Newly deciphered letter from a Judahite fortress
“If there is any wine, send [quantity].” So reads a newly deciphered letter discovered in a Judahite fortress at Tel Arad in Israel’s Negev desert. Dating around 600 B.C.E., just a few years before the fall of the Kingdom of Judah to Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C.E., the Hebrew inscription records an exchange of supplies between the military outposts at Arad and nearby Beer Sheba.
The letter, written with ink on an ostracon (broken pottery piece), was deciphered by Tel Aviv University (TAU) researchers using multispectral imaging, a type of advanced digital photography. The ostracon was part of a hoard of ostraca that had been discovered in the 1960s and subsequently exhibited at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem.
The front side of the letter had long been deciphered, but the back side was thought to be blank—until now.
“Using multispectral imaging to acquire a set of images, Michael Cordonsky of TAU’s School of Physics noticed several marks on the ostracon’s reverse side,” said Arie Shaus, one of the authors of the study, which was recently published in PLOS ONE. “To our surprise, three new lines of text were revealed.”
The letter was written by Ḥananyahu, who may have been the quartermaster (the officer in charge of providing supplies) at Beer Sheba, to Elyashiv, the quartermaster at Arad.
“Your friend Ḥananyahu [hereby] sends greetings to [you] Elyashiv and to your household. I bless [you] by Yahweh,” the letter begins on the front side of the ostracon. Ḥananyahu goes on to reference a receipt he had issued and mentions sending silver and oil.
The back side of the letter, deciphered recently by the TAU researchers, continues with Ḥananyahu’s request to Elyashiv and offers assistance in return: “If there is any wine, send [quantity] … If there is anything [else] you need, send [= write to me about it].”
“Many of these inscriptions [from Arad] are addressed to Elyashiv,” explained Anat Mendel-Geberovich, one of the investigators of the study. “[The inscriptions] deal with the logistics of the outpost, such as the supply of flour, wine and oil to subordinate units.”
“[O]ur discovery stresses the importance of multispectral imaging to the documentation of ostraca,” said coauthor Shira Faigenbaum-Golovin. “It’s daunting to think how many inscriptions, invisible to the naked eye, have been disposed of during excavations.”
When Was the Hebrew Bible Written?
Ostraca with Hebrew inscriptions from Arad may provide clues
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