Comment on Hamilton’s reading of the Safi sherd

Since in the last post I mentioned epigraphy, I guess it was in heaven that today another epigraphic matter related to Safi has surfaced.

On various lists (such as here) a new article by Gordon Hamilton (Huron University College) has been noted. This article, which discusses and reviews various early alphabetic inscriptions found in recent years, deals, inter alia, with the Safi archaic alphabetic inscription (so-called “Goliath” inscription).
Hamilton suggests a slightly different reading of the Safi inscription, suggesting that there is a “G” (gimel), placed slightly above the line, between the 2nd and 3rd letter. Thus, he proposes reading the first part of the inscription as “algwt” (which he sees as a Semitic name) instead of “alwt” (which we interpreted as an Indo-European name in our article about the inscription).

While this is an interesting suggestion, unfortunately it is baseless. As can be seen in the photo below, the supposed “g” (marked in the photo below in a black circle), is a completely different kind of marking, when compared to the actual incised letters of the inscription. The “marking” that Hamilton suggests is a “gimel” is in fact what is most probably the marking left by a plant root on the sherd surface (a very common phenomenon on sherds – one that often brings students/volunteers running to me during pottery washing, claiming that they have found an inscribed letter on a sherd…).

Also, the reason why we originally connected between this sherd and Goliath is not because we were trying to be “sensationalist” as Hamilton claims. We never claimed that this belonged to Goliath, rather, at the time, that “alwt” might be a name similar to Alyattes, a name which for years (since the 1920s) has been suggested as an etymological parallel to Goliath. Once we started our own research, it became apparent that this etymology is baseless. Thus, while “alwt” was an Indo-European name (perhaps related, inter alia, to names such as Alyattes), and one can find good Indo-European etymological parallels for Goliath, the onomastic similarity of alwt/alyattes/goliath was dropped.

picture of Safi sherd with non-G marked

Thus, while I thank Hamilton for critically reviewing our suggested reading (and in fact, accepting most of our reading), the extra letter that he suggests is without basis and can safely be dropped.