Khirbet Qeiyafa Team’s Response to the New Inscription Translation

Foundation Stone, which works with Professor Yusef Garfinkel to develop the Khirbet Qeiyafa/Elah Fortress site, has released a response to Prof. Galil’s recent translation of the ostracon inscription. This is the first blog to receive the response from the Khirbet Qeiyafa staff. Here is the full text from Rabbi Barnea Selavan, co-director of Foundation Stone:

Recent press reports based on Haifa U. Prof. Gershon Galil’s interpretation of the Elah Fortress- Khirbet Qeiyafa ostracon ignore epigrapher Dr Hagai Misgav’s work.

At the annual Jerusalem Region Israel Antiquities Authority-Hebrew University academic conference in Nov 2009, 4 interpretations were given, ranging from it being a fragment (it is broken) of a communication (Misgav), a monumental inscription, taking note of the size of the letters and dots and lines dividing it (Yardeni); a scribal exercise on the pot surface, changing directions deliberately- explaining a different direction to the writing, and the aleph changing directions – and the text itself being an “encyclopedic list” of important knowledge as such (Demsky); or, a scribal exercise indeed (Achituv), with a list of important recorded facts; in this case, a hierarchy of divinity positions, etc. (This is my recollection of Prof Achituv’s oral presentation, not in the publication; I may have misunderstood him.) These were published in “New Studies in the Archaeology of Jerusalem and its Region, Collected Papers,” Vol 3, pp. 111-132; the annual conference proceedings. All this was ignored in the press releases.

Dr Aren Maeir shared a review on his blog at that time (I note that he has now posted a positive view of Prof Galil’s new interpretation). We look forward to Dr Misgav and other epigraphers’ responses to Prof Galil’s interpretation.

The article further made use of the sketch Dr Misgav prepared without fully crediting it.

The releases produced news headlines as if the October and November 2008 world media coverage did not exist (I am tempted to announce the Dead Sea scrolls have been found).

Out of 50 characters in the text some 40 are largely visible to the naked eye, though they may not be complete. Most of the remaining ten characters become visible through imaging, which Dr Misgav used to make his sketch. It does not seem that all the scholars had access to all this material when offering interpretations. When looking at a line and not realizing that its continuation can actually be discerned in imagery, and conversely, inserting figures where no ink traces are visible with the most sophisticated instruments, suggesting a reading on such grounds seems to be unreasonable. Excavator Prof Yosef Garfinkel has now made a small sampling of these materials available on his website.

Dr Misgav contends, and the other 3 senior presenters – Prof. Ada Yardeni, Aharon Demsky, Shmuel Achituv – did not disagree, that as this form of writing continues for centuries basically as is, it should no longer be called “proto”-Canaanite, because it does not lead into something else; it should be called Canaanite. His conclusions regarding literacy in the 10th century are partially addressed in the video I refer you to below; his full comments will be incorporated in later editions. They are more cautious and well grounded than the presentation currently in the media, and still profound.

It is difficult to measure and to appreciate the intensity and effort Dr Misgav invested for many months, over a year of poring over the ostracon and images, before making a public statement. Prof Achituv publicly compliments him on this in the publication. Dr Misgav fully appreciates the import and potential game-changing nature of the ostracon, and the care which must be taken in this interpretation. This makes the omission of reference to his work all the more inappropriate.

Dr Rollston has contended the text is not Hebrew. His blog comments do not address the linchpin of Dr Misgav’s contention – that “al ta’as” is solely a Hebrew conjugation; nor Prof Achituv’s other published proofs (p.130) of it being Hebrew. I asked for his clarification of this point and as of this writing have not received a response. Perhaps he is arguing on the direction of the writing, as he addresses the various possibilities in his blog, right to left, left to right, and alternating line by line. One should add to those three, in which direction to hold the ostracon, which in itself took Dr Misgav time to decide on, and which Prof Demsky has offered literally a novel twist on. On this first line of the ostracon with “al ta’as”, none of the other 5 approaches published to date seem to disagree with the direction, from what I understand.

As we have shared privately with both Prof Garfinkel and Dr Misgav, Foundation Stone encourages a conference with the world’s leading epigraphers, and with scholars from different disciplines who may provide a different take. Especially as one must “fill in the gaps” here, not only of letters, but of the missing words, and the context and nature of the text, and its purpose. All should be provided with direct access to the ostracon and all the imagery, with time for discussion and interchange.

Some background: Hebrew University produced one kind of imagery which was very useful. Foundation Stone then played a role in supporting and facilitating further hi-tech imagery work in four Boston and Los Angeles institutions, led by Dr. Greg Bearman of Snapshot Spectra (in fact the ostracon is serving as a case test being reviewed by Dr Bearman and the IAA to determine which methods are worth investing in as SOP for reading such inscriptions).

We then helped provide Dr Misgav with the various images that Dr Bearman obtained in a useful form, which helped him produce his analysis and interpretation, and the published sketch. Foundation Stone CoDirector David Willner, MA Ed., invested significant time, travel, and work to make this process effective; including improving the images used by the scholars in research, presentations at conferences and on websites; and producing materials for use by the staff on the excavation site itself to present to scholarly visitors like Prof. Larry Stager of Harvard, and to lay visitors.

Understanding the origins of the alphabet, and of Hebrew writing, has important educational value for the general public and for Jewish educational circles. The context of its discovery at Elah Fortress- Khirbet Qeiyafa- Sha’arayim (both gates are now reconstructed), adds additional meaning. As press accounts are not coming out clearly we decided therefore to release a rough video at this time, sharing with you some of the ostracon story and the process of its interpretation.

The rough video is up on our website in two parts.

Please credit it properly. Please look for updated versions to follow.


Rabbi Barnea Levi Selavan
Foundation Stone
Tevet 29 5770
January 15 2010

About LukeChandler

Luke holds an M.A. in Ancient and Classical History and has been an adjunct professor at Florida College in Temple Terrace, Florida. Luke and his wife Melanie have five children. He serves as a minister with the North Terrace Church of Christ and has participated in multiple archaeological excavations in Israel. Luke leads popular study tours to Europe and the Bible Lands.
This entry was posted in Biblical Archaeology, General Archaeology, Khirbet Qeiyafa and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Khirbet Qeiyafa Team’s Response to the New Inscription Translation

  1. Pingback: New Short Video on the Qeiyafa Inscription « Luke Chandler's Blog

  2. Pingback: La più antica iscrizione ebraica/3 « Il Fatto Storico

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