Monday, May 09, 2011

Shanks: The Significance of the Cuneiform Letter of Jerusalem

In the “Jerusalem Roundup” in the March/April 2011 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Hershel Shanks notes that the importance of the cuneiform tablet discovered last year in Jerusalem is not in the minimal writing preserved but in its very existence.

This tiny, fragmentary inscription from which we cannot really extract any literal meaning nevertheless has a broader significance.  It confirms evidence from the Amarna letters that Jerusalem was a thriving city in the Late Bronze Age, with scribes capable of writing cuneiform and with the governmental organization to employ them.  This must be our conclusion despite the fact that archaeologists have found little of surviving structures from this period.

Shanks then relates the situation in the fourteenth century to that of the time of David and Solomon.

This is similar to the situation in the tenth century B.C.E. when David and Solomon ruled.  Little from this time has been archaeologically recovered.  But, as the Amarna letters suggest and this little cuneiform inscription confirms, Jerusalem could have been an important city at that time, even though structurally little has survived.

Access to the article online requires a subscription.  Emphasis has been added to the quotations above. A similar point was made at greater length before the discovery of this fragment by Nadav Na’aman in “Cow Town or Royal Capital? Evidence for Iron Age Jerusalem,” Biblical Archaeology Review 23/4 (July/Aug 1997): 43-47, 67 (online here).



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