King Solomon’s Two-Buck Chuck

Bible and archaeology news

Dating to the tenth century B.C., this alphabetical text is the earliest ever found in Jerusalem. A recent article suggests that it refers to cheap wine imported into Jerusalem. Photo courtesy Eilat Mazar; photograph by Ouria Tadmor.

This summer, Eilat Mazar’s excavations in the Ophel area south of the Temple Mount uncovered a fragmented tenth-century inscription, the oldest alphabetic text ever uncovered in Jerusalem. At first, archaeologists associated with the excavation suggested that the proto-Canaanite script inscribed on the shoulder of a pithos was not written in the Hebrew language and may have been written by a foreigner. However, Haifa University’s Gershon Galil recently proposed that the inscription is not only Hebrew, but it is decipherable, and it refers to a cheap type of wine.

According to The Times of Israel and Haaretz, Galil’s recent article in “New Studies on Jerusalem” (Hebrew) suggests that the central words of the inscription are yayin and halak. Yayin refers to wine, and halak specifies that this was a particularly low-quality variety.

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Galil also suggests that the fragmented opening word is part of a date and the cut-off final letter is the start of a word referring to the wine’s place of origin. If this is the case, the inscription would indicate a degree of bureaucracy and record keeping in tenth-century Jerusalem that runs counter to the so-called “Biblical minimalist” position.

So who drank this halak wine? Surely such low-quality drink was not for Solomon’s court. Instead, Gershon Galil proposes that the importation of cheap wine should be considered in light of Solomon’s building projects—monumental expansion in Jerusalem requires a large number of laborers, and a large number of laborers require cheap wine. Conscript labor in the tenth century was no walk in the park; Solomon’s workers could use a good (or, in this case, a halak-quality) drink.

Read more in The Times of Israel and Haaretz.

To learn about the significance of this inscription, read “Precursor to Paleo-Hebrew Script Discovered in Jerusalem” in Bible History Daily.

For more ancient wine discoveries, read One of Civilization’s Oldest Wine Cellars?, 4200 B.C.E.: A Fine Vintage and Byzantine Wine Press Uncovered in Israel in Bible History Daily.

Posted in News, Jerusalem.

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