The Great Legacy of the Hebrew Bible
By: David Parsons, ICEJ Vice President & Senior Spokesman
When we consider the Jewish roots of the Christian faith, it all begins with the Scriptures we share: the Hebrew Bible. On this point, the apostle Paul stated a simple yet enduring truth: “To them were committed the oracles of God” (Romans 3:2).
Indeed, all the Holy Scriptures we hold dear—both Old and New Testament—were written by Jews, operating under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. As some have said, the Jews were God’s “scribes” in delivering His eternal Word to us.
Nearly every religion has sacred books, yet none are as old or have as much wisdom, truth, revelation, inspiration, and accuracy as the amazing book we call the Bible. It is the most widely read and best-selling book of all time and the first holy book written using an alphabet.
In ancient times, the first written languages were pictorial, such as Egyptian hieroglyphics, Mesopotamia cuneiform, and the Chinese language characters that have survived to this day. They all seemed to emerge independently in distant cultures around 5,000 years ago, using thousands of pictograms and marks to represent sounds, syllables, or concepts used in the spoken languages of that day; only the learned could read, write, and understand these vast arrays of symbols.
In contrast, scholars say our modern-day alphabets began developing around 3,500 years ago—and there is mounting evidence that the first language to employ a small set of alphabetic letters was Hebrew.
The earliest alphabetic inscriptions ever found were in a proto-Semitic form discovered in 1905 by British archaeologist William Flinders Petrie on the walls of a cave in the Sinai. He proposed the Israelites made them as they journeyed from Egypt to the promised land. Then in 1916 a British Egyptologist named Alan Gardiner further concluded the Sinai cave inscriptions used an alphabet derived from shortened forms of Egyptian hieroglyphics. He and others have theorized that this early proto-Hebraic alphabet was developed around 2000 BC by Semitic peoples working or trading in Egypt to communicate better with the Egyptians.
The ICEJ screened a documentary film on this topic at a recent Feast of Tabernacles, Patterns of Evidence: The Moses Controversy with Timothy Mahoney, which credits the Hebrew patriarch Joseph—who is described as a wise man in Genesis 41:39—with developing this first alphabet to help his family understand their Egyptian hosts better.
Unlike the older pictorial language scripts, the development of the alphabet seems to have only one point of origin, and all our modern alphabets descend from it. Interestingly, the word “alphabet” itself is derived from the first two letters of the Hebrew language: “aleph” and “bet.”
This was a revolutionary leap in the advancement of humanity—a language reduced to 22 letters that anyone could learn, allowing them to read and write just like the scribes and nobles.
By the time Israel reached Sinai, God delivered to them the Ten Commandments and all the Torah in an easy-to-use Hebrew script, with the repeated instructions to “teach them to your children” (Leviticus 10:11; Deuteronomy 4:9–10, 6:7, 11:19, 31:19). Isaiah adds: “All your children shall be taught by the Lord, and great shall be the peace of your children” (Isaiah 54:13).
Thus, Israel became the first nation to develop an alphabet and have universal literacy among their people. In his commentary series on Exodus, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks sees this evidenced in the book of Judges when Gideon “caught a young man of the men of Succoth and interrogated him; and he wrote down for him the leaders of Succoth and its elders, seventy-seven men” (Judges 8:14). Gideon rightly assumed this young Israelite could read and write.
The secret to why so many Jews are so learned and successful and win Nobel prizes is because they have always placed a premium on being a literate people, which arose from the Lord’s command to teach the Word of God to their children even from a young age. This has greatly separated the Jews from other peoples over the centuries. And it is a legacy they bequeathed to Christians, who also began to emphasize that everyone should learn to read and write at a young age, primarily so they can read the Bible.
So if you want to explore the Hebraic roots of the Christian faith, start with a word of thanks to God and the Jewish people for the Bible itself—and even for our own alphabets.
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