Qeiyafa inscription update

As promised, here is a short update on some of the things that were said at the meeting at the Hebrew University, in the special session on the Kh. Qeiyafa inscription.
Do note – in the meeting proceedings, which were sold at the beginning of the meeting in the morning (and I came too late to buy it), there are full articles by the various people mentioned below. Note, the proceedings are in Hebrew, and can be purchased from the IAA.

First, Sa’ar Ganor, Yossi Garfinkel’s partner at the Qeiyafah excavations, presented an update on the finds from the site, including the last season. He showed slides of the finds from the various areas, including the impressive casemate wall, two gates, and other features. Consistently, throughout the site, there is an early Iron Age IIA (or possibly, late Iron I) level, which is often covered by a Hellenistic level. Save for some Byzantine material in the middle of the site, there are no other stratified materials from other periods (absolutely no Iron IIb-c). Based on 14C dating (indicated as well from comparative pottery typology) they date the Iron Age level to the late 11th/early 10th cent. BCE. Finally, he reiterated their suggestion to ID the site as Shaarayim, mentioned in the Bible in the vicinity of Socho and Azekah.

If I may add (AMM), without a doubt (from having personally seen the finds from the most recent seasons and having visited the site both in this and last season), the Iron Age level dates to the late Iron I/early Iron IIA (late 11th/early 10th cent.).

Following this presentation, Hagai Misgav presented his reading of the inscription. Admitting that it is VERY hard to read, he suggests the following (hold your seats…):

אל תעש [ ] ועבד א[ת]
שפט בואלמ [ ]אל?ט
א?ל? ובעלל
א[ ]מ ונקמ יסד מלכ ג[ת]?/פ[?]
סרנ? ע[…] מג/דרת

Now, Haggai admits that there are many problems and questions, but points out several things:
1) The language is Hebrew (not Phoenician) based on appearance of terms such as אל תעש
2) In his opinion, there is some narrative here
3) He notes the appearance of mlk (king), shofet (judge), eved (servant/slave), perhaps seren (philistine king)
4) He strongly believes (as I do) that the so-called “Proto-Canaanite” script (which he prefers to call Canaanite, I prefer to call “Archaic Alphabetic” [see our BASOR article on the Safi inscription]), continues into the 9th cent., particularly in southern Canaan, parallel to the beginning of the use of the early Phoenician script (such as in the Zayit inscription).

While I have to caution that this reading is a suggestion, it is really quite astounding! There is mention of different titles, some names, perhaps deities (ba’al). Even more interesting, perhaps mention of “YSD, king of Gath” (note – YSD is one of the kings of Ekron in the Ekron royal inscription).
And I won’t even mention some of the more “crazy” reconstructions that raced thru my head when seeing this reading.

Following Hagai’s talk, there were 3 respondents:
1) Ada Yardeni spoke, providing a slightly different reading, although agreeing with many (if not most) of Hagai’s readings. In fact, she reads shofet twice at the beginning and end of line 2. She had various comments on various words and readings. She believes that it may be a draft for a monumental inscription.
2) Aaron Demsky argued that this is sort of a lexical list of various titles in society, king, god, judge, etc., and compares it to such lists in other cultures. Believes that it is a scribal exercize.
3) Shmuel Ahituv was more critical of Hagai’s readings, and for example, does not accept “seren”.

The session ended with Hagai briefly replying to some of the comments.
All told, Hagai should be applauded for working so hard and providing a very interesting reading of this text. While I’m sure there will be many opinions about it, without a doubt, whatever the text means (or does not mean…), the location, the date, the context of the site, and the various words that can be read, provide VERY important new data on the lron I/Iron IIA transition in Judah and the Shephelah, and definitely require many to rethink some very strongly held opinions (and this, for people on both sides of the “fence”).

Personally, as a “Gittite”, the site and the inscription are VERY interesting and important! The vicinity of the site, and perhaps, mention of a king of Gath and other aspects in the inscription, turn this into a very critical comparison to the situation at Gath during this phase.
I won’t go in to all the various issues springing up from this inscription, from a wide variety of topics. I’m sure that it will provide much discussion and debate in the years to come!

Wow – it is simply astounding what turns up!
Clearly, what is required now is to find an inscription from Gath which is the reply that was sent out regarding the Qeiyafa inscription…


38 thoughts on “Qeiyafa inscription update

  1. arenmaeir

    Ray (I assume that’s your name),
    No problem – see new entry. And why be an “armchair” archaeologist? Join our team this summer, and become an “dirt” archaeologist!!
    And you also might learn some Hebrew… :-)


    1. raylawpc

      Thank you for the kind invitation. I’m tempted to move from the armchair to the field. But do you really want a 55-year-old fat man excavating at your site?? ;-)

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  3. dannyfrese

    Hi Dr. Maeir,

    Since you have both first- and second-hand knowledge of Qeiyafa’s stratigraphy, I’d love to hear your comments regarding Yehudah Dagan’s recent article in Tel Aviv.

    And was Dagan present for the Qeiyafa session?

    1. arenmaeir

      I did not see Yehuda, but that does not mean that he was not there – it was a large hall. As to Yehuda’s opinions as voiced in the Tel Aviv article – what can I say – everyone is entitled to their opinion, but it is VERY shaky on his part to argue his case based on survey data alone, while the Qeiyafa team has now excavated close to 2 dumans of the site, in 4 different areas, and the stratigraphic/chronological picture is quite consistent. One can argue if it is mid/late 11th, early 10th, or perhaps, but much less likely, mid-late 10th centuries; or, what is the cultural affiliation of the site. But the stratigraphy and general chronological framework is very clear!

      1. dannyfrese

        Re: “VERY shaky.” Of course you’re right that actual excavation should always trump survey work. On the other hand, if I were in Yehuda’s sandals, and had picked up the pottery he (says he) did, I would have written the same article. Something doesn’t add up. Where’d all of that MB and Iron II b pottery come from?

      2. arenmaeir

        The can be activities of different periods that do not manifest themselves as major building phases. This could be, for example, burials, agricultural activities, non-sedentary activities, etc.
        In any case, based on the current excavations, which are quite extensive, there is NO major activities on the site in the MB or Iron IIb.

  4. Uri Hurwitz

    Thanks, Aren, for your prompt and clear report of the meeting, discussion, presentation of the inscription and the brief discussion.

    Your conclusions about the importance of this inscription are well taken, but the impression persists that no definitive reading or meaning of these short lines is at present possible. In that I agree with Ahituv. It appears that the the inscription’s content will remain contentious.

    A few general questions, I don’t know whether they were discussed:

    the importance of the use of ink – clear evidence of scribal activity at that location , in that period;

    the issue of ‘single phase’ settlement, and explanation, why the site was seemingly abandoned after the tremendous effort involved in its construction;

    why were only two of the four pits sent for 14 C examination; or have by now all four been checked?

    BTW, is there a Heb. online report available of the meeting?

    Uri Hurwitz Great Neck, NY

    1. arenmaeir

      Yes, the discussions definitely will continue.
      They did not discuss the ink, but did note that the sherd is from a locally made jar.
      The site is definitely abandoned after this stage, perhaps after a destruction (Sa’ar and Yossi have report restorable pottery on floor in differnt area). Why – let your imagination fly …
      From what I recall, I believe that they have sent more than 2 pits for 14C dating, and from different parts of the excavation, with very similar results.
      As to an online version – I don’t know!


  5. Thanks a million for your prompt report! I still don’t see anything at the ElahFortress website.

    Did he show any detailed photos of the inscription from the various imaging techniques that were performed here in the states?

    And did he make/use any line drawings of the text?

    Did he say anything about the possibility of additional techniques under consideration to improve the legibility of the latent letters, or does this seem like the best we can make of it for the foreseeable future (until some new technique is discovered)?

    1. arenmaeir

      He did mention that is was photographed using various imaging techniques, but I don’t think he was very impressed with them. Both Hagai and Ada showed drawn versions of the sherd (each sligthly different), which appear in the articles.

      1. Itay Zandbank

        The little I could find about the Royal inscription is that it’s from the 7th century BCE. Yasad (??) is Achish’s grandfather. Unless the inscription itself is from the early 9th century or late 10th century, it can’t be the same YSD, can it?

      2. arenmaeir

        No – of course it is not the same YSD. Rather, what is fascinating, if in fact a king YSD is mentioned in the Qeiyafa inscription is that Philistine dynastic names are used over long periods. Thus, there is YSD at Qeiyafa in the 10th cent and at Ekron in the 7th, and according to the Bible, Achish (or even two Achishes) at Gath in the 11/10th, and then another Achish at Ekron in the 7th. Thus, this weakens Naveh’s suggestion that the Achish in the Ekron inscription is the source for the use of the name Achish in the biblical narratives about earlier Gath.
        Gitin, S., Dothan, T., and Naveh, J. 1997. A Royal Dedicatory Inscription from Ekron. Israel Exploration Journal 47(1–2):1–16.
        Naveh, J. 1998 Achish-Ikausu in the Light of the Ekron Dedication. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 310: 35–38.


      3. Itay Zandbank

        I think someone defined himself as an armchair archaeologist, I need to borrow that term and attribute it to myself, too :-) Which is why I hoped it was the same YSD…

        You’re right about the multiple Achishes. Provided, of course, it really does say YSD, which is a bit iffy at this point. I hope they find something else written when they continue digging there in the next few years.

  6. Minor correction: You said, “Both Hagai and Ada showed drawn versions…”, but now that I have a copy of the proceedings (thanks to an anonymous source), the alternate drawing was by Aaron, not Ada.

  7. Wow! I just realized that Misgav reads the inscription from left to right (instead of right to left), top to bottom; & Demsky reads it top to bottom, right to left (based on their positioning of the drawings & transcription of the text). I had been trying to read it right to left & couldn’t find MLK. Now I can see what they interpret as MLK, but it doesn’t really look like that to me. Interesting…

    1. Itay Zandbank

      Demsky read it top to bottom, right to left after rotating it 90 degrees clockwise, which means he read the letters at exactly the same order.

  8. Uri Hurwitz

    In their paper in JHS, Vol 8, and I think elsewhere, the excavators describe the site’s massive casement city wall as measuring “700 m long and 4 m wide…”

    They write: …”our calculations suggests that 200,000 tons of stone were required..”

    My question: is there evidence elsewhere in the region for similar massive undertaking at the beginning of Iron IIa?

    BTW, the four pits were indeed examined and resulted in the above average dating. This is mentioned in the paper cited.

    Uri Hurwitz

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  14. lamont Conyers

    Dr. Maeir,
    thanks for the translation of the Qeiyafa inscription. I am a study taking epigraphy at Johns Hopkins under Kyle McCarter. My understanding of the language of the inscription is that it is Hebrew. I see on the blog that some scholars think that it is proto-Canaanite? Seeing the pictures would help in my mind determine the language. In your view, is it Hebrew or Phoenician?

      1. lamont Conyers

        I seen the pictures and drawings by Yardeni and others from the website update this morning. A good way to see the photos is in Adobe illustrator. This is what the class use in the Epigraphy course to see the inscription and to produce the drawings.

    1. arenmaeir

      Hi! You should not mix up “Language” with “writing system”. The Language of the Qeiyafa inscription seems to be Biblical Hebrew (as opposed to, e.g., Phoenician, Philistine, Moabite, Aramean, etc.), while the style of the alphabetic signs that are used would be called “Proto-Canaanite” by some, but since this is a term which is confusing since it uses the name of an ethnicity and language as part of the term, I would prefer to call this stage of the development of the alphabet as “Archaic Alphabetic”.


      1. lamont Conyers

        Dr. Maeir,
        I have seen the pictures of the inscription from Garfinkel from the website. from my observation, although I have not studied the inscription in depth, It is Hebrew, which I agree with your observation. You are correct about the writing system of Proto Canaanite versus language. I think I misread one of the articles in the earlier comments on the inscription, thanks.


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