Sailing West with Alphabet in Tow

Photo Credit:, National Museum of Beirut

In Genesis 28, Jacob “had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. There above it stood the Lord, and he said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.”

One blessing that all the peoples on earth have been blessed with from the descendants of settlers in Canaan is the alphabet.

The earliest known alphabetic system is the one used by 19th century BCE turquoise miners at Serabit el-Khadim in the Sinai. This alphabetic system which relied on images to represent consanants evolved to become the abstract images of the Archaic Hebrew and Phoenician abjad, an alphabet without vowel sounds. The Phoenicians of Lebanon, believed to be connected to the Canaanites, developed an abjad that was limited to 22 characters, which made it far simpler to learn than cuneiform and syllabic writing systems.

The Phoenicians were well positioned to engage in seaborne trade. Coastal Lebanon connected trade routes to markets in Egypt and Mesopotamia. The coastline offered protected harbors for loading and unloading ships. This allowed the Phoenicians to play a major role in trade across the Mediterranean.

Through interactions in trade, Europeans absorbed the Phoenician writing system and adapted it for their own needs. The Greeks adapted it by adding vowels, making the Greek alphabet the first known complete alphabet to represent all sounds within the language. This system was further borrowed and adjusted to become the Latin writing system, the writing system for English and all of Europe.

The alphabetic system would eventually spread globally. Lettering systems stretching from Europe to Africa to India to Mongolia stem from the alphabetic system which developed in Canaan to become a blessing for the whole world.

To see part of the evolution Archaic Hebrew/Phoenician to Greek and to Latin, see the following:

The image above is a model Bronze Age Phoenician boat, from the National Museum of Beirut.