Friday, January 08, 2010

Oldest hebrew inscription

A potential oldest Hebrew inscription is announced

Article with picture and small transcription: see article

Another article with proposed English translation of text: here


  1. That's a start, but one might to check out other proposed readings of the same inscription.

    Here is a discussion (with links) from months ago:

    That post interacts with the suggestions of four top epigraphers whose work is left to one side in the links Randall provides.

    Here is a recent discussion (note comment thread):

    Galil is a very fine scholar but I'm not hearing much support for the way he has presented his findings. At the very least, the news articles, through no fault of Galil, lack scholary etiquette and context.

  2. Oldest Hebrew inscription doesn't even contain the words Yahweh, Elohim, or El. Wow am I impressed. Wake me up when its all over please.

  3. Both articles assert that this is the single oldest extant example of Hebrew writing.

    How do they know that it has to be older than the Gezer calendar, which is also dated to the 10th century?

  4. Also, if it took such expertise in epigraphy to determine that the language is Hebrew and not some other closely related Canaanite dialect, and yet there remains enough uncertainty about as many letters and words as is suggested by Hobbins' transcription and his translation in comparison to Galil's, then I have to wonder how firm the verdict is that the exact dialect is the Hebrew one after all. Are there any letters in it that are undisputed that solidly point in the direction of Hebrew and Hebrew only?

  5. Beowulf,

    This is a very important inscription because it was found in situ in a defined archaeological context in a site whose characteristics turns a number of rather commonly held assumptions upside down. A context, furthermore, that is Judahite in terms of pottery assemblage (as opposed to Philistine), and securely dated by C 14 dates.


    The first phrase of the inscription, which everyone agrees on, is אל תעש 'al ta'as. That is Hebrew as opposed to Phoenician or Aramaic.

    The trouble with the Gezer Calendar is that there is no distinguishing features that characterize its lexis, morphology, or syntax as Hebrew rather than Phoenician.

    Epigraphic Hebrew, its attestation through time, its genres, its script, its media, have much to tell us about early Israel. See Seth Sanders recent book reviewed here:

    The Qeiyafa inscription fits into the larger picture quite nicely.

  6. John, I was being somewhat factitious. And yet, even though it is from "A context, furthermore, that is Judahite in terms of pottery assemblage (as opposed to Philistine), and securely dated by C 14 dates" that doesn't ensure that the missing proper name in the phrase "don't do [it] but serve [proper name]" is Yahweh. I don't think its going to convince any skeptics that the Bible was written earlier than supposed. That's all I'm really saying.

  7. Let's play "Spot the grievous errors in then News Report." I'll start. What evidence do we have, no matter how remote, that Philistines wrote their language with Paleo-hebrew characters?

    Now, for the ostraca text itself:

    Translation #1:
    1 Don't [?], but worship the [].
    2 Judge the sla[ve] and the wid[ow] / Judge the orph[an]
    3 [&] the stranger. [Pl]ead for the infant / plead for the po[or and]
    4 the widow. Rehabilitate [the poor] at the hands of the king.
    5 Protect the po[or and] the slave / [supp]ort the stranger.

    Translation #2:
    1 Do not do [], and serve []
    2 ruler of [?] . . . ruler . . .
    3 [] . . .
    4 [?] and wreak judgment on YSD king of Gath . . .
    5 seren of G[aza? . . .] [?] . . .

    Doesn't inspire much confidence . . .

  8. White Man,

    I don't know if you read Hebrew or any other NWS language, but the two decipherments are in agreement more than appears from the translations.

    The differences lie at the level of the grammatical construal of particular letter sequences on the one hand, and a diversity of opinion about identification or possibility of identification of other letter sequences on the other.

    But even with all those caveats, the most plausible working hypothesis available is that the inscription is ancient Hebrew written in proto-Canaanite script.