An Older Bible !

Credit: Courtesy of the University of Haifa

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:

  1. you shall not do [it], but worship the [Lord].
  2. Judge the sla[ve] and the wid[ow] / Judge the orph[an]
  3. [and] the stranger. [Pl]ead for the infant / plead for the po[or and]
  4. the widow. Rehabilitate [the poor] at the hands of the king.
  5. Protect the po[or and] the slave / [supp]ort the stranger.

Note: this post has been updated to include the excellent comments of Ian

Controversy

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

The Discovery

  • 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;
seek justice,
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.

  1. “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.
  2. “… 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.

______

Sources:
(1) Science Blog
(2) Wikipedia: Dating the Bible , History of Israel
(3) Ian, my commenter

16 Comments

Filed under Philosophy & Religion

16 responses to “An Older Bible !

  1. Ian

    Woah! (figured you’d get a comment out of me?)

    Galil’s quote is dramatically over-stating this find.

    (A) “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.

    (B) “… 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.

    What 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.

    c)

    Finally, it is interesting that one of the crucial hot-button words that would be interesting in this fragment is precisely the word that Galil interpolates without comment: [Lord] at the end of the first line.

    I very much hope his scholarly publication on this inscription is more reserved.

  2. Ian

    Other notes

    > Believed to come from 10 century BCE.
    > Previous oldest was from 600 BCE.

    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.

    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.
    Saying ‘at that time’ begs the question.

  3. I came by to comment on this, but I see Ian has already done my work.

  4. @ Ian: I was actually fuzzily thinking of those caveats while doing the post but I did not have the knowledge to expand. So thank you ! I have added your comments to the actual post.

    @ Luke: Thanks for coming to say something anyway.

  5. Ian

    😀

    If it were me 🙂 I’d remove my third point from your article. (the one about ‘Lord’).

    I think on that point there’s a good chance I’m showing my ignorance of up to date Hebrew archaeology.

    I find it interesting that he interpolates that. I’d certainly think there could be alternatives and the use of Lord seems theological to me. But it might just be that the word is obvious in context. Because I can’t read proto-canaanite, I can’t evaluate that.

  6. Interesting ! Done ! Thank you

  7. Nice post, Sabio and Ian. Glad I didn’t have time to read it until the later additions.

    I suppose if a minimalist position could be proven (which seems a difficult thing), it could undermine the inerrantist view of the bible, or at least some people would claim it did, just as inerrantists will no doubt use this finding to bolster confidence in their interpretation of the biblical stories.

    I have also found Finkelstein’s work enjoyable, and found myself needing to check my emotions there a bit, wanting to have confidence that his interpretations were true. It is very interesting in seeing how people get emotionally involved in these stories which have the potential to challenge cherished beliefs. It was actually kind of fun to see that in myself and realize that I am free to go where the evidence leads now. It is really exciting to follow these stories.

  8. @ ATTR
    Glad you enjoy. Ian’s contribution are always a huge boost.
    I have yet to read Finkelstein, instead I have read him indirectly through reviews by Vridar. For example, here is a post were he reviews a book which tries to refute Finkelstein. Do you read Vridar? I don’t see him on your “informational” list.

    I love your line when you say, “… and found myself needing to check my emotions …” — it shows your commitment to objectivity and the effort to avoid confirmation bias. Which was part of the reason I originally explored the subject of this post. — The true scientific mindset is to be excited to have one’s theories overthrown.

  9. I actually commented on Vridar’s post right before that one. I have him listed under biblioblogs, maybe I’ll move the link or double-tag it. He has great stuff, one of my favorite blogs.

  10. I sent Vridar a note at 4 am this morning asking him to write a piece on this. Maybe he had already composed it, but BLAM ! there it is, posted today but with no mention of me (sniffle). 😉
    Take a look. Great notes. And besides, seems like John Loftus put up a good post on this before I put up anything.
    I need to read more!

    Anyway, this gives me a good excuse to put up my next post on “Sanitizing Unbelievers”. I always hesitate to put posts up too close to one another because then the posts don’t get read.

    For example, I put up this post on Epiphenom but NO ONE read it because I posted immediately after. Sniffle.

  11. atimetorend

    but with no mention of me (sniffle).

    False humility and posturing!!! You did get recognized on Vridar!!!

    :^)

  12. Wow, thanks for the heads up ATTR, he up-dated his post ! That is cool. Maybe he updated after my comment.
    I am ashamed, I am such a vain critter ! 😉

  13. Pingback: A (Near) Bible Text Discovered in the Ancient Kingdom of David? « Vridar

  14. Ian

    Okay, so let’s give this a go.

    I think the Minimalist/Maximalist distinction is pretty unhelpful — http://irrco.org/

    🙂

  15. Pingback: Minimalism, Maximalism and Middlemalism | Irreducible Complexity

  16. Pingback: Vridar » A (Near) Bible Text Discovered in the Ancient Kingdom of David?

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