James Harris & Dann Hone (Expanding the Old Negev Corpus)


Observing the inadequate translations of Winnett, Harris was encouraged to begin with a careful study of the signs and the result was that the abundance of archaic letter forms and archaic construction and usage demanded that this script be considered an early post Proto-Canaanite script and not a pre-Arabic dialect script. As a post Proto-Canaanite script it was best translated in Hebrew (i.e. pre Massoretic Hebrew).

In the years that followed James R. Harris and Dann W Hone expanded their corpus of "Old Negev" inscriptions. They abandoned the misleading word "Thamudic" because Old Negev (1200 BCE) is the ancient parent of the Arabian Scripts, while Thamudic (pre-Christian) is a late offspring.

We have discovered a script in the Negev of Israel that appears to be a local variation of Proto-Canaanite [a generic formative script widely used among Canaanite peoples during the second millennium B.C.]. This local variation, which we call the Old Negev script, was widely used by Negev Canaanites (such as Kenites and Israelites) from 1200-600 BC. In the interest of not straining the strong indications from archaeology, inscriptions, and the Bible that the major carriers of this script were Midianites we call this script Old Negev and identify its carriers as ancient Canaanite people or peoples.

This Old Negev script not only has a distinctive sign system with features that go back to it's Proto-Sinaitic parent script but also a grammatical structure persisting from Proto-Sinaitic through Proto-Canaanite to Old Negev. These distinctive characteristics were not passed on to Canaanite/Phoenician or to Old Negev's offspring scripts of the Arabian desert. Therefore these features will become "ear marks" for the identification of this script where ever it may be found and must be clearly presented so that all may judge the certainty of our observations.

With a collection of over one hundred and thirty inscriptions this study has opened a small window to the early (pre-Exile) history of Canaanite peoples of the Negev. And since twenty-five percent of the inscriptions contain names of the God of Israel (Yah, El/Yah, Yahu, and Yahh) it seems fair to say that these Canaanite speakers had a covenant relationship with Yahweh.

The Shechem Plaque:


Old Hebrew:

The second letter from the right (above) is an intrusive abstract resh placed in the inscription at some later period, therefore we will simply ignore it. [From Benjamin Sass, (1988) pp. 56-57, translation by Harris and hone. ]

Some General Characteristics of Old Negev:

(Some General Characteristics of Old Negev that were not continued in Canaanite/Phoenician or in the pre-Arabic scripts of the Arabian Desert.)

1. Sign Rotation; the orientation of a sign can signal the reader that, when in horizontal position, it represents an inseparable preposition or an article.

2. When in an upside down position it represents the end of a word or phrase.

3. When a letter is larger or smaller than the preceding letters it indicates the end of a word or phrase.

4. The numbers 2 & 3 above also indicate the direction of language flow.

5. All West Semitic alphabets (emerging after Proto-Canaanite) utilize the abstracted forms but Old Negev retains in use a very large number of archaic forms (i.e. Proto-Sinaitic and Proto-Canaanite forms).

6. Old Negev also retains an elaborate use of ligatures to create symbols that often complement or enhance the inscriptions. [This form of composition was especially useful when a population was a mix of literate persons and persons with varying levels of illiteracy.

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