Photo: Archeologist Yossi Garfinkel displays a ceramic shard bearing a Hebrew inscription at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Garfinkel says the ceramic shard containing five lines of faded characters written 3,000 years ago at the time of the Old Testament’s King David, was found in the ruins of an ancient fortified town south of Jerusalem and is the oldest Hebrew inscription ever discovered, according to Garfinkel.
Archaeology again may contribute to our understanding of Israelite history. Archeologists have found an ostraca with writings that dates back to 3,000 B.C., the period when David was king. According to the news report, the words “judge,” “slave,” and “king” appear on the five lines of texts. The written material was found on a site called Elah Fortress. The Valley of Elah was the place where Israel fought against the Philistines and David killed Goliath (1 Samuel 17:2).
Because of the importance of the finding, I am posting in its entirety the news report published by Reuters. According to the press release, the article was written by Ari Rabinovitch and edited by Sami Aboudi.
JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Archaeologists in Israel said on Thursday they had unearthed the oldest Hebrew text ever found, while excavating a fortress city overlooking a valley where the Bible says David slew Goliath.
Experts have not yet been able to decipher fully the five lines of text written in black ink on a shard of pottery dug up at a five-acre (two-hectare) archaeological site called Elah Fortress, or Khirbet Qeiyafa.
The Bible says David, later to become the famed Jewish king, killed Goliath, a Philistine warrior, in a battle in the Valley of Elah, now the site of wineries and an Israeli satellite station.
Archaeologists at Hebrew University said carbon dating of artifacts found at the fortress site, about 20 km (12 miles) southwest of Jerusalem, indicate the Hebrew inscription was written some 3,000 years ago, predating the Dead Sea Scrolls by 1,000 years.
They have been able to make out some of its words, including “judge,” “slave” and “king.”
Yosef Garfinkel, the lead archaeologist at the site, said the findings could shed significant light on the period of King David’s rule over the Israelites.
“The chronology and geography of Khirbet Qeiyafa create a unique meeting point between the mythology, history, historiography and archaeology of King David,” Garfinkel said.
It is amazing the kind of information archaeology can provide in clarifying the past. So far, the five lines of text have not been translated. However, if the words “judge” and “king” are correct, the ostraca may be a reference to the late period of the judges or the early years of the monarchy.
I just hope that archaeologists and epigraphers provide a translation of the text as soon as possible. This finding may radically transform our understanding of the early history of Israel.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary