It seems fitting, then, that Dr. Tappy's most famous discovery as a biblical archaeologist is a 38-pound limestone rock inscribed with a 2,900-year-old alphabet.
The stone was found two years ago at Tel Zayit in Israel, a dig about 25 miles southwest of Jerusalem. Using distinctive pottery and carbon dating of the soil levels above it, the stone was firmly traced to the 10th century B.C., the time when the biblical King Solomon was supposed to have lived.
The discovery was described by some experts as the most important find in biblical archaeology in the last 10 years.
One reason for the buzz was that the stone suggests the earliest Hebrew Scriptures could have been written down in that era -- hundreds of years earlier than many scholars had believed.
For Dr. Tappy, the alphabet stone also suggests not only that King Solomon was a real historical figure, but that he did in fact have a growing kingdom at the time, because Tel Zayit sits on the border of Solomon's Judah and the kingdom of Philistia, where the Philistines lived.
In fact, Tel Zayit is quite close to Timnah, the ancient city where the biblical strongman Samson is said to have married a Philistine woman.
While some have suggested the alphabet stone might have been used to train scribes, Dr. Tappy, the G. Albert Shoemaker professor of Bible and archaeology at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, favors another theory.
The stone was part of a wall when it was found, he said, and "I do know that within a reasonable period of time after this period, the ancients believed the alphabet itself had power."
Since Tel Zayit probably sat on the edge of Solomon's kingdom, Dr. Tappy said, it's possible the stone was built into the wall of the city as mystical protection against Judah's enemies.
"I think the stone bespeaks an attempt to establish a presence in that part of the region, and if already the ancients were thinking of the alphabet as having magical powers to ward off evil, that may be another good reason to have it down there on the border."
Monday, October 29, 2007
RON TAPPY is interviewed in the Pittsburg Post Gazette, mostly about the Tel Zayit Abecedary. Excerpt: