When I read the Bible in my domestic language, the numerals I found there, if written in numeral form, are Hindu-Arabic numerals 0,1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9.

But, I would like to know how did numbers look, if they were written in numeral form, in oldest known Torah/Tanach scriptures? Were they written in the form of words or there were special symbols for numbers? Were there 10 of them, or more(less)? How did their form evolve through time? I would like to know about this topic as much as you can help me.

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    Hello Antoine, thanks for your question, and welcome to Mi Yodeya! – רבות מחשבות Jan 3 '18 at 17:38

In translations they're typically written as numbers, but in the Hebrew text they are (and were) written out as words. For instance, Numbers 1:21:

פְּקֻדֵיהֶם לְמַטֵּה רְאוּבֵן שִׁשָּׁה וְאַרְבָּעִים אֶלֶף וַחֲמֵשׁ מֵאוֹת

The count for the tribe of Reuven: (six and forty) thousand and five hundred.

You can see that the order of words is awkward in English, and probably other languages too, which is why I had to put parentheses for the order of operations. Onkelos, who translated the Torah into Aramaic about 2000 years ago, still wrote the numbers as words but changed the order so that the more significant digits come first:

מִנְיָנֵיהוֹן לְשִׁבְטָא דִּרְאוּבֵן אַרְבְּעִין וְשִׁתָּא אַלְפִין וַחֲמֵישׁ מְאָה.

The count for the tribe of Reuven: (forty and six) thousand and five hundred

Normally if you want to write in English, you would just use numerals

The count for the tribe of Reuven: 46500

unless you want to be flowery, in which case you can write in English words. For example the JPS translation writes:

those that were numbered of them, of the tribe of Reuben, were forty and six thousand and five hundred.

Note they preserve the "and"s, but switch the order as Onkelos does.

(If you want to be really precise, originally Hebrew was written in a different script, but my understanding is that's not what you're asking about.)

  • When "and" is a one letter prefix (ו), it is used more often than when it's a word. As for word order... when an Arab would write in Arabic numerals "46,500", which end did he most naturally read from. Embedded in any Semitic language, you'd start at the ones column! The topic of whether the Torah was ever written in the earlier script, or if the script was used for sacred texts and only was brought out to secular use by the Assyrians is a complicated one involving disputing gemaras. Not a given. – Micha Berger Jan 4 '18 at 10:47
  • @MichaBerger I thought everyone agrees that at some point ksav ivri was used, at least for the general public. And the order starts with the middle digit, not the most or least significant. – Heshy Jan 4 '18 at 11:44
  • I blogged my opinion at aishdas.org/asp/holy-script-speech In any case, "at least for the general public" does describe a majority opinion. But the question was about "Torah/Tanakh scriptures", not common usage. (Which is why I wrote about "whether the Torah was ever written in...") – Micha Berger Jan 4 '18 at 18:53
  • Actually, the order appears to be grouped the way we do commas. Thousands then hundreds-and-below, and within each group, from low digit to high. So, if the number would be abc,xyz (where each letter is some digit 0-9), it would most often be written in Tanach as as c & b-im & a me'os elef, z & y & x. Unless b & a-im revavos is used, most typically when c = 0. @Heshy – Micha Berger Jan 4 '18 at 18:57
  • @MichaBerger it doesn't quite work. For example the total for machanei Reuven goes acbxy, and similar for Dan but y=0. (For Yehuda and Ephraim either b or c=0) – Heshy Jan 5 '18 at 12:02

In the Torah scrolls we currently have, all numbers are written as words, as Heshy answered.

There are no numbers in Hebrew language besides letters, so numeral values for Hebrew letters are used to represent numbers (see Gematria#Values). Like this:

Decimal     Hebrew  Glyph
1   Aleph   א
2   Bet     ב
3   Gimel   ג
4   Daleth  ד
5   Heh     ה
6   Vav     ו
7   Zayin   ז
8   Het     ח
9   Tet     ט
10  Yud     י
20  Kaf     כ
30  Lamed   ל
40  Mem     מ
50  Nun     נ
60  Samech  ס
70  Ayin    ע
80  Peh     פ
90  Tzady   צ
100     Koof    ק
200     Reish   ר
300     Shin    ש
400     Taf     ת
500     Kaf(final)  ך
600     Mem(final)  ם
700     Nun(final)  ן
800     Peh(final)  ף
900     Tzady(final)    ץ

So 132 will be קלב etc.

  • Why is this so? – user16463 Jan 3 '18 at 18:47
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    You should note that depending on your gematria usage, the final letters get the same value as their normal forms, or in other versions they get their own values but are arranged as םןץף״ך instead of alphabetical order. Also note that while this is all true for Mispar Gadol, in Mispar Katan the letters count up to 10 and reset, so כ=1 again. And then the same variations for the final forms racked onto the end. But this is all besides the point, since this doesn’t address the question at all, as you yourself note in your first paragraph. – DonielF Jan 3 '18 at 18:47
  • @Adeen - That's the way old languages write numbers. You will find a similar system in classical Greek as well. – Epicentre Jan 4 '18 at 5:22
  • @Adeen - in fact, the word our sages use for this kind of numbering, gematria, is from the Greek. In Greek numbering, gamma (upper case: Γ, lower: γ) = tri (3). – Micha Berger Jan 4 '18 at 10:42
  • Also, don't forget ט"ו, ט"ז, שד"ם, etc... – Micha Berger Jan 4 '18 at 19:04

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