July 12, 2013 | David F. Coppedge

Ancient Text Found in Jerusalem from David's Time

Inscriptions are rare but valuable artifacts in archaeology.  Though short and simple, a fragmentary inscription on a jug sets a record as the oldest ever found in Jerusalem, from the era of David and Solomon or before.

Announced by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the inscription consists of about six letters in Canaanite script.  Its meaning is unknown.  PhysOrg and Live Science reported it, too, mentioning other recent finds from the era.

The jar fragment with the letters inscribed on it was found outside the southern end of the Temple Mount wall by Eilat Mazar, excavator of the old City of David, who dates it to the 10th or 11th century BC.  Since it appears to be written in Canaanite rather than Hebrew script (although others are uncertain that is the case), it could have been written by one of the Jebusites conquered by David when he made Jerusalem his capital.  A lot depends on the date.

Todd Bolen on BiblePlaces Blog cautions that Mazar has been criticized in the past for dating artifacts from the time of David.  The basis for her dating of this inscription has not yet been published.  Other archaeologists besides Mazar are involved in the analysis of the fragment, though, and various experts are beginning to weigh in on the possible meaning of the inscription.  George Athos believes its placement on a large storage jar suggests it was a royal jar, not one used by commoners.

Every inscription from the Holy Land is particularly valuable, so this is certainly a welcome addition to the collection, especially if it sets a record as the oldest found in Jerusalem.  The text appears to be too ambiguous to shed much light on the time, being brief and difficult to decipher.  It will have to be considered in the context of other artifacts.  Its provenance also needs to be described in detail, and the date narrowed down, before it can be relied upon.  At the very least, it shows that someone had the expertise and reason to inscribe text on a large storage jar before firing it, whether from the early monarchy of David and Solomon, or prior to the conquest of Jerusalem by a Canaanite official.  That suggests advanced urban life existed, not just scattered nomadic groups run by local chieftans, as some minimalist schools believe.

Exciting as these discoveries are, we should not let them diminish the importance of the most valuable inscription of all, the Hebrew Old Testament.  That inscription is lavish in its information content.  It was not inscribed on pottery, but rather passed on from generation to generation with the utmost of care by specially trained scribes who believed it to be the word of God.  Since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, including the complete Isaiah scroll, we know that the Messianic prophesies therein, written down well before the time of Christ yet so accurately fulfilled by Him, testify to its supernatural origin.  No other inscription comes close.


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