Wednesday, March 09, 2016


Here are three views of an object that was brought to my attention in November 2000, by the Volcano Art Gallery in Auckland. I have never seen or handled the artefact, but details were supplied by Neil de Croz, the director of the gallery. Its age and origin are not known
   Dimensions are: 26" x 20" x 9". Weight: 78 lbs.
   The end bowl: 6.5" diameter, 3" deep (charred)
   The central bowl: 7" diameter. 2" deep, inscribed, black stone embedded in the centre .
   The bowl is in a six-pointed star (14" from point to point across) with 6 embedded stones.
   The star is within a circle: 16" diameter.
   An inscription runs round inside the circle, but does not intrude into the star.
   The letters are RUNES, from the Germanic Runic alphabet (futhark, th as in thing), having 24 characters..
    Runes are based on the Greco-Roman alphabet.
   Their use is attested from the 2nd century of the current era till early modern times.

What purpose did this object serve? Divination? Burning incense?
What are the messages in each inscription?
You tell me!

Saturday, December 26, 2015



Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research,
BASOR  374 (2015): 233–45, Benjamin Sass et al.
A copy is available on Sass's page at ACADEMIA.
Obviously Sass is the author of the epigraphical section of the article (p.236-243; his name appears first on the otherwise alphabetical list of four contributors: Garfinkel, Hasel, Klingbell) and I will take this opportunity to respond to his views on the origin and early development of the alphabet, as I have done for Gordon Hamilton and Orly Goldwasser. I give notice that I intend to be  critical of his blinkered  approach. We both published our own major study of the genesis of the alphabet in 1988, and I have constantly cited him in my subsequent articles.  Unlike Hamilton and Goldwasser, Sass has never taken account of my research on this subject. Apparently he is unaware of the new instruments I have offered for classifying West Semitic proto-alphabetic documents and identifying their letters; and he ignores (whether accidentally or deliberately) my idea that the characters of the original alphabet could be used not only as consonantograms but also as logograms and "rebograms" (or "morphograms").
   An introductory article on the Lakish sherd appeared in the Times of Israel (10 Dec 2015). Its photograph (click on it to see the whole  picture) is large, but the BASOR article (p.235) has two clear photographs and three  drawings.
     Notice that the letters were inscribed before firing (p.233b) so it is a sherd from an inscribed jar,  not an ostracon, like the  Izbet Sartah, and Khirbet Qeiyafa ostraca, which are on sherds that are used as tablets (drawings of these and other relevant inscriptions are presented on pages 237-241). It therefore belongs to the same category as the Khirbet Qeiyafa jar.
    However,  whereas the Qeiyafa jar and the Jerusalem Ophel pithos yielded more than one  piece of their pots  to the excavators (but not enough to reveal the entire text in each case), the Lakish sherd stands alone, and apparently  its text is  incomplete. It was found in a temple area, and this might give a clue to understanding its inscription and its connection with the artefact.
     Note: I prefer to write Lakish, as the ancient inhabitants would have said it, rather than Lachish or Lakhish.
     The two Qeiyafa texts (ostracon and jar) differ in the direction of their writing: the ostracon's lines run from left to right (dextrograde), and the jar's single line goes from right to left (sinistrograde). 
     Let it be said at the outset that my recent research leads me to the hypothesis that these two ostraca (Izbet Sartah and Qeiyafa) have syllabic writing, that is, each letter has three different stances or forms  for distinguishing their accompanying vowels (for example: bi, ba,bu); this may be designated as 'the neo-syllabary', which was constructed from the letters of the early alphabet, and  those proto-alphabetic signs were originally borrowed (at least eighteen of them) from the West Semitic 'proto-syllabary' (the Byblos script, which West Semitic epigraphists are reluctant to look into, terrified of having their reputation ruined).
   My term for the original alphabet is 'the proto-alphabet', as the prototype of the consonantal script that developed into the Greco-Roman alphabet, but it was used as a syllabary in early Israel (and later in Ethiopia, India, and Southeast Asia, but this statement needs clarification and refinement). Sass (236a, n.3) speaks of  'early alphabetic inscriptions', and he offers 'pre-cursive' as a new technical term to cover the various labels already in use, namely 'Proto-Canaanite', 'early Canaanite', and 'linear alphabetic' (as distinct from 'cuneiform alphabetic');  he makes no reference to my 'proto-alphabetic'; but 'proto-alphabet' is not meant to be a formal word. 
    For the sake of precision, I would have to say that the original alphabet was a picto-phonetic system which functioned as a logo-morpho-consonantary: the signs were pictorial, acrophonically standing for the first consonant of a West Semitic  word that goes with the image, but also allowing the picture to represent the whole word, or all of its sounds for use in forming other words in writing; thus the snake-sign says N from n-kh-sh 'snake', or 'snake' in any language (logogram), or as a rebogram with the addition of -t (NKhSh-T) 'copper'. That is how the Egyptian hieroglyphic script worked, and it should not be hard for us to accept that the first alphabet, although it was a major simplification,  could carry those features (remembering that our earliest proto-alphabetic documents come from Egypt and Sinai).
     These ideas are not (yet) known in handbooks on the early alphabet, nor in articles such as the one under review here. This view of the history of early West Semitic ('Canaanian') writing systems is not yet acknowledged as 'received knowledge'.
    Now, the city of Lakish has bequeathed a valuable collection of inscribed objects from the Bronze Age (dagger, bowl sherd, ostracon, ewer, bowl, censer lid, sherd, bowl fragment, and the late epistolary  ostraca from the 6th Century BCE) and we are glad to welcome this new one and any others that the current excavations may bring to light, including the missing parts of this one (233b).  All these brief but valuable documents show various stages of the development of the alphabet, from pictorial (the dagger) to cursive (the Lakish letters).
    For information on the  Bronze Age  items from Lakish,  see:
     Benjamin Sass, The Genesis of the Alphabet, 1988, 53-54, 60-64, 96-100;
     Emile Puech, The Canaanite inscriptions of Lachish and their religious background, Tel Aviv 13-14, 1987, 13-25;

    Brian E. Colless, The proto-alphabetic inscriptions of Canaan, Abr-Nahrain (Ancient Near Eastern Studies) 29, 1991 (18-66), 35-42.

   The three lines on the new Lakish sherd can be transcribed thus (reading from right to left):
    L K P [
    R P S [
    ` P/G [P?] [
   As a general rule it can be stated that Iron-Age neo-syllabic texts  run rightwards, and consonantal alphabetic texts run leftwards. It seems clear enough that the direction here is sinistrograde (right to left) and thus the script should be consonantal rather than syllabic (according to the hypothetical principle stated above, which is based on the available evidence). But the question remains whether this practice was only Israelian, and not Canaanian, or Philistian. From their context and content, I read the two ostraca (Figs. 14 and 19) as Israelian; the Gath Sherd (Fig.15) would presumably be Philistian. 
    A tentative reading of the text as it stands might be:
    Pikol the scribe (spr) .....
    Pikol is found in the Bible (Genesis 21:22) as the name of the commander of the Philistine army of Abimelek of Gerar.  
    For the scribe (spr) there are numerous examples in the Hebrew Scriptures, but 'Ezra the scribe', alias 'Ezra the priest' (Nehemiah 8:1-2) is an interesting case, if the square sign below the p and r is an archaic Bet, and like the square on the Gezer sherd (from a cult stand) it could be a logogram for 'house' or 'temple', then Pikol could be a scribe of the sanctuary in which the object was found. Incidentally, Fig.8 (Gezer sherd) possibly has the drawing in the wrong stance: the hand should not be pointing upwards but to the right, the snake should probably be horizontal, and the house should have its opening at the bottom, as in the instances on Figs 4 and 5 (from Lakish) though both are different from each other and from the Gezer Bet; however, as it stands, it has a parallel in the drawing of Sinai 352 (Fig.10); note that most of the Sinai instances of Bet have no gaps in the four sides. 
    The point is that the Gezer sherd says kn B, 'temple stand', and here we might have spr B, 'temple scribe'. 
    Nevertheless, the supposed B  here could be `Ayin, an eye, though we are told the apparent dot in it is illusory and therefore not included in the drawings. The third line might have been pg` (root meaning: 'meet' or 'strike') 'stricken' (with some infirmity?). A name Pag`i'el existed (prince of tribe of Asher, Numbers 1:13).
   The text is finally regarded by the authors as "undecipherable" (236a), since, for example, pr could be 'fruit' or 'bull'. Indeed, we can play many games with it: 'the mouth (p) of every (kl) scribe (spr)'.
    One possibility needs to be examined: 'flask (pk) for (l, belonging to) the scribe (spr)' (unless it is 'fruit-juice flask', allowing the Samek to be Cretan NE, which derives from nektar, in my view; see below). We must always remember my guiding principle: only the writer of a text knew what it means! And since the words were added before the pot went into the oven, they would presumably state the purpose of the vessel, or identify the owner, or both. 
    The word pak denoted a flask or cruse, such as 'the cruse of oil' that Samuel emptied on the head of Saul on the occasion of his anointing as king (1 Sam 10:1). It is usually assumed that this vessel was small, but the reconstructed jar (Fig,2 f) is about 35 cm tall, though this is not certain, as they admit (236).
    So, it is worth proposing this interpretation:
            Flask for the scribe [P]G`  |
     For the remainder of the article(236-244) "palaeography is the principal subject". 
    The Samek in the middle line comes as a pleasant surprise: it is hailed as "the earliest secure occurrence of the letter" (p.242a).  What we should say, however, is that here we see another example of that particular form of Samek which depicts a spinal column (root smk 'support', denoting stability, as in the corresponding Egyptian hieroglyph R11), as distinct from the other form, a fish (samk); in my opinion (not widely accepted) there are actually two allographs (alternatives) for Samek. Here Sass refers us to his 1988 discussion (p.126 on original Samek, and also p.113-115 on Dalet) where he reports that the fish had formerly been acknowledged as S, but Albright argued in favour of  the value D (as in dag 'fish'), and, let me say,  most have unfortunately followed this false lead. When they look at the alphabet on the Izbet Sartah ostracon (its bottom line) at the point where Samek should be they see neither the fish nor the spine, and they are puzzled at this 'nondescript' and 'unhelpful' character (Sass et al 2015, 244a); but it is a fish (as Emile Puech will also testify). 
   The letter Dalet is a door; its name means 'door', and "D is for door"  has always been the case, though originally it was "Dalt is for D", with the picture of a door representing the sound d, by the principle of acrophony. The trouble is that the door-signs, even though their door posts are clearly shown, have been regarded as fences (or sometimes even accepted as doors) and interpreted as Het (H.) (Sass 1988, 117-120). Thereafter the dominoes keep on falling and the truth about several other letters disappears. Gordon Hamilton (under the guidance of Frank Moore Cross) tries to have the fish and the door as allographs of D, but this argument is not helped by the occurrence of a fish and a door side by side on a Sinai inscription that Sass displays for us (Fig. 11, Sinai 376).
      Gordon J. Hamilton, The Origin of the West Semitic Alphabet in Egyptian Scripts, 2006, 61-75
    The fish and the spine both occur on a tablet which shows the letters of the proto-alphabet, from Thebes; however,  this is not a text but an abgadary: the spine and the door are together at the top, and the fish is below the spine (see section  17 S here); in the cuneiform alphabet from Ugarit, there is a counterpart to the djed column, with three  crossbars, standing for `S (as noted by Sass, 242a); a representation of a fish (apparently) was employed for cuneiform Samek as S; the cuneiform Dalet is unmistakably a door. See my study on the cuneiform alphabet as an adapted version of the pictorial proto-alphabet.
    Focusing again on the Samek on the sherd, it has to be said that there is a counterpart on the Lakish dagger, though it lacks the bottom horizontal line, and it resembles a telegraph pole with only two cross bars.My reading of its four letters (bag, head, snake, spine) is S.R N S, which can say "Foe flee". By contrast, Hamilton (390-391) makes the Samek a double cross for an anomalous T, turns the tie of the bag into Dh, and the body of the bag into  L, producing Dh L RNT, "this belongs to Rnt", a name that would correspond to Biblical Rinnah (1 Chron 4:20), which is  a man's name , though it looks feminine ('Joy'); but this is an unnecessary hypothesis, based on a stubborn refusal to recognize the tied bag as the letter Sadey (S.).
   Hamilton (2006, 197, n.254, uses the term 'bizarre' to describe  my acceptance of this character  as a bag and as Sadey; he wants it to be  a monkey (qop), and he mistakenly identifies it as Qop, thereby rejecting the sane suggestion of Romain Butin (to whom the book is dedicated in memoriam) that it was Sadey, though Butin was not sure what the sign depicted.
    Sass has conveniently provided (Fig. 9, Sinai 349) Albright's drawing of an inscription which contains the word that has  caused all this confusion. The second line has this sequence: head, house, snake, bag, house, snake, that is, rb, which means 'chief of the prefects', and he would be the supreme leader of the Egyptian turquoise-mining expedition. The erroneous view (with the bag as Q rather than S.adey) produces 'chief of the borers' (understood as 'miners'); but the miners were not the only members of the work force; the metalworkers were the essential part of the team, because they made and repaired the copper tools, and they were Semites (as we know from the Egyptian inscriptions on the mining site).This stela (Sinai 349) refers to their equipment ('nt in the top line, and `rk in the third line).
    On the stela reproduced below it (Fig. 10, Sinai 352) they describe themselves as bn kr ('sons of the furnace') and the letters accompanying  the large fish (which is S not D) specify  that they are 'pourers of copper' (nsk N) , with one of the snakes acting as a rebogram for NKhSh, not 'snake' but 'copper'(which does not always need a final -t). The two letters at the top of this column (an ox-head for Aleph and a sun-symbol for Sh, from shimsh, 'sun') say 'sh, 'fire', and this stela marks the spot where their fire burned. These examples show the true origin of Sadey as a bag, and Samek as a fish, but the fish did not survive into the Phoenician and Hebrew alphabet of Iron Age II.
   The simplified form of of the spinal Samek, with only two crossbars on a vertical stem,  was already present in the proto-syllabary (the Byblos script), representing the syllable SI, together with a 'monumental' character that matched more closely the original hieroglyph (R11), and this should not be dismissed as inadmissible evidence, since there was a close relationship between that syllabary and the consonantary (the proto-alphabet) that it engendered. I presume that it likewise stood for si  in the new syllabary, though it is not yet attested. However, the legible and identifiable signs in this text (P, K, L) correspond to PI, KI, LI, though the presumed R has its head facing in the wrong direction
    But there is cause for concern in the shape of the character on the Lakish sherd: comparing the drawing and the photograph (p.242a) we observe that the middle line is not perfectly straight but curls round on the right side. A counterpart can be found in the Linear A syllabary of Bronze Age Crete, in some forms of the syllabogram NE.
    My work in progress on the syllabary of Crete (and Greece and Cyprus) is summarized here: The Cretan scriptsI espouse the minority view (first proposed by Cyrus Gordon) that at least some of the Linear A inscriptions in Crete were West Semitic.  I see the NE sign (acrophonically derived from nektar, the divine drink) as a libation vessel with a handle and a spout, and it has no connection with Egyptian hieroglyph R11 (the djed, a straight spine, a symbol of stability).
   Here I must record that the writing of this essay was neglected  while I looked again at the Linear A inscriptions on Cretan offering altars, and I realized that they are in Canaanian (Phoenician/Hebrew) saying:
"I bring my offering of new wine/beer/olives/blood, O  [name of a deity])". These rites were performed at 'peak sanctuaries',  equivalent to the 'high places' condemned by the  prophets of Israel. Remember you heard it here .

    In this connection, a Cretan syllabic inscription has been discovered at Lakish, and it is likewise dated to the 12th C. BCE (both from Level VI, apparently). It is described as a Linear A text, though this was the age of Linear B, a Hellenic  script derived from Linear A, which itself was a reworking of an older set of pictorial characters; the RI sign (originally representing a human leg) is more like a Linear B form, though reversed. The sign for NE does not appear in its brief text.Note that it was a piece of a large limestone vessel which seems to have been made locally.(A thought: Linear A continued to be used for Semitic writing outside of Crete.)
    A Linear A Inscription from Tel Lachish (lach ZA 1),  Margalit Finkelberg; ; ; Yoram Eshet, Tel Aviv, Volume: 1996, Issue: 2, Sep 1996, pp. 195 - 207.
    On the potential significance of the Linear A inscriptions recently excavated in Israel. Gary A. Rendsburg, Aula Orientalis, 16, 1998, 289-291
     However, the characters on the new sherd from Lakish  are not Cretan: the K in the top line could be an Aegean TI (inverted), but we need not doubt that we are looking at the letters of the West Semitic alphabet, though this Samek may have been influenced by the Linear A syllabogram NE, since the curl on the middle stroke is hard to explain. The bottom line of NE represents the base of the libation vessel (as can be seen from the pictorial versions), and this is true of the spinal Samek as derived from the Egyptian djed; but, as noted already, early forms (syllabic and consonantal) had a long stem with no base, and only two crossbars; but the standard Phoenician version had three bars on a vertical line which extended below the bottom bar. Sass (242b) shows the two cases of Samek on the Kefar Veradim bowl: one has a slight protrusion of the vertical at the top, and the other at the bottom; Sass ( 242a) regards these as "incidental", and "suggesting that at this stage the letter was still perceived as legless, just as in the Lachish jar sherd". It is his argument (notice the word 'still') that  has no leg to stand on, since the protruding vertical stroke was already ancient.
    The sherd we are studying here is dated to the 12th Century BCE, but it has the letter forms of the Phoenician alphabet. And now we have two astonishing signature inscriptions from the Sealand (southern Mesopotamia), dated to the end of the 16th Century BCE (Late Bronze Age). Their direction of writing is sinistrograde, as with the Phoenician alphabetic inscriptions from Iron Age II, and the letter forms are much the same as those in the Phoenician alphabet of the Iron Age (NABU 2012 no.3, 61-63; there is  no Samek for comparison,  though L,P, G, `Ayin, and other letters are attested; but not much can be said; these match their later counterparts, but for the Lakish sherd the Qeiyafa and izbet Sartah ostraca offer more examples. In this respect, Joseph Naveh (1978, 35) is quoted (237b, n.11) to warn us about  the Izbet Sartah writer's "confusion of letters and his mistakes" which would be due to his "poor training or bad memory". Certainly we can see from his first words in line 1 that he is a beginner: "I am learning the letters" ('lmd 'tt), but it seems that his variations for each letter (as compared with the models he presents in line 5) were intentional, and what he was learning was the new syllabic use of the alphabet as practised in early Israel.
   Here is an opportunity to look at my neo-syllabary hypothesis, using the drawings available in this BASOR article: Izbet Sartah ostracon (Fig.19), Qeiyafa ostracon (Fig.14, Ada Yardeni), Qubur el-Walayda bowl (Fig.6); and pictures of them here). 
    All three are dextrograde, and exhibit variant forms for their letters. From my observation, as a rough rule, the Izbet Sartah alphabet shows the -a syllabograms; the Phoenician alphabet has the forms that were used for -i syllable-signs; the -u signs are the left-overs.
     Consider the case of the letter Shin. The first sign on the QW bowl is clearly a form of Shin (originating from a depiction of a human breast, thad/shad, according to my system): the breasts are pointing to the left.The Izbet Sartah Shin has the breasts on the right (sha?). At the beginning of the second line of the Qeiyafa ostracon, there is an equivalent sign in a word that can be read as sha-pa-t.a ('he judged'); and at the end shi-pi-t.i ('judgements'), where the breast is horizontal, as in the Phoenician alphabet; the QW bowl has a personal name, Sh-m-b-`-l  ('Name of Ba`al'?), and shum is the expected ancient form (Hebrew shem). So we seem to have successfully identified the three syllabic forms of Sh (sha, shi, shu). Notice there is no dot in the QW eye-sign (a circle, incomplete) as in the Phoenician alphabet,  so this should say `i. The preceding letter would presumably be ba, though it differs from the IS B-sign; nevertheless, in line 3 of the Q ostracon we have the sequence ba`ala, where the `Ayin has a dot (as on the IS alphabet), but here we see another verb ('he has prevailed') not the name or title Ba`al, in my view.
    For the record, here is my tentative reading of the Qubur el-Walayda bowl inscription ("12th-century context")
      shu mi ba `i li | 'i ya 'i lu | ma h.u
      Ugaritic name ShMB`L (cp. shum-addi)
      The second name is the patronymic, presumably ('son of I'). 
      The last word means 'fatling' (mah.u) and possibly refers to a sacrificial offering.

    This exercise will not be consummated here, but note in passing the two opposing p-forms in the 'judge' words in the Q ostracon, line 2: one is pa (the IS form) and the other is pi (with the stance of the P on the Lakish sherd and in the Phoenician alphabet)
    Reverting to Sass's treatment of the Lakish sherd inscription, and the comparative material he employs,  Sass dismisses some known inscriptions as pseudo or irrelevant, and others he tacitly ignores. possibly because they were discovered by unsuitable anonymous people (such as the two unprovenanced copies of the proto-alphabet which Flinders Petrie obtained in Egypt; at the start of the twentieth century; these could not have been forgeries, as even the Phoenician alphabet was not well understood). One could suggest ignorance and arrogance on the part of some academics who set themselves up as experts in this field of research; it is not  a case of scientific scepticism and rational caution, but wilful obfuscation and reprehensible avoidance of some parts of the available evidence.  There is needless agnosticism ("samek is still not identified with certainty in the Proto-Sinaitic  inscriptions", speaking for himself). There is doctrinaire dogmatism in dating the Wadi el-Hol and Sinai inscriptions to the 13th Century BCE (237a, n.8), leaving little time for development of the letters from pictorial to stylized forms. This is his ultra-low chronology, putting ages in chaos; originally he had presented the case for OK and NK and now his compromise is to put them at this impossibly late stage. The proper solution is to recognize that some are OK and others are NK.

   Even if Sass rejects my ideas, he must take account of the numerous inscriptions I have brought into the picture.

Sunday, November 08, 2015


Ben Haring, on an Ostracon of the early New Kingdom?
Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 74, 2 (2015) 189-196.
The document that Ben Haring is examining in this article is Ostracon no. 99.95.0297 from Theban Tomb TT99, the burial place of an Egyptian named Senneferi; and it is being hailed as “the earliest known abecedary” (Universiteit Leiden News & Events). The use of the term ‘ostracon’ is far removed from the original meaning (a potsherd with names of people to be ostracized). The news report from Leiden University called it a”shard of pottery”, but it is actually a small piece of limestone with an ink inscription on each side; thus it is a tablet with Egyptian writing on it. Note carefully that Haring has a question mark in the title, and he is asking whether the items in this  text are arranged in an alphabetical order, following the sequence that starts with HLH.M, as opposed to the familiar ’Aleph Beth Gimel Daleth scheme (originally ’BGHD).
   Anticipating the answer to Haring’s question: what we find is a list of words (nouns rather than names, apparently) with the first four having the initials HRH.M; this looks like a failed hypothesis already, but in Egyptian writing there is no L-sign or l-sound available, so r is used for l (though we will need to keep in mind that  l could also be transcribed by n, nr, and 3 [’aleph]).
   The HLH.M sequence-order for the letters is not known before Hellenistic times in Egypt (4th Century BCE onwards) but it is attested in Syria-Palestine in the Bronze Age (before 1200 BCE) and in Arabia in the Iron Age.[1]
   Is this an onomasticon (a list of names or words) or an abecedary (an inventory of alphabet letters arranged in a standard order)?  If it is an onomasticon, why is it being hailed as the earliest known abecedary? Nevertheless, it could be both, because each word has a symbol after it, and some of them look like letters (‘pictophonograms’) of the original alphabet. But the total number of such symbols on this fragmentary document is ten, a long way from the expected double dozen or more; but Haring (195a) surmises that the ostracon was originally twice as long as the surviving fragment.
   It must be said at this point that Haring does not mention the oldest complete copies of the early alphabet in its pictorial stage (two inventories on three limestone tablets) which also come from Thebes, and should be cited in any study of the infant alphabet; but, astonishingly and deplorably, they are never consulted, even though they provide the solution to all the speculation that goes on in the search for the original letters of the alphabet (by Gordon Hamilton, for example)[2].  However, they have been examined by myself, publicly though not ‘publicationally’, in connection with the theories of Colless and Hamilton.[3]
   We now begin an examination of this promising artefact. Since Haring (192) gives strong indications that “Group Writing” (Egyptian “syllabic orthography”, a system for transcribing foreign words and names) is present here, we might expect the texts to be Semitic; but he has little success in taking this approach. However, I will affirm at the outset that the words are West Semitic, and that the original pictophonograms that I have proposed for the letters HLH.M are all there on side A of the tablet.
   Haring identifies the sides as obverse (A) and reverse (B), and he notes that the top of A corresponds to the bottom of B, and there are lines missing at these two positions.
(Click once on the photograph to see it enlarged.) 

[A1]  H
The sign on the left is a hieratic form of Hieroglyph A28, which is believed to be the basis for proto-alphabetic H /h/ and the origin of Greco-Roman E.  It represents a man rejoicing, and my long-standing hypothesis (1988: 35-36) connects it acrophonically with West Semitic hll (rejoice, exult, jubilate, celebrate, as in hallelu-yah). The various shapes it has in the inscriptions also relate it to A32 (man dancing) and even A29 (man standing on his hands).[4]
Haring's transcription of the accompanying text (on the right, and reading from right to left) is h3whn; he supposes this is for Egyptian hy hnw ‘rejoice’, and he sees it as a perfect match with the rejoicing figure. Certainly, but perhaps we can find a Semitic word for this slot. In this regard, Egyptian N (the water-wave sign that gives alphabetic M, pictured further down on this tablet, though reduced to a horizontal straight line in the hieratic script, as shown here immediately to the right of the rejoicer) was also employed to transcribe Semitic l, and so the the two Egyptian letters at the end (HN) could represent hl.[5] Furthermore, the eagle-vulture representing 3 (’aleph) could stand for l (though it would normally be indicating a vowel, here ha or hi.  Haring mentions the possibility of another N (and thus an additional l), and I can almost find *hillul, which I see as the word that gave HI in the West Semitic syllabary and H in the proto-alphabet (Colless 1992: 67). Still, the final hl might suffice to make the confirmatory connection that I have been waiting for, since 1988. Haring follows the standard line that the name of the letter is Hoy (or Hey, presumed to be what the man is shouting) and Hoy happens to be the Ethiopic name of the equivalent letter. Another Ethiopic letter name will be invoked in the next section. Notice in passing that the H-sign (hieroglyph O4, a field house) was one of the models for the letter B (bayt ‘house’; Hamilton 2006: 38-52); indeed, it was the one that survived into the Phoenician alphabet.
[A2]  L
Haring transcribes the text as rw (rawi) and looks for a word to go with the “curl or rope at the end”. Actually, it is an established idea that the original letter L was a ‘coil of rope’, corresponding to hieroglyph V1 (Hamilton 2006: 126-127). Also, Egyptian r was used to render Semitic l (more usually than n for l, as proposed in A1 above); remember that there was no ­l-sound in Egyptian.  If we are looking for a word lawi, we can find it in the Ethiopic name for L, Lawi. Romain Butin (Harvard Theological Review 1932: 146, and Colless, Abr-Nahrain 1988: 44) noted this, and pointed to a root lawa ‘wind, coil’ (as in Arabic); Hamilton records this in a footnote (2006: 136, n. 157) but he rejects the other possibility of a shepherd’s crook (S38, S39) as the prototype (2006: n. 148). However, on the two alphabets from Thebes, neither  L has a coil: one has a crook (like S38) and the other has an inverted example of S39 (looking just like our l). It could be that they are allographs: either the coil and the crook are both original, or else one developed from the other.
[A3]  H.
Here the text is transcribed as h.rpt. (Note that when I place a dot after a letter it should be understood as actually being beneath the letter, in accordance with the standard transcription system for h., s., z., t. .) The H. sign is M16 (clump of papyrus) used in Group Writing instead of the normal V28 (hank or wick), which became H in the proto-alphabet. Haring offers a proper name h.rpt in Ugaritic cuneiform sources, but he wonders how this and his other suggestions would relate to the sign on the left. He identifies it as “M22” (“a reed plant”) but the sign has two shoots on each side, whereas M22 has single shoots, and so this is M23 or M26 (sedge).  If we search for Semitic h.lpt we discover h.lp, as a species of rush with sharp edges (root h.lp ‘be sharp, cut’) (Marcus Jastrow, Dictionary of Talmud etc, 456f) and ‘shoot’ (plural –ym or –wt) (Jastrow, 472a); it is cognate with Arabic h.alaf or h.alfa’, and it is especially found in Egypt; it is glossed as ‘Schilf oder Riedgras’ (Jacob Levy, Wörterbuch über die Talmudim und Midraschim, II, 63a). ‘Schilf’ is ‘sedge’ (Germanic sagjaz; sag- ‘saw’). (QED)
   Now, the sedge sign that comes at the end of the h.lpt sequence  is not in any proto-alphabetic text that I have seen, though M22 with single shoots does occur in the syllabary, apparently as mu, from mulku, ‘kingship’, after M23 nsyt, ‘kingship’ (Colless, Abr-Nahrain 1992: 82-83). It might have served as an allograph for H. in the proto-alphabet, but my choice has always been the mansion sign for H., acrophonically based on h.z.r (Hebrew ‘court, mansion’ (Colless 1988:38-41).  Its form in the alphabet in the Iron Age is an upright rectangle, divided into two squares; in the Bronze Age, the earliest form has the mansion with two rooms and a courtyard, but because it is a house it is usually, but mistakenly, placed in the B (bayt, house) category (Hamilton 2006: 48). The courtyard can be rounded, and it so happens that this very character occurs here: to the left of the rush sign a smudged vertical line appears, and further to the left and lower down we can reasonably discern the mansion, with the square house on the left, and the round courtyard on the right. I have waited a long time for this confirmation, while others have been seeing as a fence (Hamilton 2006: 97-102).
   Note that at least 18 of the 22 letters in the Iron Age (Phoenician) alphabet had a counterpart in the ancient syllabary (which likewise represented only 22 consonants) but this form of H. is absent from the syllabary. It appears quite clearly in the top left corner of Thebes alphabet 1, and in the same position on Thebes 2 (but indistinct).
[A4]  M
Here the text is transcribed mw n3. The first character consists of three parallel lines (actually wavy lines in the hieroglyph, M33b, “three ripples”, mw, ‘water’).  The single “ripple” is Egyptian N (from nt ‘water’), and in the West Semitic syllabary it functions as mu (an allograph of the rush sign for mu, as seen in section [A3] above); in the proto-alphabet it is M, and only two of its waves remain (Colless 1988: 44-45; Hamilton 2006: 138-144). The proto-alphabetic sign, here with four waves,  could indicate that a word starting with m precedes it, or even the word from which M originates.
[A5]  R?
I am convinced that the HLH.M sequence is present in A1-A4. But where does it go from here? In the attested examples of this order (from Syria-Palestine and Arabia) the next letter should be Q, as recognized by Haring (193b, though Haring’s Table 1 erroneously shows O) followed by W, and then Sh and R. I can perhaps make a case for this fifth character as R, but not Q.
   The text is damaged, so the transcription is r/t/d ssh p3. The West Semitic word r-sh-p refers to ‘plague’ or the god of pestilence, or ‘burning’. The accompanying object looks like a pot with a handle and a spout; it could be for pouring libations. The letter Q was originally a cord wound on a stick (qaw, a line, a cord used for measuring) sometimes with one end of the cord projecting at the top (Colless 1988: 49-50); this is widely attested in the inscriptions, and on both copies of the alphabet from Thebes, but Hamilton overlooks this and argues for Qop as a monkey, using the letter that is actually Sadey for his fruitless chase (2006: 209-221). This is not an ape that is confronting us here, but it could be a human head, inverted, with ears and neck. The name of the letter R is Rosh, ‘head’, and rssh might be a transcription of that. Rather than hieroglyph D1 (head in profile) this would be D2 (front view of head with neck and ears and eyes, h.r ‘face’).  However, the initial R of the text is not certain, and the final –p3 is left unexplained.
   The symbol could even be F34 heart (Egn ’ib, WS lbb), and this leads to a whole new round of speculation.…
[A6] K?
The text to accompany this sixth sign is lost, but it must have been brief. Haring suggests, plausibly, that it is a seated man with arms hanging (hieroglyph A7, wrd ‘tired’). I have seen this in association with an early alphabetic inscription from Timna in the Wadi Arabah (Colless 2010) but I took it to be an ideogram there. 
   Another possibility springs to mind, with inversion once again (as for A5 above). Could this be hieroglyph M16, “clump of papyrus” which was used in a hieratic form for h. at the start of section A3 above? Hamilton (2006: 196-209) invokes this as his origin for Sadey, after having employed the true S. character for Q, and his pet monkey (In his note 254 he labels my choice of V33, a tied bag, as “bizarre”, but that true S. sign could be lurking at B6 below.) In the present connection, Hamilton (200, Fig. 2.61) provides drawings of early hieratic versions of M15 (“clump of papyrus with buds bent down’) which match the character here before us (without inverting it) and compares them with South Arabian forms of S.; this is a very attractive idea.
   My very tentative suggestion is that we have an inverted K here, and it stems from the identification I make for the three-branched character which is taken to be S. by others, but in my scheme as syllabic KI and alphabetic K, and it would derive from kippa ‘palm branch’, alongside a hand sign for KA and an alternative K, from kap ‘palm of hand’ (Colless 1998: 43-44, modified in 1992: 78-79). However, this character could simply be a hand sign with only three digits shown (the example on Thebes 1 is like this, but it could be either animal or vegetable), but the bent middle figure is puzzling. Yet again the writer’s intentions are not yet clear to us.
[A7]  Y?
No text is available on the broken tablet for the last sign on side A.  Haring proposes a phallus or an animal. If it is a letter of the alphabet it could be a human arm (yad) with the hand pointing downwards, and hence Y.
   We now turn the tablet over to side B, the reverse side, which Haring accepts as containing the final half of the end of the inscription, and on which he sees six items. (Click for enlargement)

This is “lost except for some traces”; or else there was never anything there; but I will retain Haring’s numbering.
[B2]  T?
The tentative transcription is t/r/d/n.w-t3…(?); the final cluster of three marks is left undeciphered. Haring’s guess is the name of the cobra goddess Rnn.t. The female determinative sign (hieroglyph B1, a seated woman) is present, and the Semitic goddess TNT might be intended. If the initial lettter is T, the expected symbol at the end would be a cross (+ or x); the x is vaguely possible; or else the TNT symbol, which is a female version of the rejoicer.
Two ibises and two reed flowers, and a few more undecipherable marks, give us bby. The symbol looks like a beetle or a bee. If it were an ox-head with a neck (like the one on Thebes 2, or ’A in the syllabic texts from Byblos) and there were two Egyptian vultures (G1 3, ‘aleph) instead of ibises, then 33 could represent ’l, but there is no p or b to produce ’lp. Still there are marks preceding the ibises, which could be the true initial letter. If 3 for Aleph were to fill the gap, we would have ’bb, ‘green ear of corn’, or the month of Abib, to go with the sedge shoots in [A3] above, and we begin to wonder whether this could be a calendar of some kind, with twelve months itemized.
The first letter of the text is the Egyptian G (W11, a ring-stand for pots, nst ‘seat’); it can transcribe Semitic g, q, k, or gh.  Haring’s transcription is gr(y), for which he proposes ‘bird’, and the accompanying symbol is apparently a bird in flight.  After the ear of barley in section [B3], Hebrew goren (‘threshing floor’) comes to mind. However, next to the supposed bird is an example of proto-alphabetic Sh (shimsh, ‘sun’, based on the symbol of the sun-disc with a serpent on either side) and the main figure could be the single serpent with the sun. Can we be sure that the initial letter is G?
Haring gives t3’ity(?) and makes numerous suggestions for the symbol (sarcophagus, shrine, temple door, vertical loom) and the word (temple door, Tait the goddess of weaving, bale of linen, loincloth, curtain). It reminds me of the grapevine structure (cp. M42) which is the letter Gh(ayin) from ghinab, ‘grape’.
The transcription dr “seems inescapable”, Haring remarks, and the symbol appears to be a vessel. It certainly looks like a pot, but it could be a bag, which is the sign used for S. (Sadey), as already noted. The D is a fire-drill (U28), and d is also used for Semitic s. (Sadey).  My long-held acrophonic source for S. is s.rr, ‘tied bag’ (Colless 1988: 48-49). Am I having yet another Eureka experience here?
   As is ever the case, only the person who composed this document knew what it means. Maybe the HLH.M sequence was coincidental here; it is extremely difficult to make the expected sequence continue according to rule.
   What could the significance of this document be? Was it apotropaic, using Semitic signs and spells and names of goddesses, to ward off evil in the tomb? The West Semitic serpent spells in Egyptian royal tomb inscriptions (5th Dynasty)might offer an analogy here, but I can not see a connection (Richard C. Steiner, Early Northwest Semitic Serpent Spells in the Pyramid Texts, Winona Lake, 2011).

   Neither Haring nor myself have succeeded in finding the standard sequence past the H-L-H.M incipit, and perhaps we should accept this as a remarkable coincidence.
   However, more opinions are needed on the right readings for the hieratic texts and symbols on the document. and other suggestions for the purpose and purport of this intriguing artefact.
Note that the two inventories of the letters of the alphabet from Thebes have no set scheme for organizing the signs; they differ from each other in their arrangement.

(Note again that when I place a dot after a letter it should be understood as actually being beneath the letter, in accordance with the standard transcription system for h., s., z., t. .)

For reference here is the H-L-H.M sequence (from Ugarit and Beth-Shemesh):
H L H. M Q W Sh/Th R B T (D) K N H S. S´  P ‘ D./Z. G D Gh T. Z (D) Y

[1] Haring (193-195) conveniently summarizes the evidence for the use of the HLH.M and ’ABG systems of arranging the letters.
[2] Gordon Hamilton, The Origins of the West Semitic Alphabet in Egyptian Scripts (Washington, DC 2006). This book is dedicated to the memory of Romain F. Butin, S.M. (1871-1937), but Hamilton follows the teachings of the William Foxwell Albright school, particularly as transmitted to him by his mentor Frank Moore Cross at Harvard University. To my mind, Butin’s writings on the early alphabet (in Harvard Theological Review!) should be the starting point for any research in this field.
[4] For my views on this and the other letters of the original alphabet, see the essay cited in the previous note, and also my response to Orly Goldwasser:
[5] Tables of signs used by ancient Egyptians for transcribing foreign words are available in:  James E. Hoch, Semitic Words in Egyptian Texts of the New Kingdom and Third Intermediate Period (Princeton 1994) 431-437, 487-512; Benjamin Sass, Studia Alphabetica (Freiburg 1991) 8-27.