Fascinating new discovery of ancient Hebrew text – 10th century BCE.
This post contains some supplements to aid your understanding of this story.
English translation of the deciphered text:
- you shall not do [it], but worship the [Lord].
- Judge the sla[ve] and the wid[ow] / Judge the orph[an]
- [and] the stranger. [Pl]ead for the infant / plead for the po[or and]
- the widow. Rehabilitate [the poor] at the hands of the king.
- Protect the po[or and] the slave / [supp]ort the stranger.
Note: this post has been updated to include the excellent comments of Ian
If this researcher is correct in what he thinks this shard of pottery implies, the Hebrew Scriptures (the Bible) may have been written hundreds of years before most scholars suspected. This feeds the Maximalist-Minimalist controversy concerning bible accuracy and archaeology and dates. Israel Finkelstein wrote a recent fantastic text striking a middle position called: “The Bible Unearthed” which shows that much of the Bible is not historically accurate. Among the books contentions are that King David and King Solomon’s rule in the OT are exaggerated and that Jerusalem was only an insignificant village at that time. This pottery piece hints that Israel may have had a much more substantial presence at that time.
However, this could be classic media hype on one researcher’s over read. At the end of the post, I will include the analysis of Ian, a biblical scholar and reader who made comments.
Short Early Hebrew History Outline:
- 3000 BCE Israel populated by Kanaanites
- 1200 BCE Jewish tribes appear in Kanaan
- 1000 BCE Jewish kingdom established but soon splits into Israel & Judea
- 1040 – 970 BCE King David
- 722 BCE Israel destroy by Assyria
- 586 BCE Babylon conquers Judea
- 64 BCE Juda becomes vasal of Roman Empire
- Discovery in 2007, but just deciphered by Prof. Gershon Falil at the University of Haifa.
- Believed to come from 10 century BCE. Previous oldest was from 600 BCE. The oldest complete texts are from the Dead Sea Scrolls 2nd century BCE.
- Israel: Khirbet Qeiyafa, near Elah valley. Provincial town in Judea. Thus, if there were scribes in the small towns, even more proficient scribes were probably writing in Jerusalem. This leaves the possibility the Hebrew Scriptures were being composed then too.
- 15 cm x 16.5 cm trapezoid pottery shard
- Galil, after claims this short passage is Hebrew due to verb usage and word choices.
- This is not a biblical quote but, as you can see below, it has emphasis on caring for the underclass much like Biblical prophecies at that time.
Similar Biblical Texts
learn to do good;
rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
plead for the widow.
— Isaiah 1:17 (NRSV)
May the mountains yield prosperity for the people,
and the hills, in righteousness.
— Psalm 72:1-2 (NRSV)
nor shall you be partial to the poor in a lawsuit.
— Exodus 23:3 (NRSV)
Critical Analysis by Ian (see his comment)
Galil’s quote is dramatically over-stating this find.
- “It indicates that the Kingdom of Israel already existed in the 10th century BCE and …”
It does nothing of the kind. If his analysis is correct, it indicates that the material written on the pot comes from a culture who recognizes a king. To conclude this is talking about and validating the traditional biblical notion of the Kingdom of Israel is to assume the biblical account of that kingdom is accurate. It is reading into one word an extraordinary amount. There is no indication if this text is even local. It could be a copy of another text, a traditional cananite blessing, or anything else. It also wouldn’t be unique for a single settlement to have its own king. In fact the biblical histories record the kings of many individual cities. I’m not saying that there wasn’t a kingdom in Palestine in the 10th C BCE. But to conclude that this shard refers to the biblical Kingdom of Israel existing as a major political unit is just bizarre.
- “… that at least some of the biblical texts were written hundreds of years before the dates presented in current research.”
The fragment is non-biblical. It is of a form of language that isn’t biblical Hebrew, but obviously has family resemblances. It also has very unusual orthographic features, whose significance he doesn’t try to interpret. For both these reasons, statement B is just plain wrong. That he’s actually trying to say (which isn’t well reported) is that Hebrew of the kind that was undoubtedly used to write the bible was thought to be a later invention, a few hundreds years after the dating of this shard. If his speculative identification of the text is correct, then all it does say is that *certain aspects* of the later Hebrew language were in use earlier than we previously knew. That’s a very long way from statement B.
I very much hope his scholarly publication on this inscription is more reserved.
(Futher then further quotes me and make comments:)
- Believed to come from 10 century BCE.
- Previous oldest was from 600 BCE.
Ian: Slight confusion here. Its true that the earliest biblical text we have is C6 BCE (a part of the Aaronic blessing from Numbers 6 inscribed on a silver pendant), but this fragment doesn’t push that back. We have quite a few non-biblical texts in pre C6. If validated this would be the earliest inscription in a recognizable form of Hebrew.
Thus, if there were scribes in the small towns, even more proficient scribes were probably writing in Jerusalem. This leaves the possibility the Hebrew Scriptures were being composed then too.
Ian: That’s a great way to put it. If sophisticated, proto-Hebrew writing was in circulation in C10 BCE, it removes the objection that the people of that period didn’t have the literary sophistication to make the kinds of histories we read in the bible. It doesn’t provide any positive evidence, however.
it has emphasis on caring for; the underclass much like; Biblical prophecies at that time.
Ian: Saying ‘at that time’ begs the question.