Information on the second Qeiyafa inscription coming later this year

A few people have inquired about the new Khirbet Qeiyafa inscription discovered in the 2012 season. I asked Yossi Garfinkel about it last week when I drove up to Chattanooga (from Tampa!) to catch his presentation at Southern Adventist University. He said they have made good progress on it and may publish something in a few months. He wouldn’t release any details about it during his presentation but told me beforehand that the results are “very interesting.”

I saw the new inscription when it was found last summer. It is from the late-11th/early-10th century Iron Age level at Qeiyafa. It is readable. I’ll post details here as soon as they are released to the public.

Why is such an inscription important? Some scholars have questioned whether Judah or Israel were literate societies in the 10th century B.C. This hypothesis was based on a lack of known inscriptions from that period. If writing was rare to non-existent, it would be unlikely for those societies to produce history, religious texts, written poetry/Psalms, or written records (important for a centralized government).

At least three inscriptions have been discovered since the literacy question was raised. Two of them are from Khirbet Qeiyafa and date to the period in question, the late-11th/early 10th century. (This is the biblical period of Saul and David.) The first inscription found at Qeiyafa is a long ink inscription on a large piece of broken pottery. The ink has faded with time and is difficult to read, though a few words are legible.

The second inscription may not be as long as the first one, but it may attest to a functionally literate society. The existence of even a simple inscription indicates that 1) someone is able to write it, and 2) others are able to read it.

A replica of the Gezer Calendar inscription. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

A replica of the Gezer Calendar inscription, discovered at Tel Gezer in the early 20th century. It is probably around 3/4 of a century younger than the Qeiyafa inscriptions. (Photo by Luke Chandler)

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About lukechandler

I am a minister in Temple Terrace, Florida, and hold an M.A. in Ancient and Classical History. My lovely wife Melanie and I have five children. Besides Gospel work in English and Spanish I participate in archaeological excavations and occasionally lead tours to Europe and the Bible Lands.
This entry was posted in 2012 Khirbet Qeiyafa excavation, Biblical Archaeology, General Archaeology, Inscriptions and Manuscripts, Israel, Khirbet Qeiyafa, New Discoveries and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Information on the second Qeiyafa inscription coming later this year

  1. pithom says:

    Firstly, what’s the 3rd inscription?
    Secondly, the writing of records and notes on pottery and (presumably) leather is not at all equivalent to either mass literacy or the sort of literacy that would allow societies to produce histories or detailed religious manuals. Also, a scribal class≠”a functionally literate society”. Does anyone seriously believe that Late Bronze Age Jerusalem produced histories or detailed religious manuals?
    Thirdly, I do not remember a time in which anyone has claimed that Cisjordan was totally lacking in literacy in the eleventh-tenth centuries BC.

    • lukechandler says:

      In regard to your second and third questions:
      Qeiyafa is a late-C11/early-C10 BC site on the western border of Judah, built with massive fortifications and with the same architectural design found in Judahite cities during C8. It is distant from any administrative center in the Benjamin plateau or Judean highlands, yet has evidence of record-keeping on mass-produced pottery and two inscriptions to date. This challenges some assertions by Finkelstein and Silberman re: C10 Judah. Among them:

      “In the seventh century BCE… Judah had become a highly centralized state in which literacy was spreading from the capital and the main towns to the countryside. It was a process that had apparently started in the eighth century. [emphasis mine]” (“The Bible Unearthed,” p. 284)

      “The cycle of David-as-Apira stories… were probably orally transmitted for some two centuries, until the eighth century BCE, when the first signs of widespread literacy appear in Judah.” (53) [Oral-only transmission during C10-C9 is a pretty big assumption. No one writes anything down? Our extant Hebrew text cites earlier written sources. -LC]

      “For two hundred years, David would have been the hero of tall tales and folktales that celebrated his extraordinary career. Yet oral transmission is quite fluid. The can hardly be a doubt that the form in which we have these stories today.. is quite different from that of the original tales.” (53) [Again, big assumptions being made with even bigger implications. Hardly unassailable. Oral-only transmission can be challenged.]

      “[C10 Judah was only] a small, out-of-the-way hill country kingdom that possessed no literacy, no massive construction works, no extensive administration…” (“David and Solomon,” 153) [Qeiyafa has yielded evidence of all of these characteristics in C10.]

      “In the midst of the apparent economic activity [of C8] there appeared the first signs of extensive state-level activity and an important new form of public communication: the written word.” (132) [First signs? New form of public communication? The first signs are now from the early C10.]

      “[Literacy in C8 BC] is seen in the appearance of a growing number of inscribed potsherds in the fortresses of Arad and Beersheba, it was a network of connections and exchanges made possible only by the spread of literacy out into the countryside, presumably from royal secretaries and scribes in Jerusalem.” (132) [These same kinds of evidence now appear in a C10 fortress in the Shephelah countryside.]

      I assume you meant Early Iron Jerusalem (instead of Late Bronze Age) in your question. As far as what Jerusalem produced in the early IA, it’s not necessary to have large, detailed compilations at that point. Finkelstein/Silberman went beyond the assertions you made above, insisting that any scribal class in late C11/early C10 was insufficient for a state apparatus. There is obviously a material change in inscriptions during C8, but in C10 there existed something more substantive than Finkelstein/Silberman assert.

      As for your first question: The other inscription is the Tel Zayit abecedary. Scholars such as Kyle McCarter (Johns Hopkins University) have noted how a developing-but-distinct Hebrew alphabet was found in a mid-C10 home quite distant from Jerusalem and the highlands. Some dismiss it, yet it is among the very types of evidence that would indicate sufficient literacy for centralized record-keeping, some type of archive, or the recording of history/songs on some level. If records or inscriptions of some sort existed in small border towns like Qeiyafa or Tel Zayit, something was certainly happening in the administrative center(s). The old theories of 2006 don’t hold up so easily anymore. It’s reasonable to see a functional level of administrative literacy as far back as C10.

      • pithom says:

        Thank you for responding.
        1. Well, I have to add those statements to my Bible Unearthed page, then (which lists all the errors in The Bible Unearthed I or someone else have noticed).
        2. I see nothing to indicate Jerusalem was the political center that ordered the building of Qeiyafa. In my “A Short Non-Biblical History of Palestine From the Mid-11th C BC to the Early 10th C BC” (which seriously needs to be updated in light of information from “Chieftains of the Highland Clans”) I assigned Gibeon the role of building Qeiyafa (for the first time since I read of the idea).
        3. No, I truly do mean Late Bronze Age. At least we have strong evidence someone in Jerusalem knew how to write Cuneiform then.
        4. The Zayit abecedary clearly dates to the early ninth century BC, if I am to trust a table in “The Calendar Tablet from Gezer” (sadly, no longer available online). Both the Gezer tablet and the Zayit abecedary are clearly later than the Shipitba’al inscription, which dates to during or after the reign of Osorkon I. http://www.specialtyinterests.net/pix/byblos_inscriptions.jpg

  2. ruth says:

    Share a photo of the find as it was discovered, if you have one, please!

    • lukechandler says:

      Even if I had been allowed to take a photo, I would not be able to publish it prior to publication. They’d ban me for life!

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