Friday, March 26, 2010

Pondering the Qeiyafa Ostracon

After refreshing my amateur paleography skills by revisiting the Gezer Calendar and the Siloam Tunnel inscriptions, I thought I'd have another look at the Khirbet Qeiyafa ostracon.

So I looked and attempted to transcribe what I could see from both Misgav's and Yardeni's line drawings and the photos from the Hebrew University. Even so, I was still unable to make heads or tails of Qeiyafa. My transcription has many blanks where I was uncertain of the letter and couldn't even hazard a guess.

I set the Qeiyafa ostracon aside again and went looking for information on 'Izbet Sartah, recalling that I was told it would make a better paleographical comparison than Gezer, for example.

The 'Izbet Sartah inscription 
(drawing via

The Qeiyafa discovery is important because of its 10th century dating. But the script appears much less developed than a 10th century inscription like Gezer. The better paleographical analogue is a 12th century text - 'Izbet Sartah. All of that is introduction to this one idle musing. What if the 10th century archaeological context for the ostracon merely provides a terminus ad quem for a possibly earlier text? If Qeiyafa is more like 'Izbet Sartah than Gezer (left to right writing, more primitive letter forms, etc.), then isn't it more likely that Qeiyafa is a 12th or 11th century text? And if that's the case, is it really even a possibility that we could call the language of the text Hebrew? Any thoughts from those of you more learned in paleography than I? 


  1. I just heard a presentation about Qeiyafa at a regional SBL/ASOR meeting. To me it appeared that the archaeological data fit the eleventh century as well or better than the tenth, but they were pushing all their conclusions to the lowest end of the date range, or settling right in on the margin around the year 1,000. Carbon dating on some fig remains, which, the presenter admitted, should offer something close a terminus ad quem, had a date range that centered around the mid to late 11th century. So yes, paleographically the ostracon definitely ought to precede the 10th century, and the archaeology allows for this, despite what has been said thus far.

  2. Doug, I believe you're onto something; your observations fit quite well with everything I've seen, as well as Chris Rollston's sense of things. Misgav and company acknowledge this problem in their report, and their explanation is intriguing: they think there are radically different script types coexisting during the same time period in the Southern Levant. But this would mean that writers at Qeiyafa had nothing to do with writers at Zayit--at least if writing meant anything culturally.

    So the consequence of taking Qeiyafa as 10th century is a picture of Southern Levantine scribalism as radically disunified--intriguing, but makes it very hard to picture this as the result of a unified kingdom!

    Adam, I am fascinated by the 11thc fig remains! These are separate from the four olive pits that come in around 1050-970?