My latest suggestion
Reading syllabically from right to left (sinistrograde):
... N [ ] [YA] NU H.U LU QU (U?) M ...
"... bad/sour (h.ulqu) wine (yanu) and (u?) water (M...)"
This interpretation follows the line laid down by Gershon Galil and Douglas Petrovich: in their view the pot was a vessel containing inferior wine, possibly for workers on building sites in Jerusalem.
Perhaps the full text contained a word for "jar" or even "pithos"; Ugaritic dn (also Arabic and Aramaic) was a jar for wine (and vinegar, Yoma 28b, Jastrow 315a). But Raz Kletter (268) says "Galil's reading does not fit the Jerusalem pithos, since it is not a wine vessel", and Kletter maintains that position because it has "a very large, open mouth", and this would allow the wine to have contact with oxygen and be ruined. This might support my first idea that it was for storing water, rather than wine; but if this was intended to be a container for spoiled wine, which was placed on open access for drinkers to put a ladle or cup into it, then there can be no objection.
Kletter dismisses my water-jar solution because I cannot adduce such an inscribed vessel from the Iron Age, although I can find apparent examples in the Late Bronze Age (from Gezer, see above).
Similarly, he points out that the term h.lq is not found with reference to wine in any other inscription in Palestine/Israel, nor in the Bible. But this could be an isolated and welcome instance of that usage, already attested at Ugarit; and maybe the language of Yebus (Yerushalayim) was closer to Ugaritic than to Israelian Hebrew. At the same time he ridicules the thought that a container of wine could be labeled as "inferior" or "bad". But that would only apply if the commodity was for sale, not if it was being offered gratis. This jar was perhaps made and marked as a receptacle for such liquid, and so it would probably not have royal references on it.
Precisely what was meant by yn hlq remains unclear. If the primary sense of hlq is 'perish', parallel with mt 'dead', and the opposite of t.b (Cyrus Gordon, Ugaritic Textbook, Glossary, 969, p. 403) then such wine (a 'perishable' food) would be 'perished', 'gone bad', or 'become rotten', no longer 'good' (sweet) and thus 'sour' (vin aigre, vinegar). Biblical Hebrew h.lq does not offer obvious assistance, expressing ideas of smoothness or apportioning; but Petrovich leans towards associating the term yyn h.lq with deception (as in smooth-tongued), and proposing the improbable 'pseudo-wine' as the solution. He does mention Ah.ituv's note on h.ms. (vinegar) in Arad Ostracon 2 (Echoes from the Past, 98): Roman legionaries drank posca, "a mixture of vinegar and water, sometimes sweetened with honey". This reminds me of my own daily beverage of water with apple cider vinegar and honey. Of course, wine was customarily drunk with water. I am pondering whether these three ingredients can be found here: water (which I had first suggested as the contents of this vessel) with vinegar, and perhaps also honey.
The water could easily be found in the final sequence M[..], as Hebrew mayim, or simply M as a logogram, or an abbreviation. It is more difficult to make this a 'honey pot', finding a place for West Semitic dbs (debash) or nbt.
But if we are to read the combination "vinegar and water", where is the conjunctive W (or P)?
(The conjunction wa often seems to be lacking: for example, in the Wadi el-Hol list of sacrificial foods for the `Anat celebration.) It has occurred to me, that the missing WA is actually U (which would be expected here before labial M, in Hebrew) and this could not be represented in consonantal writing; if 'u was written, it would mean 'or'.
I still need to justify the syllabic reading [YA]NU H.ULUQU, as opposed (but not violently so!) to [YY]N H.LQ.
For his YYN, Gershon Galil posits two cases of Yod in the style of a character that appears three times on the Qeiyafa ostracon (though Yod also has two other stances in that neo-syllabic text): the arm has the hand (two strokes) pointing downwards, and that would make a total of four vertical lines, one of which is visible, emerging from the gap. However, these reconstructed figures are huge in comparison with the Qeiyafa model; that is not impossible, and its plausibility could be tested if the missing piece of the pot turns up; but I am proposing the alternative prototype of Yod with the hand at the top (as apparently on the Izbet Sartah ostracon, and on the Lakish bowl sherd); the two strokes of the hand (looking like pincers) are partly discernible above the empty space, with the end of the arm protruding at the bottom. However, this leaves a space before the Yod, increasing our frustration that the missing pieces are not available for inspection. There could have been another Yod there, as Gershon Galil suggested, indicating the southern Hebrew form of the word yayin.
Regarding the syllabic reading, most of the letters are not the standard forms of the international alphabet, and by my calculation there is a preponderance of -u syllabograms in [YA]NU H.ULUQU.
Cyrus Gordon (Glossary 402b) has an Akkadian form hulqu (equated with la t.âbu, 'not good'), and H.ULUQU is a correct syllabic transcription of that.
One little defect remains to defeat us: there is a space before the incomplete YA, and it could be another YA, producing [YAYA]NU, yaynu, 'wine' (Judean style). To achieve [YAYI]NI, yayin, the text would have to be read in the opposite direction, but this would annihilate H.ULUQU.
If the first letter on the right is N, rather than M, and if it is syllabic and not simply the standard Phoenician Nun, then it possibly represents NI, having the reverse form of the other N, which I take to be NU. Could it have been preceded by the syllabic sign HI? Possibilities are: HINI hin measure? hén? hinnè? "Here is" or "This is"?
The letter He appears twice on the incomplete Beth-Shemesh vertical inscription, engraved on two shards from a vessel. The second is in a sequence HN, accepted by P. Kyle McCarter as the measure hin. The first H has the form of Greco-Roman E. The second H seems to be the same, though the photographs show a projection from the bottom of the spine; this would make it the same as the standard Phoenician form, though reversed (its three strokes could point in the direction of the writing, to the right or to the left, along a horizontal line).
Kyle McCarter's drawing shows the projecting line as a surface defect in the clay (although it seems to be attached to the letter in photographs) (McCarter, 188, Figure 5, and 185, n.2). He favours a meaning hin (measure) for the word, and this syllabic sign would provide the HI syllable. When there are a few letters only, it is difficult to establish whether the text is syllabic or consonantal, and that is likewise the problem with the Ophel pot.
From all the sifting of ancient debris of Jerusalem, the missing pieces of the puzzle might turn up, but we shall probably never know what the scribe intended. Meanwhile I am holding onto my guess that this was an open-mouthed jar for containing water mixed with vinegar, for the refreshment of troops of soldiers, and/or gangs of workers. If it is syllabic it is Iron I, like the Qeiyafa ostracon; if it is simply consonantal, but not conforming to the the standard international (Phoenician) alphabet, then it is to be classed with the Eshbaal jar from Khirbet Qeiyafa (Shaarayim), to be dated in late Iron I rather than Iron II, in the time of King Saul, not King David, nor King Solomon, and specifically in the Yebus period of Yerushalayim, before David annexed it to his united kingdom.
For clarification, let me state my present position on Khirbet Qeiyafa and its two inscriptions: the text of the ostracon is neo-syllabic, and its subject is the victory of David (not King David) over the `Anaq named Guliyut; the Eshbaal jar inscription is consonantal, but its letters are not in conformity with the international alphabet used in the Levant, of which the characters tend to be the -i syllabograms in the neo-syllabary. The archaeological evidence from Khirbet Qeiyafa (Shaarayim) shows that its existence as a fortress in the Iron I period was of short duration; the presence of Eshbaal, a son of King Saul, on this site indicates that this town was built by King Saul, not King David, as a bastion against the Philistines of Gath and Ekron; but it was apparently destroyed by them, together with the capital city Gibeah (Tell el-Ful), at the time of the battle of Mount Gilboa (1 Samuel 31:1-7); less probably, it might have been a casualty in the war between the house of Saul and the house of David (2 Samuel 3:1). David chose not to rebuild Shaarayim, but moved further down the road to make Yerushalayim his stronghold.
My continuing struggle with the Qeiyafa inscriptions is available for inspection:
Benjamin Sass, The Genesis of the Alphabet (1988)
Brian E. Colless, The Proto-alphabetic inscriptions of Canaan, Abr-Nahrain (Ancient Near Eastern Studies) 29 (1991) 18-66.
Gershon Galil, ‘yyn ḫlq’ The Oldest Hebrew Inscription from Jerusalem, Strata 31 (2013) 11-26.
Douglas Petrovich, The Ophel Pithos Inscription: Its Dating, Language, Translation, and Script, Palestine Exploration Quarterly 147, 2 (2015) 130-145.
Raz Kletter, Notes on the Jerusalem Iron IIA pithos inscription, Palestine Exploration Quarterly 150, 4 (2018) 265-270.
P. Kyle McCarter et al, An Archaic Ba`l Inscription from Tel Beth-Shemesh .......
School of Humanities, Massey University, NZ
(Click on this table of the evolution of the alphabet to view it in enlargement)
- Mr. Brian Edric Colless:
I hope that this could be your interest: (In Spanish: La enigmática inscripción del Templo De Salomón. ¿El más antiguo testimonio de paleohebreo?)