Review: The World’s Oldest Alphabet

34154998Douglas Petrovich has a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto, with a major in Syro-Palestinian archaeology, and minors in both ancient Egyptian language and ancient Near Eastern religions. Petrovich is the former academic dean and professor at Novosibirsk Biblical-Theological Seminary and currently teaches Ancient Egypt at Wilfrid Laurier University. He is the author of numerous academic, peer-reviewed articles and the groundbreaking new book The World’s Oldest Alphabet: Hebrew as the Language of the Proto-consonantal Script (Carta Jerusalem, 2016).

The World’s Oldest Alphabet is divided into four sections: (1) background matters to the proto-consonantal inscriptions, (2) the inscriptions of the period of Egypt’s Middle Kingdom, (3) the inscriptions of the period of Egypt’s New Kingdom, and (4) concluding thoughts. Most readers will do well to spend time in the initial section of the book. Petrovich does a phenomenal job introducing the issues and methodology of the book, including the placement of the first alphabet among the earliest written scripts, the Semitic language of the proto-consonantal scripts, and the methodological information the reader will need to follow along.

Petrovich presents 16 proto-consonantal inscriptions: (1) the Caption on Sinai 115, (2) Sinai 337, (3) Wadi el-Hôl 1, (4) Wadi el-Hôl 2, (5) Lahun Bilingual Ostracon, (6) Sinai 376, (7) Sinai 345a and Sinai 345b, (8) Sinai 346a and Sinai 346b, (9) Sinai 349, (10) Sinai 351, (11) Sinai 353, (12) Sinai 357, (13) Sinai 360, (14) Sinai 361, (15) Sinai 375a, and (16) Sinai 378. Each inscription is addressed individually as Petrovich walks the reader through the necessary background information, the translation methodology, and the potential historical value of the inscriptions. Readers will find numerous full-color maps, photographs, and illustrations of the inscriptions. The visual aspect of the book complements the meticulously detailed information that Petrovich provides, and readers will appreciate every page. Furthermore, Petrovich includes a number of helpful supplemental items, such as an alphabetic chart of proto-consonantal Hebrew, and index material that provides additional information concerning the original letters of proto-consonantal Hebrew, grammatical guides for proto-consonantal Hebrew, and a chronological chart of relevant ancient Egyptian dynasties. 

The World’s Oldest Alphabet is fascinating. Petrovich has broken academic ground that few have been willing to walk, and done so while yielding faithful witness to the biblical narrative. One of the most exciting, and subsequently controversial findings of the study, is the explicit mention of three biblical figures: (1) Asenath, (2) Ahisamach, and (3) Moses. Hence, not only has Petrovich claimed to have uncovered the oldest alphabet, he also has claimed to have discovered the oldest (1842-1446 BCE) mention of Moses and others. Of course, Petrovich is not without his critics, and for good reason. If The World’s Oldest Alphabet is accurate (and Petrovich presents a convincing case), then Petrovich could be liable for one of the most significant archaeological realizations in the last century. It fits the biblical narrative and further establishes the reliability of the biblical record.

The World’s Oldest Alphabet is detailed and judicious in its research and presentation, and readers will benefit greatly from Petrovich’s efforts. This is an academic work with a particular audience in mind. That said, while it may require more time to read than anticipated, it could be easily understood by a trained or interested layperson. The thesis is simple, explanation is clear, and the implications are enormous. Critics will inevitably argue that Petrovich found that which he was intending to find, but the meticulous work done therein appears to demonstrate otherwise. This isn’t to say that Petrovich deserves (or will get) wholesale support from every reader. It is simply an acknowledgement that Petrovich has done the necessary work to substantiate his conclusions, and for that reason The World’s Oldest Alphabet: Hebrew as the Language of the Proto-consonantal Script comes strongly recommended!

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