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56                     Writing and Literature
in Egyptian hieroglyphic and were votive stelae, statues, or the
like dedicated by Egyptian officials in the local temple amidst
the turquoise mines that explain the object of their quest. In-
cluded among the materials handed over to us were copies of
ten rock tablets carved in characters of which some were clearly
borrowed from the hieroglyphs, whilst others were equally
clearly not so borrowed. Reluctantly we turned to the study
of these enigmatic texts, for there seemed little hope of eliciting
their nature. Almost the first sign to attract my attention
was the ox-head at the beginning (top right) of the inscription
reproduced in Plate I, fig. i. This brought to mind the old
contention of Gesenius that the prototypes of the Phoenician
letters must originally have had the shapes indicated by the
Hebrew letter-names, and accordingly I exclaimed to my com-
panion 'Surely we must here have the origin of the Phoenician
dlepP. His reply was not encouraging, so there the matter
rested for several weeks. On taking up the problem afresh, my
first step was to see what confirmation of my surmise could be
found. To my astonishment, almost perfect equivalents were
at once forthcoming for beth 'house' Q, f3, mem 'water'AM—
the Egyptians always depicted water as a zigzag line ^^—*ayin
*eye' <*££>* and resb 'head5 Q, besides others for one reason or
another less convincing. The total number of different signs
contained in these inscriptions did not exceed thirty-two and
of these some might well be variants; the natural inference
was that the writing was alphabetic. But if so, there would
have to be some sequences of letters which would yield indi-
• vidual words. It was easy to isolate one sequence of four
h£ letters that occurred no less than six times; a typical
^ example is given in the adjoining cut. Applying my
jS"» principle, I read the first sign as b, the second as
» r Cayin)—this is a peculiar guttural sound not heard
in English—and the last as t—the Hebrew letter-name tan
means 'a mark' and the Phoenician form is t or x The third