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Oldest Hebrew Inscription

ancientbibtextuhaifa.jpg

(photo courtesy of the University of Haifa)

Never a dull moment for the history of the Hebrew language.

A breakthrough in the research of the Hebrew scriptures has shed new light on the period in which the Bible was written. Prof. Gershon Galil of the Department of Biblical Studies at the University of Haifa has deciphered an inscription dating from the 10th century BCE (the period of King David’s reign), and has shown that this is a Hebrew inscription. The discovery makes this the earliest known Hebrew writing. The significance of this breakthrough relates to the fact that at least some of the biblical scriptures were composed hundreds of years before the dates presented today in research and that the Kingdom of Israel already existed at that time.

Here is a translation of the text:

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.

See here for the full press release.

Update: See this post at Biblia Hebraica.

Yes, this is probably the earliest example of the Hebrew language, but how does it follow as proof that parts of the Bible were composed hundreds of years earlier? It doesn’t. It provides a plausible context for literary activity and ability, but it doesn’t provide proof that scribes were creating complex literary texts like what is found in the Bible.

Update II: Paleojudaica links to a post at Ancient Hebrew Poetry from last year which gives a somewhat different interpretation and translation of the text.

3 Responses to “Oldest Hebrew Inscription”

  1. 1
    Michael Makovi:

    Well, obviously, we’ll have to emend the first line. This tablet was obviously written by the Redactor to confuse Wellhausen. If it doesn’t fit the preconceived theory, it must not be reliable evidence!

    :P

    But seriously. I completely understand why critics and skeptics would doubt the historicity of Sinai, but it boggles my mind when they still follow J, E, P, and D. Didn’t the discovery of the Code of Hammurabi and various documents showing the basic historical accuracy of Abraham’s life and culture, sound the death knell for Wellhausen? I don’t get it. No one suggests that the Enuma Elish or Epic of Gilgamesh has four different authors and an insidious Redactor, so why don’t they trust the Torah the same amount? Fine, say it’s not from Sinai, fine – but trust it like you trust any other ancient document!

  2. 2
    John Hobbins:

    Enuma Elish and the Gilgamesh Epic are attested in various and widely differing editions. Redaction and sources are often identifiable, but only because we have direct or relatively direct knowledge of the sources, and can identify the work of redactors in the extant history of the texts’ transmission.

    In short, the field of Assyriology suggests that we need to be humble about our identifications of sources and redaction, since we would never get it right in the case of EE and GE unless we had data on hand that seals the deal. But it does not suggest that we should imagine that the Torah or any other part of the Tanakh fell from heaven in the literal sense (I am happy to defend that it fell from heaven in a deeper sense), an event that involved HaShem and a single human author. The opposite is the case.

    Michael,

    Thanks so much for the Israel Knohl volume you sent. It’s a gem, but I haven’t had to give it its due yet.

  3. 3
    avakesh:

    This is a good argument, I think, from the linguistic perspective, http://www.avakesh.com/2010/01/important-finding-provides-proof-bible-written-much-earlier-than-scholars-believe.html

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