by Stan Tenen
As recently as a hundred years ago, the idea that the human race belonged to a single world was but a fantasy in the minds of a few dreamers. Powerful empires competed with each other across vast terrestrial and maritime regions, but still vaster territories remained inhabited by tribal peoples, still to be integrated into a global system. By the end of the Second World War, however, in the United Nations we began to realize the dream that all of humanity might ultimately be united in a single world.
In 2011, for better or worse (and it is easy to make a case for “worse”) the idea that the earth comprises a single system is no longer a dream. Whether one considers global commerce, the international grid of telephone and internet communication, world-wide air transport, or our increasing understanding of the earth as a single ecosystem, the interconnectedness of all the peoples and places of the earth is now an unexceptionable fact. But obvious too are the momentous inner conflicts that trouble this One World. Some of this strife is due to the very economic systems that unite us, causing tremors of instability to propagate from anywhere but affecting us everywhere. The exploitation of the earth by industrial and now developing nations of course threatens the entire ecosystem and exacerbates political and social unrest; but conflicting fundamental ideas among different traditions about history and the nature of reality continue to foster and sustain conflicts of the most ferocious and tragic kind. Now what if each of these traditions harbored principles and truths that had become distorted, suppressed, or simply lost over the hundreds of generations since their initial discoveries or revelations? What if it were possible to recover these truths and that, far from their being in conflict with one another, they were all, if not identical in form, at least in harmonious resonance around essential principles? If that were the case, the recognition of those principles by the various traditions might have the consequence that the resolution of at least this aspect of world disharmony would be at hand.
The Alphabet That Changed The World has, as its ambition, the disclosure of just such a recovery. We believe that we have found, through the persistent search for the origins of the letter-text of the Hebrew Bible, a series of truths that potentially unite the divided traditions of the world. We think that our results to date suggest lines of research that will potentially rewrite the histories of those traditions themselves in ways that not only bring them into harmony with each other, but verify, enrich, and further empower those traditions themselves.
The origins of writing and, in particular, the origins of the Western alphabets, are shrouded in obscurity. The scholars within the various religious traditions, working with their own principles of research and exegesis, have their own (and often conflicting) versions of these origins. Secular historians working from entirely different principles see things, of course, in an entirely different way, but, by and large, they do not have a satisfactory theory of alphabetical origins at all. This confusion may largely be because the histories themselves have been written through the filter of the very literacy that the alphabets indeed made possible. It is generally assumed that writing developed as a means of transcribing vocal speech: that letters are first and foremost symbols for spoken sounds and that they were derived from more primitive attempts to represent speech by means of pictures, ideograms, and the like. But what we will explore is the possibility that written language—in particular the written text of the Torah,1 but by implication other early texts as well—did not originate in the desire to record spoken language at all, but as the recording of a dance of manual/somatic gestures, which constituted a language in its own right. This dance of gestures embodied fundamental principles of the nature of Being and expressed them in graphic symbols whose naturalness preceded by perhaps hundreds of thousands of years the historical traditions that eventually wrote them down. Gesture itself may have preceded human speech, and the ethical principles recorded in the great traditions may have preceded those traditions because they are in fact internal to the very nature of Being itself. This view is not only unconventional, it has barely been recognized or discussed at all; so we ask the reader to suspend judgment until she has had a chance to examine our presentation. Our idea is that the first alphabet encoded the gestures themselves in a set of symbols to represent them. The alphabet was a system of representation based on fundamental quasi-geometrical metaphors (actually available in the ancient world) devised to signify universal ethical, social, and physical ideas. We think that these ideas and the principles and practices with which they are correlated contain the promise and possibility for the development of human consciousness and an integral social world to come.
This book is the story of the discovery and investigation of these matters. It begins with my own experience at the Western Wall in Jerusalem in August 1967, just after the Israelis regained access to the Temple Mount, as originally provided for by the UN Partition Plan. (The Temple Mount was lost in the War of Independence in 1948.2) I was so moved by the potentiality for endless conflict that I witnessed in those early days of the re-united “City of Peace,” that I resolved in a kind of prayer to devote myself to finding a way to contribute to bringing that conflict to an end. This purpose forms a background motivation for my research. This purpose is supported by the fact that the ethical and spiritual principles with which the alphabet was imbued are found everywhere and at all times. They surely have the power to “change the world” when implemented. They can be stated at the outset as what we shall refer to as the “Golden Rules” (sic). A capacity to transcend our personal concerns flows into us when we choose to orient our will toward values that are greater than ourselves but are rooted nevertheless in our own being and nature. It follows that groups of people have the power to lift themselves beyond their local interests when animated by individuals elevated beyond themselves in this way.
We titled this book The Alphabet That Changed the World as if it were primarily an event in the past that concerns us. And indeed, we do focus largely on the discovery of the structure and role of an alphabet from the past. But we note that in the Hebrew language, the past tense can have an iterative and future sense, so that a subtext of our title really is that in the Meruba-Ashurit script (the particular Hebrew script that possesses the properties we have discovered) we possess a “Once And Future” alphabet!—a vision of the reiteration of perennial values that, though discovered from the past, can indeed constitute values yet to come.
It is perhaps not too shocking a notion to suggest that the history of the alphabet—the history of the improvement in the technique of writing from pictogram and ideogram to the direct representation of spoken language—is of great importance to the history of civilization. But by The Alphabet that Changed the World we mean to suggest something more challenging than that, for each time that there was a change in the use of the alphabet, there was a corresponding change in the nature of human existence. A change in the alphabet meant and means a change in the very character of the world we live in as a species. Furthermore, the history of the alphabet does not begin with the improvement in writing technique, but, if we are correct in our hypothesis that the Hebrew Alphabet contains a registration of archetypal hand gestures, its history is the history of meaningful gesture itself and possibly begins even before the evolution of our species with the communicative practices of the higher primates. It is our speculation that the principles that lie behind the formation of the gestures encoded in the alphabet reflect universal principles that, as we say, underlie all of Being. It is perhaps not too outlandish to hope that with the speculative recovery of the history of the alphabet and the recovery of the practices for which the alphabet may have originally been deployed, the emergence of the next level of consciousness may be at hand.
1The term Torah refers to the “Five Books of Moses” (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy), traditionally the Books given to Moses at Mt. Sinai. A Torah scroll contains the Hebrew text of these five books, written in a strictly prescribed manner.
2This was Resolution 181, adopted November 29, 1947, which called for the partition of British-Mandate Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state, with Jerusalem to be demilitarized and governed by an international authority.
The following is from UN Resolution 181, Section C, General Provision, Chapter 1 on Holy Places, Religious Buildings, and Sites, points 1 and 2:
- Existing rights in respect of Holy Places and religious buildings or sites shall not be denied or impaired.
- In so far as Holy Places are concerned, the liberty of access, visit, and transit shall be guaranteed, in conformity with existing rights, to all residents and citizens of the other State and of the City of Jerusalem, as well as to aliens, without distinction as to nationality, subject to requirements of national security, public order and decorum.Similarly, freedom of worship shall be guaranteed in conformity with existing rights, subject to the maintenance of public order and decorum.
Accessed 03 February 2010.