Inscription May Shed New Light on Bible History

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THE ELAH VALLEY, Israel - It is known as an ostracon. And no, it's not something out of science fiction. It is a piece of history.

This simple piece of pottery was discovered by a teenager during a 2008 excavation at an ancient fortress near the biblical valley of Elah. The fascination with this discovery is the rare inscription that dates to the 10th or 11th Century B.C. - or about the time of King David.

The Bible records that here in the valley of Elah. The ancient Philistines gathered their armies here to battle the Israelites. The giant Goliath taunted the Israelites until a young shepherd named David slew him in the name of the Lord.

The ostracon even predates the Dead Sea Scrolls by almost 800 years. While it's not a biblical text, experts agree it's not a simple letter or administrative document either. They believe there could be some prophetic or theological meaning.

The trapeziod-shaped pottery piece contains five lines of text written in ink. At first, an expert deciphered the words 'al ta'aseh' -- (meaning "don't do") -- indicating that the inscription was in fact Hebrew.

"We can determine…the text has continuity of meaning, and is not merely a list of unconnected words," epigraphist Haggai Misgav continued.

University of Haifa Professor Gershon Galil took the interpretation a step further. He said he recognized a biblical significance from the second line.

"It sounds very much like the prophecies of Isaiah," Galil explained. "And then I start to tremble because it was very exciting. And then I look at the other letters and I saw that this is the most reasonable possibility to read this."

Galil believes the text says:

  • You shall not do it, but worship the Lord
  • Judge the slave and the widow
  • Judge the orphan and the stranger
  • Plead for the infant
  • Plead for the poor and the widow
  • Rehabilitate the poor at the hands of the king.
  • Protect the poor and the slave 
  • Support the stranger.

"Here the text is pointing to the people and is telling them you should care about the social problems," he explained.

Galil said writing like this could mean that parts of the Old Testament were actually written down 700 years earlier than most scholars believe.

But not everyone agrees with Galil's interpretation. Professor Yosef Garfinkel led the excavation where the ostracon was found. He told CBN News that Galil has reconstructed too much. Even if he's right, he said, it can't be proven.

"Maybe in the next seven seasons of excavation he may be proven to be right if a similar, readible inscription will be found," Garfinkel said.

But Galil remains confident of his assertions.

"If it would be accepted -- and until now I got only good feedbacks -- it will be definitely the most important extra-Biblical text," he said.

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CBN News
Julie Stahl and Chris Mitchell

Julie Stahl and Chris Mitchell

CBN News Jerusalem Bureau

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