The evidence of the “dated” inscriptions.

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The evidence of the “dated” inscriptions.

In an attempt to clinch the argument that the Sinaitic inscriptions are Nabataean graffiti of the Roman Imperial period, a few dated inscriptions have been brought forward in which the word sh’nat or shatta has been read, viz. “year”, followed by a numeral. Such dates have then been interpreted as references to the “era of Bozrah” (beginning AD 106) when the kingdom of the Nabataeans came under the control of Rome. However, as most Nabataean numerals, and Semitic numerals in general, are also letters of the alphabet, or formed from, or similar to, letters of the alphabet, it is easy to confuse normal alphabetic characters with numerals, once it has been decided the preceding word is sh’nat or shatta. One of the three inscriptions in Euting (Euting No. 463 lines 2 and 3) unequivocally contains a numeral (following the word taken to be sh’nat), and that, indeed, is a dated inscription. The numeral is composed of four identical signs in a row, followed by another, and it would be impossible for any normal word to be composed of or to incorporate four identical signs, which would be, in such a word, consonants, one after the other. The contents of this dated inscription are of the greatest importance, therefore, in establishing the true era of all the Sinaitic inscriptions. The lines containing the numeric phrase (lines 2 and 3) immediately follow a line containing a standard dedicatory inscription which reads “Selected: W’ulu son of Saad-Elahi”. A transliteration with translation of the inscription follows here:

Dated Inscription I

From Wadi Mukatteb:

Euting No. 463 (CIS II No. 964, followed by Stone No. 2130):

(Euting’s copy:)





Hebrew Equivalent:

בריך ואלו בר שעדאלהי

דא בשנת אאאאכ להי הדכיה די

בה אחרפו עיא ארעא

English transliteration:

bryk w’lw br s‘d’lhy

d’ bšnt (1+1+1+1)×100 lhy hdkyh dy

bh ’rpw ‘y’ ’r‘’


Selected: W’ulu son of Saad-Elahi:
Now the 400 years of crushing anguish are over, in
which desert-dwellers (or Avvites) gathered the fruits of the land.

Word by word explanation of lines 2-3:

Now the … years are over: lit. “this (is) by the year …”, ]d = Aramaic דא, Hebrew זה, viz. “this (is) …”, followed by tnvb = Hebrew and Aramaic בשנת, bish’nat, “in, or, by, the year …”. (In the original, the first letter beth is joined to the word sh’nat by a ligature to the bottom horizontal stroke of the letter shin.) ב in” followed by a temporal phrase, as here, can mean “when such-and-such a time is complete”, Gesenius-Tregelles s.v. ב (A)(3): “… also so used that the close of the limit is specially regarded, and so used of time already past”. The instance cited by Gesenius, loc. cit., Numbers 28. 26, reads בשבעתיכם meaning in context “when your weeks are passed”.

400: k]]]]: this is a numeral composed of five signs. The first four are alephs, each of which in Hebrew and Aramaic have the numeric value one. The next sign looks like a kaph, and is so transcribed here, though it may actually be, and more probably is, an open form of the sign qoph (as elsewhere in Euting No. 423). A kaph-like sign has the numeric value of 100 in Palmyrene, Palmyrene being similar to Nabataean, and to the square Hebrew or Ashurit of the Sinaitic script. In Palmyrene the kaph-like sign may be preceded by acute-angled strokes (/), each of which which has the value of 1, so that, e.g., four acute strokes preceding the kaph-like sign (k ////) represents the number 400, (1+1+1+1) ×100. The Nabataean and Palmyrene acute stroke in this system corresponds to the aleph here, and, in fact, the aleph in the Sinaitic script sometimes has the form of an acute stroke. This suggests the Nabataean and Palmyrene derived from an earlier system like the Sinaitic, where the acute stroke was originally an aleph, representing the numeral one. Similarly the kaph-like sign in the Palmyrene system might, like the sign here, actually be an open qoph, since qoph in later Hebrew represents the number 100.

of … anguish: yhl = lhy, Hebrew/Aramaic ל+הי, in which ל is the common preposition meaning “for, of, to, etc.”, and הי stands for נהי, a masc. noun, lit. “groaning”. Both forms of the latter word, that is, with and without initial nun, occur in Biblical Hebrew. The reference is to the “anguish” of oppression (“crushing”) suffered by the enslaved Israelites in Egypt during the 400 year-period mentioned immediately prior. The Book of Exodus specifically refers to the “crying” and “groaning” of the Israelites under the Egyptian yoke (Exodus 2. 23, 24, 3. 7, 9, 6. 5). In combination with the succeeding word the whole phrase is literally “of (ל) the groaning of (הי) causing to be crushed ( הדכיה)”, hence “crushing anguish”. The letter yod is incorporated into the form of the preceding sign he as an extra stroke on the left-hand side of the letter. This phenomenon (ligature of yod and another letter) occurs frequently elsewhere in the inscriptions, and earlier in this same inscription there is a ligature of beth and shin in the word bishenat.

crushing: Hykdh, hdkyh, Aramaic הדכיה, in which the first letter is a he, not a peh, as Euting incorrectly read it: it clearly has a stroke in the middle of it, which a Sinaitic peh lacks, but which is characteristic of he: compare the peh in the word ’ḥrpw in the last line of the inscription. The form is that of a normal Biblical Aramaic Aphel infinitive, pronounced hadkayah, of dk’, “to crush, oppress, break in pieces, etc.”, and in the Aphel, “cause to be crushed, etc.”.

in which: Hb yd = Aramaic די בה, lit. “which in it (fem.)”, i.e. within the period specified.

gathered the fruits: wprx] = Aramaic Aphel perfect 3rd person plural, אחרפו, with initial aleph instead of he, as in the Aramaic, = Hebrew Hiphil החריפו, and so frequently in the inscriptions, lit. “they caused to have fruits gathered”. The fruits were gathered in the fall, when the New Year was celebrated, so here there is included the sense of spending so many years, harvesting the land.

desert-dwellers: ]y[, ‘y’ = “Avvites” or “desert-dwellers”. The reading ‘y’ was confirmed by Fawzi Zayadine and Toufic Fahd in 1987 (L’Arabie préislamique, Brill, 1989, p. 345, n. 12). Euting’s reading “Arabs” which was already criticized in the Corpus Inscriptionum Semiticarum produced a whole literature of its own on the supposed “Arab” invasion of Nabataean territory in the “year 85 of the eparchy”. (Euting read the numeric phrase as 4×20 + 5 = 85, using an early Arab numeric system, and “crushing anguish” as “eparchy”, see further infra.) The Aramaic plural emphatic, עיא = Classical Hebrew העוים, “the desert-dwellers”, which was also the name of a people inhabiting an area of the land of Canaan, the “Avvites”, Deut. 2. 23, Josh. 13. 3. Either the general or the particular sense is possible here. If the reading is “Avvites”, this inscription is the only independent extra-Biblical evidence of their existence.

the land: ][r] = Aramaic ארעא f., “earth, land”, here the promised land.

This is certainly a dated inscription. But it proves the exact opposite of what Euting and the nineteenth century critical school hoped to demonstrate. It proves that the Sinaitic inscriptions were written at the time of the Exodus, since it refers to the prophecy of 400 years. God promised the patriarch Abraham, according to Genesis 15. 13-16, that his descendants would live in a foreign land (Egypt) 400 years, where they would suffer affliction and oppression, but that when that time was fulfilled, He would free them “with a mighty hand”. The same period of time is referred to indirectly in the Book of Exodus 12. 40, where the Israelites are said to have dwelt in Egypt 430 years, showing they had spent at least 400 years, as the prophecy required, in the land of their captivity. During the period prophesied God told Abraham foreign nations (Amorites, a term used to describe the inhabitants of Canaan, Syria etc.) would occupy the promised land. When Abraham’s descendants were set free, they would expel these foreign occupiers and take the land themselves. This inscription refers both to the oppression of the 400 years in Egypt, and to the foreign occupation of the promised land. It is prime, historical, contemporary, evidence of the truth of the Biblical account of the Exodus and its background.

Euting incorrectly read the words lhy hdkyh, “of the crushing anguish”, as a single word, preceded by the preposition l, i.e. lhprkyh, omitting the y after the first h, reading the second h as p, and the d as r. The noun following the preposition, hprkyh, was an Aramaic transcription of the Greek word huparchia or eparchia, meaning “provincial government” or “province”. Euting failed to include the yod joined by a ligature to the he, but, as it happens, the word in question can be spelled with a yod as well as without it, hyprkyh, or hprkyh, so the meaning would not be affected. He also read the daleth as resh, but these two letters are practically indistinguishable in the Sinaitic as in other Semitic scripts. Euting’s accuracy can be faulted in his reading a peh, significantly of a form not otherwise attested in the Sinaitic inscriptions, for the second he. The stroke in the middle of the sign in question is only found in a he, and not in a peh. As a result Euting was misled into presuming the reference was to the “era of Bozrah”, when the Nabataean kingdom became a “province” (huparchia or eparchia) of the Roman Empire (AD 106). However, there was no “year 400” of the Nabataean provincial government, as the kingdom disintegrated in the 4th century AD. To maintain the notion that the reference was to the “era of Bozrah” the numerals would have to have some other significance. Euting resorted to early Arabic to elucidate the numerals, rather than to the more obviously analogous Nabataean and Palmyrene systems, so he could interpret the inscription as graffiti of the Roman Imperial period. The word “eparchy” has been traced in a Nabataean inscription from Ovdat in the Negev (Stone No. 7300, datable to AD 107 on the presumption that the era is that of Bozrah). The heyday of Ovdat was in the Roman Imperial period, so a reference to the eparchy might be expected here. The number is spelled out in this inscription, and is consequently not dependent for its clarification on a questionable interpretation of numeric cyphers, and also represents a realistic date, Year 2, within the provincial era: šnt trtyn lhprky’. (Negev IEJ XIII [1963], No. 11, p. 117ff. = Stone No. 7300. Stone No. 7301= Negev, ibid., No. 12, p. 119ff., is very unclear in the original, and the reading is doubtful.)

On these few references elsewhere to the supposed “era of Bozrah”, at least three cited by Negev in the article supra prove to be illusory, one being the case just referred to, another one in which the word has been admitted by the scholar who published it probably to be “eparch”, not “eparchy” (Negev ibid. p. 118), and the third (id. ibid. p. 120f.) the inscription supposedly mentioning “Year 42 of the eparchy”, in the original of which the word “eparchy” does not appear at all, but has been wholly reconstructed. (Lidzbarski, Ephemeris für semitische Epigraphik, vol. 2, p. 262: the original reads “Year 42 of his (lh)”, with the last two consonants at the end of a line, which Lidsbarski suggested emending to lh[prkyh], Year 42 “of the e[parchy]”, the last 5 imagined consonants being on a separate line). Only Negev’s inscription No. 11, and one other, referring to year 20 (id. ibid. p. 120), are left as possible testimonies, though in the case of Negev No. 11 there is no certainty that the particular “eparchy” referred to is actually that of Bozrah. This suggests Euting’s mistaken reading of the word “eparchy” in the Sinaitic inscription had a detrimental influence on subsequent scholars, and led them to read the word in other instances, when no such word existed, inventing theories of Nabataean history based on the mistaken readings in the process.

Great care must be taken in the reading of the inscriptions, particularly when historical deductions are to be drawn on the basis of the reading of a single word or phrase (like the word “eparchy”). An example of a wild reading can be found in Rothenberg’s book “God’s Wilderness” (Nelson and Sons, New York, 1962, pp. 171 and 181, Plate 84), where an inscription in Wadi Umm Sideira, described as a “most important” one, is taken to be “a Jewish Aramaic inscription in Nabataean characters giving the name of the great seaport of Maqna on the eastern shore of the Gulf of Eilat (Akaba) and the name of a Jewish traveller who lived on the island of Jotabe”. The inscription according to B. Sapir reads “Akrabos son of Samuel of Maqna, of son-of-Sadia of Jotabe” (ibid. p. 181). The topographical names imply a late dating of the inscription. But the strange phrase “of son-of-Sadia” should have aroused suspicion, and, in fact, the photograph (Plate 84) shows clearly it is one of the common Sinaitic type, the true reading being:



ṣm(?)w br s‘d’lh

y br s‘d’lhy br bry’w

Azm(?)u son of Saad-Elahi son of Saad-Elahi son of B’riu

All but the first of these names are of very common occurrence in the Sinaitic inscriptions and there is no excuse for misreading them.

As regards the other two inscriptions Euting believed contained dates: in the first of these (No. 319) he found the word “Bozrah”, by way of support for his theory that the Sinaitic dated inscriptions could be referred to the “era of Bozrah”: but to get the word Bozrah he had to spirit two letters into it and emend one other when the original has only four letters! The word in question is ]qcH, הצקא, hṣq’, the last word in the second line infra. Euting first divided the initial he into two letters, beth and resh, even though the he is clear an unambiguous, and analogous to the he in the first line of Dated Inscription No. V, then wantonly exchanged the resulting nonsensical word brṣq’ for the word mbṣr’, “from Bozrah”, plucked out of the air. This is a frail foundation on which to build the chronological “proof” that the inscriptions are dateable to the Roman Imperial period. Without emendation or omission, the inscription reads as follows:

Dated Inscription II

From Wadi Feiran

Euting No. 319




שלם עמיו בר

שמרח הצקא

שנת ב ו איר

šlm ‘myw br šmr hq’ šnt 2 w ’yr

Attention!: Ameyu son of Shimrah was stationed (here), Year 2 and (the month) Iyyar.

This dated inscription specifies the month, as well as the year, in which the memorial was composed. What appears to be a beth joined by a ligature to a waw in the last line, following the word sh’nat, “year”, is probably the Sinaitic numeral 2 (with ligature), as in later Hebrew and Aramaic, in which aleph, the first letter in the alphabet, stands for 1, beth, the second letter, for 2, and so forth. The same numeric beth in Dated Inscriptions V and VI is separate from, but immediately adjacent to, the waw.

The reference to “gathering the fruits” of the land in the 400-year inscription (supra) suggests the year there is the “civil” or agricultural year beginning in the Fall, no mention of months being necessary, as it is the era measured in years that is under consideration in that inscription. These inscriptions employing numerals to designate months or actual month-names more probably employ the “sacred” year beginning in Abib or Nisan (March/April), as months of the year were numbered from Abib by the ordinance of God Himself at the Exodus (Exodus 12. 2 and see further infra).

The Sinaitic numeric cyphers are not certainly identifiable because of the paucity of inscriptions containing numerals, a mere seven in all from Sinai, and one from the Egyptian side of the Red Sea, by Negev’s reckoning in 1967, with the addition of one other Sinaitic inscription published by Negev in 1981, plus Euting No. 319 = Dated Inscription No. II and, according to the interpretation adopted here, “The Title” = Dated Inscription No. XI: still the Nabataean and Palmyrene scripts, which are similar to the Sinaitic, provide clues to their meaning. The Sinaitic alephs appear to be equivalent to simple strokes in the later Nabataean and Palmyrene scripts and represent a single unit. Aleph is occasionally a simple stroke in the Sinaitic script, and this suggests the stroke in the later Nabataean and Palmyrene systems developed out of the earlier stroke-like aleph of the Sinaitic script. However, this is not the common understanding. Euting, and other scholars like lemmings, elected to identify the aleph-like sign as the Sinaitic 20, even though it bears no similarity to the Nabataean and Palmyrene signs for 20 (which were somewhat like a modern [Arabic] 3), only a passing resemblance to an early Arabic one.

The Palmyrene sign for 5, which looks like a Hebrew and Sinaitic ayin, is not found in the Sinaitic script, though some (following Euting) have read the Sinaitic ayin as this numeral, when it seems actually to be a letter (in Dated Inscription No. VII infra). In Nabataean the sign for 5 looks more like a Sinaitic yod, and rather like the modern (Arabic) 5. There is a remote possibility that examples of this sign can be found in a single Sinaitic inscription from Jebel Muneijah (CIS II No. 2666a, Dated Inscription No. VI), where there could be two in a row, but more likely both these are loosely-written alephs with open loops at the base, as similar alephs occur in Dated Inscription No. V. The Sinaitic “5” is either unidentified or this yod-like sign, as in Nabataean.

The Palmyrene kaph-like sign for 10, which also stands for 100 when preceded by one or more strokes (indicating so many multiples of 100), and which was perhaps originally an open qoph (qoph represents 100 in later Hebrew and Aramaic), is found once in a Sinaitic inscription (supra), where it represents the numeral 100 and is preceded by several alephs. There is no instance in the Sinaitic inscriptions of the use of this same sign to represent the numeral 10. There is no trace likewise of a sign for 20.

The few unequivocal Sinaitic numerals published to date seem, in fact, to be either single units, each being represented by an aleph-like sign, or the numeral 2, written with the sign beth, or with two alephs, or combinations of these (e.g. 3 alephs followed by a single beth = 5, or one aleph plus one beth plus one aleph plus one beth = 6). An unlikely exception is the yod-like sign representing 5 in one inscription, which is probably a loosely-written aleph, and clear exceptions are the kaph-like sign representing 100 in the inscription supra, and the tav-like sign representing 400 in “The Title” (Dated Inscription No. XI), according to the interpretation adopted here. (Euting chose to interpret the kaph-like sign as a variant of the yod-like Nabataean numeral “5”, but without good reason, as they are nothing alike.)

In two cases numerals following the word sh’nat or shatta, “year” and the year number with waw, represent months, e.g. the numeral “3”, comprised of three alephs in a row, represents the “third month”. In one case (Dated Inscription No. IX) numerals are spelled out in full (“Year forty and five”). Other supposed numerals following the word sh’nat and the year number with or without waw, form recognizable words, in two cases the names of a month, as in the inscription supra (“Iyyar” — which Euting reads as a numeral), and in two instances other words altogether. When properly interpreted, the dated inscriptions provide striking confirmatory evidence of the true nature of the inscriptions as records of the Exodus wanderings.

Other dated inscriptions:

Dated Inscription III

From Wadi Feiran

CIS II No. 1491a = Stone No. 2668




שלם עמיו בר

שמרח משפא

שנת ב ו איר

šlm ‘myw br šmrḥ msp’ šnt 2 w ’yr

Attention!: Ameyu son of Shimrah gathered (here), Year 2 and (the month) Iyyar.

Dated Inscription IV

From Wadi Maghara

Negev IEJ 17 (1967) p. 250f. = Stone No. 7291




דכיר תימא

להי בר עבדאלהי

בטב בשת ב ו אאא

dkyr tym’lhy br ‘bd’lhy bṭb bšt 2 w 3

For your attention!: Teyma-(E)lahi son of Abd-Elahi: Present and Correct!: In Year 2 and (month) 3.

Dated Inscription V

From Wadi Maghara

Negev IEJ 17 (1967) p. 251f. = Stone No. 7294




דכיר העלי

בר חלצת בטב

בשת ב ו אאאב

dkyr h‘ly br ḥlṣt bṭb bšt 2 w 3+2

For your attention!: Haali son of Halzat: Present and Correct!: In Year 2 and (month) 5.

Dated Inscription VI

From Jebel Muneijah

CIS II No. 2666a = Stone No. 3932




שלם כלבו בר עמרו

שנת ב ו אא טבור


šlm klbw br ‘mrw šnt 2 w 2 ṭbwr bṭb

Attention!: Kalbu son of Amru, assembled Year 2 and (month) 2: Present and Correct!

The commonest combination is that of the beth followed by a waw, and implies the second year was of particular significance for the authors of the inscriptions (on which see infra). Euting and most writers following him have understood this combination of signs to represent the numeral “100”, viz. a single stroke preceding what is taken to be a waw-like numeral “100”. The suggestion is that the waw-like sign, or upright stroke with a left-facing loop at the top, was in origin a left-facing qoph, since qoph represents “100” in later Hebrew and Aramaic. Actually, the loop of the qoph in Sinaitic faces to the right, not the left, and it would have to be presumed this numeric cypher had lost connection with its alphabetic origin over the centuries before it appeared for the first time in the Sinatic inscriptions. That could not be the case if the Sinaitic inscriptions date from the era of the Exodus, that is, from the middle of the second millennium BC. The Palmyrene alphabet is similar to the Sinaitic and the later Nabataean. However, the Palmyrene sign for “10”, and therefore also secondarily for “100” in that system, is nothing like a waw, being a kaph-like sign or a horizontal line with a slight hook at one end, and the Nabataean sign for “10” is somewhat like a semi-circle elongated at one side, with its open side facing down (a downward-facing kaph-like sign?), and the sign for “100” is unknown, unless the Sinaitic waw-like sign is taken to be the “Nabataean” cypher for that number. The lack of correspondence between the numeric cyphers of the Sinaitic and the Nabataean inscriptions, and the absence of any instance of the Sinaitic aleph-like cypher in its common looped form in the Nabataean system, prove the former could not have been written by the same people, or at least in the same era, as the latter. This is one more reason why the theory that the Sinaitic inscriptions are Nabataean graffiti of the Roman Imperial period, roughly contemporary with the Nabataean inscriptions from Petra etc., should be discarded.

The specifying of a year and/or month is typical of the Sinaitic inscriptions, according to the account of Cosmas’ informants in the 6th century AD: the style, they told him, was “so-and-so of the tribe/family so-and-so”, and “in such-and-such a year, (and/or) such-and-such a month”. Euting’s interpretation of the cyphers produces results in which there is no reference to a month, only to a year. In view of Cosmas’ accuracy in other respects regarding the content of the inscriptions, this lack casts further doubt on Euting’s system. As regards the year, it is specifically in every inscription referring to a current year (Nos. II through VIII) but one (No. IX) “Year 2”, viz. after the Exodus (cf. the explicit use in Nos. VII and VIII of the era of the Exodus), which is when the Israelites left Sinai in the marching-order given to them by God: the departure is dated to the “second year” (Numbers 10. 11, cf. 9. 1). The year is the same in the Bible and the inscriptions, confirming the use by the wandering Israelites of the era of the Exodus. That was the appropriate time for the roll-call of clans, as commemorated, it may be, in the inscriptions. The month is usually also the second month (Nos. II, III and VI), called “Iyyar”, that is, the second month following the Spring month Abib, which God instituted as the “first of months of the year” for Israel at the time of the Exodus (Exodus 12. 2): the departure was in the “second” month, according to the Book of Numbers, 10. 11f. (cf. also 9. 1, 10. 33). One inscription (No. IV) is dated to the third month, and another (No. V) to the fifth.

The third dated inscription in Euting provides clear evidence, if further evidence were needed, that the Sinaitic inscriptions were written at the time of the Exodus. It reads as follows:

(The inscription in its original location in Wadi Mukatteb: bottom left, above the camel.)

Dated Inscription VII

From Wadi Mukatteb

Euting No. 457 (CIS II No. 963, followed by Stone No. 2129): Euting’s copy:



Nynmyqttlt l[Nymd

Hebrew Equivalents:

דכיר תיםאלהי בר יעלי שנת מאה על

דמין על תלת ת קים נין


dkyr tym’lhy br y‘ly šnt m’h ‘l

dmyn ‘l tlt t qym nyn


For your attention!: Teyma-Elahi son of Yaali: the year following that in which
the chariot-commanders were counted as live fish for destruction.

The inscription reads as follows word by word:

For your attention!: rykd, דכיר, dkyr, and so in Aramaic = Classical Hebrew זכור, lit. let he/it be recalled, recorded, noted”.

Teyma-Elahi: the first personal name, meaning “Teyma-is-my-god” or “Teyma-is-god”. (“Elahi” is the Aramaic equivalent of Heb. “Elohi” or “Elohim”, i.e. with either the 1st pers. sing. suffix or the abs. pl. termination in y.) Teyma is referred to in a previously misunderstood passage of Manetho, as the god responsible for the invasion of Egypt by the Hyksos (Manetho in Josephus Ant. I. 73): Some (god) or other, the god ‘of Timai’ – I know nothing more than this of (his) name – blasted against us {Greek: tou Timaios onoma epi toutou ouk oid’ ‘opôs o theos antepneusen}” (followed by an account of the Hyksos incursion). The personal name Teyma (with final aleph) is found in Stone No. 2670 (= CIS II No. 1493). In combination with the divine name Elahi the spelling is defective (though the defective spelling might be in the initial syllable of the divine name, rather than in the last of Teyma), as also in the case of the name Teym(a)-Dushara.

son of: U, בר, br, Aram. bar, “son”, written in the usual Sinaitic way.

Yaali: yl[y, יעלי, y‘ly, the second personal name, Yaali.

the year: tnv, שנת, šnt, “year”, singular, and here, specifically one year.

following that in which: h]m, מאה, m’h, defective spelling (certain vowels not being expressed in writing, as commonly in the Sinaitic, and other ancient Semitic, inscriptions) for m-’yhy, Aram. מאיהי = Heb. מההיא, m-hhy’ lit. “from that (in which)”. The last character in this word is written idiosyncratically, but is nearest in form to a standard Sinaitic final he. The Arabic final he is almost identical to the unique form evidenced here, the Arabic having developed out of a variety of the Nabataean script. The statement that this memorial was set up a single year after the Crossing of the Red Sea, coincides with the Scriptural dating of the departure from Sinai and the destruction at Taberah/Kibroth-hattaavah to the year immediately following the departure from Egypt. Numbers 10. 11f., 33, 11. 1ff, esp. 32f., and cf. Exodus 12. 2, 16. 1, Deuteronomy 2. 14 etc. The departure from Egypt was on Nisan 15th, 1446 BC, Nisan (also called Abib) being the first month of the sacred year instituted by God at the Exodus, and the departure and destruction at Taberah/Kibroth-hattaavah happened in the next year, 1445 BC, in and immediately following the second month, Iyyar, which falls somewhere between 8th April and 10th June on our calendar. By the fall of that same year, the time of grape-harvest, the Israelites were at Kadesh, on the border of the land of Canaan, and from there they sent the spies who brought back grapes from the land (Numbers 13. 23f.).

for: l[, על, ‘l, lit. “over, for”, a common Classical Heb. and Aram. preposition, in the sense listed in Gesenius-Tregelles, s.v., (A)(2)(e), of the cause on account of which a thing is done.

destruction: Nymd, דמין, dmyn, lit. “bloods”, a common Hebrew idiom = “bloodshed, slaughter, physical destruction”. The whole phrase is “for the purpose of slaughter” or “in order to destroy (them)”.

were counted: l[, על, ‘l, defective spelling for ‘ly, 3 m. s. Peal governed by a singular, collective noun (see under the note “chariot-commanders”), in the sense lit. “go up (in the scales)”, hence “to be esteemed, reckoned, counted”. (Jastrow, Talmudic Dictionary s.v.) Euting and CIS II, followed by Stone, read ‘l, but there is a blemish on the rock at the end of this word in Euting’s copy which has the shape of a final mem. and this might mark the place of a letter now almost wholly erased. If the original reading was Ml[, עלם, ‘lm, “conceal, hide, etc.”, Peal 3 m. s., the meaning is: “He [viz. God] buried …”, or alternatively an infinitive, lit. “[there was] a covering over of …”. The whole phrase would then read: “… the year following that in which, in order to destroy them, He [viz. God] buried the chariot-commanders under live fish”.

the chariot-commanders: tlt, תלת, tlt, with Aramaic t for š = Heb. שליש, “chariot-commander”, lit. “one of three”, viz. the chief of the three warriors occupying a chariot. Here it is a collective noun = “chariot-commanders”. This is the precise word used to describe Pharaoh’s personnel drowned in the Red Sea in Exodus 14. 7, 15. 4.

as: t, ת, t, Classical Hebrew את, ’t, literally = “with”, here in the sense “equal with, as”, reading the preceding word but one ‘l, and so “counted as”; if the preceding word but one is ‘lm, “He hid”, then the meaning is “by means of”, “hiding (them) by means of …”, as the context demands, “under ….”.

live: myq, קים, qym, for qyym, “living, existing” etc. as in Samaritan, Classical Hebrew and Aramaic, probably here a collective noun, lit. “living thing(s)” in apposition to the following word “fish”. If, with Euting and his followers, we read a samekh as the third letter of this word instead of a mem, then the word is syq, קיס, qys, “rough-edged piece”, from qss, “cut”, and the phrase reads: “the chariot-commanders (sing. coll.) were counted as pieces (sing. coll.) of fish”. Such a metaphor would nicely complement the word “counted”, literally “go up”, viz. on the scales, as pieces of fish would be weighed by fish-mongers on scales. (Euting read the last two words as a single word: qysryn, “Caesars”, thus dating the inscription to the Roman Imperial period. Note, however, the identity in form of the two nuns here, which project quite far below the base of the line of writing, like the nuns in dmyn, and šnt: neither of these could easily be read as a resh, as Euting’s reading would require: resh does not project below the line in this inscription, compare the reshes in the words dkyr and br.)

fish: Nyn, נין, nyn, “fish” collective.

Dated Inscription VIII

From the Egyptian side of the Red Sea, probably at Bir Dakhal along the road between Abu Darag and the Nile.

Littmann (with Meredith) in BSOAS 15 (1953) p. 16, plates II and V from Wilkinson’s MSS. relating to his 1826 journey.

(The inscription in the top right-hand corner of the first copy
is an incomplete duplicate of Inscription No. 46a in the second copy.)




]l[] U ycpU

ב ו אבאב


הפיך די מקתרי

בר פצי בר אעלא

2 w 1+2+1+2 šnt hpyk dy mqtry br pṣy br ’‘l’

Year 2 and (month) 6, Haphik known as the son of Fazi son of A’ala.

The word “year” is placed oddly a little below the numeric phrase. Several other names are added at the end of this inscription joined by the copulative waw. The word mqtry is for mtqry, an Ithpeal participle, with metathesis of the t and q, of qry, “call, name”, hence “call oneself, be known as”. This phrase was misunderstood by Littmann, who translated it tentatively “camel-drivers” reading the resh as a beth, and understood the name Haphik (which he read hpwk) as a common noun, “return”. The phrase dy mqtry occurs elsewhere in the Sinaitic inscriptions e.g. Corpus Inscriptionum Semiticarum II Nos. 1254 and 1296 = Stone Nos. 2432 and 2474. The same phrase is used in inscription No. 37 (near duplicate of No. 34) in Littmann, ibid. p. 13f., and plates IV and V, applied to one “Teyma”.

The inscriptions in Sinaitic script on the western side of the Gulf of Suez are probably associated with the work of Kenites who were allied with the Israelites, but were able to trade with Egypt, unlike the Israelites themselves. That the Kenites adopted the script is proven by its later use amongst the Nabataeans, who were Kenites by another name, according to Rabbinic tradition (see Jastrow, Talmudic Dictionary, s.v. nabṭāyyā’). There may also have been Israelite officers and men stationed discreetly along the routes into Egypt as support for the traders. The inscriptions on the Egyptian side are found in suitable halting-places along lines of communication with the Nile, such as merchants and their companies might rest at. The date in the inscription supra is shortly after the Exodus, in the same year the roll-call of the clans was made. It implies Israel’s friends, the Kenites, kept communication open with Egypt, and may even have supplied some of Israel’s wants from that source whilst Israel was resident in Wadi Feiran during the year the Law was given, the first year after the Exodus. This would explain the fractiousness of the Israelites when God told Moses to depart from Wadi Feiran in the second year. They would be dependent henceforth on the miraculous provision of God alone, such as by the manna, as they had been in the first few weeks of the Exodus, and not on more luxurious and naturally provided fare brought by caravan from Egypt. The merchant-monk Cosmas claimed trade of precisely this kind was carried on by Midianties (Kenites) and Ishmaelites with the wandering Israelites in a passage of the Christian Topography immediately preceding his account of the Sinaitic inscriptions:

(MS. p. 204f. ed. trans. McCrindle, Hakluyt Soc. London, 1897, p. 158:) “A cloud by day rested over the Tabernacle and fire by night, in the sight of all Israel as often as they resumed their march, according to what is recorded in scripture and when merchants, chiefly Ishmaelites and Midianites, came to them with their loads, all their wants were through divine providence abundantly supplied, as is written in [MS. p. 205] Deuteronomy ii, 7, and viii, 4; and also xxix, 5, where it is said: He hath led you forty years in the wilderness: your clothes were not waxen old upon you, and your shoes were not worn off upon your feet; for it is not the fact, as some marvel-mongers, and especially they of the circumcision, have supposed, that their garments and shoes did really and truly not wear away, though Moses seems to say so, while, what he means is, that they lacked for nothing in the desert, since the merchants continually brought them necessary supplies; for how was it possible for the children born to them in the wilderness to wear the garments and shoes of their fathers, who were full-grown men while they were very small? And how could they have been ordered to make every day the twelve new loaves of shew-bread, unless the merchants had brought them corn? For ye know that with regard to this matter they murmured, saying: Is he able to give us bread also, or to prepare a table for his people? Or how could they have procured the fine flour for making the cakes, or the skins for making the scarlet and blue leather curtains of the Tabernacle, unless they had purchased them from the merchants? And because, while the merchants, through the providence of God, supplied their wants, they still murmured both against God and against Moses, even though they possessed the wealth of the Egyptians, he wrought wonders for them, ungrateful and unbelieving as they were, supplying them now with abundance of water from the rock, now with manna from heaven, now with quails from the sea for thirty days and further, in teaching them to curb their lusts, he chastised them with plagues, at one time consuming a portion of their encampment with fire, at another visiting with death four and twenty thousand of them, at another sending serpents among them, while at yet another, under the wrath of heaven, the earth swallowed up the company of Dathan, Abiram and Korah, with all their families and their cattle, thus teaching them not to be distrustful and ungrateful to God, but to live soberly. And when they had received the law from God in writing, and had learned letters for the first time, God made use of the desert as a quiet school, and permitted them for forty years to carve out letters on stone ….”

Dated Inscription IX

From Wadi Mukatteb

CIS II No. 1325 = Stone No. 2503



שלם שעדאלהי בר גרםאלבעלי בר

בחגה בשנת ארבעין וחמש

šlm s‘d’lhy br grm’lb‘ly br bḥgh bšnt ’rb‘yn wḥmš

Attention!: Saad-Elahi son of Garm-El-Baali son of B’hagah in the Year forty and (month) five.

This dated inscription is unusual in that the numerals are spelled out, not represented by cyphers. In view of the other dates employing a year number followed by a waw, “and”, then a numeral representing a month, or a month-name, this probably should be translated as “Year forty and (month) five” rather than “Year forty-five”. Presumably the reference, as in the other dated inscriptions, is to the era of the Exodus, in which case the inscription was cut in the last year Israel spent in the wilderness of Sinai. In the interval this style of writing out the numerals may have become more common. According to Cosmas, the Israelites continued to practice their God-given alphabet during the whole of the forty years’ wandering, and this inscription is evidence of the truth of that statement.

Dated Inscription X

From Wadi Ardah

Negev IEJ 31 (1981) p. 69, plate 10:A

The photograph does not provide great detail.

Tentative reading (first line agrees with Negev, end of last line unclear in the photograph):



שלם עודו בר קימו בטב

(?)—-בשנת ב ו איר נ

šlm ‘wdw br qymw bṭb

bšnt b w ’yr n—–(?)

Attention!: Udu son of Kayyamu: Present and Correct!: In the Year 2 and (the month) Iyyar —-(??).

In this inscription Negev follows Euting’s system, reading the beth and waw combination as 100, and the following four signs (aleph, yod, resh and nun, the latter two signs being almost identical) as 10+5+2. The aleph, an acute stroke in this instance, he interprets as a Nabataean 10. However a Nabataean 10 is roughly semi-circular in form, elongated on one side, with its open side facing down. The yod he takes to be the Nabataean yod-like numeral 5, and the following two upright strokes as two Nabataean-like single units. The numeral is 100+10+5+2 = 117, according to Negev. What should have given Negev pause for thought is the fact that the beth and waw combination in other dated inscriptions (Nos. II and III) is immediately followed similarly by an acute angled sign (a looped aleph), and then by a yod-like sign and an upright sign. Though Negev interprets these as numerals, he should have realized that the first of the three signs following the beth and waw combination in these other examples has the shape of a normal aleph (and is actually, according to the interpretation adopted here, an aleph, not a numeral). In the Sinaitic inscriptions aleph can be a simple acute-angled stroke, just like the sign under consideration. (It is this form of the sign which may have been adopted by the Nabataeans to represent a single unit, because aleph in Sinaitic, and in later Hebrew and Aramaic, as well as being the first letter of the alphabet, can also function as a numeral, viz. the first numeral, 1.) So the likelihood is that the three signs immediately following the beth and waw combination in this inscription are identical to the three signs in the same position in the other inscriptions, and have precisely the same significance: that is, they should be read as the month-name “Iyyar”, spelled aleph, yod, resh. The month-name is followed by a short upright stroke, which could be a resh, nun, or beth, less probably a lamed, and there may have originally been signs following that. Considering the context of the other phrases which incorporate the month-name Iyyar and the Year 2, it is likely a short phrase stood here (e.g. “he abode [here]”, reading nun, waw, aleph). Another word appears immediately prior to the “year” word in Nos. II and III, and in No. VI a word immediately follows the month number 2, as, according to this reconstruction, it follows the name of the second month here.

Dated Inscription XI

The Jebel Mukatteb inscription called “The Title”

The inscription is reproduced from the Comte d’Antraigues in Forster, One Primeval Language, Plate V. Forster thought the Comte had inverted the inscription by mistake, and could only read it by his theoretical alphabet after turning it the other way. However, as the Comte published it, and as reproduced here, it makes perfect sense in Sinaitic.

Proposed transliteration and translation:


rzpgdybbl]ynydbyhb]Nbtbl ≠ Hl]zbyNl]mytHnv

שנה ת ימא לן יבז אלה ≠ לבת בן אבהי בדיניא לבבי דג פזר

šnh t ym’ ln ybz ’lh ≠ lbt bn ’bhy bdyny’ lbby dg pzr

Year 400: God ripped apart the sea for us ≠ (and) to the (same) place the son (was sent), He sent his father (too), by way of (His) judgments, scattered to the realm of fishes.

Hnv = Aram. and Heb. שנה, šnh “year”. For the unusual form of the first letter see infra. The nun has a pseudo-ligature at its base running towards the shin. Presumably because of the size of the letters the join is not complete. The common initial formula šlm “peace” would be expected in this position, but the terminal sign is a final he not a mem, and the middle sign is not as tall as a normal lamed. Wellsted (infra) says the inscriptions on the Jebel Mukatteb near Tor lack the common initial formula šlm found elsewhere.

t = Aram. and Heb. ת, t, as a numeral = 400. In Dated Inscription I the same numeral is represented by four alephs and a kaph-like sign = (1+1+1+1) × 100. The numerals in the Sinaitic inscriptions are not written consistently, and here the taw may have been used because it means “mark”, or more specifically, a sepulchral mark, the context being the death of Pharaoh and his son. Note the reference to 400 years, not 430. The Exodus occurred 430 years after the children of Israel began to settle in Egypt (Ex. 12. 40), but the prophecy of 400 years (Gen. 15. 13f.) required a minimum of 400 years to have passed before the Exodus, and it is the prophecy that is under consideration here. The dating system in the Book of Exodus puts lower before higher units of time, so 430 years appears in Hebrew as “thirty years and four hundred years” (Ex. 12. 40f.). Thus the Hebrew mentality would see the thirty years as having passed first, then the four hundred, so the Exodus occurred at the conclusion of the latter time period (Ex. 12. 41).

]my = Aram. ימא, ym’, “the sea”, abs. case.

Nl = Aram. לן, ln, written defectively, without the final aleph, pronounced lānā’, = the common preposition l, “to, for, of, etc.”, with the 1st pers. pl. suffix = “for us”, viz. the Israelites and mixed multitude. The final and somewhat imperfect nun hangs below the line of writing as often in other inscriptions. Here the preceding lamed has a pseudo-ligature, like the nun in šnh.

zby = Aram. יבז, ybz, = 3rd pers. sing. imp. Peal of bzz, “rip, split apart, break up, plunder, carry away”. There is a violent connotation here, as also in the last word pzr, “disperse, scatter”, reflecting the violence of the judgment visited on the victims of the catastrophe.

Hl] = Aram. and Heb. אלה, ’lh, “Elah”, “God”, the sing. of Elahi(n/m). The vocalization of ’lh as “Allah” and of ’lhy as “Allahi” makes this divine name look Arabic, and implies a Roman Imperial “Nabataean” background for the inscriptions. In fact the common Sinaitic ’lhy is the Aramaic abs. plural in y, viz. “Elahi”, corresponding to the Hebrew “Elohim”, as in Aramaic inscriptions from other areas of the Near East. Therefore Sinaitic ’lh should be vocalized “Elah” and ’lhy “Elahi”.

On the sign following the divine name Elah, see infra.

tbl = Aram. and Heb. לבת, lbt, l = the common preposition “to, for, of, in relation to etc.” here “to”, followed by bt, “house”, trans. mng. “sepulcher” and “realm, domain”.

Nb = Aram. and Heb. בן, bn, cstr. “son of”. Here strictly speaking it means “grandson” as the Pharaoh of the Exodus who drowned in the sea was Thutmosis III, and it was his son and co-regent, Amenophis II, who lost his firstborn in the Passover destruction.

yhb] = Aram. אבהי, ’bhy, “his father”.

]ynydb = Aram. בדיניא, bdyny’, b = the common preposition “in, by, by way of, etc.”, dyny’ = dyn, Aramaic and Heb. “judgment, penalty, etc.”, plural emphatic. The final aleph is one of the less common Sinaitic forms, with the loop facing to the left rather than to the right, and a flourish at the end of the vertical stroke turning to the right.

ybbl = Aram. and Heb. לבבי, lbby, = l, the preposition “to, for, of, at etc.”, here “to, at”, followed by bby, cstr. pl. of bab, “gate”. “Gates”, trans. mng. = “realm, abode” etc.

gd = Aram. and Heb. דג, dg, “fish” or coll., as here, “fishes”. From the root dwg = lit. “sink” then trans. “be fearful, experience terror”. On the unusual angle of the initial letter daleth, see infra.

rzp = Aram. and Heb. פזר, pzr, “scatter, disperse”, 3 m. s. perf. Peal, taking Elahi as the subject, “He [God] scattered, sent … scattered”, or, less probably, Peal pass. participle, taking ’bhy, “his father”, as the subject.

This is one of the most interesting inscriptions, but is only known through a description and copy provided by an eighteenth century traveler. Its letters, according to this account, measured six feet in height, and it was granted a name of honor, “The Title”, by the Bedouin. However, it does not seem to have been copied, or even rediscovered, by any scholar in recent times.

Its general location in the Jebel Mukatteb, the “Inscribed Mountain”, near the Red Sea port of Tur or Tor (not the same as the Jebel Mukatteb in Wadi Mukatteb), was well known in the 19th century, as can be seen from the last sentence of the following passage from a Victorian era tourist guidebook:

Palestine and Syria, 4th ed., Baedeker, Leipzig, 1906, p. 196f.:

To the N. of the town the Jebel Hammam Sidna Musa (‘Mountain of the Baths of our Lord Moses’; ca. 395 ft.), a spur of the low range of coast-hills, projects into the sea. At the foot of this hill lie sulphur-springs of the temperature of 81-83°, which are used by the natives chiefly as a cure for rheumatism. The Kal‘at et-Tur, a castle erected by Sultan Murad, is in a dilapidated condition. Most of the palm-plantations belong to the monks of Mt. Sinai, and are {p. 197} managed by their servants. The Greek Convent at Tor, which is connected with the Sinai Monastery, is modern and uninteresting. The caravans between the sea and the monastery are conducted by the Beduin of the convent. About a mile to the N. W. of the town lies the palm-garden of El-Wadi. In the limestone slopes of the Jebel Hammam Sidna Musa ({the “Baths of our Lord Moses”} p. 196) are numerous dilapidated hermitages,with Christian crosses, and several Greek and Armenian inscriptions, dating from A.D. 633. To the N. rises the Jebel Mokatteb, which boasts of several Sinaitic inscriptions (p. 191).”

The failure to publish the inscriptions on Jebel Mukatteb is clearly due to negligence and not to any difficulty of access. The mountain is one of the strand of eminences skirting the Red Sea a short distance to the north west of Tor, called Jebel Himam (Ritter) or El Heman (Wellsted), the “Mount of Death”, and the Arabs believe it is inhabited by evil spirits. Jebel Mukatteb is described in more detail by Ritter (trans. Gage, Geography, vol. 1, p. 160f.), but he based his account on the following passage of Wellsted (J. R. Wellsted, Travels in Arabia, vol II, London, 1838, p. 16, 20-22), as he explored the coast just over 3 miles north west of Tor:

Map of Tor (Tur) and surrounding area:

El Ouadi” (El-Wadi) = Elim and “G. Mokatteb” = Jebel Mukatteb, the site of numerous as yet unpublished Sinaitic inscriptions, including “The Title”

From R. Weil, La Presqu’ile du Sinai, Paris, 1908, p. 186

I proceeded to visit the Jebel Makateb, or Written Mountain, concerning which the learned have so long been divided in opinion. Inscriptions are found in many other parts of the peninsula, but in no part which I have visited, are they so numerous as on this mountain. Yet I am not aware that any description has been published, or facsimiles of its writings been transmitted to Europe. {He seems to have been unaware of the Comte’s transcript of “The Title”.} Whilst Niebuhr resided at Cairo, he made a separate journey to effect this purpose; but his guide mistook the object of his inquiries, and conducted him to the sepulchral monuments of Sarbout el Kadam, so that he returned without being able to accomplish it. As the cliffs in the vicinity rise abruptly from the sea, and the neighbouring valleys are wholly destitute of pasturage, it was not without some difficulty that I could obtain a person at Tor to conduct me thither.” {Wellsted describes how he crossed a marshy district immediately adjacent to Tor, then the El Wadi gardens at about 1 mile and stretching for 2 miles. This is the location of the “Baths of Moses”, identified in antiquity with ancient Raithu and Elim. He spent the night in a region of grottoes or cells carved out of the rock, once occupied by Christian ascetics, at about 3 miles from Tor.} “Leaving the caves [of the ascetics] to the right, in a few minutes we arrived at a small date grove, called Ab’u Suwara, situated within a few yards of the beach, which here recedes into a small bay. Amidst the trees, but a few yards from the shore, there is a well of very brackish water. Pursuing the chain of El Heman, which here retires about 200 yards from the beach, at the termination of an hour’s brisk walking, we arrived at Jebel Mokatteb {spelled Makateb supra}, situated at the extremity of another small bay, about a mile in depth. That portion looking towards the sea is covered with inscriptions, differing in some respects from those found in other parts of the peninsula. They have, as is there common, neither the rude figures of animals, nor have they the prefatory sign {read sh’lam “Attention!”} attached to them. Intermixed with the more ancient inscriptions, there are many in Greek, Cufic, and more modern Arabic. These latter merely record the names and date of the several visitors; and the figure of the cross is frequently appended to the inscriptions in Greek. In some other respects, also, the inscriptions on the Jebel Mokatteb are dissimilar to those found in other parts. Instead of being rudely scratched upon the face of the rock, many of them exhibit proofs of having been executed with tolerable care, and the lines along which they are drawn are all placed horizontally; and several which appear to have been executed at the same period had evidently much labour bestowed upon them.

These inscriptions have given rise to much interesting discussion. When conjecture assigned them to the Israelites during their wanderings, it was hoped that their decipherment might elucidate many unexplained portions of holy writ; and so sanguine were the expectations in England at one period on this head, that Bishop Clayton offered a reward of five hundred pounds to any person who would proceed to this mountain and copy them. No success has hitherto attended the labours of those who have looked over facsimiles of such as were brought from other parts of the peninsula. It has been suggested they are of Phoenician origin; and, upon comparing some I happened to have with me at Malta with those found on the celebrated inscription on the island in that character, a very close resemblance in most of the letters could be traced.”

The inscription known as The Title was brought to the attention of Europe by the Comte d’Antraigues in a letter published by Johannes von Müller, as already noticed in the extract cited supra from Traditions of Eden. The following is a translation from the original French of the Comte’s own words: — “At five o’clock in the morning, on the 14th May, 1779, I put my whole caravan in motion, and we repaired to the Dshebel el Moukatab {i.e. Jebel Mukatteb}. It consists of two very lofty rocks, cut perpendicular, separated one from the other by 50 paces. It appears that their base has been hollowed by the action of the waters …. These rocks, covered with characters carved in relief, have none from their base up to the height of 14 feet 2 inches. The total length of the valley is 547 Paris toises. [1094 yards.] The rocks are covered with characters up to their summits: the lines are straight, but their extremities bend up to the junction of the line above, and form a writing in furrows. On the right hand rock, in coming from Tor, there are in all 67 lines; 41 on the rock to the left. The characters stand out one inch, and are one foot long. On the left side, on the highest part of the rock, are the characters which are called The Title. The reason of their having been called by this name is that the letters which compose it are 6 feet high, and stand out 3 inches. I caused them to be drawn with the greatest exactness. It would require six months of stubborn toil to draw the whole of these characters: it is a book unique, perhaps, under heaven, and the history of a people perhaps unknown.” (Extract of a letter from M. le Comte d’Antraigues, ap. Johannes von Müller sämmtliche Werke, 6ter Theil, J. G. Müller, Tübingen, 1811, p. 330.)

There are certain peculiarities in the script of this inscription. One of them is the unusual sign after the word Elah, God. This may be a diagram of the crossing of the Red Sea, given the reference immediately before it. Similar signs, V-shape, Y-shape, or cross etc., appear in other inscriptions.

The first letter of the inscription is written in a peculiar way: the shin of shanah is drawn to look somewhat like the stick-figure of a bird, perhaps a bird of prey, an omen of death, with the wings stretched out to the rear (right), and the neck protracted upwards. Also shin, the name of the letter, means “tooth, sharp point etc.”, as well as “brightness”, and in this context suggests the sharp, shining, bill of the bird of prey. The reference may be to the solar falcon which in Egyptian iconography represented Pharaoh. The next sign, nun, following the first bird-like one, means “fish”. The “fish” rises above the “bird” and looks as though it is threatening it. The “bird” raises its head and wings away from the “fish”. In these first two letters of the initial word of the inscription, therefore, the content of the whole inscription may be conceptualized, viz. the scattering of Pharaoh to the fishes. Visual puns using the form of certain signs are common in the Sinaitic inscriptions, particularly animal ones. This may reflect a context in which the writers were familiar with hieroglyphic, pictorial, writing, in which animals featured prominently, more, perhaps, than they were with alphabetic, as must have been true of the Israelites in Egypt.

The daleth at the beginning of the word dg, “fish”, from the root dwg, “sinking”, is usually upright, but here is inclined somewhat from the vertical to the left. Since the name of the letter daleth means “door”, and the reference here is to the “gates” of fish, the latter word from a root meaning “sink”, this is probably a visual pun like the initial shin, and depicts the door sinking. The allusion in this notable inscription to the death of Pharaoh, may have given rise to the local belief that the mountain chain thereabouts is inhabited by evil spirits and to its alternative designation the “Mount of Death”.

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