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.