Israeli Prof. Deciphers Earliest Hebrew Text

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HAIFA, Israel - Ancient Hebrew text deciphered and translated by University of Haifa Prof. Gershon Galil has been hailed as the earliest known Hebrew writing, dating from King David's reign in the 10th century B.C.

According to Prof. Galil, the words etched on the trapezoid pottery shard are ancient Hebrew, providing tangible evidence that the Kingdom of Israel existed at this time.

The professor based his conclusions on the verbs, which are peculiar to the Hebrew language and point to Israelite culture and not to other peoples living in the region in the 10th century B.C.

"This text is a social statement, relating to slaves, widows and orphans," Prof. Galil said in a press statement. "It uses verbs that were characteristic of Hebrew, such as asah [did], avad [worked], which were rarely used in other regional languages. Particular words that appear in the text, such as almanah [widow], are specific to Hebrew and are written differently in other languages," he said.

"The content itself was also unfamiliar to all the cultures in the region besides the Hebrew society: The present inscription provides social elements similar to those found in the biblical prophecies and [are] very different from the prophecies written by other cultures postulating glorification of the gods and taking care of their physical needs," the professor said.

Other experts contend it's not possible to prove whether the letters and words are ancient Hebrew or another local language used at that time.

Prof. Galil also said the artifact proves that Hebrew was a written language as early as the 10th century B.C. and may mean that portions of the Old Testament were written centuries earlier than scholars generally believe.

The professor also noted the significance of the location, a small town in ancient Judea. According to Galil, historians can assume that scribes living in Jerusalem and in the central part of the country were likely to have been far more proficient than those in the Judean countryside.

"It can now be maintained that it was highly reasonable that during the 10th century B.C.E. [before the Common Era], during the reign of King David, there were scribes in Israel who were able to write literary texts and complex historiographies such as the books of Judges and Samuel," the professor said.

Galil also said that the complex nature of the text coupled with the structures uncovered at the excavation site, disprove theories that the Kingdom of Israel didn't exist in the 10th century.

The text reflects biblical commandments on how the Israelites were to relate to needy members of society, such as orphans, and how the Jews were to treat strangers in their midst.

Prof. Galil compared the text to Isaiah 1:17, Psalm 72:3, Exodus 23:3, among other verses in the Tenach (the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible).

Translation of the text:

1: You shall not do [it], but worship the [Lord].
2: Judge the sla[ve] and the wid[ow], judge the orph[an]
3: [and] the stranger. [Pl]ead for he infant / plead for the po[or and]
4: the widow. Rehabilitate [the poor] at the hands of the king.
5: Protect the po[or and] the slave / [supp]ort the stranger.

*Originally published January 8, 2010.

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