A tiny stone weight used in the First Temple has been found in Jerusalem. How exciting. Spectacular is also that it’s engraved — with paleo-Hebrew lettering, of course. The text reads “baykah,” a measure of weight found already in Genesis 24:22: בֶּ֖קַע Beit-Koof-‘A-yeen.
An extra curiosity is that the word is written mirrorwise. And that’s where speculation and mistakes begin. (No, this is not so dramatic. But I didn’t sign that all my blog posts must deal with issues of life and death.)
A fine report still suggests that it’s therefore written “left to right” with “[f]or example” the letter Beit “facing the opposite direction.” (Other reports (several of them) at rival sites suggest that the directional mistake was pronounced by the archeologist, not the reporters.)
First of all, in paleo-Hebrew, the letters Koof and ‘Ayeen are left-right more-or-less symmetrical, so only the Beit here could be a letter that has a mirror-reflected image that is different from its non-virtual likeness.
When we look in a mirror and raise our right hand, the hand on the right in the mirror goes up – not on the left. But it seems that the person “in the mirror” raises his/her left hand, but that is because we are used to seeing the left hand from people we meet on our right. In fact, the person in the mirror raises their right hand but because the person is mirrored it seems their left hand – which appears to us on the right.
Confused? The confusion is compounded by the pictures of this stone showing the text upside-down. If you turn around the image, you see from right-to-left the letters Beit (in mirror image), Koof and ‘Ayeen.
In fact, this picture shows the stone lying on a piece of glass – kudos to photographer Eliyahu Yanai! In the glass, one can see its reflection! If one turns around the picture (for those who read this on a PC, I supply the turned-around pic here below), one can read the text on the stone, now right-to-left, and its mirror image – still right-to-left: בקע.
This one was written in stone. But right-to-left – as it should!
A political angle to this news one may find here.
Talking of which. Hebrew letters hang from a line, while Latin letters stand on a line. So when non-Jewish printers need to insert Hebrew illustrations, they often end up putting them upside-down in the text. Also, aligned right then seems (like in English) left, not helping them.