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(2015) The Ophel Pithos Inscription: Its Dating, Language, Translation, and Script

The summer of 2013 offered the exciting announcement from the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs that Eilat Mazar’s excavational team had found potsherds of an inscribed pithos in the Ophel of Jerusalem that the excavators dated to the tenth century
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  THE OPHEL PITHOS INSCRIPTION: ITS DATING,LANGUAGE, TRANSLATION, AND SCRIPT D   P  The summer of 2013 offered the exciting announcement from the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs that Eilat  Mazar  ’ s excavational team had found potsherds of an inscribed pithos in the Ophel of Jerusalem that the excavators dated to the 10th century  BC  , which many have called the oldest Hebrew inscription ever uncovered at Jerusalem. The pithos in question was one of seven discovered in a foundational deposit as part of a fill,under a building that was constructed on bedrock. Numerous scholars have chronicled their opinions of the Ophel inscription  ’ s transcription and language, mostly utilising online blogs. This work seeks to delve deeper into the identification of each letter on the inscription, the language and translation of its text, and the dating of the potsherds of the inscribed pithos based on its findspot, with the intent of resolving each of these matters as confidently as possible.Keywords: Ophel inscription, 10th century  BC  , paleo-Hebrew alphabet, Jerusalem, pseudo-wine   .    During the    excavations at the Ophel, which is located in Jerusalem between the TempleMount and the City of David, Eilat Mazar ’ s archaeological team discovered the remains of alarge building that dates to the early Iron Age IIA, an archaeological period variously dated to c  .   –     ( Stern   ,    ),  c  .   –  /     ( Mazar   ,    ), and  c  .   –    ( Finkelstein and Piasetzky    ,    ). The building was constructed on bedrock, but sincepart of the bedrock featured a slight depression in elevation, seven  pithoi   (large storage jars)were placed within it as part of a fill, in order to stabilise the earth under this section of thebuilding ( Mazar, Ben-Shlomo, and Ah   ̣ ituv    ,    ).The seven pithoi are of the Type-A and Type-B varieties, with no pithos of the Type-C variety having been found in the depression (designated L.  C by Mazar). The neckless,folded-out-rim pithos of the Iron Age II most likely is the successor to the collared-rim jarof the Iron Age I. The earliest form of the neckless pithos (late Iron Age I?) evolved into theType-A variety of the early Iron Age IIA, a variant that rapidly developed into the Type-B version with a horizontal, elongated rim, which was followed immediately by the Type-C version ( Mazar, Ben-Shlomo, and Ah   ̣ ituv    ,    ).One of the pithoi (Pithos   ; Fig.    ) of the Type-B variety was inscribed with writing along the rim while the clay was still moist, thus before the jar entered the potter ’ s kiln. The text waswritten in a script that has parallels from Tel Batash/Timnah, Izbet S   ̣ art   ̣ ah, Khirbet Qeiyafa,Tell Fekheriyeh, and several other sites (Fig.    ). The purpose of this work is to examine morecarefully and resolve several crucial matters related to the Ophel Pithos Inscription, including the identification of each letter, the language and translation of the text, and the dating andsignificance of the inscribed rim-sherd.  Address correspondence to: Douglas Petrovich, NMC Department, University of Toronto,    Bancroft Avenue,Toronto, ON M  S   C  , Canada, dp@exegesisinternational.org  Palestine Exploration Quarterly ,   ,    (    ),   –  © Palestine Exploration Fund     :   .  /  Y.    .          The vital part of Pithos    consists of two separate potsherds that were reconnected by Mazar ’ steam. The text of the inscription reads either sinistrograde (right-to-left) or dextrograde(left-to-right), an area of dispute among scholars and a matter that will be discussed atgreater length below. Ah   ̣ ituv was the first to suggest that the inscription reads dextrograde, ‘ as evident from the stance of the letters ’  ( Mazar, Ben-Shlomo, and Ah   ̣ ituv    ,    ). The Fig.   . Inscribed potsherd (Courtesy of   IEJ   and Eilat Mazar).Fig.   . Comparative chart of letters (Courtesy of   IEJ   and Shmuel Ah   ̣ ituv).         stance of the letters, however, does not necessarily indicate the direction of reading, as evi-denced by the bronze bowl from Tekke, with several letters of atypical stance for an inscriptionthat clearly reads sinistrograde ( Naveh   ,   , fig.   ; see esp. initial  kaf   ,  mem  , and later  kaf    ).Sinistrograde is the normal direction for reading a Hebrew text of the Iron Age IIA andthereafter, because the direction of writing seemingly became fixed as sinistrograde during theterminal phase of the   nd millennium    ( Rollston    ). Table    features preliminary readingsof the letters on the inscription that various scholars have offered. As for the translation of the inscription, the press release of the excavators states that  “ [b]ecause the inscription is not in Hebrew, itis likely to have been written by one of the non-Israeliresidents of Jerusalem, perhaps Jebusites, whowere part ofthe city[  ’ s]populationinthe timeof Kings David and Solomon ”  ( Mazar    ). The beginning of the press release even states thatthe inscription was written in  ‘ the Canaanite language ’ . While a Jebusite or Canaanite attri-bution certainly is possible if based solely on the script, the orthographic evidence reveals thatthe inscription most likely was written in Hebrew, which will be demonstrated below. A comparison of the letters on the inscription to those of other Hebrew inscriptions inFig.   , such as the Qeiyafa Ostracon inscription, strongly points to Hebrew as the languageof the inscription. Beyond this, Gershon Galil was the first to translate and plausibly identify the meaning of the inscription ( Galil   a ), based on his reconstruction of two partially written letters ( Galil   b; Fig.   , from Galil   d,   , fig.    ), so credit for numerous partsof the subsequent discussion of its translation goes to him.The one presumably Hebrew word that can be read in its entirety is  h    ̣ lq  , which consists of letters   –   (Fig.    ). There are two verbal roots for  h    ̣ lq  : one root means,  ‘ divide, obtain one ’ sshare, allot, apportion, assign, distribute ’ , in the  qal   stem; the other root means,  ‘ be smooth,be slippery, be deceptive ’  in the  qal  . In the nominal form, the former root means,  ‘ aportion, share, tract, territory, piece of land, division ’ , with no adjectival form of the wordattested ( Luc   ,   –   ).In the nominal form, the latter root means,  ‘ smoothness, flattery  ’ , while the adjectivalform is rendered,  ‘ smooth ’  ( Luc   ,    ). The sense of   ‘ smooth ’  possesses a negative conno-tation, such as the lips of the immoral woman that are smoother than oil (Prov    :   ). The verbaluse does not seem to be in view in the Ophel Pithos inscription, given the syntactical position of  h    ̣ lq   in the context, as a verb typically begins Hebrew clauses. The standard sequence is verb+subject+direct object. On the potsherd, a noun immediately precedes  h    ̣ lq  , as will be seenshortly. Therefore, an adjectival use would be expected for this word.Thederivative formsofthe latter rootof  h    ̣ lq   occurtwenty-eighttimes in theHebrew Bible,and the principal employment is of smooth speech or flattery ( Wiseman and Harris   ,    ). T     : Readings of the letters on the Ophel pithos inscription (right-to-left)Letter #           Ah   ̣ ituv   nun   –  lamed  ?  nun h    ̣ et peh qof mem  Rollston  shin   –  Re  š   nun h    ̣ et lamed qof mem  Colless  nun lamed  ?  Nun nun h    ̣ et peh re  š   mem  Lehmann  nun s    ̣ ade Mem nun h    ̣ et peh qof mem  Demsky   nun   –  (space)  nun h    ̣ et lamed re  š   mem  Galil  mem yod Yod nun h    ̣ et lamed qof mem  Petrovich  nun yod Yod nun h    ̣ et lamed qof mem        ,   ,   ,    The word was used descriptively of the flattering words of a seductress (Prov    :   ), the smooth-ing of metal by a metalworker (Isa   :   ), and David ’ s stones that were shaped into roundedform by the water of a stream and used against Goliath (    Sam   :   ). Since the wordbefore  h    ̣ lq   seems to be a noun, an adjectival use is most probable for  h    ̣ lq   here in the OphelPithos inscription, provisionally rending the word,  ‘ smooth (?) ’ .Next, this fully legible adjective meaning   ‘ smooth ’  needs a noun to modify. In Hebrew,nouns typically precede adjectives, which is always the case with attribute adjectives, so theword before  ‘ smooth ’  would be that modified noun. Here is where Galil ’ s brilliant Fig.   . Reconstructed reading of the Ophel pithos inscription (suggested by Gershon Galil).Fig.   . Reconstructed reading of the Ophel pithos inscription (suggested by Douglas Petrovich).         reconstruction comes into play. The letter to the right of the  h    ̣ et   clearly is a  nun   (  n   ), making it thelast letter of the noun modified by   ‘ smooth ’  (Figs.   ,   , and    ).To the right of the  nun   (letter    ) are two pincer-like strokes, which seem to join with theremnant of a straight stroke to their lower left, written on the lower potsherd. Unfortunately,the central part of the letter(s) that was between these strokes is obscured, since a partial lacunais formed by a missing piece of the pithos. After many hours of efforts at reconstruction, thepresent writer concluded that there is no single letter that can be formed with the pincer-likestrokes and the single stroke to their lower left. Lehmann and Zernecke (   ,    ) recon-structed  s    ̣ ade   and  mem  , reading from right-to-left, but a  mem   seems quite forced here ( Galil  d,    ), with the reason being that the left pincer-stroke does not align sufficiently withthe lower left remnant-stroke to warrant this reading (Fig.    ).While the writings of Colless and Demsky display uncertainty about assigning a letter tothese strokes ( Colless   ; Demsky     ), Rollston (    ) opts for a  re  š  , while Ah   ̣ ituv ( Mazar,Ben-Shlomo, and Ah   ̣ ituv    ,    ) considers it as possibly being a  lamed  . Contrastingly, Galilhas suggested that the pincer-like strokes do not derive from the same letter, but from twoseparate letters ( Galil   d,    ), each being a  yod  . Galil ’ s reconstruction of two  yod  s follows Ada Yardeni ’ s reconstruction of a similarly shaped  yod   on the Qeiyafa Ostracon inscription( Galil   ,   ; Yardeni   ,   –   ).Galil is correct that there is no space between the letters here, as Demsky  ’ s reading wouldimply, because the potsherd clearly betrays the presence of a tail of a letter ( Galil   d,    ).Galil ’ s reconstruction is logical, because the thickness and direction of the two pincer-likestrokes on the inscription actually do not match one another (Fig.    ). Thus these are not sym-metrical strokes of the same letter, but asymmetrical and unconnected strokes of letters thatwere angled in a slightly different direction from one another, with two distinct thicknesses.If two Hebrew   yod  s were written here (Figs.    and    ), all of the difficulties can be resolved;moreover, the noun  yyn   (  ‘ wine ’  ) fits perfectly with the fully legible adjective that follows thenoun. Here are the positives with Galil ’ s reconstruction: (    ) it provides a solid — and evenexpected — noun that works harmoniously with the adjective that follows; (    ) it accounts forthe otherwise unsightly and inexplicable gap between letter    and the non-symmetrical, pincer-like strokes; and (    ) it makes perfectly plausible use of the pincer-like strokes that simply cannotwork together with thefragmentedstroke totheirlowerlefttoform  any known individual letter.With this reading of the letters on the inscription, what were thought to be seven lettersbecome eight. At this point, Galil appealed to a formulaic pattern for the labelling of wine jarsthat was common in Egypt from the   th to  th centuries   :(    )regnal date;(    ) classificationof commodity; (    ) provenience, or place of production; and (    ) producer/vintner. Ah   ̣ ituv previously noted that the letters on the Ophel inscription might refer to the name of theowner of the pithos, to its addressee, or to its contents ( Mazar, Ben-Shlomo, and Ah   ̣ ituv   ,    ). If Galil ’ s perceptive reconstruction is correct, Ah   ̣ ituv  ’ s assertion would be justified. As an example, Galil cited an Egyptian wine-jar label that reads,  ‘ Year   : Sweet wine  – from the Estate of Aton ’  (  Č erný    ,   , no.    ). This formula would work well with the OphelPithos inscription, since the latter inscription ’ s final visible letter on the left is  mem  , which prob-ably begins the Hebrew preposition  min   (  ‘ from ’  ), thus introducing the provenience of the wineand its pithos, and leading to the non-extant name of the vintner.Wineries, labelling of commodities, and year – date/month – day formulas all werecommon during Judah ’ s later monarchy. A thriving winery was found at Gibeon of the  th –  th centuries   , including sixty-three rock-hewn cellars, large storage jars that in somecases bore inscribed handles, clay stoppers that sealed the mouths of the jars, and a clay funnel that fits the mouths of the storage jars perfectly ( Pritchard   ,   –  ;   ,   –   ).The handles on the wine-jars at Gibeon were much smaller than the rims of the Ophelpithoi, and thus possessed insufficient space for a full, year – date formula, but there was       ,   ,   ,  
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