Friday, January 08, 2010

In the News: Translation Offered of Oldest Hebrew Inscription

Over the past few days there has been internet buzz about the Qeiyafa Inscription, pictured above (click to enlarge), the earliest unearthed Hebrew inscription, which I posted about a year ago (here). (For fascinating details on the actual discovery, click here). Khirbet Qeiyafa (which, again, I posted about here) is a massively fortified site from the period of the United Monarchy (Saul, David, and Solomon), on the traditional border of Judah and Philistia.

The pottery shard contains five lines of text in the proto-Canaanite script. John Hobbins has some good discussion here (for notes at the Biblia Hebraica blog, click here). At a minimum, this inscription is hard evidence that the kingdom of David had a powerful defensive infrastructure with which to challenge the Philistines and some impressive, far-flung, literacy. (The biblical minimalists have, of course, challenged these basic facts.)

Here is a drawing of the Inscription:

The use of the verb עשה at the very start allows us to think that the text is Hebrew rather than Phoenician. Here are two of the possible translations being offered:

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.

Hobbins translation reads:

1 Do not do [anything bad?], and serve [personal name?]
2 ruler of [geographical name?] . . . ruler . . .
3 [geographical names?] . . .
4 [unclear] and wreak judgment on YSD king of Gath . . .
5 seren of G[aza? . . .] [unclear] . . .


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