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Artifact Found Near Temple Mount Bearing Canaanite Inscription From the Time Before King David


CLICK HERE TO GO TO CHRIS ROLLSTON'S BLOG ANALYZING THIS IMPORTANT FIND.

This jar fragment from (before, ed.) the time of Kings David and Solomon is the earliest alphabetical written text ever discovered in Jerusalem. Unearthed near Jerusalem’s Temple Mount by Hebrew University archaeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar, it is dated to the tenth century BCE and bears an inscription in the Canaanite language. The text contains a combination of letters approximately 2.5 cm tall, which from left to right translate to m, q, p, h, n, (possibly) l, and n. The archaeologists suspect the inscription could specify the jar’s contents or the name of its owner. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Eilat Mazar; photographed by Ouria Tadmor.)

Jerusalem, July 10, 2013 — Working near the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Hebrew University of Jerusalem archaeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar has unearthed the earliest alphabetical written text ever uncovered in the city.
 
The inscription is engraved on a large pithos, a neckless ceramic jar found with six others at the Ophel excavation site. According to Dr. Mazar, the inscription, in the Canaanite language, is the only one of its kind discovered in Jerusalem and an important addition to the city’s history.
 
Dated to the tenth century BCE, the artifact predates by two hundred and fifty years the earliest known Hebrew inscription from Jerusalem, which is from the period of King Hezekiah at the end of the eighth century BCE.
 
A third-generation archaeologist working at the Hebrew University’s Institute of Archaeology, Dr. Mazar directs archaeological excavations on the summit of the City of David and at the southern wall of the Temple Mount.
 
The discovery will be announced in a paper by Dr. Mazar, Prof. Shmuel Ahituv of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, and Dr. David Ben-Shlomo of the Hebrew University, following their extensive research on the artifact. Prof. Ahituv studied the inscription and Dr. Ben-Shlomo studied the composition of the ceramic materials. The paper, "An Inscribed Pithos From the Ophel," appears in the Israel Exploration Journal 63/1 (2013).


Hebrew University of Jerusalem archaeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar displays a jar fragment unearthed near Jerusalem’s Temple Mount bearing an inscription in the Canaanite language. Dated to the tenth century BCE, it is the earliest alphabetical written text ever uncovered in the city. The text contains a combination of letters approximately 2.5 cm tall, which from left to right translate to m, q, p, h, n, (possibly) l, and n. The archaeologists suspect the inscription specifies the jar’s contents or the name of its owner. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Eilat Mazar; photographed by Ouria Tadmor.)

The inscription was engraved near the edge of the jar before it was fired, and only a fragment of it has been found, along with fragments of six large jars of the same type. The fragments were used to stabilize the earth fill under the second floor of the building they were discovered in, which dates to the Early Iron IIA period (10th century BCE).  An analysis of the jars’ clay composition indicates that they are all of a similar make, and probably originate in the central hill country near Jerusalem.
 
According to Prof. Ahituv, the inscription is not complete and probably wound around the jar’s shoulder, while the remaining portion is just the end of the inscription and one letter from the beginning. The inscription is engraved in a proto-Canaanite / early Canaanite script of the eleventh-to-tenth centuries BCE, which pre-dates the Israelite rule and the prevalence of Hebrew script.
 
Reading from left to right, the text contains a combination of letters approximately 2.5 cm tall, which translate to m, q, p, h, n, (possibly) l, and n. Since this combination of letters has no meaning in known west-Semitic languages, the inscription's meaning is unknown.
 
The archaeologists suspect the inscription specifies the jar’s contents or the name of its owner. Because the inscription is not in Hebrew, it is likely to have been written by one of the non-Israeli residents of Jerusalem, perhaps Jebusites, who were part of the city population in the time of Kings David and Solomon.
 
Excavations at the site are conducted in collaboration with the Israel Antiquities Authority, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, and the East Jerusalem Development Company. The site is in the national park surrounding the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City, near the southern wall of the Temple Mount compound. The Israel Antiquities Authority maintains the excavation site as a national park open to the public.
 
The excavations are made possible through a generous donation by Daniel Mintz and Meredith Berkman of New York. Participants in the dig include Israeli students and workers, along with students or alumni of Herbert W. Armstrong College sent to Jerusalem from Edmond, Oklahoma to participate in the excavation.
 
For more information: 
 
Dov Smith
Hebrew University Foreign Press Liaison
02-5882844 / 054-8820860 (+ 972-54-8820860)
dovs@savion.huji.ac.il

Download or view the IEJ (Israel Exploration Journal) article from Shmuel Ahitov here.


The Jerusalem Ceramic Inscription
Aaron Demsky (7/12/2013)
 
It is exciting to have a new inscription at hand, especially one that is enigmatic, engendering and applying a wide range of expertise, educated guesses and intuition among scholars in the field. I take this opportunity, prior to seeing the publication, to add my own preliminary thoughts.
 
As always I am appreciative of Chris Rollston's initiative based on sound methodology comparing the paleographic evidence found in studies by Albright, Cross and Millard. The inscription was certainly written from left to right and reflects an early script, probably of the late 11th century. If the shard was found in a 10th century context, it probably means that the jar was still in use or in storage for a long period.
 
Shmuel Ahituv has read the inscription: mem  qof  peh  ḥet  nun
 
Rollston has improved the reading: mem qof lamed ḥet nun [re]sh  sh[in]
 
As noted by several scholars, in deciphering a pre-fired incised jar inscription one should seek or expect a note of ownership or content or measurement.
 
I still have several unanswered questions that should be addressed before I can give a more definite suggestion and hope that the publishers provide them:
 
Where was this jar fashioned – in Jerusalem or in another section of the country?
What evidence is there regarding its contents – Dry measure of wheat/barley or was it a liquid measure of wine or oil?
What is the estimated size of this pithos? How many bath of 22 litres?
 
Judging from the picture and from Rollston's drawing, I would read the letters:
 
…]mem resh lamed ḥet nun [nun] [space]
 
This reading gives me the word lḥnn, which I understand to be: "belonging to Hanan", reminding me of the early clan of Bene Hanan located in the vicinity of Beth Shemesh and Timnah, where several early epigraphic items bearing this name were excavated. Cf. the 11th century BCE Beth Shemesh ostracon; and a 10th century incised ceramic fragment of a game board; in addition to a 10th cent inscription "[b]n/hnn" from Tel Batash. This family seemingly was part of Solomon's local administration; see I Kings 4, 9: "Ben Deqer in Makaz, Shaalbim, Beth-Shemesh and Elon
Beth-Hanan.
 
I take the two letters - mem and resh - as completing the first word, possibly indicating a liquid content: [ḥ]mr meaning "wine" <ḥamer (Deut 32, 14; Isa 27, 2), or perhaps the dry measure, [ḥ]mr, "homer" (=10 eiphah) of wheat or barley (Num 11, 32; Lev 27, 16).
 
If so, we have here an ancient Hebrew inscription written in a late provincial (e.g. no word dividers, stance of nun) Proto-Canaanite style. The inscription indicates a commodity that was sent from the outlying latifundia of a Hanan to the administrative center in Jerusalem probably during the early Davidic monarchy.
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