Monday, September 15, 2008

Speculation on the Khirbet Qeiyafa Inscription

With regard to the Khirbet Qeiyafa inscription, there are those who know and those who don't.  Those who know have been sworn to secrecy, leaving only those of us who don't know to speculate.  I am happy to oblige and suggest below some reasons on why this inscription is significant, thereby possibly fueling more speculation by others also in the dark.

What is not speculation is the fact that the inscription is being studied by Haggai Misgav, a Northwest Semitic epigraphist (source).  Given the location of its discovery, this is no surprise, but it clearly rules out the possibility that inscription was written in another language.  Misgav Haggai says at present that his conclusions are "doubtful and temporary" and he does not know when he will be ready to publish (reported by Jim West).  That suggests that the inscription is difficult.  I offer some ideas that may explain archaeologist Aren Maier's comment that this inscription "is going to be VERY INTERESTING!!!!"

1. The inscription is long.  This is a guess based upon a photograph of the potsherd and a friend's report that the inscription is 4-5 lines long.  Too many inscriptions are known only from a small portion preserved.  The recent ostracon found at Gath with a name similar to Goliath received much attention, but it contained only two words.

2. The inscription is meaningful.  This is in contrast to other early inscriptions, such as the Tel Zayit abecedary (10th c.) and the Izbet Sartah abecedary (11th c.).  Certainly alphabetic inscriptions are meaningful, and scholars can write much about them.  But the primary reason why they get so much attention is because there are few other contemporary inscriptions.  Sometimes conclusions about the state of writing are made that may be without warrant.  The combination of a brief or ambiguous text with a lack of contemporary material makes possible many wrong interpretations.

3. The inscription was discovered in a stratified context.  This is in contrast to the Gezer Calendar, which was found in the debris pile in 1908.  The Tel Zayit abecedary was found in a wall, not in its original context.  Archaeologists do not have a clear stratigraphical context for many important inscriptions. 

4. The inscription is early.  Khirbet Qeiyafa has occupation from the 10th century and then a gap until the Hellenistic period (2nd c.).  The inscription certainly dates to the time of the settlement, which guarantees a 10th century date (assuming that the site itself has been correctly dated).  There are very few 10th century inscriptions in Israel, and all have some problems.  (The only 10th c. inscriptions from Israel that come to mind are the Gezer Calendar, Tel Zayit abecedary, and the Shishak inscription, but there are probably others.)  The significance of an inscription increases exponentially each century that you go back in time.  A seal impression in the city of David from the 6th century is less rare and thus less valuable than a letter or poem from the 10th century.

5. The inscription dates to a period now highly controversial in biblical archaeology.  In the mid-1990s Israel Finkelstein proposed a "Low Chronology," which essentially re-dated all material believed to be from the 10th century to the 9th century.  The poor material culture from the 11th century was brought down to the 10th century.  Historically, then, Israel and Judah were impoverished and weak, or, more likely, non-existent (according to Finkelstein) at the time when the Bible describes the great United Monarchy.  Like so many theories in biblical archaeology, this one is highly dependent upon a large amount of "white space," in which one's own ideas can be inserted.  Almost certainly this new inscription will fill in some of the gaps, as well as spawn its own controversies.

More speculating remains to be done on the site identification of Khirbet Qeiyafa, but that will need to await a future post.

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11 Comments:

  • i'm amused, todd, that you cite the note i passed on to ane and posted as well on the blog but refuse (and i say refuse rather than fail) to note that source in spite of the fact that you name your other 'sources'. i sense here not a little animosity on your part that is to this moment inexplicable.

    if for some reason you are afraid to use my name, don't read what i've written.

    By Blogger Jim, at Mon Sep 15, 01:43:00 PM  

  • Jim,
    Maybe this is an internet etiquette rule, but isn't the source of the quote cited already in this article? Since what is important to the article is Misgav's quote, and not where anyone found the quote, then why would he have to reference you as the intermediary by which he received the source?

    By Anonymous Kyle, at Mon Sep 15, 07:17:00 PM  

  • Jim - I am sorry to cause offense. I don't see the "refusal" as clearly as you do. I did not cite Maier as the first source, nor did I name my friend who told me the length of the inscription. I have updated the post so that it gives your name. I appreciate the fact that you emailed Misgav and shared that information with everyone and I did not intend to slight your contribution.

    By Blogger Todd Bolen, at Mon Sep 15, 07:42:00 PM  

  • OK, I may be out of place here, but let me suggest that as a simple pastor who enjoys reading about Biblical archaeology, I am amazed at how easily people in the field get upset over any perceived slight or disagreement. I know one important find can make or break a reputation, but there just seem to be a little much testosterone in these debates and arguments over insignificant details.

    I was reading about the excavation of Tel El-Hammam and it's possible identification with Biblical Sodom on the net a few weeks ago. It appears the main excavator must spend all his non digging days hunting down blogs on the internet that suggest the site isn't Sodom to tell people how wrong they are. And if they continue unconvinced, they get told they don't know what they're talking about in the bluntest terms. You'd swear these people had questioned his mother's virtue.

    All this is to say I think the field of archaeology would be far better off in people could set aside their egos in this quest for knowledge and share information more openly and with less propensity to take offense. Have the DSS taught us nothing.

    Where is Indiana Jones when you need him?

    By Anonymous Al Sandalow, at Mon Sep 15, 09:21:00 PM  

  • On behalf of Jim West (who did not give me permission to say this), I'd like to thank you, Todd, for taking the time to edit your post to give Jim West credit for providing Prof. Misgav's quotation.

    Please note that Prof. Garfinkel provided me with a tentative publication schedule, that counterbalances the open-ended publication date provided by Prof. Misgav via Jim West. I posted it today on Biblicalist.

    Just in case anyone missed it, Jim West is the inspirational source for this message.

    Sincerely,
    not Jim West

    By Blogger G.M. Grena, at Tue Sep 16, 12:19:00 AM  

  • The persumed comment by Misgav is a bit confusing: would any scholar refer to his tentative conclusions as 'doubtful'? If 'doubtful' why would the scholar even mention
    them?

    A friend informs me that J West did not recieve permission from Misgav to make public the private communication to him.

    This little ethical question deserves a bit more discussion.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Sep 16, 11:16:00 AM  

  • Jim West's whining - note his comment on top - is amusing. Not only does he commit an unethical act, but he wishes to get credit fot it.

    It must be upsetting when more and more is excavated from the ground which shows that the Bible is not the invention that his benefactors in Copenhagen claim it is.

    Anonymous II

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Sep 16, 03:16:00 PM  

  • Jim - Wow. Calm down.

    Todd - You missed that the text of the inscription has now been posted on the following blog:
    http://balshanut.wordpress.com/2008/09/13/new-hebrew-inscription/

    By Anonymous dfrese, at Wed Sep 17, 05:08:00 PM  

  • What does it say in english??
    Please.

    By Anonymous Sean.Q, at Thu Sep 18, 01:24:00 AM  

  • According to Prof. Chris Heard, to whom I'm very grateful, it's a phony statement that says something about the Minimalists being deceived. It's essentially an April Fool's day joke, which is why nobody else has given it much attention.

    By Blogger G.M. Grena, at Thu Sep 18, 09:06:00 AM  

  • The inscription that dfrese mentioned above:
    1) To Saul. I bless [you before (?) Y]HWH. Now
    2-3) behold, David s[mote] the uncircumcised Philistine, Gol[iath], and killed him.
    4) Therefore proved to be liars
    5) Are the minimalists

    By Blogger Todd, at Thu Sep 18, 12:06:00 PM  

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