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According to one opinion found in the Talmud Sanhedrin 22a ktav ashuri was brought up from the first exile, assumedly adopted from Babylonian sources.

Who exactly was using this alphabet? Do we have archeological examples of these letters used by non-Jewish, non-Hebrew writers in Babylon?

  • @Mark I've edited your question as an attempt to keep it in scope with this site's policy. If you feel I have misrepresented your intention, or for whatever reason don't like my wording, please feel free to roll it back, or fix whatever it is you don't like. – user6591 Apr 15 '16 at 17:33
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The Alphabet was used by the Babylonian and Persian Empire. We have pleeenty of examples of this script being used by non-Jewish, non Hebrew writers in the Babylonian (and later Persian) kingdom. The Aramaic and Phoenician alphabets continued to develop and so the letters continued to have slight evolutions. A very common Alphabet that we have records of is typically named "Imperial Aramaic" by historians/scholars and looks like this:

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Here are some examples of k'tav Ashuri (or Imperial Aramaic) being used in letters and inscriptions all over the near east.

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A Letter from Akhvamazda to Bagavant in Bactria written in Imperial Aramaic 3 Sivan, year 11 (or 12) of Artaxerxes III, corresponding to 21 June 348 (or 10 June 347) BC. The letter opens with an account of previous correspondence in which Akhvamazda, the satrap of Bactria, instructed Bagavant, the governor of Khulmi, to build a wall and ditch around the town of Nikhshapaya. Bagavant, having arranged for the troops to do the work, reports back saying that the town was blighted by locusts and the locals were worried that the wall will cause the locusts to increase and ruin the crop which was ripe for reaping. Following this, Akhvamazda issues new instructions for the troops to smash (?) the locusts, reap the crop and, build the wall and ditch.

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Aramaic letter from Arsham, Persian Satrap of Egypt, to his agent Nehtihur to look after his interests (423-403 BC)

Carpentras inscription (4th cent. B.C.)

1) brykh tb’ brt tḥpy tmnḥ’ zy ’wsry ’lh’

2) mnd‘m b’yš l’ ‘bdt wkrá¹£y ’yš l’ ’mrt tmh

3) qdm ’wsry brykh hwy mn qdm ’wsry myn qḥy

4) hwy plḥh nm‘ty wbyn ḥsyh[y] [...]

“Blessed be Tabi, daughter of Taḥapi, devotee of the god Osiris. Nothing evil she did, no calumny she said against anyone here. Blessed be you before Osiris. Receive water from before Osiris. Be a servant of the Lord of the Two Truths and among the favoured ones [be]”. (4th cent. B.C.)

Here is a bowl written entirely with K'tav Ashuri in the area of modern day Iraq. It's been dated from the 4th to 8th Century BCE which might prove that it was being used before the exile. You can go see this bowl at the Israel Museum.

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So the answer is that the large imperial kingdoms of the near east were speakers of Aramaic and were the original users of K'Tav Ashuri. And we as Jews, often trained in high levels of these kingdoms while in exile, took the script (and their calendar, which is an entirely separate discussion).

I'm further updating this answer to include the information that native Western Aramaic speakers are still using K'Tav Ashuri. Here is a picture of the Aramaic Institute building.

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  • I've +1'd this. However, the date of the letter you've put here is actually from after the Babylonian captivity so it fails to prove this alphabet was used by these people before they met the Jews. – user6591 Apr 14 '16 at 4:28
  • @user6591 that wasn't part of the OP's original question. He asked for sources of non Hebrew non Jews using the script, he didn't ask for pre exile examples. Bit maybe I can find some for you :) – Aaron Apr 14 '16 at 7:23
  • Is this on topic? en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tel_Dan_Stele – hazoriz Apr 14 '16 at 18:12
  • Great job Aaron. Can you explain though why it is called Ktav Ashuri if it is not related to the Assyrian script? – Bach Oct 8 '17 at 1:58
  • @Bach No I can't. Mostly because it seems like the Rabbis have it wrong. I think it's worth mentioning that the Assyrian, Persian, and Babylonian kingdoms all adopted/used Aramaic as the official language. But their ways of writing it differed from place to place until its letters were Standardized by Darius. So they could have called it Ashurith because it represents the Assyrian language of Aramaic. Here is more info: scriptsource.org/cms/scripts/… – Aaron Oct 14 '17 at 15:42
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Rabbi Reuven Margolis writes in Margolis HaYam to Sanhedrin 22a that archeology has revealed that even the Assyrians did not use Ksav Ashuri (which might literally mean "Assyrian script). He was writing in the 1970's and I don't think that the situation has changed since then. The Talmud (there) offers three opinions as to whether the Jews originally used Ksav Ashuri or only switched to it later on. There are other traditional sources which attest to the notion that the Tablets of the Ten Commandments were written in Ksav Ashuri, even if the Jews used Ksav Ivri before Ezra.

The argument made by the previous answer that Imperial Aramaic is an early version of Ksav Ashuri is rather weak because by that reasoning, Ksav Ivri or Phoenician, can also be considered an early stage of Ksav Ashuri because all these scripts have similarities. Therefore, I would agree that they are distinct scripts and therefore there is no evidence whatsoever of anyone other than the Jews using Ksav Ashuri.

The Talmud does not say that the Jews adopted Ksav Ashuri from the Babylonians, it only says that Ezra instituted using that script when the Jews returned to the Holy Land from Babylon.

Source: I wrote a long, detailed appendix on this topic in my book Lashon HaKodesh: History, Holiness, & Hebrew see there for more sources.

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    "Ksav Ivri or Phoenician, can also be considered an early stage of Ksav Ashuri" Why is that ridiculous? You only consider the two alphabets identical when all 27 characters are exactly the same? Do you even have "Jewish" Ktav Ashuri from then to show that it was different? Except for Samekh those letters are basically all the same as modern Hebrew, minus some corners and flourishes. – Double AA Apr 15 '16 at 12:05
  • "There are other traditional sources" Like what? The floating mem? That's not a support for any side. – Double AA Apr 15 '16 at 12:11
  • Reb Chaim do you have some xenophobic way of explaining what Chazzal meant when they said we got our names of months and angels from those same Babylonians? – user6591 Apr 15 '16 at 12:31
  • That is something that Chazal actually said and needs to be understood on their terms. But what the OP quoted in the name of Chazal that we adopted Ksav Ashuri from the Babylonians is not said anywhere. – Reb Chaim HaQoton Apr 15 '16 at 14:09
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    @Reb Chaim למה נקרא אשורית שעלה עמהם מאשור is the same phraseology as שמות החדשים עלו בידם מבבל & שמות המלאכים עלו בידן מבבל which you already admit means something other than what you just claimed was not said about אשורית. And please lets not split hairs between עמהם & בידם. – user6591 Apr 15 '16 at 14:42

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