This is the second part of a a series on
West Semitic Syllabic and Consonantal Scripts
from Tel Lachish
Our new Lakish inscription
may not have enough graphemes for us to classify it definitively, but
the ruin-mound of the city has provided several examples of the script
categories, which may assist us in our quest.
(1) The proto-syllabary
Here are two more inscriptions on sherds from Lakish (written in ink); they were published in the journal Tel Aviv
3 (1976) 107-108, 109-110, and Plate 5. Both objects were found in
Palace A in 1973. They each include letters that are known to me as
exclusively proto-syllabic, together with signs that could be syllabic
or consonantal. Many years ago my son Michael in Sydney made me a
photocopy of these articles, thinking they might be useful to me, and
they have languished ever since in an unstudied state, but have now miraculously and serendipitously revealed themselves at exactly the right time.
 A proto-syllabic inscription from Lakish
the pentagonal sherd
The inscription on the pentagonal bowl-fragment was studied by Mordechai Gilula, who thought it was "Egyptian hieratic", comparable to examples from the 19th and 20th Dynasties, and in line with Ramesside inscriptions found in Lakish.
RU BU LA BI NA YA PA BA GA NNA TU HU
Abundance (rubu) for (la) my son (binaya) and (pa) in (ba) his garden (gannatuhu)
This reading, although tentative, provides a clue for the interpretation of the triangular sherd. Possibly some of the signs have been misinterpreted in this interpretaion, but the important part is gannat, "garden"; I think this word also appears on the new Lakish rectangular sherd.
This reminds me of the little pieces of paper with prayers in Hebrew placed in the interstices of the Western Wall at the site of the Jerusalem temple; sherds were the equivalent of scrap paper in the olden days.
Returning now to the triangular sherd, our task is made difficult by its murkiness. Another impediment is that there may be some syllabograms that were not attested in the Byblos texts, on which the Mendenhall-Colless decipherment is based; we certainly need to find such signs, but it is hard to discern even the characters we already know in this time-ravaged document.
Does the second line suit the oracular genre? LA (night) DA (door) RA (head) YA: "to/for my circle, family, generation, dwelling"; but if the dot in the head is for doubling (rather than depicting an eye) , then this could say "for liberation" (Hebrew dror) with regard to slaves and captives. Another BI follows the YA, perhaps, and then the 'U (ear); this sequence produces a possible verb, yabi'u, "brings" (root BW' "come"); the ink blob at the end of the line looks like a fish, which should not trespass into the proto-syllabary, but if we allow it, the preceding sign is a circle, SHI (sun) and with the SA (fish) the root ShSS (plunder) emrges.
Can the top line reveal a theme we can grasp? The first letter is the familiar BI, (eye with three tears); next perhaps a dotted circle, SHI (sun), but it is more like a quadrilateral diamond figure, and thus H.U (h.udshu, new moon, or month), and this suggests that a date is being given; then we are confronted by a small square (BA, house?), but it has an upper part, making it as tall as the BI, and a door with two panels, denoting DA. At the midpoint of the line we have a mess of smudged letters requiring long consideration .... Desperation is creeping in.
On the other hand, if the combination is simply BI-NA-T-, "daughter", parallel to the "son" (bin) on the other ostracon, then the mysterious garden and the mystical prophet disappear. However, the possibility still remains that it is a prayer.
The Lakish Dagger
Could it be proto-syllabic? R could be RA, and S could be SA; but the syllabic snake for NA is invariably the cobra, not the horned viper; and Sadey is not attested in the proto-syllabic texts at our disposal. On the other hand, the fish is the normal Samek in the Sinai proto-consonantal inscriptions, and the Samek with two crossbars is the prevalent form in the Byblos proto-syllabic texts; only the two monumental inscriptions (A, G) have the three-bar Samek, in a form that shows its origin in the Egyptian Djed hieroglyph (R11, spinal column); the three-stroke Samek first emerges on the Lakish jar sherd (2014), and it is unique in having no protrusion of its stem at either the bottom or the top (see Photo 18 below, with discussion); again it is uncertain whether this jar inscription is consonantal (neo-consonantary) or syllabic (neo-syllabary), and whether its Samek is simply S or SI; for the neo-syllabary, SA has been identified as a vertical fish with head downwards (Izbet Sartah ostracon), SU is the fish with head upwards (Qeiyafa ostracon, line 4), and we might expect a horizontal fish for SI, but since the characters in the standardised Phoenician alphabet usually correspond to their neo-syllabic -i counterpart, we might presume that --|-|-| (but vertical) would be SI; of course, if this Lakish jar had a neo-syllabic text, then we have found the missing SI, but this argument is going round in circles and that is a prohibited practice.
Nevertheless, in seeking to solve this mystery of the non-identical Samek twins, we can point to places where they were together.
Returning to the Lakish dagger, if it is in fact proto-syllabic (s.ar nas, Foe flee) then we have found the syllable S.A (tied bag) to add to the table of signs, which has nothing to show for that consonant. However, that lifelike human head is troublesome, since only stylized forms of heads are found in the Byblos proto-syllabic texts. Short inscriptions such as this, and the new Lakish sherd, always make our heads spin as we endeavour to categorize them, and to extract their meaning.
Lakish ostracon (or Bowl 2, Sass Fig. 258; Colless, Fig. 06, 38-39)
sh y ` d r l l l
An offering of the flock to Lel (goddess of night)
(Did the bowl contain blood from the sacrificed animal?)
Lakish ewer (Sass Fig. 156-160; Colless Fig. 07, 39)
m t n : sh y [l r b] t y ' l t
A gift (or Mattan) : an offering to my lady Elat
Are they syllabic? No, since they both have the Lamed that does not have a place in the proto-syllabary; likewise the Yod. So the next question will be: Is this the longer or shorter consonantary? If we focus on the word for offering, it is thought to have Th not Sh originally, though Richard Steiner disputes this; the problem is that in the neo-consonantary the Thad (breast) consonantogram has replaced the Shimsh (sun) sign, to represent both Th and Sh, and they look very much alike (if the solar disc is not included with the serpents); but in one instance the breast is depicted vertically (Wadi el-Hol), and in Sinai inscription 375 it is inverted in the word ThLThT, "three" (cp. ShLShT on a Lakish bowl, 08); the four Lakish inscriptions in Fig. 17 are apparently all using the short alphabet, and two have vertical Sh/Th, and two have a horizontal version. There is much debate over the point in time when these two sounds coalesced, and the change from long to short alphabet is brought into the discussion, and fourteenth century BCE (for example) is proposed; but we need to remember that in the proto-syllabary (Early Bronze Age!) Sh and Th were not differentiated, so the breast said SHA and the sun was SHI; but more work needs to be done on the sibilants that were represented by Sh and S signs in the proto-syllabic texts (and we require many more documents to aid us in this research).
Lakish bowl (Fig. 08 above), found in a tomb:
b sh l sh t | y m | y r h.
On the third day of the month
The reading of the first of the three sections (notice the two dividing strokes) is clear: it is the number 3 (written as a word), originally th l th t, but now sh l sh t, though it is the original Th sign representing it here, and so the evidence for long or short alphabet is ambiguous; but in this case the word yrh. (moon, month) assists us; its final consonant was etymologically H, but here it is H.; this indicates the shorter consonantary.
A more recent sherd arrived in 2014, again from a temple: its inscription had been engraved into the jar before firing;
This inscription is not proto-syllabic, though it might be neo-syllabic, but is probably neo-consonantal. It will be examined in the next section.
Beth-Shemesh has an interesting and amusing sherd with a local version of this system.
Note that I am constructing a table of signs (not ready for publication yet) with three columns, one for each of the three vowels (u a i), and to the right of the -i column another three columns of later examples of the consonantal alphabet, showing that the -i syllabograms were usually the same as their consonantal counterparts (for example, DI = D, triangular like Delta). I was able to complete the Shu Sha Shi row with additional assistance from the Qubur Walayda bowl; that town is thought to have been a Philistian settlement, and the fact that the inscription has Baal and El names may indicate that the Philistian immigrants were Semitic, but other explanations are conceivable.
If it is interpreted as neo-syllabic, the text could be read thus:
"Jar (pik) for (li) measuring (sipir) 5 hekat (of grain)"
The first question we must ask about the new Lakish inscription is this: Is its script the proto-syllabary, or the proto-consonantary, or the neo-consonantary, or the neo-syllabary? It is obviously not the cuneo-consonantary, the cuneiform alphabet, since there are no wedge-shaped (cuneiform) components in its characters (see Photo 5 above).
Nobody else thinks this way when confronting a new inscription, applying this four-pronged research instrument (well, I know one person in Israel. whose name is Geula, and she has inspired me to see the proto-syllabary in this particular case); but this is the right way to go.
Ask the question! Is this inscription syllabic (proto-syllabary or neo-syllabary) or consonantal (proto-consonantary or neo-consonantary)? In this instance, my preferred response is to say: It is always difficult to decide, because the proto-syllabary and the proto-consonantary share so many signs (since most of the consonantograms are converted syllabograms); but the neo-syllabary can probably be excluded, as it was a phenomenon of the early Iron Age, and this (allegedly) securely dated missing link is from the Late Bronze Age; also the readily recognizable D (a rectangular door) is not one that matches any of the three D-syllabograms (DU and DA are rounded, like Roman D; and DI is triangular like Phoenician Dalet and Grecian Delta).
A significant archaeological detail needs to be inserted here: Lakish was destroyed by fire (by Egyptians, or Israelians, or Philistians?) and was unoccupied in the Iron Age I (12th and 11th centuries BCE). In the history of Israel, that is the period of the Judges and the reign of King Saul; by my calculations, that was also the time of the neo-syllabary. Therefore this new Lakish sherd (15th century), and the later Lakish jar sherd would not fit the category "neo-syllabic".
The first step is an examination of the interpretation given by the
editors of the text; they accomplish this in a single paragraph, and my
suspicions are immediately aroused. They have not established the
writer's intention, and they can not make sense of this collection of
meandering characters. Their sources for identifying letters and their
Egyptian prototypes are
Sass, Hamilton, Goldwasser, all unreliable guides in this matter, I
to say. They discern two lines of writing, each consisting of three
letters; my first choice would be to say two groups of writing, an upper
and a lower, but they note the presence of two more characters to the
right of the top line, and another between the two lines; my second
choice would be to envisage a single line of text circling from the top
right corner to the bottom right, and possibly continuing upwards to
complete a circle of letters, perhaps along a piece of the right-hand
side that has been broken off, though not necessarily, as there seems to
be a faded letter (a serpent?) filling the gap. Looking ahead to my
ultimate decision, my third approach will be to accept two clusters of
letters, separated by a dot
(or preceded by a dot in each case),
and read them as two words that make a statement.
Here we shall consider the editors' identifications of the signs: the letter in the bottom right corner is seen as a snake, hence N, and it corresponds to the Nun of the Phoenician alphabet, albeit in an anomalous reversed stance, though this form is more consistent with Greco-Roman N; they identify three more snakes in the marks between the upper and lower lines of script; if this is correct, then we are confronted with three different versions of Nun (snakes in various poses), and so the script being employed in this document could be the neo-syllabary, since that is how it works, generally speaking; however, none of the snake stances visible here (including the faded one that I have mentioned) matches the N-syllabograms in the later neo-syllabic texts. However, it seems to me at this juncture that there are only two N-serpents, both cobras in a different stance, in the bottom line.
Consider now the door-sign, top left; it is readily recognizable as the
original Dalet ('door') and is accepted unquestionably by Misgav and
his colleagues; but if their reference to Hamilton's pages on this
subject are consulted, we are told that Albright had promoted the
fish-sign as D (dag), though Cross and Hamilton accept both door
and fish as alternatives (allographs) for D; actually others and myself
see the fish (Semitic samk, which is frequent in the Sinai
inscriptions, and in the Samek position on the Izbet Sartah abagadary)
as an allograph of Samek (the spinal column, as on the Lakish dagger),
though I wonder whether they represent exactly the same sound (s versus
tsh?); incidentally, if a fish appears in an inscription it is a
consonantal or neo-syllaic text, since the fish did not swim in the
Below the door is their elongated snake; I suggest this is a throwstick, G (gamlu), and that the dot, which makes it look like a snake with a head, is not part of the letter; it might be a doubling dot, or an unintentional blot, or an indicator of a new word (corresponding to the dot in the top right corner).
Beside the door, is a rectangle, open at the bottom right corner; this is unusual, having a rectangle with an open doorway for B (bayt, house), but it has a square-shaped analogy on the Gezer sherd (hand snake house, kn B, 'temple cult-stand', where the house-sign is a logogram for '[sacred] house', and the sherd is from such a 'cult-stand', for incense or offerings); the object was found at the Gezer high place.
Their three choices for their bottom line, naming the letters from right to left, are NPT, which could be a word for 'honey', as they point out; this idea certainly appeals to me, in this connection:
However, we must be suspicious about the first letter being N, and their identification of the second glyph as P is a desperate measure, and their quest for an Egyptian hieroglyphic prototype (corner, or a building tool) is fruitless; they do not even mention 'mouth', which is the real origin of the letter pe (see the PU on the Lahun heddle jack, above; and this character would be a very twisted remnant of a human mouth, with the bottom lip curling the wrong way.
Finally, an obvious T (Taw); but it seems to have a long stem, and this suggests it is syllabic; we will now follow this clue.
My tentative tally is eight letters, and none of them appears more than
once, it seems; this is more likely to occur if the script is a
syllabary, which would have three times the number of characters as a
consonantary. I am reminded of the daily puzzle in the local newspaper,
in which nine letters are offered in a grid, and the task is to create
as many words as possible; we could take that approach here and see if
some of the words we find can be brought together as a coherent
statement; but we still have the problem of identifying all the letters
correctly, and deciding whether they are syllabic or consonantal. We
have to consider the possibility that the scribe is deliberately teasing
the readers, by using signs that could be syllabic and alphabetic, and
challenging us to decide which are intended.
We begin again at the top right corner: the pair of snakes could just as well be seen as two horns on a bovine head, which could actually be complete as it stands, without invoking a missing piece of the sherd; it would represent 'Alep (the 'glottal stop' consonant); and we also have Bet (Beta), Gimel (Gamma), Dalet (Delta); this is starting to look like an abgadary, and we are thinking that a big part of this ostracon, displaying the rest of the alphabet, has been lost; but these same letters denote 'A, BA, GA, DA in the proto-syllabary; and likewise the Taw (a cross), but at present I am agonizing over its syllabic identity, whether TA or TU. If this assemblage of letters is merely an exercise, perhaps the scribe is practising the -a syllabograms; this idea would be supported by the editors' accepting the circular sign (top, centre) as an eye, hence `Ayin, representing alphabetic `(ayin), but also possibly syllabic `A(yin). However, the circle stands for the sun in the proto-syllabary, and represnts the syllable SHI (from shimshu) rather than SHA (from shad 'breast'); to make the sign clearer one or two serpents can be added to the sun, as seen on the Thebes proto-syllabic inscription (depicted several times above, Photo 10); the Sinai proto-consonantal inscriptions invariably have the serpents but not the sun-disc for Sh; but twice on the vertical section of the Wadi el-Hol proto-consonantal inscription, we find the sun with a single serpent:
While we have this very old inscription in our sights, we may note that
it concerns a celebration for the goddess `Anat, whose name appears
next to her image. We should also ask (as is now our habitual practice)
whether it is proto-consonantal or proto-syllabic. Running down the
sequence of signs, I am surprised to see that each character could be
consonantal or syllabic: water (M or MU), sun (Sh SHI), cross (T T-),
head (R RA), jubilation (H HI), eye (` `A), snake (N NA), boomerang (G
GA), ox-head ('A), and the last letter is obviously L, but this does
not have a place in the syllabary. We have met LA (night) frequently,
and LU (white of eye) on the heddle jack, and LI is a head-rest; so this
text is not syllabic.
The accompanying horizontal inscription describes the menu for the feast, including wine and sacrificial meat. The inscription runs from right to left (sinistrograde), beginning with RB WN, "plenty of wine".
The hank of thread for H is a clear indication that this text is proto-consonantal, since this character does not appear in the prior proto-syllabary or the subsequent neo-consonantary and its offshoot the neo-syllabary;
of course it has a place in the cuneiform consonantary, which was
modeled on the linear proto-consonantary (see the character of three
vertical wedges on Figure 5 above). Even though the M and N are vertical
on the horizontal line, and horizontal on the vertical line, the bovine
head with the unique feature of a mouth would show the common
authorship and unity of the two inscriptions; it is noticeable that
neither example has a head-line between the horns, as also on our Lakish
sherd, but this particular ox (viewable on the photo below) has an unusual angle for his horns, raising doubts
that the letter is 'Alep/Alpha or syllabic 'A, and that the line on the
left at least is a snake after all (or a Lamed, as suggested bt Petrovich 2022); but the analogy of the ox from the
Egyptian desert tempts me to hold on to the Lakish bull by its misshapen
horns. An additional feature pointing to the proto-consonantary is the
vertical breast (No. 10, Th from thad "breast"), with Sh (sun-disc and single serpent, No. 2 and 11) on the vertical line of writing.
Contemplate that sun-sign, and then look closely at the circle on the Lakish sherd.
have been wondering whether there is a faded line running from the
bottom of the circle, making this letter equal in size with the B and D;
if indeed there is (Eureka!) then the character says Sh or SHI, and not
` or `A.
The resultant Sh B sequence raises the possibility of "return" (originally ThWB) or "take captive" (ShBY). Here is a possible combination, involving seven of the letters:
'A SHI BA DA GA TA
"I catch fish"
This would be a sign upon his door, saying ""I am catching fish", equivalent to "Gone fishing, instead of just a-wishing".
Stop the press: there is a problem with the supposed sun-sign. As an analogy for fading of lines in letters we have the top of the adjacent B-sign; but there are a number of other faint lines on the sherd; for example, the diagonal stroke in the top left corner; and there are some marks in the top right corner. This was a milk bowl, we are told, and maybe these are stains from liquids it previously contained; or it is a palimpsest, and other writing has been washed off the surface, to make space for this inscription.
Most damaging for the sun-and-snake sign is an arc, actually a full semi-circle, running from the left side to the right edge, passing through the door, the house, and under the eye, thereby vitiating the uraeus serpent of the sun, and ending below the ox-head, where it might have been interpreted as a NI syllabogram, like the tusks on the Tuba amulets (Photos 2 and 3 here).
Consequently my total is eight letters, and if the `Ayin is correct, it would support the editors' reading of their proposed top line as `BD; but rather than a noun "servant" (`bd), I would construct a verb, '`BD, "I serve", or "I till"; the utterance that emerges, with a slight rearrangement of letters in the bottom line, is not at all fishy but admirably horticultural:
'A `A BA DA GA NA TA
" I cultivate the garden"
As Voltaire's Candide would say, gardening is so necessary: il faut cultiver notre jardin.
This is a response that Adam (ha-'adam, the human) might have given to his commission to cultivate (`bd) and tend (sh-m-r) the garden (gan) of Eden (Genesis 2:15).
"Yea, verily, I will cultivate the garden".
For NA I have called upon the character next to the cross-sign; I have already rejected it as p, the desperate measure taken by the editors; it is a cobra (Hieroglyph I12), in the pose that it has in the proto-syllabary, but not in the proto-consonantary; and this is my main reason for declaring this text to be syllabic, but it is tentative and fallible.
One letter remains to be identified, in the bottom right corner: the editors reasonably saw it as n,
as this is (approximately) the shape of N in the Phoenician alphabet; but it is
reversed (back to front); the only example I know of this form is on the
Jerusalem jar, where I hesitatingly suggest that it represents NU in a
In the proto-syllabary the closest letter to this is MA, from maggalu, "sickle". If we could read it on our sherd as a logogram, in some kind of "instrumental" case, it might say: "I cultivate the garden (with) a sickle". In response to this, I would raise two objections: sickles are for mowing meadows and reaping grains; sickles have short handles, and this feature is maintained on the MA characters displayed in the Byblos inscriptions, though the scribe who engraved the two examples of MA on the Megiddo ring did not restrain his stylus on this detail; but they are the reverse of the character on this Lakish sherd (though they will be the right way round when impressed in clay and reversed).
Pursuing the horticulture theme,
we encountered the word gannat
(garden) on the Lakish five-sided sherd: the GA is much the same in
both texts; the Taw (TA or TU?) is a cross, somewhat defective on the
pentagon; there the NA snake has a head, with a doubling dot in it,
hence GANNAT; the new sherd has a dot beside the GA and above the Taw,
but this is distant from the NA. I will now propose that the two snake
figures on our sherd, even though they are apparently looking away from
each other, represent double NA (running from right to left). Having
said this, I was immediately struck by a another idea: the scribe is
mixing the syllabic and consonantal systems; so as to achieve the goal
of writing GANNAT, without having to include a "dead vowel", as was the
case on the pentagon inscription, GA N(A) NA T (though the NANA was
effected by a doubling dot in the head of the snake). Presumably the two
snake signs, N and NA, were written back to back to alert the reader to
interpret this sequence as N-NA. No doubt, this will be judged as a
typical bizarre conceit ejected from the Colless brain, but I dare to
say that it first occurred to the mind of the Lakish scribe who wrote
this with his brush and ink.
Is the statement a vow? "I will cultivate the garden".
There remains that dot or blob to the left of the GA: it must be a word separater; there are only two words, and that is where the division between them occurs; by the same token, the mark in the top right corner, above the 'A, indicates the starting point of the text; so it might be better to say that both markers indicate the beginning of a new word.
What conclusion can we possibly reach in the presence of this conflicting data?
Is it a consonatal inscription? If it is proto-consonantal, the graphemes for D and H (or the rarer G and Z.) are not there to indicate this identification.
Is it a syllabic text? The neo-syllabary can probably be excluded from the discussion, as it was a phenomenon of the early Iron Age (1200-1000), and this object is firmly dated around 1450 BCE. The D has no counterpart in the neo-syllabary, and likewise the B. However, the pentagonal sherd and the triangular sherd show that the proto-syllabary was employed at Lakish, but they both had recognizable proto-syllabic characters; the new sherd has only ambiguous graphemes.
We seem to be driven to choosing between proto-syllabic or early alphabetic (whether long or short alphabet is not determinable). Keeping in mind the fact that three quarters of the letters in the neo-consonantary are derived from the proto-syllabary, and one quarter of the syllabograms in the proto-syllabary are also found as consonantograms in the proto-alphabet, we are faced with a set of signs that seem to belong to both systems. If only the author had spoken a few more words, he might have made his system clear to us, but he might have been deliberately tantalizing his readers.
We have to start again, examining each of the letters and comparing their form with other Lakish examples.
From the top (the point of departure is marked by a blob in the upper right corner): the first letter is assumed to be consonantal 'Alep (glottal stop) or syllabic 'A;
but the anomalous bovine horns (contrast the headless pair above the
number 05 above) and the missing skull-line would drive us to see a pot
(DU) or a bag (S.adey); nevertheless we have seen an analogy for the
gap between the horns in the Theban desert. (Wadi el-Hol, early
the circular sign on the Lakish sherd (to the left of the ox), which is
sufficiently angular on each side to make it an eye with corners, and
thus representing the consonant `Ayin or the syllable `A. This sequence (added to our prior knowledge of what follows) suggests an exercise in tabulating letters that have -a in the proto-syllabary.
Here we need to remember that the majority of the letters of the early
alphabet were derived from the proto-syllabary, and most of them were -a syllabograms. To demonstrate this, the unmistakably proto-consonantal text from Egypt that is reproduced here in my drawing, may be transcribed as if it were proto-syllabic.
From right to left: RA BA WA NA MI NA HI NA GA THA/SHA HI 'A PU MI (HA) RA
The hank of thread (HA) is not attested in syllabic texts, and is an indication that this inscription is not proto-syllabic, nor neo-consonantal, but proto-consonantal.
Pausing for a moment of reflection, we may ask how the circle sign (whether dotted or not), which originally represented the sun (shimsh) became a stylized eye (again with optional dot, presumably for the pupil). I will tell you: I do not know. God alone knows the truth. However, I could invoke Matahari: the sun in the Malay language (Bahasa Malaysia, Bahasa Indonesia) is mata hari, "eye of the day"; hari, I presume, would be cognate with the fellow-Austronesian word râ in the Mâori language, meaning "day" as well as "sun"; and even if we only know Egyptian Ra` or Re` from crossword puzzles, we are aware of his solar connection. The reason (I ween Germanically, rather than imagine Romanically) for this widespread designation for the sun is the greeting it receives at its morning appearing: Hurrah or Hurray (according to your social class).
Keeping all of this in mind (though drawing a darkening veil over the latter attempt at illumination and enlightenment), we continue our analysis of the new Lakish milk-bowl sherd.
The bovine `Alep is weird; and the Bayt (house) is unusual, a tall rectangle instead of a square, but it could function as B or BA.
The Dalet (door) has a counterpart on the Thebes inscriptions, but also the type with two panels (see Photo 11); it can be D or DA. Remember, the fish-sign is never D, but always S.
This collection of signs, if they are syllabograms, produces a first person singular verb, imperfect tense; it looks highly suspect as 'A`ABADA, but if "dead vowels" are muted and suppressed, we have 'a`bad, which is reasonable, but still questionable, and perhaps all the vowels ought to be ignored and the text regarded as consonantal writing.
The blob apparently indicates the start of a new sequence, beginning with the throwstick, G or GA. Here is a new thought: the scribe's intention was to have this long letter begin a new line of writing, running from right to left. The next character in his second sequence is the snake in the bottom right corner, and this should be consonantal N; if it is syllabic, it would be a misshapen MA (a sickle), but not NA. The normal proto-syllabic NA comes next: the cobra with a kink in the tail.
Finally we see a Taw; there is no doubt about this identification, since the cross-sign stands for the sound /t/ in all four classes of early West Semitic scripts, and beyond. From the outset the consonantal alphabet had a simple cross-sign for T/t/, consisting of two equal lines (+ or x); but in the proto-syllabary this had not been the case: x was the syllabogram for KU, and and the Taw cross had a long stem, and consistently displayed this feature throughout the ages. Unfortunately the Tuba tubes do not have any T-syllabograms, but all the early Gubla (Byblos) texts follow this pattern, with the T- (sometimes on its side). The verified proto-syllabic inscriptions that we have presented here testify decisively to this fact: Lahun heddle jack , Puerto Rico figurine , Lakish pentagonal sherd , and quite clearly on this alleged "missing link", the Lakish rectagonal sherd (well, it has one right angle, but it is technically a trapezoid quadrilateral, or vice versa).
Case closed. QED (as promised in the prologue to this drama). The last two letters of the text (N- T-) have the forms peculiar to the proto-syllabary, therefore this must be a proto-syllabic inscription, even though the first five of the eight letters (' ` B D G) could function as either syllabic or consonantal, and the sixth is consonantal N. This might need to be classified as "a mixed syllabic and consonantal text". The transcription would thus be:
| 'A`ABADA | GANNATA
Affirmative: "I cultivate a garden"
Volitive (cohortative): "Let me cultivate the garden" (a wish or a prayer)
If this were Biblical Hebrew the verb would be, cohortative form: 'E`EBDÂ. If this is equivalent to the 'A`ABADA on the sherd (the BA syllable having a"dead" vowel, or the -a stands for shwa), an explanation would be: in syllabic writing based on the three vowels (-u, -a, -i), the vowel -e would necessarily be represented by -a syllabograms; or we may simply say that the introduction of additional vowels is a later development in Hebrew. However, the final volitive -a has apparently been recorded in the inscription, and although it could be ignored, by the rules of syllabic transcription of speech, and classed unhelpfully as a "dead" vowel, it may well correspond to the Hebrew volitive inflexion â (which is written with unpronounced -h to represent the a-vowel).
Incidentally, this GANNATA may be the same garden as the GAN(A)NATA in the prayer on the pentagonal sherd. The question remains whether the final -a is to be retained as significant or discarded as superfluous. In the present instance it could be indicating the accusative case, the garden being the object of the verb.
Finally, and perhaps conclusively, the sherd was found among the charred remains of organic matter, including barley seeds. (See further below)
Another attempt at interpreting this inscription has come to my notice: Douglas Petrovich, The Lachish Milk Bowl Ostracon: A Hebrew Inscription from Joshua's Conquest at Lachish, Bible and Spade 35/1 (2022) 16-22. The title indicates that great claims are being made for this little document: it was dropped inside Lakish by an Israelian invader; the proto-alphabet was not known in Canaan before then; it says, purportedly, "N, servant (`bd) over (`l) honey (npt)"; this reading is invalidated by the P (producing npt) instead of N, and the N (as an abbreviation or rebus of the name Nahash, "snake") instead of G (in my reading, gannat). Petrovich discusses Carbon 14 dating in relation to the sherd, and highlights the charred organic matter, including barley seeds, at the site of the inscription. My response would be: Is this the remains of a vegetable garden?
he yet spake there came a great multitude, saying: "How judgest thou
the new document from the time of the Judges bearing the name of Judge
He answered them not, saying: "Perverse generation, judge not, lest ye be judged; ye know the judgements and rules of this contest, which have already been revealed unto you. First ask the question: Are you syllabic or consonantal?"