Education: Letters from Heaven

Ever since Plato, scholars have been baffled by a seemingly closed mystery: Where did the alphabet come from? The Greeks thought that the Phoenicians had learned it in Egypt and that "because they navigated the sea, brought it to Greece." Nineteenth-century scholars, in pensive afterthought, decided that the Semites developed the alphabet from certain cursive characters that the Egyptians had evolved from their own hieroglyphs. Later, other scholars began to discover certain signs that predated hieroglyphs —a series of trademarks, potters' signs, pawnbrokers' labels, and masons' marks that may have spread from trader...

Want the full story?

Subscribe Now

Subscribe
Subscribe

Get TIME the way you want it

  • One Week Digital Pass — $4.99
  • Monthly Pay-As-You-Go DIGITAL ACCESS$2.99
  • One Year ALL ACCESSJust $30!   Best Deal!
    Print Magazine + Digital Edition + Subscriber-only Content on TIME.com

Learn more about the benefits of being a TIME subscriber

If you are already a subscriber sign up — registration is free!