Qeiyafa Inscription

10 01 2010

Well, isn’t this exciting! Assuming that the text is actually Hebrew, the inscription discovered in the Elah Fortress at Khirbet Qeiyafa would be the oldest of its kind. Dating to the 10th century BCE, scholars have been quick to jump to all sorts of (exciting) conclusions, as regards the period in which various biblical texts might have been written. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves! Here is the clearest image of (a sketch of) the inscription that I could find:

The first thing that I noticed about this is that it doesn’t make any sense. The second thing that I noticed about this is that it’s backwards. Because I am loth to assume that this is the fault of some schmuck who forgot to reverse the image before putting it on a thousand websites, I’m going to tentatively suggest that the text was written from right to left, but with the letters going down the tablet, rather than across it. I tried to have a bash at transliterating it into square script, but got no further than the first two lines:

אל תעש ועבד א
שפט עבד ואלמנ [ו]שפט ית

That’s okay because these first two lines contain the three verbs and two nouns that commentators have used to suggest that the language was Hebrew. There’s the verb עבד (“worship”), which is an imperative, the adverbial phrase אל תעש (“do not do”), which is a prohibitive, and the verb שפט (“judge”), which appears twice and is an imperative. These verbs are all masculine singular, although we might suppose a final vowel that was not represented graphemically. As for the two nouns, there is עבד (“slave”) and אלמנ (“widow”), the latter of which also lacks graphemic representation of the final vowel. There is a lacuna that follows this word, although it was most likely filled with a conjunctive waw, given the absence of a final heh on the other instance of אלמנ (line 4).

The lacuna that ends the first line is more mysterious, and we might suppose that it was filled with the direct object: “worship [the Lord]”, perhaps. The lacuna that ends the second line is less mysterious, and was most probably [ית[מ (“orphan”). The absence of definite articles is interesting (although perhaps not surprising), and the absence of the direct object marker is not surprising at all. I would translate these two lines as:

“… do not do, but worship… Judge the slave and the widow, [and] judge the orp[han]”

After that, I’m sorry to say, I got a bit stuck. I can see how line 3 might begin with ו]גר], but I’m not seeing anything after that that makes sense to me. Furthermore, while line 4 commences with אלמנ and ends with מלכ, the intervening letters are (to my eyes) indecipherable. The second letter on the final line appears to be two letters, rather than a ק (as I had originally supposed) but I’m only seeing patterns because I’m trying to fit it together with the official translation:

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.

If anybody can do a better job of reading this, I’m all ears.

[Thanks to: Ferrell Jenkins]

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2 responses

11 01 2010
sh

in the hebrew press the suggested reading was (i added the missing Mater lectionis in Parenthesis) :
אל תעש(ו) …ועבד(ו) את [ה’]
שפט(ו) עבד ואלמנ(ה) שפט(ו) ית(ו)
וגר ר(י)ב(ו) ע(ו)לל ר(י)ב(ו) דל ו
אלמנ(ה) שקמ(ו) ביד מלכ
אבי(ו)ן ועבד -שכ(ו), גר – תמ[כ(ו)]

I can fit this reading with the sketch of the inscription. However from the reading of some word in the two final lines seem a bit problematic. E.g. its intersting how Prof. galil explains שקמ which is not biblical.

11 01 2010
sh

by the way a so prof. galil on television now and he read נקמו instead of שקמו which seem better reading.

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