“Reformed Greek” on a Gold Scroll

The University of Vienna has announced a fascinating find: a 2.2 cm long gold amulet containing the Shema recovered from a child’s grave in 3rd century C.E. Vienna. This is important for it is the earliest evidence of Jewish presence in that country.

I thought BoM students might also find this of some interest (not as some sort of “evidence,” but simply as a sort of illustration), both for being a scripturally-based inscription on a gold scroll and for the (to me) fascinating fact that the inscription is in the Hebrew language but written in Greek script. (Cf. the theory by some students of the BoM that “Reformed Egyptian” originated as Hebrew language transliterated into Egyptian script.)

The inscription reads:

SUMA ISTRAHL ADWNE ELWH ADWN A
Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one

It is interesting to see the approximation of Hebrew sounds with Greek letters, and the use of the Greek alpha as if it were aleph to represent the number “one.”

March_2008_scroll

Comments

  1. This is great fun.

  2. Jeffrey Needle says:

    Thanks, Kevin. Nice perspective on this.

  3. Was it common for thin sheets of gold to be used for such things?

    It’s very beautiful.

  4. Here’s a very rough calculation. This little one square inch sheet translates into 12 English words. That would be about 650 words on one 6″x9″ sheet – the reported size of the Gold Plates. About 430 such sheets could contain the word count of the Book of Mormon. If reformed Egyptian is twice as space efficient as this “reformed Greek”, then about 200 sheets would do (and even less if one special character translated as, “And it came to pass”).

    Another dozen sheets would be saved if the Isaiah verses were done by a hyperlink to the Old Testament, rather than written out.

  5. Thanks for posting that!

  6. FYI as well, Arabic written in Hebrew characters was fairly common among Jewish communities of the Islamic world in medieval times. Examples can be found in the Islamic Museum in Cairo and throughout Spain from the al-Andalus period. I’m sure many other places, haven’t ever researched in depth, but those came readily to mind. Point simply being, using one language with another language’s script wasn’t at all uncommon in the Middle East. Modern Maltese is basically Tunisian Arabic with a bunch of Italian thrown in and written in Latin characters. Jamiado, the language of the dying (eventually expelled in the Inquisition) Muslim communities of Medieval Spain was basically a Spanish dialect with a bunch of Arabic words thrown in and written in Arabic script. Didn’t cuneiform accomodate many languages over the centuries? Further East, wasn’t sanskrit originally a language and script, with the language more or less dying out but the script surviving and morphing into various forms found in several modern languages? — I am asking if anyone knows, pretty sure the answers are yes but correct me anyone if I’m wrong.

  7. Fascinating!

  8. Re # 6, don’t forget Yiddish and Ladino.

    There is tons of precedent both in ancient and modern history of Hebrew(ish) languages being written in the scripts of different languages, and of non-Hebrew languages being written in the scripts of other languages.

  9. (To clarify # 8, which I realize sounds confusing now that I re-read it, in the case of Yiddish and Ladino, those languages incorporate elements of Hebrew into a broader body of German and Spanish vocabular/grammar respectively but are written in Hebrew characters.)

  10. Japanese began its life as a written language by borrowing from the Chinese–that’s why the major writing system is called Kanji–meaning Chinese characters.

    The influence ran both directions: Chinese pronunciations of the characters were adopted by the Japanese, some of the characters were simplified and stylized to become a phonetic script, again based on the Chinese pronunciations, and the result is the most complicated writing system for any modern language.

    Of course, westerners learning Japanese typically write Japanese words in “Romaji”–Roman characters.

  11. Another dozen sheets would be saved if the Isaiah verses were done by a hyperlink to the Old Testament, rather than written out.

    OK, glad I wasn’t drinking anything when I read that. Great line! ..bruce..

  12. Japanese began its life as a written language by borrowing from the Chinese–that’s why the major writing system is called kanji–“Chinese characters.”

    Not just writing was borrowed: Chinese pronunciations of the characters were also adopted by the Japanese (without discarding the original “Japanese” pronunciations), and some of the characters were simplified and stylized to become a phonetic script, again based on the Chinese pronunciations.

    There were two or three major periods of borrowing from China, and since Chinese evolved over time, the Chinese pronunciations of some characters changed, and the Japanese duly borrowed those. The result is that every character has at least one “Japanese” reading and one “Chinese” reading–but some characters have three or four or more “Chinese” readings. The result is the most complicated writing system I know of for any modern language.

    Given this example, why should anyone be surprised at the writing of one language using letters/characters borrowed from another, even when those languages are otherwise unrelated? (Other than the characters and the pronunciations borrowed from across the Sea of Japan, Japanese and Chinese have nothing in common.)

  13. Oops. I tried to kill comment 10–obviously without success. Sorry for the duplication.

  14. Last Lemming says:

    Clair,

    You need to triple your estimates to account for the sealed portion.

  15. from my understanding of Hebrew (esp. older versions), which is admittedly very rudimentary, a lot of the words that we write out in longhand (especially articles and the like) are simply marks, like the word ‘and’. Thus lists like you see ‘swords and scimitars and bows and arrows and this and that’ are extremely unwieldy in written English, but in Hebrew (and quite likely Egyptian) it would have simply been a list conjoined by what looked like apostrophes or something.

    [FWIW I am basing this off discussions with my dad who I can’t really consult, he being dead and all, but he was something of an expert on the subject, having spent a good deal of his PhD studying Egyptian economics, learning Hebrew, studying Arabic, Aramaic and other ME languages].

    On the whole though, interesting find.