Wednesday, March 10, 2010


This large potsherd was found on the floor of a room at Khirbet Qeiyafa, overlooking the road to Philistia and the Elah Valley, SW of Jerusalem, and is now in the Israel Museum. Aren Maeir made an explosive announcement  about the find on the 11th of September 2008 ["9/11"], and I rushed in like a fool and proposed Socoh (Joshua 15:35; 1 Samuel 17:1) as the identity of this fortified town, because it would have been a good observation point when the Philistines gathered in the valley between Socoh (belonging to Judah) and Azekah. Gershon Galil has argued for Neta'im. Nadav Na`aman has chosen Gob. However, it seems to have been securely identified by Yosef Garfinkel as Sha`arayim [pdf] (Joshua 15:36; 1 Samuel 17:52), the site of the confrontation of David and Goliath, and the point from which the Israelites chased the Philistines back to Gath and Ekron. The name Sha`arayim means 'two gates', and this distinguishing feature has been found in the ruins.

The ostracon has an inscription of five lines, written with ink, which has faded almost to illegibility, but spectral imaging techniques [also as pdf] (as used on the Dead Sea Scrolls) have brought most of the letters back to life, though identifying each one is still not easy.

Photographs and drawings have been posted here, and Bearman and Christens-Barry include several in their study of spectral imaging.
Haggai Misgav is the official epigrapher; he presented his drawings and readings at a meeting, and the proceedings have been published in Hebrew (October 2009); I have obtained a pdf copy, and I am very reliant on the picture and drawing provided by Professor Misgav. Aren Maeir was there and he reported on the progress of the decipherment; with some trepidation he has attempted a fractured translation of the text (it possibly includes a King of Gath named Yasad, but we all practise wishful thinking).

Contributors to the discussion were: `Ada Yardeni (I will follow her perception that Sh P Tt is found at the beginning and end of line 2, but I don't see it as a draft for a monumental inscription); Aaron Demsky (it is a list of social roles); Shmuel Ahituv (does not accept the reading SRN, a title of Philistine rulers, at the beginning of line 5, and I concur).

Line 5 is definitely the bottom line, as shown by the space below it.

Is the uppermost row of signs really the first line of the text, or has other writing been broken off? Notice that the tops of some letters have been lost, and possibly even one or more lines of writing (declaring "Thus says the Lord of Hosts", for example?).

As with the Izbet Sartah ostracon, I would plump for a coherent statement, not a collection of words or letters as merely a student's exercise (Aaron Demsky).

Here we have a known script and a known language, so why is there no credible 'decipherment'? My readings of Bronze-Age inscriptions (consonantal and syllabic) are often dismissed as 'fanciful' and 'bizarre', but I will make an attempt here, and also examine the work of Gershon Galil.

Getting into the mind of a writer of a text is always difficult; even more so when the handwriting is peculiar and illegible at some points. And this is not monumental script, but a personal style which does not aim for consistency (all the examples of  'alep have a different shape and stance).

My table of signs (not including the characters in the Qeiyafa text), which differs at vital points from the usual charts found in handbooks on the alphabet, is available here. My identification of the Qeiyafa letters will be based on that formulation of the evidence.

In the presence of such chaos, we always need a large text to work on, one which includes all of the letters, so that we can distinguish them from one another, and also a copy of the set of signs the scribe is using (the Izbet Sartah writer does provide that, but confusingly incompetently!). The Qeiyafa inscription does not fit either criterion. Nevertheless, its inventory  is almost complete, as I tentatively see it (22 characters would be expected at this stage, not the 27 employed in the Bronze Age).

My table of signs (not including the characters in the Qeiyafa text), which differs at vital points from the usual charts found in handbooks on the alphabet, is available here. My identification of the Qeiyafa letters will be based on that formulation of the evidence.

'(alep) (ox-head) 5 times (all different!)
(bayt house) 4x 
G (gaml boomerang)1x at the start of line 3
D (dalt door) 4x
H (E) (small one at the end of line 1? large one in line 3?) 
W (waw hook) 2x or 3x
Z (ziqq manacle) (1x at the end of line 1?)
Hh ( possibly in line 4
Tt (, cross in circle) 2x in line 2
Y (yad hand and forearm) 2x or 3x (each different)
K (kap hand) 1x (end of line 4)
L (Lamed) 5x (all different)
M (water) at least 4x (but similar to Sh)
N (snake) 1x in line 4; 1x in line 1
S (Samek) a fish or a spine [ -|-|-| ];  fish (S) 2 x in line 3?
 `(ayin) 4x
P (mouth) 2x (line 2)
Ss (Sade) 1x (line 5)
Q 2x in line 5; 2x in line 4? 1x in line 1?
R (human head) possibly the Q in line 4
Sh (Shin, only two waves) 3x
T (cross) 2x (1, 5); 1x (3)?

[-1?] (One or more lines here originally?)

[1] ' L T ` Sh  [Q] W? ` B D ' [L?] :  Z/T? H/Y?

[2] Sh P Tt . B W ' L M  [? ] [Sh] P Tt

[3] G L [Y/W?] [ T?] B ` L  S?  R? H/S? [ ]  Y?

[4] ' [ Q] M W N  Q? M Y B/Kh? D M L K .

[5] ' Q w/y M ` B D m? sh/m? Y : Ss? D Q T .

Notice that the direction of writing is from left to right (dextrograde), which is the opposite of the order for Biblical Hebrew, and also for ancient Phoenician, Hebrew, and Moabite inscriptions (right to left, sinistrograde); but there is general agreement that this is the way this text runs. The pattern for this is set in the Izbet Sartah ostracon: it also has 5 lines of text; the fifth has the letters of the script (from 'Aleph to T) running from left to right, and the other 4 lines are obviously dextrograde also (lines1 to 3 leave a space at the end; 4 runs over into the end-space of 5).

However, Christopher Rollston has said on
"Prior to the rise of the Phoenician script, Northwest Semitic inscriptions could be written sinistrograde (right to left), dextrograde (left to right), or boustrophedon (one line left to right, and the next line right to left).  Of course, sometimes NWS inscriptions could even be written vertically.  Many people seem to be reading the Qeiyafa ostracon as dextrograde in its entirety.  At this juncture, I would note that I am not convinced this is correct, or at least not consistently the case."

In this respect, the first thing that the scrutinizers noted in the inscription is the Hebrew word ShPTt (Shin Pe Tet, root meaning 'judge') at the beginning of line 2; and then MLK ('king') at the end of line 4; and `BD ('servant') in line 1 (and also 5). This is an interesting collection of words (though Rollston points out that none are exclusively Hebrew), since the ostracon is said to date from the period (10th century BCE) when Israel was changing from rule by 'judges' to monarchy. All these possible terms disappear if the lines are not running from left to right.

We can see these three sequences of letters clearly enough, but, as there is apparently no definite separation of words (unless the single dots function in this way), they could be false constructions. The judge seems safe at the start of a line, but the servant could lose his position and disappear into the mystical cloud of unknowing if the sequence in the middle of line 1 was actually `ShN W `B, signifying 'smoke and cloud'. The king could likewise come to a bloody end if we divided line 4 thus: '... my vengeance (NQMY) in blood (B-DM) for you (LK)'.

There is a pantheon leaping out at us in the same way: the storm-god Baal (B`L) in line 3, the mysterious Molek (MLK) in 4, the mother goddess Elat ('LT) in 1, the chief god El ('L) or all the gods ('LM) in line 2. Again, they may be figments created ingeniously by imagination, but vanishing when the true reading of the text is established; but we can see from this cursory examination that what the author actually meant may never emerge from our speculations.

Try the first line, beginning with 'LT as Elat, the goddess, the consort of the chief deity El (she was known by name as Lady Athirat in Canaan, or Asherah in the Bible). This comes as a shock, in a document from ancient Israel, but it is what the prophets were constantly complaining about; and more than one instance of the expression "YHWH and his Asherah" has come to light in archaeological research. Now, the following two signs could be taken as logograms (a common  practice in ancient writing systems, and I have resorted to it in my reading of the Izbet Sartah inscription): `ayin as 'eye' and the Sh as Shemesh, producing 'the eye of the sun'. In the Bronze Age the proto-alphabetic sign for Sh was the sun (the disc with a protecting serpent), and the Babylonian sun-god Shamash (the sun being the all-seeing eye, with the stars as the spies by night) was the minister for justice in the celestial government. But in the Iron Age such logographic use of the signs eventually ceased. Notice in passing that Canaanite Athirat became Hebrew Asherah, because the sounds th and sh were not distinguished in the Hebrew script, but it was the sun-sign that dropped out, leaving the breast-sign (thad/shad 'breast') as Shin (and Sin); so it is difficult to make the Sh stand for the sun. Note also that the Canaanite feminine ending -at became -ah in Hebrew, and the last letter on this inscription is -t, and I will interpret it as the ending of a feminine singular noun, showing that the -at was still retained at this stage in the development of Hebrew. Note that the Valley of Elah was where the confrontation took place between David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17:2); Elah would presumably refer to a kind of tree; and 'âlâh is a word for 'cursing', which would be another possibility for  'LT here.

From the outset there was agreement that a likely reading of 'L T `Sh was as a prohibition, with Hebrew 'al (not) and the verb `asah (make or do), hence "Don't do". But what is not to be done? Can we get 'service' or 'worship' out of the `BD? Possibly. But there is a suspicion that a Q is lurking there, producing the root `ShQ, denoting 'oppress'. Thus we would have 'L T`ShQ `BD: "Do not oppress a servant" (but there is a W before the `BD). The groups of dots that appear on the drawing perhaps indicate pauses in poetry; or they may be the residue of letters. Whatever the case may be, noting that at least four of the letters have lost their upper portion(where the ostracon has been broken off after the signs were written), I suggest that the two  dots at the top, following the `Alep ox-head,  are the remains of another L, producing the word 'L, 'God'.

Accordingly, disregarding the apparent punctuation dots, and assuming that the stroke preceding the `ayin  is Q, with its head lopped off, we could read this sentence:
[1]  'L  T`ShQ  `BD  '[L]
"Do not ('L) oppress (T`ShQ) the servant (`BD) of Go[d] (`[L])."
We might compare Psalm 119:122: 'Be surety for the good of thy servant; let not the insolent oppress me'.
 However, if the upright stroke is W, and the Q has been washed away (but there are some traces of Q), then we have:
[1] 'L T`Sh[Q] : W `BD 'L
"Do not oppre[ss], but (W) serve Go[d]."

My next step in the decipherment process is to focus on the final sequence of four letters in line 5: T (a cross), preceded by Q (a circle on a stem), D (having precisely that shape, though the lower arc has faded), and Ss (Tsadey, S.), hence SsDQT. My proposed origin for the letter Tsadey is a tied bag, with the string showing at the top [ o( ], to go with the word s.irar ('tied bag'). On the abagadary (abecedary) in line 5 of the Izbet Sartah ostracon, the Ss has a stem with an obtuse angle on top (the bag has been deflated, and flattened); and at the beginning of line 3 the example has a right angle. This may well be what we are looking at here; the drawing by Misgav does not have the angle at the top, the enhanced photographs seem to show it as possible. Line 3 on the other ostracon is also useful for distinguishing Q and R; there are two passive participles qualifying the Hebrew word for 'clay' (t.t.): 'dried' (, 'polished' (mrq), referring to the writing surface of the potsherd. The two instances of M are not quite clear but they are both vertical forms, as in the Qeiyafa text. The two examples of Q are not clearly distinguishable from the R, in line 3, and also on the abagadary on line 5. In the beginning, R (Resh) was clearly a human head with its neck shown (see the table), but the Izbet Sartah scribe has put the head as [o] or [0] on a neck consisting of a single stroke. Q was a string (qaw) wound on a stick [-o- or -o( ], but stylization removed the projections at the top, causing confusion with the W [-o ] representing a hook (waw), which had to open out at the top [-( ],  now looking like the developed form of Ss (Tsadey).

Accepting the sequence at the end of line 5 as SsDQT, we have a noun meaning 'justice', which goes nicely with the 'judge' (ShPTt) of line 2. Returning to that section of the text, I suggest this reading:

[1b - 2] Z H || Sh P Tt . B W ' L M [Sh] P Tt
"He is the Judge; he has come for judgement."
If the two letters Z and H really are there, is  ZH 'this' (or zu hu, 'this is he')? Or do they belong to the end of line 2?
Sh-P-Tt could be a noun or a verb ('he has judged'). The noun (or participle) is applied to YHWH; example (referring to El and Elohim: shophet. s.addiyq 'a just judge' (Psalm 7:12).
BW' ('came'), same root bw'  as in later Hebrew, but the W would presumably be pronounced (bawa'a?); or it could be imperative mood, "Come!".
"O Judge, come for judgement."
LMShPTt would be the preposition l ('to/for') with the noun mishpat. (Ugaritic m-th-p-t.) 'judgement'; a difficulty is that the space is rather wide for one letter (Sh), but the writer may have wished to 'justify' the line of script; and the \/\/ (not in the vertical stance  of the Sh at the beginning of the line) is discernible on the enhanced photographs, and acknowledged by `Ada Yardeni and Gershon Galil.

[3] G L [  ] B ` L D/S H?  Y?
GL with a space allowing room for YT, or merely T: is this another Goliath inscription? (Gershon Galil finds a little YT up in the top right hand corner; we could connect it with the GL here; remember that young David separated the giant's head from his body; 1 Samuel 17:51.) However, T is a distinct possibility here; and whereas Hebrew and Greek text have Goliat, a Greek form Golot is found, and Arabic Jalut.
Or could this be a defective form of G'L 'redeem' and 'avenge'? If so, it goes with the NQM of line 4.
Or gl 'rolled' (root gll), or gl 'cairn'.
If it is Hebrew giyl  ('rejoicing' or 'triumphing'), I could invoke the vague H as a logogram (standing for hll) as 'jubilating' or 'celebrating' (the original pictogram depicted a person in a Halleluyah kind of pose); this parallelism would make it poetry, and perhaps we are looking at an uncanonical psalm. But the combination `LS corresponds to a rare root meaning 'rejoice' or 'enjoy', and a triple dose of merriment is being enjoyed: "exult, rejoice, celebrate".
Or G (gu 'voice') could start a sentence : "The voice of the heart (LB) has gone up (`L)".
GL as a verb might come from the root GLH/GLY,  'reveal', and the text becomes a revelation.
B`L would be the subject of this verb. This could be Baal (Hadad) the weather god, functioning together with the chief God El; or it is simply a title (like El 'God') applied to Yahweh, 'Lord'. This is not attested in the Hebrew Scriptures, but Hosea 2:18 possibly implies such usage (calling YHWH 'Baal').
S: if it is a fish, it could act as a rebus for SMK 'support' (rare as a noun, but could be a verbal noun, 'supporting'), and the H would be the suffix 'his' (though there seems to be a dot between the two characters).
[ ] Y [ ]: The context as reconstructed here, a hymn or an oracle, suggests LY 'to/for me'.

Accordingly, one interpretation of the line could be:
[3] "The Lord (B`L) has revealed (GL) his support (S[mk]H) to me ([L]Y)"
Another possible way to go is:
[3] "Exult (GL), with (B) rejoicing (`LS), celebrate (H[ll]) for me ([L]Y)"

Moving on now to the next  line:
[4] ` [Q] M W N Q M Y Hh/B D M L K

I have already stated the possibility that the king apparent at the end of the line (MLK) should be deposed, and the last two characters might then be LK 'to thee', and DM 'blood'.
'[Q]M. The idea of placing Q in the gap came to me from line 5: it is apparently the root qwm 'arise' in each case, and the initial 'alep points to 1st person singular imperfect: 'I will arise'. The speaker would be God.
NQMY. The Q does not have a perfectly rounded top, like the two instances in line 5, and R is a possibility; the M is perhaps short of waves, and might be Sh, producing NRSh.
B. This would not be S (fish), and B seems possible, even though the other 4 cases are more triangular than rectangular; but eventually I will argue that it is Hh (Het).

[4] "I will [ar]ise ( 'QM), and (W) my vengeance (NQMY) for you (LK) will be with (B) blood (DM)"

[5] ' Q w/y M ` B D Y m sh Ss D Q T

That is one solution I offer to the puzzle of a line that apparently includes some subscript and superscript characters.
'QY/WM. The first letter could be R rather than 'alep, but not S (fish), and the proposal to read SRN (title of Philistine ruler) is hard to accept; the horizontal W or Y needs to be incorporated into the word, as a consonant; it could be a causative verb form (Pi`el or Hip`il):"I will raise up" or "establish" or "confirm".
`BDY. Only the Y is complete, but the `BD can be reconstructed on the basis of its occurrence in line 1; here it is "my servant".
MSh. This appears over the presumed D. "My servant Moses (Moshe)". Is this the one and only Moses, the archetypal prophet (2 Kings 28:8, Numbers 12:6-8)? A minimalist view would read MM or ShSh, to save embarrassment; if it is MM then we have the 'waters' of the prophet Amos (5:24) like which 'justice' (mishpat. and s.edaqah) should roll down (gll).
SsDQT. This was mentioned earlier in the discussion, and also in the preceding sentence; variously translated as 'righteousness' or 'justice'. There is no preposition with it (perhaps the verb governs two objects).

[5] "I will confirm ('QYM) my servant (`BDY) [MSh] in justice (SsDQT)"

The hypothesis I propose is that this is an oracle document, and, as with the utterances of the prophets of ancient Israel, the deity is quoted amid the declarations of the seer, as a 'servant' of YHWH.

The first three lines, then, are a statement of the prophet: first quoting an injunction from God concerning the 'servant' himself (line 1); then a warning that God is coming in judgement (line 2); and God has expressed his support for his agent (line 3). In the remaining two lines, God affirms his vindication of his 'servant', possibly named Mosheh, or possibly not named at all.

Note that the words being proposed here (roots `ShQ, ShPTt, SsDQ, NQM, SMK) occur together in Isaiah 59:11-17 and 63:1-7, where God comes in bloody judgement (Gath is also mentioned but only as 'the winepress' which he treads in his wrath).

A note about the script and the language. There are no matres lectionis (W and Y indicating vowels)  to assist us.  No definite article (ha-). The conjunction wa 'and' is present, apparently.

There are some other possibilities based on logography, on the one hand, and the various identifications of signs made by Haggai Misgav, which I have not explored thoroughly; but it should be noted that I am coming to this task from my knowledge of the pictophonographic logo-consonantary (the proto-alphabet) in the Bronze Age, whereas others are working back from the Phoenician and Hebrew consonantal script of the Iron Age.


Gershon Galil has issued a 'decipherment', the same as mine (on the theme of justice in society) but entirely different (in the interpretation of the text).

Gershon Galil's drawing of the Qeiyafa ostracon
Courtesy of the University of Haifa 
This is how I would transcribe what is depicted on the drawing, and accepting his identifications of the letters.
[1] ' L T ` Sh W ` B D ' [T]
[2] Sh P Tt [`] B [D] W ' L M [N] [Sh] [P] Tt (Y T [M])
[3] [W] G R [R] B ` L L? [R] [B] [D] [L] [W]
[4] ' [L] M [N] Sh? Q M Y B D M L K
[5] ' [B] Y N ` B D Sh? K? G? R T [M] [K]
Transliteration (with added vowel-indicating consonants Y, W, H; and separation of suggested words)

"אל תעשו (כזאת) ועבדו את|2?| ה
"שפטו עבד ואלמנה שפטו יתום|3| וגר"
"ריבו עולל ריבו דל ו|4|אלמנה שקמו ביד מלך"
"אביון ועבד - שכו, גר - תמכו"||

1′ ‘l t‘ś w‘bd ‘[t .......]
2′ špt. [‘]b[d] w’lm[n] špt. yt[m]
3′ [w]gr [r]b ‘ll rb [d]l w
4′ ‘[l]mn šqm ybd mlk
5′ ‘[b]yn [w]‘bd šk gr t[mk]

English translation of the deciphered text:
1' you shall not do [it], but worship the [Lord].
2' Judge the sla[ve] and the wid[ow] / Judge the orph[an]
3' [and] the stranger. [Pl]ead for the infant / plead for the po[or and]
4' the widow. Rehabilitate [the poor] at the hands of the king.
5' Protect the po[or and] the slave / [supp]ort the stranger.

If I had produced the same solution as Galil, these are problems I would be raising to myself:

Is there a line or more missing at the top? (Apparently Galil thinks so, hence the [.........].)

Is this poetry? There are hints of parallelism, lines having two halves; and the verbs in line 5 being preceded by their objects would be poetic style. In the press-release here, GG uses / in his transliteration, indicating verse, presumably.

However, my reading of it has five lines of prose, each line a separate sentence, not running over into the following line (well, perhaps once; see ORPHAN below).

Gershon Galil has found a context (justice in the gate of the city) and a theme to go with it: giving justice to the widow, orphan, infant, sojourner (stranger, resident alien), poor, needy, and slave.

However, his significant nouns are somewhat suspect. Actually, none of them appear in my interpretation of the text.

*WIDOW: 'LMN (twice: 2 'LM [N], 4 '[L]M[N?]) It should not be 'widow' but 'widower' or 'widowhood'; the feminine -t should be present (Ugr 'lmnt, Phn 'lmt /Akkadian almattu), but in Hebrew the -t might have dropped off by the 10th C BCE. Around 700 BCE the Siloam tunnel inscription has HNQBH, 'the boring'. I can not get any help from the Izbet Sartah ostracon or the Gezer calendar on this point.

When did the -t fall away, and the -h replace it? It continued in Phoenician through the Iron Age, and in Arabic for ages.

*INFANT: `LL, though I have taken the second L to be a fish (the first has an opening, the second is closed); the sequence B`L is not accepted as Ba`al or 'the Lord'.

*ORPHAN: YT[M]. This reading is achieved by using two small vague characters at the end of line 1 as a continuation of line 2, and assuming the M was broken off. I have very  tentatively suggested ZH 'this' (following Misgav's drawing) and connect it to the beginning of line 2, not the end.

*POOR : DL, found in an illegible section of 3.

*NEEDY : ' [B]Y?N?, at the murky beginning of 5. My 'QYM ('I will establish') is also speculative, but it has a better basis in the enhanced pictures.

*STRANGER: GR (twice, 3, 5). Misgav has the supposed G  in line 5 as D (the boomerang G becomes D a door in the finely detailed blue picture available for this corner of the text). My interpretation has trouble finding a case of R, and this is a problem. My reading here is GL. The difficulty is that the first GR is the opposite of the second (which is not certain). The Rosh has always been known to be a human head, and it is never upside down. Galil has it in four different stances, including two inverted forms;  but the same is true of 'Aleph (head of an ox), and B (a house), at the hand of this scribe.

*SLAVE: `BD (2, 5) a third occurrence of the sequence `BD (1) is taken to be a verb 'serve, worship'; the one in line 2 is created by filling the spaces on each side of B; the one in 5 is plausible, but I read `BDY ('my servant'); and Galil omits the MSh (Moshe?!) or MM that appears above D on Misgav's drawing

*KING : MLK (end of line 4). The reading MLK is fairly certain, and only I have deviated from allowing it to be 'king'.  Galil's insight is seductive for BD MLK, 'at the hands of the king', with the ruler (who sits in the gate dispensing justice) as BD is known from Ugaritic as b-yad "in the hand(s)". However, preceding B and following his "ShQM" there is a clear Y that is passed over by Galil (unless he has emended YBD to read BYD).

The definite article h- is not in evidence (hammelek in Classical Hebrew), and we would expect it on all these nouns; so it has not been invented yet.

One of my proposals for line 4 is: '[Q]M W NQMY BDM LK : "I will arise, and my vengeance (will be) with blood for thee".
Any syntactical objections to this? In the Bronze Age the 1 p  possessive pronoun suffix would only be shown in oblique cases (-aya for accusative case). On the bilingual sphinx from Sinai we may read: Z NQY L B`LT "This is my offering to Ba`alat". Is the noun in the accusative case, after the verb "is" (understood)?

Where in the text is YHWH "[the Lord]", who appears in the translation of line 1? That stray Y in line 4 might be an abbreviation of the divine name, but this would emerge as: "Rehabilitate Y[hwh] at the hands of the king" (maybe that could be said); Galil does not have an object for the verb, so he reintroduces "[the poor]" from the previous line).

Galil states that this inscription is the earliest known Hebrew writing. However,
in my opinion, the oldest-known Hebrew text is the Izbet Sartah ostracon, apparently written by an Israelite named`WP BN H.G (Ben Hagai).

If the writer of this Qeiyafa/Sha`arayim document could see the Colless and Galil interpretations of his text, he might well say that he agrees with the sentiments expressed in their readings, but that is not what he wrote and meant.

On a sobering note, the directors of the expedition (Yosef Garfinkel and Saar Ganor) have placed on the website an open letter of disapproval to Gershon Galil. I sincerely hope that I have not offended; I did make e-mail contact with Yosef Garfinkel, inquiring about access to more photographs (which have now appeared on the website, but are only referenced here, not reproduced); and I informed him of my own attempt at reading the inscription, on this Cryptcracker site; I have mentioned all the scholars known to me as having made contributions to interpreting the text. 

Gershon Galil has now issued a new reading especially for the ANE2 internet group, through Victor Hurowitz (and if possible, I would like Gershon to read my response, in which I express empathetic understanding but reluctance to accept his whole package).

So, instead of working further on my essay "The Canaanites in America", based on a new inscription, I have obediently followed his instructions:
"Just open the link and download the PDF file. The colored picture presented by Bearman in p. 12 is excellent!!! Please enlarge it to 200% or 400% and you will see clearly all the letters and the ink traces of my following new reading...."

I spent another abundant surplus of  hours looking once again at all the pictures, including the blue ones on p. 17-18  (I admit I had never examined any of them enlarged before now, but I have always used a magnifying glass); it was a profitable exercise, as I gained a bit of confidence in some of my own readings, and thought of a plethora of new possibilities, and retained sympathy for some of his (but certainty may never be achieved by any of us).

I want to say that Gershon Galil's reading of the text is coherent and attractive, indeed it is highly seductive  (and some might say solidly Bible-based, as I try to make mine, too); but I have already raised some problems, and I will give them further consideration  here.

This is his earlier attempt:

1′ ‘l t‘ś w‘bd ‘[t .......]
2′ špt. [‘]b[d] w’lm[n] špt. yt[m]
3′ [w]gr [r]b ‘ll rb [d]l w
4′ ‘[l]mn šqm ybd mlk
5′ ‘[b]yn [w]‘bd šk gr t[mk]

English translation:

1′ you shall not do [it], but worship the [Lord].
2′ Judge the sla[ve] and the wid[ow] / Judge the orph[an]
3′ [and] the stranger. [Pl]ead for the infant / plead for the po[or and]
4′ the widow. Rehabilitate [the poor] at the hands of the king.
5′ Protect the po[or and] the slave / [supp]ort the stranger.

This is the revised version.
1′ 'l t‘ś w‘bd '[t .......]
2′ špt. [‘]b[d] w’lm[n] špt. yt[m]
3′ [w]gr [r]b ‘ll rb [d]l w
4′ '[l]mn nqm ybd mlk
5′ '[b]yn [w]‘bd šk gr t[mk]
1' do not do (it), but worship [the Lord/ or him/ or me].
 2' Judge the [s]la[ve] and the wid[ow] / Judge the orph[an]
3' [and] the stranger. [Pl]ead for the infant / plead for the poor and
4' the wid[ow]. Avenge (the pauper's vengeance) at the king's hands.
5' Protect the p[o]or [and] the slave / su[pport] the stranger.

I will point out the changes and make responses along the way:

-1] ............................
We might have expected a preceding "Thus saith ..." introducing the persons involved in the text.

Line 1] 'L  T`Sh  W`BD  '[T....]
GG: "Do not do (it), but worship [the Lord/ or him/ or me]."

The imperative mood has been softened;
 '(it)' is presumably referring to an action mentioned in a previous line, now lost.
Some of us have thought that ` S(h)  might have been ` Sh Q 'oppress', which fits nicely in the context, and looking at the 'big picture' I can now see a Q in the gap. (Is this an occasion for shouting Eureka or Halleluyah, or should I remind myself to get checked for cataracts or spots on the retina?)

More options for the object of the verb ('oto, otiy).
It occurs to me that 'otiy ('me') could have been created by adding the small (alleged) TY at the end of the line, and this could also be ' T  Y (short for Yh or Yhwh). But  he has used that for YT[M] 'orphan' (in the next line). I had thought (following Misgav's drawing) that they were Z and H, and was pleased that these two letters were included in the text. However, TY/YT seems a better reading.

*BC: "Do not oppress, but serve G[od] ('[L])
Can I make that say: "Do not be an oppressor, but a servant of God"?

Line 2-1c-3a] ShPTt [`]B[D]  W'LM[N]  ShPTt || YT[M] || [W]GR
"Judge the [s]la[ve] and the wid[ow] / Judge the orph[an]  [and] the stranger".
So, 'judge' means 'give justice to',  not 'bring to justice' (a reminder here that I see another 'justice' word [SsDQT] at the very end of the last line).
The re-occurrence of ShPTt at the end of the line is surely right.
Notice a case of ShPTt twice in one verse:
"Thou hast done my judgement ... judging with justice" (SsDQ) (Psalm 9:5)
There is space for [`] and [D] in the proposed [`]B[D] 'slave', and as it is present on line 1, and apparently also in line 5, it is plausible here. But I have been uniting them as referring to a particular "servant of God", possibly a prophet or ruler.
Accordingly: "The servant has judged, he has come (BW') for (L) judgement (MShPTt)".
But with Galil, we have a sequence  W'LM[N]ShPTt , possibly meaning "gods ('LM) have been judged (Nip`al)", as Yhwh does, of course: if I refer to Psalm 82:1-8 for this concept, it  has God ('LHYM) judging in the midst of the gods ('LHYM); and he orders them to judge 'weak' (DL) and 'fatherless' (YTWM), and 'poor' ('BYWN, all three without H, definte article), all words that Galil seks to find here.
Compare: "Arise, LORD, ... let the nations be judged by you'" (Psalm 9:20)

But the widow he includes here is problematic to my mind: 'LMN should be 'widower'; 'widow' would be 'LMNT; but if the feminine -t ending has fallen away by this time, and no compensating -h has replaced it yet, then 'widow' may be possible. A solution would be to find a T in the space between  M and Sh, and read 'lmt, as in Phoenician (cp. Akkadian almattu); but I cannot see this working at the start of line 4.

For YTM 'fatherless' there is no M to go with YT (assumed to have been broken off at the top of the shard).

The W for 'and' , at the start and end of line 3, are by no means obvious; still, they may not be necessary if this is poetry.

Regarding GR ('sojourner, stranger'), we have to accept an absolutely abnormal R:  an inverted head with neck, indeed, two of them, facing each other, the first a roundhead, and the second a cavalier (I am listening to Rosenkavalier Act 2.1 as I write this) according to Galil's drawing.  And there is another  one further down the line, each making RB (not 'great' or 'plenty', but 'plead for', 'get justice for' DL, 'the poor'). I would think the third one could be R.

4] ‘[l]mn nqm ybd mlk
the wid[ow]. Avenge (the pauper's vengeance) at the king's hands.

Galil has now changed Sh to N, giving not ShQM'rehabilitate' but NQM 'avenge', which is the likeliest choice, though not certain; but the previous N, for '[L]M[N?] is quite unlike this, and so the 'widow' must bow out. YBD MLK (read BYD?) is supposed to say 'at the king's hands'. Looking at all the photographs, the B seems to be Hhet (as suggested on Misgav's table of signs); its body is rectangular, while all the others are triangular; and the curved projection seems to go right round and join up, thus making the original picture of the sign: a Canaanite house with a courtyard (HhSsR), and not many people realize that.

Accordingly, my choices are '[Q]M 'I will arise'; 'and avenge' (W NQM, 'infinitive"?) or 'and we will avenge' (n(n)qm, but this suggests it might be from the same root qwm as `qm at the beginning of 4 and 5); YHhD MLK 'the community of the king'; yakhad 'unity' as 'community' is well represented in the Dead Sea Scrolls (Essene writings), and is there an echo of Deuteronomy 33:5, 'And there was a king (mlk) in Yeshurun (Israel), with the gathering together of the heads of the people, the community (yakhad) of the tribes of Israel'. Is the ruler (MLK) Yhwh or his earthly viceregent, there and on our ostracon?

Once again, with all its improbabilities, and in spite of my earlier suggestion ["my vengeance will be in (b) blood (dm) for thee (lk)']":

4] "I will arise and together we will avenge the king."

5]  '[b]yn [w]‘bd šk gr t[mk]
 Protect the p[o]or [and] the slave / su[pport] the stranger.
Briefly, 'ebyon is impossible; 'QM is possible; `BD is safe, but ShK is problematic (Sh is actually a good Y, though it is inverted in comparison with the Y above it in line 4); the K at the end of line 4 does not have a  tail; I strongly support my reading SsDQT ('justice' or 'righteousness') against  GR T[MK]; the additional letters are not really there, though a Y might fit (giving 'my justice').

5] "I will establish/avenge my servant (with) justice" (noun in objective case, as adverb,'justly').

You see what glorious untenable magic utterances can be derived from a text that is unpointed , "unmothered" (with no matres lectionis), undivided (no separation of words), and untidy,  with only the slightest sleight of hand?

But this is not my last word on the subject. I have a different trick to play with another card up my sleeve: Goliath's curse.

The next step in the investigation is recorded here:

Updated and summarized here: 

My latest work in progress is at thews sites: 

Sincerely and as seriously as I am ever able to be,

Brian Colless
Massey University, Aotearoa/ New Zealand 

Khirbet Qeiyafa Vol. 1. Excavation Report 2007–2008
Yosef Garfinkel and Saar Ganor
XX + 304 pages, 21 x 31 cm, c. 350 illustrations, 94 pages with color photos
ISBN 978-965-221-077-7, $72 ($54 to members of the Israel Exploration Society)
Orders: Israel Exploration Society, E-mail:

Chapter 14. The Ostracon (Haggai Misgav, Yosef Garfinkel and Saar Ganor)
14.1. Introduction 14.2. Terminology 14.3. Chronology
14.4. The Script 14.5. The Text
Chapter 14A. Further Observations on the Ostracon (Ada Yardeni)
Chapter 15. Imaging the Ostracon (Greg Bearman and William A. Christens-Barry)
15.1. Introduction 15.2. Imaging Techniques 15.3. The Results

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