Monday, November 14, 2005

THE TEL ZAYIT ABECEDARY is the subject of a thoughtful Chicago Tribune article ("Research on ancient writing linked with modern Mideast conflict"). I can't find the original, but it's being reprinted in lots of places. Excerpt:
Because he found it in the Holy Land, [Tappy's] lecture will raise tempers. Archaeologists generally are gentle folk. But biblical studies imperceptibly shade over from scholarly pursuits to modern-day passions inflamed by contemporary struggles of Israelis and Palestinians. One camp, "the maximalists" implies the other harbors anti-Semites. The "minimalists," in turn, charge their accusers with confusing Zionism with scholarship.

"In the Middle East, you can start a mini war over who got there first," said William G. Dever, professor emeritus of the University of Arizona and a fierce opponent of the minimalists. "This isn't about ancient Israel. It's about modern Israel and the Palestinians."

Philip Davies, professor emeritus at the University of Sheffield in England, is generally considered the founding father of the minimalists - most of whom are European-based. He is coming to the Philadelphia meetings prepared for battle with his American colleagues.

"When I fly the Atlantic, I feel like a gladiator," Davies said. "Tappy's research is going to be a football, kicked around from one side to the other."

Then there's this:
"The minimalists argue that the ancient Hebrews didn't know how to write, so they couldn't have had a real state, a kingdom," noted Hershel Shanks, editor of Biblical Archeology Review. "But Tappy's discovery shows they were already writing in an outlying settlement. Imagine what you must have had in Jerusalem."

I don't recall anyone saying that the ancient Hebrews couldn't write, only that we haven't found monumental inscriptions in Hebrew from the period of the United Kingdom. Am I missing something?

UPDATE: Benjamin Zimmer has a good, links-rich summary post at the Language Log.

Also, Tyler Williams is tracing the letters in the picture of the Tel es-Safi (non-Goliath) inscription with Photoshop. Cool!

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