Inscribed Bowl from Jerusalem (7th century BC)

The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) has announced a number of new artefacts discovered during excavations near the Gihon Spring at the ‘City of David’—the location of ancient Jerusalem during the time of the kingdom of Judah. The finds come from an Iron Age II stratum dated to the 7th century BC. Among the finds is the fragment of a clay bowl inscribed with a name just under the rim. The name is fragmentary, but the extant letters can easily be deciphered as ריהו בן בנה (—riah son of Banah). The Yahwistic theophoric element in the name is readily observable. In terms of palaeography, the letter forms exhibit a 7th century BC style.

The IAA announcement may give the impression that the person named on this bowl fragment is Zechariah ben-Benaiah. He is mentioned in 2 Chronicles 20.14 as the father of the prophet Jahaziel, who was a Levite and contemporary of King Jehoshaphat. However, Jehoshaphat reigned in the early 9th century BC (c. 874–850 BC), some two centuries before the likely era of the person mentioned on this bowl fragment. When read carefully, the IAA announcement does not identify the person named on the bowl with this Zechariah, but rather suggests that the name of this Zechariah is the ‘most similar name to our inscription’. All that we can say with a reasonable degree of confidence is that the owner of this bowl was a resident of Jerusalem in the 7th century BC, perhaps of some standing. After all, not everyone had their name custom engraved into a bowl before it was fired in a kiln. More than that we cannot say. Whether the man’s name was Zechariah, or Azariah, or Amariah, or Uriah, or something else altogether, we simply don’t know. All we know is that Banah was his dad.

The IAA state that more information about the finds will be forthcoming at Megalim’s Annual Archaeological Conference on 29 August in Jerusalem.

The photographs reproduced here were taken by Clara Amit of the IAA, and downloaded from the IAA page.

Seventh century BC bowl fragment from Jerusalem with inscription reading
ריהו בן בנה (—riah son of Banah).
Photo: Clara Amit, Israel Antiquities Authority

Some of the other ceramic finds from excavations near the Gihon Spring. Back Left: two jar handles. Front Left: the heads of two figurines. Right: two oil lamps.
Photo: Clara Amit, Israel Antiquities Authority

Map of the Old City of Jerusalem, showing the location of the Gihon Spring excavations (near bottom right) in the City of David (original site of ancient Jerusalem), south of the Temple Mount.

The Kidron Valley with the eastern slope of the City of David near the Gihon Spring on the left. On the right is the western slope of the Mount of Olives.

Links

Announcement by the Israel Antiquities Authority

Article in the Jerusalem Post

Claims of a 2700 Year Old Inscription Found in Jerusalem (from Jim West’s Blog)

Gershon Galil: A Second Alternative Reading of the Ceramic Inscription

Gershon Galil has offered a second alternative reading of the ceramic inscription from Jerusalem, in addition to the first he offered a few days ago. He has also provided a drawing to illustrate the possibility of his second alternative, which I provide below along with his thoughts.

Gershon writes:

Here is another possible reading of the inscription from Jerusalem (from right to left):

[…], mem, qop, lamed, ḥet, nun, [yo]d, [yo]d nun

…נ [יי]נ חלק מ…
… Spoiled Wine from…

The term yn ḫlq is attested only once in a text from Ugarit (KTU 4.213:3): “…arb’m (kdm) yn ḫlq b gt sknm“. For the meaning of this classification of wine see the following translations: verdorbener Wein (Aartum); mauvais/perdu vin (Lemaire et al); vino estropeado (del Olmo Lete and Sanmartin). For a short discussion of this term see: K. Aartum, UF, 16 (1984), 1-52, esp. 26.

This is a very simple and possible reading but I prefer my first reading:

[Your poor brothers – You sh]all [gi]ve them their share

The Ophel inscription should be dated to the second half of the 10th century (it was absolutely not written in the 11th century). In the mid-late 10th century the house of David controlled Jerusalem, and I agree with Athas that:

“The language of the inscription is difficult to ascertain from so few letters, but there is good reason to think it is probably Hebrew” (although it is well known that the roots ḤLQ and NTN are clearly also attested in other West Semitic Languages).

The term yn ḫlq is not mentioned in the Bible or in any other extra Biblical Hebrew text. Moreover, the Ophel Inscription was inscribed on an open large size pithos jar, and it is not unreasonable that it contained wine.

Gershon Galil’s reconstruction of the ceramic inscription. (Original rendering by Ada Yardeni)

Update

At the biblical studies forum, Gershon adds:

A short note on the spelling of the word “wine” in West Semitic Languages: In Ugaritic, Old Canaanite, Phoenician (Shiqmona: IEJ, 18 [1968], 227B:2), Ammonite, and even in the Kingdom of Israel (The Samaria Ostraca) wine was always written with only one yod (yn; ka-ra-nu: ye-nu = Aphek-Antipatris: TA 3 [1976], 137:2). But in (southern) Hebrew the form is always yyn (Epigraphic Hebrew [Lachish, Arad and more], Biblical Hebrew [without any exception], Ben Sira, Qumran, and even in the Rrabinic [sic!] sources).

 

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Gershon Galil’s Persperctive on the ceramic inscription from Jerusalem

Aren Maeir’s Perspective on the Ceramic Inscription from Jerusalem

On the ANE-2 list, Aren Maeir, Director of the excavations at Tell es-Safi/Gath, chimes in with his opinion on the ceramic inscription discovered during Eilat Mazar’s dig in Jerusalem. Aren writes:

Prof. Aren Maeir

Just received my copy of the IEJ issue with the article on the Ophel inscription. I must say that from what I can see from the drawing of the pottery, it appears to me to be a 9th cent. BCE form. As I’m in the field and without the literature, I can’t give exact parallels, but offhand, I would think that they are reminiscent of the so-called “Ajrud Pithoi”.

If this is the case (and as I stated above, this needs to be checked carefully), the only way the inscription can be 11th or 10th century BCE is if these early letters were floating around in the air for a century or so (like the “floating letters” in art by Mordechai Ardon), and then, sometime in the 9th century decided to settle on a pithos rim…

🙂

 

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Drawing of the ‘Bethlehem’ Bulla

There is a facsimile drawing of the so-called ‘Bethlehem’ bulla now available. It has been produced by Pnina Arad.

Facsimile drawing of the ‘Bethlehem’ bulla (Pnina Arad)

According to the drawing, the first register contains a triangular-shaped ʿayin (ע) and the lower fragment of a taw (ת), yielding the word בשבעת (bšbʿt), meaning ‘in the seventh (year)’. The second register has the leftmost portions of a yodh (י) as the first extant letter. The fourth visible letter has been drawn as a ḥeth (ח), though apparently the vertical stroke in the top left has been broken off. The proposed reading is ביתלחם (bytlḥm), referring to the toponym Bethlehem. The third register has only one extant letter, but on the basis of other fiscal bullae, has been reconstructed as למלך (lmlk), meaning ‘for the king’.

So it looks like the bulla probably does refer to Bethlehem after all. Nevertheless, a personal inspection by another epigrapher (in addition to Shmuel Ahituv) would still be good to double-check.

More on the so-called ‘Bethlehem’ Bulla

Since the original announcement by the Israel Antiquities Authority, there has been a flurry of discussion about the new bulla which, it is claimed, refers to Bethlehem. In my previous blog article, I mentioned that the photograph accompanying the announcement didn’t seem to allow for a reference to Bethlehem. At the same time, however, I mentioned that photographs of inscriptions like these can distort critical features. Hence, I called for some extra eyes to take a look at the bulla and let us know what they see.

Today comes news (via an email from Joseph Lauer) that Shmuel Ahituv (Ben Gurion University) inspected the bulla and in the second register he reads the following letters:

[…]יתלח[…]

According to Ahituv, the first fragmentary letter is not a ב (b), as originally reported by Eli Shukron, but a י (y). Furthermore, he claims that though they are slight there are traces of a left vertical stroke on the final extant letter, yielded a ח (ḥ) rather than ה (h). Accordingly, he concludes that the second register does indeed refer to Bethlehem (ביתלחם).

Ahituv is a trusty epigrapher. He’s the author of the Carta Handbook, Echoes from the Past: Hebrew and Cognate Inscriptions from the Biblical Period, and he knows his stuff. It’s good to see that we have an actual epigrapher looking at the bulla. One wonders why his opinion was not included prominently in the IAA’s original announcement. I’m more than happy to retract my preliminary conclusion on the bulla, but before doing so, I’d like to hear from one or two other epigraphers who can inspect the bulla itself. Chris Rollston, you’re up!

This raises the issue of the way epigraphic finds are announced. It would seem sound practice to employ two independent epigraphers and have their opinions accompany any such announcement. This is especially vital when the published photograph seems to speak against the announcement.

God, Jonah, and the Benefit of Hebrew

Many of us know the beginning of the Jonah story well: God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach against it, but Jonah has other ideas. Instead of going to Nineveh in the heart of Assyria (modern day northern Iraq), Jonah gets on a ship bound for Tarshish (probably the Atlantic coast of Spain). But on his voyage to the other side of the known world, God catches up with Jonah, sending a storm that threatens to sink the ship. Jonah realises that God is chasing him and so offers himself as a placation to the stormy seas. He is thrown overboard by the frightened sailors, and just when we think Jonah is going to drown, he is swallowed up and preserved by a giant fish. Jonah’s life is saved and he is eventually spat up onto shore for ‘take two’.

Well, that’s at least how the story seems to run when you read an English Bible. According to our English translations, Jonah tries to outrun God, but God manages to chase him down. However, the Hebrew text of Jonah 1 actually suggests a slightly different storyline. And it all comes down to two particular types of verb that Hebrew uses in the narrative.

You see in Biblical Hebrew, the main job of the verbs is to get you to look at actions in particular ways, rather than simply tell you when the actions occur. It’s as though the Hebrew language drops you into the story itself to walk around and experience the action directly. And the Jonah narrative is no different.

The first verb relevant to our discussion is what we call the wayyiqtol (a.k.a. the ‘consecutive preterite’). This verb type is commonly found in narratives and helps drive a narrative forward. It lets you watch an action as though it were happening live. So every time you get a wayyiqtol verb in Hebrew, you are watching an action unfold right in front of you. Most of the verbs in Jonah 1 happen to be wayyiqtol verbs, and these help push the storyline along. And, as is custom in English, when you tell a story, you use the past tense:

  • The word of Yahweh came to Jonah… (v.1)
  • So Jonah got up to flee… (v.3)
  • He went down to Joppa… (v.3)
  • he found a ship… (v.3)
  • he paid the fare… (v.3)
  • he boarded it… (v.3)

As you can see, the narrative has a fairly brisk pace in v.3, as it relates Jonah’s hurried attempt to run from his divine commission.

However, in v.4, we encounter a different type of verb—what we call the qatal (a.k.a. the ‘perfect). Rather than depict an action happening live, it presents an action as a simple, established fact. When you come across a qatal verb in a narrative it usually serves to halt the narrative momentum by bringing something else to your attention. In this particular case it focuses on God’s action:

  • But Yahweh had hurled a huge wind into the sea… (v.4)

You will notice that this action indicates a past tense. Since English convention usually tells stories in the past tense, it is often difficult to distinguish the significance of this particular qatal verb from the previous wayyiqtol verbs. Most English versions translate both types of verb with a simple past tense. However, the shift in verb usage here is quite significant. The story stops and we do not watch Yahweh hurl a huge wind into the sea. Rather, the narrator tells us that this action is already an established fact. In other words, it seems that Yahweh had already performed this action beforehand. The narrative then resumes the live action with a wayyiqtol verb:

  • …and it became a huge storm at sea… (v.4)

What does all this mean? It seems that the narrator wants us to understand that Yahweh is in complete control of the situation. Although Jonah is on the run, trying to avoid his divine commission, Yahweh has already taken pre-emptive action, seemingly knowing that Jonah would be on his way to Tarshish rather than Nineveh. Yahweh is, therefore, not chasing after Jonah, as though Jonah might get away from him. And the storm at sea is not Yahweh’s Plan B. Rather, Yahweh had already placed the storm at sea, knowing full well that Jonah would be heading that way instead of heading to Nineveh. God had ‘snookered’ Jonah in advance.

In addition to the type of verbs the narrator uses, it is interesting to note the order in which the narrator describes the actions. We are left to discover the fact of God’s pre-emptive storm placement at the same time Jonah does. Thus, our picture of God develops gradually throughout the book, as we learn about his supreme sovereignty as well as, later in the story, his supreme compassion on a foreign enemy. We discover things about God in a way that allows us to critique Jonah’s presumption in ch.4.

Who said it isn’t worthwhile learning Biblical Hebrew? There’s gold in them there verbs!

A Rejoinder by Young, Rezetko, and Ehrensvärd on Linguistic Dating of Biblical Texts

Last week, Bible Interpretation published an article by Ron Hendel taking to task Ian Young, Robert Rezetko, and Martin Ehrensvärd for a summary of their work in Linguistic Dating of Biblical Texts. This week, Bible Interpretation has published a response to Hendel’s article by Young, Rezetko, and Ehrensvärd. Here is just a little of what they say:

There are weaknesses in our books, and there are things we wish we had emphasized more or stated differently but, honestly, we are becoming tired of knee-jerk reactions to our work that reflect a superficial understanding of its content and purpose. For example, we have seen the claim repeated that the aim of our arguments is to prove a late date of all biblical literature. This is a truly bizarre claim. We are pretty clear that we are saying that all linguistic dating arguments, both for early or late dates, don’t work.

You’ll find the article by clicking here. Ron Hendel has also posted a couple of responses in the comments.

Digital Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Website

The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947 and took half a century to be fully deciphered and published. Despite the secrecy and jealousy that characterised scholarship of the scrolls in the early decades, all the scrolls and fragments are now out in the open.

In a significant new step, the scrolls are currently being digitised and the images published online, giving academics and other interested folk unprecedented access to the scrolls. The Digital Dead Sea Scrolls project has this to say about the project:

Developed in partnership with Google, the new website gives users access to searchable, fast-loading, high-resolution images of the scrolls, as well as short explanatory videos and background information on the texts and their history… Five complete scrolls from the Israel Museum have been digitized for the project at this stage and are now accessible online.

The five manuscripts that have been digitised thus far are:

This is certainly an excellent development that should not just foster interest in the scrolls, but also boost interest in the Bible, the Second Temple Era, Early Judaism, textual criticism, paleaography, and Hebrew. There is so much to glean from the scrolls. The resolution of the images is very impressive, and both Google and the Israel Museum are to be commended for their efforts. I must say, though, that the final word on the scrolls must always lie with a personal inspection of the physical scrolls themselves. I learnt this when studying the fragments of the Tel Dan Inscription and realised that the published photos and drawings masked elements of the actual physical fragments, including (amongst other things) another letter that changed what the text was saying. While the resolution of these images of the scrolls is certainly much better than the photos of the Tel Dan Inscription taken in the early 1990s, the principle is, I believe, still applicable: personal inspection always trumps photographic images.

Nonetheless, this new website (http://dss.collections.imj.org.il/) is a great boon to study of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The Great Isaiah Scroll, now digitised.

An Unconvincing Cautionary Tale about “Unhistorical Hebrew Linguistics”

I have in the past pointed out and recommended the two volumes by Ian Young, Robert Rezetko, and Martin Ehrensvärd, titled Linguistic Dating of Biblical Texts (Equinox, 2008). In these two volumes the authors question the traditional view of the diachronic development of ancient Hebrew that sees the language move from ‘Early Biblical Hebrew’ (EBH) to ‘Late Biblical Hebrew’ (LBH). Instead, they put forward a compelling case that these two forms of Hebrew were actually different styles that existed concurrently.

Their theory has caused quite a stir in linguistic circles, as evidenced again by the recent objection from Ronald Hendel (University of California, Berkeley) in his article ‘Unhistorical Hebrew Linguistics: A Cautionary Tale’ at Bible Interpretation.

After reading Hendel’s short article, I do not believe he has adequately grasped the issues as Young, Rezetko, and Ehrensvärd present them. In fairness to Hendel, he has only written a very short article, so it was never going to be a comprehensive critique. However, it appears from Hendel’s argument that he is more interested in establishing a text via text criticism, than engaging with the both the linguistic data and the epistemic problems that the traditional diachronic model presents. Perhaps the major problem that Hendel does not address is the grounds on which biblical texts are dated. There are a number of assumptions inherent in his short analysis about when books are dated, and this depends on the traditional diachronic model, which is then used to support the dating of texts. It’s a circular argument that he does not appear to step out of. One of the good things about the work of Young, Rezetko, and Ehrensvärd is that they are able to highlight this epistemic circularity and actually demonstrate that the traditional diachronic model is trying to hold itself up by its own bootstraps. And it is this very point that many linguists appear unable to come to grips with and, indeed, continue to perpetuate.

Again, I commend the work of Young, Rezetko, and Ehrensvärd, and urge those interested in understanding the development of the Hebrew language to consider their arguments more closely. This should begin with an actual reading of the two volumes of Linguistic Dating of Biblical Texts, rather than a potted summary, upon which Hendel seems to have relied. Yes, they are offering a paradigm shift in our understanding of Hebrew, but as one works through the data and its implications, one realises how many assumptions have been implicitly at work in our previous understanding, and how tenaciously many of us seem to be clinging to them unawares. Their work deserves close study, and although I don’t agree with every point they make, they do put forward a largely compelling case. Hendel has only served to convince me of this by demonstrating the classic faux pas that Young, Rezetko, and Ehrensvärd attempt to expose.