[b-hebrew] New Inscription of Hebrew?

Yigal Levin leviny1 at mail.biu.ac.il
Sat Nov 1 15:51:20 EDT 2008

Dear Bryant,

A few comments on what you wrote:

a. One must distinguish between language and script. No one has ever claimed 
that there was a "proto-Canaanite language". "Proto-Canaanite" is the title 
given by epigraphers to the earliest known forms of the 22-letter alphabet 
which would eventually be used by the Hebrews, the Phoenicians, the Arameans 
and others. In a way it is a mis-nomer, since it seems to imply that it was 
used BEFORE the Canaanites, but this is not what is meant when modern 
epigraphers use it.

b. From the actual evidence at hand, this form was used in Canaan and 
surrounding areas (including Sinai and even by Semites in Egypt) from about 
the 18th century until the 10th, but all of the inscriptions that we have 
are small and fragmentary. It seems to have been developed from Hieratic, 
which is basically a "watered-down" form of Egyptian Hierogliphs, much it 
the same way the the Ugaritic Cunieform alphabet was developed from 
Akkadian. This does NOT mean that the Canaanite language is derived from 
Egyptian, any more than the influence of the Greek alphabet on the 
development of Cyrillic means that Russian is derived from Greek.

c. It is only from the 9th century that epigraphers can distinguish 
different styles being used by Hebrew, Phoenician and Aramaic, presumably 
after the relevant kingdoms had begun developing their own local scribal 

d. The fact that the Hebrews spoke a language that was closely related to 
Canaanite does not contadict anything that is stated in the Bible. And if 
they spoke a Canaanite-related language, it would have been only natural for 
them to have adopted the Canaanite alphabet. Remember, the first person who 
is actually mentioned as writing anything in the Bible is Moses.

e. As far as publication of excavated material: major archaeological 
excavations are long-term projects, that can take years. A three to six week 
season of careful digging just barely scraches the surface of a major site. 
Most of the work on the materal found is done after the season, in the 
laboratory, and is a very time-consuming proccess, often hindered by the 
limited funding available for lab workers, expensive tests etc. It is only 
after several season's worth of material has been checked, can anything more 
than a preliminary report be compiled. In modern large-scale excavations, a 
first "final" report is usually published after about ten seasons. And even 
then, it is certainly possible that later finds will put earlier conclusions 
in a different perspective. So yes, archaelogists in Israel are expected to 
publish reports before being alowed to move on to the next dig, but in what 
I assume is a long-term project like Khirbet Qayafeh/Elah Fortress, it will 
take years for a "final" report to be published.

f. In the meanwhile, archaelogists often do publish "semi-professional" 
papers and even books on aspects of their site that they think might be of 
interest to the public. And, in the short term, they allow (or invite) the 
press to publish the sort of rubbish that we've been seeing about this site. 
>From a purely scientific perspective, this is maybe even irresponsible (the 
"Goliath inscription" published by Aren Maeir at Tell es-Safi/Gath is a good 
example). But archaeologists are only human, they do have a need to interact 
with the intersted public, and the press do have a need to create headlines.

g. So - in giving this ostracon to a professional epigrapher such as Hagai 
Misgav, the excavators did the right thing. In refusing to offer even a 
priliminary reading befor completing all of the relevant tests, Misgav did 
the right thing. I assure you that as soon as a reliable reading can be 
published, it will be. Until that time, anything that anyone says about the 
inscription is probably nonsense.

Yigal Levin

Yigal Levin

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Bryant J. Williams III" <bjwvmw at com-pair.net>
To: <dwashbur at nyx.net>; <b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org>
Sent: Saturday, November 01, 2008 5:51 AM
Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] New Inscription of Hebrew?

> Dear Dave and Karl,
> Thanks for your responses.
> What really bothers me about the article is that it immediately thinks 
> that
> Hebrew developed from a "proto-Canaanite" language (no such language as 
> ever
> been produced as far as is known other than through supposition; like "Q" 
> in
> Synoptic Studies). This indicates at least three presuppositions.
> The first presupposition is that if it is a theological text, it is 
> therefore
> not historical nor scientific. The second presupposition is that the 
> Hebrew text
> is not historical about the early history of the Israelites. The third
> presupposition is that since the Israelites arose from the hill country of
> Canaan, then the Hebrew alphabet is taken from there. Dever and others 
> promote
> this. Yet it is quite evident from the Hebrew text itself that the Hebrew
> alphabet was well advanced by the time they got to the Transjordan since 
> they
> had spent 430 years in Egypt pretty much isolated in Goshen with some 
> contact
> with the Egyptians until they were enslaved; another 40 years in the 
> Wilderness
> Wandering of Exodus through Deuteronomy; and another 7 years during the 
> Conquest
> of Joshua. That is a minimum of 477 years in which their language and 
> alphabet
> developed. This does not include the loan words from Egypt, Canaan, 
> Aramaic,
> etc. did not enter into the language (just look at the number of loan 
> words in
> English; maybe not as great in the number of loan words). It is also 
> obvious
> that the acceptance of the Aramaic script from the Hebrew script occurred 
> during
> the Babylonian Captivity.
> I do agree that those who report these inscriptional finds would serve the
> scholarly community much better if they published very clear photos of the
> finds. Furthermore, there must be a better way to make sure that the FINAL
> REPORT IS PUBLISHED BEFORE the archaeologist is allowed to do another dig!
> Basically, No Report, No Dig.
> Rev. Bryant J. Williams III

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