The Ophel Inscription

The Ophel Inscription 2

Photo: The Ophel Inscription


According to archeologists, a 3,000-year-old text found in Jerusalem, may be dated to the 10th century B.C. Below is an excerpt from a news report detailing the significance of the inscription, which has been called “The Ophel Inscription”:

A few characters on the side of a 3,000-year-old earthenware jug dating back to the time of King David has stumped archaeologists until now — and a fresh translation may have profound ramifications for our understanding of the Bible.

Experts had suspected the fragmentary inscription was written in the language of the Canaanites, a biblical people who lived in the present-day Israel. Not so, says one expert who claims to have cracked the code: The mysterious language is actually the oldest form of written Hebrew, placing the ancient Israelites in Jerusalem earlier than previously believed.

“Hebrew speakers were controlling Jerusalem in the 10th century, which biblical chronology points to as the time of David and Solomon,” ancient Near Eastern history and biblical studies expert Douglas Petrovich told

“Whoever they were, they were writing in Hebrew like they owned the place,” he said.

First discovered near the Temple Mount in Jerusalem last year, the 10th century B.C. fragment has been labeled the Ophel Inscription. It likely bears the name of the jug’s owners and its contents.

Read the full report here.

There is no evidence that the  inscription was related to the monarchy of David. However, if the inscription can be dated to the 10th century B.C. and if the language is indeed old Hebrew, then this discovery indicates that some of the people who lived in Jerusalem at that time when David lived could read and write.

Claude Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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2 Responses to The Ophel Inscription

  1. Alex Young says:

    A study I recently performed answers this perplexing question which appears to have baffled the experts. The solution is BOTH Ancient Hebrew in Jebus existed prior to King David taking the ancient city of Jebus AND that the Old Testament need not be minimalised or maximised whatsoever but simply understood for what it says. The answer lay in WHO the ancient Jebusites were and what happened after the 12 Tribes entered the land.

    Joshua 18:28 (KJV)
    “And Zelah, Eleph, and Jebusi, which is Jerusalem, Gibeath, and Kirjath; fourteen cities with their villages. This is the inheritance of the children of Benjamin according to their families.”

    Judges 1:21 (KJV)
    “And the children of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites that inhabited Jerusalem; but the Jebusites dwell with the children of Benjamin in Jerusalem unto this day.”

    Joshua 15:63 (KJV)
    “As for the Jebusites the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the children of Judah could not drive them out; but the Jebusites dwell with the children of Judah at Jerusalem unto this day.”

    Also Josephus Ant 5:124,129 could not drive them from upper town, pay tribute – 200 years between Joshua and David

    124: Then they overran the district, taking the towns, and after capturing very many of them laid siege to Jerusalem. The lower town they mastered in time and slew all the inhabitants ; but the upper town proved too difficult to carry through the solidity of its walls and the nature of the site.

    129: The Benjamites, within whose lot lay Jerusalem, permitted its inhabitants to pay them tribute ; with the and thus all reposing, these from slaughter and those Canaanites from peril, were at leisure to till the soil. The other tribes, imitating that of Benjamin, did the same and, contenting themselves with the tributes paid to them, suffered the Canaanites to live in peace.

    In conclusion the city at the time of David’s conquest was a mixture of both Canaanite and Hebrew tribe of Benjamin several centuries before. David’s pleasant transaction of the Ophel threshing floor from Arunah/Ornan the Jebusite was most likely predicated by the fact that they shared a common heritage.


    • Alex,

      Thank you for your comment. Although the Bible clearly says that Jerusalem was allotted to the tribe of Benjamin, the Jebusites who lived there were not conquered until the time of David.

      “But the people of Judah could not drive out the Jebusites, the inhabitants of Jerusalem; so the Jebusites live with the people of Judah in Jerusalem to this day” (Jos 15:63).

      “But the Benjaminites did not drive out the Jebusites who lived in Jerusalem; so the Jebusites have lived in Jerusalem among the Benjaminites to this day” (Jdg 1:21).

      This means that the Jebusites had control of Jerusalem even though they lived in the territory of Benjamin. This is the reason David had to conquer Jerusalem: “The king and his men marched to Jerusalem against the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land” (2 Sam 5:6). This is what Josephus says: “Now the Jebusites, who were the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and were by extraction Canaanites, shut their gates, and placed the blind, and the lame, and all their maimed persons, upon the wall, in way of derision of the king; and said, that the very lame themselves would hinder his entrance into it. This they did out of contempt of his power, and as depending on the strength of their walls. David was hereby enraged, and began the siege of Jerusalem, and employed his utmost diligence and alacrity therein” (7:61). “When David had cast the Jebusites out of the citadel, he also rebuilt Jerusalem, and named it (7:65).

      Although the Jebusites lived in Jerusalem, it is not impossible that a Hebrew inscription may have been found there. After all, the people of Israel spoke “the language of Canaan” (Isa 19:18).

      Claude Mariottini


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