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Hebrew Older than Orginally Thought

January 18, 2010

From the UPI News Service

HAIFA, Israel, Jan. 8 (UPI) — A recently deciphered inscription suggests writing of the Bible began during the era of King David, four centuries earlier than previously thought, experts say.

The ink inscription on clay is the oldest Hebrew writing yet found, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported Friday.

Found in an archaeological dig at Khirbet Qeiyafa in the Elah Valley in Israel, it was dated to the 10th century B.C.

The inscription relates to “slaves, widows and orphans,” said Gershon Galil, a professor at Haifa University who deciphered the early form of Hebrew.

Such subjects are typical of biblical texts, he said, but almost unheard of in surrounding cultures.

Galil says the inscription disproves the current theory that claims the Bible could not have been written before the sixth century B.C. because Hebrew writing did not exist until that time.

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24 Comments leave one →
  1. January 18, 2010 7:32 pm

    Good stuff. It doesn’t push back Hebrew writing all the way to 13/1400 B.C., the traditional date of the Pentateuch being given to Moses, but it certainly does make traditional dates for the Hebrew Bible, especially Samuel, Kings, etc. more historically plausible. The text also sounds really Biblish, although it doesn’t exactly match any part of the Bible. More information and an English translation can be found here: http://blog.bibleplaces.com/2010/01/qeiyafa-inscription-translation-by.html

  2. Andrew permalink
    January 19, 2010 1:58 am

    Either someone’s been very optimistic here or the journalist or PR flack involved has butchered the story out of all recognition.

    Nobody seriously believes that Hebrew writing didn’t exist at all before the 6th C. BC because we already have examples of it from the 8th C and a few from the 10th C or earlier, and we know its relationship to other alphabets such as the Phoenician one. Look up artifacts like the Zayit Stone and the Gezer Calendar for example.

    The usual theory regarding the date of composition of the Pentateuch dates it to no earlier than the 5th or 6th C based on the entire body of evidence (it’s clearly edited together from multiple sources which may have been older written documents), not on some idea that Hebrew writing didn’t exist before then.

    Plus, it’s clear that someone is not just jumping to conclusions but employing a motorcycle, ramp and rocket boosters in this statement:

    “… and that at least some of the biblical texts were written hundreds of years before the dates presented in current research.”

    The inscription doesn’t quote or make reference to any biblical text, so it says absolutely nothing about the date of composition of any biblical text. Even if it had in fact pushed back the date of Hebrew writings significantly, that does not mean that any known document not quoted or referenced was written earlier than previously thought, at most it would mean that such documents could have been written earlier. And even that much would be too strong a statement given the existing known Hebrew writings.

    (See, for example, Dr. Robert Cargill’s response. Note in particular, from the comments there, that there have been previous publications regarding this same fragment.)

    Given the obviously unwarranted conclusion there, in my opinion the whole of the press release has to be treated with considerable skepticism.

  3. Andrew permalink
    January 19, 2010 1:59 am

    Meh. italics fail.

  4. sidhra كلبة permalink
    January 19, 2010 3:43 pm

    UPI News Service = Sun Myung Moon.

  5. thomas2026 permalink*
    January 19, 2010 3:47 pm

    Does this really matter to the content of the article? If it does, just google it, and you will find it mentioned on a number of other news sites.

  6. sidhra كلبة permalink
    January 19, 2010 4:02 pm

    I’ve read other sources (Cargill, above). The content of the article is shaded in both style and substance to imply, as Andrew said, that the composition of the biblical tales took place years earlier than current scholarship allows. Since this really is not the case, its breathless conjectures might be derived from the fact that the source is an arm of the Unification Church. So, yes. It does matter.

  7. sidhra كلبة permalink
    January 19, 2010 4:03 pm

    Strike “source”, insert “reporting”.

  8. sidhra كلبة permalink
    January 19, 2010 4:35 pm

    So, you cite another source with a similar agenda? Remarkable. This must be what you meant by “peer review”.

  9. Knockgoats permalink
    January 19, 2010 6:06 pm

    But, but, but sidhra – Jon the homophobic hypocrite is linking to a Christian website – Christians would never, ever, ever over-interpret the evidence in favour of their beliefs! Surely you know that?

  10. thomas2026 permalink*
    January 19, 2010 6:07 pm

    Sidhra,
    If you read the article, you’ll notice they are advocating a more cautious apporach to the find.

  11. Andrew permalink
    January 19, 2010 6:37 pm

    Yeah, that Christianity Today article is much better.

  12. Knockgoats permalink
    January 19, 2010 6:42 pm

    True, it is better. I apologise.

  13. sidhra كلبة permalink
    January 19, 2010 8:45 pm

    Better, certainly more balanced.
    My initial point was it does help to consider the source.
    I point out the UPI/Mooney connection, in a clearly biased article, you say so what, I say yeah, the source may have something to do with the reporting, you give me a different source. See what’s missing here, Jon? I’ll tell you: you didn’t address the initial criticism of featuring a biased, unrepresentative of scholarship piece on your blog instead of something that enlightened both as to the find, and the way it fits in to the state of archaeology.

  14. Knockgoats permalink
    January 19, 2010 8:50 pm

    sidhra’s right; and Jon-the-homophobic-hypocrite entitles the thread “Hebrew Older Than Originally Thought”, which does not appear to be justified by the find.

  15. thomas2026 permalink*
    January 19, 2010 9:35 pm

    Honestly, I just put up the article for discussion, Sidhra. I didn’t really give a thought to the actual news source. In fact, let’s be honest, do you really think Moon has an interest in proving the Hebrew bible true? Unlikely. So, that is why I consider your point invalid. If, however, it had been say, CBN (Pat’s network) your point would have some merit.

  16. Andrew permalink
    January 19, 2010 9:39 pm

    sidhra, the unwarranted hype did not come from UPI, but from the original press release from the University of Haifa:

    The significance of this breakthrough relates to the fact that at least some of the biblical scriptures were composed hundreds of years before the dates presented today in research and that the Kingdom of Israel already existed at that time.

  17. thomas2026 permalink*
    January 19, 2010 9:39 pm

    Actually, Knockgoats , if you look over the internet, that’s exactly what scholars are discussing about this find. Notice, I said specifically that the lanugage of Hebrew is older than thought, not the Bible.

  18. sidhra كلبة permalink
    January 19, 2010 10:22 pm

    Thanks, Andrew. Really, when the stories were written have little to do with their nature. I’m sure Haifa’s hype is linked to another agenda rather more human than divine.

    I’m tired of counting angels, and I’ve lost my last pin.

    Peace.

  19. January 20, 2010 12:20 am

    And now a Ph.D. from John Hopkins U is saying that the ostracon might not even be Hebrew, because it doesn’t contain any words not found in a variety of cognate language, and because the words are quite difficult to decipher: http://www.rollstonepigraphy.com/?p=56. If this guy turns out to be right, the find might not mean anything for Biblical studies.

  20. Knockgoats permalink
    January 20, 2010 4:10 am

    In fact, let’s be honest, do you really think Moon has an interest in proving the Hebrew bible true? – jon-thh

    Of course he does you ignoramus. He claims to be the second coming of Christ.

  21. Alex permalink
    January 20, 2010 4:15 am

    Personally, I find it amazing that some people here are surprised by biblical scholars applying biblically applicable findings to biblical scholarship. Of course Jon is going to cite Christian news sites about this story – Scientific American is too busy being scientific. A large part of Hebrew historical and linguistic studies are happening in religious institutions, and it’s not exactly like there’s a big freethought student organization on campus at Haifa U.

    As for the article from Rollston, it’s an interesting counterpoint, but I’m not fully convinced of an argument that is, essentially, akin to saying that this post might not be in English because the Cyrillic alphabet also has a “P” character. Certainly, there are cognates here compared to other Semitic languages, even further removed sister languages. Still, Afro-Asiatics are in many ways far more difficult to understand than Proto-Indo-European relationships. As even Rollston pointed out, he’s not so much saying it negates earlier claims, as makes them a little more suspect.

    Any linguistic analysis based on artifacts such as these is bound to be significantly conjectural, especially at first. Even in the best conditions, as much as half of the text may be nothing more than hypothetical. I am not optimistic, but remain interested in seeing how this discussion pans out over the following months of analysis. The dead sea scrolls it ain’t, and I doubt it’s going to get any truly mainstream media attention, scientific or spiritual, but I love linguistic issues like these, and appreciate you posting the link, Jon!

  22. Knockgoats permalink
    January 20, 2010 4:34 am

    Personally, I find it amazing that some people here are surprised by biblical scholars applying biblically applicable findings to biblical scholarship. -Alex

    No-one has expressed such surprise. It’s simply that this find appears to have been oversold by its finder (no surprise there, and equally common in palaeontology – e.g. “Ida”).

    A large part of Hebrew historical and linguistic studies are happening in religious institutions

    Which is of course a big problem for the intellectual integrity of the field. Every scrap of dubious scribble is hailed as proving something-or-other which Christians, Zionists or both desperately want to be true.

  23. Knockgoats permalink
    January 20, 2010 4:47 am

    BTW, jon-thh, I’d drop the “To be honest…”, “Let’s be honest”, “I’ll be honest…” if I were you (perish the thought). Anyone with more than three brain-cells automatically up their estimate of the probability that what follows any such phrase is a lie.

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