The inscriptions in rock art preserve memories and events from lost generations with unmatched clarity. A prime example of this is the name of God of Israel, whose origin remains a mystery. However, we have been able to trace the name of God back to its roots through the discovery of early inscriptions found in rock art from the Negev Desert.
The rock art in the Negev Desert preserves evidence of early versions of God name of Israel, including forms such as YH-יה and YHH-יהה, all variants of the modern Hebrew root word YH-יה, and date back to 1400 BC. This discovery suggests that the name of the god of Israel was in existence well before the first Biblical announcement. in 800 BC.
The Proto-Sinaic Alphabet, the precursor to the Hebrew script, invented by Semitic workers mining the Turquoise from Sarabit-el-Haddam, Sinai Desert, in 1900 BC. The script simplicity and ease of use led to its widespread popularity, and it was eventually adopted by ancient civilizations such as Canaan, Phoenicia, and Greece. This alphabet served as the foundation for all alphabets used in the ancient world.
Many rock art inscriptions have been discovered in the Negev Desert that are related to the names of the Israelite gods, including ones such as YH and YHH (Fig. 1). Some of these inscriptions feature a combination of Proto-Sinaitic and Proto-Canaanite script, indicating that they were written during a time of transition between the two scripts. As stated by Colless B., a prominent scholar in Religious Studies:
'It is writing and in fact the original alphabet (or the proto-alphabet) from the Bronze Age: the stick represents a human arm (Hebrew yad) hence Y; the person is rejoicing, and the word for jubilating and praising is hallel (as in Hallelu-Yah) hence H '.
By combining these letters, a new word YH is formed, which translates to work and praise , an apt description for a god name. The inscription implies that the engravers had a covenant with the region’s deity YH, who they worshiped.
Fig.1 Rock Art Engraving of Israel god name YH-יה from Negev Desert, Israel.
The alphabet found in the Negev Desert differs from the original Proto-Sinaic Alphabet. It is a later variation that became established as a local alphabet, referred to by some researchers as the Old Negev Alphabet. Another possibility is that it is an adaptation of the Proto-Canaanite script, which evolved from the Proto-Sinaic Alphabet into recognizable alphabet letters. The Proto-Canaanite alphabet is not widespread, and only 50 short inscriptions have been discovered in Sinai and Israel. Their dating is uncertain, ranging from 1700 BC to 1050 BC.
Fig.2 Massebah from Faran desert with an engraved god name YH using a mixed alphabet of Proto-Sinaitic and Proto-Canaanite letters
The engraving in Fig.2, discovered on a Massebah in the Negev Desert, depicts the name of God. The inscription combines the Proto-Canaanite letter “H” and the Old Negev letter “Y” to form the name “YH.” The script evolution can be traced through the changes in the letter “H,” which has lost its upper two markings (the hands), indicating a significant shift in the script’s development. In contrast, the letter “Y” has undergone fewer changes and has maintained its original form. This discovery highlights the importance of the Negev Desert as a religious center in ancient times and provides further evidence of the existence of the Israelite god named YH.
Fig3 Engraving of Israel god name EL in Old Negev script.
Fig.3 rock art reveals another name for the god of Israel EL, found in the Negev Desert. EL is a generic title for main deity in the region and is also mentioned in the Bible as the god of Israel. The name "Israel" containes the name of god EL.
The engraving of the god’s name YH and EL in the Negev rock art signifies the region where people worshiped this deity. According to the Bible, the God of Israel always appeared from the southern region, “went out of Seir” and “marched out of Edom” (Judges 5:4-5), an region encompassing the Sinai Peninsula and the Negev Desert. These names, inscribed on the rocks of the Negev Desert, are the oldest written name of God in Israel and provides clear and easily decipherable evidence. These inscriptions are found exclusively in the Negev Desert, within the territory of the Midianite tribe, leading to speculation that Israel may have originated in this region.
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