Reflections on the Development of Hebrew Letters


moderating note:

This thread arises from splitting the two main discussions which were taking place in the thread on Hebrew letter correlations.

The initial posts need to therefore be read in conjunction with the first ten or so posts in the linked thread, as they otherwise seem to come in from no-where.

Looking forward to the two discussions taking there own, but related, journeys :)



When the old master of the alphabet ... who was a didactical genius, cause he loved the simple things and he had it to do with simple people and his major problem was to teach this simple people reading and writing and obviously his pupils were not educated enough to memorize too much things and so he created an alphabet with only 22 letters, no differentiation between great and small letters as we do know it in our complex alphabetic system, very simple designed 22 letters, not more ... and to increase the usefulness of this alphabetic, he combined the system with numbers ....letters = numbers ... just cause he knew of the problems of his pupils, so they need to learn only 22 letters and were full educated to master their culture, to read, to write and to do a little math ... well, if this master of the alphabet had a great trick, then it was his being simple and understandable and not complicated ... and interested to make it easy for his pupils.
And if there is a reason, why just this system became the base of our culture and was adapted everywhere in the neighbourhood of Phoenecia with smaller changings and not the much more complicated hieroglyphs of Egyptia and not the diverse syllable alphabets with much more letters, which also took form in different times ... then you shouldn't look for the answer in the Tarotcards or in the complex interpretations in kaballistical books .... you should see, how simple it was ...

An old shin, painted 3500 years before our time, looks like a "w" (we have documents for that) and cause of its outfit it was called "tooth" - probably cause a current word for tooth in the spoken language at that time knew this word with started with a sound like "sh..".

The master of the alphabet was not stupid, he knew, that his pupils would learn it that way better. He took easy to paint signs, which couldn't be mixed with each other cause of "similar outfit" and he looked that there were words in the current language, which looked similar as the signs that he chose ...

And that all together was his great trick. Make it so simple, that everybody could understand it ..... with secret helps that it makes it easier to memorize them.

When the old master of the alphabet had listened to your explanation of schin ... he would have laughed about his personal astonishment, that even very easy things can become very complicated .... :)


One of the meanings of Shin is tooth or fang and relates to biting or tearing, as the dog is biting at the fool and has torn the seat of his pants?

It also means 'year' and 'change' and is related to the seasonal changes throughout the year. One way of spelling it in full is shin, yod, nun, which equals 360 and thus relates to the circle. This may bring to mind the wreath of the 'world' card as a circle, representing the year? The four animals the four seasons? There are of course 365 days in the year, what happens to the extra 5 Days? These are the 'holy days', from which we derive holidays, connected with saturnalia and 'all fool's day' and maybe connected thus with the 'fool' card that follows if we are to connect Shin with the World card. In connection with this we may note that in most versions of the SY Tau is attributed to the Moon, that the moon is and was popularly associated with insanity as shown in the word 'luna-cy', and that Matto means 'mad, insane'. We may note also that the only other card to show a dog is the moon card, so within the deck itself there is an association between dog and moon. The dog is biting at the fool and has torn the seat of his pants so his buttocks are showing, he is 'mooning' ;) [OK - a bit of a stretch that one, but out of curiosity does anyone know from whence or where the association between the buttocks and the moon came? And how widespread or not the association was?]

If we relate Tau to the moon however we may note it is also associated with 'fortuna', and so this attribution might also support an interpretation of the figure in the world card as 'fortuna'. In cabbalah the moon is also symbolic of G-d as imminent, the indwelling spirit, the shekinah and holy spirit - and so may relate to the figure on the world card as a representation of 'anima mundi'. Tau also means 'cross' of course, so supporting an interpretation of the figure as Christ.

In Christian cabala the divine appelation of Shin means 'God the Saviour'. It is also related to the theology of the 'name'. The Shin represents Christ as Logoi incarnated, enclothed in the name of the Father YHVH so we have the name YHShVH. The figure at the center of the world card could be interpreted as a figure of Christ, the four holy creatures as symbols of the four letters of the one name YHVH. Thus Christ [Sh] is portrayed incarnated and enclothed in the name YHVH. The numerical value of Shin is 300, which is the value of the divine name Elohim spelt in full. In kabalah this is said to symolize the mystery of the combining of the divine names YHVH and Elohim. In Christian cabala of course this 'mystery' is said t be resolved in the name YHshVH, as above. YHVH is the 'name of one' and represents the divine immutable essence. Elohim, used of G-d as creator, is plural, that is 'many'.

Kwaw :)



... the master of the alphabet ...

lived in a time, when caballistic books didn't exist.

He simply didn't knew them.

And he didn't knew about sophisticated interpretations of the alphabet 1000 years after his time, 2000 years after his time, 3000 years after his time.

He had a simple problem: This was to teach simpleminded people reading and writing and some simple math in a most genious manner.

He wasn't interested as sophisticated people of the same time to create a scripture, which could only adapted with great difficulties by scholars and high priests.
His pupils were simple people and he acknowledged that he had to keep things simple.

Cause of its simpleness his invention had a rather unbelievable success in history. If it would have had a different quality, we wouldn't perceive its success.


shin looked like a "w" in the time of the master of the alphabet and meant "tooth"

Cause this was a socalled "Eselsbrücke" ("ass-bridge") common to teachers generally to "bridge" the memory-difficulties of their pupils.

Aleph meant an "ox". Still you can turn our "A" on its head and what do you see? An "ox"

Our master was a phoenician and his highest god "El" was a bull, that is the reason for the "ox". As they had bull-religions in Creta and the delta-region of Egyptia, which were the partners in trade for the region. Also you find remiscents of it in the Mithras-religion, which was a strong opponent of Christanity in late Roman times.
And you find it in the bible with the "golden calf", which made problems to Moses. And again in the bible, where the plural of "El" is used, "Elohim", by the socallist "Elohist", in the contrary to the socalled "Yahwist", who used YHWH.
And you find it in Greek mythology, when Zeus captured Europe. And when Io took a run to Egyptia to become the goddess of Isis. The same Isis, which had a cowhead.
And you find it still in Spain in the ritualistic killing of bulls in great arena's with much public attention.

Returning back to the master of the alphabet. He was not in the situation to know about matadors in Spain, or about kaballists in Spain or elsewhere or about kwaw, who thinks complicated in a time, when internet exists and humans are capabable to pay 100 dollars to jump in a Jumbo-jet from Lebanon to somewhere far away.
He was that what he was, a didactical clever teacher and interested to keep things simple. He didn't know a Jumbo-jet, but a camel =gimel, which was his picture for "journey" and a logical counterpart to beth="house" ("staying here" in contrast to "go away"), which was the contrast between "nomade" and "farmer", and found literaric expression in the bible as "Cain" and "Abel", where Cain was the archetypical "Cainite" and Abel the Canaite god Baal.

Aleph-Beth-Gimel, that's your ABC (gimel=G exchanged in later Roman languages with zajin, letter 7, = C for unknown reasons; Greek has still gamma=3 and zeta=7).


The development of the Alphabet (or indeed the Alef-Beit) is a fascinating one.

A number of books have appeared on the matter over the past decade, and they certainly make for fascinating reading... which brings me to the historical vs iconographic point.

Historically (or rather, to be precise, pre-historically), it seems more likely that the letters developed out of image-representations which over time became more abstracted and standardised (as happened also with Egyptian hieroglyphs, later demotic, and indeed further afield from our point of discussion with Chinese).

The story Huck brings is a wonderful imaginative reflection (and I realise he was not presenting it as historical, by the way, and take the point which sought to counter one way by which to read kwaw's earlier post).

Historically, however, it may be that the early development is even simpler. A representation is drawn, which, for the length of this post's sake, we'll just use one example of an Ox. Over time, only the horned head is represented, which eventually becomes an abstracted form to represent the sound of the word's beginning in that language. The stylised Ox moves further and further away from being recognised as ox-like, yet both the sound, and the letter's name, stick.

Over a thousand years later, someone may indeed draw on this oral tradition of letter meaning and incorporate its various qualities in imagery - whether these be letter-form similarity (e.g., Shin and 'three-prongedness'), meaning (e.g., Shin and tooth), or even more recently acquired numerical value - both ordinal and cardinal (e.g., Shin and 21st & 300).

The difficulty lies with some of the claims which have been made, and the assumed 'rectifications'. For example, investigating the imagery of the Major Arcana and the letters of the Hebrew alphabet (in conjunction with, for example, the Sefer Yetzirah) may quite wonderfully result in the reflections made by Wescott and incorporated by Mathers in what has become Golden Dawn generated views. This does not mean that Shin and XX Judgement have intrinsic connections, but rather that one can see how they decided to make such, and that any deck which accepts their peculiar views will incorporate this element, even if without conscious awareness, into the deck's depictions.

There is absolutely no doubt that the RWCS, BOTA, CH Thoth, and a host of others have incorporated this particular letter association into their respective decks.

Similarly, there is no doubt that many other decks have incorporated other associations. The differences do give such differences in tonal qualities to the decks that, for the aspiring esotericist, it brings to the fore important bearing, for prolonged usage of one type over another will undoubtedly impact on the ways in which the cards are entered and unveiled.

For the historical reportage, it makes not as much difference, for there it is a matter of carefully presenting what various people have done, and plausible explanations as to why.

It seems, then, that embedded in the nature of this thread is not only the various reflections brought here by those of us who continue to post, but also as to (to return to one of the very early questions) why it may be of interest.

In a nutshell, and apart from the historical interest, it may be of interest as these Hebrew letter associations are very likely to have had an impact and influence on most decks we are likely to obtain... or even design!


I couldn't see the forest

I couldn't see the forest ...
cause there were so much trees ....

Evaluating Tarot versus Alphabet ... actually one should assume, that there are ways to realize, that the tail of the ox is not the whole ox. The tail is small, the ox is big.

Tarot is small .. Alphabet is big. Tarot is a Kindergarten object - in comparition to the importance of the Alphabet. It's absolutely no culturedeciding question, if the Tarot was formed after forms of Hebrew letter or not - if it for instance was really so, then it wouldn't change anything, it would be just an artistic trick without great result, as people started soon to know nothing about it.
The alphabetic development transformed the complete Western world. Only the use of the alphabet made the Bible a bestseller ... only the alphabet made it possible, that printing industry developed quicker in Western countries than for instance in China. Printing caused a farspread knowledge in Western countries and caused the phase of enlightment. This caused the development of various technologies - in Western countries. This caused the dominance of Western countries and imperialism.

The alphabet is the ox, no doubt.


... and so, to continue, the Ox is Alef, and Alef is the Bateleur, the worker of miracles beginning on his journey.

If but one card can achieve so much, wow! ;)


:) It's a free world and anybody can build the creative world he likes ... historically there is even a jump between system of alphabet-origin and Sepher Yetzirah interpretation, who cares then about Tarot-specifications ... :)

But, if you think, that the Magician is Aleph, what probably means, that you think, that aleph means 1, why is ...

... why is 0 + 12 + 20 = 32 and 1 + 13 + 21 = 35

:) why is 1+2+3+10+16+19+21 = 72
and 2+3+4+11+17+20+0 (or 22) = 57 (or 79)


Aleph then is bagatell? I thought you were asking we explore all the possibilities with an open mind? I have my personal preferences, but I tried and maybe failed by trying to include all the symbolic references for each attribution and getting shot down for something I make complex which should be simple. And indeed it is simple, if you are convinced of your own opinion and not willing to contemplate the factors that lead others to a differenct opinion. Easy to mock, from a position of ill founded personal surety, the confusion and exploration of others. I am happy that you and huck find it so simple and certain, I don't.



how did we get from vulture to ox?

I'm not informed enough to understand what we are arguing about, is it attribution of the first letter? Wouldn't Aleph, as a kind of vowel, be more fitting for the migrating Fool?

What I'm wondering is where the idea of the ox came from. Is "aleph" a Hebrew word? or is it just the name of the letter, which has been retroactively assigned to look like an ox...? The Egyptian Hieroglyph for Aleph - is a vulture.

To keep up with this discussion (aka to understand jmd's post), I had to do some googling. On Google, I learned that Hebrew letters, like Greek, Roman, and Arabic letters, evolved from the Phoenician Alphabet, which evolved in turn from an earlier, more picture-like writing (called "sinaitic script" on one chart ) This earlier quasi-pictographic script was in turn evolved or adapted from Egyptian Hieroglyphics.

There are charts galore to explore various mutations, flippings, simplifications, rotations, and jumps through hoops that the pre-Phoenician pictograms went through to become first the Phoenician alphabet, then Hebrew, Greek, and Roman alphabets (See chart:Evolution of Picture Writing to Alphabet).

There is not so much however, to show the how the earlier quasi-pictographic "sinaitic" script relates to the Egyptian hieroglyphs. The most important point in this borrowing, however is that pictures as aides-memoires for sounds, are language specific. Thus, in adapting pictures to use from one language to another, two things are bound to happen; either

  • 1) the picture will retain its sound, but be given a new meaning. (as "d" daleth began as the picture of a fish, but came to mean "door", Shin began possibly as the picture of a bow but came to mean "tooth"...


    2) the picture will retain its meaning, but be assigned a new sound,
    as Beth, which began as the egyptian letter "h"
However I do not know how beautiful Egyptian Vulture - the hieroglyphic sign for "aleph" ended up in Phoenician as an ox!! One website: Birth of the Alphabet, claims the ox-shaped pictogram is spurious.

Therefore, perhaps it were prudent not to get too attached to the picture attributions, they are not exactly "set in stone" (har har har.)

See also:

-Development of the Alphabet
-Origin of the Alphabet
-The History of Writing
-The Pronunciation of Ancient Egyptian

(Obviously what is available on the net is sometimes of dubious scholarly rigor. I'm looking forward to reading some actual books on the subject.)