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The Ophel Inscription [Response to Rollston]

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  • Douglas Petrovich
    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
    Message 1 of 5 , Jul 13, 2013
      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,

      Doug Petrovich
      Toronto

      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
    • Douglas Petrovich
      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
      Message 2 of 5 , Jul 13, 2013
        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.

        Yours,

        Douglas Petrovich
        Toronto

        [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
      • Jeffrey Blakely
        Dear Douglas, et al, On 14/07/13, Douglas Petrovich wrote: [snip] ... [snip] I am in the field so without library and references, but I see no problem with a
        Message 3 of 5 , Jul 13, 2013
          Dear Douglas, et al,

          On 14/07/13, Douglas Petrovich wrote:

          [snip]

          > 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.

          [snip]

          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
          Madison, Wisconsin
          but currently at Ruhama, Israel
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