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The 10th Century BCE Jerusalem Inscription

10 Jul

Matthew Kalman reports

pithosHebrew University of Jerusalem archaeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar says she has unearthed the earliest alphabetical written text ever uncovered in the city, the university announced Wednesday.

The inscription is engraved on a large pithos, a neckless ceramic jar found with six others at the Ophel excavation site below the southern wall of the Temple Mount. According to Dr. Mazar, the inscription, in the Canaanite language, is the only one of its kind discovered in Jerusalem and could be an important addition to the city’s history.The inscription is engraved in a proto-Canaanite / early Canaanite script of the eleventh-to-tenth centuries BCE, which pre-dates the Israelite rule and the prevalence of Hebrew script.

Reading from left to right, the text contains a combination of letters approximately 2.5 cm tall, which translate to m, q, p, h,n, (possibly) l, and n. Since this combination of letters has no meaning in known west-Semitic languages, the inscription’s meaning is unknown.  Dated to the 10th century BCE, the artifact predates by 250 the earliest known Hebrew inscription from Jerusalem, which is from the period of King Hezekiah at the end of the 8th century BCE.  The university says it is therefore “from the time of Kings David and Solomon.”

More correctly, the inscription is from the putative period of either David or Solomon.  It can’t be from the ‘time’ of David ‘and’ Solomon.  It has to be one or the other.

But curiously, in one breath the discovery elicits this observation:

The inscription is engraved in a proto-Canaanite / early Canaanite script of the eleventh-to-tenth centuries BCE, which pre-dates the Israelite rule and the prevalence of Hebrew script.

Pre-dates Israelite rule…  fair enough.  But in the next breath:

The university says it is therefore “from the time of Kings David and Solomon.”

So which is it?   Does it pre-date Israelite rule or is it from the period when either David or Solomon ruled?  It cannot be both.

Further, since the inscription is (at the moment) indecipherable (in terms of defining the word / words used) it is evidence of nothing except a pot and an inscriber.  That’s all.  To drag David and / or Solomon into the discussion is poor procedure and more than a little misleading.

Here is the Hebrew University Press Release in full:

image004Jerusalem, July 10, 2013 — Working near the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Hebrew University of Jerusalem archaeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar has unearthed the earliest alphabetical written text ever uncovered in the city.

The inscription is engraved on a large pithos, a neckless ceramic jar found with six others at the Ophel excavation site. According to Dr. Mazar, the inscription, in the Canaanite language, is the only one of its kind discovered in Jerusalem and an important addition to the city’s history.

Dated to the tenth century BCE, the artifact predates by two hundred and fifty years the earliest known Hebrew inscription from Jerusalem, which is from the period of King Hezekiah at the end of the eighth century BCE.

A third-generation archaeologist working at the Hebrew University’s Institute of Archaeology, Dr. Mazar directs archaeological excavations on the summit of the City of David and at the southern wall of the Temple Mount.

The discovery will be announced in a paper by Dr. Mazar, Prof. Shmuel Ahituv of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, and Dr. David Ben-Shlomo of the Hebrew University, following their extensive research on the artifact. Prof. Ahituv studied the inscription and Dr. Ben-Shlomo studied the composition of the ceramic materials. The paper, “An Inscribed Pithos From the Ophel,” appears in the Israel Exploration Journal 63/1 (2013). 

The inscription was engraved near the edge of the jar before it was fired, and only a fragment of it has been found, along with fragments of six large jars of the same type. The fragments were used to stabilize the earth fill under the second floor of the building they were discovered in, which dates to the Early Iron IIA period (10th century BCE).  An analysis of the jars’ clay composition indicates that they are all of a similar make, and probably originate in the central hill country near Jerusalem.

According to Prof. Ahituv, the inscription is not complete and probably wound around the jar’s shoulder, while the remaining portion is just the end of the inscription and one letter from the beginning. The inscription is engraved in a proto-Canaanite / early Canaanite script of the eleventh-to-tenth centuries BCE, which pre-dates the Israelite rule and the prevalence of Hebrew script.

Reading from left to right, the text contains a combination of letters approximately 2.5 cm tall, which translate to m, q, p, h, n, (possibly) l, and n. Since this combination of letters has no meaning in known west-Semitic languages, the inscription’s meaning is unknown.

The archaeologists suspect the inscription specifies the jar’s contents or the name of its owner. Because the inscription is not in Hebrew, it is likely to have been written by one of the non-Israeli residents of Jerusalem, perhaps Jebusites, who were part of the city population in the time of Kings David and Solomon.

Excavations at the site are conducted in collaboration with the Israel Antiquities Authority, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, and the East Jerusalem Development Company. The site is in the national park surrounding the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City, near the southern wall of the Temple Mount compound. The Israel Antiquities Authority maintains the excavation site as a national park open to the public.

The excavations are made possible through a generous donation by Daniel Mintz and Meredith Berkman of New York. Participants in the dig include Israeli students and workers, along with students or alumni of Herbert W. Armstrong College sent to Jerusalem from Edmond, Oklahoma to participate in the excavation.

For more information: 

Dov Smith, Hebrew University Foreign Press Liaison, 02-5882844 / 054-8820860 (+ 972-54-8820860), dovs@savion.huji.ac.il

UPDATE:  A High resolution photo is available here.

 
8 Comments

Posted by on 10 Jul 2013 in Archaeology

 

8 responses to “The 10th Century BCE Jerusalem Inscription

  1. Jona Lendering

    10 Jul 2013 at 5:33 am

    Your last line expresses my own opinion as well.

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  2. Jim

    10 Jul 2013 at 6:08 am

    Now I would always like to hear from other people abot Mazar’s dating. What was the context? I hope that she has one.

    Of course five to six letters WHICH make no sense proves the Bible to be true!

    NPL

    [posted by me on his behalf]

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    • steph

      10 Jul 2013 at 6:38 am

      As one plus two equals eleven and a half, it’s quite obvious that ‘the’ historical ‘David’ (or ‘Solomon’) inscribed this mysterious code into a jar containing perfume which was passed down through the generations – and acquired by the harlot called Mary who poured it on the feet of Jesus and broke the jar… proving the Bible to be true.

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  3. brentnagtegaal

    10 Jul 2013 at 10:59 am

    As Eilat Mazar explains in the video here http://www.keytodavidscity.com/earliest-alphabetical-inscription-found-in-jerusalem-3/ the pithos rim that the inscription is on was found among 6 others which date to the early Iron IIA period.

    The important thing to remember is that the text was written BEFORE the vessel was fired. So while the style of the writing itself might date to before the united monarchy, it was written on a typical Iron IIA vessel DURING Iron IIA.

    So to answer your question: “Does it pre-date Israelite rule or is it from the period when either David or Solomon ruled?”

    Yes, it is from the period of Israelite rule, yet the script looks to be one that predates David and Solomon, which must have continued to be used.

    Hope this clears up at least one of your questions. 🙂

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  4. Yoni

    10 Jul 2013 at 1:21 pm

    “More correctly, the inscription is from the putative period of either David or Solomon. It can’t be from the ‘time’ of David ‘and’ Solomon. It has to be one or the other.”

    Chill out.

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    • Jim

      10 Jul 2013 at 2:07 pm

      Oh this is chilled out.

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  5. Jordan Wilson

    10 Jul 2013 at 10:43 pm

    Another nail in the minimalist coffin.

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    • Jim

      10 Jul 2013 at 10:50 pm

      Ridiculous. Do tell- what is this exactly evidence of???? And be specific. How does it bolster the maximslist position. Again, be specific.

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