Antique Hebrew inscription discovered

bob x

Well-Known Member
Messages
2,618
Reaction score
4
Points
0
Location
California, USA
Thanks to Raymond (mens_sana) for this link,
Most ancient Hebrew biblical inscription deciphered
to a description of a recently-discovered inscription in a very archaic alphabetic script, typical of the 10th century BCE (about king David's time or maybe a couple generations later), whose language is specifically Hebrew rather than one of the related tongues of the Canaanite-Phoenician family (judging by the usages of the root 'ayin-sin-aleph in the sense "to do", and of the "servant" root aleph-beth-daleth):

"English translation of the deciphered 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."

The tone is strongly reminiscent of the Torah, though not matching any specific passage. The reference to assisting the poor through the power ("hand", typical Hebrew usage of a body-part in an abstract metaphorical sense) of the king indicates that a monarchy is in place. The location of the inscription, in a boondocky rural area rather than a city where a scribal class might more be expected, indicates that literacy was already quite widespread.
 
Immediate reaction is enthusiasm, but from reading the page linked to there seem to be an awful lot of presumptions.

It seems to presume both lord and king are from what we'd expect from the Torah - but why can't these references be taken as being to Assyrian overlords? It's tempting to think as the passages as Biblically referenced, but isn't there the possibility of referencing general laws or dictates cf Hammurabi?

Galil also makes presumptions on the locations - how can we presume wider literary if we do not know the context of the location in the first place? For all we know, Hebrew could be an oral language only and it was through messenger stations in proximity to trade routes where Hebrew was being forced to a written form. I'm not trying to be trollish here, it's just that the page seems full of suppositions and seems to comfortably fit this fragment into that set - rather than treat the fragment as a tabla rasa and see how it fits into context with what is already known.

That's another pointer - wouldn't Jewish literary identity already be quite solidified by the time of David, if using the Torah account? In which case, does the fragment of early Hebrew support the idea of an advanced Hebrew language as would be expected from this - or are we looking at a formative language, and one that could not be expected to have carried a millenia-old literary tradition?

Am looking at this issue from a historical perspective only, by the way - should I move this to the history section, or keep it in Judaism? Just not sure if I'm risking mixing up religious and secular interests in this!
 
I get the feeling that the five lines are each five thoughts on the pottery...

line one do's and don'ts sound like “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these." Matthew 6:27-29

The rest remind me of daily tasks from ACIM...
line two judge everything
line three plead everything
line four rehabilitate everything
line five protect everything...
 
Brian said:
Assyrian overlords

Wouldn't that be malchei hamlachim or king (of) kings?

It's tempting to think as the passages as Biblically referenced, but isn't there the possibility of referencing general laws or dictates cf Hammurabi?

I'm more tempted to think that all three texts are interrelated without assigning too many specific influences, although I do think that some passages in the Torah are probably later than and responding to the code of Hammurabi.

Galil also makes presumptions on the locations - how can we presume wider literary if we do not know the context of the location in the first place? For all we know, Hebrew could be an oral language only and it was through messenger stations in proximity to trade routes where Hebrew was being forced to a written form.

That's an interesting thought. I do think he makes a lot of presumptions.


That's another pointer - wouldn't Jewish literary identity already be quite solidified by the time of David, if using the Torah account?

I guess that all depends on how much weight you want to give to later reforms on account of 2 Kings 22. But I think what you intend is, based on traditional understandings of the Torah's account.


Am looking at this issue from a historical perspective only, by the way - should I move this to the history section, or keep it in Judaism? Just not sure if I'm risking mixing up religious and secular interests in this!

I personally think it's okay here. The majority of Jews, judging by affiliation, support modern approaches to understanding the history of Ancient Israel. Mention is made of them in mainstream liberal chumashim alongside traditional interpretations of the text.

I wish they'd included a copy of the text in block script.
 
It seems to presume both lord and king are from what we'd expect from the Torah - but why can't these references be taken as being to Assyrian overlords?
Because Assyria was a faroff and petty little state at the time. There was no regional overlord in this period, and hadn't been since the collapse of Middle Kingdom Egypt; this is what made possible the flowerings not only of Israel, but of other nations like Philistia, Tyre, Moab, Ammon, and Edom.
It's tempting to think as the passages as Biblically referenced, but isn't there the possibility of referencing general laws or dictates cf Hammurabi?
Concern for the underclass is distinctly absent in the code of Hammurabi (which makes no bones about treating offenses against poor people as less worthy of punishment than offenses against nobles), or any other legal text of that very unsentimental period. The tone is reminiscent of the Torah specifically; although it is not a quote and cannot be taken as evidence for an orthodox viewpoint like Bananabrain's, that the Torah verbatim as we have it existed all the way back to Moses, it certainly indicates that something like the Torah was in the culture.
Galil also makes presumptions on the locations - how can we presume wider literary if we do not know the context of the location in the first place?
The inscription was found as part of a general archaeological excavation; we are dealing here with a small fort, not occupied for very long, since it is in a not-very-fertile valley where there has never been a big town, and the place was only of strategic value while Philistia remained a regional threat.
For all we know, Hebrew could be an oral language only and it was through messenger stations in proximity to trade routes where Hebrew was being forced to a written form.
No, this is a boondock, not on the route to anywhere really.
I'm not trying to be trollish here, it's just that the page seems full of suppositions and seems to comfortably fit this fragment into that set - rather than treat the fragment as a tabla rasa and see how it fits into context with what is already known.
I do agree with you here: specifically associating the non-specific reference to "the king" to "king David", whose name is not mentioned, is a leap.
That's another pointer - wouldn't Jewish literary identity already be quite solidified by the time of David, if using the Torah account?
Well that is the whole question here: the "minimalists" don't even believe that a monarchy existed in the alleged time of David and Solomon, let alone any "scriptural" texts, and this at least confirms that something was happening, politically and literarily.
wil said:
what is block script?
The "block" or "square" (merqaba) script is the Hebrew alphabet that we are used to seeing, which Hebrew has mostly been written in since sometime during the Assyrian overlordship (so that it is sometimes also called the ashuriyth "Assyrian" script, although the Assyrians themselves wrote in cuneiform). It is very different from the "Paleo-Hebrew" script known from king Hezekiah's tunnel, the Lachish military dispatches from early in the Assyrian wars, a brief and sporadic revival as a nationalistic affectation during the Maccabean period, and its continued usage by the Samaritans (hence sometimes called the "Samaritan" alphabet); which in turn is very different from the kind of archaic script found here, which looks like Phoenician or Canaanite.
 
Because Assyria was a faroff and petty little state at the time. There was no regional overlord in this period, and hadn't been since the collapse of Middle Kingdom Egypt; this is what made possible the flowerings not only of Israel, but of other nations like Philistia, Tyre, Moab, Ammon, and Edom.

Good point - I expected to see either the Assyrians or Hittites active in the region, but a double check suggests unless the dating is fudged some ways, indeed, it's not even required as a buffer zone between empires at this time.

Concern for the underclass is distinctly absent in the code of Hammurabi (which makes no bones about treating offenses against poor people as less worthy of punishment than offenses against nobles), or any other legal text of that very unsentimental period.

Interesting point - I hadn't realised there was a specific class distinction in the Hammurabi Code.

The inscription was found as part of a general archaeological excavation; we are dealing here with a small fort, not occupied for very long, since it is in a not-very-fertile valley where there has never been a big town, and the place was only of strategic value while Philistia remained a regional threat.

No, this is a boondock, not on the route to anywhere really.

Well, that answered that question. :)
 
Correction: when I say there had been no regional overlord since "Middle" Kingdom Egypt fell, I meant to say "New" Kingdom Egypt. The Old Kingdom (dynasties 1-6) built the most impressive pyramids but was not an imperial power (the "First Intermediate" period was anarchy, dynasties 7-10 overlapping in time as none ever controlled the whole country). The Middle Kingdom (dynasties 11-14) exerted overlordship in Nubia, Libya, and Canaan until it was overthrown by the "Hyksos" (dynasties 15-16), Semitic invaders from Canaan: Josephus favored the theory that the Biblical account of Joseph and family moving to Egypt and becoming powerful represented the Hyksos coming in, and that the expulsion of the Hyksos was the Egyptian memory of the Exodus; but most are inclined to think that the Hebrews came in sometime after the Hyksos (when the regime was friendly) and stayed after they left (the "Pharaoh who knew not Joseph" referring to the 18th dynasty, high-water mark of the New Kingdom, very hostile to the Semitic immigrant population), with Ramses II (most powerful of the 19th dynasty; fought the Hittites over where the border of their overlordships would be, up in Syria) being the best candidate for the Pharaoh of the Exodus.

This is all contentious, however, with lots of other theories and chronologies you can find on the web: since there is little or no archaeological evidence to help pin down the Exodus or even verify it as a real event. Best piece of evidence is a victory stela from Merneptah, successor of Ramses II, about a campaign in Canaan, mentioning "Israel" among the nations he destroyed (hyperbolic, of course; all the nations he "destroyed" continued to exist); Israel is listed among the nations in the far south of Canaan, so this might be during the "wandering in the desert" years when they were centered around Qadesh Barnea (to reconcile this with the Biblical account, perhaps Merneptah did not engage Israel personally but hired the Amalekites as mercenaries to ravage them; the Torah is full of resentment against the Amalekites for attacking with no apparent reason, when there had been no previous quarrel between the peoples).

The New Kingdom (dynasties 17-20) was weakened by the "Sea Peoples" in the time of Ramses III of dynasty 20: the Philistines were the largest group of the "Sea Peoples", originally from the Aegean but seizing a section of Canaan after their invasion of Egypt was repulsed; they did completely destroy the Hittite empire during their march through, leading to the regional power vacuum I was alluding to. Unlike the Old and Middle Kingdoms, the New Kingdom had a gradual fade-out rather than an abrupt collapse, Ramses IV through XXII being weaker and weaker, controlling less and less territory, until dynasty 21 (considered the start of the "Third Intermediate Period") was not even securely in control of all Egypt, Libya and Nubia (which had been subordinates) taking over parts and eventually for a time the whole of Egypt.

But I do find that a few towns in Canaan and Phoenicia still did, at least nominally, acknowledge the Pharaoh as an overlord even as late as dynasty 21. There are archaeological inscriptions mentioning this from Hazor (far north Israel) and Byblos (Lebanese coast), and the Bible mentions that when Solomon married a Pharaoh's daughter, some towns (with which Solomon was not impressed) which Pharaoh still had in the north were given as a dowry. So, if we do not read in the presumption that "the king" means David, your original thought:
Quote:
Originally Posted by I, Brian
It seems to presume both lord and king are from what we'd expect from the Torah - but why can't these references be taken as being to Assyrian overlords?

might be salvaged if we put "Egyptian" in place of "Assyrian": that is, the Pharaoh may not have had much administrative presence on the ground anymore, but might still have been thought of abstractly as "the high king" in whose name justice was done.
 
Indeed, I did wonder about the Egyptians (and figured you'd meant the New Kingdom :) ) - the only trouble being I'm not aware of any general laws from Egypt that even approach anything by way of inference like the Hammurabi code. So it wouldn't be eay to interpret the fragment as relating to Egyptian rulers (hence why I wondered at Mesopotamian influence).

Besides, while the Egyptians had some presence over Palestine, I tend to see their direct presence as pretty weak - cf Rameses II, the Great, and his "glorious victory" - ahem, draw :) - against the Hittites! The Egyptian might is (rightly or wrongly) usually seen as peaked in his period, and yet neither he nor the Hittites seem able to conquer Palestine directly, instead it appearing as a buffer zone between them (as mentioned earlier).

Maybe reading Pharoah as "high king" makes some sense to some degree - certainly worth considering as a possibility - just that the point you made about class for the Assyrians seems even more an issue for Ancient Egyptian society.
 
A bit of Googling found a site giving some Middle Kingdom texts with some parallels to Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, and Isaiah-- and one mention of the Pharaoh as vindicator of the underclass:

While the conceptions of what awaits man after death thus took more
definite shape in the Osirian doctrine - and perhaps in natural reaction from
them - skeptical voices begin to be heard. ^1 From that world about which
priests profess to know so much no traveler has returned; the famous kings
and sages of olden time are dead and gone, only their names remain; we are
following them to the grave; let us make the most of our brief span on earth,
denying ourselves no pleasure it affords. Such is the refrain of the Song of
the Harper at the Feast, one of the best-known poems of the Middle Kingdom.
What gives it more significance is the fact that it is not the utterance of a
solitary pessimist, but of a court poet, enlivening the guests at the banquet
with the Egyptian version of "let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die."

Several interesting writings from the time of the Middle Kingdom exhibit
the moral principles of members of the ruling class or throw light on the
moral conditions of the age. The Wisdom of Ptahhotep is in the form of
instructions delivered by an aged vizier to his son and designated successor.
The instructions are chiefly counsels for the deportment of a minister in
official and private relations. He should be upright, just, true, discreet,
moderate, knowing how to assert his own dignity without arrogance; warning is given against avarice and the pride of possessions; vices are to be shunned,
but the wise man will not deny himself the enjoyment of life nor make it
bitter with vain regrets. If the son will follow this wholesome advice and
the example of his father, it will go well with him. In an Instruction for a
Minister, purporting to be delivered by a king to a vizier at his
installation, the vizier is enjoined to deal justly and impartially with all,
not favoring his own kin nor showing respect of persons to princes and
counselors. A story with an evident moral, called The Peasants' Appeal,
tells how a poor man who had been unjustly treated by underlings, and even by the high steward, gets redress from the Pharaoh himself.

Other texts are filled with loud complaints of the degeneracy of the age
- "righteousness is cast out, iniquity is in the midst of the council hall";
society is thoroughly corrupt. A very interesting papyrus, The Prophecies of
an Egyptian Sage, paints in even darker colors the universal demoralization
and disorders of the age, aggravated as they were by foreign invasion. The
only imaginable remedy for these ills is a wise and good king, and the author
depicts such an ideal ruler, "the shepherd of all the people, who has no evil
in his heart," in a strain in which a resemblance has been seen to the
Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament, though the Egyptian parallel has no
distinctly predictive element.
 
Back
Top