The history and evolution of the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the letter beyt – ב.
A chart of the Ancient Hebrew Alphabet is available through the Ancient Hebrew Research Center – http://www.ancient-hebrew.org/28_chart.html
The name of the second letter in the Hebrew alphabet is beyt. Beyt is a Hebrew word meaning house, home or household as can be found in Gen 7:1 – And Yahweh said to Noah, Come to the ark, you and all your house.
4,000 years ago, this letter was written in several different forms, all representations of the outline of a tent. Much of the Hebrew pictographic alphabet, as well as its language, revolves around the agricultural lifestyle of the ancient Hebrews. In this form you can see the outline of the tent with the entrance here. This is the wall inside the tent that separated the women’s side from the men’s side, with the entrance into the women’s side here.
This letter represents the house, but also with and ‘within’ as the family resided within the tent, and also family.
This letter has a b sound as in bed, which sounds similar to beyt, or a v sound when it follows a vowel as in the word stove.
Some Hebrew words that begin with this letter are ba meaning come, which is spelled with the letter beyt and the aleph learned in the last lesson. Ben meaning son, binah meaning understanding and beriyt meaning covenant.
The ancient hebrew beyt can be seen in this inscription found at Serabit el-Khadim in the Sinai Penninsula, which was inscribed about 1500 BC.
Around 1000 BC the Hebrew alphabet evolved into a simpler form that usually called Paleo-Hebrew. This form can be seen in the Tel Dan inscription that dates to about 850 BC.
This form of the letter was adopted by the Greeks and became the ancient Greek letter beta, note the similarity between the Hebrew name beyt and the Greek name beta, but also note that the letter is written in reverse. This is because Hebrew is written from right to left, while in Greek the letters are written from left to right, so the letter is written in the opposite direction as Hebrew. This Greek beta later formed into the Beta we are familiar with today.
Around 400 BC this letter evolved again, as it appears in this scroll fragment found in the Dead Sea Caves dated to the first century BC or first century AD.
This letter, the second letter in the Hebrew alphabet became the number 2.