3,000-Year-Old Text Fragment Unearthed in Israel

October 31, 2008 04:34 PM
by Isabel Cowles
Archeologists have uncovered what may be the oldest Hebrew text, marking a possibly groundbreaking discovery for both Biblical and regional history.

Dig Reveals What May Be Oldest Hebrew Text

A piece of pottery that may contain the oldest evidence of Hebrew writing has been unearthed near Hirbet Qeiyafa, about 20 miles southwest of Jerusalem.

The text is written on a shard of pottery that dates back approximately 3,000 years, predating the Dead Sea Scrolls by 1,000 years. Although archeologists have yet to decipher the meaning of the text, it contains roots of the words “slave,” “judge” and “king.”

The piece of pottery was first unearthed in July by a teenaged volunteer. Carbon-14 dating of olive pits discovered in the same layer of the site estimated that the pits were from 1,000 to 975 B.C.—the era of David’s rule of Jerusalem.

Hirbet Qeiyafa is close to the Elah Valley, which is where, according to the Biblical account, the battle between David and Goliath took place. If the inscription on the pottery proves to be in the language used by the ancient Israelites, the discovery could have enormous implications both for the historical accuracy of the Bible and for the territory of Israel.

Opinion & Analysis: Hebrew or a related language?

Yossi Garfinkel, the Hebrew University archaeologist in charge of the dig, is confident that the text is of Israelite origin. According to an AP report, “Garfinkel bases his identification on a three-letter verb from the inscription meaning ‘to do,’ a word he said existed only in Hebrew.”

Garfinkel explained, “‘That leads us to believe that this is Hebrew, and that this is the oldest Hebrew inscription that has been found.’”

If Garfinkel is correct, the shard would support the case for the Bible’s accuracy, as it demonstrates that Israelites kept written records of Biblical events as they took place.

It would also mean that Israelites were likely the inhabitants of the settlement, which is on disputed territory. Modern Israelis often lay claim to Jerusalem through a connection with David, citing the city as Israel’s “eternal and indivisible capital.”

But some scholars are reluctant to conclude that the text is actually in Hebrew. The Israelites weren’t the only people using proto-Canaanite characters, suggesting that the inscription may be in a related language spoken at the time. Amihai Mazar, another archeologist at Hebrew University, suggested that calling the text Hebrew may not be entirely accurate. “The differentiation between the scripts, and between the languages themselves in that period, remains unclear."

Reference: Jewish sacred texts

Related Topic: World’s oldest Bible transcribed online


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