Thursday, January 02, 2014

Jerusalem inscription deciphered - again

THAT 10TH CENTURY BCE HEBREW INSCRIPTION FROM JERUSALEM is back in the news, with a new proposal from Gershon Galil for its decipherment: Inscription on jar from time of King Solomon may refer to cheap wine. Biblical scholar Gershon Galil proposes an interpretation for the oldest inscription ever discovered in Jerusalem. (Nir Hasson, Haaretz). Excerpt:
But in a recent article in the journal “New Studies on Jerusalem,” Prof. Gershon Galil, of the Bible Department at the University of Haifa, proposed a new interpretation. Galil suggested that the letters were early Hebrew and identified the key word as "yayin", meaning wine.

Of all the region’s languages, Galil noted, only southern Hebrew wrote the word yayin with two instances of the letter yod, rather than one.

According to Galil’s interpretation, the inscription describes the wine that was in the jar bearing the inscription. The first letter is a final mem, which could be the end of the word "esrim" (twenty) or "shloshim" (thirty,) referring to either the twentieth or thirtieth year of Solomon’s reign. Next comes the word "yayin" (wine) followed by the word "halak", and then the letter mem, the first letter of the wine’s place of origin.

"Halak" is an oenological term from the Northern Syrian language of Ugarit. It referred to the lowest of three types of wine – “good wine,” “no good wine” and lowly "halak". Galil speculated that the poor-quality wine was drunk by the king's conscript labor force working on various building projects.
That is the core of the argument. The proposal looks possible to me, but pretty speculative given how much reconstruction is involved. The speculations about connections with Solomon and his kingdom are just that, speculations. I think it's probable enough that there was an Israelite king in the tenth century named Solomon who had a pretty impressive kingdom, but this inscription doesn't mention any of that and any such connection is entirely inferential. When they dig up a 10th century Hebrew inscription in Jerusalem that actually mentions King Solomon, then we can talk directly about epigraphic support for a Solomonic kingdom.

The story is also covered in less detail by Marissa Newman in the Times of Israel:
Decoded: Jerusalem’s oldest Hebrew engraving refers to lousy wine.
Researcher says ancient inscription describes low quality of jug’s contents, served to King Solomon’s laborers and soldiers.

HT reader David Schottenfels, who alerted me to the story in the Hebrew press a few days ago. I noted the discovery of the inscription back in July here. Earlier attempts at decipherment, including another from Prof. Galil, are noted here.