Thursday, July 11, 2013
by Linda Gradstein
Nobody Can Read 3000 Year-Old Text
Jerusalem archaeologists are excited by a new find that is believed to be the earliest written text that has ever been discovered in this ancient city. The inscription is engraved on a ceramic jar called a pithos found near the holy site that Jews call the Temple Mount and Palestinians call the Haram Al-Sharif.
"This is thrilling and amazing – it dates to 3,000 years ago to the time of King David and King Solomon," Eilat Mazar, the archaeologist who made the find told The Media Line. "We expected to find Hebrew and it’s not Hebrew."
It is about 250 years older than any other inscriptions found in Jerusalem to date, she said.
Intrigued, Mazar showed the find to Professor Shmuel Ahituv of Ben Gurion University, a specialist in early languages. He said there is not a lot of material from this time period. The script is called proto-Canaanite and dates from earlier than either the Phoenicians or the Hebrew from the First Temple Period, which ended in 586 BCE (typically written as BC).
"The letters on this vessel are beautiful," Ahituv told The Media Line. "The only problem is that we can’t read them."
He said this script was believed to be used from the 16th Century BCE to the 12th Century and then disappeared. This find shows it lasted later than that.
Ahituv said sometimes the script is read from right to left, sometimes left to right, and sometimes vertically, which makes reading it especially challenging.
"We know there were Jebusites there so maybe that’s what this language is,” Ahituv said. “I don’t think it’s gibberish because it’s too well engraved."
The results are due to be published in the Israel Exploration Journal and Ahituv said that perhaps someone will be able to read it.
The writing proves that there were non-Jews who were active in Jewish life in ancient times.
“In the book of Samuel, King David’s scribe was named Sheesha or Shawsha, and that’s not a Hebrew name,” Ahituv said.
Mazar said that non-Jews often held important positions.
"We know from the Biblical stories about King David using the services of local scribes and ministers and high officials such as Uriah the Hittite (a soldier in King David’s army),” Mazar said. “They have foreign names but they integrated into the Israelite kingdom and they occupied important positions."
The find was announced as Jews prepare to mark the destruction of both the First and Second Temples with a day of mourning called Tisha B’Av (the ninth day of the month of Av, which falls this year on July 15th). Observant Jews fast and read a special book called Eicha, or Lamentations, that describes the events of this time period. At the same time, Muslims began fasting this week for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which marks the revelation of the book of the Qur’an to the Prophet Mohammad.