Gershon Galil’s Perspective on the Ceramic Inscription from Jerusalem

In a previous blog post I referred to Gershon Galil’s understanding of the new ceramic inscription from Jerusalem. Gershon and I have been in conversation about the new fragment and he has elaborated on his particular view. Gershon reads the inscription from right to left as follows:

נת]ן [תת]ן חלקם]

[nt][tt]n ḥlqm

Give them their share

Gershon argues that the inscription and the pithos on which it was inscribed may have had a function similar to the ‘AHK’ inscription published by Gabriel Barkay (‘Your Poor Brother’: A Note on an Inscribed Bowl from Beth Shemesh”, Israel Exploration Journal 41 [1991], 239-241). The ‘AHK’ (אחך, ‘your brother’) inscription was incised on the inside of a late 8th-century BC bowl found in an Iron Age cemetery at Beth Shemesh.¹ In Barkay’s opinion, ‘[I]t was apparently meant to contain food for the poor, who were called אחך — ‘your brother’.’

Accordingly, Gershon argues that it is possible that the first word in the new Jerusalem inscription was also אחך (‘your brothers’), and that the inscription as a whole may have served a similar function to that of the AHK bowl.

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¹The bowl was originally uncovered during excavations in 1911/12, but not published until 1991.

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Another Ancient Seal from Jerusalem (c.700 BC)

Another new seal (bulla) from Jerusalem has recently been found, although this one is much older. This seal comes from the First Temple Period—that is, the era of the Judean monarchy (Iron II). According Tzachi Zweig (Bar Ilan University), the small artefact was found in the debris within an ancient rubbish pit on the eastern slope of ancient Jerusalem (i.e. Ophel Hill).

The seal has two registers on it. While both are fragmentary, the lower register reads למלך (‘for the king’) quite clearly. The first register above it has בע on it, though there appear to be remnants of other letters on each side. A comparison with other seals and the placement of the legible letters makes it most likely that there were further letters. Gabriel Barkay (Bar Ilan University) reads the first register as גבען (‘Gibeon’)—a city just a few miles to the northwest of Jerusalem. Thus, he reads the entire seal as גבען למלך (‘Gibeon. For the King.’). He argues that it probably came from something that was paid to the king of Judah as tax from Gibeon.

Barkay’s analysis seems cogent, though it would be good to get some better resolution images to make sure of it. Nothing, however, beats a personal inspection of an artefact, as 2D images can hide critical features (such as the extra letter on the Tel Dan Inscription). The letters בע could also be part of the theophoric element בעל (‘Baal’), perhaps as part of someone’s name. This is less likely, though, given the currently available images. What appears to be a long ‘written’ line along the left broken edge of the seal would seem to match the letter nûn (נ) better than lamed (ל).

At first glance, the style of the letters seem to date this seal to c.700 BC. This would mean it comes from the reign of Hezekiah. Palaeography is, however, not an exact science, so we should give some leeway either side of that date. However, if this date is correct, it would be further artefactual evidence of the Judean tax system. We already have the many jar handles stamped with למלך (‘for the king’) from across Judah, and this seal would seem to belong to the same or close contemporary milieu.

A stamped jar handle (c.700 BC), reading .למלך.חברן ('For the king. Hebron.'), housed at the Jewish Museum, New York.

News of the find can be found here. The article is in Hebrew.