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April 19, 2014 / 19 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Biblical Archaeology Review’

The Oldest Hebrew Script and Language

Sunday, June 3rd, 2012

http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-artifacts/inscriptions/the-oldest-hebrew-script-and-language/

In a recent Biblical Archaeology Review article,* epigraphy scholar Christopher Rollston asks a seemingly straightforward question: What is the oldest Hebrew inscription? His examination requires him to address the fundamental questions of epigraphy. Is a text written in Hebrew script necessarily in the Hebrew language? And was the Hebrew language originally written in an alphabet that predates Hebrew script? Christopher Rollston examined four contenders for the oldest Hebrew inscription – the Qeiyafa Ostracon, Gezer Calendar, Tel Zayit Abecedary and Izbet Zayit Abecedary – to explore the interplay between early Hebrew script and language.

In his study, Christopher Rollston distinguishes between purely Hebrew script and other visually similar alphabets while examining relationships between alphabets and languages. Not only can a single language be written in various scripts, but a single script can be used for dozens of languages. English shares the Latin script with most Western languages; finding Latin letters does not necessarily mean that a text is English.

Old Hebrew script derived directly from Phoenician, and Christopher Rollston contends that Old Hebrew script did not split off from its Phoenician predecessor until the ninth century B.C.E. The Hebrew language existed well before then; the oldest extant Hebrew language texts are recorded in Phoenician script. Identifying the oldest combination of Hebrew script and language is hindered by a diverse set of complications including the poor condition of texts, the existence of cognates, regional variation, partial language preservation, limited number of artifacts and myriad other difficulties.

The Qeiyafa Ostracon and Gezer Calendar are the best known contenders that Christopher Rollston examines. The five-line Qeiyafa Ostracon** has garnered a great deal of attention since its 2008 excavation at Khirbet Qeiyafa, the fortified tenth century B.C.E. Judahite city located on the border of Judah and Philistia. The faded text on the Qeiyafa Ostracon has challenged potential translators; what is known is that its variations and left-to-right orientation signal a pre-Hebrew script deriving from Early Alphabetic rather than Phoenician writing. Most scholars agree with Christopher Rollston about the type of script, but he suggests that the language may not be Hebrew. The lexemes, or word roots, could come from one of several Semitic languages. This interpretation of the Qeiyafa Ostracon raises a new set of questions. Could the Qeiyafa Ostracon be from a non-Judahite site? Or could another language have been the lingua franca of the period? More simply, could the text have been imported from elsewhere, or written by a foreigner? The Qeiyafa Ostracon is a significant puzzle piece in the development of Hebrew writing, but there are still too many unanswered questions for the Qeiyafa Ostracon to be considered the oldest Hebrew inscription.

The Gezer Calendar is a small limestone tablet listing seasonal agricultural activities in seven lines of uneven letters. Scholarly opinions on the Gezer Calendar have shifted over the past century of scholarship. In 1943, William Foxwell Albright stated that “the Gezer Calendar is written in perfect classical Hebrew.” More recent scholarship questioned the idea that the Gezer calendar has distinctively Hebrew script or language. Christopher Rollston contends “there is no lexeme or linguistic feature in the Gezer Calendar that can be considered distinctively Hebrew” and Joseph Naveh says that “No specifically Hebrew characters can be distinguished.” Christopher Rollston concludes that the Gezer Calendar is written in Phoenician rather than Hebrew script, though the late tenth or early ninth century B.C.E. includes elements described by Frank Cross as “the first rudimentary innovations that will mark the emergent Hebrew script.”

Rollston continues his analyses on some other contenders for the oldest Hebrew inscription. He finds the Tel Zayit Abecedary to be fully Phoenician script, despite the excavation epigrapher claiming that the abecedary indicates the transition between the scripts. Finally, the oldest contender, the Izbet Sartah Abecedary, which dates to roughly 1200 B.C.E., predates the development of any Hebrew script, and appears to be written in Early Alphabetic script, which is not closely related to Old Hebrew script. While some scholars have presented these and other Iron Age I inscriptions as Hebrew script, Rollston suggests that we have to look to a slightly later period to find the first Hebrew language recorded in a purely Hebrew script.

 

* “What’s the Oldest Hebrew Inscription” from the May/June 2012 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review

Bilingual Boundary Stone Discovered at Tel Gezer

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/news/bilingual-boundary-stone-discovered-at-tel-gezer/

Archaeologists working at the Biblical site of Tel Gezer discovered a boundary stone inscribed with both Greek and Hebrew text dating to the period of conflict between the Seleucids and the Maccabees. This is the thirteenth known boundary stone found after over a century of excavations at Gezer, and it is the first to be found in over a decade. Archaeologists from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary also rediscovered another boundary stone originally discovered in the 19th-century by the French explorer Charles Claremont-Ganneau, but lost to the archaeological community for over a century.

In a Biblical Archaeology Review article promoting preservation at Gezer, BAR editor Hershel Shanks described the Biblical and archaeological history of the site.

Gezer is mentioned frequently in the Bible. Although Joshua defeated a coalition of Canaanite kings that included the king of Gezer, the Bible does not say that Gezer itself was captured by the Israelites (Joshua 10:33; 12:12). Gezer was allotted to the tribe of Joseph (or Ephraim) (Joshua 16:3, 10; Judges 1:29; 1 Chronicles 6:67; 7:28), but we are also told that the Israelites “did not drive out the Canaanites,” who dwelt in Gezer (Joshua 16:10). Even King David was unable to bring Gezer into the Israelite kingdom.

Finally, when an Egyptian Pharaoh (probably Siamun, in about 960 B.C.) gave his daughter in marriage to King Solomon—the only recorded instance of a Pharaoh’s daughter being permitted to marry a foreigner—the Pharaoh ceded Gezer to Solomon as part of his daughter’s dowry. (1 Kings 9:15–17). In the early years of Solomon’s reign, Egypt had launched an invasion of Palestine and had conquered Canaanite Gezer. Undoubtedly, Solomon then mobilized against an Egyptian attack on his own Israelite kingdom. But Israel must have been the greater power because at this point Egypt apparently decided to abandon the invasion, opting for a diplomatic rapprochement by marriage and territorial concession. Thereafter, the Bible tells us, Solomon fortified Gezer, along with Jerusalem, Megiddo and Hazor (1 Kings 9:15). Twentieth-century archaeologists have found irrefutable evidence of these fortifications at Gezer, including not only the magnificent gateway but also a casemate wall (a double wall divided by partitions into rooms) attached to it.

Gezer also has special significance in the history of archaeology. Gezer was the first Biblical city to be identified by an inscription found at the site. Even today only a handful of sites—Beth Shean, Arad, Hazor—have been so identified. In 1873, the great French scholar Clermont-Ganneau found a boundary inscription dating from the Herodian period which reads in Hebrew script, “boundary of Gezer.”

This final boundary stone was rediscovered in this season’s excavation. According to the excavator’s press release, the boundary stones reveal the Jewish occupants’ concern over keeping their fields according to Jewish law. Many of the boundary stones include the inscription “Region of Gezer” in Hebrew along with “Belonging to Alkos” in Greek. The newly-discovered thirteenth stone follows the inscriptions known from other boundary stones very closely, with a few exceptions. The weathered letters are larger than on other known examples, and the Hebrew and Greek text is written on the same side of the stone.

After a century of excavation, Gezer continues to produce interesting finds. In 2011, excavations of a Canaanite water system at Gezer uncovered a natural cave at the base of a tunnel system dug in the early 2nd millennium B.C.E.

More details on the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary excavations will be made public by the upcoming Hadashot Akrheologiyot publication on the first five years of the survey.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/archaeology-news/bilingual-boundary-stone-discovered-at-tel-gezer/2012/05/31/

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