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A Series of Dramatic Archaeological Finds

Archaeologists announced this week the discovery of a 3,000-year-old Hebrew inscription. It is merely the latest of a series of dramatic archaeological finds in Israel in recent months.
By Nissan Ratzlav-Katz
First Publish: 11/11/2005, 10:25 AM / Last Update: 11/11/2005, 10:22 AM

Archaeologists have discovered a 40-pound stone containing the oldest known example of the Hebrew alphabet. The stone, inscribed with the Hebrew alphabet written out in its traditional order, was found in the wall of a building dated from the 10th century BCE in Tel Zayit, ancient Judea, south of Jerusalem. The building itself was part of a network of structures at the site, indicating an important border town connected to a centralized kingdom.

The discovery was made by Dr. Ron Tappy, a professor at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, on the last day of a five-week dig at Tel Zayit. "This is very rare," he said, "This makes it very historically probable there were people [3,000 years ago] who could write." In an interview with the New York Times, Dr. Tappy said, "All successive alphabets in the ancient world, including the Greek one, derive from this ancestor at Tel Zayit."

In addition to constituting an important contribution in understanding the history of writing, the inscription helps to counter claims that the Bible could not have been written by Jews in ancient times, experts said. The find, in its context, suggests literacy levels that support Biblical writings of a unified Jewish kingdom.

Further details of the Tel Zayit discovery are to be reported next week during a meeting of experts on Biblical literature in Philadelphia.

For Biblical scholars, the latest discovery dovetails with another ancient Hebrew inscription found in August of this year in an archeological dig in the City of David, adjacent to the Old City of Jerusalem. The inscription was on a royal seal dating to the period of the First Temple. The seal has the name of Yehudi, son of Shelemiah, one of the top officials in the court of the last Judean king prior to the destruction of the First Temple, King Zedekiah. He is mentioned in the Book of Jeremiah.

The seal was found at the site of the palace of the Judean kings, according to archaeologists under the supervision of Dr. Eilat Mazar of Hebrew University. Several years ago, another circa-580 BCE royal seal was found in the same area. It had the name of Gemaryahu, son of Shafan, who is also mentioned in the Book of Jeremiah as a top official in the court of King Zedekiah's predecessor, King Yehoyachim.

The discovery of the ancient alphabet in Tel Zayit was preceded last week by the announcement of the discovery of a rare Christian religious structure from the 3rd-4th centuries CE on the grounds of Megiddo Prison, in northern Israel. Excavations at the site, carried out by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), included the discovery of an impressive mosaic floor and three ancient Greek inscriptions.

IAA excavation supervisor Yotam Tefer said, "This is a unique and important structure vis-a-vis our understanding of the early period of Christianity..."

One of the inscriptions is dedicated to the memory of four women: Primilia, Kiraka, Dorothea and Crista. Other inscriptions memorialize the people who contributed to the church, including a military officer.