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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Nabataean Ches, Yud and Tzadik (1st & 2nd Century BCE)

The Nabataeans lived in the middle east near Eretz Yisrael roughly during the time of the Chashmonaim. They spoke a dialect of Aramaic and wrote using their own written alphabet which has the same letters as Hebrew. Their script has many similarities to the Hebrew (Ashuris) alphabet. 

One of their examples of the letter Ches (below right) has a chatoteres, somewhat resembling the Ksav Ashuri Ches according to Rabbeinu Tam:
The Nabataen Ches (Heth)

One of their examples of the letter Yud (below left) vaguely resembles the Ksav Ashuri Yud, with a sort of tag above, and an ooketz below:
The Nabataen Yud (Yodh)

One of their examples of the letter Tzadik (below left) is similar to the Ksav Ashuri Tzadik (albeit crooked), with the right head facing right as in Ksav Ari zal.
The Nabataen Tzadik (Sad'e)
You can see the entire script here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nabataean_alphabet

2 comments:

  1. Great post. The Nabatean script, as well as our current Torah script, both descend from the original Ketav Ashurit utilized at the time of Ezra. At that time, Ketav Ashurit was utilized as the official script of the Persian Empire.

    Interestingly, because of it being used as the official government script, we have hundreds of documents discovered “MiHodu ad Kush” which reveal only minor local differences in the writing of its basic forms. That is, it was a highly standardized and universal script that dominated the entire area at that time along with Leshon Aramit.

    With time, Ketav Ashurit began to exhibit a greater cursive tendency. This led to an incremental difference in certain of the medial and final forms of the letters which find a parallel in our regular & sofit letters. These are already attested from the 5th Century BCE. but did not become a fixed pattern in the Ketav Ashurit.

    The uniform writing tradition of Ketav Ashurit as the official script of the Persian Empire began to weaken once Alexander the Great conquered Persia in 323 BCE. A process then began which gave rise to a multitude of variations of shape and type of letters throughout the empire.

    The Greek language soon replaced Aramit as the administrative language and the Greek script replaced the official Ketav Ashurit in official documents.

    As a unifying element no longer existed, Ketav Ashurit began to develop local forms around the end of the 3rd Century BCE. Nabatean, is one of such scripts with close parallels to our Ketav Ashurit.

    Indeed, I have reproductions of old Nabatean papyri and the parallels are erie. The cursive YODS are entirely akin to those found in cheapie passul mezuzot today. The CHETS exihibit a hump like ours. The TZADE is a NUN with a semblance of what we would describe today as a YOD attached to its back.

    The familiarity with Nabatean in the then current Eretz Yisrael was such, that at the Caves of Wade Murraba’at and Nahal Hever many fragments of Torah scrolls, tefillin, deeds in Greek, Aramit, and Nabatean were found together with letters to and from Bar Kochbah.

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  2. Both, our script and Nabatean come to us from the earlier Ketav Ashurit. Therefore, these parallelisms are exhibited across many of our letter forms.

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