Jerusalem’s Earliest Alphabetic Text

Mazar’s excavations reveal another piece of the Jerusalem puzzle

Dating to the tenth century B.C., this alphabetical text is the earliest ever found in Jerusalem. Read from left to right, the letters on it—m, q, p, h, n, possibly l, and n—likely identify the contents of the vessel or the name of its owner. Photo courtesy Eilat Mazar; photograph by Ouria Tadmor.

Eilat Mazar of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has uncovered an inscribed jar fragment from her excavations near the Temple Mount. Dating to the tenth century B.C., the inscription is the earliest alphabetic text ever found in Jerusalem. The inscribed fragment is part of the shoulder of a pithos, a large neckless ceramic jar. Written in the proto-Canaanite script and reading from left to right, the text consists of a series of letters—m, q, p, h, n, possibly l, and n.

Not only is the inscription incomplete, but its meaning is also a mystery since this combination of letters does not signify anything in known West Semitic languages. Nevertheless, the excavators believe that it likely identified the contents of the vessel or its owner’s name and that it might have been written by a non-Israelite living in Jerusalem during the reigns of David and Solomon. The inscription—along with six other fragments of similar jars—was used as fill to support the second floor of a tenth-century B.C. building (the early Iron IIA period).

Eilat Mazar, David Ben-Shlomo and Shmuel Ahituv are publishing the inscription in the latest edition of the Israel Exploration Journal (IEJ 63.1, 2013).

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

Jerusalem lies at the heart of Biblical archaeology. In the free eBook Jerusalem Archaeology: Exposing the Biblical City, learn about the latest finds in the Biblical world’s most vibrant city.

BAS Library Members: Learn more about Eilat Mazar’s important excavations at the base of the Temple Mount and in the City of David.

Hershel Shanks, “Jerusalem Roundup,” Biblical Archaeology Review, March/April 2011.

Eilat Mazar, “The Wall That Nehemiah Built,” Biblical Archaeology Review, March/April 2009.

Eilat Mazar, “Did I Find King David’s Palace?” Biblical Archaeology Review, January/February 2006.

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  • Ariel says

    Two starting points: 1. linguistic 2. Historical/legendary. I picked up both. From Abram’s route list. And came up with a convincing theory where Ugarit or Damascus…or North Canaan up to Turkey occupy a very special place. Yep, Abram-Ibiranu-Eber, forefather of Hebrews was moving from North down South and not vice versa. As for your Celtic joke don’t be so sure: Galil (Galilee) is a strange toponymic and their Wheel Symbol is very much Celtic….How can we be so sure about the events 4000 years BCE if we don’t actually know what happened yesterday?

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