Semitic names were used for hieroglyphic shapes in Egypt, which became the basis for the shape of each letter. According to Jewish traditions, each letter by itself has an individual meaning. But where did the order of the alphabet come from? Scholars have suspected that the order of the alphabet has mnemonic meaning, provided to help people remember something. Remember what? What is the story behind the order and the odd names for each letter? You can see the meaning of each letter in the previous blog.
Lately, I had a suspicion that the order of the alphabet and the letter meanings originated from a significant event: the revelation of the Ten Commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai. That revelation is the centerpiece of the Judaic religion. I found an interesting article by Dr. Ed Metzler which analyzed the original Hebrew text and he proposed that the original tablets had five lines on each face, with 32 or 33 Hebrew letters to each line. From that he was able to determine its actual dimensions and its weight, which became the origin of their system of weights and measure. Dr. Metzler started with this assumption: the first line began with ALEPH (our letter A) and the second line began with BET (our letter B) - thus the word "alphabet" was coined! So here is what the first two lines stated - first I show the transliterated Hebrew (I found a freeware transliterated Hebrew Bible), and below each line its translation:
'nky yhvh 'lhyk 'sr hv&'tyk m'r& m&rym = 33 letters (32 removing doublets)
I am JEHOVAH thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt
mbyt jbdym l' yhyh-lk 'lhym 'xrym jl-pny = 33 letters (32 removing doublets - the first M in this case)
out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
The first line begins with ANKI (Hebrew for "I") and the second begins with the root word for BET. BET means house, and this is the name for the second letter. The first two letters of the alphabet thus map to the first commandment.
Unfortunately, this is as far as Dr. Metzler got, and does not analyze the rest of the alphabet. What about the rest of the letters? Do they somehow map to the other nine commandments? Dr. Metzler was more interested in the three dimensional nature of the tablets, so I decided to plunge in and do my own research, and learn a little Hebrew. To me this was a code or puzzle to solve - and software development and coding is part of my day-job.
First, the letter BET (house) matches perfectly to the second line, which begins with the "house of bondage". But why is the first letter called ALEPH and not ANKI? ALEPH in Hebrew comes from a word meaning "ox". That in turn is based on the word AL or EL which means "strong one" or "God". EL is the singular form of the majestic plutal ELOHIM, again meaning "God". Thus the first line begins with I am JEHOVAH thy God (ELOHIM). In other words, ALEPH is an ideogram which captures the meaning of the first line in one letter!
In connection with the letter ALEPH, meaning ox, there is an odd event which occurred at the time of the revelation of the ten commandments:
"And when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down out of the mount, the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said unto him, Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him.
And Aaron said unto them, Break off the golden earrings, which are in the ears of your wives, of your sons, and of your daughters, and bring them unto me.
And all the people brake off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them unto Aaron.
And he received them at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, after he had made it a molten calf: and they said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt." (Ex. 32:1-4)
A calf was one of the gods that was worshipped in ancient Egypt - it seems that by the time rumor spread at the bottom of the mountain, they discovered that ALEPH (ox) was the mnemonic for the first commandment as to which god they should worship, and thus made a molten calf. By the time Moses came down, he was so frustrated that he broke the original tablets, and melted the calf into some soup and forced the Israelites to eat it. Then he had to go up that mountain and start all over again.
So, the first two letters of the Hebrew alphabet, ALEPH and BET, map to the first commandment. Taking this as a clue, could it be that the next two letters GIMEL and DALETH form a pair to represent the second commandment? The Hebrew word DALETH means "door", and was taken from a hieroglyph of a door, but its proto-Canaanite form was that of a fish, which is DAG in Hebrew. As A and B form a pair spelling "alphabet", it seems that G and D form a pair, which is DAG spelled backwards. Why backwards? Just like some once thought running old music records in reverse would somehow reveal a Satanic message, putting the pair backwards makes sense as the second commandment forbids the worship of idols. That is just a thought, but it is related to what follows.
Looking at the Hebrew of the second commandment, I was disappointed to discover there was no letter GIMEL. However the letter DALETH appears for the first time, and it is in an interesting position. Here is the transliterated Hebrew, with a translation below each line (following Dr. Metzler's theory, but using the actual text in the Masoretic Torah):
l' tjsh-lk p$l vkl-tmvnh 'sr bsmym mmjl = 33 letters
Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above
v'sr b'r& mtxt v'sr bmym mtxt l'r&. = 29 letters
or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:
l'-tstxvh lhm vl' tjbdm ky 'nky yhvh 'lhyk 'l qn' = 40 letters
Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I Jehovah thy God am a jealous God,
pqd jvn 'bt jl-bnym jl-slsym vjl-rbjym lsn'y. = 38 letters
visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;
vjsh x$d l'lpym l'hby vlsmry m&vty. = 29 letters
And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
DALETH shows up in the last two lines of the second commandment. And it is the last letter of a word at the beginning or near the beginning of the sentence. The two lines emphasize God as a God of Judgment - visiting iniquity upon the evil, or showing mercy to those who keep his commandments.
Notice something else? GIMEL and DALETH are the third and fourth letters of the Hebrew alphabet. And the second commandment mentions the third and fourth generation!
So if the ten commandments is the origin of the order of the alphabet, we would expect GIMEL to be in one of the first three lines, as DALETH appears in the second two. What is interesting is we find two letters that form the word GIMEL - M and L - at the end of one of the lines in the Hebrew word MAJAL, meaning "above". It is as if the letter AYIN (meaning eye) has been inserted inside of the word GIMEL (camel). DALETH means "door". And it just so happens that the symbols of a camel, an eye and a door appear in one of the sayings of Jesus concerning the 10 commandments:
And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet? Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions. Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. (Matt. 19:16-24)
An "eye of a needle" is a small door (DALETH). This rich man had money as an idol, thus disobeying the second commandment, for one can not serve God and mammon (money). Is it not strange that a camel and a door are associated with the second commandment in this story? Not only that, but this is what Jewish tradition says about the mystical significance of GIMEL and DALETH (from http://www.inner.org/hebleter/GIMMEL.HTM)
Our Sages teach that the gimel symbolizes a rich man running after a poor man, the dalet, to give him charity. The word gimel is derived from the word gemul, which in Hebrew means both the giving of reward as well as the giving of punishment. In Torah, both reward and punishment have the same ultimate aim the rectification of the soul to merit to receive God's light to the fullest extent.
GIMEL and DALETH may also be treated as a pair of letters for another word: GADAH ("to cut down") which is the exact opposite of DAG ("fish"). This Hebrew word pops up in an interesting context:
But thus shall ye deal with them; ye shall destroy their altars, and break down their images, and cut down their groves, and burn their graven images with fire. (Deut. 7:5)
And ye shall overthrow their altars, and break their pillars, and burn their groves with fire; and ye shall hew down the graven images of their gods, and destroy the names of them out of that place. (Deut. 12:3)Is it possible that these two commandments preserve the second commandment in its original form, on the tablets that Moses destroyed? That is a possibility. Moses could have seen that the Israelites started to worship a golden calf, simply because the ten commandments began with the symbol of ALEPH (meaning ox). Then if the second commandment stated that one should break any graven image that was worshipped, the ten commandments that were just revealed to Moses were thus saying to Moses he must destroy and break down the tablets! This he did, and it is possibly that the second commandment was watered down slightly stating that idols should not be "worshipped" instead of "destroyed".
That this may be true, is shown by an odd story in the Bible where the Philistines captured the ark of the covenant and placed it in their temple to the god Dagon. Then one morning the following happened:
And when they arose early on the morrow morning, behold, Dagon was fallen upon his face to the ground before the ark of the LORD; and the head of Dagon and both the palms of his hands were cut off upon the threshold; only the stump of Dagon was left to him. Therefore neither the priests of Dagon, nor any that come into Dagon's house, tread on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod unto this day. (1 Sam. 5:4-5)
It is rather odd, since in the proto-Canaanite script the letter DALETH (door - where the threshold is located) was probably named DAG (fish), which represented the god DAGON of the Philistines, which in this story is "cut down" (GADAH). This goes to show that there is a hidden meaning behind these historical events in scripture - they have a deeper symbolic meaning.
The next letter pair in the Hebrew alphabet are HE and VAV. These two letters form the Hebrew word HAVAH, which means "to be". This word is an important part of God's name, for it describes the essence of his being - pure existence of all that is. HAVAH shows up in the following passage:
And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them? And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you. (Ex. 3:13-14)HAVAH is part of the sacred name of Jehovah. It is so sacred among Jews in later times they would not use that word. Jesus identified himself as Jehovah incarnate:
Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad.Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham? Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I AM. Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by. (John 8:56-59)As ALEPH and BET are a mnemonic for the first commandment, and GIMEL and DALETH are a mnemonic for the second commandment, so HE and VAV are a perfect mnemonic for the third commandment:
Thou shalt not take the name of JEHOVAH thy God in vain; for JEHOVAH will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain. (Ex. 20:7)The original name of the letter HE was HALAL meaning praise or jubilation, as the hieroglyph is a man with arms lifted up in praise. There are several Psalms where the name of Jehovah is praised, which is the exact opposite to profaning the name of God.
The evidence is strong - the Hebrew alphabet and its order, from which most alphabets are derived, was revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. The alphabet probably was intended to be a mnemonic device to remember the ten commandments. See my next blog where the analysis of the Hebrew alphabet is completed.