Wednesday, November 16, 2022

LAKISH LICE COMB

 

Photograph: Dafna Gazit, Israel Antiquities Authority
 
We say "Welcome" to this early alphabetic inscription from Lakish (alias Tel Lachish and Tell ed-Duweir), and we are told there is another one waiting patiently to be released, though our wait for it will be measured in degrees of impatience.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/ivory-lice-comb-a-dating-head-scratcher-may-hold-earliest-canaanite-sentence/
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/11/09/science/ivory-comb-beard-lice.html
https://www.theguardian.com/science/2022/nov/09/oldest-known-written-sentence-discovered-on-a-head-lice-comb

 https://jjar.huji.ac.il/sites/default/files/jjar/files/jjar2_art4_lachish_p76-119_2022-10-12_01.pdf

The last reference (jjar2) is the important one, as it provides the evidence and opinions of the archaeologists themselves. A variety of photographs and drawings are available at those sites (the NYTimes has a unique photograph), with extensive commentary, not always reliable. According to the Times of Israel, Daniel Vainstub (Ben-Gurion University of the Negev) is responsible for the published reading of this remarkable inscription (in the Jerusalem Journal of Archaeology 2, 2022, 76-119), and this is my response to it; in my considered opinion (based on my experience of writing systems over 80 years of my life) his interpretation of the text is basically correct, but with quite a few errors (mostly relating to identification of letters and their sounds).
    Vainstub told The Times of Israel that he immediately identified several clear "proto-Canaanite" letters when he examined the comb. He said he made relatively quick work of the inscription following the results of Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) in the Jerusalem labs of the Israel Antiquities Authority, as the RTI photographs brought out the unseen grooves of the scribe’s etching.
    More difficult was finding parallel examples from contemporary inscriptions. A dozen or so inscriptions have been discovered at Lakish, including one incised into a Middle Bronze-era dagger found in a tomb. He feels the most comparable are the proto-Canaanite inscriptions from Serabiṭ el-Khadem in southern Sinai.

    My own table of signs for the early alphabet is available here, and you will need to make a copy of it to see my point of view (though it does not give all the details of my "quadrinity" theory):
https://drive.google.com/file/d/1QATcj_MTlGa5cZzO8sQnzR5lBw8lPTWT/view

    The title of the official JJAR article is: "A Canaanite's wish to eradicate lice on an inscribed ivory comb from Lachish". The writers could have saved themselves from embarrassing ambiguity and inaccuracy by reducing it to the last six words. Apparently the anonymous person's wish was granted: after a diligent scientific search, no lice were found on the comb; well, hardly any; lice remains were detected on one tooth, and this offers a clue to the meaning of the inscription. However, here is their clear statement: "The inscription expresses the wish that the comb on which it is engraved will eradicate the lice from the hair and beard of the owner of the comb" (109). Their actual translation is: "May this tusk root out the lice of the hair and the beard". Quite so, but rather than a wish, this could be a strong affirmation from the maker of this device: it will remove the pests from the user's scalp and chin, that is, advertising, something like this: "It expels every louse from hair and beard". That is my understanding of the inscription, at this point in my "work in progress" (20/11/22), but it could change if I notice any more letters in the text (and the voice of hindsight intervenes to tell me that there will be some drastic alterations). By the way, the mention of "beard" allows us to assume that the possessor was not a woman, but not necessarily so.
    My working hypothesis will be (25/11/22): The caption does not express a wish made by the user of the comb for relief from parasites; it is not an aspiration but an affirmation made by the comb itself that it is kosher, fit for purpose, having the proficiency to exterminate every louse in the user's hair and beard.
    Here we have yet another West Semitic inscription to add to our growing collection, and once again we express our thanks to Yosef Garfinkel for discovering it at Lakish (or Lachish, as he would write it); it is a pity that he always needs to include superlatives in his press releases (first, earliest, oldest), and they are always falsifiable. For the other documents from Lakish, go here:
    https://cryptcracker.blogspot.com/2021/04/another-lakish-inscription.html
     Be not deceived: this is a tiny artefact, 3.5 cm x 2.5 cm, with "fine teeth" on one side, for catching lice and their nits (eggs and larvae), and six big teeth on the opposite side, for knots and tangles (Fig. 15, 91). Also, the writing is minuscule (its characters are 1 to 3 mm in width), so much so that it was overlooked for several years; we are studying magnified pictures, and we have to marvel at the skill of the engraver; but we can imagine the stylus slipping and leaving unintended marks in amongst the intended characters of the text; and some significant strokes might be faint, and overlooked by scholars.
    As regards the age of the inscription, a very tentative date around 1700 BCE has been proposed, in the Bronze Age, when the alphabet (or the proto-alphabet, in my terminology) was young; but the comb was found in a position belonging to the Iron Age. This could mean that the inscriber was well acquainted with the West Semitic scripts, and chose archaic forms for the letters; in this case he would have been a citizen of Israel, and this comb would belong in the field of Biblical Archaeology;  but the object may have already been old when it came to rest in its find-spot, judging by its state of disrepair (though some damage was inflicted in the excavation process).

    READING THE WRITING
    The editors have decided that the writing starts from the bottom right corner and runs leftwards above the fine teeth of the comb; they think that the text continues from the upper right, but the engraver turned the object around 180 degrees, so that the writing on this line is inverted in relation to the first line. This seems plausible, but it will need to be tested. Possibly the right side was the top, and we are then looking at vertical columns extending downwards; or else the fine teeth are at the top, and the text starts from the top left corner, running from left to right. In this last scenario, the third letter would become /\/\ (M) not \/\/ (Sh), and this possibility will need to be considered.


    This is their proposed reading of the "17 tiny letters" that they see, amounting to "seven words" (90):
    YTSh H.T. D LQML S`[R W]ZQT
    "May this tusk (H.T. D) root out (YTSh) the lice (L-QML) of the hair (S`R) and (W) the beard (ZQT)."
    For my initial response, I am grateful to them for doing the ground work, and finding the words for louse (QML), hair (S`R), and  beard (ZQT, actually ZQN, in my view), but this (D/Dh) and tusk (H.T.) are not valid; and YTSh (root out) might be YTM (destroy), or something else. (Indeed, my reading will change all seven of their words, but still say the same thing, only different.)
    At the outset, I am compelled to express some harsh criticism: yet again an early West Semitic inscription has been entrusted to scholars who can read Israelian and Phoenician texts from the Iron Age, but have no competence for interpreting proto-alphabetic Canaanian documents from the Bronze Age, since they use the discredited (sic) Albright paradigm when assigning sound-values to the letters they encounter. Its obsolence began in 1988 when I offered a new paradigm, which was refined in 1990 and in 2014. My essay on The Origin of the Alphabet (2014) is actually listed in the vast bibliography of this article, but no attention has been paid to its contents in their debilitated attempt at deciphering this "lousy" inscription. For my part, I will be applying the principles outlined in 2014, and here:
http://cryptcracker.blogspot.com/2021/12/lakish-scripts.html.
    Let me say in passing, Daniel Vainstub has my gratitude for replacing the term "Canaanite" (woefully mispronounced by the phonetically crippled Englanders) with "Canaanean", so that "Kana`an" is heard, not the abomination of desolation "Kaynen". That was in another publication of his; unfortunately the Kaynenites are back in full force here.
    So then, let's do it my way, as opposed to their way ("they" will refer to the whole team of editors of the comb, and the two approving evaluators, but with particular focus on Daniel Vainstub's contribution). I intend to scrutinize their case with my own fine-tooth-comb, and I remember that when my mother manipulated that instrument of torture on my head, with vinegar and vigour, it hurt; and the results it produced were not a pretty sight.
    The first principle of epigraphy is acknowledgement that the only person who really knew the intended meaning of an inscription is the person who composed it, and this will usually be the person who inscribed it. I will now argue that the editors of this text have not fully understood all the ramifications of the text they are attempting to elucidate.
    The first atrocity they have committed is the chronic failure to ask the essential question: Is this text syllabic or consonantal? This fault has caused the downfall of many published interpretations of West Semitic inscriptions, reducing them to nonsense, though the perpetrators (and their hapless readers) are blithely unaware of their mistakes.
    In my grand unifying theory there are four closely related types of early West Semitic script, but not many scholars recognize this elementary fact; and the constituents of this "quadrinity" constitute an evolutionary system:
Protosyllabary > Protoconsonantary > Neoconsonantary > Neosyllabary.
These were all in operation till "the Phoenician alphabet" became the standard form of consonantal script in the Levant. These unassailable truths are presented here:
https://cryptcracker.blogspot.com/2021/12/lakish-inscriptions.html
https://www.asor.org/anetoday/2014/02/the-lost-link-the-alphabet-in-the-hands-of-the-early-israelites/
    Apparently Lakish was uninhabited at the time when the Neosyllabary was flourishing (the period of the Judges in Israel) so this may not be a neosyllabic inscription, and also the editors feel that it dates from the Bronze Age (but this opinion needs to be tested). To my mind (with tables of signs at my disposal for both syllabaries), there are no conspicuous indications that this is protosyllabic or neosyllabic, and so it is more likely to be proto-alphabetic, that is, either protoconsonantal (with about 27 consonants) or neoconsonantal (with less than two dozen consonants represented).
   For the editors of this inscription it is simply "written in the Canaanite script" (90). However, they show some inkling of distinguishing a long alphabet (protoconsonantary) and a short alphabet (neoconsonantary), when they state that the engraver has made "a clear distinction between d and z" (107). This is certainly a key indicator of the protoconsonantary (as in Sinai 375a, for example, and Thebes 4) but I think (actually I know) the sign for d (=) is lacking here.
    One other thing must not be overlooked: I have access to a much wider range of examples of inscriptions than they have, including three lists of the consonantograms of the proto-alphabet: two from Thebes and one from Puerto Rico (sic!). Anyone who professes to be an exponent of ancient West Semitic epigraphy must start here, and examine this shamefully neglected evidence, which is the secret of my success.

Thebes inscriptions

Here are five of the six Thebes documents published by W, M. Flinders Petrie many years ago (1912!), but ignored by scholars (perhaps because this evidence provides all the answers and spoils the fun of blindly searching for solutions).
    The  tablet at the top shows all the letters of the West Semitic Protoconsonantary, as do the combined two below it.
    The tablet on the right (see the clearer photograph below) shows the distinction between Sh and Th: on the far right is the sun-sign Sh (shimsh) with uraeus serpent or serpents, but with the sun-disc omitted; the tablet below it has the glyph (5th from the left) with both features, in a protosyllabic inscription.
    Returning to the alphabet tablet, the breast-sign Th (thad) is lower central. In the upper central position is a K, for possible comparison with the K in the latter part of the bottom line of the comb inscription.
    Further to the left, notice the N (snake |/|), and below it the Q (--o<). T is beside Sh, T.et (o-+ t.abu) is next to T; W is in the top left corner. Find the fish (S) on the other tablet, and above it the other Samek, spinal column (>-|-|), and below the fish Samek is, apparently, a stylized head (R) for comparison with the presumed R in a similar stance, in the bottom line of the comb inscription. In the top right corner is the tied bag (>o) representing S.adey, not Qop nor a monkey; and beside it a double-triangle, possibly Z, though probably B, and Z (|><|) is below K on the other tablet. H seems to be situated beside three dots on the central left edge of the small tablet, inverted like the H on the comb.
   

A huge amount of discipline is required to take all this in and retain the details. Remember, it is examined at length and in depth here, as work in progress:
http://cryptcracker.blogspot.com/2007/10/gordon-hamiltons-early-alphabet-thesis.html

    COMB INSCRIPTION
    At this point we examine the letters on the comb, beginning at the presumed beginning in the lower right hand corner, with the Vainstub numbering; but I can already see that there are more than seventeen letters (at least two dozen).

   

Bottom Line
(1) Y a Yod, hand (side view), with forearm and usually also with elbow, which is vaguely possible here; an additional mark is thought to be a thumb; but to my eyes the character looks like an ox-head with horns, and therefore 'Alep; but its acute angle does not match the rounded heads of the early exemplars from Sinai (Hamilton, 31 and 254, for depictions); the presumed horns seem to have the same abnormal shape as those on the Lakish milk-bowl sherd; did that region have a special breed of cattle?

(2) X-shaped Taw, apparently, but it has extra marks, and K is also possible. At the moment I am not able to supply an exact match for this form of K, but the X-sign stands for KU in the Protosyllabary, and the syllabogram KI (a palm-branch, kipp) is the same as the K (with an oblique stem) in the Phoenician alphabet, and also KI in the Neosyllabary; I have to say that this X-type K is an idiosyncratic form employed by this scribe (perhaps borrowed, as were most of the letters of the Protoalphabet, from the Protosyllabary, which was known in his city), and apparently there are four instances of K: 2, 17, 14 (indistinct), and 6, which has a different form.

 
(3) Sh  \/\/ or a less likely /\/\ Mem (if all three lines are inverted!). Note that according to my (tried and true) paradigm the \/\/ character was SHA in the Protosyllabary, acrophonically derived from shad "breast", but in the Protoconsonantary, which recognizes more consonants, it is Th from thad "breast", and it becomes Shin in the short alphabet, the Neoconsonantary, and SHI in the Neo-syllabary; the sun symbol  \o/ with two serpents (Sinai, Thebes), or one serpent o_o (Wadi el-Hol), or simply the sun-disc o (Byblos. Gebel Tingar) represents protosyllabic SHI from shimsh "sun", and protoconsonantal Sh; the sun-sign was replaced by the breast-sign in the Neoconsonantry, to cover Shin and Sin and Thad. Now, if this inscription is using the long alphabet (as the editors intimate, with regard to D and Z co-existing in it) then it must be classified as protoconsonantal, and \/\/ will be Th not Sh. The editors do not comprehend these fundamental distinctions, because of their adherence to the Albright paradigm (1966) as disseminated by Gordon Hamilton's handbook (2006), with the sun-sign Sh misunderstood  as a bow and as denoting Th from *thann, and necessarily and erroneously endorsed as the predecessor of Shin and Sigma, because the breast-sign has been overlooked (Hamilton, 231-244); and their chosen Sh has only one attestation [!] as a thorn, *shawt (Hamilton, 123-126). Arabia has the sun as Th and the breast as Sh, and this is a reversal of their roles; this nevertheless verifies my choices (assisted by the cuneiform consonantary of Ugarit, and the Thebes tablets published by Flinders Petrie), but it gives no support to the Albright scheme. Incidentally, Vainstub believes that the \/\/ was always Sh: "We assume that from the beginning, the “w”-shaped Canaanite letter represented the sound š"; he accepts it was a bow, but he thinks that the shawt of Albright was really a balance, tql (shekel), and it survived as a symbol but not as a letter. My view is that the unique sign in Sinai 357 is a Dalet (in the word kd "water vessel"), depicting a tent-door (the flap familiar to the tent-dwelling workers in the turquoise mines; note the word MShKNT "dwellings, tents" in Sinai 365, from a camp-site), and possibly the origin of triangular D, culminating in the letter Delta. 

THE  CANAANEAN  LETTERS Š AND Ṯ  AND THE  ORIGIN  OF  THE  SHEKEL  SYMBOL (in Hebrew),  available on  his Academia  page  (https://bgu.academia.edu/DanielVainstub)

(3a ) R?  an angle below the \/\/, but it seems to be a rough square with a horizontal stem, perhaps representing a head, R.
(4) H rather than their H.et; they make an unsteady case for finding a counterpart for this letter in the various forms of H. in the Arabian scripts, which are reminiscent of a bow and arrow, and so they conjecture an acrophonic connection with h.z./h.s. "arrow"; Arabia is usually helpful in this respect, as we have just seen (with Sh and Th), and it will certainly aid us in recognizing Qop further along the line; but this sign actually has a counterpart in the Sinai turquoise mines. The editors are heavily reliant on Gordon Hamilton's manual of alphabet origins, which has a dozen or more errors of identification; Hamilton has depicted an equivalent letter on Sinai 358, but he and Vainstub do not realize that it is an inverted form of the rejoicing person
(matching hieroglyph A29), perhaps somersaulting (or simply standing on their habds) rather than dancing, and acrophonically denoting H (from hll "exult"). Notice the tick (/|) at the leg end of the figure in each case; it is absent from their drawings of the letter (Fig. 15, 18, Table 4). This is H, and it would be worthwhile to consider the rest of this Sinai 358,  as it shares a number of letters with the comb text; it is an obituary for a literate metal-worker, not one of Orly Goldwasser's illiterate miners, who are incredibly credited with inventing the alphabet at the turquoise mines.


   "Asa ('s: ox 'alp, fish samk) has done (p`l: mouth pu, eye `ayn, crook l) his work (mlkth: water maym, crook l, hand k, taw t, H)"
    If we also consider Sinai 376, in which Asa the smith records the sickness that will cause his death, we can find examples of W, Q, S., and R to compare with possible counterparts on the comb.

( ? )  M   to the right of the top of the H there is an oblique stroke which seems to be joined to a sequence of waves; on the other side of the H there are two vertical wavy lines, the second possibly ending with + Taw. None of this is recorded in the drawing.
(5) a large circle on an oblique stem, difficult to discern, possibly an illusion; letters that fit this prescription (none of them recognized in the Albright paradigm) are:
   Z. (z.l/s.l, shade,
parasol, known from lists but not yet seen in a text);
  Q
(--o- and --o<) see letter 8;
  R head with neck, P-shaped;
  T. (T.et, o-+, originally the Egyptian nfr hieroglyph, Semitic t.ab, good, attested in Sinai 351 and in lists, and as T.A in the Protosyllabary); Vainstub tries to make this a distorted attempt to write the other form of T.et, where the cross is inside the circle; but if this is Tet the cross would be exterior, and there is indeed a black line crossing the stem on Fig. 17, and that photograph seems to show a smaller circle than depicted on the drawing (Fig. 18); a nfr T.et is thus faintly possible, but  W (waw nail) might be a suitable companion for the preceding H, making the pronoun hw (huwa, he or it), but this view would exclude the three Mems. Further consideration must be given to this murky section of the text.
(6) a hand (kap) with fingers, or else a palm branch (kipp), but in any case this is a letter K; we have seen (on a Thebes tablet, reproduced above) a possible counterpart for this glyph, as it appears in the Vainstub drawing (Fig. 18) and on the main photograph (Fig. 14); the K in the inventory of letters on the Izbet Sartah ostracon is the same as this, but different from its trident K at the beginning of line 2 of its text (neosyllabic KI); this reminds me of the K in Sinai 351, which has three strokes, but is in a horizontal stance; the K on the comb (letter 6) is not a cross (X) with an extra mark, like the other three instances of K; in the second line of the Qeiyafa ostracon (also neosyllabic) I see a faint K, which is apparently an exact equivalent to the Greco-Roman form, in the word shapat.aka, "he has judged you"; the X form of K on the comb could be an idiosyncratic variant of that type of K; and if the scribe is using two forms of K, we must ask whether this could be a syllabic script. There is no reason for detaching two of the strokes from the K here (|=) to make Dh (=), as Vainstub does (95). I feel I must record here the fact that the stimulus I have experienced from examining types of K on this comb has enabled me at long last to identify definitively the K on Sinai 351 and thereby refute the T that Albright (1966) and Butin (1932) proposed; it is unmistakably K, as the initial consonant in the recurring word KBShN "furnace"; more on this below.
(7) an arc with a curl at the top (see Fig. 17); it is perhaps too rounded to be a crook; it is more like a coil, but the editors deny this.
(8) identified as a monkey (qop) by the editors, based on the erroneous view (promoted by Hamilton, 209-221) that the sign for Q is the Sadey character of the proto-alphabet, which is actually a tied bag (s.rr) (o<, compare Arabian S., and Phoenician S.adey, which has one side of the bag removed, as P has one lip of the mouth missing), but the sack is remoulded by Hamilton, and now by Vainstub and his team, to represent an ape; they even add a tail to this one; the true Q/q is a cord (Hebrew qaw) wound on a stick (--o- or --o< with the end of the string shown); the Arabian scripts attest --o- unanimously! It stands unobserved in Sinai 345, 363, 376, all Asa inscriptions. The main photograph (Fig. 14) seems to show a short stem; 16, also apparently Q, has a stem at the top, with the two projections at bottom right.
(9) M andnot N (snake) but it is depicted thus (
\/\ ) on the drawing (Fig. 18) and subjected to special pleading, dubiously characterizing it as "a reduced mem" (97) with only one wave remaining of the water sign (/\/\/\/\); but if we focus on the preceding wavy line that can be compared with the neosyllabic MA, then we have a Mem, and this  gives us the L (with its curl at the bottom) that we need to create the word QML, "louse".

 

Middle Line
(  )  Here at the top right corner there is a missing piece of the ivory, on which a letter may have been engraved.
(10L  a C-shaped character, apparently, but I think it has a stem and a loop, like 7 and 9 (according to my interpretation of them).
(  )  a vertical wavy line, which could be a water-sign, Mem, or a meaningless scratch.
(11"This letter shows no resemblance to any letter known so far in the corpus of Canaanite inscriptions", and this incorrect assertion is followed by four pages of speculation to make the unidentified sign represent a sibilant (98-101); they search for "an animal with a slightly triangular head", and they propose (among other animal and vegetable improbabilities) a snake (srp, with Sin as its sibilant); of course, the serpent (adder and cobra) is in the proto-syllabary and the proto-alphabet as NA and N, and I will identify one in the top line, far left; the simple solution to the present problem is that this is the head of a fish, and its body (with a triangular tail, and scales?) is detectable, lying obliquely leftwards. Experts on the Phoenician and Hebraic alphabets can not see the fish on the Izbet Sartah ostracon, in the 'abagadary of the bottom line, roughly in the position of Samek, but obviously Samek, which would be acrophonically derived from samk "fish", not dag "fish", representing D (a fishy tale spread by Hamilton, 66 -75); the fish in the fourth line of the Qeiyafa ostracon is likewise left uncaught; incidentally, the script on these two ostraca is the Neo-syllabary. Our friend Asa the Smith of Sinai has the fish-sign for the Samek in his name.
(12) `(ayn)  an eye, with two confusing dots, as on the fish head; it is situated above H (4).
(13R (a human head) is expected here, to provide the word S`R "hair"; this "location" is described as "completely damaged"; the main photograph (Fig. 14) seems to depict a head with hairs standing on end (showing nits?), or it represents the comb in action on the head; another possible head is a ghostly image above this spot. Imagination creates from the two black holes a pair of eyes, with a nose and a mouth below them, although the early cases of R were usually or invariably showing the side of the head, in profile.
(14K  Vainstaub presumes W, but I suspect another X-shaped letter is lurking in this damaged area (where fingers manipulating the comb pressed heavily?); this counterpart to 17 stands immediately above the K in the bottom line (letter 6) , and almost seems to be joined to it, by the long vertical line that Vainstub (95) excludes from the inscription, in order to construct a D/Dh (oblique =).
(14a )  W  I detect a vertical --o on Fig. 17 and also Fig. 14.
( 14ba vertical stroke with a round end.
(15Z a clear "bow-tie", or (plausibly) a double ax-head to Hamilton; I have proposed manacles (ziqq); Hamilton and Vainstub only know of two other instances:  Sinai 375a (but they do not realize that it says mpkt zkt "pure turquoise"), and the Izbet Sartah ostracon (where it represents neosyllabic ZA), but other examples are recorded here.
(16) the two projections (end of stick and end of cord) do not meet to form a semicircle (Fig. 17), and rightly so; the same applies on letter 8; one stroke is the top of the stick, the other is the end of the cord wound on the stick.

Upper Line
(  )  N needed for the word ZQN "beard", and a cobra 
is visible on Fig. 17.
(17K another X-shaped sign, with an additional line at the bottom; we might think it represented a person celebrating and therefore H, but K is a preferable identification.

    INTERPRETATION
    The title of the editio princeps article runs: "A Canaanite's wish to eradicate lice on an inscribed ivory comb from Lachish". The implications of this could be: the language of the inscription is West Semitic, and the text contains words for eradicate, lice, ivory, and comb. The editors add an apt quotation from the Babylonian Talmud (Niddah 20b):
WShDR LH SRYQWT' DMQT.L' KLMY
"He sent to her a comb that kills lice"
This is Aramaic, a West Semitic language closely related to the  "Canaanic" and "Hebraic" tongues.  The final word in the sentence, KLMY, "lice" turns up on the comb as QML (with the original Q, and before metathesis changed ML to LM), but I regard it as singular "louse", as also QML, "a louse", on the ancient Aramaic Sefire inscription (105-106, a summary of the various Semitic forms of the term); but it might be used as a collective noun here. The "ivory" is discovered as H.T., a rare word for an animal tooth, translated here as "tusk"; but that reading is quite wrong, and the accompanying Dh for "this" is an unfortunate fabrication. The word corresponding to "kill" is construed as YTSh, from the root NTSh, meaning "expel", or "root out" in their translation, equivalent to "eradicate" in the title of their article; but the Yod is actually 'Alep, and the Taw is K. There is no word for comb in their reading, but it is covered by their non-existent "tusk", a tooth term; in my interpretation the text is a statement made by the comb itself.
    As we are now at the point of making decisions, determining whether the upper lines are inverted is still up in the air; for the time being I will assume that all three lines have the same orientation as the bottom line.
    Here is my preliminary analysis of the inscription, which apparently runs thus:
' K Sh R H M T K L Q M L
L S ` R K W L Z Q
N K
    Literally (agonizingly so!):
"I will cause to succeed the putting to death of every louse
from your hair and from your beard"

  


LINE A
'KShR
: I am taking the V-shaped consonant as 'alep, the X-shaped letter as K, the W-shaped sign as Sh or Th, and the neglected fourth letter as R, a stylized human head with a short neck (horizontal stance). This would produce a verb, first person singular imperfect, from the root KShR (as in kosher!). This root was originally KThR (ktr), and if this text is using the Protoconsonantary we would have to read the word as 'KThR. The root is known in the name KThR-W-KhSS ("skilful and intelligent"), the god of arts and crafts in Ugaritic myths; and it is found as Akkadian kasharu "succeed". It is not much attested in Biblical Hebrew, but its semantic range covers "be right, fitting, successful" and "do successfully"; The Hip`il causative form is found in Ecclesiates/Qohelet 10:10, "cause to succeed": "wisdom gives success". I think that is what we have here: "I cause to succeed", or perhaps "I do successfully".
HMT: H for hillulu "exultation", M a vertical wavy line, a small + cross. This would be the grammatical object of the preceding verb; it could be a verbal noun (infinitive) from the root MWT "die", again a Hip'il form, but with its initial H intact, "causing to die", or "putting to death"; the result is perhaps "I will successfully put to death", and lice will be the object of this combination. If there is indeed a Waw floating around in that space, it might produce HMWT, showing all the consonants of the root MWT; or as a T.et it might be a logogram for "good" or "well", "exterminate for good", as it were. However, I have earlier pointed to a possible water-sign, a horizontal Mem, to the right of H; a Mem would suggest a participle; but the sequence MHMT suggests the root HWM/HMM, "discomfit"; for example, Deuteronomy 7:23, whmm mhwmh gdlh, "and he will destroy them with a great destruction"; this would fit admirably in the comb's account of its eradication qualities; or 1 Samuel 5:11, mhwmt mwt, perhaps "the discomfiture of death", referring to the plague in Philistia that accompanied their seizure of the Ark of the Covenant; but that extra Mem might be imaginary, after all. So, I am not clear about this section of the line; I am doubtful about Vainstaub's Tet (letter 5); if it exists it would be Waw; I can see a small Tet there (o+), but only on Fig. 17, and this might be Waw if the cross-bar is ignored, functioning as "and", or in verbal noun HMWT, "kill", root mwt "die". More needs to be said on this section of the text.
KL: definitely K, not Dh, and clearly L, together producing the Semitic word for "all" or "every".
QML: a word for louse (Arabic qaml), which takes many forms, as stated above and noted by the editors (105-106), hence "every louse".  QML is not in the Bible, but kén is possibly "louse", or some other pest that moves in swarms, such as "gnat" (Exodus 8:16-21).
LINE B - C
QML L
: The fairly clear letter at the start of the line is supposed to be L, and Vainstub uses it (unnecessarily) to finish the word QML in the preceding line. If it is l then it could be the preposition meaning to, or for, or (wait for it!) from, as we know from Ugaritic texts, and perhaps Sinai 357: SK M L 'B DhT B ML KD M, "Pour (SK) water (M) from (L) this (DhT) bag ('B) when (B) filling (ML) the jug (KD) with water (M)". I would like this to be the solution ("from your hair"), since there seems to be a sequence WL preceding the next noun, "and from your beard", as stated in my tentative transcription and translation above. On the other hand, I suspect that the word for louse/lice is repeated here, but this time it is plural and perhaps construct state: "the lice of". I have already suggested that a Mem is lurking here, and the presumed L apparently has the horns of Q (as with letters 8 and 16). Then we need to find another L for QML, and possibly yet another L for "from", though a single Lamed could serve both purposes, especially if it had a doubling dot or two with it (I have demonstrated the reality of this practice already, with M'HB.`LT, "beloved of Ba`lat", with a single dot in the Bet, on the Sinai sphinx, and Q with 2 dots in lzqq, "to refine" on one of the Thebes tablets of Petrie); and this desired entity exists, now that I come to look for it (8/12/2022), near the first two teeth at the top, with a Mem beside it; but we need to refer to the main photograph to view this remarkable phenomenon (Fig. 14), since the other four exclude this section of the comb. Only the inscriber knew what this all means, but I suggest QML L, "lice from", with qml as a collective noun (which is possible) or a plural noun; but this is far from certain.
S`RK: "your hair".  In Hebrew this common Semitic word has Sin, while Arabic and Akkadian have Sh; here the West Semitic scribe has chosen Samek, the fish-sign (attested on the Qeiyafa ostracon and the Izbet Sartah ostracon, both of which use the neosyllabic script, as already noted).
W L ZQNK: "and from your beard"; this takes into account the overlooked snake for N; their complete lack of n is anomalous, as it is frequent in West Semitic languages; and this reading restores the value k to the X-sign with an extra stroke in its lower region, as in all three cases (2, 14, 16).

    TRANSLATION
    The claim of the maker or the merchant, speaking through the comb itself, runs approximately:  "I will successfully exterminate every louse: the lice from your hair and from your beard".
   The caption does not express a wish for relief from parasites by means of the comb; it is an affirmation made by the comb itself that it is kosher, fit for the purpose of exterminating every louse in the user's hair and beard.

    CATEGORIZATION
    The question that must now be asked is: Which of the four categories of the Quadrinity is applicable to this lice-comb inscription? Obviously it has no connection with the cuneiform alphabet (the Cuneo-consonantary), which is not included in the quartet, though it is closely related to them (as Vainstub acknowledges at various points in his exposition). The same applies to the Arabian consonantal script, which was also an early derivative from the proto-alphahbet, as was the Cuneo-consonantary.
    (1) Protosyllabary
This primary entity is never considered in studies of early West Semitic inscriptions (except when I happen to mention it). It was the predecessor and progenitor of the Protoconsonantary, but suffers from unmerited neglect. Albright did not see a connection between this Byblos pseudohieroglyphic syllabary (as it was known) and the protoalphabet (my term for the early forms of the alphabet), and so his followers (except myself) have set it aside. However, their lack of expertise in this script has led them to wrongly identify protosyllabic inscriptions (from other places besides Byblos) as "early alphabetic"; consider the appalling case of the Megiddo signet ring. However, most of the consonantograms of the protoconsonantary were already in the protosyllabary as syllabograms, and so confusion is understandable but not excusable. In my collection of protosyllabic documents, I have not seen a fish as SA, but it turns up
as Samek in the protoconsonantary (in the name 'Asa', for example). I have netted a fish in this comb text, so it should not be protosyllabic; and I have not seen a single sign that is typically a member of the Protosyllabary (though the syllabogram that is obviously KA here, does resemble protosyllabic BI, originally depicting a weeping eye, bikitu).
    (2) Protoconsonantary
This writing system recognizes more consonants than the other three in the qauadrinity; thus the presence of these additional letters is a clear indicator of an inscription as protoconsonantal. The Sinai documents from the turquoise mines comply with this prescription by their frequent use of the consonant D (=) as d, "this", as noted by Vainstub (95, 104); but his claim that it occurs on the comb is groundless, as pointed out above, in my account of letter 6 as K not D. The glyph for Z (|><|) does appear as letter 15 (see my note on this above, with references to places where the two are differentiated), but the engraver does not make "a clear distinction between d and z" (107); actually, the word zqnk, "your beard" shows that he did not distinguish these consonants in his "language" and "alphabet", since zqn is properly dqn, and therefore this can not be the protoconsonantary, even if it has the fish-sign. Vainstaub (106-107), attempting to justify his reading zqt, posits two Semitic roots, dqn "beard" and zqt "chin"; in that case perhaps he should have translated it as "chin".  The evidence so far shows that the comb inscription is not (1) protosyllabic or (2) protoconsonantal, and so it can hardly be the oldest readable sentence in the first alphabet.

    (3) Neoconsonantary
In this reduced script we have the same 22 consonants (or 23 if we include Sin) as in the Phoenician and Hebraic consonantal alphabet. By my calculations we have none of the additional letters of the protoconsonantary, and only 12 of the others are present: 'A W Z K L M N S Q R Sh and possibly T (no H. T. Y Sin, as claimed in the Vainstub transcription). Strange to say, I have recognized 11 or 12 consonants, but possibly 17 different signs. Something else that surprises me is I only know one instance of a fish in a neoconsonantal text (Byblos bowl); and it disappears from the standardized Phoenician alphabet; but the fish (samk) had a place in the neosyllabary, and there is a suspicion that this comb has syllabic writing.
   (4) Neosyllabary
My first deliberations on the idea of a syllabic alphabet were reported in 2014:
https://www.asor.org/anetoday/2014/02/the-lost-link-the-alphabet-in-the-hands-of-the-early-israelites/
   With regard to the lice-comb, in spite of my hesitation at the outset, I am now in a position to suggest that its inscription exhibits a version of the West Semitic Neosyllabary; my doubts were aroused on account of the unusual forms of some of the letters. The distinctive L (7, 9) has two different stances; the K, not T (17), is apparently unmatchable elsewhere. 
    There is only one fish in the comb inscription, and this is understandable, as Samek is a rare letter (Colless 1991: 28-29), and the piscatorial form of its representation is found only here in the Lakish collection of inscriptions (Colless 1991: 35-42); the other two Lakish examples of Samek employ the Egyptian djed pillar (spinal column): the Lakish Dagger (--|-|) (Colless 1991:35-36) and the Lakish Jar sherd (|-|-|). The fish for Samek is known in two vertical positions: on the Qeiyafa ostracon the head is at the top (SU?), and on the Izbet Sartah ostracon the head is at the bottom (SA?); that is the case here on the comb, where the tail is at the top, but SA does not seem to fit in the word si`ar "hair"; the eye-sign, a circle with a dot (`A) does suit si`ar; without the dot it is `I; at this point I might be tempted to turn the handle on the "special pleading" machine; the word has a prefix la, and a suffix ka; if it became las`arka, by the rules of syllabic writing the syllables with no vowel adopt the vowel of an adjacent syllable, hence lasa`araka, but these are treated as "dead vowels" and they are not pronounced, that is, not sounded when the text is recited.
    Consider now the syllabogram KA; the clearest example is in the top left area (17); it has five limbs, two above and three below; the KA for "your hair" (14) has to be constructed with the mind, but it is not a figment; I assume the second letter of the first word of the bottom line (2) is also KA, as it has marks between its lower limbs; the consonants I have proposed are 'KShR, and if this is Hip`il, it would say 'akshir (after the pattern 'aqtil) and written syllabically it would perhaps be 'akashiri, or with final -u, as in Arabic; I am unable to assign a vowel to the letter I have identified as R (3a). The syllabogram \/\/ has proved itself to be SHI on the Qeiyafa ostracon.
    The other K-letter (6) is KU (in kulu, "every"), and is my main support here for my syllabary hypothesis; it is not recognized by Vainstub (he manufactures = D out of it by wilfully discarding its upright stem), and the KA functions as Taw in his interpretation. All this leaves the inscription with no instance of K, which is a strange situation, since that letter is among the most frequently occurring in West Semitic writing.
    At the same time,  I think I can find two or three examples of Q here, which seems an oddity for one of the least frequent letters (but it is in two different words, QML "louse", and ZQN "beard").  In QML the sign is upright, in ZQN it is inverted; if this is significant, it means that they represent two different syllables; the Arabic louse is qaml(u), so the syllabogram could be QA;  the Hebrew beard is zâqân, and "your beard" is attested as zqâneka; z with shwa might be written as ZU; and qâ  might be qo, but necessarily rendered as QU.  As I have said, the table of neosyllabic signs I have constructed on the evidence from other sites is not clear; it seems that some places and some scribes had variant systems. With regard to Q-syllabograms, or consonantograms, cases of --o= with two projections at the top have surfaced only at Lakish, on this comb, though the forms --o< and --o- are found on the tablets from Thebes and in the Asa inscriptions of Sinai.
   A provisional hypothesis is offered here: This inscription seems to be an early example of the West Semitic Neosyllabary, which flourished in the Levant in the first part of the Iron Age, that is, the period of the Judges in ancient Israel. Lakish was a centre of literacy, and so it is not unreasonable to suppose that this new writing system was invented there; it was then transmitted to the other cities of the land, and the Philistian and Israelian immigrants also adopted it. Regional variation in the shape and stance of letters arose in the process. The ivory comb may have come from Egypt (82), and it is possible that it was inscribed there, and
even that the neosyllabic script was invented there (as the Protoconsonantary was). Of the many ivory combs found in the region, this is the only one that bears an inscription, though some have scenic decoration (82). The other three Lakish examples of bone-combs, and those from Gezer and Megiddo, belong to the Late Bronze Age and the 12th Century BCE (82), and this one would fit nicely into that time.

    Accordingly, this neosyllabic document fills a gap in the Lakish collection: all four types of the quadrinity are now attested there, if we accept that the four pictorial letters of the Lakish Dagger are protoconsonantal, and the two ostraca are protosyllabic, and all the others are neoconsonantal.

     DEFICIENCIES
    The editors of the article describing the Lakish comb inscription, and the previewers (so-called peer-reviewers) who approved its publication, were at fault on a number of points. The many claims that are made involve superlatives, such as "first", and are debatable and ultimately falsifiable.

Failure to consider a new paradigm and its ramifications.
The one place where my essay on the origin of the alphabet is cited (as Colless 2014, together with Rollston 2010) is in relation to the inventors of the protoalphabet being "members of the Canaanite elite", as opposed to Orly Goldwasser's (highly improbable) "illiterate workers in the mines".
    If I may clarify my present position (December 2022): West Semitic educated high-ranking persons resident in Egypt in the time of the Middle Kingdom created the West Semitic consonantal script (the "Protoconsonantary is my technical term); it was a logo-consonantary, like the Egyptian hieroglyphic writing system; influenced by the Egyptian model, they converted their own logo-syllabary (the West Semitic "Protosyllabary") into a protoalphabet, where vowels were not represented, only consonants; selected syllabograms of their protosyllabary were turned into consonantograms; thus the symbol for a house (bayt) originally said the syllable ba, but was now pronounced b (and the relevant vowel would be supplied in the mind of the reciter); but in each case the symbol could also stand for the thing it represented, "house", and the sounds of the word (bt) could be used independently in the construction of other words; this means that the various stages of the evolution of writing were retained; a pictorial word-sign ("logogram") is used as a rebus ("morphogram") to form other words; by a modification of the rebus principle, acrophony was invented, so that the door-sign (dalt) said da in the Protosyllabary, and then d in the Protoconsonantary.  Another change was prompted by close acquaintance with the Egyptian system: the WS syllabary had only 22 consonants, like the Phoenician alphabet, its distant descendant; the Egyptian inventory of consonants had more than that, and the creators of the protoalphabet decided to expand their number likewise; thus SHA \/\/ (from shad "breast") became consonantal Th (from the original thad "breast"), while SHI \o/ (shimsh "sun") became Sh; but in other cases a new sign had to be found for the consonant, such as >ooo for H.

Statement of purpose
"This is the first discovery in the region of an inscription referring to the purpose of the object, on which it was written, as opposed to dedicatory or ownership inscriptions on objects" (109). Please note that the very ancient fragment of a cult-stand from Gezer says kn B, "temple stand" (Colless 1991: 31-32). The Nestor Cup from ancient Pithekoussai (8th Century BCE) is adduced as one of the rare examples; unfortunately its vital word e[im]i ("I am") has to be reconstructed, and it is not certain whether it was Nestor's cup, or one like it, but it certainly states its purpose as a vessel for
wine-drinking (poterion). My interpretation of the lice comb is in the first person, with the comb itself proclaiming its use and usefulness. An example from Sinai (356) has a mine affirming its own identity on a small stela near Mine L: 'nk s.rh. m'hb`lt, " I am an excavation-gallery beloved of Baalat" (Colless 1990: 36). The Sinai sphinx statuette (345) declares its purpose, though this is "dedicatory": d nqy lb`l[t], "This is my offering to Baalat", the giver being our friend Asa.  However, these two texts illustrate the next confusion suffered by Vainstaub: in the former case the word s.rh. could not be deciphered, as the sign Oo is deemed to be Qop not Sadey, and the K is thought to be Sadey; in the other case the --o< on the sphinx is not recognized as Q.

Confusing Qof and S.adey
The following questionable statement was tacitly approved by all those involved in the publication:
"
The original qof was inspired by the schematic figure of a monkey composed of a small circle representing the animal’s head, a larger circle representing its body, and a line representing its tail. The qofs in our inscription are the most complete found so far, as they clearly contain all three elements. Most examples of qof in Sinai lack the tail, and only Serabi el-Khadem 349 possibly includes it (Hamilton 2006: 214–220). Unfortunately, after Sinai there are no further occurrences of the letter until the ʿIzbet arah ostracon of the Iron Age, in which it has a highly developed shape composed of a vertical axis with a circle at its top, the type that gave birth to the qofs of the Iron Age scripts."(97)
 
  This might be called an elaborate piece of "monkey business", but their monkeying with the facts is not based on deceit but on nescience. In response, the Hebrew name for the letter Q is Qop, which does mean monkey, and so at some points in its history it may have been represented in this way (I think I can see an ape among the letters on a tablet from
Puerto Rico, and on another from Thebes). The lamentable error, professed by W.F. Albright and propagated by Gordon Hamilton, is that the original sign for Sadey {s.}, a tied bag (s.rr), which is sometimes given an 8-shaped form, but also o< and once ||O (on the Lakish Dagger), is to be read as /q/ instead of /s./; the true letter Q (I will have to say it again for the innumerableth time) is a cord (qaw) wound on a stick (--o< or --o-) and there are several unnoticed examples in the Sinai inscriptions, and from Thebes. The comical irony in the present instance is that they are applying the characteristics of their simian interpretation of the tied bag to actual cases of the true Q; and the lament for the missing examples in the Late Bronze Age is unwarranted, given the comparative wealth of attestation of these two rare letters in inscriptions that they ignore. 

Lamed introducing a direct object
They claim to have discovered an early (indeed the earliest) occurrence of "Lamed  as a nota objectivi introducing a direct object", which is "generally considered characteristic of Aramaic" (104-105); and they wrongfully declare, "The use of l to express the subordination of the object to the verb is attested here for the first time" (108). An interesting example is cited: Yoab and his brother slew (hrgw l) Abner (2 Samuel 3:30). However, Vainstub's result is achieved by removing the k from kl ('all, every") and substituting d, thus fabricating yts h.t. d l qml (letters 1-10), "This tusk will root out the lice", as opposed to kl qml , "every louse". Incidentally, their reading is incorrect on a number of accounts. The verb, they say, "is clearly a verbal volitive expressing the wish that the lice will be rooted out", and therefore it should be parsed as jussive or cohortative, as in Biblical Hebrew (107-108).  This seems to be an unnecessary leap, and my reading is obviously "indicative mood", with the comb itself making an assertive statement.

Chronological conclusions
"Since the comb was found in a late Iron Age II context that is clearly later than its original date by hundreds of years, it must be dated by paleographic analysis." (102) That is correct, since two attempts to obtain a radiometric dating for the comb were unsuccessful. (103) . Of course, "we cannot use non-diagnostic letters like shin, mem, or tav, which did not change over centuries". (102) However, their two cases of T become KA (3x) in my interpretation, and that leaves no T (a worry, given the frequent occurrence of that sound in Semitic languages), and I myself have only found one problematical instance (4b). Their M (1x, a false reading of letter 9) sits alongside my two or three, and again this is a frequent sound. I accept their Sh, though it would be Th if this inscription was in fact from the Middle Bronze Age (the period of my Protoconsonantary, as in the Sinai turquoise-mine inscriptions); the angularity of the breasts (\/\/) as here, is not an indication of date; this form could place it among the Lakish neoconsonantal inscriptions of the Late Bronze Age (3 bowls, Colless 1991:36-40), and with the neosyllabic Qeiyafa ostracon (line 2), where it is SHI (and a reading shi would be acceptable to me here on the comb); and \/\/ is the standard shape for Shin in the Phoenician alphabet; but it has sharp points in a vertical stance as th on the very ancient Wadi el-Hol horizontal inscription (protoconsonantal); and \/\/ covered SHA/THA in the Protosyllabary; actually, it is only found in one Sinai inscription (375 in Mine M), in the word tltt "three", and there it is inverted; a more rounded shape, in vertical stance, is observable as SHA on the Izbet Sartah and Qeiyafa ostraca.
    "Letters that appear in the inscription for the first time and have no parallels in other inscriptions cannot be used either."(102) No examples are given, but letter 4 as H.et would unjustly come under this ban, although it actually has a parallel as H in Sinai 358, as noted above, and there are several examples of it as HI on the bronze spatulas of Byblos (Colless 1995:18-21).
Letter 11 is misidentified (or not identified at all), but it is the fish Samek, and it kept its shape (with variants) throughout the Protoconsonantary,  the Neoconsonantary,  and the Neosyllabary; it vanished from the standardised consonantary. Letter 5 as a Q-shaped Tet (imagined to be an unusual form of the cross inside a circle) is non-existent; and my supposed o+ is also to be rejected. The unique letter (a syllabogram, to be precise) is the KA (2, 14, 17), and my presumption is that it was invented for the Neosyllabary.
    "Thus, we are left with the letters yod, lamed, zayin, and qof, and these letters share the epigraphic horizon of the inscriptions from
[the Sinai mines at] Serabit el-Khadem at least. All of them preserve their original properties and lack developments known from inscriptions dated to the 13th or 12th century BCE." (102) In response I must remind them that there is no yod; the first letter in the inscription is not yod but 'alep, a narrow bovine head with peculiar horns; it bears no resemblance to the round heads from Sinai, but its acute angle is matched by the example on Sinai 375c from Mine M (Hamilton, 377-378); I am chided by Hamilton for misidentifying it as Sinai 381 (I gave it that number, as it had no official numbering when it was published), and for offering an inaccurate drawing; I will now abandon my reading 'lt ('Ilat, "Goddess"), and my idea that this could have been in a storage area for skin-bags of water from the "spring of the Mother-goddess" (Sinai 357); the new photograph of West Semitic Reasearch (Maarav 14.1, 2007, Plate VIII) positions the the text vertically (against the horizontal stance of the original publication, followed by myself in 1990);  clearly my presumed L is N (a cobra) in a sequence Y'NTD; 'nt means "equipment" in Sinai 349 and 357, and I suspect this area circled by stones, four metres in diameter, was the place for storing the tools for the work in Mine M (New Kingdom), and previously in the adjoining Mine L (Middle Kingdom). The Yod is not certain, but we are agreed on the 'Alep; it is typical of the Iron Age (an acute angle with a cross bar projecting on both sides, as on the Qeiyafa ostracon, on the way to A, Alpha); Hamilton proposes a late date of c. 1250 BCE, which would give comfort to the wayward opinion of Benjamin Sass, that all the Sinai inscriptions belong to the 13th century BCE (noted by Vainstub, 102); as I have intimated above, I would simply say that it belongs in the New Kingdom period.
    With regard to zayin, Sinai 375c has the only example of |><| in the inscriptions from the turquoise mines, and it actually bears the word for turquoise (mpkt) together with the adjective "pure" (zkt). In Canaan it appears on the Beth-Shemesh ostracon and the Izbet Sartah ostracon, both of which are neosyllabic; and in the region of Thebes in Upper Egypt, it has a place in the two lists of letters, and on this companion piece (Thebes , where Z is joined by Dh (proving it is protosyllabic), and the true Q (Qaw "line") demonstrates the doubling of consonants by a single dot inside or two dots outside, here producing zqq "refine"; notice the mouth representing P, a letter that does not exist in the warped world of Hamilton (notes 227, 230, 232), here forming the word pd (Hebrew paz) "pure gold"; there is a crook for Lamed, a nail for Waw, and a K that may have developed into the KA on our comb, by the addition of a stroke to form its X-shape; it looks just like Vainstub's drawing of the H (Fig. 18, letter 4, lacking the tick at the top).

  
|

                        Thebes inscription, proto-consoantal script
http://cryptcracker.blogspot.com/2006/07/alphabet-when-young-above-is.html

 Tubular amulets from Tuba (Tell Umm el-Marra), with West Semitic proto-syllabic writing

 Oldest legible sentence using first alphabet found
(
Colin Barras, New Scientist, 19th November 2022, 24)
"This is the earliest sentence we have in the alphabet" (Yosef Garfinkel)
This is sensationalist nonsense, meriting the paradoxical statement "This sentence is false". If the text of the comb belongs to the category "Neosyllabary", as I have proposed above, then I would allow it to be "the earliest neosyllabic inscription known to us" (so it is not strictly alphabetic). As for its date, the reporter presents the case for its place in the history of the alphabet thus: the origin of the alphabet "is mysterious because of a lack of archaeological evidence"; actually there is ample evidence but it is being ignored by the establishment; "It isn't clear when it was invented: many researchers argue for a date around 3800 years ago"; yes, that was in the 19th Century BCE, and I include myself among his "many researchers", though I have a very different approach to all the others in the group; "but there is some evidence the alphabet was in use as early as 4300 years ago"; not really, it was the West Semitic syllabary that was functioning at that time, what I call the Protosyllabary, which spawned the Protoconsonantary (the Protoalphabet); Barras is  unstatedly referring to an earlier article of his (New Scientist, 24 April 2021, 15) about the Tell Umm el-Marra inscriptions from Syria, which I have reported here; the experts he interviewed all belong to the school of scholarship which fails to recognize the difference between West Semitic syllabaries (Protosyllabary, Neosyllabary) and consonantaries (Protoconsonantary, Neoconsonantary); "It came from a level of the site dating back roughly 2700 years, but from the style of the writing on the comb, Garfinkel's team argues it is about 1000 years older"; indeed they do,  but their reasoning is fallacious, since they are arguing from a wrong premiss (consonantal instead of syllabic).
   The writing system displayed on the comb is not consonantal but syllabic, I suggest; but if we categorize it as "protoalphabetic", it is still not "the oldest readable sentence written using the first alphabet" (New Scientist, 17/24 December 2022, 84, Quiz of the year). There are numerous sentences in the protoalphabetic inscriptions of ancient Egypt and Sinai
that are "unreadable" to establishmentarian scholars, not because they are "illegible" but because a faulty paradigm is being appplied to them; some begin with the word "This" (d), as on the sphinx stauette (Sinai 345) "This is my offering (nqy) to Baalat"; and an object may speak, as with the comb, saying "I am an excavation (s.rh.) beloved of Baalat" (Sinai 356). An earlier readable sentence from Lakish is an inscription mentioned in the article on the comb (102-103), namely the Lakish dagger; when interpreted with the aid of my table of protoalphabetic signs it says: "Foe flee!" (s.r ns).
   These errors are being disseminated widely in the public media; my daughter Laurel Colless, an author in Helsinki, was the first person who alerted me to news of this discovery, and I approached the matter sanguinely, as is my wont, but soon the blood-redness in my face came to signify displeasure.                                   

In conclusion I have to declaim:
Such epigraphical false news keeps flooding the field, but it will exterminate itself in its own inundation. Never fear, a great awakening is imminent. The evidence presented in this essay demands it.

THE ART OF SCIENCE
"I hate to say this, but this reluctance to consider a new idea in the face of strong evidence is one reason why I think people should worry about science."
Roger Penrose, New Scientist, 19 November 2022, 48.
"Of all the services that can be rendered to science the introduction of new ideas is the greatest." J. J. Thomson, on the occasion of Ernest Rutherford's Nobel Prize for his work on Alpha and Beta particles
"In New Zealand we don't have money, so we have to think." Ernest Rutherford
"I think that a strong claim can be made that the process of scientific discovery may be regarded as a form of art... The theory of relativity by Einstein quite apart from any question of its validity, cannot but be regarded as a magnificent work of art."
Ernest Rutherford (1871-1937)
"The field in which I work, and play, is known as articultural science. My theory of the origin and evolution of the Alphabet is providentially, providently, and provisionally called the Quadrinity (cross out whichever does not apply)." Brian Edric Colless (1936 to infinity and beyond as stardust)
"There is always the possibility of proving any definite theory wrong, but notice that we can never prove it right." Richard Feynman
"The whole idea you started with is gone! That's the exciting thing that happens from time to time." Richard Feynman
"Then a way of avoiding the disease [of passing on mistaken ideas] was discovered. This is to doubt that what is being passed from the past is in fact true, and to try to find out ab initio, again from experience, what the situation is." Richard Feynman
"Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts." Richaard Feynman
"All human knowledge, created in the wondrous and fantastic human brain, is tentative, temporary, transitional, subject to alteration." Brian Colless
"A scientific theory must be paradoxical, contrary to common sense, and seemingly self-contradictory, a thesis in search of an antithesis, to form a synthesis, a new thesis, and so on, for ever and ever, in saecula saeculorum. Amen." Brian Colless
Sources:
Richard Reeves, A Force of Nature:The Frontier Genius of Ernest Rutherford (2008)
Michelle Feynman, The Quotable Feynman (2015)

   SUMMATION (1.1.2023)
  
A new year has begun, and it is time do my sums and start summing up.
   The whole case will be re-examined, and tentative decisions that I have already made may be overthrown. (My buddy Dr Hindsight tells me I will certainly see things I had not noticed in 2022, and again I say that I am grateful to Dr Vainstub for motivating me to think about this expanding field of West Semitic epigraphy.)
   Note that I refrain from offering a drawing (like the defective Fig. 18), but we will constantly refer to the helpful photographs.
   Examining some essential quotations:
   "The inscription contains 17 tiny letters" (90)
    I think I can find 24 or more.
   "The letters form seven words that for the first time provide us with a complete reliable sentence in a Canaanite dialect, written in the Canaanite script."
   Allowing that the preposition l and the conjunction w count as separate words, I detect ten words, or more, and all my words are different from their seven.
   As for their "reliable sentence", my judgement is that every word in it is a misreading of what is written.
   The claim of primacy ("for the first time") is baseless, as no dating has been scientifically achieved for the artefact, and their paleographical conjectures are faulty: "As the comb's inscription is written in the style that characterized the very earliest stage of the alphabet's development, it is clear that it was in a secondary deposition, found in a context dating from about one millennium after the inscription was incised." (80) The comb was found in a pit near the Lakish palace of the kings of Judah, along with vessels from the 7th Century BCE, and it may have been quite old when it was deposited there; but its script is not predominantly pictorial, and the arguments I have already presented identify it as the West Semitic Neosyllabary, not just "the Canaanite script", and its date might therefore be around 1200 BCE, not 1700 BCE; in that case many readable West Semitic sentences from earlier times have preceded this inscription.

 

   The script is syllabic, not consonantal alphabetic. It comprises more than one form of glyph for these five consonants:
   [Q] Letter 8 (cord wound on a stick, not a monkey with a tail) has its two projections on the right side of the glyph (clearly visible on Fig, 14 and 16A, but apparently the scribe did not know what the syllabogram represented); Letter 16 is an inversion of this, but it still has its two extensions on its right side; if we accepted the proposal that the whole middle line of writing is inverted (91) then these strokes would be on the left side, and thus the form of 16 would still be different; but this line is neither upside down nor in boustrophedon style, though the two letters NA KA (sic, not one) of the top row are tucked in at the end, and the sinistrograde direction (L < R) is retained in all three lines.
   [R] Letter 3a (unrecognized on the drawing, Fig. 18, but clear on Fig. 14) is a stylized head, while 5a and 13 are more lifelike (with hair), though unclear.
   [L] Letter 9, at the end of the bottom line, is not an N-shaped M (97, "a reduced mem"!) but L, with a downstroke and a curl on the right side at the bottom (Fig. 14); Letter 7 has a curved upstroke with its curl on the right side at the top (Fig. 14, not as on the drawing, Fig. 18); I now see that Letter 10 is actually two closely knit syllabograms, almost cut off in the damage done to the object in the excavation process (Fig. 14); 10a is Waw (oblique stroke with circle above), and 10b is L (a stroke with curl below, like 9); the same combination occurs as Letters 14a and 14b (Fig, 14 and 17, but not shown on the drawing); this is the pattern w...w, "both ... and" (noticed 3.1.2023).
   [M] Letter 5b (neosyllabic MI) has more waves than 8b (neosyllabic MA or MU).
   [K] The syllabogram KA (3 14 16) is so different from KU (6) that they both demonstrate that this is a syllabary, and in fact it is the Neosyllabary, even though 16 resembles protosyllabic BI, and has no counterpart in other neosyllabic texts available at present.
  
In assigning vowels to the various syllabograms of the text,  I am assisted by the results obtained from studying other neosyllabic inscriptions, but the corpus of neosyllabic documents is limited and the table of signs and sounds that I am constructing has apparent anomalies, suggesting variations in regions and in the handwriting style of individual scribes. The Waw with a round head --o is attested here, but not in other neosyllabic inscriptions, where variations on a Y-shape are found; the HI on the comb is more pictorial than the E with its back-line extended below, and it may be the original form. This new system of syllabic writing lasted for at least two centuries, perhaps 1200 - 1000 BCE, so changes would be inevitable.
   At this point in the discussion the question needs to be raised whether the direction of writing can be an indicator of date. Accepting that the lice-comb has the earliest neosyllabic
inscription, and granting that the Yerubba`al sherds belong in the first half of the period of the Judges, while the Qeiyafa ostracon is at the beginning of the era of the Monarchy in Israel (but obviously from the reign of King Saul, not King David), then it may be significant that the texts of the comb and the Yerubba`al sherds both run from right to left, but the Qeiyafa neosyllabic writing moves from left to right, as also the inscriptions on the Izbet Sartah ostracon and the Qubur el-Walayda bowl, so the former documents are early and the latter are late. Possibly the texts using the new syllabary simply followed the customary direction of West Semitic writng, sinistrograde, right to left (for both consonantal and syllabic scripts; Colless 2014: 81-82); eventually, I suggest, the orientation was changed to dextrograde, left to right, so that the syllabic inscriptions could be differentiated from the consonantal. Thus, the Qeiyafa neosyllabic ostracon, which mentions "Dawid" and "Guliyut", is dextrograde (L > R), and the other Qeiyafa inscription, referring to Ishba`al, the son of Saul, employing a version of the neoconsonantary, is sinistrograde (L < R). 

 
   The words that I have reconstructed may not correspond exactly to the scribe's intentions, but I think they are closer to the original than the interpretation of Daniel Vainstub.
   'KShR: "I will do successfully", Hip'il imperfect, 1st person singular, of root ktr/ksr; judging from Biblical Hebrew, we would expect 'aksir, written syllabically as 'akasiru.
  
HRM: "remove", or "raise", Hip'il infinitive, root rwm, "rise"; I have tried other readings, such as HMT "kill", HMMT "discomfit", but the space between H and M should hold another letter (4a), and apparently there is a human head with two lines for a neck, and prominent hair, like the equally obscure 13 above it; hérîm is expected, and written hirimi; if the presumed T (+) is ignored it means that the most frequently occurring consonant of West Semitic writing of the Bronze Age is missing; but in the languages of Israel and Moab in the Iron Age it is not so numerous; perhaps this gives support to the date of the comb-inscription as c. 1200 BCE; if it is a T.et, then it could be a logogram, t.ab "well", perhaps even with a B formed by vague marks near the following K.
   KL: "every" or "all"; kulu, Hebraic kol.
  
QML: "louse", qamala. The question arises whether the case endings are present, as indicators of early and late; here -a for accusative case?
   W: wa "and", in the combination wa ... wa
"both ,,, and" .
   L: la "(with regard) to" or "from"; but it may be li, as on the Qeiyafa ostracon.
   S`RK: "your hair"; sa`araka; the circular eye with a dot stands for `A in the Neosyllabary, undotted it is `I; the fish with head below and tail above is SA.
   W: wa "and (also)".
   L: la "from"; this form is li in the Qeiyafa ostracon inscription.
   ZQNK: "your beard"; zuqunika; |><| seems to be zu on the Beth-Shemesh ostracon, here perhaps for z with shwa. 

TENTATIVE TRANSLATION (9.1.2023)
"I will effectively remove every louse from your hair and also from your beard"

'akshir hérîm kul qamal walasa`araka walazuqunaka

ORIGINS OF NEOSYLLABIC LETTERS
Returning to the two inventories of protoconsonantl signs from Thebes (Petrie 1912), I will endeavour to trace the origins of some of the syllabograms on the lice-comb. Usually I say that the neosyllabary came out of the neoconsonantry, but the available lists of the consonantary of the Iron Age (the Phoenician or Hebrew alphabet) are too late for this exercise.
   Starting with K, the KU  has a counterpart (reversed) on the right-hand (grey) Tablet C, top centre; and I have also found an example on Sinai 351 (horizontal); and it occurs in the abagadary of the Izbet Sartah ostracon. The KA, an X-figure, seems to be unique, but the proto-alphabetic Tablet A, bottom left, may offer a comparison: I have always described this glyph as a K on top of an `ayin (eye), but I now think that the eye-sign with its pupil may be above the Q, to the right of the P (mouth); accordingly, the K has to be considered as a unit, and it may have been simplified into the KU of the Lakish neosyllabary.
   The R in 'akashiru is a rough square on a stem (horizontal stance); it is similar to the one on the Thebes Tablet A, left centre; Tablet B, bottom left has a triangular head; the RU in the Yerubba`al inscription is P-shaped, with a square head, but its stance is vertical.
   The Samek-fish is different in all three cases (left of centre on A and B) showing that there was no fixed pattern for this letter, consonantal or syllabic. Incidentally, the discussion of Letter 11 (98-101) and the characters on Table 7, is actually about the (unrecognized) fish-sign!

Above: Thebes Tablet A 
Below: Thebes Tablets B and C