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Inscriptions 3

21 Jun
#41 Gezer Calendar

The Gezer calendar, 10th century B.C., discovered in 1908 by Irish archaeologist R. A. S. Macalister. The verse inscribed on soft limestone is a ditty which lists the months by their agricultural tasks. It seems to have been a schoolchild’s exercise tablet. Before the discovery of the Izbet Sartah sherd the Gezer calendar was considered the oldest Hebrew inscription of any length(Shanks, H. (Ed.). (1978). BAR 04:03 (Sep/Oct 1978).

The tablet bearing the Gezer Calendar measures 10.77 × 6.99 × 1.59 centimeters. It is composed of soft limestone, and its right-hand corner is missing. Both the front and back of the tablet show signs of repeated use, with erasure and new writing. This led McCarter and Dobbs-Allsopp to conclude that the tablet was a practice tablet and that the text was likely a standard formulaic inscription used in scribal training (McCarter, “The Gezer Calendar,” 2:222; Dobbs-Allsopp, Hebrew Inscriptions, 156–7). Albright argues that the text “is written in verse and seems to have been a kind of mnemonic ditty for children” (Albright, “The Gezer Calendar,” 16–26).

The text describes agricultural activities that begin in the fall and occur over a 12-month period. It is written on seven lines, which have been translated below and arranged for clarity:(Babcock, B. C. (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015). Gezer Calendar. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.)

#42 Uriah Epitaph from Khirbet el-Qom

It is the epitaph of a man named Uriah, who invokes the blessing of the Israelite God Yahweh on himself, though details of his words are obscured by a jumble of scratches and grooves that litter the surface of the stone. The text exhibits the language and orthography (spelling conventions) of the southern or Judahite dialect of Hebrew in the pre-exilic period. Both the script and the associated pottery are typical of the region in the latter part of the eighth century B.C. (Shanks, H. (Ed.). (1996). BAR 22:02 (March/April 1996).

#43 Stonecutter’s inscription from Khirbet el-Qom

I had just assigned the Uriah epitaph to a graduate seminar when I learned of the tomb inscription published in the Deutsch and Heltzer book. I instantly recognized the script and even the soft Senonian chalk that Dever says is characteristic of the area around Khirbet el-Kom.† This new inscription must be from el-Kom or its immediate vicinity—in short, an el-Kom inscription that Dever had not been able to rescue from the antiquities market.†

The new inscription has two lines. Deutsch and Heltzer read the inscription as follows: “Bless your stonecutter(s)! In this will rest the elders. Making the slight, but significant, required changes, the inscription can more accurately be translated as follows: “Blessed be your stonecutter! May he lay old people to rest here!”

The Hebrew word rendered “stonecutter” (ḥṣb) is the same word used in the famous Siloam inscription to refer to the workers who cut the tunnel in the rock beneath the city of Jerusalem.* Here the word must refer to the man who has hewn the burial chambers out of the limestone and otherwise shaped the cave for its use as a tomb. Perhaps he is called “your stonecutter” because he assumed that any reader of the inscription would be a citizen of the region and therefore a beneficiary of the craftsman’s work (“the man who cuts [a tomb] for you”). (Shanks, H. (Ed.). (1996). BAR 22:02 (March/April 1996).

#44 Siloam Tunnel Inscription

King Hezekiah of Judah ruled from 721 to 686 BC, and, fearing a siege by the Assyrian Sennacherib, he preserved Jerusalem’s water supply by having a tunnel cut through 534 m (1750 ft) of solid rock from the Gihon Spring to the Pool of Siloam inside the city walls (2 Kgs 20; 2 Chr 32). At the Siloam end of the tunnel, an inscription, presently in the archaeological museum at Istanbul, celebrates this remarkable accomplishment. The tunnel is probably the only Biblical site that has not changed its appearance in 2, 700 years.(2004). Bible and Spade (2004), 17(3), 92.

Hezekiah’s Tunnel (also called the Siloam Tunnel, which is not to be confused with the Siloam Channel) connects the Gihon Spring to what is known today as the Pool of Siloam. It is believed Hezekiah built it to bring water within the city walls. The Siloam Channel would take water from the Gihon—the principal source of water for ancient Jerusalem—southward along the eastern slope of the city, providing irrigation for the Kidron Valley before reaching its reservoir. However, this channel lay outside the city walls and would be vulnerable during a time of war. Therefore, under threat of Assyrian invasion led by Sennacherib in 701 BC (2 Kgs 18:13), Hezekiah made a tunnel to divert water into the city. The Siloam Inscription memorializes the amazing feat of the tunnel’s construction, suggesting two teams of diggers started at opposite ends and met each other in the middle.

The Siloam Inscription was discovered in 1880. The inscription is distinct from the epigraphic style of the ancient Near East from ninth to seventh century BC in that it does not include a name of a king or deity (Levi della Vida, “The Shiloah Inscription Reconsidered,” 163). The inscription may have been made by a foreman or one of the workers themselves.

The Siloam Inscription, which is now found in the Museum of the Ancient Orient in Istanbul, consists of six lines written in paleo-Hebrew script. It was chiseled onto a smooth, prepared surface of which the top portion is bare. Because of this, it is likely that either half of the inscription is missing or that the upper half was planned to depict a relief of a worker (Sasson, “Siloam Tunnel Inscription,” 111).

W. F. Albright’s translation of the inscription reads as follows (from ANET, 321):

“[… when] (the tunnel) was driven through. And this was the way in which it was cut through:—While […] (were) still […] axe(s), each man toward his fellow, and while there were still three cubits to be cut through, [there was heard] the voice of a man calling to his fellow, for there was an overlap in the rock on the right [and on the left]. And when the tunnel was driven through, the quarrymen hewed (the rock), each man toward his fellow, axe against axe; and the water flowed from the spring toward the reservoir for 1,200 cubits, and the height of the rock above the head(s) of the quarrymen was 100 cubits.”

Due to its content and paleography, the inscription is traditionally dated to the reign of Hezekiah in the late eighth century (ca. 700 BC). In 1996, John Rogerson and Philip Davies argued for a later date for the inscription and tunnel, suggesting they were created in the second century BC (Rogerson and Davies, “Was the Siloam Tunnel Built by Hezekiah?”). Hackett and others strongly rebuffed their paleographic and linguistic analysis (Hackett et al., “Defusing Pseudo-Scholarship“; see also Norin, “Age of the Siloam Inscription,” 37–48). In 2003, radiometric dating placed the tunnel’s construction at approximately 700 BC. Based on these findings, Frumkin, Shimron, and Rosenbaum comment, “The three independent lines of evidence—radiometric dating, paleography, and the historical record—all converge on about 700 BC, rendering the Siloam Tunnel the best-dated Iron-Age biblical structure thus far known” (Frumkin, Shimron, and Rosenbaum, “Radiometric Dating of the Siloam Tunnel, Jerusalem,” 169–71).(Pang, J. (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015). Siloam Inscription. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.)

#45 Royal Steward Inscription

This well-known tomb from Silwan is shown in the photo above as it appears today and as drawn by the French excavator Clermont-Ganneau in 1874, when it was first studied. The tomb contains a main chamber (entered through the doorway at left) and a secondary chamber to the right. Nahman Avigad suggested that this tomb, too, had originally been topped by a pyramid.

Clermont-Ganneau discovered two inscriptions, a longer one over the entrance and a shorter one to the right of the entrance. In order to save the inscriptions, Clermont-Ganneau had them cut out of the facade, leaving behind the two wide depressions seen today. The inscriptions are today in the British Museum.

Resisting decipherment for nearly 80 years, the longer of the Royal Steward inscriptions is now known to read: “This is [the sepulchre of … ]yahu who is over the house. There is no silver and no gold here/but [his bones] and the bones of his amah with him. Cursed be the man/who will open this!”

The term “who is over the house” is a title meaning royal steward, the most important functionary in the royal household. Amah may be a term for a slave-wife or it may be a title akin to “Lady.” Scholars believe the tomb had been built for Shebnayahu, the royal steward excoriated in Isaiah 22:15–17: “Go in to see that steward, that Shebna [a shortened form of Shebnayahu], in charge of the palace … O you who have hewn your tomb on high; O you who have hollowed out for yourself an abode in the cliff! The Lord is about to shake you.”(Shanks, H. (Ed.). (1994). BAR 20:03 (May/June 1994).

#46 Silver Scrolls

Dr. Gabriel Barkay conducted three seasons of excavations on the slope of the Valley of Ben-Hinnom, Just north of St. Andrew’s Church in south Jerusalem, between the years 1975 and 1980. During these years he uncovered a large number of ancient tombs from several historical periods. Most of them had been robbed or disturbed long ago. In 1979 he discovered in the course of his work one unspoiled tomb of pre-exilic times (No. 25). This was a truly remarkable find, since tombs of the period of the Hebrew kings have rarely survived without having been entered and robbed of their contents long ago.

This tomb, which from the nature of its contents can be dated to the end of the seventh and the beginning of the sixth centuries BC, (the time of the prophet Jeremiah), was a large family burial place. It contained the skeletal remains of 95 individuals and a repository of about a thousand objects. Among them were 263 complete pottery vessels, 101 pieces of Jewelry, of which six were of gold and 95 of silver, also many carved objects of bone and ivory, 41 arrowheads of iron and bronze, and one small colored glass vessel, an amphoriskos.

However, the most sensational finds were two tiny silver scrolls tightly rolled up. One was about one inch long and less than half an inch thick, the other

only half an inch long and a fifth of an inch thick. The excavators assumed that these scrolls had served as amulets and contained inscriptions. For this reason, they were anxious to see them unrolled.

Because of the difficulties involved in unrolling such extremely thin 2,500 year old scrolls of corroded silver sheets, it was thought best to send them to the University of Leeds in Britain, where some of the most experienced restorers of ancient artifacts and metal experts were available for such delicate work. However, the British experts felt that the danger of destroying the scrolls in the process of unrolling was too great to attempt this work. Therefore they declined to attempt the unrolling and returned the scrolls to Israel. The same disappointment was experienced when the scrolls were sent to Germany for unrolling.

The result was that the Israeli technicians in the laboratories of the Israel Museum were forced to attempt to do the job themselves. After many difficulties they developed a special method that enabled them to unroll the two tiny silver sheets with success. After the scrolls had been unrolled and cleaned, they confirmed the expectations of the excavators — they did indeed contain written texts!

And what were the contents of the texts? It was the priestly benediction found in the Scriptures, in Numbers 6:24–26: “May Yahweh bless you, and keep you; may Yahweh let his face shine upon you and give you peacel

These were the earliest inscriptions ever found in Jerusalem that contain the name of Israel’s God, Yahweh, and the earliest copies of a Bible text in existence. These few verses from one of the books of the Pentateuch predate the earliest Biblical copies of the Dead Sea Scrolls by 400 years and bring us back to the period that preceded the Babylonian exile. This find certainly refutes those scholars who claim that the books of Moses had not been reduced to writing until the Babylonian Captivity or later. For here we find a small portion of the flve books of Moses literally quoted, well before the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar and the deportation of the citizens of the Kingdom of Judah to Babylonia.

The exhibition of these unrolled tiny scrolls in the Israel Museum – one under a large magnifying glass – gives all visitors to that fine institution a possibility to view these important witnesses of the existence of a part of God’s Word in the seventh-sixth centuries BC(1987). Bible and Spade (1987), 0.

#47 Votive Inscription

Definitely Dan. Professor Biran’s 1976 discovery of this 6-by-10-inch limestone tablet confirmed the identity of the site he was digging. The bilingual inscription in Greek (top three lines) and Aramaic (bottom line) refers to a person named Zoilos who made a vow to the “god who is in Dan,” or, in an alternative reading, to the “god of the Danites.” Found in Tel Dan’s sacred area, this votive inscription dates to the late third or early second centuries B.C. based on the style of the scripts. (Shanks, H. (Ed.). (1994). BAR 20:02 (March/April 1994).

#48 Balustrade Inscription

Gentiles: Keep out. Found in 1935 in Jerusalem’s Old City, this fragmentary limestone slab was once part of a balustrade that surrounded the inner courts of Herod’s Temple. The slab bore a Greek inscription warning Gentiles not to enter, since the inner courts were reserved exclusively for Jews. The full text of the inscription read: “No foreigner may enter within the railing and enclosure that surround the Temple. Anyone apprehended shall have himself to blame for his consequent death!” (The text was reconstructed from a more complete copy now in the Archaeological Museum in Istanbul.) Obviously, the authorities who posted the sign in the Temple expected Gentile visitors to be able to read it.

Though stone was the preferred material for official inscriptions in the ancient world, it was too heavy and expensive for everyday use. Far cheaper and more convenient were pottery sherds, which could be picked up for free anywhere, scribbled on and discarded. If they are inscribed, pottery sherds are called ostraca (singular: ostracon). (Shanks, H. (Ed.). (2003). BAR 29:04 (July/Aug 2003).

#49 Paleo-Hebrew Abba Inscription

During the course of continuing construction work at Giv’at ha-Mivtar in the autumn of 1971, another tomb-cave was found. Inside the tomb, opposite the entrance, a small chamber had been cut out of the rock for the body. The chamber was empty, but above the chamber was a very unusual inscription.

The inscription is written in old Hebrew script, but the language is Aramaic. E. S. Rosenthal of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who first translated the inscription, dated it to the first century A.D. His translation is as follows:

“I, Abba, son of the priest Eleazar, son of Aaron the Great, I Abba, the oppressed, the pursued, who was born in Jerusalem and went to exile into Babylonia and carried up (for interment) MTTY son of YHWD and I buried him in the cave which I purchased by the writ.”

Abba was evidently of priestly lineage. For some reason, unknown to us, he brought MTTY from Babylonia to Jerusalem to be buried. But the interesting thing about the inscription is that Abba placed MTTY in a newly purchased cave.(1974). Bible and Spade (1974), 3(2), 48.

#50 Uzziah Plaque

Down in Judah, King Uzziah ruled from 792–740 BC, a contemporary of Amos, Hosea, and Isaiah. Like Solomon, he began well and ended badly. In 2 Chronicles 26, his sin is related which resulted in his being struck with leprosy later in life, and when he died, he was interred in a “field of burial that belonged to the kings.” His stone burial-plaque has been discovered on the Mount of Olives, and it reads: “Here, the bones of Uzziah, King of Judah, were brought. Do not open.”(2004). Bible and Spade (2004), 17(3), 92.

“Hither were brought/The bones of Uzziah/King of Judah./Do not open!” This funerary inscription is the only known ancient artifact that contains the name of a king of Judah. It was found over fifty years ago in the Russian Orthodox monastery on the Mount of Olives and there is nothing known of its original provenance other than it was discovered at the end of the nineteenth century. This Aramaic inscription of Uzziah, who is described as a leper king in 2 Chronicles 26:23, dates between the first century BCE and the first century CE rather than to the time of Uzziah (the eighth century BCE). Uzziah’s remains may have been removed from their original grave during the expansion of Jerusalem at the end of the Hasmonean period or during the reign of Herod the Great. This stone plaque, which is approximately 35 centimeters square and 6 centimeters thick, probably was used to seal the new burial niche or was set in the wall above the niche. (IMJ 68.56.32) (1986). Biblical Archaeologist, 49.

#51 Pontius Pilate Inscription

Antonio Frova discovered the inscription in 1961 on a dedicatory stone at Caesarea Maritima, an ancient city built by Herod the Great around 25–13 BC. The inscription reads, “Tiberius Pontius Pilate Prefect of Judea.” Pontius Pilate was appointed as the Roman governor of Judaea in AD 26 by Emperor Tiberius, and suspended in AD 37 by Vitellius, the governor of Syria, after massacring Samaritans at Mount Gerizim. Jesus was crucified during Pilate’s governance (Matt 27:2). The inscription not only confirms the historicity of Pilate, it clarifies the title he bore as governor (Schoville, “Archaeological Discoveries”).(Meyer, A. R. (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015). Palestine, Archaeology of. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.)

An inscription found at Caesarea in the 1950s is the only archaeological confirmation of Pontius Pilate’s existence. Though the left half is obscured, all but the first word can be deciphered: “ … the Tiberium, which Pontius Pilate, the Prefect of Judea, gave [and] dedicated.” It was discovered in secondary use as part of a third-century staircase. (Shanks, H. (Ed.). (2004). BAR 30:05 (Sep/Oct 2004).

#52 Synagogue Inscription from Theodotus

One of the most significant inscriptions ever found in Jerusalem, the Theodotos Inscription, is prominently displayed in the Rockefeller Museum, where Shuka has his office. It is a stone plaque that once hung in a Jerusalem synagogue before the Roman destruction in 70 A.D. In beautifully carved Greek letters, it commemorates Theodotos as archisynagogos (synagogue leader) and priest. It describes the facilities of the synagogue as a place for reading the Law and teaching the commandments. The synagogue also had an adjoining hostel with plumbing facilities for those coming from abroad. (Some scholars have even suggested that this is the Synagogue of the Freedman, referred to in Acts 6.) The inscription recites the synagogue’s history for at least two earlier generations. (Shanks, H. (Ed.). (2003). BAR 29:04 (July/Aug 2003).

#53 Roster of God fearers from Aphrodisias

It came as no surprise that the text was in Greek: Greek was the official, and usually the spoken, language of the cities of the whole eastern half of the Roman empire. Nor was it surprising that the text was inscribed on marble: In this quarry town, marble was almost as freely used for public inscriptions as posters would be today. Erim’s dig had already uncovered a whole catalogue of public messages inscribed on stone.† What made this inscription special was that it was installed by the Jewish community of Aphrodisias. Before this, scholars hadn’t even known there was a Jewish community at Aphrodisias. Moreover, this was the longest Jewish inscription ever recovered from the Classical world.

The inscription seems to date to the early third century, about 210 A.D. It is a list of donors—126 of them preserved, perhaps a few more missing. They had contributed to a fund for the construction of a building for community use—the same kind of list that might be found on the wall of a modern synagogue.

The inscription has been dated, read and transcribed by the expedition’s epigrapher, Joyce Reynolds of Newnham College, Cambridge University. The first eight lines introduce the list. Here is a more-or-less literal translation of the text, which is full of scholarly booby traps:

“God [theos] our help [illegible word] dish. The members, listed below, of the board of ten [or “of the association”] of the lovers of learning, also known as those who continually praise [God], have built, at their own expense, for the alleviation of suffering [or “of grief”] in the community, this memorial building [or “this tomb”]. (Shanks, H. (Ed.). (1986). BAR 12:05 (Sep/Oct 1986).

#54 Isaiah Inscription

Archaeologists excavating the Western Wall of the temple in Jerusalem found this stone, bearing a portion of Isaiah 66:14. Carved during the fourth century A.D., the inscription encouraged the Jews with Isaiah’s prophetic words: “And when ye see this, your heart shall rejoice, and your bones shall flourish like an herb …” Less than 32 km. (20 mi.) to the southeast is the barren territory of the Dead Sea.(Packer, J. I., Tenney, M. C., & White, W., Jr. (1997). Nelson’s illustrated manners and customs of the Bible (p. 649). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson).

#55 En Gedi Synagogue Inscription

This is a 9.5 x 6.9 rectangle subdivided by black lines into four panels. The top two panels are in Hebrew and the bottom two in Aramaic. Inside the top panel are the names of the antediluvian fathers from Adam to the sons of Noah as given in 1 Chron. 1:1-4.

The beginning of the second panel has the names of the zodiac…as well as the names of the Jewish months… The third panel invokes the names of the patriarchs while the fourth memorializes the benefactors of the synagogue (Biblical Inscriptions Bas CD)

#56 Rehob Synagogue Inscription

A 14 x 9 foot inscription containing 29 lines of script on religious and agriculture laws and regulations including what to do on the Sabbath. (Ancient Inscriptions BAS CD)

#57 Jericho Synagogue Inscription

“Peace upon Israel” reads the Hebrew inscription at the bottom of this mosaic from the seventh-century A.D. synagogue at Jericho. The mosaic features three of the most popular symbols in synagogue decoration: At center stands a seven-branched candelabrum, or menorah; a palm branch appears at lower left, a ram’s horn appears at lower right. (Shanks, H. (Ed.). (1994). BAR 20:02 (March/April 1994).

#58 Tablet From Herod’s Temple

Greek inscription warning ‘foreigners’ (gentiles) from encroaching on the hallowed area of the Temple Mount, carved in a limestone ashlar. This complete inscription is in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum. Translated, it reads: “No foreigner is to enter within the forecourt and the balustrade around the Sanctuary. Whoever is caught will have himself to blame for his subsequent death”(Segal 1989:79). Another similar, but fragmentary, inscribed block is displayed in the Palestine Archaeological Museum (Rockefeller Museum) in Jerusalem. These belonged to a series of warning inscriptions in Greek and Latin that were fixed to the balustrade (soreg) marking the boundary of the sacred precinct of the Temple Mount. In this connection, it should be noted that similar prohibitions applied within Greek temples (Jacobson, D. M. (2001). The Oldest Datable Chambers on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Biblical Archaeologist: Volume 57 1-4, (electronic ed.), 158.)

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