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)


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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Further Thoughts on the Ceramic Fragment from Jerusalem

Christopher Rollston has given his analysis of the new ceramic fragment discovered in excavations at Jerusalem. He suggests a date in either the 11th or 10th century BC, reads it left-to-right, and proposes the reading mqlḥ nr š (‘pot of Ner. [?]’). His analysis is carefully reasoned and cogent, which is not surprising given his vast epigraphical expertise. His analysis can be read at Rollston Epigraphy. I include here Chris’ own facsimile drawing of the fragment:

Christopher Rollston’s facsimile drawing of the ceramic fragment with inscription recently found in Jerusalem.

Gershon Galil also shared his own proposed transcription of the fragment with me, and with others on the biblical studies list. He reads it right-to-left as [… – נת]ן [תת]ן חלקם], translating this as ‘give them their share’. While I can see the possibility in the letter forms, I think this suggestion relies too heavily on filling the lacunae. Also, I’m not sure this is the kind of thing that would be incised into wet pots before firing. If this were an ink inscription on an ostracon, I think Gershon’s suggestion would be more pertinent.

Chris Rollston’s reading has the appeal of making good sense of an inscription written into the shoulder of a pithos jar. I commend his analysis and think it’s the most plausible to date, so I’m going with his proposals (even over my own tentative suggestions).

There are still some curiosities, though.

First, the word Chris proposes for ‘pot’ (מקלח, mqlḥ) is used in 1 Samuel 2.14 and Micah 3.3, though in a slightly different form there. He argues that the mem (מ) is most likely a noun maker, which is in itself a reasonable suggestion—it is a common Semitic phenomenon. However, this word for ‘pot’ is a loanword from the Egyptian qrḫt. It would be unusual for a loanword of this kind to come prefixed with a noun-making mem. Chris does admit that the mem may be at the end of a previous word or the prefixed preposition ‘from’ (מן, mn). I would say the first of these is the more likely scenario, since ‘from’ in this context would appear problematic.

This then raises another issue, namely that the inscription would apparently not employ any gaps or word dividers to separate words. It is not unusual for a construct expression like ‘pot of Ner’ to be without word division, and it would be no curiosity to have an entire inscription, especially a short one, without any word division at all. However, there is an apparent gap before the rightmost letter of the inscription, which Chris tentatively identifies as shin (ש). If the mem (מ) is indeed the last letter of a previous word, the apparent gap in front of the rightmost letter could only have three possible explanations: Either (1) the rightmost figure is actually the first letter of the entire inscription that was written left-to-right around the neck of the pithos jar with ‘pot of Ner’ being the final portion of it; or (2) there is a letter (or an aborted letter in which a mistake was made) in this lacuna, but it is situated below the breakage line and, therefore, is not visible. Chris does entertain the possibility of a daleth (ד) in the lacuna, which would be appropriate in terms of its height and position. However, like Chris, I don’t think the expression mqlḥ nrd (‘pot of nard’) is plausible, since it is highly unlikely that nard was stored in pithos jars. Both the size and the openness of pithos jars precludes the storage of such a valuable luxury liquid commodity. If there is a daleth (ד), or another letter entirely, in this gap, I think we would have to see it as abnormally low. Therefore, I propose we see the rightmost letter as the putative first letter of the entire inscription.

Another interesting thing about Chris’ proposal is the possibility of an 11th century BC date. We will need to wait a few more seasons for excavations at the Ophel in Jerusalem to progress, affording us a more complete picture of the strata there. Eilat Mazar reported the fragment as coming from the Iron IIa level, which would be 10th century, so I’m cautious about dating the fragment much earlier than that. Either way, it’s significant to find this small evidence of at least a modicum of literacy in the Judean highlands at this time.

As ever, a personal inspection of the fragment itself is the best way to make the firmest conclusion. Reliance on photos and drawings has its unwitting setbacks (see, for example, my analysis of the extra letter on the Tel Dan Inscription that is masked by the extant photos).

Finally, I hope Eilat Mazar’s team might be able to tell us what the contents of this pithos jar, and the other six jars found at the particular location, were. There might have been traces of the contents when they fragments were originally found, though cleaning may have eradicated these. We’ll wait and see.


Gershon Galil elaborates on his own suggestion.

Aren Maeir gives his preliminary perspective.