Sunday, January 10, 2010

Oldest Hebrew Inscription Discovered

In October, 2008, a teenage volunteer at an archaeological dig at Khirbet Qeiyafa, southwest of Jerusalem (see map,) discovered a 3,000 year old pottery shard with an inscription that appeared to be Hebrew, making it the earliest Hebrew writing ever found. More recently, scholars studying the shard--which would have been created around the time when King David ruled his ancient kingdom--have determined that the writing, which seems to be a legal text relating to slaves widows and orphans, is indeed Hebrew.

The archaeological implications of this include that people were speaking and writing Hebrew centuries before they had been thought to be, and that if there were people educated enough to read and write in what would have been a fairly small town, there must have been much more in the centres of power. Furthermore, some suggest that the ability to write in Hebrew at the time of Kind David lends increased credibility to the Old Testament since there is now evidence that those living at that time were able to write and record what they saw.

The legal nature of the shard also seems to imply that there actually was a central authority of sorts which created and promulgated these laws. The site at which the shard was discovered also speaks to this centralized power. For example, the site of the dig, which was a fortified city estimated to have contained 500 people was not large enough to have built its own massive fortifications and that the assistance of some sort of organized authority would have been needed.

I find this amazing for two main reasons. First, I've been to archaeological sites in the region and recall seeing piles and piles of discarded pottery shards. I was told, at that time, that there were so many shards it was really useless to go through them all, or to try to reconstruct the pottery itself. This is why the discovery of this inscription impresses me so much. It's amazing that such a physically small but historically impressive artifact was not simply discarded.

Secondly, I find it amazing to think of people living in this region three thousand years ago building a society for themselves. Fortifying their towns, drafting laws, spreading them, enforcing them. I find it amazing to think of these ancient people sitting in Jerusalem and conceiving of laws and then somehow communicating them to a scribe, or some other literate person in a more remote community who would pass the word of the government on to his neighbours. It's also amazing to think of an actual King David pronouncing these rules, or discussing them with his advisers and arranging for the rules to be promulgated.

1 comment:

abravanel said...

I tend to follow this stuff - this first translation is not yet peer-reviewed. It certainly seems interesting but this isn't yet over - take a look here