University of Haifa Press Release
Caption: A breakthrough in the research of the Hebrew scriptures has shed new light on the period in which the Bible was written. Professor Gershon Galil of the Department of Biblical Studies at the University of Haifa has deciphered this inscription on a pottery shard discovered in the Elah valley dating from the 10th century BCE (the period of King David's reign), and has shown that this is a Hebrew inscription. The discovery makes this the earliest known Hebrew writing. The significance of this breakthrough relates to the fact that at least some of the biblical scriptures were composed hundreds of years before the dates presented today in research and that the Kingdom of Israel already existed at that time.Some of this may echo what Bob Cargill has already said, but I think it's worth pointing out some of the over-reaching assumptions and conclusions that are being drawn by Prof. Galil as quoted in the press release.
Credit: Courtesy of the University of Haifa
Prof. Gershon Galil of the University of Haifa who deciphered the inscription: "It indicates that the Kingdom of Israel already existed in the 10th century BCE and that at least some of the biblical texts were written hundreds of years before the dates presented in current research."Yes, this is probably the earliest example of the Hebrew language, but how does it follow as proof that parts of the Bible were composed hundreds of years earlier? It doesn't. It provides a plausible context for literary activity and ability, but it doesn't provide proof that scribes were creating complex literary texts like what is found in the Bible.
A breakthrough in the research of the Hebrew scriptures has shed new light on the period in which the Bible was written. Prof. Gershon Galil of the Department of Biblical Studies at the University of Haifa has deciphered an inscription dating from the 10th century BCE (the period of King David's reign), and has shown that this is a Hebrew inscription. The discovery makes this the earliest known Hebrew writing. The significance of this breakthrough relates to the fact that at least some of the biblical scriptures were composed hundreds of years before the dates presented today in research and that the Kingdom of Israel already existed at that time.
As for the language being Hebrew, their proof is solid, if it accurately reflects the inscription.
Prof. Galil's deciphering of the ancient writing testifies to its being Hebrew, based on the use of verbs particular to the Hebrew language, and content specific to Hebrew culture and not adopted by any other cultures in the region. "This text is a social statement, relating to slaves, widows and orphans. It uses verbs that were characteristic of Hebrew, such as asah ("did") and avad ("worked"), which were rarely used in other regional languages. Particular words that appear in the text, such as almanah ("widow") are specific to Hebrew and are written differently in other local languages.The verb "asah" would be a good isogloss (feature distinguishing between languages or dialects), but I've struggled for some time tonight to find these specific lexical items in the line drawing of the inscription. I admit that my paleography skills are rudimentary and rusty, but I wish they'd have provided a transcription, not just a translation and drawing. Many of the letters are atypical compared to other samples of paleo-Hebrew including the Gezer Calendar. Letter orientation seems to be completely optional with aleph pointing multiple ways and dalet (if it is a dalet) attested in 180 degree different positions.
I will press on in my attempt to decipher the line drawing for myself. It may be time to break out Yardeni's Book of Hebrew Scripts. In the meantime, here is the English translation of the inscription.
English translaton of the deciphered text:HT: Bob Cargill
1' you shall not do [it], but worship the [Lord].
2' Judge the sla[ve] and the wid[ow] / Judge the orph[an]
3' [and] 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.
The minimalist will react with extreme passion, trying to camouflage in superficially scientific jargon. You, as usual, managed to bring balanced weights. Very good.ReplyDelete
The text seems to endorse the background of a structured society, with patronage as it portrayed in the primary sources, in which patrons of Israel could be self-critical through its spokesmen and empathetic to the less fortunate, even without direct poke and explicitly the structure itself.
ops, no patronage, clientelism. SorryReplyDelete
And the very passionate reactions started; this pocked issues dear to the hearts ( the same that we see sometimes by the very-maximalists). This is the face of unilateralism.ReplyDelete
This only makes project your more balanced approach, Doug.
Read it right-to-left.ReplyDelete
And Tel Zayit and Izbet Sartah would be better for paleographical comparison than Gezer.
Oops -- I meant left-to-right (like English)ReplyDelete
Sigh -- another edit (or better, addition) to my comment: the purpose of saying read it left-to-right was that 1) this is a feature of early Canaanite writing (could go either way or even boustrephodon) and 2) 'al ta'as "don't do" is pretty clear, hence the isogloss.ReplyDelete
rob, you're right. I see the "al ta'as" right away looking left to right. thanks.ReplyDelete
The way some biblicists squeeze this kind of evidence for far-flung claims is embarrassing. I'm glad to see some level-headed caution here about the implications of this tiny inscription. New inscribed objects are always welcome. But in a field so starved for new evidence, I cringe at the first wave of "expert" opinions that come in, especially from the blogosphere. . . .ReplyDelete
if you've been waiting since 2008, you must have missed the conference in October where Misgav and several others presented their readings of the inscription; see Maeir's report at gath.wordpress.com/2009/10/15/qeiyafah-inscription-update/ReplyDelete
there is some technical info on the imaging at http://www.palarch.nl/2009/12/gregory-bearman-william-a-christens-barry-2009-spectral-imaging-of-ostraca-%E2%80%93-palarch%E2%80%99s-journal-of-archaeology-of-egyptegyptology-67-2009/ReplyDelete
A.D., I'd heard about that but hadn't seen Maeir's update. Thanks for the heads up.ReplyDelete
Anyone know of any peer-reviewed articles on this inscription that aren't in Modern Hebrew? I know a digital excavation report was recently made available from the Israel Exploration Society that has several chapters devoted to the inscription.
It is difficult to see why the discovery of this inscription is so surprising, because it seems obvious that Hebrew was an established language during this period. After all the Moabite Stone dates to this time, which is written in what is clearly Hebrew or a Hebrew dialect. Only die-hard Bible sceptics would express surprise at discovering that Hebrew was older than university professors thought.ReplyDelete
The Moabite Stone actually dates from a over a century later - 840 BCE, the time of Omri and Ahab. It's a big difference because it is in the 9th century that we start to get external evidence like that for the existence of Israel and Judah. Early 10th century has been light on evidence so far. In the 10th century inscriptions like Gezer (ca. 925) it's still difficult to identify the language as specifically Hebrew, not Phoenician.ReplyDelete