Introduction to the Ancient Hebrew Alphabet
By Jeff A. Benner


The Ancient Hebrew language was written with 22 letters, each written with a picture, such as an ox, tent, foot or a door. These pictographic letters are more than just sound identifiers, but also have a meaning. The best way to demonstrate the benefit of understanding the meanings of each pictograph is by looking at some Hebrew prefixes. The Hebrew language commonly uses five Hebrew letters for prefixes to provide additional information. Let us look at how these prefixes work and how the pictographs of the prefixes aid in their definitions. In each example below we will use the Hebrew word "erets", meaning land, and add the prefix before it.



The letter Bet

The name of this letter is Beyt and has a "b" sound. This letter is a picture of a nomadic tent such as would have been used by the ancient Hebrews and represents what is inside the tent - the family. The meaning of this letter can be tent or within. When this letter is placed in front of the word erets the word be'erets is formed and means "within a land."



The letter Waw

The Waw has a "w" sound (called the vav in modern Hebrew with a "v" sound) and is a picture of a peg or nail which is used to secure or add things together. This letter is used to mean "and" in the sense of adding. When this letter is prefixed to the word erets the word we'erets is formed meaning "and a land."



The letter Hey

The Hey has a "h" sound and is a picture of a man with his arms raised up, shouting and pointing at a great site as if to say "behold, look at that". This letter is used to mean "the" in the sense of pointing to something of importance. When this letter is prefixed to the word erets the word ha'erets is formed meaning "the land."



The letter Lamed

The Lamed (Lam in Ancient Hebrew) has a "l" sound and is a picture of a sheperd staff which was used to direct the sheep toward a particular direction, such as that of water or pasture. This letter is used to mean "toward" and when prefixed to the word erets the word le'erets is formed meaning "toward a land."



The letter Mem

The Mem has a "m" sound and is a picture of a water. This letter can also mean the flowing water of man and animals, the blood. Blood is passed from one generation to another and can therefore mean "from." When this letter is prefixed to the word erets the word me'erets is formed meaning "from a land."