January 7, 2010 | David F. Coppedge

Oldest Hebrew Text Deciphered

Finally, some news from the ancient Hebrew pottery inscription that was found in 2008 (11/16/2008, bullet 1).  The inscription from Khirbet Qeiyafa, dating from the time of David and Solomon, has been deciphered and announced on Yahoo News, PhysOrg, and EurekAlert, which has a copy of the script and the translation.  Science Daily posted a more extensive report on Jan 8.
    Prof. Gershon Galil of the University of Haifa, who deciphered the inscription, explained its significance: “It indicates that the Kingdom of Israel already existed in the 10th century BCE and that at least some of the biblical texts were written hundreds of years before the dates presented in current research.”  This evidence appears to debunk the minimalist interpretation of Biblical history that asserts there was no kingdom of David and Solomon.  EurekAlert said, “This stands opposed to the dating of the composition of the Bible in current research, which would not have recognized the possibility that the Bible or parts of it could have been written during this ancient period.”  Even more significant inferences can be drawn, according to the EurekAlert article:

Prof. Galil also notes that the inscription was discovered in a provincial town in Judea.  He explains that if there were scribes in the periphery, it can be assumed that those inhabiting the central region and Jerusalem were even more proficient writers.  “It can now be maintained that it was highly reasonable that during the 10th century BCE, during the reign of King David, there were scribes in Israel who were able to write literary texts and complex historiographies such as the books of Judges and Samuel.”  He adds that the complexity of the text discovered in Khirbet Qeiyafa, along with the impressive fortifications revealed at the site, refute the claims denying the existence of the Kingdom of Israel at that time.

The text of the inscription relates to the care for the disadvantaged in society.  The inscription is not drawn verbatim from any Biblical passage, but sounds similar to those that express concern for widows, orphans, and the poor.  The English translation is, “you shall not do [it], but worship the [Lord].  Judge the sla[ve] and the wid[ow].  Judge the orph[an] [and] the stranger.  [Pl]ead for the infant; plead for the po[or and] the widow.  Rehabilitate [the poor] at the hands of the king.  Protect the po[or and] the slave; [supp]ort the stranger.”  This expresses a moral tone right out of the Bible.  And could “the king” be King David?

This is very exciting and significant, and lends weight to the conservative view of the historicity of Scripture.  There are sure to be lots of links and comments about this discovery.  One good source to look for more information as it develops is Bible Places Blog.
Update 01/15/2010: Live Science, normally a staunch pro-Darwin site, mentioned the find favorably and agreed the find shows the Old Testament could have been written earlier than liberal scholars have believed.  “Until now, many scholars have held that the Hebrew Bible originated in the 6th century B.C., because Hebrew writing was thought to stretch back no further,“ Clara Moskowitz wrote.  “But the newly deciphered Hebrew text is about four centuries older, scientists announced this month.”
Update 01/31/2010: Todd Bolen at Bible Places Blog found some additional articles about the inscription.  They urge caution about the Galil interpretation, because some words and letters are uncertain and the language or dialect itself is not clearly evident.  The ink is also difficult to read.  Nevertheless, they agree that the inscription is important and may even date earlier than 10th century BCE.  Dr Christoper Rollston on his blog listed the major details with cautionary notes.  Christianity Today posted an article that discussed interpretive disputes (including side-by-side alternative renderings), but included opinions of scholars that the ostracon provides evidence of a strong centralized Israeli government at the time of David.  Despite exhibiting typical academic restraint, Rollston did confirm his opinion that the earlier Egyptian Merneptah Stele shows Israel was an entity long before the Qeiyafa inscription, and that writing was well known among the Phoenicians, and probably was in existence in Israel before Qeiyafa as well, though probably limited to a small community of scribes.  “Thus, the discovery of a 10th century BCE Old Hebrew epigraph would not be surprising,” he said.

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