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RESH (Heb. רֵשׁ ;ר), the twentieth letter of the Hebrew alphabet; its numerical value is 200. The initial form of this letter–in the early Proto-Canaanite and Proto-Sinaitic inscriptions–is a pictograph of a human head. The Greek rho seems to indicate that the Canaanite name of the letter was rosh, while resh = "head" in Aramaic.

In the late Proto-Canaanite script the pictograph developed into a linear form, which was preserved in the Greek P. Another Archaic Greek variant was the ancestor of the Latin R.

While the ancient Hebrew script preserved the closed top of the resh (hence Samaritan), the Phoenician cursive opened the circular head at its lower part and the Aramaic script opened the top of the letter (compare with Aramaic bet, dalet, and 'ayin) already in the late eighth century b.c.e. Later there was a tendency to curve the shoulder and thus the Jewish resh was developed.

As resh and dalet resemble each other, in some scripts both were often written in the same way. In Syriac only diaritic marks distinguish between them: = dalet; = resh. In the Nabatean cursive and, hence, in the Arabic script, the resh has been assimilated with the zayin. Therefore a diacritic point above the za () distinguishes it from the ra (). See *Alphabet, Hebrew.

[Joseph Naveh]