Some Needed Balance on the Khirbet Qeiyafa Translation

Many or most of the major news outlets have recently run stories about Prof. Galil’s translation of the Qeiyafa ostrcaon. His translation is interesting and exciting, but there are points of caution. 1) His translation has not yet been published for review by other epigraphers. 2) None of the important words in his translation are clearly visible in the inscription. Galil had to attempt the reconstruction of many words based on scattered bits of surviving ink.

One problem with the popular media’s popularization of this story is that other epigraphers’ work, particularly that of Haggai Misgav, has been entirely omitted from news articles. Prof. Misgav studied the inscription for over a year and published the first translation of the text last October. Other epigraphers have presented alternative translations in recent months.

The reason Prof. Galil’s translation hit the news and has continued to spread is due to its completeness and its similarity to biblical texts. But the portion of the inscription that is clearly readable does not permit a complete translation without the generous use of assumption. Galil’s translation could be accurate, but there is a greater chance at this point that it is not so. Don’t assume this is the final word!

This article in “Christianity Today” is the first I’ve seen that addresses the lack of certainty with Galil’s translation. It even provides Haggai Misgav’s translation of the inscription. Misgav’s version does not provide the feeling of closure that comes from Galil’s, but it does reveal the difficulty in identifying many of the key letters and words. Be sure to read the second page of the article.

As I wrote previously on this blog:

The real news to this inscription has been that even a small, border town in 10th century B.C. Judah possessed scribes who could record events and administrate on behalf of a government. An administrative capital (such as Jerusalem?) would have had equal if not greater capability to preserve its own history and sacred writings.

We do not have to ascertain the inscription’s exact meaning to understand its potential role in supporting Israelite literacy in the 10th century B.C. As the “Christianity Today” article points out, the fortifications and other material remains in Khirbet Qeiyafa offer stronger evidence of the Bible’s historicity at this point in time. There is more work to be done before there can (may?) be reasonable agreement on the inscription’s specific message.

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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 in English and Spanish with the North Terrace Church of Christ and participates annually in archaeological excavations in Israel. Luke also leads tours to Europe and the Bible Lands.
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One Response to Some Needed Balance on the Khirbet Qeiyafa Translation

  1. Jared Saltz says:

    My take on it is not that it’s a text from Isaiah, etc, but that the fact that such a thing even exists provides for the possibility of other texts written at the same time. But certainly, it is not as though the truth of the biblical account hinges on this discovery — and certainly not the translation. Certainly a plea for caution is in order.

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