Thursday, December 12, 2019


William M. Schniedewind has published a new reading of this brief inscription, found on a shard from Lakish (conventionally Lachish), and his interpretation of the bottom line is ground-breaking;  I will place my response to his proposed decipherment here in a new  page,  for the benefit of the hundreds of visitors who have already perused my lengthy essay, since December 2015; but that will still function as a prologue to the solution I am presenting at this time.
 Here is my drawing of the writing on the shard. Photographs are reproduced further down the page.
My two previous suggestions for interpreting the text, reading the writing from right to left, are:
(1) Pikol (pkl) the scribe (spr) ....
(2) Pot (pk) for (l) the scribe (spr) of the temple (B)
Even though Flavius Josephus has a reference to "scribes of the Temple", in a decree of the Seleucid tyrant Antiokhos III, who reigned from 222-187 BCE (Antiquities 12:138-144), now, with the inspiration from Schniedewind's insight into the scribe's intention in line 3, I offer:
(3)  Pot (pk) for (l) measuring (spr 5 hekat 
WMS has recognized that the Egyptian accounting system and the Hieratic script are being employed by the scribe, in the bottom line. The Egyptian sign for h.q3t ("a measure of wheat") is "an oblong circle" in Hieratic, and its hieroglyph (U9, Alan Gardiner, Egyptian Grammar, p. 516, cp. par. 266, 1) is a rectangular grain-measure, with a vertical line at its centre, showing the seed pouring out on the left side. Schniedewind sees the 7-shaped character as a Hieratic "5"; hence "5 hekat"; and he concludes that the container would be a "storage jar" for wheat. He has published his discovery in The Finger of the Scribe (OUP 2019) 4-5, and notes 12-19 on p.172; and forthcoming in BASOR, The Alphabetic "Scribe" of the Lachish Jar Inscription and the Hieratic Tradition in the Early Iron Age.
   He agrees with those of us who have suggested that the first line could give a personal name, perhaps Pikol. (However, he does not know about my many ideas on this matter.)
   For the second line he is keen to have spr as "the first example of the title 'Scribe' used in a linear alphabetic inscription" (4), though he acknowledges that other readings are possible, and he gives this example (172, n. 13), which he describes as "plausible": "PN recorded [...] 5 Hekat of wheat". This does not make good sense on a pot that has not been into the kiln yet, as the clay was inscribed before firing; and if spr is a verb it should normally come first in the sentence, but not absolutely necessarily.
   At this point it might be profitable to remind ourselves that the basic meaning of the root SPR is "count" or "measure". In a later inscription (Arad 3.6-7) spr occurs in a command to "count the wheat and the bread" (surely not counting the wheat grain by grain, but by measure). 
   Another instance of spr in connection with grain is found in Genesis 41:49: 
"Yosep stored grain in such great abundance that it was like the sand of the sea, so that he ceased to measure it, as it was measureless". The root SPR (count, number, measure) occurs twice in this sentence: in "to measure" and "measureless". Incidentally, there is a possible play on words, with "store" being the root S.BR (heap up, accumulate).
   WMS actually quotes this very verse (p. 71): he notes the the verbal form of spr often refers to accounting, as when "Joseph measures and records amounts of grain" (Gen 41:49).
   The Lakish jar inscription gives the capacity of the vessel, and so the spr seems more applicable to measuring (as a verbal noun) than to a scribe (common noun). Accordingly, we are informed by the scribe who wrote these words, that this vessel is "for (l) measuring (spr 5 hekat (of grain)", and possibly it should not be described as a container for "storing" grain, but for "measuring" a particular volume of grain.
   There remains the problem of the word our scribe has (apparently) used for the jar: the Hebrew term pak is found in contexts of anointing with oil, variously translated as "flask" or "phial/vial" (commissioning to kingship: 1 Samuel 10:1, Samuel and Saul; 2 Kings 9:1-3, Elisha's plenipotentiary and Jehu). In Modern Hebrew it is given the meanings "jar" and "jug" (Avraham Zilkha, Modern Hebrew-English Dictionary, Yale UP, 1989, 234). The general impression is that a pak was a small object; Jastrow (Dictionary 1174a) has examples of pak (flask, jar) with the adjective "small" (qt.n); this might imply that there could be large versions of the object; but the Lakish "jar" would have held 20 to 30 liters (Yosef Garfinkel to WMS, n. 19, p. 172), and "5 hekat" would have been "about 20-25 liters" (p. 5); WMS takes this as confirmation of his "suggested reading" of the third line of the text; but it requires acceptance of the usage of pak as wide-ranging, as widely as the words "pot" and "jar" are stretched in the discussion about the Lakish vessel.
   Two speculations may be added to the discussion. First, The Dictionary of Classical Hebrew (ed. David J. A. Clines) vol VI, 681a, has a word *pîk, an emendation in Job 33:6 that produces "I am like a jar from God", parallel to "I too was formed from a piece of clay". Should we still contemplate the possibility that the neo-syllabary was operating here.
   Second, suppose that pk in the Lakish inscription is incomplete, and the correct reading is sh-p-k (pour), hence "Pour to measure 5 hekat". This root is used for pouring molten metal, and shedding blood, and possibly it could refer to pouring grain.
   A final consideration gives me cause for pause to ponder how this jar, when it was a mass of wet clay ready for baking and proudly bearing its inscription, could know its correct volume. How could that be measured? Simply by modeling it to the same size as another jar of that volume? But how did that jar have its volume established? The potter and the scribe probably knew, but now God only knows.

Apologies for the tiny print which has delivered (relentlessly) for this study; the normal size appears on the version I see, before it is posted to the Web. You have my permission to copy it and paste it in a document where it can be enlarged.

Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research,
BASOR  374 (2015): 233–45, Benjamin Sass et al.
A copy of this article (with these illustrations, and drawings of many more inscriptions) is available on Sass's page at ACADEMIA
(Photographs by Tal Rogovski; reconstruction and drawings of the vessel by O. Dobovsky; drawing of the inscription by the late Ada Yardeni )

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