[5c] 3. As the Table shows, five letters have a special form at the end of the word. They are called final letters, and were combined by the Jewish grammarians in the mnemonic word כַּמְנֶפֶץ Kamnèphäṣ, or better, with A. Müller and Stade, כַּמְנַפֵּץ i.e. as the breaker in pieces. Of these, ך, ן, ף, ץ are distinguished from the common form by the shaft being drawn straight down, while in the usual form it is bent round towards the left. In the case of ם the letter is completely closed.
[5d] 4. Hebrew is read and written from right to left. Words must not be divided at the end of the lines; but, in order that no empty space may be left, in MSS. and printed texts, certain letters suitable for the purpose are dilated at the end or in the middle of the line. In our printed texts these literae dilatabiles are the five following: ﬡ ﬣ ﬥ ﬨ ﬦ (mnemonic word אֲהַלְתֶּם ʾahaltèm). In some MSS. other letters suitable for the purpose are also employed in this way, as ד, כ, ר; cf. Strack in the Theol. Lehrb., 1882, No. 22; Nestle, ZAW. 1906, p. 170 f.
[5e] Rem. 1. The forms of the letters originally represent the rude outlines of perceptible objects, the names of which, respectively, begin with the consonant represented (akrophony). Thus Yôd, in the earlier alphabets the rude picture of a hand, properly denotes hand (Heb. יָד), but as a letter simply the sound י (y), with which this word begins; ʿAyĭn, originally a circle, properly an eye (עַ֫ין), stands for the consonant ע. In the Phoenician alphabet, especially, the resemblance of the forms to the objects denoted by the name is still for the most part recognizable (see the Table). In some letters (ג, ו, ז, ט, ש) the similarity is still preserved in the square character.
It is another question whether the present names are all original. They may be merely due to a later, and not always accurate, interpretation of the forms. Moreover, it is possible that in the period from about 1500 to 1000 B.C. the original forms underwent considerable change.
[5f] The usual explanation of the present names of the letters is: אָלֶף ox,
- In the Talmud, disregarding the alphabetical order, מִן־צֹֽפְךָ of thy watcher, i.e. prophet. See the discussions of this mnemonic word by Nestle, ZAW. 1907, p. 119 ff., König, Bacher (who would read מִן־צֹפַיִךְ = proceeding from thy prophets, Is 528), Krauss, Marmorstein, ibid. p. 278 ff. All the twenty-two letters, together with the five final forms, occur in Zp 38.
- Chwolson, Corpus Inscr. Hebr., col. 68, rightly observes that the more original forms of these letters are preserved in the literae finales. Instances of them go back to the time of Christ.
- The same was originally the practice in Greek, which only adopted the opposite direction exclusively about 400 B.C. On the boustrophēdon writing (alternately in each direction) in early Greek, early Sabaean, and in the Safa-inscriptions of the first three centuries A.D., cf. Lidzbarski, Ephemeris, i. 116 f.
- This does not apply to early inscriptions or seals. Cf. Mêšaʿ, II. 1–5, 7, 8, &c., Siloam 2, 3, 5, where the division of words appears to be customary.
- We possess Greek transcriptions of the Hebrew names, dating from the fifth century B.C. The LXX give them (in almost the same form as Eusebius, Praep. Evang. 10. 5) in La 1–4, as do also many Codices of the Vulgate (e.g. the Cod. Amiatinus) in ψψ 111, 112, 119, but with many variations from the customary forms, which rest on the traditional Jewish pronunciation. The forms Deleth (and delth), Zai, Sen (LXX also χσεν, cf. Hebr. שֵׁן tooth) are to be noticed, amongst others, for Daleth, Zain, Šîn. Cf. the tables in Nöldeke, Beiträge zur sem. Sprachwiss., p. 126 f. In his opinion (and so Lidzbarski, Ephemeris, i. 134) the form and meaning of the names point to Phoenicia as the original home of the alphabet, since alf, bêt, dalt, wāw, tāw, pei = pê, pî, mouth, and the vowel of ῥῶ = rōš, head, are all Hebraeo-Phoenician.