don't know it. I think Shadal is right on the money about what motivated those who said that the script was always the square Hebrew. Eventually the idea of changing it did (and does) offend the sensibility of people who ascribe sanctity even to the letters, and it seems incomprehensible to change it. That is, *we* wouldn't change it.

      But Shadal's idea (his son's, really) is that the sole purpose of changing the letters was to differentiate the Jewish Torah from the Samaritan Torah, to make it instantly obvious which was which. Since he knew that the old Hebrew was still used (he was aware of Hasmonean coins) he says that the new was only used for Tanakh, and eventually it nudged out the old Hebrew entirely. This seems plausible. People make all kinds of assumptions about the old Hebrew on the coins being used as some kind of nationalistic, revivalist symbol. But that isn't necessarily true. It could have been the remnants of the script in natural use in Israel among Jews. Perhaps the coins minted in the Bar Kokhba period, some 300 years later, were somehow nationalistic though.

  8. Thanks for clarifying a topic which bothered me for the longest time.
    Then again, here goes the "kutzo shel Yud" (and the whole Orach chaim Siman 32) since the whole Kessav Ashuri is just an assumption of an other culture's alef beth.

  9. One more question:
    Were the Samaritans so much more powerful than the Jews, that the Jewish leadership was worried enough about the latter's negative influence to warrant the adoption of a new Aleph Beth?
    Sounds like "the tail is wagging the dog".

    1. Let me first say that I agree that the reason is not terribly convincing necessarily or, to put it another way, is entirely based on conjecture. While nice that Eusebius already suggested it, he also lived many centuries later.

      I also agree that the change seems completely drastic. I will only say that part of the reason it seems outrageous is because it is from our vantage point. At the end of the day, as great as we think the Anshei Knesses Hagedolah were, last of the Nevi'im, etc. - what this whole thing amounts to is saying that men made a decision to make a radical change in God's word. Crazy!

      But it is so from our vantage point. You mentioned the halachic discussions about kotzo shel yud. Well, I see nothing abot kotzo shel yud in the Torah or in the Nevi'im. We should be careful not to project our own ideas of the importance of the tzuros ha-osiyos onto earlier times. If you think about it, many very commonly believed things about the alphabet are entirely absent in the Talmud too, even if already we see more esteem for the aleph beis, and halacha about the shape of letters in the Talmud. In short, the attitude about the letters seems to be something which developed. We can't ask a question on others based on our own issues, or we can, but we have to at least keep in mind that the answer may be as simple as "It was as meaningless to them as it is to modify the recipe for דיו is to us."

      Finally, I would add that from an academic point of view, all alphabets (almost all, anyway) are actually evolved from the Phoenician, that is, the Ktav Ivri. This includes the Aramaic alphabet, that is, the Ktav Ashuri. If you look at surviving inscriptions and papyrus from the Persian period you can see it much more than you can with the standardized Hebrew square script as it too developed in time. It is even possible that originally the relationship between the scripts was realized, and simply, the Aramaic/ Ivri script was a more beautiful, prestigious form of the same script, and seen as entirely appropriate an enhancement of Tanakh to write it in that script. Remember, the alphabets correspond exactly. 22 letters. Not like Arabic, which has a few extra letters and so on. They are the same alphabet, just written differently. Just thought of that now, but who knows?

      As for the issue of just how "powerful" the Samaritans would have had to be to differentiate its Torah, bear in mind that there were no Chumashim in those days, certainly no printing. Books - scrolls - of the Torah were certainly somewhat rare. We see from the Dead Sea Scrolls that standards weren't quite what they are now. I could at least conceive of the possibility - albeit without proof - that this was a problem and hischakmu, they did something about it.

  10. This morning a discussion with a friend of mine inspired the following thought. The Yerushalmi Megilla 1:11 says that according to each opinion, the Torah was originally in Ashurit or Ivri, there was a miracle in the Luchot, but the miracle differed by letter:

    תני רבי שמעון בן אלעזר אומר משום רבי אלעזר בן פרטא שאמר משום רבי לעזר המודעי כתב אשורי ניתנה התורה ומה טעמא [שמות כז י] ווי העמודים שיהו ווים של תורה דומים לעמודים אמר רבי לוי מאן דאמר לרעץ ניתנה התורה עי"ן מעשה ניסים מאן דאמר אשורי ניתנה התורה סמ"ך מעשה ניסים

    But focusing on the first part, it occurs to me that the vav certainly looks like a vav (hook) in Ktav Ivri - maybe even more so than in Ktav Ashuri. So why does רבי אלעזר consider the vav a proof that it was in Ashuri? Perhaps the answer is the Samaritan alphabet. In the Samaritan alphabet the vav does not look much like a hook. Rabbi Eleazar's idea of Ktav Ivri was the Samaritan alphabet, not the older Phoenician one, which it evolved from.

    See here for a table of the Samaritan alphabet.

    1. =pillar, not hook. Same thing. In the Samaritan the vav does not look like an עמוד, but it does in actual Ktav Ivri, same as in Ktav Ashuri.

  11. It's important to remember that the Samaritan Hebrew we see today is modern and evolved. Take it back far enough and it looks exactly like Paleo-Hebrew.

    Go have a look at 4-6th century Samaritan and you'll see it was much more similar to 2nd century BCE Hasmonean paleo-Hebrew.



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