Ancient Hebrew Inscription Dated to time of David

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Excerpt The inscription, written in ink on clay, is the earliest yet found in Hebrew. It was discovered about 18 months ago in a dig at Khirbet Qeiyafa, near Emek Ha'ela. While it was quickly dated, its language remained uncertain until Prof. Gershon Galil was able to demonstrate that it was an early form of Hebrew - containing roots commonly found in Hebrew, but which are very rare in other Semitic languages. Continue reading

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A year and a half ago a 10th-century ostracon (pottery sherd with an ink inscription) was discovered at Khirbet Qeiyafa overlooking the Elah valley, south of Jerusalem and west of Hebron.  The inscription has now been published and proves to be the earliest known example of Hebrew writing.  It advocates care for widows and orphans and encourages the king—who at that time had the responsibility of curbing social inequality—to be involved in improving Israelite society. The inscription is similar in content to biblical scriptures such as Exodus 23:2, Psalm 72:4, Isaiah 1:17, and others, but according to the translator, Professor Gershon Galil of the Department of Biblical Studies at the University of Haifa, it is not copied from any one biblical text.  The ostracon thus demonstrates that at least some of the biblical scriptures were composed hundreds of years before the dating of the composition of the Bible in much of contemporary academic research. 


Situated on the west side of the Elah Valley, the valley where David fought Goliath, Kh. Qeiyafa (also called “The Elah Fortress”) was a small but important site on the road to Jerusalem.  It was a border fortress strategically located between the kingdoms of Philistia to the west and Israel to the east.  Credit: Khirbet Qeiyafa Archaeological Project.

Since the inscription was clearly written by a scribe, Galil concludes: “It can now be maintained that it was highly reasonable that during the 10th century BCE, during the reign of King David, there were scribes in Israel who were able to write literary texts and complex historiographies such as the books of Judges and Samuel.” He added that the complexity of the text, along with the impressive fortifications revealed at the site, refute theories that attempt to deny the existence of the Kingdom of Israel at that time. 

Two of the four chambers of the 10th-century BC gate at Kh. Qeiyafa.  Credit: Michael Luddeni.

Building where the inscribed sherd was found on the north side of the four-chamber gate.  Credit: Michael Luddeni.


Tenth-century BC Hebrew text discovered at Kh. Qeiyafa July 8, 2008.  It has been subjected to detailed photographic enhancement in order to clarify the faded text.  Credit: Khirbet Qeiyafa Archaeological Project.

Drawing of the inscription on the Qeiyafa Ostracon.  Courtesy of the University of Haifa.

Dr. Scott Stripling describes the gate and surroundings at Khirbet Qeiyafa.

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1/19/2010 5:18 AM #

"Since the inscription was clearly written by a scribe"  I have read the articles on this ostracan and do not recall any evidence provided that supports this statement.

Also, I am not a suscriber to the ancient illiteracy theory as it would fly in the face of what scriptures teaches. this theory is lke saying, upon discovery or americanprivate and elite schools, millenia later, that only the elite in america were literate and only their government officials knew how to read and write.

given the fact that millions of people, throughout history and in the modern age as well, know how to read and write yet do not publish, nor leave any trace of their ability after their death, it is an insult to the ancient people to declare them illiterate especially when they are helpless to defend themselves and would have no occasion to provide a sample on imperishable material for the sake of modern researchers.

dr. david tee - 1/19/2010 5:18:11 AM

1/19/2010 9:02 AM #

i also have a direct question for Dr. Wood-- since his doctorate is in pottery

How much influence do  the archaeological periods have on the actual dating of pottery?

dr. david tee - 1/19/2010 9:02:06 AM

1/19/2010 10:25 PM #

Dr. David Tee:

Various pottery types are assigned to various archaeological periods.  The archaeological periods are dated by synchronisms with Egyptian and Assyrian chronologies.  Thus, when a particular vessel type is excavated, it is assigned to a particular archaeological period and given the date of that period.  One must always be aware, however, that an excavated pottery sherd may not be contemporary with the stratum in which it was found, for numerous reasons.  The dating of the archaeological periods is subject to ongoing questioning, analysis and refinement.

Dr. Bryant Wood

Bryant Wood - 1/19/2010 10:25:54 PM

1/22/2010 9:02 PM #

Dear Dr. Wood:

How does this pottery sherd compare in age to the Gezer Calendar?  I was under the impression that the Gezer Calendar had heretofore already addressed some of these questions.  Could you shed some light on why this new discovery overshadows the Gezer Calendar in significance?


Kevin Cauley

Kevin Cauley - 1/22/2010 9:02:14 PM

1/22/2010 10:40 PM #

Dear Kevin,

The Gezer Calendar and the recently-published Qeiyafa inscription have both been dated to the 10th century BC.  They differ, however, in that the Gezer Calendar is a crudely inscribed schoolboy’s practice text of a poem dealing with the agricultural cycle, whereas the Qeiyafa inscription is a bona fide literary document professionally written by a trained scribe.  The Qeiyafa inscription has thus been referred to as “the earliest known Hebrew text.”

Blessings---Bryant Wood

Bryant Wood - 1/22/2010 10:40:50 PM

1/23/2010 2:22 AM #

Dr. Wood:

Dr Tee's first comment (1/18) appears quite good and implies a question. Same question applies to the Gezer Calendar. I have read about the Gezer Calendar and it has ben ascribed someone like a "schoolboy" -- now the Kh. Qeiyafa ostracon is ascribed to a (assumedly professional) "scribe". What is the evidence for the source of these two artifacts? What characteristics support "schoolboy" or accomplished "scribe"? I would venture that neatness of writing would not count -- look at today's medical doctors who are arguably among the most highly educated and intelligent people; but try reading their prescriptions Wink

I would also seem that "schoolboy" texts would imply a (at least semi-) formalized system of "master scholar" and "students" providing for a reasonable level of dissemination of literacy. This might make the Gezer Calendar (if I am correct in my assertion) better evidence of widespread literacy in the United Monarchy period than the KQ ostracon. I don't  recall seeing any mention of this aspect. Comments?

David Oberpriller

David Oberpriller - 1/23/2010 2:22:25 AM

1/25/2010 9:25 PM #

So, if I understand what this new ostracon entails, it isn't that written Hebrew wasn't present in the 10th century; it is rather that this is the first written Hebrew text that reflects biblical content and a scribal culture to support it.  The Gezer Calendar represents written secular documents and even reflects a certain 10th century didactic related to those secular concerns.  The Qeiyafa Ostracon, however, represents written religious documents and a concern for transmission of those sentiments.  Is this an accurate assessment?

Kevin Cauley - 1/25/2010 9:25:16 PM

1/26/2010 3:04 AM #

Dear Kevin,

That is the assessment of the translator of the text.  I am sure there will be other opinions once it is officially published.


Bryant Wood

Bryant Wood - 1/26/2010 3:04:05 AM

2/12/2010 4:52 PM #

Dear David,

Thank you for your insightful comment regarding the Kh. Qeiyafa Ostracon.  I was merely reporting the find in the on line article and since I am not an epigrapher I cannot give you an expert opinion on the schoolboy vs. professional scribe question.  As I understand it, determination is based on things such as neatness, layout, regularity of letter shapes, errors made, etc.


ABR - 2/12/2010 4:52:54 PM

2/23/2010 9:06 PM #

The substantial fortifications (excavated features include an impressive casemate wall and two gates) appear to provide evidence of a vital Israelite state even outside Jerusalem in the 11th-10th centuries BC. Some scholars suggest that the site might be that of biblical Shaaraim (Josh 15:36; 1 Sam 17:52; 1 Chron 4:31).

The inscription in Proto-Canaanite (or, Archaic Alphabetic) presents some difficulty in reading and deciphering. Still subject to debate and alternative transcriptions and translations, scholars continue to examine it and propose readings. The inscription’s vocabulary (especially certain verbs and nouns) indicates that the language is Hebrew rather than Phoenician or Philistine. As to the actual text, one reading results in apparent allusions to or partial citations of biblical texts like Exodus 23:3; Psalm 72:3; and Isaiah 1:17. Another reading identifies various titles (“king,” “judge,” “servant,” and the Philistine royal title "seren") along with proper names of people and places (e.g., “YSD king of Gath”) and deities.

What significance does the discovery possess? No matter what the decipherment, an inscription in Hebrew from the 10th century BC provides the earliest example of inscriptional Hebrew to date. In addition, its contents bear witness to scribal proficiency outside Jerusalem—clear proof that Israel was a literate society much earlier than the minimalist depiction of ancient Israel. If the text truly represents a social text regarding the treatment of the disenfranchised and oppressed (with allusions to biblical texts), the find supports a maximalist approach to the dating of biblical writings. If the ostracon truly dates from the time of David, allusions to Psalm 72 (a Solomonic poem) and Isaiah prove problematic, since they are both post-Davidic by anyone’s standards.

For years to come, scholars will examine, re-examine, and debate the transcription and translation of this ostracon’s text. At this stage of the process, we ought to temper our justifiable excitement and wait for more determinative results before casting our lot with one reading or the other. Archaeological finds cannot engender faith—they can only inform faith. One find alone will not end the debate between maximalists and minimalists, nor will it put an end to the secular humanistic determination to undermine the integrity and historicity of the biblical text. After all, minimalists find ways to ignore or discount the evidence of early literacy provided by the Gezer Tablet (ca. 9th century BC) and Semitic graffiti in the vicinity of Serabit el-Khadem (17th-15th centuries BC, even Semitic slaves were literate at this time). No amount of evidence will convince someone who has his mind already made up to accept anything other than a humanistic and antisupernaturalistic interpretation of Scripture.

William Barrick, Ph.D.
Master's Seminary

William D. Barrick - 2/23/2010 9:06:46 PM

3/31/2010 10:32 PM #

Dr. Barrick seems to have answered most of my questions.

From what i understand we really don't know the date of the text and we don't know for sure if the text expresses sympathy for the "less fortunate." So for the most part should we view this as just hype?

So do we know for sure that this is a Hebrew text and not Phoenician? (I've read about the differences in word usage.)

The difficulty in waiting is that there seems to be no way of knowing the current status of all these finds.  No one publishes clues as to how much longer it might take, or what is needed to provide confirmation.  Until recently I've been uninterested in archaeology because I viewed it as a bunch of confusion.  More people might be interested in biblical archaeology if there were better ways to keep the public informed--instead of from one headline to the next. It would be nice for a publication to list all the major archaeological finds and their current status--what about them is confirmed and what is not confirmed.

I feel that archaeologists put people on the edge of their seats without telling them what more is being done to understand the relevance of the finds and then neglects them! What i really find frustrating is that I've read that the bullae of Baruch and his brother have been proven frauds but few websites are even reporting this. So i got all excited about these items just to find out that they were rejected years ago!

I'm very excited about this field. But to maintain my interest in need a balanced and trustworthy source of information. Wikipedia is my only quick reference (they do have a list of finds but nothing more). We all know that Wikipedia is not reliable.

I'm looking for some information and some direction. After reading about numerous finds, i really don't know what to believe about them.


Jacob - 3/31/2010 10:32:41 PM

4/1/2010 2:44 PM #

Dear Jacob,

Hang in there! I understand your frustration but you have to realize that it takes years of scholarship and debate to arrive at consensus views. And there are many areas and artifacts that even still remain disputed. This is the nature of the field where interpretation is integral and certainty is often illusory. If you are serious about investigating or studying archaeology you will need to access professional journals and publications to acquaint yourself with all the relevant information. Forget about Wikipedia.

Obviously, this requires a major commitment of time. Perhaps you would be interested in taking courses or even pursuing a degree. You will have to decide that for yourself.

We at ABR attempt to render service for the layperson. But it simply impossible to pronounce on all the questions and discoveries out there. We have to be selective about what we spend time researching. Let us know if we can be of any assistance.  

Brian Janeway

ABR - 4/1/2010 2:44:25 PM

6/10/2010 12:45 AM #

Dr. Wood,
     I am a conservative believer and have studied Semitic Epigraphy and Paleography and from a quick view of the Khirbet Qeiyafa inscription, the script most likely dates to either the early to mid 12th B.C or the early to late 11th B.C.  Emile Puech takes this position in his new article in Revue Biblique (January 2010).   There are several arguments for this position.  The first one is that the script of the Qeiyafa inscription is similar to the Izbet Sartah inscription, a Canaanite inscription that dates to the 12th B.C., along with Beth Shemesh, dated to the 11th B.C.   The second is that the script is written from left to right and could be read from top to bottom, as many Canaanite inscriptions were written before the standardization of the left-to-right and finally the right-to-left which is found in Phoenician, and Hebrew beginning in the 10th-9th B.C.  A third point is that the words such as mlk, 'bd and others are attested in Hebrew, they are also in Phoenician, Aramaic, Ugaritic and Hebrew.  I am going to draw and analyze the letters  of the Qeiyafa inscription and provide a preliminary translation soon.  

Lamont T. Conyers - 6/10/2010 12:45:58 AM

6/14/2010 11:15 AM #

Dr. Tee,
      I understand your argument, but keep this in mind.  In the ANE, there were clearly differences in the education level of the citizens.  For example, even Moses was clearly educated in the literature of Egypt and other languages (Acts 7:22) over the other Israelites.  Dr. Wood is correct about the Gezer calendar because it is written by a school boy practicing on the limestone tablet. This would assume that he was taught by a teacher of professional of the day.    The Kings of the ANE had scribes to write their material, as well as OT prophets such as Baruch in Jeremiah 45.  In Epigraphy, the focus of the material is the typological changes in the way that the alphabetic script is written through the centuries.  I wrote a paper on the 10th-8th B.C. Phoenician script and you can see the changes in the way that the alphabet was written.  While you may be correct in the fact that all the people of the ancient near east could write in some form.  There is a difference of the writings of the professional scribe, students and other citizens in the ANE.  

Lamont T. Conyers - 6/14/2010 11:15:06 AM

6/15/2010 5:06 PM #

I am not going to do a drawn out argument here but simply say that I willdisagree and agree with different aspects of your point. Changes in the alphabet does not indicate the educational levels of a country's citizens. The english language has changed dramatically over the past 300 years and in all centuries there were very educated citizens who were not in the employ of the government

Also, there are different levels of education even today as not everyone goes to an ivy league school and many do not even go to college thus your point is really moot.I do not really care if the Gezer alendar was written by a schoolboy or not that is not my point My point is that it is dangerous to extrapolate a conclusion about a society based upon such limited evidence.

Unless one was there it really is difficult to determine how educated a people were and how they 'worshipped' their leader. Take North Korea for example, they have a leader cult there but not everyone 'worships' either Kim Il-sung or Kim Jong-il and though it is a crude education, even their labor camp children go to school.

As to your last sentence, there are differences even today as some people learned and use caligraphy and others do cursive while still others simply print their language. God didn't make the ancients any different than he made the modern people and their desires are no different than ours. When people do archaeology and they want to draw conclusions about past societies, they always make one glaring error--they ignore God and His work and remove it from the equation when doing their calculations.

No matter how hard people try they cannot remove God from the picture or it provides a distorted view of the past.If one is a christian, they need to consider the source of the analyzation and whether the archaeologist or scholar is an expert or not, if they are not believers in Christ then their work, their conclusions, their theories are suspect and should not be followed by believers. God's rules do not change because the field of research changes, they apply to all fields and all aspects of life.

dr. david t. - 6/15/2010 5:06:25 PM

6/16/2010 9:09 PM #

Dr. Tee,
      There are several aspects to your argument that is difficult to accept.  The first one is that no one is taking God out of the equation.  I believe and know that God is at work in time and history and in ANE culture as well.  Just because one is an archaeologist or an Epigrapher, does not mean that their conclusions are faulty just because someone does not agree with their research and they are not believers.  There are some wonderful believers that are archaeologists.  While some individuals feel that some archaeologists draw conclusions not based on biblical evidence, I am not one of that school at all.  The purpose of Archaeology is to give a window to the past of ANE culture.    Secondly, in Archaeology, which Dr. Wood will attest to is that there have been many Archaeological finds in the ANE that support the arguments of the scriptures, which testify to its inerrancy.  In research, conclusions are drawn by the reader and the researcher.  Sometimes individuals will agree with you and at other times with me.  Christians should use the tools of research to engage others who disagree with them, which includes the field of Archaeology.  

Lamont Conyers - 6/16/2010 9:09:01 PM

9/24/2013 10:33 PM #

I believe the 4 chambered gate at Khirbet Qeifaya is a military defensive position allowing the defenders to attack the front and flank of an attackers and giving the defenders a great numerical advantage over the attackers.
Furthermore the 4 chambered gate under Saul & David evolved into the famous 6 chambered Gates under Solomon cf: I Kings 9:15
This simple defensive gate coupled with a case mate wall would allow simple towns to become more defensible walled cities and explain the rapid rise of Israel to world power status under David and Solomon.
When Yigael Yadin excivated Hazor he found mason marks under the gate stones ... have looked under the gate stones at Khirbet Qeifaya?    

Kelly Lawson - 9/24/2013 10:33:21 PM

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