An alphabet was in use in the cities of Palestine by 1200 BCE, including the Hebrew alphabet used in Israel and Judah. It was easier for traders than Egyptian hieroglyphs and Babylonian cuneiform scripts, which were pictorial signs. The stele (now in Paris) of Mesha, king of Moab, consisting of thirty-four lines, is an inscription from about 850 BCE in a script similar to that used for Hebrew. The Hebrews adopted the Phoenician alphabet of twenty-two consonants, but it was not until about 700 CE that Jewish scholars devised a system of vowel-signs, placed under the consonants, in order to preserve the tradition of pronunciation.

The Greek alphabet is ascribed by Herodotus to the Phoenician Cadmus and by the 9th cent. BCE there was a Greek alphabet with both consonants and vowels. There are twenty-one characters from alpha to omega.