The Jerusalem Ceramic Inscription [by Prof. Aaron Demsky]
- Dr. Aaron Demsky <Aaron.Demsky@...> prepared the following with
regard to the recently discovered inscription and asked me to circulate it.
Joseph I. Lauer
Brooklyn, New York
The Jerusalem Ceramic Inscription
Aaron Demsky (7/12/2013)
It is exciting to have a new inscription at hand, especially one that is
enigmatic, engendering and applying a wide range of expertise, educated
guesses and intuition among scholars in the field. I take this opportunity,
prior to seeing the publication, to add my own preliminary thoughts.
As always I am appreciative of Chris Rollston's initiative based on sound
methodology comparing the paleographic evidence found in studies by
Albright, Cross and Millard. The inscription was certainly written from left
to right and reflects an early script, probably of the late 11th century. If
the shard was found in a 10th century context, it probably means that the
jar was still in use or in storage for a long period.
Shmuel Ahituv has read the inscription: mem qof peh ḥet nun
Rollston has improved the reading: mem qof lamed ḥet nun [re]sh sh[in]
As noted by several scholars, in deciphering a pre-fired incised jar
inscription one should seek or expect a note of ownership or content or
I still have several unanswered questions that should be addressed before I
can give a more definite suggestion and hope that the publishers provide
Where was this jar fashioned – in Jerusalem or in another section of the
What evidence is there regarding its contents – Dry measure of
wheat/barley or was it a liquid measure of wine or oil?
What is the estimated size of this pithos? How many bath of 22 litres?
Judging from the picture and from Rollston's drawing, I would read the
…]mem resh lamed ḥet nun [nun] [space]
This reading gives me the word lḥnn, which I understand to be: "belonging to
Hanan", reminding me of the early clan of Bene Hanan located in the vicinity
of Beth Shemesh and Timnah, where several early epigraphic items bearing
this name were excavated. Cf. the 11th century BCE Beth Shemesh ostracon;
and a 10th century incised ceramic fragment of a game board; in addition to
a 10th cent inscription "[b]n/hnn" from Tel Batash. This family seemingly
was part of Solomon's local administration; see I Kings 4, 9: "Ben Deqer in
Makaz, Shaalbim, Beth-Shemesh and Elon Beth-Hanan.
I take the two letters - mem and resh - as completing the first word,
possibly indicating a liquid content: [ḥ]mr meaning "wine" <ḥamer (Deut 32,
14; Isa 27, 2), or perhaps the dry measure, [ḥ]mr, "homer" (=10 eiphah) of
wheat or barley (Num 11, 32; Lev 27, 16).
If so, we have here an ancient Hebrew inscription written in a late
provincial (e.g. no word dividers, stance of nun) Proto-Canaanite style. The
inscription indicates a commodity that was sent from the outlying latifundia
of a Hanan to the administrative center in Jerusalem probably during the
early Davidic monarchy.
- Dear List,
It is nice that we live in the electronic age, where scholarly interaction takes place daily and is available to the world so readily. I benefit a great deal from writing down and posting my reactions, and I hope there are 1 or 2 souls out there who benefit from this process in some form or another. So, given that I have a moment, I would like to interact with Dr. Demsky’s thoughts.
I am glad to see he also recognizes that the script is dextrograde, even though he may be a bit ambitious about the shelf-life of the pithos jar. His claim is possible, but it would be highly abnormal, material culturally. I know of no such precedents.
What puzzles me is why Ahituv apparently reads 5 ‘letters’ (a term I, admittedly, am using loosely), Rollston reads 7, and Demsky reads 6. I am fully in agreement with Rollston here, and I am not sure what one does with the other 1-2 letters. They seem quite visible, and quite undisputedly 7 in number, at least for my money.
Demsky is correct that one should expect a note of ownership of the vessel and/or contents, though this is anything but a secure conclusion or a requirement for the inscription. The unanswered questions he has are important ones, which makes us all anxious for the IEJ article to appear.
Hopefully it will have a lot to say about the archaeological context, which may help to know whether we can push the date of the inscription back into the 11th century. Other questions of his may not be answered until we have results of petrographic analysis and neutron activation analysis. One only can hope that these are being done, or will be done.
One thing I do not understand about Demsky’s transcription, apart from the missing letter, is why the space AFTER the 2nd nun. To highlight my confusion, I will reproduce his reading, then write what it seems as though he should have written:
His: …]mem resh lamed ḥet nun [nun] [space]
Expected: …]mem resh lamed ḥet nun ?? [space] [nun]
The ‘??’, of course, represents the missing letter that he seems to ignore, the one that is disturbed by the break in the vessel. It would have been nice to find the missing (connective) sherd, but archaeology is never neat and tidy, now is it.
Speaking of this ?? letter, it still has me scratching my head. Without the missing sherd, we are playing a game of craps when we attempt to reconstruct it perfectly. My feeling, though, is that it would be a difficult enough letter to read even if there were no lacuna. This highlights my quandary as to why we are all in such a rush to go to the translation phase. Oh well.
Maybe this difficulty deterred Demsky from even suggesting a letter for it. Who knows. Yet Demsky reads HNN, and thus Hanan. This is somewhat incomprehensible to me, honestly, when a letter + a space separates the two nuns. I do not know how he does it. An explanation and justification certainly is in order, and one that does not merely pretend that the problem does not exist.
Perhaps his ignoring of this glaring problem is just adversely (even if unintentionally) influenced by the enticing opportunity to connect this inscription to the Tel Batash inscription. This certainly seems to be one of those times when ‘it seems too good to be true’, though it is NOT a bad idea to ask such questions and try such connections. Yet we want to be very careful about when we use the ‘special pleading’ trump card, so we should not be too hard on Dr. Demsky.
Demsky seems to return to sound reasoning when he discusses the possibility that the first two letters are the last two in a previous word. In this case, the lamed indeed would be a preposition indicating possession (‘belonging to’). Frankly, I do not believe any of us has a strong enough grip on the inscription to be dogmatic about this, but if it is correct, I absolutely do not see how Hanan can be our man.
Whether there is a word previous to lamed or not, I do not think we should feel confident about the connection of it to ‘wine’ or ‘homer’ until we have a genuine grasp on what follows the lamed. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that such a day ever will come, even if we can solve (conclusively) the mystery-letter that Demsky seems to ignore.
The reason for this is that without another connective sherd to the right of our present one, we may never know what follows that last nun, which certainly may be the first letter of its own word. In Late Egyptian it could be a preposition (though it would be written differently), but not in Hebrew.
“If so, we have here an ancient Hebrew inscription written in a late provincial (e.g. no word dividers, stance of nun) Proto-Canaanite style.”
I am in full agreement that this is a Hebrew inscription, but I strongly shy away from the use of ‘proto-Canaanite style’. What specific data draws us to this conclusion? None, in my opinion. I am planning to write a response on Rollston’s blog that points to the reasons why ‘Canaan(ite)’ is a dubious term to use for the script/style.
At best, we can say that it is proto-Sinaitic in style, given that virtually all of these letters follow the script used at Serabit (1550-1450 BC being the dates that Albright used for the NK inscriptions there; I agree with his dates, though maybe even 1500-1450 would be more precise). However, ‘proto-consonantal’ would be an even more accurate term, given that there was no population of local Sinai-residents that was using this script.
And if we truly want to do justice to this script, then we should draw parallels between the proto-consonantal script at Serabit of the New Kingdom back to its Middle Egyptian roots from the Middle Kingdom. Most of the letters of the Ophel inscription derive from ME. Perhaps one or two derive from Canaanite syllabics of the end of the 3rd millennium and the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC, but we will need to read/know what all of these letters are before we know just how this shakes out.
Yours for the understanding of the Ophel inscription,
[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
- Dear List,
Once again I either was not liked by a blog’s server, or my comment was censored from among the approved comments offered by others. This time it was Christopher Rollston’s blog. My gratitude is extended to the moderators of the ANE-2 List, who either overcome servers’/blogs’ natural dislike for me, or prevent such a dangerous beast as censorship. So, here is a summary of what I tried to post on Rollston’s blog (written as if to him), in response to his blog-post. Funny, I always have thought that open scholarly dialogue is a virtuous and healthy pursuit.
Contra Athas, you et al. are exactly right that the inscription reads dextrograde. There are many clues that make this clear, the most obvious being the direction of the shepherd's crook (lamed), with the short end of the staff on the right (from S39 on the ME sign list). Following ME (Middle Egyptian), as the Israelites did, with the short end of the staff on the right, this signifies a dextrograde reading. Incidentally, the original meaning of the word was LMD (Judg. 3:31), Hebrew for the instrument (crook/shepherd’s staff) that was used to goad animals along.
I also agree 100% that our strongest parallel for this script is the NK inscriptions at Serabit. Well done! My recent research even has shown that there are vital ties between the NK writings at Serabit and the MK inscriptions also found there. This will be accentuated in a book I am writing, which will have an appendix (Western Semitic Inscriptions in Egypt of the MK and NK) written by Brian Colless.
I agree 100% that this is not Phoenician, though clearly there are undeniable parallels. The fact that the Ophel inscription reads dextrograde not only slams the door on that notion, but it points us to Middle Egyptian (ME) as the original source of derivation, given that ME can be read dextrograde, sinistrograde, or top-to-bottom.
In fact, the NK Semitic inscriptions at Serabit even go beyond Egyptian's versatility: at times they read top-to-bottom (from left) in the first column, then bottom-to-top in the 2nd, top-to-bottom in the 3rd, etc. This, if you will excuse the brevity of examples, clearly betrays a further connection between the writer of the Ophel inscription and the people who wrote at Serabit.
I also believe that the Ophel inscription represents a clear distinction from Phoenician and, as perhaps you are implying, acts to demonstrate a different written tradition than Phoenician, closing the door on the old concept that proto-alphabetic transitioned to Phoenician. Personally, I believe that there were independent lines of written tradition that interacted through the intensive trading period that was conducted between Avaris and the Levant during the time from the late MK and into the NK, and further diverged over time, though detailing this is beyond what I can write here.
As for redating the inscription to the 11th c., I would like to suspend judgment. I first would like to hear why exactly it cannot be dated to the 10th c. As one who has invested a great amount of time not only in epigraphy, but also archaeology, I know the dangers of drawing epigraphical conclusions while ignoring archaeological context. As with you, I consider it dubious that this pithos may have been an heirloom. This would be unprecedented, at least from my experience.
Ultimately, I am waiting for the IEJ article to come out, which hopefully will illuminate the archaeological context. Until then, someone is going to have to prove to me that we can date a pithos ca. 100 years earlier than its in situ context, as I have yet to see any conclusive argumentation offered.
On a side note, I find Colless's morphology chart ("The Proto-Alphabetic Inscriptions of Sinai", in Abr-Nahrain 28: 1990) to be far more reliable than Albright's. I am not too sure how much work you have done on the Serabit inscriptions, but this is what my study of them has proven. In light of that, I consider shin to be impossible as the 7th letter. I think this letter is clearly the alternative form of nun. As to why the writer would write both forms of nun in the same inscription, I have no idea, but this is the best reading by far. Demsky and Colless both agree with me on this point.
This reminds me, I agree with you 100% that we have 7 'letters' here. Demsky reads 6, and he says that Ahituv reads 5. I have no idea how we can read anything other than 7 letters.
With apologies, I cannot accept a qof as the 2nd letter. Neither can Colless nor Demsky; they both offer resh. The jury is out on the resh idea for me, but so far I am not accepting it, either. But I am strongly opposed to the qof. You may want to rethink this one, which--of course--would kill your 'pot' translation. An unfortunate casualty!
Having said that, I would have no problem with reading the word 'pot' on this or any other pot. Demsky wants the lamed to introduce the possessor of the pithos/commodity within it, which is possible, but there are far too many unsolved mysteries to be dogmatic about it, at least for now.
Before I bring this to an end, I want to try persuading you of one thing, which can be found in this quote of yours:
"The script of this inscription has been accurately described by my friend Shmuel Ahituv as 'Proto-Canaanite'.” I have numerous problems with this designation, which is why I also prefer (for now) your preferred ‘Early Alphabetic’, which I often write as ‘proto-alphabetic’. Please allow me to offer several reasons as to why I believe it would behoove you to forsake the "(i.e., 'Proto-Canaanite')" designation forever.
1) Most--if not all--of the 'letters' in this inscription find their roots in ME, not Canaanite. I wrote above about the lamed, which is derived from ME S39. The initial 'M' is a vertical wave of water that is a variant of the horizontal wave of water, which is ME 'mu', the lexicographical 'standard alphabetic glyph' for the 'm' sound. Incidentally, Hebrew 'm' derives from Egyptian 'mu' (cf. Heb. mayim=water). Do you think this is pure coincidence, or were there Egyptians in 11th/10th-century Jerusalem writing 'proto-consonantal' (as per NK inscriptions at Serabit) instead of Late Egyptian? Either way, Canaanite knows nothing about either option. Next, we have het. This letter/sign/radical derives from the Egyptian 'enclosure, court, funerary chapel' (O6 in the sign list). What's the Hebrew word for 'court'? Yes, 'Hatser', with initial het. The Hebrew letter derives from the hieroglyph, which also depicts a rectangular building with the long-end vertical. Does Canaanite know anything of any of this? If that is not enough, the only other clearly read 'letter' here is nun. This jagged letter represents a snake, and it derives from the Egyptian cobra-glyph (I10 in S.L.). The 'standard alphabetic glyph' for the Egyptian letter 'dj' is I10, but the Egyptian word 'snake' is pronounced 'djedefet', thus with no initial 'n'. Amazingly enough, the Hebrew word for snake is 'nahash', with an initial 'n' sound. Once again, the Hebrew sign/letter/radical derives from the ME hieroglyph. Canaanite? Nowhere to be found. Thus all of the securely read letters on the Ophel inscription derive from ME.
2) Does anything in Canaanite derive from ME? To my knowledge, it does not. Moreover, do you see any of the letters/radical/signs in the Ophel inscription that clearly and definitively derive from Canaanite? If so, which ones, and what are your examples to prove this derivation conclusively?
If that is not enough evidence for us all to dump forever the 'proto-Canaanite' notion, I could post my entire research here that has gone into the book I am writing. If the former is not enough to convince you, the latter will strip the paint off of your car. This inscription is 100% Hebrew, and 0% Canaanite. Yet Egyptian/Egypt is the root of it all.
In conclusion, let me add that I see only 5 clearly-read letters here: M-?-L-H-N-space-N. The others are still mysterious to me. Hopefully I will gain confidence on the 2nd one, but the 6th is/will be a challenge. Until I feel I have a handle on these two letters, I will be leery about moving to the translation phase.
Yours for the proper reading of the Ophel inscription,
[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
- Dear List,
Once in while, you need to criticize your own words more than anyone else’s. It is funny how that works. Here is what I said:
“As with you, I consider it dubious that this pithos may have been an heirloom. This would be unprecedented, at least from my experience.”
A colleague in the field, who is a ceramicist by specialty and runs his own dig, enlightened me on pithoi(/large storage jars). According to him,
“For very large vessels, mainly pithoi, the lifespan was much longer than smaller daily-use vessels. The reason has to do with vessel usage and cost. Typically, a pithos was used as a stationary storage container as opposed to smaller store jars that were used to transport commodities, and domestic vessels that were used on a daily basis. A full pithos would have been much too heavy to be moved about. Ethnographic studies have revealed examples of pithoi that were decades, even more than a century, in age. An archaeological example of this phenomenon is an MB store jar found at Shiloh that was still in use in the Iron I period, a time span of over 400 years! (Finkelstein, Shiloh, p. 159).”
He also mentioned that at his site, they found many examples of MB storage vessels in use in LB I. Ergo, I stand corrected (with apologies for my error), and it seems that an 11th-century-BC pithos in a 10th-century-BC context is not out of the ordinary. This, of course, would open the door for the appearance of an 11th-century personage on the Ophel inscription. Whether such names as the ones mentioned by various scholars are correct readings or not on the pithos is an entirely different matter.
[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
- Dear Douglas, et al,
On 14/07/13, Douglas Petrovich wrote:
> As for redating the inscription to the 11th c., I would like to suspend judgment. I first would like to hear why exactly it cannot be dated to the 10th c. As one who has invested a great amount of time not only in epigraphy, but also archaeology, I know the dangers of drawing epigraphical conclusions while ignoring archaeological context. As with you, I consider it dubious that this pithos may have been an heirloom. This would be unprecedented, at least from my experience.
I am in the field so without library and references, but I see no problem with a possibly aged pithos where you do. Multiple reasons
1. Ethnographic work in the 70s and 80s showed cooking vessels to be the shortest lives with amphorae (when not intentionally broken), pithoi, and storage jars as the longest lived
2. Rarely does one have an absolute date of manufacture and destruction, but at Pompeii they do. I think it was Ray Laurence in Roman Pompeii: Space and Society who noted century old amphorae being used as pithoi when Vesuvius erupted.
3. Why assume heirloom when
a. Residuality could easily account for it
b. It could have still been in use as originally intended as just noted. The Niloak pottery from the 1930s in my china closet is an heirloom, Hoover dam from the exact same period is not since it is doing its original, intended job.
Just my two cents.
Jeffrey A. Blakely
but currently at Ruhama, Israel