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The Miners Who Invented the Alphabet – A Response to Christopher Rollston

Orly Goldwasser


Was the alphabet an invention of elite Northwest Semitic speakers, officials in the Egyptian apparatus “quite capable with the complex Egyptian,” as recently suggested by Christopher Rollston? Or was the alphabet born at the social and cultural fringe? This article reconstructs the possible milieu in which the alphabet was invented: in the mining camps in Sinai, around 1840 BCE by illiterate Canaanite miners who came across the alluring pictorial hieroglyphic script. A paleographic study of the hieroglyphic inscription of Khebeded “(the) brother of (the) ruler of Retenu” on Sinai stela 92, sheds new light on the process of the invention, the possible inventors, and the date of the invention.


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