A proposed interpretation of the most ancient inscription ever discovered in Jerusalem suggests that its Hebrew letters refer to types of wine and reflect both literacy and a well-ordered administration.
The inscription was discovered during archaeological excavations directed by Dr. Eilat Mazar, of the Hebrew University’s Institute of Archaeology, in the area of the Ophel, south of the Temple Mount. Uncovered about six months ago, the inscription was on a piece of a large clay jar and comprised only eight letters. It has been dated to the second half of the 10th century B.C.E., that is, to the time of King Solomon.
So far most scholars have speculated that the inscription was written in an ancient Near Eastern language, not necessarily Hebrew. In any case, the letters were so few it could not be read.
But in a recent article in the journal “New Studies on Jerusalem,” Prof. Gershon Galil, of the Bible Department at the University of Haifa, proposed a new interpretation. Galil suggested that the letters were early Hebrew and identified the key word as “yayin”, meaning wine. Of all the region’s languages, Galil noted, only southern Hebrew wrote the word yayin with two instances of the letter yod, rather than one.
According to Galil’s interpretation, the inscription describes the wine that was in the jar bearing the inscription. The first letter is a final mem, which could be the end of the word “esrim” (twenty) or “shloshim” (thirty,) referring to either the twentieth or thirtieth year of Solomon’s reign. Next comes the word “yayin” (wine) followed by the word “halak”, and then the letter mem, the first letter of the wine’s place of origin.
“Halak” is an oenological term from the Northern Syrian language of Ugarit. It referred to the lowest of three types of wine – “good wine,” “no good wine” and lowly “halak”. Galil speculated that the poor-quality wine was drunk by the king’s conscript labor force working on various building projects.
Etc, which do read. It’s a very persuasive reading.