If you read 1 Kings 6:31-33 in the Bible, you may see a margin note that the meaning of some Hebrew words is uncertain. Similar margin notes may also appear in Ezekiel chapter 41. Read 1 Kings 7:1-6 in different Bible versions such as the King James, Revised Standard, or New American Standard, and you will notice phrases that read very differently in the various translations.
Why is biblical Hebrew yielding markedly different English translations? Do we not know how to translate the Bible? Does this have implications for the rest of the biblical text?
The explanation is actually straightforward. These chapters in Kings and Ezekiel all provide detailed architectural descriptions of temples and other buildings in Jerusalem. The uncertainty is only with certain technical terms in the Hebrew whose meanings were lost after many centuries. These terms were rarely if ever used in ordinary conversation. Some specific technical vocabulary was simply forgotten over time.
Recent archaeological finds at Khirbet Qeiyafa may clarify some of these lost words. Yosef Garfinkel and Madeleine Mumcuoglu propose that two model shrines discovered in 2011 provide insights to resolve some of this long-standing uncertainty. You can download the article for yourself by clicking here.
Besides suggesting new translations for the aforementioned Bible passages, the article offers other intriguing proposals, including the following suggestion about a feature of “Greek” architecture.
“For millennia, classical Greek architecture has been considered among the highest achievements of human aesthetics. The stone model from Khirbet Qeiyafa indicates that one of its characteristic features, the row of rectangular triglyphs forming the Doric frieze, originated in the Levant… The triglyphs at Khirbet Qeiyafa are nearly 400 years earlier than the earliest stone-carved triglyphs of Greek Doric temples.”
This and another shrine have specific architectural features not normally found in Israel/Judah around the early 10th century – the days of the early kingdom. Here is a selection from the article’s concluding points:
“The building models uncovered at Khirbet Qeiyafa indicate that an elaborate Iron Age architectural style had developed as early as the tenth century BCE. Such construction is typical of royal activities, suggesting that state formation, the establishment of a social elite and urbanism had existed in the region in the days of David and Solomon… From the Khirbet Qeiyafa stone model we can glean that the [Bible] text described architectural elements that were known in that region and during that period, thus strengthening the historicity of this particular biblical tradition.” [emphasis mine]
Again, you can read and evaluate it for yourself here.